Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The 2015 designation of the city’s Spanish-colonial Missions as a UNESCO World Heritage site has brought both potential and problems to San Antonio City Council District 3. Economic development, housing opportunities, and improved streets are on the horizon, but so are worries about longtime residents and businesses being displaced.
The district, which goes as far north as Highway 90 and Rigsby Avenue and as far south as Loop 1604 and I-37 South, not only houses the cultural gems that are the Missions, it also includes Brooks City Base, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the evolving Stinson Municipal Airport, and HOLT CAT and Toyota Texas Manufacturing, two key Southside companies that provide jobs and workforce development.
Balancing growth, maintaining authenticity, and protecting legacy neighborhoods will be no easy task as more residents seek to live closer to the cultural beacons that represent the past, present, and future of San Antonio. More tourists coming to the Missions means commercial developers are eyeing the area, too.
Hoping to remain at the steering wheel of a district poised for transformative growth, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran is seeking re-election to the District 3 seat. She faces six challengers in her quest for a third term.
Viagran, a lifelong resident of the district, holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from Texas State University and a master’s degree in public administration from St. Mary’s University. She was first elected in 2013, ousting Leticia Ozuna.
“I want to continue building on all the accomplishments we’ve had and maintaining a high level of funding for projects, because we need to keep up and catch up on a lot of things that we’ve been overlooked at for so long,” Viagran, 42, told the Rivard Report.
The City has committed more than $2.5 million of the fiscal year 2017 budget to the World Heritage sites and the surrounding area to improve infrastructure and create incentives for existing local businesses.
“Now we’re finally getting the investment we need from the City’s general fund into D3, but we’re not there yet,” Viagran said, “and I’m committed to continue to fight for that.”
Fr. David Garcia, archdiocese director of the Old Spanish Missions, said the most important challenge for anyone leading the district has to do with improving, preserving, and protecting existing residents and neighborhoods.
“We know that growth needs to come, and we welcome improvements, but we have to find a good balance,” he told the Rivard Report. “Many of the families that live in Mission Concepción, for example, have lived there for generations and don’t want to leave.”
Many residents are afraid that once more visitors swarm the Missions and developers show interest in building apartments near coveted land, they will “get bought out or pushed out” of the district, Garcia said.
Viagran said she is committed to “balanced growth” in the area and listening to the needs of the community. Several of her challengers don’t think she’s doing enough, accusing her of being unresponsive to constituents, lacking transparency, and siding with investors and lobbyists against residents’ interests.
Reyes, 65, who is retired and served as a Democratic Party precinct chair, said he has the time to really serve the needs of constituents, unlike Viagran. He said that, if elected, he would keep the district office open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I want to motivate Millennials to step up and I also want to bring in development that respects and honors the residents,” said Carrizales, a 22-year-old senior studying communication at the University of the Incarnate Word. “While block walking, I’ve run into many residents who are frustrated because they feel their voices have not been heard.”
Don, 62, who also is retired and serves as a Democratic precinct chair and deputy precinct chair in Bexar County, said she decided to run for office after she learned that approximately 300 longtime residents from the Mission Trails mobile home park had been displaced to pave the way for a new, mixed-use development.
“Our present representative made a very bad choice to go with the investors,” Don said. “That was when I chose to run for office to make it up to those families one way or another.”
Viagran was one of six council members who voted for the rezoning in 2014. Carrizales, agrees with Don and called Viagran’s handling of the Mission Trails mobile home park rezoning “unacceptable.”
“Viagran refuses to confront situations in the community that are contentious or difficult and that’s my motivation to run for City Council now,” Guerrero, 40, a cultural organizer and grassroots activist told the Rivard Report. “As I’ve talked to people in the community, they feel such a disconnect and betrayal by our representatives that they don’t then turn out to vote or go to community meetings.”
Viagran firmly attests that she intervened and made sure families had the necessary resources to relocate.
“I worked with the new incoming owner to make sure they provided financial assistance to every single family,” she said. “The landowner could have evicted them with no assistance. Prior to the zoning, I went and walked the mobile home twice, went into people’s homes and asked them their concerns. … It was a lot of work and not easy.”
Viagran said she hopes similar situations won’t happen again, adding that she’s committed to fighting for more affordable housing options.
Don and Durham, a 24-year old student of cybersecurity at San Antonio College, oppose the $850 municipal bond that also is on the May 6 ballot. They believe not enough of the bond is aimed at infrastructure needs for the Southside.
“I think that [Viagran] has good ideas, but they need to tackle the infrastructure first before citywide and urban core projects for District 3,” Durham said, adding that he knows people who have lived with broken sidewalks and lack of adequate street lights for several years. “Small issues are becoming bigger issues because they aren’t a focal point. We have to improve the whole district rather than gentrify the outcasts that live there, keep the mom-and-pop shops, and the people that have been there for years.”
Viagran called the bond “transformational,” saying that more than $100 million will go to street improvements, fix drainage issues on Esma and South Pine streets, and purchase land in and around the Missions to protect them from development.
“These were direct requests from residents – they asked for it,” Viagran said. “I don’t know why you would be against this bond, because this is such a huge investment for District 3. We have $9 million dollars alone in sidewalks – that’s huge. That’s going to go into neighborhood streets, major corridors, and needs in our sidewalks.”
Building a cultural arts center on the Southside, zeroing in on infrastructure needs, and connecting streets to Brooks City Base, which is a leader in attracting new businesses that will generate jobs, also are part of District 3’s bond pie, Viagran said. Roosevelt Avenue, a key corridor, is slated for safe pedestrian thoroughfares and bike lanes if the bond passes.
In addition to her support of the bond, Viagran said she’s addressing another issue plaguing the district: stray and loose animals. She stressed her role in opening a more modern Animal Care Services facility at Brooks City Base and implementing bike patrols to rescue stray animals along the Mission Reach.
“We’re addressing the spay-and-neuter issue and making it convenient for pet owners and residents to do the right thing, ” Viagran said. “We also have a designated Animal Care Services officer who can work with us, and we didn’t have that before.”
Going forward, Viagran said she will continue to work hard for her district.
“I’m not going to be okay with just the status quo,” she said, adding that balanced, smart growth will help mitigate economic segregation and propel the district forward.
Gerber, 30, who listed his occupation as self-employed, did not return requests for comment before publication deadline.