Kathryn Boyd-Batstone and Scott Ball / Rivard Report
All eyes are on Mayor Ron Nirenberg as the final steps of the Alamo Master Plan take shape. This week, some local and state leaders have encouraged the mayor to sign a resolution in approval of the long-awaited Alamo Plaza redevelopment plan.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush on Thursday tweeted a photo of his signature on the document and called for Nirenberg to do the same. But Nirenberg, the other member of the two-person Alamo Executive Committee, said he doesn’t have plans to sign any time soon.
Yesterday I signed the resolution advancing the Alamo plan. I ask the mayor to join me in executing this plan to treat the Alamo with the respect and reverence it deserves. God bless the Alamo and God bless Texas. pic.twitter.com/5FzpyqYn7Z
— George P. Bush (@georgepbush) September 13, 2018
“There is a process that has to be worked through before moving to final approval,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report. He and Bush have veto power over the long-awaited plan. “It is important to follow that process and make sure each necessary step is properly executed.”
Nirenberg anticipates a City Council vote by mid-November. Others in City Hall thought it would be before the Nov. 6 election.
Several political insiders have speculated that the mayor wants to hold off on taking action on the Alamo plan until after the November election when voters will decide on three changes to the City’s charter to avoid political chaos. Those propositions – initiated by the local firefighters union amid controversially absent labor contract negotiations – would cripple the City’s ability to function effectively, so the mayor wants to focus attention on defeating them, they say.
But the mayor rejects that narrative.
“I want to make sure that electoral politics has no influence on the proper execution of the Alamo plan,” he said. “We simply can’t be rushed in completing the next steps and we won’t be.”
The plan will go to the Historic and Design Review Commission and the Planning Commission “within the next few weeks,” he said. Meanwhile, an architectural study of the historic buildings is underway and the City and State still have to work out the details of the leasing and operation agreements.
“If I have veto authority, I want to make sure that those are completed in an appropriate and timely way,” Nirenberg said.
The resolution Bush signed is largely symbolic and does not contain those details. Instead, it acknowledges the plan to this point and approves next steps towards implementation.
Some city leaders have voiced concerns that if the fire union’s Prop A, which would expand the scope and ease of what could be placed on future ballots, is approved by voters then Council votes related to the plan after the election could be at risk of being overturned.
“Nothing is grandfathered in,” Nirenberg said, so it doesn’t matter when the Alamo vote occurs.
The plan, however, is in danger of losing momentum, Bryan Preston, director of communications for the GLO, told the Rivard Report. “We’re ready for a vote. … Every day, every week we lose now is time we shouldn’t lose.”
The notion that this is being “rushed” by the land commissioner, he said, is inaccurate.
“We have been working on this for [more than] three years,” Preston said. “We need to get into the next phase now.”
As the legislative session approaches in January, that momentum is threatened further. Some Republican state legislators, including State. Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) and State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), have sided with protesters who say the Alamo Cenotaph should not be moved.
State Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) hosted a press conference Friday morning at the Cenotaph to call for Nirenberg to reject the plan. Biedermann said he and his colleagues will start writing bills against the plan to propose in January, which could be motivation for the City and GLO to complete the approval process before then.
But Nirenberg said his priority is making sure the plan will hold up under public scrutiny.
“The best way to keep the Alamo Plan from being rejected by the public is to make sure it’s done correctly,” he said. “So far, so good, but we can’t rush these next steps.”
Earlier this month, the Alamo Management Committee unanimously approved the plan to repair and relocate the Cenotaph, close adjacent streets, move parade routes, manage plaza access, and analyze nearby historic buildings that could become an Alamo museum. They also approved of a new Alamo site plan and a master lease. A committee of citizens also overwhelmingly supported those recommendations in late August. Now it’s the Executive Committee’s turn to weigh in.
City Council approval of the street closures and lease also is required before the plan can move forward, officials have said. The Texas Historical Commission also must approve certain work.
The two-member committee approval is the final step in the joint process and agreement set up by the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office (GLO), and the Alamo Endowment that aims to redevelop the historic plaza into a destination with more reverence for the generations of history there and a “world-class” museum on site.
For the plan to move forward, there are two, concurrent processes occurring, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the Rivard Report, that corporative agreement process and the City’s internal one.
“We have a deadline to have all of this completed by January 2024,” Treviño, who serves on both the citizen and management committees, told the Rivard Report. “My hope is that we don’t create any unnecessary delay on the project.”
Treviño stopped short of saying he agreed with Bush’s call for Nirenberg’s immediate signature.
“It’s his [Nirenberg’s] prerogative,” Treviño said. “I think we had all hoped that this would be moving forward and that we believe that we have established a lot of consensus and brought people together.”
Treviño was expecting a City Council vote by or in October. A memo sent out by Assistant City Manager Lori Houston in May to City Manager Sheryl Sculley stated the “goal” was to have the vote in August or September.
“Alamo Trust believes it is important to place the street closure matter before the City Council before the referendum takes place on November 6th,” Alamo CEO Doug McDonald told the Rivard Report in an email. “We ask the Mayor and City Manager take the actions to allow the City Council to advance the plan … We look forward to the mayor endorsing the great work of the Citizens Advisory Committee and advancing the plan. While there is no requirement for him to approve the plan, his leadership in advancing the street closure is important to us all.”
Prop A would decrease the number of citizen signatures required to place referenda on a ballot from 10 percent of registered voters (about 70,000 today) to 20,000 (regardless of the number of registered voters) and increase the time petitioners have to collect them from 40 to 180 days.
“Many council actions, including the [nondiscrimination ordinance], are subject to the current rules for petitions,” City Attorney Andy Segovia stated in an email. “After the effective date, the charter amendment could impact any City Council action.”
That would include votes regarding the Alamo.
Asked if he was concerned about Prop A specifically, McDonald said, “I am concerned about anything that adds unnecessary risks to a four-year plan that has broad public support. The [proposition], if approved, creates an opportunity for special interest groups, who represent few citizens, to disrupt the will of the majority.”
Currently, decisions like utility rates, zoning designations, and other City Council decisions are protected from referenda because the City needs, arguably, control of its finances to effectively govern. Losing this control like the proposition states would likely lead to increased financial instability and insecurity in the business sectors, City officials have said, which would mean fewer City services and/or increased property taxes.
While many attempts have been made to redevelop the area surrounding Alamo Plaza, church, and Long Barrack, this most recent attempt, which began in 2014, has gotten the furthest. Cooperation between the City and State has been a key factor in that, sources close to the process have said, as has the endowment’s pledge to raise private dollars to fund the estimated $450 million plan.