Photo: Protesters gather outside Austin City Hall against the Domain on Riverside project
By Mike Talavera
Last Thursday, Austin City Council postponed the final vote on the Domain on Riverside due to a request from the developer’s lawyer, Michael Whellan, who said he was waiting on signatures from Austin Habitat from Humanity to make a change to a “relocation amendment.” They moved the final date to October 17.
A group of protesters led by Defend Our Hoodz (DOH) were still present outside City Hall despite the change in plans. They chanted and agitated outside, and made small marches around the block of City Hall, drawing attention and support from people in the streets. Their chants could be heard from inside the council chambers, and the politicians inside were visibly distracted by the chants of, “We’re outside your windows! We’re outside your homes! We won’t leave politician pigs alone!”
East Riverside is the last area in the central city with a working-class character, and the project will destroy 1,400 units of low-rent housing and directly displace 4,000 students, workers and families, with many more affected by rising property speculation due to the project.
In an attempt to utilize Austin’s fake progressive image, the developer has made a show of “responding” to community concerns. This includes applying a so-called restrictive covenant on relocation, which requires developers to provide financial assistance for tenants with moving costs and finding new homes. The lawyer’s request for postponement was related to their partnership with the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity has a high profile in development cases as one of the anti-people non-profits that developers can count on to soften the image of gentrification and displacement. Habitat’s Liaison for Community Affairs, Greg Anderson, is known for pushing luxury development based on the false premise that more market-rate, luxury housing leads to cheaper rents. He is also District 3 Council Member, Sabino ‘Pio’ Renteria’s appointee to the same Planning Commission that recommended the approval of the Domain On Riverside to council this past June.
Both Whellan and Anderson were contacted by Incendiary to comment on Habitat’s role in the project, but Whellan declined to comment and Anderson did not reply by the time of publication.
Council Member Greg Casar moved to have the vote taken as originally scheduled, saying, “I’m fine with voting today, unless we think there is going to be significant enough change in a month…and I know that it’s dragged out quite a bit.” This was an about-face from his statements calling for more time to deliberate when the project first came to city council in August, where he said, “If this case had been somewhere else…and we’d heard from people who live nearby, my sense is we wouldn’t [approve] it on all three readings.”
Casar’s newfound impatience is likely due to his fear of the continued militant resistance to the project. While he has voted against the project, he also fears the community organizing that has rejected collaboration with the bourgeois state and has faced severe repression at the hands of council for their stance. Casar himself has been confronted twice, once at a music show at Hotel Vegas, and again at a homelessness panel at the Austin Convention Center, for echoing Mayor Steve Adler’s call to enforce “decorum” at city hall.
Mayor Adler, who has voted in favor of the project, has given free rein to his police force to target protesters at council meetings, resulting in the arrests of twelve people on charges of “disrupting a public meeting.” His car was pelted with eggs following a forum on homelessness at St. Edward’s University, resulting in a fruitless police search of the nearby area.
The most recent confrontation outside of City Hall was a protest at the home of District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria in the East Austin barrio. Renteria’s district includes the Domain on Riverside, which he has enthusiastically supported. At his home, Renteria mocked the protesters, with both himself and his wife Lori giving the middle finger to the crowd at various points.
The next day, Renteria made a hysterical statement against the house protesters at the start of the council meeting, claiming that DOH has “done more harm [to] East Austin.” His own dealings with developers and gentrifiers are what truly harm East Austin, showing his total treason towards the working class and oppressed peoples.
The city’s process is nothing more than community theater, and a postponement here or there does nothing to change their role as managers of affairs for the capitalist class. While the postponement allows for more time to agitate against the politicians as class enemies, whether council votes for or against the Domain on Riverside, the fearless residents have shown they are not deterred and will continue to organize and fight.
In the days following the vote postponement, activists have been seen on the streets of the neighborhood holding banners, soapboxing, and handing out flyers to inform the community and draw them into the struggle. Passers-by have stopped to listen to their speeches and thank them, offering snacks and monetary donations, showing that the workers and oppressed people of Austin know well that city council does not represent them, and that revolutionary struggle against the class enemies trying to displace them is correct and necessary.
Incendiary encourages readers to donate to the legal fund for those arrested in the struggle.