Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
City Council approved the three-pronged SA Tomorrow plan last month, but what remains fuzzy is how the City will actually implement the plan.
The City’s SA Tomorrow Planning Committee, the ad hoc oversight group that has been overseeing the effort, was dissolved by Mayor Ivy Taylor after City Council approved the FY 2017 budget last week. Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) was the tri-chair of the planning committee, which met for the last time Thursday afternoon.
Without it, Nirenberg told the Rivard Report after the meeting, it’s unclear who will lead the multi-faceted effort and serve as the liaison between the City and engaged citizens.
“We have more questions than answers at this point,” he said.
Taylor, who attended the meeting, said that the implementation tasks will be handled by the five City subcommittees, which were assembled to address issues ranging from public safety to technology. The City also is assessing its options in reforming or eliminating existing commissions and boards to help with the effort.
“My goal is to bring those boards and commissions in line with the council committees that exist and the elements of the plan, so that citizens, staff, and elected officials all have a clear … roadmap that we can follow in relation to bringing this plan to life,” she said.
SA Tomorrow involves comprehensive strategies regarding transportation, sustainability, health, and development to accommodate the 1.1 million people expected to move into Bexar County by 2040. Carrying out the nearly 1,000-page work plan will be no easy task and will take much collaboration between the City and residents, transparency, and strong metrics, said Taylor, adding that she remains adamant about reaching out to neighborhood associations for their involvement throughout the process.
Over the next five years, City staff will work to produce 13 regional plans and five community plans for different areas across the city.
This next year will be focused on creating plans for five regional centers – the Medical Center, Downtown/Central Business District, UTSA, Brooks City Base, and Midtown – and one community plan for the near-Westside, Bridgett White, planning director of the City Planning and Community Development department, told committee members Thursday. At this rate, the committee would complete the regional center plans in three years and the community plans in four, keeping in line with council’s request to more aggressively move forward with the initiative.
The community plans will help inform the larger regional center strategies, which split areas of the city strictly “based on data, not on where neighborhoods were existing,” White explained. Staff will engage the smaller communities and their leadership to determine goals and needs for their population as they relate to the SA Tomorrow plan.
City staff also has planned to host four neighborhood summits – starting in 2018 – to educate the general population about the comprehensive plan, what it means for their communities, and how the implementation process works.
The City’s FY 2017 budget allows for the hiring of six planners to help carry out the multi-year effort. The plans will be reassessed every five years and revised for changes in economic and population growth.
One of the key focuses throughout the entire process, White and several committee members said, will be proactive and consistent community engagement. Instead of using a top-down approach, the plan will call for a more grassroots level of collaboration.
The City is hoping to use SA2020, the nonprofit created under former Mayor Julián Castro’s leadership, as an outlet to bolster that community engagement. In the FY 2017 budget, the City allocated funds specifically for marketing and community outreach and education efforts in partnership with the organization.
“Between now and the end of December we’re going to have a very detailed strategy of what we’re going to do and how were going to do it,” White said.
But Nirenberg worries that without a defined entity charged with seeing SA Tomorrow through, which would provide accountability and organization, some of the plans may go uncompleted.
“At this point it is status quo until we have oversight and accountability built into the process,” he said.
Meanwhile, the City is still figuring out strategies to address the City’s dark skies ordinance and impervious cover, said City Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick at the end of the meeting. This fall, City staff will remain focused on the military’s needs, he added, since light interferes with its night training activities. Starting next year, the City will host a public meeting on the matter and bring a broader recommendation back to Council in May or June.
Top image: Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) and Mayor Ivy Taylor listen to an SA Tomorrow presentation by Planning Director of the City Planning and Community Development Bridgett White. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.