SAN ANTONIO – As he ends his third term and strives for a fourth and final, Mayor Ron Nirenberg appears to be largely done laying out new plans.
“In previous years, I have come to the stage discussing plans and proposals for housing, transportation, and workforce development,” the mayor said during his State of the City address Tuesday afternoon at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center. “For the most part, the talking on those issues is over. This year, we are focused on implementation.”
Nirenberg’s address to a crowd of more than 500 people largely focused on progress in those areas: expansion of the airport, plans for a new type of mass transit, expansion of the city’s trail system, the new $150 million housing bond, and the ongoing implementation of the Ready to Work program.
The mayor pushed hard for voters to approve a sales tax to fund the workforce development program in the November 2020 election. So far, though, the number of people actually enrolled in the program is falling short of the first year goals.
An online dashboard shows nearly 13,200 people have applied for the program, though fewer than 4,900 have been interviewed. Nearly 11 months after the city announced the opening of enrollment, 2,030 people are enrolled in training through Ready to Work compared to the first year goal of 5,758.
The mayor pushed back against suggestions the program may be under-performing.
“We are less than a year into the Ready to Work program,” he told reporters after his address. “If the goal is to count numbers, we’re missing the point. The goal is to change lives and to change the trajectory of this city’s economy long term, to break cycles of poverty. When I see that done for a single family, when I see that done for a dozen families, 100 families, a 1,000 families or more, I say that’s a good thing.”
During the pandemic, the mayor’s funding focus shifted from transportation system improvements to the workforce development program.
However, the 1/8 cent sales tax that funds Ready to Work will switch to funding transportation in 2026, and Nirenberg noted that VIA Metropolitan Transit had already been approved for $158 million in federal funding for the North-South line of its proposed Advanced Rapid Transit corridor. The transit agency is being considered for another $145 million for an East-West ART corridor.
Although he has taken a stance against the controversial ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana and abortion, Proposition A, Nirenberg spared only the briefest mention of it.
“Reflecting on the hardships our small businesses and working families have endured convinced me that it was important to oppose Proposition A,” he said.
The city’s business community has focused on the potential effects of expanding the city’s existing cite-and-release program under Prop A, which it fears could lead to increased crime.
Nirenberg noted in his remarks that “year-after year, we have funded new police officer positions.”
Nirenberg faces eight opponents in the May 6 election.