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What is truly important to Austin’s Mayor and City Council?  We are likely to find out on Thursday.

We hear a lot about how much our City Council cares about the high cost of living in Austin, about how affordable housing must be our top priority.

Our council and mayor also proclaim their commitment to making Austin a healthy, sustainable city in the face of our global climate crisis.

And then there’s Austin’s soccer emergency.  

Which is more important?

Or, to quote David Byrne, “How did we get here?”

It’s kind of hard to believe, but here’s where we are, today, in Austin, Texas.

Absent a citizen uprising—we have seen those before—this Thursday our Mayor and a majority of our City Councilmembers will give away the Austin Water Utility owned, 24-acre McKalla Place property and hundreds of millions of taxpayer subsidies to a for-profit, professional soccer team corporation.

The soccer team owner, a wealthy, California investor named Anthony Precourt, is demanding (through his developer lobbyist Richard Suttle) that our City Council must act right now to give him hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies and the McKalla land in exchange for moving his Columbus, Ohio professional soccer team to Austin.

There are a few problems with this proposal. Actually, there’s a lot more than a few, but I’ll just hit the highlights. If you care about Austin’s future, please take a few minutes to read this post, and then join us this week in speaking up for Austin’s water, affordability, equity, and voter rights.

The McKalla property targeted by the Precourt Crew is owned by the Austin Water Utility. It should be used, first and foremost, for the benefit of water conservation, water quality, and securing Austin’s water future.

If the Water Utility doesn’t need it, then it should next be considered for other priority public uses, or sold by auction for maximum value to the Utility. The fact is the tract has been identified by City Staff as a prime location for affordable housing. Remember, that’s our Council’s professed top city priority.

As it happens, two other private development groups have proposed purchasing the McKalla property—paying $20 million or more to the Water Utility—and then developing the property. This would put hundreds of millions in new development on the tax rolls for Austin, Travis County, AISD, ACC, and Central Health. Both proposals include a substantial affordable housing component.

These proposals will get a belated, and likely cursory, consideration by the City Council at a special called city council meeting, set for today (Tuesday) at 3:00 at City Hall. You can watch on the City’s livestream.

By contrast, the Precourt/Columbus Crew giveaway would have the McKalla land and the new $200 million stadium be “owned” by the City, so no land purchase price or property taxes would be paid to the city, the county, or our schools. The Crew would have virtually total control over the use and profits of the land and the stadium for the next 50 years. (If they go bankrupt, it’s not clear who gets stuck with the stadium construction debt.)

So, of course, all this has to be decided right now—even though no contract exists and only a vague “term sheet” is available for public review. If the council doesn’t act right now, it will be too late for the Columbus Crew to move to Austin in time for the 2019 season, and Mr. Precourt Crew will have to stay in Columbus or go somewhere else.

So, you see, it’s a real, honest-to-god, soccer emergency.

It’s a lot like the baseball emergency that struck Austin back in 1995.

You don’t remember our baseball emergency? You aren’t the only one; and that’s what the Mayor and council are counting on.

In 1995, the council rushed through a $10 million giveaway to build a baseball stadium for the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds, declaring an “emergency” to avoid citizen oversight and meet the Firebirds’ hurry up demands.

Sound familiar?   Some citizens called foul, and with Linda Curtis and others leading the way, a petition drive forced the City Council to put the bonds on the ballot. In October 1995, voters defeated the bonds on a score of 63-to-37.

So what’s the difference between the Phoenix Firebirds and the Columbus Crew besides the size of the ball and 23 years? The taxpayer giveaways are hundreds of millions more this time, with the scale of elected official hypocrisy inflated by equal proportions.   Remember all those speeches about affordability and affordable housing?

And you can place your bets on Mayor Adler doing everything possible to insulate this giveaway from a voter petition drive like the one that sunk the Firebirds giveaway.

If you care about Austin’s water, about affordability, about equity and fairness in City spending, please plan on spending this Thursday evening at Austin City Hall. Sign up to speak on Items 19 and 109.

Between now and then you can email the entire City Council and tell them to prioritize water and affordability and vote no on corporate welfare for Precourt and his Crew.