East Side Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez’s proposals target crime and food deserts in San Antonio

Less than a year into his first term, District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez this week announced a series of policy proposals aimed at tackling crime and safety, food deserts, gentrification and more in a progressive perspective.

He presented the proposals as building on campaign promises and working in collaboration with others. Of the six new applications to be considered by council, each member of city council has pledged to support at least one. Half of the proposals are co-sponsored.

“It shows very clearly that we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “Those are the priorities.”

The proposals have set up a process that will unfold over the coming months. At least four other council members must sign each application to show their support. Mayor Ron Nirenberg ultimately decides when the proposals will go to the city’s governance committee, where select council members work out the details and move them forward.

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Office of Crime Prevention and Recidivism

Creating a new city department to rethink crime and policing was a major campaign issue for McKee-Rodriguez. When he campaigned, he said people in District 2 always ask him what he would do to reduce crime and fight gun violence.

“As a math teacher, I’m not ready to have a solution to reduce homicides, but who will be prepared for that, they’re experts, they’re criminologists,” he said.

He envisions an office staffed with five such experts who can examine the root cause of crime in certain areas of the city. San Antonio has been responsive by reviewing crime rates and responding by adding police resources, he said. McKee-Rodriguez wants the city to take a different approach by looking at how it can stop crime from happening in the first place.

McKee-Rodriguez wants to see the office funded in next year’s annual budget when talks begin this summer, but he knows the proposal could be controversial.

The effort could be seen as a move toward defunding the police, a gradual push that drew attention in the summer of 2020 during racial justice protests following the killing of black man George Floyd by a white policeman in Minneapolis.

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But McKee-Rodriguez said that was not the point. A state law passed last summer punishes big cities in texas if officials cut law enforcement budgets.

“It’s not targeting the police budget in any way,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “That means we don’t think SAPD will be the answer to all the problems.”

Still, he imagines the new office would work in conjunction with the police department, as well as Metro Health and community partners.

The proposal to create the office was supported by District 4 Councilman Adriana Rocha Garcia, District 5 Councilor Teri Castillo, District 6 Councilor Melissa Cabello Havrda and District 9 Councilor John Courage.

District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said she supports exploring the idea, although it’s unclear how a new city service fits into the picture.

“I think it’s an idea of ​​quality of life and even safety that deserves our attention as a community,” Sandoval said.

Personal loan regulations

San Antonio had a city ​​law on the books since 2013 that regulates companies that provide payday loans or auto title loans to consumers. These companies are often criticized for being discriminatory and attacking black and Hispanic workers by offering short-term, high-interest loans that people cannot repay.

Since 2013, more payday loan companies have created signature and personal loans that aren’t regulated by city ordinance, McKee-Rodriguez said. He suggests including these loans and closing the loophole. It does not propose new regulations, but an extension of existing supervision.

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The city ordinance limits payday loans to 20% of the borrower’s monthly income. It also requires that each payment installment reduce the principal of the loan by 25%.

McKee-Rodriguez expects the expansion to pass quickly with little controversy. Austin and Dallas have made similar changes in recent years.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, Castillo, Cabello Havrda and Courage have all signed on to support the expansion.

Development and displacement of neighborhoods

Viagran co-sponsored a proposal to require displacement impact studies before approving affordable housing projects.

The City Council often approves funding and contracts for new affordable housing projects, but San Antonio does not require analysis of how those developments might displace residents from their homes until funding is approved. .

Viagran and McKee-Rodriguez want this study to happen earlier in the process so it can influence the decisions of city council members.

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“If a member of council sees that a development is going to displace an entire neighborhood, and they’re going to vote for it, voters have a right to know,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

He expects his board colleagues to oppose the proposal because of the costs involved in carrying out studies. He ultimately wants to focus on neighborhoods where development is moving fast – like in Government Hill, close to the city center and the Pearl.

District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo, Castillo and Courage all showed support for the proposal.

Animal care services

McKee-Rodriguez and Cabello Havrda want a study from the San Antonio Department of Animal Care Services to make sure it can become a real kill-free shelter.

A master plan would recommend new policies to address the declining rate of release, collect data on the types of animals the city euthanizes, and develop strategies to reduce the number of animals put down because they are considered aggressive or dangerous.

“This blueprint is overdue, and the detailed review and community input it calls for will make us all better and more compassionate stewards of our beloved animal companions,” Cabello Havrda said in a statement.

Bravo, Viagran and Perry have all signed on to show their support.

Food deserts and access to products

Sandoval worked with McKee-Rodriguez to come up with a master plan to eliminate food deserts.

“I see a master plan as one piece of the health puzzle that we have here in San Antonio,” she said.

She pointed out that people with underlying health conditions were among the most at risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes. This is related to diet and the ability to access healthy foods, Sandoval said.

The proposal includes ideas like encouraging the development of healthy food stores, creating incentives for vegetable gardens and turning vacant lots into community gardens.

Bravo, Castillo and Pelaez have all signed on to support a master plan.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone on the board who will say that’s a bad idea,” Sandoval said. “We all want people to eat well.”

She predicts that any opposition from other city council members could show up down the line when specific regulations or incentives come into the conversation.

Utility rate freeze

McKee-Rodriguez was one of the few city council members to vote against CPS Energy’s recently passed rate increase, which will increase customer bills by about $5 a month.

A new rate freeze would not change that, but he said it could help protect older people and people with disabilities from future changes. CPS officials said they plan to seek more increases in the coming years to update their infrastructure, among other priorities.

The freeze could apply to people aged 65 or over and could give special consideration to disabled veterans.

Working with rate advisory committees and analyzing their potential revenue leakage is part of the plan.

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McKee-Rodriguez also agrees with some activists that San Antonio should charge business and business customers more than residential users, which could offset the cost of a rate freeze for more vulnerable populations.

Viagran, Rocha Garcia, Castillo and Cabello Havrda all supported the measure.

McKee-Rodriguez thinks the conversation will start soon on the rate freeze proposal, as that’s on the minds of the board after the rate increase.

“Sometimes things are moved by the political will of the moment,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

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