Austin’s City Council voted Thursday to begin a study of lighting in West Campus after students have shown increasing concern over their safety in the dense University of Texas-area neighborhood.
The resolution directs Austin Energy to examine how lighting might be improved for pedestrian safety.
The perception of danger recently in West Campus hit a fever pitch after the May 1 stabbing that killed UT freshman Harrison Brown on the university campus. A false report of a stabbing in West Campus that same day created a “panic” among residents, many of them fraternity members who also falsely believed they were being targeted in the attack, said UT junior Colton Becker, a former student government member who helped push the study forward.
“It was a panic,” said Becker, who also sits on UT’s Interfraternity Council executive board. “It definitely spurred a lot of tension and anxiety. We were advising students to not leave their houses, to not wear shirts with their (Greek) letters.”
Homelessness on the Drag — the stretch of Guadalupe Street that lines the west border of the UT campus — isn’t a new phenomenon. But Becker said he has in the past year heard numerous anecdotes of crime happening in the area, many lewd acts or petty thefts involving people believed to be homeless.
In his case, Becker said he once had a cup of coffee snatched from his hand while on the Drag.
“It is a complicated issue, and there are many different facets that need to be assessed, but the lighting study is a good first step,” Becker said.
Austin Energy would conduct the study with no additional cost to the city. Mayor Steve Adler sponsored the resolution after he met with Becker and with Joell Sullivan-McNew from the parent group SafeHorns, which was formed in the aftermath of the 2016 killing of UT dance freshman Haruka Weiser on campus. The suspect in Weiser’s killing, Meechaiel Criner, had been staying at a homeless shelter for teenagers when he was arrested.
The study would look at the neighborhood area between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and West 29th Street and between Guadalupe Street and Lamar Boulevard. That part of the city has a rate of property crime higher than the city’s average, according to the resolution.
In other news Thursday, the City Council:
• Approved $3.5 million in overtime for the Austin Fire Department. Mayor Steve Adler said the expense was hard to swallow but needed to be approved to continue adequate fire protection for the city. “I don’t want my vote or any of my colleagues’ votes, who are voting yes for this, to be interpreted that we don’t collectively as a group, I think, share disdain and equal concern on this issue,” Adler said. It passed 7-4. Council Members Alison Alter, Jimmy Flannigan, Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair voted against the item.
• Approved nearly $250,000 for the Homelessness Outreach Street Team. The $242,354 provided for the city’s partnership with Integral Care will pay for three additional employees to provide outreach and assistance to homeless people downtown.