2005 Mayoral Election Trial by voters 

Phil Hardberger says he's a friend to the environment - and private property rights

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Phil Hardberger

Phil Hardberger wore a seersucker suit to work last week. Although it might be a fashion faux pas, no one would see it if he takes his jacket off behind the council dais, so his attire should not factor in whether he is qualified to be mayor.

But Hardberger's qualifications have been under siege from one of his opponents, District 9 Councilman Carroll Schubert, who says the former appellate court judge started the mud-slinging television ad campaign. Hardberger has equated Schubert with greedy developers, and thus, Schubert has slung quid pro quo with the attorney, calling him a "liberal" and playing the trial lawyer card that Republicans used on Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards last fall. (Meanwhile Julián Castro keeps his duck feathers carefully preened to shed the muck as it gets slopped in his direction.) But the mud might be sticking to Hardberger: According to a recent Survey USA/WOAI poll of 465 likely voters, 24 percent said they would vote for Schubert, 26 percent for Hardberger. Julián Castro leads the pack with support from 45 percent of those surveyed. The margin of error is 4.6 percent.

With the recent news that the controversial PGA development is receiving additional perks in the form of a taxing district, environmental concerns remain a top issue in the race. Hardberger skipped an important mayoral forum sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and local environmental groups, but he touts his enviro cred from a lawsuit he filed on behalf of the Sierra Club 30 years ago to stop plans for a residential development that would have planted 100,000 people over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. "It was called Ranch Town, and that was a truly huge lawsuit," says Hardberger. "There is a nice sequel to that; it is now Government Canyon."

Government Canyon is a state natural area, part of which was purchased with Proposition 3 funds.

"I can't justify sprawl over the recharge zone, and I don't want to," says Hardberger of the PGA development. "I would not favor any further development over the recharge zone, unless you have a vested right there that gives the right, by law, to do it."

If Hardberger were elected, he would sit on the City Public Service board. CPS' proposed $1 billion coal-fired power plant, slated for southeastern Bexar County, is still a sticking point in the environmental community. Hardberger, who grew up on a farm that depended upon a windmill for electricity, has not endorsed the new coal plant.

"I have not come to that conclusion because I worry about the environmental consequences. A particular side of town is not fixed in my mind. The farther you can get it away from San Antonio, the better."

"I can't justify sprawl over the recharge zone,
and I don't want to."

- Phil Hardberger

The Environmental Protection Agency recommended the City limit impervious cover, or pavement, to 10 percent on developments over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. Hardberger says he is suspicious of numbers. "I think we need to be more holistic. How is the land going to be used? It's not just a question of impervious cover. I would not have a fixed percentage in mind, but it's certainly a factor because if you pave over the recharge zone, how do you expect nature to recharge it?"

While the South Side growth boom is focusing development away from the recharge zone, property rights and zoning issues loom. Mayor Ed Garza has his sights trained on City South, and a neighborhood will be uprooted for Houston developers to bring a Texas A&M campus and a Dominion-style community to the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and Loop 410. Understandably, those residents are peeved. "Involve the people who live there as an integral part of the project," Hardberger says.

The City has imposed a development buffer zone around the Toyota Manufacturing Co. site on Applewhite Road, and now property owners are restricted from exercising their rights to develop their property. Hardberger disagrees with the restrictions, saying he is "a pretty strong believer in property rights; they should only be trumped when there's a health issue involved."

Although voters bashed a light-rail proposal several years ago, SA's transportation woes are growing. There are state and local plans to build toll roads, commuter rail and other mass transportation. Hardberger says he supports light rail. "It's a question of time until we have it in San Antonio. It was voted down twice in Houston, and now they don't know how they did without it."

With two former councilmen headed for the pokey on bribery charges, transparency and accountability have gained greater import at City Hall. Although City Council meetings are televised on Cable Channel 21, the Citizens to Be Heard portion is not broadcast. Citizens have complained that the public is not privy to legitimate citizen concerns - or wacky ones, either. Hardberger says he would reinstate the segment: "I'm for an open government."

Now, if we could just do something about that seersucker suit.

By Michael Cary


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