San Antonio resident Henry Gonzales takes a smoke break in Main Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio resident Henry Gonzales takes a smoke break in Main Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.

The new San Antonio Water System rates and rate structure garnered most of the attention at Thursday’s City Council meeting. Click here to read our coverage. But Council also acted on some other notable issues.

Through consent agenda, meaning there was no discussion, Council unanimously voted to designate Main Plaza and Travis Park as smoke-free public places. The ban becomes effective in 10 days.

The City prohibits smoking in some outdoor venues, and locations can be added by amendment on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier this year, the Main Plaza Conservancy, the nonprofit that oversees maintenance and programming at Main Plaza, wrote the City requesting the prohibition of smoking in the plaza, including around San Fernando Cathedral.

John Jacks, interim director of the City’s Center City Development and Operations Department, later told a reporter that the Conservancy’s request provided an opportunity to explore how smoking may affect a rising number of locals and tourists visiting Main Plaza and Travis Park, which recently received improvements.

Jacks said Conservancy staff was concerned over a growing number of cigarette butts on the grounds at the plaza.
“These are locations that have seen a big increase in programming over the last few years,” Jacks said, citing the “The Saga,” a popular evening light show installation, and movie screenings in the park.

“Were trying to attract locals and visitors to these locations, particularly with family events. That was the impetus for this, those two locations have much denser, more frequent activities than, say, Maverick Park.”

Jacks said if other City parks were to see a significant increase in programming, the City would look at adding it to the smoking ban list which now includes Main Plaza, Travis Park, the San Antonio Zoo, and all City-owned outdoor sports arenas, stadiums, amphitheaters, pavilions, and playgrounds. City code also prohibit s smoking within 20 feet of bus stops and within the “public right-of-way and any seating within the public right-of-way along the parade routes” during Fiesta.

Food Truck Rule Abolished

Council unanimously approved the removal of a 32-year-old rule that kept food trucks from operating within 300 feet of a restaurant without permission from the establishment’s owner.

Owners of four local food trucks last month filed a lawsuit against the City, claiming the distance rule was unfair and that it only protected brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Regino Soriano is one of the plaintiffs in a case challenging San Antonio's food truck laws. Image courtesy of Institute for Justice.
Regino Soriano is one of the plaintiffs in a case challenging San Antonio’s food truck laws. Image courtesy of Institute for Justice.

Repeal of the rule had support from the San Antonio Restaurant Association, and was recommended by the City’s Metropolitan Health District. Vincent Nathan, interim Metro Health District director, said the City has never really had a problem about a certain distance between an operating food truck and an established restaurant.

Violating the rule carried a $2,000 fine. Nathan acknowledged the rule has seen little enforcement even with the growing presence of food trucks, especially in and around downtown. Nathan said the City will step up enforcement in matters where a food truck owner/operator has an agreement with a nearby restaurant.

Jose Cuellar, co-owner of Madhatters Tea House and Cafe in Southtown, was the lone resident to speak on the issue. He, too, had no problem with the distance but had a question about sanitation.

He asked about food truck staff who need to use bathroom facilities, adding that few trucks have bathrooms.

Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh said the City will look into the sanitation question and work with the San Antonio Food Truck Association to see if hat group can help address the matter.

Otherwise, the Council’s focus on Thursday was on the distance rule, and many Council members agreed food trucks have a right to compete as long as they comply with other City rules related to mobile food vending.

“These smart adjustments are appropriate for a city like ours,” said Councilmember Roberto Trevino (D1).

*Top image: San Antonio resident Henry Gonzales takes a smoke break in Main Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.