DISTRICT 1: 10,000 YEARS B.C. 

San Antonio's District 1 the seat of San Antonio civilization

San Antonio was already inhabited by the time Domingo Terán, accompanied by Fray Damían Massanet, explored the land surrounding San Pedro Springs.

Herds of buffalo roamed the plain and the Payaya tribe of Native Americans who lived here called their village "Yanaguana." The Spanish invaders erected a stick and mud hut, topped it with a straw roof and dubbed it Mission San Antonio de Valero, and the quest to exploit this region of the New World began.

Spain's King Philip Five declared the land surrounding the aquifer-fed springs and its natural lakes as "ejido," or public

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The sole of a shoe, a plastic cup, and other trash sits in the shallow end of the San Pedro park swimming pool. Renovating the pool is one of District 1 candidate Rene Balderas' campaign issues. Photo by Mark Greenberg
land, in 1729, making today's San Pedro Springs Park, located across the street from San Antonio College, the second oldest municipal park land in the nation.

A visitor to the 46-acre park today would not easily discover how much history lies within the seat of local civilization, inside the boundary of District 1. It appears that the city is not much concerned with this jewel of park land, judging from the many "No Swimming" signs erected alongside the formerly glorious springs, and along the edge of the swimming pool cluttered with dirt, leaves, beer cans, plastic bottles, and other artifacts of municipal neglect.

The visitor could surmise that it is merely a matter of time before the city erects a razor-wire barrier around the huge swimming pool that was a result of a $4 million improvement effort in the mid-1990s. The city has higher priorities, and cannot afford to pay for lifeguards to lie in vigil while neighborhood children enjoy a cool swim in the shade of the ancient, regal cypress trees.

Truth is, there is no sign that anyone at City Hall is concerned about protecting and preserving San Pedro Springs Park. After all, it is old and decrepit. It's a geezer. Does anybody care anymore?

Rene Balderas does.

The District 1 candidate wants to change City Hall's priorities. Balderas, whom many D1 residents consider to be a fresh voice on the political scene, wants the pool at San Pedro Springs Park open for swimming, not jealously guarded by a ticket-vending park ranger after the City closes it when the funds for lifeguards run dry in early August. He wants District 1's showcase community park to remain free of razor-wire fencing and budgetary irresponsibility. How would San Antonio citizens react if the Alamo was only open two months out of the year?

"Last year on Labor Day, we had not even hit the 100 degree days, and people were not allowed in the pool. The city hired a park policeman to sit at the pool site instead of posting lifeguards. The cop gave out tickets," Balderas explains at a rally he had organized at the edge of the filthy swimming pool. "We spent so much money on the pool and we're not using it. Recreation for kids and family should be a priority. How do we give money to the Miss USA pageant and the Dallas Cowboys, and not give priority to families?

"We've been fighting for this park since I can remember," adds Balderas, who moved into District 1 about 10 years ago, and is president of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association. "We never win. The excuse is a financial crisis. We must be creative and look for ways to reopen our pools and maintain city services."

Restaurant proprietor Roger Flores Jr. is another new voice in the run for political office this season. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, who served on the council from 1995 to 1999.

Flores makes jokes about his diminutive stature as he greets visitors at his restaurant, Little Mitla, in downtown San Antonio. "People wonder why a restaurant owner isn't fat," he says. But there's little time to put on pounds with his schedule these days. He begins the day with a coffee and a bowl of cereal, and by noon he has donned his green apron and waits on tables in the restaurant that faces the east wall of the St. Anthony Hotel. He hangs up the apron and walks the blocks in District 1, something he began doing a year ago. Although he earned his degree in food chemistry from Texas A&M University, Flores also is an artist, and his paintings hang on the wall of the cafe.

"We've always been a family that appreciates art. You can use your creativity to solve something. You can apply creativity to solve any problem, whether it's taxes, zoning, etcetera. District 1 is everybody's district. It's the window to San Antonio, from North Star Mall to the Alamo, and it includes a lot of beautiful neighborhoods. It requires someone who understands its diversity."

Flores, who gives out his home telephone number to the people he meets - even publishes it on his Web site - said he has no agenda, no bias or allegiance other than to the residents of District 1. "This is not a career move for me. This is about service. I make it clear that I am not going to stoop to negative campaigning. I'm not going to say anything bad about anybody. I'm staying away from the lobbyists. People who give me money sign on to what I want to do. I take very seriously what my responsibility is, and it has been enlightening to see the confidence in me."

District 1 covers uptown and downtown and encompasses the King William neighborhood, where Joe F. García resides. He served as a city councilman in Victoria before returning to San Antonio to care for his aging parents. "No property tax increases, period. My parents are in their 80s, and they can barely afford their medicine. We don't need a property tax increase."

García has served on various civic organizations, including Centro 21, Target 90 and the former Downtown Owners Association, and said he supports eliminating term limits to stop the revolving door policy on the City Council. He would support protection of the Edwards Aquifer - he helped collect 80,000 signatures in the effort to put the PGA golf course swindle to a vote - and wants to address the "fat city syndrome," by developing bicycle lanes on city streets.

"I would like to see a solar cell monorail between San Antonio and Laredo, and use it as a model for future expansion. I have no political aspirations; I've been involved in the community since 1968. I have a job, so I don't need the $20 a week," García says, referring to the weekly stipend city council members earn.

Architect and UTSA professor Jon Thompson has a few detractors since his campaign to force District 1 businesses to adhere to city codes, especially concerning signs on their properties. He is also motivated by the current situation with Star Storage's overabundance of billboards near his home on East Park Avenue, in the Tobin Hill neighborhood, but several in the District are harboring resentments against Thompson, who is considered a "hothead" by some people.

A story is circulating the neighborhood about his altercation with Greek American Society president Demetrius Catacalos at a Tobin Hill resident meeting a couple of years ago. Catacalos alleged that he was "physically attacked," but said the incident occurred after he made a disparaging remark to Thompson's wife.

Without delving into the blow-by-blow of such junior high playground antics, Thompson can be described as a champion of the older homes in the Tobin Hill neighborhood where he lives.

"Tobin Hill is an historic neighborhood by city standards. These homes were built before WWII, and are in a positive transition, with more homeowners coming in and buying old houses, which are very competitively priced compared to areas like King William," Thompson said. "I just bought the house next door to me. I wanted to fix it up and make sure it is done right. One way to save neighborhoods is one house at a time."

Thompson says he wants to install a moratorium on city tax hikes for owners who restore or repair their historic homes. "The reason a tax moratorium is valid is the historic neighborhoods are a draw for both tourists and locals, and it makes sense to fix them up. A lot of the neighbors are concerned about putting money into their homes when a house next door is becoming a slum. Throughout District 1 there are a lot of people who are concerned, they want to see code compliance. Most of the people who vote keep their houses and their yards up, and they want compliance against slum landlords who want to tear houses down. The neighborhood is going through a change. The people who are hoping to tear down homes and build cheap apartments are having to reevaluate their plans. They don't like the historical designation."

Thompson said he is running on the platform of no more business as usual, and accused one of his opponents, Thomas Aguillon, of being a supporter of slum landlords in District 1.

Either way, both candidates seem to be conducting campaign signage warfare, judging by the ugly abundance of yard signs on one section of Dewey Street and other streets in District 1.

Aguillon, who served as an aide for current lame duck Councilman Bobby Perez, says his platform is a "back to basics approach in how we spend our dollars in the community, for infrastructure, police protection. I think every district is faced with the same dilemma: not enough dollars to address all the concerns. My goal is to increase those dollars, it's just a matter of going in and understanding the budget, pool certain funds and ensure the community gets those."

The Beacon Hill resident says he would support eliminating council member term limits and would pay salaries to elected officials. "The community is starting to realize that term limits are a detriment to continuity, with a council member working on a problem and four years later just beginning to see construction of the project if they are elected to a second term. Term limits are too short a time, and we should have council pay for someone who can understand the community."

Aguillon says some of his opponents are "great folks with good intentions, but they don't know how to implement them. I see experience at City Hall as an advantage. I've been there with regard to the problems and issues." Aguillon explains he wants the opportunity to represent his community with a regard to continuity and understanding. "We have tried to avoid negativity and avoid comments that gear campaigns away from what I'm truly running on. I don't condone that. We all have to live with one another when this election is over."

Additional candidates for the City Council seat in District 1 are Richard Gonzales, Daniel Monreal and Gerard X. Ponce. Ponce said one of his goals is to build a centralized agency to respond to the needs of senior citizens.

With so many candidates in the field, local political soothsayers predict a runoff after Saturday's election. More difficult to forecast is who will be on the runoff ballot - business as usual or a fresh voice. •


The boundaries of District 1 are zany. It encompasses downtown, juts over to the Near West Side where it gobbles a few square blocks, then reaches north, encompassing such major streets as Fredericksburg, San Pedro, and McCullough to Loop 410.

According to the April 3 filing report, for the first four months of 2003, Thomas Aguillon collected beaucoup bucks from his contributors, who range from developers and real estate interests GW Worth ($1,000), David Starr ($1,000), Loopy Limited ($1,000), and Gene Dawson ($1,070, including an in-kind donation); advertising mogul Ernest Bromley ($500), and defense attorney Pat Maloney, Jr. ($1,000).

Aguillon's largest contribution came from Dallas donors James Fisher III, who with his wife, Lisa, tossed $2,500 into Aguillon's coffer. Rene Balderas is running a low-key financial campaign (although not as low-key as Joe Garcia, who lists $300 in his piggybank) with $4,600 in contributions, including $500 from MTC Real Estate.

About $11,000 has been contributed to Roger Flores' campaign, including $500 from Edith McAlllister, $250 from the San Antonio Firefighters PAC, $2,000 from the Steves family, and $500 from MTC Real Estate.

Jon Thompson's $7,400 primarily came from small donors, including George Rice of the Edwards Aquifer Authority ($100) and Annalisa Peace ($75) of Smart Growth. In the $500 club are Luis Elizondo, Delia Sanchez Realty, Roger and Phyllis Sherman, and Mary Ann Ohlenbusch. •

More by Michael Cary



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