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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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."