No matter what side of the street you’re on, you will soon be on the right side of the law when you walk around East Austin with a beer. Austin City Council on Wednesday approved a resolution to lift a prohibition on public drinking that exists in some parts.
Austin has six “designated areas” where it's against city law to drink alcohol on streets and sidewalks. Council started creating these zones in Central Austin and the East side in 1990 in response to “a desire to decrease alcohol-related crime, violence, and vagrancy” according to a city manager’s report.
As late as 2009, City Council expanded areas where public drinking was off-limits in the historically Black and Hispanic neighborhoods of East Austin, at the urging of a business group. Residents and neighborhood associations criticized the changes, calling them discriminatory.
Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, sponsored the resolution to abolish the zones east of I-35.
Ahead of the vote, she said it would end “a double standard for East side 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.”
The vote leaves in place other central city zones where public drinking is prohibited, including most of downtown, and blocks east of South Lamar and bordering Guadalupe Street.
Harper-Madison said the resolution focused on East Austin as part of City Council's larger effort to address racism as a public health threat.
“What we’re talking about is Black and brown folks being disproportionately arrested, harassed and jailed," she said.
The resolution directs Austin’s city manager to create an ordinance abolishing the East Austin designated areas and provide an update to council by Oct. 1.
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