San Antonio’s redistricting committee revised its map once again Saturday, following last-minute pleas from the downtown business community to remain in District 1.

The new map was approved with unanimous support from the committee and will be presented to the City Council on Thursday. 

It would keep Precinct 2051 and most of 1001 in District 1, while restoring Cuellar Park to District 6. The Collins Garden Neighborhood Association would be in District 5.

“There was a good representation of businesses there and they were all shaking their heads in agreement that this was the right thing to do,” San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez said in an interview after the meeting.

Saturday’s meeting in the City Hall briefing room included testimonies from Perez, Centro San Antonio CEO Matt Brown, Weston Urban Development Manager David Robinson Jr., Frost Bank spokesman Bill Day and Bill Miller BBQ President and CEO Jim Guy Egbert — all of whom requested that the committee preserve a unified central business district and scrap its plan to move part of downtown from District 1 into District 5.

District 5 is represented by Councilwoman Teri Castillo, a housing organizer. Castillo did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting a comment Saturday. 

District 1 is represented by Councilman Mario Bravo, who said he’s been working to find common ground with the businesses in his downtown district. 

“I think a lot of people from the business community were probably really concerned that I was going to be too radical or anti-business, and I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised that I’m not,” said Bravo, who was elected in 2021.  

“I met with the [San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce] for a roundtable discussion yesterday and we weren’t aligned on everything, but we’re willing to work together and I’m willing to listen to them,” he added. 

Perez said the business community’s decision to lobby the redistricting committee was about consolidating their interests with a single member of the council, not about choosing one council member over the other. 

“That’s not the issue,” Perez said of working with Castillo instead of Bravo. “Let’s say 98% of your district is non-downtown. … Our fear was that we would be getting 2% of the time and effort and energy of that council member because 98% [of her district] was other things.” 

Council members each chose two community members to represent their districts on the committee, which has spent roughly six months trying to redistribute the city’s residents after the 2020 census showed the city had added roughly 100,000 residents. 

The committee believed it had finalized its map weeks ago, before residents from District 2 raised concerns about losing its piece of Brackenridge Park and the business community got involved over the splitting of downtown.

Last week the committee reversed its plan to consolidate Brackenridge Park into District 1, appeasing activists from District 2. This week the concerned businesses in District 1 (including H-E-B, which is headquartered in a precinct that was slated to move to District 5) also got their desired outcome of remaining in District 1.

That irritated some participants in the redistricting process, who showed up Saturday hoping to reopen their own concerns from earlier meetings.

“I don’t understand how businessmen, journalists [and] people in the community did not know what was happening,” said Cindy Munch, a Greater Harmony Hills resident whose request to keep her neighborhood in District 9 instead of District 1 was rejected. “I think you’re going to get tremendous support, and I’m very disappointed because of course we didn’t hear that from our district,” Munch said of the business leaders.

District 1 representative Jordan Ghawi said Saturday’s changes were the result of hours of behind-the-scenes discussions among representatives from districts 1, 5 and 6. 

“Even this morning… we were still communicating and negotiating,” said John Ybanez, a representative from District 6.

Their proposal was met with enthusiastic support from the committee, though one District 5 representative acknowledged some disappointment with the changes at the end of the meeting.

District 5 currently has the smallest population of the 10 districts, with 119,736 residents. Though it lost some of the residents it had expected to gain in Saturday’s changes, the new map has a deviation of 8.84% between the districts, meeting the legal requirement that districts be no more than 10% bigger or smaller than one another. 

“District 5 still needs to grow,” said Velma Pena, who represented that district on the committee. “I’m hoping that in the next 10 years [when redistricting could take place again], we will be looked at as equal and we’re able to get some of the areas that we actually need.”

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.