Mayor Punts On San Antonio’s Climate Plan

With vanishing Council support and vigorous challenge from some business leaders, Mayor Nirenberg pushes planned April vote to the fall.

climate action banner

“San Antonio Demands Climate Action.” Banner circulated in June, 2017, before the City Council approved a resolution for climate action. (Click to enlarge.)

Greg Harman

On June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden to announce he was pulling the U.S. out of the world’s first truly global agreement to limit global warming. After decades of failed initiatives, the world had in 2015 finally reached a voluntary arrangement in which countries would set reduction goals for their greenhouse emissions in an attempt to keep warming “well below” two-degrees Celsius. Only the collapsing state of Syria and Nicaragua, where leaders declared the plan didn’t go far enough, rejected the Paris Accord.

But in San Antonio, as in hundreds of other cities around the U.S., support for an independent stand for the goals and aspirations of the agreement was strong. Days after Trump’s announcement nearly 100 residents rallied after on Main Plaza for Mayor Ivy Taylor, then in a runoff with now-mayor Ron Nirenberg, to stand for Paris and develop a climate plan for the city.

With councilmember-turned-Mayor Ron Nirenberg fresh off his election win, Council presented an almost-unified front as members sat together for the first time. A review of footage from that meeting underscores the level of consensus at the time, as well as how individual councilmembers framed their support (and opposition).

Nirenberg and Sandoval w/ climate action banner

Nirenberg and Sandoval join a group of concerned residents before a banner calling for climate action. Image: Greg Harman

The lone voice of dissent met with boos from the gallery, as District 10 Councilmember Clayton Perry sought to push the vote back to consult his constituents.

“When I was out there, [my constituents] concerns and what they wanted to talk with me about was things like crime, our streets, the conditions of the streets, drainage, sidewalks, parks,” Perry said. “I just haven’t had enough time to talk with my neighbors—and, just as important, businesses and industry in district 10.”

He also claimed he didn’t know enough on the subject to go forward.

“I want to be educated,” Perry said. “I have a lot of questions about this. I have a lot of questions about climate change. And I think it’s important to do that research.”

D3 and D1 Councilmembers Rebecca Viagran and Robert Treviño called the Paris solidarity statement an affirmation of work the City was already doing and an expression of existing values. Coming to the topic sideways (if at all) D5 rep Shirley Gonzales plugged recent improvements in the City’s walkability scores and asked how we could plant more trees along roadways without blocking signage.

In his comments, D9 Councilmember John Courage merged the fear of entering nonattainment on air quality with the threat from global warming—particularly forecasts of more 100-plus days ahead. “We know that we’re really facing drastic economic implications if we end up meeting the nonattainment air quality control set by the federal government and that will mean major economic implications for us as individuals and for our city.”

D6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse complained that the proposed resolution was sprung on him (“I did not know about it, I did not see the documentation until it ended up on the agenda.”) and supported Perry’s failed bid for delay, before ultimately siding with the majority. “I have already told Councilman Perry that I am going to vote in favor of the resolution because I am honoring Mayor Nirenberg’s request to me. He said, ‘Hey, let’s get this started on the right foot.’”

“At the end of the day,” Brockhouse concluded, “I’m going to get behind the policies we do as a council and work hard to support them and I promise you that and I’ll make that commitment going forward.”

For his part, Nirenberg recognized the quick appearance of the proposal, but said it reflected an “important foundation” the City was built upon—“equity and fairness.”

“The council just approved a charter for compassion, which recognizes San Antonio is built on a foundation of compassion towards others. And this is an issue of our place in the world. To make sure we’re not just a city that’s strong, but a city’s that’s strong for its future.”

And so buoyed by a movement of hundreds of cities, states, and Native nations, all pledging to continue prioritizing the health and welfare of their residents and our relatives across the planet, San Antonio’s Council took a solid stand, planting itself on the right side of history.

That was 2017.

Today, nearly two years later, Mayor Nirenberg has punted on the plan. Since the draft Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (PDF) was released, he’s been faced with a wavering Council and a full-court press against the plan from key members of the business community. Nirenberg is pushing the one-time April vote back … way, way back … to the fall.

Doug Melnick, the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer, announced the decision to the 90-some volunteers who worked for a year on the plan’s development, saying a new version will be released in May. That will prompt another round of community review over the summer.

Among a string of expected revisions will be an effort to “clarify the intent of the equity framework” of the plan. That equity framework—one of the most contentious discussions of the CAAP creation—would have an implementation committee prioritize those who are most at risk from climate change in our community.

A statement attributed to D7 Councilmember Ana Sandoval, a strong champion of climate action, reads:

“It’s great that the draft plan is stirring a robust and much-needed dialogue regarding San Antonio’s vulnerabilities and opportunities in the face of a changing climate. I look forward to communicating with the business community and the community at large to hear their concerns and work with them to ensure that we end up with a plan that both improves quality of life and positions San Antonio as a leading job center in the new clean tech economy.”

Read the full letter to CAAP members:

With the delay, councilmembers must now thread the eye of May election and the long, hot summer for the chance to (potentially) fulfill their 2017 promise to San Antonio.

By way of reminder, here is a copy of the 2017 resolution:

And the councilmembers’ color-coded promise:

San Antonio vote on climate action. 2017.

San Antonio City Council vote for climate action. June, 2017.

To revisit these individual and collective promises, video highlights from the debate are above. For those with a historian’s penchant for self-punishment, here is an uncaptioned full video via shaky cell phone.

For this Council, turns out, staying on the right side of history means running a long-game into an increasingly dire climate future.

-30-

This is the first installment in a pending series of articles exploring the history of the city’s climate plan development and the campaign to dismantle it.

Advertisements