Hays Street Bridge, Crime, Infrastructure Top Priorities for District 2 Candidates

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(From left) District 2 candidates Ruben Arciniega, Jada Andrews-Sullivan, Keith Toney, Walter Perry Sr., Joseph Powell, and Denise Gutierrez-Homer.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) District 2 candidates Ruben Arciniega, Jada Andrews-Sullivan, Keith Toney, Walter Perry Sr., Joseph Powell, and Denise Gutierrez-Homer participate in an April 3 debate. Candidates Richard Anthony Ramey and Salena Santibanez Guipzot were not in attendance.

With eight candidates on the District 2 ballot for the May 4 City Council election, a runoff is likely for the right to represent a district that has seen considerable turnover in representation in the last five years.

After less than two years on the job, former Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw resigned from the seat in December to accept a judicial position. In January, Art Hall was appointed as the interim representative by City Council members to in January and is not running for the permanent position, leaving the field without an incumbent to challenge.

Since Ivy Taylor left the seat in 2014 to serve as interim mayor, District 2 has had four representatives on City Council, both interim and elected.

In this election, three candidates seem to have gained some community support: Keith Toney, who served as an interim councilman in 2014; Jada Andrews-Sullivan, who sought the interim seat earlier this year; and Denise Gutierrez-Homer, an artist and community organizer in Government Hill. However, with such a wide field, there could be surprises.

Toney, 67, is running on the basis of his experience in City Hall and enjoys substantial name recognition in the political and business communities. Andrews-Sullivan enjoys considerable community backing despite being a political newcomer, and Denise Gutierrez-Homer became frustrated with the Government Hill Neighborhood Association’s support of development projects and formed a new group, Government Hill United.

Also on the ballot is Joseph Powell, a self-described “protest candidate;” Richard Anthony Ramey, a graduate student studying counseling; Salena Santibanez Guipzot, who owns a construction consulting company and a drywall business; Walter E. Perry Sr., who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in marketing; and Ruben Arciniega, a program coordinator at the UTSA. None of the candidates except Toney have experience in political office, and he did not win election after his interim appointment.

The near East Side neighborhoods of Government Hill, Dignowity Hill, and Denver Heights are undergoing substantial changes demographically and physically, with new homes and apartment complexes being added and historic homes being renovated. Gentrification is often mentioned among District 2’s major concerns, along with crime, street infrastructure, and jobs.

At a recent candidate forum at St. Philip’s College, the candidates were asked about their positions on the residential development slated for land next to the Hays Street Bridge. Andrews-Sullivan was the only candidate who suggested a compromise: to “work with the developer and the community” to try to find a path forward. Her response was met with some hisses from the audience.

The other candidates voiced support for having City attorneys drop legal challenges to the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group’s lawsuit against the City and turn the land into a park. Andrews-Sullivan has received campaign support from the developer of the controversial project, Mitch Meyer.

The issue has divided the community for long enough, Andrews-Sullivan, 43, told the Rivard Report last week. “How can we … rebuild trust in the community?”

She said she has talked to Meyer and Hall and a compromise is close. “It’s not about me,” she said. “It’s truly about bringing back that unity and inclusiveness … to give us the harmony that we need [on the East Side] and [throughout] the whole city.”

Toney served on City Council when it conveyed the land to Alamo Beer Company, which later deeded the land to Meyer when the brewery decided not to expand toward the bridge.

The Martinez family walks towards Hays Street Bridge.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Neighborhood residents walk and ride on the sidewalk along a street adjacent to the Hays Street Bridge.

Gutierrez-Homer points to this as evidence that Toney “sold out the East Side.” She said the land should become, as requested by the restoration group, a public park and that the land sale was the result of “back-room deals” between developers and politicians.

In a video on her Facebook page, she says Toney “sold” the Hays Street Bridge. However, the vote was a procedural one on an updated contract and did not pertain to the bridge or the land sale, which had occurred in 2012.

“I was voting in favor of the brewery,” said Toney, who stands by his 2014 vote. “The project was great for District 2, especially because [the owner, Eugene Simor] was going to hire locally.”

At the time, Council was not aware of future plans to develop an apartment building, Toney said. “I was misled. I never wanted anything there that would obscure the view [of the bridge].”

Several City Council members and the Mayor have said they want to back away from the lawsuit to find some kind of resolution.

District 2, which stretches to just north of the City of Windcrest and as as far east as the City of Converse, is much more than the Hays Street Bridge and rapidly changing neighborhoods.

Toney’s top priority, if elected, is street and drainage infrastructure, he said. “That’s not very exotic, it’s not very sexy … but the infrastructure in D2 is abysmal.”

He also wants to see a bigger emphasis on job training and supporting small businesses.

He did not seek the interim District 2 spot this time, but supported former firefighter Dereck Hillyer’s bid for the interim seat. Hillyer was not selected as a finalist and later removed his name from the May ballot after his record as a firefighter came under scrutiny. The coalition of faith and community leaders, including some from the Government Hill Neighborhood Association, that backed Hillyer is now largely supporting Toney.

“My getting into the race was not contingent on him dropping out,” Toney said, adding that he was asked by several members of the community to run again for the seat. “When trust is placed in you like that you have to honor it.”

Toney, who is a retired federal employee, dropped out of the 2017 Council race amid allegations that he sought payment from Shaw to do so. He then backed incumbent Alan Warrick, who lost to Shaw after being found unconscious on a bench at City Hall after a night of drinking.

Andrews-Sullivan lists small business support, crime, and economic development among her top priorities. She is a disabled U.S. Army veteran and motivational speaker.

She, too, was told by friends and acquaintances that she should run for office. “When other people see the potential in you, you answer the call,” she said.

Her work on the MLK Commission and at Goodwill Services gave her the experience she needs working with people to accomplish goals, she said.

Gutierrez-Homer, 55, said she is running after becoming frustrated with City Council decisions – from allowing “inappropriate” development, to the Alamo Master Plan, to the removal of Chick-fil-A from an airport concessions contract.

“I can’t turn my back,” said Gutierrez-Homer, who holds a degree in political science, runs her own business, and is involved in the arts.

“I am not against development. We need responsible development,” she said, and she will “speak in English and Spanish” to make sure the community is better informed about development plans.

Powell, 32, wants to abolish residential property taxes and thinks “capitalism is an abject failure,” he said a candidate forum. He also said he expects to lose the race.

His main concern is climate change and that the City – the country  – isn’t doing enough to combat it. He is supportive of the draft Climate Action Plan that calls for San Antonio to be carbon-neutral by 2050, but thinks it could be more aggressive. He did not respond to a request for an interview.

Ramey, 31, is also concerned about crime and thinks there should be a bigger police presence in the district. He admits he’s young and politically inexperienced, but confident that could make District 2 a better place. A high school dropout, he later graduated from Texas A&M-San Antonio with a degree in sociology and is working on a masters in counseling from the local university.

He’s running on a platform of community input. “My agenda is their agenda.”

Richard Anthony Ramey

Salena Santibañez-Guipzot, 35, is president and CEO of GPS Consulting and a graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Latina Leadership Institute. She established the nonprofit Boardroom Project to help girls and women get the skills they need for corporate board positions.

To her, homelessness is a personal issue because she grew up on the streets in 11 different states, she said. She said she was homeless “not just like one day or a month – I mean chronically [homeless].”

“Too many people are not fortunate enough to come out of [homelesssness] and not be overwhelmed,” said Santibañez-Guipzot, who serves on the board for the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless.

Public safety is another priority, she said, especially for cyclists and pedestrians.

Salena Santibanez Guipzot

She worked on the Eastside Promise Zone’s safety committee and was able to gain critical experience working to fix sidewalks and vacant homes, she said.

“The people in the community already know me and the work I’ve done,” she said.

Perry, 43, used to work for San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside. That experience led him to see how the system of development – commercial and residential – works and doesn’t work in San Antonio, he said.

He sees the Promise Zone investments in infrastructure and housing as positive, but too narrow, he said.

As neighborhood associations develop factions and divide, Perry says he wants to bring them back together.

“They’re not united,” he said. “My job at Council will be to go to these neighborhood associations [and other groups] and try to fix those relationships.”

As a young man, Perry was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and spent more than seven years in jail. When people ask him about his criminal background, he said, he explains that “everyone deserves a second chance.”

“I’m 43 years old. I was 17 [when that happened],” he said. “I was with the wrong people at the wrong time. … I’ve learned my lesson from that and I’ve moved on.”

Arciniega, 38, is a program coordinator for UTSA’s college of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He said it’s been difficult for him to campaign and maintain his full-time job, but he would be willing to leave his job to represent District 2 full time.

“We felt it was an obligation to the community [to run] because of all the instability,” said Arciniega, noting that the last two council members served only one term each.

When it comes to getting District 2 more resources to combat crime and create better opportunities for residents, he said getting to know his colleagues on the dais would be critical.

“You have to the the community and City Council behind you,” to get things done, he said.

9 thoughts on “Hays Street Bridge, Crime, Infrastructure Top Priorities for District 2 Candidates

  1. “Andrews-Sullivan has received campaign support from the developer of the controversial project, Mitch Meyer.”

    This is one of the biggest stories of the campaign. Far more attention needs to be paid to this, because this is the issue that has roiled District 2 for years now.

  2. What is the nature of Andrews-Sullivan’s relationship with Meyer? District 2, ask those questions before you head to the polls.

  3. Andrews-Sullivan is NOT being bought by Myers. What she has done thru ought this process is bridge a gap along the lines of commutations. When “SHE” is and have been in the Community for 43 years in D2, she has saw and heard more than her fair share of non sense when others have been in office. Maybe if we had better communication 10 years ago D2 would be in a better place. So you want to throw the One candidate under the bus for having an adult conversation with Myers regarding the betterment of the community. How sad. Donations are being given to Jada because she is the best Adult person for the job. Her message has not changed .. because “Our time is Now”

  4. Let me try and clear the air about the association with Mitch and Jada. I am the developer of the Hays Street Bridge site. It just happens to be what I do for a living, but that doesn’t make me insensitive or evil. I have come to know and like a lot of people in D2 including a lot of people that are against my project. Believe it or not they aren’t really upset with me personally but more over the situation regarding the park. When I see Graciella were cordial, when I see Liz were cordial, same goes for Evelyn, Lauren, all. I had a wonderful conversation with Yaneth at Jada’s fundraiser and we even exchanged phone numbers. I respect anyone that fights for what they believe in and that includes Jada. Jada has lived in D2 her entire life and she gets it. There’s nothing suspicious about sitting down with a developer and asking what he’s all about. Jada asked me to lunch months ago because she wanted answers, not rumors. I respect that. Anyone seriously running for office should be engaging with the business people and developers that are in their district, but Jada was the only one. That’s called leadership. Jada never asked me for support, in fact, she asked me what I wanted, but not like you’re thinking. She asked me like a father would ask his daughters boyfriend; she was looking out for her district. I told her all I want is a council person that is a grown-up, that is consistent and reliable. I also threw in that it would be nice if everyone could get to know each other and find a way to get along in D2. She relayed that the “us” vs “them” mentality in D2 is holding back progress and we also agreed that progress is happening whether anyone wants it or not. Progress and gentrification are two different things and need to be looked at separately but also interrelated. This can be solved. That was our lunch content and at that moment I decided to throw my entire weight behind Jada. I also like her as a person and if you’re really interested we both had a soup and salad.

    As we started talking weeks later is was Jada, not any other candidate, that asked me to think outside the box about the Hays Street Bridge site. Because of Jada I reached out to Councilman Hall to see if there wasn’t something we could agree on to make the Hays Street Bridge site a park again. Believe me, after two years of having my head bashed in, I was open to anything. The whole theme of Jada’s campaign is “let’s sit down and talk”. I’ve since reached out to Councilman Hall and I am working on options right now to get that park back to the community. I don’t know where we’ll wind up but we’re working on it. Jada finds the good in people, Jada’s a leader and Jada has no other agenda other than making D2 better for everyone. I firmly believe that Jada is the best person for this job and I think it’s shortsighted for anyone to think that her reaching out to a developer is wrong. She reached out for you, not her, and look at what she did. You’ll be in very good hands if you elect Jada.

    Mitch Meyer

    • Presuming that you are indeed Mitch Meyer, I’d appreciate your response to my comments/questions below.

      You wrote “… I am the developer of the Hays Street Bridge site. It just happens to be what I do for a living, but that doesn’t make me insensitive or evil.”

      I doubt that you are evil, however, “insensitive” may be an appropriate descriptor.

      When presented with the opportunity to purchase the plot of land adjacent to the Hays Street Bridge, were you aware of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group’s lawsuit against the City of San Antonio in 2012 to block the City’s sale of the property? Were you aware of the memorandum of understanding between the restoration group and COSA which reportedly describes the plot of land as a future community park? If so, why did you engage with Eugene Simor in order to acquire the land?

      There’s nothing suspicious about a developer sitting down with the restoration group and asking what they’re all about from the outset…before the transfer of land. There’s nothing suspicious about you reaching out to the public regarding land that it seems you so desperately wanted. In fact, it is what I’d expect a “grown-up” developer to do.

      Yes, it is ordinary for developers to begin dialogue with a community following the purchase of land they intend to develop. However, I think we all can agree that the circumstances surrounding the history and intended use of this land are anything but ordinary.

      Affected residents will undoubtedly have various opinions and plenty of concerns. Rightfully so. Why wait after two years of having your head bashed in order to be more open-minded?

      Please help the public to understand these things. Otherwise, a resident of District 2, like myself, is left to think that you are yet another developer insensitive to the desires of the community that you are forcefully changing, valuing profits over the people.

      Regarding District 2 candidate, Jada Andrews-Sullivan, the sensible thing to do would have been to not accept campaign donations from you.

  5. “Gutierrez-Homer points to this as evidence that Toney “sold out the East Side.” She said the land should become, as requested by the restoration group, a public park and that the land sale was the result of “back-room deals” between developers and politicians.

    In a video on her Facebook page, she says Toney “sold” the Hays Street Bridge. However, the vote was a procedural one on an updated contract and did not pertain to the bridge or the land sale, which had occurred in 2012.”

    These types of dog-whistle comments and personal attacks are classic Denise Homer. I am looking for a candidate who will be civil while getting the work of working together done for the whole community. She has proven herself to be unable to hear any voice but her own. While I’m sure she has good intentions, including her intention to keep her numerous rental properties filled and quash developer competition, her manners are not suited for adult interactions or public service. Thank you, Rivard Report, for allowing us to see her and the other candidates in action.

  6. Mr. Meyer. Thank you for taking the time to explain yourself. I wasn’t going to vote at all but after your response my wife and I are going to go and vote for Jada today. Thank you again for understanding how important your site is and going the extra mile to work with the city on other options. This means a lot to me and it helps me now understand where Jada is coming from. I hope the city steps up and makes this happen on their end.

  7. I second the comment about Denise Homer-Gutierrez (Pintor?). She says she supports small business but then wants to squash any new potential customers to those businesses by blocking development. She literally said at a city council meeting that she prefers for lots in her district to remain vacant. How is she going to “fight taxes” if she keeps any new money from coming into her district? Are her voters going to pay for public upkeep? Not sure, but I do think the comment on competition posted above is likely the case. She herself is a part of the new growth to D2 but chooses to spend her time trying to block anyone coming in behind her.

    Nevermind the fake news and personal attacks, thinking her neighbors deserve to be represented with such behavior. I very much hope voters don’t think D2 constituents need that.

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