Frank is fresh off a nail-biter loss in a special election for House District 118. He is running again and joins us to talk about the lessons learned and plans if he wins. He is born and bred in 118 and has a wealth of knowledge about our great city.
Justin Hill: Hello and bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best-kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here. All right. Welcome to The Alamo Hour. Today’s guest is Frank Ramirez. Frank was recently running for election in HD 118, a special election to replace the retired or resigned Leo Pacheco.
In the special, it was a super close election. He did not win. There’s a chance. I think he probably already has an answer to it that he will be running in the future, but we’re here really to talk to him about his time in San Antonio. His love for the city has worked in politics here. Get to know him a little bit better. Frank, thanks for being here.
Frank Ramirez: Hey, thank you, Justin. Coming off of the trail has been a very sobering time. It’s been about a month now since the election and I’ve taken time to myself to recollect myself rest and really get a better understanding of the race that we ran and how effective it was because for all intents and purposes, it was. Even though we fell short, we did a lot of really great work that brought a lot of people out that normally would not have come out. We’re excited about you having me here today. Thank you so much.
Justin: Rest and relaxation [laughs] is that you like the Japanese tea garden doing yoga, looking at the koi pond, or is that beers and tacos on the strip?
Frank: Hey, that’s me getting a mile in the morning now, but also being able to balance that with those beer and tacos.
Justin: [laughs] All right. That’s fair. I told Frank before we started that maybe the least amount of research today for a guest, but I’d done plenty of research when you’re running for office and got to know you a little bit. We’re just going to talk a little bit about San Antonio, talk a little bit about your time in politics, your hopes for the city, what you think the future San Antonio looks like because I think that’s a real important discussion that’s being had right now.
We are on the edge of this Austin explosion and that’s going to spill over so we’re going to talk about that, but I always start with a top 10. It’s probably might be 10, might be 20, might be 4. What are your favorite hidden gems in the city? You’re a San Antonion and so you might have some places that I’ve never been to or never heard of so dig deep favorite hidden gems.
Frank: I am a lifelong south sider. The majority of my experience in this city has been in the south side. I’m a product of the Harlandale Independent School District. That’s Gillette, Kingsborough, McCollum high school go Cowboys, and go Cowboys in Dallas as well. We were a very tight-knit community, but at the same time we support businesses in the south side and we like to tout them. We like to tell people, “Hey, when you come to the south side, you got to go to these spots because they’re the best.”
Frank: I’ll give you my top five restaurants in places in the south side. If you’re looking for some great Mexican food, you got– Don’t bet those Mexican restaurant. I have been in the neighborhood for over 50 years. Then you got the other one, which is one of my personal favorite south of 90 is Blue Moon Cafe off of Flores Street. That’s on Mitchell and Flores, and they have the best chilaquiles tacos in the entire city, hands down.
The other one taco-wise is going to be got to be Carnitas Lonja which has been featured on Forbes magazine and is a nationally acclaimed restaurant. Actually the chef, [unintelligible 00:03:41] he was actually nominated for the James Beard award. He was, I think, one of the top two finalists in the state of Texas for that award and it just goes to show how amazing their food is
In terms of, and I’m going to stick to food because I eat a lot, that’s culinary– Whenever you’re in San Antonio, what do you do? You got to go to the river walk, you go to the Alamo, and then you go to eat because we’ve got TexMex. Chef Chris, out at RockerDogz off of Roosevelt Avenue.
Justin: Never heard of it.
Frank: Never heard of it. I guarantee you this is the best hotdog you’ve had in your life. They have this one where it’s a carne guisada chili with queso and salsa verde hotdog. That is solid brother.
Then of course I’m going to stay away from food. This last one is the entirety of the mission trail. I’m a biker, I like to bike. One of the largest infrastructural improvements for multimodal transportation, you’re talking about not just being restricted to a single person in a single-vehicle. You’re talking about ways to get downtown from the south side that are unconventional to some. I’m talking about the entire mission reach from outside of 410 south, even into the county past Mitchell Lake, you can get downtown to this trail and about 45-minute bike ride you’re downtown and you’re in the center of the entire city.
Those are some of the coolest spots and in the south side in terms of luxury, leisure, and transportation, but also for activity. If you want to get back from your bike ride, you ride back down, and then you go to Don Pedro’s or to any of those other restaurants.
Justin: I’ve only been to two of those you just listed, the restaurants. I’ve been to Don Pedro’s and I’ve been to Carnitas Lonjas which I hear got built out a little bit. It used to just be a counter.
Frank: It used to be the counter to go. They have a patio now and now they have fish lonja. It’s like a fish counterpart and they do cocktails, shrimp cocktails. They do fish tacos, quesadillas, mariscos, and everything. It’s awesome. It’s awesome.
Justin: I’ll have to go check that out. I wonder if the James Beard people knew what the restaurant looked like in the inside when they nominated, but it was just fantastic food and I think that’s an– They did one thing really, really well and that’s it. That’s all you got to do. Are you a Bcycler?
Justin: Have you ever rented one?
Justin: My last guest, number one in the city, multiple years in a row in miles on a Bcycle. Apparently, they track it.
Justin: Now I’m going to start asking everybody because he’s the legend. Favorite Fiesta event?
Frank: Favorite Fiesta event, NIOSA definitely. That’s just hands down. You get a couple of friends and you just got to–
Justin: I don’t think you’re going to say that in 10 years. It already hurts to say it this year. I tell you that. What night of NIOSA though?
Frank: I can’t even confidently say this anymore, but college night was always the most fun. I’ll even say this, not even at night anymore, just going during the daytime and leaving before it gets–
Justin: Tuesday at 5. I’ll be there if I’m going.
Frank: I’ll be there at five o’clock hands down every single year now. I enjoy that atmosphere a little bit better. The other is Mission Fest. That’s mission San Jose.
Justin: Never been.
Frank: Awesome. That’s an awesome spot. Mission San Jose was actually my home church for a long time and it’s a lot more centering because it’s in the historic missions. They actually have mass inside of the church that people had mass in three, four, hundred years ago.
Justin: I’m probably sound very non San Antonion by saying this, but is San Jose the big one with a wall around it?
Frank: That’s right.
Justin: That has the big facade. You see, every time I go there, somebody’s getting married there. Looks beautiful. That’s right.
Frank: They’re all iconic in their own rights. Some of them were more built out than others, but [crosstalk]
Justin: Some are grand and some aren’t. Some are.
Frank: As is a lot of things, you have your centerpiece and then you have the peripherals around it, but–
Justin: The Alamo is not grand compared to San Jose.
Frank: No. The story’s grand, but Mission San Jose is much more beautiful. You have a lot more vision around.
Justin: Have you read the Alamo book, the Stanford one that’s getting all the controversy.
Frank: I haven’t. The one that–
Justin: Real Alamo–
Frank: Okay. No, but I understand. It’s an interesting topic to delve into. The history of the Alamo who is the villains who were the heroes, how was history written in that regard.
Justin: Yes. I think there’s a discussion of how slaves played a role at the Alamo that’s never discussed. I tried to do a new Fiesta event every year, Mission fest will be a new one. Are there any Fiesta events you have not done that you want to do?
Frank: I forget what it’s called, but it’s a taste of–
Justin: Well, there’s Taste in New Orleans.
Frank: Taste in New Orleans is the one that I was trying to get to.
Justin: You said Taste of Northside or, is that really a fiesta though? It’s so far?
Frank: If there’s anything culinary-related, I’m sticking to the south side in our cuisine because I went downtown too. Downtown, you start your learning.
Justin: Well, [laughs] I don’t really go to the south side much for food. You live in your bubbles it sounds like. I finally went to Brooks city, Base Leo was a guest and he gave me and Ryan Pape who is looking to build a facility down there a private tour. I was blown away, but driving down there, I remember thinking, this is far. It’s a Trek to get down there. If you’re not down there or need to go down there, you don’t just venture.
Frank: It’s like, if I have Brooks in the south side, am I really going to take the drive to La Cantera, if we have all the same things, but we don’t. We will, for now.
Justin: I think so too. I think that’s where that’s all going.
Frank: You just look at in the scope of real estate, what’s built out, what is not. You look at shirts of low universal city, often 35, it’s already all built out. There’s very little room for there to be any type of lateral growth or horizontal growth. It all has to be vertical at this point. In the south side, you go outside of 410 South, little land. It’s just nothing but land. That’s where a lot of these developmental trends are going to start going towards east or west of 90, east 90, outside of 1604. It’s all trending back down south because that’s where the available real estate is at.
Justin: One thing I found interesting was, I don’t know if I was reading about it or I was at one of the county commissioners’ meetings, there was a big discussion about how some of those developments were just so poorly planned. They were just throwing up these developments that had 400 homes and one point of ingress and egress and it was causing traffic and the roads are too small. If you never hear that conversation, you never really understand the responsibility for developers to responsibly develop, and do it right, and make sure you take all those things into consideration. The south side is a good example, I think of some people that have done it poorly.
Frank: That’s why it’s important that I got into this arena, specifically because of that. Because we do see how bad development affects not only the people that are going to be moving there but the people that live there. There’s a development that occurred a few years ago, a school that was built basically on the buffer between a commercial road or an industrial road and a single-family residential neighborhood that had been there historically. Now you have a feeder road, and you have people picking up their kids on this feeder road, which is only two lanes on one going each way at two, three o’clock in the afternoon every day.
Justin: That’s poor planning.
Frank: Right. You have from point A and literally a mile and a half road to point B, that’s how long the line is to pick up your kid. You take into consideration design standards and things that people don’t necessarily have to do because our state laws don’t necessarily require that. Traffic impact analysis. How many peak hour travels are going through this
Justin: That’s where our local leader should.
Frank: The issue is that if it’s already zoned, or if it’s already prepared for that type of development, there’s not a lot of hands that the city has in that rezoning or that development because outside of permitting, you can’t do anything about something that’s already given to you by right. That was a strong part of my campaign is, how can we responsibly grow the next trend of developments in the city of San Antonio? I worked in development for the past four years of my professional career.
Doing that, we understand the ins and outs of, okay, if we’re going to have a single-family development in an enclave neighborhood, we have to make it to where it is seamless with the existing infrastructure. On top of that, how are we being mindful of the infrastructure that’s already around us in terms of other single-family residential? We don’t want it to be so encumbering that if you’re trying to get home, it now takes an additional 20 minutes because of this new–
Maybe not even 400 or 400 homes, but even 70 homes can make that impact because you consider that, all right, I have a nuclear family with a wife and two kids, and my kids are 20 years old each, they’re both in college, they both drive a single car. Instead of just having two cars per house, you’re talking about four cars per house now. Instead of 70 homes, you’re looking at 280 cars, vehicles getting to that one neighborhood, and that’s what creates [crosstalk]
Justin: It doesn’t take long for that to stunt the growth or development or new people purchasing into a neighborhood. Because when I was looking around, I remember I looked at a neighborhood and my realtor said, “You would not want to come here between 2:30 and 4:00 because it backs up all the way to 410 because of a school that was there.” I just remember thinking, “Okay, I’m not interested in that.” I moved on.
Frank: Take into consideration Culebra outside of 1604. Historically, it didn’t have anybody living there. Traffic was never an issue. All right. You have one lane going this way, one lane going that way. That’s never an issue because nobody’s going that way. You’re always coming back in. You put a 200-unit development out there, single-family residential, all of a sudden, your traffic impact is exponentially increased and people were trying to get home, now it takes you an hour and a half. Because nobody ever had to go home that way. Now they are.
Being mindful of that not just with single-family residential, not just with development like that, but the expansion of Brooks City Base, the expansion of those amenities in Texas A&M, San Antonio, Palo Alto. We’re hoping to start breaking ground and really building up the new university health system in the south side, outside of 410 South near Zarzamora. What are we doing to preempt these things? What are the identified issues right now that if we were to put this development in today, would we be able to sustain it?
Justin: I think you and I were talking about that Westover Hills development had a full hospital system before like the south side. There was literally nobody living out there, and they built this giant complex and still, we didn’t have a big one in the south side, which I think now they are building that one right there off the 35. I think they’ve announced another big one that they’re going to build down that way. You’re born and raised in San Antonio, you’re a roadrunner.
Justin: You are a Longhorn. Okay. I had UT in my head. Is that the only time you’ve lived away was your time in Austin?
Justin: Four years or did it take a little longer?
Frank: I was there for up until from 2012 to 2016 but I stayed there as well for the 85th legislative session when I was a legislative director and chief of staff. I lived in Austin until 2017.
Justin: For Tomas?
Frank: That’s right.
Justin: All right. Uresti,
Frank: Uresti, correct.
Justin: Any odd hobbies? You said you’ve picked up boxing. Anything else?
Frank: I enjoy boxing. I enjoy weightlifting, biking. I’ve been playing guitar for about 15 years now. I enjoy playing guitar, cclassical, acoustic, electric. Just throw it at me.
Frank: Flamenco is a little harder.
Justin: You said throw it at you. I’m throwing it all out there.
Frank: My grandpa, he actually is a very good flamenco guitar player but they used to call him the Mexican Elvis when he was in the army.
Frank: He did a lot of work like that. Other weird hobbies, outside of a 27-year-old guy in the south side running for office, that time is restricted whenever you’re doing that. I have my luxuries. I like hanging out with my friends, my family. I have two nephews who I love to death, and whenever I have an opportunity to see them, it’s always fun. I like watching football. I like going to football games. UTSA, they made us all proud as a city this past year.
Justin: [unintelligible 00:16:33] [crosstalk]
Frank: That’s right. It’s interesting to see that that happening. Lifelong Spurs fan. I go to every single game as often as I can. I’m a cute Cowboys fan.
Justin: The guy you just met, Damon, he played football at Trinity. He is not all-American. I used to say it was all American. He’s like, I was not an all-American. Now I’m described as not all-American running back there. He was all-conference though. Now there’s been this weird confluence of really good football teams at one time. Two of them are Division One. UTSA lost to North Texas last week, but the coach should have sat people.
Really, for thinking about what does a good coach do? It’s good to be undefeated, but it’s more important to win your conference. I don’t think he did sit people. If he did, I wouldn’t have faulted him for it because this is the big game this week.
Let’s talk a little bit about your work professional history, which is really all been political based best as my understanding from our discussions. You graduated college, but in college, did you work politics, or did you just live a college life?
Frank: I’ll take you even further back than that. My grandfather owns a small roofing business. Ramirez Roofing Company. I started doing that from the time I was 14, 15 years old.
Justin: That’s hard work.
Frank: Very hard work. I got a lot of sweating. I was actually telling some friends earlier. I remember times when I was helping my dad or my grandpa carry shingles up on the ladder. 80 pounds of shingles.
Justin: I was about to ask you, did you have a scissor lift or did you do it by ladder because–
Frank: By ladder. Everything. I’ve seen it now where they have conveyor belt trucks and they put all their material up and going to the dump, dumping all of your shingles and all your material that you are throwing away. That’s a lot of hard work.
Justin: You had that weird shovel with teeth on it.
Frank: Oh, yes. Teeth, and then you had your big old shovels, and then you had your skinny shovels for more detailed work. I did that for a while. I helped my grandpa drive company trucks whenever we were out there. When I say small, literally four or five full-time employees, and then we subcontract out as well.
Justin: For a roofing company, that’s not that small. I guess if a hailstorm hits you, you grow up real quick, get a bunch– To have full-time employees means you’re a real roofing company.
Frank: My dad and my grandpa can tell you this as well. We’ve had employees that have been there for 15, 20 years. The cool thing about it is that watching that company grow, it’s already almost I think 40 years, 50 years old. Watching it grow not in terms of size, but just the type of work, the evolution of the work has been really interesting too. I just got off the phone with him before I walked in here. My grandpa and he said, “I’m having trouble with this permitting process because I’m trying to do some work in a historic district.”
That’s not a problem that he’s historically had because a lot of the work that he does is not in historic districts. It’s interesting that I’m able to tie in my work that I’ve done in politics into this work now because– Let me get back to that. In chronological order, I did this with my grandfather, and then I was in college. I was a Senate messenger. I did work with the Senate back in 2013, ’14, and then ’15, ’16, I was a Senate finance intern for the Senate Finance Committee.
I helped out with them for basically the entirety of my senior year and then I was a JJ Pickle Fellow. I did Congressional Research with one of the leading professors in Congress at the University of Texas. We went to DC. I was able to conduct my research and I got grants off of it. It was a really cool experience. With all of that experience in my education, I was able to come back home, worked on a congressional race for the 23rd. That was [unintelligible 00:20:29]. I worked with Pete and we came close in a very tough year for Democrats.
Justin: I was in college as well.
Frank: He’s a really cool guy. He’s cool, too. I have a lot of friends I work with well and I think that entire congressional race and the evolution of the 23rd has just been very interesting to see especially it’s a weird district, really weird district.
Justin: It’s really unpredictable.
Frank: I think the most competitive in the United States. It’s flipped more times I think than any other congressional seat. After that, I worked in the legislature as a LD and as the chief of staff. I was able to really learn the ins and outs of the building, not just walking it now as the Senate messenger and doing basically intern duties.
Justin: There was the Senate messenger, the one that when you went to the house, they would razz occasionally.
Frank: You’re at the back mic, and you open the doors, and you’re reading it off like you’re the bills that– You’re trying to read it as fast as I can the gavel you out sort of like a bunch of jerks. I knew the layout of the Capitol, which was very advantageous for a staffer. I already know this place inside and out–
Justin: Because it is a maze. If you’ve never been there, like– If they said, go see, so and so in their office, and this is the office number, you would never be able to find it on your own.
Frank: That’s even before the extension. I was there when the extension was there, but you have several different wings, you have several different floors, and it can get really, really confusing to navigate. I did it and I was able to learn everything from where the clerks are, which clerks are wearing their specific call, and what E4 versus S4, and all these other floors in the direction. It’s a very confusing building.
I worked there for the 85th and then I came back home after that, and I started working with the City Council down here. I worked with Councilwoman Sandoval for the past four years almost. This upcoming December would have been my fourth year with her.
I started off doing constituent services and zoning. Then as I progressed in my job there, I became a constituent services director and then a zoning director. I was able to do land use some ties into to a lot of what I’m doing today, especially with my grandpa’s business, working with the office of historic preservation, historic districts, conservation districts, navigating over 100 zoning cases throughout my tenure and from application to completion or from when we have to not pass it. Working very directly with those neighborhood associations that were a part of that area of rezoning was going to take place.
Land uses is my bread and butter. That’s really where a lot of my experience comes from recently, and that’s important for why in terms of the race that I ran because a lot of people have concerns with infrastructure in the south side. Let’s tie it in with new development. You have new sidewalks, driveway approaches streets, what’s an IMP, the infrastructure management program, how things get funded in the city of San Antonio. If people have that information in their head, it makes it a little bit more easy to digest why things have been done or have not been done. In the south side, a lot of things haven’t.
Justin: One thing has been really surprising to me, as I’ve tried to learn city government more and county government more is how little of a discretionary budget a city councilperson has. Like, city council people really don’t have a lot of say budgetarily and they have very little discretionary money. The county’s got a ton of money, but because we have this manager forum really, it’s allocated by committee is best I can tell.
Frank: Specifically for the city, if I’m looking to do a sidewalk project, there’s this thing called NANP. It’s a Neighborhood Access Management Program and you get around $230,000, $240,000 a year for that public information. Every council office gets it and you submit projects to public works. They’re able to tell you, “Hey, with your net money, these types of projects are eligible.” If there’s a really messed up street somewhere in your district, if your net money has not already been allocated, you can use that net money to fill in that gap.[unintelligible 00:24:57]
Justin: That’s just $250,000. That’s like 10 feet of sidewalk, right?
Frank: That’s right. You look at the cost of sidewalk versus the cost of a curb, sidewalks are less expensive than curbs. Whenever you’re talking about a full package, you want both of them. Not only to be able to walk on your street and but also for flood or stormwater to be conveyed in a reasonable fashion.
Justin: And to protect you from a car.
Frank: Then there’s the matter of well, do you want this sidewalk to be divorced or married to the street. Ideally, everybody wants to divorce sidewalks because if you’re walking down military drive on the south side whereas-
Justin: You heard it Frank, pro-divorce. Go ahead.
Frank: Or you’re walking on a military drive and it’s a married sidewalk to the curb, you’re now what you’re creating a situation of his cars going 45 miles an hour, two feet next to you. In terms of comfortability, and safety, divorce is definitely the way to go but it’s more expensive. With $200,000, there’s not really a realistic discretionary fund for real big, impactful projects.
Justin: It seems like you got to be part of a bond at this point, to really have any major consequence citywide.
Frank: Right. A lot of those projects are being considered and right now deliberated during the bond cycle. We have a bond election this upcoming May for the city which should be around a billion dollars. The important thing about that is we now have the part of the equation now is affordable housing. Then on top of that, projects are becoming more expensive, because you have supply chain issues going on around the world. You have the cost of materials going up around the world. You look at lumber that’s going up. You look at steel, concrete, everything is going up.
The estimates that you’ve got last year have gone up 15%, 20%. That really does mess with the effectiveness or how far that dollar in that bond will go for your projects. I think that a lot of projects are going to either be limited in scope from what they were originally introduced or just drawn out completely from the bond. That’s a disadvantage that we’re going to have to work through as a city to get done. There are a lot of important projects still. You look at–
Justin: Like drainage projects. I think it was a few years ago, we had a $1 billion dollar penalty by the EPA that was probated, if we fix this drainage sewage problem so that has to be fixed.
Frank: The relationship between the federal state and local governments is a unique one whenever concerns drainage. The county has a little bit more leverage as to how much they can spend on those drainage projects because there’s a lot more room for them to say, “Hey, if I’m in precinct one, there’s a lot of land, and I can utilize this money wherever within precinct one.” At the council level, you’re split into 10 throughout the county or not even the County, the City proper. You’re a little bit more limited in scope as to where those dollars can go.
There are a lot of drainage issues in the city of San Antonio. In District 7 specifically, there’s a lot of homes that are in the floodplain. Then you have to really start having the conversation, is it floodplain or is it just street drainage? Are we assessing and trying to correct potential property damages on individual homes and commercial properties or are we looking at it from an infrastructural perspective and transportation perspective? And their road gets flooded but it’s flooded.
It’s not creating any type of real property damage. Whereas you have homes next to a creek that if it rains, it’s a 100-year flood event. You’re already looking at all those homes being destroyed, basically. Do we concentrate our efforts in a multi-million dollar project here, tens of millions of dollars here, or do we do this street project, and it protects people on the road and people’s front yards? With a limited amount of money that the city has, to the effect of maybe $15, $20 million per bond that becomes a harder conversation to
Justin: I had [unintelligible 00:29:16] on here, and it was interesting. We were talking about drainage if I recall, and one of the things she said was if you’ve got a big drainage project in District 7, for example, well, that also benefits other districts, but all the money goes into District 7. Then you’ve got to spread that money to other budgets because they’re benefiting from it even though the project isn’t in there. She had a title for it the way she went in and how they allocate money that maybe goes to one district but benefits multiple districts. At that point, it’s just got to be a cluster.
Frank: Right. Consider this way. You look at Hemisfair Park downtown, it’s in District 1, but it’s a city park.
Justin: Go find it in District 1.
Frank: It’s a city park, the same thing with Woodlawn Lake, or Hardberger Park, McAllister Park. Those are parks in those individual districts, but they’re not just utilized by people in those districts, they’re utilized by everybody. There’s a pretty strong argument to say, “Okay, well, instead of this one district footing the entire bill for this project, hey, I know a lot of your residents over there come to our park and utilize it. Hey, let’s work together to fund this that we can make it good for everybody.”
Justin: I’ve heard there is some city councilman in the past or councilwomen in the past who play along and play nice in the sandbox and some who do not on issues like that. I’ve talked to enough. They were like, “Yes, that one will never pitch in on other projects. Then this one always helps with other projects.” It’s just because it’s my cheese and I’m going to use it where I want to use it. I think part of that’s a product of small budgets, there’s not a lot of money to go around.
Frank: There’s not. It’s a city that’s growing or we’re anticipated to have our population growth doubled its size and by the year 2040. It’s only getting more expensive to do these things, it’s imperative that we really concentrate our efforts on doing these things. Now, again, back to the development standards, we have to preempt our expected growth with responsible growth. By being responsible and preempting those projects before they become problems, we’ll save a lot of money in the future.
Justin: We could talk about water drainage projects for hours, it appears. Maybe that’s not the most fun thing, but tell me, everybody has a different reason for getting into public service, I’m sure you’ve practiced your stump speech on this before, but in an honest setting, assume you’ve had three margaritas here. Generally, what has been your reason and your passion for getting involved in public service?
Frank: I can’t really pinpoint it to a single instance in history. I was a freshman at McCollum High School, and this was in 2008, and people in the class above me were asking students to help out with the poll greeting or poll watching for the bond. I said, “Man, that would be a really cool way to get out of class for a day.”
Justin: This would have been Scully’s first big bond, right?
Frank: This was a Harlandale bond, hardly any independent school district bond. It was a school district bond, not a city bond, but it aligned.
Justin: That’s about when her first one and it changed the way the city saw.
Frank: I think hers, the passage of that one was earlier that year in 2008 because this 2008 bond was during the presidential if I’m remembering correctly. Anyway, I was there in front of my old middle school at Kingsborough and I just remember talking to people about the bond. You’re like, “Hey, you’re just a kid. What do you guys know?” I had my talking points. I was speaking to them and they’re like, that makes sense, we’ll vote for it. I found that exhilarating. One exhilarating, but two, doing a good thing for my school and actually seeing it face to face how the political process was able to benefit people who typically didn’t have a voice.
Justin: Did it pass?
Frank: It did.
Justin: Because if it didn’t pass, you might’ve never been sitting here giving up, going to go do something else.
Frank: I remember one of my friends, he was walking this through is that we’re doing this, but also at the same time, Barack Obama was running for president and this and that. He was like, “He’s a Democratic nominee.” I was like, “What’s a Democrat? What’s a Republican? What are these things?” I started learning from that and I was like, “Oh, I can’t vote, but this is all very interesting to me. I can still help. Make calls, talk to people, block walk as I had done.” I did. From that point, I started getting more involved in campaigns as time progressed and started block walking, paid opportunities as a senior in high school.
That’s really where it started. It wasn’t really until college that I started refining what that meant and how it could apply to the real world more often. It wasn’t just like a one-off situation. “Oh, this is a campaign I can get behind.” Or this is something that I believe in, which is still very true. I do these things cause I believe in them, but how can I be of service not only in the effect of politics but in the effect of good governance? I’m working with the Senate messengers and being able to see, bills during the 83rd or the 84th, pass and bills felt good, bad bills. That really did open my eyes up even more.
Justin: What was the split then in the house? It wasn’t that ’76, ’72 year though, was it?
Frank: No, no, it wasn’t.
Justin: Strauss was speaker though.
Frank: Strauss was speaker. This was his fourth term. It was his fourth term as speaker. Whenever I was there during the 85th, that was his fifth term, his last term. Okay, that’s what really, it started at all from there. Once I started understanding the magnitude of the work that was able to be done in this space, and who was left out of it, people like me who without a one-off shot sometime years ago would never have been interested in this process. That’s really how it fell, that’s how my cards fell. I recognized that it wasn’t the same for everybody else.
People were just out of tune with it because it was by design. I talked to people on the trail when I was running a couple of months ago. Literally that said, “I’ve lived here for 50 years and you’re the first person who’s ever stopped by my house to talk about politics to ask for my vote,” and that’s the disconnect that exists. I would say that as a first-generation college student, college grad at that time, it was much more impactful for me to get involved in this way, and that’s what led to this last run.
Justin: A lot of people, once they get into the campaign side, they like that they stick in the campaign side. Some people like the legislative side, it sounds like you like the policy side of things. A never-ending debate since I’ve lived here is what’s next for San Antonio. We’re mañana city a little bit like. It’s always, we’re going to be the next, we’re always a little bit behind. I joke that marketing that works in Austin. Well, that’ll work here in 10 years, but it doesn’t work now because it’s just a different city to you. Somebody running for office has aspirations for their city or for their district or for their constituency.
What does San Antonio look like to you in the best-case scenario in terms of how we move the city forward? Specifically, what are the challenges that San Antonio is going to face that we don’t already know? We don’t have the Austin problem of $1000 a square foot, but we do have housing problems, but what are some of the problems you think are very unique to our city?
Frank: I think that we’re at a crossroads right now compared to Austin. Austin was a little bit more accelerated in its growth. It’s still a smaller city than San Antonio, but in terms of its square footage, it’s much smaller. San Antonio sprawls a little bit more, which is to our advantage right now. Again, pointing back to in 20 years, we’re going to probably see our population grow to twice the size of where it’s at now. A lot of those questions as to what San Antonio looks tomorrow are important questions that need to be answered today. Do we have available options for affordable housing for those people that are going to be eventually pushed out of their homes or out or taxed out of their homes?
We’re seeing that today. Because what’s the alternative if we don’t, homelessness? That’s not an option. For those that it’s a reality, we’re working actively to try and find out the solutions to that problem.
In terms of where I see San Antonio going, it is the biggest little city anywhere. You can go to the north side, you know somebody who knows somebody close to you, and so I think that’s always been what has kept San Antonio grounded, is that it’s a city of the future, but it still has its ties to the history that made it San Antonio. We’re getting a lot of great business. We have JBSA, we have a lot of technology companies eyeing San Antonio for these things you have Toyota manufacturing is present here in the city facility.
Justin: Navistar just built a facility. [crosstalk] UTSI has put in cybersecurity downtown. You have these really exciting things going on.
Frank: Exactly. All of these things are being done in preparation for that larger boom that we’re going to experience here soon. It’s again those peripherals that we need to start supplementing those good things with. More infrastructure, better infrastructure, and more responsible growth. Those are the things that my run was surrounding when I was doing it as, “Okay, well, you’ve been here for 50 years. When was the last time your road has been done? Never, my road on my streets has never been done. How can we expect to grow out at a better or a faster pace if we can’t take care of what’s already here?
If we do grow more, are we going to be able to consciously take care of the rest of that too? Preemptive infrastructure for bigger transportation alternatives, so east, west transportation in the city of San Antonio and then Northwest transportation outside of the highway system, we get that done.
I’ve heard stories of people who live in Leon Valley or who live in Shavano Park, that go to Texas A&M San Antonio, but they don’t have a vehicle so they have to take the bus. It takes four hours every single day, four-hour round trip to get to school and back. How was that feasible-?
Justin: Right, walk there.
Frank: Right. How was that feasible in a city of our size, at the city of our capability, that student who wants to further their education at an Institute in San-?
Justin: Sprawl is part of that problem.
Frank: Sprawl is part of that problem, but that single person, single-vehicle travel was too, that’s why traffic exists because everybody’s just driving by themselves. I think all of us can say that we’re we do it.
Justin: Do you think real robust public transportation is a pipe dream in Texas? It’s been discussed for always and you got Dallas who has a DART, Houston has got a DART, they’re both very limited and distance and direction, Austin’s got nothing. We’ve got a bus system that I don’t know enough about to know whether it’s good or not, but it’s just been one of these things everybody always talks about, especially young progressives, always talk about it and there just never is any movement on.
Frank: In terms of feasibility of those types of things, we can call out the problems, but what are the solutions? Do we throw money at it? I think that more money in these public transportation initiatives and solutions is definitely helpful, but it’s more of a cultural issue because what do people love to do whenever they’re in San Antonio? They love to drive to La Cantera, they like to have the physical option and the option to get behind their own vehicle and go wherever they want, the freedom of travel without any limitation.
That’s really what a lot of our transportation system in the State of Texas has been surrounded on because it’s so big one, because if I have to go to Abilene I’m driving for several hours or if I have to-
Justin: Why would you go to Abilene?
Frank: I just-
Justin: Sorry, [unintelligible 00:41:57].
Frank: Yes, but if you’re going to Alpine, if you’re going to South Padre Island that’s a four and a half-hour drive. What’s the realistic– or rather, I guess the question to ask here is, what are some of the restrictions in getting that done? If we’re looking at a train system, a transit system between cities in the State of Texas, it’s a lot of eminent domain. You have to take up a lot of historic-
Justin: Which we could if we wanted to.
Frank: Absolutely, but nobody wants to be the bad guy who does that.
Justin: Then we talked about doing it on existing tracks, which has been an option, especially in Austin, there were discussion about doing that, that fell through. It just seems every time there is an actual avenue that’s feasible, there’s never the political will. I think it goes without saying there were some big moneyed interests here in San Antonio that murdered that Broadway Corridor public transportation plan.
Some of those people are considered godfathers of our city who have done such good, but it would have hurt their pocketbooks. You have young progressives who want it, you have people without means who need it, then you, occasionally, had money to interest who were just like, “This is bad for me. We have the political will to kill it”.
Frank: It’s all about changing that political system. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s going to take because I’ve seen plans several years ago about what a potential transit system in the State of Texas would look like. It’s not the one that everybody wants, but it’s one that’s realistic connecting Dallas to Houston.
Justin: It just starts there, Dallas, Houston. I think once it’s there, people will realize how incredibly convenient and easy this is, and then it’s easier to move it, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Frank: Right. Then I always draw it back to how it could relate to us in the City of San Antonio. If I’m a southside kid and I’m restricted to travel because I come from a family that has multi-generational poverty, basically installed into that family. What are my options outside of getting a college degree, which I may not be able to afford, and joining the military? Which a lot of people do. That’s a very real way to get out of the cycle of poverty here.
What if they want to do something else? What would the option be if you have Brook City Base as a system that connects to the rest of the State of Texas, specifically Austin? If I’m a student at Incarnate Word, or if I’m a student at Texas A&M San Antonio, and I know that I can hop on a train from Brook City Base on the south side to Austin and get there in 30-45 minutes while I’m on the way there I can be doing work, I can be doing-
Justin: Legitimately Sunset Station has a train that goes to Austin, it just takes two hours of 45 minutes. Those are those things that have just never made sense to me. I would love the ability to take an Uber go up to Austin, and really, it’s this great opportunity for everybody in the I-35 Corridor to take advantage of what Austin can’t do, which is affordable housing. If you go to New York, you can live 50 miles outside the city and get into the city in an hour and a half, that is available for Central Texas, and nobody will ever have the political will to do it.
Frank: We replaced a lot of those dreams with toll roads so [laughs], and I won’t start on that, but–
Justin: I do like a toll road, it is just not the replacement to that.
Frank: It’s not, and I can agree with that, it turns a four-hour trip from Dallas into a three-hour trip because of the traffic, but that can also be a two-hour trip from Dallas to San Antonio, if it were high-speed transit. That’s the issue that we’re seeing and, of course, as a progressive in transportation specifically, that’s what I would like to see, but political willpower is not there, the interest is not there quite yet. I think that we will work towards that in the near future. I think it would be an exciting challenge to undertake.
Justin: I think Brook City Base, you brought it up a few times, I talked about it earlier, it’s a great example of developing an area with an eye towards the future, but also with a clean slate. If you go there and see what they’re doing, it’s incredible and they’re doing a great job, and they’re getting huge investments, and they’ve got great infrastructure, but they started with a clean slate, which is easier to do than taking over old neglected areas.
Personally, I think one of the best thing that’s happened in this city since I’ve lived here is Mayor Castro’s focus on Downtown and how Downtown is now changing from abandoned buildings to– that you’re getting this development, you’re getting people that are living down there, you’re getting companies that are moving down there. I hope that continues.
Do you think urbanization moving back to the city core is a good thing for San Antonio long-term, or do you think we really need to be focusing on the periphery? We’re having a real discussion on urban planning, but it’s interesting to me.
Frank: It’s compelling because there’s arguments for both sides. You invest in the area in which the public sees every day, you invest in the area that the world sees. If you do that, then your city– it bears more fruit at the end of the day. You get more people in an already highly toured city having more fun, having more options and that attracts more economic development. It’s just as important in the peripherals.
We have 13 regional centers in the City of San Antonio. 13 regional centers, meaning those are areas that people can live, work and play. A lot of them are repurposed areas that just fell off the map. You have the Pearl, It used to be that big brewing company. Now you have-
Justin: That’s not one of the 13 though,
Frank: That is. It’s one of the 13 regional centers, that’s right.
Justin: What else would be a regional center?
Frank: Brook City Base, Texas A&M San Antonio, Midtown, you have UTSA.
Justin: What’s the Midtown?
Frank: Midtown is the area north of Downtown, it’s its own regional center.
Justin: Like the Quarry?
Frank: The Broadway.
Frank: You have these regional centers, some which have already been adopted into ordinance in the City of San Antonio, some that are still being worked on through the city’s Planning Department. Brook City Base, we’re pointing back to this, it’s on the Southside and Texas A&M San Antonio, which is in the District 118, both of those are, like you said, clean slates.
Brooks had already the infrastructure there because it was an old Air Force base, it was an old base. You have hangers there, you have a lot of military housing, which includes roads that were installed through the federal government, and the military base being repurposed for the use of the general public in a way that promotes more economic development throughout the entirety of that side of town.
Justin: Some people don’t realize all of the development that will happen because Brooks exists and all the development that happens because Downtown is getting better, it serves peripheral.
Frank: I will task you to imagine that all of these regional centers serve as their own Downtowns, and the peripherals of those regional centers are going to see that economic development boom because they’re simply there, and not only just because they’re simply there, but because in those plans, you already have the future land use categories associated with it.
By our design and with us being mindful of what can occur in the future, here’s the proper area, but in the peripheral, here’s what would be best-suited [crosstalk].
Justin: Framework has been created.
Frank: Correct. If there’s an opportunity to change that framework, it would be done during the development process in which you would file for a plan amendment and you would say, “Hey, instead of this being low urban density”, so that’s like single family residential with small neighborhood commercial businesses. “I want to change this part only, this little area which has been identified as low urban density to regional center. That way I can do a mixed-use development, so that way, instead of at the corner of these two roads, it’s just houses. It’s now a focal point of the entry to that neighborhood”.
You start getting into those more in-depth urban design standards. But each of those regional centers, including Downtown, has that framework drawn up and approved by the City Council and the Planning Department. That’s really important, because, in terms of responsible growth, we’re going to be having Texas A&M San Antonio. We know there’s going to be a bunch of housing associated [crosstalk].
Justin: There ain’t nothing around there right now, though, why?
Frank: There will be. The university is what? Less than 15 years old.
Justin: I know, but why hasn’t a developer gone and put in apartments or duplexes for all the student housing and all that stuff? It’s just empty fields right now.
Frank: It is.
Justin: Is there somebody squatting on it? I’m not kidding. I just assume there’s a developer squatting on it for some reason, because wheat ain’t worth as much as apartments, is my guess.
Frank: Specifically in a high-interest area.
Justin: It’s weird it just sits in a field. Last time I was out there was probably a year ago.
Frank: Which I’m glad it did, because then you’d be putting the cart before the horse because this regional center was adopted, I think, two years ago. Sure, more could have been done in between that time.
Justin: We should open Chick-fil-A over there.
Frank: You definitely should. Rather, I think that an ATV outside of Fort [unintelligible 00:51:26] would be really helpful for a lot of people within the county. It’s something that needs to happen.
Justin: That’s why urban planners get educations for this, because you have to have those anchor things like a grocery store to then get the neighbourhoods and all that stuff. Interesting.
Frank: You have Toyota right there down the road, there’s not a need to be near there, but people are living closer and closer to Toyota outside of the city limits almost, to have that convenience of going to work without the inconvenience of having to travel inwards towards the urban core to really get to a lot of those amenities.
Justin: We’ve got an x-ray, it should be right up here.
Frank: We’ll take that, and that’s what the hospital in the south side as well. It’s going to be a motivating factor for a lot of people. It’s like, “Okay, well, now if I’m a healthcare worker, I want to move to the south side for this new state-of-the-art development, this new state-of-the-art complex.” Not only is it creating an opportunity for people to get out of a vicious cycle, but it’s giving people an opportunity to get into an opportunistic cycle. That’s really what we’re seeing happening.
Justin: The urban planning side of these things is really fascinating, especially in an old city like this, where you have generational poverty, you have generational lack of education. You have people that just drop out of school at young ages because that’s the generations they’ve been through, and urban planning can address some of those things outside of the family context, which I have roomed with an urban planner on point, I thought it was gobbledygook and the more I really started listening to him, it’s really fascinating how you design a city to change people’s futures.
Frank: Again, it all comes back down to that political willpower. Without Senator Madla really pushing for Texas A&M, San Antonio on the south side, we wouldn’t have this institution that’s basically a focal point of the South side now.
Justin: Is that the CRS you took over?
Frank: Now that is, Center District 19. That on top of the work that’s being done in the Alamo Colleges, Palo Altos and other focal point, a lot of these things just would not be possible.
Justin: The Alamo College is doing fascinating stuff, just really great stuff in it.
Frank: You put that all together with all the work that’s being done at the city and state level for increasing the amount of people that are able to travel on roads, and then creating those amenities for people to want to move to the south side. The South siders that live here in the south side or that have lived here for generations have stuck around because they know what the south side is worth. It’s just everybody else is catching up to that.
Justin: It still is just an island. It’s not south of downtown. It’s a little ways past south of downtown. We’re almost out of time, I’m going to try to keep these around an hour. It’s giving Tuesday, any nonprofits or charities you’re particularly involved with?
Frank: My favorite nonprofit, and this has to do with my advocacy for women and men who are victims of domestic violence. I have a lot of friends and family who have gone through things like that, and it needs to be a more elevated topic and a more accessible conversation for people because a lot of the issues that we see around the state in this country is women specifically are disproportionately affected by domestic violence. One out of every four women that we see, that we know are victims of domestic violence, whether it’s public or not. Or sexual assault survivors.
One of the organizations that I’ve been working with and I’m very good friends with their Executive Director, Patricia Castillo, is the P.E.A.C.E Initiative here in San Antonio. P.-E.-A.-C.-E, it’s dotted out like that.
Justin: I’ve seen that. Do you know what it stands for?
Frank: I don’t know, I don’t have the entirety of it in my mind right now. I know that the work that they do is amazing. They’re always connecting people to resources, they’re always making sure that the people that they’re taking care of are taken care of. That’s a part of the battle, was whenever you’re talking to somebody who’s a victim, it’s never their fault, but I think that society and our culture has made it to where it’s more acceptable to say, “It’s your responsibility”.
Justin: Our judges are doing a lot with this right now. They’ve developed some new programs. I had judge Álvarez on talking about it recently.
Frank: Judge De Leon and Judge Díaz are doing great work in their courts regarding this, and they’re elevating those conversations at the county level. You have the collaborative effort that that’s being done in order for us to really tap into why this is happening at the rate that it’s happening. It’s very alarming in the city of San Antonio.
Justin: It’s been ignored for a long time.
Frank: It has because that’s a part of, I hate to say it, it’s a part of the machismo culture. Latino families, Mexican families, it’s just an understanding.
Justin: Some of these neighborhoods are closed, they don’t go to the police and they don’t go to authorities. You’ve worked in the legislature in one way or another. You’ve been around lawmakers, anybody you idolize in terms of if you were ever lucky enough to hold elected office, “That’s the type of person I would like to emulate”.
Frank: One of my favourite legislators is Frank [unintelligible 00:56:45]. He was actually 27 years old when he ran-
Justin: Long former.
Frank: He was 27 years old whenever he won his space in the Texas legislature. From the stories that I’ve heard, and I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but from the stories that I’ve heard, and from people who knew him personally, he was the type of person that would be accessible. That’s the brand of politics that I want to create again.
Justin: I’ve heard he would also throw a punch, that he was a brawler. for the Southside, though.
Frank: That’s right. That’s the same type of thing that I’m trying to accomplish here. Southsiders again, I’ve talked to those people, “Oh, I’ve lived here for 30 years and nobody’s ever come to my door to ask for my vote.” Hearing those stories, and then telling them, “Hey, if you need anything, you give me a call.” Those same people call and they say, “Hey, is this the office or is this a staffer for Frank?” “Oh, this is him. This is my personal cell phone you’re calling. How can I help you?” That changes the tone of how people understand politics.
Justin: That’s why your phone has just been blowing up the entire time you’ve been here.
Frank: Yes. People still text me and call me and they say, “Hey, is this Frank? Do you have a second? I have this issue, I have a problem or I have a question.” That’s really what people, that’s what they want, is to know that they have access to their representative because that’s their job. That’s what’s been important to me. That legislative style, whenever somebody calls me, and they say, “Hey, I have a problem with the VA,” or “Hey, I have a problem with getting my Social Security or my health care taken care of by the state.” I want to be that type of legislator that Frank was.
Justin: I called Lloyd Doggett’s office one time on one weird issue I had with [unintelligible 00:58:31]. Within a day, like the head of [unintelligible 00:58:35] calls me and she’s like, “Why did you call Congressman?” I’d been trying to get in touch with them for 19 months, and they just wouldn’t respond. They turned our clients over to collections, and it just got taken care of. Doggett’s been doing a long time, and if he had ignored me, I would have got it. That’s the style of politics that there needs to be more of.
If you’ve got it, you’ve just got that belief in constituent services. Last question. Have you been in UTSA? Two-parted question. Have you been to any UTSA games this year?
Justin: What is your prediction for Friday night score? Because I’m going to hold you to this. I assume at halftime I might see how strong you feel about this and maybe wager a hot dog or something, a Frank’s dog. What’s the dog place in?
Frank: Rocker doc. I’m going to call it now. It’s going to be UTSA 24. I think that our opponent’s going to have 14.
Justin: I think we’re going to put up 45.
Justin: It’s just I’m pulling this out of thin air.
Frank: I love it.
Justin: Frank, thank you for being here. What’s your website if people want to learn more about you and learn about your race?
Frank: I’m Frank Ramirez, and I am running for House District 118 as a Democrat. I was Democratic nominee during the special election this past year and you can learn more about me at my website, www.frankfortexas.com, and that’s the word for, not the number. If you want to give me a text or give me a holler, 2108850374 is my cell. Shoot me a text, I’d love to get some coffee or a beer with you.
Justin: Well, that’s the first doxing of themselves I’ve had on this podcast, but thank you so much for being here, Frank, I appreciate it, good luck, we wish you the best we’ll follow the race and we hope it turns out best for you.
Frank: Thanks Justin, it was a pleasure.
Justin: Thanks for joining us on this episode of The Alamo Hour, you are all what makes this city so great. We hope you join us week in the meantime, subscribe to our podcast, check us out on Facebook @facebook.com/alamohour or our website, alamohour.com. Until next time, viva San Antonio.
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