What you need to know about the Austin City Council's wide-ranging proposed changes to police budget, policy
Spurred by more than a week of protests in Austin over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May and Mike Ramos by Austin police in April, members of the Austin City Council Judicial Committee have proposed sweeping changes to the way local police are funded and how they operate.
Here is a breakdown of each of the proposals on the agenda for the City Council meeting on Thursday.
Item 50: Zero racial disparity
Eliminates tolerance for racial disparity in police actions and in city departments by establishing the following goals, using the city's Strategic Direction 2023, adopted in 2018, and other audits and measurements ordered by the city in recent years.
- Zero racial disparity in traffic stops.
- Zero racial disparity in arrests and citations that result from traffic stops.
- Zero use-of-force incidents.
- Zero deaths at the hands of APD officers.
- Establishes zero racial disparity goals in other city departments in terms of mortality rates and shorter life expectancy, economic mobility, homelessness and housing insecurity.
Item 93: Creation of new committee
Eliminates the current City Council Judiciary Committee—which oversees the appointments of municipal judges, among other duties—and turns it into the Public Safety Committee, which oversees a broader range of areas including police, fire and EMS.
Item 95: Use of force
Severely limits, restricts or bans various uses of force by police, including:
- Use of tear gas and impact munitions: Police will no longer use tear gas, rubber bullets, lead pellets/bean bags or similar munitions against protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.
- Use of force: Bans shooting at people who are fleeing. Requires officers to employ de-escalation tactics and other reasonable alternatives before using force.
- Chokeholds: Prohibits the use of chokeholds and strangleholds.
- Military-grade equipment: The use, stockpile and purchase of military-grade equipment should be reduced as much as possible.
- No-knock warrants: The use of these warrants are reduced and are limited to circumstances when there is a high risk and no other option.
- Facial recognition: Enhanced facial recognition surveillance would not be used as a general policing tactic.
- New cadets and training: The July cadet class is delayed until an overhaul of training can be completed.
Item 96: Changes to the police budget
Directs the city manager to propose a budget that includes several changes for APD, whose roughly $400 million budget composes about one-quarter of the city's General Fund budget. The resolution also includes introductory clauses stating that the council has no confidence in the current APD leadership to institute needed changes.
- Includes no additional sworn police staff positions.
- Eliminates open positions through attrition.
- Reallocates unused funds to alternative strategies such as training for trauma-informed responses, substance abuse, mental health, community policing, family violence prevention, strategies for homelessness and more.
- Reallocates some positions and roles of the APD to other city departments, including code enforcement, transportation, public health, fire, and parks and recreation.
- Pursue options for moving some responsibilities to other "partner entities," including the local council of governments, constables or nonprofits.
- No additional funding for militarized equipment such as tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds.
- A rewrite of the APD's code (known as the General Orders) with the input of stakeholders who would use national best practices aimed at reducing police violence.
- Funds audits of police disciplinary records as well as the costs related to discipline of officers confirmed to engage in misconduct.
- Expansion of programs aimed at reducing or eliminating arrests for low-level, non-violent crimes with substitutes to incarceration, such as rehab.
- Increase staffing for mental health first response, and create alternative response to 911 calls related to mental health issues
- Funds for and training in the use of Naloxone to deal with drug overdoses.
- Requires City Manager to report all changes to the APD's General Orders to the City Council.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.