Save Austin Now, business owners sue city over Prop B enforcement

Four business owners have partnered with the political action committee Save Austin Now to file a lawsuit in Travis County District Court against the City of Austin over its enforcement of Prop B, known as the camping ban. 

"Right now, the city is in defiance of city law," said Cleo Petricek, co-founder of Save Austin Now.

The group was responsible for getting Prop B on the ballot. Voters approved it on May 1, and it went into effect on May 11. The camping ban was broken into four phases, from educating individuals to carrying out arrests

However, more than two weeks after the final phase began, local business owners aren’t impressed.

"We are pretty much on the frontlines of one of the worst encampments in south Austin," said Laura North, owner of Headspace Salon & Co-op and one of the business owners who shared stories at a press conference Wednesday. "Since the camping ban was reestablished, we have still been broken into, I’ve had to have my back door replaced, I’ve had stylists approached by men, we’ve had to keep our doors locked during business hours, we’ve had cars broken into, I mean a laundry list of terrible things we have to deal with on a daily basis."

Robert Mayfield, who owns Dairy Queen franchises on Lamar Boulevard in north Austin and on Manor Road in northeast Austin, said he spends more than $70,000 a year on undercover police officers to monitor the homeless around his properties.

"They harass your customers, they want to use your restroom and mess it all up, they bother people at the drive-up window," said Mayfield. "I never thought we’d have to go to court to make them enforce the law."

Stuart Dupuy, who owns Balance Dance Studios in south Austin, said he has watched a man sell heroin out of a stolen car in his parking lot. "My business is between two camps," he said. "I had high hopes that Prop B would give us some relief and unfortunately, after May, nothing has gotten better, things have actually seemed to accelerate."

Bob Woody, who owns multiple downtown bars including Buckshot Bar on E. 6th Street, was the fourth plaintiff in the suit.

"The people of Austin have spoken, and they’ve given their opinions on this through the process of an election which is expensive," said Woody. "The council and mayor should remember who they represent, and they should enforce this because it is a law."

As of Aug. 10, APD officers have issued 572 written warnings and 24 tickets. The number of arrests that have been made since Phase 4 went into effect on Aug. 8 is unknown.

Aside from Prop B, the City's Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST), working under the HEAL initiative, has helped get about 120 people out of camps and into shelters in the past few months. Since April, three of the four HEAL priority encampments have closed.  

Meanwhile, hotel rooms and city-sanctioned campsites are strategies being explored by city leaders. However, out of more than 70 city-sanctioned campsite locations that were originally proposed, only two remain on the list. Recently, two city councilmembers called for a pause altogether on pursuing the idea of temporary campsites.

The City of Austin provided a statement to FOX 7 in response to the lawsuit that said, 

"We have received this lawsuit and entirely reject its premise. Since May, APD officers have visited hundreds of people experiencing homelessness at encampments and other areas across Austin, connecting many with social support services. During that time, officers have issued hundreds of written warnings and multiple citations. APD and city partners will continue to take a responsible and humane approach to enforcing this law and working with the people who are impacted."

Councilmember Greg Casar also released a statement, saying in part, 

"In August alone, the city council is voting to open up 200 more homes for people sleeping on the streets...The local Republican party, on the other hand, has spent their time opposing housing and services for the homeless. They're not working on getting anyone housed, all they care about is getting people arrested."

A statewide ban on camping goes into effect Sept. 1.

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