Monday marks the beginning of early voting for the Alamo City. Along with City Council and the Mayor, San Antonians will also cast ballots for two propositions and four charter amendments.
The first proposition authorizes the City of San Antonio to establish the “Edwards Aquifer Protection Venue Project,” “to acquire and preserve land or interests in land in the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones both inside and outside Bexar County,” and to also impose a 1/8 of a percent sales and use tax, earmarked for “parks development and expansion venue project,” of an amount not to exceed $100 million.
The second proposition is to authorize the aforementioned “Parks Development and Expansion Venue Project,” a city beautification project enabled by the first proposition to build hike-and-bike paths and develop city parks.
Voters approved similar measures in 2010, which created 46 miles of hike-and-bike trails. These measures have been hailed as “smart-and forward thinking measures that address water-security.” According to the San Antonio River Authority, that goal is tangentially achieved by building bike trails that, “create more walkable and accessible recreational venues in our city and highlighting the importance of our local waterways.” There are a number of ways that a government can address water security. Perhaps city officials have found the long anticipated “missing link” between bike trails and water resources that has evaded geologists for years.
Two of the charter amendments are particularly interesting. The first proposed amendment represents a major victory for activists in San Antonio simply by its presence on the ballot. Residents will recall a herculean petition drive back in 2014 to force the much maligned “Streetcar” project to be put to a public vote. We’ve covered this issue as it has developed previously. It was originally brought to a vote back in 2000, where it was overwhelmingly rejected by 70% of voters. Of course, no strangers to crony boondoggles, City of San Antonio and Bexar County officials have been maneuvering ever since in order to get their pet project started, including obfuscating funding sources and outright bullying bipartisan opposition.
Proposed Charter Amendment 1 would affirm that any project that uses public rights-of-way for a streetcar or light-rail project require voter approval before moving forward.
The second charter amendment on the ballot, as recommended by the charter commission, would provide pay raises for San Antonio City Council members. The ballot language quite softly states, “Shall the City Charter be amended to pay an annual salary of $45,722 to the members of the City Council (equal to the San Antonio area median household income), and pay a salary of $61,725 to the Mayor (equal to the san Antonio area median household income +35%) and permit the mayor and members of the city council elected at the May 9, 2015 general election to be eligible for the salary?” What the language does not disclose, however, is that council members are currently compensated $1,040 annually; the Mayor, $4,040, all on a per-meeting basis. This amendment would amount to a spending increase, irrespective of attendance by members at meetings, of over half a million dollars— $504,505 annually, in the first year alone. Such an increase seems unconscionable considering the city’s prolonged battle over the cost to the city of the wages and benefits of police and firefighters’ unions.
The third charter amendment is much simpler, allowing for City Council and Mayoral vacancies to be filled by special election rather than by appointment when more than 120 days remain in the unexpired term. Bad candidates are often appointed, and face an easier path to re-election than grassroots candidates. Involving more citizens earlier should be a step in the right direction.
The fourth amendment merely eliminates provisions that have become inoperative either due to state law or updated language.
Early voting begins Monday, April 27, and ends Tuesday, May 5th. Election Day is May 9th. Along with a duty to strike down some bad proposals, San Antonio citizens have a very real opportunity to deliver a heavy blow to the unpopular streetcar proposal officials keep reviving. As always, local government best serves the people when it is held accountable at the ballot box.