AUSTIN, Texas - Late Thursday night, the Austin City Council, in their words, "clarified" the rules for camping, sitting and lying in public places. The most notable change: no camping on any sidewalk anywhere in the City of Austin.
In a Friday press briefing, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said sidewalk camping was likely already a violation of the ordinance changes council made in June.
"The Chief made it clear. We made it even clearer...clearer, clearer, clearer," Adler said. Also: no camping, sitting or lying within 15 feet of a door jamb of a residence or business. No camping in high wildfire risk areas or in the area around shelters, like the ARCH.
"While we appreciate that there was clarity in a few instances we don't think there's sufficient clarity," said Council Member Ann Kitchen.
The final vote was 7 to 4. Kitchen was among those who voted "no" to the final proposal Thursday. She felt the clarifications didn't go far enough. "I was disappointed that the council declined to clearly state in the law that areas like underpasses like I've talked about at Ben White and Manchaca that those areas pose risks for our homeless neighbors," Kitchen said.
John Wittman, spokesperson for Governor Greg Abbott issued this statement: "By reforming its homelessness policy, the City of Austin has taken a meaningful step to address the safety and health of Texans - including the homeless. The State will monitor how well the new policy actually reduces the skyrocketing complaints about attacks by the homeless and other public safety concerns."
Abbott's office also said the Texas Department of Transportation will "advance strategies" to clear homeless camps under bridges - they stressed, that won't happen immediately though. "If the Governor just goes in and moves people away from those places or fences off those areas, I want to know where those people are supposed to go to," Adler said.
Mayor Adler says he doesn't regret the changes Austin City Council made in June.
That said, there were some things he didn't anticipate. "I didn't expect as many people to come out of the woods and out of the dark spaces as has happened and in retrospect, had I known there were going to be that many people coming out I think I probably would have insisted that we have more beds standing by," Adler said.
The changes take effect in 10 days.