Community Organizers Want Wider Multilingual Outreach on CodeNEXT

Mar 10, 2017

The City of Austin is in the process of adopting a new land development code, rules that will govern everything from parking requirements to how tall buildings can be. As the city begins rolling out the proposal, some think the information needs to be translated into more languages, making it accessible to more Austin residents.

The first draft of the code, known as CodeNEXT, was released in January. Since then, residents and stakeholders have been working to better understand the proposed changes. But beyond translating those zoning rules into plain English, there's also a call to do more multilingual outreach.

Carmen Llanes Pulido with the group GO! Austin/Vamos! Austin, or GAVA, testified before Austin City Council last week on the need for more Spanish-language material.

“This is something that we all struggle with even as English speakers, with very complex bureaucratic policies and concepts and acronyms and all of those things,” Llanes Pulido said. “But also, we can't just assume that things are too complicated for people to understand because they navigate these systems and these pressures every day of their life, so they definitely deserve to be part of the conversation.”

Land development isn’t the type of work GAVA usually gets involved with; the group focuses on improving the health of residents in two South Austin neighborhoods. But to Llanes Pulido, these issues can be intertwined.

“We are working on the built environment and how that affects health, and so the land development code does have the potential to really affect those things, and it also is tied to affordability and the issue of displacement,” she said.

Llanes Pulido said many residents she works with are feeling the strain of Austin’s affordability crisis, and they should have a chance to weigh in before changes are adopted. Her group has been translating its own CodeNEXT fliers into Spanish to help get the word out.

Alina Carnahan with Austin’s Planning and Zoning Department said the city has done some translation work since the release of the CodeNEXT draft.

“We have translated our introductory video into Spanish, and we have also translated our one-pager that gives some of the really basic information about CodeNEXT,” she said.

Carnahan said the department also plans to translate the video into Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese, hopefully in time for residents to weigh in, since the new code likely won’t be adopted for about a year. Next month, the city is set to publish a map, which will lay out how the revised code will be implemented across the city. Carnahan said the city plans to host a Spanish-language event once the draft map is released.

“We do genuinely want to hear from the community, make sure we got it right, and if we didn’t, we want people to tell us,” she said. “This is a hugely important part of the process for us.”

The map is slated to be released April 18, but earlier this week, the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission passed a resolution asking to delay publication. The Austin City Council has yet to officially respond. 

Carnahan issued the following statement on behalf of her department. 

“The CodeNEXT team plans to continue working within the timeline provided to the City Council in late 2016. A major part of the timeline and of the CodeNEXT project as a whole is community engagement and feedback. The CodeNEXT team takes very seriously all public input on the draft code, and the same will be true of the first draft map, which will be released on April 18. Neither the draft code or map is intended to be the final product, and both will change as a result of community input. Staff will continue to work within the guidelines shared with Council.”