Since President Barack Obama appointed Julián Castro last year to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the much-anticipated May 9 election for the Alamo City's next full-term mayor has shifted into overdrive.
The San Antonio Current sat down with the leading candidates vying to replace Castro, including Ivy Taylor, who has temporarily held the seat and now wants to keep it.
Other candidates interviewed include former State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and former State Rep. Mike Villarreal. Former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson was unavailable despite multiple attempts on our end to talk with him.
We asked candidates about the city's use of police body cameras, the non-discrimination ordinance, lack of arts funding, streetcar, SA2020 and the future of La Villita. Their answers were edited for clarity and length.
Current: What are your thoughts on the city's troubled re-bidding process for La Villita tenants and what are your plans for arts and culture funding?
Leticia Van de Putte: It should have never come to this in the first place. The city's process for our tenants at La Villita was disrespectful. I understand the goals of maximizing space, but the tenants were unable to provide input in the re-bidding process. I hope they would re-look at it in a manner that stays true to its intent as a community of craftsmen. A portion of the Hotel Tax can be used for arts, but it needs a direct link to increasing economic development and attracting visitors. We have huge amounts of talent — that for a lack of funding — has not been sustainable.
Mike Villarreal: I think it could be more effective. I believe the city should spend some time learning from how The Pearl, specifically, Silver Ventures, went about filling their spaces. They approached it more as a curator. Funding in arts and culture is a priority. We need to grow our economy to generate more revenue and we need to control costs in other areas, like public safety and we need to get more out of existing dollars we are spending.
Ivy Taylor: I think we need to do something different at La Villita, but I think we could have started by communicating with businesses that were already there on how they could improve their strategies. I will work with the staff to get us in the right direction to get where we need to be. Based on our current situation and status with the budget, particularly public safety, I could not tell you that I could make a commitment. But I would look at how we are spending current dollars to get the most bang for our buck and explore opportunities for partnerships and grant funding.
The LGBT community has continued to criticize the non-discrimination ordinance and Mayor Ivy Taylor for calling its passage a "political stunt." Is this fair?
Taylor: I think it's important for people to not just react emotionally. I characterized it that way because I felt leadership who pushed for it shouldn't just make speeches if they were committed to the premise. They should have worked to put something in place and I was shocked when I was appointed mayor and found nothing in place. If we're going to pass an ordinance, we have to implement it and when I became mayor, even though I voted against the ordinance, it was my responsibility to uphold the law of the land.
Van de Putte: It breaks my heart to hear the mayor say the NDO was a political stunt. My family members have been discriminated against in the workplace because of who they love. We need to make sure that in the workplace people are judged by performance and skill set — not for who they love back home. And that goes for everybody.
Villarreal: I don't believe Mayor Taylor's comment was fair. I would call it political courage that was required by members of the LGBT community and their straight allies, family members and friends who showed up to petition local government and get the policy approved.
Should every San Antonio police officer be equipped with a body camera?
Villarreal: Body cameras are not a panacea. And so I think they need to be strategically deployed. They are not a silver bullet solution because storing the video is expensive and technology is changing, which needs to be balanced with fiscal responsibility.
Taylor: I do believe that in order to provide this added measure of accountability that we should equip officers. I don't know for sure whether it should be every officer. That depends on what they do. But collective bargaining agreements with public safety officers impact the outcome on which resources we have available, including providing public safety officers with equipment.
Van de Putte: I think our next police chief will have a great opportunity to make recommendations. The cameras aren't the expensive part; it's archiving and retaining film and data. Cameras are appropriate for those folks who are protecting us, but it may not be right for every single unit.
If voters approve changes to the City Charter that require a public vote for light rail and streetcar, would you bring them a proposal?
Van de Putte: San Antonio has to look at its transportation plan. We need to maximize everything we do with VIA Metropolitan Transit. I'd like to see maximized park-and-rides. So when people talk about a spokes system where downtown is core, what if you live on the Northeast side and your job is in the Medical Center? So you have to look at connectors like the Wurzbach Parkway. We need to get people out of cars with bike-able and walk-able communities and more convenient public transit.
Villarreal: I think streetcar as proposed is dead. San Antonio is growing at a fast pace and we need more types of transportation, not fewer. I'm a big supporter of public transit because if we are going to double in population, we can't just double cars and trucks because it impacts quality of life. Options include a more robust bus rapid transit system along business corridors and congested highways, along with protected bike lines. We also need to bring back Lyft and Uber and create more safe spaces to walk and bike.
Taylor: I want to see what the outcome from our planning process is going to be. Right now, we are in the process of creating a multi-modal transportation plan in conjunction with land use and planning efforts to incorporate projected growth. So I think we have to be really thoughtful. I don't have a streetcar plan waiting on the shelf that I'm waiting to whip out. We need more community discussion on what is feasible for San Antonio.
Are you committed to SA2020?
Taylor: I think SA2020 was a great opportunity for San Antonians to come out and articulate our vision for what the city should be like in a 10-year time-frame. It's appropriate as a starting point in a larger discussion of a comprehensive plan that guides growth through 2040.
Van de Putte: SA2020 was a great process for community input. Its goals were very inspirational, to shoot for the moon, but in many instances those goals were not practical, like transportation. The goal was to triple VIA ridership. I'm sorry, it's a noble goal but it's not realistic, so let's look at what is doable and do as much as we can.
Villarreal: I'm a supporter of SA2020. I think it's helpful to know where things are on track and where things aren't on track. Knowing where you are on major issues is half the battle. I look forward to working with SA2020 and using it as a framework to harness not just the city's resources, but also public resources, volunteers and philanthropists.