Bridge over turgid water
Construction could soon begin on a bridge that would span one of the city’s notorious low-water crossings on Henderson Pass in District 9, but residents want to know what the public works department plans to do with about 30 oak trees that stand in the way.
Mary Mast and other residents demanded answers at recent City Council meetings. District 9 Councilman Kevin Wolff annnounced last week that the citizens’ concerns have been addressed in meetings with Public Works Director Tom Wendorf and City Engineer Polo Cervantez.
Mast said that she called the mayor and the city manager numerous times, but got “no response.” She says several oak trees are slated to be destroyed, but they were not clearly marked in the creekway that lies adjacent to the Turkey Creek Stables on Henderson Pass. The creek and surrounding land serve as a neighborhood park when they’re not flooded. During the past 30 years, two pedestrians have died trying to navigate the low water crossing. Both victims were on foot when they were swept away; one victim had exited her car in an attempt to escape the floodwaters.
“We were not told the straight skinny on the bridge,” Mast told City Council. “We know what it is like (flooding); it’s a waste of $3.5 million to do it.
“I’ve lived there for 23 years, and we feel like we’ve been very good citizens, and we feel the City of San Antonio needs to be a good neighbor to us.”
Public Works spokeswoman Monica Ramos says Wendorf and Cervantez met with the neighbors to assuage their fears that several heritage oak trees would be destroyed to make way for the flood-control project.
“A lot of people from the neighborhood association who originally objected to it say, We understand now, we can support it,” said Ramos. “Someone drowned in November; it is one of our notorious low water crossings, and we want to fix it and make it safe for the public. We have to take some trees out, but not very many at all; there was only one tree that was significant in diameter.”
Barbara Black, owner of the Turkey Creek Stables, says one oak tree slated for destruction has a 70-foot canopy, and she believes it is at least 300 years old. “They (public works officials) were bragging that the bridge is under budget by $250,000. Why can’t they save those trees?
“The bridge is necessary; it should have been done 20 years ago. But my heartburn is the trees.”
Black opened the April 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine, and pointed to a story about a department store that spent more than $100,000 to have a heritage tree transplanted in Auburndale, Florida. She points out that heritage trees have been transplanted in Austin, and contends that San Antonio could also transplant the larger trees since the project has come in under budget.
A hole for one
The parks department has issued a request for proposals for a private enterprise to assume operation of the San Pedro Driving Range and nine-hole Par 3 Golf Facility, which the City acquired in 1987. According to the RFP, “The City is soliciting proposals from individuals, firms, or teams experienced in working with the day-to-day operations and management of golfing facilities, associated food and beverage establishments.”
The parks department also issued an executive summary of proposed golf-course RFPs that would grant 10-year contracts to private companies that offer “golf-related services” and can demonstrate experience and knowledge in managing and operating golf facilities.
Doug McMurry, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, says he opposes the proposal. “Privatization is a copout” characterized by mismanagement and incompetence, he said. “We can improve the management of the courses, and we should not privatize our golf courses.” McMurry was in Palm Springs last week when the advisory board failed to achieve a quorum.
The chairman says he does not play golf, but he is “totally committed to a good parks and recreation system, and golf courses are part of it. To privatize would be a shame.”
The problem, McMurry says, is that City Council members are weary of hearing about golf courses, and have instructed the parks department to issue RFPs for privatized operations. “A lot of people are very sincere and fanatical about their golf game, but I understand the big picture. Issuing an RFP will prolong the debate, but if the City wants to spend time and effort on alternatives, I respect that. But there are hundreds and thousands of golfers who prefer that we spend time on improving the management of those courses.”
According to a golf subcommittee report issued last year, the city’s golf courses have operated in the black since 2001, but when the city transfers golf fees into the general fund, the account goes into deficit. Golf expenses total $5.7 million, and the courses draw a net gain of $600,000.
McMurry points out a recent, overall decline in golfing as a recreational activity. According to a recent issue of Golfweek, golf rounds in 2004 increased a mere 0.7 percent from the previous year, “ending three consecutive years of decline.” In 2004, 151 new golf courses opened nationwide, compared to 400 courses opened in 2000. Furthermore, out of “63 course closings in 2004, 91 percent were at public facilities.”
McMurry cites a “greater interest in skate and doggie parks. That is not to say we should give away our golf courses. These took generations to acquire, and we shouldn’t give them away.”