Though City Council members split over proposed linear greenway trails funding in the 2022 bond at a Wednesday meeting, they ultimately kept city staff’s recommendation of $110 million.

The meeting was held after council members Teri Castillo (D5), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10) requested a special meeting after highlighting proposed bond funding for the city’s greenway trail system.

Those three, along with Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) and Ana Sandoval (D7), urged their colleagues to consider moving money from the trail system to bolster the streets and drainage bonds.

“We do want to continue to fund the linear greenway system,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “But what is going to help us during periods of climate change and during this time of uncertainty? And I really think my constituency would be supportive of streets and drainage.”

McKee-Rodriguez was one of a majority of council members who objected to how much money city staff originally dedicated to “citywide projects” in the $1.2 billion bond, arguing that their districts needed more investment in basic infrastructure improvements, specifically streets and drainage.

In response, city staff increased recommended funding for district-specific projects by $40.5 million, reduced citywide project investment from $129 million to $98 million, and increased overall infrastructure funding from $600 million to $641 million.

Voters will see six bond propositions on the May ballot.

Courtesy of the City of San Antonio

Staff originally proposed putting $126 million toward greenway trails, but changed that to $110 million last week while making adjustments to their original recommendations.

Two council members attempted to reduce trails funding during Wednesday’s meeting. Castillo offered an amendment to cut $60 million from the trails projects and put them toward basic infrastructure. When that failed, McKee-Rodriguez suggested cutting $30 million. Both amendments failed 5-6, with Castillo, McKee-Rodriguez, Sandoval, Courage, and Perry voting in favor.

Of the $60 million she sought to remove from the greenway trails funding, Castillo wanted to transfer $40 million into the streets bond and $20 million into the drainage bond. Her residents should not have to wait for better infrastructure, she argued, especially as school-age children end up wet and muddy from flooded roads while walking to school. She chafed at a claim from Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) that creekway projects also helped improve drainage.

Council Member Teri Castillo (D5) proposes an amendment during a City Council meeting about 2022 bond spending on Wednesday.
Council Member Teri Castillo (D5) proposed an amendment that would have moved $60 million from greenway trails to streets and drainage on Wednesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

“To pitch this to my community as something that takes precedence over drainage, streets, and sidewalks is extremely out of touch,” she said. “And I encourage you all to come out of your gated communities and into District 5 to see what our communities have to deal with on the day to day, how we’re limited on funding and we only have one vehicle so when it goes out of alignment we’re out of luck.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the proposed amendment to add $20 million to drainage would only address 0.6% of the $3.1 billion in the city’s drainage needs, while removing $60 million from the trails funding proposal would cut that citywide project in half. He acknowledged the city’s history of uneven infrastructure investment but said that only focusing on infrastructure with the bond would be “chasing the inequities that we’ve had for generations.”

“To suggest in one bond cycle we’re going to change the history of the city is false expectations and we should get that out of the way right now,” he said.

The 2022 bond marks a record for San Antonio. The 2017 bond was $850 million, a previous high. San Antonio also approved a charter amendment in May allowing the city to dedicate bond dollars to affordable housing efforts, and $150 million of the 2022 bond is currently set to be directed toward affordable housing projects.

Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3), one of the council members who supported city staff’s bond recommendations, said the only way she would support any change would be if the housing bond increased. City staff originally said the housing bond would be $250 million, but later reduced their recommendation by $100 million.

“I don’t want to move money around from parks,” she said. “I want to take it to the committees and let them have a conversation.”

Citizen bond committees begin meeting Wednesday. Each of the five committees will have four meetings, except for the housing committee, which will meet three times.

Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) chimed in to say her constituents have asked for trailway system construction to continue and pointed out that it would serve as a means for transportation for people who commute by bike.

“We continue to talk about fair housing and eliminating poverty,” she said. “But the truth is if people cannot get to their jobs or get to higher-paying jobs by different modes of transportation, including biking to work, we will not get where we need to close this gap.”

Though Courage supported the two amendments put forward Wednesday, he ultimately joined the six council members who supported the city staff’s recommendations. McKee-Rodriguez, Castillo, and Perry all voted against. Sandoval abstained.

“I’m not the kind of guy who, if I’m losing, I want to take my football and go home,” Courage said. “So I’m going to be voting to support the final decision that the council has approved and we will all move forward and try to work together.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.