Development, street improvements, crime, animal control, and protecting longtime residents from gentrification topped the list of concerns Eastside residents shared with Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2) at a community forum Tuesday night.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, Shaw said, so the key is for the community to get engaged and take action now to build a better future.

A crowd of about 50 people gathered at Alamo Beer Company for the Rivard Report‘s Conversation with the Council series, moderated by Editor-in-Chief Beth Frerking.

Increased investment in District 2 is beneficial, but it comes with unintended consequences, said Shaw, an attorney and first-time council member who won his seat by defeating incumbent Alan Warrick in the June 10 runoff.

“Smart development will benefit both sides – the development as well as the community,” Shaw said, but for that to happen, constructive dialogue among stakeholders needs to take place early on.

“‘Have you spoken to the neighborhood associations?’” should be the first question that precedes any new development, he added, acknowledging that many residents feel left behind, carrying the burden of rising taxes. “There needs to be community buy-in.”

The historic Hays Street Bridge runs the risk of becoming another tourist attraction, said Ruben Martinez, who lives in a neighboring district and frequents the bridge with his children. It should remain a “treasure for residents to enjoy … Let’s not sell it off,” he said.

The bridge will always be accessible to the public, Shaw said, but development is likely coming soon. A proposed 149-unit apartment complex with ground floor retail will be up for review by the Historic Design and Review Commission on Dec. 6.

The speed of development has been a great lesson, Shaw added, and City Council must work to improve the language and the process of informing residents going forward.

The Martinez family walks towards Hays Street Bridge.
The Martinez family walks towards Hays Street Bridge. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Shaw said he and his Council colleagues have worked to protect longtime residents and prevent government and developer overreach by providing owner-occupied rehab and other creative solutions. “Council takes this very seriously,” he said.

But Council can only do so much when the community does not make its voice heard, Shaw added.

Residents must vote, get involved with neighborhood associations, and hold their Council members accountable in order to create and maintain communication on pressing issues such as crime, food deserts, health inequities, and animal control.

The latter is a resource, culture, and economic issue, Shaw said. He is working with Animal Care Services to improve education, efficiency in services, and District 2’s representation on the department’s advisory board.

The Eastside consistently receives the lowest marks on street scores, said Giles Gonnsen, an Air Force officer who recently purchased a house in Denver Heights.

Many street infrastructure deficiencies will soon be addressed as part of the 2017 bond and the 2018 City budget, Shaw said, noting that the budget is the first to use an equity lens to prioritize historically neglected areas like District 2.

Three parks in the district will be redeveloped to offer the district’s children better opportunities in the future, he said. “Your zip code should not determine your success.”

The next Conversations with the Council event will feature Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) and take place Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Northeast Service Center. For more information, click here.

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 we’ll host Councilman John Courage (D9) at Weathered Souls Brewing Co.

Before moving to San Antonio in 2004, Hanna was a competitive rhythmic gymnast in her native Austria. She earned degrees from St. Mary’s University and the Texas State Graduate College before joining...