Proposed changes to public camping ordinances force two special-called Austin City Council meetings

Austin City Council called two special meetings to discuss proposals that would restrict where homeless encampments could be located.

Austin City Council called two special meetings to discuss proposals that would restrict where homeless encampments could be located.

Local lawmakers are scheduled to meet twice next week, Wednesday, Sept. 18 and Friday, Sept. 20, to discuss and vote on proposed changes to how the government regulates homeless encampments in the city.

The meetings come three months after Austin City Council, under pressure from civil rights advocates and legal experts who highlighted potential constitutional violations behind public camping bans, voted to decriminalize homeless encampments throughout the city. However, some camping restrictions for city property, public parks and public right-of-way obstruction, have remained in place.

The decision, combined with a plan to open a new taxpayer-funded shelter in South Austin, thrust the city’s homelessness challenges further into the spotlight and caused voices on each side of the issue to amplify.

Now, two different groups of Austin City Council members have proposed alternative sets of changes to the city’s public camping laws and will discuss, take public comment and vote next week.

District 5 and District 9 City Council Members Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo, whose districts have denser populations of people experiencing homelessness, offered their proposed changes Tuesday, Sept. 10. The proposal is highlighted by reinstating camping restrictions along full stretches of road in downtown, West Campus and East Austin, as well as transit stops, designated routes that are part of the Safe Routes to School program and surrounding shelters.

In a post on the City Council message board, Tovo said her and Kitchen’s offices “worked closely” with Austin Mayor Steve Adler, District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar and community members for several weeks in order to draft the proposal. However, Tovo pointed out that although there was agreement on “most” of the provisions, the offices’ sentiments were not in complete alignment. The proposal gained support from District 10 and District 7 City Council Members Alison Alter and Leslie Pool.

The division showed itself when, three hours later Sept. 10, Adler posted his and Casar’s proposal, which, among the differences from Kitchen and Tovo’s, did not ban camping outright on entire streets, but did restrict it on specific stretches. Overall, Adler and Casar’s proposal would restrict camping in fewer areas of the city. The proposal has gained support from City Council Members Pio Renteria and Natasha Harper-Madison, and mayor pro tem Delia Garza.

In her support for the Adler-Casar proposal, Garza said she was "disheartened" that "that some of us on this Council are choosing a divisive step backward rather than working together to move forward."

Tovo responded Sept. 12, urging that lawmakers work hard to not make this a divisive issue.

"This has been a difficult conversation in our community," Tovo wrote on the message board. "It doesn’t need to be one on our dais. We can disagree on elements of the ordinance and whether/how to revise it, and we can do that with respect. We all share the broader goal of ending homelessness in this city and making sure each and every one of our neighbors has a safe and stable place to sleep. I intend to keep focused on that goal."

A proposal from council needs at least four sponsors, and cannot have more than five, to earn a place on City Council's official meeting agenda. Council Members Jimmy Flannigan and Paige Ellis had not weighed in on either proposal as of Sept. 12.

The Sept. 18 and Sept. 20 meetings will be held in addition to council's regular meeting Sept. 19. Council will also hold its scheduled work session on Sept. 17.

Read Tovo and Kitchen’s proposal here. Read Adler and Casar’s proposal here.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed Council Member Kathie Tovo's message board post to a member of her staff.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


MOST RECENT

Austin transportation officials said April 15 the range of corridor construction program projects initiated through the city's 2016 Mobility Bond remain on track for completion by late 2024. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Several Austin corridor mobility projects moving forward in 2021, program on track for 2024 completion

Transportation officials said some corridor program improvements previously planned along Guadalupe Street and East Riverside Drive are being reduced ahead of Project Connect expansions.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Austin FC supporters celebrate the official announcement of the team in January 2019. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
How, where to watch historic first Austin FC match April 17

Check out this list of breweries, pubs and restaurants around Central Texas that are hosting watch parties for April 17's inaugural Austin FC game.

Z'Tejas' chorizo dumplings are served on the Arboretum location's porch. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Z'Tejas to open in Avery Ranch; butcher, deli to open in Dripping Springs and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Maj. Vito Errico, left, and Maj. Jason Zuniga are co-directors of Army Futures Command's Software Factory, for which the first cohort of soldiers started in January. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
From a rifle to a keyboard: Army Futures Command opens Software Factory at downtown ACC campus

Twenty-five soldiers started in January as part of the Software Factory's first cohort. Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be at the Rio Grande campus for a ribbon-cutting April 15.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes leaders and Community First Village residents unveiled the planned third and fourth phases of the Austin development for the formerly homeless April 14. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's Community First Village for the formerly homeless announces 127-acre, 1,400-home expansion

Officials with the community, which is intended for residents who have experienced chronic homelessness, said that two new expansion phases are expected to begin development in 2022.

Photo of a sign that says "Travis County"
Travis County establishes new emergency rental assistance program for 2021

The program will provide $10.7 million in aid to county residents struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic.

Plank Seafood Provisions opened inside The Domain in late March. (Courtesy Richard Casteel)
Seafood spot opens in The Domain; All Star Liquor now serving Georgetown and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Federal funding is set aside for public schools to address effects of the pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Why Texas has not yet distributed $18 billion in federal funds intended for public schools

As budget decisions loom for school districts across Texas, state leaders are holding on to federal funds intended for public schools to use in addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most recent drafts of a Dripping Springs logo and new slogan were presented to Dripping Springs City Council April 13. (Courtesy city of Dripping Springs)
Dripping Springs set for a facelift this summer, with new website, city logo and slogan

The new logo and slogan were developed by a city committee with feedback from city staff and community leaders.