Op-Ed: H-E-B’s Combo Loco
Published: November 6, 2013
Last December, I did something that made the majority of my friends question my sanity—I moved from Austin to San Antonio. They wanted to know why I would do such an absurd thing as leave the “hippest city on Earth.” I could answer them in one word: traffic. In a recent study done by INRIX Inc., Austin surpassed New York as the city with the fourth-worst traffic in the United States. What use is it to have world-class restaurants, museums and events if you can never get to them?
I wanted to be connected to a culturally rich, vibrant community. San Antonio, with its SA2020 goals and city-center rebirth, seemed the place to be. So, I sold my Austin home and bought a small historic cottage in San Antonio on a street that, little did I know, was about to make headline news. My boyfriend and I now live on South Main Avenue just one block from H-E-B’s headquarters.
You have likely already heard that H-E-B has requested the block of South Main that runs from César E. Chávez to Arsenal in exchange for building a downtown grocery store. When I first heard about this plan last spring, I wasn’t that worried. The Mayor and City Council, after all, would never consider shutting down a major downtown thoroughfare just as the Decade of Downtown was taking off, would they? That thought just goes to show how much I had yet to learn about San Antonio politics. Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at University of Texas at San Antonio’s College of Public Policy, was quick to bring me up to speed. “San Antonio does not plan: We do deals,” he explained to me.
When it became clear that the City might very well hand over public property—something that you and I all own a piece of—to a corporation so that they can wall it off, I was stunned. And I wasn’t the only one. My next-door neighbor, Naomi Shihab Nye, an internationally renowned poet and author, has lived on South Main for over 34 years. “I was sickened!” she said, “I felt like, ‘God, this is so wrong.’”
Almost every single one of my other neighbors felt the same way, so we banded together to form a grassroots organization called Main Access (mainaccess.org) and started a petition to keep South Main Avenue open. Our membership has grown to include citizens from every district in San Antonio.
Brief History of South Main Avenue
In order to understand why so many people would be so upset about a street closure, let’s start with a little history lesson. Back in 1947, traffic conditions had grown so bad in San Antonio that a group of citizens called the South Side Residents started a petition to open up Main Avenue through the former U.S. Arsenal property. The street was finally opened in 1949.