A new contract with the police union is cooking and local human rights activists are steaming over failures to reform the department's Internal Affairs.
Shootings of unarmed citizens were in the headlines, use of force by San Antonio police had just jumped 20 percent in 2007, and behind the scenes almost equally unappetizing stories of rampant anal probing on roadsides and at service stations were buzzing.
SAPD Chief Bill McManus called in the D.C.-based police-consulting group, Police Executive Research Forum, to review and advise the department on use-of-force measures. When those 141 recommended changes were released last summer, McManus quickly accepted most of them.
However, measures to reform Internal Affairs were handed over to a special task force to hash out over months of meetings. Thanks to the resistance of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, many of the most vital reforms didn’t make the cut, said Mario Salas, chairman of the San Antonio Coalition on Civil and Human Rights and task force member.
“This police union is out of control,” he said this week. “There’s not accountability, as far as that’s concerned, and there’s no transparency.”
Antonio Diaz, of the Texas Indigenous Council, has been agitating for reform. He told the Current this week that he took his concerns to Assistant City Manager Eric Walsh, who is leading contract negotiations with the union. While Walsh failed to return a Monday call from the Current and the city’s communication office still hasn’t gotten back with us, Diaz said in email that police aggression in the city is “getting worse.”
“As an Activist I get complaints from people that are afraid to go before Internal Affairs because of the biased way that it is setup. The Civilian Review Board is a joke,” Diaz said.
So the pressure is on for Walsh and crew. “They have to do their damndest to get those things out of the contract,” Salas said
As it stands now, those who want to file complaints against officers are not allowed to bring friends, family, or attorneys with them to make their statement. They are not allowed to write out their statement in their own words; an officer records the complaint and writes the report, which then off-limits to the complainant and the public. As an added level of intimidation, the complaint form itself threatens anyone found reporting untruths with aggravated perjury, a third-degree felony.
Salas worked to get that perjury threat removed from the paperwork, as PERF recommended, but said he was blocked by the union. He also fought to have the reports releasable — even with the provision the officer’s name be blacked out. “You’re able to hide inappropriate and bad activity by not giving the person a copy of the report,” Salas complained. “If that’s not fascist-like, I don’t know what is.”
But the union wasn’t entertaining any compromises.
While we're waiting for a callback from SAPD, another MIA in the IA debate is union President Michael Helle. We left him a message first thing this morning, but, a yet, we haven’t had the pleasure.
Jeremy Rifkin steps back into the conversation about his team’s clean-energy recommendations to SA
There is a plan developed by a team of international energy experts for San Antonio that lays out a strategy by which the region can meet its future energy needs, save utility customers a collective $3 billion by 2030, and create, on average, 10,000 jobs a year.
It hasn’t surfaced as a point of debate in the fight over the city’s planned nuclear power expansion and the few mentions in the mainstream media have tended to choke on the hefty price tag placed on it.
With days to go before the city votes on whether or not to commit another $400 million to a planned expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex — a plan that could ultimately cost the city $6.5 billion or more, if we can't sell down our share — one would expect the mayor and a gaggle of our city council members would have huddled around the speaker phone and pumped the report’s authors for details.
On a teleconference call yesterday, I asked if any of our city or county leaders had followed up with the team.
“Surprisingly, no. Surprisingly, no,” said Jeremy Rifkin (right), an adviser to the European Union and numerous heads of state on renewable energy issues, and one of the key authors of San Antonio: Leading the Way Forward to the Third Industrial Revolution.
Just a few months ago, Rifkin was a big deal in San Antonio. In April, CPS Energy officials and their elected masters within Alamo City’s Hall of Mirrors hosted Rifkin and a team of energy experts from around the country and overseas to brainstorm over ways to meet the city’s growing appetite for electricity without building new power plants. It was an outgrowth of former Mayor Phil Hardberger’s Mission Verde sustainability plan, an economic stimulus plan built on green technologies.
But with a new mayor in office and a slate of new councilmembers, the roots of Verde appear to cling only shallowly to our rocky soil. The first order of business has been keeping the nuclear project on track, albeit at a lower preferred ownership level of 20-25 percent from our current 50-percent status.
The report Rifkin’s team was hired by San Antonio to produce was aimed at spelling out how the region could meet energy goals similar to those embraced by the European Union: a 20-percent improvement in energy efficiency, 20-percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions (over 1990 levels), and achieve 20-percent power generation from renewable sources.
After several delays, Rifkin’s report was finally released to the public the week before CPS’s Board of Trustees voted to meet future energy needs with nuclear power. (Here' s my quick-take on it from October 6.)
Rifkin’s team called together a teleconference on Thursday to address misunderstandings of the cost of the plan. The Express-News, for instance has been quoting CPS Energy as suggesting it would cost ratepayers up to $500 a year to implement. How many ways can you spell DOA?
Rifkin suggested the inverse: “We’re saying if we adopt this plan we will see energy [bill] savings of 100 million today, leading up to 3 billion by 2030.”
The anticipated $16 billion to $20 billion needed to be spent between now and 2030 could be met if local governments the local economy* steers five percent of their annual expenditures toward transforming the region’s infrastructure, building stock, and energy systems, he said. Public and private interests* in San Antonio and Bexar County currently spend about $9 billion maintaining services, though that is expected to double by 2030, he said.
The Rifkin plan also boasts a huge number of jobs: 1,000 per year as it launches and as many as 16,000 per year by 2030 — or about 10,000 per year over the next 20 years.
“When you get to the end of the line, the idea of putting 16,000 annual new jobs in a year, then we have really begun the transition into a new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution,” Rifkin said.
Of course to implement, four key areas must be developed together: expansion of more renewable energy sources, transformation of existing and creations of new buildings into mini power plants, development of advanced energy-storage technologies, and rollout of a smart grid. Shortchanging any of these elements negates the benefits of the total plan, Rifkin said.
“You have to put it all down at once and then you have to have a business plan,” Rifkin said. “Then make sure it’s local businesses that are set up to actually do the work.”
Although CPS Energy has adopted the so-called Four Pillars as management philosophy, the utility's officials are already suggesting the nuke investment is going to slow the roll-out of advanced metering and smart grid — key elements of the Rifkin plan. San Antonio’s utility is also underestimating the energy it can save from energy efficiency, the Rifkin report states.
“We believe that CPS’ current projected scenario regarding future energy efficiency programs and power generation through 2034 still falls short of the ambitious goal that CPS has set to make San Antonio a Third Industrial Revolution flagship for the country,” the report reads.
“To meet its objectives of ‘becoming a lighthouse’ for a new, sustainable economic era, CPS and the city will need to establish an unprecedented partnership with the business community and civil society — in effect, to create a single voice — if it is to succeed in reaching its objectives of leading Texas and the United States into a new period of sustainable growth.”
Creating that unified voice may be a bigger challenge than converting abandoned strip malls into decentralized power plants. But private industry, including Philips International, is interested in lending a hand, Rifkin said.
“Phillips, for example, might come in … and say to San Antonio, ‘We’ll change all the outdoor lighting across the city on our dime.’ They actually do have a bank that finances this,” Rifkin said. “‘We’ll put in compact fluorescents and LEDS, so that you’ll have energy savings.’ How do they get paid back? By the energy savings. In other words, the energy savings comes back, they’re paid for their investment. It’s called performance contracting. We’re beginning to move many of our companies in that direction.”
The report's co-author, Skip Laitner, director of economic analysis for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, chimed in: “In a lot of ways it’s no different than, say, Cosco, or Kohls, or any of the department stories that offer credit to their customers in order to finance the products they sell. In this case, and the critical difference is, it generates savings to customers that allow you to pay that back.”
CPS’s sustainability officer, Cris Eugster, was also on the conference call. He defended the utility’s efficiency goals (the expense of which have already been rolled into customers bills through the STEP Program), saying, “We need to kind of take this from a vision to a more specific plan. We have two outside consultants that have looked at the San Antonio market and said as you go beyond a 10-15 percent it gets very expensive.”
CPS’s anticipated costs for efficiency savings are significantly higher than Austin Energy up the road.
A recognition of the current global uncertainties is one thing the CPS Board Member Steve Hennigan and Rifkin share.
Minutes before voting for the nuclear option earlier this month, Hennigan said, “We are at a point of maximum uncertainty. Not just on the nuclear issue, but on societal, technological, and political issues in general. So we must deal with uncertainty through options. We must keep our options open. We must not commit to any one option too much or too little … The financial markets are still in turmoil. The bond markets, which we rely upon for our debt financing, while seem stable today, are at unprecedented levels of crisis.”
Hennigan further warned that since San Antonio’s utility is the “stronger partner” on the nuclear expansion plan with NRG Energy, if NRG runs into difficulty, “we own that risk.”
Rifkin’s paper offers sustainability as the solution to the global crisis.
“The triple threat of the global economic crisis, the global energy crisis, and the global climate change crisis are interwoven and feed off each other. Addressing the triple threat to our way of life will require a new economic story that can remake civilization along sustainable lines,” it reads.
Rifkin and Laitner’s offering is built upon established and emerging low-carbon, renewable technologies being pursued by governments and researchers around the world.
In a nutshell, Rifkin said, “What we know for sure is conventional energies — coal, oil, gas, and uranium — the costs are going up. They’re in their sunset … We know that the cost of renewable, distributed energies, even the ones that are high, are going down. That’s the next 30 years.”
However, “It will not happen if it’s just by the city or just by CPS or just by the business community. You have to have all three sectors coming together,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s easy,” Rifkin concluded, “but what’s Plan B? Plan B is for San Antonio and the region to continued to labor under second industrial revolution whose energies and infrastructures aren’t giving you anything but more and more problems.”
Companies represented among those assisting Rifkin and the Third Industrial Revolution Global CEO Business Roundtable in creating the San Antonio report, include KEMA, Philips Lighting, Siemens, IBM, Q-Cells, Acciona, CH2M Hill, General Electric, and Proton Energy Systems.
But the big fish aren't here to take over if the city pursues the Four Pillars in earnest. Instead, the goal is create local industry and jobs: not create an economy dependent on tech created elsewhere.
“Local community businesses have to be prepared and launched,” Rifkin said. “Our companies can help that process along by being part of it at first, or maybe edging out of it, or helping investment, but it has to be local. And that was the condition we laid down at the beginning of this network.”
*Clarification: This paragraph has been amended to reflect that this is not just government money being discussed (as originally stated), but an "economy-wide" estimate that includes local government, public, and private resources.
Scrambling over the food-stamp program didn’t come out of nowhere. Yet here in the state with some of the highest hunger rates and “food insecure” households in the nation, state officials continue to blame the national recession for their backlogged and error-riddled food-stamp system.
In a recent interview with the Austin American-Statesman, William Ludwig, a Dallas-based regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service dismissed the state defense.
“All states are feeling the pinch right now because of the economic recession, but I'm not aware of any state that is having it to the degree that Texas is," Ludwig said, adding that Texas’ woes date back to the firing of thousands of state workers years back and privatization efforts.
Local hunger activists on the frontlines agree.
“They fired the workers that knew what they were doing and hired a lot of workers who don’t know what they are doing,” said Eunise Sierra, of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Consumers Welfare in San Antonio.
Former Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins was appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry back in 2002. Hawkins fired thousands of state employees and outsourced key elements of the food stamp and other low-income assistance programs to Bermuda-based Accenture. While problems became apparent quickly, and the Accenture deal fell to other companies, Perry stood by Hawkins, who was able retired to applause in May — before federal fines were threatened and a class-action lawsuit put the issue in the nation’s spotlight.
Here’s the state’s send-off:
By Enrique Lopetegui
UPDATE: Carol has two lawyers/lawsuit filed, but no hearing set yet.
Ever since Carol and Ron Asvestas were first suspended, then terminated, by the board of the Wild Animal Orphanage in late September amid accusations of animal neglect and misuse of donated funds, it seemed WAO was (finally?) on its way to a much needed recovery.
Staff members were smiling at each other, the Current was able to freely go through documentation previously held secret by Carol Asvestas and her attorney, Eric Turton, and even R.G. Griffing (editor of the San Antonio Lightning, and Carol and Ron Asvesta’s Public Enemy # 1) used headlines like “Bless the Beasts” to commend WAO’s fresh start and to publicize the sanctuary’s need for new donors.
It was too good to be true.
“There’s going to be some big news tomorrow [Oct. 16],” Ron Asvestas told the Current, before referring our questions to his and Carol’s new attorney, Tammy Click.
“I don’t know [what’s going to happen tomorrow],” said Nicole García, the daughter of Carol and Ron and the person whom WAO’s board chose to take over the reigns of WAO after the late-September shake-up. “I don’t know. Maybe they’re going to sue me tomorrow. I have no idea. Who knows?”
When contacted by the Current, Click said in an email that “I would like to fax you a document that should answer any questions.”
Click works in the same building as Eric Turton, who on October 15 told the Current "I no longer represent WAO but I still represent Carol Asvestas." When the Current asked Click whether she and Turton represented Carol Asvestas, but she was the only one representing both Carol and Ron Asvestas, Click said in an email that "I am not partners or associated with Mr. Turton. We work independently. I have my own law practice." Turton told the Current he's representing Carol in her difamation lawsuit against the San Antonio Lightning, and Click represents both Asvestas in the new case: a lawsuit against the three-member WAO board (Sumner Matthes, Karen Maxfield, and Michelle Cryer), Nicole Asvestas-García (WAO’s CEO) and WAO itself.
The main points in the Asvestas’ claim is that they were wrongfully terminated because WAO by-laws state that there should be five board members, not three, as posted on WAO’s website on October 1. They also demand “immediate” payment of $264,764 for “reimbursements, salaries and vacation pay,” and “the return of 7+ acres, upon payment of $20,000 plus interest” and the return of “personal items” still at WAO’s office.
Based on information taken from emails and recollection, Nicole García (who wasn't present at the meeting) said that, on September 28, there were five members when it was voted to place Ron Asvestas on a 90-day leave of absence, no pay, until further investigation was done.
"At that point, my mom quit," García said, adding that on the 30th of September the two other board members resigned. "Then on October 1, with all the things that took place [Carol and Ron Asvestas allegedly taking computers and files from WAO, most of which was taken back by WAO], they were officially terminated."
The fact that there were five members at the first vote was confirmed to the Current by Sumner Matthes, vice president of the board. Texas law indicates that a corporation must have a minimum of three directors.
“Everybody, the employees and the board of directors at the orphanage, seemed to be very upbeat at this point,” said Matthes, when the Current informed him of the lawsuit. “I would hate to see some lawsuit destroy what we have accomplished in the last two weeks.”
“Fine,” said Nicole García upon hearing the news. “Here we are. I’m ready. This is not about me, or them, it’s about the animals. When [the lawsuit] is addressed to us, we’ll handle it.”
At 11:15 am on October 16, Nicole and the WAO board still hadn't been served. According to Rene Charles, who answered the line at the 57th Judicial District court, "the case has been filed but there is no hearing set yet."
In advance of Current theater critic Tom Jenkins’s critique of the Alamo Theatre Arts Council’s annual Globe Awards, I spoke with ATAC Board President Tom Masinter, a composer, music director, and charming man who agrees that the number of awards had started to get out of hand in the past few years. So they’ve attempted to address the problem, he says, by strictly limiting the awards, which are for “excellence,” to performers and crewmembers who make the designated score cutoff — say 9 out of 10. You might have six recipients in a given category, or you might have one.
“It doesn’t mean those were the only ones who were excellent,” Masinter says. “It just means we can’t give awards to everybody. ... It dilutes the notion of excellence.”
As critics of the awards process have noted, the judges’ panel (38 members for the 2008-09 season) is heavily stocked with members of theater-producing community.
But Masinter sees this as an advantage, ensuring that performances are judged by individuals who are intimately familiar with blocking, design, acting, etc., as well as theater fans.
“We have judges who are actually actors, directors, or producers, tempered with civilians — theater-lovers, members of the community,” Masinter explains. (You’ll find a list at the end of our post with some notations; we’re still sorting out all of the relationships, so please clue us in. Please keep in mind that this is not a criticism of the judges’ talent, dedication, or integrity, but of the system.)
A minimum of five judges must see a show in order for it to be eligible for the awards, and perhaps to facilitate this, judges don’t have to recuse themselves if, say, their significant other is the lead — they just can’t score that individual’s performance. Regular troupe members can still review plays produced by their theater or collective, as long as they’re not on the board, or running or managing the company.
Masinter says they weed out biased reviews by hewing to median scores. If a show is getting consistent 7, 8, and 9 rankings, and a 3 suddenly pops up, he says, that can be an indicator of a “rogue judge” — someone nursing a grudge, or put off by nudity.
And Masinter says they caution judges: “If you don’t think you can be fair one way or another ... including ‘you don’t like the subject matter’” recuse yourself.
Critics of the awards wonder whether the second part of that clause is the reason some more controversial productions get passed over — as an example of such a potential situation, Masinter mentioned AtticRep’s production of Albee’s The Goat, which features man-animal love and isn’t receiving a Globe Award this year despite a universally acclaimed performance by Gloria Sanchez.
“I haven’t seen any kind of favoritism in recent years,” Masinter maintains. “You’re always amazed at what wins and what doesn’t. Theater is an art, not a sport. ... [the judges are] supposed to judge a show on its own merits and not compare it to another production another theater did three years ago.”
Masinter says that critics of the awards are few and personally motivated: “You generally only hear from the people who aren’t winning. It’s like being the principal of a high school; you only hear from the sour grapes.”
“At the end of the day,” he adds, “you say at least we had some awards for excellence, that were deserving.”
2008-09 ATAC Globe Award Judges
Ray Baird (actor, singer); Emily Boehm; Sidney Burnette (actor); Rose Cohen-Brown (senior secretary in classical studies, Trinity University); Anne Collins (actor); Beth Delcampo (actor, singer, currently starring in Evita at the San Pedro Playhouse); Mary Denman (actor, patron); David Ferguson; Laurie Fitzpatrick (actor); Don Frame (actor); Lilly Gardner; Vincent Hardy (actor, instructor and director at St. Philip’s College); Tim Hedgepeth (director, founding member of AtticRep); Jean Karren, Harold Karren; Marty Kushner (instructor and director at Trinity University); Bruce Liesman (VP, Classic Theatre board of directors, husband of actor and singer Anna Gangai); Diane Malone (director, designer, Classic Theatre co-founder); Rick Malone (Classic Theatre co-founder and technical director); Jim Mammarella (actor, director, instructor); David Mangelsdorff (patron); Tom Masinter (composer and arranger); BJ Naegelin (instructor, San Antonio College); Josephine Neesvig; Donna Peacock (author, first Director of Creative Writing at the North East School of the Arts); Karl Price; Melva Price; Margaret Priesmeyer-Masinter (attorney); Barbara Richmond, Lew Richmond (member of the Beth-El Players); Terri Peña Ross (actor), Allan Ross (director, instructor); Pete Sanchez (actor, father of Gloria Sanchez); Rick Sanchez (actor, singer); Joe Smith; Bettye Jo Shryock (member of UIW’s Extended Run Players), Edith Speert (patron); William J. Stewart (lighting designer)
2009-10 ATAC Globe Award Judges
Ray Baird (actor, singer); Rene Paul Barilleaux (McNay museum chief curator, partner of Tim Hedgepeth); Diana Begley; Angela Bennett (actor, director); Emily Boehm; Sidney Burnette (actor); Anne Collins (actor); Beth Delcampo (actor, singer, currently starring in Evita at the San Pedro Playhouse); Mary Denman (actor, patron); David Ferguson; Don Frame (actor); Rick Frederick (actor and member of AtticRep troupe); Lilly Gardner; Vincent Hardy (actor, instructor and director at St. Philip’s College); Tim Hedgepeth (director, founding member of AtticRep); Jean & Harold Karren; Marty Kushner (instructor and director at Trinity University); Twyla Lamont (choreographer); Diane Malone (director, designer, Classic Theatre co-founder); Rick Malone (Classic Theatre co-founder and technical director); Jim Mammarella (actor, director, instructor); David Mangelsdorff (patron); Tom Masinter (composer and arranger); Josie Molina; Josephine Neesvig; Kevin Parman (composer and arranger); Donna Peacock (author, first Director of Creative Writing at the North East School of the Arts); Karl & Melva Price; Margaret Priesmeyer-Masinter (attorney); Barbara & Lew Richmond (member of the Beth-El Players); Chris Rodriguez (choreographer); Terri Peña Ross (actor); Allan Ross (director, instructor); Gloria Sanchez (actor, daughter of Pete); Pete Sanchez (actor, father of Gloria); Rick Sanchez (actor, singer); Joe Smith; Edith Speert
[I sent the following to a collection of friends this morning, folks I admire, but not so much that I refrain from "spamming" them every week or two with my latest news-related scribbling. As I finished it, I realized it is a suitable concluding post for the now-titled "Nukes of Hazard" series.]
CPS’ board vote yesterday to pursue a 20-25 percent share in the South Texas Project nuclear expansion with current 50-50 partner NRG Energy is fraught with risk. Our city leaders, utility honchos, popular media, and most local activists have kept that debate almost exclusively on the field of finance. While I made the financial case for efficiency a couple years ago in “CPS Must Die,” as the votes approached, I felt we needed a fuller discussion.
I've made some mistakes. In the first story, I swapped milli-Rems for micro-Rems in relation to one old South Texas uranium mine site. In today’s offering on waste, I misidentify Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as “House Speaker,” painful errors both. However, facts gleaned and repurposed from hundreds of documents, reports, and correspondence, as well as observations from my personal travels and interviews on our evolving relationship with atomic power pose not an insignificant gauntlet. It’s one I feel anyone seeking to dose South Texas with another round of nuclear should be forced to run.
Our City Council still has to vote up or down another $400 million investment in the expansion of the South Texas Project on October 29. After that vote, our dollars may truly be buried too deeply (at least from a political perspective) for us every to withdraw from this course. I don't in any way, shape, or form believe my series will push a single council member away from a “yes” vote or make any hardcore nuclear-power adherent see matters differently. The STP decision will boil down to dollars and the faith the Council has in its utility. That faith has been shaking lately, as the utility moves toward 9.5-percent rate hikes that appear to violate its earliest promises not to exceed 5-percent hikes every two years.
The little faith those of us in the environmental community have in CPS is being whittled down a bit more as the projects necessary to transform San Antonio into a pollution-free, decentralized energy economy are put on ice to make way for the costs of the nuclear expansion. We cannot, as CPS Board Chair Aurora Geis continues to insist, pursue both paths equally. We cannot afford to bleed billions for nuclear and make the rapid, thorough shift in our energy infrastructure the times require of us.
Given all of this, why didn’t I follow the pack and focus on the balance sheet? For starters, I believe the moral message matters. Those making this decision and those supporting it must be forced to face the human and environmental toll of uranium mining. Whatever tool of justification, contextualization, or rationalization they use is their choice. But the community cannot allow silence on this point.
Likewise, the community should not forget nuclear plants in the United States have been the target of terrorists, and that the scientific community has quantified such an attack, concluding tens of thousands potentially dead. Yes, it’s unlikely. But it is not impossible. No other power source has the potential to do so much damage.
This week, I offer my third and final installment in the “Nukes of Hazard” series. This time the subject is nuclear waste. I do not know what a growing dump in West Texas will ultimately cost the state of Texas. I do know that one day, most likely after a couple license extensions, it will belong to each one of us. Likewise, I also know that tens of millions are being spent around the country on such dumps that have long since sprung leaks.
Perhaps a technical solution will be found. Perhaps further future economic contractions will further pillage our R&D departments, putting a workable fusion solution off decades more. Perhaps we never get there. Local leaders have to be forced to voice their opinion on the issue. Either creating wastes we can’t control is okay, or it isn’t. But any debate of nuclear power is not complete without an examination of the waste stream. Despite a considerable investment in time, staff, and column inches, this hasn’t happened at the Express-News. It is not complete without studying mining. Likewise, glossed over. It is not complete until the real, quantifiable risks to human lives are presented to the public. We’ve been lacking on this point, as well.
While I will always feel I could have done more with this series, and though I will always regret the stupid, rushed errors I made, at least it is done. And to the best of my ability — thanks to the San Antonio Current, Editor Elaine Wolff, and whatever Spirit this is that props me up here on Earth — I have left our leaders without ignorance as an excuse.
Those of you with a few hours to kill, a tolerance for heart-felt if unspectacular prose, I offer you the last two months of my life, all in bite-sized titles with cute little clickable links.
In Love & with Hope,
Down Fighting: CPS Energy Board Chair Aurora Geis insisting withering green-power plans aren't withering green-power plans.
Board Chair Aurora Gies opened the special meeting of CPS Energy’s Board of Trustees in a bunker in the bowels in the Alamodome with a defense of the utility’s clean-energy pursuits. “We don’t want to compromise our pursuit of other technologies,” Geis said. “We want to be able to support these technologies as they mature in the future.”
While her insistence that nuclear expansion will in no way limit the city’s ability to aggressively pursue cleaner options has become an expected soundbite over the past months, today’s — offered moments before a unanimous vote to devote itself to nuclear power expansion — was especially anemic.
Over the past week, it has come out that the utility, to mitigate increasing tough financial pressures (of which the taking on of hundreds of millions of future debt load for nukes is a large part) CPS Energy will have to delay previously planned pollution controls at the city’s coal plants. It will also likely delay the development and roll-out of advanced meter systems and an improved “smart” grid, both necessary steps to reaching the utility’s stated commitment to a pollution-free, decentralized power model.
All this even as future rate hikes of 9.5 percent begin to be batted about.
CPS’s co-CEO Steve Bartley claimed “broad” support for the plan and flashed a list of a dozen area chambers of commerce on the screen. Suggesting that cutting back from the previously recommended 40-percent ownership was “prudent” — “particularly in light of the financial condition we continue to see ourselves in in this community.”
A deeply nuanced Hennigan warned of what risk he saw in the deal. “On paper we are the stronger of the partners from a bond perspective,” he said of 50-50 partner and recent bankruptcy recoveree NRG Energy. “If one of our partners gets in trouble, we own that risk.”
The utility currently owns half of the estimated $13 billion project, though staff have been recommending selling down to a 40-percent share. City Council resistance and increasing financial pressures forced them to back down even further. Now, 5-0, the board is advocating selling down to 25 percent.
So far, no one’s been found to pick up the previously undesired 10 percent.
And yet the meeting closes with another lecture from Geis on future-future green-energy plans?
Overheard at back of the bomb shelter: “She’ll be saying that even as she’s eaten up by radioactivity.” [On that point: consult the third installment of my nuclear power series. On the streets in the a.m.]
The matter will next be taken up by the City Council, where city leaders must decide whether going in potentially as deep as $1 billion before the full costs of the project are understood (2012?) makes for a reasonable energy policy.
In a deeply considered, if meandering, statement before the vote, Hennigan offered one indisputable fact: “The future is going to be very different.”
Geis said the Alamodome was chosen as an alternative venue to allow for large crowds. In my head, the teaser from the movie Alien kept rattling around: "In space, no one can hear you scream."
Yeah. In space or the basement of the Alamodome.
The very first comment posted to this week’s cover story about the unsolved murder of Dana Clair Edwards was, sadly, expected.
“On 10/7/2009 10:39:10 AM, Anonymous said: Who gives a f*ck? This gets cover story just because the chick was an ’09er? Please. There have been other unsolved murders in the city and none of them make the front page of the Current. For the first time, I’m disappointed in you guys. For all we know the woman may have been charitable, hard-working, etc. But that doesn't take away the fact that she may have been a heinous bitch either way.”
You can tell which direction it’s going in as soon as you get to “the chick.” (Presumably it was written by “a dick.”) We’re not just looking at the usual prejudice and lack of empathy between different socioeconomic groups; it’s loaded with straight-up misogyny. The concluding sentence is beyond depressing, because the unmistakeable implication is that maybe she deserved it.
A later post ditched the hardcore sexism, but kept the racism:
“On 10/8/2009 1:53:46 PM, Anonymous said: Despite the sexist nonsense, the first comment has a good point: Is Ms. Clair's murder more ‘tragic’ because she was a wealthy, white, conventionally attractive 09er? Shame on the Current for focusing on this story in lieu of exploring the many unsolved murders of women of color who hail from poorer neighborhoods and perhaps had less sparkling reputations. This reminds me of the fuss over the professional, white Central Park jogger who was assaulted the same week that several never mentioned poor women of color were assaulted AND murdered in NYC.”
(Digression: Note this comment softens what happened to Trisha Meili — who was violently raped and beaten nearly to death by Matias Reyes — into “assaulted,” and trivializes the public response as a “fuss.” Meili was originally expected to die or remain in a coma. She had no memory of the attack, and five black youths served prison terms for the crime. Following Reyes’s 2002 confession, which was backed up by DNA testing, their convictions were vacated. It’s a complicated case, but check it out: Here it’s reduced to just another example of white women getting favorable press treatment.)
Although the second comment is marginally less appalling, it’s rationale is still fundamentally inhuman: Dana Clair’s murder is undeserving of coverage simply because she’s white and from an upper-class background. Not only that, we should be “ashamed” of covering it.
People sort information like this all the time: Who’s deserving of our attention and emotion and who’s just some bitch who deserved what she got? In my more charitable moments I think this is just a hardwired defensive response — it’s hard to care about an injustice, because then we feel a responsibility to do something about it, and the world is filled with wrongs that need righting; we can’t possibly become emotionally invested in all of them, so we come up with reasons to pretend that some of them aren’t, in fact, real injustices. In my less-charitable moments I just think we’re small-hearted assholes.
All murders are tragedies. Choosing to cover Dana Clair’s murder is neither an indication that I think other victims are less deserving, or that her death is more “tragic” than anyone else’s, just that there are elements that are noteworthy and unusual. A comment posted on a Facebook thread identifies yet another reason Dana Clair’s story is relevant: “What I feel someone who did not know her can take away from her story is that you may think you are strong and not a victim, but it can happen to the strongest of people.” It’s a cautionary tale that every woman must heed, especially while we’re still “chicks” and “heinous bitches” to some of our fellow humans.
And Dana Clair was a particularly strong woman: She overcame painful and serious injuries that forced her to abandon her plans to become a doctor, and she returned home to be close to her father when he was diagnosed with cancer — a decision I know many Current readers can identify with.
I was also moved by Grit’s death, because I’m a dog lover and because it is, to say the least, disturbing. Why would the murderer kill Dana Clair’s cute terrier, too? Even if Grit was trying to protect Dana Clair, he wasn’t that large — look at him up in that tree in the photo here: I’m sure he was fierce when challenged, but c’mon. And no gun was involved in this crime, as far as we know, so it took extra time and effort to kill Grit, and to transport him to the Olmos Dam area, dead or alive.
But the very first time Dana Clair’s story came to my attention was through the grapevine. I know people who knew both Dana Clair and her ex-boyfriend — although I didn’t know the Edwards before I researched this story, and still don’t know the ex-boyfriend or his family, who have communicated only through attorneys. One weekend I heard a bit of gossip: Security-camera footage from a bank drive-thru might implicate someone in a local murder. Which murder? I asked, because I’d missed the original news reports back in January. As I started poking around a little, I began to realize the extent to which her murder and the ongoing investigation had created social tension and anxiety among a tightly connected community that prides itself on being the kind of place this explicitly does not happen. I discussed the case with a former crime reporter, who immediately googled up the message board that is referenced in the story — confirmation of the vibe I was picking up in the conversations I’d had — and emailed it to me. I was hooked.
This story obviously relies on a number of unnamed sources, which should always pique a readers’ curiosity and skepticism. When a source requests anonymity, they have a reason for doing so, and readers are right to ask what that is. In this case, the main reason sources would want to remain anonymous is fairly obvious: Whoever killed Dana Clair is still walking free. On-the-record sources included Dana Clair’s parents, Darrell and Deborah, her friend Melissa Federspill, the lead homicide detective on the case, attorneys representing the ex-boyfriend and the ex-boyfriend’s family, and the Police Department’s public information officers. In all cases, the story’s unnamed sources are known to the Current — no Deep Throats here — and any factual information that was given to me by an off-the-record or unattributed source that I used in the story was confirmed by either another unnamed or off-the-record source, or by one of the named sources in the story. I attempted to contact Dana Clair’s ex-boyfriend directly via email and by calling a family member when I couldn’t locate a number for him (the latter resulted in the attorneys’ phone calls). I also contacted individuals whom I was told were close friends of his, but they declined to speak with me.
The police have additional evidence and information regarding Dana Clair’s murder and Grit’s killing that they are not making public. This gives them a pool of details with which only the killer should be familiar, allowing them to confirm or weed out suspects or identify false confessions. Although they have confirmed the existence of the video footage from the bank, for instance, they have not said who or what appears to be on that tape. They have mentioned DNA matching, but not said anything specific enough to add to this story.
In working on Dana Clair's story, I’ve tried not to step on the investigation’s toes, or to unfairly represent any individuals involved in this tragedy. I’m happy to try to answer any questions readers may have, so please ask them here via the comments section, or email me directly at: email@example.com.
Please, if you have any information that could help identify Dana Clair’s or anyone’s murderer, call the police: (210) 207-7635. And if there is a specific murder case you want to call to the Current's attention, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (210) 388-0625.
As always, thanks for reading.
By Enrique Lopetegui
On October 1, a press release sent out by the Wild Animal Orphanage announced “the termination of Ron and Carol Asvestas as employees effective immediately,” that “Carol Asvestas has also been terminated as a member of the Board of Directors,” and that daughter Nicole Asvestas-García had been named by the board as the embattled sanctuary’s new CEO. Carol Asvestas could not be reached for comment, and former husband Ron didn't immediately returned an email sent by the Current.
For years, WAO has been fighting allegations of poor animal care and worse money management, and both the USDA and the Texas Attorney General’s office are keeping a close eye on it. But it seems the Nicole broom is working in strides to clean up WAO’s act. The latest player to leave the WAO world is Eric “I’m not avoiding you” Turton, the former WAO attorney who first promised to show the Current all animal death reports, then cancelled, and then stopped returning our repeated phone calls. The good part: it seems we won’t have to deal with him anymore.
“On Friday [Oct. 2], I placed him on a stand-down,” new CEO Asvestas-García told the Current on Monday. “I didn’t want him to do anything in relation to WAO until I could speak to him [on Oct. 5]. But on Sunday [Oct. 4] we received a letter of resignation from him.” Not surprisingly, Turton didn’t reply to a phone call by the Current.
WAO’s website was updated on Monday at about 5 pm, and it lists the executive board as Karen Maxfield (President), Sumner Matthes (Vice President), and Michelle Cryer (Treasurer/Co-Secretary), all survivors of the previous board, and a list of 13 mostly full-time staffers led by García (who stopped using her maiden name) as CEO, Jamie Cryer as Chief Financial Officer, and William West, CPA as Chief Advisor.
“There are no new staffers that weren’t there before, but everybody –including myself– is working on a voluntary and temporary basis,” said García. “Before anybody is chosen to work full-time on a permanent basis we’re going to do background checks and the whole nine yards. We’re not going to have a repeat of the history at all." (After we posted this item, García called the Current and said she actually makes $10 an hour)
“It’s good to come to work in a great atmosphere, with staffers talking and smiling to each other” Cryer told the Current on Monday. “This is a new beginning for us.”
Talking to different animal care technicians on Monday, the Current could feel a much better atmosphere than the one found at the press conference on August 20, but there are still a lot of questions.
“We want to be a transparent organization now,” García said. “There will never again be a lawyer in between us.”
García will meet with the Current again on Tuesday. Unless, of course, she pulls a Turton-style disappearing act on us.
“I’d never do that,” she said Friday night on a phone conversation. “The only group I’m here to protect is the animals.”
Damn natural gas.
We just have too much of the stuff, and that’s driven down profits at one of the city’s biggest cash cows: CPS Energy. To keep the city’s 14-percent cut of CPS profits from growing too anemic, CPS has plans to raise your rates by more than 9 percent in the spring, CPS Chief Financial Officer Paula Gold-Williams told the CPS Board of Directors on Monday. But don’t worry, once the Spruce Two coal plant comes online later in the year, they may credit you back a dollar or two.
Her other message was that nuclear expansion — that $5.2 billion bugaboo that has the city overheating — was not the only reason for expected rate increases deep in the next decade.
“If we decided not to do that, you’d still have pressure, no matter what option you choose,” Gold-Williams said.
But if the City Council gives CPS the all-clear later this month to take out anther $400 million in debt service to keep to the nuclear path, there will be unanticipated victims.
Specifically: planned installation of scrubbers for the old coal plants that would help limit high-ozone days, heart attacks, and new cases of asthma by eliminating the bulk of the sulfur dioxide coming out of the stacks. These scrubbers — supposedly paid for in that infamous 3.5-percent rate increase back in 2008 — would be have to wait “a year or so,” said Gold-Williams.
Still, don’t blame nuclear.
It’s becoming something of a mantra around CPS. Nuclear, even at $5.2 billion for a 40-percent share, is “only one tool in the toolbox.”
Yet a year later CPS haven’t been able to sell down from a 50-percent share to its recommendation of 40-percent.
It got worse at Monday’s meeting as both CEOs Milton Lee and Steve Bartley described the nuclear play as “a bridge” between traditional power sources and the renewable, non-polluting sources expected to take the lead in the 2020s.
While CPS’s leadership doesn’t think renewable sources can boost the city over the coming projected energy shortfall of 2020, the following energy crunch is a different story.
CPS Energy’s chief sustaina-dude Cris Eugster drove home reminded the board that the utility plans to retire six gas turbines in the 2020s, losing roughly 2,200 megawatts in the process. Aging coals plants will lurch into the tomb in the early ’30s. Good riddance, an’ all, but what’s going to keep the lights on?
By adding in 1,000 megawatts of green tech — conservation plus on-site solar, wind, and biomass — the city would just about meet that 2030 gap — if we can figure out a good way of storing that solar and wind power. Storage was treated just shy of metaphysics in the discussion, but it can’t be lost on our utility that other cities and utilities are already using compressed air, pumped hydro, and batteries.
Of course, many on the green scene have been arguing these solutions could meet not just the 2030 gap, but the 2020 projected power gap that CPS plans to plug with nuclear.
Green power? Meet San Antonio-style hesitancy.
“We don’t want to go bet on a lot of things,” Eugster told the board. “We want them to prove themselves out.”
That brings us to the long-awaited white paper from efficiency guru Jeremy Rifkin (left, in San Antonio earlier this year).
The Express-News has announced the full cost of the contracted Rifkin plan ($16 billion to $20 billion), and Eugster’s presentation mentioned 16,000 green-collar jobs by 2030 pursuing efficiency, but the Rifkin report promises even more.
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