Mayor Race: Smoking Bans, Paso Robles and Job Growth
October 21, 2010
The Nov. 2 San Marcos mayoral election is approaching and the two candidates vying for the office that has been held by Susan Narvaiz for three two-year terms. BobcatFans spoke with Texas State Alumnus Daniel Guererro and Councilmember (Place 6) John Thomaides about how they plan to address key issues facing the San Marcos community such as public smoking bans, how to bring more white-collar jobs to San Marcos and more thoughts on the Paso Robles Subdivision. With two weeks left till San Marcos knows who will occupy the Mayor’s seat it might be prudent to go over some issues.
With the enactment of the Austin’s smoking ban in Sept. 2005, there is some concern that a similar ordinance could make its way down to San Marcos. With a large bar community, several businesses would be affected by the enactment of a potential public smoking ban in San Marcos.
Guererro welcomes a ban, and believes that it will create more choice for bar patrons and more business for bar owners.
“There is an interest in pursuing a smoke-free environment or at least having a different setup for a smoking environment,” Guererro said.
When asked about the potential financial ramifications of the ban, Guererro was confident that the ability to go out without coming home smelling like cigarettes would bring more business to the square
“When I’ve spoke to bar owners and staff, I think it’s something that they are very open to, most of the folks that I’ve spoken to think it will increase their business.” He said.
Thomaides, however, does not see a smoking ban as something that should be decided by politicians and thinks that such an ordinance would have to come from the public in the form of a referendum.
“I do not think that a smoking ban is wise for a city council or elected body to institute a ban on their own.”
Thomaides acknowledged that he is not a smoker but thinks that just because he doesn’t smoke, nobody else should be able to either.
“Any kind of legislation or ordinance that would deal with the prohibition of smoking in public places would be required to come from the citizens,” he says. “This will let the citizens decide on their own should they believe it to be the right thing to do.”
The rebranded Premium Outlets and Texas State University are a large source of retail and clerical jobs in the San Marcos community. In order to keep more Texas State graduates living and working in San Marcos, attractive employers must be sought out and courted to bring more career-oriented employment opportunities that are not in the retail sector. Both Guererro and Thomaides agree that high-tech and clean energy industries hold great promise for the San Marcos community.
Thomaides, who serves on San Marcos’ Economic Development Committee, is confident that he has the needed experience bringing high-tech employers such as biomedical firm Grifols to San Marcos.
“[Grifols] will be hiring 200 employees and paying over $40,000 a year plus benefits,” he said.
The rewarding of “bailouts” to retail developers is something that Thomaides wants to stop, citing an instance in which he says his opponent was the deciding vote to award an additional $4 million to a retail developer miscalculated their costs.
“I feel like when you give a project money before it starts, that’s an incentive; but 18 months after the project starts: that’s a bailout,” he said. “When you constantly give your money away to bail out retail shopping center developers it weakens your ability to recruit career-type jobs like Grifols that people can fill once they graduate from Texas State.”
Guererro sees young entrepreneurs for Texas State as the “creative class” that will be the source of San Marcos’ economic future, not just regular white-collar employers.
“I don’t think its necessarily just white-collar professional desk jobs that we’re after,” Guererro said. “There’s been an interest in the council to look for young entrepreneurs and opportunities for university students interested in starting their own businesses.” Furthermore, Guererro believes that the secret to drawing more industry to San Marcos is to attract what he calls third-tier players, such as suppliers, in the manufacturing, light industry and clean energy sectors.
One of the most polarizing issues this election season is the Paso Robles subdivision. The $175 million, 3,450 home development on Hunter and Centerpoint Road is being built by developer Carma Texas over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. Many are unhappy that the development was placed in such an environmentally sensitive location while others are glad about the influx of higher-income residents to San Marcos. How will Guererro and Thomaides carefully balance the need for growth with the need to protect our fragile, river-based environment?
Guererro sees the development as a way to help close to gap in San Marcos’ housing stock while providing an example of how to accomplish environmentally friendly development.
“The entire community, everything, is sensitive,” Guererro said. “At the same time, we need a community that we have to be able to live, work and play in.”
Setting an example of healthy economic growth against the backdrop of a healthy environment is what will bring more and more healthy development, says Guerrero.
“I do feel that by bringing in Paso Robles and some of the other housing developments is going to encourage people to look at San Marcos differently and say here is a community that is not only diversifying their housing needs, but they are really taking a critical look at how to protect their overall environment,” he said. Part of what has hindered development in San Marcos is what Guererro sees as an overly complex permitting system that slightly favors very large development over smaller players. “[It] has made it very difficult for people to be able to build homes, not to mention businesses,” he said. Finally, Guererro says that balancing the need for growth and the need for a clean environment is not just the duty of elected officials or developers and urges citizens to adopt the “it takes a village” mentality.
“I think that is the responsibility for all of us. It is just like education: education is everyone’s business and the environment is no different,” Guererro said. “But we have to make sure we’re doing it in a means that still allows us to provide for out citizens.”
Thomaides agrees with Guererro that ecologically friendly development is possible and thinks that the subdivision will have negligible environmental impact. However, Thomaides opposes the construction of Paso Robles and believes that San Marcos is making a mistake in allowing developer Carma to utilize the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) to create subsidized, age-restricted high-income housing.
“My big problem with this development in particular is that San Marcos and its taxpayers should not be subsidizing single-family home construction, period,” Thomaides said. “And that is the real issue that’s being swept under the rug in this discussion.”
Thomaides believes the use of the TIRZ, which is typically reserved for regional infrastructure projects, will create an unhealthy financial burden for San Marcos.
“Utilizing the TIRZ means that once they start developing the property, the city will have to go into debt and pay this developer back $20 million dollars over a maximum of 31 years,” Thomaides said.
In a time where finding a good paying job is a privilege it is clear that city leadership needs to do all it can to keep taxes down and foster quality job creation for its citizens. This is your city and now more than ever you have the politician’s ears. Your vote shapes the future of San Marcos, use it wisely.