City Council adds charter change for bond projects to May 1 ballot

If passed, housing affordability project could be added to 2022 bond program

San Antonio voters will decide on May 1 whether to change the city charter to allow a wider variety of bond projects, including affordable housing.
San Antonio voters will decide on May 1 whether to change the city charter to allow a wider variety of bond projects, including affordable housing.

San Antonio – The San Antonio City Council has sent a proposed charter change to voters, which could offer more flexibility in what kind of projects the city can fund with bond money.

The city council voted 10-1 Thursday to add the proposal onto the May 1 ballot for voter approval. District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry was the lone vote against the measure.

Current city charter language restricts bond dollars to “public works.” Under the proposed amendment, voters will decide whether to broaden the language in the charter to “permanent public improvements or for any other public purpose not prohibited by the Texas Constitution or the general laws of the State of Texas, to include affordable housing programs in scope and breadth as determined by ordinance of the City Council.”

If approved, the charter change would allow the city to use bond dollars, which are also approved by voters - generally every five years, for things like acquiring properties for land banking, paying for home rehabilitation projects or helping to pay for new construction.

“There may be still other state laws or federal laws that govern what we can do on specific projects,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said. “But what this change does is it unties our own hands so that all we have to deal with, right, would be what other laws may impact a particular project.”

A different section of the charter, for example, forbids the city from selling land to be used by a public housing agency such as the San Antonio Housing Authority.

Should voters approve the charter amendment, housing affordability projects could be in included in the upcoming 2022-2027 bond program.

Some council members previously voiced concerns about how flexible the language change actually made, with District 9 Councilman John Courage using the phrase “Pandora’s Box.”

On Thursday, however, Courage noted that the process for the five-year bond programs has numerous opportunities for input, and voters have the ultimate say on what they’ll fund anyways.

Unlike maybe some council members, I trust the voters,” Courage said.

Perry, who was not present for the previous council discussion of the charter amendment due to being sick with COVID-19, said Thursday he felt the language was “too broad.”

I have a philosophical difference on what our bond money should be going to,” said Perry, who worried that expanding project possibilities would mean siphoning money away from infrastructure projects.

Perry also criticized the way the proposed amendment was brought to the city council. Amendments added to the ballot by the city council are typically considered by a mayor-appointed charter review commission

While there was no commission this year, a 2018 Charter Review Commission had previously considered changing the charter language surrounding the use of bond dollars, at Nirenberg’s request. However, Segovia said the commission didn’t give a final report because the fire union’s amendments beat them to the ballot, though “the sense we got was they were strongly considering language that would broaden it.”

The city council also voted on Thursday to add the repeal of San Antonio police officers’ ability to collectively bargain onto the ballot, following a successful petition drive by the group “Fix SAPD.”

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.