Preserve Austin's Red Bluff as Designated City Parkland!

Preserve Austin's Red Bluff as Designated City Parkland!

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DEREK HANSEN started this petition to City of Austin, Texas

Red Bluff, East Austin. 

Local residents have been enjoying this scenic overlook for more than a century. On Google maps it shows up as a flush of green wedged between Springdale, 183, and the railroad just north of the South Walnut Creek Trail. Today, as described in this brief 4-minute documentary, we the residents of the surrounding Springdale-Airport, Hog Pen, and MLK neighborhoods are urging the city to protect this area for future generations of hikers, bikers and explorers as the Red Bluff Nature Preserve. 

In 2018 Austin Parks & Recreation (PARD), under the auspices of Randy Scott and with the support of the Austin Environmental Review Commission, had indicated that these 56.9 acres would be christened as protected parkland in October 2018. We appreciate the hard work and coordination between these groups, however the parkland dedication has yet to be realized. 

In January 2019, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to remove a key agenda item, a measure for which the neighborhood associations have been lobbying heavily in recent years -- approving a parkland designation of these precious 56+ acres and protecting the area against future development.

Pursuant to this motion, City Council voted unanimously to "explore the possibility of an affordable housing development" in the Red Bluff area, an East Austin treasure. 

Red Bluff is now entering a feasibility study for housing development. Council Member Harper-Madison's office (D1) has attended recent neighborhood meetings and given preliminary assurances that only 5 acres adjacent to the solar farm have been targeted as developable and subject to future discussion between the city and the neighborhood. Still, to date, there is no official confirmation on, or protection for, the remaining 51.9 acres, and there is no clear timeline on the feasibility assessment.

We are calling on leaders and concerned citizens across the city to oppose ANY development on the 56.9 acres that comprise Red Bluff. We are calling for the protection of this diverse habitat and recreational area for generations to come.

To be clear, we the residents also support affordable housing. However, we believe that social and environmental justice must walk together hand in hand. We support a future that is healthy and sustainable for all residents. We support sensible, accessible, affordable housing development that preserves the richness of the public green spaces in our neighborhoods. We call on our District 1 and 3 leaders to continue to dialogue with us and help shepherd the City Council toward more suitable sites ready for development. 

In contrast, the Red Bluff tract is surrounded by watershed on three sides and accessible only by Harold Court -- an isolated, dead-end street that spurs off of the 183 tollway construction. This area lacks access to roads, schools, public transportation, and food resources. The wooded 5-acre tract in the southwest corner of Red Bluff, which is being explored for feasibility, borders on the railroad and a flood zone and serves as a buffer for wildlife in the area. This area also suffers issues of isolation, lack of sidewalks, and resource scarcity for the transit-dependent. In short, Red Bluff is not ideal for housing, affordable or otherwise. 

We urge the City Council to seek alternative sites within Districts 1 and 3, as well as consider sites in city districts outside of East Austin.

In the same breath, we encourage the City Council and residents across the city of Austin to explore the stunning beauty and appreciate the precious vulnerability of the Red Bluff green space. 

For decades this great mound of multicolored clay, red sand, and heritage oaks has stood quiet watch over the city, providing a rich habitat for deer, owls, hawks, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, and the occasional coyote. Social trails for hiking and mountain biking have materialized over the years as residents explored these beautiful, calming woods, and as young people sought foot access to their schools from surrounding neighborhoods. The lookout from Red Bluff provides a stunning, 180° view of the Austin metropolis from the east. Residents have added picnic seating to encourage contemplation and repose. The Fort Branch Creek snakes through the area and feeds into the Boggy Creek system, passing under the railway and South Walnut Creek Trail to the south. Heritage oaks loom in the shadows of the steep bluff, joined by massive cottonwoods and cedar elms in the lowlands. The time has come to share this treasure with the rest of Austin and preserve it for future generations.

And yet there is work to be done.

The city has made no ostensible effort to preserve this land against erosion or to protect the heritage trees within it. In their absence, residents have taken initiative to clear pathways through thick groves of the severely invasive ligustrum japonicum and lucidium species, while preserving native plants like persimmon and yaupon.

Red Bluff has long been subject to illegal dumping -- there are trash valleys filled with mounds of empty La Choi bottles, abandoned tires, rusty cans, car seats and even large appliances. Social trails have opened the possibility to access these trash heaps and clean the forest. At least one such effort between SANA-Hog Pen NA and Keep Austin Beautiful was organized in 2018. In some cases innovative trail users have integrated the more useful and innocuous dumpings into trail features, such as the metal shell of a washing machine that has been used as an erosion barrier.

In other areas, such as the lowlands near Tura Ln and Ledesma Rd, refrigerators and mattresses need to be removed. Much of this can be achieved through volunteer efforts, with minimal expense from the city. But we need the support of the City Council to preserve this land as protected parkspace or these efforts will be for naught.

We call on the City of Austin to protect this area against further dumping and to restrict/enforce access to exclusively non-motorized vehicles and foot traffic. A recent wave of motorized dirtbikers through the area has endangered efforts made by local residents to ensure safe foot and bicycle traffic. The presence of motorized activity is extremely harmful to trails, as we've seen in the deeply rutted Little Walnut Creek Greenbelt at 51st and 183. Motorized vehicles accelerate erosion, disrupt the wildlife, and endanger all other recreational users. We must empower local stewards to maintain and protect these trails. 

Again, we call on all City Council members and all residents of Austin to protect and preserve Red Bluff as city parkland and restrict it against any future development. Let's build a beautiful green space that can be enjoyed by all for many years to come!

Please sign this petition and forward it to your friends and local leaders. The time has come to share and protect this special place.

Thank you.

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