The city is helping vulnerable community members and small businesses in North Central adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, many local leaders and residents say it’s not enough. Others worry tough financial decisions are needed to counter lost revenues, which some estimate could cost San Antonio $200 million overall.
City Council in early June approved a $191 million plan — partly derived from federal sources — to boost small-business aid, housing security, workforce development and enhanced internet access in the North East Independent School District and other select neighborhoods to help high school and college students with distance learning.
As pandemic cases began to surge, on June 17, County Judge Nelson Wolff issued an executive directive mandating that businesses require employees and customers wear protective masks if they are closer than 6 feet to each other. Each violation is punishable by a $1,000 fine.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg noted folks require support from local government, especially because many workers lost their jobs or were furloughed.
“A majority of people have been affected by this economic crisis and they’re teetering on the edge. They need action,” he added. “They need relief.”
The city’s new assistance package includes grants of varying amounts for eligible small businesses and arts-related ventures, individual artists and nonprofits.
San Antonio is providing rental and mortgage assistance, plus expanded financial counseling and domestic-violence prevention measures.
The municipality is also leasing more than 300 motel rooms to temporarily shelter the homeless.
In addition, the plan is funding workforce training to help 10,000 people prepare for high-demand jobs.
Money here includes subsidies for trainees to temporarily pay for basic living costs, such as rent and groceries.
About $96 million in the plan comes from federal emergency dollars, including the $270 million in stimulus funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — or CARES — Act.
The rest is from the city’s general fund, which has seen an income drop — especially in hotel-occupancy taxes and airport usage.
Yet, many residents pushed for a delay so the city could reallocate more relief dollars toward emergency housing and workforce development.
While city leaders endorsed an emergency relief package, some argued for more small business help.
Area businesses including Canyon Cafe, The Davenport, Spaghetti Warehouse, Gourdough’s and the Alamo Quarry Market locations of Papouli’s Greek Grill and Zedric’s all closed.
“Small businesses are the backbone of this community. When you look across all the allocations, it’s one of the smallest allocations here,” District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said.
“I’m hopeful we can find other resources … to stimulate (small businesses),” District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales added.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said local arts organizations — which saw the city suspend their funding weeks ago — require help.
“We cannot afford to lose who we are as a community,” he said. “We cannot afford to lose the incredible things that artists bring to our community.”
While San Antonio works to safely reopen its public facilities, including libraries, with capacity limits and safety measures, city officials acknowledged the upcoming fiscal year 2021 looks uncertain.
The city projects nearly $200 million in losses because of fewer tourists and visits to businesses, as well as declining CPS Energy income, among other revenue sources.
The city continues to furlough employees, primarily in departments and programs reliant on hotel-occupancy taxes and convention and visitor-related revenues.
“We made the cuts in our budget in order to stay balanced. I think we’re all going to keep an eye on fiscal year 2021,” City Manager Erik Walsh said.
Elsewhere, the state is letting more businesses and cultural recreational venues, such as the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Zoo, McNay Art Museum and the relocated Kiddie Park, open with capacity limits and safety measures.
Meanwhile, the San Antonio River Walk Association and Centro San Antonio partnered to provide safety measures and resources along the downtown part of the River Walk.
Since March, Centro’s “ambassadors” have used disinfectant to clean frequently touched spots such as handrails, elevators, crosswalk buttons, parking-lot pay stations, scooters, sidewalks and River Walk business entrances several times daily.
“Public safety is top-of-mind as the River Walk and Downtown San Antonio reopen,” River Walk association Executive Director Maggie Thompson said in a news release.
Cities including Alamo Heights, Olmos Park and Terrell Hills have maintained limited capacity and safety protocols in their public facilities, parks and common areas.
Building permits must be applied and paid for online in Olmos Park.
Alamo Heights has been contending with an unexpected type of pandemic fallout. Unable to use traditional forms of public recreation, some children or teenagers installed illegal bicycle ramps on the Jack Judson Nature Trails.
This has resulted in damage to the natural trails, according to Friends of Hondondo Creek, a community group that maintains the trails.
The city and the community group have mulled alternatives, such as possibly establishing a bicycling area outside the trail system, or even an official bike park.
In addition, Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and San Antonio cancelled their regular Independence Day mass gatherings this year.