Austin City Council votes to create DNA crime lab separate from APD, block camping in some locations

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Here’s what we’re following during the Austin City Council meeting on Thursday.

Lots of public comment

According to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, there are 235 people signed up to speak. 75 of them are speaking on the city’s proposed hotel purchase, which will be taken up in the afternoon.

Camping ban in designated areas (approved)

With a majority of her colleagues on board, Council Member Ann Kitchen’s HEAL initiative was passed Thursday.

The housing-focused Homeless Encampment Assistance Link, or HEAL for short, calls will allow city staff to identify four specific encampment locations deemed unsafe because of their proximity to roads, pedestrian traffic or other “hazards.”

According to the proposal itself, the intent would be to immediately house those individuals in safe shelter. Staff will identify existing structures appropriate for non-congregate shelter and vacant property on where “tiny homes” could be quickly built.

The four targeted encampment locations will then be blocked from public camping.

The proposal describes the four “priority locations” as:

  • “South Central Austin, at a major intersection under a state highway overpass”
  • “East Austin, on a sidewalk or public easement adjacent to or leading to a public library”
  • “Along a major arterial through the Central Business District”
  • “In Northwest Austin, at an intersection adjacent to significant vehicular and pedestrian traffic”

The proposal asks city staff to address the needs of the people living in these areas within six months of the measure being approved — designated as Phase 1 of the initiative. It also dedicates at least $3 million for this phase, before possibly expanding to other locations.

Hotel vote (approved)

Austin City Council passed a proposal 10-1 to buy a northwest Austin hotel and turn it into 80 housing units for people experiencing homelessness. Council member Mackenzie Kelly was the only one who voted against the purchase; the hotel falls in her district.

The vote on the Candlewood Suites hotel was due to take place last week, but the decision was postponed at the request of Kelly, who asked for an additional week to share the plan with the public.

Some members of the public are opposed. The hotel is in Williamson County but also within Austin city limits. The Williamson County Commissioner’s Court requested the item be postponed for at least six months, citing a need for more community engagement.

Moving Forensics out of APD (approved)

The Austin City Council voted to create a separate forensics lab to operate independently from the Austin Police Department.

The proposal includes moving $11,908,897 from the police department’s budget to into a new Forensic Science Department — to be overseen by Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk.

It would also transfer out at least 86 full-time positions from APD, which would be non-sworn employees, to the Forensic Science Department.

Last June, we took a look at how the City of Houston took Forensics out of the police department and made it independent.

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