(by Charlie L. Harper III)

No public camping referendum on November ballot for Austin, city rules.


A petition to reinstate Austin's ban on public camping—abolished a year ago in a widely-debated move by Austin City Council to address homelessness—does not have enough signatures to make it on the November ballot, Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall ruled Wednesday.


On July 21, the local nonprofit group "Save Austin Now" said they had collected 24,598 signatures—well over the 20,000 required to put their initiative on the ballot in November.

In reviewing the petition, however, the city clerk said she discovered a number of issues.

Nearly a hundred signatures were removed because of requests from signers. The clerk's office also discovered that the petition contained two versions of the language being proposed in the ordinance, which led to 397 signatures being removed.

Of the remaining 24,201 signatures, the clerk's office used a random sample to verify the petition.

"Of the 6,051 submitted sample lines checked under the sampling method, 1,147 of the sample lines were disqualified on account of being duplicate signatures of registered voters who signed more than once (41), or for other reasons (1,106)," Goodall wrote.

Ultimately, the clerk estimates that there are 19,122 valid signatures on the petition, which is not enough to make the ballot.

"The probability that checking all 24,201 submitted signatures would find a total of at least 20,000 valid signatures is less than 3 in one billion," Goodall wrote.

The petition—and what would have been a November ballot vote had it been validated—called on the city to roll back the year-old city ordinance allowing camping in public spaces. The goal was to reinstate previous ordinances in place before the ban was lifted in June 2019—no panhandling at night, no public camping, no sitting or lying in public places.

Save Austin Now co-founders Cleo Petricek and Matt Mackowiak believe the clerk's office inappropriately threw out thousands of signed petitions.

"We are exploring several options available to us, including possible legal action," they said in a joint statement shared with Austonia. "This fight is not over."

Last summer, the Austin City Council abolished the city's ban on public sitting, panhandling, lying and camping after homeless advocates said such bans criminalize people who live on the street, and trap them there by making them targets for police action and creating criminal records.

In October, the council revisited the issue and limited where camping was allowed, banning it from sidewalks, near houses, near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and other shelters, and outside businesses during operating hours, among other limits.

In an Austonia poll taken shortly after the group turned in their petition, the majority of respondents—nearly 80 percent—said they would vote to ban public camping.

This story has been updated to include a statement from Save Austin Now.

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(Photo courtesy of Marisela Maddox)

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