San Antonio Accepts $2.5 Million to Support Climate Change Initiatives

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Councilwomen Shirley Gonzales (D5), Ana Sandoval D7, and Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) meet before City Council A Session.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

(from left) Councilwomen Shirley Gonzales (D5), Ana Sandoval (D7), and Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) meet before Thursday's City Council meeting.

One of the first orders of business for San Antonio’s new City Council at its first meeting Thursday was to accept $2.5 million for staffing and support services to combat climate change and mitigate its impacts.

The approval, on a 10-1 vote, will allow consultants hired by the Natural Resources Defense Council to immediately start work with the City of San Antonio on the American Cities Climate Challenge, a collaborative program involving 25 cities to enhance strategies aimed at reducing carbon consumption and emission goals.

“San Antonio has been recognized as a leader in climate,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “This was no accident. It’s been a lot of hard work over the last 10 years perhaps in recognizing that the climate is changing [and the City of San Antonio is] willing and able to do something about it.”

Two years ago, that City Council’s first action was to signal support for the Paris Accord, which is a requirement for cities to participate in the Climate Challenge.

The initiative is funded through Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by former Democratic New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

The climate challenge program identifies eight priorities for cities to focus on. “We’ve already been working on these even before the challenge was announced,” said Douglas Melnick, the City’s chief sustainability officer.

Consultants working for the Natural Resources Defense Council will help the City build and implement strategies surrounding eight priorities.

Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Consultants working for the Natural Resources Defense Council will help the City build and implement strategies surrounding eight priorities.

Bloomberg launched the challenge in 2018 and told San Antonio it was selected in January 2019. Other participating cities include San Diego, Seattle, Denver, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, and St. Paul, Minnesota, among others.

Melnick said that while there is no money coming directly to the city, the program funds consultants to coordinate meetings between cities, technical support to analyze data and come up with best practices, citizen engagement and outreach support, leadership development for city officials, and implementation assistance.

The program also is intended to help cities learn from each other, Melnick said, to find what works and what doesn’t when it comes to policy formation and implementation.

San Antonio will start to see monetary costs at the implementation phase of its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which is still in draft form. It was slated for approval earlier this year, but was kicked back for more public and stakeholder input when the business and energy sectors raised concerns that the plan’s costs.

“We’re taking great care to establish a framework that includes everyone’s voices at the table,” Nirenberg said.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) voted against accepting the $2.5 million, just as he voted against the resolution supporting the Paris Accord.

His constituents don’t come to him to talk about climate change, he said, they talk about property taxes, safety, security, infrastructure, and other near-term concerns.

“I’m concerned about bringing in outside consultants from somewhere else to help us complete this [climate action] plan,” Perry said, adding that he thinks the City has plenty of money and staff already for sustainability efforts. “I think we can do this on our own.”

During his presentation to City Council, Melnick said the consultants will not be formulating the climate plan. That work is being done by a separate group hired by CPS Energy.

“Whether they’re free or not, [the consultants] could influence this city,” Perry said. “They could influence this whole region by some of the things that they bring in to our region that is not San Antonio.”

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said those immediate, seemingly unrelated concerns that his constituents have are connected to climate change and the City’s ability to deal with the impacts.

“I guess I beg to differ,” Sandoval said. “There is a connection and definitely a benefit to our constituents [by mitigating climate change].”

Climate change increases the intensity and frequency of storms – which have infrastructure implications – and a host of health problems are linked to air pollution, she said.

Artistic crosswalk program approved

The program that brought rainbow crosswalks to the LGBTQIA-friendly North Main Street Strip no longer has the word “pilot” in front of it. City Council unanimously established the Community Crosswalk Program for groups or individuals to partner with the City to install artistic crosswalks.

Not any crosswalk is eligible, said Art Reinhardt, interim deputy director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements department, but any group can apply.

Applications for decorative crosswalks are subject to strict guidelines aimed at protecting pedestrians and motorists, Reinhardt said, and subject to approval by the Council  representative for the district in which the crosswalk is located. The organization or individual is responsible for paying for the added work and material it takes to install the design.

To be eligible for decoration, an existing crosswalk pavement must be in good condition and cannot be in a school zone.

Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) introduced an amendment specifying that the program should not create distracting scenarios around churches, community centers, hospitals, and other places where young children or senior citizens maybe especially vulnerable.

A study of the rainbow crosswalk pilot conducted by the City showed no increase in crashes or other accidents, Reinhardt said, but attracted a lot of selfies and social media featuring the crosswalk.

The largest mass of people is centralized next to the new rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of Main and Evergreen streets.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The rainbow crosswalk was installed in June 2018.

Nirenberg said he didn’t want to see commercial advertisements popping up on crosswalks. But another ordinance relating to off-site signs and advertisements should prevent the crosswalk program from being abused, said Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez – and the community and City Council has to be on board with the crosswalk design.

The new City Council

Garcia’s crosswalk amendment came on the first day on the job for her and two of her Council colleagues, Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) and Councilwoman Melissa Havrda (D6).

They  join three other female Council members to make this the first voter-elected, female-majority Council in San Antonio’s history. (The first six-woman council included an appointed representative).

The new Council’s first day also coincided with the city’s celebration of the Army’s 100th anniversary and Women Veterans Day, which brought an added sense of celebration to Council chambers on Thursday.

17 thoughts on “San Antonio Accepts $2.5 Million to Support Climate Change Initiatives

  1. I am pro clean energy but Clayton is correct! We need to be concerned about outside influence with people that do not understandbour specific needs.

    • What’s so specific about what we need versus anywhere else in the United States? We need to invest in clean energy ASAP in order to do our part to curtail climate change as much as we can. This is a universal issue. It will hardly make a difference having someone consult from SA versus say Portland, OR.

  2. Great, you elect local officials so they can bring in governance from somewhere else. Way to subvert our political system. If the city council wants to carry water for Bloomberg and not their local constituents they should go to work for him. Disgusting. Btw, you can’t provide energy for a city our size off of renewable energy.

    • Riiight. 150 years ago people might have said you can’t run a city of “our size” on any electricity, period. But then it happened.

      Our city isn’t that big. Larger cities have done it. All of Britain ran for weeks in a row without coal power. The technology has been there for years.

      It’s not hard. A 600 MW solar plant could easily remove our remaining coal plant from operation, and be cheaper to build new than keep running a costly, polluting coal plant. A new study came out this spring and ours is one of the 74% of coal plants nationwide that is literally more costly to RUN than building NEW solar would be.

      We don’t even have to worry about baseline because we have more than we need, and a good chunk of our power comes from steady nuclear.

      CPS is just lazy and likes things the way they are.

      • Ummm, we need the city to run for more than a few weeks in a row. Larger cities haven’t done it. Even cities of 50k have to go out to the market and buy energy from non-renewable sources in order to power their city. We did shut down our coal plant and lost 100 million a year in revenue and guess who gets to pay more for power as a result? Nuclear isn’t renewable and if you get the greenies to sign off on more nuclear you won’t hear me complain. They won’t. Finally, wind turbines are made from forged steel and you have to mine rare earth minerals to make solar panels, guess what powers those industries? So, I’m going to drastically increase CO2 emissions to make the technology that ostensibly goes to decreasing CO2 emissions. And the beat goes on…….

  3. Unless you can control the Sun and all the intricacies involved there with, you are wasting time and money with any man made solutions to changes in climate.

  4. This city has gone down, way down in the stupidity ranks, No amount of money can fix the climate, it will do whatever and however it wants, Its Nature. All one has to do is look at the past history of weather, whatever You people freak out about, its happened before. All this is about is government having more control over how you live.

  5. What is the “problem” with outside influence if our city leaders (including, presumably, Councilman Perry) retain the authority to adapt and mitigate that advice to make it our own? And why are people so fearful of listening to and considering the ideas of others who may have similar as well as different experience? In this case especially, and in others as well, we might discover that we have more in common (i.e. goals, objectives, values) with “external opinion” than there is difference. Must we recreate the wheel?

    Do Perry and his constituents actually imagine that doing nothing about climate change now will neutralize future tax increases to pay for its damage later? Has the councilman even asked them in specific terms? Are we always going to be hell-bent on mortgaging our grandchildren’s quality of life to satisfy our own pecuniary selfishness?

  6. Climate change is real — that’s not in question. What causes it is not particularly relevant. It’s here, it’s real and we need to work on fixes.
    The real issues are: what do we do about it and at what pace?
    There are many ways to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, and we should look at all of them. Then figure out at what pace we implement as that is where the $$ hit the road. Some things are easy and/or cheap, some not or take a while to implement.
    So where does San Antonio fit in this discussion? That’s what the study is all about.

  7. How do you mitigate climate change if the city continues (& county) to facilitate & heavily subsidize their built environment, metroplex agenda? To double in size in 25 yrs? To heavily impact carbon emissions? To maintain their urban planning model which calls for aggressive, physical growth, creating artificial scarcity, leading to faster rates in property taxes, fees, dislocation, & harm to our infrastructure, environment, pollution, and water resources? Where is this discussion? Talk about an internal contradiction.

      • We don’t need a study, we need a frank public discussion where key questions, assumptions, and objectives are aired out. This protocol has never occurred, and perhaps never will. Too much democracy is dangerous to those invested in the status quo, which includes our public officials.

        • Have to do a deliberate study to find the “questions, assumptions and objectives.” That’s where the facts can be determined. Then you can have an informed, logical discussion. Otherwise, its just feelings….

          • Best starting point is the city’s adopted SA2020 plan, which I call Sam. Every project, program & initiative become the Son of Sam, with all of its repercussions, affecting so many in a negative way.

  8. City and county just want our money for power and control.Homelessness will start increasing if we don’t slow down our growth.Government must also start eliminating or cutting departments. It is time for them to cut spending and giving breaks to the rich.

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