Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Ana Sandoval was born in Monterrey, Mexico, but San Antonio is her home.
No matter where she's gone to study and work throughout the country and Mexico, she has always found her way back to San Antonio, home to her family and all of her milestones.
Sandoval, 42, was elected to City Council from District 7 last week, ousting incumbent Cris Medina by 1,700 votes. Sandoval plans to put all of her experience and knowledge toward improving District 7 and San Antonio as a whole.
"I felt there was some room for improvement in some of the ways we were doing things as a community," she said, referring to her decision to run for office. "I thought there was this tension between how quickly we're growing and making sure we’re bringing everyone with us as we grow."
Sandoval came with her family to District 7 on the city's Westside as a 1-year-old immigrant in 1976. She graduated as valedictorian from Thomas Jefferson High School. After earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the prestigious MIT, a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford University, and another master’s degree in public health from Harvard University, she moved back to her neighborhood, into the house next door to the one she grew up in.
Sandoval is the middle child of three daughters to her Mexican father, Tomás, and mother, Julia, from Veracruz and San Luis Potosí, respectively. They came to San Antonio from Monterrey so her father could work in construction with her uncle. Both of her parents had only grade school education and worked a variety of jobs, including custodial work. Her mother started in the U.S. workforce as a seamstress at Levi's.
Sandoval, whose native language is Spanish, learned English from her older sister, Nancy, and later through immersion in school. She often tells of her first job as a busser at EZ's Brick Oven & Grill at age 15, and her experience joining a mariachi group that performed at Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
Sandoval is proud of the community she was raised in and wants to propel it forward through increased community engagement, accountability, and responsiveness from the district office. She's brainstorming new ways to engage those residents who aren't part of a neighborhood association.
"I want my district to be well represented, to have a voice at City Hall," she said.
That's one of the most prevalent issues she has encountered when talking to district residents, she said. Longtime neighbors haven't felt like they've had a place at the table when it comes to neighborhood changes brought on by growth and investment.
"When you elect a council person, you're electing someone who's going to make sure you have the basic needs that a city is supposed to provide," she said, "but also someone who is going to safeguard the future of your community."
There's been confusion about the role and effectiveness of neighborhood plans, for example, she said, and some feel they've been left out of processes – or simply ignored – regarding changes to their areas.
"Some parts of the district felt that they hadn't been informed or didn't have input on housing decisions, or part of district felt that streets and sidewalks ... hadn't been taken care of," said Rosie Castro, longtime District 7 resident and mother of prominent politicians Julián and Joaquín Castro, former San Antonio mayor and HUD secretary and current U.S. Congressman, respectively. The Castro twins were classmates of Sandoval. Their support was seen as a key element of her victory.
Rosie believes Sandoval's educational background, connection to the district, and her "fresh ideas" made her victorious in her City Council race.
"[Sandoval] is literally the perfect candidate because she’s very responsive and responsible and is willing to work hard to understand the issues and to listen to people," she said. "I believe she’s going to be a really effective and efficient leader."
Other endeavors on Sandoval's to-do list include improving public and pedestrian safety in District 7 through the city's Vision Zero initiative, which promotes making San Antonio's roadways safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. She hopes to positively influence attitudes against biking and walking.
She has a strong background in climate science and air pollution control in terms of public health, traits that will be helpful when tackling issues regarding San Antonio's sustainable growth.
"I'm seeing that these are taking a front seat as we’re growing, and no growth is going to be perfect, but I feel like we need to at least discuss these [issues] and what the implications are," she said. "I feel like I bring that broad perspective that we need to have."
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who was re-elected last week, said she's looking forward to adding another female perspective to City Council. Like Viagran, Sandoval was raised in her district, left for higher education, and returned, which will help her be an effective leader, she said.
"When you come back, you still know the people around, you still know your neighborhood, and still can reflect on what situations were in the past and see if there has been progress made," Viagran said. "Now, as a council member, you can see if there hasn't been progress made and [see] what we can do to change that."
Sandoval said that her parents wanted her and her sisters to pursue higher education, but it was up to them to get themselves there in terms of studying and applying.
A self-proclaimed math nerd who liked chemistry, too, Sandoval delved into her post-high school studies to feed her passion for environmental protection and later her yearning to mitigate public health concerns related to air quality and other environmental factors.
She has held many posts around the country, but in San Antonio, Sandoval previously worked as a systems planner for VIA Metropolitan Transit and in 2016 started the Air and Health Collaborative of San Antonio, a group of health professionals and environmental professionals interested in air quality an in bringing attention to air pollution. She has consulted around the city and also served as a District 7 representative on the Neighborhood Improvements bond committee.
Sandoval has a wide range of experience working with the environment, community outreach, and planning around the country, but still remembers where she came from. At a neighborhood restaurant, she warmly greeted those who came up to her to congratulate her on her win, before biking home to get ready to attend a City Council – for now, as an observer. She attended meetings on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Sandoval will be sworn into her new post on May 31 and officially begin her service as the District 7 representative on June 1. She wants to work hard as a councilwoman to be "useful and helpful" to her constituents, many of which also are her neighbors, family, and friends.
"I also want to make sure that we keep the best of San Antonio, safeguard our natural resources, and the characteristics that make us a special city," she said.
For Sandoval, that work is personal.
"This is home for me, and I don't want us to lose that," she said. "Change will come, but I still want it to feel like home."