Eastsiders Decry ‘New Pearl’ Development to Area Democratic Reps

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U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) addresses the community at a town hall meeting with the Government Hill Alliance Neighborhood Association at St. Patrick Catholic Church.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) addresses the community at a town hall meeting at St. Patrick Catholic Church in the Government Hill neighborhood.

Eastsiders complained about rising property taxes in the wake of gentrification, crime, inequitable school financing, and stray animals to four local, state, and federal Democratic officials Wednesday night at a town hall in the Government Hill neighborhood.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), and City Councilman William "Cruz" Shaw (D2) spoke to about 120 residents at the two-hour forum at St. Patrick Catholic Church.

The lawmakers covered a range of topics, but residents who raised questions focused primarily on local development and the state school financing system.

Several representatives agreed the State's inability to reform the system under which schools are funded causes strain on longtime residents in historic neighborhoods.

"Property taxes are a City, State, and school district issue," Shaw said. The City tax rate has remained relatively low, he said. But State cutbacks in school funding have put pressure on local school districts to rely more on community support.

Local taxpayers foot 62% of the bill when it comes to school funding, Menéndez said, and the State only pays 38%. "It used to be the other way around." He attributed that in part to the State prioritizing border security over education.

When pressed on whether City tax breaks to major corporations lead to higher property taxes, Shaw emphasized the long-term benefits that those incentives create.

"The City uses incentives to [attract] businesses or keep them here in San Antonio," he said, citing recent decisions to cut companies such as Credit Human a break on the condition that they create more jobs. Examples like the private-public investment in the former Red Berry Estate further support the notion that revitalizing long-neglected areas benefits the district as a whole, he added.

Property taxes and incentives are not in the same category, Gervin-Hawkins said, and incentives should be viewed "more holistically." Higher property valuations that threaten to displace neighbors, however, are a grave concern on every level of government, she added.

Several residents described neighbors and friends who they said will struggle to pay bigger tax bills when new development triggers higher valuations. "The guy down the street who won't have a house next year – that deeply affects me," area resident Liz Franklin said.

Gervin-Hawkins invited residents to help state and local officials "manage" development, but made clear that development is inevitable, especially given Eastside economic anchors such as the AT&T Center.

"Development is coming," she said. "Help us get in front of it, so it doesn't drag us. Let's manage it so it doesn't manage us."

"We don't need 'a new Pearl,'" Government Hill resident Shannon West said, referring to local development firm GrayStreet Partners' preliminary plans for residential housing, restaurants, bars, retail, offices, parking, and greenspace in the area. "What we need is affordable community initiatives."

It's hard to prevent developers from buying up lots that property owners are selling at high rates, Shaw said. Implementing gentrification policies that freeze taxes for families who have lived in the area for generations could be one way to address the issue, Menéndez said.

The local representatives also heard concerns about animal control. Stray dogs have long plagued the district, Shaw said, which is why the City's Animal Care Services (ACS) Department recently implemented stricter rules. But ACS as well as communities would benefit from more direct involvement, such as ACS officers attending neighborhood association meetings, Shaw added.

"We need to change community dynamics," Gervin-Hawkins said, referring both to animal safety issues as well as crime in neighborhoods such as Government Hill. "There is a 'new kind of criminal,'" she said, "and they tend to come from broken families."

A large group of community members of Government Hill gather for a town hall meeting at St. Patrick Catholic Church.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Around 120 Government Hill resident gather for a town hall meeting at St. Patrick Catholic Church.

"Our justice system is broken," Doggett said, and all four politicians agreed it cannot rehabilitate offenders.

"You want to see kids become criminals?" Menéndez asked. "Throw them in jail."

Representatives cited investment in education, creation of jobs, a more restorative way of addressing crime, and heightened involvement on the community level as tools to break cycles of criminal activity.

They all agreed that fostering cohesiveness among neighbors and consistent outreach to elected officials also are effective solutions.

“We are your representatives on a neighborhood level,” Government Hill Alliance Neighborhood Association President Rose Hill said. “Hold us accountable."

11 thoughts on “Eastsiders Decry ‘New Pearl’ Development to Area Democratic Reps

  1. These older neighborhoods are prime for development. Is the only option for these areas to remain a neglected, impoverished and crime-riddled part of our city forever? Is it somehow better for the developers to keep raping raw land surrounding San Antonio – polluting our Aquifer intake, congesting our highways, mucking our air with yet more vehicle traffic? We’re already the “sprawl capital of Texas.” I say clean up, preserve and maintain these beautiful, older neighborhoods – make them desirable once again AND help older residents rehab their properties with tax incentives and encourage thoughtful development.

    • Older residents also need help with property taxes. If your Social Security check is $900 and your monthly city taxes are $150 and your homeowners insurance is $150 a month that leaves you $600 for food, medications, utilities, medical & dental costs not covered by Medicare, etc. Hopefully your mortgage is paid off. Tax incentives for rehabbing old homes will only benefit those with disposable income who aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. Ie the gentry.

    • First, I like gentrification in older areas with old homes restored. HOWEVER..secondly, these neighborhoods are ALREADY desired by the people who live there NOW and have been preserved by them so that they can now be gentrified. They deserve something other than “good riddance”.

  2. Thank you Hanna. It has been and will continue to be a long discussion among us citizens and our representatives.
    So glad Prop. 6 passed in the is last bond election; hopefully that’ll help development in those areas.
    Y’all, don’t forget about Nov. 7th! Don’t forget to follow up on:
    1. State education finance reform
    2. Property tax freezes and abatements
    3. Other development incentives
    4. Prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation programs
    5. …and so much more!
    So relieved we already have ‘drug court’ and juvenile-criminal deterrence programs, and PreK 4 SA (…and newer SAPL and Bibliotech sites….)

  3. which is it – do they want more crime/stray dogs and no change or change that will reduce the crime and stray dogs? I don’t get it.

    with positive change often comes higher home values, which the homeowner also benefits from.

    the thing I see as a challenge is displacement of renters if no new housing is built, when new housing is built higher income earners take the new housing and the lower income earners take the more affordable, older housing units. if no new housing is built then there becomes an issue with displacement.

  4. The situation as it appears is due to the poor quality of meaningful elected leadership throughout the years. Education, crime, property taxes and stray animals are constant issues. The previous officeholders were essentially do-nothings and I feel the current and future elected officeholders are and will be much the same.

  5. To me when a person buys a home they are locked into the current tax rate for as long as they own the home, no matter how high the taxes get….The rate would only change should they decide to sell or rent out…if they sell then the new owners will pay the current rates and be locked in. Doing it this way will make sure no one is forced to sell or walk away because of tax increases.

    • then the schools, roads/transportation, parks and other investments would suffer because the state doesn’t appropriately fund schools or transportation, and we don’t have an income tax. The payments for public goods need to come from somewhere – sales tax doesn’t cover it. maybe you should advocate for income tax so there is a more equitable tax revenue and property taxes don’t need to be the sole source for revenue.

      • Income tax isn’t necessarily more “equitable”. People need to become a little more mobile..that is the reality. If you choose a lesser valued neighborhood you will pay less. When a neighborhood changes and values increase, it is time to move. The fixed tax value idea doesn’t work because I just don’t feel it would be equitable for one person to pay $1,000 per year in taxes on a home valued the same as their next door neighbor who moves in and pays $2,000 as they do in California. Another way to raise the necessary tax revenues is a consumption tax increase…that is a way to tax some folks higher than others, but reward their willingness to be a little more thrifty if they don’t like it.

  6. As long as the city/state relies on property tax, gentrification because of unaffordable tax is inevitable. Better to have some kind of sales/income tax instead of relying solely on property tax.

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