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Save Austin Now relaunches camping ban petition effort amid lawsuit
(Jordan Vonderhaar)

Save Austin Now, a local nonprofit that attempted to file a petition that would reinstate the city's camping ban, is trying again.


The organization announced in July that it had collected 24,598 signatures—well over the 20,000 required—in support of the petition. Had it been verified, the petition would have been included on the local Nov. 3 ballot.

In reviewing the petition, however, Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall discovered a number of issues, including duplicate signatures and requests from some signers to have their names removed, and ruled it invalid.

Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak, who is also the chairperson of the Travis County GOP, and Cleo Petricek filed a lawsuit against the city last month over Goodall's ruling. But this could "take months or years," according to Dec. 8 letter sent by the founders to Austin residents.

In the meantime, Mackowiak and Petricek have started a new petition drive, with the twin goals of collecting 30,000 signatures from Austin residents by the deadline of Jan. 12. If it is successful, the petition could be included on the local May ballot, where it will be up to Austin voters whether to reinstate the ban.

As of last week, Save Austin Now has sent a copy of the petition to 80,000 households and collected more than 5,000 signatures, according to recent posts on its Facebook page. The group is also recruiting volunteers to collect signatures and soliciting donations to help mail a copy of the petition to 50,000 additional households.

Austin City Council overturned the city's ban on public sitting, panhandling, lying and camping in August 2019 after advocates said such bans criminalize homelessness.

Local business owners, the Austin Police Association and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott criticized the decision, which they said risked public health and safety.

Council members revisited the issue last fall and voted to limit where camping is allowed, banning it from sidewalks, near houses, near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and other shelters, and outside business hours during operating hours.

Still, the issue has remained contentious.

Windsor Park resident and former Libertarian candidate for the Texas House Kevin Ludlow posted a video showing the homeless encampment behind his home in August, where it was viewed by tens of thousands of people and spurred a debate on Reddit.

The city sent contracted workers to clean up the site, after a hiatus due to the pandemic, but residents remained concerned about such camps.

More recently, council members Jimmy Flannigan and Alison Alter, in Districts 6 and 10, respectively, faced conservative challengers during the Nov. 3 election and again during the Dec. 15 runoff. Both of their opponents ran against their records on homeless policy, as well as the council's unanimous decision to cut the Austin Police Department budget following mass protests this summer.

Flannigan was defeated by Mackenzie Kelly, who will take office next month. Alter was reelected, by a narrow margin, against her opponent, Jennifer Virden.

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