Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4).
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4). Credit: Composite / Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Five out of the seven items on the agenda Wednesday at City Hall were proposed by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), the other two by Rey Saldaña (D4). They initiated City investigations and research on a range of topics, from the way the City evaluates competitive contracts with private entities, to changing zoning rules, to reviewing free speech permits in public spaces, to installing a rainbow crosswalk at an intersection where the annual gay pride parade takes place.

The Governance Committee, a five-member group of Council members that discusses Council Consideration Requests (CCRs) submitted by their colleagues, unanimously agreed to move forward with all initiatives brought to the table.

New pride-themed crosswalks at the intersection of East Evergreen and North Main avenues will cost a total of $68,000, with $20,000 coming from the City’s budget that was already slated to re-paint the crosswalks and $48,000 donated from residents and businesses. Treviño is meeting with local LGBTQIA advocates next week to set up the fund.

City officials estimate that the crosswalks will be completed in late November to early December.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who is not a member of the Governance Committee, issued a statement Wednesday evening outlining his objections to “creative crosswalk projects.” The decision should have been made by the full Council, he stated, and “we have so many more pressing issues in our City than painting crosswalks. We need to get to fixing the basics now. Instead of painting crosswalks we should be building crosswalks for schools, hiring more police officers, and fixing our crumbling infrastructure.”

The crosswalks create “a bad precedent,” he stated. “There should be a process that is open and accessible to every group or organization. Standards should be in place for design, application, installation, and maintenance. But above all, no tax dollars should be used for the crosswalk project. It should also be open to any group meeting criteria established by the Council. If the VFW wants to paint service emblems on a crosswalk to their facilities, they should have the same right.”

Because funding was already set aside for routine maintenance of the crosswalks, the issue did not require a full Council vote.

The City will conduct a six-month study on the pilot crosswalk to find out if it has an effect on pedestrian safety and to gauge community reaction.

This was the first CCR that Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) co-signed, she told the committee. The crosswalks are “not only welcoming … but I hope it will also make [the LGBTQIA community] feel safer” and accepted.

Free Speech Permits

When protests broke out at the San Antonio International Airport after President Donald Trump announced a travel ban from majority-Muslim countries, Treviño learned that it was up to the airport’s director to approve permits for large groups of people to assemble there and that it takes two days to acquire such permits. After examining the process, Treviño worked with City Attorney Andy Segovia to file the CCR and begin looking into ways to streamline permitting. Treviño sought ways to make it cheaper and faster for individuals and organizations to obtain permits.

“These new procedures should allow citizens of San Antonio to continue to make their voices heard while ensuring that public safety is maintained,” stated Treviño in his CCR.

Amy Kastely, a lawyer and professor of law at St. Mary’s University who is working with the Free Speech Coalition, told the committee that the San Antonio Police Department has too much discretion in which assembly permits it approves.

Amy Kastely says event permitting fees limit organizations from hosting large events.
Amy Kastely (second from left) says event permitting fees limit organizations from hosting large events that should be free. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

“I would argue that [the SAPD’s role is] unconstitutionally large,” said Kastely. She called it “highly problematic” that permits take so long to acquire and that applications can neither be downloaded nor submitted online.

The City can waive fees for annual events, according to the City’s current ordinance, if the events are on an official list. Kastely, who represented the coalition that sued the City alongside the International Women’s Day March Planning Committee in 2010, said it’s unaffordable for many nonprofits to pay the fees that go toward event security and cleanup.

The airport protest and the “From SA to DC, Women March Against Hate” parade downtown proceeded without permits.

“We need to have some discretion and flexibility,” Treviño told the committee.

Click here to view the current code regarding event permits.

The Free Speech Coalition, led by the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and other advocacy organizations, will be included in the City Attorney’s Office policy formulation. Treviño assured the group of this Wednesday.

Before presenting the issue and possible policy changes to City Council to approve, City staff and stakeholders will review First Amendment permitting policies for public forums, parades, City parks, the airport, convention center, and Alamodome. Segovia noted that free-speech policies need to recognize other rights as well. Generally, people are free to gather in public places as long as they don’t block pedestrian and vehicular traffic, prevent access to buildings, or interfere with places where business is being conducted.

“This is a delicate balance that we do have to strike,” Treviño said.

A Change in Bidding Process

After Zachry announced plans for a boutique hotel at Hemisfair, Some citizens raised concerns about the wages that will be paid to hotel employees. That sparked Saldaña’s request that the City start requiring companies to include wage breakdowns for employees during the bidding process for City contracts.

“I’d like the City to be able to weigh that in,” Saldaña told the Rivard Report. “For anything that involves public dollars, it should be a requirement that we go through at least asking the folks who we’re contracting with what the compensation will be.”

While the City does have a scoring matrix that rewards companies for being local, veteran, woman and/or minority-owned, there is no official consideration for how employees will be compensated.

“The reason we contract out is because it [costs] less money, which is great for the taxpayer and great for value,” Saldaña said. “But if it’s on the backs of our workforce … I don’t think the value is worth [that] cost.”

Including how well a company’s employees are paid, he said, will make wages more competitive.

Bexar County has considered wage levels on only three occasions when awarding contracts, City Manager Sheryl Sculley told the committee.

Minimum wage was discussed during recent presentations by companies vying for the coveted river barge contract.

The Governance Committee forwarded the issue to the Audit Committee for further discussion. From there, it will likely to be discussed by full Council before a vote.

City Council convenes for B Session after their break during the month of July.
City Council convenes for B Session for the first time after their break during the month of July. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

lnfill Development Zoning Works ‘Too Well’

Several neighborhood associations and the Zoning Commission have voiced concerns that the infill development zone (IDZ) designation allows for too much guesswork about a proposed project and ultimately does not encourage developers to design for “community compatibility.”

“The purpose of the IDZ district is to provide relief from some, but not all, of the requirements of conventional zoning districts and infrastructure requirements in order to facilitate redevelopment of neglected and bypassed inner city properties,” according to the City’s website.

But it’s possible that that “IDZ works sometimes a little too well,” Treviño told the committee, and developers can receive the flexible zoning without communicating fully what the project will look like.

“[IDZ] has stimulated growth and interest in inner city parcels. It has also stressed neighborhoods with density, lack of parking and visual concern over minimal setbacks,” stated Treviño and former Councilman Cris Medina (D7) in the CCR. “These developments are in fact changing the characteristics of inner city neighborhood aesthetics and ambiance, and at times with a negative effect.”

Developers who might disagree with the proposed changes will have a chance to provide input during reviews by the Zoning Commission and the Council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee.

Changes will then go before the full Council for discussion and a vote.

“When somebody applies for an IDZ zoning change … the information that is provided [by developers] is incredibly limited,” Treviño told the Rivard Report. “What we’re asking for is more information so we can have a better understanding [of the project].

“This is not an onerous request,” he added, “rather it’s more about asking for a real partnership.”

Other initiatives discussed Wednesday included Saldaña’s call for an analysis on using asphalt versus concrete on City streets; Treviño’s calls for proactive inspections of senior citizen housing facilities to help prevent fires, bed bugs, and other health hazards; and a stricter burden of proof of financial hardship for owners of historic homes who are seeking demolition permits.

It was not their intent to make this the “Saldaña and Treviño show today,” Saldaña said, but it so happened that the two councilmen’s CCRs were ready for discussion during the same meeting.

Click here to download the Governance Committee’s agenda, which includes a list of the items discussed Wednesday.

Water Wise

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) gave her colleagues reusable, insulated, leak-free water bottles during Council’s meeting Wednesday. The City will no longer provide bottled water during meetings; instead, Council members will drink tap water.

“Drinking water is key to a healthy lifestyle. We want Council to stay hydrated in a way that doesn’t waste tax dollars on something we can get from the tap,” Sandoval stated in a news release. “We also want to make it easy to make the right choice. Having glassware on hand and a bottle you can carry with you makes it easier to do the right thing.”

Sandoval suggested the switch to the more environmentally friendly policy during a budget discussion last month.

The average American recycled only 23% of plastic water bottles in 2016, according to the “Ban the Bottle” campaign.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...