Q & A with Diego Bernal

San Antonio is about to come on hard times, given major budget cuts at a state and federal level. What programs do you think can be trimmed back? What should we not touch?

Over the course of the campaign I have come to believe that asking what we should cut is the wrong question.  The City saved over $11 million by mining for efficiencies last year.  We should continue that work- I think buildings and office space consolidation are the next frontier here- and then turn to the way we spend.

When faced with a tight budget, most people look not only at what they need to cut back on, but they also review how they spend their money.  We should do the same.  For example, I suggest a zero-tolerance or three-strike policy for contractors that continuously deliver over budget and behind schedule. The less we spend (read: waste) the more we’ll have.

Are there programs you plan to champion to ease the impact of those outside funding cuts on our community? Are you committed to continuing the SA2020 process?

Yes. One issue I haven’t had the opportunity to talk much about during the campaign is senior and child hunger.  The good people at the SA Food Bank explained to me that approximately 7%, or 1 in 6 Bexar County residents experience "food insecurity," which means they sometimes make difficult choices about whether to eat or pay for other things like rent, utilities or medicine. Only HALF of eligible Bexar County residents actually receive these benefits (food stamps).  If every eligible person and family received benefits, over $327 million in federal money would flow into Bexar County every year.  Many of these people- especially children and seniors- live in District 1.  I want to partner with our state and federal representatives to wipe out hunger and bring this money to the City and the District.  It’s a win-win all the way around.

As for the second question, yes, I am absolutely committed to the SA2020 process.

What is your position on the city’s investment in two proposed nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project? CPS Energy plans for early retirement of the Deeley coal plant? Renewable energy development?

I am against nuclear energy and do not want the City to invest or be involved with it in any meaningful way.  Not only is it a technology that we have not fully mastered, but the risks are too high and the byproducts too hazardous, for our community or any other.

The closing of the coal plant hopefully acts as an indicator of the City’s move towards its place in the world as one of the leaders in clean, renewable energy technology and implementation.  We should pursue that title aggressively and with purpose.  Not only is it socially and environmentally responsible, but it can also help cultivate the City’s industrial identity and attract more investment and career opportunities.

How could the city better support public education? Do you support efforts to allow Mayor Julián Castro to be able to appoint some school board members?

First, one of the things I learned working on education cases is that children, of any socioeconomic background, are much more likely to succeed if three elements are in place: adequate funding, administrative and classroom leadership in the schools, and parental involvement.  The City- City Council in particular- has tremendous contact with parents and should focus on finding ways to increase parental involvement in the schools.

We can do this a number of ways, from using the schools as community hubs to host meetings, townhalls, immunization clinics, public benefit workstations, etc., to using our communication abilities to increase attendance at PTA meetings.  We have to be aggressive and creative in the way that we approach this issue.

Second, I do not believe that the Mayor has advocated appointing school board members (I know this was a provision in a state bill suggested earlier this year, however).  Instead, he has taken an active role in supporting candidates for school board, specifically in SAISD.  Although I think that is his right, both of his endorsements have been for challengers to incumbents, and I believe the public wants to hear more from him regarding his apparent dissatisfaction with the sitting board members. 

Given the EPA is planning on toughening national air quality standards, what steps do you think the city can take to make sure our skies are healthy (and federal transportation keeps flowing to San Antonio)?

The City’s renewed attention to public transportation is the right answer.  I have felt in the past that there was too much emphasis on the vehicles themselves being the main item that allures riders, but I believe the City is now asking the right question- “How do we get people who can otherwise drive themselves to choose public transportation instead?”

As we inch towards an answer, or set of answers (more on that in the next question), that makes both economic and environmental sense, the byproduct of that initiative is certainly cleaner air and more federal funds to support that progress. 

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?

I believe the options must reflect the needs of the potential riders.  Public transportation must be affordable to every demographic, so funding it must come from the right balance of city, county, state and federal monies, along with revenue generated by ridership.

The right mix comes from distance.  Straight-shot direct routes that quickly transport people from one area of town to another are in the works with VIA, and a cost-effective trolley system that connects residents with amenities and recreational options is the logical next step to supplement the direct route option and existing bus system currently in place (which will also need adjustment as these projects develop).

Plus, who doesn’t love the new bikes?

What life experiences make you uniquely qualified to serve on the city council?

District 1 is a very unique, diverse place and it deserves someone who is equally diverse.  Much of it has also been neglected for a very long time- decades- and those people need an advocate.

I grew up in the District and went to public schools throughout my academic career.  I attended the University of Michigan and earned my BA, Masters of Social Work and my law degree there.

As a social worker I worked with at-risk youth in gangs and men leaving prison, trying to help them get back into school or find viable work, respectively.

When I returned home to practice civil rights law (employment discrimination, voting rights, education law, as well as city, state and national policy), I moved into a house near Basse and Blanco that is essentially across the street from my childhood home.

The arts are also a big part of my life.  Not only am I a huge supporter and patron of the arts, but I am an artist myself and take immense pride in my membership in the arts community.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to invest in a small business.  I don’t run the place, work the registers, do payroll, etc.  I certainly don’t want to overstate it.  However, I now have a greater understanding of the trepidation a small businessperson feels. When we take a risk, we want to land on our feet.  I understand that more than ever.

I believe these experiences- advocate, lawyer, artist, first-time homeowner, investor- uniquely position me to field all of the voices in District 1 and respond accordingly.

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?

The common understanding is that there is a trident economy in San Antonio: tourism and hospitality, military, and medical.  These are strengths in terms of economic generators, but I want to add even more professional elements.  That is why the emerging biomedical, cyber security, and clean/green energy industries are so important.

Being honest, a weakness in the City- and this has been repeated to me throughout the campaign by executives for some of the City’s largest companies and corporations- is that we are not yet able to supply the volume of top talent to move forward as aggressively as we want to.  

That is not a comment on the desire or work ethic of the people of San Antonio.  That is our primary strength, in fact.  Rather, it is a call for more robust and ambitious college programs and curriculums.  This will allow the companies taking the lead in these emerging industries to recruit HERE for their top positions in research and development.

The bottom line is we cannot host industries that we cannot successfully staff.  They are happy with our steady stream of capable college graduates to work in their offices, but now they want top talent.  Let’s give it to them.

How do 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 live very, very modestly, which allows me to work just enough to pay the bills and still be a full-time city councilperson (50-70+ hours a week).  Due to the nature of the work, I do not foresee any conflicts whatsoever.

Should service on the San Antonio City Council provide a living wage? Why or why not?

I believe that it should, if only because it would attract a crop of highly-qualified candidates city-wide.  Not only would it professionalize the position, but it would also make it friendlier to people with families, single parents, and those among us whose hearts and minds are greater than our paychecks.  That’s really who we are as a city, and City Council should reflect that. 

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.

First, thank you for the opportunity.  I believe that it is important that people understand that I am here because I care about people.  Every broad concept we discuss- neighborhood revitalization, economic development, education, transportation, infrastructure, greenspaces, the arts, etc.- in my mind serves the purpose of improving the everyday quality of life of people: our families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates,  my mom… everyone. That is my approach to this position and the lens through which I see the world. I want to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, that everyone has a seat at the table.  Thanks again.- Diego

P.S. Go vote. The expected turn out in this election is less than 5,000 people.  Think your vote doesn’t count? Think again.





Find out what district you live in, how to register to vote, information on the the other districts and more in our 2011 City Council Election Guide.