Members of the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods held their last public input meeting at South San Antonio High School on Wednesday.
The purpose of these meetings – there have been four – is to develop a set of goals to mitigate the human costs of revitalizing, or gentrifying, San Antonio’s neighborhoods. The task force set up a series of public meetings to hear from the community before implementing policies.
The spacious auditorium at the Southside high school was sparsely peppered with less than 30 attendees.
Only 10 community members rose to the podium to speak for a maximum of three minutes to the task force members. Although task force members did not address speakers directly, they did give final words at the end of the meeting to round off their individual stances.
A majority of the speakers returned to the notion that gentrification is a byproduct of deeper problems. Eastside community member Brian Dillard said gentrification is a symptom of rooted issues in the systems of our city.
“As a community, we should be focusing on how to get these people out of low-income housing,” he said. “How do we get them at an income level to afford the developments being developed?”
Amanda Haas said addressing gentrification without getting to the deeper, underlying issues is a Band-Aid.
“If (task force members) don’t really look at the fact that right now our city’s policies privilege profit and concepts of economic growth over people, then we will never change the issues of displacement,” she said.
David Adelman, a task force member and principal of San Antonio-based development company AREA Real Estate, pointed out that San Antonio will grow by 1 million people over the next 25 years and developing the core of the city would cost taxpayers less money than building from the ground up on the outskirts of the city.
“We have to make decisions and choices about how our city is going to grow. There is one thing that we know – it’s been proven statistically – is that density, when built in the right areas – (with) availability of transit and walkability – is far less expensive to the tax payer than sprawl,” he said. “At (US) 281 and (Loop) 1604 they built four ramps to make that intersection more functional, that cost $121 million. The cost of sprawl is enormous.”
Task force member Ron Radle said development is the reason behind displacement, not rising property taxes.
“Displacement by taxes is not as big of an issue as what’s happening with development right now. There was so much development taking place, and so much speculation taking place in the inner city. That’s a bigger concern right now. From the community meetings we’ve had, we haven’t heard much about displacement because of taxes. It’s mainly developers,” he said.
Other community members said they feel like the task force is rushing the discussion of gentrification. Itza Carbajal of the Ezperanza Peace and Justice Center said she is pushing for the task force to extend their deadline.
“The report to me is still underdeveloped. We are still stuck on this idea that displacement is the only effect of gentrification. I would like to encourage everyone to embrace that gentrification has different faces, different stages, different ways that it affects us,” she said. “We need to develop this proposal more because this affects our city, this affects our residents, and this affects our future. We just need to forget all of the politics and really just focus on the people.”
Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) said the task force will take their time addressing the issues at hand, but he does think some kind of timeline is necessary.
“This is an incredibly complicated issue and it is certainly going to take some time to work through it. We may have to try some things that might not work,” he said. “I think that for the sake of preparing something that we can continue with and protect, we do want to get to a point where we can keep moving some of this forward. Establishing a permanent task force is a good idea.”
The task force will meet on April 9 to review citizen input.
*Featured/top image: The task force members sit in front of a sparse crowd at South San Antonio High School. Photo by Joan Vinson.