Julian Castro’s ‘progress’ agenda for San Antonio: Reduce car use, triple bus ridership, double ‘green jobs,’ grow arts funding

Geoffrey Malloy Contributor
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San Antonio mayor Julian Castro’s strong push for large-scale public investment in San Antonio, a program dubbed “SA2020,” has been the centerpiece of his tenure as San Antonio’s mayor.

Conceived two years ago by Castro, SA2020 intends to “transform San Antonio into a world class city by the year 2020,” says the project’s website. Its motto is “This is progress.”

Castro delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday evening.

To help finance the project, San Antonio approved a $596 million bond in 2012, the largest in the city’s history.

Some citizens were concerned with language in the bond that gave the city council authority to raise the city’s sales tax to pay back the debt.

City officials have countered that they do not anticipate a sales tax increase being necessary, the San Antonio Express reported.

However, city officials have indicated a willingness to rework San Antonio’s tax increment reinvestment zones and increase the city’s public improvement district tax to generate more revenue.

HR&A Advisors Inc., which developed a $350 million downtown action plan for Castro’s project, estimated that the city would have to raise $173 million to fund the plan. The current bond issue will fund $177 million.

The SA2020 project’s report explains that the city hopes to “double attendance” at publicly funded arts programs by doubling “public and private funding for the arts.” The report notes that some of the funds will come from “federal and state government and private support” rather than the city’s own revenues.

The plan also calls for reducing “vehicle miles traveled per person by 10%,” by increasing “population growth in center city neighborhoods and downtown” by 15% while increasing the “ratio of urban core housing to suburban development” by 35%.” The report seeks to “triple … public transportation ridership.”

The report suggests implementing a “measure that will track the extent and quality of local media coverage (print, TV, radio, and online) of local public policy issues.”

Other recommendations in the plan including doubling “the number of green jobs,” becoming “the statewide leader in renewable energy generation,” and being in “100% compliance with EPA standards” on carbon dioxide emissions.

The sole Republican on the Bexar County Commissioners Court, the county in which San Antonio is located, has criticized Castro for focusing more on grandiose plans and political ambitions rather than effective governance.

“I see a serious lack of leadership at the local level, like street drainage, safety and security, trash pickup,” Kevin Wolff told the New York Daily News. “All of his concentration seems to be, ‘How can I shine a better light on myself from a national perspective?'”

Castro, 37, is the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with a population greater than 1 million. He was elected in 2009, receiving more than 80 percent of the vote.

Many news outlets have touted his similarities to the current president who, as a 43-year-old Illinois state senator, gave the 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

Like President Obama, Castro is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He graduated from Stanford in 1996 with a B.A. in communications and political science.

Castro’s twin brother, Joaquin, is a current Texas state representative and congressional candidate in Texas’ 20th District, which includes much of San Antonio. Joaquin Castro is expected to easily win the seat.

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