Election coverage

District 2 Looking for a new life

District 2 waits in the wings

Joel Williams, District 2 incumbent

Previous City leaders have envisioned the economically depressed East Side as a sector to avoid, unless one is seeking drugs or sex from street-corner dealers and prostitutes. Nowadays, a Spurs game can provide a few hours of adrenaline rush, but if you take the word of some real-estate developers who own property around the SBC Center, there's not much else to attract San Antonians to the East Side.

In a recent issue of the San Antonio Register, former District 2 City Councilman Mario Salas summarized the historical viewpoint that City Hall has fostered regarding the East Side: "The entire East Side was for years a dumping ground for environmental racists who thought it was OK to sell land or build homes for African Americans in environmentally unsafe areas," he wrote.

That is the challenge of the District 2 City Council representative: rejuvenating a blighted area, while avoiding the problems associated with gentrification, such as forcing people from their homes.

Lloyd Barnes, who lives in Huntleigh Park near Houston Street and W.W. White Road, contends that current City Councilman Joel Williams has ignored constituents' complaints about development and have called for new leadership in that sector.

There is much more to the arguments about how one of the City's most neglected communities could be rejuvenated, but the top two contenders have ideas about the East Side: Williams, who has served the past two years, and challenger Sheila McNeil, who gained experience at City Hall while John Sanders served and who later worked in the office of state representative Ruth Jones McClendon before she filed for the District 2 City Council seat. David Arevalo didn't return calls from the Current; his comments at a recent debate are at sacurrent.com.

Sheila McNeil, District 2 challenger

An Urban Land Institute report was presented to the City Council last week. It focuses on land use near St. Paul's Square, from south of the Alamodome to north of Nolan Street, including Dignowity Hill, the Friedrich Building, and the residential area south of East Commerce Street, between South Cherry and Monumental streets. Its recommendations include improving gateways along East Commerce and improving traffic flow and the streetscape to connect the East Side to downtown.

Current: Do you have ideas for Empowerment Zone bonds, other than the $130 million slated for the Convention Center Head-quarters Hotel?

SM: Economic development, meaning the Urban Land Institute-recommended Commerce Street Corridor on East Commerce Street. These are the kinds of communities that (EZ bond) money was designated for. From the train track to the Friedrich Building, there is lots of blighted property that needs to be cleaned up and revitalized; it would be good use of that bond money.

JW: Tied to the hotel, the condominium project will be an added plus to the empowerment zone. We are putting in between 400 and 500 additional condos; it's a good win-win for the empowerment zone. I've been looking at the Hackberry Street Corridor.

Current: What can be done about the drug dealers and the prostitutes on Hackberry Street?

SM: It will take a community effort to come up with a viable plan to put resources into. We need to get the kids jobs and something to do; if they don't have any activity, they will get in trouble. We need to do community policing and work with programs and a plan to target that area really hard to alleviate the problem in the Hackberry Street area. On the 1/8-cent sales tax for a crime district, I take issue with raising taxes. I think we really need to take a look at the resources we have. I favor a library district versus a crime district.

"I take issue with raising taxes. I think we really need to take a look at the resources we have. I favor a library district versus a crime district."
Sheila McNeil, District 2 challenger

JW: I'm supporting the 1/8-cent sales tax for a crime-control district. We need to bring back the SAFFE (San Antonio Fear Free Environment) officers and add more police officers. I have had task forces working in the area, and we've made a difference. I think with the vandalism going on and the homeless wandering throughout that corridor, we need more light, more policing. With the crime-control district, 60 to 80 officers could be added per year in that program. We have had more debate and more dialogue, with the public supporting the crime control district versus other proposals out there.

Current: Around the SBC Center, a real-estate developer says he can't sell property on the East Side. Is he just sounding off because he can't get top dollar for his property?

SM: The SBC Center has to be developed. That was part of the promise. We spent $150,000 to do the east area arena plan. If we're going to spend that amount of money on the plan, we need to implement the plan. The issue is business owners around the SBC Center complain because people just come in and go right back out. They don't patronize the businesses in the area. We've got to market this City and all the resources we have on this side of town and around the SBC Center so we can get the development around there, that's critical.

"I'm supporting the 1/8-cent sales tax for a crime-control district. We need to add more police officers."
Joel Williams, District 2 incumbent

JW: On the SBC Center area, I've got a plan with developers looking very critically at that corridor. I can envision the possibilities between I-35 and I-10. Imagine if the City and County worked in partnership, to build more hotel space, with access to free exhibition space in the SBC Center. The County looked at the Reliant Center in Houston, and we think it's a win-win. They restored 100 acres for exhibition space, with one million square feet of space. If we put in 2/3 of that, we could get the Ford conventions. We need to bring market-rate retail space into the corridors of Commerce Street and along Houston Street.

By Michael Cary

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