City Council wants to know whether some public drinking prohibitions are equitable

Courtesy Fotolia
Courtesy Fotolia

Courtesy Fotolia

In Austin, public consumption of alcohol is legal except in six designated areas around downtown and The University of Texas, along Lady Bird Lake and Bouldin Creek, and in three East Austin neighborhoods. At the behest of its elected officials, the city will now explore whether those prohibitions are equitable.

City Council unanimously directed city staff to craft a report that explains the what, why, where and how of Austin’s public consumption rules and whether their enforcement is “intertwined with [Austin’s] unfortunate racist history.”

The direction, brought by District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, highlights that the three areas west of I-35 that do not allow public consumption surround the central business district and entertainment districts downtown, The University of Texas campus where there is a large concentration of minors, and environmentally sensitive areas along Lady Bird Lake and Bouldin Creek. The three areas east of I-35—an area of town mired in a history of racial segregation—are in the Riverside and Montopolis neighborhoods, and a sprawling section of Central East Austin that extends from Holly Street and I-35 up to Airport Boulevard and 13th Street.

Unlike the restricted areas west of I-35, those on the east side have significant populations of single-family neighborhoods. Harper-Madison’s resolution questioned whether that posed an equity issue.

“The fact that one can freely and responsibly publicly consume and be in possession of an open container or alcohol beverage in certain single-family residential areas and not others presents an equity and fairness issue,” the resolution read. “Investigating the history and impacts of these provisions on the residents of the city is consistent with the city’s efforts to undo and combat racism and inequity.”

"Some areas seem intuitive, but some seem to conspicuously cover historically Black and Latinx neighborhoods," Harper-Madison's spokesperson Caleb Pritchard said in a statement. "The resolution seeks a report that will give us more information about [why and how] the various areas were created and whomst they have affected, in addition to recommendations about whether any changes are in order."

City Council directed city staff to draft a report by Feb. 20 that includes data on arrests and citations for each prohibited area, as well as the ethnicity and age bracket information. The report will also outline the local history of the public consumption rules and recommend whether the areas where consumption is illegal should be changed or lessened.
By Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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