Scott Ball / Rivard Report
City Council District 1, which includes downtown San Antonio and northern areas of the city, has seen rapid growth, development, and investment over recent years that seems to be building momentum beyond the so-called “decade of downtown.”
As the urban core experiences a resurgence, local leaders have tried to keep up with the influx of people and businesses to the area with investments in housing, commercial developments, and infrastructure. Meanwhile, longtime inner-city residents have worked to preserve and protect their neighborhoods – some of the oldest in the city – amid the revitalization efforts.
Balancing those challenges – along with numerous large-scale downtown projects such as the re-imagination of the Alamo, the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, and the redevelopment of Hemisfair – has consumed much of Councilman Roberto Treviño‘s time. The McAllen native has lived in District 1 for almost 20 years.
Unanimously appointed to City Council in 2014 to fill a vacancy left by now State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), Treviño was elected to a full term in 2015. He is one of six candidates running for the District 1 seat on the May 6 ballot and recognizes the trials facing his rapidly changing district.
“We are appreciative of the growth we are experiencing, but we have to be protective of the identity of San Antonio that should not be lost or homogenized with the new people that are coming or the way we build out our city,” Treviño said. “All of that is truly important.”
Since taking office, Treviño has led efforts to increase accessibility at City buildings, establish Spanish translation services, gather more public input on the Brackenridge Park master plan and designs for the Malt House, and reinforce the Centro de Artes as a location that showcases Latino arts. He has also collaborated with local officials and the community to keep rideshare options in San Antonio, revive the long-vacant Alameda Theater, and co-author a partnership agreement among the Texas General Land Office, the Alamo Endowment, and the City for the Alamo Plaza’s redevelopment.
As an architect with a business background, Treviño has strived to make San Antonio a “City by Design” and has advocated for finding a balance between historic preservation and growth. But that is an area where his challengers, namely local tech attorney Michael Montaño, believe Treviño has fallen short of his promises.
Montaño, a Southside native, said he’s heard repeatedly from District 1 community members that Treviño ignores concerns about unwanted development in their neighborhoods.
Residents voiced such frustrations to Treviño and other City officials at a community meeting Tuesday about a proposed historic district in the Tobin Hill neighborhood.
“A sense of urgency is felt by the people of the district for change, [and] that doesn’t seem to be reflected in the actions of the incumbent,” Montaño told the Rivard Report. If elected, he said he would work with residents early on to ensure they are aware of developments that will affect their neighborhoods.
Treviño said it is nearly impossible to vet every single development proposal submitted to the City.
District 1 native and candidate Adrian Flores, chairman of the Tejano Democrats and former political consultant who has worked with mayoral candidate Manuel Medina, echoed that concern.
“I understand … growth, but there’s also got to be responsible growth,” he said.
Robert Feria, a community organizer for the American Federation of Teachers who has lived in the district for two years, called the issue “developer-driven gentrification” that leads to increased property taxes and eventually pushes established residents out of their homes.
“Even people who have been here for decades and generations and have paid off their homes and don’t have anything else to pay for, they’re still concerned they’re being pushed out because the property taxes are much, much higher,” he said.
Treviño acknowledged the validity of such concerns, saying that it takes a true understanding of how the City works – in relation to its abilities and jurisdiction – to effectively address them.
He pointed out that the county appraisal district, not the City of San Antonio, sets property values, which tend to rise in areas made up of mostly rent houses and not of owner-occupied homes. Treviño has enacted programs to address this issue, he said, including the San Antonio Under 1 Roof program that repairs people’s roofs so that they can stay in their homes longer.
“If you really want to get things done, we have to know what it is we can do and how we can actually make a positive impact for all of us,” he said.
Graciela Sánchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center located just northwest of downtown, said that with the influx of people, development, and funds into the center city, City leaders should prioritize the needs of established residents who struggle to remain living and working in the area as costs rise.
Downtown today seems more “for people from the outside or people who can afford to enter into these spaces,” said Sánchez, whose organization does not endorse any of the candidates. “All the housing that’s going there is so expensive that people can’t even afford it.”
She also sees a need for increased, early-on community engagement regarding new projects in downtown before crucial decisions are made.
“People feel like it doesn’t matter if they vote or go speak [to] Council … the decisions have already been made,” she said.
Other issues facing District 1 identified by the candidates relate to crime, public safety, and basic infrastructure such as streets and sidewalks.
Lauro Bustamante, a local attorney who has lived in the district for about 20 years and run for a number of public offices during that time, also noted public health and job creation as areas in need of more attention.
“We have a disconnect,” Bustamante said. “We have municipal City government working and then we have the people and there’s not enough connection there and not enough input from the people. The government goes off and does these programs, and the next thing we know the people don’t want it and are against it.”
Some of the district’s infrastructure needs – namely sidewalks – will be addressed through the $850 million 2017 municipal bond, Treviño said. The bond puts a total of $169 million, or 20%, toward downtown projects that will improve streets, infrastructure, facilities, neighborhoods, and fund transformative projects like Civic Park in Hemisfair and Broadway Corridor improvements. These “citywide” projects are expected to impact residents throughout San Antonio as well as District 1 residents.
Downtown makes up less than two-tenths of 1% of San Antonio’s landmass, yet it makes up almost 4% of the city’s tax base, according to Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni.
“San Antonio is a big city with a lot of need, but there is so much opportunity for the redevelopment of our downtown, and the continued investment will only yield great results fiscally and economically for the overall city,” he said.
Along with improving infrastructure in the center city, DiGiovanni added, leaders must continue to bring more residents back to downtown by implementing strong Housing First strategies and more housing incentives, and attracting more jobs.
“We need leadership at all levels to embrace that and continue that momentum,” he said.
As is the case with most City Council incumbents, unseating Treviño will be no easy task. There has been speculation that District 1 candidate Ross Treviño, who did not return requests for comment, is working with another challenger to create name confusion on the ballot that could pull votes away from the incumbent.
Roberto Treviño said he’s looking forward to continuing work with his constituents in District 1, an area that is “trailblazing and setting the example for the city.
“Over the next few years, District 1 and the city as a whole are going to truly, truly see some amazing growth – [They’re] going to thrive,” he said. “It’s important to know how to leverage all of that so that people here in the city can benefit.”