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Council Puts Future Of San Antonio Streetcar In The Hands Of Voters

VIA Metropolitan Transit

Voters will get the chance to vote on whether they would like to vote on any future streetcar project in San Antonio.

Thursday, the San Antonio City Council approved a charter amendment election for May 2015, following a recommendation by the council's governance committee to iron out the kinks of the election language.

When voters arrive to the ballot box next May, they will see Proposition 1, which will ask: 

Shall the city charter be amended to provide that no grant of permission to alter or damage any public way of the city for the laying of streetcar or light rail tracks shall ever be valid, and no funds shall be appropriated and no bonds or notes shall be issued or sold for the purpose of streetcar or light rail systems, unless first approved by a majority of the qualified electors of the city voting at an election containing a proposition specifically identified for and limited to such purpose?

If a majority of voters say yes, then the people will have the right to vote on any future proposal for streetcar.

Several months ago, opponents to the streetcar project gathered about 27,000 signatures to change the city charter for the right to vote on streetcar.

Public policy consultant Jeff Judson stood before council to ask them to vote on the exact language hashed out between all parties.

"We're assuming that the language that came out of the governance committee is what will be voted on and we strongly support that," Judson said. "We will be very relieved to see that pass. It was carefully negotiated and every word was scrutinized by lawyers on both sides so we hope there wouldn't be any amendments to try to perfect it today because it'll destabilize the unity that we have."

City Attorney Robbie Greenblum confirmed that was the case.

It was Greenblum, however, who initially said the petitioners did not have enough valid signatures to force a charter amendment election. The reason why: Greenblum argued that every page of the petition had to have the John Hancock of the person collecting the signatures. It was called a circulator. Petitioners argued that the state did not require a circulator signature.

But the city council seemed to be in tune with their constituents.

Under the direction of the newly-appointed Mayor Ivy Taylor, following Julián Castro's departure, the council decided 26,000 signatures was enough. They withdrew their support, and the city's $32 million contribution toward streetcar. That effectively derailed the current streetcar project as it was known.

Greg Brockhouse, who led the charge for the streetcar opponents, is happy with the charter amendment election for next May.

"We wanted [a] November election," Brockhouse said in a text. "But we understood the process and the ultimate goal was to get solid charter amendment language that protected the citizens right to vote. We feel like we did exactly that."

Asked whether he believes holding the election in May instead of November is political in nature, he said Nelson Wolff, who is running for county judge in November against former city councilman Carlton Soules, may or may not benefit.

The streetcar project was a longtime vision of Wolff and Soules had been running his campaign against Wolff on a no-streetcar platform.

The charter amendment election now will not touch the November election and no one knows exactly how the political atmosphere could change, if at all, because of it.

But for now streetcar opponents say they are happy with the outcome of their efforts.

"The passage of today’s amendment language is a direct result of their strength in numbers," read a portion of their news release. The next step, they say, is to focus on the passage of the amendment change in May.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.