Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
San Antonio City Councilman John Courage (D9) campaigned last spring on reducing traffic and enhancing public safety in his district. On Tuesday night, he said he has worked since his election in June to create larger police academy classes, work on equitable city funding, and to share his interest in innovative mass transit options with his fellow Council members.
One traffic solution that intrigues the first-time councilman? Trackless light rail, under development in China, that Courage said could cost about a quarter of what traditional light rail would cost.
But several constituents who came to a Tuesday night "Conversations with the Council" discussion – the ninth of 10 being hosted by the Rivard Report – seemed less concerned about traffic solutions and more worried about rising property taxes, and what could be done to stop them.
Many neighborhoods in District 9 have experienced rapid property value increases. Cyndi Munch, a 25 year resident of District 9, said her property tax bill had increased by one-third over the past three years.
Courage, a self-described "communicator" from experience as a special-needs educator, said as the Council works on its agenda for the next state legislative session, "that's one of the things that we're talking about."
Courage also described working with fellow Council members on the so-called "equity-lens" budget, and on attracting more direct flights out of the San Antonio International Airport, during the moderated discussion with Rivard Report Editor-in-Chief Beth Frerking.
Courage said that presentations by Trinity University Professor Christine Drennon about San Antonio's long history of inequitable neighborhood development had sparked the Council's equity lens in its budget planning process. He described balancing the Council's desire to provide additional city services and rehabilitation projects to districts that lacked them, while ensuring that others weren't left out in the process. (Drennon is an associate professor of urban studies at Trinity.)
Courage also discussed his work to alleviate constituents' concerns about traffic congestion, an acute problem in his sprawling Northside district.
He pointed to potential expansion of Texas State Highway Loop 1604, and to the construction now underway to expand U.S. Highway 281 north of 1604 as positive steps toward reducing traffic, but said there needs to be more focus on creating additional mass transportation options.
He highlighted his support for providing additional funding to the VIA bus system, but also said providing more bus service is only one answer.
"Another way is putting in a form of mass transit ... trackless light rail," Courage said. He described it as an emerging form of light rail-style transportation emerging in China that operates without rails. The vehicle uses chemically created paint tracks to direct compartments through special sensors in the vehicle's rubber tires.
"That can go 45 miles an hour, it can hold 300 people at a time in it, and you can change the route," Courage said. "I think that's more of an affordable opportunity for increasing mass transit down the line in San Antonio."
In order to fight property crime in his district, Courage said he supported adding police academies to recruit and train more cadets. Despite additional absences likely to be caused in the department by retiring officers, he believes there will be a "meaningful" increase in the number of police officers on the street.
Courage also discussed how San Antonio can work to help bring more direct flights from and to cities such as Washington, D.C., and New York City. (The San Antonio International Airport is in Courage's district.) While tough competition and federal regulations continue to keep those flights out of San Antonio, he said Mayor Ron Nirenberg's creation of a committee of airline experts makes him optimistic about further airport development.
Like Nirenberg, Courage said he believed San Antonio to be unfit for competition in Amazon's search for second headquarters.
"Let's focus on things that are more achievable for San Antonio," Courage said.
He said the city's active economic development groups continually bring in thousands of new jobs in fields such as biomedicine and technology.
Audience members sought Courage's perspective on a number of district topics, but also on a number of citywide issues. He voiced his support for the proposed appointment of Amy Hardberger to the San Antonio Water System board, the potential expansion of the University of Texas at San Antonio's Downtown Campus, and construction of the land bridge connecting the two sides of Hardberger Park.
"I believe a councilman for one district is a councilman for the whole city," he said.
The Tuesday event was held at the Weathered Souls Brewing Co. off Bitters Road and West Avenue in Courage's district.
The final installment of the Rivard Report's "Conversations with Council" discussions, on March 6, will be led by Publisher Robert Rivard at Trinity University with District 1 Councilman Roberto C. Treviño.