Candidate Forum: Mario Bravo Challenges Incumbent Roberto Treviño For District 1 Seat
District 1 will go to a runoff between longtime councilman Roberto Treviño and challenger Mario Bravo. This is Treviño's final eligible term. Treviño led by about 45% of the vote.
The election’s political issues were largely dwarfed by a deadly global pandemic and February’s deadly winter storm.
Two years ago, Councilman Treviño won outright over his challenger Justin Holley with a more than 40 percentage point lead.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
How do you rank health inequality among your priorities?
Mario Bravo: I absolutely see health inequalities as completely intertwined in everything we do. Right now, the city has an equity lens, and we're supposed to look at how any new policy affects equity in our community. I really think we need a health lens in all policies and look at, “What if we pass a new policy, if we invest in a certain project in the city? How is that going to affect health outcomes?” Because it's just a huge issue. And we have huge health disparities, which I was very well aware of and I think most of the community is now that we've seen how COVID has affected our community. But I have a huge commitment to increasing public health. That's why when the pandemic hit, I signed up with the Alamo Medical Reserve Corps, and I went and I volunteered with Metro Health when we failed to stand up a contact tracing program. Me and my mother were over there every day making phone calls, trying to try to slow the community spread of COVID.
Roberto Treviño: We have to also meet people where they are. And we know that housing is health care and understanding that there's very specific roles the city plays in helping to provide the much-needed services to improve that quality of life throughout our city, so they can have access, as the CDC has ordered. We want to get people vaccinated, we want to protect them from evictions. And most importantly, we know we have seniors that are very, very vulnerable right now. And so understanding that we have created programs that address all those issues, and knowing that the district is one of the most diverse districts in the entire city. We established the first-ever SA Kids B.R.E.A.T.H.E program to help an area that has suffered from kids suffering from or dying from asthma, which should never happen. It's understanding the community and I believe I've done that. I've lived in District 1 for 22 years.
Did you support Proposition B, which would have taken away collective bargaining for the San Antonio Police Officers Association?
Roberto Treviño: I was vocal that I was supportive of Prop B and spoke with my folks about the 10 issues that Fix SAPD brought forth. You know, being vocal about something like that is important as a council member so that people know where you stand. Understanding the vote, the way it turned out, it also shows that this community is split on Prop B. However, what I know that they're not split about is accountability and transparency. I think that, you know, there's going to be much more discussion and much more opportunity to make sure that we do that, and not flip flop and make sure that we're focused on tackling this issue once and for all. I think that, you know, District 1 by far supported Prop B.
Mario Bravo: I’ve been committed to making sure that we have more police accountability. And so I think we need to have an approach where we make sure that we're rewarding the good police officers to make sure that they stay on the force, but at the same time, we have to be able to hold the bad actors accountable. And so I was involved very early on, in some of the conversations with brainstorming on how we can call police officers more accountable, and Prop B was one tool that we could use, but there are many others. There's still opportunities to do this. You know, The current contract that we have right now has a lot of booby traps in it. And so, you know, there are ways in which a police officer could be fired. But then if we didn't dot all the i's and cross all the t's when we executed that process, that police officer can win their job back on a technicality. We can have fired police officers when their jobs back on technicality.
What problems do you think still need to be addressed concerning February’s winter storm?
Roberto Treviño: There's more to do. But what we do know is that we can also respond, we have an emergency operations center, that was not set up the way it should have been. And I think that as council members and county commissioners, we need to do mock trials where we practice on emergencies so that we can learn how to respond in the community can have an expectation of how their their municipality is going to respond in a crisis, whether it's a hurricane, a cyber attack, a terrorist attack, a power outage, these are the kinds of things that I think we need to be focused on because we have those tools available to us. And I was out there during the storm. I was out there helping seniors, I was helping folks making sure that they were connecting back to water to power and food.
Mario Bravo: I look at this as the state as responsible for some of this problem for failing to regulate but it's kind of like a seatbelt situation if the state doesn't force you to wear seatbelts, still the responsible thing to do and still the right thing to do and you know, City Council's job is part of their job is to exercise checks and balances over CPS Energy. Instead, we've let them self-govern. CPS energy failed to do the responsible thing and prepare for severe weather like this, and because of that, we underperformed and people were out in the cold and frozen and people suffered in our community and we're being stuck with a huge bill of a billion dollars that we're going to be forced to pay over the next 10 years when CPS Energy increases our rates after after the storm. And so I've been involved with a group of stakeholders pushing through reforms at CPS Energy. I don't think it's enough to be out there helping people in the storm, you have to get ahead of these problems, work ahead of time to make sure that they're being governed correctly and doing the responsible thing whether the state forces us to do the responsible thing or not.
What do you believe City Council should do in the next budget cycle to support those facing evictions during this public health crisis?
Roberto Treviño: I've actually visited Austin, where they've purchased four hotels, and use the housing-first model, with a permanent supportive housing support system around that. So of course, they do support that the eviction crisis is something that we've been working on. And there's other tools like the right to counsel that we brought that has helped nine out of 10 people avoid evictions, when they go to eviction courts. I've talked to every just as a Peace Corps judge to help us throughout this, navigate through this potential eviction crisis that just continues to loom over us. And again, we need to continue to support the emergency housing assistance program, work with housing advocates that have done so much. We just strengthened tenants rights, we focused on renters rights. We've made sure that things like vouchers can be accepted, and we will make sure that any FEMA dollars that come to the city will be allocated towards that effort.
Mario Bravo: I just want to point out that every single utility in the state of Texas suspended disconnections during COVID. So I don't think it's fair for any one person to say, “Well, I called on it, and that called on our utility to do it, and that's why they did it.” When it comes to looking at a hotel room, I mean about purchasing a hotel, you know, I support a housing-first policy for people who are experiencing homelessness. We have to have a compassionate approach. But I think we need to make data-driven decisions as well. And so I'm not going to jump to committing to do any single thing without talking to experienced professionals on what works best because what we've been told so far is all the work that we've been doing today, which had consisted primarily of a patchwork of disconnected projects is not going to there it has to we have to look at the whole picture and work with everybody.
Where are you on trying to make San Antonio a bike-friendly, bike-safe city?
Mario Bravo: I'm 100% committed to making San Antonio bike-safe and one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. I think it’s so important and in so many different ways. You know, I've been involved with Activate SA. We have existing bike trails, and we connect them through the urban environment. So we can have more connectivity with walking trails, bike trails, and make them protected so that they are safe, because it's completely unacceptable that so many people are being injured or putting their lives at risk while they're commuting. And you know, this issue is important in so many ways, because one, we can relieve traffic congestion. Two, the phrase “diabesity” was coined in San Antonio by a previous mental health director because of the prevalence of diabetes and obesity in our city and how they are together. And if we can get people to have healthier diets, and we can give them more opportunities to safely exercise by riding their bikes in our city, then that can be a huge impact on our health.
Roberto Treviño: I think what it's what we're working on right now, which is master planning, we've got to create a master plan that works with the existing infrastructure. And one of the biggest things we've done is we've separated transportation capital improvements into two departments — public works and transportation. We are creating a safe connected network of not just bike lanes, but pedestrian mobility is so important because we want to create safe mobility throughout the city. We're investing millions and millions of dollars on corridors that need road diets. We are looking to work with the experts, the engineers, the architects, the designers, the landscape architects, and the plant traffic planners to create this master plan.
What can be done at the city level to address property taxes?
Mario Bravo: It's unsustainable the way we keep just saying, “Oh, well, we're going to let the appraisals go up, but we're gonna keep the property tax rate the same.” That is not right, that is not fair. People are being taxed out of their homes. The first thing we need to do is protect our most vulnerable. And so that starts with there's a homestead exemption if you own your own home that you are qualified for homestead exemption and you get a deduction. So many people in our community do not have the homestead exemption. We have two council members right now who live in their own homes and don't have a homestead exemption. Right and council members are among the most informed people we have in our community. We need to be proactive. We need to work with nonprofit organizations and have them go into these low-income income ZIP codes and make sure that everybody who qualifies for a homestead exemption gets one. The other thing is we need to protect our senior citizens. When you turn if you have a homestead exemption when you turn 65 a portion of your property taxes are frozen. So we need to find people when they're 64 and assist them in appealing the property valuations.
Roberto Treviño: I’m a homeowner of over 17 years in District 1. Last year, we sent a letter to the governor to freeze property taxes. He refused to do that. But we've also focused on the data. I've also been serving the appraisal District Board and working with the chief appraiser, Michael Amezquita, to make sure that everyone who is doing exemption has won. The work is being done to make sure that some of the folks who can have a homestead exemption, get one and those who are over 65 when we freeze their property tax payment, not the valuation. So there's a lot of education that still needs to happen in all of this. And we really empathize and want to continue to provide more education about what this really is. Most people still think that the Bexar County Appraisal District is a county entity. It's a state entity run by the state comptroller. And we need to understand that what's driving property values going up, it's public school financing.
How do you see your role in helping San Antonio’s homeless population?
Roberto Treviño: Since last July and because of the pandemic, we've been having this issue, because of the CDC orders regarding encampments, I want to first say that at the field office, it's not an encampment. But the other point is that they come to the field office, because we know that we're providing them help and support, we've gotten over 30 people off the street and shelter, We've helped over 50 people with services. And what we also have learned throughout all this is that outreach works, low-barrier shelters with permanent supportive housing is the way forward. We outlined through this work, a system that is now being utilized all over the city or outreach specialists are in every council district office and will continue and management has evolved to also provide a mobile hub which only existed downtown, every Wednesday at our field office to help get people off the street. And I want to be clear, these are human beings, many of which are women who are seeking help and support from a very, very abusive situation.
Mario Bravo: We need a more compassionate and a more effective approach to homelessness. And so, you know, when the homeless strategic plan that was proposed to city council just a few months ago, you know, we were told that what does not work is a patchwork of disconnected projects. And that's what we have had. What does work is working with the experienced professionals, so I'm not going to run a homeless service center out of the district office. You know, we are not the homeless professionals. There are experienced professionals in our community, people who work in, in drug addiction, people who work in mental health, people who operate shelters. And so we need to work with them, do a better job of bringing them together, and coordinating and communicating with them, so we can find out where are the gaps in services? Where are we duplicating efforts? And how can this be invested more effectively, to support the experienced professional?
How will you address laws that oppress sex workers in San Antonio, such as the loitering for prostitution ordinance and strip club laws that hurt entertainers? What about human trafficking?
Mario Bravo: Absolutely, what we need to do everything we can to, to protect people from human trafficking, whether it's children or adults, and work with not just local law enforcement, but work with the federal government as well, because and state government because it's, they're coming from all over. But we need to do our part here at the local level. And that includes making sure that we are prosecuting the Johns but not the the sex workers themselves, often they're victims. And so we need to not make them into criminals. We need to protect them and help them to transition into or support them into being able to improve their lives.
Roberto Treviño: We don't need to criminalize sex work. We know, once again, much like with homelessness is criminalizing situations like this only makes things worse for people. And this is exactly what we need to offer true support and take a look at the current ordinances which criminalizes these workers.
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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, May 18.