AUSTIN, Texas — Austin City Council members Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo have proposed amendments to the city’s camping, sit and lie ordinances that would ban homeless camping in West Campus and a large portion of downtown.
Later on Tuesday, Mayor Steve Adler and council member Greg Casar proposed an alternate plan, which, under Adler's portion, would ban camping in downtown areas where cycling on sidewalks is prohibited, according to a 2010 city map.
"The city has identified sidewalks that have so much traffic on them that they shouldn't have bicycles on them. For the same reason, we shouldn't have people camping, sitting or lying. It's not safe for them, it's not safe for everyone else," Adler told KVUE on Wednesday.
Kitchen and Tovo did not rely on the city map because they believe it's outdated.
"Things have changed over the time since the map was created. And some of the streets that may not have generated lots of pedestrian activity when the map was created now do," Tovo said.
Casar's portion would instead clarify that sitting, lying or camping is banned when sidewalks are blocked by not maintaining a 4-foot clearance.
In a post to the City of Austin Council Message Board on Tuesday, Kitchen and Tovo said their proposed resolution came after conversations since the vote in June that eased homeless camping laws in Austin.
"The linked resolution and ordinance reflects those conversations with our colleagues Mayor Adler and council member Casar and, in some cases, even includes elements and actual language they brought forward," Kitchen and Tovo said. "While the four of us agreed on many – perhaps even most – provisions, we are not in complete alignment about each one and have agreed to bring forward separate proposals for our full council to consider at the special called meeting."
Their proposal would ban camping downtown on Congress Avenue, Red River Street, Second Street, Sixth Street and Fifth Street west of Guadalupe Street, as well as in West Campus on Rio Grande Avenue, San Antonio Avenue, San Gabriel Street, Nueces Street, Guadalupe Street and West 24th Street in the area between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 29th Street.
In Central East Austin, the ban would affect East 11th Street, East 12th Street and Manor Road.
In a post to the same message board on Tuesday, Adler said his preferred ordinance diverged from what Kitchen and Tovo proposed.
"We believe our ordinance better strikes a balance of protecting public health and safety, protecting public spaces, and not infringing on the civil rights of individuals in our city," said Adler.
Even within the Adler-Casar proposal, there are different options offered between the mayor and Casar.
Under Adler proposal, there would be bans on:
- the 100 to 1100 blocks of Congress Avenue
- the 1900 to 2500 blocks of Guadalupe Street
- the 100 to 1100 blocks of Brazos Street
- the 200 to 1100 blocks of Colorado Street
- the 200 block of Second Street West to the 300 block of Second Street East
- the 900 block of Fifth Street West to the 800 block of Fifth Street East
- the 700 block of Sixth Street East to the 1000 block of Sixth Street West
- the 100 block of Eighth Street West to the 200 block of Eighth Street East
- the 100 block of Ninth Street West to the 200 block of Ninth Street East
- the 200 block of 11th Street West to the 200 block of 11th Street East and
- the 200 block of 15th Street West to the 200 block of 15th Street East.
Casar said he was opposed to going backwards on the changes to the homeless ordinances, saying he "cannot support a final ordinance unless it is non-discriminatory and won't re-criminalize basic acts of survival by our neighbors experiencing homelessness."
Council Member Kitchen told KVUE the main goal of her joint plan with Tovo is to ensure safety for everyone.
"Saying that it is OK to camp or sit and lie in areas that are not safe is not good for anyone, and I don't consider that discriminatory," she said.
The Kitchen-Tovo ordinance would also ban camping "on the sloped area under a highway and at the top of a retaining wall under or alongside a highway overpass."
But the Adler-Casar proposal would only propose those bans "where the slope is unsafe."
Kitchen-Tovo's proposal says underpasses with large flat areas are generally safe and not subject to the ban.
Adler told KVUE the proposed changes to the homelessness ordinances aren't reversing the changes the council voted on in June. Instead, they're setting out to do exactly what they said they would do.
"We said in June no one should camp, sit or lie where it's not safe, where there's a public health hazard, and now we're fleshing that out, to better identify where the risks and hazards are found," he said.
The City held another forum on homelessness on Tuesday evening, moderated by KVUE Senior Reporter Tony Plohetski.
More than 100 people showed up. Many of them had questions, but others just wanted to vent about the controversial issue.
Adler said at the forum he saw limiting camping in certain areas of the city as a path forward toward his goal of eliminating homelessness. He passed out his proposal to forum attendees.
One issue that people asked about was panhandling. Adler explained the City rolled back that ordinance because the City legally can't patrol speech.
The city council will consider these new proposals later this month.
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