San Antonio elected officials and business leaders formally launched a campaign on Tuesday to convince voters to approve the $1.2 billion municipal bond they’ll see on their ballots May 7.
The five-year bond program, which uses debt to finance large infrastructure projects without increasing taxes, was approved by City Council last month and is the largest in the city’s history.
“It’s going to take a lot more effort to get folks out there to vote,” said political fundraiser Norma Denham, who is working on the bond campaign.
A political action committee, Build SA PAC, has been formed to run the campaign, which aims to raise $750,000 to reach voters across the city, said Build SA PAC campaign manager Bert Santibañez.
Both Denham and Santibañez also work for Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s 2023 re-election campaign.
The political action committee is necessary because the city and its employees cannot engage in campaign activities, even for a bond election. The city can provide factual information, and elected officials and city employees can campaign on their own time as long as they don’t use government resources.
The campaign to approve the 2017-2022 bond, OneSA, raised more than $1 million, but Santibañez said this bond will likely be an easier sell to voters because it lacks controversial big-ticket “legacy projects.”
In 2017, that included $43 million to redevelop Broadway Street (which has been effectively paused due to state action), $26 million for Hemisfair and $13 million for the land bridge at Hardberger Park, each of which faced some opposition.
Still, that $850 million bond program passed easily with voter approval of more than 67% for each proposition.
The 2022-2027 bond focuses far more on infrastructure projects, which Nirenberg acknowledged may not be terribly exciting to some voters.
“For most people, I realize, the word infrastructure makes your eyes glaze over, but hear me out,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the launch event in Woodlawn Lake Park, which could receive more than $2 million in park renovations as part of the bond. “We take infrastructure for granted — until one day your dog wakes up at 5 a.m. to let you know that the power went out.”
Infrastructure is what allows cities and people to function, Nirenberg said. “Just like a house, you have to care for the foundation, insulation, the wiring, the plumbing.”
With this bond, “We’re taking care of San Antonio,” he said, echoing the campaign’s slogan.
San Antonio voters will see six bond propositions on their ballots for streets, drainage and flood control, parks, library and cultural facilities, public safety facilities and affordable housing. The bond includes:
- Proposition A: $472 million for 62 street, bridges, and sidewalk improvement projects;
- Proposition B: $170 million for 23 drainage and flood control improvement projects;
- Propocition C: $272 million for 82 parks, recreation and open space improvement projects;
- Prposition D: $58 million for nine library and cultural facility projects;
- Proposition E: $78 million for nine public safety facility projects; and
- Proposition F: $150 million for five housing priority funding categories.
Voters can expect to see “Taking care of SA” ads on television, social media and in their mailboxes ahead of the election, Santibañez said.
More than 60% of proposed bond funding is slated for district-level projects after City Council last year indicated a need for funding to more directly impact neighborhoods.
Some residents have been fighting for decades to get drainage projects in their community, said Brandon Logan, CEO of Urban Capital Partners and a tri-chair of the bond, “so when it rains, they don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to lose their personal property … to a storm.”
Infrastructure is a particularly big issue in District 5, which includes the historically neglected West Side, Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) told the San Antonio Report after the event.
The 2017 bond included no drainage projects in District 5, Castillo noted, but “through the public participation process, we secured two drainage projects“ in the 2022 bond.
Jamie Kowalski, vice president of corporate relations for San Antonio-based RK Group who serves as a bond tri-chair, called on business leaders to back the bond because infrastructure projects — especially parks — allow the city to attract and retain workers and customers.
“We’ve got to be ahead of the curve,” she said. Streets, bridges and sidewalks connect residents to “where they want to live and work and play.”