Special to Greater Northeast
Mayor Ron Nirenberg completed his first 100 days in office at the end of September with continued momentum and some significant early accomplishments under his belt.
Nirenberg’s efforts to follow through on the hope and promise that his victory brought to the city reaped some early rewards.
Notably, City Council approved a balanced budget last month that had the mayor’s fingerprints on key parts.
Halting the spike in crime that surfaced in the last mayoral administration was one of Nirenberg’s key campaign issues. It was no surprise to see a focus on enhancing public safety in the fiscal 2018 budget.
The budget added 42 new police officer positions to the San Antonio Police Department, including new SAFFE officers. “The budget makes progress toward ensuring that San Antonio becomes one of the safest big cities in the nation,” Nirenberg said.
In addition to adding more police officers, the budget included 43 new firefighter positions -- enough to put another ladder truck and an EMS unit on the city’s streets.
On transportation, another key Nirenberg agenda item, the budget included $4.3 million to improve VIA bus service. The funds will increase bus frequency on 10 routes and improve travel time and capacity in seven corridors.
The budget also was guided by equity considerations, and included funds to improve dilapidated streets in historically underserved neighborhoods.
“The budget is balanced, maintains the city’s AAA credit ratings and begins to reverse historic inequities in street maintenance,” Nirenberg said. “It keeps us committed to the basics and focused on our residents.”
One of Nirenberg’s most significant early moves was beginning an effort to address the city’s lack of affordable housing.
Over the next 20 years, more than 500,000 new housing units will be needed to accommodate the growth expected in the region.
To ensure that the city is prepared, Nirenberg created the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force to develop proposals to addressing the growing need. The task force will craft a wide array of strategies that will include protecting neighborhood stability.
“How and where these homes are built will help shape this city’s future, quality of life and the opportunities for its citizens,” Nirenberg said.
He added, “The public sector cannot solve the problem with the tools and resources we are using today.”
Former City Councilwoman Bonnie Conner says Nirenberg is well prepared to bring his vision to fruition.
“I have found him to be the most transparent, honest, deliberative person that I’ve known in public service,” said Conner, who met him when he first ran for City Council more than four years ago.
Conner added that Nirenberg is 100 percent committed to standing by policies that he believes are best for the city and its residents.
Conner added that the mayor has a track record of standing up for what he believes is best even when it is unpopular.
Nirenberg, an unapologetic student of public policy who represented City Council District 8 for four years, vowed to listen to San Antonians regardless of which part of town they lived in and of their station in life.
And as he began the heavy lifting of making his vision for the city a reality, Nirenberg remained committed to including the public in important conversations about the direction the city will take.
“I believe in government that listens to you and is accountable to all whom it serves,” he said.
The mayor’s approach to transportation illustrates his style.
Nirenberg is willing to put a discussion about mass transit and light rail on the table, but he will not be rushing into a plan without bringing the public into the conversation.
“We aren’t going to do anything without a proper strategy and without funding in place,” he recently told a group of business leaders.
And as he talks with people across the city, Nirenberg noted, “We’re beginning to see a different conversation” about transit.
While Nirenberg’s offers a big vision, he intends to make sure the city pays attention to the nuts-and-bolts needs, too. For example, the new budget included an accelerated pavement marking program so lanes will be clearly visible to drivers.
He frequently notes that local government must excel in the basics first and foremost.
Nirenberg is steeped in the full array of policies that confront the council, and that makes him a good fit for the situation he confronts as his first term unfolds.
San Antonians can be certain that the policy proposals that emerge will be thoroughly vetted and the product of serious deliberations.
Nirenberg recently emphasized that he views the many issues facing the city through the lens of job creation. A first-class transportation system boosts economic development. Ditto for clean energy, safe neighborhoods, the arts and education.
“I consider one of my most important roles to be salesman-in-chief for San Antonio,” Nierenberg said, noting that he will carry the message internationally through his work with sister cities.