Austin City Council members Thursday reversed a decades-long ban against the public consumption of alcohol in several parts of East Austin.
Since the 1990s, the city has had six designated areas of town where drinking alcohol on public streets, roadways or sidewalks is outlawed. The areas include parts of downtown, South Congress Avenue, UT Austin and sections of East Austin. Everywhere else, to be clear, is fair game.
Late last year, council members began to wonder why these no-consumption laws were in place and why they applied to only certain parts of the city. They asked city staff to put together a report, compiling how these laws came to be and whether they were serving whatever function their creators had sought.
In some cases, business owners in downtown and near UT advocated for the laws, and people hoped the laws would “decrease alcohol-related crime, violence, and vagrancy.” But when the law passed restricting public consumption of alcohol in an East Austin neighborhood close to downtown, which has historically been home to mostly Black and Hispanic residents, there was “discord and concerns for residents in East Austin.”
Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents much of East Austin, has called these laws discriminatory.
"[This ordinance] is yet another step toward erasing inequities that have existed in our cities for generations," she said just before the vote Thursday. "This is another example of how some of these inequities can be hidden in policies and practices that most of us don't even know exist."
At a meeting in July, council members voted to ask City Manager Spencer Cronk to bring them an ordinance officially overturning the bans on public consumption east of I-35.
“What it does … is end a double standard for Eastside residents who haven’t had access to the same rights as most of their mostly white and wealthier neighbors on the other side of the highway,” Harper-Madison said this summer.
In the past few years, police data shows that the law has hardly been enforced. While officers cited 571 people in 2015 for public consumption of alcohol in a no-consumption zone, APD officers cited only six people for the same offense last year.
The ordinance council voted in favor of Thursday reverses the ban in areas east of I-35 only. The no-consumption bans are still in place downtown, near UT and along South Congress Avenue.
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