Scott Ball / Rivard Report
More than 1,000 techies and urban professionals are expected to gather at the Pearl on Thursday to discuss a set of ballot propositions local tech leaders say threaten to hijack the City and promote mob rule.
Tech Bloc, a local tech sector advocacy organization, will host the "Rally to Save Our City" at 5 p.m. Thursday at Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery to mobilize against the city charter amendments proposed by the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association. The Pearl establishment was the site of the rally that kicked off Tech Bloc's existence three years ago when the organization sought to bring Uber and Lyft back to the city.
This time around, however, the call to arms is not for an obvious tech issue.
“Although this is not as tech-specific, it would really affect the overall health and prosperity of the city and our ability to build out our tech scene," said David Heard, Tech Bloc CEO. "It threatens the progress we have made and would cast a pall on our future prospects.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who has been an outspoken leader of the Go Vote No campaign that is against the proposed ballot measures, and leaders from the local tech sector will deliver remarks at Thursday's event. The format will be similar to Tech Bloc's previous rallies – free beer, wine, food, and music – but the party atmosphere won't belie the serious urgency this issue is creating among Tech Bloc's 5,000 members, Heard said.
Ballot Proposition A calls for lowering the number of required signatures from 10 percent of qualified voters, about 70,000 signatures currently, to 20,000 signatures as well as expand the time frame for collecting signatures. It also would broaden the scope of San Antonio City Council actions that could be brought to the voters in the form of a referendum, including setting tax and public utility rates, budget allocation, and zoning changes.
Proposition B would limit to eight years the length of time a city manager could serve and would cap his or her pay at 10 times the amount of the lowest paid City employee.
Proposition C would allow the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association to forgo good-faith labor contract negotiations and force the City into binding arbitration.
“Our tech industry and city have made great strides in recent years. These propositions undermine our progress and place our future growth at risk,” Tech Bloc Chairman and Scaleworks co-founder Lew Moorman said in a press release. “It will be very difficult to unify and build a great city inside a special-interest-driven political environment where neighborhoods are pitted against one another and our elected city leaders have weakened authority to broker compromise and drive decisions. If these propositions are approved we can all count on increased costs to fund city projects, decreased city services, slower decision making and many expensive public votes on all kinds of issues paid for by the taxpayers.”
Heard said the amendments are another example of the wave of populism that has roiled throughout the country and the world.
Recent political outcomes have made many millennial tech workers, such as Dax Moreno, a Tech Bloc volunteer and rally organizer, more cognizant of their civic responsibility even though local issues don't usually draw as much attention as the Presidential election or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) tight race with U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-El Paso). The latter race, in particular, has spurred political activism among his circles, and Tech Bloc has used that to its advantage, Moreno said.
"There couldn't be a better confluence of factors coming together," he said of the midterm elections.
Moreno said Tech Bloc members are keenly aware of the long-term implications of the charter amendments, and the majority of people he has engaged on the issue oppose what he called the circumvention of City Council representation.
Meanwhile, groups in favor of the ballot propositions say they would advance democratic ideals in the City.
The Declaration of Independence says "government is supposed to exist only by the consent of the governed," said David Van Os, a spokesman for San Antonio First, which is advocating for the ballot measures, during a Monday night debate with Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8). "All Proposition A does – very, very, simply ... it will increase the ability of the citizens to engage in self-governing."
Having Tech Bloc hold a rally to oppose the propositions was a collaborative idea, Nirenberg said. Tech Bloc is a "force in our city that represents a bright future," he said.
"They have stood strong and helped guide our city through some challenging issues," Nirenberg said of Tech Bloc. "This is certainly one of them. Four years ago when they held their initial rally it was a call to arms for members of our community to wield the power that’s in every one of our [hands]. That’s exactly what this rally is all about."
This will be Tech Bloc's sixth rally since its founding in May 2015. The group's initial event, which helped build support for rideshare companies Uber and Lyft to return to San Antonio, drew more than 900 attendees, tripling the expected turnout, Heard said.
Since then, rallies have been held on an annual basis attracting anywhere from 1,200 to 1,400 people at each. Heard said 1,600 have registered for Thursday's rally. The event is sold out, but Heard urged people interested in attending to join the waitlist.
Nirenberg said Tech Bloc's rally might be the most visible event to educate and mobilize voters on the city charter amendments, but multiple events every day are being held to engage the voters.
"The truth of the matter is it's not a single person or group that can win this election," he said. "My intent is to ensure everyone has the facts, and everyone is talking to each other. This affects every business and every citizen in the city."
Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick contributed to this report.