2008 State of the City Speech Mayor Phil Hardberger
I have the best job in town today. It is my duty to tell you about the State of the City as we begin the new year of 2008. We have much to be thankful for. The State of our City is strong. Our fortunes are healthy. We are united as never before. From the vantage point of 2008, we see a new San Antonio emerging: Ours is a future without limits.
Though our potential still exceeds our accomplishment, the path ahead is clear. A more striking San Antonio is seen in the form of a more dramatic downtown skyline. We have set aside record new acres of green space. We are beautifying and extending our signature San Antonio River.
Economically, we are a city on the rise. Reflect on this statistic: Three years ago Forbes Magazine started a new ranking of the best cities in the United States to get and keep a job. San Antonio ranked 44th. The second year we ranked 40th. This year, our third year, we ranked 11th in the United States. We added 16,600 jobs in 2007 and expect 2008 to be another strong year. Our unemployment rate of 4 percent is low compared to the rest of the state and nation. And our sales tax revenues in 2007 grew by almost 7 percent. Forbes also ranked us #8 in the country in terms of stable housing markets for 2007.
We’ve embarked on a $635 million expansion to the San Antonio International Airport that includes two new terminals and a runway expansion. A month ago we opened up 1,200 new spaces in the new long-term garage. We set passenger records in 2005 and in 2006, when we passed the 8-million passenger mark. Three years ago, we had nonstop flights to 29 cities. As of May of this year, we will serve 42 cities in the United States and Mexico, a 45 percent increase in the number of cities we serve with nonstops.
My expectations are high because of my faith in our citizens and in the leadership in this room. We rushed to the aid of people fleeing Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We have shown that we are willing to invest in our city, passing the largest bond in city history so that our streets and drainage will not fall behind, and our communities will have needed parks and libraries. You, the business leaders here in this room, have answered the call to serve, bringing a new spirit of cooperation between business and government. Together, we’re creating a revitalized central gathering spot in Main Plaza. We’re beautifying our River. And we’re building a comprehensive, transformational campus to help our homeless regain their footing.
These are heady accomplishments, and by next year, there will be more. Here’s where we are now.
San Antonio River
For decades, our San Antonio River sat neglected, and we ignored the history lesson that investments in the river bring their own rewards. We jump-started the river improvements by substantially funding the $68 million Museum Reach, a 2-mile extension to the north of downtown. In May 2009, that project will be completed – on time and within budget. Within two years we will have doubled our storied Riverwalk. We project a $9.3 million annual impact from the Museum Reach on the city’s tax base – through sales, property and hotel taxes.
In March, we will begin work on the southern stretch of the River, known as the Mission Reach. Thanks to the leadership of Judge Nelson Wolff and the Commissioners Court we will be able to infuse $125 million into that effort with an extension of the visitor tax. I want to publicly thank Nelson and the Commissioners for their leadership on behalf of our river.
The River represents our heritage in San Antonio. It is the reason people were drawn to this land, a life source for those early settlers. Now, our San Antonio River will become a 13-mile linear park connecting the San Antonio Missions, downtown and Brackenridge Park. Literally as well as symbolically, this project knits our community together from North to South. It connects our past to our future. There is only one river, and we are one people and one San Antonio. Flowing like time itself, the River is our destiny.
San Antonio has become one of the nation’s most popular places to live. Our city, nearing one and a half million people, will increase by another million over the next 25 years. As we grow, we must make sure that some land is kept in its natural state. Since I became Mayor, we have set aside 2,999 acres of green space. Last year — with overwhelming support from the voters — we purchased 311 acres for a new park.
The sheer size of the land, roughly equal to Brackenridge Park, is large. Some of the trees on this land were standing at the time of the Battle of the Alamo. We will build a major urban park to serve the needs of a modern San Antonio and to connect us with our South Texas natural heritage. We have done a national search and selected one of the best design firms in the United States. We are gathering information and ideas from business leaders, residents, architects and young professionals through a series of public meetings. The park is open on a limited basis for tours and a segment will be open to the public this year. With Voelcker Park, we are creating a park not just for ourselves and our children, but for the centuries.
Much San Antonio history can be traced to a square surrounded by city and county government buildings, the San Fernando Cathedral and the River. It was called, in former days, the Plaza Mayor, the Main Plaza. But that historic central plaza had become neglected to the point that it was little more than a traffic island, the River hidden away by a wall. With Main Plaza, you helped us demonstrate the power of partnerships. Half the money to revitalize Main Plaza came from private donations. Many of you are in this room. Today, the shape of the transformed, tree-lined, Main Plaza is emerging from behind the bulldozers. We’re not going to let Main Plaza fall on hard times again. We recently hired an executive director to run a non-profit conservancy charged with maintaining the grounds and planning events year-round. And I hope you will join me at our grand opening of Main Plaza on the evening of April 13. Rey Feo, Fernando Reyes, has chosen Main Plaza as the site for his coronation a few days later, on April 18.
Haven for Hope
The Haven for Hope represents a special kind of investment, a testament to how we as a community believe in and care for the people of San Antonio. For years, San Antonio has struggled with chronic homelessness. After the outpouring of generosity in response to Hurricane Katrina, I asked for your help for our own neediest citizens. Bill Greehey, and others, stepped forward.
Bill Greehey, now CEO of NuStar Energy, and former Councilwoman Patti Radle deserve special praise for the ambitiousness of their vision, and for how far we have come in such a short time. We broke ground on the $70 million Haven for Hope campus in May of 2007. Construction has already begun, and the campus will begin opening in phases at the end of this year. The Haven for Hope is the measure of San Antonio’s heart. Bill Greehey could not be here today he as is attending his annual NuStar board meeting. Patti Radle, would you please stand.
Before we address our new challenges and opportunities, let’s pause a moment to recognize some of the other people who have made these things possible.
A close working relationship between the City and County is fundamental. I’m happy to say that is the present case. We have two important elections before us – the visitor tax election in May and the term limit election in November. Nelson and I will be working hand-in-hand with you to lead both of these elections to victory. Nelson is an invaluable asset to our community and to me. Let’s show him our thanks.
On a more personal note, I want to thank my life partner of 39 years, my wife Linda. Linda did not want me to run for Mayor, but she has supported me in every way and given a great deal of her own personal time, as befits a First Lady.
My immediate working team is the City Council. A Mayor does nothing and will achieve nothing without the cooperation and help of the City Council. Whatever success I achieve it is because of the City Council. I’m proud of this City Council. They work hard. They have the entire City’s interest at heart. They are a great team and I am indebted to each of them, as I think we all are.
(1) Mary Alice Cisneros
(2) Sheila McNeil
(3) Jennifer Ramos
(4) Phillip Cortez
(5) Lourdes Galvan
(6) Delicia Herrera
(7) Justin Rodriguez
(8) Diane Cibrian
(9) Louis Rowe
(10) John Clamp
Sheryl & Michael
There are two more important persons I want to recognize and thank. Our City Manager, Sheryl Sculley, is one of the three most talented people I have known in my life. She is a tireless worker, and more importantly, she is a tireless thinker. She is, quite simply, the best city manager in the United States. Sheryl.
Every businessman or woman in the audience today knows how important it is to have a lawyer on your side. I’m happy to say the City Attorney’s office is among the best law firms in town and guided by the steady and knowledgeable talents of Michael Bernard. Michael.
Chamber of Commerce
We speak today at a Chamber event, the voice of the business community. In San Antonio, we are fortunate that we can rely on a great partner in this enlightened business organization. I would like to especially thank Joe Krier, Richard Perez, Brenda Vickrey Johnson, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa and Jim Goudge for their leadership.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished as a team in two and a half years, but I am aware that the biggest impediment I face as Mayor is time. My hope is that in my four years as Mayor, we will move this city forward 25 years. That will be a credit to people like you who have joined us to work for the betterment of all. In the life of a city, four years is not a lot of time. Not enough time to start many things, much less finish them.
Leadership matters. Our elected leadership, Mayor and Council, are handcuffed by strict term limits – among the strictest in the nation. We’ve recently had another reminder of the downside of term limits as two out of our four returning Council members left to pursue other offices because of these term limits.
When this community voted overwhelmingly to pass the largest bond in our history, it was a vote of confidence in ourselves. Term limits also speak to our confidence, and whether we believe in ourselves, and indeed, in democracy itself. I believe people are intelligent enough to vote people out of office who are not doing a satisfactory job.
I do not advocate doing away with term limits altogether, but we should at least allow our elected representatives enough time to get something done. I will lead the fight to extend our present term limits from two 2-year terms to four 2-year terms and place it on the November ballot. This is a reasonable compromise and will allow us to have a more effective city government. I have appointed Christian Archer, the campaign manager for the bond election, to be the campaign manager for this critical task. I ask your help in this reasonable reform.
San Antonio is attracting well-paying jobs. For instance, Rackspace is expected to add 3,000 high-tech jobs within the next three years. Fort Sam Houston, through the BRAC process, is expected to add 4,886 highly paid medical jobs by 2011. Yet our education levels do not allow us to fully take advantage of the opportunities created by this new economy. Only one of every five San Antonio adults has a college degree. Not every child must go to college, but every child must be given skilled workforce training if they do not do so. It is not fair to the child or the city to have uneducated, unskilled people.
The City of San Antonio intends to act now. Two days ago we launched the “P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County.” This independent council grew out of the community education summit I convened in 2006. The “P” stands for preschool, and the “16 Plus” stands for college and workforce education. San Antonio is blessed to have a tremendous array of educational institutions – more than 800 early childhood providers, 17 school districts, five community colleges and five traditional universities within our city limits. Yet we also have unacceptable fragmentation.
This Council represents a historic, unprecedented effort in San Antonio to unify our educational efforts. I am confident that it will succeed, because it has the support of great champions in our community. Elaine Mendoza, the founder of Conceptual Mindworks and Dr. Charles Cotrell, the president of St. Mary’s University, and their committee, have worked for months to establish this organization on a solid foundation. It is now a reality.
Bartell Zachry has agreed to be the first chairman of this new and important educational committee. Bartell runs a world-wide business and has little time and less inclination to involve himself in ceremonial duties, no matter how lofty the ideal. He has agreed to do this because of the importance of the human potential and the tragedy of any wasted life. I have every confidence that his firm’s mantra of “on time, on budget” will carry to this critical shortcoming of our City.
A new San Antonio should have three educational criteria:
1. No high school dropouts
2. Every child that has the ability and desire to go to college should go to college.
3. Every child that does not go to college should be trained in a job that will allow that child to earn a decent living and live in dignity.
We should accept no less, whether we are parents, school, or community. Thank you, Bartell, for believing in the promise of our children. Could I ask Elaine Mendoza, Dr. Charles Cotrell, Bartell Zachry and any other members of the P16Plus effort who are present to stand so we may show you our appreciation?
Growth is our destiny but not our master. It represents an economic engine which we can harness to be competitive in a changing global marketplace.
We are transitioning into a world where it costs less to save a megawatt of energy than to produce one. The most competitive cities in this world will be those that chart a bold path on energy use. We have never had a comprehensive energy policy in San Antonio, but we need one. We will present that policy to you at this forum next year. At the City, we are in an ideal position to lead on energy. We will build on existing air quality and efficiency efforts in tandem with you in the business community and CPS Energy. We have begun a $33 million four-year project to synchronize our traffic lights citywide and thereby
reduce idling, emissions and fuel consumption. We have converted 75 percent of the lighting in our city facilities to energy efficient lighting. We have converted 23 percent of the city’s on-road fleet to alternative fuel, hybrid or fuel-flex vehicles. And we signed a contract to operate a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling facility for refueling garbage trucks, which will cut our Greenhouse gas emissions.
The technology boom of the 1990’s bypassed San Antonio, but the energy boom will not. San Antonio will lead by removing market barriers to renewable products such as solar energy. We will provide incentives for companies that develop new energy technologies. We will support new education and research. And we will invest aggressively in renewable energy generation.
San Antonio is experiencing a real estate revolution with the burst of new condominiums downtown, lofts along South Flores Street and the revitalization of neglected urban neighborhoods, such as River North and Windcrest. These communities radically reduce energy costs, improve our air quality, and promote walking rather than driving.
We will improve our building codes to promote energy efficient building and these new types of infill development. Working together, we will develop a plan that positions San Antonio as a leader rather than a follower as we move into an age where the cities of the future are those that have forward-looking approaches to energy. I ask you to partner with me and the City Council as we embrace that future.
The River flows and time passes: for this speech, for San Antonio, for ourselves. Now is our time. Throughout the United States today, presidential candidates cry “change” and claim that they will lead that effort.
But San Antonio has changed already, changes everyday, embracing our demographics, embracing our diversity, unafraid of the night, yet eager for the dawn. Three days ago, there was another massive Martin Luther King march in San Antonio, one of the largest in the nation each year. Yet only 7 percent of our population is African American. What does this say? It speaks to our values. It speaks to our inclusion and understanding. We live together; we work together; we care about each other. We are San Antonians, an old society, but our best years are ahead of us.
Cities, like people, have defining moments. Our prospects are unlimited, but we must act and we must lead. Each of us must invest so that our children grow up in a San Antonio that is cleaner, safer, better educated and more prosperous. Let us join hands and reform our term limits, educate our citizens and chart a bold new path on energy. Our Golden hour is at hand.