As someone with a master’s degree in public health, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) has had “a lot of emotions” watching the coronavirus pandemic unfold from her City Council seat.
“When I went to get that degree, it was certainly not because I ever thought that I’d be a council member at the time,” she said. “And I never thought that … we would be in this situation where we are today, right, with this pandemic. So I would say there’s sort of … a macabre thrill, right, to be in this position at this time. But the nerd side of me feels that. But there’s also a tremendous amount of angst, because you understand a little bit more some of that science.”
Sandoval joined Senior Reporter Brendan Gibbons for a livestreamed conversation Tuesday as part of the San Antonio Report’s Conversations with the Council series. Sandoval, who is serving her second term as the District 7 councilwoman, acknowledged the sometimes-conflicting messages from state-level and federal-level officials when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. But that simply puts more responsibility on local government representatives to ask the right questions when it comes to setting health policy, she said.
“I think there’s just an epic amount of confusion when it comes to health policy,” she said. “And there are some members of the council who really don’t want to politicize it any more than it already is. And I think that’s very important. We don’t want to come across as politicizing people’s health; we want to come across as protecting their health. But I believe that means rolling up our sleeves a little bit more and understanding a little bit more what these health policies are.”
Sandoval said she wished there had been more investment in public health ahead of the pandemic. And, if she could “go back in time,” she would advocate for more transparency in the early days of the pandemic when local leaders were deciding how to respond.
“We had decisions or recommendations coming from City staff that were going to the mayor, and because we’re in a state of emergency, the mayor can basically make emergency declarations,” she said. “He did, early on, discuss some of those with the council members, but he’s not obligated to do that based on state law and our charter. And the health department was making those decisions internally, and there wasn’t really a window into ‘OK, what other options were weighed?’’’
She also pointed to the connection between San Antonio’s uninsured population and the high rate of preexisting conditions that put people who have contracted the novel coronavirus at higher risk of complications or death.
“San Antonio is a community of preexisting conditions,” she said. “We have some of the highest rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease. … Those are then major issues contributing to that.”
Sandoval, who also holds a degree in civil and environmental engineering, reminded viewers that City Council supported the Paris Climate Accord in 2017. There is a responsibility still at the local level to combat climate change, as well as some solutions to reducing carbon emissions, she said.
“Particularly in the case of San Antonio, that has the largest municipally-owned utility across the U.S., the potential for us to reduce our carbon footprint is in our own hands,” she said.
The questions raised by people behind the ‘Recall CPS’ petition, which pushes to put CPS Energy control in the hands of City Council, are valid, she said. For example, what happens if CPS Energy stops using coal for power? CPS said it will impact affordability “tremendously,” Sandoval said. But that doesn’t mean CPS can stop thinking about how to provide energy in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the climate.
“At the end of the day, whatever happens with the petition … let’s put that aside,” she said. “What I think is important is that we’re able to have an honest, good-faith conversation between those of us who want to reduce carbon usage and all the other interests that CPS has to meet. I certainly don’t want to see CPS dissolved or go away. They’re incredibly important for our community. But I think there are some crucial conversations that we need to have and I know that [CPS President and CEO] Paula Gold-Williams is working on that.”