Top Austin Headlines of 2021: Voters Resurrect Camping Ban

May 1: Austin voters approve Proposition B, a citizen initiative from Save Austin Now to restore some criminal penalties for camping in public and panhandling

Clean up at an encampment in Downtown Austin in September (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Save Austin Now's 58%-42% victory in this May city election was not unexpected, despite the alignment of most Austin progressive advocates (including this newspaper) against Prop B's restoration of criminal consequences for the experience of homelessness. The GOP-backed political action committee co-founded by county party Chair Matt Mackowiak, and loudly endorsed by Central Austin resident Gov. Greg Abbott, spent more than a year gathering its signatures amidst pandemic conditions, including mailing its proposed ordinance to every Austin voter. That lengthy exposure, and the more than $1.5 million SAN raised and spent on its campaign, was enough to galvanize the highest turnout in a May election since 1994. An organized campaign against Prop B, by the same Homes not Handcuffs coalition who'd lobbied for the ban to be lifted in 2019, got started much too late and raised too little money to slow SAN's roll very much.

While this proved embarrassing to Austin liberals, which was the most important goal of this political exercise, in real life Prop B had almost no effect. The Texas Legislature rolled out its own statewide version of a camping ban that preempts SAN's ordinance; the city, with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief funds, has slowly made progress in getting unsheltered Austinites into supportive services and eventually housing; and hopes of a conservative resurgence in Travis County politics proved short-lived come November.

Ironically, the most lasting impact of Prop B came as collateral damage, as the hordes of atypically right-leaning Austin voters put a hard stop to the "pro-democracy" campaign of Austinites for Progressive Reform to amend the City Charter at the same May 1 election. The most significant of the APR measures, Proposition F's proposed conversion of City Hall from a council-manager to "strong mayor" form of government, was rejected spectacularly, 14%-86%.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Top 10s 2021
Steve Davis’s Top 10 Films of 2021
Steve Davis’s Top 10 Films of 2021

Steve Davis, Dec. 17, 2021

Sarah Jane’s Top 10 Films of 2021
Sarah Jane’s Top 10 Films of 2021

Sarah Jane, Dec. 17, 2021

More by Mike Clark-Madison
Austin at Large: Back (and Forth) to the Future
Austin at Large: Back (and Forth) to the Future
At some point Austin history will stop looping upon itself. Until next time …

March 17, 2023

Austin at Large: The Train Can’t Be Too Late
Austin at Large: The Train Can’t Be Too Late
It’s going to be sad, so sad, when Mayor Pete’s money comes if Austin’s not ready

March 10, 2023


Top 10s 2021, Proposition B, camping ban, Save Austin Now, homelessness, Homes Not Handcuffs, Austinites for Progressive Reform, strong mayor, Matt Mackowiak

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle