District 7 City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval highlighted budget equity, gentrification, and San Antonio’s commitment to public health at a forum Monday night at St. Mary’s University.
Sandoval said the City’s use of a so-called equity lens for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget helps – to an extent – to increase funding for streets, drainage, parks, and public safety in District 7. But more work is needed to address those basics, she said, as well as to offer more affordable quality housing. She was interviewed by Rivard Report Publisher Robert Rivard at the seventh of 10 “Conversations with the Council,” a series of moderated discussions with all the City Council district representatives.
Sandoval also discussed her continuing efforts to raise the level of discourse about how the local environment affects people’s physical health and quality of life, citing critical health issues such as San Antonio’s high rate of hospitalizations of children with asthma.
Before an audience of more than 75 people, Sandoval, who grew up in District 7, recalled returning to San Antonio after earning degrees from three of the nation’s top universities – MIT, Stanford, and Harvard – and after working on air quality and public health issues in San Francisco.
The Jefferson High School graduate said she was struck upon her return home by how San Antonio had evolved and thrived in some areas, but how her own neighborhood still had not fully reaped the benefits of the City’s economic growth.
“We’re not a huge economic generator. We don’t have huge employment centers,” Sandoval said of District 7. “In fact, [St. Mary’s Univeristy] is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, employment centers in District 7. There are streets I used to walk to school on that still don’t have sidewalks. They still don’t have curbs.”
Sandoval added that drainage problems in the area have worsened because of heavy rains in recent months and, to some extent, because of newer development.
“These are the problems I saw in District 7, but I also saw so much potential,” she said. “We have this wonderful university. This is where I come to study on weekends, in the quiet of the library. We have Woodlawn Lake. I see potential, but we also need a voice at the table.”
Sandoval said District 7 lags in updating and repairing its infrastructure. She explained the district is receiving only about $11 million from the $445.2 million that the City’s voter-approved 2017 bond has allocated toward streets, bridges, and sidewalks.
“That’s what we get calls about everyday,” Sandoval said of constituents’ complaints about infrastructure.
Sandoval said using the “equity lens” is not the perfect approach toward determining who gets what in a growing City, but it’s a start: “I’m glad to say we’re on a path to a different place, where the needs are going to be the priorities.”
Rivard raised another issue with Sandoval: How is District 7 handling gentrification in concert with preserving existing neighborhoods and their cultural heritage?
Sandoval described that balancing act as a “bit of a struggle right now.” But she added maintaining strong communications between the City and residents and grassroots organizations is key to welcoming newcomers to San Antonio’s urban core and protecting evolving neighborhoods.
“One of the things we have to work on at City Hall is improving our relationships with activists,” she said, regarding issues such as affordable housing and environmental quality.
“We don’t always necessarily have to be at odds. I think we have to have open discussions. People who want to save the Hays Street Bridge view, right? It should not have to be adversarial. We’re all working towards the same end.”
Another part of Monday’s discussion concentrated on Sandoval’s studies and work in public health. She said she studied chemical, civil, and environmental engineering as well as public health to explore how the environment impacts people’s health and how best to improve those health outcomes, especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.
“When you look at our community, we have some of the best hospitals in the country,” Sandoval said.
“But that doesn’t directly relate to the health outcomes that we have in our community,” she added. She referred to San Antonio’s high rates of infant mortality, amputations resulting from diabetic complications, and children hospitalized due to poor air quality.
“I didn’t feel, as an elected official, that I could say that health isn’t in our purview,” Sandoval said. “You vote for us. When you vote for a position as wide as a City Council position, you’re voting for someone to take your voice forward and to be your advocate.”
Several audience members questioned Sandoval about public health and the environment, with a few commending her for promoting those issues at City Hall.
Vanessa Rodriguez, an employee of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, thanked Sandoval for the collaboration that Metro Health has had with other City agencies and local health-related organizations.
“I think it’s important that we have really passionate community residents who get involved,” Sandoval responded. “It’s about education and the resources that are out there.”