(From left) Former councilmen Art Hall (D2) and Rey Saldaña (D4)
(From left) Former Councilmen Art Hall (D2) and Rey Saldaña (D4) Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A City Council subcommittee may soon consider a request to provide former mayors and term-limited former Council members free parking at City facilities anywhere within San Antonio’s boundaries.

It was the last council consideration request (CCR) filed by Councilmen Art Hall (D2) and Rey Saldaña (D4) before they left office. Current Councilmen Roberto Treviño (D1), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10) also added their support.

“Even after their terms in office, this service and sacrifice often continue and these former Council members often serve as ambassadors for the city in varying capacities in education, transportation, community development, etc,” reads the CCR co-signed by Hall and Saldaña, both of whom would be eligible for the parking pass because each served the maximum terms in office.

While in office, mayors and Council members are allowed to park in loading and commercial zones and for free in City parking spots.

There aren’t many perks that come with the job, Hall said, but free and easy parking is the one Hall missed the most after serving as District 8 councilman from 2003 to 2007. At the time, Council was limited to serving two terms of two years each. In 2008, Council doubled the term limits to four two-year terms.

Hall was appointed by Council to serve as the interim District 2 Council member from January to June this year after William Cruz Shaw left the seat to become an associate judge.

The CCR calls for a rule that would apply to former Council members under the then-existing term limits in the City Charter.

Saldaña, who now works for Raise Your Hand Texas and is chair of VIA Metropolitan Transit, said he likely wouldn’t have much use for such a pass.

“I’m fine with a bus pass and my bike,” said Saldaña, a longtime advocate for alternative forms of transportation.

Hall said he mostly wanted to have a way to “recognize [former] Council members for their service, many of whom are going to continue to go on to represent San Antonio in so many ways.”

It would cost the City almost nothing, he said, since it would only apply to Council members that serve the maximum allowed terms.

Voters approved a pay raise for City Council members and the mayor in 2015. Until then, they were paid $20 per meeting and the mayor received that plus a $3,000 annual stipend. Now Council members are paid $45,722 per year, the area’s average median income; the mayor gets $61,725. (Bexar County commissioners make $122,567 and the County judge makes $166,830.)

Other perks include some free meals at luncheons and other events, Hall said, and privileges such as prominent placement at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. March. It’s nothing like the pension plans, health care plans, and access to amenities that state and national legislators get, Hall said.

“You know what’s better than a pension for life? Our parking passes,” Saldaña said, remembering the joke that started a conversation more than a month ago that likely ended up with his and Hall’s CCR.

“I thought it was a joke,” said Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), because Council has joked about it.

But she would support the measure, Gonzales said. “We have given a lot to the city – we have forgone wages in the private sector. … [Free parking] is just a simple token.”

However, she added, “I think we all recognize that as we get into a much more multimodal society, we have to eliminate free parking.”

Councilwoman Adrian Rocha Garcia (D4), who was elected in June, said she is wary of the idea.

“A lot of people go on to have positions close to the City … or become lobbyists,” she said. “I think they can and should pay for any City service – including parking.”

Giving them free parking, she said, “wouldn’t be something that looks good in the eyes of taxpayers.”

Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) agreed.

“I certainly value the service and sacrifice made by public servants who devote so much of their time to our community,” Havrda said. “However, I believe extending a benefit in perpetuity is unnecessary. Free lifetime parking is not a benefit that is extended to our neighborhood volunteers who attend public meetings in service to our communities.”

When he was first elected in 2017, Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) thought it was a “goofy perk,” he said, “but it turns out it’s quite convenient and necessary.”

Going in and out of events back to back – especially downtown – can add up and parking can be hard to find, Pelaez said. While they can’t park in “no parking” areas like fire zones, Council members can park in loading and commercial zones, he noted.

“Former elected officials are still called upon to serve,” he said, such as groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, boards and commissions, and speak at other events.

Compared to the expensive benefits afforded to state and federal legislators, he said, this is small potatoes. “If anybody has a problem with a former Council member having a parking space …. then I’m willing to fight that fight any day.”

Hall, an attorney and investor, said this issue won’t make or break his legacy as a Council member.

“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, no worries,” he said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg could not be reached for comment on Monday, but the issue will likely come up at a future Governance Committee meeting after Council’s July break from regularly scheduled meetings.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org