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City’s Google Fiber fiasco a landmine for park bond

By   /   February 6, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 5 of 8 in the series City in bondage
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GROUND ZERO: Spanning less than an acre, Haskin Park [center] is in line to receive $300,000 in funds from San Antonio’s proposed bond package. Is it a payoff for an unwanted Google Fiber hut in the neighborhood?

 

A tiny neighborhood park is earmarked for $300,000 in San Antonio bond money, raising the specter of politics corrupting the city’s record debt package.

Haskin Park’s piece of the $830 million bond program is infinitesimal. So is the park’s size at 0.9 acre. But relative to its size, the city’s proposal to spend $7.50 per square foot there is the equivalent of plowing $150 million more into the sprawling Brackenridge Park a few miles away.

“Three-hundred thousand dollars is obscene. The city could build several land bridges for that,” said community activist John Whitsett, noting another controversial component in the upcoming bond election.

Whitsett is looking a gift horse in the mouth. For nearly nine months, he and his Haskin neighbors have battled the installation of a Google Fiber facility there.

Three months after the northside insurgency against the “Fiber Hut” on legal grounds, the city decided to allocate $300,000 for park improvements.

An Oct. 24 email from Marcus Hammer, director of the city’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department, revealed to a resident that “a playground shade area and other general park improvements” had been added to the bond list.

“Ultimately, the proposed improvements in Haskin Park will provide the local community and general public with an enhanced experience during their visit,” Hammer wrote.

Whitsett and members of the Oak Park-Northwood Neighborhood Association, the largest in the city, say the windfall was not coincidental.

“We’re the only Google park [among several planned sites in the city] that got a dime,” Whitsett told Watchdog.org. “It’s because we started complaining back in July.”

City Manager Sheryl Sculley last month suspended Google Fiber installations pending further review.

The Haskin affair isn’t helping the city’s bond campaign. While touting the need for more park expenditures, San Antonio’s Google Fiber deals are shrinking parks by transferring public space to private commercial use.

Haskin’s $300,000 taste of bond proceeds is contingent on voters approving the massive debt package in May. To ensure funds will get to Haskin, the city also scraped up $100,000 from the Parks & Recreation budget to replace existing playground equipment.

Whitsett says the neighborhood won’t be bought. He says City Hall broke trust by forcing the Google facility onto parkland without required public hearings.

In addition to Watchdog’s reports on the city violating its own codes and procedures, a written city promise that Google would pay for a service road turned to dust. The road was built with tax dollars.

Emilie Christian and Paul Jimenez, staffers for retiring local councilman Mike Gallagher, invited residents to weigh in on the upcoming bond bonanza, as if plans were still unsettled.

“Should you have any suggestions or ideas on how you would like to see money spent on Haskin Park in the future, please send them to [us],” Christian wrote.

“It made the most sense to advocate for funds to continue making improvements in a park that had not received any for so many years,” Christian told Watchdog in a subsequent email.

Whitsett and more than 100 neighborhood petitioners are unmoved.

“The only thing left for Haskin Park to receive is a demolition permit to destroy the illegal Google Fiber Hut. But bond money should not be used for that. $300,000 is fine, but it doesn’t solve the park destruction problem or the homeowners’ problem,” he said.

This article was updated at 7 p.m. Monday.

Kenric Ward reports for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward.

Part of 8 in the series City in bondage

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Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.