People from all over San Antonio overwhelmed the Tripoint YMCA on Saturday to participate in the fifth and final public work session of the city’s SA2020 initiative for a chance to share what they thought the city should look like nine years from now. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the vision was of a city that had vastly cut its poverty and drop-out rates, improved mass transportation, eliminated polluting power plants, and trimmed its sizable levels of obesity and diabetes. In other words: Shangri-La.
Opening the meeting, Graham Weston, one of the three chairs of SA2020, told the more than 1,000 participants, “This is really the citizens’ plan, not the mayor’s plan.” This was followed by the encouragement: “SA2020 is a vision process, but what really matters is doing. What really matters is action. The results we get from this process. ... If we don’t act, the vision was for nothing.”
Where the months of labor will lead is a still-lingering question. With state funding for several of the critical areas discussed — culture, education, and transportation, to name a few — expected to be cut severely in the coming year (See “To the bone,” page 12), the need for public and private initiatives is paramount. “What it means,” Mayor Julián Castro told the Current after the forum, “is that each organization and each individual has a job a to do, to take part of this action plan for the city and work on it. So I’ll have my own priorities based on what the plan calls for, but then I can’t do all of it by myself” — especially after he leverages his popularity to start shaking up area school boards, the bombshell announcement he dropped to a daily reporter after the meeting.
Participation is still being encouraged through an online survey at sa2020.org, and results are expected to be released in March.
Local environmentalists are still trying to stop a proposed interchange between U.S. 281 and Loop 1604, a project initially set to start construction this month. On January 11, local environmental group Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas filed suit against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, arguing that the agency should have never approved the roadway expansion project in the first place.
The massive project would add roughly six miles of new lanes and ramps stretching across the Edwards Aquifer’s recharge zone, a sensitive area where water seeps through the ground to replenish the city’s drinking supply. The proposed project, funded in part by roughly $80 billion in federal stimulus money that must be spent by September 2015, is one of the largest stimulus-funded projects in Bexar County.
The group has charged that pollutants from construction and new roadways would seep into the aquifer, tainting the city’s main source of drinking water and threatening endangered cave beetles that call your water home. “Instead of complying with laws intended to protect your health and drinking water supply, defendants are recklessly forging ahead using a ‘Categorical Exclusion’ to avoid required environmental studies and safeguards,” AGUA wrote on its website.
This month’s suit isn’t AGUA’s first push to put a stop to the project. The suit comes on the heels of a federal lawsuit filed in August claiming that the proposed interchange violates both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. In a response filed in federal court last week, ARMA attorneys claimed AGUA attorneys were viewing the world through a distorted lens equivalent to Alice and her looking glass. The Federal Highway Administration’s view is on roadways (not what lies beneath them): writing in filing last week that the interchange is among the most dangerous in San Antonio, with 132 collisions recorded in 2008.
Ever since architectural renderings first appeared last fall showing a 90-year-old Westside structure in the shadow of the Avenida Guadalupe’s towering votive Virgin making way for new development, a clash of values and cries of “cultural genocide” have marked the gatherings of the Avenida Guadalupe Association.
Last night, after hours of pleading to save the structure, the board voted 10-1 to demolish the “pink building” (only former SA councilmember Lourdes Galvan was in opposition) to make way for a 20,000-square-foot commercial space that AGA CEO Oscar Ramirez said didn’t yet have any clients.
“We talk about ‘save the building.’ We actually are. We’re talking about putting something there that … shines forth,” said Ramirez, insisting charges of “cultural genocide” are misplaced. “Cultura,” he said, “is not defined by one set of folks.”
Clearly unimpressed, more than a dozen of that “set” spoke out against the planned demolition, including members of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, a Westside historic preservation group, and the San Antonio Conservation Society: all urging that grant money built up for the Promesa Project be spent on repairing and restoring the building that dates back to the 1930s (when it served as a local fruit market). Of course, 1312 Guadalupe Street has served as many things since, including a meat market, bar, home of the El Progresa baseball team manager, a Democratic Party headquarters, radio repair shop, and Speedy’s hamburgers in the 1980s. Former councilmember Patti Radle warned the board “whatever happens to this building, I think is going to be remembered how this community was listened to.” Which is to say, not very well.
For all their grand plans for the property, board members said they hope to incorporate design themes based on the pink building and open … wait for it … a fruit market. However, Ramirez told the QueQue on Tuesday that with nearly 10 times the square footage, the planned new facility could serve more than four businesses.
And so a cutlural corridor goes shopping (and chopping) for its soul. •