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Essential San Antonio
Indispensable Information About Living In San Antonio
As you explore the region, you’ll begin to appreciate its rich history that remains a major part of its attraction. Two of the most popular attractions – the Alamo and the River Walk, are visited by more than 26 million people yearly. Unlike many other U.S. cities, San Antonio’s city center is alive and vibrant, seamlessly blending the past with the present. It’s a humanizing environment that is home to a diverse population, proud of its heritage and welcoming to newcomers.

In a recent USA Today story, the reporter noted that while San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the U.S., it still maintains its small-town feel yet delivers big-city amenities, including many attractions, cultural and sports venues, plenty of green space and great dining – all situated in a beautiful geographic location and part of the state’s picturesque Hill Country.

Now that you’ve settled in to your new home and neighborhood, you’ll be interested to learn more about San Antonio’s rich history and dynamic present. It’s also time to take care of a few immediate tasks, including applying for a Texas driver’s license and registering your vehicle. You’ll also find out ways to get around the area, learn about local police and fire services and how they keep residents safe and secure, plus what you need to know about registering to vote.

History
Established almost 300 years ago as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the city has always served as crossroads and is indeed centrally located. In 1836, the famous battle of the Alamo occurred in which 189 patriots defended the mission against 4,000 Mexican under General Santa Ana for 13 days. Today, the shrine is the most visited museum in San Antonio and the state.

The earliest settlers included Texans, Mexicans, Irish, French, English, Scottish, Black slaves and many Germans, whose traces can still be seen today throughout the city and the region. By World War II, San Antonio became a military center and the home to three military installations, which brought economic prosperity to the region. Other leading industries include tourism, health care, medical research, education and technology.

Now, it’s the seventh-largest city in the United States and home to four Fortune 500 companies, including Valero Energy, Tesoro, USAA and Clear Channel Communications. More companies and families are discovering the amenities that long-term residents have always enjoyed and include year-round favorable weather, affordable housing and utilities, great cuisine and culture and many family-friendly attractions.

Population and Demographics
According to the most recent U.S. Census figures, San Antonio’s population is 1,328,984, making it the second-largest city in Texas. Bexar County’s projected 2008 population is 1,622,899. San Antonio’s population represents a fusion of cultures. According to the most recent U.S. Census figures, 66 percent of San Antonio residents was White; 61 percent was Hispanic, 7 percent was Black or African American; 2 percent was Asian; 1 percent was American Indian and Alaska Native, less than 0.5 percent was Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander; and 24 percent was some other race. The Census also notes that 29 percent was White non-Hispanic. People of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

Geography and Weather
Strategically located in south central Texas, Bexar County is 650 feet above sea level situated between the Edwards Plateau to the northwest and the Gulf Coastal Plains to the southeast. As you discover the city, you’ll find there are gently rolling hills throughout, accented with mesquite and oak trees as well as cacti. The city’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico (140 miles) blows in warm and oftentimes humid air. Summers are warm with an August high temperature of 96 degrees (73.4 daily average), and winters are mild with January registering the coldest temperatures of 62.3 degrees and an average daily minimum of 41.6 degrees. Typically, you can expect warm summers and mild winters complemented by a very pleasant spring and fall. The region is known for its 300 days of sunshine per year.

Government Structure
Governing under the council-manager form of government, San Antonio voters elect 11 representatives (10 district representatives and a mayor) to pass laws and establish policies for the city.

The Mayor and City Council are the community’s key decision makers. They focus on: the provision and efficiency of basic services; their district’s growth; capital improvement projects; land use and development; the city’s financial growth and economic development; and other important issues. Council members focus on how city policies not only meet the needs of their constituents, but also how they meet the goals of the entire community.

The Council hires a City Manager to serve as the city’s chief administrator. The City Manager is responsible for carrying out the actions and policies of the council by overseeing the day-to-day operation of the organization. Council members also rely on the city manager to provide them with professional advice before they take action on a specific issue.

Today, San Antonio’s City Manager oversees more than 12,000 employees in 37 departments who provide a wide range of municipal services, including law enforcement, fire fighting, waste management and road maintenance.

Registering to Vote in Texas
There are two ways to register to vote. Visit the Texas Secretary of State website at www.sos.state.tx.us, click on Voter Registration Information and complete the voter registration application card. Print it, sign and mail the form to:

Voter Registration Office
203 West Nueva, Suite 361
San Antonio, TX 78207

You can also call the Voter Registration office at 210-335-VOTE and request a voter registration application to be sent to you. Either way, complete the application completely and legibly. The application must be postmarked 30 days before an election for you to be eligible to vote in that election. For more information, visit www.sos.state.tx.us and click on Vote.

Property Taxes
While there is no personal income tax in Texas, there are property taxes, also called ad valorem taxes, which are locally assessed. Your county appraisal district appraises property located in the county, while local taxing units set tax rates and collect property taxes based on those values. Property taxes provide more tax dollars for local services in Texas than any other source – they help pay for public schools, city streets, county roads, police, fire protection and many other services.

The Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector provides services for property tax collections, beer and wine permits, motor vehicle registration and titling functions.

Sales and Use Tax
State sales and use tax is imposed on all retail sales, leases and rentals of most goods, as well as taxable services. Texas cities, counties, transit authorities and special purpose districts have the option of imposing an additional local sales tax for a combined total of state and local taxes of 8.250 percent. In San Antonio, the sales rate is 8.125 percent, but the rate can vary in different areas. To find out the tax rate for a specific area, visit www.window.state.tx.us and click on Texas Taxes.

Liquor Laws
In Texas, 21 years old is the minimum age to buy or consume liquor. You can buy alcoholic beverages in a liquor store Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; liquor stores are closed on Sunday. There are no sales of liquor on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day or Thanksgiving Day. In the event that Christmas Day or New Year’s Day is on a Sunday, stores are closed the following Monday. Beer and wine can be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores from 7 a.m. to midnight on Monday through Friday, on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. and on Sunday from noon until midnight.

Alcoholic beverages may be served in restaurants and bars from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday. A late hours permit/license is available in certain areas that can extend the purchase of alcohol until 2 a.m. On Sunday, alcohol can be served with food service or at a “sporting venue” starting at 10 a.m. until midnight. Other permits may start at noon and serve till 2 a.m. with a late hours permit.

Texas also has a zero tolerance law regarding the consumption of alcohol while driving, and driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws are strictly enforced by Texas police officers. The legal limit for intoxication in Texas is .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC), however, drivers can be stopped and cited for impaired driving due to alcohol or other drugs regardless of BAC. A first offense carries up to a $2,000 fine, 72 hours to 180 days in jail and driver’s license suspension of 90 days to one year. For drivers under 21, a first offense carries a 30-day driver’s license suspension, up to a $500 fine, eight to 12 hours of community service and mandatory attendance in alcohol-awareness classes.

San Antonio Fire Department
Since 1891, the San Antonio Fire Department (SAFD) has built a strong reputation for serving the citizens of San Antonio. Services include fighting fires, emergency medical services, fire prevention and safety education. As of 2007, there were 1,041 uniformed firefighters working in 50 fire stations in the city.

To report a fire or other emergency, call 9-1-1. For more information, contact the San Antonio Fire Department Headquarters at (210) 207-8400. www.sanantonio.gov/safd

San Antonio Police Department

Serving the law enforcement needs of the community, the San Antonio Police Department consists of 2,054 sworn officers. Outside the city limits, the Bexar County’s Sheriff’s Office patrols the area.

To report an emergency in San Antonio, call 911. For non-emergencies, call (210) 207-7273 and for general information about the San Antonio Police Department, call (210) 207-7484.

To report an emergency in Bexar County, call 911. All other non-emergencies call (210) 335-6000. www.bexar.org

Texas Driver’s License

According to the Department of Public Safety, a new Texas resident has 30 days to complete these four items:
  • Obtain Texas minimum amount of insurance coverage.
  • Obtain a Texas safety inspection and Vehicle Inspection Certificate.
  • Apply for Texas registration and/or title.
  • Apply for a Texas driver’s license.
New residents with a valid out-of-state driver’s license and who own a vehicle and would like to obtain a Texas driver’s license will need to provide proof of Texas registration, proof of liability insurance, a Social Security number and an out-of-state license. The only examination required is the vision test.

If the out-of-state license has expired, a new resident will have to take a written and a driving examination as well as the vision test. Those who do not own a vehicle will not have to show proof of insurance but will be required to complete an affidavit of non-ownership. At the time of application, new residents will be required to surrender their valid or expired out-of-state driver’s license. The fee for an original driver’s license for people over 18 is $24, and it expires in six years. To see a list of Driver’s License Division Fees visit www.txdps.state.tx.us/administration/driver_licensing_control/dlfees.htm.

All original applicants for a driver’s license or an identification certificate must present proof of identity satisfactory to the Department of Public Safety, as well as take written, driving and vision tests. For information about documents that may be presented as acceptable proof of identity, go to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Web site at www.txdps.state.tx.us/geninfo.htm.

A beginning driver –15 years of age or older – can apply for an instruction permit, which enables the holder of the permit to drive with a licensed driver who is 18 years of age or older in the front seat. To obtain a permit, one must pass the written portion of the driving test, while those under the age of 18 must take the classroom portion of an approved driver’s education course. In 2000, Texas passed a new regulation, which requires that first-time foreign applicants must prove legal U.S. residency before obtaining a Texas driver’s license.

Vehicle Registration – New Residents

Texas law requires new residents to register their vehicles within 30 days. Before vehicles can be registered and titled, they must pass inspection. After having it inspected, owners should take the following to their county tax office locations or local DPS office locations (see page 65):
  • Inspection certification.
  • Proof of liability insurance.
  • The vehicle’s odometer reading if it is less than 10 years old.
  • An original out-of-state title, proof of registration, proof of sales tax payment or current foreign/military ownership document.
  • Completed Form VTR 130-U.
  • Be prepared to pay the following:
– registration fee;
– title application fee of $28 or $33 depending on the county;
– new resident tax of $90.

Active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces and non-resident, full-time students attending a Texas college or university are not required title or register their vehicles in Texas.

Additional fees may also be due at the time of registration. For more information, contact the Bexar County tax office at (210) 335-2251, visit its office at 233 N. Pecos La Trinidad or visit online at www.co.bexar.tx.us/tax.

Vehicle Registration – Texas Residents
Texas law requires drivers to register and title their vehicles each year. In Bexar County, residents can renew their registration at any tax office location or at 15 auto title service locations in the county. You can renew by mail by including the renewal form along with a copy of your proof of insurance and your check and mail it to Bexar County Tax Office, P. O. Box 839950, San Antonio, Texas 78283-3950. You can also pay for your vehicle (not motorcycles or trailers) registration renewal at HEB grocery stores in Bexar County. You must bring your proof of insurance along with the renewal notice. An additional fee of $1 will be charged. You should receive your new registration sticker and new license plates within 10 working days. Visit the Texas Department of Transportation at www.dot.state.tx.us for more information.

Seat Belts and Child Safety Seats
In Texas, the law requires drivers and front-seat passengers in all vehicles to be secured by a safety belt. Children under 17 years old must be secured with a safety belt or in a child safety seat, whether they are sitting in the front or back seat. A child less than five years old and less than 36 inches tall must ride in a child safety seat. A safety belt violation can result in fines ranging from $25 to $200, plus court costs.

— Safety Seat Guidelines
Safety belts are designed for adults, not children. Use a booster seat to lift your child up and prevent severe injuries in a crash. If necessary, view an informational video about the proper use of child safety seats or call Safe Riders at 800-252-8255.

Transportation

Local residents can select from a variety of transportation options, including air, rail, bus, streetcar, mass transit and commuting options.

— Public Transit
Via Metropolitan Transit (www.viainfo.net) provides bus service seven days a week from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. There are 6,994 bus stops along 90 bus lines, which are divided into five service categories that include frequent, metro, express, skip and streetcar. Other services include:

Special Event Park and Ride service – Avoid the traffic and use VIA’s Park & Ride service. No matter the special event, avoid the traffic and parking hassles.

VIATrans service – For those customers who cannot ride the bus because of a disability, VIA offers paratransit transportation service. Individuals must apply for this shared-ride program to determine eligibility. (210) 362-5060

VIA Vanpool – Share the cost of commuting with nine other people by using VIA Vanpool. (210) 362-2555

VIA streetcar – Serves riders throughout the downtown area. You’ll find the distinctive vehicles all around the center of the city. They’re convenient and inexpensive. (210) 362-2020

— Long Distance Bus Service
Greyhound’s bus terminal is located at 500 North St. Mary’s. (800) 231-2222

— Rail
The Amtrak train station is located at 350 Hoefgen Street. Lines serviced from San Antonio are the Sunset Limited, which runs from Louisiana to California and the Texas Eagle, which travels daily from Texas to Chicago. Visit www.amtrak.com to learn more.

— Streets and Expressways
Historically, San Antonio has always served as a central transit point, and today Bexar County is connected with more nearly 3,000 lane miles of freeway and state highways. The main interstate freeways include: I-10, I-35, I-37 and I-410 or Loop 410.

— Airport
The San Antonio Airport System is operated by the city of San Antonio Department of Aviation. The department currently employs 400 people to support the 24-hour operation of both San Antonio International Airport and Stinson Municipal Airport. It’s located in Northern San Antonio, approximately eight miles or 15 minutes from the downtown area. Loop 410 and U.S. 281 are the two highways providing access to the main entry points.

Parking – the airport provides daily, hourly and economy parking for more than 6,000 vehicles, including designated parking for persons with disabilities. Please keep in mind that the first thirty minutes of parking is free at all parking facilities.

Cell Phone Waiting Lot – the lot can be found at the corner of Airport Blvd. and Northern Blvd. (If traveling toward the airport, take a left at the first light off Airport Blvd.). The lot offers drivers a free place to park while waiting for incoming passengers. All vehicles must remain attended while parked in the waiting lot.

— Port San Antonio
Designated as a Foreign Trade Zone, Port San Antonio is a multi-purpose facility in San Antonio established to serve as an international airport and industrial hub with two railroads and close access to three interstate highways. It’s located at the former site of Kelly Air Force Base, a 1,900-acre facility that is located between the coasts of the United States and along the NAFTA Corridor between Canada and Mexico. In a 2007 study by the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the port was found to employ 17,152 workers in the San Antonio area, with an economic impact of $2.5 billion.

Media
As the second-largest city in Texas, San Antonio supports a rich and multilingual media market. The leading daily newspaper is the San Antonio Express-News (www.mysanantonio.com). The Daily Commercial Recorder is a daily business and legal newspaper publishes public notices, citations and public access records taken in part from the Bexar County Courthouse. (www.primetimenewspapers.com/dcr). Published weekly, the San Antonio Business Journal provides the latest local business news (www.sanantonio.bizjournals.com).

Serving the Hispanic market are La Prensa (www.laprensa.com), a daily newspaper and Rumbo (www.diariosrumbo.com). Additionally, there are approximately 25 weekly and neighborhood newspapers, including several focused on the military.

There are approximately 12 magazines published covering general interest, raising children, the medical industry, Texas rock music, weddings, fitness and health.
 
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