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After calling for a homeless camp in every district, Austin City Council members fail to support one in their own
City staff compiled a list of 45 possible sanctioned homeless camps, spread out across all 10 districts, and Council members are pushing back against locations in their districts citing concerns ranging from transparency, cost of operation and wildfire risk.
After Austin voters passed Proposition B, which reinstates bans on camping and other activities in certain areas of Central Austin, City Council directed staff to revisit temporary sanctioned camps. It was important, they said, that homeless people have a legal option given the lack of adequate shelter space and long waitlists for housing, but they had otherwise to say after city staff presented a list of possible campsites in their own districts.
District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes (6 sites)
🧵POTENTIAL Sanctioned Campsite Locations: Today, City staff shared its *initial* list of potential campsites in response to the passing of Prop B in the May 1 election.— Vanessa Fuentes 💃🏽 (@VanessaForATX) May 18, 2021
Here’s what you need to know: pic.twitter.com/KxbaLMDDoP
Fuentes asked staff about why many of the parkland sites on the list had the word "Park" omitted from their title, which she said could sow mistrust. "I think it's important we're as transparent and clear as possible," she said. "It doesn't sit well with me that we're not being as transparent as we can be."
After the meeting, Fuentes tweeted that the distribution of sites—nearly half of which are in three East Austin districts—"is absolutely unacceptable."
District 3 Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria (7 sites)
One of the sites proposed in Renteria's district—1311 Tillery Street—is also the site of Evergreen Cemetery. "I know you didn't want to put a campsite on a cemetery," he told staff.
Renteria also raised questions about equity, referring to the city's plan to open a hotel property for use as homeless housing in each of the 10 districts. "I'm very hesitant to go out there and raise my hand again unless everyone participates," he said. "We always make that commitment that we're going to have a hotel in every district. It just didn't work out."
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar (3 sites)
Casar did not comment on the proposed sites in his district or the overall sanctioned camp strategy during the Tuesday works session. In a statement to Austonia he said he supports a range of options, from sanctioned camps to housing, and will work to identify good locations for homelessness solutions in his district and across the city.
"I'm committed to the larger goal of drastically reducing homelessness through housing with mental health services, job aid, and resources to those living on the streets," he said. "That is more humane and cost-effective than paying for a continuous cycle of jailing people who have nowhere to go."
District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen (1 site)
Kitchen worried about whether some of the preliminary sites would be nixed once certain criteria, including wildfire risk, were applied. She called the one site proposed in her district, Mary Moore Searight Park, "completely inappropriate" for this reason.
Kitchen also raised questions about the estimated operating costs of operating such sites, citing laundry facilities as a particular concern. (In a Friday memo, staff estimated laundry will cost $175,000 a year for a 50-person sanctioned campsite, or $3,500 per person.) "I'm very concerned about the level of the cost and hoping that we can reduce those," she said.
District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly (3 sites)
Kelly questioned the legality of using city-owned land for temporary designated campsites. "It's my understanding that that's currently against the municipal code for this city," she said. "I want to make sure we get that clarity from the law department and all council is made aware of that before we consider moving forward with that as a recommendation."
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool (3 sites)
Pool raised questions about using recreation centers—five are included on the preliminary list, including one in her district—for sanctioned campsites. "I don't actually see a path forward for the rec centers," she said, citing public pushback.
Pool also said she is working with her constituents to identify alternative sites in her district. "I'm committed to trying to find a way to make this work," she said. "But the sites that you've designated in District 7, none of them meet that criteria. They just won't work."
District 8 Council Member Paige Ellis (5 sites)
Here is my statement after #ATXCouncil concluded our first conversation around temporary encampments. Folks are rightfully concerned about camping in parks. Please get involved as we move this discussion forward. pic.twitter.com/fz92K8Mzxe— Paige Ellis, City Council District 8 (@PaigeForAustin) May 18, 2021
Ellis also questioned the viability of parkland. In a statement issued after the meeting, she said she does not believe the sites in her district are appropriate and has urged staff to identify other options that are closer to services, such as grocery stores and transit. "It has never been Council's intention to have anyone camping in our public parks," she said.
District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo (6 sites)
PEH camp fire has extended into our iconic Buford Fire Tower at Cesar Chavez and Colorado. pic.twitter.com/3fd0Y84wOR— Austin Fire Info (@AustinFireInfo) April 2, 2021
Tovo echoed her colleagues' concerns about parkland and pleaded with her constituents to help identify alternative sites. "Please help us," she said.
Tovo also stressed the importance of enforcing safety rules at designated campsites, citing the presence of propane containers and generators at the camp along the hike and bike trail downtown. "Having now had a second fire at an encampment in my district … We must build confidence with the public that if we set up designated camping areas, we will enforce some of those very basic safety measures."
District 10 Council Member Alison Alter (2 sites)
In an email to constituents, Alter said that the possible sites released on Tuesday are still being vetted according to criteria, including flood and wildfire risk. "As you can tell, those two criteria alone make the Bull Creek Park site, in particular, wholly unsuitable," she wrote.
Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, District 1 (9 sites)
Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison was absent from the work session on Tuesday and did not respond to a request for comment. Her district has the most possible sites, but staff repeatedly stressed that they are still searching for other possible options, including on private land.
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Texas voters are split on whether Gov. Greg Abbott should run for a third term and whether Matthew McConaughey should run at all. But Democrats are clear: they want to see Beto O'Rourke on the ballot.
These are the findings of a Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters released this week.
Abbott and McConaughey received the highest favorability ratings of the elected officials, candidates and potential candidates, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
- Abbott: 49%
- McConaughey: 42%
- O'Rourke: 34%
- Former Texas GOP Chair Allen West: 25%
- Former Texas senator and Republican challenger Don Huffines: 8%
Overall, 48% say Abbott does not deserve to be reelected to a third term compared to 46% who say he does. "A Trump favorite in a state that is turning less red in recent election cycles, Abbott has a decent but in no way overwhelming grasp on reelection," Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy said in a press release.
Abbott, McConaughey and Beto O'Rourke could vie for governor in 2022. (Office of the Texas Governor)
Voters are also divided on Matthew McConaughey, who is reportedly considering a gubernatorial run. Forty-one percent of voters say they would like to see him run, compared to 47% who say they wouldn't.
The poll found that Democrats and Independents favor the Oscar-winning Austinite, whose party affiliation is unclear. Forty-seven percent of Democrats would like to see him run, compared to 43% who wouldn't. Forty-four percent of Independents would, compared to 43% who wouldn't. Republicans, on the other hand, say 60%-29% they would not like to see him run.
Another possible candidate is former U.S. Representative and presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke, who is also reportedly mulling a bid. Overall voters say 52%-41% they would not like to see him run for governor. But 77% of Democrats and 50% of Independents would, according to the poll.
"McConaughey and O'Rourke may still be on the fence, but their numbers suggest they have the attention of voters," Malloy said in the same release.
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Austinites will soon be able to train like some of Hollywood's biggest stars as F45, a fitness franchise backed by major celebs, like Mark Wahlberg and David Beckham, is on its way to Austin.
F45 listed Austin as the location of its corporate headquarters in a June 21 federal filing—a big shift for the California company. The fitness franchise is preparing for its initial public offering, which will be as an Austin-based company.
F45 will be one of many California companies—Tesla, Oracle and Samsung—that have recently expanded in the Capital City. The company has several famous investors on its side—famed basketball player Earvin "Magic" Johnson and golfer Greg Norman in addition to Wahlberg and Beckham.
The fitness company is opening a 44,000-square-foot headquarters, located at Penn Field on 801 Barton Springs Road, with a lease running through 2029. F45 was one of the early adopters of Austin-based real estate-technology platform AnthemIQ, helping tenants find commercial real estate.
F45 focuses on one-on-one 45-minute workouts, which patrons watch on in-studio displays. With 2,247 franchise agreements spanning across 63 countries, F45 also has offices in Australia and England.
"We believe this flexibility will enable us to capitalize on our estimated long-term global opportunity of over 23,000 studios," the company said in its filing.
The greater Austin area already has 11 F45 locations, which take up 1,600 square feet of space each.
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The staffers are coming! Texas Lege staffers turn to Twitter after special session announcement, defunding
Texas Legislature staff members have taken to social media to raise awareness—and also just air their misfortunes—following the summer special session announcement and their own defunding.
In a game-seven-type move by Texas Democrats, the 87th Texas Legislative session was capped off by a last-minute walkout to avoid a final vote on a bill that would add restrictions to voting.
Needless to say, Gov. Greg Abbott—who cheerleaded the bill throughout the legislative session—was not thrilled.
Not up to date on your Texas Lege drama? Abbott was pointing to when former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis staged a dramatic hours-long filibuster over a 2013 abortion bill, which the public gallery aided. The "story" Abbott is referring to ended with him and other prominent conservatives sweeping the 2014 statewide election and the bill passing in a special session.
According to Abbott, the regular session centered around supporting "hardworking Texans and building a state that is safer, freer, healthier, and more prosperous."
However, the two items deemed at the top of Abbott's wish list for this session—election integrity and bail reform—did not reach his desk at the end of the session, both championed by Abbott to be "must-pass emergency items."
"It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither reached my desk," Abbott said in a statement. "Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas, which is why these items, along with other priority items, will be added to the special session agenda."
Abbott said he expected lawmakers to work out their differences prior to the special session and continue to pass other emergency items and priority legislation.
So, everything is cool, right? No worries?
Hours before the no vote, as the clock ran out on the bill that he championed, Abbott tweeted that he would veto funding for the entire state legislative branch. The decision would impact not only Texas lawmakers but their staff and aides. "No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities," Abbott tweeted May 31.
I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature. Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay… https://t.co/KNyuNvxP55— Greg Abbott (@Greg Abbott)1622484820.0
With pay, health insurance and other support for staffers on the line, the threats became a reality on June 18 with an official veto of the funds from Abbott.
The veto effectively nixes all funding for the legislative branch.
"Texans don't run from a legislative fight and we don't walk away from an unfinished business," Abbott wrote in the veto. "Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session."
However, questions have been brought up over the constitutionality of the veto itself. Section 24 of the Texas Constitution makes not paying members of the legislature illegal.
The special session is set to begin July 8. So, what does this mean for lawmakers, staffers and aides?
No pay, no insurance... and Twitter followers?
The staffers took their final stand on Twitter where they aired their grievances with the situation and asked for followers to increase their footprint.
Meet Jen Ramos, a staff member for Texas State Senator Judith Zaffarini—and also defunded by Abbott.
My name is Jen. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott. Apparently now I’m supposed to ask for Tw… https://t.co/pteKADP3Hj— Jen Ramos ✨ (@Jen Ramos ✨)1624466531.0
And she's not alone. Use the hashtag #txlege and you'll find other similar messages online, like Camille's and Hector's and more.
My name is Camille, my friends call me Cam or Cammie. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott. And… https://t.co/mOvcjxTiUL— Camille Lasin (@Camille Lasin)1624474153.0
My name is Hector. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott and who had to deal with elections stuff… https://t.co/88PINm9KCv— Hector 🏙🤠 (@Hector 🏙🤠)1624466987.0
My name is Jake Salinas. I'm the TX Dem that saved the film industry in TX and broke quorum on SB7 Now our Gov h… https://t.co/PLf9ScA4Ev— Jake Salinas (@Jake Salinas)1624464237.0
It's unclear whether Abbott and other prominent Republican lawmakers will come together with Democrats to overturn the veto and continue providing insurance and regular pay for lawmakers, staffers and aides.