Election - District 8 Bumper to bumper

Love traffic? Try District 8

Carlos Cardenas (Photos by Lisa Sorg)

Mike Keogh

Bert Cecconi

Art Hall

Drive near I-10 and Loop 1604 or on Wurzbach, you know that District 8 has a traffic problem. The district, part of which lies over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, encompasses parts of northwest and north-central San Antonio, an area that grew too fast without proper planning.

Five candidates think they have the answers to D8's problems: Dentist Bert Cecconi, UTSA grad student and computer analyst Carlos Cardenas, incumbent Art Hall an attorney and investment banker, insurance agent Mike Keogh, and attorney Gabe Perales.

Current: What are the top issues in your district?

Bert Cecconi: I think leadership is lacking at City Hall. I strongly feel it's important to pass the tax freeze for those 65 and older and our disabled.

Carlos Cardenas: Infrastructure and being able to sustain a good living.

Art Hall: Transportation infrastructure, parks and libraries, open space, senior citizens issues like the tax relief.

Mike Keogh: Traffic, drainage, and passing a tax freeze for our seniors.

Gabe Perales: Traffic and the lack of parks and bike lanes, keeping the aquifer protected from contamination. Capping the property tax is also very important.

Current: How do you plan to address those issues?

CC: That's going to have to be decided by the voters. It would have to be a bond. Also, helping people getting involved in their communities.

BC: Traffic has been talked about for the past 15 years and we haven't done too much about it. The time has come. We need better-synchronized lights, improvements to Babcock and 1604, Hausman, Prue, DeZavala. It's going to take a bond issue that's well-thought out and planned and presented to the people in a clear and concise way.

AH: I'd like to see more money than what we're currently allocating to fixing and repairing our streets. Now we do $2 million per district; I'd like to double or triple that. Historically we've done a poor job with planning; it's 20 years behind rather than 20 years ahead. We need to work with TxDot officials . There are traffic studies already being done and we need to make sure we get projects on the books; they take years to complete

We're expanding the Hausman Library and with 2003 bonds we're doing a linear park and a sports facility. A priority is purchasing land over aquifer and improving those to park status so people can use them.

GP: Eight is already built up. Our district is pretty much residential and we should keep beautifying it. We would like to get some federal funding to get bike lanes and maybe some transportation funds for DeZavala. We have a problem with the railroad track; there ought to be a way to get an overpass built.

MK: TxDOT owns NW Military Highway and is going to expand it to seven lanes with sidewalks and curbs. The concerns are you're going to put in concrete medians where folks won't be able to turn into businesses. Some people want stop lights; others don't. Others want crosswalks. I can't tell TxDot what to do but we can sit down with them and have them make some concessions. Also where drainage can't be corrected immediately there has to be some temporary Band-aids to put on.

Current: What kind of money will you need for that?

GP: We would need about $3-4 million for an overpass. The bike lanes could be folded into the maintenance of the streets.

MK: Each councilman entitled to $300,000 in discretionary funds. I haven't completed my analysis, but I would take $250,000 of it for temporary fixes until city, state, federal dollars come in to permanently fix the problem. I also cannot stand wasteful spending. I'd love to do away with discretionary funding and put it back into general fund. Why carve out $300,000 and pick and choose where it should go? The money should go through the same process as general funds, with no one having the ability to play favorites.

Current: Without discretionary funds, how would you pay for the temporary infrastructure repairs?

MK: Discretionary funds would go to the general fund. And we would use existing assets to fix temporary problems.

Current: Bert Cecconi, how would you address the leadership issue?

BC: Leadership has to be somewhat more mature.

Current: You mean in terms of age or experience?

Political maturity. Council voted to OK the PGA contract and then they voted to open up again and then they voted to pass it again. Flip flop: If it works for Mr. Bush, it ought to work for me. When you're elected, your votes should reflect your campaign rhetoric. We have someone who talks like an environmentalist but his voting record is more of a developer. The quarry at 1604 and I-10, Art Hall voted for it. It's sensitive recharge area. Why vote for that and then against the golf course that had rather solid restrictions? And the way the city manager was fired. Art Hall hasn't hesitated to tell anybody he was the only one on City Council against that. The point is you don't run out of a meeting and badmouth the people you have to work with.

Current: In the City budget, what needs more money? Where can cuts be made?

BC: First, the discretionary funds. Look in dictionary for discretionary, look under s for slush. With the Prop 3 tax freeze, `which caps property taxes to the first $65,000 of the appraisal for seniors and the disabled` the Bexar Appraisal District budget would decrease because of a lighter workload and that would save money. Then I think we could probably find $1-2 million without raising taxes.

`Editor's Note: The appraisal district receives money from taxing units like the City for conducting annual appraisals; the reimbursement is based on the tax amount.`

Current: Will you benefit from the freeze?

BC: I doubt it. I'm guessing our house is maybe worth $140,000. I'd benefit from it some. I don't know what my taxes are now. It's like the phone bill, I rubber stamp it. The tax should be equal. If you're lucky enough to make enough to live in the Dominion, you should still get the tax freeze.

CC: If you look at the budget, you can't determine anything. You can see the number and what it's for and a short summary, but you can't make a solid judgment. I was expecting a budget, an entire breakdown of expenditures. With the UTSA budget, you see an entire breakdown of where the money is going.

AH: We need more money in parks, public works, and code compliance. I'd like to do more with graffiti and crime with police budget. For cultural arts we dedicate 10 percent of the Hotel/Motel Tax and I'd like to bump it to 12 or 13 percent. For cuts, each department would cut 2-3 percent of its budget. I'm open to staff giving us recommendations.

We had a $30 million deficit last year due to $15 million in health-care costs and another $8-9 million was for contractual obligations to fire and police. Even if we keep other revenue same, those costs increase each year. I'd like to keep the sales tax rate as it is. Part of my strategy is to look at energy conservation so we're not relying on so much energy. We need to model our electric and gas usage on water conservation. We use 50 percent less water than we did 10 years ago; that's pretty amazing. I'd like to see us do something similar on energy conservation side, but we have to think about the impact to the budget.

`Editor's Note: City Public Service gives 14 percent of its revenues towards the General Fund each year. If energy consumption decreases, then so would CPS revenues that would go toward the General Fund.`

MK: I'm very naive on the city budget. I'm a fiscal conservative, a Republican who wants to provide basic city services without getting into people's lives.

GP: Police need more money. Security's very important, especially downtown. If you scare away the tourists, we would have a lot of problems. I would like to take a look at the whole budget areas of waste duplication cut those areas. We spend money on things that are not the problems of the city. We shouldn't go off on wild tangents and getting into things we have no business becoming embroiled in, such as the homeless issue.

Current: What is your opinion of the panhandling ordinance? What are the long-term solutions to homelessness?

BC: I don't know if there is a long-term solution. We can help in some manner those who are trying to help the homeless. Whether we can eradicate it, I doubt it. I don't know what the $10 million `the amount City Council proposed to address homelessness over the next decade` would do, i'm not that well versed on it.

CC: With the panhandling ordinance, I have mixed feelings. We're going to have address homelessness: We can't throw them off street, but can't let them stay there. We need more people like Councilwoman Radle to put a face to homelessness.

AH: I don't know if panhandling was a homelessness issue but an economic development issue, maintaining the tourist industry downtown. Long-term, we need to do more to provide services: shelters, food, job opportunities. I think the previous council spent $26,000 on homelessness; the budget is $1.2 million now. We have to recognize it's never going to be enough. We need to have more comprehensive package. There's not a lot that the city can directly do, but we have supported other agencies and entities that provide services.

MK: I don't think we should have gotten into the panhandling issue as a City. If we want to help the homeless, there are plenty of assets: corporations, individuals, and agencies.

GP: If they don't belong on streets, they can be institutionalized. We should be helping those that need help, like families that have been thrown out on the streets. I don't think we need to be a haven for people who don't want to work. What we have today is an outgrowth of the hippie generation. The asylums tossed people out on the streets and then we also have a hard-core group of people who don't want to work. I don't know what to do except ask the charitable instutitions, the faith-based movements to help.

Current: How do you balance environmental and water issues with developers' interests?

CC: When developers take the initiative and want to be environmentally friendly - I'd like to see more of that. But if developers aren't willing to voluntarily comply, we need stricter rules.

AH: There are limitations in terms of state statute, but we're working to advocate for local control on vested rights and water quality. The more frequently we can sit down and encourage developer and neighborhood and environmental groups to come to consensus the better. We're reviewing the water quality ordinance, which is 10 years old. We're balanced from my perspective in that neighborhood and environmental folks are involved in policy and as much as developers. In the past, I don't think we've done that as effectively as we should have.

GP: Responsible development is something like the PGA, which is better than residential use. We have enough legislation to protect it. We need to make sure it's enforced.

MK: I'm in favor of Proposition 1 and how we can guarantee the quantity and quality of the water we use. It will help that we can now go out and buy areas outside the City and Bexar County. Proposition 2 would purchase more linear park space. The last proposition generated $20 million but only $2 million has been purchased. I'd like to find out where the other $18 million is that hasn't been used yet.

We have rules on books to help deal with city versus development issues. All the constraints have worked. We have some of the strictest rules in Texas: ordinances that were voluntarily agreed to, such as the tree ordinance. There's not a tainted water issue. If we further increase restrictions and limit ability, we will stifle our growth. I hope that I can sit down with every developer on each of their projects and say to those folks we know what the rules require you to do, but this is what we'd like you to get closer to.

`Editor's note: Several private wells in Leon Valley have tested high for PCE, a hazardous solvent. Other wells on the North Side have had small amounts of contaminants, and wells near Kelly Air Force Base have been highly contaminated. The tree ordinance was the product of several years of developer-driven negotiations.`

BC: If we think we can buy a bit of land and affect our water quality, we're dreaming. We live in an area where terrorism is a real threat. What would happen if a terrorist threw something in the aquifer or the trains that fell off the track spilled something that went into the aquifer. One of our lines of defense is a purification plan because we might need a backup.

Somewhere in between there is an answer to acceptable environmental protections and acceptable development. Look at Camp Bullis: Either it will stay the way it is and the Army will own it, or the City or County could own it.

There are buried mustard gas containers and other environmental problems there.

BC: We'd have to look into it and see if it's a danger for folks. My point is, it's a lot of open area.

Current: Parts of the booming South Side are eligible for tax breaks. Why should we give tax abatements in areas where growth is inevitable?

CC: I don't want to allow a company to come in and put out three or four local businesses. I would decide on a case-by-case basis.

BC: I'd look at any given situation on an individual basis; it's a judgment call.

AH: I don't know if growth is inevitable. Toyota received economic incentives to move things along. I don't think that's enough to do what we need to do for housing and education. I think there is a present need for tax incentives to make sure we have a strong beginning in that process. I support economic generators such as bioscience and biotech, UTSA, SATAI. I want to make sure USAA wants to continue to be here, to touch base with them and make sure they don't have issues. They're interested in larger city issues and our plans for making SA a successful city. How do you define a successful city?

AH: Making sure that it's business-friendly and the process is smoother than it has been regarding permits and development services. Making sure there is quality of life: parks and libraries, open space, transportation. We're a Tier 2 city. I'm hoping San Antonio will become a Tier 1 city while keeping its culture and history, pulling in high-paying jobs and keeping companies here.

Current: Is there anything you'd like to add?

GP: I think that one of the things is term limits. It's created a dire situation for San Antonio. I have noticed that a lot of the people being elected are very young and don't have the foundation to really be very deliberate in the way they have to choose policy.

MK: If I could do something for District 8, it would be to create an environment where as a district people could come together. Let's have some fun. Let's get volunteers and corporations and put on an annual festival and bring together factions of the district into a cohesive unit.

BC: It's important to give our first responders support. They are the front line in the defense on the war on terror.

Is it probable or possible there will be a terrorist attack in the U.S. or San Antonio?

Is it possible? Yes. It's a definite threat.

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