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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.
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.
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.