Councilmember’s attack on San Antonio’s draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan is a giant “No Socialism” yard sign.
January’s public release of a 57-page (plus appendix) draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (PDF) was a rocky one. The months following that release have been one long rough patch for the plan to zero out the city’s climate pollution by 2050 —at least until Mayor Ron Nirenberg twice punted a planned April vote until after our May election and then into the fall.
The pressures from both sides of the debate have been significant. A day before the official release, a pro-climate-action activist outside City Council Chambers termed the draft a “greenwashing tactic” for failing to more deeply engage the public and set hard interim targets on the march to 2050. Inside the chambers, members of the climate-action-opposed camp looked on approvingly during a January 25 Community Health & Equity Committee meeting as Councilmembers Greg Brockhouse and Manny Pelaez gave the plan’s tires some serious kicking of their own.
Pelaez engaged in balanced-sounding pushback over the impact of any potential new housing regulations on builders and renters (while covertly pledging his final vote to Valero Energy). Brockhouse pushed further. He demanded price tags be generated for every plan recommendation meant to assist policymakers shepherding a 30-year-long shift to a zero-carbon city, alleging the climate plan’s cost was “in the billions.”
“People are worried about making their car payment, my friend,” Brockhouse told San Antonio’s Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick at the meeting. “They’ve got bigger worries. Everybody loves the environment until they have to pay for it.”
A full accounting of the plan’s costs, he said, would cause residents to revolt.
“When you put those nine digits behind those costs, right? And 10-digit costs behind these projects? I think the community’s going to be, I think there will be a lot of concerns.”
Brockhouse began developing his official public response to the draft CAAP for release a week later. He landed on transportation as his primary talking point, seeking to fuel fears over the plan’s support for more charging stations and electric public transport.
Version one of that release saw Brockhouse owning up to his own initial vote in support of the plan’s ambitions but also chronicled his surprise that a stabilized global climate system should require the elimination of fossil fuels. And then he took a swipe at “socialism.”
“I felt that supporting improving the climate was the right thing to do,” his draft quote, released to Deceleration under an open-records request, reads. “Now and [sik] year and a half later, we are seeing a plan that is focused on moving away from gasoline powered private and commercial vehicles by 2050, increasing building regulations, and push[ing] CPS Energy to stop using fossil fuels.”
Such actions, that initial statement reads, should not be dictated by local government.
“This is not a Socialist City we are a Democracy with rights and obligations to protect our citizens.”
Here’s version one:
A hard edit followed a couple drafts later, striking any reference to his original supporting vote … and the “no socialism” dog whistle.
The problem with these assaults is that the CAAP commits the city to one thing only: a zeroing out of the city’s climate pollution by 2050. As Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said that day, with affirmative support from those in the room closest to the plan’s development, Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez and Councilmember Ana Sandoval: “Nothing’s been baked in here.”
In other words, all policies intended to reach net-zero inside 30 years will be the purview of this and future city councils going forward.
[See Deceleration‘s 30-minute breakdown on what the CAAP is … and what it isn’t.]
After another month reviewing the plan, Brockhouse again took aim at its priority on electrifying the transportation sector at a February 28 meeting of the City Council Health & Equity Committee meeting.
In that meeting, Councilmember Rey Saldaña expressed support for the CAAP in spite of heavy pushback from the oil and gas industry. He based that support, in part, on what he described as the transportation sector’s natural evolution beyond fossil fuels.
“If this was 1910 and you’re going to tell me the horse and buggy industry was against us putting up gas stations everywhere, that’s nuts,” Saldaña said. “I mean, we’re just trying to plan for the future, knowing it’s going to happen.”
Brockhouse had a different read on that same history.
“That was the market taking care of itself,” Brockhouse insisted. “Government didn’t jump in and force everyone into vehicles and tell the horse-and-buggy people to disappear. The market took care of itself. … Advancement took care of itself.”
Of course, that transition was hardly driven only by market forces, nor by policy or technological shifts alone. Brockhouse has clearly never read much urban history, where a pretty clear consensus has prevailed for decades on the role of federal investment and local urban planning in creating car-centric cities (see this Vox article for a good summation with references to supporting scholarship.)
It could better be argued that the CAAP’s recommendations for accelerating the installation of charging stations and electric public transportation is a precise echo of how cities of the early 20th century, eventually with the support of massive federal subsidy, rolled out paved streets, traffic laws, and even created the crime of jaywalking to make their cities more automobile friendly. You know, socialist streets.
[See the exchange here.]
While Brockhouse has more recently carved out the liberty to rev one’s fossil-fueled vehicle as his stake in the ground on the CAAP, just months earlier he had been praising a very different transportation model—one that prioritizes pedestrians and bicyclists over cars and trucks. The model of his affections? Paris, France.
At a Westside Walkability Coalition conference held at Our Lady of the Lake University in October 2018, masked Mexican pedestrian-rights activist Peatónito described the guerilla-style tactics used in Mexico’s streets in hopes of driving down high auto-related pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities there.
Paint your own crosswalk. Shut down auto traffic. Force cities to organize themselves around people, not cars, he encouraged the local audience. Then Brockhouse arrived.
By way of icebreaker, Brockhouse chose to talk about his truck. Then he unpacked his own evolving views on transportation.
Now, we assume, Brockhouse doesn’t make a habit of parking his six-inch-lifted Tundra in electric car-charging stations to block access to plug-ins, we’re certain he doesn’t “roll coal” on auto-eschewing bicyclists, but he convincingly plays the part of someone who just might chuckle at such practices.
But on this night he veered out of his usual lane—praising European transportation values and asking how San Antonio could incorporate some of those practices here at home.
[Listen to his complete presentation.]
So many questions. Has his asserted ideological advancement stalled out with his current mayoral gambit, a race now in its final days? Has the political opportunity the CAAP offered forced him into a forever reactionary crouch?
Or is it possible that an introduction to the made-in-the-USA, mud-mastering, 197-horsepower 2020 Rivian R1T electric pickup, with a promised 0-to-60 mph between 3 and 5 seconds (depending on battery size) could kickstart an actual conversion?
Sadly, the only thing Brockhouse has contributed to the CAAP conversation so far is sound and fury. He, like many others, have intentionally jumped square one.
The only truly relevant questions regarding the CAAP have been obscured by a snarknado of red herrings unleashed by Brockhouse and folks like conspiracy-minded extremist Rey Chavez of the SA Manufacturers Association. Square one begins here, by asking: Is global warming happening? Are humans responsible? Do we have a moral obligation to act?
Only after our commitment to climate response is set, based upon the best science at hand, may we responsibly go about the work of implementing just and inclusive climate plan policies capable of improving the lives of all San Antonians while protecting those most at risk from climate harm.
Where Brockhouse is on the science of global warming can’t be stated with certainty. Multiple emailed requests for comment on these foundational questions were ignored. But judging by his frequent CAAP mischaracterizations and decision to feed the politicization of the moment, it’s safe to say, charitably, the full weight of our global climate crisis hasn’t sunk in for our District 6 rep.
Holding out hope for deeper introspection in the future.