Austin's camping ban is back. After being lifted by City Council in 2019, the ban takes effect again today, after nearly 58% of city residents voted to reinstate it in the May 1 election.
The city of Austin announced a multi-phase plan to implement and enforce ordinances related to Proposition B, which will reinstate bans on camping as well as sitting, lying and panhandling in certain areas downtown, in West Campus and in near East Austin. Arrests will not occur until at least July 10 and will only be used as a last resort, Austin Police Department Interim Chief Joseph Chacon said during a press conference Tuesday.
Save Austin Now, the local political action committee that spearheaded Prop B, has called on the city to enforce the camping ban and related ordinances immediately. "Disrespecting the will of the voters in this way is a 'slap in the face' of the nearly 91,000 Austinites who demand their city become safe and clean again for everyone," co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said in a statement Tuesday.
During the first phase of the implementation plan, city officials and police are focused on education and outreach, making sure homeless people understand the new ordinances and where they can access social services. Other than voluntary compliance, they do not expect to require people to move during this period. "We are laser-focused on addressing homelessness in a safe and humane manner," City Manager Spencer Cronk said at the same event.
Ray Stansberry moved his tent outside of City Hall four days ago in hopes that he could draw some attention to his case: he's been on a local waiting list for housing for seven months and even attended a virtual tour of Community First! Village, a development that is home to more than 220 formerly chronically homeless residents. But he recently received a letter saying his application for a housing voucher was missing some documents, so he remains on the streets. "That's on me," he told Austonia.
Stansberry didn't know when the police might start issuing citations or making arrests related to the newly reinstated bans. For now, he plans to keep looking for work, which he said has proven difficult because of a criminal record and a leg injury. He is also on shelter waitlists in San Antonio and Houston. If all else fails, he'll move to Florida. "Sometimes you just got to go to a whole new location," he said.
The point-in-time count, an annual census of the city's homeless population conducted by the Ending Community Homeless Coalition each January, found 1,574 unsheltered homeless people in Austin-Travis County in 2020. The 2021 count was canceled due to concerns about the pandemic.
Local elected officials and homeless service providers have expressed concern about where homeless people will go.
Council members voted unanimously on Thursday to direct the city manager to develop a plan and budget for temporary encampments, including 10 possible sites, one in each council district. Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the resolution, said such sites are critical with the city's emergency shelters and Camp Esperanza, state-run campsite off of Hwy. 183 near Montopolis, at capacity.
Members also voted to adopt and fund the Homeless Encampment Assistance Link, or HEAL, initiative in early February. The $4.3 million plan aims to connect around 100 homeless residents at four major camps with housing or shelter by the end of August.
These efforts will take time, however. In the meantime, ECHO Executive Director Matthew Mollica told Austonia last week that homeless people are left without a clear, legal option: "There is no place for them to go."
This story has been updated to include more details after a noon press conference with city officials and a statement issued by Save Austin Now.
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East Austin restaurant la Barbecue has been robbed a third time in less than three months, according to a post on the restaurant's Instagram.
In the post, the restaurant included photos of what appeared to be a man exiting a minivan from surveillance footage.
"This guy pulled up in a car full of stuff… he ripped our gate open and stole a couple empty kegs," the post said. "The ring system scared him off so he did not venture back into the area. PLEASE EVERYONE ON THE EAST SIDE BE CAREFUL!!! This guy goes back into his car to grab something before he goes in. I am hoping he won’t be back!!"
The robbery comes as many restaurant and food truck owners have been on guard from recent break-ins. East Austin cheesesteak truck R&B's Steak and Fries has also been robbed three times in around three months, according to owner Kris Elliott. Elliot said the truck was last robbed around a month and a half ago.
"When the weather gets cold, it seems like these things start to happen more often," Elliott said. "We're just happy no one got hurt."
Additionally, he said all 5 of the food trucks in their lot have experienced burglaries. The landlord of the space is taking action by investing in alarm and camera systems. "Been very tough dealing with this problem as us small business owners are just trying to survive during the pandemic," Elliott said.
And it's not just in East Austin. North Austin restaurants Eldorado Cafe and Chez Zee Bistro were both broken into and robbed on the weekend of Jan. 8, while over a dozen food truck robberies and break-ins were reported in the latter half of 2021.
Some, like Chez Zee's Deborah Velasco, wonder if the understaffed Austin Police Department's decision to no longer respond to non-emergency calls is part of the problem. Xose Velasco, owner of East Austin's Discada, said owners are keeping their guard up in the wake of the robberies as he was robbed twice within a month of reopening in November 2021.
"We try to keep the lights on," Velasco said. "We're a little bit more careful."
After 12 months, the long-anticipated massive Tesla factory in Southeast Travis County is up and operating and everyone wants a look inside.
Phase 1 of Giga Texas appears to be tied up as production of the Model Y Tesla is underway, the electric car company revealed on Wednesday in its fourth-quarter earnings call. The factory, located on the former Harold Green-turned Tesla Road, sits on more than 2,000 acres of land in southeast Travis County.
Here's a glimpse inside the factory.
Model Ys will be the first Teslas to come out of Giga Texas with an estimated delivery of August. The wait estimate comes after Tesla noted supply chain issues have affected their factories, which have been running below capacity for several quarters. A deep blue metallic like this goes for $1,000 more than a white or silver Model Y, totaling $61,990.
Model Ys began being produced at Giga Texas at the end of 2020. In general assembly at the factory, the Teslas get their major interior components to finish the vehicle.
Workers at Austin's Gigafactory are attaching seats to a structural battery pack. It's been described by some as the biggest difference between Texas-made Model Y's and the current version at the Fremont, California factory. It shouldn't have a major impact on the owner's experience, but Tesla has updated instructions for the jacking procedure, as the lift points are different.
With a sleek, open office setup, workers can take in a view of the factory from their seats. It's a component CEO Elon Musk wanted for what is now the headquarters of Tesla.
On the Austin, Texas public location Snapchat, a photo of inside Giga Texas has appeared. On the left you can see a sneak peek of a Model Y body.pic.twitter.com/N7zliZ5vkL— Sawyer Merritt (@Sawyer Merritt) 1643081462
With Snapchat's maps, anyone can look at everyday activity happening at the factory. To view these geographically-linked stories, click the bottom left "map" icon and search "Tesla Giga Texas." Once you've found it, you can view the Snapchat story of those in and around the facility. While most stories stay up for only 24 hours, Giga Texas is a designated place on Snapchat, allowing users to view a collection of photos and videos from the inside.
Following Model Ys, Texas-made Teslas will include the Cybertruck, Semi and Model 3. But it might be a while before those other models arrive. EV makers have been hit hard by the chip shortage, and it's thought that changing features are contributing to Cybertruck delays as Tesla works to compete in the electric pickup market.
Joe Rogan paid a visit to buddy Elon Musk this week. The two have been seen around town since both moving to Texas. Naturally, Rogan was impressed with the prototype.
If you're dying to get a closer look at this factory, you just might get to. In December, Musk said the factory would have tours available to the community early this year.
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