Traffic and Policing Top Issues in District 9 Runoff

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Distict 9 candidates Marco Barros and John Courage.

Left - Scott Ball / Rivard Report Right - Courtesy / Courage Campaign

Distict 9 candidates Marco Barros and John Courage.

Since the May 6 municipal election pared a 10-candidate field down to two, runoff opponents Marco Barros and John Courage have heard loud and clear what matters to District 9 voters.

In the first round of voting, Barros secured 3,616 votes, good for 24%, and Courage finished with 3,281, or 22%. Incumbent Joe Krier, who was appointed to the District 9 seat in 2013 and elected to a full term in 2014, chose not to seek re-election in the conservative Northside district that covers 55 square miles and spans from Stone Oak and Encino Park south to the San Antonio International Airport.

Barros and Courage know this: Battling traffic on the congested streets in District 9 is the top concern for residents. The scheduled improvements to U.S. Hwy. 281 have voters wondering if the project will be completed within a reasonable  time span without undue disruption. The construction’s first phase to expand the highway to 12 lanes from Loop 1604 to north of Stone Oak Parkway starts this year. No specific date has been announced for the start of construction.

Residents also are concerned about public safety, particularly property crime. Burglaries of homes and businesses, thefts from vehicles, and mail theft from the community mailboxes that are commonly found in the area’s newer subdivisions are the most frequently cited issues voiced by District 9 residents.

The approval of the municipal bond in the May 6 election will result in two important developments for District 9. A new park planned for the site of the Classen-Steubing Ranch northwest of Loop 1604 and U.S. Hwy. 281 will get an additional 39 acres thanks to the bond’s passage. Also approved in the bond is the first senior center for District 9, to be located on West Avenue by Walker Ranch Park.

Barros, president and CEO of the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, also has served on the San Antonio Airport Advisory Commission for 16 years, both as chair and vice chair. He turns 60 on May 25, resigned his city board position with the commission when he declared his candidacy for City Council.

One of the issues Barros has focused on has been to add more airline service for San Antonio residents.

“From 1980 to 1984, I worked for American Airlines, so I know what the airlines are looking for in terms of what’s needed to sustain a new route,” Barros said.

Barros also has worked closely with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), meeting with district managers and engineers to discuss ways to improve the flow of highway access to 281 and 1604.

Over the past 10 years, Barros has partnered with the San Antonio chief of police on community policing, often researching the best policing practices to see if they could work in District 9.

“Mailbox crime is one of our biggest issues outside of traffic,” Barros said. “This issue came up in every conversation I’ve had with residents. We’re focused on overall public safety – burglaries, car break-ins, and mail theft.”

District 9 candidate Marco Barros.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

District 9 candidate Marco Barros.

Having worked to create many community-based networks around the city so businesses can share information on crime patterns and lessons learned, Barros hopes to “bring all this experience to District 9 and help budget new initiatives in a fiscally responsible manner.

“I have worked with them [SAPD] on establishing programs to fight crime targeting restaurants and hotels,” Barros said. “If these best policing practices work to protect businesses, they will also work to protect your home.”

For the new senior center, Barros would like to create a staff position that would be dedicated to providing senior services. He also is interested in expanding office hours for the district’s council office to better serve residents unable to visit during the work week.

“We plan on having a person assigned to provide senior services in our district [once the senior center opens],” Barros said. “As we talked to residents, we discovered the need to expand the district office’s hours. We’ll start by opening every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. and if there’s demand, we can increase that.”

Barros has been endorsed by Krier, former District 9 councilmember Elisa Chan, Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct.3), Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, former San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza, numerous business leaders, and the San Antonio Police Association and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.

“My entire campaign is based upon public service,” Barros said. “That’s what drives me in my efforts across District 9.”

Courage, 66, has been a full-time educator for 27 years, teaching at Little Flower Catholic School on the city’s Westside, and is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He served as an elected trustee on the Alamo Community College District board and was a member of the board of trustees that created Palo Alto College. Courage was previously appointed to the San Antonio Literacy Commission and served on the board of the San Antonio Teachers Council.

Council races are nonpartisan, but Courage’s previous attempts at winning public office came as a Democrat. He twice ran unsuccessfully against the Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith and lost to Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell in 2012. Courage also has run twice before without success for City Council.

He also led the effort to create the current limits on city campaign contributions.

“I thought it was important to put a cap on contributions to avoid any kind of ethics issues and a lack of balance among the candidates’ ability to raise sizable amounts of money,” Courage said. “This way, citizens can have more of an opportunity to support their candidates instead of special interests.”

The issues of public safety and transportation also are on Courage’s radar.

“Adequate police protection, especially in the response times for police, EMS [emergency medical service], and fire is one way we can ensure to meet public safety needs,” Courage said. “We’re a little bit behind in District 9 because the area has grown so much in the past few years; it’s harder to get a timely response, especially in the outlying areas of the district.”

District 9 candidate John Courage.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

District 9 candidate John Courage.

Better response times can be traced to staffing levels for the San Antonio Police Department, according to Courage.

“The San Antonio Police Department is understaffed by a couple of hundred officers, but we’ve had good support from our county Precinct 3 Constable in providing additional patrols in our neighborhoods,” Courage said. “The County Commissioner has cut back on constables, and they add an extra layer of protection.”

Courage would work to ensure that the San Antonio Police Department reaches full staffing strength should he win the council race.

“While District 9 experiences less crime than other parts of the city, many residents have expressed concerns over increases in property crime and mailbox theft,” he said.

As for traffic, TxDOT plans in place to expand 281 are a good start, he said. Courage agrees that more needs to be done with better public transportation and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to encourage carpooling. The 281 expansion includes HOV lanes.

“I think we need to put in HOV lanes, as well to provide a special express lane for buses, with better bus service across the Northside, to include District 9,” Courage said. “Until bus service runs every 15 minutes or so with connecting service, it’s going to be difficult to improve traffic conditions on the Northside.”

Every week at his campaign office, Courage and his staffers invite residents to address any issues affecting their neighborhood. His endorsements  include the San Antonio AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club-Alamo Group. His campaign office plans to announce a full list of endorsements in the coming week.

“District 9 is ready for a representative to advocate for mainstream values, for ordinary San Antonians, and for small businesses,” Courage said. “My goal is to get the majority of the 75% who didn’t vote for my opponent to vote for me.”

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