Elena Guajardo, Candidate, City Council District 7
Beginning March 4, the Current emailed the following questionnaire to all candidates who filed by March 9 for the May 2009 municipal elections. As responses begin to roll in, we will post them in their unedited entirety here on QueBlog. Excerpts will appear in the April 1 print edition of the Current. if you're a candidate, and did not receive a questionnaire from us, please call Elaine Wolff at 388-0625, or email her at [email protected], and provide the best email address for contacting you.
1. Do you support the addition of two new nuclear power plants to the South Texas Project to meet our future energy needs? If not, please describe the alternatives you favor. If so, please explain your position or philosophy on the long-term storage of nuclear-fuel waste.
The next sitting council will decide the future energy pathway for the city of San Antonio. In conversations with residents in my district, they have expressed opposition to adding more nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project, currently a two-unit facility. There are many unresolved questions regarding waste disposal, safety and security, and the total cost to consumers. CPS has already budgeted $276 million dollars in preliminary design and engineering costs for the expansion. That money could have been used immediately to winterize 69,000 homes. Additionally, labor and materials could have been purchased locally and thus injecting those dollars into our local economy. I would be open to a conversation about putting to public vote the expansion of the South Texas Project so voters can decide for themselves if they want to add two new nuclear reactors or consider diversifying our energy portfolio with other sources.
2. Do you support Mayor Hardberger's Mission Verde initiative in its entirety? If so, what do you see as the most critical steps council must take to implement it successfully? If not, do you support any of its provisions, and why (not)?
San Antonio was described as a “low wage, high waste economy” by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. The Mayor's Mission Verde Initiative speaks to creating jobs and reducing energy waste so that San Antonio won't be left behind. I believe it is a bold initiative with recommendations for investing in green technology, energy conservation, renewable energy, efficient transportation, and smarter buildings. As a city, as a workforce, and as energy consumers, this initiative will put us on the right track. The first portion of the Mission Verde Initiative was brought to council at the March 12, 2009 meeting, and subsequent portions are sure to continue on with the next council. I look forward with great enthusiasm the opportunity to be able to carry out the goals of conservations, job creation and the green growth of this initiative. Our city and our citizens will no doubt benefit from it for many generations.
3. What is the right mix of public-transit options for San Antonio's future, and what do you think is the best method to fund/maintain each element?
Recently there was a restructuring of the transportation authority aimed at creating less duplication and overlap among the entities that tackle the issues of transportation. In addition to large scale, long-term planning and solutions such as light rail, we need to consider small scale, short-term solutions. For instance, we presently don't offer an express bus from Bandera at 1604 all the way into downtown. During my term on council, VIA only offered service out to Mainland and Bandera. I was able to help facilitate the creation of a community friendly bus route all the way to 1604. Now, we need an express route that gets these riders directly into downtown. The expansion can be funded by passengers who would participate in more rider-friendly routes.
4. If San Antonio faces a budget shortfall, where would you be willing to make budget cuts?
The state of the economy is pushing our city to get back to the basics — to return to the nuts and bolts services outlined in our City Charter. First and foremost our safety cannot be compromised. We must continue to support and prioritize police, fire and emergency services to protect and keep citizens safe. And, we can still be innovative in increasing our revenue streams. During my term on council, I brought to the City Manager's attention that the city did not have a full-time, dedicated grant writer on staff. Thanks to my recommendation, funding was allocated for that position and that person has since brought in over a million dollars in grant funding. Additionally, the downtown merchants asked me to champion an idea that became the Commercial Loading Zone Extended Time Permit, which generated monies for the Parking Enterprise Fund in additional permit sales. Our city employees are also a resource for balancing the bottom line. Because of their hands on, daily experience and expertise, they can be helpful in identifying how to cut costs and wasteful spending without sacrificing vital programs and services.
5. What are your top spending priorities for the HOT tax? Would you support a recommendation to use some of those funds to expand the Convention Center?
The Hotel Occupancy Tax rate levied on every single room night charge is currently 16.75%, of which 2% is a dedicated source of revenue to pay debt service and fund capital improvements and/or maintenance of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Complex. With the downturn of the economy, many conventions have lessened the number of days of their events, and in doing so they lessen their need for the convention center facilities. It would not seem prudent to expand the Convention Center at a time when the demand for its use is lower, and impractical to further burden our tourists with more taxes. The City uses 7% of the HOT fund to support tourism, convention activities, as well as art and cultural programming across the City. Our focus should be on thinking of creative and innovative ways to attract visitors and more, longer staying conventions.
6. Please briefly describe your conception of San Antonio's economy, its strengths and weaknesses, and what you would do to build on the former and address the latter?
All business indicators show that San Antonio is feeling the outside pressures of the economic tailspin that our Country is experiencing, yet not to the extent of other cities. That is a blessing but we must be proactive in creating the dialogue and partnerships with the various Chambers, education institutions and workforce development agencies to prepare workers for the next “green” jobs and the job clusters as identified by San Antonio Technology Accelerator Initiative (SATAI) and the City's Office of Economic Development. In addition, we must do everything we can to create new jobs and keep San Antonians working. Let's make sure that jobs funded by our tax dollars go first to San Antonio families and encourage the hiring of San Antonio residents for taxpayer funded projects, and also give preference to San Antonio firms seeking city contracts. With the million of dollars headed to San Antonio under the federal stimulus package, let's work to ensure that the paychecks created by these jobs go into the pockets of people living in San Antonio. When these contracts are awarded to local businesses we help guarantee that every dollar spent will stimulate our economy and generate more tax revenue for the City.
7. Keeping in mind the playground scandal, the Healy-Murphy Park sale, and the El Mercado flap, how would you increase accountability and transparency at City Hall? Specifically, would you change the role or method of choosing a City Auditor, and his/her scope of authority?
During my term on council I met monthly with then City Auditor, Pat Majors, on the audits her office was conducting and the status of audit reports. When given the task of finding Ms. Majors' replacement, I approached several CPAs from throughout our city and asked what questions would be reasonable to ask prospective job applicants. After those discussions I concluded that a City Auditor needs to be an independent agent whose job it is to ensure that the City's business practices are transparent, ethical, accountable and efficient. It is not the job of the City Auditor to be a whistleblower or an “I got you” position. With that said, I am unclear why it is taking so long for the City's Audit Committee to define the City Auditor's role and relationship with the council. The Committee was given the task of outlining these issues in June of 2008 and we have yet to see a report of their findings.
8. Do you support extending the digital-billboard pilot program? If so, what restrictions, if any, would you recommend on their placement and use?
The residents in my district have voice some disapproval of the digital-billboards. The council's inaction during the January 29th, 2009 meeting only leads us to presume that this issue will be taken up by the incoming council. Should this be the case, I would hold townhall meetings in my district addressing this issue to solicit recommendations on restrictions and placement. The people's voice should be heard on this matter.
9. Do you support SAWS' current plans to secure San Antonio's water supply? If so, please explain why. If not, please explain what you believe they should be doing differently.
Because of the efforts of the San Antonio Water System, San Antonio is a national leader in water conservation. Despite a population increase of 50%, San Antonio uses the same amount of water it did 20 years ago. As a result, we have saved $550 million by not having to acquire new water resource, and our rates have stayed low. We are very fortunate in San Antonio that the Edwards Aquifer provides us with an extremely pure water source. Anything we do to limit its absorption or create impurities is a disservice to the health of our community. Scientific research tells us that impervious cover over 15% can endanger the Aquifer. Sadly, we do not know what the total impervious cover of the Aquifer is today nor is there a comprehensive plan. This is a conversation what we should be holding at city, county and regional level. There is current program that uses sales tax money to buy undeveloped land over the Edwards Aquifer and its tributaries and I would like to see this program continued.
10. Please briefly describe how you financially support yourself. How will you balance your work demands with your council responsibilities? Do you foresee any conflicts of interest between your profession (or former profession, if you're retired) and a position on council? If so, how will you handle these?
I'm retired and live on my monthly retirement check. Serving on council will be my full-time job and will get my full-time commitment. And more importantly, I will not need to recuse myself from a vote because of a conflict of interest, something that my opponent has recently done on a CPS vote.
11. What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit? Specifically, what fees, if any, should the city charge for parade permits? Should they distinguish between types of applicants and events, and if so, how and by whom should those decisions be made?
The current council, including my opponent, voted on the Parade Ordinance that is being challenged in court today. During my term on council, the issue was tabled. I felt that the ordinance brought to us at that time was a limit to freedom of speech and freedom of public assembly. I think we should consider what other cities have done. For instance the City of Houston could be a model. They require an application, a permit is issued, and they have a designated number of blocks that a march can travel without charge. Beyond that limit, applicants must pay a $1,000 per intersection cost. The city also provides appropriate traffic control and cones for all applicants on a first come bases for the designated number of blocks. But more importantly, all parade applications are equally considered.
12. Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces such as golf courses, libraries, parks, and El Mercado. Should these entities break even, make a profit, or be viewed as investments with tangible returns? Please propose a solution for the issues surrounding either Healy-Murphy Park, El Mercado, or La Villita.
First of all, parks and libraries contribute to our quality of life and are not profit centers for the City. During my term on council, I sat on the Quality of Life Committee that appraised the golf courses that were losing money. That discussion led to a hybrid decision to keep ownership of some city courses and create a non-profit entity to manage other golf courses. It's this innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that needs be applied to other city-operated spaces.
13. If we've failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.
`Ed. note: no answer provided.`