In a wide-ranging two-hour forum moderated by the League of Women Voters, five of the nine candidates running to represent District 1 on City Council elaborated on their stances on recent San Antonio controversies like the vote to remove Chick-fil-A from consideration from an airport concessions deal and the most pressing problems facing District 1.
The five candidates present were Raymond Zavala, Oscar Magaña, Justin Holley, Lauro A. Bustamante, and incumbent Roberto Treviño. Candidates Brad Kessler and Alan Dennis Inchaurregui said they would attend but did not show up, and Colton Unden and Richard Gonzales did not respond to invitations to sit on the panel.
District 1’s biggest challenges
Starting off the panel, candidates were asked to describe the most pressing challenge facing District 1. Each candidate took a different tack, but most answers centered on equity, affordability, and safety.
Bustamante and Zavala both stated safety is the No. 1 problem, explaining each resident needs to feel safe in their own home or when walking around San Antonio.
“As senior citizens, we can’t go to the local convenience store without being approached by the panhandling, nonworking, nonproductive people that we have invited here,” said Zavala, a 67-year-old retired veteran. “Our spending on Haven for Hope is outrageous. … If we continue going the way that we are, we are going to end up like Detroit.”
Holley suggested the main issue District 1 residents face is rising property taxes. The cost of these growing property tax bills is “driving people out of their homes.” In a dig at Treviño, Holley claimed the incumbent city councilman, who chairs the Bexar Appraisal District board, had the power to fix these issues.
The district’s board does not have the authority to change values or appraisal methods, according to the organization’s website.
Treviño said he has been part of forwarding infrastructure for all by helping develop a sidewalk master plan and lighting plan.
The candidates were asked how they felt about the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. In most cases, it was unclear if the responding candidate had read the plan.
Holley said the climate plan should have been formed with more community input.
Bustamante referred to the need for general transparency and accountability in any plan and to see where dollars are going. Zavala also spoke in generalities, saying there should be more communication between residents and City Council.
Magaña, who stated he had read the plan, said he didn’t agree with everything in it. However, Magaña said, he gleaned from it that the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from stationary housing and businesses. He said he hopes CPS Energy can help more people to go solar and use more clean energy.
Treviño told the audience that he didn’t want Council to continue “kicking the can down the road” and delaying acting on the plan.
“The reality is it is something that we need to get started,” Treviño said. “Ignoring [the plan] is a tactic to kill something, to kill it by delay.”
Displacement, affordability in downtown neighborhoods
Much of the panel was dominated by discussion about affordability in downtown neighborhoods. Treviño spoke about his role in the Council’s creation of a risk mitigation fund that helps serve the entire city when displacement occurs.
The councilman said it is important to look at the issue holistically and to get a housing czar in place to start looking at how developments come in and what incentives are offered up.
Zavala expounded on the plights of many elderly who struggle to afford their homes. He suggested cutting down on “erroneous spending from City Council” to invest more in nonprofits that help residents.
Mangaña, a federal worker, said he has been in his own home for six years and has felt the burden of rising property taxes.
Holley said it is necessary to discuss why people are losing their homes in the first place. When the city was consumed with a ballot proposition to limit the city manager’s salary based on the lowest-paid City employee, Holley said the conversation should have centered around raising the lowest-paid employees’ wages.
Bustamante said the solution is in looking to other cities that have solved displacement problems. He suggested giving rebates to property owners, increasing sales taxes to offset property tax cuts, and other solutions.
LGBTQIA community and Chick-fil-A vote
Piggybacking off of a recent City Council vote that controversially excluded Chick-fil-A from a deal at the city’s airport, an audience member asked what candidates would do to support the LGBTQ community and for their position on the Chick-fil-A vote.
Each candidate underscored their belief in equality. Zavala guaranteed he would hire any person regardless of their identity or demographics, depending on their qualifications. He also said he is a “big Chick-fil-A fan.”
Bustamante said he bases all his views in the U.S. Constitution and on the fact that the government can’t discriminate wrongfully.
Holley said, “I’ll just be me. The reality is I am a gay male.”
Holley said he doesn’t eat at Chick-fil-A but doesn’t support the vote because he doesn’t believe it followed the correct process. He said if he had a question about the contract, he would have kicked it back to the City.
Treviño spoke of his past work advocating for the City’s Office of Equity. He said he has worked to advocate for every marginalized person in his role as city councilman.
The councilman defended his vote for excluding Chick-fil-A at the San Antonio airport. He clarified that Council did follow the proper process by working with the City Attorney’s Office.
“This is about a legacy that doesn’t belong in our public facilities,” Treviño said.
Early voting begins April 22 and runs through April 30. Election day is May 4.