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Climate activists are ending their charter amendment petition drive, falling approximately 6,000 signatures short of their 20,000-signature goal, organizers said Wednesday.

Members of the Recall CPS coalition who had sought to reform San Antonio’s municipally owned electric and gas utility spoke to reporters about the end of their petition drive during a Wednesday videoconference. The Recall CPS petition had sought to remove the utility’s independent board and place it under direct City Council oversight and set a 2030 retirement date for the utility’s remaining coal plants, among other items.

Activists said they collected roughly 14,000 signatures from San Antonio voters. However, organizers would have needed to submit 20,000 signatures that the city clerk would have had to verify.

City rules require the city clerk to have 20 business days to count the signatures with 72 hours of cushion time for the petition to be put on a City Council agenda for Feb. 12, the latest date City Council could use to set the May ballot. By the San Antonio Report’s count, that means the deadline for signatures passed on Tuesday.

Recall CPS leaders cited the difficulty of in-person organizing during the coronavirus pandemic, opposition from local business groups, and a recent ruling in a Travis County court that strengthened CPS Energy’s legal position.

“It’s history-making to come together in a pandemic and bring 14,000 voices to CPS Energy,” said Anacua Garcia, policy organizer with Southwest Workers Union. “For them to … ignore us and take us to court silently, it says a lot, and it speaks to the heart of why we are petitioning and why we will continue to find a pathway to get these demands we are asking for.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg reacted to the news by calling for a sense of “mutual purpose” between CPS Energy and climate activists.

“I do hope that this is an opportunity for people to come back together to the table and achieve some mutual goals,” Nirenberg said. “We need that.”

Meanwhile, a separate charter amendment petition campaign targeting the San Antonio Water System is still in play.

At a press conference Tuesday, SAWS Accountability Act organizers did not reveal how many signatures they collected, though they said they plan to continue gathering more signatures and fighting SAWS in court. Organizers with SAWS Act campaign believe they have not missed their deadline, and they plan to continue gathering signatures at least into next week.

Both utility petition campaigns have lagged compared to Fix SAPD, a police reform movement that submitted more 20,000 signed petitions to the city clerk on Jan. 8.

CPS Energy officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

Richard Perez, CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which heads the NoPetitionSA campaign to oppose the charter amendments, said the “outcome is the right direction for our city, our county, and the region.”

“The fact that the petition efforts yielded 14,000 signatures is an indication that many San Antonians are engaged and interested in what happens in the City,” Perez said in a prepared statement Wednesday, adding that “there is no question that our public utilities are well run and that their governance structures are made up of San Antonio citizens who have the best interests of our entire community in mind when they make decisions.”

The Recall CPS coalition – made up mainly of Public Citizen, Southwest Workers Union, MOVE Texas, Texas Rising, Texas Organizing Project, and the local chapter of the Sierra Club – grew out of activism around San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

The climate plan called for San Antonio to effectively abandon fossil fuels by 2050, and its passage in October 2019 strengthened activists’ efforts to have San Antonio’s utility set firm date to close its remaining coal-fired power plants, among other reforms.

Activists vowed to keep their momentum going and channel their efforts into different campaigns. One example might come this week, with some saying during the call that they plan to advocate against the confirmation of CPS Energy Chair John Steen to another term on the utility’s board of trustees. City Council is scheduled to vote on Steen’s confirmation on Thursday.

“We’ve had this conversation with 14,000 people,” said Aaron Arguello, San Antonio advocacy organizer with MOVE Texas. “If they were unaware with the issues surrounding CPS [Energy], they are now aware and brought into the fight.”

CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.