VIA responds to anti-streetcar petition filing

Transit officials say opponents are misleading public

SAN ANTONIO – VIA officials fired back at opponents of its modern streetcar project Tuesday after the Streetcar Vote Coalition submitted a petition with 26,749 signatures calling for a vote on the project.

In a statement, the transit provider said, "We think they are misinforming the public regarding the modern streetcar project."

VIA spokesman Charles Gonzalez reiterated those sentiments in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

"The cost for instance, the route, the need for it and all sorts of misinformation about how we would operate, you can go on any of the basis and we don't believe that a true picture of the streetcar has been presented by many of the proponents of the petition."

The petition calls for a vote to change the city's charter. It would require voter approval before granting VIA right-of-way for any streetcar or light rail project. The city attorney has already said that any change to the charter would not apply to VIA's project. Furthermore, state law already gives VIA the authority to operate and build on city streets.

Opponents of the project believe that this fight could wind up in court, but even if they lose a potential November vote Greg Brockhouse, campaign manager for the Streetcar Vote Coalition, believes simply having the issue on the ballot is enough to sway city council members. The group still has to vote to appropriate its $32 million portion of project funding.

"It will quantify the opposition and it will allow the city council members to determine whether or not they want to authorize the $32 million," Brockhouse said. "It will force them to take a position that they have relatively avoided."

So far, Councilmembers Joe Krier, Mike Gallagher, Ron Nirenberg, and Cris Medina have publicly advocated for a vote.

Coalition officials said their group is made up of both Republicans and Democrats, and the group collected signatures from each of the city's ten districts. The city's firefighter union, which is embroiled in its own battle with the city over healthcare benfits, held large block-walking events to gather signatures.

"We have people signing the petition, sending them in from the south side of San Antonio just like we do the east side, the west side, the north side, from downtown," Brockhouse said. "It is a broad coalition of folks that we have contacted and reached out to, and 90-percent of the doors we knock on say ‘yes'. Even the ones who support the streetcar want to sign because it's about their opportunity or right to vote.

VIA officials said they have received more than enough input from the public, and holding a vote on every contentious issue is not practical.

"VIA and the board of trustees has a responsibility, and that is to provide a modern and very efficient and effective transportation system for all of San Antonio and the streetcar is just one component of that system," Gonzalez said.