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Austin City Council set to undo ban against public drinking in East Austin

Thursday, October 1, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

City Council members are expected to reverse a decades-long ban against the public consumption of alcohol in several parts of East Austin on Thursday.

Since the 1990s, drinking alcohol on public streets, roadways or sidewalks in six designated areas of town has been outlawed. The areas include parts of downtown, South Congress Avenue, UT Austin and sections of East Austin. Everywhere else, to be clear, is fair game.

Then late last year, Council members began to wonder why these no-consumption laws were in place and why they applied only to certain parts of the city. They asked city staffers to put together a report, compiling how these laws came to be and whether they were serving whatever function their creators had sought.

In some cases, business owners in downtown and near UT advocated for the laws, hoping they would “decrease alcohol-related crime, violence and vagrancy.” But when the law passed restricting public consumption of alcohol in an East Austin neighborhood close to downtown, which has historically been home to mostly Black and Hispanic residents, there was “discord and concerns for residents in East Austin.”

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents much of East Austin, has called these laws discriminatory. At a meeting in July, Council members voted to ask City Manager Spencer Cronk to bring them an ordinance officially overturning the bans on public consumption east of I-35.

“What it does … is end a double-standard for east side residents who haven’t had access to the same rights as most of their mostly white and wealthier neighbors on the other side of the highway,” Harper-Madison said.

In the past few years, police data show that the law has hardly been enforced. While officers cited 571 people in 2015 for public consumption of alcohol in a no-consumption zone, APD officers cited only six people for the same offense last year.

The ordinance up for a Council vote Thursday reverses the ban in areas east of I-35 only. If it’s approved, the no-consumption ban will still be in place in downtown, near UT and along South Congress Avenue.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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