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Austin City Council proposes bringing back ban on camping, sitting or lying down in certain areas

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 by Andrew Weber, KUT

City Council members have presented plans to roll back city laws passed in June that effectively allowed camping, sitting or lying down in public. Council members will consider the changes, which limit that behavior at specific locations, at their Sept. 19 meeting.

This morning Council members Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo debuted their plan to prohibit camping or resting along high-traffic roads and in medians, though they would allow for camping under overpasses as long as there are “large flat areas … set back from a roadway” a certain distance to be determined by the Austin Transportation Department.

Council Member Greg Casar and Mayor Steve Adler offered similar plans later in the afternoon that would prohibit camping and resting along roadways.

In both plans, camping or resting would be banned in front of commercial or residential properties and in historic flood plains – Kitchen and Tovo’s plan specifically included Waller and Shoal creeks downtown. Casar’s proposal suggests banning camping or resting in front of businesses only if someone is completely obstructing an entrance, while Adler’s plan suggests a distance-based limit.

All of the proposed ordinances suggest the city adopt limits on camping and resting similar to the rules governing e-scooters and bikes. They also suggest the city ban camping and sitting or lying on sidewalks where the Transportation Department’s laws prohibit riding bikes – a possible solution floated by the city late last month.

The draft ordinances offer specifics on where camping and resting could be banned. Kitchen and Tovo’s plan prohibits camping, sitting or lying down at specific locations, including in UT’s West Campus on the streets below:

  • Guadalupe Street
  • Rio Grande Street
  • San Antonio Street
  • San Gabriel Street
  • Nueces Street
  • West 24th Street

In the downtown area on the following streets:

  • Second Street
  • Fifth Street west of Guadalupe Street
  • Sixth Street
  • Congress Avenue
  • Red River Street

And in East Austin on the following streets:

  • East 11th Street
  • East 12th Street
  • Manor Road

Adler and Casar offered a similar area that was more in keeping with the city’s map on prohibited sidewalks for bikes:

  • 100 to 1100 blocks of Congress Avenue
  • 1900 to 2500 blocks of Guadalupe Street
  • 100 to 1100 blocks of Brazos Street
  • 200 to 1100 blocks of Colorado Street
  • from the 200 block of Second Street (West) to the 300 block of Second Street (East)
  • from the 900 block of Fifth Street (West) to the 800 block of Fifth Street (East)
  • from the 700 block of Sixth Street (East) to the 1000 block of Sixth Street (West)
  • from the 100 block of Eighth Street (West) to the 200 block of Eighth Street (East)
  • from the 100 block of Ninth Street (West) to the 200 block of Ninth Street (East)
  • from the 200 block of 11th Street (West) to the 200 block of 11th Street (East)
  • from the 200 block of 15th Street (West) to the 200 block of 15th Street (East)

As for sitting or lying on sidewalks, Casar’s plan suggested a 4-foot clearance area, while Adler suggested a 4- to 5-foot area.

A ban on these activities in public parks and private property, as always, remains in all the plans. This extends to libraries, City Hall, the governor’s mansion and the Capitol Complex, among other public areas.

The proposed city rules would also ban the behavior in areas around present and future emergency shelters, including the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and the proposed site for the city’s $8.6 million shelter in South Austin.

Enforcement of the rules would be similar to enforcement before Council’s June 20 vote. Police would have to provide a reasonable time frame for people in violation of the rules to move. The draft ordinance would require police to contact the city’s Homeless Outreach Street Team if a person consistently violates the rules.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT.

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