OPINION: Workforce Development Key to San Antonio’s Economic Recovery
by Mayor Ron Nirenberg
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a damaging blow to San Antonio’s economy.
Some 160,000 San Antonio area workers have filed for unemployment since March, and the unemployment rate is almost 13 percent. That qualifies as a crisis.
Many of the lost jobs will not be coming back. And we see numerous reports about ailing industries that may be forced to make cuts in the coming months.
If we don’t take extraordinary action to address COVID-caused unemployment, we could wind up with a significant increase in homelessness as well as other problems. Demand at the San Antonio Food Bank continues at levels twice that of the pre-COVID rate.
With so many difficulties confronting our community, I am encouraged that we have been able to develop an economic recovery framework, which was announced on Thursday.
The framework, a collaborative effort between the City of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit, would allow the city to use the one-eighth cent sales tax that becomes available next year on an economic opportunity/workforce development program as soon as the revenue stream becomes available.
The city would use the revenue for a set period of time or until $100 million to $125 million is collected. We are working to determine the best approach.
After that, the revenue would be permanently dedicated to the transportation system. Elections must be called respectively by City Council and the Advanced Transportation District, which is the VIA board. Separate measures would be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
I will be encouraging my City Council colleagues to put the economic recovery initiative on the ballot. The election must be called by Aug. 17.
Continental Hotel Sold To Weston Urban For Mixed-Use Project
by Texas Public Radio
The City Council voted last Thursday to sell the former Continental Hotel property at 322 W. Commerce St. to Weston Urban, the San Antonio-based developer whose portfolio includes the Frost Tower and more than a dozen properties in west downtown. Construction on an apartment mid-rise on the property could potentially be for “future students, faculty, and staff” at University of Texas at San Antonio’s expansion on Dolorosa across the street south.
The purchase price for the four-story Continental Hotel and the adjacent parking lot, located a half-block west of City Hall, is $4.7 million.
Two years ago, Weston Urban purchased the abutting two-story Arana building and the O. Henry House Museum, which face the 600 block of Dolorosa; all structures including the Continental are bound by West Commerce, San Pedro Creek, Dolorosa and South Laredo. There are no plans yet for the O. Henry House, where American writer William Sydney Porter lived in 1885, said Weston Urban President Randy Smith.
Weston Urban intends to preserve and refurbish the Continental Hotel and Arana buildings, rather than eviscerate them leaving only the facade—a common practice in San Antonio. On the lot between the buildings, a new structure containing 274 apartments rising 8-12 stories will be built. At least half of the apartments will be reserved for people making 80% of area median income, which is $72,000 for a family of four according to preliminary 2020 federal estimates.
San Antonio named among top solar cities
by San Antonio Business Journal
Environment Texas Wednesday named San Antonio fifth in the nation for solar energy capacity.
For the seventh year in a row, the environmental advocacy organization placed San Antonio on its list of "shining cities." This year, the Alamo City hit its highest ranking, moving from seventh to fifth place for cities with most installed megawatts of solar power.
At the end of 2019, the city's rooftops held 255 megawatts of solar energy, a 36% increase from the 2018 total of 187 megawatts. San Antonio is the leader among three Texas cities listed in the top 20. Austin took 14th place and Houston made it to 19th place after not ranking last year.
One of the projects initiated by CPS Energy in 2019 to expand solar capacity was Big Sun Community Solar, a partnership with San Antonio-based GoSmart Solar to install solar panels on carport rooftops. The use of carports allows those who can't put panels on their rooftops to purchase solar power and take advantage of a federal tax credit. The utility also set aside another $15 million for a decade-long rebate program that reimburses customers for the installation of rooftop solar panels.
San Antonio's assistant city manager announces intent to resign to pursue 'a professional change'
Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, who was appointed to the position last summer, said she intends to resign from the City of San Antonio to launch a private local consulting business.
COVID-19 blasts $200 million hole in San Antonio city budget as officials weigh $290 million in federal stimulus dollars
by Joshua Fechter - San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio’s budget shortfall spurred by economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has grown to $200 million even as city officials grapple with how to spend $270 million in federal stimulus dollars.
Pandemic prompts increased push to recruit bioscience talent in SA
by W. Scott Bailey - San Antonio Business Journal
The San Antonio Economic Development Foundation — through its workforce development arm, SA Works — is engaging leading academic, government and private industry players in the bioscience research and commercialization sectors to investigate short-term needs for high-demand and hard-to-fill jobs in the region.
SA Works is tasked with connecting educational programs and opportunities in the region with the bioscience industry's need to recruit, train and retrain talent. Meanwhile, EDF's workforce team is seeking to bring together key stakeholders for a virtual summit to discuss strategies to fill workforce gaps and expand collaboration.
That initiative follows a June recalibration of the San Antonio EDF’s five-year economic development strategy, which identified bioscience and military medicine as areas of strength and opportunity for the Alamo City. Because of the pandemic, this heightened engagement now includes a focus on how Covid-19 is impacting the bioscience industry and the role it can play in combating the virus.
Halliburton announces closure of San Antonio-area plant, cutting 384 jobs
by Darian Trotter - Fox 29 - News4SA
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on the oil and gas industry here in the Lone Star State.
Halliburton is closing two sites in Texas, one just southeast of San Antonio.
According to industry leaders, the decision is due to a challenging market created by falling crude oil prices.
San Antonio’s female council majority puts women’s issues front and center
by Sara Cline - San Antonio Express-News
The female majority sworn in to the City Council six months ago has brought an increased sense of urgency to domestic violence, wage parity, gender diversity on city boards and commissions, and other problems affecting women.
Councilwomen Shirley Gonzales, Ana Sandoval and Rebecca Viagran — incumbents who were re-elected in the May general election and were later joined by three female newcomers elected in the June runoff — said they have noticed a shift in the conversation on the previously male-dominated council.
“With more female perspective and female voices, you’ve seen a growth in addressing these issues,” Viagran said. “We are not just talking about solutions. We are implementing them.”
Newcomers Jada Andrews-Sullivan, Adriana Rocha Garcia and Melissa Cabello Havrda took their oaths of office in June, standing alongside Gonzales, Sandoval and Viagran. It was the second time in the city’s history that voters had installed a majority-female council. The previous such council served from January 2008 to May 2009.
Ethics panel sidestep proposal to give City Council members, businesses bidding on city contracts more time to talk
by Joshua Fechter - San Antonio Express-News
The city’s Ethics Review Board decided Tuesday not to move forward with a potential change to the city’s Ethics Code that would have shortened the so-called blackout period between council members and bidders on high-level contracts.
Right now, council members and businesses seeking contracts can’t communicate until the contract is set for a full council vote. That’s been the rule since 2006.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño had sought to relax that requirement in order to give council members more time before they decide on multi-million dollar contracts.
Council members have to wait until the contract is posted on the council’s agenda before they can speak with the bidders. Treviño said the agendas aren’t posted consistently, and sometimes council members have as few as three days to weigh complex and lucrative contracts. City spokeswoman Laura Mayes said agendas are posted one week before council meetings.
Frustration over recent votes on two major city contracts this year drove Treviño to pursue the change. Council members didn’t have enough time to vet the contracts before they approved them, he said.
For example, the council’s controversial March vote to strike Chick-fil-A from an airport concessions contract — a move spearheaded by Treviño. The first time council members discussed the contract was the day they voted on it — and they voted to remove Chick-fil-A from the contract.
Then in September, council voted to renew Ticketmaster’s ticketing service agreement with the city for another five years, with a possible five-year extension — just one day after they were briefed on it.
City Auditor Kevin Barthold told Ethics Review Board members Tuesday that moving forward, the council would not be put in the position of voting on a multi-million dollar contract the day after they first get briefed on the pact.
“That’s the exception, not the rule,” Barthold said.
In September, city staff laid out a new process to give council members regular updates on bids for contracts worth at least $1 million. Ethics Review Board members largely agreed that council members should let that process play out before making any rule changes.
San Antonio’s “blackout” period is longer than in some other cities, Barthold said. In El Paso, council members are allowed to talk to contract bidders when the meeting agenda is posted, but that city usually posts them three days before the meeting.
San Antonio Green-Lights $250,000 Economic Development Grant For Geekdom
by Paul Flahive - Texas Public Radio
San Antonio City Council voted to fund a $250,000 grant to the for-profit, co-working space Geekdom on Thursday to pilot a civic technology incubator.
“Collaborations like this — which give local tech projects a launching ground and public support — can help develop new technologies and new leaders to solve age-old problems,” said Manny Pelaez, councilman for District 8, in a statement.
Geekdom will pilot a two-year Civic Tech Division with that money to assist companies who want to build technology solutions for local governments. Geekdom is the largest co working space in Texas with more than 1,700 members and is owned by San Antonio-billionaire Graham Weston.
The pilot program will build on the success the city feels it achieved partnering with Geekdom on CivTechSA, a similar program, that the city puts $200,000 towards.
CivTechSA takes startups and pairs them with city departments to find tech solutions. At the end of the 16-week residency, the city can choose to purchase the technological solution the company developed.
City Council approves millions in incentives for two projects expected to bring 1,200 jobs
by Garrett Brnger - KSAT
The San Antonio City Council approved more than $13 million worth of incentives for a truck manufacturing plant and a bakery that are estimated to bring a combined 1,200 jobs to the San Antonio area.
Navistar, a heavy truck manufacturer, plans to break ground this year on a new manufacturing facility near Mitchell Lake and U.S. 281 on the South Side. Meanwhile, FGF Brands, Texas, which was formerly known as Hill Country Bakery, plans to relocate and expand its San Antonio presence with a new business campus and bakery near State Highway 151 and South Callaghan Road.
San Antonio City Council awards contract to Ticketmaster over Tobin Center
by Iris Dimmick - Rivard Report
San Antonio City Council voted 9-1 Thursday to award Ticketmaster a five-year, multimillion dollar contract to continue to provide ticketing services to area sports and entertainment venues.
After two hours of discussion, which covered the merits of a competing proposal from the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and a failed motion to delay the vote, City Council also directed staff to determine how the revenue generated from the deal could further support local arts and entertainment organizations. Ticketmaster will contribute $50,000 annually to that City fund as part of the deal; the Tobin Center had proposed a $500,000 contribution.
Council members weighed giving a globally recognized company with the highest score against a local nonprofit entity that the philanthropic community, City, and Bexar County spent millions to establish. The conversation on Thursday came amid changes to the way City Council will be updated on high-profile, big-dollar, or complex contracts in the future – with more lead time to give members more time to digest and understand them.
City proposes plan to use tourism revenue to combat homelessness in San Antonio
by Patty Santos - KSAT 12
San Antonio tourists are being asked to contribute $1 million to solving issues surrounding homelessness in the city.
A budget proposal that is being considered would raise the Go Rio barge tours and Tower of the Americas tickets by 50 cents.
The funds would be split: Haven for Hope would get $500,000 and $560,000 would be reserved to expand support for the homeless in a yet to be identified Homeless Community Strategic Plan.
The details of the plan are expected to be announced in March 2020.
San Antonio City Council Approves First Ever Homestead Exemption
by Joey Palacios - San Antonio Express-News
Homeowners in San Antonio have a new tax exemption available to them this fall. The San Antonio City Council approved its first homestead exemption in a special meeting called Monday night.
The council approved a 0.01% exemption for homesteads. It works out to a flat $5,000 exemption applied to all residential properties where a homestead exemption is applied. For all homeowners, it would save about $28 per year while the city would lose about $5.8 million in property tax revenue.
The exception is the first of its kind for the city. Homeowners in San Antonio can already apply two exemptions, like the over-age-65 exemption and a disability exemption which lowers their property tax bill as well.
The homestead was passed unanimously by the council. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said this is a first step to see the impact and what the city can do in future budgets.
“Our intent is to not only provide the best quality services in an equitable city budget but also to provide as much property tax relief as possible for our city,” he said.
COSA Building Standards Board Applications Due Jun 17
8 June 2019
San Antonio Runoffs: District 2 Profiles
Joey Palacios - Texas Public Radio
6 June 2019
There are three city council races on this Saturday’s runoff ballot, including District 2.
The runoff candidates are Jada Andrews-Sullivan, a veteran and business owner, and Keith Toney, who has served as an interim councilman for the district.