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Ten Years of Tumult: The Past Decade Brought Big Changes to San Antonio — and No Easy Answers

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FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS / NAN PALMERO
  • Flickr Creative Commons / Nan Palmero
The closing decade brought an unprecedented period of expansion to San Antonio and plenty of growing pains to go along with it, from a still-ongoing housing crisis to voter anger over the power wielded by the former city manager. It also showed the power residents can wield when they organize for change.

Here’s a rundown of the ten biggest San Antonio news stories of the 2010s:

1. Decade of Downtown: In 2010, then-San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro unveiled the Decade of Downtown, giving city leaders a blank check to spend big on projects such as the Houston Street redevelopment and raising housing costs for center city residents. On a recent campaign stop, Castro himself questioned whether the policy remains a sound one. “That investment is already happening. It doesn’t need to be incentivized,” he told the Current.

2. The Eagle Ford Shale: No, the development of the vast petroleum play south of San Antonio didn’t turn out to be the economic miracle the usual boosters promised it would. But it wasn’t a blink-and-you-missed-it bust either. The oil patch continues to be significant economic generator for the region — and one whose ultimate ecological cost is yet to be determined.

3. The power of Sheryl Sculley: City Manager Sheryl Sculley had her fingerprints on just about every major project undertaken in the past decade and her legacy remains. Sculley shook up city hall by ushering out officials who couldn’t perform up to her standards, frequently replacing them with hires from outside San Antonio. She also ruffled a lot of feathers along the way, which brings us to our next big news story.

4. Firefighters’ charter amendments: Perhaps nothing was more emblematic of San Antonians’ distrust of government and growing animosity toward Sculley’s power than the success the city’s fire union had at the ballot box with its punitive charter amendments. Voters ultimately approved two of three. One of those, a clear shot at Sculley, limits the salary and tenure of future city managers, while the other lets the union unilaterally force contract disputes into arbitration. Sculley resigned days after the vote.

5. A crisis in affordable housing: San Antonio has long sold itself as an inexpensive place to experience a high quality of life, but during the 2010s, that claim became increasingly tenuous. During much of the decade, residents grappled with housing costs that have outstripped income growth. The crisis has forced San Antonio to create new programs to address displacement and increase the stock of affordable dwellings, but critics warn those may not be enough. Either way, San Antonio finally seemed to be waking up to the realization that decades of socioeconomic segregation lies at the root of the problem.

6. Growing and changing population: As San Antonio continues its unprecedented growth trajectory, city officials and developers have thrown around a staggering projection — that Bexar County stands to gain 1.1 million new residents by 2040. While half of that projected number would be people born in the county, there’s no question the city is growing and changing. The question becomes how the city addresses the growth — whether it takes measured and effective steps to address changing needs or goes the familiar route and cheerleads development.

7. Transportation crossroads: With all that projected growth, the city has made the reasonable determination that it needs to rethink transportation to avoid hellish congestion and a further degradation of air quality. With the new decade bearing down, we’re about to see exactly what that looks like, namely whether the city can convince voters to approve the ConnectSA plan and whether it can secure additional funding for VIA Metropolitan Transit. Naturally, questions are already swirling about who really stands to benefit from the plan as proposed: commuters or developers.

8. Adversarial relationship between the city and the Texas Lege: The 2010s marked an increasingly hostile relationship between big metros such as San Antonio and the Republican-controlled state legislature. With varying degrees of success, state lawmakers tried make it harder for cities and counties to enact anything from plastic bag bans to the removal of Confederate monuments. Indeed, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was caught on a secret recording this summer saying his goal was to make the Lege’s next gathering the “worst session in the history” for cities and counties.

9. Hays Street Bridge: The community coalition fighting to preserve the land next to the historic Hays Street Bridge spent years battling the city before it finally won a battle when the Texas Supreme Court handed them a victory and sent the case back to a lower court. It was a hard-fought victory, but one that shows that when people organize, they can stand up to city hall and the developers it’s long been cozy with.

10. Paid sick leave: Speaking of people power, unions and social justice groups gathered more than 140,000 signatures in a petition drive that forced city council to approve a measure guaranteeing paid sick time for the many workers here who don’t have it. A district judge blocked its implementation while the city fights it out in court with business interests opposed to the measure. But that fight isn’t over yet.

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