City Council unanimously approved a list of 181 infrastructure projects Thursday to be included in the $850 million 2017 municipal bond. The package comprises six ballot items that will be presented to voters in the May 6 election for mayor and City Council seats.
If voters approve the ballot items, the City will engage contractors and oversee the capital projects that balance short-term “neighborhood needs and catalytic projects with a lasting effect on San Antonio,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley told Council, adding that the City’s Triple A bond rating allows San Antonio to borrow this money with the lowest interest rates in the country. The City again managed to avoid raising its property tax rate to pay for the bond, though property values have increased for many across the city.
About 80% of residents live within 1 mile of at least one bond project, Sculley noted.
The 2017 bond propositions will include Streets, Bridges and Sidewalks ($445 million), Drainage and Flood Control ($139 million), Parks and Recreation ($121 million), Facilities ($125 million), and, if approved next month, Neighborhood Improvements ($20 million).
City Council’s overwhelming support of the bond program as a whole was heard throughout the morning and echoed by the more than 15 citizens that signed up to speak in favor before the vote.
“It’s an investment we can’t do without,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).
A private campaign to get the ballot items approved by voters launched immediately after the vote. OneSA, a political action committee, will be led by prominent local political consultant Christian Archer. Most City Council members and the mayor have already pledged their support for the campaign.
Archer anticipates that OneSA will easily raise more than $500,000 from local business and community leaders, private citizens, and corporations to support voter approval of the entire $850 million bond program.
“It’s a complex issue. We’ve got to talk to a lot of people about a lot of different projects,” he said. “What Council approved unanimously today shows that they’ve been listening to what the people want and that they want to move forward with big investments in streets and drainage and our quality of life.”
Some City Council members made last-minute adjustments to the list of projects recommended by the five citizen bond committees. All of those adjustments were approved on Thursday and represent a mere 3% change.
The ballot will be finalized on Feb. 9 when Council officially calls for the bond election.
The $20 million Neighborhood Improvements category of the bond, the first of its kind in San Antonio which will facilitate private sector development of affordable housing, will require one more step before it can officially be included on the May 6 ballot: the adoption of the Urban Renewal Plan on Feb. 2.
The City Charter prohibits direct funding of affordable housing projects, but the City can facilitate construction through another public, private, or nonprofit entity. Enter Neighborhood Improvements bond, often referred to as the “affordable housing” or “housing” bond.
City staff is not legally allowed to campaign for or against ballot items, but they will produce bilingual informational brochures, maintain the 2017 bond webpage, and make presentations available to groups and organizations seeking more information on the bond program. Sculley and bond committee Tri-Chair Eddie Aldrete of IBC Bank, for instance, will be speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Family Service Association of San Antonio on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at the Plaza Club. Tickets are $75.
Challenges to citywide and inner city projects brought forward by councilmen Joe Krier (D9), Mike Gallagher (D10), and Cris Medina (D7) last week were set aside before the vote on Thursday.
“There are some [projects] I would argue against,” Gallagher said. “But what I have to do as a councilman is sit down and listen to the input of others.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), however, renewed her concern about funding the Hardberger Park land bridge, a project that was threatened several times during the citizen committee process. Some believe the City should step back from funding the project entirely. Private donors have committed $10 million to the project, compared to $13 million included in the bond.
Viagran proposed that Council create a separate, seventh ballot item just for the land bridge to “let the voters decide for themselves.”
None of her colleagues seconded the motion, so her proposal was not voted on.
Less than 10 citizens signed up to speak against the bond, three of which were members of the hotel union Unite Here. They spoke out against the $21 million allocation for Hemisfair’s Civic Park project, citing the park district’s plan to allow a hotel on land adjacent to the park. But none of the bond money will be spent on the hotel, City officials confirmed.
Others have questioned the “rough proportionality” of the bond and the allocation of funds toward citywide projects such as Hardberger Park and downtown projects such as Hemisfair and Broadway Street improvements.
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Mayor Ivy Taylor recognized these concerns but cautioned against taking these historic investments in the inner city out of context.
“These investments are necessary today because past investments in these areas were smaller,” Taylor said. “We’re still only playing catch-up.”
That kind of context and information will be vital to voter support in May, said Archer, who led the successful 2007 and 2012 campaigns.
“The challenges are out there,” he said. “It’s the weirdest political season of all time.”
The bond program will be a topic of discussion for everyone seeking political office this year, he added, and may come under fire from those looking to climb to the top of the polls.
“Our job, as the campaign, is to make sure people are well-informed and that they understand the historic significance of this bond and what it will bring to your family and your neighborhood,” Archer said. “This isn’t going to solve all the problems, but it is a giant leap forward.”
Former USAA CEO and President Joe Robles Jr., a retired Army major-general, is the treasurer of OneSA. The tri-chairs of the citizen bond committees – Darryl Byrd, Carri Baker, and Eddie Aldrete – will transition over to help lead the campaign effort.