Mayor Ivy Taylor addressed almost a dozen points of successes and challenges during her United State of the City Address on Tuesday. While her mantra since her election in June 2014 has been one of strategy and planning, Taylor’s speech was centered around action; around working towards a vision of San Antonio that is “a globally competitive city where each of us has the opportunity to prosper,” she said.
Even the backdrop of the stage in the Stars at Night Ballroom in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center displayed a graphic of San Antonio’s skyline comprised of different translations of the word “work,” emphasizing that San Antonio is “a city at work,” an interesting play on the “city on the rise” motto made popular during the era of her predecessor Julián Castro.
Taylor featured the stories of several San Antonians to illustrate her three main priorities; local and international economic competitiveness, fiscally responsible infrastructure investments that boost industry and citizen quality of life, and equal access to opportunities for prosperity.
Economic Competition = Workforce Development
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who was on track to spend 25 years in prison, turned his life around when he found a program at St. Philip’s College to become a registered nurse.
“More San Antonians like Chuy can succeed and contribute to our economy if we better align our partners’ programs,” Taylor said before announcing that the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation will be taking over the SA Works program and leading the city’s internship and workforce development efforts.
Increased investment in technology training programs and startup incubators are also part of the plan, she said. “Our goal is to help innovative companies grow and develop in our emerging downtown tech hub.”
Taylor acknowledged that in order to fully realize its potential, San Antonio’s leadership needs to work with regional partners and municipalities, particularly Austin – the dominant tech hub of Texas.
“San Antonio and Austin are two great cities and our region is one of the fastest growing in the nation,” Taylor said. She has been in touch with Austin Mayor Steve Adler, beyond the taco war, to “develop a working group to address regional issues.”
The coalition of regional mayors will meet for the first time in early April, she said.
“We’ll probably come out with more details after we decide what kind of things we want to work on,” Taylor told reporters after her speech.
Planning for Human and Industry Infrastructure
Taylor specifically mentioned transportation as a key issue facing the San Antonio-Austin corridor as traffic between the two cities increases every day.
The proposed LSTAR high-speed commuter rail plan was dealt a major blow last month when Union Pacific announced it will not participate – removing the key freight rail the LSTAR train would traverse. Bexar County pulled the $500,000 previously dedicated to LSTAR and the City is considering doing the same with its investment.
“We are looking at that possibility,” Taylor said during an interview with local media after her address. “But I’m planning to talk with other (representatives of Union Pacific and LSTAR) before we make any final decisions. … I just want to do what’s in the best interests, of course, of our taxpayers. I don’t want to let go of that dream, but I also want to be realistic.”
Taylor also listed several key developments for San Antonio’s local and visitor economy including Hemisfair, the UNESCO designation of the San Antonio Missions, construction of the new convention center, the arrival of Google Fiber, and the coming Federal courthouse.
“SA2020 brought us together in an unprecedented way to envision our future,” Taylor said. “Now it’s our responsibility execute that vision through the SA Tomorrow comprehensive planning process and the largest bond program in our history.”
Transportation, technology and transformation will be the focus of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, she said. “We have to continue to invest in the basics – but build them better.”
Because of San Antonio’s growing population – and anticipated 1 million new residents by 2040 – attention has turned to annexation, Taylor said, a tool that should not be used lightly.
“I feel more strongly than ever that blanket annexation is a risky strategy when compared to focusing our efforts on building value in our existing community,” she said.
That value, and the planning efforts of SA Tomorrow, should be realized in the 2017 bond program, she added. “We need more places like the Pearl and we can’t let quality suffer at the hands of quantity.”
San Antonio’s water future is perhaps the most challenging infrastructure issue. Taylor announced during her address that Missouri-based Garney Construction was looking into purchasing 80% equity in the Vista Ridge water pipeline project. The deal was finalized between the construction firm, former owner Abengoa Vista Ridge, and other partners on Tuesday afternoon.
Garney was already a construction partner but will now be in charge of operations, maintenance, and financing of the project.
Education Key to Prosperity
Taylor relayed the story of Jose Aleman, the late grandfather of a staff member, who “worked hard to create opportunities for his children. His mantra to his family was simple and powerful. ‘Hay que trabajar,’ there’s work to do, he would say.”
In order to get all this work done, a solid foundation of education needs to be in place.
Noe Castro from Burbank and Nadia Balderas from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy introduced the mayor on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of strengthening education. Castro is a college-bound senior excelling at Burbank High School. Balderas was accepted into Yale, the same university that Mayor Taylor graduated from.
(Read more: YWLA Senior Nadia Balderas Headed to Yale)
Taylor said she wants to see more success stories like Castro and Balderas.
“However, nearly 1 out of every 5 residents in our community lacks a high school diploma or GED—which is a direct correlation to the nearly 1 in 5 of our residents living below the poverty level. We are still not seeing improvements in college readiness rates in our most distressed neighborhoods,” Taylor said. “That’s unacceptable, and unsustainable—both economically and morally.”
She pointed to local initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, ConnectHome, and financial readiness programs as ways to help unlock the potential of underserved communities.
Another Call to Resume Police Union Negotiations
Taylor was frank with the audience of about 1,300 community business and community leaders about her stance on the stalled contract negotiations with the police union.
The San Antonio Police Officers Association refuses to meet until the city drops its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 10-year evergreen clause that the union demands be renewed in the new contract.
“Their refusal to even negotiate is not acceptable. The residents of this community and union members deserve better,” she said. “I have one message for the union leadership: ‘Hay que trabajar. Let’s get back to work.'”
After her speech, Taylor told reporters that she was done with niceties.
“We’ve spent a lot of time being nice,” Taylor said. “I’m more than eager to resolve this issue and I don’t want to play games and that’s directed specifically to the leadership at the union. We know our officers do a great job and we want to support them and I think it certainly puts them in an awkward position for (the City) to continue to be at odds (with the police union).”
The United State of the City event was sponsored by The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce and the Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce.
Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor delivers her United State of the City address at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Photo by Scott Ball.