Returned to City Hall for a second term, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez says his priorities include dealing with “tremendous exponential growth” on the North and Northwest sides.
During the next two years, he also wants to finish several infrastructure and social initiatives he and his City Council colleagues started to keep San Antonio moving forward, Pelaez said.
“A lot of projects that we undertook needed to be completed,” he noted. “Two years is really a blink of an eye when it comes to public policy.”
In the May 4 election, Pelaez received 58 percent of the vote, besting USAA senior reporting analyst Tony Valdivia and political consultant Frankie Gonzales-Wolfe.
Pelaez, an attorney who first took office in June 2017 after a runoff against Cynthia Brehm, represents homeowner associations, businesses, schools and international companies.
The council member said first-term successes included funding more than 100 miles of sidewalk and street repairs, hiring more police and firefighters, and bringing thousands of jobs to town.
“Manny Pelaez is an energetic, creative public servant who has continued the great progress of District 8 and the city,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the previous district representative.
Pelaez said San Antonio’s rapid population increase — nearly 70 people a day, according to government figures — brings changes in traffic, demographics, housing density, health, public safety and infrastructure.
Road congestion is a main concern, especially along Interstate 10 West, he said.
While constant construction and lane closures might cause motorists some headaches, Pelaez said it’s important to remember the work is authorized by the Texas Department of Transportation, not San Antonio.
Yet, he believes the improvements are part of a “well-thought-out plan,” so long as officials anticipate future population spikes.
“I fear, however, the expansion of a major artery like that will result in some alleviation of traffic congestion for a while. But, as we continue to grow, those new lanes will get filled and we’re going to be back at square one,” Pelaez said.
As neighborhoods and businesses sprout on the far North Side, Pelaez said encroachment around Camp Bullis must be limited. The Army trains soldiers for night missions and surrounding development could threaten the camp with light pollution, he warned.
The city wanted to annex the area last year, but voters nixed the idea. Officials said development must be controlled so urbanization doesn’t chase off the military, which pours billions into local and state coffers.
Pelaez also desires to help new parents.
Recently, he pushed an initiative mandating baby-changing stations in public restrooms — men’s and women’s — and in restaurants, with unanimous support from other council members.
In addition, panhandling — often by the homeless — has remained an issue at busy intersections east of I-10 West. To help alleviate the situation, not long ago he unveiled a campaign called Change The Way We Give.
A partnership between the city’s Department of Human Services and the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless allows folks to text donations to aid street dwellers.
This new service is designed to limit panhandling on bustling motorways, where safety is a factor for both drivers and vagabonds.
While it’s a citywide undertaking, the pilot program launches in District 8.
“We’re asking people to change the way they give and to really be more mindful about their role in the panhandling problem and their role in rolling down the window,” Pelaez said.
Phase one is educating the public.
To participate, donors can contribute by texting “SAGIVES” to 41444. Funds go directly to the city and SARAH.
Property taxes are another worry for constituents, said the councilman, who is backing a study of Bexar County Appraisal District’s valuation practices compared to elsewhere.
State lawmakers this session also passed legislation to lower property taxes, which could buoy the councilman’s case.
Pelaez noted the report would take two months.
Neighborhood leaders say the councilman isn’t afraid to champion unpopular causes needing addressing.
“I think it’s great that he’s willing to tackle issues that nobody else wants to touch,” said Robert “Abe” Abraham, former president and board member of the Oakland Heights Homeowners Association and the Northwest Neighbors Against Crime, which promotes Citizens on Patrol.
“I think one of the best things about the councilman is that he communicates well. Communication is 90 percent listening and I think he listens well,” Abraham said.
Meanwhile, more homes priced from $170,000 to $200,000 must become available in his district to attract families just getting started and young professionals Pelaez said.
Growth also has an impact on domestic violence, according to Pelaez.
“I’m super alarmed at the numbers we’re seeing in San Antonio. One in three women have a domestic violence story to tell. That’s unacceptable,” he said.
In early May, Pelaez and District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales asked colleagues to prioritize and increase funding for comprehensive domestic- and intimate-partner violence education, plus response and prevention strategies, according to a release.
He also collaborated with K9s for Warriors, where large dogs at Animal Care Services are trained to comfort disabled veterans. The Florida-based nonprofit is committed to rescue up to 200 dogs locally.