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Medina, Soules join forces to attack $200 million in bond ‘pork’

By   /   March 9, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 8 of 8 in the series City in bondage
Photo by Kenric Ward

FIELD OF GREEN: Land is cleared for a new hotel and apartments to squeeze Hemisfair Park. Critics say the city’s bond is a better deal for developers than the public.

 

Mayoral candidate Manuel Medina wants to slice $200 million in “pure pork” from San Antonio’s bond package.

Former city councilman Carlton Soules seconds the motion.

With the chairman of the local Democratic Party and a staunch conservative joining forces, the city’s $850 million bond faces a left-right punch at the polls.

Soules, an outspoken critic of the record debt package, sees millions in “potential boondoggles”:

  • San Pedro Creek: $20 million. “This was supposed to be a county project with no city funds,” he says.
  • Downtown headquarters for park police: $20 million. “The city built a $90 million police headquarters downtown [in 2014]. Less than a mile away, does this headquarters improve service or is it just about giving people a nicer office?”
  • Broadway improvements: $43 million. “It takes away traffic lanes and adds bike paths for a mile.”
  • UTSA sports facility: $10 million. “The UT System endowment is worth tens of billions of dollars. We are borrowing to give to them?”
  • Hardberger Park Land Bridge: $13 million. “The city would build a critter bridge while other parks have no lights, functioning restrooms or sufficient parking.”
  • Hemisfair Park: $21 million. “To make sure [developer] David Zachry’s new hotel on public land has a pretty view.”
  • Commerce, San Saba and Santa Rosa street work: $72 million. “Removing lanes for pedestrian and bike path improvements.”

Soules’ list totals $199 million, and that’s a conservative figure.

Other bond skeptics have questioned additional outlays: $10 million for “development” of a replacement fire substation; $8,294,000 for “public art” ($1,389,000 of which is embedded in drainage and flood control projects); and $300,000 for tiny Haskin Park, epicenter of the city’s Google Fiber controversy.

Mayor Ivy Taylor and councilman/mayoral hopeful Ron Nirenberg say they wouldn’t cut a dime. Both tout the “transparency” of the project-selection process.

But Soules, citing one example, notes that the $20 million park police headquarters was never publicly discussed at the city’s Public Safety Committee.

“Not once was this new building on any agenda,” he said.

Medina says he will vote against the bond on May 6. “I would cut $200 million and put it back on the ballot in November,” he said.

The San Antonio Progressive Alliance has endorsed Medina for mayor, crediting him for calling out “pay-for-play projects” in the bond.

“Whatever one’s party affiliation, no one wants to see these kinds of deals where the process is skewed to benefit campaign donors,” SAPA member Gilbert Martinez said.

Medina accused City Hall of piling on more municipal debt to socialize costs while privatizing profits.

Photo by Kenric Ward


SIGN HERE: Mayoral candidate Manuel Medina signed a pledge not to accept campaign contributions from downtown developers positioned to benefit from bond projects. His opponents declined to follow suit.

It’s no coincidence, Medina said, that bond money would flow to Broadway and Hemisfair ventures headed by developers who have long bankrolled local and state politicians.

Over the past two years, the Zachry family gave $4,500 to Taylor and Nirenberg, according to city records. Three Zachry corporate entities spent $15,262 on a campaign to raise the pay for council members and the mayor.

Medina is the only mayoral candidate to sign a pledge to refuse contributions from Zachry and other downtown developers.

Soules says the Broadway project illustrates how overspending and self-dealing are baked into the bond.

“Not much has been done past the idea and a pretty artistic rendering of the concept,” he told Watchdog.org.

“In these cases, enormous amounts of the allocated funds will go to architects like Munoz, engineers like Pape Dawson and consultants like KGB to hold ‘public envisioning meetings’ to develop the design,” Soules said.

“The public does not know that the final project cost will be between $80 million to $100 million. This first $43 million goes to design and Phase 1 construction.”

“I would not be surprised if less than 60 percent actually goes to construction,” he said.

Kenric Ward reports for Texas Watchdog. Contact him at [email protected] and @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.