When transparency fails

Mason Hickok, Web Editor

For some, a stroll through the park is a sacred time to step away from the outside world, enjoy some exercise or watch the wildlife. Some might turn to birdwatching as a way to cope. Brackenridge Park is home to the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Zoo and, like any natural habitat, a local population of birds.

The park sits on the Broadway corridor just north of downtown San Antonio. At 343 acres, the park is rich in history, culture and daily traffic. As of recent, the park has been the focus of widespread public outcry. Why, you might ask? The proposed removal of over 100 trees from the grounds. The purpose? Well, it’s complicated. City documents will argue that the need to preserve and restore historic structures is the primary reason for the removal. Activists and the public will argue that it is part of the city’s ongoing war with its bird population. This is an interesting idea when one considers San Antonio’s place as a designated “Bird City Texas Certified Community.”

Dating back to 2017, city officials declared a master plan to renovate Brackenridge Park. This plan has been touted as one built off the support of the public, though, as demonstrative as city and park officials might wish to be, this plan has not been handled with the public’s interests in mind. And now, through a failure of transparency, city and park officials have halted plans for the time being. However, a familiar action has been underway for the last few weeks. 

A common theme in this situation and those before it has been a lack of transparency from the park and city officials. Also, several projects seemed to be happening all at once inside the park. The aforementioned 2017 bond project, restoration of some of the historic structures in the park, and now, the inevitable attack on the bird population in the park. As much as the city will say, “it is not about the birds,” I have a hard time believing that as a fact.

Unsurprisingly, this is not a new occurrence in the City of San Antonio — commonly referred to as COSA. In 2019, residents and environmental groups argued against the removal of the local egret population at Elmendorf Lake. The birds were purported to be a nuisance to pilots at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Kelly Field. The tactics used to remove the birds included lasers, pyrotechnics and clappers — this happens when two wooden boards are slapped together. Do those actions not sound more like a nuisance than nesting birds? In April 2020, the same techniques were used to remove birds around the King William neighborhood.

Throughout all of the attempts from COSA, there has been a steadfast surge in grassroots activism. At its core is a large, woman-led and indigenous-backed movement making its presence known. Independent journalism has also taken shape amongst the likes of the Express-News and syndicate television stations in the city. At a local level, there has been trusted support from city council members. District 2’s Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and Mario Bravo of District 1 have been at the forefront of organizing a peaceful dialogue between the public and COSA and park officials, even helping to organize a walk in the park between the public and park officials. The progress that has been made so far would be nothing without the bravery that comes from these activists, many of whom are everyday advocates, artists and concerned citizens. It is disheartening that some would refer to the public outcry as a “disinformation campaign.

While some compromises have been made as plans have halted, there are still steps to be taken. Brackenridge Park and the San Antonio River are integral places to San Antonio culture and history. The trees are as much a part of San Antonio’s history as the river, birds and the public who see the park as home.