When my wife Brooke and I moved to San Antonio in 2006, we both had a genuine interest in the challenges San Antonio faced. We made a commitment to be proactive and engaged citizens. Part of how we define engaged citizenship is to recognize the city’s needs and help our city and county leaders create a vision with input from the community to offer a higher quality of life for San Antonio and give our city the world-class status it deserves.
San Antonio is very open to newcomers. If you want to get involved, want to volunteer your time, want to make a difference, this city will put you to work. Step by step, I’ve found myself deepening my own commitment, resulting in a remarkable range of opportunities to serve in different ways. Having now lived here for several years, I’ve had the honor of serving on a variety of boards, including San Antonio Parks Foundation, 2012 Parks Bond Committee and other boards and committees through the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, City of San Antonio and Associated General Contractors. I am a member of Leadership San Antonio (LSA) class XXXVI. Through LSA I had the opportunity to meet with city and county leaders and learn in great detail about our economic development, quality of life and other great things emerging in our community. I am also a founding board member of LOOP (Leadership Organization of Professionals), a group dedicated to engage, lead and transform San Antonio into a premiere location for innovative and talented young professionals.
Having served San Antonio by volunteering my time and with a background in project management and business development, I decided the time was right for me to apply for the City of San Antonio Planning Commission. Through the Planning Commission I could potentially have a greater impact and voice for my generation and the future of San Antonio.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – JFK
I immediately completed the application and went through the interview process and was appointed by our City Council on October 4th. I was enthusiastic to finally attend my first planning commission meeting. This time it wasn’t as a citizen to be heard or to stand before the commission to answer questions about a project. I attended my first board meeting as one of three newly elected Planning Commissioners to oversee San Antonio’s master plan for development.
The board’s responsibility is to ensure we maintain the integrity of the city by making recommendations for the growth, development and beautification within the San Antonio city limits and the ETJ (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction). The Planning Commission is different from most boards in that it was created through the city charter. Being part of the city charter gives the nine board members oversight on capital improvement projects and the physical development of the city. The board’s recommendations are then taken to city council for vote to become part of the city’s master plan for development over a five-year time frame. We sometimes forget and take for granted all the steps it takes to see a project come to life, the Planning Commission plays a major role in the government process.
I was pleasantly surprised upon entering the meeting room to see more than 60 people sitting in the audience. Having read the board packet the prior weekend, I knew citizens would be in attendance to speak on Agenda Item 18, a decision to close and barricade vehicular traffic at Ellis Bean railroad crossing located close to Blue Star. The closing was being sought to allow for a full quiet zone in which the trains that use the tracks cannot blow their horn while advancing through the designated area.
More than a dozen citizens, all business owners and local residents, stood and spoke with passion for or against the closure. Any time citizens take valuable time out of their day to engage with government is a win. I listened carefully and took notes of what each citizen said. I would base this particular vote on the fact that it was a quality of life issue.
“Ordinary thinking and ordinary effort are almost never enough to generate leadership.” – Seth Godin
My first meeting didn’t change my perspective about the public service process; rather it reminded me how important the Planning Commission is to progressive development in San Antonio. It also reminded me how important community engagement is and why there is a need for engaged citizens to have a two-way conversation with policy makers. The Ellis Bean agenda item went to a roll call vote and passed 8 to 1 in favor of closure.
In my opinion the Ellis Bean vote is one of many more important votes to come that will impact San Antonio’s growth and how newcomers and natives perceive our city. Both groups’ perceptions are relevant and important.
Progressive growth is key to realizing San Antonio’s potential as a fully developed city. Our city should have the power to retain and attract new citizens and talent through a built environment with a human element. Visitors, newcomers, and my generation, the Millennials, want to see high quality infrastructure, transportation, walkable communities, and urban core development. We need to continue investing in downtown, the “soul” of the city, and maintain the human element around it like Southtown and other surrounding upcoming neighborhoods like the near Eastside.
As a new board member on the Planning Commission I want to bring a balance and apply creative solutions to our city’s problems and future challenges.
We must plan for and design for the type of talent and businesses we want to attract to San Antonio. Designing and planning also involve knowing when to let go of a piece of history to create a bolder and brighter future. Who do we want to see living and working in San Antonio 10, 20 or 30 years from now? With that in mind, we also have to understand how important it is to retain talent and businesses for continued growth and sustainable economic development.
I believe anyone at any age can have an impact on society. I want the challenge of being on the Planning Commission and the opportunity to offer my generational input in bringing new ideas to the table. I want to have a different conversation by finding the common goals and serving with the best interest of protecting and advancing our community’s quality of life. There will be other Ellis Bean votes – these types of votes are about understating the huge impact we can make together. The day we see San Antonio attracting developers from around the world, without leaders recruiting and competing for their attention, is a measure of success. It’s because in San Antonio we’re taking control and planning our future.
Planning Commission meetings are held twice a month and open to the public. I highly encourage anyone who has an interest in the government process to attend. I look forward to serving on the board with my fellow Planning Commissioners and working with staff members to continue making San Antonio the top quality city we know it already is and can be. Together we can help our city earn the world-class status it deserves.
To learn more about the planning commission visit its website.
Zac Harris is a local entrepreneur, business owner, social innovator and foodie. He is a graduate of Leadership San Antonio Class XXXVI and named a “40 under 40” Rising Star by the San Antonio Business Journal. Zac graduated from Texas A&M University and is married to Brooke, a small business owner at Fresh Urban Flowers located in downtown. Find Zac on Twitter @zacharrisofsatx and LinkedIn, or his offices at Geekdom.