San Antonio District 1 City Councilman Roberto Treviño and his remaining challenger, Mario Bravo, participated in a May 19 candidate forum where they wasted no time taking swipes at each other ahead of a June 5 election runoff.
Boisterous supporters for Bravo and Treviño came out in force as both candidates answered questions about issues such as development, incentives for developers, property taxes and appraisals, homelessness and police accountability.
Both contestants were asked about how best to bring about property tax relief. Treviño said part of the key lies in residents getting better educated about the appraisal process, which includes an opportunity to protest one’s appraisal.
Many residents have complained to the city about rising appraisals and tax rates, and about their own challenges to pay their property taxes each year.
Treviño, who chairs the Bexar County Appraisal District board, agreed the appraisal system must be reformed. He also said San Antonio only makes up a portion of a Bexar County resident’s tax bill, with other taxing entities making up the rest.
“Generally, commercial properties pay 60 cents on the dollar compared with residential, so every time commercial values drop, it puts pressure on residential values to go up,” he said.
Bravo blamed Treviño and BCAD for not doing enough to suppress a near-7% increase of residential appraisals during the COVID-19 pandemic. He added many residents, especially vulnerable community members, are getting taxed out of their homes.
“We need to do more. We need to expect more from our local elected officials,” he added.
The two candidates talked about developer incentives, and how much should the city be willing to support such things as tax abatements.
Treviño said he backs developments that positively add to a neighborhood and to the city’s main revenue streams.
“It’s all calculated to make sure we’re benefiting in a way that the city can grow, incentivize that growth and continue that momentum,” he added.
Bravo said he felt it irresponsible for any elected official to consider taking off the tax rolls prime pieces of real estate for years in order to approve a development while individual taxpayers struggle with increasing appraisals and tax bills.
“I think we need to scale back,” he added.
Bravo and Treviño tackled homelessness, one of the more hotly contested issues in the District 1 race.
Many residents in the Dellview neighborhood, where the District 1 field office is located, have criticized Treviño and his staff for directly serving large gatherings of unsheltered individuals at the office. Some neighbors say the homeless population in the area has grown.
Some of Treviño’s backers argue that Bravo’s campaign and their supporters have skewed the issue, and taken a more anti-homeless approach.
At the forum, Bravo said he believes homelessness can’t be treated as a crime, and that the city should take a housing-first approach. But he also said the city’s current homelessness action plan feels more piecemeal.
“If we’re going to be compassionate, we need to be more effective,” he added.
Treviño said the city’s current framework of collaboration continues to improve and could boost outreach to the homeless in every council district.
He also was unapologetic about having city personnel directly aid the homeless at the District 1 field office.
“If somebody comes to the city for help, you should help them,” he said. “Everyone here deserves to be treated with compassion.”
The candidates addressed the city’s Unified Development Code, which local officials and neighborhood associations say is flawed and should be more reflective of a community’s plan and needs.
“What you want and what you need is for us to help represent you and represent your voice,” Treviño said.
Treviño added it was important for the city to wait until after the pandemic fades to get input from neighborhoods toward addressing UDC amendments.
“There are things in the current UDC that, if we don’t address our own needs and concerns, it becomes a framework with consequences and not opportunities,” he added.
Bravo echoed sentiments of UDC critics that the city’s Development Services Department is more inclined to provide their own interpretations of projects and community plans, and are incentivized to approve projects to ensure a continuing flow of developer fees into city coffers.
“That’s a challenge and something we have to change because, otherwise, people in the neighborhoods have to go hire their own attorneys and fight the process,” Bravo added.
Bravo argued Treviño cannot be trusted to bring about such change if he accepts campaign contributions from developers.
Treviño retorted out-of-state donations were going to Bravo, who later said such contributions were not from special interests but rather from friends, past classmates and other personal well-wishers.
The two candidates were asked what type of police accountability would they promote following voters’ narrow rejection of Proposition B in the May 1 election.
The measure, which proposed repealing police officers’ collective bargaining rights, attracted more total votes than the mayoral race.
Treviño, who backed Prop B, said the election results reflected a near even split among voters.
“It shows everyone wants accountability,” he said. He added that the city’s current police contract negotiations must result in a new pact that stresses more accountability and transparency in police reform and disciplinary practices.
“We will make sure that, as the contract moves forward, that is at the forefront,” Treviño said.
Bravo said he worked with the police reform organization Fix SAPD and similar advocates before Prop B had collected enough petition signatures to land a spot on the May 1 ballot. He added police accountability is “non-negotiable.”
Bravo also charged Treviño had done nothing about police reform during his six years in office “until he put his finger in the wind and wondered ‘What will help me get elected this time?’”
Additionally, Bravo called for setting up an independent oversight committee, supported by attorneys, that could help thoroughly review allegations of use of excessive force.
Click here to watch the conversation in its entirety.
Early voting for five council runoffs will be held 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 24-28, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 29 and June 1 at area sites such as Lions Field, 2809 Broadway, San Antonio College Victory Center, 1819 N. Main Ave., Tobin Library at Oakwell, 4134 Harry Wurzbach, and the county elections office, 1103 S. Frio St.