The future of San Antonio, or at least the ambitious SA Tomorrow plans and policies for the rapidly growing city, are circulating through the city’s physical and digital worlds. The Sustainability, Multimodal Transportation and Comprehensive drafts add up to 961 pages and would weigh about 9.5 pounds if printed on standard letter paper, not including the ink. City Council will vote on adopting the plans in June.
The SA Tomorrow plan, which was crafted through the collection of public input and a labyrinth of stakeholder advisory boards and work groups, could be the most important planning document produced by the city in decades – if it avoids collecting dust on the shelf and sees implementation as promised by elected officials. It contains 60 goals and more than 300 policies that touch on housing, land use, transportation, health and wellness, natural resources and economic development. It includes renderings of extraordinarily complete streets with everything from basic, wide sidewalks to a rail line to buried utilities; an affordable housing strategy to mitigate gentrification; equity in access to public amenities, and more.
So, engaged citizen, have you read it yet?
If you’ve got room for about 500 MB on your device, click the following links to download the plans (these very large PDFs may take several minutes to download): Comprehensive, Sustainability and Multimodal Transportation.
Don’t worry, save for a few City staffers, Council members and department heads, few have read the entire 3.8-inch thick document.
Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) is one of the few that has. He is, after all, one of three chairs of the SA Tomorrow and chairs the Council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee, the later of which received a briefing on each plan from department directors on Tuesday.
“Today is the end of the beginning,” Nirenberg said after the meeting. “Now we actually move onto implementing these visions.”
Though it may seem daunting, the plans are not technical specifications written for city engineers and planners: they come highly illustrated with summaries, definitions, and with online tools like videos and contextual information that help parse out critical take-aways at www.satomorrow.com (in English and Spanish).
The Committee is made up of Council members Rebecca Viagran (D3), Alan Warrick (D2), Cris Medina (D7), and Mayor Ivy Taylor. Only Nirenberg and Viagran attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s an ambitious plan, but San Antonians are ambitious about their future,” Nirenberg said. “It’s not a fabrication of elected officials or planners, this is what the San Antonio public wants to see for their future.”
The City hosted several open house sessions that concluded Tuesday night, but other organizations, commissions and the City will host more opportunities for the public to review the plans in the coming weeks before Council’s vote in June.
All three plans will be presented to the Planning Commission on Wednesday at 2 p.m. and again on May 25; to full City Council next Wednesday, May 18, at 2 p.m. in the Municipal Plaza Building, which is always open to the public and has a Citizens to be Heard component at 5 p.m.; and the Office of Sustainability will be presenting the Sustainability Plan draft to the Sierra Club on Thursday, May 19 at the William R. Sinking EcoCentro, 1802 North Main St. at 6:30 p.m. Plans will be adjusted accordingly before City Council is briefed again during B Session on Wednesday, June 1, and finalized for adoption later in the month.
“As we move forward, as elected officials and staff work together, we’ll adjust and tweak so that we’re moving towards the community’s vision,” said Bridgett White, interim director of the City’s Planning and Community Development Department, who outlined the Comprehensive Plan.
Nirenberg stressed the need for the plan to become a “living document” that is constantly updated and adaptable to a fast-growing – San Antonio’s population is expected to grow by more than 1.1 million people by 2040 – and fast-changing city.
Other agencies such as the San Antonio River Authority, CPS Energy, VIA Metropolitan Transit, and Brooks City Base’s board will be briefed as San Antonio Water System was last week, but Nirenberg said he hoped that the private sector – especially developers – will be given a chance to see the draft as well as how it would impact land use and development.
Zoning, planning, transportation, and economic development are all interconnected, he told City staff.
The plan calls for hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, public housing, and other policies, but there has been no official estimate of how much will be needed to accomplish its goals.
“The vision and the strategies that are part of the SA Tomorrow plan now will be translated into actual projects, into capital investments, and that’s what we’re going to see implemented in the 2017 bond,” Nirenberg said. It won’t be done all at once, but the $750 million 2017 bond is a critical opportunity to put a “down payment on SA Tomorrow.”
“Up until the day we call the election (in February), a project could be put in the bond package,” Nirenberg said. The bond go before voters on the May 2017 ballot. “But the conversations about what should be a priority for District 8 (and most districts) have been occurring frankly for three years.”
Projects that directly accomplish SA Tomorrow goals, Nirenberg said, should take priority.
If accepted by City Council in June, the SA Tomorrow plans will also inform the city’s annual budgeting process. Fiscal year 2017’s budget will go before Council in September and will likely speak to the priorities of SA Tomorrow.
“The entire budget process will be influenced by SA Tomorrow,” Nirenberg said, and so will the City’s policies.
The other item on Tuesday’s committee agenda, consideration of an anti-idling ordinance, speaks directly to the influence that the planning process has had on the City’s progress towards some of the more difficult goals laid out for the City.
“Compared to the other plans, ours is the bite-sized plan,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick, who presented the Sustainability plan. It’s 125 pages while the Transportation and Comprehensive plan are 461 and 375, respectively, but in addition to localized environmental and resource challenges this plan takes into consideration the significance of global climate change and air quality.
A first step, what Melnick called “low hanging fruit,” to reduce smog back to federal attainment standards – as called for by the SA Tomorrow plan – is implementing a new rule that prohibits large vehicles from idling for more than five minutes. Bexar County approved a similar rule last week and City Council will likely vote on a measure in June that could go into effect in January 2017.
Levels of ground level ozone in San Antonio will soon officially be beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold of 70 parts per billion.
“It’s definitely looking as though we will be in non-attainment as of next October,” Melnick said.
The cost of non-attainment depends on several factors, including how far beyond attainment San Antonio’s ozone levels climb by next October and how a request for leniency from the Alamo Area Council of Governments, the lead agency on regional air quality, is considered by the EPA.
The Austin-based Capital Area Council of Governments released a study last September that puts a price tag range of $900 million to $1.4 billion per year on non-attainment.
Vehicles that weigh more than 14,000 pounds would be subject to the new rule, under which the City would target truck stops, hospitals, schools and other problem areas with signage and awareness campaigns. There would be exceptions for emergency vehicles other situations. Such ordinances are growing in popularity across the country and world.
A key part of implementation will be phasing in enforcement, Melnick said, and details are still being worked out with San Antonio Police and other City departments.
UPDATE: The City of San Antonio sent out a notification that the Office of Sustainability will be accepting input on the anti-idling ordinance via phone (210-207-1449), email (email@example.com), or letter (1400 S. Flores St., San Antonio, Texas 78204) through Tuesday May 31.
The Rivard Report will publish more coverage of the SA Tomorrow plans in the coming weeks as its reporters have a chance to absorb the nearly 1,000 pages.
Top image: Bridgett White, the City’s director of Planning and Community Development (left), presents the Comprehensive Plan to the committee. Photo by Iris Dimmick.