On Tuesday, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) sat down with Arts and Culture Reporter Nicholas Frank of the San Antonio Report for the second in a series of Conversations with the Council.
The livestreamed event followed Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick’s conversation with Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) on Aug. 18.
Treviño entered his third term in office in May 2019, one year prior to the city being mired in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic and scrambling to respond with adequate resources. With other goals temporarily set aside, the councilman addressed issues pertinent to the pandemic and the simultaneous Black Lives Matter movement that has brought multiple protests to his district.
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Among questions about the city’s deepening homelessness crisis, defunding the San Antonio Police Department, and pandemic-related arts and culture funding cuts, Treviño focused repeatedly on a $62 million outlay of the City budget to be directed toward workforce development to help the city recover economically.
“That money’s available, and it’s parked in a bank account when people need it” to deal with economic damage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Treviño called for the Mayor and fellow Council members to divert part of that money from the City’s general fund to go to housing assistance, arts funding, and to City services such as the 311 telephone resource.
In explaining what calls to “defund the police” might actually mean for reallocating City funds, Treviño echoed comments by Police Chief William McManus and others that police are asked to do too much.
“We depend on the police to be everything to us in society,” he said. “People know 911 very well, we call that for just about any issue. But they don’t know 311,” which he called “the apparatus of the city.”
The 311 line can help with practical issues such as broken streetlights and potholes, as well as be potentially directed toward sharing some of the social service burdens currently placed on the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD). “But we don’t fund 311, where we fund 911,” he said.
Defunding the police “means that understanding what our problems are, and putting our limited resources – because they really are limited resources – to actually create solutions.”
As an example, Treviño lauded a July effort by the Department of Human Services to help a growing population of more than 120 homeless people in a downtown encampment.
“We tackled it through social services. We went in there and we tried to meet people where they need help,” he said, without requiring SAPD help. “On top of that it allowed them to go address crime that might be happening in the area.”
Responding to a question from an audience member about how to attract new business to San Antonio as the city recovers from the pandemic, Treviño again addressed the $62 million dedicated solely to workforce development. Some of that money should be used instead to retain the small businesses the city already has, some of which are in danger of closing due to lost business during the city’s shutdown period.
“Let’s not park any money, not in an emergency,” he said pointedly. “In fact, I’ve made a call for utilizing some of our emergency funds, which are in excess of $200 million, to help those [businesses] to keep their doors open.”
Federal funding has been helpful, he said, “But there’s more we can do, especially for small businesses.”
The next San Antonio Report Conversations with the Council event, Sept. 17 at 4 p.m., will feature Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) in conversation with reporter Jackie Wang.