|The first problem is fiscal: Austin's future Latino majority will be responsible for paying down the spending put on the public's 'credit card' that is unleashed by an all-geographic system under Austin's 'weak mayor' system (e.g. no mayoral budgetary veto).
Empirical research suggests that given our weak mayor system, growing the number of seats (especially SMD seats) will boost logrolling and neighborhood pork. And while an exclusively SMD system dramatically increases the incentive for a council member to boost spending on public goods such as neighborhood sidewalks and neighborhood public safety staffing, it risks support for difficult citywide projects such as transit, water infrastructure, and universal pre-k that will be vital to the continued prosperity of the city.
The second problem is that Austin's Latinos run a substantial risk of having their influence diluted through 'packing'. San Antonio has a 10-1 system and is 63% Latino. Yet if we examine the demographic composition of its districts, we uncover that Latinos do not have influence across all of them.
An artificial 'influence ceiling' has been imposed through rather extreme differences in allocation of San Antonio Latinos across its SMDs. Notice that I am not advocating that all ten seats require a Latino representative. It is my hope and aspiration that future Latino majorities will vote for the best candidates regardless of ethnicity. Instead, I am arguing that it's unjust that San Antonio Latino influence is constrained even though they are the city's majority by a substantial margin. This problem is particularly relevant in Austin because that last decade of Latino population growth did not come with significant geographic dispersion, facilitating packing.
AGR's current ballot petition calls for the creation of a commission that wrests SMD boundary-drawing from the city council. It's hard to predict what effect this will have on Latino packing; hopeful wishes are not the same as hard empirical evidence.
Including some at-large seats provides an influence safety valve in the event that SMDs do not provide satisfactory substantive influence or descriptive representation to future generations of Austin Latinos. The most extensive study on council district design shows that Latinos achieve the same rates of representation under SMD and at-large systems once they get beyond approximately 15% of the population.
The third problem is Republicans. As Pew data consistently shows, Latinos are Democrats and support Democratic policies.
A 10-1 system is likely to put several seats in play for Republicans in the western parts of Austin. Not surprisingly, the local Republicans support AGR's plan. Including at-large seats would dilute Republican influence.
To conclude, a hybrid plan is not only the best choice for Austin Latinos, but the best choice for all of Austin. The following comparison table summarizes a more detailed position paper I helped write for the recently formed pro-hybrid Austin Community for Change. You can find the empirical evidence cited in this post and in the position paper here.
My hope is that we will use the full breadth of information available to choose a system that best fits Austin's future needs instead of imposing residual preferences based on incomplete data or untested assumptions.