Austin has long been the weird, liberal capital of Texas. The rest of Texas just sort of shrugs and puts up with it. Austin is quirky. Austin is odd. Austin lives in its own little world. Austin is also home to some of the best live music joints anywhere and you have to work pretty hard to find a bad restaurant in the city, so it’s not without its charms. The joke about Austin is that it’s nice because it’s so close to Texas (its the capital, a deep blue dot surrounded by a vast red sea). Austin is like that oddball cousin we all have. He’s there. He picks his nose and argues with light posts. But he’s nice and basically no threat to anyone, so whaddyagonnado?
Well, Texas’ weird cousin just became a threat to itself and others.
On June 20, the Austin city council passed what has to be one of the dumbest, most nonsensical ordinances since the city’s last idiotic, nonsensical ordinance (they pass a lot of ‘em, bless their hearts).
The city council made it perfectly legal to camp out on the city’s public spaces and sidewalks, under bridges and overpasses and, well, everywhere all over town – except, notably, parks and Austin City Hall.
That’s right. The city council exempted themselves from seeing homeless campouts — let’s call them Adlervilles, after the esteemed Mayor Steve Adler — on their own front porch. Mayor Adler and his cohort deemed city hall camping out of bounds. But you, owner of the local cookie store or overtaxed home, will get to see and step over and around all manner of things right out in your yard 24-7 now.
Oh, they’ll say they have a good reason for making camping legal and they’ll say they have a reason for making sure they will not have to step over people, their makeshift shelters – and the garbage, feces, urine, used needles and other issues associated with legalized squatting that we have all already seen in Los Angeles and San Francisco. That reason, they claim, is the Occupy protests that made a tent- and filth-city on city hall back in 2012. The city doesn’t want to see that again.
Fine. But why inflict this on homeowners, business owners and everyone but themselves? I’m not making this up. They claim it’s mean to issue tickets for running a clothesline off the Discount Tire store – which has actually already happened! That the tickets create a spiral out of which the homeless cannot escape. So it’s somehow better to issue tickets if you water your lawn at the wrong time, because Harry the Homeowner can actually pay the fine, but inhumane to keep the streets free of bedrolls and poop – a policy which in Los Angeles is giving rise to medieval disease. Only in the liberal mind does this make any sense.
The real reason they exempted city hall is, obviously: because they can. The city votes so far to the left the city council is in little danger of a workable voter backlash. Che Guevara would be a moderate in this town. They will very likely get away with this.
There are two forces, besides the voters, who may be able to stop them. One is the Austin Police Department. Since the ordinance went into effect on July 1 in the year of our Lord 2019, the Austin Police Association has raised an unofficial revolt online. In a series of posts on Facebook, the APDs union and public relations arm have detailed the utter stupidity of this policy in polite, even political, language. The APD’s thinking is quite clear: This is a dangerous policy that will cause harm to citizens and make life in the city worse, while vastly complicating the job of the officer on patrol. And if said citizens are concerned about it, they should reach out to the folks at city hall who actually voted for it. But so far, no APD officer has gone public or resigned in protest. And the folks at city hall are not listening. So far the local media have not quite come to grips with just how harmful this policy may turn out to be. It may, for instance, become a magnet for homeless from all over the state and outside it. Austin’s estimated 2,000 homeless become, say, 5,000 – or 20,000. Whaddyagonnado? The ordinance is practically an engraved invitation: Come one, come all! The weather is warm and the bridges are sturdy! And we have awesome tacos, second only to San Antonio!
Imagine next year, when the hordes of SXSW visitors find themselves wading through piles of trash, and worse, and the police just have to smile and shrug. Mutant mosquitoes and raging rats will carry the Plague itself up and down Dirty Sixth Street. That’ll show ’em how great Texas is!
The other force that may stop this is the state government. Austin is Democrat-run. The state government is Republican-run. Austin is therefore a frequent target of the state government’s ire, and they usually earn it. Austin also wears it with pride. Its a yin and yang thing. Gov. Greg Abbott and some other state leaders have questioned the policy, and the governor has gone as far as to tweet the state will “override” Austin on this. But the state legislature just finished its 86th session and left town. Unless they’re called back for a special session that literally no one in the whole state wants, Austin’s policy won’t be overridden by the state via legislation until 2021 at the earliest. Unless there’s a court challenge, one supposes, but standing and process will take a while. This thing could wind up in Justice Ginsberg’s successor’s lap before its done.
So unless reason gets through to the city council (stop laughing, all of you who’ve watched this mayor and council in action!), the homeless will be a-camping on Austinites’ sidewalks and doorsteps for a while to come. Yippee-kay-aye!
Austin has gone from a little weird to titanically, monumentally and dangerously progressive and stupid. Whaddyagonnado?
On the bright side, here’s one less reason to move to Austin. Spread the word!