Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report
San Antonio's $850 million bond package received overwhelming support from voters Saturday, passing easily with approval of more than 67% for each proposition.
The bond, which will fund 180 improvement projects throughout the city and facilitate the construction of affordable housing for the first time, was broken up into six ballot items by project type: streets, bridges, and sidewalks (Prop. 1); drainage and flood control (Prop. 2); parks, recreation, and open space (Prop. 3); library and cultural facilities (Prop. 4); public safety facilities (Prop. 5); and neighborhood improvements (Prop. 6).
Drainage and flood control received the biggest vote of confidence with 79% of votes in favor as of 9:30 p.m., streets and sidewalks right behind it with 78%.
Voters approved each of the five bond propositions on the ballot in 2007 by more than 68%. The 2012 bond passed with more than 60% approval. Those bond programs came and went without a property tax rate increase, and the 2017 bond also starts without an increase.
Staff and volunteers for the OneSA political action committee, which is dedicated to promoting the bond, hosted an election watch party at Alamo Beer Company's brewery on the Eastside. The room erupted with applause and praise when the early count was released, according to attendees.
"I could not be happier," said OneSA campaign manager Christian Archer. "It's a shot in the arm for San Antonio ... When you pass a bond, it means that people believe in themselves."
Mayoral and City Council candidates were also on the May 6 ballot, with many of them making the bond a focal point of their campaigns – whether they were for or against it.
Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), one of 13 challenging Taylor for her seat, both fully the supported the bond package, citing its balance of projects that contribute to the day-to-day needs of San Antonians and big-ticket, transformational projects such as Hemisfair's Civic Park and Broadway corridor improvements.
“These investments in basic infrastructure are going to touch every part of town so it’s definitely a good thing for every San Antonian," said Taylor, who is poised to move into a runoff against Nirenberg. "I’m very grateful that voters have voted 'yes' on the bond.”
The councilman has a different perspective on why voters favored the bond so strongly.
"Voters, just like in the mayor's election, have resoundingly said they wanted bold vision for the future," Nirenberg told the Rivard Report. "The menu of projects that were put together by citizen volunteers with the passage of [the bond makes] the case that they're ready to move forward on that vision and that they want strong leadership to take us there."
Taylor's previous work in the affordable housing sector makes Prop. 6 an especially important piece of the bond for her. As mayor, Taylor hosted the city's first official housing summit.
“It’s a great chance for us to do something that’s innovative in relation to housing, which of course is an issue that a lot of people are really concerned about," Taylor told reporters Saturday night. "As we continue to grow, our neighborhood is going to continue to provide opportunities for all of our families, so I think the housing proposition gives us the chance to address slum and blight in some of our neighborhoods and make investments and redevelop, so it’s very exciting.”
Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman and mayoral candidate Manuel Medina and others criticized the bond package for its size – it's the largest in San Antonio's history – and for what he says is uneven distribution of projects throughout the city.
The City has produced a map of the proposed bond projects here.
Medina and others called the Broadway corridor and Hardberger Park Land Bridge initiatives "pet projects" to satisfy developers.
Those that spoke out against the bond had "literally no effect whatsoever," Archer said.
Both Broadway and the land bridge were on the chopping block during the citizen input and committee process. The Broadway project left the table with its $43 million unscathed, while the land bridge's allocation was reduced by $2 million by the parks committee. It will receive a total of $13 million from both streets and parks propositions.
"This [positive early vote total] shows that there are plenty of people that understand you don't become a great city just by pouring concrete," said the park's namesake and former Mayor Phil Hardberger. "People believe in the [City] administration, they believe in Sheryl [Sculley, the city manager], and they believe in themselves and they want a better city."
About 70%, or $594 million of the $850 million bond, will be spent on basic infrastructure needs like streets, bridges, drainage, and sidewalks across the city. There are about 50 projects – including Broadway, the Alamo Master Plan, Hemisfair, and the land bridge – that are considered "citywide" projects; meaning the impact is expected ripple through the economy or quality of life of the city as a whole.
The bond includes:
- $445,263,000 for Streets, Bridges, and Sidewalks Improvements (Proposition 1)
- $138,988,000 for Drainage and Flood Control Improvements (Proposition 2)
- $187,313,000 for Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Improvements (Proposition 3)
- $24,025,000 for Library and Cultural Facilities Improvements (Proposition 4)
- $34,411,000 for Public Safety Facilities Improvements (Proposition 5)
- $20,000,000 for Neighborhood Improvements, facilitating affordable housing in blighted areas (Proposition 6)
"This reflects a community that has confidence in San Antonio, confidence in our elected officials and city staff to manage and deliver the projects, and confidence about the future," City Manager Sheryl Sculley told the Rivard Report. "Our City staff now will be working with the local design community and contractors to deliver $850 million in projects over the next five years is a huge task."
Work on the bond is far from over, said OneSA Tri-Chair Darryl Byrd. "This is the beginning of the community and local government working together to compete these projects."
Many of the projects approved on Saturday haven't even been entirely designed yet – most notably the Alamo Master Plan – and the community will have the opportunity to track and comment on all of them, he said.
The $20 million for Prop. 6 will be used for "neighborhood improvements" that could make blighted properties more attractive to developers that want to build affordable housing. It's the first time the City of San Antonio has asked voters to fund such projects. "Neighborhood improvements" doesn't begin to describe that nuance, so there were concerns that some voters wouldn't understand what the money will actually go towards, some political observers said.
"We realized it [Prop. 6] was in trouble, so we spent an extra effort to try to get people to understand what it meant for neighborhoods across the city," Archer said.
OneSA launched an aggressive social media and mail-out efforts specific to Prop 6, he said, to boost public awareness of the kind of work that part of the bond will fund: demolishing structures, environmental remediation, or sidewalks – strategic investments and improvements in properties that will help other entities build affordable housing.
This first neighborhood improvements bond was kind of a pilot program to gauge the response of the community, Sculley said. "We have huge housing needs in the community. This neighborhood improvements bond was about stabilizing our older neighborhoods, making sure that there is safe and clean housing for all residents in San Antonio. The 20 million in this bond program is just the start. We'll be able to demonstrate that we can make improvements and be impactful in a positive way."
The early vote totals, which reflect voting tallies during the early voting period that ended Tuesday, were released right after polls closed at 7 p.m. Running totals are available through the Bexar County Elections Department website here.