AUSTIN — Amid a two-year public safety disaster in Texas’ capital city, citizens are again rebuking and challenging their local officials.
On Wednesday, citizen group Save Austin Now announced they filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin for not fully implementing Proposition B, a citywide public camping law approved by a majority of voters in May.
The City Council’s Mess
The publicly approved law was the climax of a contentious two-year saga, tracing back to when the Democrat-run Austin City Council first legalized open camping on nearly all public spaces across the city (except city hall, notably). The decision incited a swarm of tent cities along sidewalks and neighborhoods, a drastic surge of homeless individuals in the city, a wildfire of public outcry, a more dangerous public environment (including record numbers of violent crime and homicides), a citizen movement and petition campaign, and finally, a May election where Austinites overwhelmingly voted to restore the city’s original camping rules.
However, since then, Save Austin Now says city officials are stalling on cleaning up the city.
“We have been immensely patient with the City of Austin on full enforcement of Prop B. Their four-phase, 90-day enforcement plan entered the final phase on August 8, and it is undeniable that Prop B is not being fully enforced,” said Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of the group, in a Wednesday press release. “The city is choosing not to respect the will of the voters when nearly 91,000 of them clearly expressed their desire to see the city reinstate the public camping ban and advance actual, effective solutions for our homeless.”
Mackowiak also pointed out how the city council has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on the homelessness issue over the past couple of years, with few results and many questions.
“Their regulated camping site effort has manifestly failed. The HEAL initiative has only helped around 100 people, while at least 2,000 await any workable plan from the city after more than two years and at least $161 million spent,” he said.
“With the HEAL initiative encampments being cleared, some of the homeless continue to show that they will refuse shelter when beds were available,” added co-founder Cleo Petricek, discussing the issue of noncompliant homeless individuals. “Many cleared areas return to [being] illegal, unregulated encampments in a matter of days. Why are they allowed to continue public camping, which is illegal throughout the City of Austin?”
Local Citizens Speak Out
Several local small-business owners joined Save Austin Now in the lawsuit, describing the chaos of the city council’s 2019 decision and their stubbornness to not listen to citizens.
“My bar on East Sixth Street, Buckshot, has been burglarized 12 times, and we are less than one block from the [city homeless shelter]. We are calling the police multiple times every single day now for three years. Drug deals go unnoticed,” said Bob Woody, owner of several bars and restaurants, the oldest of which recently closed due to “aggressive behavior by many homeless individuals.”
Woody added the homeless problem has gotten “much worse, probably ten times worse since the camping ban was lifted.”
It is idiotic, does not help the homeless, and allows people to think that being unlawful is acceptable. The people of Austin [have] spoken, and again, [the] council and mayor are not listening. They have lost the recent election. And they think because they hold these political positions, they are not required to follow through.
“I am tired of playing defense and spending tens of thousands of dollars on repairs and security upgrades to protect children at my dance studio from drug dealers and junkies who are ‘camping’ on City of Austin Water Quality land adjacent to my property,” said Stuart Dupuy, owner of Balance Dance Studios on South Lamar Boulevard. “I am extremely disappointed that the City of Austin is refusing to enforce the public camping ban and allows this terrible situation to continue to the detriment of everyone involved, including the homeless.”
“After years of break-ins, vandalism, hostile encounters, countless 911 calls, keeping our doors locked during business hours, and thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, I thought we were finally going to see some relief in the stress this situation has created,” said Laura North, owner of Headspace Salon and Co-op. “Instead, months after Prop B was passed, we are still facing the same daily atrocities, and it’s time to hold those responsible for creating this environment accountable.”
Concerned citizens may contact their city council members.