SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio City Council members agreed Wednesday to tweak the city’s upcoming $1.2 billion bond program by $57.8 million to send more money to basic infrastructure needs, though nearly half the council members still don’t think it’s enough.
After city staff presented their original plans on Oct. 13 for allocating money for the 2022 bond program, several city council members said they wanted to see more money for items like streets and drainage. The city has said it has $6.6 billion worth of basic infrastructure needs, far more than what it can afford in the five-year bond program.
Staff circulated a memo last week a proposed $57.8 million worth of shifts, which they presented to council again on Wednesday. The shifts largely add infrastructure projects to the bond program, though it also includes $15 million for Port San Antonio, which had been left off the original presentation.
The proposed additions also include a multigenerational center at Palo Alto College, money for Tom Slick Park, and a partnership with K9 for Warriors to help build another building.
To make room for these additions, staff recommended cutting funding from so-called “citywide” projects like the San Antonio Botanical Center and the Sunken Garden Theater, eliminating funding for relocating the SAPD impound lot, and curbing the funding for the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System.
A District 10 drainage project was among the cuts, though it was replaced with funding for a more expensive street project in the same district.
However, five council members pushed to cut even more from the trail system, which city staff had suggested reducing from almost $126 million down to $110 million, in an effort to find more money for streets and drainage.
District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo first suggested cutting an additional $60 million from trails, in order to send an extra $40 million to streets, bridges, and sidewalks and another $20 million to drainage and flood control.
The motion was voted down 6-5, with Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), Ana Sandoval (D7), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10) joining Castillo.
After that failed, McKee-Rodriguez suggested a compromise, just cutting $30 million from trails to send another $20 million to streets and $10 million to drainage, but it failed along the same lines.
McKee-Rodriguez, Castillo, and Perry then voted against the final approval of the original $57.8 million in shifts. Sandoval abstained from the final vote, though her vote appeared to be recorded as a recusal.
The changes now put the five areas of the bond program at:
- Streets, Bridges & Sidewalks - $480 million (UP from $450 million)
- Drainage & Flood Control - $162 million (UP from $150 million)
- Parks & Recreation - $274 million (DOWN from $300 million)
- Facilities - $134 million (DOWN from $150 million)
- Housing - $150 million (SAME as Oct. 13 presentation)
Among the different areas, aside from housing, the city has set aside roughly 1.5% of the bond to be spent on public art -- about $15.7 million in all.
Wednesday’s conversation revolved heavily around how much to cut funding for the development of the city’s creekway trails.
City staff had originally recommended spending $125.8 million on linear creekway trails. The city manager said there’s still about $200 million worth of work to do on the trails system, not including the additional work the group Activate SA has proposed.
City staff say the $110 million in the revised bond recommendation is enough to create another 20.3 miles of trails. The amount includes money for Activate SA projects.
City staff say the county has also agreed to take on the development of 24.6 miles of trails over the next 10 years, and has approved $83.5 million toward that purpose.
The expansion of the trails system, which is meant to eventually create a ring around the city, had traditionally been funded with a 1/8 cent sales tax. However, voters agreed to repurpose that tax for a workforce training program and mass transit.
Supporters argued the city had made a commitment to voters to continue funding the trails, though there was plenty of debate over how much had been promised and how the city or county would follow through.
“Today we’re having a conversation in public about how much, well, welching or breach of contract we can get away with the public,” said District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez.
But to other council members, basic infrastructure needs were a far higher priority and warranted taking money out of the trails system budget.
“To pitch this to my community as something that takes precedent over drainage, streets, and sidewalks is extremely out of touch,” Castillo said. “And I encourage that you all come out of your gated communities and into District 5 to see what our communities have to deal with on the day-to-day.”
The program now goes to a series of five citizen advisory committees, which will each examine a specific area, like: housing, streets & sidewalks, drainage & flood control, parks & recreation, and facilities. Their meetings begin Wednesday night.
The committees’ recommendations will go back to city council, which will decide which bond projects are included in the final program and which will go before voters in May 2022 for final approval.
The city has created a website with a calendar of the meetings and information on the proposed program.
You can find it HERE.