San Pedro Springs Park was once the site of one of the premium swimming holes in San Antonio. Nowadays, residents in the adjacent Alta Vista, Beacon Hill, Five Points, and Tobin Hill neighborhoods get short shrift when 100-degree temperatures dominate the latter weeks of August. The City, citing a lack of funds to pay for lifeguards, shuts the pool by mid-summer.
Last week, Friends of San Pedro Park President Hector Cardenas attended the mayoral debate at Mark Twain Middle School that thrust five candidates in front of an inner-city constituency. Those candidates included Julián Castro, Phil Hardberger, Carroll Schubert, Julie Iris "Mama Bexar" Oldham, and Rhett Smith.
| "Crime is a No. 1 concern. We believe we are entitled to live where our homes are safe from the theft, vandalism and graffiti that plagues our streets. What is your plan to curb crime in the inner city?"
— René Balderas
The Alta Vista Neighborhood Association distributed a list of questions about "specific concerns in our neighborhoods": slum or absentee landlords, demolition by neglect, theft, graffiti, "vital" city services, including the library and swimming pool; preservation of the City's after-school Challenge program, hazardous materials passing on railroads through the neighborhoods, and a lack of infrastructure improvements and repairs on the streets, curbs, and sidewalks. Quite a list.
"I encourage candidates to be specific with your answers," said René Balderas, who unsuccessfully battled Councilman Roger Flores Jr. for the District 1 seat in 2003, and made the sad state of the swimming pool one of the lynchpins of his campaign.
"Crime is a No. 1 concern," Balderas continued. "We believe we are entitled to live where our homes are safe from the theft, vandalism and graffiti that plagues our streets. What is your plan to curb crime in the inner city?"
In response, the candidates proposed putting more police officers on the street and beefing up programs such as Cellular on Patrol and SAPD's San Antonio Fear Free Environment.
The mayoral wanna-bes also talked about enforcing code compliance against slum landlords. Enforce the code by writing citations and taking violators to municipal court, says Castro.
"Fix it up, sell it or we will restore it (and sell it)," says Hardberger. "Once we do that, we will see that the problem will go away."
Castro and Schubert said the city needs to reallocate funds to finance infrastructure improvements. "Take $6 million from the economic development fund and put it into street maintenance, which is what we should have done in the first place ... it's not sexy but it's very important to all of us," Schubert says.
"We need more revenue for that," says Castro. He cites a need for San Antonio to consider a bond issue for as much as $450 million to address aging streets, water supply, and sewer lines.
Each candidate was allowed a three-minute summary.
"I don't like the direction the city is taking," says Hardberger. He said he would make a "mature judgment on city goals" with a "vision for San Antonio's neighborhoods."
Smith cited a need for public safety for children, adding he would work to ensure that San Antonio continues to benefit from a high-profile military and medical presence in the City.
Oldham cited 10 years as a community activist, and her advancing age; "Four years is all I'll give to you."
Schubert apologized for being late, and he stayed with his campaign mantra to concentrate on a "high level of essential services. The political will to spend money has not always been exercised." He says it is important to attract new business to San Antonio, and to make school funding a priority. "I've been out there doing all that for the last four years."
Castro says it is important to "preserve what's special in San Antonio. Restore its physical beauty" and ensure clean air, clean water, and trees.
San Antonio residents go to the polls Saturday, May 7, to decide which candidate will sit in the mayor's office, and fulfill their promises.
Cardenas summed it up succinctly:
"We need a full-time mayor." •
By Michael Cary