On Tuesday, when the VIA Metropolitan Transit board is expected to make one of its biggest decisions yet about a downtown streetcar system, only six or seven of the 10 members will be able to vote.
Three trustees have recused themselves from choosing a route because of a potential financial conflict of interest. It's unknown if another trustee might follow suit Tuesday; he could not be reached for comment.
On Monday, Steve Allison became the third trustee to say he'd step aside. He cited his son's part-time job as a youth director at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Pecan Street. Because his son derives more than 10 percent of his gross annual income from an entity within 500 feet of the proposed streetcar route, state law says that qualifies as a conflict for Allison as a VIA trustee, he said.
VIA planners have recommended the longest and most expensive route -- 5.9 miles -- which is projected to cost at least $280 million to construct and might exceed $350 million when contingency costs are added. The trustees can approve that recommendation, modify it or go with a different option.
The San Antonio Express-News raised the issue of potential conflicts among board members last month when it reported that VIA board Chairman Henry Munoz III was part-owner of a historic two-story commercial building near Sunset Station, along one of the potential routes.
At the time, VIA did not require trustees to disclose their financial interests, including property, as some other transit agencies do.
VIA hired ethics attorney Ross Fischer to meet with trustees to determine whether they had potential conflicts.
Trustees have until Tuesday to file affidavits recusing themselves from the vote.
So far, Munoz and trustee Katherine Thompson-Garcia have filed recusals. Munoz's property was closer to a route that wasn't recommended, but he has said he decided not to participate in the decision to ensure the selection process continues smoothly.
Thompson-Garcia works for United Way, which is at Alamo Street and Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard. Because she works within 500 feet of the proposed route, she also had to recuse herself.
Board vice chairman Rick Pych, who could not be reached Monday for comment about whether he'll recuse himself, has owned a unit in La Cascada Condominiums on Dwyer since 2008, Bexar Appraisal District records show. The condo is two blocks west of South St. Mary's Street and north of Cesar Chavez Boulevard, both part of the recommended route.
Trustees Mary Briseno, Richard Gambitta, Gerald Lee and Doug Poneck said they spoke with Fischer and determined that they have no conflict.
Trustee Lou Miller said he chose not to meet with Fischer because he had no ethics concerns. Trustee Bill Martin also said he does not have a conflict.
If Pych steps aside, that would leave just six trustees to vote. Normally, the board has 11 members, but the city has yet to fill a seat left vacant for a year.
Mayor Julian Castro on Monday called the recommended route a strong one "that balances moving people and the potential to spark economic investments" downtown. The plan would have the streetcar reaching downtown major employers and housing areas, such as HemisFair Park, Market Square and City Hall.
The tradeoff, the mayor said, is the cost.
Castro cautioned that VIA needs to put forward "a very strong plan about how it plans to fund the entire route."
With the recommended route's estimated cost of at least $280 million, VIA is short $70 million of what it budgeted. VIA planners have said the project will likely be built in phases, but officials have not determined the exact timeline.
VIA officials have said they plan to leverage the $210 million they have -- from VIA, city and state sources -- to secure more federal funding.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he thinks the project will get support from the U.S. Transportation Department. Wolff, Castro and Munoz met with the Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in July, but federal money is contingent on Congress.