Nearly 28,000 people have viewed a four-minute YouTube video about "massive problems"—including trash, drug use, fires and human waste behind backyard fences—caused by a homeless encampment in Austin's Windsor Park neighborhood.
Massive problems in the Windsor Park creek www.youtube.com
Kevin Ludlow, a Windsor Park resident and former Libertarian candidate for the Texas House, filmed the growing encampment over several months. He compiled the video, titled "Massive problems in the Windsor Park creek," to share on a private neighborhood Facebook group.
Shortly after it was posted on Sunday, someone shared it on Reddit, where it has garnered more than 1,400 comments.
Ludlow said he posted the video after spending months speaking with people who live in the encampment and filming its expansion.
Although he sympathizes with their plight, Ludlow said, he also worries about violence and other risky behaviors.
A fire in the encampment on June 21 that could have damaged the neighboring homes had it been allowed to spread, he said, and the recent killing of a 58-year-old woman on nearby East 51st Street on July 20 also concerns him. Austin police arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the killing, which happened at night outside her apartment, but did not describe a motive.
The video also shows a growing collection of trash, syringes and feces, which Ludlow said runs into the backyards of the mid-Austin neighborhood east of I-35.
"For as much sympathy as I have for the people who are out there, surely we shouldn't be subjected to having thousands of pounds of human excrement dumped on our property," he said.
Ludlow said more should be done to address the issue, though he recognizes the city faces challenges.
"I think they want to do something," he said. "I just don't think they have a tenable solution that's available to them."
In search of a solution
Austin residents facing issues related to encampments are encouraged to call the nonemergency 311 line. Due to the pandemic, however, the city has implemented a moratorium on clean-up efforts.
The city's watershed protection department, which last cleaned the encampment in Windsor Park in early March, plans to go to the council next month to secure funding for an emergency contract, which would allow its staff to resume cleanups with new COVID protocols, a spokesperson wrote in an email to Austonia.
The Windsor Park Neighborhood Association plans to discuss solutions at a meeting this Saturday, which was planned before Ludlow's video was shared.
"I've been here for 18 years," the group's president, Dan Strub, told Austonia. "[The encampment] goes back as far as I can remember."
While the encampment has grown in the last year or two, Strub said, residents are reluctant to call the police "about much of anything that isn't directly crime-related these days."
The Windsor Park encampment sits on public property - along Little Tannehill Branch Creek, between Broadmoor Drive and 52nd Street, Strub said.
There is little that city officials or police can do to force campers elsewhere for now. Last year, the Austin City Council abolished the city's ban on public camping, but a petition aimed at reinstating the ban received 24,000 signatures and may lead to a referendum in November.
On Tuesday, a consultant hired to study the city's homeless problem told the Austin City Council that punitive measures like encampment sweeps are ineffective and should be replaced with more trash pick-ups and on-site safe-needle exchanges.
While not everyone agrees on allowing public camping, Strub said, he believes the neighbors are interested in helping the homeless community rather than penalizing it.
"I think there are a lot of folks in this neighborhood who are very sympathetic to that view," Strub said.
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."