The Continuing Saga of Austin’s Proposition 1: The After-the-Fact Deception, Inveiglement & Obfuscation Instigated by CM Delia Garza

Dear Council Member Garza,

I read your Facebook post today defending your Prop 1-related actions with interest, in part because both the Council and Prop 1 opponents have consistently misrepresented basic facts with respect to TNCs for the better part of a year now. Regrettably, your post continues this trend. While some of your assertions are accurate, far too many of them merely rehash the same half-truths and ugly innuendo that characterized a campaign many would like to forget.

First, however, I feel I should comment on your purported surprise at being inundated with “calls and social media comments with” what you describe as “completely absurd assertions.” I realize you’re still a relative newcomer to electoral politics, but surely you didn’t think that the mere 17% of the Austin electorate that cast a ballot in Saturday’s referendum represented a reflection of the populace as a whole? To cite one example: Austin has roughly 100,000 undergraduate college students in its metro area, if we include San Marcos (and Texas State University). It’s a well-established fact that voter turnout among the 18-to-24 age group is low, but equally well-established that this demographic includes one of the largest per-capita percentages of TNC customers.

Moreover, even among college students who are registered to vote, a large majority of them hail from elsewhere in Texas, and can thus only vote in their hometowns via absentee ballot, meaning they were unable to participate in the Prop 1 vote. Further still, even many Prop 1 opponents believed there was little chance the proposition would fail, so one can reasonably guess that a number of Prop 1 supporters simply stayed home instead of going to vote — only to receive a rude awakening Sunday morning.

Delving into your specific remarks:

Uber and Lyft have CHOSEN to leave Austin. They VOLUNTARILY turned off their app on Monday and abandoned thousands of their drivers and customers.

As has been the case with many council member remarks since the December TNC vote, this statement is technically true but omits a substantial amount of context. For months, both Uber and Lyft explicitly avoided making any concrete statements about the dates they might exit the Austin market in the event Prop 1 failed. In fact, Lyft initially stated that it would not pause operations until the date that fingerprinting first became mandatory for any portion of its drivers. The problem, however, was that the Council — in addition to various Prop 1 opponents — continually insinuated that Uber and Lyft were merely “bluffing” about leaving town, and that Austin was “too big a market” for them to depart. You and your council mates made these statements despite all of the evidence pointing to the opposite conclusion … as many of us pointed out beforehand.

Put simply, the Council and its enablers forced the TNCs’ hands. If they had stayed in Austin after Prop 1’s failure, they would’ve almost certainly been subjected to continued skepticism about whether they would ever really leave town. Consequently, they both made a last-minute decision — less than 48 hours before Saturday’s vote — to state unequivocally that they would shutter their Austin operations early Monday morning if the proposition failed, and proceeded to do exactly that. While I personally think they should have made such a statement much earlier, I absolutely do not believe either of them wanted to leave Austin so abruptly. (The companies’ earlier actions in San Antonio support my belief: while they announced in late 2014 — after its city council also mandated TNC-driver fingerprinting — that they would be departing the market, they held off on doing so until the following April.)

So let’s talk about the petition drive and the election. I will keep this part as brief as possible so folks have the facts, not the twisted assertion [sic] of these two companies.

The irony is becoming particularly thick…

Uber and Lyft decided to initiate the petition process because they didn’t want to fingerprint their drivers even though they both operate successfully in New York City where fingerprinting is required and Uber operates in Houston where fingerprinting is required.

To quote the immortal Emeril Lagasse: BAM! I’ve already called bullshit on this claim several times, but since you had to bring it up again: those are the ONLY two major cities in America that mandate TNC-driver fingerprinting, and it’ll likely soon be one. Why? Aw hell, I’ll just cite myself here: “In reality Uber doesn’t ‘accept’ fingerprint checks — nor have they been requested by city officials, in all but a handful of cases — in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Seattle, Portland, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Denver, New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, Kansas City, Boise, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh or Washington, D.C. — among 70 or so other municipalities in the U.S., and over 420 worldwide.” Further, many of us have certainly noted the absence of any means of explanation from city officials why they follow the exceptions to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

They then turned in 23,000 signatures to the City Clerk. After the Clerk verified those signatures, the issue was before the council, we could either adopt their language that repealed the fingerprint requirements or let the voters decide. Their argument was – 65,000 people have spoken, just adopt the language (again they only turned in 23,000 signatures).

CM Garza, isn’t there something … missing from this part of the narrative? Oh, right! You left out that Mayor Adler successfully reached a compromise with Uber and Lyft! Moreover, it had already been memorialized in letters of understanding with each company! Alas, the Council had (has?) yet to fully grasp a famous axiom about its job: “Politics is the art of compromise.” So: it was no go on ANYTHING but MANDATORY fingerprinting, despite such an ordinance putting Austin out of step with 99 percent of the nation. In fact, I don’t recall you or CM Kitchen or her minions compromising even a single bit! (Also, what’s with the quibbling about “only turning in 23,000 signatures”? That’s more than the number required by law; the extra signatures were only needed in the (very unlikely) event the city clerk deemed more than 3,000 of the submitted ones to be erroneous in some fashion.)

I felt there were many more Austinites who hadn’t signed that petition that deserved a voice too.

Wow, what an … interesting remark. I am, however, curious: why did you feel that Austinites who “hadn’t signed the petition deserved a voice,” considering it appears you’ve largely disregarded the voices of your own District 2 constituents? Of the 14 voting precincts in your district, nine of them had majorities in favor of Prop 1! By all means, feel free to correct me if my math is off, and also correct me if I’m somehow misunderstanding the entire point of switching to district-based Council representation. Aren’t you supposed to advocate generally for all, but particularly for the good citizens of your district? Further still, the vote in several of your precincts wasn’t even close: Prop 1 prevailed by over 15 points in three of them!

I’ll also point out, that if they had gotten those 65,000 folks who supposedly signed that petition, to vote for Proposition 1, they would have won. What happened to those 65,000 voices?

This is totally a random guess, but maybe those 65,000 voices are the ones besieging you with angry phone calls, tweets, and Facebook posts?? (which you keep deleting)

[B]ecause Uber and Lyft didn’t get the results they sunk millions into, they have turned their backs on their drivers and customers and turned the blame game back to [sic] council.

Indeed they have! Maybe it’s because the Council failed to mention so many not-so-teeny details, such as the fact that city law allows those convicted of homicide, theft, car theft, DWI and sexual assault to apply for an Austin chauffeur’s license? Or that the Council overlooked the fact — until the Statesman ran an expose about it — that the fingerprint background checks used to vet prospective taxi drivers ONLY cross-referenced the Texas DPS database, and excluded THE OTHER 49 STATES? Or that Prop 1 opponents completely distorted the outcome of two lawsuits against Uber? Or that the Council wholly failed to correct the complete falsehood that “there have been 20 reports of unwanted sexual contact or allegations of sexual assault by Uber and Lyft drivers in Austin alone”?

Let me be clear, this has always been about public safety to me.

Is that so? Then why, praytell, did the new 10–1 Council fail to take ANY action after eight women reported being sexually assaulted by taxi drivers in 2014? Why didn’t you question whether the public-safety professional reports that “fingerprint [sic] based checks are [sic] best practice” were actually true? (as opposed to statements intended to cover their collective asses) Why didn’t you seek input from ANY of the 25-odd members of the original TNC working group who spent five months going over issues such as this one on a granular level?

Was it prudent to spend 8 plus million dollars and force an election because you simply refuse to comply with basic safety standards?

Considering that the TNC’s safety standards already exceeded “basic” coverage, and that the Council was effectively asking them to lower said standards: goddamn right it was prudent!

And really, whether you agree with that or not, can you honestly say that all of this process was necessary?

Finally: something we can agree upon. No, this process wasn’t even the least bit necessary. Our TNC background checks were working just fine until the members of the Mobility Committee — none of whom knew more than a fraction about ridesharing versus any of the members of the TNC working group, myself included — decided to meddle with them, following the specific prompting of a taxi kingpin. And now you’ve put over 10,000 drivers out of work; alienated the two leading companies in one of the most progressive and promising technology sectors in existence today; and delivered the message to the world that Austin’s leaders are so myopically focused on a phantom menace that they swallowed a con job — one perpetrated by a dying industry — hook, line and sinker, despite nearly every other city in America being smart enough to avoid the bait.

As an equally foolish Texan once said: Garza, you’re doing a heck of a job.

Regards,

Jeff Kirk

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