Mike Kueber's Blog

August 13, 2015

Redistricting San Antonio

Filed under: Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:50 pm
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Yesterday morning, I attended a hearing on my lawsuit against the city of San Antonio – Kueber vs. City of San Antonio.  The lawsuit accuses the city of illegally redistricting the City Council following the 2010 census – i.e., the liberal City Council diluted the votes of Northsiders (conservatives) by packing an additional 55,000 people into the Northside districts.

The lawsuit was filed in state court, but the city removed it to federal court, claiming that the suit involved federal issues.  We argued that the dispute concerned language in the City Charter and had nothing to do with the Constitution, but the federal judge seemed disinclined to send it back to state court and suggested that we plan on the matter staying in front of him.

Although we thought the matter should have been heard by a Bexar County judge, who are mostly elected Republicans and therefore more sensitive to disenfranchised conservatives, the unelected federal judge David Ezra impressed us with knowledge of voting law.  Because the law is so favorable to us (we think), we think that having our case determined by someone with strong legal skills and an unbiased background augurs well for future success.

This matter has been dragging for months, and now it appears we may not get a decision until 2016.

June 9, 2015

One person, one vote – San Antonio

Filed under: Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:49 am
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When I was running for the San Antonio city council a couple of years ago, I discovered that the city had apparently violated the one-person, one-vote requirement in its Charter to the detriment of the Northside citizens when it redistricted following the 2010 census.  During the campaign I tried to make this a big issue because it exemplified how (a) minorities in San Antonio (Anglo northsiders) were being shortchanged by the majority (Hispanic south and westsiders), and (b) the city was becoming like a banana republic in its disregard for Charter constraints.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the resources to create a “big issue,” and the media was not interested.

After the election, I tried to get city officials to fix the redistricting, but the mayor and my councilman ignored me, and although the asst. city attorney admitted that the redistricting was problematic, she refused to do anything about it.  That left my only recourse a lawsuit.

For months, I procrastinated about filing the suit myself, but I wasn’t confident of my litigation skills, so I found a lawyer at my gym who was willing to take on the matter for a discounted fee.  I gave him the money a year ago, but because of numerous distractions he didn’t get around to filing the lawsuit in state court until a couple of months ago.  Then, just as we were preparing to filing a Motion for Summary Judgment, the City removed the lawsuit to federal court, probably because the vast majority of Bexar County judges are Republicans based in and sympathetic to the Northside.  The City might have also been concerned that a Republican judge would halt the current council/mayoral election.

In any event, we are now litigating to return the lawsuit to state court.  In my opinion, the city’s attempt to make a federal case out of this lawsuit is not only wrong, but also frivolous.

Time will tell.

June 30, 2013

Race-conscious contracting by the City of San Antonio

During my City Council campaign, I provided two examples of Mayor Castro and his cronies on the City Council taking actions that unfairly discriminated against Anglos:

  • Redistricting.  Votes in the districts with the most Anglos were severely diluted.
  • City contracting.  Preferences were given to businesses owned by minorities.

In the course of researching the redistricting issue during the campaign, I learned that the City’s treatment of its Northside districts was not only inequitable, but also illegal, and I am in the process of getting that illegality rectified.  While doing some research this week on affirmative action, I stumbled across a Supreme Court decision that indicates the City’s race-conscious contracting is similarly illegal.

My first awareness of race-conscious contracting occurred in January this year, and I blogged about it shortly before getting into the council race.   The blog entry was based on two articles in the Express-News that described not only the Council’s first step of helping minority businesses to be more successful in the bidding process, but also the Council’s Plan B in the event that the first step wasn’t adequately successful:

  • At a City Council meeting last month, Fair Contracting Coalition members said city contract awards should mirror the diversity of San Antonio’s business community.  Members of the Fair Contracting Coalition want the city to step up its race-conscious method of awarding contracts to one of ‘segmentation,’ a method that would consider each racial and ethnic group separately and set hard goals for awarding contracts to each.  The city would move to segmentation only if it determines that the race-conscious plan isn’t effective.  It will take about a year to determine whether the race-conscious plan is working.  The city made the decision to abandon its long-running practice of weighing race and ethnicity in contracting decisions in 2010, a move that was effective in January 2011.  However, it switched back to a race-conscious program last May, saying minority participation plummeted under its race-neutral program.  The city noted it paid $24.3 million in construction contracts for the August 2011 through mid-May 2012 period, with minority- and women-owned businesses garnering $4.7 million, or 19 percent, far short of the city’s goal of 29 percent.”

The relevant Supreme Court decision that I stumbled across earlier this week is City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989).    According to Wikipedia:

  • Croson was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that the city of Richmond’s minority set-aside program, which gave preference to minority business enterprises (MBE) in the awarding of municipal contracts, was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. The Court found that the city failed to identify both the need for remedial action and that other non-discriminatory remedies would be insufficient.
  • Croson involved a minority set-aside program in the awarding of municipal contracts. Richmond, Virginia, with a black population of just over 50 percent had set a 30 percent goal in the awarding of city construction contracts, based on its findings that local, state, and national patterns of discrimination had resulted in all but complete lack of access for minority-owned businesses. The Supreme Court stated:
    • We, therefore, hold that the city has failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in apportioning public contracting opportunities on the basis of race. To accept Richmond’s claim that past societal discrimination alone can serve as the basis for rigid racial preferences would be to open the door to competing claims for “remedial relief” for every disadvantaged group. The dream of a Nation of equal citizens in a society where race is irrelevant to personal opportunity and achievement would be lost in a mosaic of shifting preferences based on inherently unmeasurable claims of past wrongs. [Citing Regents of the University of California v. Bakke]. Courts would be asked to evaluate the extent of the prejudice and consequent harm suffered by various minority groups. Those whose societal injury is thought to exceed some arbitrary level of tolerability then would be entitled to preferential classification. We think such a result would be contrary to both the letter and the spirit of a constitutional provision whose central command is equality.”

The similarities between Richmond and San Antonio are striking.  Both are cities where a minority was the majority (blacks in Richmond and Hispanics in San Antonio), yet they implement a program to favor themselves over the Anglo minority.  A major distinction is that Richmond established a hard goal, whereas San Antonio is merely threatening to do that if their softer techniques don’t succeed.

It is unclear to me whether the Supreme Court would look more generously on a technique that grants points to minorities instead of relying on hard quotas, but at a minimum the Court will require that the City Council based its action on a strong report showing that race-conscious contracting is (a) a compelling governmental interest and (b) narrowly tailored to accomplish its purpose.

Two-bit bet says San Antonio hasn’t done that.

May 21, 2013

San Antonio’s proposed anti-bias ordinance

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:51 pm
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This past Sunday, I had a wide-ranging conversation with City Council candidate Ron Nirenberg.  During that conversation, I suggested to Ron that the most likely partisan issue in the next two years is likely to be Mayor Castro’s ongoing effort to incentivize the movement of people and offices to the Downtown.  That effort, in my opinion, is not supported by the majority of people who live near Loop 1604 because (a) they don’t want to subsidize people who prefer living Downtown, and (b) they don’t want to commute downtown for their job.   

The Decade of Downtown may be a bigger long-term partisan issue, but Ryan Loyd of Texas Public Radio reported today on a short-term partisan issue that appears to be quickly headed for the City Council’s front-burner.  According to an article by Loyd, Councilman Diego Bernal from District 1 is pushing an anti-bias ordinance that is surely going to create a partisan divide on the Council. 

Anti-bias laws are becoming common throughout America in liberal jurisdictions, much like laws that enable same-sex marriage.  Traditionally, all jurisdictions in America prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, and religion, and anti-bias laws extend the protection to members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) communities. 

Incidentally, Councilman Bernal appears to be attempting a cynical, crass strategy in San Antonio by including expanded protection for members of the military and veterans.  Huh?  Vets need protection?  Members of the military and vets, if subject to any discrimination, benefit from favorable discrimination.  There are a plethora of programs and benefits that are available only to military people and vets.  President Obama just had a national conference with business leaders who were going to make an effort to hire more vets.  When I wrote to reporter Loyd and questioned Bernal’s strategy, Loyd responded that even the San Antonio City Attorney did not know if there was currently a problem for vets.  Why not then, if we are addressing non-problems, add “mothers” and “orphans” to the list.  And policemen and firemen? 

Loyd agrees that the real issue is protection for LGBT individuals and that will be controversial.  Same-sex marriage may be the direction of the country, but it will take time for it to get everywhere.  Further, an anti-bias ordinance is not as simple as same-sex marriage because they are several sub-issues that must be decided.

Councilman Bernal seems to be focusing on applying the ordinance to city contractors and sub-contractors, and he mentions the possible application to housing and transportation.  When I was campaigning for the Council, I received a questionnaire from the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, and they wanted to know if I favored an anti-bias ordinance that extended to a broader list, including the following:

  • City employment;
  • Benefits to city employees, including FMLA;
  • Appointment to Boards and Commissions;
  • Public accommodations;
  • City Contractors, and benefits to employees of city contractors;
  • Housing; and
  • Any non-city employment in San Antonio.

The consideration of each of these areas requires a balancing of the governmental interest in protecting individuals in the LGBT communities while recognizing the right of others to not associate with individuals in the LGBT communities.  Four of the seven areas are easily disposed of.  Clearly, the City of San Antonio has the right to hire the employees it wishes and provide employee benefits that it wishes (subject to the Abbott constitutional matter) without infringing on the rights of anyone else.  The city also can control the composition of its Boards and Commission.  And most people who provide public accommodations understand that their business is subject to reasonable regulation of this type.

The more problematic areas are city contractors, housing, and any non-city employment in San Antonio.  Of these, the city contractors have the closest relationship with the City and thus are susceptible to more regulation by the City.  Thus, I am inclined to say that extending an anti-bias ordinance to city contractors is reasonable, even though this is being quite pro-active and is a close call that would benefit from constituent input.  As a practical matter, enforcement against small contractors would be difficult. 

Housing and non-city employment do not have close relationships with the city, and some rental owners or employers may not want to have a business relationship with members of the LGBT communities.  I think they should have that right.   

That’s my two cents on the subject.

May 20, 2013

HemisFair Park in San Antonio

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:35 pm
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There has been a lot of controversy recently about legislation in Austin concerning the redevelopment of HemisFair Park.  Apparently, a private developer, Zachry Corp., wants to build a big hotel there, while the government developer, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, wants to build offices and apartments there. 

As with most controversies, the framing of the issue can be critical.  When I first read about this controversy in the Express-News, I was informed that Villarreal wanted 80% of the development to go to San Antonio’s residents and 20% to tourists.  This allocation of the parkland confused me because I thought HemisFair Park was for tourists, not San Antonio residents. 

An editorial in today’s Express-News, however, removed that confusion by explaining that the Villarreal allocation applies to building construction on the park land – i.e., hotels vs. offices/apartments. 

Of course, the obvious threshold question is why are we constructing buildings on park land, but we are apparently already past that question and are now focused on what kind of buildings should be constructed.

From my perspective, characterizing offices and apartments as benefits to the residents of San Antonio is totally misleading.  Obviously, the vast majority of us will never set foot in those buildings.  By contrast, we are more likely to take advantage of a hotel, with its restaurants and meeting rooms.

Restaurants and meeting rooms are apparently the crux of the current controversy.  Zachry wanted restaurants and meeting rooms in the hotel to count as part of the 80% instead of the 20%.  Villarreal insists that restaurants and meeting rooms count as part of the 20% even though this could prove to be a poison pill for any future hotel construction there.

The bigger point is that Mayor Castro and his Decade of Downtown want to starve the lifeblood of downtown – tourism – and subsidize the part of downtown that they prefer – offices and apartments.

What’s that line from Ronald Reagan about government? 

  • If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

The downtown crowd often complains about hotels driving up the cost of land downtown.  Well, that’s the way capitalism works – i.e., land is applied to its most valuable use.  San Antonio’s public servants need to encourage progress that makes economic sense, not obstruct it.

April 18, 2013

San Antonio’s job sprawl

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:02 pm
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The SA Express-News today contains a fascinating article about job sprawl across America, but especially in San Antonio.  According to the article, which is based on a Brookings Institution study, jobs are moving outside of city centers, and the movement in San Antonio is greater than all but one (Phoenix) of America’s 100 largest metro areas.  Between 2000 and 2010, San Antonio has experienced a loss of 18.8% of its jobs within 3 miles of its central business district (CBD) and a gain of 56.3% of its jobs located between 10 and 35 miles of its CBD.    

The lengthy Express-News article discusses some of the implications of this movement, but fails to address the question of why sprawl is worse in San Antonio.  The answer to that question, however, is suggested by the following statistics in the underlying Brookings study:

  • In 2010, San Antonio has 702,726 jobs within 35 miles of its central business district (CBD).  
    • 13.8% or 97,268 within 3 miles of the CBD.  (Metro-100 average is 22.9%.)
    • 52.4% or 368,333 between 3 and 10 miles of CBD.  (Average is 34.1%) 
    • 33.7% or 237,125 between 10 and 35 miles of CBD.  (Average is 43.1%)

Thus, although most of San Antonio’s job growth is in the 10-35 territory, San Antonio with 33.7% of its jobs in that territory still has a ways to go to the nationwide average of 43.1%. 

These numbers, I believe, support my campaign contention that it is wasteful for City Hall to be devoting large sums of money trying to hold back the tide of growth away from the CBD.  

 

 

April 8, 2013

Another banner day for the Express-News

Filed under: Business,Culture,Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:06 pm
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As I was reading the San Antonio Express-News on Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised by three informative articles that were relevant to my campaign for the City Council:

  1. San Antonio’s immigration.  This fascinating article by Joe Yerardi describes population growth in Texas’s four largest cities in the past two years.  Although San Antonio has enjoyed robust growth (+91,495), that growth is less robust than Dallas (+274,781), Houston (+256,579), and Austin (+118,017).  And, of the three contributors to growth – natural growth (births), foreign migrants (legal and illegal), and interstate migrants – San Antonio and Austin depend mostly on interstate migrants, while Dallas and Houston depend more on natural growth and foreign migration.  These migration patterns are surprising because San Antonio has by far the largest concentration of Mexican-Americans (59%), so you’d think migrants from Mexico would make San Antonio their destination of choice, but instead they are choosing Dallas and Houston.  Unfortunately, the elephant in the room is the distinction between legal and illegal immigration from Mexico.  Although reporter Yerardi doesn’t discuss it, I have previous read that Dallas and Houston have a much larger percentage of illegal immigrants.
  2. San Antonio – Austin railroad.  The city of San Antonio is currently preoccupied with its effort to develop a downtown streetcar system, so this article served as a reminder that San Antonio has for decades dreamed of a railroad connecting it with Austin.  My position is that this inter-city railroad is just as impractical as the proposed intra-city light rail system that is planned as an extension of the controversial downtown streetcar system. 
  3. San Antonio’s problem with downtown-office vacancies.  This article reports that San Antonio’s downtown office vacancy rate is 33% even though rental rates are lower than outside of downtown.  Explanation – “In the suburbs, the office buildings generally are newer and come with up-to-date amenities and abundant parking….  Despite the higher lease prices, another advantage the suburbs have over downtown is the proximity to housing and ease of access.”  I love the politically-incorrect honesty of Ernest Brown, an EVP at a real estate firm:
  • The downtown San Antonio office market is tough.  Right now, the biggest hurt for downtown is what reason is there to be downtown versus the suburbs?”

Coincidentally, I recently responded to a candidate questionnaire from Current newsweekly, and one of its questions was, “What would you do to address the high vacancy rate in downtown buildings?”  I responded, “As a District 8 Councilman, my major focus will be on the development of District 8, not the downtown vacancy rate.  Of course, the entire City has an interest in downtown San Antonio remaining Texas’s premier tourist attraction.”  If I had read this article prior to responding to the questionnaire, I would have added that the City should not be spending millions of dollars to encourage businesses to move from one part of San Antonio to another part.

March 21, 2013

More on the one-person, one-vote principle

I recently blogged about the one-person, one-vote principle as applied to redistricting in San Antonio.  In the post, I pointed out that there are two different legal standards for creating equally populated districts (approximately equal vs. as equal as practicable) and that the City of San Antonio in its 2012 redistricting probably chose the wrong standard.

A few days ago the one-person, one-vote principle came up again in another context in a NY Times article.  The article reports on a pending Supreme Court decision – Lepak v. City of Irving – in which the plaintiff is arguing that districts should be divided on the basis of the number of eligible voters in the district, not the number of residents.  Although the six council districts in Irving have nearly identical numbers of residents, one of the districts (the only minority district of the six) has only half as many voters as the others because it has a large number of children and illegal immigrants, neither of whom are eligible to vote.    

As I was reviewing my previous postings on this subject, I discovered that I had blogged about Lepak almost three years ago in August 2010.  At that time, the case was just starting to work its way through the federal courts.  Now it appears that we will finally get an answer this summer.   

The Lepak decision is obviously important to San Antonio.  Although various reports indicate that Dallas and Houston are much bigger magnets for illegal immigrants, San Antonio’s Southside districts certainly contain a significant number of these people who are not eligible to vote.  Unfortunately, the supporting documents for San Antonio’s 2012 redistricting fail to address the number of illegal immigrants in the respective districts, but they do reveal the voting-age population in each district.  Those numbers show that the lopsided difference between the population-rich Northside districts and the population-poor Southside districts is even starker when narrowing the focus to only voting-age population:

  • The City Council’s 2012 redistricting, which was based on the 2010 census, created ten council districts based on total number of residents, ranging from a low of 126,228 (-4.86 deviation) in District 5 to a high of 139,227 (+4.94 deviation) in District 9, for a total deviation of 9.8% from the “ideal” population of 132k.  The total deviation is much greater when based on the districts’ voting-age population, ranging from a low of 85,284 (-12.16% deviation) in District 4 to a high of 109,612 (+12.90% deviation) in District 8.  Thus, the combined resident-deviation range of 9.8% barely satisfies the maximum legally permissible total of 10%, but the combined voter-deviation range of 25.06% dramatically exceeds it.  

A few days before the first Lepak posting, I blogged about the huge difference in registered-voter totals in the San Antonio districts.  The totals ranged from a low of 50,826 registered voters in District 5 to a high of 94,447 in District 9.

No matter how you slice it – by total population or voting-age population or documented voting-age population or registered voters – a vote on the Northside is significantly diluted compared to the steroid-like votes on the Southside.

March 15, 2013

San Antonio redistricting follow-up

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:11 pm
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A few weeks ago, I blogged about the travesty of justice inflicted on the Northside of San Antonio by the Castro City Council with the most recent redistricting.  Since that posting, I have stumbled across a provision in San Antonio’s Charter that appears to prohibit what happened, and this potentially provides an avenue for the Northside residents to seek redress. 

The provision – Article II, Section 4 – reads as follows: “The Councilmembers shall be elected from districts or wards which shall be drawn by ordinance and shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable.”  In spite of this specific guidance in the Charter, the Council provided significantly different guidance to the committee responsible for accomplishing the redistricting.  The Council guidance read as follows:

  • Districts shall be configured so that they are relatively equal in total population according to the 2010 Census. In no event should the total deviation in population between the largest and the smallest district exceed ten percent.”

Why would the Council say “relatively equal” and not to “exceed ten percent” when the Charter says “as nearly equal in population as practicable”?

A little internet research reveals that the both of these standards flow from the constitutional requirement for Equal Protection or the so-called “one-person, one vote” rule.  The Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) stated that the “overriding objective must be the substantial equality of population among the various districts,” and subsequent decisions have established that a variance of no greater than 10% for state legislatures would be presumed to comply with Equal Protection.   

But a different standard was established for congressional redistricting.  The Supreme Court in Wesberry v. Sanders (1964) held that with congressional redistricting, “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.”  Subsequent decisions have established that under the “as nearly as is practical” standard even a 1% deviance between districts is impermissible.  That is why each of Texas’s 36 congressional districts has a population of 698,488, plus or minus 16 voters.  The smallest congressional district (#14) has 698,472 and the biggest district (#22) has 698,504.

A Loyola professor’s website encapsulates this distinction as follows:     

  • The standard for congressional districts is quite strict, with equal population required “as nearly as is practicable.” In practice, this means that states must make a good-faith effort to draw districts with exactly the same number of people in each district within the state. Any district with more or fewer people than the average (also known as the “ideal” population) must be specifically justified by a consistent state policy. And even consistent policies that cause a one percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional.
  • State and local legislative districts have a bit more flexibility; they have to be “substantially” equal. Over a series of cases, it has become accepted that a plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts are more than ten percent apart. This is not a hard line: a state plan may be upheld if there is a compelling reason for a larger disparity, and a state plan may be struck down if a smaller disparity is not justified by a good reason.
  • Some states hold their state districts to stricter population equality limits than the federal constitution requires.

Based on my reading of the San Antonio Charter, the city has committed itself to council districts of 132,672 (based on the city’s population of 1,326,721).  Instead the Council recently adopted redistricting with 139,227 residents in District 9 and 126,228 residents in District 3.  There’s an old saying about something being “close enough for government work,” but the Council redistricting appears in violation of the City’s Charter.

When I called the City Attorney’s Office for an explanation, its redistricting attorney told me that they have always done it that way, and no one has previously complained.  When she conferenced-in the city’s legal consultant in Austin, he admitted that the Charter language paralleled the language for the stricter congressional standard, but ultimately the Council is the final arbiter regarding what that language means. 

I’m not sure the consultant is correct.  Arbiters and rule of law don’t easily co-exist.

 

January 21, 2013

Developing downtown San Antonio

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:03 am
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Most major cities in America are afflicted by dying downtowns.  At best, the downtowns are a collection of office towers surrounded by dilapidated storefronts.  At night, those downtowns can look like the remnant of a nuclear winter. 

Nighttime on San Antonio’s downtown is better than most other cities because of two of Texas’s major tourist attractions, the Riverwalk and the Alamo, that serve to populate the downtown every night.  But San Antonio wants to do even better.  It wants to populate its downtown with yearlong residents.  But this objective, which Mayor Castro has sloganized as The Decade of Downtown, raises two issues:

  1. Why should San Antonio intervene against the free market to develop its downtown?
  2. Can San Antonio intervene against the free market to develop its downtown?

   The answer to the first question has some financial component – i.e., infill of San Antonio’s existing footprint is more efficient than providing the necessary infrastructure for more suburban sprawl.  But the major consideration seems to be emotional – almost akin to a desire to save the family farm in rural areas. 

Downtowns have been dying since the 50s and 60s, and modern planners pine about a return to “walkable urbanism.”  Ironically, however, this concept is most attractive to the young.  The following rationale was provided in a Brookings paper that lobbied for more urban development:

  • Downtown revitalization can bring additional economic development benefits as well. With increasing demand for walkable urbanism and a dearth of such neighborhoods in most metropolitan areas, cities with vibrant downtowns have a better shot of recruiting or retaining the “creative class” of workers economists, like Richard Florida, have shown is key to future growth.  When the strategy for downtown Albuquerque was being crafted, for example, a senior executive from Sandia National Laboratory spent many hours volunteering in the process. However, the laboratory—employing 5,000 scientists, engineers, and professional managers—is located five miles from downtown. When asked why he spent so much time on the downtown strategy, he replied, “If Albuquerque does not have a vibrant, hip downtown, I do not have a chance of recruiting or retaining the twenty-something software engineers that are the life’s blood of the laboratory.” If 30 percent to 50 percent of the market cannot get walkable urbanism, why would they come or stay in a place without that lifestyle option when Austin, Boston, and Seattle beckon? A purely suburban, car-dominated metropolitan area is at a competitive disadvantage for economic growth.

Robert Rivard, a former editor of San Antonio’s daily newspaper, currently has a website that publishes articles relating to urban development in San Antonio, and he provides a more personal perspective for why San Antonio’s downtown needs to be revitalized:   

  • We launched the Rivard Report in mid-February of 2012 to become part of the public conversation at a time San Antonio is at a crossroads. Both our sons, Nicolas and Alexander, left San Antonio to attend college and did not come back. While they hold San Antonio in their hearts, there was never any questions about their departures. The opportunities and lifestyle they each sought were to be found elsewhere. That bothered us, as did frustrations we heard again and again from business colleagues struggling to recruit smart, educated people to come live and work here. The Rivard Report seeks to become an accelerator driving the kind of change in our city that reverses the outflow of educated young people and increases the number of individuals who want to come here.  ….  The Rivard Report is all about urban renaissance, the movement to build a better San Antonio. We hope to be a catalyst for urban transformation and progressive economic and cultural development. Transforming a central city is not a quick or easy process, but it’s been done elsewhere and is now happening here. That gives us plenty to write about as the city heads toward its 300th birthday in 2017 and Mayor Julián Castro seeks to achieve the ambitious goals of his SA2020 initiative.

These rationales for developing downtown San Antonio make sense to me.  Not only does infill of the downtown make short-term financial sense, it makes sense for the long-term attractiveness of our city for our children.  But the more difficult question is whether San Antonio can successfully intervene in the free market.  As an economic conservative, I am skeptical of the city’s ability to efficiently and effectively redirect the free market.  Not only is the city woefully unskilled in development, but the cost of effective measures will likely render them inefficient.

An extensive article in the Express-News today provided a broad overview of the city’s recent efforts toward urban development.  According to the article, there has been some residential development on the extreme northern and southern edges of downtown, but almost nothing in the middle. 

The reason for “almost nothing in the middle” is surprising, and it relates to the two great downtown tourist attractions:

  • San Antonio does have a wealth of historic office buildings that are really cool and great buildings to be converted (to residential),” Cross said. “But the hotel business has done so well for so long that those buildings never really became available at a price that an apartment conversion would work.”  One idea floating around is for the city to regulate hotel development in certain parts of downtown. That would force down land prices because landowners wouldn’t have the option of selling their properties at a premium to hotel developers.

That thinking by Cross is why I am generally averse to trying to redirect the free market – i.e., government planners simply can’t evaluate all of the factors that the market does automatically.  So I would be in favor of making it easy for developers to move into downtown and to provide moderate financial benefits for cost-effective infill, but I don’t think the rest of the city should subsidize an emotional sentiment.

For a contrary argument, I refer you to an article from April 2012 on The Rivard Report titled, “The End of Subsidized Sprawl: Why Council Should Support Downtown San Antonio.”  It’s lead sentence reveals its thesis, “Moving from the long era of city government-supported sprawl to a new era of tax-supported inner city development could prove to be the issue of our time.”

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