San Antonio City Council unanimously approved a measure to place the renewal of a 1/8 cent sales tax for the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP) and the Linear Creekway Parks Development Program on the May 9 election ballot.
Separate efforts to increase funding for district parks and downtown projects were ultimately dismissed as being legally and/or philosophically outside of the scope of the measure.
Councilmember Cris Medina (D7) said that adding other initiatives or projects might "mess with a good thing." Voters have approved the protections three times and some were wary to test that winning streak by complicating the proposition with other initiatives.
"When these opportunities for funding come up it is not an open door candy shop for every project that needs funding," Councilmember Rey Saldaña (D4).
The City will ask voters to approve $180 million in all: $90 million to the EAPP for land acquisition over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, $10 million towards recharge zone watershed and water management projects, and $80 million for expansion of the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System.
The measure will now go through the State Comptroller’s office and then will likely be formally placed on the ballot on or before the Feb. 26 Council meeting.
A letter sent by Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni and Board Chair Don Frost to the Mayor and City Council members Wednesday night requested that an extra $20 million be added to the ballot measure for underfunded downtown projects, including the San Pedro Creek Redevelopment, Hemisfair Park redevelopment, and making Broadway a "complete street," i.e. more pedestrian and bike friendly with improved drainage.
"With the additional funding for linear parks and creekways, we suggest that a major portion be committed to three catalytic projects in the center city," the letter stated. "By investing in these projects, we are protecting and leveraging the significant investments in the City and County made in the Mission and Museum reaches of the San Antonio River; a treasured resource."
After today's meeting, DiGiovanni said that the suggested projects were closely aligned with the Missions and the spirit of Props. 1 & 2.
"Sticking with the theme of water quality, these fit with the goal of protecting creekways and the San Antonio River," he said.
Click here to download Centro's letter.
"We've been working on it (this proposal) for a year, we were just going by the city's schedule," he said of the seemingly eleventh-hour letter submission, adding that he found very few opportunities to provide the Council with input about the ballot measure. "We're going to continue to look for resources (for these projects) ... this is what we are created to do. We just hope that consistent drum beat will be heard. It's not a moment, it's a movement."
A separate idea for an additional $20 million for district park improvements was suggested by Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) during Wednesday's Governance Committee meeting, but was not discussed Thursday.
Since Broadway is a surface road and outside the recharge zone, as is Hemisfair Park, neither would not be eligible for funding, according to Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni. However, sections of San Pedro Creek are listed as a creek to be improved through the Linear Creekway Program and could possibly receive funding.
"If we develop it, it has to a park and be city-owned," Zanoni said, adding that the Linear Creekway Program is more about park land acquisition. "So the question right now would be since Bexar County is putting in the majority of the money ($125 million), they're going to probably want to control the park."
Voters have strongly supported protection of the Edwards Aquifer since 2000. The $180 million package that will come before voters this year is a $45 million increase from the $135 million packages approved in 2005 and 2010. The projects were initiated in 2000 with $65 million, with the EAPP receiving the bulk of the funding each time Proposition 1 & 2 were renewed. This round of funding also includes for the first time, $10 million from the Edwards Program towards urban area demonstration projects in Bexar County over the recharge zone.
The program has protected 133,447 acres of ranchland over the aquifer recharge zone in Bexar and surrounding counties, and funded development of 46 miles of trailways – 40 miles are under construction/design – and protected more than 1,200 acres of creekside land. If approve again, the program would further connect neighborhoods to this unique system.
Councilmembers Ron Nirenberg (D8) and Ray Lopez (D6) made the initial request to place the project renewals on the May 9 ballot when voters also will elect a mayor, 10 council members and, perhaps, vote on proposed charter amendments.
Before Thursday's vote, council members heard passionate statements of support from individuals and organizations, including the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, San Antonio Conservation Society, former Mayor Howard Peak, Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and various San Antonio residents.
*Featured/top image: From left: Brooks Development Authority Environmental Manager Greg Hammer, former District 8 Councilmember Bonnie Conner, Green Spaces Alliance Executive Director Julia Murphy, and former Mayor Howard Peak pose for a photo after the aquifer and trailway programs were approved by City Council. Photo by Iris Dimmick.