Discussions crumble at Austin City Hall over clarifying camp, sit, lie rules

Picture it: Wednesday, Austin City Hall.

The council chambers were at capacity — folks had to wait in line to get in.

Austin City Council was attempting to clarify changes they made to ordinances back in June that legalized camping, sitting and lying.

After that June vote by the way, the pushback from the community was of epic proportions. 

So council heard an earful from the public on Wednesday, those for and against.

The meeting continued on Friday morning with council asking Austin Police senior staff about the challenges they're seeing with the rules as written.

Assistant APD Chief Justin Newsom used a tent on a sidewalk as an example. “There's no imminent threat, imminent danger, there's nothing inherently unsafe or dangerous about that and that's why since July 1 we've issued a total of 12 citations for all 3 of the ordinances,” Newsom said.
 
The idea was for Ausitn City Council to iron this stuff out on Friday: issues like camping along creeks and banks, camping in areas of high fire risk, and clearance distance on sidewalks. “To enforce that 4 foot rule we would have to issue tape measurers to stand up in court and say it was less than 48 inches,” Newsom said.
 
As the morning rolled on, the whole conversation started to crumble. “I’m still at it's rudimentary level, uncomfortable with us being able to cast so much judgment and offer so much in the way of rigid prescriptions for how people live. I realize we need rules, I realize we need public order,” said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

“I’m not going to be voting for any of these,” said Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria.
 
“I have tried in good faith to participate in this process and where we're going but I'm really uncomfortable,” said Council Member Alison Alter.
 
“I think we loosened ordinances without preparing the systems and the services for the obvious consequences,” said Council Member Leslie Pool.
 
“We've been talking about this, we've been having these difficult discussions with our family, with our constituents and I just -- I cannot get to a place after today to say 'We fixed it! We passed something and you can't camp here and you can't camp here and you don't have to look at people doing that over here, we fixed it.’” Said Mayor Pro-Tem Delia Garza.
 
So in other words: game over. No action was taken. “As we started talking about it, it was clear that there might be some better ideas than the ones that originally surfaced and again we want to make sure we get this right,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

Mayor Adler and Austin City Council indicated the City Manager as well as the City's new “Homeless Strategy Officer” need to weigh in on the next steps.

“There was broad agreement to say we need to focus on the ARCH downtown and fix that outside the ARCH, that we need to focus on real pain-points like Manchaca under Ben White, real focused conversations on making sure we get our police officers the certainty and everything that they need by ordinance and law,” Adler said.

So now what? Mayor Adler says Austin City Council will have a work session on October 10th where they'll discuss clarifying the ordinances again.

And they may take action on October the 17th.

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