City Hall

Gaden Shartse Phukhang Monastery Mandala

Tibetan monks Konchok Jampa, top, and Lobsang Tsundu work diligently at City Hall on a sand mandala, a traditional Tibetan artwork. The mandala takes 5 days to finish and is part of the Gaden Shartse Phukhang Monastery’s tour to share the beauty of the traditional practice with the public.

Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Mayor Steve Adler gets sworn in by Municipal Judge Sherry Statman at Austin City Hall on Tuesday evening. City council members were also sworn in at the event which celebrated the 10-1 system of geographic representation with one council member per district. 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Austin’s newly elected mayor and council members took their oaths of office Tuesday during an inauguration ceremony held at City Hall, becoming Austin’s first city council elected under the new single-member district system.  

The system, also known as 10-1, reorganized the city council’s structure from six city-wide seats to 10 single-member geographic districts.

During the ceremony, council members drew from a bag of black and white marbles to determine their term limits so that future council member elections will occur on a staggered basis. Delia Garza of District 3, Gregorio Casar or District 4, Don Zimmerman of District 6, Leslie Pool of District 7 and Sheri Gallo of District 10 drew white marbles and will serve 2-year terms. The remaining five members will serve 4-year terms.

The members then selected a new Mayor Pro Tem, District 9’s Kathie Tovo, with a 10-1 vote.

Mayor Steve Adler said the new council will operate more transparently and make it easier for the public to be involved. In the past, debates around especially contentious issues, like a ban on so-called "stealth dorms," would stretch meetings past midnight.

“You won't have to be at City Council at 3 a.m.,” Adler said.

With seven female councilmembers and three Hispanic members, the new council represents the cultural, geographic, economic and political diversity of the city, according the Adler.

“I’m hoping that you see yourself on this dias, and if you don’t, rest assured that we’re going to make sure that you’re sitting at the table with us together as we shape our city’s future,” Adler said.

The council will meet Thursday to address city administration and governance. Adler said the council will work to promote affordability and better-paying jobs.

“We can’t let the story of Austin be a tale of two cities,” Adler said. “We are losing people and whole communities, and with that, we are losing our city’s soul.”

Nathan Wilkes, Austin Transportation Department spokesman, talks about the Bicycle Master Plan at City Hall on Thursday.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

At their meeting Thursday in the newly renovated chambers in City Hall, the Austin City Council passed the Bicycle Master Plan and agreed to discuss the land development code rewrite at their next meeting.

The City Council unanimously passed the Bicycle Master Plan after hearing from three members of the public and amending the resolution. Nathan Wilkes, Austin Transportation Department spokesman, presented the plan as a reboot of the former 2009 Bicycle Master Plan.

“Bicycling is a way to connect people, and to create affordability and create a healthy Austin,” Wilkes said. “In the 2009 plan, it was, ‘What can Austin do to be better for bicycling?’ Now we’re saying, ‘What can bicycling do to meet [Austin’s] goals?’”

The three main points the master plan addresses include creating an infrastructure of protected bike lanes that people would feel comfortable using, connecting the network of lanes to make all of Austin accessible by bicycle, and changing the way people take short trips — 3 miles or under — from automobile to bicycle.

Wilkes stressed that the 2014 bicycle master plan is not the same as the 2009 master plan.

“I wanted to speak a little to the project level implementation process — how we get projects on the ground,” Wilkes said. “This is the master planning process. What’s in the 2009 plan is not going to be on the ground verbatim. It has to be tested by the public.”

According to Wilkes, the planning process of the current master plan started two years ago.

“We kicked this off in August 2012,” Wilkes said. “We started public outreach about a year after we kicked off. Those meetings continued until February 2014. We received a lot of positive feedback; we received 2,000 some comments in support.”

According to Wilkes, the bicycle plan and the urban trails plan are intertwined, and the success of one relies on the success of the other.

“This network is not just made up of protected lanes,” Wilkes said. “The urban trails are a key component of this network. Without those, it would be fragmented. The investment is a $151 million investment, including the investment in the urban trails.”

The City Council also opened the land development code rewrite, CodeNEXT, up for public hearing. Several members of the community testified about their preferences on how to approach rewriting Austin’s land development code. 

City staff and the hired consultant firm Opticos recommended “The Deep Clean” approach as the best way to approach rewriting the code. “The Deep Clean” would completely reformat and reorganize the code, while only implementing a “medium” extent content rewrite. Some citizen speakers were in favor of “The Complete Makeover” approach, which would consist of a more extensive rewrite and take longer than “The Deep Clean.”

A few speakers advised against the City Council making a decision at all. Zilker neighborhood resident David King used the tale of Goldilocks as an example of how simplistically the City Council sought to solve the code rewrite.

“I don’t think any of these proposed options reflect Austin’s values and culture,” King said. “I would ask that we take the time to build an Austin option — not a generic one, two, three. If you make a decision on the code alternatives, you are locking the next Council into that decision. What is the rush to make the decision now? There’s plenty of work to be done on the new project without making a decision now. It can wait until the new Council.”

Without City Council member Bill Spelman on the dais, the City Council stayed divided between the two approaches. They will discuss CodeNEXT again on Nov. 20.

LIVEBLOG: Texas Senate committee hears abortion legislation

Pro-choice activists Melissa Gabriel, Ally Parks and Tina Johnson look over pro-life demonstrators at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas on Tuesday afternoon as part of the first day of hearings on House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 1, which would restrict abortion in the state. Activists of both sides attended the hearings in order to bear testimony on the bills as well as voice their opinions.
Pro-choice activists Melissa Gabriel, Ally Parks and Tina Johnson look over pro-life demonstrators at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas on Tuesday afternoon as part of the first day of hearings on House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 1, which would restrict abortion in the state. Activists of both sides attended the hearings in order to bear testimony on the bills as well as voice their opinions.

Tuesday, 1:55 a.m. — The Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services went into recess at about 1:45 a.m., without voting on the abortion bill it was hearing.

Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the committee, said more than 3,800 registered an opinion on Senate Bill 1, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks and place additional restrictions on abortion healthcare. She could not provide the break down of how many registered for or against the bill.

"There are very strong feelings on this issue, and it was important to this committee that we took the time necessary to hear from everyone," Nelson said. 

Nelson noted, with pride, that the entire committee was still at the hearing when the committee went into recess. The hearing lasted for more than 13 hours. 

Tuesday, 12:25 a.m. — Testimony on the Senate's abortion bill continued past midnight.

One woman was escorted out of the room by DPS officers when she began to call the committee hearing "a hoax." Another woman who testifed sung a song to the committee. She wanted to use a ukulele, but Nelson requested she not use it.

Nelson has promised she would hear all testimony from anyone that was in line to testify at 11 a.m. Monday morning.

For our story on the two rallies at the Texas Capitol, click here.

6:00 p.m. — As the sun started to set and the evening began, testimony continued in the Senate's Committee on Health and Human Services hearing.

While testimonies continue, two different rallys are expected to begin at the Capitol on Monday night.

At 7 p.m., an anti-abortion group will meet on the South Steps. Speakers will include former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. 

Then, at 8 p.m., opponents of the abortion legislation and restrictions will march from the Capitol to Austin's City Hall.

Follow Bobby Blanchard on Twitter @bobbycblanchard for live updates on these rallies and marches.

3:42 p.m. — Lawmakers continued to hear testimony as the afternoon waned away.

Testimony has included personal stories, tears, calls to religion and scientific statements. 

Austinite Katie Heim was one of many to testify before the committee. Unlike the other testifiers, she read a poem she wrote, called "If My Vagina Was a Gun." Read the full poem, below:

"If my vagina was a gun, you would stand for its rights,
You would ride on buses and fight all the fights.
If my vagina was a gun, you would treat it with care,
You wouldn't spill all its secrets because, well, why go there.
If my vagina was a gun, you'd say what it holds is private
From cold dead hands we could pry, you surely would riot.
If my vagina was a gun, its rights would all be protected,
no matter the body count or the children affected.
If my vagina was a gun, I could bypass security,
concealed carry laws would ensure I'd have impunity.
If my vagina was a gun, I wouldn't have to beg you,
I could hunt this great land and do all the things men do.
But my vagina is not a gun, it is a mightier thing,
With a voice that rings true making lawmakers' ears ring.
Vaginas are not delicate, they are muscular and magic,
So stop messing with mine, with legislation that's tragic.
My vagina's here to demand from the source,
Listen to the voices of thousands or feel their full force."

2:45 p.m. — While hundreds of people remain to testify on abortion legislation at the Texas Capitol, Nelson has praised the people testifying before the committee.

"I saw an orange shirt pass a Kleenex to a blue shirt. I saw an orange shirt pass a glass of water to a blue shirt," Nelson said. 

People wearing orange shirts are at the Capitol against the bill. Those in blue are at the Capitol supporting the bill.

12:30 p.m. — Following questions from senators, public testimony began. Nelson chose to begin the testimony with four different witnesses chosen to lay the groundwork for the debate.

Amy Miller, President of Whole Woman’s Health, spoke first against the bill. She said the bill’s extra regulations and requirements were not necessary for abortion.

“Medically, abortion is a very simple procedure,” Miller said. “This is totally uncalled for, medically.”

Carter Snead, a law professor from the University of Notre Dame, spoke in support of the bill. He said there is nothing in the constitution that prevents Texas from banning abortion after 20 weeks, and there is no precedent from the Supreme Court that prevents it either.

“The court would treat this as a new interest,” Snead said. “I think there is a very strong reason to believe that [Justice Kennedy] would treat this as a new interest.”

Several others, including expert witnesses, also testified.

11:03 a.m. — Before public testimony began, several senators spoke on the abortion bill and questioned Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who filed the bill.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, reminded the senators that she is “pro-life,” but she raised several issues with the bill. She asked Hegar if it did anything to lower the need for abortion. He responded that he did not believe that issue was on the second special session’s agenda.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, raised the issue that the bill does not allow for the exception in exceptional cases, including rape.

Other senators raised many issues, including the implications from Roe v. Wade and how the bill might close clinics statewide.

10: 25 a.m. — Nelson began the committee hearing on the Senate’s abortion legislation with strict rules.

Nelson said she would not tolerate outbursts from those in the committee hearing room. She said she would give one warning. If a second outburst happened, she said she would clear the room.

Nelson also said the committee would hear testimony from everyone who was in line to give testimony by 11 a.m.

“We’ll be here all week if necessary,” Nelson said.

Hegar then laid out the bill, which he filed. Following that, Sen. Bob Duell, R-Greenville, spoke in support of the bill, referring to an “american holocaust.”

He also criticized the media for focusing on the tennis shoes of Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, instead of the abortion legislation.

9:35 a.m. — The Senate Committee of Health and Human Services will convene at 10 a.m. to hear SB1, the Senate's abortion bill for the second special session.

The bill, filed by Hegar, would ban abortions after 20 weeks, place additional restrictions on surgical centers and abortion clinics and place more restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs. Supporters of the bill have argued that it increases safety for women, while opponents of the bill have argued it makes getting an abortion more difficult.

Registration for testimony began at 9 a.m. Testimony will be limited to two minutes.

Later tonight, two different rallies are scheduled at the Capitol. A rally of supporters for the bills is scheduled at 7 p.m., at the South Steps of the Capitol. At 8 p.m., opponents of the bill will march from the Capitol to Austin's City Hall.

Correction: This article has been updated to show the correct name of Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. This article has also been updated to show the correct spelling of Katie Heim's last name.

Follow Bobby Blanchard on Twitter for updates @bobbycblanchard.

For a glossary of terms you need to know to survive the second special session, click here.

For a list of lawmakers and activists you need to be aware of to follow the second special session, click here.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel declared a city policy used to ban Occupy Austin protesters from City Hall unconstitutional this past Thursday, following suit with similar recent rulings nationwide.

The declaration from Yeakel comes as part of the final ruling in a lawsuit filed against the city by Rodolfo Sanchez and Kristopher Sleeman, two protesters with Occupy Austin. The Austin movement is a subset of the national movement, Occupy Wall Street, which promotes financial and social equality. The suit was filed by the plaintiffs in response to being banned from City Hall in October of last year, according to the order.

The overturned policy is titled Criminal Trespass Notices on City Property and addresses the rules and procedures for issuing bans from city property that often accompanies criminal trespass charges received there. The policy allows for police discretion in determining the duration of a ban. It also specifies the review and appeal process for the bans, according to the order.

Sanchez and Sleeman were both banned from City Hall following criminal trespass arrests. Because of the policy’s vagueness and appeal process, it was ruled to be an “erroneous deprivation” of First and 14th Amendment freedoms, according to the order.

The overturned policy was signed into effect last November by City Manager Marc Ott, roughly one month after Occupy Austin protesting at City Hall began, according to the order.

English graduate student Trevor Hoag has participated in protests with the Austin and UT Occupy movements and is focusing his graduate dissertation on the national movement’s struggles. He said the policy is one example of many policies passed throughout the country in regard to the Occupy movement that trample First Amendment rights. He said the policy sets a precedent that could be used to defend public freedoms for years to come.

“It shocked me deeply the way that the protesters were responded to because it seemed to be such an obvious disregard for freedom of speech and the First Amendment,” he said.

Hoag said he hopes this ruling will now be used as a precedent to dismiss other policies in order to further protect the freedom of speech that the nation was built on.

“The precedents from these cases are going to be important because the same things are going to happen again,” Hoag said. “Legal and other actions need to be taken to ensure that those actions, those protest actions, can be as successful as possible in the future. People deserve access to their full rights of speech and assembly without fear.”

The policy enacted in Febuary restricting public use of the City Hall between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. remains in effect. Hoag said he hopes the policy is overturned next so the Occupy encampment of the City Hall can resume again and the movement can gain back lost visibility.

Five Occupy Austin protesters arrested

Five Occupy Austin protesters were arrested Thursday evening for criminal trespassing at City Hall during a mandatory power-washing in which protesters are not allowed to demonstrate on the plaza.

The arrests at City Hall followed a demonstration at the Capitol where several hundred protesters gathered to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall St. movement.

Arrested protester James Hill O’Brien chained himself to a tree to protest the warning he and other protesters received that prohibited them from returning to the area after their previous arrests at City Hall.

The protesters gathered around O’Brien, and after refusing to comply with police orders to disperse from the tree, the protesters were arrested without incident.

Occupy Austin spokeswoman Wendy Darling said the warning that prohibits arrested protesters from returning to City Hall has a negative effect on the Occupy Austin movement.

“We suffered a gaping wound in our organization when many of our most committed members had their First Amendment rights infringed following the Oct. 30 arrests,” Darling said in a statement released after the most recent arrests. “Each day this infringement on our most basic rights is allowed to continue, it creates a new, irrevocable injury.”

Occupy Austin protesters attend a general assembly meeting at City Hall Monday evening. After the enactment of a new city policy, protesters must abide by a curfew, forcing occupy Austin to form a new strategy.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

Occupy Austin and City Hall are reassessing tactics and regrouping after the eviction of the protest Feb. 3.

A new city policy enacting a curfew at City Hall between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and banning tents and sleeping bags from the grounds has forced Occupy Austin to change its strategy, protester Dave Cortez said. The movement now meets in front of City Hall every day from 6-10 p.m. in what Cortez said is a more spirited meeting.

“After the Feb. 3 eviction there was an outpour of phone calls and emails from people wanting to know what they could do to help,” Cortez said. “There have been about 100 people at the last few meetings and that is more than we were getting before.”

Cortez said protesters took pictures of the police forcing them off City Hall grounds on Feb. 3, put them on the Occupy Austin website and made them into posters to spark more attention from those who might not know about the eviction.

“We were met that night by two Capital Metro buses full of police wearing helmets and holding shields, batons and guns,” Cortez said. “We blew those pictures up so everyone could see. People don’t like to see the police like that.”

Occupy protesters have grievances with City Hall because of their disregard for public policy, Cortez said.

“City Hall is not a park so there cannot be a curfew,” he said. “We were run off the premises without a vote by City Council or the people or anything.”

Jason Alexander, executive assistant director for the deputy attorney general, said City Hall has cleaned up during the week that protesters have not been there 24 hours a day. He said there was an influx of protesters in the most recent days after the eviction but each day there seem to be fewer and fewer.

“I can definitely say we have not had any problems since they have left,” Alexander said. “From a business perspective things are going as usual.”

Alexander said City Hall is assessing the permanent damage left by the four month encampment to determine what needs repair and how much it will cost.

“We don’t know all of the official damage yet but I’m pretty sure the flower beds and vegetation have been trampled, the bathrooms have been vandalized and there are stains on the steps which may require re-stoning,” Alexander said.

Austin Police Department assistant chief Raul Munguia said there are no longer any APD officers related to Occupy Austin at City Hall, which will in turn save Austin taxpayer money.

“City Hall security and staff enforce the rules,” Munguia said. “If someone does not follow the rules, city staff can and will ask the violator to comply. If there is a refusal to follow the rules, city staff can issue a criminal trespass warning. Once the warning has been issued, the violator can be arrested by APD.”

Film production graduate student Britta Lundin said she had forgotten about Occupy Austin until they were evicted and is not surprised by the sudden increase in participation.

“I’m sure they are re-energized,” Lundin said. “The publicity has probably been great for them.”

Printed on, Tuesday February 14, 2012 as: Occupy protesters evicted, curfew imposed

A line of Austin police pause their advance while evicting Occupy Austin from City Hall. The eviction took place at

Photo Credit: Andrew Messamore | Daily Texan Staff

After four months of 24-hour protesting at City Hall, Occupy Austin protesters were forced to leave City Hall Friday night.

The eviction is the result of a revised building use policy approved by city manager Marc A. Ott. According to the new policy, the City Hall plaza, mezzanine and amphitheater areas may not be used for non-city business or activities before 6 a.m. and after 10 p.m. and sleeping and camping will be prohibited at all times.

Deputy city manager Michael McDonald said the revised policy is necessary because of criminal activity, damage to city property and health concerns related to Occupy protesters staying on City Hall grounds around the clock.

“What we have put together really is a great compromise because protesters will still have access to City Hall to exercise their First Amendment rights all day,” McDonald said. “They just can’t live there anymore and keep their personal items there 24 hours a day.”

The city passed out the new policy memorandum to protesters at about 9 p.m., saying they had until 10 p.m. to gather their belongings and leave the premises, McDonald said.

“We have been in contact with the movement all week and letting them know they need to remove their personal belongings, but they have not complied,” McDonald said. “This is everyone’s City Hall, not just one group’s.”

Occupy protester Michelle Millette said many protesters panicked after they read the memo because the City Hall steps had been their home since Oct. 6.

“They didn’t give us any time to leave,” Millette said. “Could you take down your whole house and move out in an hour? I don’t know anyone in the history of the world that can move that fast. This is ridiculous.”

At 10 p.m. a line of police surrounding the perimeter of City Hall began pushing protesters back. Most of the protesters complied, but as the police line slowly forced them off City Hall grounds protesters yelled, “Shame,” and “This is what a police state looks like.”

McDonald said there were seven arrests.

Because most of the occupiers are homeless and may not have had a place to stay for the night, buses were arranged to transport protesters to a local Home Depot to be fed and sheltered for the night, McDonald said.

“We realize most of these people have nowhere to go so they have been offered a facility to get them through the night,” McDonald said. “They can get up [Saturday] and be transported back downtown where they can exercise their First Amendment rights and get settled in at the Arch or make other arrangements.”

Protester Joshua Dixon said many people were trying to contact friends and family because they were unsure about where they were going to stay.

“I don’t know where we’re going to go,” Dixon said. “We’re homeless. We don’t have anywhere.”

Urban studies sophomore Benjamin Orgel was among a group of onlookers as the police evicted the protesters. He said he was having dinner with his friends downtown when he saw a swarm of cops arrive at City Hall.

“We came outside to see what was going on,” Orgel said. “It’s crazy how quickly and efficiently the police have been able to disperse [the protesters]. It’s about time, though. The occupiers haven’t been doing much the last couple of months and they have no reason to be there all night anyway.”

Printed on Monday, February 6, 2012 as: Policy imposes hours on City Hall

Members of Occupy Austin were forced to leave City Hall Friday night at 10 p.m.

The eviction is the result of a revised building use policy approved Friday by city manager Marc A. Ott. According to the new policy, the City Hall plaza, mezzanine and amphitheater areas may not be used for non-city business or activities before 6 a.m. and after 10 p.m. and sleeping and camping will be prohibited at all times.

Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald said the revised policy is necessary because of criminal activity, damage to city property and health concerns related to Occupy protesters staying on city hall grounds around the clock.

“What we have put together really is a great compromise because protesters will still have access to City Hall to exercise their first amendment rights all day,” McDonald said. “They just can’t live there anymore and keep their personal items there 24 hours a day.”

Editor’s note: Figures released later by Oakland police place the number arrested closer to 400.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland police say they arrested a total of about 150 people Saturday as protesters spent a portion of the day trying to get into a vacant convention center, and later broke into City Hall and tried to occupy a YMCA.

Police spokesman Jeff Thomason says most of the arrests came around 8 p.m. That’s when police took about 100 protesters into custody as they marched through the city’s downtown, with some entering a YMCA building.

About 20 demonstrators were arrested earlier in the afternoon, after police say they threw rocks, bottles and other objects at officers and tore down fencing.

Police say three officers were injured. Officers used tear gas and “flash” grenades on the protesters after they refused to leave.