On Tuesday night for close to 2½ hours, community members and neighbors aired their thoughts on Plaza Guadalupe during a listening session at El Progreso Hall, across from the plaza, the fourth community meeting before the city unveils a long-term strategy for space in two weeks.
Since late August, the city of San Antonio has held public meetings on the near-West Side plaza in response to concerns from some citizens about a chain-linked fence, which had surrounded the plaza for two years at that time. In August 2016, the Avenida Guadalupe Association, the nonprofit organization that leases the plaza from the city, erected the fence for an event, but decided to leave it up to deter drug addicts from using the space.
The city and the Avenida Guadalupe Association recently opened the plaza from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Many people who spoke Tuesday night said that having a fence doesn’t fix the drug or prostitution problem, it only pushes it away.
"By putting up the fence and alleging that it is necessary, you are criminalizing the whole neighborhood," said Elva Treviño, a lawyer who lives on the West Side. "You are not trusting us."
However, there was a considerable presence from people who want the fence to remain in some fashion because, they say, it has helped combat crime and improve the condition of the plaza.
"You can put a nice fence up there, make the hours longer, more accessible to the public, which is fine, but it has to be safe for everybody," said Sandy Rodriguez, a member of Guardians of the Children, which holds a free public event at the plaza every year. "You're not going to tell me they’re not going back to the old ways, because they will."
Richard Pferrman, who works for the Avenida Guadalupe Association, said some groups and organizations that use the plaza for special events tell him how much better condition it’s in.
"They're like … since the fence has been up, the plaza smells good," Pferrman said. "It doesn't smell like urine anymore. It doesn't smell like feces. I don't have to worry about my kid being poked by a needle."
"A lot of people just don’t see it. Yeah, we have to keep it open to the public. That’s understandable, but for certain hours, which is what we do now."
Since the community discussion about the future of Plaza Guadalupe began, the city of San Antonio has also been hosting movie nights.
The next one is "The Polar Express" (2004), which will be shown at dusk at the plaza on Dec. 21.
Xavier Sanchez, a lifelong West Side resident, said when the fence was first put up, he couldn’t enter the plaza with his granddaughter. Sanchez, a former Lanier Vok who still lives nearby, said he doesn't see the criminal activity.
“Has anybody done any fact checking to demonstrate that there is criminal activity?” Sanchez asked.
Sanchez, referencing President Ronald Reagan’s famous message to Mikhail Gorbachev, told District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, “Tear down that fence,” before stepping away from the podium.
The final meeting to review the conceptual plan for the plaza, which is being crafted by the local chapter of Latinos in Architecture, will be held 6-8 p.m. Dec. 18 at El Progreso Hall, 1306 Guadalupe St.
Setting It Straight: The original version of this article stated that "Instructions Not Included" would be screened Friday, Dec. 7, at the plaza. It was canceled because of rain.