Nirenberg: ‘Damn Good Set of Blueprints’ Needed for San Antonio’s Prosperity

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

(left) Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard discuss the near and long-term future of San Antonio.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg committed on Wednesday to vigorously campaign to continue funding for the City of San Antonio’s pre-K program and community college tuition initiative.

“The turnaround [in educational outcomes] is dramatic” for children who participate in Pre-K 4 SA, Nirenberg said. The one-eighth-cent sales tax that funds the program will go before voters for renewal next year. “You can expect to see me out on the campaign trail supporting that for sure,” he said at the Rivard Report‘s “Conversation with the Mayor” event at the Pearl Stable.

The City’s $2.9 billion fiscal year 2020 budget approved last week includes $1.4 million set aside for 2021 that will match fundraising dollars for Alamo Colleges District’s Alamo Promise initiative to provide college tuition for qualifying local high school graduates.

“This is our moon shot,” Nirenberg said, for thousands of San Antonians to get out of generational poverty by attending college. The City will contribute an estimated $11.5 million over the next five years, he said.

If a higher education initiative like this can’t get funded, especially compared to the City’s annual $820 million budget for public safety and $110 million for street maintenance, he said, “then shame on us. We’re going to get the Alamo Promise done.”

Education was one of several topics the mayor discussed with Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard on Wednesday morning at a packed Pearl Stable.

The mayor and many others in the community were still celebrating the news Tuesday that Toyota had selected San Antonio for a $391 million expansion of its existing manufacturing facility.

“This is clearly a B-12 shot in the arm for the city’s economy,” Nirenberg said, noting the foresight of previous leaders to build international relationships that led to this moment.

San Antonio must be “constantly planting while we’re harvesting” those opportunities, he said.

Former Mayor Lila Cockrell, who died last month at age 97, was one of those leaders, strengthening international relations by bringing to town dignitaries from around the world. The audience observed a moment of silence for Cockrell, San Antonio’s first female mayor.

Nirenberg noted that the truck plant in San Antonio started with a Sister City relationship with Kumamoto, Japan, forged when Henry Cisneros was mayor.

Nirenberg laid out his top priorities for his second term, including getting City Council approval for the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan and starting its implementation, hiring a chief housing officer to lead homelessness mitigation and affordable housing efforts, and finalizing a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan that will go before voters next year.

Almost all of Nirenberg’s Council colleagues support a new draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which has undergone revisions to address concerns from the business community.

“I’m one of those folks that really wants to put the pedal to the metal as quickly as we can to get to as low emissions [and no emissions] as we can,” Nirenberg said, but there are several factors to overcome – affordability, reliability, and political will.

He said he supports CPS Energy’s “Flexible Path” plan that could have the utility burning coal in 2042 or longer. The climate action plan calls for zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

“The pressures on that flexibility will produce the best result possible for us in terms of climate adaptation and in terms of managing [CPS Energy],” he said.

The climate plan and ConnectSA transportation planning initiative are two examples of setting a foundation for long-term success, Nirenberg said.

“If we’re going to build the city you deserve, we have to have a damn good set of blueprints,” he said.

ConnectSA will focus on mass transit, but it will take voter approval of a funding mechanism next year to make the plan a reality, he said.

But some of the City’s transportation woes can be tackled today, he said, by prioritizing alternative modes of transit over single-occupancy vehicles.

The battle on Broadway Street is an example of how the City bases its street designs on preserving favorable conditions for motorized vehicles, he said.

That battle took a confusing turn this week when the Council’s Transportation and Mobility Committee took no action on whether to direct staff to add protected bike lanes to Lower Broadway. The committee was briefed on the results of a traffic study and recommendations by City staff to proceed as planned without protected bike lanes. Nirenberg and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), the committee’s chair, advocated for bike lanes, but support from a Council majority is required for City Manager Erik Walsh to alter the design.

“I don’t want to see more people die on our streets,” Nirenberg said. “This is a moment that we have to get serious about how are we going to build the future.”

If anything, Nirenberg said the conversation surrounding Broadway has at least opened the door for a larger policy discussion about how what modes of transportation it prioritizes with street design.

The issue has Nirenberg on the opposite side of Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whom he typically is aligned with on policy matters. That tension also could be felt during budget talks about increased pay for Council members’ staff.

Rivard asked Nirenberg if he feels that he generally has a majority of Council members behind him. There are disagreements on the dais, the mayor said, but City Council as a whole has “a united vision.”

“[Council members] don’t always have the same perspective — but we work it out and makes the outcomes that much better,” he said.

Since narrowly winning a second term in office by defeating former Councilman Greg Brockhouse, Nirenberg said he’s taking steps to get closer to the community he serves.

“We have been much more closely interacting with the public that we serve from day one,” Nirenberg said.

Erika Prosper, Nirenberg’s wife and an H-E-B executive, delivered impromptu closing remarks for the event in praise of her husband.

“We as a city should be proud to have a mayor who rules with compassion and not combativeness,” Prosper said. “I believe this should be a model for leadership, equity, inclusion, but most of all, a nice guy with tough goals.”

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