The city of San Antonio plans to launch a free parking and transportation program for people who wish to speak at certain city council meetings early next year in an effort to reduce barriers to civic participation.
Public consultation sessions on Wednesday night will kick off a pilot program, city staff told council members, but several urged staff to immediately add free parking and public transportation for Session “A” meetings on Thursday. , when the board takes action.
The discussion took place at the community health, environment and culture committee meeting on Tuesday. The proposed program would work as follows: attendees would register as public commentators online or in person, and then request assistance with parking validation or transit. The city would provide a two-hour parking validation in the city tower garage through City Hall, or VIA Metropolitan Transit would issue trip credits to an individual’s VIA card or mobile account.
While committee board members have expressed support for the program, several said they were concerned that the program only applies to Wednesday’s public comment sessions, which begin at 5 p.m.
“What really worries me is that it’s also kind of a low turnout event,” said city councilor Ana Sandoval (D7), who also chairs the committee. “Not just for the audience, but for members of our own body as well, and that might really put off audience members coming in to comment.”
She and board members Mario Bravo (D1), Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) and Teri Castillo (D5) asked staff to expand the program to include parking validation for “A session” meetings on Thursday, when the board takes action on the points. Laura Mayes, deputy director of government and public affairs, said she understands the desire to reduce as many barriers as possible for public commentators, but the town hall parking lot has limited spaces.
“When it comes to public transport, we have a bit more flexibility, but again we want to reduce barriers to participation,” she said. “We have added virtual comments, as an example, where you can leave a written comment. I know this doesn’t replace the feeling of being in person and speaking with the members of your board.
Deputy City Manager Jeff Coyle said staff will meet again with VIA to discuss extending free rides to City Hall for Thursday A session meetings as well as Wednesday’s public comment sessions. . As part of the pilot program, staff will collect data on who uses the parking or transit assistance to help shape the final program.
The committee also heard about a new initiative to provide childcare assistance to members of city boards and commissions. The city has offered reimbursement of childcare expenses to all members of the civic obligations committee, who are in their last week of evening meetings. Only one person applied for and received financial assistance, said Melody Woosley, director of the Department of Social Services.
Researchers who studied the makeup of the city’s boards and commissions found that of 783 members, 43.7% are women, Woosley said.
“These women held less than a third of the posts on 29 boards and commissions and did not hold any seats on six of the committees,” she said. “Access to affordable and reliable childcare has been identified as a major barrier affecting not only women in the labor market, but also in the area of civic engagement, especially for women in the workforce. low income and women of color ”.
There is $ 10,000 allocated for this type of child care in the fiscal year 2022 budget, Woosley said. Staff are hoping to see if access to child care encourages more women to apply for boards and commissions, Woosley said. Next summer, they plan to review the results of the program to determine how best to budget child care assistance for fiscal year 2023.