San Antonio City Council members protested uneven geographic representation on an advisory committee that would bring forward code update recommendations during a meeting Thursday.

Every five years, the city revamps its Unified Development Code (UDC), which guides development practices citywide. San Antonio began accepting amendments to the UDC on Oct. 1, Development Services Department Director Michael Shannon told council members. 

City staff put together the Planning Commission Technical Advisory Committee (PCTAC) after reviewing applications submitted last year, Shannon said. That committee will make code recommendations that ultimately end up with the Planning Commission, which advises City Council on UDC updates. Districts 3 and 5 only had one member from each of their districts on the advisory committee. District 4 had zero. 

Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) requested that the committee be expanded from its current size of 20 primary members and 10 alternates. He noted that the council district representation was heavily weighted toward the northern districts; 16 of the committee members live in Districts 8, 9, 10.

“For three districts to have no representation, all of which are inner-city or South Side, that’s a glaring problem,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) agreed and said the city’s code often leads to harming “vulnerable property owners” in her district.

“One out of every three District 5 code violations are for overgrown yards,” she said. “And while many residents do come into compliance, there are quite a few who, due to age or lack of resources, are unable to comply. So this can lead to more fines and even a lien on the property.”

Councilwomen Phyllis Viagran (D3), Adriana Garcia Rocha (D4), and Ana Sandoval (D7) also lent their support to McKee-Rodriguez’s suggestion to expand the advisory committee. Sandoval added that she would like to see more committee members representing environmental interests. There is currently one primary member who falls under the “environmental/historic” specialty. 

“We have a long history in this city of environmental causes not winning the day,” she said. 

The city is slightly delayed past its typical update timeline due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shannon said. The UDC was last updated in 2015.

McKee-Rodriguez said he understands the need to move quickly to update the UDC, but that prioritizing more representation citywide is still important.

“This is huge, the UDC amendment process, and I’m sure that there are members of our districts who would like to partake,” he said. “And even though they can come and they can give public comment, that’s not the same as being a part of the committee … as a voting, vocal member.”

Shannon said it would take a couple of weeks to meet with the Planning Commission and city staff to figure out ways to add members to the advisory committee. In the meantime, staff will host community meetings to educate the public about the code amendment process and encourage them to be involved.

“People always ask me who can submit a code change proposal,” he said. “The short answer is anyone. Anyone can submit.”

In 2015, the city received 296 proposed code amendments and approved 205, Shannon said. The deadline to submit a code change proposal is Feb. 1, though he urged interested parties to get their submissions in more quickly. Find more information on how to submit a UDC amendment here.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.