Austin weekly roundup: Governor plans statewide camping ban, COVID-19 numbers flatten and more

Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce statewide plans to address homelessness that include camping bans. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce statewide plans to address homelessness that include camping bans. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce statewide plans to address homelessness that include camping bans. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)

Good morning Austin. We are trying out something new to help you follow all the local news happening in your community. Each Monday morning, we will summarize the biggest stories we are following in the city and let you know what’s happening as you get your week started.

There is so much going on right now—from the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic to the vaccine rollout to the start of the 87th Texas legislative session—and that sometimes means the flood of information can get overwhelming. With so much changing day to day, the goal of this update is to quickly catch you up. Sometimes I will write it. Sometimes you will see our reporters jump in, and if you have any feedback, as always, get in touch with us to let us know what you like or what we can do better.

—Jack Flagler, editor, Central Austin and Southwest Austin/Dripping Springs editions

A state and local push is happening to reinstate a camping ban, but is that legal?

Homelessness has been a priority issue in Austin for years amid a growing crisis in the city, and Austin City Hall Reporter Christopher Neely has the latest developments this week.


Gov. Greg Abbott, a harsh critic of the way Austin has handled its homelessness challenges, said he will announce a statewide plan that will include bans on camping. That announcement came one day after Abbott threatened to step in and enforce tighter restrictions in Austin, which lifted its camping ban in 2019.

Meanwhile, a local effort to reinstate the camping ban is also underway. Nonprofit group Save Austin Now said this week it turned in more than the required 20,000 signatures to the Austin City Clerk to put the question of bringing back the ban to Austin voters in May. The group tried to get the question on the November ballot but did not have enough valid signatures, according to the clerk.

The legality of reinstating the ban is an open question. In 2018, a year before Austin repealed its own ban, a federal court ruled unless a community had enough shelter beds for its homeless population, the community could not ban camping. That court ruling does not have jurisdiction in Texas—it stemmed from a case in Boise, Idaho, If the Fifth Circuit court that does cover Texas were to rule differently on the same issue, it would create a circuit split—which, according to Emily Gerrick of the Texas Fair Defense Project, could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved.

With vaccines coming in slowly each week, public health professionals preach patience

Reporter Olivia Aldridge has covered the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Austin, including residents hitting dead ends when seeking an initial dose of the vaccine. Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, has tried to provide some perspective for a community that is anxiously waiting, calling it a “miracle” that effective vaccines are already in circulation. As of the end of last week, about 6% of the local population had received at least one vaccine dose, according to state data.

While vaccine doses remain extremely limited, there is some somewhat promising news regarding the COVID-19 numbers locally. The community is still in its highest risk stage, Stage 5, but since hitting a peak of 93.7 for the seven-day moving average for COVID-19 hospitalizations, the trend has flattened, leveling off at 83.8 on Jan. 21.

More news to know

  • New unemployment numbers came out Jan. 22 from the Texas Workforce Commission. Austin’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.1% as, like many communities, it continues to slowly crawl back from double-digit unemployment levels in April. Austin’s rate is better than the state and national averages but still double what it was at this time last year.

  • Abby Jane Love, who formerly was the pastry chef at Dai Due, has opened her own bakeshop in Dripping Springs, Abby Jane Bakeshop. Elsewhere on the bakery beat, Teal House Coffee & Bakery is opening its new storefront on South Congress Avenue on Saturday. Owner Lance Phillips will keep his trailer on Slaughter Lane open as he expands to the brick-and-mortar shop.

By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


MOST RECENT

For a third consecutive semester, Texas public school districts will not be penalized financially due to declining enrollment and attendance as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, due to an extension of the hold-harmless guarantee, state leaders announced March 4. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas leaders ensure financial stability for public school districts through spring semester with hold-harmless extension

The guarantee also ensures that Texas school systems can retain their teachers for the 2020-21 school year for whom they originally budgeted.

Winter Storm Uri caused restaurants across Austin to close due to power outages and unsafe road conditions. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Energy GM Jacqueline Sargent resigns from ERCOT's board of directors in wake of winter storms

Sargent's departure follows a trend of resignations from the agency that oversees Texas' power system.

Central Texas Food Bank
Central Texas Food Bank announces distribution sites in March following winter storm

The Central Texas Food Bank is holding food distribution events throughout March for local residents experiencing food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lingering effects from damage caused by Winter Storm Uri.

Austin Marriott Downtown opens March 4. (Courtesy Austin Marriott Downtown)
31-story Austin Marriott Downtown opens March 4

The new hotel includes The Lobbyist, a two-story cocktail bar and Corinne Restaurant, a neighborhood dining and cocktail spot with an outdoor patio.

Courtney Manuel (center), I Live Here I Give Here executive director, and and board chair Kathy Smith-Willman (right) stand with Edward B. Burger, St. David's Foundation executive director, during Amplify Austin Day 2020. (Courtesy Trent Lee Photography)
Here's how to support Central Texas nonprofits during ninth annual Amplify Austin Day on March 4-5

The annual 24-hour giving campaign will begin at 6 p.m. on March 4.

People wait in line to receive a vaccine at an Austin Public Health vaccination site. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas offers COVID-19 vaccinations to school, child care workers

Educators, school staff and child care professionals are qualified to receive coronavirus vaccines effective immediately.

In response to Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 announcement that Texas' statewide mask mandate and COVID-19-related business restrictions will be lifted as of March 10, the Texas Education Agency released updated public health guidance March 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Updated Texas Education Agency guidance allows individual school boards to determine mask policies

"Under this updated guidance, a public school system's current practices on masks may continue unchanged. Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy," the release reads.

H-E-B will continue to require employees to wear face masks until further notice. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-E-B to require employees, ask customers to be masked despite upcoming expiration of governor's mandate

H-E-B officials announced their employees and vendors would still be required to be masked while on the job, and customers would be encouraged to wear masks while in stores.

Photo from inside a movie theater
Alamo Drafthouse files for bankruptcy, closes theaters in downtown Austin and New Braunfels

Most theaters will remain open under an asset purchase agreement to the company's senior lending partners.

Winter Storm Uri ice
Winter storm closures deepen financial woes for Austin’s pandemic-battered restaurant scene

Some restaurants in Austin lost thousands of dollars in lost business due to business closures during Winter Storm Uri.

Photo of a SpaceX sign
Elon Musk's SpaceX is coming to Austin

Job postings on the SpaceX website say the company is breaking ground on a "state of the art" manufacturing facility in Ausin.