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Newsmonger: Creative arguments on both sides of the VIA streetcar debate

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

A VIA vision of the future with a Downtown streetcar

If a petition meant to derail a $280 million streetcar project in downtown San Antonio isn’t successful, two Northside city councilmembers think they have enough council support to place the issue on the November ballot.

On July 8, streetcar opponents handed in a petition to the city clerk that would amend the city charter to require a public vote before streetcar and light rail right-of-ways could be granted to VIA Metropolitan Transit. That petition, however, could be tossed out because of a technicality.

Thus far, that hasn’t seemed to deter streetcar opponents. “The council can legally call this charter election without valid signatures,” District 9 Councilman Joe Krier said. “Second, I am confident, having talked to the people who collected signatures, that they have more than 20,000 residents that signed the petition.” Krier continued, “I believe a majority of the council will not let minor imperfections and technicalities get in the way of honoring the will of 20,000 citizens.”

Krier is referencing so-called circulator signatures, which City Clerk Leticia Vacek said must be on each page of the petition and signify that the person collecting signatures verified that all of the signers on each page were San Antonio residents. Vacek has until July 28 to verify the petition signatures.

District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher said even if the petition is thrown out, he thinks there might be one city councilmember who actually supports the streetcar plan, but who would be willing to side with the opposition and support bringing the charter amendment to a November vote.

“I think I have enough support on the council to get that done,” Gallagher said. “And the reasons for this, it’s quite logical, is whether you are for or against the project, you have to give voters a voice .… That is just so important because if you think about it, over 26,000 signatures; you know, that’s a turnout for a city election.” (During the last general election, in May 2013, 46,417 ballots were cast from a pool of 614,456 registered voters, according to a City of San Antonio General Election canvass report.)

But VIA Metropolitan Transit has contended that the opposition calling for the petition is creating misinformation and attorneys for the City of San Antonio have said a state law ultimately will allow VIA Metropolitan Transit to build the right-of-ways, even if a petition to change San Antonio’s city charter passes and a vote on it is successful.

“We have our concerns, though, that some of the backers of the petition drive to alter the San Antonio City Charter are misrepresenting the purpose and effect of the petition,” the transportation agency said in a released statement responding to the petition. “We think they are misinforming the public regarding the modern street car [sic] project, but we will continue to share the facts and provide accurate information on the street car project, and we will stay focused on making sure the transportation needs of this great city are met.” Also noted in the release was this: “The street car project is just one component of a larger transportation system being realized through the SmartMove plan, but it is certainly an essential part of that plan.”

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