Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
City Council meetings will resume next week after a monthlong holiday break and there’s plenty of unfinished business carrying over from 2019.
Council will have additional irons in the fire over the course of the coming year – and some could be removed. Here’s a look at some pending issues and initiatives, most of which a majority of Council has agreed merit attention through budget discussions or through committee processes.
This week, Mayor Ron Nirenberg created a new Council committee, called the Culture and Neighborhood Services Committee, bringing the total number of committees to 10.
This group of Council members, chaired by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), will reduce a backlog of council consideration requests (CCRs) in other committees that relate to “San Antonio’s unique artistic, cultural, and historic heritage,” Nirenberg said, including libraries and senior centers. Click here to download the mayor’s committee adjustments announced Thursday.
These committees – including economic development, public safety, and transportation and mobility – vet policy ahead of full City Council discussions and typically feature five Council members. Initiatives that don’t receive majority support in committee typically don’t resurface.
After electric scooter company Lime announced plans Thursday to pull out of four markets, including San Antonio, it was unclear how that might affect the City’s contracts with e-scooter competitors Razor and Bird. Those contracts, which allow 1,000 e-scooters on the street per company, take effect Sunday.
Lime said decreased ridership and higher City fees contributed to the decision.
Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who voiced concerns over the fees ahead of Council’s approval of the contracts last month, said the City might need to look into adjusting the two other contracts or letting another third company participate in the local market.
“The cost of doing business in San Antonio is going up because of the ordinances that we’re passing,” Perry said. “We’ll have to discuss what’s next.”
City Council Aide Compensation
A report is slated to be presented to City Council this month detailing a third-party consultant’s analysis of Council aide compensation and how it compares to City employees.
Treviño led the charge last year to increase pay for aides, who are Council members’ contract workers and do not receive the health benefits and regular pay increases that City employees enjoy.
City Manager Erik Walsh proposed a compromise budget increase for each Council member’s aides that is slated to start in February after Council reviews the report and decides how to proceed.
“If we discover we haven’t done something right, we’ll fix it to make sure everyone within our walls is being treated fairly,” Nirenberg said.
The third-party report, however, failed to incorporate the mayor’s office’s aide and City staff members into its analysis, said Treviño, who sits on an ad hoc Council committee overseeing the process.
The committee directed the group to include the mayor’s office and it expects to review a final report soon, he said.
The City is close to hiring its first housing officer this month. The new executive employee will report directly to the city manager as part of San Antonio’s plan to tackle affordable housing. The position was called for in the City’s affordable housing policy framework that was adopted in 2018.
As the Housing Commission undertakes its daylong retreat to set goals and agendas on Friday, the Governance Committee will consider next month a request from Treviño to create a Renters Commission, Nirenberg said.
Renters, as nearly half the population, deserve their own body and collective voice within the City’s structure to address their unique challenges, Treviño said.
Nirenberg said it’s possible that an increased representation on the Housing Commission by renters could satisfy that need.
“[The local housing discussion] has not excluded renters but we want to make sure that voice is elevated and prominent,” Nirenberg said. “How that takes place is yet to be determined.”
Gun Buyback Program
Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) and Councilman John Courage (D9) brought forth a proposal last year in the wake of mass shootings in Texas for the City and its police department to look into hosting anonymous gun buyback events.
The Public Safety Committee is slated to review that proposal in the next couple of months, previous Chair Ana Sandoval (D7) told the Rivard Report.
“Staff has told us that they actually want to [show us] something broader than just the gun buyback program and I think that’s great,” the councilwoman said. “Gun buyback programs are more effective when they’re in concert with other programs.”
Within the next four weeks, Nirenberg said, City staff will publicly release its poverty report that outlines the challenges and status of some of the area’s most vulnerable population: those living in poverty.
“We’re going to get some focused policy direction on how we can … move the needle on ending poverty,” Nirenberg said. “The next decade will be about making sure that our community is mobile – socioeconomically mobile as well as physically mobile.”
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), who led efforts to start a more equitable budget process, said she’d like to see several committees – especially the Community Health and Equity Committee – review that report.
“My hope is that we get through that by May so that when it gets to budget time we can reallocate some funds [toward the report’s recommendations],” she said.
Homelessness Mitigation Strategies
City Council unanimously approved a nearly $130,000 contract with a policy consultant in October to identify strengths and gaps in services for homeless – or nearly homeless – people in San Antonio and develop a strategic plan. The report is expected to be completed and presented to the Council in early April.
Meetings are underway with various stakeholder groups, who will provide input to the California-based consultant hired to compile the strategic plan.
Pre-K 4 SA
Next week, City Council will receive a briefing on the status of Pre-K 4 SA, which is up for reauthorization this year.
Pre-K 4 SA, which started in 2013, is the City’s taxpayer-funded, full-day prekindergarten program. A recent study found that children who take part in the program were less likely to be identified as needing special education services and “fared slightly better” than children who were not enrolled in public pre-K.
Fire Union Contract
A panel of arbitrators, which has near-full authority over the union’s next labor contract with the City, will likely reach an agreement in mid-January.
The decision will be the culmination of a yearslong battle over wage increases and health care costs. The union’s most recent contract expired in September 2014.
Public Vote on Shifting Aquifer Tax to Mass Transit Funding
Nirenberg and others want to see a one-eighth-cent sales tax currently devoted to Edwards Aquifer protection and greenway trail development shifted to fund VIA Metropolitan Transit, a proposal that has drawn criticism.
VIA is the lowest-funded large city transit organization in Texas, and SAWS will consider taking over the aquifer protection funding later this year.
“If I had to brand the next era for San Antonio, it would be an era of mobility,” Nirenberg said. “That means that people have access to opportunity – which is linked closely to education and transportation.”
Other Possible Council Priorities
- Sandoval said she’ll be focusing on getting support for a recent request she filed asking Council to consider requiring entities that receive operational funding from the City to comply with rules similar to the sick and safe leave ordinance that was halted by the courts last year.
- As part of the City’s environmental sustainability goals, it’s looking to implement a program intended to make low-cost, long-term loans available for clean energy and water conservation projects on private properties, Sandoval added. That should come before Council in the next couple of months, she said.
- Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) told the Rivard Report that the recent U.S-Iran conflict should highlight the importance of cybersecurity for the City. “I think that you will see 2020 be the year where we make significant investments in cybersecurity,” he said.
- Councilwoman Adriana Garcia (D4) said that she will be focusing on economic development as a recently appointed member of the Alamo Area Council of Government’s Committee of Six, which is an executive committee of the Workforce Services Alamo board. “Whatever I learn from that will possibly result in really specific workforce development recommendations,” she said.
- Treviño and Garcia jointly filed a CCR seeking possible changes to how the City’s Ethics Review Board and compliance officer operate.
The 2020 census is not necessarily a policy discussion, but residents will be seeing, hearing, and reading a lot of awareness efforts from Council members and others urging them to participate in the federal decennial population count.
Local and state officials warn that an undercount, especially of the most vulnerable Texans such as children and the immigrant community, could mean insufficient funding for housing, transportation, education, and health services.