Video Exclusive: City Council's Hays Street Bridge "Day of Atonement"


The San Antonio City Council voted to return land next to the Hays Street Bridge to the people for a public park during a dramatic meeting that outgoing councilman Rey Saldana termed a day of "atonement.”

(Scroll down to watch complete the video of the council speeches and vote. Click here for a transcript of the key speeches.)

The council's June 13 vote came three months after the Texas Supreme Court said the city must abide by 2014 jury verdict and court judgment in favor of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group. The Restoration Group, which obtained the land next to the bridge for a park, said the city broke its word when it gave the parcel to a developer. In the decision, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said the city's arguments that it was shielded by governmental immunity were "neither verified nor supported by any evidence." (Court decision here.)

The council voted 10-1 to take the land back and build a public park "dedicated to the historic Hays Street Bridge," under an agreement negotiated by Interim District 2 Councilman Art Hall that gives the developer land that was designated for affordable housing in an adjacent East Side neighborhood, Denver Heights.

The lone dissent was from District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse who said he was “consistently against this entire process from the beginning. I felt it should have been public land, the city made a series of mistakes. It never should have gotten to this point and it should have ended a long time ago.” (Watch video of Brockhouse here)

In his last meeting after serving his term limit of eight years, District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña apologized for his vote in 2012 to give the land to a developer. “It really sort of hurts me to say this, but this is part of my atonement for a decision that I was part of. I have atonement to pay for my name being on a decision in 2012 that really started this whole thing. Nobody else on the council can lay blame at their feet as much as I can because I am the only one still here that was on the city council whose name is on the decision in 2012 to go into this deal,” he said. (Watch video of Saldaña here)

Saldaña said solution is not easy: "We’re trying to take back this land that originally was the city of San Antonio's, we made a mistake giving it away to begin with, but now we’re in this position where we’ve got to chew on and swallow this bitter pill, that the person who owns is not, in my eyes, the kind of actor that I would ever consider to be good faith in his willingness to want to see the best for the East Side community. That’s not who we’re dealing with here. And that person owns the land."

Saldaña continued: "if you were to average and add up all of the decisions made about and to the East Side, they would come up short with respect to a question that has come up here, which is this question of justice. Has proper justice been delivered to District 2? Has the quality of resources and attention and time been paid its due to the Eastside? And it has not, it comes up short.”

Nirenberg, who historically has been unsympathetic to the Restoration Group, indicated his position changed. "I want to appreciate and thank my outgoing colleague, Councilman Saldaña for his words. I think they ring true in every sense, and he described it as a moment of atonement, and I agree with that," Nirenberg said.

"I’ve made very clear to my colleagues and to our city manager that we will henceforth learn from Hayes Street bridge and make sure that the people’s land remains the people’s property, so long as they are calling the shots," Nirenberg said. (Watch video of Nirenberg here)

"It is unfortunate that this bridge has become a symbol of why people’s trust in government has waned, in local government, but I hope as a result of this action and the subsequent actions of this council and the future council, we will finally show that that bridge can live as a memory of those people who fought hard to ensure that its government serves its people."

Hall, whose district includes the iconic bridge, said the agreement is a step toward resolution of the dispute. “I think it’s clear here today that we don’t have 100% consensus and there are very few issues where we have 100% consensus, particularly one that is controversial,” Hall said. “So our goal then is to do what we can to get the highest level of consensus that we can to solve an issue and in this particular case right or wrong. And I think we’ve gotten to a point today where that conversation is happening and that resolution can happen as well.” (Watch video of Hall here)

Watch the video here:

(Click here for a full transcript of the council discussion.)