(From left) Johnny Arredondo and Adriana Rocha Garcia
(From left) Johnny Arredondo and Adriana Rocha Garcia are vying for the District 4 City Council seat in the June 8 runoff election. Credit: Scott Ball and Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Guadalupe Lomas has lived in District 4 his whole life. The 55-year-old works as a mechanic at a South San Antonio auto shop, and said he gave up on local government years ago.

“It’s been quite a while since anyone has done anything for the South Side,” he said. “That’s why I stopped voting for anyone – they don’t follow through with their promises. What we do need is infrastructure, really, and road maintenance. … If it’s a pothole they’ll throw a little asphalt on there and in a week or two the hole is there again. They don’t fix the street.”

As District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña prepares to step down after serving four terms, registered voters will elect his successor in the June 8 runoff election. But getting District 4 voters to turn out to the polls is a long-standing challenge. Only 7.8 percent of the district voted in the first round of voting in May, compared to 11.5 percent of registered voters across Bexar County. District 4 also had the lowest voter turnout of all the City Council districts in 2017, according to the most recent SA2020 report.

Trying to muster voter enthusiasm in the runoff are Adriana Rocha Garcia, a professor at Our Lady of the Lake University who served as chair of the City’s Ethics Review Board, and Johnny Arredondo, a retired retail supervisor and volunteer college basketball referee.

Garcia secured Saldaña’s endorsement early in the race and received 47 percent of the vote in May, missing the majority needed to win the seat outright. Arredondo got 21 percent of the vote. This is his second time running for the District 4 seat after running unsuccessfully in 2017.

Both Garcia and Arredondo stressed the need for simple infrastructure fixes – improved drainage, smoother roads, more lighting for safety. Arredondo said as far as he can remember, infrastructure has always been an issue in the district.

“When I lived at home decades ago with my grandparents, my grandparents talked about streets and sidewalks,” he said. “That conversation [about infrastructure] has never left.”

But even though the candidates assert that the community’s input shapes their campaign priorities, some residents still say they don’t see the point in voting for City Council. Many District 4 have long felt forgotten after so many years of City Council not addressing their basic needs, Garcia said.

Longtime District 4 resident Kevynn Mejia said he stopped voting years ago because he never saw a difference, no matter who was in office – and because he knows his neighbors won’t vote, either.

“That’s one of the reasons I don’t vote, because I know other people won’t vote,” he said. “People in office just want to satisfy the voters. And because there’s not enough voting in District 4, it’s left alone for the most part. There’s not enough noise.”

Saldaña said that encouraging South Side San Antonians to vote requires a major attitude change, because so many of the residents of District 4 have lived there for 40 or 50 years. When they look at their experience with City Hall, they remember the landfill that was built in their district – a blight that has since been transformed into Pearsall Park – and infrastructure failures of the past, he said.

“People have felt beaten down for several decades, and I think we’re seeing a slow shift in attitudes as brand new roadways are built and new parks that are the envy of the city, new clinics are moving in the area,” Saldaña said. “Great institutions like Palo Alto and Texas A&M are [helping to shift] that attitude, but that’s only happened in the last 10-12 years. If someone is going to make a judgment if the city is taking care of them, they’re going to look at it holistically.”

Both Garcia and Arredondo said they would balance voters’ district-specific concerns with larger, citywide decisions by making sure residents have a seat at the table. Arredondo said he plans to ask residents for their opinions for all decisions made at the City level.

“We [would] take our time to make sure we get the correct information as far as cost analysis of things – how would it affect local neighborhoods, how it would affect traffic in that area,” he said. “You take all that stuff into consideration. But the bottom line is how will it improve the lives of people of San Antonio, and the only way you do that is letting people tell you what is beneficial to them.”

Arredondo said he intends to address property taxes if elected, on top of infrastructure needs and public safety concerns.

“[Rising property tax bills are] frustrating to us,” Arredondo said. “Before my wife retired a couple years ago, we could pay the extra money going there. But once a person gets retired, they’re on a fixed income.”

As the district and city continue to grow, Garcia said she wants to continue to encourage that growth on the South Side. She placed economic development as one of her top priorities for the district, she said.

“I heard from a few folks that they want to have nice restaurants in the South Side,” she said. “They want to be able to live, work, and play in the South Side. They just want to see that next step, that economic development.”

Daniel Huron, who has lived in District 4 for 26 years, agreed. He currently works in aviation near where he lives, but remembers when he used to commute across town every day to his job. Many of his neighbors still have long daily commutes, he said.

“We need more businesses,” he said. “There’s a lot of open land around here. We need jobs for the people who live around here. A lot of people have to go across town or further away to work.”

Garcia said she plans to encourage economic development in the district while taking residents’ concerns about responsible growth into consideration.

“How do we work on responsible economic development so we don’t create major traffic, displacement? How do we work with other organizations so we prepare for this now?” she said. “People in District 4 are ready to have this growth, but they’re all always very cautious of how fast we grow. Learning from other growth areas around is important.”

Garcia added that she has been familiarizing herself with current City Council issues, such as the discussion around the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, a vote on which was delayed until the fall. She said she recognizes the health benefits to improve the quality of life for future generations, but needs to consider how District 4 residents would be affected financially.

Garcia has outspent and outraised Arredondo significantly. She raised more than $14,000 between March 26 and April 24, and spent more than $12,000. Arredondo raised $650 and spent $152 in the same time period. He has $1,083 cash on hand according to his latest campaign finance report, while Garcia has $21,152. She reported $20,000 in outstanding loans as well.

Arredondo said he plans to close the gap between him and Garcia by recruiting more volunteers and continuing to talk to voters. He ran his general election campaign with 10 volunteers, and his team has grown to 25, he said.

“We just have to make sure we do a better job of communicating with people and who we we are and what we stand for,” he said.

Garcia said her campaign strategy of reaching out to residents and listening to their concerns remains the same – just implemented in a shortened timeline. She also finds herself reminding people that there’s still another election.

“One of the things I have seen is that people are saying, ‘Oh, I thought you won!’ I’m telling people, ‘No, you have to go out and vote, it’s a runoff,’” she said.

Early voting starts May 28 and ends June 4. Election day is June 8. Find out more about the candidates in runoff elections in our election guide here.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.