Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Eight people are vying to take the place of District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez, who has served the maximum four terms permitted by the City Charter, when voters go to the polls for the municipal election on May 6.
How easy it is to get there – and anywhere else in one of San Antonio’s fastest-growing Council districts – is on the minds of the candidates and voters. Rapid residential and commercial development and an influx of people who work and live in the far Westside district makes transportation a key issue.
“Traffic is the most obvious problem,” said Eric Gosset, 25, who left a job in logistics to run for office. “We need to have a steady flow of traffic in and out of our homes and associations.”
Transportation also has gotten attention from the other District 6 candidates: teacher Rick Treviño, 32; attorney Melissa Cabello Havrda, 42; consultant and former Lopez aide Joseph Cortez, 33; data analyst Ropal Anderson, 47; consultant Greg Brockhouse, 44; payroll analyst Robert Castaneda, 41; and pastor Don Page, 55.
Whoever wins the seat will represent a sprawling district, which is home to more than 152,500 people, according to City data. From the eastern end of Texas Highway 151, the 57-square-mile district stretches northwestward past Loop 1604, almost to the Medina County line.
District 6 encompasses an increasing number of large residential and commercial developments, including Westover Hills. It boasts business, educational and recreational destinations such as SeaWorld San Antonio, Northwest Vista College, and many campuses in the Northside Independent School District — one of the state’s largest public school districts.
In order to accommodate the growth on the City’s far Westside, the Texas Department of Transportation spent two years expanding and reconfiguring Loop 1604 between Bandera and Culebra roads.
The State said that stretch of road has carried more than 83,000 vehicles a day following the project’s completion in 2016. TxDOT has also worked to increase connectivity between Highway 151 and Loops 1604 and 410.
Lopez chairs the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board. He also is chairman-elect of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for better transportation solutions in San Antonio. Even in the waning weeks of his final council term, Lopez said it is more important than ever to keep investing in transportation and infrastructure.
“I’ve had an up-close and personal view of transportation – where I believe the City is headed in the right direction and where the City has work to do,” he said.
The key now, Lopez explained, is how do District 6 residents – and the rest of San Antonio – want to address the future of local transportation.
“Do we keep just building more roads, or do we build roads along with building mass transit?” he said.
The candidates said managing District 6’s growth is linked with mobility and public safety issues.
“I see consensus on public safety, neighborhood planning and relationships, and infrastructure basics like streets, sidewalks, and drainage,” Brockhouse said.
“Along with improving our roadways with safety in mind, we should expand our transportation network and invest in multimodal transportation options,” Cortez stated on his campaign website.
“I want to ensure that the residents of District 6 are heard when we decide on a plan of action for fully staffing our [San Antonio Police Department] and for alleviating the traffic congestion that plagues us,” Havrda said.
“We need to address maintaining and expanding a stable infrastructure in preparation for what is to come,” Gosset said.
“A lot of the times you see the buses pass and they’re empty,” he said. “Is it because the word is not out?”
Beyond the transportation issue, the candidates hope their respective résumés will help distinguish them in a crowded race. Some even have behind-the-scenes experience at City Hall.
Cortez, who was a senior adviser to Lopez for three years, is a frontrunner in the race and has been endorsed by Lopez. Cortez has other big name endorsements as well, from his brother, State Rep. Philip Cortez, a former Councilman (D4); former Mayor Ed Garza; developer and philanthropist Gordon Hartman; former Haven for Hope executive George Block; Leticia Barrera, wife of late Councilman Enrique Barrera; and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County.
As of April 6, Cortez reported a campaign fund balance of $5,180. As of March 27, Havrda reported a $8,103 balance, Brockhouse $7,240, and Page $240. Treviño, Gossett, Anderson, and Castaneda had not filed campaign fund balances with the City clerk’s office by publication deadline.
Lopez thinks Cortez’s familiarity with District 6 issues should resonate with voters: “I know his work ethic and commitment.”
While advocating for better senior citizen resources, job creation and training, and education, Cortez was confident he would be a worthy successor to Lopez.
“I’ve worked with families. I’ve worked with the community,” he said at an April 10 candidate forum co-hosted by the Texas Organizing Project. “I want to continue that work.”
Like Cortez, Brockhouse is familiar with inner workings at City Hall, having been an aide to several former Council members. He is making a second run for the District 6 council seat after unsuccessfully challenging Lopez in 2013. Brockhouse got 38% of the vote.
He then went to work as a business and political consultant, gaining attention over the last three years as advisor to the San Antonio police and fire unions during heated contract negotiations with the City.
Brockhouse also helped to lead movements against the downtown streetcar project, a Council pay charter amendment, and a San Antonio Water System rate hike. Brockhouse has backing from the two public safety unions and the San Antonio Fire and Police Pensioners’ Association, among other groups.
During his campaign, he has been focusing on public safety, infrastructure, neighborhood improvements, jobs, and education. He said he has been impressed by the level of engagement by nearly all the candidates.
“There was excitement and opportunity in the [District 6] debates and a strong level of engagement as the community hopes to see a professional and focused transition to new leadership,” he said.
Before practicing law, Havrda worked in constituency services at City Hall. Her supporters include Rosie Castro, mother of former Mayor Julián and Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-20); businessman Mike Beldon; Tech Bloc co-founder David Heard; and Choose San Antonio Executive Director Meghan Garza-Oswald.
For Havrda, a top campaign issue is making local government more responsive. She noted that many district residents do not see elected representatives until election time. Less than 10% of registered district voters cast ballots in the May 2015 municipal elections.
“With voter turnout so low in municipal elections, it is disheartening to hear this,” she said. “Others are upset with the results of the presidential election, so they lament that their vote won’t matter. I remind them this is the reason they should vote, to ensure their voices are heard and to take ownership over local government to make a difference.”
Havrda also backs green space preservation.
“Many residents are concerned that the massive growth will cause our green spaces to be paved over and take away from much of the beauty in our district,” she said. “We also sorely need more parks in the district.”
Treviño has offered a more socially progressive campaign, hitting on themes of what he called “economic anxiety and a collapsing middle class.”
The educator said all San Antonians deserve a living wage and has called for a wider discussion on poverty. The per-capita income in District 6 was $15,224 in 2013, according to City data.
“People are looking for someone to advocate for their livelihoods,” he added.
Page, a former information technology professional, is senior pastor and founder of Faith Community Baptist Church. In addition to addressing the local economy, traffic, education, and fiscal accountability, Page sees a newer issue – regulation of short-term rentals such as Airbnb – as a rising concern for District 6 neighborhoods.
“I stand with the three leading mayoral candidates in that belief that regulation is needed to protect the fabric of our communities,” he said.
Castaneda did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.