Councilmember 'shouting match' at Austin City Hall during homeless discussion

Tension ran high at the Austin City Council work session on Tuesday.  At one point there was a full-blown shouting match.

The first thing Council did is hear a report from city staff about addressing Austin's homeless situation.

Mayor Steve Adler asked Austin Police Chief Brian Manley: Do we have a public safety crisis in this city?

"Mayor, I do not believe that we have a public safety crisis in this city, I do believe we have issues with public order and people's sense of their own safety," Manley said.

Manley said crime hasn't reached a crisis level. As for data that could tell us whether the homeless situation and the ordinance changes have led to a spike in violent or property crime, Manley says the department is still in the process of compiling those numbers and comparing the data to years past.

Adler asked the same question about public health: Is there a crisis? Has the risk of communicable diseases been increased?

"Based upon the data we have, as of 2019, we are not aware of any spread from the homeless population to the general population," Austin Public Health director Stephanie Hayden said. "We are constantly monitoring and doing surveillance in the community."

Then Councilmember Jimmy Flannigan talked about "ineffective" council resolutions that micromanage city staff. In his view, they're harmful to the work being done.

Councilmember Kathie Tovo took offense and told Flannigan his words were unacceptable.

The two argued and Adler stepped in to keep the peace.

Council also started to comb through ordinance clarifications proposed by Councilmembers Ann Kitchen, Tovo, Alison Alter and Leslie Pool.

One of those clarifications was a camping ban on all city sidewalks, something Adler supports.

"I think that there's general consensus that we shouldn't allow camping on any sidewalk anywhere in this city. And then I think there's a desire to say there shouldn't be any camping, sitting and lying on our most trafficked streets and the question is: how do we describe those?" Adler said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Delia Garza and Councilmember Greg Casar have major concerns about the proposed clarifications.

"The areas around shelters that are prohibited in my view are too large," Casar said. "I also believe that just prohibiting people being on medians and slopes generally isn’t the right approach."

"My hope is that we can fix the ordinance this week and then turn our attention away from the ordinance and put this city's attention to actually housing people which is the only way we're going to end homelessness in this city," Adler said.

One Twitter user tweeted: "This council is a train wreck. Adler wants something/anything passed on Thursday just to prove to Governor that they're doing something. Casar and Garza are intent on lawlessness. When are their terms up?"

During Thursday's meeting, Adler says they may work from that list of clarifications and make changes or there may be a substitute motion with a slightly different list of clarifications.

Adler says he's hoping the City Council will be done with the ordinances on Thursday so they can focus on getting people into homes.