How a Texas Town Broke Away from City Hall

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It’s not often that a low-key municipal election makes international news, but one recent contest in an affluent Austin suburb has people excited about its result — and its potential implications for the rest of Texas and beyond.

On May 4, Austin’s Lost Creek neighborhood voted 91 percent in favor of seceding from the city and regaining some measure of self-determination, prompting in-depth coverage by the U.K.’s Daily Mail. What allowed Lost Creek to chart its own course was a new state law (House Bill 3053) that made some small but important changes to Texas’ disannexation process.

Disannexation broadly refers to a practice wherein “residents of a particular area [may] disassociate themselves from a municipal government’s control and jurisdiction.” In simple terms, it’s the way a community can break up with an overbearing city government.

While disannexed areas may lose access to certain city services — like no longer being able to call the Austin Police Department, which is already stretched thin and understaffed by 500 — they also gain the opportunity to seek out better services elsewhere, either through the Travis County Sheriff’s Office or private providers. Similarly, residents may find they get more value and pay less for other services such as trash pick-up and emergency medical services.

To that very point, the Daily Mail quoted Austin public safety activist Cleo Petricek as saying, “I’m really jealous that they will have better management and would rather do it on their own than have anything to do with the city.”

Of course, the hunt for better services and lower costs only partially explains why Lost Creek residents voted so overwhelmingly for city secession. Another major factor was the total lack of political representation at city hall.

Austin has long been known for its unique character, encapsulated in its motto “Keep Austin Weird.” However, over the last decade, city hall has increasingly catered to a fringe left-wing agenda, experimenting with “reimagining” public safety, considering black reparations, and even establishing a guaranteed income program. These controversial initiatives have led many average Austinites to question what is being done in their name and why their interests are not being represented.

Consequently, communities have started to break away or at least consider disannexation.

The Road to Capture

Lost Creek’s disannexation election was the result of years of dissatisfaction, starting when the city of Austin forcibly annexed the area in 2015 without the residents’ consent. This was made possible by a contentious practice known as involuntary annexation.

Historically, Texas cities could annex nearby areas without permission, driven largely by a desire for tax revenue. This meant neighborhoods found themselves under city control, subject to ordinances, taxes, and regulations, without any say, leading to a form of taxation without representation.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature responded to rising public dissatisfaction and partially halted the practice with the passage of Senate Bill 6, granting voting rights to residents in more populous areas. The move was completed in 2019 with House Bill 347.

However, as SB 6 and HB 347 were being passed, cities accelerated their annexation plans. This meant that neighborhoods like Lost Creek were effectively trapped until the 2023 legislative session.

Let My People Go

By 2023, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3053 and Senate Bill 2038. The new laws aim to correct past wrongs and promote democratic participation.

Although limited, HB 3053 allows some neighborhoods in Texas’ largest cities to vote on disannexation if they meet certain criteria, such as being annexed between March 3, 2015, and Dec. 1, 2017. This law enabled Lost Creek to seek its independence.

SB 2038 targets a municipality’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and allows residents in those areas to use a petition and election process to secede from a city’s control.

Both laws not only support the principle of self-determination but also address longstanding grievances related to involuntary annexation. These legislative efforts are a significant win for the liberty movement and pave the way for future reforms.

James Quintero, the policy director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Taxpayer Protection Project, believes these measures will lay the groundwork for future legislation that revitalizes local governance and empowers individuals.

“Every Texan has a right to self-determination and consensual governance. And when those rights are trampled, they ought to have the tools to terminate the relationship,” said Quintero.

Quintero suggests that the 2025 legislature consider expanding HB 3053’s framework to allow all Texans forcibly annexed within a specific period to hold an election in their area.

Quintero notes, “Texans need further legislation to fully protect their right to self-determination, including universal disannexation rights, streamlined procedures to qualify for disannexation, and the abolishment of ETJs which allow cities to exert control without providing adequate services or representation.”

Texas’ recent annexation reforms are a significant step forward in the effort to protect the principle of representation.

Chuck DeVore
Chuck DeVore
Chuck DeVore is a vice president with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, was elected to the California legislature, is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, and the author of the book Crisis of the House Never United.

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