San Antonio City Hall. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Antonio City Council will hear an update on the comprehensive planning process initiated by Mayor Ivy Taylor in August during tomorrow’s B Session meeting.

City staff overseeing three distinct initiatives – a comprehensive master plan, a comprehensive transportation plan, and a sustainability plan – will present progress reports on the long-term planning initiatives that Mayor Taylor initiated last summer, shortly after Council withdrew its financial and political support for VIA Metropolitan Transit’s streetcar project.

A certain amount of faith is necessary for all parties to commit to such complex undertakings, especially under an interim mayor whose term ends in June who presides over a City Council with a vacant District 1 seat, an appointed District 2 council member facing a tough runoff election for a five month term, and all council members facing re-election in May.

Click here to to read the staff’s planned presentation.

The Comprehensive Master Plan, the Strategic Multi-Modal Transportation Plan (SMMTP) and the City’s first Sustainability Plan, represent a $4 million-plus investment and will take about 18 months to complete all three. Several council members intend to serve on steering and council committees throughout the process, although all face re-election in May.

An outdated City Charter that limits compensation for the mayor and council members to token payments is proving to be a growing issue.  Former Mayor Julián Castro was the first this year to resign his post for a better offer as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, followed last month by District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, who  resigned for the legislative seat vacated by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-Dist. 123), who is running for mayor.

Recommended comprehensive planning committee framework.
Recommended comprehensive planning committee framework. Download the full presentation here.

At least four citizens have submitted applications to replace Bernal, with two business days remaining before the Dec. 5, 5 p.m. filing deadline. The applications from Susan K. Galindo, Joaquin Gonzalez, Frank A. Quijano Sr., Christopher M. Forbrich, and John G. Rogers are available online here. All candidates will appear before City Council on Wednesday, Dec. 10 during B Session. Up to three finalists will be chosen for second interviews at the Thursday, Dec. 11 A Session, followed by a Council vote to select an interim council member who will serve until the May elections.

Mayor Taylor has not yet announced whether she will run for mayor in May or step down at the end of her 300-day interim term. Two other candidates, Rep. Villarreal and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, are in the race. City Hall sources expect Taylor to make an announcement in the coming weeks.

Early voting for the Dec. 9 runoff between incumbent District 2 Councilmember Keith Toney, and small business owner Alan Warrick II began on Monday. Registered voters can vote from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at seven different polling locations including the Bexar County Justice Center.

Alan Warrick II (left) and District 2 Councilmember Keith Toney.  Courtesy photos.
Alan Warrick II (left) and District 2 Councilmember Keith Toney.  Courtesy photos.

Toney was appointed to the Council seat on Aug.14 after then-Councilmember Ivy Taylor was elected Interim Mayor to serve out the 10-month unexpired term of Mayor Julián Castro, who became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration.

John Dugan, the City’s director of planning seemed unfazed during a media briefing at City Hall on Tuesday when asked how various special elections and may elections might affect the planning process and commitment.

“This isn’t going to surprise anybody by the time it’s all done,” Dugan said. Several meetings and quarterly briefings will take place before the final document is presented to City Council in Spring 2016.

Part of that confidence comes from the Comprehensive Plan’s built-in flexibility to account for unforeseen changes in the political and public environments and population/demographic projections, he said.

“There’s an ongoing implementation (process) to this,” said Dugan. “That will be to make sure these policies don’t get into laws like the development codes ….  (rather) it gets updated as things change. We’ll be recommending an annual report on major policies both in terms of implementation and in term of are there any assumptions that need to be re-looked at because changes have taken place.”

San Antonio’s population is expected to grow by 1 million people or more by 2040, from 1.4 million to 2.4 million. These numbers don’t account for possible annexation of outlying areas of Bexar County. The county population, currently 1.8 million, could reach 3 million. Compare this growth rate to the last decade’s increase of 430,000 people and it becomes clear that San Antonio needs a plan. The last Comprehensive Master Plan was adopted in 1997, the Major Thoroughfare Plan in 1987.

population growth Growth Plans Update Comprehensive B Session FINAL.compressed

“Normally you update a plan like this not every 35 years, but every 10 years – that’s the national best practice,” he added, citing that Fort Worth is already in the process of updating its 2012 comprehensive plan due to unprecedented growth during the last two years. “This doesn’t have to be a big bureaucratic thing. (The comprehensive plan) could be very responsive to change because it’s about policy. Policy is something adopted by council and that could change.”

That goes for the transportation and sustainability plans, too. The three plans will be informed through both the comprehensive planning process and their own consultant-led studies and will be informing the Comprehensive Plan as a whole.  Each plan has its own team and consultants, but they will be working together. While the Sustainability Plan is expected to be completed in fall 2015, the SMMTP will come together after the Comprehensive Plan as the nature of transportation requires it to be responsive to land use (housing and/or workforce) planning.

“Technically it’s three separate plans,” said Sustainability Director Douglas Melnick. “The goal is to go out to the community as one process, we definitely don’t want to confuse the public with the appearance of three separate (processes).”

Melnick considers this Sustainability Plan to be San Antonio’s first. Mission Verde, however, is considered by many to be the first. Approved by City Council in February 2010, the elements of Mission Verde will be expanded upon in this new plan.

“(Mission Verde) was primarily created as a vehicle to implement various (federal stimulus-funded) programs,” Melnick said. “This sustainability plan is going to broaden it, bring in some more social elements – a more comprehensive view of what sustainability is.”

Currently, consultants are working with the City on branding, organizing the various groups included in the committee framework/workflow, and finalizing “state of the city” studies to prepare for the year-long community input process that will kick off in March 2015.

Arguably the most critical piece will be getting the public to inform and, ultimately, understand the plan – no simple task, it’s hard for some planners to keep the committee names and workflow straight.

Just...wow. The Combined Planning Efforts Schedule of concurrent planning efforts.
Just…wow. The Combined Planning Efforts Schedule of concurrent planning efforts.

While there is a Community Planning Institute made up of two citizens appointed by each council member, there will also be several meeting and workshops focused on public engagement over the course of a year. These meetings will kick off in March.

“We want to reach people that haven’t been reached before,” said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni. “The types of engagement we’re trying to get for these city plans is different from the traditional City government engagement meetings ….  a round table and the same people attend.”

They’ll be using non-traditional forms of engagement to reach a more diverse citizen cross-section, he said. They’re considering ideas such as putting computer kiosks around the city to provide information and gather feedback from people that don’t have access to the internet, using college students to talk with folks around town, and, of course, heavy use of social media.

“So the communication effort won’t mean that someone has to not eat dinner and go to a two-hour meeting with a presentation,” he said. They’ll be engaging a younger audience, too, because by the time a lot of these plans are implemented, school children will be in the workforce.

Related Stories:

New Players Needed for New Results in Comprehensive Planning

Comprehensive Planning Not So Easy to Follow

City Planning for San Antonio Growth Bomb

Mayor Taylor: Planning For The Next 300 Days

How Will One Million New Residents Navigate San Antonio?

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org