Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Defeating a trio of City charter amendments is critical to realizing San Antonio's hope of becoming a world-class city with a thriving tech sector, City and business leaders told a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered at the Pearl Thursday.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and local industry leaders were among the speakers as Tech Bloc hosted a rally at Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery to encourage its members to vote against the November ballot propositions. True to the descriptor, “Rally to Save Our City,” the speeches became impassioned at times.
"You're not just going to vote no once," said David Spencer, a local entrepreneur. "It is no! It is no! It is no! You are not going to ruin what we are building here."
The rally was perhaps the most visible public event as the political fight around the issue becomes increasingly contentious. After years of stalled negotiations and court battles, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association led a successful petition to place the referenda on the ballot. Now, the union is leading a campaign for voters to approve the propositions on Nov. 6.
The propositions – labeled A, B, and C on the ballot – would pave the way for voters to potentially make more municipal decisions, limit to eight years the length of time a city manager could serve and cap future city managers’ pay at 10 times that of the lowest-paid City employee, and allow the firefighters union to force the City into binding arbitration on a new labor contract, respectively.
Tech Bloc opposes the propositions because it believes they would weaken the authority of the elected representatives who serve on City Council and give way to special interest groups battling for control of the city. There has also been worry that expanding the referendum process would lower the City's AAA bond rating, the highest score an entity can attain, and thus raise doubts about the City's future ability to issue debt. Any hits to the city's economy would threaten to stall or undo progress San Antonio has made toward becoming a walkable, culture-rich city that appeals to tech talent, Tech Bloc leaders have said.
The issue has thus far elicited a bevy of responses from the community that do not appear to fall along traditional party lines. Conservative Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), a former political consultant for the fire and police unions, has endorsed the propositions. The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce is against the ballot items, but the Bexar County Democratic Party is supporting them (although its Chair Monica Alcantara has called for another vote). A group of more than 100 Latina women will hold a press conference Friday to announce their opposition to the propositions. The event will take place at Plaza del Zacate/Milam Park at 11 a.m.
Tech Bloc said this week 1,600 people had registered to attend the event. The advocacy group's CEO David Heard said the initial ticket allotment started out around 1,000 but was expanded three times to accommodate rising demand.
Southerleigh was the site of the organization's first rally in May 2015, when the group railed against what it deemed onerous rideshare regulations that caused ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to stop operating in the city.
Now a perennial presence at City Hall that helped craft regulations the City Council adopted Thursday for e-scooters, Tech Bloc finds itself in a different position.
A then-candidate for mayor, Nirenberg was among attendees at the first Tech Bloc rally. He credited Tech Bloc with pointing the city in a better direction.
"Your representatives listened," he said. "It took a little while longer, but eventually we got it right. We welcomed Uber and Lyft to San Antonio."
Scaleworks General Partner Lew Moorman, whose venture fund includes several software-as-a-service companies in an East Houston Street space, said the forward movement of San Antonio's burgeoning tech corridor in a once-derelict part of downtown would come to a screeching halt with passage of the ballot propositions.
"This tech ecosystem is just starting," Moorman said.