RonNirenberg

Six months into his first term as San Antonio’s mayor, Ron Nirenberg has sought to make solid impressions on various local issues, and even wider ones, such as climate change.

However, annexation, transportation, growth management and cultural inclusivity remain top priorities for the former District 8 councilman and radio-station manager who now leads the nation’s seventh-largest city.

Nirenberg said San Antonio, through long-range plans such as SA Tomorrow, seeks to improve connectivity and further develop neighborhoods where residents work, study, shop and play just a short drive, bicycle, bus ride or walk from home and basic services and amenities.

Developing more transportation options is the key, the mayor added.

LOCAL Community News staff including Publisher Jaselle Luna and Editor Thomas Edwards recently sat down with Nirenberg at City Hall to get his take on such issues, with a focus on the geographic areas covered by the newspaper.

Q: What are your thoughts on future North Side expansion?

A: I’ve had a lot of debates internally with colleagues here about the use of annexation, how we need to be a little more discerning about that as a tool for managed growth.

I, in fact, voted against a lot of North Side annexation because a couple of reasons. One, the economics of it were upside down. The state Legislature has continued to push what had been state-level authority onto local jurisdictions to take care of streets, infrastructure and services that have cost cities more money per square mile than they ever have before.

I have advocated for a city’s right to retain annexation authority because (of) legitimate and good reasons to do so. If you can control your destiny, help maintain quality of life by managing the growth in places that have not yet been developed for environmental or sustainability reasons, or limiting density on the outskirts of urban areas — that makes sense.

If you can use annexation to protect important, sensitive assets like military bases or aquifers — that makes sense. The reason I’m seeing cities use annexation in recent times has been to simply … add to their tax base, and the economies of scale on that are upside down.

I think cities need to have this debate. Cities need to have authority to annex to protect their own citizens’ quality of life, but I don’t see a need for a city like San Antonio to continue this march northward. In fact, it’s not in our interest, or communities that would be annexed, in their interest.

Q: What is the North Side’s top challenge?

A: Top of the list is transportation. It’s really a citywide issue, but congestion is a drag on the quality of life. Which is why I’m focused, sometimes in a politically challenging environment, on managed growth.

We have to do a better job of managing the outward growth of the city so the people who invest their livelihoods in homes on the North Side can protect the quality of life they’ve invested in.

We have to build roadway capacity where we can, but we have to be realistic — that is not the only solution to traffic congestion. It only exacerbates the problem we have if it’s the only solution we have.

 We have to build out linear creekways so that they’re not just recreational facilities, but that they also connect communities. We have to improve our pedestrian mobility, improving and connecting sidewalks. We have to put in bicycle lanes where they’re safe, and not just put a stripe on the side of the road and call it a bike lane. But, the big one is mass transit. It will be citizen driven and voter approved.

Q: Are you still in touch with San Antonio’s growing refugee community, a very diverse group in District 8, and are there any initiatives in the works?

A: We are. It’s a quality of life issue for San Antonio residents, of which many are refugees. We want to make sure they’re connected with the services provided by these organizations.

(Mayor’s Senior Policy Adviser) Maria Cesar has continued her efforts to pull together summit meetings with employers to help connect new arrivals with jobs that can sustain their families.

Housing, education, health care, transportation — making sure we’re working together, first, to be aware of the unique challenges that this population has, and to address them from a cultural standpoint.

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