New Kids on the Dais 

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With the drama of campaigning and pomp of swearing-in ceremonies over, San Antonio’s newest City Council members officially took their seats last week. We get down to the nuts-and-bolts of what to expect from your District 5 and District 8 runoff election winners:

District 5

Rush Limbaugh does not endorse Shirley Gonzales. In fact, he’d be downright horrified if he found himself in the same room with the pro-labor/LGBT-community supported/backed-by-Democrats local politician.

But that’s one of the several aggressive attacks the new councilmember was forced to fend off from opponent David Medina, “They were just reaching for something and I guess that’s what they came up with,” says Gonzales. “It was very strange.”

After beating out the incumbent challenger in the June 15 runoff elections, Gonzales says she can finally breathe. Sitting at her desk in the pawnshop her family has owned for more than 50 years, you’d wonder why Gonzales would add anything to her plate. The answer actually goes back to Medina. From poor lighting to flooding to the abundance of stray animals, Gonzales says she saw her community’s problems continually go unaddressed.

So, she thought she’d do a better job.

Now, with the mud-slinging behind her, what issues will we see the political newcomer champion?

Born and raised in San Antonio, and now living and working in the southwest district she oversees, Gonzales told the Current her priority will be focusing on community safety. Condensed high-traffic areas, insufficient sidewalks, and poor infrastructure create hazards for pedestrians, she says.

A proponent of SA2020, Gonzales heavily advocates a pedestrian-friendly, high-density city center. Ahead of private transportation, she’ll prioritize walkability, cycling, and public transportation and promote the use of the infill development zone and commercial retrofit. And as a shop owner, she’s looking to boost small business growth. Part of that solution, says Gonzales, is updating old land use and zoning codes that aren’t conducive to development.

She points to her home turf, Prospect Hill, as an example. Without a master plan, zoning can’t be enforced and you’ll end up with a slipshod neighborhood, she says. “If we don’t implement a master plan, then in five and even 50 years from now, we won’t have the kind of community we really want — we’ll have a district full of cheap strip malls and parking lots.”

District 8

Ron Nirenberg had two key realizations while heading the Annenberg Center for Public Policy. One: civic engagement is really important. Two: citizens are really disengaged. After working firsthand with local communities to educate and include residents in the political process, Nirenberg decided he could help engage his own community as a city councilmember.

Ousting competition in the runoff election, the general manager of KRTU is setting his sights on managing growth in the area he represents. District 8 needs a major infrastructure improvement — its population is expanding twice as fast as the rest of the city and it doesn’t have the roadways to accommodate the growth, says Nirenberg.

On that note, he remains critical of the streetcar project, saying the decision-making wasn’t conducted with transparency and he isn’t totally sold on its necessity. “We have a dramatic need for transportation here,” he says. “We should focus on those basics before we invest in anything else. “Would I love to ride a streetcar downtown? Absolutely. But not at the expense of community needs.”

Nirenberg, who says he’s cautious about development, heavily supports placing the Edwards Aquifer Protection Initiative on the ballot again in 2015. The plan protects the region’s main source of drinking water by acquiring and preserving land across the recharge zone, “We need to be vigilant about what the Texas Legislature and other communities are doing to threaten the Aquifer,” he told the Current.

As for education, he’s backing stringent accountability standards and reporting metrics for PRE-K 4 SA and will request monthly or bi-monthly public updates on those results. “It can be a real game changer for San Antonio,” says Nirenberg about the taxpayer-funded education project. “But if it fails, it could be a terrible ‘I told you so moment.’ I believe it’s going to work, but we need all hands on deck.”

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