Why San Antonio’s Energy Execs Should Get to Know Ana Sandoval

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Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7)

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) supports the formulation of a climate action plan but says she wants to work with business interests on it.

It was the first issue Ron Nirenberg took on when he entered office as mayor nearly two years ago. President Trump had pulled the United States out of the Paris accord and its commitment to address the dangers of climate change. Nirenberg led City Council in nearly unanimously voting to join other major U.S. cities in tackling the challenge on their own.

Now at the end of his first term, Nirenberg has put the brakes on the effort, postponing a scheduled vote on an ambitious plan called SA Climate Ready, characterized as a “road map” designed to bring San Antonio to carbon neutrality by 2050.

The decision brought relief to Richard Perez, CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, who reflected the strong resistance from San Antonio’s oil and gas sector and other businesses.

It brought anger from Greg Harman of the Sierra Club, who worries that the delay amounts to caving on the plan.

It brought predictable political rhetoric from mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse, the District 6 councilman, who characterized it as an attempt by Nirenberg to avoid a business backlash before next month’s election.

But the reaction that most interests me came from Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7). Many would expect Sandoval to be pressing hard for aggressive environmental regulations. Her passion for the environment is well-honed.

After graduating (in the same class as Julián and Joaquín Castro) from Jefferson High School, she earned a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She knows how chemical compounds react in the atmosphere, their roles in producing both pollution and atmospheric warming.

After a Fulbright fellowship took her to Mexico City for a year, she returned to San Antonio and worked at VIA. But she wanted to learn more about dealing with environmental issues, so she headed off to Stanford University to get a master’s in environmental and civil engineering.

It occurred to her that there is a link between environmental threats and the nation’s health, so she then went to Harvard for a master’s in public health.

This is a woman who not only has a passion for the environment, but also for getting educated about issues that concern her. So how did she respond to the strong blowback to the city’s plan on climate change from the business community and, in particular, the energy sector? She took responsibility for it.

“I would fault us, or me, for not having gone out to Valero and NuStar at the beginning of this process and saying, ‘Let’s sit down and talk,’” she told the San Antonio Express-News. “‘You’re a big employer in San Antonio, but we are going to have to do something about climate. And let’s talk about how we’re going to do that together.’”

To understand why that didn’t happen, you need to know how San Antonio has come to address long-term issues of general concern to the community. It started with Target 90, a community-wide planning process instituted by Mayor Henry Cisneros back in the 1980s. It’s been used several times since, most ambitiously in recent years as SA 2020, an initiative by Mayor Julián Castro.

The process for developing the climate plan was similar, involving scores of public meetings guided by a steering committee and staffed by the city’s Office of Sustainability. One public meeting in February drew about 150 people to the downtown’s Central Library.

But such freeform meetings tend to draw passionate citizens rather than business executives. And in San Antonio that tended to mean mainly climate activists and a few climate-change deniers. Notably absent were business leaders. City staff can boast thousands of public comments, but not from energy executives.

When it comes to issues such as climate change, where significant business leaders are likely at odds with much of the voting public (land development policies also come to mind), perhaps the process needs to be augmented by another political model – the legislative committee.

This is the kitchen where state laws are baked. Committees have powerful chairs who, at their best, make sure that all key interests are heard. It’s where compromises are made that are the essence of democracy.

Anyone can sign up to testify, but powerful constituencies are actively brought in. And they come, partly because they know they can’t just stay away, lie behind the log, and pop up on the House or Senate floor at the last minute.

San Antonio’s City Council has such committees, but the process is traditionally driven by City staff. The committees hear from and guide the staff, but they don’t often directly hear directly from all the key stakeholders and play an active role in drawing up the appropriate ordinances.

Guess who chairs the city’s Community Health and Equity Committee, whose responsibilities include “the protection and enhancement of the natural environment,” according to the city’s website? Yes, Ana Sandoval.

Sandoval agreed that the council committee could be a good place to get the key interest groups to the table, but she is concerned that energy sector leaders may see her as such an environmentalist that she won’t give them a fair hearing. This would be foolish for two reasons.

The first is that Sandoval is not anti-business. While in Mexico she took specialized courses leading to a certificate in binational business from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, the top business university in the nation.

Second, she used to work at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, a regulatory agency that brokered the concerns of citizens and businesses. She knows that cost-benefit assessments are important.

Sandoval is very aware that you can’t govern a large and growing city like San Antonio while ignoring concerns of the business sector. But the business sector needs to be aware of something else: The city’s voters are very concerned about environmental issues.

One among many clues: In 2016 one of the presidential candidates vociferously contended that climate change was “a hoax.” He lost Bexar County by 13 points. And the city votes more Democratic than the county.

One more reason business leaders should take this opportunity to see if they can work with Sandoval, without expecting her to ignore the citizens’ concerns: She may well be mayor one day.

12 thoughts on “Why San Antonio’s Energy Execs Should Get to Know Ana Sandoval

  1. OMG! great election campaign piece, as a subscriber would hope there is some fair and balance to the other candidates……..one day will be mayor? Where Ana Sandoval went wrong is she cannot seem to get out behind a desk and talk to people unless there is a committee of some sort that helps her. But it is the weakness of many of the councilmembers, got a title that entitles you to NOT know your constituents, let a staff person do it. And why not the city staff has grown considerably there are plenty of depts or staff to do the work of a councilmember. Ana Sandoval can’t relate, can’t connect and can’t know why on both. I think the candidate Trevor Whitney who actaully has a business, served our country and has a family as much much more in the traits of relating and reaching the business community and the people of District 7. So for my little plug here, Dist 7 you have a choice in your city council election…..a really really better choice Trevor Whitney. Next time RR does a campaign piece on only one candidate (without charging them) don’t be so obvious and certainly find someone who isn’t over bloviating when they write it.

      • The Rivard Report moderates comments posted on our site, and we remove comments that violate our comment policy, which states “we reserve the right to delete comments specifically directed toward campaigns, candidates or elections if they violate the following: negative mention of or smearing the other candidate or party …”

    • You obviously don’t know Ana Sandoval. As a member of her district, I see her out and about all the time–neighborhood association meetings, property tax workshops, public meetings, events, you name it. She responds to questions and emails. She’s the real deal and extremely smart. She very well may be mayor one day because she is certainly talented enough and qualified. Trevor doesn’t stand a chance.

  2. Here it is again: Robert Rivard’s spin machine, operated by Rick Casey. At the top of today’s newsletter is propaganda, not news, intended to influence the reader.

  3. I have met Ana on 2 occasions and was impressed with her candor and intelligence. . I did not realize she had devoted so much time and education to preparing herself for the future. BRAVO! As a native of SA, I am perturbed when our “City owned” utilities start operating as aggressive “I could care less” Publicly traded companies. To expand our capabilities for both utilities, to expand regions, even outside of Bexar County, is a travesty. We are not a wealthy city. To expand once again, “CITY OWNED” utilities on the backs of every day citizens, in the form of rate hikes is criminal in my opinion.
    Climate change is not a hoax. I worked in a marine biology research lab 50 years ago, and ran head on into the POWER of the Oil, gas, and chemical industry in Texas. They “own” the Texas coast. I am so glad that we have finally reached the conclusion, that “resistance IS NOT futile”! THANK YOU ANA!

  4. “But such freeform meetings tend to draw passionate citizens rather than business executives. And in San Antonio that tended to mean mainly climate activists and a few climate-change deniers. Notably absent were business leaders. City staff can boast thousands of public comments, but not from energy executives.”

    This is interesting. Maybe the business representatives should make time to attend those meetings? The critique should not be about the structure, but about their lack of foresight.

    That being said, I am always surprised when the city elites lavish Ms. Sandoval with praise. She is a rather ordinary councilperson, and the breathless press that she is destined to be Mayor one day is too much even for the Rivard Report.

  5. Sandoval Says: “I would fault us, or me, for not having gone out to Valero and NuStar at the beginning of this process and saying, ‘Let’s sit down and talk,’” she told the San Antonio Express-News. “‘You’re a big employer in San Antonio, but we are going to have to do something about climate. And let’s talk about how we’re going to do that together.’”

    Gimme a break. Any thoughtful politician would have picked up the phone early on. It’s not like these businesses are easy to forget about. She sure didn’t forget about them when asking them for money to support GoVoteNo.

  6. Why must we do something about climate? We’re a nothing little city. Besides, all we really know about carbon is that without it, there would be no life. What is the perfect level of carbon? No one knows if there is such a thing. It has been increasing in the atmosphere since 1650 and is still not at the Cretaceous level. .

  7. I posted on the comments section but didn’t see it post. Maybe waiting to get approved? I stated that there are legitimate questions among scientists themselves about 1) if it’s even warming up to dangerous levels and 2) if so, is it caused by humans or natural variance? Scientists who are head of their university departments, Nobel prize winners , climate researchers etc themselves and well respected in their field. But the media and liberals often use the infamous line ” 97 % “ of all scientists agree but that is very misleading

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