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Downtown court not moving to east side

Thursday, December 3, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Last month, when City Council Member Pio Renteria expressed his dismay about staffers’ proposal to relocate the Downtown Austin Community Court to 1719 E. Second St. in his district, instead of downtown, other Council members agreed with his request to postpone the item. However, there was no indication that they would ultimately reject the proposed 120-month lease.

But since then, other Council members, including Mayor Steve Adler, obviously got an earful. At Tuesday’s work session, Adler noted that staffers were withdrawing the item so Council would not be voting on it at Thursday’s meeting.

“I know there are always pros and cons and pros and cons of properties located west of I-35. There are a lot of reasons why this particular proposal makes sense, as presented by the staff, to be considered,” said Adler. “But it’s pretty clear, I think, that the appropriate thing to do is to withdraw at this time. Because I don’t think it can move forward.”

It’s clear that the Second Street location is now off the table. Adler said conversations about where to locate the court often turned into conversations about what the city is doing to solve the problem of homelessness.

“I found as I was talking to people about the downtown court location, sometimes I couldn’t get past that conversation because of what’s happening in that area, and what’s happening at the (Terrazas) Library in that area,” he said. “I think the community is asking us to do a better job of managing the shared public spaces.”

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said he was OK with the delay.

“If this location that was proposed was the right location, then I think it would be worth pushing it across the finish line,” he said. “But it was always a really uncomfortable compromise because … the (Downtown Austin Community Court) really needs to be geographically centered.”

“I’m willing to let this go because I was actually never comfortable moving it this far east,” he said.

In terms of homelessness, Flannigan said staff members had presented a detailed plan about just that, but it seemed to him they were not implementing the plan very quickly.

Council Member Kathie Tovo defended staffers, noting that the pandemic has gotten in the way of many plans and tasks that require immediate attention.

Renteria, whose constituents first complained about the proposed lease, reiterated his desire for the city to renovate the old Municipal Court building on East Eighth Street.

Rendering of the proposed court by the city of Austin.

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