During a break in last week’s San Marcos City Council meeting, Mayor Susan Narvaiz has a discussion with Anita Fuller, who represents the Franklin Square Homeowners Association for the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA). On the far left is Councilmember Ryan Thomason, and on the far right is councilmember Gaylord Bose. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
While San Marcos city officials lay the groundwork for a new commission tasked with addressing the concerns of various neighborhoods, critics of the idea worry that it would have the effect of shutting out the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), a 30-year-old consortium of neighborhood groups that has been the voice of neighborhood affairs for two generations.
San Marcos Councilmember John Thomaides said the proposed 13-member neighborhood commission stands to meet difficulty in achieving quorums and predicted that the commission may sunset as a result. More directly, though, Thomaides said CONA already is available to serve the purpose of the proposed neighborhood commission.
“But, in my opinion, we don’t utilize them in this way,” Thomaides said. “I think we should utilize them in this way. That’s my opinion. Because I know what neighborhood representatives do, and I know what board and commission members do. And my concern is, how can you know how to best represent a neighborhood if you don’t hold a meeting of the neighbors?”
The proposed 13-member neighborhood commission would include 11 members appointed by the city council. The remaining two members would be appointed by Texas State University Student Affairs Division and Texas State’s Associated Student Government (ASG).
Eleven of the commissioners would each represent a city sector as defined by the Horizons Master Plan, an urban planning document adopted by ordinance in 1996 after extensive resident input. The neighborhood commission is proposed to be an advisory body to the city council, the city manager, and the other boards and commissions.
City staff initially proposed nine representatives to represent the nine city sectors. However, the council directed staff to add two more seats after Councilmembers Kim Porterfield and Chris Jones said nine members would leave inadequate representation from the east side of Interstate-35. The east side of I-35 is generally a lower income, more ethnically-diverse region of the city. The two sectors located entirely on the east side of I-35 would each be represented on the proposed neighborhood commission by two members, as suggested by Jones.
The council may reapportion the neighborhood commission seats after April 1, 2011, when the 2010 census data is released, and after the city creates a new master plan. Each existing city sector includes an average of four neighborhood associations, according to City of San Marcos Director of Development Services Chuck Swallow, who said there are 35 or 36 neighborhood organizations in the city.
Thomaides protested that representation by sector isn’t fine enough to address the concerns of specific neighborhoods.
“I do actually have a problem with the sectors because, as Mr. Swallow said, there’s thirty-some-odd distinct neighborhoods,” Thomaides said. “And I would submit to you that in Sector 1, for instance, you have Dunbar, you have Heritage, you have Westover, and you have part of Oak Heights all the way up to Franklin (Drive). And then the other side of Franklin is a different sector.”
Jones and Mayor Susan Narvaiz expressed support for the currently-proposed sector-style of representation for the neighborhood commission.
“I think one of the reasons I was highly supportive of going to this model was because I felt like those neighborhood reps on the east side were less represented in CONA,” Jones said.
City staff is drafting an ordinance that would create the neighborhood commission.
“There are fascinating things being done in other cities through these neighborhood commissions, that engage the citizenry, and I’m all for elevating our commitment to neighborhoods through a formal commission,” Narvaiz said.
Jones said issues faced by residents on the east side of the freeway not sufficiently addressed include building foundation problems and drainage problems.
Councilmember Gaylord Bose said the proposed neighborhood commission model would issue less representation of neighborhoods and more bureaucracy.
“I just see the grassroots part of it just kind of disappearing and going to the background,” Bose said.
Jones said CONA “comes with a lot of baggage,” which, he said, is probably an erroneous perception, but “that’s the way it is.” Jones said the neighborhood commission would give CONA “a stronger voice” at the city council because councilmembers may take issues more seriously if they are not associated too strongly with CONA.
But CONA President Amy Kirwin said her group effectively addresses neighborhood concerns at the staff level, though she added that CONA’s relationship with the city isn’t what it used to be.
“We used to really partner well with the city, for some reason,” Kirwin said. “We don’t go to council as much because we’ve gotten to know city staff so well. So, we actually try to work with city staff and just go to them to talk about issues that we have. So, council may not be hearing what we’re doing, but I know that a lot of staff members know who all the neighborhood reps are. They are constantly in communication with them.”
Kirwin did not express explicit opposition to the proposed neighborhood commission, but said the council should utilize people who already volunteer and “who know a lot about what’s happening in the neighborhoods.” Kirwin said each neighborhood group represented in CONA defines how it chooses its representative or representatives.
“The sectors are so broad, and the neighborhoods are a little more — they focus in more, and there’s a little bit more continuity in what the neighborhood makeup is,” Kirwin said. “So, when you see a sector representative, have they gone out and really gone on the ground and looked at and talked with all the people in those neighborhoods? And if you get someone from Sector 2, say, who’s from Willow Creek as the representative, are they going to understand the issues that are happening in Westover or Oak Heights?”
The neighborhood commission concept plan presented to the city council said the commission would consider issues pertinent to overall neighborhood quality, foster better relations between the city and Texas State, provide guidance for city programs and advise the city about code enforcement.
The plan also said the commission would collaborate with other boards, commissions and neighborhood groups to seek solutions to problems and issues involving beautification, transportation, parking, traffic calming, and relations between students and homeowners.Email | Print