Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
The campaign for the City’s historic $850 million 2017 Municipal Bond election kicked off Saturday morning, as Mayor Ivy Taylor, Councilman Cris Medina (D7), and former USAA CEO Gen. Joe Robles called on locals to spread the word about the vital investment in San Antonio’s infrastructure.
“We all should be proud to live in a city that continues to invest in itself and its future,” Taylor told a crowd of several dozen huddled outside the Westside’s Seeling drainage channel project. Significant investments from the 2007 and 2012 bond have reduced flooding in the area. The third phase of the project is slated to receive $18 million from the Drainage and Flood Control category of the bond, if approved by voters in May.
The two previous bond packages – $550 millions and $596 million, respectively – represented a more than five-fold increase from previous years. The 2017 bond could more than double those investments when combined with an estimated $350 million leveraged from the private sector.
“This [campaign is] a little more challenging, just because of the bond size and again having all these competitive [elected office] races across the city,” Christian Archer told the Rivard Report Saturday. Archer, a well-known political strategist who successfully ran the previous two bond campaigns, is leading OneSA, the political action committee campaigning for the bond.
Those races include a three-way mayoral contest between Taylor, Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), and Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina, as well as contested seats in Council districts 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
“Our grassroots campaign is going to be a robust one where we participate in lots of neighborhood association meetings” and other city forums, Archer said.
The bond election will be split into six ballot items: Streets, Bridges and Sidewalks ($445 million), Drainage and Flood Control ($139 million), Parks and Recreation ($121 million), Facilities ($125 million), and, if approved next month, Neighborhood Improvements ($20 million). On the ballot, Facilities will be divided into two parts: Public Safety Buildings and Library, Museums, and Cultural Arts.
“Given its size, it allows us to make meaningful investments in our neighborhood and district projects all throughout the city but also to make investments in some of the larger catalytic projects that we haven’t had the ability to address in the past,” Taylor told the Rivard Report Saturday. “A lot of those are in the urban core, and we have to have a strong urban core to be vibrant as a city.”
Though City Council passed the bond unanimously, some have worried that some outgoing Council members may not campaign as energetically for it as they would if they were seeking re-election. Archer, however, said after meeting with City Council he believes Councilmen Ray Lopez (D6), Joe Krier (D9), and Mike Gallagher (D10) are “100% supportive.”
Archer wouldn’t disclose the campaign’s initial polling results, but said that “from the research that we’ve done, the community overwhelmingly responded positively to the package.”
As the City sought to finalize the bond in late 2016, one source of tension has been the $13 million allotted to the creation of a land bridge connecting two sections of Hardberger Park, which straddles Wurzbach Parkway in Districts 8 and 9 . The Hardberger Park Conservancy has pledged to contribute $10 million to the project through private donations.
Before Council approved the list of bond projects on Jan. 19, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) suggested that the land bridge be voted on separately, creating a seventh ballot item, to “let the voters decide for themselves.” None of her colleagues agreed.
Current polling, Archer said, shows no resistance to the parks portion of the bond.
“I think parks will pass overwhelmingly,” he said. “People love their parks.”
The real challenge will be communicating the value of the largest two items – Streets, Bridges and Sidewalks and Drainage and Flood Control – which make up nearly 70% of the bond.
“It’s not a sexy thing to talk about, draining and streets, but it’s vitally important to the future of the city,” Archer said.
Westside resident Ora Garza said over the past 10 years bond allocations to flood control in her neighborhood have greatly improved its safety and property values.
“When you see that water rising in the middle of the night and there’s nothing you can do about it, you just pray that everybody is safe,” she said over the noise of construction crews behind her.
A short downpour used to turn her neighborhood into “one big lake,” Garza said. “Now that we’ve had this new development [Seeling Channel] behind us, we can see the water rise, but it just goes right back down.”
Garza said she and her neighbors are eager to see the 2017 Bond continue such improvements.
In addition to strengthening communities for current residents, many spoke of the importance of attracting business and a strong Millennial workforce to the city.
“People want to make sure that cities believe in themselves,” Archer said. “Passing bonds like this is an affirmation of the citizens believing in the future of their city.”