Inside the District 1 Field Office, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) is sitting at a small conference table. Several desks around the room make the fire-station-turned-office feel snug. The councilman sits back in a mismatched chair looking relaxed.
Running for his fourth and final term, Treviño said he still feels he has work to do within his district, which encompasses all of downtown and includes neighborhoods such as King William and Southtown as it stretches up to Loop 410.
Should he win reelection on May 1, he will not be eligible to run for city council again due to term limits. In 2019, Treviño easily won reelection, grabbing almost 60 percent of the vote against a field of eight challengers. Treviño previously faced off a close race in 2017 when local attorney Michael Montaño took the sitting councilman to close runoff.
Facing five opponents this time, Treviño is being pushed hardest by Mario Bravo, a project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund. This isn’t Bravo’s first time to run for a local office. He previously ran in the 2018 Democratic primary for county commissioner of precinct 2 unsuccessfully.
“You know, the only contender I think I have is myself, and I … want to complete the good work [I’ve started], and I want to maintain focus on that,” Treviño said. “In the end, you know, the community gets to decide whether we’ve done the work or not.”
Mario Bravo, 45, has raised political funds on par with the councilman, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the city. They show that Treviño has pulled in $27,976 in total political contributions this year through March 22, while Bravo has raised roughly $22,089 in total political contributions. Treviño has vastly outspent Bravo at $46,444 in campaign spending compared to Bravo’s $11,319. Many of Bravo’s donors resided outside of San Antonio.
“I want to see our city run in a way in which the community’s voice is elevated in the decision making process,” Bravo told the San Antonio Report. “’I’m not raising money from lobbyists. I’m not raising money from people who profit off of decisions made at City Hall. I’m raising money from friends, family, and neighbors who know me and believe in me.”
The other candidates on the ballot are 45-year-old financial retirement coach Cyndi Dominguez, 23-year-old auditor Matthew Gauna, 69-year-old retiree Raymond Zavala, and 70-year-old attorney Lauro Bustamente.
A controversial redevelopment plan
During his six years on council, Treviño has made waves while spearheading some popular programs and initiatives. In 2016, the McAllen native started the city’s Under 1 Roof program. The program launched as a pilot program in District 1, soon expanding citywide under the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD). It has since been responsible for the repair of over 1,200 roofs in San Antonio.
Late last year, the City of San Antonio deployed a new citywide homeless outreach program based on a pilot program Trevino launched in District 1 in July. The program deploys specialized teams of clinicians and social work interns onto the streets and into homeless encampments to build relationships with unhoused people to connect them to services.
More controversial was his work on the $450 million Alamo redevelopment plan, in which he was deeply involved for six years as he represented the City of San Antonio and worked with the Texas General Land Office (GLO), and Alamo Trust, the site’s nonprofit steward.
Until recently, Treviño chaired the Alamo Management Committee and served as tri-chair for the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee. Last month Mayor Ron Nirenberg removed Treviño from both committees, citing the councilman’s hard line for moving the Alamo Cenotaph, a 1930s monument to Texas revolutionaries killed during the 1836 battle. The monument has been a political lightning rod, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calling for the monument to stay where it is and the Texas Historical Commission denying permission to move it.
Treviño had said that moving the Cenotaph was essential to creating a historic site that emphasizes the Alamo as a confluence of cultures, with European, Native American, Tejano, Mexican, and Black people all playing a role over the site’s 300-year history.
“[The Alamo is] in my district, so I’ll always be involved as a council member, sure,” Treviño said of the redevelopment. “The issue for me has been that the city should not be paying for improvements on property that is controlled by the state of Texas.”
In the upcoming election, Treviño has been a strong advocate in favor of Proposition B, an activist-led effort to repeal collective bargaining rights for local cops. Treviño is the only sitting council member who backs Prop B. Bravo said he is “neutral” on the matter.
Some of the key issues Treviño said he’d like to address during his final term include the homeless situation downtown, guiding the city’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and creating a renters’ commission.
“About 61,500 renters live in District 1,” he said. “The majority of District 1 are renters, except you’ll find that there’s very little protections for renters. This was highlighted during the pandemic.”
While Treviño said he doesn’t know what’s next for him after being a councilman, he isn’t ruling out pursuing other political offices just yet.
“My focus is solely on this particular job, and if I’m reelected I’ll have two more years to continue this work, which I hope I get to do, it gives me two years to think about what’s next,” Treviño said.
When asked if a run for mayor was in his future, Treviño smiled. “I’m not taking it off the table,” he said.
An emphasis on public utilities
While Bravo said he feels Treviño has been effective in some areas, he feels City Council as a whole needs an overhaul – and Treviño’s leadership “represents part of what needs to change.”
Bravo added that he would want to make his time in office about connecting with the community rather than pursuing side projects.
“I think he was very focused on his own plan for the Alamo and forgot about District 1,” Bravo said of Treviño. “And now he’s focused on his run for mayor. I’m going to be focused on representing District 1.”
Bravo is a former chair of CPS Energy’s Environmental Stakeholders Group, a collection of local environmental activists that meet quarterly with utility officials, and he would like to see CPS be more transparent.
“Roberto Treviño voted 140 times in a row over the last five years to CPS – ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ to approve everything they asked for,” Bravo said. “There’s no checks and balances there.”
Treviño pointed out that a lot of disagreement and hashing out of issues takes place behind the scenes.
“A lot of that happens with countless meetings that we have with the executives at CPS,” Treviño said. “I’ve had countless meetings with Paula Gold-Williams. We are constantly connected with folks at CPS to talk about their programs, to talk about ensuring that we’re not … putting pressure on our most vulnerable community members and so we talk regularly. I believe that a lot of those things get ironed out before we have to vote” in council meetings.
Bravo also disapproves of how Treviño has handled homelessness in District 1, stating Treviño is running a homeless service center in a residential neighborhood, “which is not the appropriate place for a homeless encampment or a homeless service center.”
He also criticized how Treviño has handled rising property values as chair of the Bexar County Appraisal District’s board of directors.
“There are a lot of people who have a lack of information in our community, and they don’t know that they can get a homestead exemption,” Bravo said. “They don’t know how to appeal their property valuation.”
If elected, Bravo said he would go into low-income zip codes directly and speak with individuals who are eligible for exemptions.
Bravo said he saw his past relationship with Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) as a strength rather than an issue. The two spent several years in a relationship before splitting up late last year. Bravo said should he win the District 1 seat, he would want to make it a habit to regularly sit down with other council members outside of a work environment.
“I already know [Sandoval’s] background, I already know her priorities, so I’m a step ahead there,” Bravo said.
“I think that we need jobs that are going to be competitive in the new global economy,” he said.
Criticism of an incumbent
At a virtual forum last week hosted by the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area each candidate was given 60 seconds to answer a question posed by a moderator. Issues discussed during the forum included climate change, homelessness, economic development, and education needs. Watch the full forum here.
During the forum, Dominguez and Zavala criticized Treviño for not putting District 1 residents first.
Treviño’s plans to address homelessness are not working, Dominguez said, bringing up the city’s ID recovery program, which helps low-income or homeless individuals get a drivers license or other forms of ID for free to no cost. Dominguez said the program doesn’t account for the fact many homeless people do “not want to be identified” and will try to purposely lose the IDs issued.
“I can tell you that the current councilman’s plan does not work, and it does not cause our neighborhoods to be safe,” she said.
Zavala took issue with Treviño’s involvement in the Alamo development plan, saying he doesn’t think Alamo Plaza needs to be changed.
“If something is working why fix it? So I am totally against the Alamo plan,” he said.
Absorbing the criticism that typically comes an incumbent’s way, Treviño sees himself as a problem solver, a trait that comes naturally from his professional background as an architect.
“I was told … I was the first architect on the city council,” Treviño said. “It’s not about the [structures], but rather the sort of the ideas of how to problem solve because architects refer to themselves as problem solvers.”
This article has been updated to clarify that Roberto Treviño favored moving the Cenotaph and to clarify the duration of the relationship between Mario Bravo and Ana Sandoval.