Analysis San Antonio

CPS, SAWS, SAPD: Petitions to Hold Power Accountable By

In San Antonio election lines, clipboards mark the struggle to force change at City-owned utilities CPS, SAWS, and our ‘union-clad’ police force.

Marisol Cortez & Greg Harman

This election season, up-ballot races—including and especially the race to unseat a pandemic-spreading, children-caging autocrat—overshadow more ground-level, small-d democratic movement. However, three critical resident-led petition efforts are currently circulating voting sites, targeting the city’s most powerful institutions in an attempt to make them more directly accountable to community demands for racial, economic, and climate justice. Below, we speak to three organizers currently leading efforts to challenge the insularity of the city’s police department, its power company, and its water utility. Listen in on your way to go vote.

Police Accountability

In spite of a massive community push to defund the San Antonio Police Department in the City budget, San Antonio’s City Council actually increased the police budget by $8 million for the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year. Mayor Nirenberg and members of City Council place the blame on their contract with the San Antonio Police Officers Association union, which controls the bulk of SAPD’s now $487 million budget. While negotiations on a new contract pick up in January, a grassroots effort is under way to tackle precisely those contract provisions that give cover to racist policing practices. A petition effort organized by FixSAPD calls for a public vote on the repeal of Union chapters 143 and 174, which result in (among other wrongs) the vast majority of the abusive cops that the police chief actually wants to fire getting their jobs back in arbitration.

Ananda Tomas, FixSAPD:

Energy Democracy

On hearing about attempts to move the center of power at the City-owned CPS Energy from an unelected and largely unaccountable board of trustees to the City Council, local media was quick to kick rhetorical sand at the effort. First out of the gate was Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s former chief-of-staff and developer lobbyist Trey Jacobson, who sneered his conclusion that those fighting for greater community control of their utility so as to usher in a faster transition off of planet-destroying coal were “not really about electricity” but “raw political power.” You know, unlike lobbying on behalf of resident-displacing developers. Out here, Trey, it’s called “people power,” or “democracy,” if you will.

Terry Burns,

SAWS Accountability Act

Folks across San Antonio (the drinking end of San Antonio Water System’s 140-mile Vista Ridge water pipeline) and Burleson County residents to the northeast of Austin (that sucking end) fought for years to stop the $3.4B project. Now that the pipeline is delivering, the cost of SAWS’s project to make San Antonio “waterful” is also arriving in the form of rapidly increasing water bills for all users. That fact may make residents keen to sign on to the Saws Accountability Act, which would cap SAWS executive salaries and other administrative measures, including triggering a mandatory audit for Vista Ridge and for every >$1B project going forward.

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union:

Like What You’re Seeing? Become a patron for as little as $1 per month. Sign up for our newsletter (for nothing!). Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes or Sticher. Share this story with others. Or just hang out. It’s always good to kick it together.