Parking program a ‘direct attack’ on San Antonio nightlife – mySA

Business owners’ frustrations and concerns in some of San Antonio’s popular nightlife areas are about to come to a head over a proposed residential parking permit pilot program (RPPP). Bar and restaurant owners on the St. Mary’s Strip are saying they weren’t told about the proposed program in a timely manner, while also calling for solutions to be more equitable for all involved parties. 

Details are still scant about the proposed parking program, but several San Antonio bar owners say that the plan will call for residential streets along the St. Mary’s Strip to restrict public parking from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the active business hours for the popular spots. A tweet from Paper Tiger and Midnight Swim owner Chad Carey claims this will close off streets to the weekend, but Squeezebox owner Aaron Peña says he’s not entirely sure what days the program is aiming for. 

The St. Mary’s Strip has served as one of San Antonio’s busiest nightlife areas for the past 40 years. Businesses including The Mix, Candlelight, and Demo’s Greek Food have been a part of its makeup since the mid-1990’s, with the area hosting MTV Street Party in 1990 for 15,000 party-goers. These days, the Strip is made up of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and late night taco trucks, both new and old, including Joey’s and Midnight Swim, as well as El Milagrito and upcoming Asian small plates restaurant, Wurst Behavior. 

Peña, who learned of the RPPP on September 15, claims that businesses have been kept out of  the loop on how this proposed parking pilot program was developed. These business owners and residents of Tobin Hill will have the chance to hear about this program Saturday, September 24, at a District 1 townhall meeting from 10 a.m. to noon at St. Sophia Church.

“I do think it’s a direct attack and very deliberate attack on nightlife, hospitality, bars, and restaurants,” Peña said. “They’re basically saying that our patrons, our employees, and our neighbors who are deserving of free parking — which is public — we’re not allowed to operate our businesses in the manner that we’ve always been able to operate them without issue.”

Aaron Peña, who owns The Squeezebox on the St. Mary's Strip, has been vocal about the proposed parking program on social media.

Aaron Peña, who owns The Squeezebox on the St. Mary’s Strip, has been vocal about the proposed parking program on social media.

Isaiah Alonzo, MySA.com

This is has been an ongoing point of contention in recent years, with residents of Tobin Hill expressing their frustrations over drunk patrons urinating on lawns, leaving behind trash, having public sex, and speeding down the narrow streets. In March and April of 2022, the city tested closing off residential streets in the evening over the Fiesta weekend, dropping notices from the San Antonio Police Department on Twitter just a few days before each occurrence. 

Now, the proposed program could be a possible step to closing off residential streets to area visitors, as heavy construction continues along the main drag of the St. Mary’s Strip. 

Little effort

Peña says the efforts to inform the public and gather feedback have been too little and too late, given that the feedback and program will be presented to the city council for approval on October 20. Peña claims the council was originally slated to vote on the program on September 29, but the vote was postponed because of the “storm” he created on social media. 

It’s not clear if the city did postpone the vote, but it is not currently on the agenda for September 29. MySA reached out to District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo for comment.

This map tweeted out by Councilman Mario Bravo shows the proposed area and streets that will be affected.

This map tweeted out by Councilman Mario Bravo shows the proposed area and streets that will be affected.

Courtesy of the City of San Antonio

Jody Bailey Newman, owner of the popular hangout space The Friendly Spot in Southtown, also navigated noise complaints in 2012. She says she was shocked when she heard about the program that will directly close off public right of ways to, well, the public. Given claims that the plan was created without input from business owners, she says the plan is not equitable to both residents, businesses, and even employees who work the late “second shift.”

She says the proposal seems to be influenced by “not in my neighborhood” or NIMBY opinions. 

“I don’t think that’s reflective of the city that we are for sure,” Newman says. 

Newman lives in the Lavaca neighborhood, which does have a residential parking program that restricts parking to residents on only one side of the street, while the other side remains public with three-hour commercial parking on some streets in Southtown. 

Residents want to feel safe

Justin Vitek, owner of popular Far Northside bar Hills & Dales Ice House, says that his business has been at odds with residents in the neighborhood behind his bar for years now. Vitek says residents got permission to post “no parking” signs on the streets and at the neighborhood park. That has only pushed loyal customers to park further into the subdivision. 

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who will also bring the program to three neighborhoods near popular UTSA bars, says the program is proposing four parking permits per household. Pelaez, whose district includes Hill & Dales Ice House, says the residential parking pilot program will be used in College Park, Maverick Creek, and the Hills and Dales neighborhoods. Vitek considers this an attack on his business. 

“You’re just individually attacking my bar, you know. It’s not like it’s a strip of bars. You’re attacking one entity,” Vitek said. “So if they’re going to do that, my thing is you got to do it for everybody else in the entire city. You can’t just pick and choose what bars you want to do this for.”

Vitek, who took on part ownership of the popular bar in 2017, says that Hills & Dales receives constant complaints of overcrowding and loud music. 

Pelaez credits Vitek as “one of the good actors” in the impacted neighborhoods who proactively leans into the problems residents face. Vitek hires numerous security guards at Hill & Dales, sends off-duty officers to patrol the neighborhoods, and sends employees to clean up trash at the community park. 

Vitek says he feels the parking pilot unfailry targets his business, but Councilman Pelaez says his area isn't the biggest problem area.

Vitek says he feels the parking pilot unfailry targets his business, but Councilman Pelaez says his area isn’t the biggest problem area.

Kin Man Hui/Staff photographer

But despite those efforts, the residents of Hills & Dales still face problems with patrons coming from the bar. The pilot program is only part of a solution to a growing number of incidents stemming from The Sandbox, Pelaez says.

The construction on St. Mary's Street makes parking and driving difficult but the city is proposing closing off residential streets to parking.

The construction on St. Mary’s Street makes parking and driving difficult but the city is proposing closing off residential streets to parking.

Steven Santana | MySA

Those problems across all three neighborhoods include people defecating, urinating, and leaving trash in resident’s yards. According to Pelaez, there have also been brawls in residents’ yards, as well as people “jumping over the fences” and “trespassing through backyards.” 

Pelaez says this is not an attack on nightlife businesses. He wants businesses in District 8 and District 1 to succeed, but he says his job is also to listen to his constituents that want to feel safe and then come up with an equitable solution. When it comes to College Park, Pelaez wants to create solutions before things get worse.

“I feel that if we don’t do something in College Park soon, someone’s going to die,” Pelaez says. “We need to bring that situation under control.”

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