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Renteria opposes East Austin location for court

Wednesday, November 11, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Council Member Pio Renteria expressed dismay at Tuesday’s work session over the Downtown Austin Community Court’s planned relocation to East Austin. Renteria told his colleagues he had just found out about the proposal to lease 30,000 square feet of office space at 1719 E. Second St. within his district. That location, he said, is just half a block from the eastern boundary of the downtown court. The lease is on Thursday’s agenda.

Renteria said he had not heard anything about the city contacting the neighborhood to let them know the plan.

“I’m afraid that if we go ahead and approve this that there’s going to be a lot of angry residents, because it’s in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” close to apartments on Chalmers and single-family houses on the other side of the street. He said the location was not only “completely away from downtown,” but close to the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Chalmers, which has been a problematic area due to drug dealing.

“I want more time to look into this and see if it’s really the appropriate place,” Renteria said. “Something like this should be downtown.”

Interim Real Estate Officer Alex Gale said staff members went through a rigorous process, looking at multiple spaces to find one that suited their needs. At the direction of Council, staffers considered two city-owned locations downtown – the first floor of the Faulk Library on Guadalupe and the Municipal Building on Eighth Street. According to a Sept. 18 memo, an analysis of both buildings “noted multiple constraints in utilizing either site including space, parking, costs and timeline. … Due to the continued deteriorating condition of DACC’s current location, staff will continue pursuit of the lease space on E. 2nd Street which will provide short to midterm space built out” to the court’s specifications.

Staff members propose a 120-month lease with one 10-year extension option for up to about $21.5 million. The city currently leases 4,900 square feet at 719 E. Sixth St. for $10,170 per month. In addition, the court leases 20 parking spaces for employees for about $38,000 per year, at a total of about $160,000 annually.

According to the staff recommendation for action, the lease expired at the end of May, but the court has continued to rent the space on a month-to-month basis. With an increase in its caseload, the court has had to start a waitlist, which now stands at more than 200 people. Of course, the court has had to hire additional staff. The memo says, “the current facility was originally designed to accommodate approximately 15 employees; (the court) currently has 31 employees and was recently approved to hire six additional case managers and house an additional parks ground crew leader, bringing the staff total to 38.”

The court is temporarily operating out of the Terrazas Branch Library at 1105 E. Cesar Chavez in the same neighborhood. Gale told Council his office does not generally contact neighborhood residents before making a decision about leasing space. Alex Valdes, representing the court, said his office had not had any inquiries from the neighborhood regarding the Terrazas library or the proposed rental space.

Covid-19 has interfered with the court’s normal operations. According to a note on the city website, the court “will maintain triage case management services” at the library until libraries reopen to the public.

Renteria said if the item is not postponed Thursday, he will simply vote against it.

Rendering courtesy of the city of Austin.

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