While Austinites face an alarming public safety risk, the city’s mayor is busy dodging blame for the disaster he helped create.
Late last week, Austin Mayor Steve Adler posted a statement on Twitter telling the city manager to do something about Adler’s homeless camping law, recommending the manager “act on his own” to try to fix what has quickly become a public disaster.
The story began in June, when Adler and the Austin City Council passed a controversial law allowing homeless people to camp, sit, and lie down in public spaces, a decision that has predictably caused an outbreak of sidewalk campsites and tent cities on sidewalks and streets and underneath overpasses.
The decision has also caused a public health and safety risk, prompting over 34,000 citizens to sign a petition calling for the law’s reversal. The University of Texas police chief even wrote the mayor an open letter urging him to reverse the decision for the sake of students’ security.
Over the summer, the public backlash only intensified when citizens attended numerous townhall meetings to speak out on the consequences of the council’s decision.
“[My daughter] lives in a first floor apartment … and there are currently 100 registered sex offenders listed as transient and living on the streets of Austin,” citizen Susan Albertson told the council. “Because you’ve allowed them to sleep anywhere, they can now sleep 100 feet from my daughter’s bedroom window and front door.”
“I’m here to tell you that I have seen lewd acts, illegal acts, men expose themselves, drug deals go down, and drug paraphernalia on the street adjacent to Joslin Elementary School,” said citizen Celeste Wiley. “We need to protect our children.”
After a tumultuous three months of alarming safety risk and public anger—and after the city council returned from their five-week vacation—they met in September, supposedly prepared to finally make changes to the law. The result? The council took no action, postponing even a discussion on the matter until mid-October.
“I think the community is expecting us to actually act,” said Adler. “We didn’t get [to a decision] today because we weren’t ready. But we need to.”
Adler’s latest online statement to the city manager doesn’t suggest reversing or even changing the law, but instead recommends actions such as posting public notice signs in the “most unsafe” camping areas and informing police officers to enforce at least a 4-foot clearance on sidewalk campsites. Adler said if the city manager followed his ideas of posting signs and giving officers tape measures, there would be “less of a need” for the mayor and council to do something about the disaster.
“If the Manager acted on his own to do as described above, as supported by ordinances and resolutions already passed and as supported in dais conversation … there would seem to be less of a need for council deliberation or action … until we can hear back on recommendations for the larger [homeless strategy] plan,” Adler wrote.
Ironically, after 34,000 petition signatures; a chorus of community outcry; and an already failed attempt to act, Adler instructed the city manager to let him know if the council should change the law.
“Importantly, if there are any city ordinance changes that Council needs to make, identify them for us and we’ll act,” Adler said.
The mayor’s Twitter post received over 100 replies, with many citizens upset over the mayor’s lack of action to protect public safety.
I love how in the last paragraph @MayorAdler blames the City Manager for the Council having to have further deliberations instead of taking ownership for their mistakes. How hard is it to admit y’all were wrong with all of this? Do the right thing for once. https://t.co/6lreWvZ9wd
— Emily Jewell Knaub (@emilyjknaub) September 27, 2019
You are turning a deaf ear to the constituents that put you in office. This response is nothing but a reinforcement of what you and the city council already mandated. You didn’t hear one word—reiterating that you don’t care. How disappointing you are to our city and residents.
— Tina Curry (@elincomm) September 27, 2019
Numerous businesses and organizations have also joined citizens in calling for city officials to reverse their law. Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said right now the city’s law enforcement is “hamstrung” because of the council’s decision.
“There is confusion across the community around why the ordinances were changed and what the police can and cannot do to address the significant increases in public disorder,” Peart said. “We in Austin are seeing firsthand what happens when people are permitted to languish in camps for days, weeks, months, or years in the name of compassion and civil rights. True compassion and empathy do not involve letting anyone harm themselves or the public.”
Adler and the council are expected to resume discussion on the situation in a few weeks.