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Downtown court location decision postponed again

Friday, February 18, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Responding to pleas from downtown residents and business owners, City Council has once again put off a decision about the new location of a court that primarily serves Austin’s homeless community. City staffers have recommended that the Downtown Austin Community Court be moved from its current temporary location at One Texas Center to 124 E. Eighth St., a historic building that once housed City Council offices. Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve a motion by Council Member Kathie Tovo to postpone consideration of three items related to moving the court and renovating the historic building.

Several residents of the Brown Building on Colorado Street, which is just a few steps away from the old municipal building, implored Council members not to relocate the DACC so close to their homes. The Downtown Austin Alliance has also weighed in, expressing opposition to the proposed Eighth Street location.

Inna Pevzner, who lives nearby, told Council members it would be irresponsible of them to put the DACC so close to their residences. She said she already feels unsafe walking in certain parts of downtown and asked them to reconsider the proposed location.

Jeff Steinley, who lives in the Brown Building, said there would be real safety and security issues if the court were to relocate to East Eighth Street. He quoted Council Member Pio Renteria, who successfully argued last year that the DACC should not be located in District 3 because of security issues.

Kareem Badr, co-owner of the Hideout Coffee House at Sixth and Congress, pointed out that the previous location of the DACC on East Second Street was rejected because of neighborhood opposition. So why, he asked, should that neighborhood get better treatment than the East Eighth Street neighborhood?

Renteria responded later that it was wrong to put the court in his single-family East Austin neighborhood, saying “the neighborhood has always been dumped on,” and that it was inappropriate to put the DACC there because it is not downtown.

Tovo made the motion to postpone three items related to renovating the city’s East Eighth Street building and relocating the community court there. Council unanimously approved the direction to staff to bring back that item on March 24 with additional information, including a comparison between the old City Hall and Waller Creek Center, which houses Austin Water’s administrative staff. That building is at 625 E. 10th St., east of Congress Avenue and close to Interstate 35.

Tovo said she wanted to see a side-by-side comparison of the two buildings, comparing square footage, number of employees, and the pros and cons of locating DACC at each. Tovo’s motion also directed City Manager Spencer Cronk to assess the two buildings for the “potential relocation of the Homeless Outreach Street Team, should HOST require relocation at some point in the future.” In addition, the motion asked the city manager to speak with Travis County about the possibility of co-locating some of the Downtown Austin Community Court functions within the old federal courthouse, which is about half a block west of the old City Hall on Eighth Street. Travis County probate courts currently occupy that building.

The motion directed staff to “begin work on a general plan and timeline for the creation of multiple satellite courts in other parts of the city.”

The DACC was at 719 E. Sixth St. for several years, but the landlord was not willing to renew the city’s lease. The DACC’s jurisdiction covers downtown, East Austin and West Campus. The court hears and makes decisions on class C misdemeanor (fine only) cases, not including traffic or code violations. In addition, the DACC adjudicates cases related to local and state regulations prohibiting camping in public. People experiencing homelessness can also get case management services at the DACC.

According to a memo from city staff in response to Council questions, staffers have considered 27 different sites or buildings over the past several years, including One Texas Center and the old City Hall. The DACC is currently operating out of One Texas Center, which is not within the area its services cover. It is considered an interim measure for about 18 to 24 months.

The DACC serves an average of 33 individuals daily, not all of them experiencing homelessness, according to the memo. Staff members assessing potential locations for the court determined that relocating it to Eighth Street would not have a financial impact on surrounding businesses.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been changed since publication to correct a misattributed quote.

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