The plan, which was made by partnering with violence intervention specialists and others, merges different city and county offices to both prevent gun violence before it happens and support those that are affected. Here are the four steps:
- Use both traditional and innovative prosecution strategies for sentencing people charged with gun crimes.
- Work with community members to prevent gun violence by creating, supporting, and implementing intervention and prevention programs.
- Take guns out of the hands of those at high risk for committing an act of gun violence in an intimate partner relationship.
- Support programming to help survivors and families of the victims of gun violence.
Gun violence in Austin has led to the highest number of homicides in a single year this year even with a month left in 2021. The Austin Police Department has come under scrutiny as it faces staffing shortages that led to the department limiting their 911 call responses to situations where there is an immediate threat.
The District Attorney's office formed the major crimes and homicide unit, which would ensure those cases are handled by "the most experienced prosecutors." He said the office has secured over 500 indictments for murder, sexual assault and gun violence and that over 70% of firearm-related offenses have been charged or resulted in a conviction.
"If we are serious about ending violence in our community, we have to do more than punish people after they have caused harm. We have to do all we can to prevent violence before it happens," Garza said.
The efforts to prevent gun violence lie in the recently-established Office of Violence Prevention from the city of Austin. Garza said for those efforts to be effective, the District Attorney's office has to support that work by sharing data and resources with the city.
Additionally, the work doesn't just lie in prosecuting and preventing violent crime, but by stopping the cycle of crime itself.
"Too often our criminal justice system fails victims of violent crime, and when we fail victims of violent crime, we perpetuate a cycle of trauma that often leads to future violence," Garza said.
The District Attorney's office established a stand-alone unit of trauma-informed counselors and a trauma recovery center to help victims heal in the hopes of preventing future violence.
"I am confident that through a collaborative approach that we can continue to ensure Austin is a safe place to live," Garza said.
- Austin's murder rate spikes the most since 1985 - austonia ›
- Austin ranks more dangerous than Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth ... ›
- Austin police: Violent crime uptick could be 'here to stay' - austonia ›
- Austin police seek to increase prosecution of violent gun crime as ... ›
- Here's how crime stacks up in Austin's party districts - austonia ›
- Watch: Austin police chief weighs in on city’s deadliest year in decades, police reform and "defunding" the department - austonia ›
- San Francisco D.A. ousted, drawing eyes to Austin's José Garza - austonia ›
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.