Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte stressed the importance of environmental initiatives and the Vista Ridge pipeline, while Mayor Ivy Taylor pushed for multi-purpose infrastructure throughout the region Monday night as the mayoral candidates continued to keep their distance from each other – physically and philosophically – before the June 13 runoff election.
The candidates were never in the room at the same time, but each presented strong opinions as to the best solutions for the city’s environmental issues. Nearly 100 residents attended both hour-long sessions held by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) at Trinity University.
Van de Putte promised that if elected she would make sure that the Vista Ridge pipeline project was completed successfully and that it would not be used to “loosen restrictions” concerning the development of the Edwards Aquifer.
City Council unanimously approved the $3.4 billion Vista Ridge contract in October 2014. The 30-year pipeline and water purchase deal will add 50,000 acre-feet of water to the city’s supply from Burleson County/Carrizo Aquifer each year starting in 2020.
“We’ve worked way too hard to protect that aquifer,” Van de Putte said. “It’s way too precious a resource, both geologically and because of our dependence on it.”
Van de Putte said she would like an outside consultant to look over the project in conjunction with San Antonio Water System to ensure the success and timeliness of the pipeline.
She went on to mention other U.S. cities like Houston and countries like Mexico who were already running programs and initiatives to lower greenhouse emissions and improve quality of air and water.
Van de Putte cited her background as a pharmacist as her approach to healthy partnerships and city expansion in San Antonio.
“I believe we find health through wellness and prevention,” she said. “I know right now we are making this about the costs of neighborhood after neighborhood.”
Van de Putte argued that the neighborhoods would only grow successfully if a public health expert was appointed to the Zoning Commission.
“I think we should have healthcare in our city planning and zoning planning,” Van de Putte said. “We need to have walkable communities and subdivisions, not places designed to fit more cars.”
During the second portion of the program, Mayor Taylor emphasized her city planning background, touching on environmental issues like water, the possibility of rail transportation, and the need for smarter infrastructure.
Taylor spoke about the SA Tomorrow planning process she initiated in late 2014, the first major comprehensive city plan since the 1970s. Taylor hinted that she would be open to a future rail system in San Antonio, although she recently dismissed the unpopular streetcar rail project.
“For us to have a plan that’s successful, it’s got to be relevant to people,” Taylor said. The SA Tomorrow program has already begun collecting ideas and feedback from residents through local events, surveys, and free activities throughout the city.
When a concerned resident asked about the rising water costs for seniors and lower-income residents, Taylor promised to look for possible initiatives and programs to give them a fair deal but stressed the importance of improving the quality of the water and water infrastructure.
“I think it’s an inevitability that the cost will continue to rise,” Taylor said. “A lot of the cost that we’re paying for is the result of deferred maintenance over the years, and trying to keep up with the EPA decree.”
To avoid federal litigation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), SAWS agreed in June 2013 to invest $492 million in its sewer system – focusing on sewer spills – over the next 10-12 years.
When asked about the recent floods throughout Texas, Taylor stated that the best way to fight against natural disaster was intelligent infrastructure and new technology.
“We have a great opportunity coming up with the 2017 bond that will likely be spending $500 million or more on infrastructure and that’s a great chance for us to be creative,” Taylor added.
Taylor pointed out that San Antonio had approached building the same way for a long time, but low impact techniques could help improve life and safety in the region.
“Both of the candidates seem to have a pretty good grasp of the environmental issues facing San Antonio like the ozone problem and water issues, and the EDF looks forward to working with either one of them in the future,” Colin Leyden, an EDF senior manager said.
Moderator Peter Bella, the executive director of Texans for Responsible Energy Development was pleased by the engagement levels from both the audience and the candidates throughout the session.
“Whatever way you want to look at it, and whoever wins, San Antonio wins,” Bella added.
On Wednesday, June 3, the candidates will meet at WOAI News Radio (1200 AM) for what is expected to be the last debate at 9 a.m. that will broadcast live with host Jim Forsyth.
*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor discusses her policies on San Antonio’s water and air issues with moderator Peter Bella. Photo by Lea Thompson.