Please take a few minutes to help us craft our council candidate questionnaire. Beginning next Wednesday, we'll email it to all of the candidates who file (deadline's March 9, tortoises). They'll have until March 20 to craft compelling answers. We'll run them in their entirety online, and print excerpts in our April 1 issue (no foolin'!).
Here are a few subjects on our mind, to get your juices flowing. Add your suggestions in the comments box, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Do you support the addition of two new nuclear power plants to the South Texas Project to meet our future energy needs? If not, please describe the alternatives you favor. If so, please explain your position or philosophy on the long-term storage of nuclear-fuel waste.
2. Do you support Mayor Hardberger's Mission Verde initiative in its entirety? If so, what do you see as the most critical steps council must take to implement it successfully? If not, do you support any of its provisions, and why (not)?
3. What is the right mix of public-transit options for San Antonio’s future, and what do you think is the best method to fund/maintain each element?
4. If San Antonio faces a budget shortfall, where would you be willing to make budget cuts?
5. What are your top spending priorities for the HOT tax? Would you support a recommendation to use some of those funds to expand the Convention Center?
6. Please briefly describe your conception of San Antonio’s economy, its strengths and weaknesses, and what you would do to build on the former and address the latter?
7. Keeping in mind the playground scandal, the Healy-Murphy Park sale, and the El Mercado flap, how would you increase accountability and transparency at City Hall? Specifically, would you change the role or method of choosing a City Auditor, and his/her scope of authority?
8. Do you support extending the digital-billboard pilot program? If so, what restrictions, if any, would you recommend on their placement and use?
9. Do you support SAWS' current plans to secure San Antonio's water supply? If so, please explain why. If not, please explain what you believe they should be doing differently.
10. If we have not included an issue that is particularly important to you as a candidate, or that you feel is vital for City Council to address during your term in office, please discuss it here.
An apparently deepening military relationship between the U.S. and Mexico “may or may not” involve military training outside the U.S., according to Pentagon spokesperson Commander Jeffrey Gordon.
“Generally we do the training here in the United States but, uh ... yeah ... I'm not going to discuss at this point ... I'm not prepared to discuss what training may be or may or may not be going on in Mexico,” he said.
A National Public Radio report today on intensifying violence in northern Mexico cites the training of Mexican commandos in anti-narcotics operations by American Special Forces.
Although welcomed by current Mexican President Felipe Calderon, the American military presence in Mexico has not always been viewed favorably. American military involvement there, such as General Pershing's 1916 hunt for Pancho Villa and the 1914 landings in Veracruz, created a backlash among some sectors of Mexican society, which led to constitutional prohibitions on foreign troops carrying weapons while on Mexican soil.
Sometimes these laws have led to odd encounters, such as a 2004 dispute at a Mexican-American soldier's funeral.
Buried in Guanajuato, Mexico, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Juan Lopez was killed in Iraq in 2004. However, the Marine honor guard at his funeral was not allowed to fire the traditional 21-gun salute, as local authorities feared that foreign troops armed with blanks would have violated Mexican law.
This deepening of American military ties with Mexico comes as the drug war in the northern part of that country intensifies, prompting fears of instability spreading into American border states. The U.S. State Department reported earlier this year of the danger of a potential mass migration north in the event of a collapse of the Mexican government.
On February 26, President Calderon rejected the notion that his government suffered from instability or that Mexico was on the verge of becoming a failed state. “To say that Mexico is a failed state is false,” said Calderon. “I have not lost any part — any single part — of the Mexican territory.”
It appears that this Administration is prepared to back Calderon’s heightened crackdown on the cartels by all means necessary.
From the inexplicable rumors department:
Trish DeBerry-Mejia's policy/communications guy Donze Lopez put off his candidate's scheduled interview with the Current today so that he could air a few concerns he'd picked up from the rumor mill. Including: that candidate Julian Castro had been invited to our 2009 Best of SA party, April 23 at the Witte, where he would be introduced as "our next mayor" to the 1,500-odd revelers who attend the annual throwdown.
Editorial doesn't plan the Best of SA party, we just run the ballot and election and write about the winners (because they're kept secret from sales). But the folks on the money-making side of the house, who are in charge of the event, said they didn't know what he was talking about, either.
So, just to clear this matter up, I hereby invite all of the mayoral candidates that actually file with the City Clerk's office to our Best of SA party to help us celebrate the winners of our Best of SA readers' poll. (We want you to come; we'll use the free drinks and crowd to loosen you up and separate you from your handlers. Take a cue from our current popular public officials, PH and NW -- locals like candor.) Plus, it's a lot of fun. Ask the Mayor: he's been to at least two of them. We'll introduce each of you as the "next mayor of San Antonio." And we'll be right about one of you.
Now that that's out of the way, we're looking forward to chatting with the candidates about substantive issues such as Mission Verde, the City budget, sustainable development, digital billboards, transparency and oversight in gov't, arts funding in tough economic times, etc.
Non-candidates: The party's free, but requires an invitation. Other ways to get in: Win in a category (it's OK to encourage friends and customers to vote for you. It's not OK to stuff the ballot box or fill out forms for other people. It's a great idea to put a link to the ballot on your website/Facebook,Myspace!) and be entered in a drawing for the coveted tix by voting.
Greg M. Schwartz
The local chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, attempted to hand deliver a letter of complaint to San Antonio Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez yesterday, with the letter alleging inaction by Gomez in dealing with two clergymen whose religious orders have found “credible” claims against each of sexually abusing a teenager.
San Antonio SNAP Director Barbara Garcia-Boehland had to settle for handing off the letter to Robert Holbrook, the Church’s director of construction, real estate & facilities (which strangely sounds more like a position with the San Antonio Housing Authority.) Holbrook said Archbishop Jose Gomez wasn’t around.
The letter urges Gomez to “oust a credibly accused predator who’s now at a local parish,” to reach out to those hurt by him, to apologize and explain why two accused sex offenders are in his archdiocese and to disclose the names and whereabouts of any other child-molesting clergymen in the area. Garcia-Boehland says Gomez has failed to respond in any way to at least four prior attempts to contact him on the issue.
One of the allegations concerns Brother Richard Suttle, who was ousted last year from an Arizona elementary school after abuse charges and a public notice from the Phoenix diocese. Suttle now lives at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in downtown San Antonio. The other allegation concerns long-time St. Mary’s University professor Father Charles Miller, who was suspended last year for molesting a teenaged girl in San Antonio in 1980, yet received a transfer of sorts to Rome.
“Our concern is that he’s still allowed to come and go. What if he meets up with a foreign exchange student from San Antonio in Rome?” said Garcia- Boehland regarding Miller. She added that SNAP takes issue with the fact that Miller and Suttle are both still clerics and receive paychecks.
“He hasn’t shown any concern for the survivors,” said Garcia-Boehland’s husband Matthias Boehland, also a SNAP activist. “And after several other letters sent, no response… We’re concerned about why he’s allowing pedophiles to come here.”
“This is really dangerous, these aren’t the only two guys we know are here,” said Garcia-Boehland. She says SNAP has a list of some 60 pedophile clergymen in the area, but that the church would say it’s only around 20. “The reason my list is different is because the survivors haven’t all come forward.”
Garcia-Boehland said many of those survivors fear being ostracized by the Church. She says SNAP is working to lobby for new state legislation that would allow victims to come forward, without being constrained by a statute of limitations.
“What [the Church] will tell you is that some of the 20 have been moved and no longer work in San Antonio,” said Garcia Boehland. “Well why aren’t they in jail or being tracked?”
Deacon Pat Rodgers, communications director for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, says that the list of some 20 names is a historical list of all “credible” allegations since 1950 that the Church compiled as part of national research directed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rodgers says credible equates to possibly true.
“None of them are in the ministry,” said Rodgers of those on the list. He says seven are dead, a couple others are in prison and others were cut out of the priesthood. Rodgers also says that Miller and Suttle are under the jurisdictions of their orders, Marianist and Claritian respectively, with no current connection to the San Antonio Archdiocese. The Marianists are headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., while the Claretians are based in San Gabriel, Calif.
“We didn’t transfer any Marianist to Rome. That was his religious order,” said Rodgers of Miller. Rodgers says the Archdiocese is not connected with St. Mary’s University and that when informed by the victim of the allegations, the Archdiocese forwarded the information to the Marianists who then began an investigation.
Rodgers also says that the Archdiocese had nothing to do with Suttle moving here from Arizona.
“Brother Suttle is not in the ministry and he is being monitored by his fellow priests,” said Rodgers, noting that a Brother is simply someone who lives in a community with others of his common religious persuasion. Suttle has denied the allegations, which are still being investigated.
SNAP says that Gomez and Rodgers are “splitting hairs” when claiming that the Archdiocese has no authority over Miller and Suttle. Garcia-Boehland argues that Catholic canon law holds that each bishop is responsible for the wellbeing of every Catholic in his diocese and that Miller and Suttle therefore do fall under his jurisdiction.
“There’s always dialogue… I’m quite certain the Archbishop is dialoguing with both of those orders,” said Rodgers. “We’re all concerned about child abuse of any kind.”
Garcia-Boehland and SNAP feel that Gomez should move to revoke the ministry credentials of Miller and Suttle, and that Suttle should be ousted from his San Antonio parish. She also questions why Gomez didn’t make the matters public record once he knew the allegations were credible.
“It’s just very scary that these people are allowed to run around here in Texas,” said Garcia-Boehland.
The Current has been hearing rumors for two weeks now that the Express-News planned to reduce its staff again to deal with the economic slowdown, which has dramatically multiplied the effects of the ongoing decline in print revenue (scroll down at www.sacurrent.com/columns/story.asp?id=69606). Daily reporters had mentioned it to story sources, and the suits were spotted at a Southtown restaurant last week hammering out details. Sadly, it appears those rumors were true. Details below in an email from Publisher Tom Stephenson (unverified as of yet, but from a reliable source). Other credible sources have added that 75 of the 135 staffers being cut are in the E-N newsroom -- a number we hope, on behalf of our daily colleagues, is wildly off -- and that their final work day is March 20. Including the paper's niche and neighborhood pubs, total editorial cuts are reportedly 25 percent of the total. More when we know it.
February 25, 2009
There is some very important, albeit sobering news to share with you today. I have been working with other members of the senior leadership team at the Express-News to develop a new staffing and operating plan to take us through the recession and enable us to emerge as a thriving company once the economy recovers. Advertising revenues remain soft as our best customers cope with the recession. They are spending less on advertising as their own businesses contract.
Earlier this year we announced a wage freeze, eliminated a small number of positions and instituted a hiring freeze. Unfortunately, those efforts have not offset the continuing revenue shortfall. Today I am announcing plans to reduce operating expenses by 20% over the next two years. We hope this ends theincremental cost savings we have been imposing, and positions the company to operate without additional cuts. As part of this plan, we will eliminate approximately 135 jobs, or about 15% of our workforce. Additionally, there are about 30 open positions that will not be filled. We also are reducing weekday circulation, travel, delivery costs and sales solicitation costs.
We will combine our State and Metro press runs into a single edition and we will begin printing our Sunday comics and TV book on our presses. We plan to relocate all of our downtown employees into the Avenue E building. We will make some adjustments to our health and benefit packages, which will be shared with you as the details are finalized.
Almost every day in the Express-News and on Mysa.com, we write about businesses downsizing and reorganizing to cope with the economy. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in the same position. The time has come for the company to act decisively rather than incrementally. We will be smaller in size, but there will be no reduction in our mission or in our service to the community. We will continue to operate with the passion and drive that have made us a force in San Antonio and South Texas for more than a century and a half. Our readers and advertisers deserve no less.
By Gilbert Garcia
Diane Cibrian would probably like to forget last week ever happened, but online viewers of her strange, inexplicably tense interview with FOX 29's Sylvia Rincon won't let their memories die so quickly.
Rincon's sit-down exchange with Cibrian was part of a five-minute feature on the three major candidates in this year's mayoral race. After smooth, pleasant exchanges with Julian Castro and Trish DeBerry-Mejia, Rincon asked Cibrian the same innocuous question she'd directed at the other two contenders: Does she consider herself sufficiently experienced for the job?
For reasons that made no sense to Rincon or anyone else watching, Cibrian reacted as if she'd been presented with a stinky diaper that had been left out in the summer sun all day. She alternately grimaced and made forced, pained smiles, while defensively shooting down every comment from Rincon. When Rincon casually said to the first-time Councilmember, "You are a junior City Council person," Cibrian defensively fired back, "There's no such thing as a junior .... but anyway."
She informed Rincon that she was "not comfortable with the setting," and repeatedly prodded: "Are you going to ask my opponents the same question?" After calming down enough to tout her accomplishments on the Council, she abruptly announced, "I think we're done," and walked off camera, with Rincon still calling after her.
Questions have often been raised about Cibrian's temperament, and this interview played right into the hands of her most vociferous critics. You couldn't watch this fiasco without wondering how Cibrian would handle an actual tough question -- the kind that a big-city mayor can expect on a regular basis.
Cibrian didn't get any relief at last Thursday's Council meeting, when attorney Ted Lee went before Council and accused Cibrian of selling zoning requests to developers and lobbyists in exchange for campaign support. Lee was working an unpopular case and he had no smoking gun to back up his allegations. But his failed application for a zoning change at Dreamland Drive and Lockhill-Selma brought new scrutiny to Cibrian's front-end involvement in zoning cases ["Boundary Issues," February 4], at a time when she'd much prefer to ride the popular coattails of outgoing Mayor Phil Hardberger.
Greg M. Schwartz
In late breaking news, Carlos de Leon of the Brown Berets says today's meeting with Balcones Heights Mayor Suzanne de Leon concerning allegations of racial profiling by the Balcones Heights Police Department went well. He said he came out of the meeting hopeful that a solution can be found.
Carlos de Leon was joined by representatives from the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the Mexican American Catholic College. He says that Mayor Suzanne de Leon also had the city attorney and a city clerk present.
The Brown Berets’ de Leon says that part of the conversation was that if Police Chief Bill Stannard is shown to be involved, the city would call in outside sources to investigate, such as the Texas Rangers.
“The mayor told me that the police chief is strictly under her control and that they will take serious action [if Stannard is proved to be a part of the profiling],” said Carlos de Leon. He added that the mayor voiced the sentiment that Balcones Heights police should not be referring traffic violations to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement unless a driver has a criminal background.
The city attorney reportedly said that he is going to round up photos of all Balcones Heights officers so that complainants can have a chance to identify those who they would accuse of racial profiling. A notice is going out for complainants to fill out reports citing the dates and times of alleged incidents so that the city can look further into the matter. Carlos de Leon said the city attorney indicated that they are serious about stopping the negative press that the allegations have generated.
“What we’re trying to do, and it’s difficult to make people lose their fear, but hopefully now that they see city management is going to work with us… maybe that will give them more confidence that they won’t face retaliation,” said de Leon of the complainants who have so far been reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisals.
Chief Stannard told the Current last week that racial profiling is not going on in his department and said he would fire anyone he found to be engaged in such activity. Stay tuned…
Greg M. Schwartz
The Brown Berets attempted to hold a gathering at the Cesar E. Chavez Education and Learning Center on Friday for complainants to offer first-hand testimony of alleged racial profiling incidents in Balcones Heights. But a communication breakdown of some sort led to a meeting where no one showed up. Various second-hand reports have alleged that people have been pulled over in Balcones Heights since December for merely looking Hispanic.
Balcones Heights Police Chief Bill Stannard attributes an increase in traffic violations to the new Department of Public Safety computer system that went online statewide last fall, which allows police to check if vehicles have auto insurance by running their plates. However, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger says the DPS interpretation of the law doesn’t call for lack of insurance alone to be probable cause for pulling someone over.
“Our interpretation is this is designed for use after you’ve pulled a vehicle over [for another reason],” said Vinger. He added that enforcement action is not specifically addressed in the law that created the database, and that the DPS opinion is not binding on other law enforcement agencies.
Stannard originally said he tells his officers to try and have another violation to pull people over, “for a better probable cause.” He later left a message saying he “insists” no stops be made solely for insurance violations. But this is exactly what happened on December 18, when part-time officer Alan Langford pulled over a pickup truck on the 3300 block of Hillcrest because “a computer check showed the vehicle was not insured.”
Langford’s police report says driver Jaustino Martinez and passenger Sandra Bear failed to identify themselves, leading to detainment by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for further investigation. Bear turned out to be here legally, but Martinez was subsequently deported.
While Balcones Heights is not part of the “287(g)” program that allows participating departments to partner with ICE on immigrations enforcement, the agency’s Criminal Alien Program does allow for anyone who is detained for another reason without proper ID to be referred to ICE as a suspected alien.
“We do not act as ICE agents… the problem with it is we’ve got so many instances from accidents where they [drivers] don’t have insurance… that has spiked the amount of people we’ve picked up,” says Stannard. He noted that many of the drivers in these accidents are not Mexican, but Guatemalan or Honduran (for reasons he has been unable to ascertain). “What’s happening here is most of them… have documentation which is false, or none at all… so then what we do is try to identify them.”
Stannard also says his insurance agent told him that roughly 60 percent of drivers in Bexar County lack auto insurance, which could account for why there may be an unusually high number of traffic violaters being referred to ICE. It would also seem to account for why auto insurance rates in San Antonio are nearly as high as those in cities with higher costs of living such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“We want no part of the 287g program… because I don’t have time for it,” added Stannard. As to allegations that officers have pulled people over and told them it’s because they looked Mexican, Stannard says he wouldn’t stand for such behavior.
“I can guarantee you that doesn’t happen. My own kids are half-Hispanic. If I knew of an officer doing that, I would terminate him,” assured Stannard. He failed to respond to two subsequent messages asking if Langford had been reprimanded for pulling over a vehicle for only lacking insurance.
Greg M. Schwartz email@example.com
30-year-old small business owner and lifelong San Antonian John Carlos Garcia officially threw his hat into the ring for District 5 City Councilperson today, when he filed the official paperwork at the city clerk's office. Garcia says he feels he can “bring a fresh approach to local politics.” He joins what looks like a four-person field, with former zoning commissioner Eiginio Rodriguez and 2007 runner-up David Medina also challenging incumbent Lourdes Galvan.
Garcia has been running the J. Carlos Garcia Insurance Agency since 2002 and feels his combination of business experience and relative youth would be an asset to the district. Garcia estimated he’d probably have to raise $15-20,000 to be competitive in the race, but said he doesn’t think advertising will be the key to winning this election.
“I think this race is going to be won more on the ground,” said Garcia, noting that voter turnout is historically low in the district. Galvan won the 2007 District 5 race with just 1,434 votes, roughly 45 percent of the 3,164 votes cast. Total turnout in the 2007 citywide elections was just 86,000-plus, less than 13 percent of the registered electorate, according to the office of the city clerk’s canvassing report.
“The whole reason I’m running is I think that’s just horrible,” said Garcia of the low voter participation in District 5 and across the city. He believes his youthful energy can help him win, saying that he’s “just about the right age to get more people involved.”
“I think I can be more accessible,” said Garcia regarding how he thinks he can do the job better than Galvan. He said he thinks Galvan has done a fair job, but that he would be available to answer the phone at all hours, just as he does running his insurance business where he considers attentive customer service to be a top priority.
Garcia was in attendance last week at the District 5 town hall meeting held by Galvan, for residents to voice concerns about the problems they’ve been experiencing with the dust from the San Antonio Housing Authority’s low-income housing construction project on San Marcos Street. He said he felt the citizens were under-represented and that their questions were not clearly answered.
“I don’t think they did a real good job of comforting the community,” said Garcia. He said he felt reps from SAHA, TCEQ, Franklin Development and environmental engineering consultant Geo-Marine focused too much on saying that contaminants of concern were below regulatory protection levels rather than assuring residents that the area is absolutely safe.
“There was not a clear statement on whether it’s safe or not,” said Garcia. He agreed with concerns expressed at the meeting that TCEQ’s regulatory standards might not be as protective as citizens would reasonably hope.
“We have to review the processes and tests that have gone on… not just TCEQ, but EPA as a whole… If you go back to the ‘80s with the clean air acts, people didn’t realize what they really were [doing],” said Garcia of what some have come to view as an industry-led whitewashing of air quality standards, now known in the 21st-century as greenwashing.
“And if they [TCEQ] are greenwashing, these regulations can be changed, people can be voted out of office,” suggested Garcia in a refreshingly pro-active tone.
For what it’s worth, candidate Eiginio Rodriguez was also at the District 5 town hall meeting last week, asking questions that were skeptical of SAHA and TCEQ’s proclamations that residents had nothing to worry about. Meeting host Galvan asked no questions, at least not in public.
Overall, Garcia says economic development is an important issue, but that he would like to encourage it from within the city, to maximize local resources.
“We need to do things to encourage neighborhood crime watches, neighborhood associations are lacking in resources,” said Garcia. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil, if people aren’t showing up to these meetings, nothing gets done.”
Garcia says he hopes all District 5 candidates will participate in a debate on the issues and that the League of Women Voters wants to host one. Will incumbent Galvan agree to debate her challengers? Stay tuned.
First Friday's escalating popularity with a non-art-seeking crowd (which the Current reported on last July) continues to plague the residents of surrounding Southtown and King William, who believe that recent reports of violence at the 15-year-old monthly street festival are gang-related.
"I don't really think it's possible [gang activity]," said King William Association President Brad Shaw. "I think it's a fact."
Shaw says that a 911 call February 6 about a fight involving 40-50 people in a vacant lot near the corner of Madison and Beaureguard went unanswered because police were busy with an incident at the rodeo. A quick google turns up a video documenting a quick street fight during First Friday, dated May 5, 2008; a videographer's note attached to the clip refers to the participants as "crews" and mentions tagging. Shaw says he has confirmed at least one "Fight Club style video" recording a First Friday throwdown; the Current doesn't know yet if it's the same clip.
Residents are circulating a petition to end First Friday as we know it, although Shaw says that the serious problems happen after 10pm, long after most galleries close at 9pm. "I think there is a way to separate [the art walk] out," said Shaw, perhaps with a curfew and enforcement of noise levels. "But the neighbors are very scared."
The neighborhood has the attention of District 1 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros, who met with the King William Association last night. The Councilwoman has requested data regarding 911 and 311 calls and incident reports, and according to her campaign office has spoken in passing with the Chief about the possibility of sending the department's Tactical Response Unit to Southtown when the official art-walk portion of the evening ends. The SAPD confirmed that they have been in communication with the community about First Friday issues, and that San Antonio Fear Free Environment officers will be on patrol during March's event.
Shaw will be one of the speakers at a public meeting tonight at Bonham Elementary, 925 S. St. Mary's, at 6pm.
Bill Greehey and Patti Radle don't look like they have much in common. He's the hard-nosed former CEO of Valero and current chairman of NuStar Energy, and she's the West Side community activist and former council member who's basically the white-haired, hippie mom we all wish we had.
Unlikely duo though they may be, at yesterday's City Council B-session, it was obvious how chummy these two have become over the three years they've collaborated on the Haven for Hope project, with Greehey putting his arm around Radle and enthusiastically chatting her up.
Robert Marbut, Haven for Hope president and former District 8 Council member, filled in the Council on the homeless center's progress, citing the early success of the Public Safety Triage and Detox facility and saying that -- with 10 campus buildings yet to open, and future openings expected to happen at a rate of one per month -- the entire facility should be in operation by the end of the year.
Haven for Hope's original capital budget was $30 million, but the ambitious scope of the venture has pushed that figure up to $80 million, resulting in a $9-million shortfall. During yesterday's session, Mayor Phil Hardberger announced that Council members had scraped together some money from the $30 million bond-bonus discovered by City Manager Sheryl Sculley and her staff (forgotten, leftover funds from old bond projects that had been languishing in various bank accounts).
Upon hearing this, we fully expected to learn that the $9-million Haven deficit had been erased. No such luck. The 10 members of the Council were able to scrounge up a mere $1.5 million from the $30 million of bonus funds. Would it have really been so hard to use $9 million of this leftover bond money for Haven, and let the Council members divide up the rest? I suppose that would have been too easy, too logical, too smooth. Ultimately, this Council probably assumes that with the deep-pocketed and well-connected Greehey in charge, Haven will get by, with or without their generosity.
Finally, in the counting-chickens-before-they're-hatched category: Embattled District 1 Council member Mary Alice Cisneros -- maintaining a brave public face after a week of criticism over her apparent efforts to facilitate the City's sale of La Villita and Market Square -- assured Greehey and Radle that she would support Haven in her next term of office. This could qualify as locker-room pinup material for Chris Forbrich, Cisneros' electoral opponent.
Can't make the candidates' forum tonight at Jefferson High School -- featuring mayoral hopefuls, District 7 contenders, and SAISD board candidates? SA4mayor.com (motto: We keep them honest!) will be streaming the program live: 6:30pm.
By Greg Harman
You finally closed on the cutest little 3-2 bungalow on the corner of Ease Street & Tranquility Lane. But before you even get the shelf paper unwrapped a massive cooling tower rises from the earth with a rumble that sets your doublepanes askew.
Welcome to the Nuclear Neighborhood.
In the ongoing debate of nuclear power’s merits and demerits, Texas State geography professor Dr. Ronald R. Hagelman (left) addressed South Texas residents as part of the John W. Stormont Lecture Series at Victoria University.
His presentation, “Welcome to the Nuclear Neighborhood: Victoria ’s Future Through the Eyes of Other Nuclear Cities,” soon to be published in the Journal of South Texas Studies, is rooted primarily in the economic impact a nuclear power plant would likely have on Victoria County.
Exelon Energy has applied for a license to build and operate two plants in Victoria County.
Writes Tara Bozick for the Victoria Advocate:
Greg M. Schwartz
Allegations of racial profiling continue to dog the Balcones Heights Police Department, despite a denial of such activity from Police Chief Bill Stannard following a rally outside the department on February 9 where over 40 protestors gathered to accuse officers there of racial profiling in order to apprehend unauthorized immigrants.
Carlos De Leon, Minister of Information for the Brown Berets of San Antonio, has met with some of the alleged victims and says he’s hearing that officers are staking out a spot at I-10 and Crossroads Blvd and stopping people that look Hispanic.
“When they go into asking for immigration papers, even if you have a valid license and insurance, that’s a violation of civil liberties,” says De Leon. “That’s the issue we’re trying to fight.”
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, says that a police department needs to have a federal contract in order to enforce immigration warrants for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
“That would be totally off the wall [if it’s happening],” said Harrington, whose organization fights to protect civil liberties through education and litigation. He noted that the organization had recently won an injunction stopping similar immigration enforcement by police in Otero County in New Mexico, near the Texas border.
Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for ICE in Dallas, confirmed that in order for police to enforce immigration laws, their department has to have a signed memorandum of agreement with ICE. Rusnok referred to the agency’s 287(g) program, an ICE partnership initiative that allows state and local law enforcement entities to enter into a partnership with ICE. Under such agreement, officers who participate have to go through a four-week training program with ICE, followed by subsequent oversight from ICE.
However, the ICE web site indicates that only three Texas departments are currently involved with this program and that Balcones Heights is not one of them.
Rusnok says that persons who are arrested and taken to a detention facility may be referred as suspected aliens to ICE under the Criminal Alien Program. But this is far cry from allegations that Balcones Heights officers have actually been knocking on apartment doors to execute ICE warrants.
“People are afraid their families will be affected, so they want to wait to see what happens with the protests [before they speak out],” said the Brown Berets’ De Leon of why first hand accounts aren’t being offered yet. The Current is actively seeking contact from those who can relay first hand accounts and we will offer anonymity to anyone who is willing to speak to their experiences. But names and dates are needed in order to obtain police reports to verify such incidents.
De Leon described the case of one woman who alleges she was blackmailed out of roughly $4,000. He says she was pulled over by a narcotics officer who said she and her companion looked suspicious and immediately asked for immigration papers. The woman, who is an illegal immigrant, charges that the officer then demanded she come up with a cash payoff or face deportation proceedings. De Leon says she quickly sold some items to raise about $4,000 to pay off the officer.
De Leon cited another story of a man was driving his truck packed with personal items, since he intended to go back to Mexico. Upon being released after being stopped and detained, the man was told that his truck and all his belongings had been “misplaced.” De Leon further reports that he’s hearing the Balcones Heights PD have been escalating deportation processes by demanding detainees prove immigration status within a matter of hours or be deported.
Antonio Diaz of the Texas Indigenous Council says he’s been contacted with upwards of 20 complaints over the past two months. He said four of the people had been arrested and two deported. He said one traffic stop that turned into a violation for lack of insurance escalated into an immigration status check.
“It’s a hefty ticket, but doesn’t call for arrest,” said Diaz of a fine for lack of auto insurance. Diaz says he’s heard the reports of Balcones Heights officers knocking on apartment doors to execute warrants from ICE. He calls these violations of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, citing illegal search and seizure, incrimination of self, and equal protection under the law regardless of race.
“So none of these protections have been respected by the Balcones Heights Police Department,” said Diaz.
Javier Sanchez, a local activist and musician, reports another account of his cousin Lorenzo Sanchez’ wife Sandra Bear being detained. He related her account of riding in a vehicle with a co-worker and being stopped. When they asked why they were being pulled over, the officer allegedly told them straight out that it was because they are Mexican. Bear is a legal immigrant, but her co-worker wasn’t and was deported.
“Besides that it’s racist, it’s illegal because the cops do not have ICE training,” said Javier Sanchez. Lorenzo Sanchez confirmed the account, but said Bear was still reluctant to speak about it.
The police report by Officer Alan Langford from the December 18 incident says the vehicle was stopped when “a computer check showed the vehicle was not insured.” It says driver Jaustino Martinez “failed to identify himself and had no insurance.” It goes on to say that passenger Bear “also failed to identify herself. Both individuals were detained by ICE for further investigation.”
One semi-anonymous Balcones Heights officer, or someone acting as one, claims that it’s the part-time officers in the department who are engaging in racial profiling.
“The Balcones Heights PD regular Full-Time Officers are not playing these games with the people. We are busy being Professional Police Officers. It is the old, fat, bald, handicapped reserve officers who are playing police by practicing their racism,” said a commenter going by Edward3523 at the Express-News’s web site.
Stephen Walker, a Bexar County Justice of the Peace and former Balcones Heights city councilman, says the Balcones Heights PD only has about 12 full-time officers and around 20 slots for part-time reserves.
“I believe they come in 16 hours a month,” said Walker of the reserves, noting that they are paid a “paltry sum” for further hours. Walker says arrest stats that might indicate racial profiling were never out of order during his time on the council, but he expressed concern about what he’s hearing now.
“I was kind of surprised to hear [people] were claiming [police] were pulling them out,” said Walker of the allegations that officers had been taking people from their apartments on alleged immigration violations. Walker acknowledged that such actions, if true, would be contrary to department claims that officers are not acting as pseudo-ICE agents.
“They seem to be in a lockdown mentality, they panic when they see the media,” said Walker on his impression of department’s reaction to the controversy.
Long time activist Jaime Martinez, founder of the Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice, was in Washington D.C. recently to lobby federal officials on immigrant rights issues. Martinez and others spoke with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Secretary of Labor appointee Hilda Solis and German Trejo, chair of the LULAC National Immigration Affairs Commission. Martinez says the allegations of racial profiling in Balcones Heights tie directly to those issues.
“We want a moratorium to stop the deportation and raids of hard-working immigrant families and to stop the incarceration of children,” said Martinez, referring to the Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas where children have been among those detained in prison-like conditions. Martinez and associates also lobbied for creation of a pathway to citizenship.
“We don’t want immigration reform to be put under the carpet,” said Martinez in reference to the many issues on the Obama administration’s overloaded agenda. “The [political] atmosphere has scapegoated hard-working immigrants… since 9/11.”
“We are going to continue to protest until they stop… they are not trained as border patrol and that should not be happening in our own backyard,” said Martinez of the allegations in Balcones Heights.
Historically, the line between voter suffrage and outright stupidity has been a thin one. Although crowds casting their vote may be the ultimate expression of a democratic government, large gatherings of people are also unpredictable, rash in their decision-making, and easy to manipulate.
Even a rather mediocre president was able to extend his term in this country by whipping up rather improbable fears of terrorists under their beds and jihadists in their pantries.
And even more improbably, it worked.
It should come as no surprise that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez won a referendum yesterday on abolishing term limits by using a similar tack. By exploiting fears that social programs might end if someone else were allowed to rule, he was able to secure a third term as president.
Quite frank in his aspirations to rule Venezuela until 2019, the former coup leader has led the nation for more than a decade. During that time, he has made decisions that stretch, bend, and sometimes break the constraints of democratic government.
Rather than step down after two terms and allow a successor unlimited reelection, he basically found a legal way to assume the presidency for life. Chavez has learned a lesson that any up-and-coming autocrats would do well to jot down: If you make it law, then your actions aren't illegal.
Is a TV station highly critical of your policies? Send your goons to shut it down; under Venezuelan law, the government can extend and rescind broadcasting licenses with little explanation.
Does your country's constitution only allow for two consecutive terms but you just have to have that third term? Get a majority to support you and go right ahead and do it.
These actions are legal, but it doesn't make them right.
If a majority of the American public supported a repeal of the First Amendment, and Congress were to vote to repeal it, this would be quite legal. It would be far from just, but it would be quite legal.
At the risk of repeating what so many others have written before, some of the most repressive regimes in the world began their political lives as democratic reformers.
Robert Mugabe was the first black president of Zimbabwe, and his rule was expected to transform that nation from a repressive apartheid system into a model for Africa. Almost 30 years on the results are ghastly, with inflation running high and an ever-increasing death toll.
Leaders such as Chavez and Mugabe, strongmen who bully entire societies, can only get away with these crimes as long as the rest of the world doesn't pay attention. So listen up.
The controversy surrounding the San Antonio Housing Authority’s low-income housing project on San Marcos Street continues to grow, with SAHA’s partners now admitting that they dug up some other contaminated soil,in addition to the coal ash they excavated, and let that highly toxic soil sit around uncovered for several days before they carted it off.
District 5 Councilperson Lourdes Galvan had convened the town hall meeting last night for her constituents to have the opportunity to question reps from SAHA, construction partner Franklin Development, environmental testing consultant Geo-Marine and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The various reps from all of those partners actually outnumbered the quantity of District 5 residents on hand, giving the meeting something of a slanted feel.
SAHA keeps speaking about being a good neighbor, with Board Chairman Ramiro Cavazos giving an extended elocution about how SAHA just wants to help the city by creating these 252 units of low-income housing.
“We are a poor community… the inner city deserves to have new development that’s safe,” said Cavazos. “Let’s not let fear or innuendo guide our decision making as a city.”
No one objects to the concept of new low-income housing on the near West side in theory though, but rather to SAHA’s questionable execution of the project.
Franklin COO Ryan Wilson then stepped up to say “We enjoy the scrutiny,” suggesting his company’s top concern is the public health. Wilson then claimed that “Not one thing has been found to be above applicable [state protection] levels.”
Franklin and environmental consultant Geo-Marine have steadfastly maintained that the excavated coal ash wasn’t actually toxic since their tests showed “constituents of concern” to be below TCEQ protection levels. Ongoing controversy had been generated by the 8,500 cubic yards of coal ash that Franklin dug up at the site this fall and let sit around uncovered for about three weeks, giving that dust a chance to blow around, with neighbors near the site suffering the blowback and reporting a variety of health problems.
When questioned about what Franklin did to prevent the coal ash from blowing into the air, Wilson basically said that those constituents of concern were at low enough levels for Franklin not to care. But it was admitted that Franklin only covered the coal ash when it was time to remove it from the site.
A new question was raised last night about a May 23, 2007, memo from Geo-Marine to TCEQ and Franklin reporting four soil samples contaminated with benzo(a)pyrene — above TCEQ protection levels — that was also dug up. Benzo(a)pyrene is a highly toxic substance that the EPA rates at a maximum contaminant level of two parts per billion in drinking water.
Franklin and Geo-Marine admitted that 1.8 cubic yards worth of the soil contaminated with benzo(a)pyrene was dug up at the end of September, and then allowed to sit around uncovered for “less than four days,” with watering being the only mitigation measure taken to try and prevent it from blowing about, just as with the coal ash. Geo-Marine’s Mark Norman attempted to minimize concern by comparing the amount to roughly a pick-up truck’s load. None of the reps on hand seemed to think this was much of an issue.
I don’t know about you San Antonio, but if someone told me there was some toxic soil that needed to be removed from my backyard, I would think that it would be important to have it immediately deposited in a closable container and contain it!
Another issue raised was the controversial Synthetic Precipitation Leachate Procedure that Geo-Marine’s Norman used to clear the coal ash of concerns over four heavy metal contaminants that coal ash is generally known to contain — arsenic, lead, chromium and selenium. All four tested above TCEQ protection levels in October before Norman ordered the SPLP test that brought them back below those levels, allowing Franklin to claim that nothing in the coal ash is above a state protection level and enabling SAHA to say that its “within the letter of the law” on the project.
But Neil Carman, Clean Air Director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, has said the SPLP is “a phony test” that is “pretty much guaranteed to find no problem.” That view is supported by a January 2006 article in the Environmental Engineering Science journal, which reported a study that found the SPLP would “underestimate possible risk in most cases.” The article was co-authored by an EPA employee.
When questioned about these dissenting views on the SPLP, SAHA Director of Real Estate Services Brad McMurray suggested that SAHA’s collection of experts from Geo-Marine and TCEQ outweigh the opinions of “one guy” and “one journal article.”
Moving along, one of the District 5 residents appealed for a medical trailer to be brought to the Pendleton Street neighborhood adjacent to the site in order to enable health screenings to take place. He suggested that few of the residents in the neighborhood had the time and resources to journey on their own to the University of Texas Health Science Center, where SAHA has been offering screenings and expressing surprise at why no one has taken them up on it (they’ve also been requiring a full medical history and surrender of doctor/patient privilege.)
SAHA Interim President and CEO Major General Alfred Valenzuela responded that he thought this was an “awesome” idea. But this begs the question of why it hasn’t already happened then, if the General really thinks it’s such an awesome idea.
Another resident than spoke out about what he said was another contaminated construction project in the city, although he didn’t care to identify it for some reason. “I’m tired of all these cover-ups,” he said.
Former Zoning Commissioner and current District 5 council candidate Eiginio Rodriguez spoke up next, saying the preceding man was trying to show a pattern in regards to TCEQ’s standards. Rodriguez asked that the EPA be informed of the situation regarding the SAHA site, and Valenzuela gave an affirmative response.
“Obviously, there’s still a few questions that need to be answered,” said Councilwoman Lourdes Galvan at the conclusion of the meeting, underscoring the way in which the residents of the neighborhood remain unsatisfied with current state of the situation. Galvan did confirm support for a medical screening trailer to be brought to the Pendleton Street neighborhood, with personnel that speak both English and Spanish.
A tale of ignoble pursuits and silence at Bexar Probation
The jury came down in favor of the City of San Antonio in John Foddrill's whistleblower case, answering "no" to the question: Did John Foddrill make a good-faith report of a violation of law?
I'm not surprised, I'm sorry to say, not because expensive hijinks weren't taking place in the Information Technology Services Department, but because plaintiff's attorney Malinda Gaul seemed to be having a difficult time putting a complicated case together in a cohesive way for the jury. The City's defense team, on the other hand, was much more concise and aggressive in its arguments. As is often the case, Foddrill wasn't always a model employee, especially once his department began to respond negatively to his complaints of mismanagement by reassigning him and undermining his management authority -- but an old (Gene Wilder? Groucho Marx?) quip might apply by analogy here: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
More to the point now: What will happen to the current COSA employees that testified on Foddrill's behalf, i.e., that he was a good manager (from a woman who competed for the job he landed), that he was a more than competent colleague, that other employees committed the same mistakes or oversights that Foddrill committed, but weren't fired or even reprimanded for them. Off-the-record conversations with other current employees suggest that the department still has serious mismanagement issues, but the likelihood that someone will take the risk of speaking out just diminished substantially.
Also disturbing: the precedent set by some of the City's arguments and witnesses, which you can find listed in short form here. In short: forget your dad's ol' walks-like-a-duck, talks-like-a-duck advice.
Mind you, I'm not picking on the jury; they can only work with the pieces of the story they're given, and certainly there were times during the portions of the trial I attended that I felt frustration on their behalf; this wasn't exactly a glamor trial, and the details could be numbing -- eyes wandered, a head or two nodded -- during the first day Judge Arteaga encouraged the jury off the record to use the afternoon break to seek out caffeine.
If you were interested in seeing how a municipality cleans up after itself, on the other hand, it was fascinating. If you see something, don't say something.
By Gilbert Garcia
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republicans delighted in mocking Barack Obama for his numerous "present" votes in the Illinois State Senate. But a "present" vote still constitutes participation in the process, and that's more than we can say for Texas Senator John Cornyn, who skipped out on yesterday's cloture vote on the economic stimulus package, in favor of hobnobbing at a New York GOP fundraiser.
The cloture vote passed 61-36, and Brian Walsh, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman, defended Cornyn by saying: "His vote wouldn't have had any consequence."
That's a great statement for the American electoral process. By this logic, none of us should ever vote, since it's unlikey our single ballot will decide any election.Since Cornyn will probably never cast the deciding vote on any piece of legislation, he might as well spend the rest of his term sunning in the Bahamas. Finally, it doesn't speak well for Cornyn that Ted Kennedy — who continues to recover from a brain tumor diagnosed last year — made it to the Senate floor last night, even though his vote was not essential.
In response to fears of a zombie Pancho Villa, some Texas lawmakers have proposed crafting a plan to address the potential collapse of the Mexican government and what that would mean for the state.
“You hope for the best, plan for the worst,” said Katherine Cesinger, a spokesperson for Governor Perry's office.
Fears of a tidal wave of refugees fleeing a new Mexican Revolution came about after a State Department report last year fingered Pakistan and Mexico as unstable governments which could potentially collapse. Drug-related violence in northern Mexico claimed over 200 lives in the first month of 2009, and border cities like El Paso are already seeing refugees showing up.
As if Republicans weren't already afraid of Hispanics crossing the border en masse, state officials say a nightmare scenario would mean a humanitarian crisis with thousands of refugees streaming across the border.
According to Cesinger, the plan is still in its early stages and mainly deals with law enforcement. Other issues, such as humanitarian needs, have not been discussed yet.
Tony Payan, a political science prof at UT-El Paso, has suggested that Texan state officials talk frente a frente with their Mexican counterparts in order to prevent any sort of destabilization from occurring in Mexico. He said that state and local leaders in the two countries often mistrust one another despite having good knowledge of the situation on the ground.
We just hope that this resurgence of zombis revolucionarios doesn't lead to Nazi zombies wanting a piece of the action as well. Then we'll all have to flee into Oklahoma, and who knows if they have a plan in place.
Remember those commercials about five years ago that compared SUV drivers to terrorist enablers? Every time you gassed up your Suburban was the equivalent of high-fiving Bin Laden or buying Muammar Ghadaffi a beer, they said.
However, with the advent of fuel-efficient hybrids, we're not funding terrorism and carnage any more, right? Not Middle Eastern terrorism and carnage, anyways.
Aside from that nice young mailman your grandma ran over when she forgot where the park gear in her Prius was located, hybrids haven't killed anybody ... yet. However, all that could change if the world's business and political interests converge on a desolate, sun-baked Bolivian wasteland known as the Salar de Uyuni.
Known as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” Bolivia has half of the world's known deposits. Once only used for specialized products such as anti-psychotic medications, lithium is now a vital part of electronics we use every day such as cell phones and laptop computers. The demand for lithium is expected to increase dramatically in the next decade, and several companies are hungry to get their hands on Bolivian lithium.
Leading the charge are car manufacturers. Demands for increased mileage and alternative fuel options have led all the major manufacturers to develop hybrid vehicles. However, the batteries that help power these vehicles contain lithium, which means the mineral has just gained added value.
Not so fast, says Bolivian president Evo Morales. Known for his opposition to foreign exploitation of Bolivian resources, Morales has limited mining in the lithium fields and supports tribal groups in their efforts to collect some of the revenues from mining operations on their lands.
The new Bolivian constitution, which was approved on February 2, nationalizes certain mineral resources and gives a greater share of the revenue from resources to Indian groups, while placing greater restrictions on mining by foreign companies.
Add to this the fact that the wealthier states in Bolivia have attempted to secede because of the central government cutting into their mining revenues, and you have the perfect recipe for a Bolivian civil war.
Most of 2008 was marred by riots and killings between pro-government groups and anti-government movements, and 2009 doesn't look any better. The deep divide between rich and poor in Bolivia fuels civil unrest, and when there's money to be made from a valuable mineral, you can expect violence to follow.
So think about that before you go out and buy a hybrid.
Powerful countries have a way of getting the resources they want, even when governments stand in the way. Guatemala interfered with America's banana supply in 1954, and had its government overthrown. The same went for Iran in 1952.
As innocuous and endearingly ugly as it may be, the Toyota Prius may be the vehicle for destabilization in South America.
Greg M. Schwartz
“Hey Hardberger, whatta ya say? We want clean energy and we want it today!”
“Hey hey, ho ho, nuclear energy’s got to go!”
These were two of the boisterous chants from members and supporters of the Southwest Workers Union as they demonstrated in front of City Hall yesterday afternoon.
SWU was there to deliver an open letter to Mayor Hardberger and members of City Council, in which the union pleads for the city to back off of its support for CPS Energy’s ongoing plan to expand the STP nuclear project.
“[We ] call on the City officials to follow through on its vision of sustainability by adopting binding commitments to implement a free low-income weatherization program, abandon its nuclear path, mandate transparency on the part of CPS Energy and the allocation of rate-payer dollars, and take immediate steps towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” read the letter.
After two years of stalling, Hardberger finally threw his hat in the nuclear ring last month when he joined his fellow CPS board members in authorizing another $60 million investment toward the nuclear expansion project. A final decision on whether CPS will go through with the investment is set for this fall.
The SWU members and supporters held artful banners across the stairway to City Hall with various anti-nuke messages, while also chanting a variety of slogans.
It’s only too bad they didn’t have a naked PETA model taking a shower, or they might have drawn more media attention. The TV camera crews on hand were just a fraction of those present earlier in the day for PETA’s action on vegetarianism at the Alamo.
Some demonstrators also wore puppet heads, with one that looked like Hardberger and another that was three-eyed and lime green from the type of radioactivity that one might associate with Montgomery Burns’ nuclear plant on The Simpsons. SWU Environmental Justice Organizer Diana Lopez said the puppet show portrayed the two-faced actions of Hardberger.
“We’ve got to tell Mayor Hardberger that we [San Antonio] don’t want to invest any more money at STP,” said Lopez. She chastised Hardberger for trying to make himself seem like an environmentalist with his Mission Verde project while simultaneously backing the CPS nuclear plans.
“It [nuclear power] costs a lot of money for the ratepayers of San Antonio,” added Lopez about the financial issues of nuclear power. She said SWU and a number of student supporters will be headed to Washington D.C. at the end of the month for the Power Shift conference, where they’ll attempt to lobby their Congressional reps to stand up for environmental solutions and against supporting nuclear energy.
SWU also passed out flyers imploring citizens to ask city leaders to oppose the CPS nuclear plans by phoning or e-mailing Mayor Hardberger at 210-207-7060 or firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as City Council members at 210-207-7040 and the CPS Board of Directors at 210-353-2787 or MJBraggs@cpsenergy.com.
Lopez said SWU was also signing on to a letter protesting federal loan subsidies for nuclear power plants, an issue currently being debated nationally, after the Senate Appropriations Committee inserted $50 billion of loan guarantees into their version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 last week. Such loan guarantees would likely be used for nuclear subsidies. CPS Energy has made no secret of the fact that those loan guarantees are one of the primary factors in whether they will go through with the STP expansion.
Democracy Now hosted a heated debate today between independent journalist and longtime anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman and Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace co-founder and now member of the pro-nuke Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. They sparred over all of the nuclear issues, especially on the question of that $50 billion in federal loans. View the debate at:
By Gilbert Garcia
Yesterday was a fairly slow day for the state legislature, but they did take time to recognize the February 2 passing of retired San Antonio firefighter Tomas (T.T.) Moreno, at the age of 59. As SAFD Legislative Director/PAC Chairman, Moreno was a fixture at the Capitol over the years, and grew especially close to Senator Mario Gallegos, Jr. (D-Houston), a fellow former firefighter, who spoke on the Senate floor about Moreno's years of service.
In Moreno's honor, the lege adjourned for the week shortly after 12 noon. At the end of the afternoon, Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) was making calls on behalf of Moreno's family to his ex-colleagues, to make certain that he received a proper firefighter's burial. Several legislators are expected at his funeral.
Former COSA Telecom Manager John Foddrill's lawsuit against the City for wrongful termination is in its fourth day. The Current has been sitting through most of the proceedings, and watching the City's (quite competent) legal team bend history to its will has prompted a few observations:
Advice for would-be COSA whistleblowers
a. Have an immaculate employment record
b. Conduct the investigation yourself
c. Keep it to yourself**
How to identify the management level of City employees on the witness stand
candid = low-level manager
obfuscatory, with frequent short-term memory lapses = mid-level manager
charming faux candid = top management
Budget Director Peter Zanoni comes across as a pretty idiot savant who can't address minutiae about the budget with any clarity, but seems to be thinking deep thoughts of some sort (mathematical, maybe) inside that Law & Order Central Casting suit and haircut. (Lavender, diagonal power-stripe tie: A no surrender/no retreat response to today's bummer budget news from the City Manager's office?)
Former Municipal Integrity Manager Virginia Quinn gets the Ronald Reagan award for her ability to recall convenient details with razor-sharp clarity (including the sort of hearsay that the defense wouldn't think of tolerating from plaintiff-friendly witnesses) while repeatedly pulling out "I'm sorry I can't recall ..." when inconvenient truths were within grasp.
The testimony so far looks like an unraveled Persian rug, and this audience member is beginning to wonder when plaintiff's attorney Malinda Gaul will begin weaving it into a coherent pattern. But a few key points do appear to be coalescing on both sides of the suit: Other managers in Foddrill's department were reportedly guilty of the same alleged management mistakes used to justify his termination, but they weren't even disciplined, much less fired. COSA, meanwhile, is arguing that Foddrill wasn't the source of the telephone-variable discovery (although Quinn couldn't recall the investigation that tipped her off to it, in some of her most disingenuous-sounding testimony), and even if he was, there really wasn't a problem with using the telephone variable to pay for unrelated expenses as long as they "benefit the entire city." Which apparently even a trophy case does. (I know. I could riff on that for a good 5 minutes, but I'll let you have the fun.)
**Kidding, of course. Email your friendly investigative reporters at the Current: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Can Texans ever be expected to give up eating meat? It would seem doubtful in a state famous for such tasty Tex-Mex cuisine, barbecue and steaks. But you have to hand it to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for coming up with a strategy that’s at least gaining some attention to the cause of vegetarianism, if not so many conversions.
The PETA folks were out at the Alamo yesterday for an action that sought to demonstrate how vegetarianism can help save water and battle global warming.
It looked like every TV news crew in town was lined up at Alamo Plaza to get footage of slender PETA volunteer Kelly Anderson taking an outdoor shower to get out the vegetarian message.
Anderson was covered only by strip of shower curtain with messages like “Clean Your Conscience: Go Vegetarian,” “One pound of meat = 2,463 gallons of water” and “One pound pound of meat = six months of showers.”
“People are shocked when they learn how resource intensive meat production is,” said PETA Environmental Campaigns Coordinator Colleen Higgins.
“It’s a great way to draw attention to a very important subject,” said Higgins when asked about the strategy of using a scantily clad woman taking a shower to get out the message.
Higgins, who came in from Atlanta to spearhead the action, said she had planned to be the one in the shower herself until Anderson called from Austin to volunteer. The tour will continue through Texas and Louisiana.
“It’s a high traffic location, a very effective way of reaching the most amount of people possible,” responded Higgins when asked by a TV reporter about why they were holding such an action at the revered Alamo site.
Higgins and company passed out “Vegetarian Starter Kit” magazines with tips on vegetarian eating as well as endorsements from celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Queen Amidala (aka Natalie Portman), Spiderman (aka Toby Maguire), Forest Whitaker, Pamela Anderson, Joaquin Phoenix, the Dalai Lama and more. The magazines also included literature on how the meat industry affects global warming, pollution and energy use.
The lit said that a 2006 U.N. report found the meat industry is responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined. It also said researchers at the University of Chicago have determined that going vegetarian is more effective in countering global warming than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid, and that more than 90 percent of all Amazon rainforest land cleared since 1970 is used for meat production.
Higgins doesn’t expect everyone to turn vegetarian overnight and advised folks to start slow. She also said eating vegetarian has been shown to lower risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
“With the amount of steroids and hormones in meat, it’s not healthy at all,” added Higgins. She said that San Antonio has some quality vegetarian restaurants, but I have to report that you’ll be hard pressed to find any around Alamo Plaza or the Riverwalk.
After the action, I felt my usual urge to grab some chili con carne at Casa Rio, as I often do when I have downtown business in the mid-afternoon. But after viewing the PETA action, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ve been working on cutting back my meat consumption ever since I first saw that rainforest stat in 1998, and while I still enjoy eating meat, I endeavor not to eat it all the time. I didn’t find much in the way of vegetarian cuisine downtown though, and wound up settling for a salad. This is not to say I won’t be back for some chili con carne next week, but it just felt inappropriate yesterday.
While it may be difficult to find tasty vegetarian cuisine in downtown San Antonio, your grocery store is another matter. The PETA vegetarian starter kit suggests trying the ever-growing lineup of mock meats available at grocery stores, such as veggie burgers, chik’n patties, pseudo-buffalo wings and veggie corn dogs from makers like Morningstar Farms and Boca. I’ve been eating all of these at home for years. The key is to get the ones made with soy, which does a fair approximation of meat’s taste and texture, then add your usual condiments. Watch out for veggie burgers made with mushrooms, which tend to be mushy and bland. Mock-meat products also tend to be cheaper than their meat equivalents, an added benefit in these economically challenging times.
PETA tried to launch their vegetarian message on a national level with a racy Super Bowl commercial suggesting that vegetarians have better sex. But the spot was rejected by NBC censors, who said the ad “depicts a level of sexuality exceeding our standards.”
The rejection suggests NBC may well be in cahoots with the meat industry. The PETA commercial features “a bevy of beauties who are powerless to resist the temptation of veggie love,” using vegetables in some sexually suggestive ways. NBC objected to “rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin,” and a woman "screwing herself with broccoli," but I fail to see any broccoli being used in such a way.
Meanwhile, NBC had no problem airing a salacious GoDaddy.com commercial during the Super Bowl that featured a computer geek taking voyeuristic pleasure in using some kind of mind-control to make race car babe Danica Patrick take multiple showers. It was certainly one of the more intriguing Super Bowl spots, but its airing suggests blatant discrimination by NBC against PETA.
So do vegetarians have better sex? “They do,” said PETA’s Higgins when posed the question, although there was no reasoning given for why. Perhaps further research is in order.
Would-be City whistleblower John Foddrill, whose case is before the court this week, might get a fair trial at the Bexar County Courthouse, but our daily paper, which had declined to cover his case until this week, seems uninterested in the whole truth, etc. I met the reporter who wrote today's Metro-section story at the trial yesterday, and he seemed like a nice guy. Usually covers military news, he said. And I understand that military tribunals don't run quite like our civilian courts.
But, honestly. A cursory examination of the coverage available in the public realm makes one thing abundantly clear: the City's own documents, including an in-house memo and audit reports, tell the tale of a telephone-variable slush fund and padded City contracts. At issue is whether Foddrill is really a whistleblower who tried to expose fraud and abuse the City was trying to cover up, or a disgruntled, underperforming employee who's trying to recast his firing as retribution.
The E-N's story, however, makes it sound like the allegations of municipal fraud and mismanagement could be Foddrill's invention. And when it mentions that former City Auditor Pete Gonzales, who helped the E-N with ITS OWN investigative story into the playground-audit scandal -- an example of City staff trying to hide its misdeeds while applying a half-assed in-house corrective -- will be a witness later this week, it identifies him only as "former City Auditor Pete Gonzales Jr., who resigned last year under pressure from the City Council," leaving the reader to guess why Gonzales's testimony might be relevant to Foddrill's case.
One of the things it gets right, albeit in the same shortsighted fashion, is that the list of expected witnesses includes former Municipal Integrity Manager Virginia Quinn. You can read her Cover Your Ass memo here (scroll down to "Parse this_") and look for more analysis of the case to date in tomorrow's QueQue.
It’s a good time to be talking green jobs — specifically the solar variety — in San Antonio.
First, super-bad CPS Energy adopts a resolution in favor of transitioning to a decentralized power model, a critical first step toward a future where our electricity is made on the rooftops of homes across the city (instead of polluting power plants).
Next, Mayor Hardberger unleashes his vision for “Mission Verde,” which starts by turning the city’s power grid into a two-way street ripe for homemade power, and ends with “green” jobs training programs and hyper-efficient building codes.
Then solar goes apeshit in Austin.
Already this session, lawmakers have filed 15 bills seeking to expand solar energy use in the state, according to Texas Legislature Online. (Solar advocates count “at least” 18 bills.)
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind. – Bob Dylan, 1962
No one’s died yet, but health complaints on San Antonio’s near West Side continue to mount in the wake of the coal ash that’s been dug up by the San Antonio Housing Authority and partner Franklin Development from their construction project on San Marcos Street. SAHA intends to build a 252-unit low-income housing complex at the site, but neighbors on adjacent Pendleton Street continue to be plagued with problems.
Franklin and their environmental consultant, Geo-Marine, continue to argue that the coal ash is not actually toxic because “constituents of concern” are below the state health protection levels determined by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. This allows SAHA to maintain that the project is following “the letter of the law.”
But evidence that those TCEQ protection levels fail to protect the public continues to mount. Forty-one-year-old mechanic and Pendleton Street resident Richard Ramirez spent eight days at University Hospital last month after contracting a lung infection. He said last week that a doctor told him his arsenic levels are unusually high. Ramirez’ lack of health insurance has made it difficult for him to obtain a primary doctor that could be consulted on his condition, as he gets bounced around the medical system.
A 2008 Geo-Marine test indicated that arsenic was one of four toxic heavy metals present in the coal ash above both the Texas-Specific Background Concentration for Soils, as well as the Tier 1 Residential Soil Protective Concentration Level. Following those results, Geo-Marine Senior Project Manager Mark Norman ordered the controversial Synthetic Precipitation Leachate Procedure (SPLP), a test which returned numbers below the state Protection Concentration Levels for all four metals.
The SPLP is a method that Neil Carman – Clean Air Director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter – says is a “sham” that “is pretty much guaranteed to find no problem.” That view is supported by a study in the journal Environmental Engineering Science , which reported in 2006 that the SPLP was “found to underestimate possible risk in most cases.” Carmen, who used to work in enforcement at TCEQ, also told the Current that the TCEQ protection levels in question “are not really protective of the public. They’re protective of industry pocketbooks.”
Salvador Flores, 36, says he starting working for Franklin’s construction crew at the site in August but quit in September after his health declined.
“I started feeling hot and coughing up all kinds of shit. They never notified me that the stuff was contaminated,” said Flores, who also described feeling pressure in his lungs and having trouble breathing. He says he was driving a front-end loader in an open cab, loading the soil that had been dug up, but finally decided he’d had enough and informed his boss — Richard Guajardo of Guajardo Construction — that something was wrong.
“I told [Guajardo] that I felt sick,” says Flores of the Saturday afternoon that he left. When he called back on Monday morning to talk, Guajardo wouldn’t discuss it and told him to just stay home, Flores says. When queried last week, Guajardo said he would look up the work records but did not get back to the Current by press time.
Dayna DeHoyos, a 29-year-old artist and executive curator of the Stella Haus Art Space at Blue Star, has lived on Pendleton Street all her life. The home she shares with her mother is the next one over from Richard Ramirez’ house, directly adjacent to the SAHA site. She says that back in the ‘90s, SAHA wanted to buy the houses on her side of the driveway into the site, but that they only offered an absolute minimum that wouldn’t have enabled anyone to buy a new house.
DeHoyos says she and her mother have been feeling sick and that there’s been constant dust on her porch and car. DeHoyos filed a complaint with TCEQ after she read the Current’s January 21 story, and called District 5 City Councilperson Lourdes Galvan, who set up a meeting between SAHA, herself, DeHoyos, and Fred Perry, who first sounded the alarm about the coal ash after he became ill when dust from the site infiltrated his adjacent warehouse.
DeHoyos says her hopes for the meeting were quickly dashed when SAHA Interim President and CEO Major General Alfred Valenzuela and other SAHA personnel exchanged hugs and kisses with Galvan.
“So I knew it was a losing situation the moment I walked in,” said DeHoyos. Still, she voiced her concerns about the discrepancy in testing done in the ‘90s and 2008, asking why it’s safer now. She also asked what precautions were being taken to keep the dust from spreading into the community.
“Basically, that’s when the interrupting started happening and I really couldn’t finish talking,” said DeHoyos. She says SAHA reps basically clung to the idea that the project has been “within the letter of the law,” even when she asked why so many people are voicing concern if there isn’t anything to look at?
DeHoyos says she was told that construction will keep going on but that SAHA is thinking of getting maid services for the community to clean up the dust. “That really upset me – I don’t trust just anyone to come into my house, so that’s absolutely not something I want,” said DeHoyos.
DeHoyos says the SAHA personnel were nice to her but that she told them she was appalled at the hostility they were showing to Perry. She says Valenzuela then objected to the term hostility. DeHoyos says she was also propositioned by SAHA COO Deborah Flach to act as a community liaison of sorts on the issue. “It felt like she was trying to say ‘We want to give you a special relationship so that you’ll like us more.’ It felt wrong,” said DeHoyos.
“Ms. DeHoyos mentioned that many of the homeowners on Pendleton Street were senior citizens that have lived in the area for many years, and that she has grown up there as well,” responded Flach. “In that same conversation, Ms. DeHoyos also mentioned that many of the neighbors had some health concerns but were hesitant in speaking with SAHA. I then suggested that maybe she could be the point person/liaison to work with them since she was a familiar face that they trusted.”
DeHoyos said the question of medical testing for those in the neighborhood was also brought up, but that like Fred Perry, she has no interest in surrendering doctor/patient privilege, as SAHA would require.
When queried about the current status of the situation in an e-mail, Valenzuela responded that “SAHA has conducted many different tests at the site, all with the same results that there are no health concerns at the site.” He failed to acknowledge a question regarding the Sierra Club’s criticism of TCEQ’s regulatory standards.
As the Current reported two weeks ago [see “Dust mights,” January 21], the SAHA site was shut down in 1998 after the discovery of toxic coal ash from the former Swift meat packing plant. But TCEQ gave the site a green light in 2006 and Franklin spent this past fall excavating some of that coal ash, allowing it to blow around the neighborhood in the process, say neighbors.
“As of now, Franklin Development and SAHA have met all the requirements that TCEQ requires. However, my main concern is ensuring that my District 5 residents are safe and that the communities we build are safe,” said Councilwoman Galvan in a statement. “I am on top of this matter and will continue to be until we are absolutely positive that the Swift property is free of contaminates that could potentially harm my constituents.” Galvan said she would host a town hall meeting where residents can talk to representatives from Franklin Development, SAHA and TCEQ.
Someone who appears to possibly be more on top of the matter than Galvan is her District 5 opponent, former Zoning Commissioner Eiginio Rodriguez. Rodriguez visited the neighborhood on a recent Saturday afternoon to speak with residents about the matter and engaged Richard and Adriana Ramirez, as well as this reporter, in conversation for more than an hour.
Rodriguez seemed to demonstrate sincere compassion for the less fortunate as he related tales of other questionable municipal actions around town. He cited the Haven for Hope homeless shelter project, describing an eminent domain situation where he said residents by the site had been told to negotiate or have their homes condemned.
“That’s what I’m afraid will happen to us,” responded Adriana Ramirez.
TCEQ, meanwhile, has become increasingly evasive regarding the entire matter. After Franklin COO Ryan Wilson objected to certain characterizations of the remediation process that this reporter attributed to an interview with TCEQ project manager Rick Ciampi, the Current sought further clarification from Ciampi on the matter. Ciampi originally promised he’d send answers in a subsequent e-mail by January 20, but never did. When queried about Ciampi’s disappearance, TCEQ media-relations person Andrea Morrow replied “We've given you all the information and offered you all the background data. That's all we intend to do.”
When a prison riot in a remote far West Texas prison broke out last weekend — the second in two months — CNN offered a truly anemic report.
“Officials said they do not know what prompted the riots,” the broadcaster reported just a couple grafs before saying, “The inmates, who had made several demands, surrendered later that night.”
Could it be that the demands were somehow relevant to the precipitating cause?
I’m thinking of the Minutemen album What Makes a Man Start Fires, now. Cause and effect, etc.
CNN’s report didn’t reference the earlier riot. No mention of the original complaint about poor health care. Nothing about the private corporation’s dead-inmate problem or extensive lawsuits and canceled contracts.
I'd be more willing to blame it all on the curse of the 24-hour news cycle if online sources of information about this jail and it's operator weren't so easy to find. Thankfully, when primary sources won’t talk, as apparently happened out in Pecos with local, state, and jail officials lockstepping in silence, reporters have lots of other avenues for information. There are primary documents, like audits, letters, and tax returns. And we have each other.
In this case, it’s as simple as checking the company’s name (GEO Group) with a few online search engines.
Had CNN done this, they would have known of the first riot, of the health care concerns, and of this company’s horrendous history.
GEO, formerly Wackenhut, was recently kicked out of Australia, New Zealand, and the fine state of Idaho.
Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast checked out their corporate docs back in 2007:
Through our Australian subsidiary, we previously had a contract with the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, or DIMIA, for the management and operation of Australia’s immigration centers. In 2003, the contract was not renewed, and effective February 29, 2004, we completed the transition of the contract and exited the management and operation of the DIMIA centers.In early 2005, the New Zealand Parliament repealed the law that permitted private prison operation resulting in the termination of our contract for the management and operation of the Auckland Central Remand Prison or Auckland. We have operated this facility since July 2000. We ceased operating the facility upon the expiration of the contract on July 13, 2005.
One way to measure the state of the global economy is by counting the number of Latin American autocrats in power.
Wall Street’s periodic tumbles seem to be something akin to Miracle-Gro for generalissimos, and the current crop of presidentes appears to be a rehash (albeit with minor modifications) of older repressive governments.
Unlike previous tin-pot dictators, these latter-day Latin strongmen have dispensed with military regalia. While the dark glasses and green fatigues of yesteryear may have been visually striking, modern autocrats have learned that this sends the wrong message to the population. They have now traded their medals in for business suits or even traditional peasant sweaters.
The language of anti-communism has been substituted for a more progressive message. However, the same forces that propelled your granddaddy's dictators into power are again at work in Latin America.
While some of these leaders have been unfairly maligned by conservative media outlets in the United States (Hugo Chavez probably won't ever appear on the 700 Club), other criticisms are quite justified. Despite laudable (and successful) attempts at reducing Venezuelan poverty, Chavez remains heavy-handed and hypersensitive to criticism, labeling most attempts at dissent as reactionary imperialist conspiracies against his government.
One of these CIA-funded cloak-and-dagger groups, Human Rights Watch (HRW), sent a letter to Chavez in 2004 complaining of the abuse of arrested protesters.
Some instances of abuse included a rather creative attempt at locking prisoners in the back of a truck and bombarding them with tear gas, as well as more traditional beatings and electric shocks. Reading the HRW report one could substitute dates and names and you might as well be reading a report from El Salvador circa 1981, Argentina 1976, or Chile in 1973.
Now, Hugo Chavez may simply be attempting to defend the revolution from the ceaseless machinations of those agents of empire, the reactionary bourgeois elite, or he may have simply succumbed to the virus of authoritarianism from which no Latin American leader appears to be immune.
As always, the simpler answer is usually the correct one.
End of the line. After your dietary richness has been extracted, nearly drinking-quality water rushes out the outfall of Dos Rios wastewater plant into Medina River.
Saturday, while you were sleeping in, watching old cowboy movies, and demanding someone squeeze your softening oranges (we know who you are!), I was “up and at ‘em,” as they say, with about 30 other irrepressibly curious San Anto minds.
We had committed our day to learning all we could about the stunningly sophisticated Edwards Aquifer that supplies our drinking water and the San Antonio Water System that brings that water to and from our homes.
After an entire day in the capable hands of our water utility’s friendly educator Greg Wukasch as part of SAWS’ “Rain to Drain” program, I'm going to straight up consider myself “handled.”
Field-tripping, we crawled around Bear and Cub caves at Stone Oak Park with Geary Schindel of the Edwards Aquifer Authority…
Checked out the Herculean pumps and Cold War-era circuitry at the SAWS Basin Pump Station with Raul Gonzalez Jr. …
And — my personal fave — watched poop water become clean-ish water at the Del Rio Water Recycling Center with Wukasch (below) and Wayne Druilhet (pointing in outfall pic, top) down Toyota Plant way.
Before beating it for the wastewater plant, Wukasch encouraged us into the washrooms at SAWS Central, with a challenge that proves him worthy of navigating any intimate Harman family reunion.
“I encourage you to use the bathroom, then we’ll race it to see if we can beat it there,” he said. Viva potty humor!
The dozens of common egrets, each and every one having signed a health waiver for the consumption of potentially deadly bacteria, I’m sure, gorged themselves on the befouled bugs around the supposedly odor-controlling ferrous sulfate injections and across the skimming ponds.
I must say, my respect for this water utility has mostly improved as I have learned more about it. Not only does San Antonio sit atop some of the best freshwater in the country, but (after a federal lawsuit forced them to reform in the ’90s) SAWS has become one of the most esteemed water utilities out there.
Our recycled water program (secondary-treated “non-potable” water) is the largest such program in the nation. Just look for all those purple pipes feeding into some area golf courses, a variety of industrial facilities, and even supplementing the San Antonio River itself when the springs at the headwaters dry up.
Ah, but that luxurious poop! It’s been decades since we piped it all into Mitchell Lake* for disposal. The holy Clean Water Act ended that. Since, we’ve learned there really is no such thing as “waste.”
By this summer, I’m told, a full 80 percent of our so-called reclaimed “biosolids” will be sold off for compost. If that weren’t enough, the methane captured from all our flowing fecal material is used to cook the future compost “cake.”
Soon, even the leftover methane, now burned off, will be sold as an alternative fuel source:
South Texas political blogs
Jon's Jail Journal
B and B
Dig Deeper Texas
The Walker Report
Grits for Breakfast
San Antonio Politics (Express-News)
Off the Kuff
South Texas Chisme
Rhetoric & Rhythm
Did we miss your favorite?
Email it to us