If the councilman is elected, and achieves only some of his aggressive policy proposals, our city economy will start to resemble cities in California where only the uber-rich can live...
By Jeff Judson
If a majority of voters elect Councilman Ron Nirenberg Mayor of San Antonio, the voters will indeed get the city they deserve, and the misery that comes with it. He describes his bold vision for the city in his 32 page campaign booklet.[i]
If the councilman is elected, and achieves only some of his aggressive policy proposals, our city economy will start to resemble cities in California where only the uber-rich can live, the middle class struggles to keep up, and the poor proliferate with no job opportunities but plenty of government subsidies. California, and radical cities like Portland and Seattle, long ago abandoned the notion of adding new road capacity, instead pushing people (unsuccessfully) onto mass transit. Transit ridership never increases as promised to relieve congestion, but a lot more is spent in the pursuit of doing so. Burdensome land use controls cause the price of housing and commercial development to skyrocket, as the recent expansion of regulations and fees in San Antonio has already done. Over the past five years, the median home price in San Antonio has risen from $130,000 to over $230,000 according to Zillow, reflecting government land use restrictions and regulations and fees[ii]. Otherwise, home prices should be rising with inflation at a normal rate.
Councilman Nirenberg uses manly, aggressive verbs to describe the power he wants municipal government to have over the economy and over individuals. He plans to “harness growth,” “focus growth,” and “be courageous” in his use of government power.
30 years ago, municipal land use planning meant that the private sector built homes and commercial spaces and the city accommodated this growth with new roads, water and sewer lines, police and fire personnel.
Today, Councilman Nirenberg intends to “control” growth through heavy regulation and fees. But the result of such policies is that, rather than “control” urban sprawl, such policies will actually encourage it by chasing investment out of San Antonio — like in other cities who have tried it. What Nirenberg will do is make building anything and creating a job much more expensive, which means fewer homes, fewer commercial buildings and fewer jobs. These opportunities will instead migrate to New Braunfels, Boerne, Seguin, and other areas nearby.
It is hard enough to keep up with the core functions of roads, waters, sewers, drainage, and sanitation. But taxpayers will learn that it is also impossible to achieve Nirenberg’s plan to simultaneously reform school districts and hire better teachers, educate illiterate adults, end homelessness and domestic violence, improve family wellness, achieve housing equity (whatever that is), expand municipal broadband, and reduce income disparity. By pursuing all of these goals, the basics will suffer (because they are hard and expensive as it is), and no social goal will be achieved, except expanding the city budget and the number of pages of regulations and the amount of fees and taxes to be collected.
If you live anywhere in San Antonio where housing growth is causing worsening congestion, you might think twice before voting for Ron Nirenberg. In his own words, he promises that “before we can invest in new transportation options, we must improve the functioning of our existing roadways. As Mayor, I will: Ensure that new streets are designed – and existing streets are retrofitted, [emphasis added] to accommodate bus lanes, bicycle lanes, pedestrian crossings and future high capacity transit.”
This vision means that existing roads will be retrofitted to reduce lane capacity rather than add capacity. As is being done to Broadway near downtown (paid for with the recently approved bond), existing lanes which are heavily used now will be replaced with sidewalks, bike lanes, landscaping, bus lanes, and possibly even dedicated corridors for light rail streetcars.
Where cars once drove, expanses of empty pavement and concrete will sit in our usual hot Texas sun waiting and waiting for the occasional bus or bicyclist to traverse its unused capacity. In adjacent lanes, increasing numbers of cars will be squeezed into fewer and fewer lanes, narrower lanes, and lanes with more concrete medians to “calm” traffic. So before a single square inch of capacity is added to reduce congestion, congestion will increase from the beginning, even before new population growth occurs.
Of course, if a large number of people switch from driving their cars to riding transit or walking or riding their bicycles, it might work. Unfortunately, this has not occurred in any city that has tried it – traffic congestion has only gotten worse.
A forward looking mayor would also consider the future of driverless cars and ridesharing, which will soon make mass transit obsolete. Driverless cars will be ubiquitous in a decade and will transport people more cost effectively, time effectively, and with less impact on the environment than a city bus or a light rail streetcar. Unfortunately, Ron Nirenberg is obsessed with 19th century rail, because it is more expensive to build and has more to do with centralized planning than the individual freedom afforded by cars.
A Mayor Nirenberg apparently knows no bounds to the power a mayor and a city government can have, as he intends to overtake the jurisdiction of local school districts, HUD, the Federal Reserve, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the EPA. In addition to redirecting our personal mobility choices, he intends to “reduce income disparity,” “increase high-wage jobs by empowering the workforce of tomorrow,” reform school districts, invest in high quality teachers, invest in expanded adult literacy programs, focus resources on the “continuum of care” to address family related issues comprehensively, including stemming homelessness and substance abuse.
Ron Nirenberg will also use the city to promote a hard-left national agenda, such as his vigorous support for a lawsuit by the city, filed in the last week of the campaign, challenging the recent anti-sanctuary city law signed into law by Governor Abbott. This law simply asks that cities cooperate with federal detainer requests in dealing with hardened criminals who are also in this country illegally. It prohibits cities from enforcing policies that block police from using their discretion to ask a person’s immigration status. It is about keeping us safe from criminals – like rapists, kidnappers, child sexual molesters, and robbers – but Nirenberg uses the opportunity to promote the Democrat-spin that the law discriminates against minorities and is somehow, anti-immigrant. Thoughtful voters, including recent legal immigrants, know better.
NOT on his list is a promise to bring our number of police per capita up from dead last among major Texas cities, to keep us safe. Or to increase the number of ambulances and fire stations as our city grows, and to reduce the frightfully long EMS response times we suffer from.
What San Antonio needs is a mayor who will attend to the basic functions of a city that most impact our daily quality of life – our daily commute to work, our sense of safety as we sleep at night, and our daily cost of living that determines how much money we have left over for vacations, our kids college, and our retirement. These are the things that really matter. These are the foundational things that support the lives we strive for and which bring us happiness.
These are the things a good mayor can really impact. And these are the things that big-government planners like Ron Nirenberg find boring.
Ivy Taylor has shown that she rejects the far-left radical agenda of Ron Nirenberg. Ivy has a worldview that puts God and families as a foundation of a strong society.
Let’s keep Ron Nirenberg away from any more government power, and re-elect Ivy Taylor.
Jeff Judson is a Senior Fellow with the Heartland Institute. The views expressed are his own and not that of the Heartland Institute or San Antonio Tea Party.
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