On Thursday, City Council honored this year’s Rey Feo, wished Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) a happy birthday, and marked the last regular City Council meeting for four of its members.
Viagran and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) have both served the maximum four two-year terms, while Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) both lost runoff elections on Saturday. Though all four will be present at the inauguration of their successors next Tuesday, they took the time to thank their staff and colleagues Thursday.
Andrews-Sullivan, who is completing a single two-year term, thanked the residents of District 2 for allowing her to represent them.
“I look forward to what each and every last one of my council colleagues and our mayor will do for the city of San Antonio,” she said. “Thank you for allowing me to serve you during this hardest time that we’ve ever seen, ever gone through.”
Treviño, who had been the District 1 representative for three terms, kept his remarks short, addressing his staff at the end of Thursday’s meeting.
“I am reminded of a saying that goes, ‘The only thing that is not worthless is to live a life that’s truthful and rightful,’” he said. “And … you guys have shown that to be true. I will miss you guys.”
On Thursday, the two termed-out council members each had the opportunity to champion one last item.
Gonzales expressed her gratitude to her fellow council members Thursday for supporting a new scholarship she helped start at St. Mary’s University in honor of Choco Gonzalez Meza, a longtime political activist and Democratic organizer who died in 2016. With help from the offices of the mayor and Districts 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10, the City of San Antonio is providing $50,000 to St. Mary’s for the scholarship. Councilman John Courage (D9) pledged to commit funding from his office as well, but explained he had to wait until after runoff elections to do so.
The scholarship, which will go to students studying political science, helps cement Meza’s legacy not only as a fixture of the local political scene but also as a leader in the charge for single-member district representation.
“Rosie [Castro] and Choco and Al Kauffman … they created the 10-plus-one single member district representation we see today,” Gonzales said. “Every woman on this dais, every Latino on this dais, owes a debt of gratitude to Choco and St. Mary’s University for leading the charge.”
Meza served as Gonzales’ chief of staff, and the councilwoman acknowledged Meza’s family who attended Thursday’s meeting, including her husband Daniel Meza, who works for Gonzales, and daughter Ivalis Gonzalez Meza, who is Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s chief of staff.
“Daniel Meza lived in the Collins Gardens area all his life and worked with COPS Metro,” she said. “His parents worked in COPS Metro when they first started in the 1970s. It’s just an incredible family’s legacy and so fitting that we provide this scholarship fund because I feel like in all these years, the story hasn’t really been told about why single member districts are so important … because we know that representation matters.”
Nirenberg joined other council members in thanking Gonzales for starting the scholarship in Meza’s name as well as for her time on Council.
“Let me just say, Councilmember Gonzales, over the last eight years I’ve grown more and more inspired by you every single day,” he said. “We have not always agreed on everything, but the level of openness and clarity that you bring to this dais I’m going to miss tremendously.”
Viagran made her last mark as councilwoman by blocking some street name changes in her district. The World Heritage Office had proposed changing street names in eight spots near the missions, including changing part of “Mission Road” to “Roosevelt Park Drive” and “Napier Avenue” to “Mission Road,” to make the missions easier to find, said Colleen Swain, director of the World Heritage Office in San Antonio.
The 2017 bond allocated $5 million for signage and wayfinding on the World Heritage Trail and by changing some street names along the trail, the World Heritage Office hoped “to create a more contiguous Mission Row,” Swain said.
While four of the eight proposed name changes were approved Thursday, Viagran took the rest off the table: Napier Avenue between Roosevelt Drive and Padre Drive, Mission Road between Southeast Military Drive and Napier Avenue, Padre Drive between Napier Avenue and Southeast Military Drive, and Villamain Road between Graf Road and Shane Road will stay as they are.
See a map of the proposed street name changes here.
Council was scheduled to vote on the proposed changes last month, but after Mission San Jose Neighborhood Association leaders shared concerns with Viagran, she asked to postpone action. Association President Theresa Ybañez and Vice President Brenda Pacheco both praised the outgoing councilwoman for her willingness to listen to their concerns.
“At the beginning [of Viagran’s tenure], there were some issues,” Ybañez said. “We didn’t always agree. I think she has become a better leader, she’s become an expert on the World Heritage designation and what it requires from the community to get involved.”
Pacheco agreed, and added that Viagran needed full four terms to become the leader she is today.
“Although she has a degree in public administration, this is the real education,” Pacheco said, gesturing to the City Council chambers.
Nirenberg also commended Viagran for her guidance in District 3 over the past eight years. They were sworn in for their first terms at the same time, though Nirenberg left his District 8 seat to run for mayor before hitting his term limit.
“I’ve come to deeply respect Rebecca’s work over the last eight years that we’ve been in Council together and how under her leadership, the South Side has risen to become the center of gravity for future economic development in the city,” he said. “That’s where you can see the future of what the city will become.”
This story has been updated to clarify that it is Choco Meza’s husband who works in Shirley Gonzales’ council office.