I am providing an update on two important issues: the City’s recent contract offer to the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA); and the City’s removal of safe soil from the Convention Center expansion project.
On February 20, 2015, the City’s and SAPOA’s negotiating teams returned to the bargaining table to discuss a new Collective Bargaining Agreement replacing the one that expired on September 30, 2014. The City offered a proposed contract that includes among other items the following major points:
- Pay raises for all police officers each of the next three and half years totaling 9.5%;
- Officers sharing in the cost of healthcare coverage; sworn personnel would continue to be covered with no premiums for employees; employees would be required to pay premiums for their dependents;
- Taxpayer-funded legal fund phase-out over three years;
- Revision/elimination of the “evergreen clause” that perpetuates the contract for ten years after expiration.
The City’s proposal would keep public safety expenditures at less than 66% of the General Fund budget. We believe this offer is very reasonable, and we are optimistic that we are moving towards a resolution. The next collective bargaining sessions are scheduled for March 17 and 20, 2015. Attached is a summary of the City’s labor proposal to SAPOA.
The second item to share with you is about the safe soil at the Convention Center. In late 2013 and early 2014 the City removed 150,000 cubic yards of soil from the Convention Center expansion site and placed it on a City-owned property off Highway 151 that is zoned for business park development. The soil was not structurally sound to handle the weight of the new Convention Center building. Two different environmental engineering firms, Geo Strata and Raba Kistner Inc., determined that the soil excavated from the Convention Center property does not exceed regulatory standards for residential or commercial development as established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). In other words, the soil is safe enough to use for backyards, ball fields and gardens in any neighborhood community. The data in the two reports does not conflict on this critical point.
Where the environmental reports differ is in the narrative recommendations made by the consultants. Geo Strata, working for the Convention Center contractor, recommended that the soil either be used in place at the Convention Center or taken to a landfill for disposal. This would have cost an estimated $6 million and resulted in approximately 150,000 cubic yards of residential-grade soil being unnecessarily deposited in a landfill.
City staff questioned this conclusion and utilized Raba Kistner, Inc. to perform a more thorough Environmental Assessment. While the Geo Strata study was limited to nine soil samples for the soil that was excavated, the Raba Kistner Inc. assessment added another 58 soil samples for a total of 67 samples from the excavated soil. The City’s study performed by Raba Kistner, Inc. was a more comprehensive assessment, and it too, indicated that the soils were appropriate for re-use instead of being taken to a landfill.
Nonetheless, I have directed the City’s Metro Health Department to oversee an independent review to test the soil at the new location. The City has hired Weston Solutions to test the soil now in place at the City-owned property at Highway 151 and expects the study to be completed within four weeks. A representative of the nearby San Antonio Food Bank was a member of the staff panel that selected Weston Solutions.
Additionally, Metro Health commissioned the Southwest Research Institute to test vegetables and topsoil from the community garden at the San Antonio Food Bank. The tests confirmed that there are no elevated levels of minerals in the soil and the vegetables are safe for consumption. An independent study commissioned by the San Antonio Food Bank reached the same conclusion.
We regret that we did not better inform our community partners in advance of moving the soil, but please be assured that the soil is safe and we are exercising an abundance of caution to demonstrate that fact to the community.