Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) went head-to-head at a debate Wednesday evening, arguing over economic development decisions and property tax relief but finding common ground on the issue of making streets safer for cyclists.
More than 100 people attended the debate at the Spire at St. Paul Square, hosted by the Rivard Report and moderated by Rivard Report Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick and Texas Public Radio Local Government Reporter Joey Palacios.
Both Brockhouse and Nirenberg pushed for greater bicyclist safety in the wake of two cyclist deaths in 2019. Brockhouse said he would immediately implement a revamped Bicycle Master Plan with full funding. Nirenberg said the City should put more resources into building separated bike lanes with physical barriers as painted lines are not enough to protect cyclists.
“What we have to do right now is make sure Tito [Bradshaw] and [Naji Tanios Kayruz] did not die in vain and use this opportunity to make sure the rest of the community who may or may not use the bicycle lane agrees with that priority,” Nirenberg said.
Shortly before the event started, Brockhouse threatened to leave the debate if moderators asked him about domestic violence allegations first reported by the San Antonio Express-News. The candidates did speak about general public safety concerns; Nirenberg referenced the anti-gang violence coalition formed by the San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI. Brockhouse said he favored adding more police officers to SAPD’s ranks.
“I’m an advocate of increasing police patrols,” Brockhouse said. “We are short on police officers in our city. We need more of them and a greater policing focus.”
Brockhouse said he would continue to push for property tax relief, and pointed to a local homestead exemption as an example of what City Council can do to lessen the burden of taxes on homeowners.
“I have a track record of success that has called for property tax relief,” Brockhouse said. “Now we have five council members and we’re working hard to get a sixth, and seventh, and possibly eighth [needed] to implement a citywide homestead exemption but more importantly fix the valuation system and fight for proper valuations at the Bexar County Appraisal District and hold them accountable to be fair and reasonable to the taxpayer.”
Nirenberg responded that City Council needs to pass a balanced budget and proposals need to have revenue to fund them. Local government is reviewing the current appraisal process, looking at a local homestead exemption, and pushing the Texas Legislature to fully fund public schools, he said.
Receive updates on the local impact of coronavirus in your inbox every morning.
“Everyone knows at the Lege that we will not see actual tax relief at the homeowner level until we get school finance reform, and that’s what we’re working on with the Legislature to accomplish,” he said.
The exclusion of Chick-fil-A from an airport concessionaire contract continued to be a hot-button issue as Brockhouse piggy-backed off a question about City Council’s decisions to not mount an effort to lure Amazon jobs and bid on the Republican National Convention.
“If Ron Nirenberg doesn’t believe in San Antonio, that we can’t obtain these big goals, he doesn’t need to be mayor,” Brockhouse said. “It’s an embarrassment straight down to where we’re talking about turning away a Chick-fil-A [at the airport]. … We’ve made grievous mistakes, terrible mistakes in not believing in who we are as a city and our ability to do big things.”
Nirenberg quipped that it was “absurd” to hear Brockhouse talk about big things as well as Chick-fil-A at the San Antonio airport. He also clarified that City Council did not reject an Amazon bid, and said San Antonio would be the best-long term investment in the U.S. because the city is addressing housing problems, transportation systems, and educating its future workforce.
“That’s why Amazon should invest in us – not because we’ll give away all your tax dollars but because they should recognize the investments we’re making in ourselves,” he said.
Nirenberg also noted that he probably would have voted to include Chick-fil-A in the airport concessions contract if the restaurant was open Sundays to give all airport customers the option to eat there, but he would have preferred a local company.
“We have to make decisions in the best interest of the customers, best interest of the airport, and the best interest of you, the taxpayers, and that’s the way I voted the way I did,” he said.
Although early voting starts April 22, Brockhouse and Nirenberg have one additional debate scheduled: on May 3 for a broadcast on KLRN television. Election Day is May 4.