Austin officials discuss safety, DNA lab with neighborhoods council

The Austin Neighborhoods Council met Wednesday to discuss public safety in the city.

The Austin Neighborhoods Council met Wednesday to discuss public safety in the city.

Austin's interim police chief offered reassurance Wednesday that his officers would not be spending time questioning people's immigration status on the civil level.

"Federal civil immigration [policing] is time not spent keeping those communities safe," Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at the Austin Neighborhoods Council meeting.

He told the ANC—which meets monthly and advocates for neighborhood issues—when it comes to criminal issues, his department is ready and willing to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Austin Police Department does not handle ICE detainer requests—that responsibility is given to the Travis County Sheriff's Office, and, as of right now, law enforcement officials can choose whether to comply with the requests.

But Senate Bill 4, which Manley has spoken in opposition to at the Legislature's subcommittee levels, aims to penalize local government entities whose law enforcement officials do not cooperate with federal immigration investigations.

In SB4, jurisdictions that do not honor detainers will face repercussions in the form of civil penalties, withdrawal of state funding and criminal charges for those in leadership roles.

"We do, we have and we will continue to participate with every federal agency, whatever their alphabet soup may be—and that includes ICE—if there is a criminal nexus," he said.

DNA lab to be discussed at City Hall

Austin Mayor Steve Adler told residents City Council is expected to vote Thursday on contracts totaling more than $8 million relating to issues with APD's DNA testing.

One of the contracts, Adler said, relates to hiring a consultant to look at what went wrong when the first crime lab was shut down and potential solutions for moving forward.

Following an audit by the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission, the APD crime lab shut down in May because it was outdated and its staff undertrained, according to the commission.

Another City Council agenda item pertains to an agreement with the Texas Department of Public Safety to effectively take over the city’s forensic lab.

Directional signs rebuffed on scenic roadways

Loop 360 signs appear ‘ugly,’ neighbors say This new motorist sign was installed Feb. 11, 2016 near the intersection of Loop 360 and Lost Creek Boulevard. Some citizens say it takes away from the landscape of Loop 360.[/caption]

ANC members were asked to consider a resolution opposing Texas Department of Transportation directional signs that display businesses' logos near exit ramps on designated scenic roadways.

ANC member Paul Schumann, who lives in the Lost Creek neighborhood, is spearheading the opposition.

"It’s a problem because we’re degrading our ability as a city to control the signage along the roads that we’re designating as scenic roads," he said.

The signs have been installed along Loop 360. Several surrounding neighborhood associations and the cities of West Lake Hills and Rollingwood have passed resolutions opposing the signs.

TxDOT Public Information Officer Kelli Reyna said the signs are allowed under state law because they are installed within the right-of-way and are considered motorist service signs.

The resolution, which ANC members will vote on next month, calls for the Texas Transportation Commission to amend the rule so it conforms with Austin's sign ordinance for scenic roadways as well as to take down the TxDOT logo signs already in place on Austin's scenic roadways.

Neighbors launch website to help navigate CodeNEXT

A group of about 25 people have launched Community Not Commodity, a project aimed at helping Austinites understand CodeNEXT, the city's proposed land development code rewrite.

Headed by attorney Fred Lewis, the website, which went live Feb. 20, comes from Save Our City Austin, a nonprofit aimed at informing, organizing and advocating on local neighborhood, environment and economic justice issues.

"This is going to be a resource for you," Lewis told Austin residents Wednesday.

"We are concerned that the new code seeks to squeeze more people and cars into our existing neighborhoods without taking into consideration the adverse impacts of the building of triplexes, fourplexes, and small apartment complexes without adequate parking," project team member and board member Mike Hebert wrote in an explanatory piece on CodeNEXT when the website first launched.

The goal of Community Not Commodity, Hebert wrote, is to "help the City Council shape CodeNEXT so that it reflects Austin community values of managed growth, protection of our neighborhoods and natural environment, and equity for all residents, regardless of their economic status."

The text of CodeNEXT was released Jan. 30.

Adler said he planned to "give a lot of weight to what the neighborhoods need" in relation to the code rewrite.

The zoning map is scheduled to be released April 18.

"I just hope everyone takes a deep breath on the 17th (of April)," he said.