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Mayor Nirenberg reflects on six years in office during annual State of the City address

Mayor Ron Nirenberg delivered his State of the City address on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Joey Palacios
Mayor Ron Nirenberg delivered his State of the City address on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg delivered his annual State of the City address Tuesday, just a month shy of the May 6 election. He and the rest of city council are up for reelection.

The State of the City is not an official city event. It is organized by the various chambers of commerce in San Antonio. It’s often a launching pad for a sitting mayor to announce a new initiative in front of the business community.

However, this year Nirenberg did not commit to starting a new project, instead opting to focus on projects he’s already begun.

The tone of the speech was one of looking forward, past the pandemic — the national emergency that the Biden administration ended on Monday — and embracing the plans the city has in place and seeing them through.

“In previous years, I have come to this stage discussing plans and proposals for housing, transportation, and workforce development. For the most part, the talking is over on those issues. This year, we are focused on implementation. And I can attest that the State of the City is poised for takeoff and gaining momentum as we invest in the people of San Antonio,” Nirenberg said.

During his time in office, Nirenberg has embarked on an affordable housing plan, a massive $1.2 billion bond package, a post-COVID workforce development plan, and a reshuffled transportation plan. The city is also in the initial stages of a $2.5 billion upgrade to the San Antonio International Airport.

“The airport project is a transformational move forward for San Antonio,” Nirenberg said. “A move that demonstrates to the world where San Antonio is headed. The airport we have dreamed of is on the way.”

The airport expansion is expected to be completed by 2028.

In his speech, Nirenberg painted a picture of a city rebuilding after COVID-19. He highlighted the impact of emergency federal money distributed to the city during the pandemic. He pointed to property tax relief efforts such as taking the homestead exemption on city taxes up to 10% from less than 1% and increasing exemptions for people with disabilities and those over 65.

Nirenberg defended some of the initial numbers of the city's flagship Ready to Work program, which is projected to have 15,600 newly trained professionals by 2028.

The program began in 2022 after voters approved using a 1/8th of cent sales tax to fund it. It’s expected to cost around $200 million, according to the city.

As of April 11, approximately 280 people have completed training and 99 people have been placed in jobs.

About 4,800 people have been interviewed for the program, and 2,030 are enrolled in training. The median hourly wage of someone who has been placed in a job after training is $18.95.

The program is coming up against an economy that’s seeing massive layoffs in multiple sectors.

“All numbers associated with the workforce development program are within the context of the economy,” Nirenberg said in a post-speech interview. ”Do I view the ready to work program to be a success? When I look at individuals who have been working three and four jobs, living on the verge of poverty, raising children in that environment, who are now able to avail themselves in training for high skills in careers where our businesses need employees and are now being hired into those jobs — I say that’s a success for the family.”

Nirenberg reiterated after his address that he will not support the upcoming ballot Proposition A, known as the Justice Charter.

Prop A would de-prioritize enforcement of abortion and low-level marijuana crimes, expand and codify the county’s cite-and-release program, ban no-knock warrants and police chokeholds, and appoint a city justice director to oversee city justice policy.

Nirenberg has previously supported initiatives like cite-and-release, which allows for officers to ticket instead of arrest for low level marijuana possession.

“That has not changed. I remain strongly in support of women’s health care rights, and I also favor the legalization of marijuana, but we cannot do that at the local level. The city charter is not state statute, and we cannot supersede state law,” he said.

If Nirenberg is reelected in May and he completes another term through 2025, he would complete eight years in office, thereby standing among the longest serving mayors in San Antonio’s history, alongside Henry Cisneros and Lila Cockrell.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules