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2019 Election: San Marcos City Council

Coverage of the 2019 City Council elections in San Marcos.

Introduction

Early voting occurred Oct. 21 – Nov. 1 in the 37 county locations with Election Day slated for Nov. 5. The San Marcos community voted on 10 ballot initiatives and Place 1 and Place 2 seats.

Candidates

Place 1: Maxfield Baker and Mark Gleason

The decision by current San Marcos Place 1 councilwoman Lisa Prewitt to not seek re-election has prompted an open race for the council in 2019. Running for this seat is Maxfield Baker and Mark Gleason. Prewitt, now serving as mayor pro tem, announced that she will instead be running for a Hays County Precinct 3 commissioner in 2020. Baker and Gleason are on the Planning and Zoning Commission together and have never held public office before this election.

Baker, a 12-year San Marcos resident, graduated from Texas State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s of arts in both anthropology and political science. He is a local business owner and serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission for the city. Baker’s platform emphasizes protecting San Marcos’ river and history, disincentivizing expensive luxury student housing while making renting more affordable and supporting small businesses.

Gleason, who serves as the vice-chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, is a nearly 20-year San Marcos resident and homeowner. If elected, Gleason’s has aims of preserving existing neighborhoods and rivers, increasing cooperation between the city of San Marcos and Texas State University and ensuring responsible and sustainable growth.

Place 2: Saul Gonzales, Devin Barrett and “LMC” Lisa Coppoletta

The San Marcos Place 2 election pits the re-election-seeking incumbent, Saul Gonzales, against Devin Barrett and Lisa Coppoletta. Gonzales is serving his first term, having been elected in 2016.

Gonzales is a life-long resident of San Marcos with three children that have graduated from Texas State and one that is currently a senior. Gonzales touts eight years on the Planning and Zoning Commission among other city committees and, if re-elected, will work to preserve single-family neighborhoods, boost economic development and maintain the environment of San Marcos.

Barret, a 3-year San Marcos resident, is currently a senior at Texas State University studying political science. He is a member of the San Marcos Human Services Advisory Board and hopes to gives students at Texas State a voice while tackling student-focused issues, including student housing and parking.

Coppoletta, a 33-year resident of San Marcos, was a professor at Texas State teaching speech communication. She holds a bachelor’s of arts and master’s of arts from Southwest Texas State University in communication studies and now teaches at Austin Community College and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. She has centered her campaign clearing street congestion, keeping property taxes low and improving governmental transparency.

Issues

SMPD Cite-and-Release Use

Data provided by Hays County showing the San Marcos Police Department’s use of cite-and-release, a process by which peace officers may choose to issue citations for class C misdemeanors—including some class A and class B misdemeanors—instead of making an arrest, has brought criminal justice reform to the forefront for this election.

According to Hays County criminal justice analyst Samantha Jones, the 2018 data shows only 6% of eligible cases in 2018 proceeded with the cite-and-release option, totaling 20 of 332 cases. The racial breakdown of this data shows that 72 cases eligible for cite-and-release involved a black individual, all of which were arrested instead of cited.

This is not an issue that is exclusive to San Marcos. Eric Martinez of Mano Amiga, an advocacy group aiming to “create a better world through education, advocacy and prudent policy for our penal system,” said that this low cite-and-release use is a county-wide trend. Despite this, Martinez said that the best means to fight it is through local governmental action.

“In 2018, across that board in Hays County, officers chose to arrest people about 94% of the time, in every eligible instance,” Martinez said. “When you talk about cite-and-release and who is eligible for cite-and-release – that is entirely in the domain of your city government.”

The lacking cite-and-release use by SMPD has sturred protests at San Marcos City Hall, mobilized organizations like Mano Amiga, Texas Rising and MOVE Texas to advocate for change and incentivized new Interm Police Chief Bob Klett to promise change, citing improvements on cite-and-release this year.

“We are already seeing better numbers for cite-and-release this year,” Klett said. “We would like to say we had cite-and-release since 2007 in Texas, but it’s never really come up as a concern until recently.”

Housing Affordability

According to the 2017 San Marcos Housing Needs Assesment, nearly 65% of San Marcos renters, totaling approximately 9,702 households, are cost-burdened, spending 30% or more of their income on housing costs. More than one-third of renters, approximately 5,953 households, are severely cost-burdened, spending at least half of their income on housing costs.

This issue is further emphasized by San Marcos’s poverty rates, with 38% of the community making less than $25,000 a year and 13% making $25,000 – $34,999 a year. This concludes that 51% of the community is considered low-income, according to the report.

College-centric towns, i.g. College Station, TX, with Texas A&M University and Waco, TX, with Baylor University, have poverty rates that are distinctly similar to San Marcos’s due to their high student populations – San Marcos having the highest rates of these three.

San Marcos also faces a distinct issue from these cities in its renter to owner ratio, with 72% of residents renting and 28% owning their homes. Given the recent rising costs of renting rates, residents have voiced their inability to comfortably afford to live in San Marcos.

President of The Home Center, an organization aiming to aid those affected by homelessness in Central Texas, Hannah Durrance said that she has personally be affected by the rising rent prices in San Marcos, citing her experience after the 2015 Memorial Day floods.

“I got good FEMA money after the 2015 flood and I thought this was a good thing. I had $14,000 dollars,” Durrance said. “But when rent goes up from the $950 I was paying to $1,175, it becomes more challenging.”

The rising rates of rent have sparked conversation about what can be done to mitigate the growth and assist those in the community that may be experiencing situations that wouldn’t otherwise put them at the brink of homelessness.

Public Safety and Transportation

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Marcos has seen significant population growth over the last decade. This, coupled with the expanding Texas State University, has sparked conversation about transportation means for citizens, general assessability, parking and congestion relief.

Candidate Responses

Cite-and-Release and LEAD

Question: “What is your position on cite-and-release?

Baker said that he is in favor of cite-and-release and LEAD to help counteract the overwhelmed penal system.

“Cite-and-release and LEAD are integral to our path forward as a city to deal with the overpopulation that we have in our criminal justice system,” Baker said. “We need to make sure that we, as a community, are standing up for our neighbors and that we are not having such a wasteful impact for a non-violent crime. I firmly support LEAD and cite-and-release.”

Gleason cites that he has seen the effects of the criminal justice system on people close to him and appreciates cite-and-release, but does not want to see it become a mandatory first-step for officers on a stop.

“I have seen (the effects of being arrested) personally and my wife, being an elementary school teacher, has seen the effects on children that go through that process,” Gleason said. “I like the flexibility that cite-and-release gives to law enforcement for small-time misdemeanors that are non-violent. I think it should be non-mandatory and up to the flexibility of law enforcement to make those decisions.”

Gonzales said that he is concerned with the effects that overusing cite-and-release could have on the community’s trust in authorities, stating that he wants to be able to trust officers to make the right choice.

“The biggest concern that I have is that when officers do arrest someone – let’s say for stealing some of your property – I would hate to see those people leave. What’s gonna happen is a lot of residents are gonna say ‘why even call the cops? They are just going to get a ticket and then leave,'” Gonzales said. “I understand that they can use discretion when it comes to other misdemeanors, but that is my take on it. I really want to trust our officer to a certain point, but also hold them accountable for their actions.”

Barrett said, if elected, he will fully support cite-and-release and LEAD.

“I fully support cite-and-release and believe LEAD is the process of making the right steps to move to cite-and-release forward in San Marcos,” Barret said.

Coppoletta supports cite-and-release but feels that they still need to be delineation concerning the types of crimes it should be applied to.

“Obviously (cite-and-release) is good for the taxpayer because we are not holding people for non-violent offenses,” Coppoletta said. “However, we need to have a broader conversation about categorizing what we are going to let someone off for that’s clearly not hurting anybody vs someone who is near someone’s private property and stealing something … I certainly don’t want people to think ‘well, it’s okay to start stealing and I am not going to go to jail.'”

Housing Affordability

Question: “What measures would you support to address the needs of low-income San Marcos residents?

Baker said he would work to ensure that San Marcos residents are not displaced due to inflating property taxes and apartment complexes’ management.

“When it comes to housing, one of the biggest concerns that I have is displacement. When we look at people who maybe bought their home in the 80s, they have now become what they consider ‘house-poor’ – where they would not have the ability to enter the housing market again even if they sell their own home,” Baker said. “We need to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to keep displacement from happening to our renters and our homeowners. When we see our rents go up over an unexpected amount from one year to the next, that is going to force people to move to a different place. Nothing is a worse example of this than the apartment complexes that we see here in town where they offer deep price cuts to get college students or other vulnerable members of our community in there for one semester to the next, and then jack up their rent when it comes to next year. As a councilmember, I will work to drive for policies that mitigate these issues.”

Gleason said that the solution can be found in incentivizing high-paying employers to move into the area and provide jobs for the community.

“One of the things that I think all of us in the community and the Needs Assessment talked about was the need for jobs – good-paying jobs. If everyone has a little better income, they are more likely to be able to afford to stay in the San Marcos area and purchase a home,” Gleason said. “We need to do something about property taxes. The only way that we can do that is by diversifying the tax base in the community. I hear it from the higher end to the lower end sides of town that we have property tax issues. If people are in their homes and their property taxes keep going up, they will be forced out.”

Gonzales said that he has taken part in attracting new employers and wants to continue while focusing on solutions for the high property taxes currently in place.

“The city council is working on those jobs and we’ve got several companies in and they’re paying a lot more than other companies that came in the past. That’s one of the biggest concerns I have is make sure that we get those good-paying jobs. What I see now is our taxes going up and it’s really affecting our senior citizens on the east part of town,” Gonzales said. “Their taxes are frozen. We have to step up and do something about that. We’re gonna have to learn to live within our means and help our senior citizens. I’m devoted to starting that project and I think we gave direction to our Council to bring back some numbers.”

Barrett said that he will work to form a renter’s commission to better give voices to renters, students and the community at large.

“I would support forming a commission that would work to give resources to renters and allow them to have a voice in how property managers operate in the city, like making sure that rent isn’t too high for the actual value of the property like we see in most student housing complexes,” Barrett said. “That’s how we can begin to provide relief to the 70% of the population that rents in San Marcos can see more of their income be used for things other than rent.”

Coppoletta said that she will focus on tackling displacement by establishing a tenants council.

“For our taxpayers, we need to make sure that we’re staying in our houses,” Coppoletta said. “How many of you had to go to a tax protest hearing? I’ve had to do it three years in a row. I’m a professor, I’m on a fixed income.  I don’t get a merit rate every year. I’ve been civically engaged here in the community since I was 19 and I’m concerned that we don’t have a tenants council. This is not only relevant for people who are struggling with fixed incomes, or unsavory practice from landlords, but also are flood victims. They need somewhere to go and when I was advised by City Council, officials said they would have to go to the Austin tenants council. Now how is that easy for someone to do, whose car has been flooded out, they’re having difficulty getting back in their houses or running a hotel and have to go to Austin to take care of that.”

Public Safety and Transportation

Question: “What alternatives would you suggest for improving public safety and transportation in our downtown area?

Baker said that he recognizes the dangers posed by some of the current developments and proposes that alternative modes of transportation be incentivized.

“A lot of people are frustrated with the new changes that we are seeing over on (Guadalupe Street), but when we look at the safety that our citizens require, we know that that is a dangerous intersection. When we look at the necessity for bicycles and sidewalks in our community, I think it really comes down to prioritizing those in the downtown area to make sure that citizens feel welcome in that area.”

Gleason said that City Council is currently working on merging bus services downtown to mitigate congestion, but also suggested potentially implementing paid-parking to fund other parking alternatives.

“I think one of the big ones we can do, and I know that the Council has been working on this, is the integration of bus services of expansion of those services. I think that not having access to the bus downtown on the weekends and nights would help out a lot,” Gleason said. “I like some of the advice that the parks advisory board has come forward with. I am not necessarily the biggest fan of paid parking downtown but as long as that money goes towards some solutions to try and build a parking garage, or something along those lines, I think I can support that. I do like the idea of maybe some co-parking where we can utilize some shittle service to shuttle people around downtown.”

Gonzales said that community outreach is key to reforming an effective transportation system while stating his support of the current construction of sidewalks around San Marcos.

“We are going to get together with the community and find out some places that we can put a bus route where everyone can benefit from it,” Gonzales said. “Getting back to sidewalks, I really believe in sidewalks. Our kids use sidewalks. They ride their bikes and tricycles on sidewalks. I don’t want to see our kids on the street.”

Barrett said that the success of any transportation reform is contingent on the input of citizens that rely on public transportation to get to work.

“We need to increase the improvement of transportation by reforming the bus system to run on time and allow for citizens dependent on public transportation to have reliable transportation for work,” Barrett said.

Coppoletta said that she is most concerned about the safety of citizens walking in the city due to the lack of sidewalks in the city.

“Now we have worked a lot on multimodal but I am concerned that there are no sidewalks downtown where we need them. We’ve got students walking over there through streets and neighborhoods. I think it is imperative that students are not put in a position where it is unsafe,” Coppoletta said. “Another thing that we need to make sure is that we have accurate areas where the bus stops go – not just start putting them out all over town where they don’t need to be.”

Election Results

Place 1: Maxfield Baker

Maxfield Baker: 1,926 votes | 50.39%

Mark Gleason: 1,896 votes | 49.61%

Baker edged out a slim victory of less than a percentage point over Gleason after trailing nearly 200 votes for a majority of the count, 30 votes making the difference in the end. Baker said that he had always heard of elections being won on small margins and attempted to maintain composure throughout the night.

“I knew going into 2019 it was going to be a close election,” Baker said. “I knew for a fact that these slim of margins can happen in San Marcos, so I did not give up heart the entire evening.”

Audio story including the Place 1 candidates.

Place 2: Saul Gonzales

Saul Gonzales: 2,271 votes | 59.58%

“LMC” Lisa Coppoletta: 1,119 votes | 29.35%

Davin Barrett: 422 votes | 11.07%

Gonzales retained his position as San Marcos’ Place 2 representative with a decisive victory over his challengers Coppoletta and Barrett with 59.56 percent of the vote. He reaffirmed his victory by encouraging his constituents to consult with him about any issues they may have.

“Approach me for any problem or question you may have. What you see is what you get, I want to stay connected with my community for as long as I serve it,” Gonzales said.

Polling Location Data

The interactive below shows the use and number of check-ins at all four of San Marcos’ polling locations.

The interactive below shows the number of check-ins for election day by polling location.

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