Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
City Council on Thursday voted to appoint three new members to the VIA Metropolitan Transit board of trustees. The candidates will join two new County appointees on the board, making nearly half of its 11 members new.
The confirmations follow Mayor Ron Nirenberg's Tuesday announcement that he and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff have formed the nonprofit ConnectSA that would work with VIA to implement a plan for a new multimodal transportation system that would be put before voters by the end of 2019.
"The vision the mayor laid out for ConnectSA is one that encourages bold thought and action to deliver a modern transportation system to our region," said Hope Andrade, VIA's outgoing chair and one of the three incoming chairs of ConnectSA, in an email to the Rivard Report.
Joining recently approved County appointees Jordana Decamps Mathews and Marina Gavito are security analyst Brian Dillard, resources attorney Ezra Johnson, and Amanda Merck, a research specialist with UT Health San Antonio. Wolff previously told the Rivard Report that the County's appointees represent a push to bring in younger and more innovative influencers.
"New ideas, new perspectives – on transportation as with any public service – are always welcome and needed," Andrade stated. "I trust that our City and County leaders who put great thought and effort into selecting new board members did so with the future in mind."
The City's recommendations came from the Council's Governance Committee, which includes Nirenberg and Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Rebecca Viagran (D3), Rey Saldaña (D4), and Ana Sandoval (D7).
Council members voted on the recommendations Tuesday without discussion. City Council also voted to reappoint Robert "Bob" Comeaux, the union representative on the board, and Patricia Rodriguez, the board's secretary.
"We're very much looking forward to your service on this board of transportation for our future," Nirenberg told appointees. "There's not a more important issue than the two that we're facing with housing and transportation."
The first VIA board meeting with new members will take place on April 24. The board is responsible for electing its new chair, and is waiting on Nirenberg and Wolff's recommendation for a candidate. The vice chair position, previously held by Lester Bryant, a financial services professional, also needs to be filled.
ConnectSA will have three chairs: Andrade, former Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, and Jane Macon, a former City attorney.
"I believe VIA, as the mass transit provider for our region, will be a great resource for ConnectSA partners in terms of providing information and guidance as we embark on a significant joint planning effort," Andrade stated.
The three chairs will be joined by 20 to 25 City, County, and community leaders.
"I'm excited to see County and City working together for this ConnectSA," said Dillard, who recently served as president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association and as chair of the VIA Transit Community Council. "I think a lot of folks think about our mass transit system as San Antonio, but we serve neighboring communities within the county."
Nirenberg's announcement marks a concerted effort to reinvigorate San Antonio's public transit system since a 2014 proposal for a $280 million light rail was abandoned.
Representatives for the VIA board and ConnectSA have not yet said what kind of system they have in mind, but Dillard said "dedicated lanes [for buses are] a must."
He also said one of the largest challenges facing the board is its funding mechanism. Much of VIA's revenue comes from the half-cent Metropolitan Transit Authority tax that assisted in launching VIA’s initial operations in 1977. Counterparts in Austin, Dallas, and Houston each get a full cent for their transit coffers.
ConnectSA will build on the research done for VIA’s Vision 2040 long-term plan and SA Tomorrow’s Multimodal Transportation Plan, in order to eventually bring a complete system plan to voters. The process begins with community outreach that "includes how best to connect with our community and communicate the urgency of expanding transportation options," Andrade said.
"I’m looking forward to working with the VIA board and our partners to continue supporting innovation, collaboration, and VIA’s ongoing work to provide great transportation options."