As one of the volunteer tri-chairs of the community-driven city of San Antonio 2017 bond process, I had the opportunity to attend meetings and meet with residents across the city. As I listened to community input at many of the 30 meetings of bond committees at which more than 1,400 citizens offered their input, I consistently heard three basic questions: How will the money be spent, why should I vote for this bond program, and what does it really mean for the city?
The answers to all three questions come down, in large part, to one word: community.
A vote for the bond is an affirmation of the community process by which this bond program was created – starting with the 160 citizens who were appointed by Mayor Taylor and City Council to head up five citizen-led bond committees. These committees, in turn, held public meetings at which other members of our community voiced their views on the bond program – including how the money should be spent.
Throughout this process, bond committee volunteers received valuable feedback through public meetings. The public’s input expanded the conversation and provided important information that helped determine the location and scope of many projects.
The result of those meetings and the public input is the final list of 180 projects that are to be funded by the 2017 bond. Not all projects presented by City staff to the citizens’ committees made the cut. And appeals to the committees during the public input process resulted in many worthwhile projects being added to the final list.
An example was the identification of the need for recreational facilities for residents at the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter. Once a family enters the shelter, playgrounds and other public areas for recreation are no longer safe. As part of the provision of comprehensive services on the shelter campus, the bond would provide $1 million to construct a gymnasium and activity and service delivery center for residents of the shelter – a project I believe we can all agree is worthy of voter support.
City Council honored the work all the volunteers who participated in this lengthy process by approving more than 94% of the bond committees’ recommendations. Therefore, this is really a citizens’ bond program and a community investment that will be made with broad representation from the people it will serve.
A clear sign of that broad representation is the variety and locations of the bond projects. No matter where you live or work, there is a proposed bond project within one mile of you. Another sign of how smartly these investments are being made is that the City will be able to leverage an additional $350 million through already committed local, state, and private partnerships.
Also, consider the types of projects your support of the $850 million program would yield. Seventy percent of the funds would go toward drainage and infrastructure improvements throughout the city. One quarter of our city’s parks would receive much needed funding. More than 200 miles of new sidewalks would be constructed. Libraries would receive upgrades and a senior center and community centers for the young and young at heart would be constructed or improved.
For the first time, neighborhood improvements tied to the city’s Urban Renewal Plan will be part of a bond package, focusing on 12 neighborhood improvement areas. What you’ll see is an opportunity to strengthen some of our inner city neighborhoods by addressing blight and disinvestment – all of them outside of the central business district and, once again, building community.
The level of community involvement in crafting this bond doesn’t start and end with the citizen bond committees. The program is tied to the SA Tomorrow growth plan, another process driven by citizens. And SA Tomorrow puts into action the goals set by the SA2020 visioning process, where thousands of citizens charted a course for the city’s future.
Should the bond pass in May, a citizens’ advisory committee will oversee the progress and funding of the projects through 2022 to make sure taxpayers are getting what they are paying for. Literally from start to finish, the 2017 bond process is community-driven.
At a time when many people around the country are feeling disenfranchised and disconnected from the political process, San Antonio has an opportunity to make a critical investment in the future – a future we as citizens, not just those we elect to serve us, have defined.
Now it is time for each of us to take the community process full circle and vote for this bond and for the nearly 200 projects in it that will help shape our future.