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Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said Tuesday that the temporary – and controversial – fence surrounding Plaza Guadalupe “will probably” be removed within the next two weeks.
Her prediction came during a meeting organized by the City of San Antonio for community members to give input on the future of Plaza Guadalupe, an open-air amphitheater nestled between El Paso and Guadalupe Streets on the West Side. Instead of a question-and-answer session, the meeting at the nearby Guadalupe Theater allowed people to participate via poster boards. The poster boards listed possible activities — movies at the plaza, adding a splash pad for kids — and suggested security measures. Attendees put green dots on the poster boards to affirm an idea, and red dots to disagree.
None of the ideas presented by the City included the chain-link fence surrounding the plaza.
“It has to come down,” Gonzales said. “It was never intended to be a permanent structure.”
The District 5 councilwoman said Tuesday’s meeting was the first time she’s had the opportunity to hear from community members about their visions for the plaza, but noted that the fence acted as the catalyst to gather the community.
“It was sort of a trigger that got people interested in a space, and now I think we have the opportunity to make an investment,” she said.
Avenida Guadalupe Association, the nonprofit that built and is charged with maintaining the plaza, put up six-foot-tall, temporary fencing in 2016. The fence has drawn criticism from some residents, who say the fence closes off a public space and goes against the plaza’s original intent of being a community space.
Gabriel Velasquez, executive director of Avenida Guadalupe, said these views are from people who don’t live next to the plaza and therefore do not understand the after-hours problems of an open-access area.
“We love the plaza the same — if not more than — most people do,” Velasquez said. “We share that same concern. But we know that is not a matter of whether [the fence] should or shouldn’t be there, but how do we achieve it in a way that it enhances the architecture.”
Neighborhood residents are mostly concerned with safety, according to some who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Local pharmacy owner Rudy Davila said most of the people at the meeting were part of the community but not the neighborhood. And in the neighborhood, they have to deal with the security issues that come with an open-access plaza — drug usage and people sleeping in the playground.
“I think the neighborhood would love to see yoga or a splash pad,” he said. “But we need to address the drug issues, the crime. I have my business right next to the plaza. Before the fence went up, there was an element that used drugs, dealt drugs. That has all gone away.”
Gilbert Salazar, who lives a block and a half away from the plaza, said it was discouraging to see little action taken to combat crime at the plaza.
“We’ve lived in the neighborhood all our lives. We see it every day,” he said. “And we wonder why if we can see it, why isn’t something being done about that?”
San Antonio Police Department officer Bryant Soldevila has worked in the area for the last 14 years. He said he has seen drug dealing and use at the plaza in the past, but calls to request police have dropped since the fence went up.
“It’s keeping people out,” Soldevila said. “We didn’t have manpower to patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
He added that the crime that used to afflict Plaza Guadalupe has likely just moved on.
“People are still using narcotics,” he said. “They’re still drinking. They’re just not visibly doing it here.”
City spokeswoman Kelly Saunders said the session was the first of several public meetings to discuss the plaza’s future. The next meeting, not yet formally scheduled, will take place in September.
“The City’s goal is to encourage a collaborative process that will support the ongoing evolution of this community asset,” Saunders said in an email.
The plaza was planned in 1977 and completed in 1984, Velasquez said. San Antonio first contracted with Avenida Guadalupe in 1986, and the current 20-year contract started in October 2009, Saunders said. The nonprofit received $142,000 to support eight properties, including the plaza, this year.
The City has $330,000 in community development block grant funding to spend on immediate improvements, Gonzales said. At this point, the main concern for the plaza is maintenance, she added.
“Once we have a better community vision, we can invest accordingly,” she said.