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The campaign for City Council District 1 has been primarily about neighborhoods and how best the City can serve communities in some of the oldest parts of central San Antonio.
Despite Councilman Roberto Treviño‘s efforts in this area, he found himself in a runoff with challenger Michael Montaño, a 36-year-old technology attorney. Treviño, who was appointed to Council in 2014 and elected to a full term in 2015, fell just 113 votes shy of winning the May 6 election outright in a field of six candidates. He claimed almost 49% of the vote, finishing 17% ahead of Montaño.
Treviño, a 46-year-old architect, has been endorsed by Council members Rey Saldaña (D4) and Ray Lopez (D6), Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, former Rackspace CEO/Chairman Graham Weston, Tech Bloc co-founder Lew Moorman, and political activist Rosie Castro, mother of former San Antonio mayor and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro.
Montaño has received backing from two of the four former candidates, Robert Feria and Lauro Bustamante. He also has endorsements from groups such as the hospitality workers organization Unite Here, the local police and firefighters unions, Texas Organizing Project, and four local Democratic Party organizations.
Ahead of their June 10 runoff election, both candidates are focusing on community involvement, neighborhood protection, and public safety in a 22-sq.-mi. district that has more than 113,000 residents.
“We want to make sure neighborhoods are preserving their identity and that they feel like they’re in control of their destiny,” said Treviño.
With infill development and investor interest increasing in and around inner-city neighborhoods such as Tobin Hill, Alta Vista, and Beacon Hill, neighborhood associations in the urban core have sought help from the City. Treviño has tried addressing the issue by filing Council Consideration Requests (CCRs) that would foster full Council discussions on these subjects.
Treviño filed CCRs to strengthen Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs) design guidelines in Alta Vista and Beacon Hill and to address overall preservation of historic structures and neighborhood character. A policy that will notify neighborhood associations of major projects coming their way was approved by City Council last week.
Some District 1 residents have voiced a preference for historic district designation over NCDs, believing the former could give them better protection from encroaching development.
The City’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) last week unanimously recommended approval for a historic district covering 33 single-family homes in the 400 block of East French Place.
“I believe it’s the best way to prevent houses from being demolished,” homeowner George Rice told the HDRC. “What we object to is people coming into our neighborhood and buying a house and tearing it down.”
On the other hand, the City’s Zoning Commission voted this week to oppose a proposed historic district in a small portion of Tobin Hill.
Some backers of the proposed Tobin Hill North Historic District complained that Treviño has not listened to their concerns about unwelcome development in the area. Treviño’s campaign website states that he has attended more than 30 neighborhood association meetings, including three meetings that his district office arranged.
“This is yet another developer win under Treviño’s watch and another loss for neighborhoods,” Montaño said of the commission’s vote. “His focus should be on advocating for neighbors instead of paving the way for disruptive development.”
Treviño said his office has been responsive to constituents’ concerns about neighborhood development and other issues, such as boosting public involvement in forming the Brackenridge Park master plan and parking space solutions in Southtown.
Residents also have embraced the different ways they and the San Antonio Police Department can partner on crime prevention, Treviño said. He cited the San Antonio Fear Free Environment, “Coffee with the Cops” programs, and more downtown patrol officers as examples of community cooperation to increase public safety in District 1. He has been active in discussions about the need to fill sidewalk gaps in neighborhoods such as Dellview.
Treviño also expressed enthusiasm for the voter-approved $850 million bond, which will allocate funds for projects such as infrastructure improvements in and around downtown and Southtown, and for a new police substation and park police headquarters in downtown.
“We feel we’re very engaged,” Treviño said.
Montaño, however, questioned that engagement.
“People feel like the Councilman and City Hall have been unresponsive to their concerns, especially on transformative projects,” he said.
After the May 6 election results showed Montaño had forced a runoff, Treviño said several people informed him about Montaño’s involvement in a case while he was a student at Yale University. In 2002, he was alleged to have made false statements on absentee ballot applications.
He was charged with nine counts of the alleged false statements while volunteering for a Democratic Party race in New Haven, Conn. An affidavit stated that none of the people whose names were on the application recognized Montaño’s name or his picture.
Montano and his campaign representatives said he never admitted to the nine counts. Montaño agreed to “accelerated rehabilitation,” according to The Yale Daily News; there was no plea nor jail time. The charges eventually were dismissed and the case record destroyed.
Montaño voiced disappointment about how the New Haven incident has arisen in this City Council campaign. For his part, Treviño said his campaign does not plan to dwell on the issue.
“I’ve been transparent about the whole thing,” Montaño said. “It should have no bearing on this race.”
Meanwhile, Montaño faulted Treviño for devoting too much attention to what he called “pet projects.” In particular, Montaño pointed to Treviño’s push for a public standalone bathroom downtown and the Under 1 Roof program that helps eligible disadvantaged homeowners replace aging roofs with reflective material to reduce energy use.
“This is an inordinate amount of focus on things that don’t improve the basic quality of life,” Montaño said.
Treviño defended these initiatives. He said a standalone bathroom serves people seeking a public, open bathroom anytime in the central business district. Under 1 Roof, which began as a pilot program one year ago, has affected nearly 40 homes.
“It’s not a pet project, it’s helping homeowners save money on their energy bill,” Treviño said.
Treviño charged Montaño with spinning these and other initiatives in District 1 into negatives.
“My opponent is trying to hide the good work that is being done and misrepresenting the facts,” he said.
As the incumbent, Treviño seems to have the funding to wage a solid runoff campaign. As of May 3, his campaign had $36,271 cash on hand while Montaño had $17,294.
Montaño said he has knocked on the doors of more than 4,000 residents, simply listening to their frustrations. He added that he’s not accepting support from “special interests.”
“There’s an upswell in a desire for change in leadership. This is a coalition of the neglected in District 1,” he said. “A majority of voters reject the status quo.”
Treviño expressed concern that Montaño, being a first-time candidate with an anti-establishment stance, does not fully realize how city government functions. Montaño’s previous civic involvement includes working for the pro-PreK4SA campaign in 2012.
“I think my opponent is disconnected with what’s happening in the neighborhoods, and has a lack of understanding of how the City and the bond issue work,” said Treviño.
“[My office] is available. We understand there’s many needs in the district. What people need is someone in office who listens and who is responsible and honest about the limits and capacity of working in our City to help make a real impact.”
Early voting for the runoff election begins May 30.