Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's public safety priorities for the current legislative session include making it "fiscally impossible" for municipalities to defund their police departments and a statewide plan to address homelessness that will include a ban on public camping. Both are clear rebukes to recent policy changes enacted by local elected officials.
"We cannot and will not allow Austin to defund the police," Abbott said during a press conference on Thursday. "Texas must set the example for the United States of America, not only to support law enforcement but to fully fund law enforcement agencies."
Austin City Council voted last August to cut the Austin Police Department budget by around 5% in the wake of mass protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Council members also approved putting around 30% of the budget into transition funds while they decide which traditional police duties could be moved out of the department's control.
Abbott did not elaborate on what such legislation might look like during a press conference on Thursday. But a few bills have already been proposed that might provide insight.
State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, filed a bill that would prohibit municipalities from passing annual budgets that reduce funding for public safety agencies. And State. Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, filed a bill that would require a referendum in cases where municipalities passed budgets with more than a 5% cut to public safety spending.
The Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan agency that helps lawmakers draft legislative, has also drawn up a proposal that, if filed and approved by state lawmakers, would put APD under state control—while remaining fully funded by the city of Austin. Abbott signaled his support for the draft on Twitter, writing that it had arrived "just in time for Christmas."
The main impact of the APD budget cuts was the cancellation of three planned cadet classes. APD's training academy has come under fire in recent years following allegations of racism, hazing and a paramilitary culture. Multiple reports commissioned by the City Council have recommended that it be put on hold until these issues can be resolved.
The most recent one—a community review of APD's training videos that was published on Monday—found "dangerous racial and class sterotypes;" limited representation of women, trans and non-binary people; a warrior mentality that pitts police officers against the community members they serve; and "constant refinforcement … that every encounter is potentially life-threatening," which could encourage excessive use of force.
Abbott said he "fully support(s) training reform" but is staunchly opposed to cuts.
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, who spearheaded the recent push to cut APD's budget, said the governor was standing in the way of accountability.
"In the wake of unjustifiable shootings and violence by police, our community has pushed the city to make much needed change," he said in a statement. "Now, Gov. Abbott is supporting proposals to protect departments that do the wrong."
In addition to police funding, Abbott also announced a forthcoming statewide plan to address homelessness, which he said would include a ban on public camping.
Austin City Council voted in 2019 to overturn a camping ban, which prompted intense pushback from concerned residents, business owners and state officials, including the governor. Two council members faced conservative challengers in runoff elections last month who ran on reinstating the camping ban. Incumbent Jimmy Flannigan lost his race to Republican Mackenzie Kelly; Alison Alter narrowly defeated her opponent Jennifer Virden.
Earlier this week, Save Austin Now, a local campaign led by Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak, submitted thousands of signatures in support of a petition that, if validated, will allow Austin voters to decide whether to reinstate the campaign ban. It is the group's second attempt to do so after an earlier batch of signatures was ruled invalid before the November election.
Abbott called Austin "the front door for the state of Texas" and said such a ban is important for the city's appeal to visitors. "When they come into this community, they need to know that they're going to be safe."
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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the iconic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Austin's first major league team is ready to extend its reach with a new collaborative sports complex The Pitch, an Austin FC destination packed with local food, beverages and Verde fervor is set to open in Northeast Austin in February.
The Pitch, a collaboration between Austin FC and Karlin Real Estate, among other entities, will be located in the 50-acre Parmer Pond District, which already hosts the club's practice facility St. David's Performance Center.
Dubbed a "true destination" for both soccer fans and the community, The Pitch will consist of multilevel shipping containers designed by Mark Odom Studio that will carve out into a 1,200-seat stadium complete with a soccer pitch made of turf, food and beverage options and a five-acre "Parmer Pond" featuring jogging trails.
Made from multilevel shipping containers, The Pitch will include food and a 1,200-seat soccer pitch made from artificial turf. (The Pitch)
“The launch of Karlin’s new food and entertainment experience will greatly enhance the Parmer development while perfectly complimenting St. David’s Performance Center,” Austin FC founder Anthony Precourt said. "The Pitch... will offer a strong variety of food options and gathering spaces for guests who will utilize St. David’s Performance Center and Parmer Field for a variety of events.”
The Pitch project lead Dave Greeley, who helped come up with the concept, is a former president of Austin FC parent company, Two Oak Ventures.
“The vision behind The Pitch at the Parmer Pond District is to be a first-of-its-kind sports, dining and entertainment destination,” said Dave Greeley, The Pitch project lead and Team Orbis president. “This will be an unmatched experience for Parmer Austin tenants, Austin FC and club supporters, and the community."
With its proximity to the practice center, the venture hopes to contribute to the growing "soccer city" of Austin during Austin FC matches and youth games with the Austin FC Academy hosted at the St. David's Performance Center.
The Pitch hopes to converge both community and club interests with Austin FC. (The Pitch)
In addition to the soccer pitch, stadium and pond, The Pitch will provide a foody experience made by the creative team behind Austin staples like Fareground and Easy Tiger. The complex will offer local bites including:
- Ranger Burger, which offers beers and burgers made from highly-coveted Wagyu beef direct from Ranger Cattle in East Austin
- Ga Roti, which merges flavors from Northern Vietnam with the culinary techniques of France to create a unique rotisserie chicken joint
- Taco Flats, a local taco chain serving Mexico City-style tacos, micheladas and more
- Sand Bar, which fulfills its namesake with beauty cocktails, local beers and a sand volleyball court
- Coffee Club, a coffee shop and bakery
- Corner Kick Bar, the soccer-focused main bar of The Pitch complete with "tunes, TVs and (a) beer garden"
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