Austin police can issue warnings to homeless campers, yesterday's City Hall clearout declared a 'one off'
After tensions rose with the disposing of camps in front of City Hall, the city says it was a one-off incident that won't occur as the camping ban implementation plan continues.
City staff said the homeless camp clearout outside of City Hall on Monday that led to the arrest of seven was spurred by trespassing concerns and a construction project rather than by the plan, which entered its second phase on Sunday.
Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey stressed that police will make multiple contacts with campers before asking them to move in the future. "The actions that happened yesterday were not what would be typical under the rollout of the new camping ordinance," she said.
But future clearouts are possible as the plan progresses given the lack of alternative sites to which homeless campers can go.
Phasing in the camping ban
Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon provided an update on the first phase of the camping ban reimplementation plan, which ran from May 11 through Saturday. During this month-long period, Austin police issued 390 written warnings to homeless campers in violation of the new ban and engaged with residents at 70 different campsites across the city. Officers connected 12 veterans with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and dozens of others with local resources. No citations or arrests were issued.
The second phase of the plan began Sunday and will run through July 10. During this month-long period, APD will continue to issue written warnings. If officers encounter individuals who have already received such warnings, they may issue citations. (The seven people arrested on Monday were not charged with violating the camping ban.)
During the third phase, which will run from July 11 through Aug. 7, APD may arrest individuals who refuse to vacate camps that have been deemed dangerous, such as those in flood-prone areas or near busy roadways. "Ultimately in some cases we may have to make arrests," Chacon said. "This is part of the plan.
Officers will aim to make arrests during the workday, when the Downtown Austin Community Court is open and where arrestees can be processed and connected to resources as an alternative to jail. DACC is currently providing triage case management services at the Terrazas Branch Library on East Cesar Chavez Street. But this service will be relocated to One Texas Center on Barton Springs Road later this summer so that the library can reopen to the public, Cronk said.
Where will homeless people go?
In the meantime, city staff are working to expand shelter capacity and identify possible temporary sanctioned campsite locations. Their search has been stymied by pushback from council members, who have raised concerns about the use of parkland and other sites in their districts for this purpose. Council also neglected to provide additional direction before breaking for a six-week recess.
Gray expects that the city will be able to offer alternative sites to homeless campers by Aug. 8, when the fourth and final phase of the implementation plan begins. During this phase, APD will arrest individuals who do not voluntarily leave campsites. "Whether or not we're able to open doors on day one remains to be seen," she said.
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Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
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Plans for an Amazon warehouse in Round Rock—a $250 million project slated to be a large distribution center—are on hold.
This comes just after the tech giant had its worst financial quarter in seven years.
- Late last year, it announced an expansion at the Domain adding 2,000 more corporate and tech jobs.
- Amazon still owns the site in Round Rock. Plans for it are unclear.
- Early this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is aiming to scrap warehouse space as it faces a slowdown in its e-commerce operations.
Part of that effort involves exploring the possibility of ending or renegotiating leases with outside warehouse owners. Another aspect is a plan to sublease warehouse space.
“It allows us to relieve the financial obligations associated with an existing building that no longer meets our needs,” an Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. “Subleasing is something many established corporations do to help manage their real estate portfolio.”
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