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Judge lifts injunction on City Parade Ordinance

Deciding that the City had complied with Judge Xavier Rodriguez's instructions, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery today lifted the injunction against the City's Parade Ordinance. Judge Rodriguez had ruled that critical portions of the ordinance, which City Council passed in November 2007, were unconstitutional in part because they left too much discretion regarding fees in the government hands, allowing for discrimination based on the marchers' messages. The Current has a call in to lead Free Speech Coalition attorney Amy Kastely for more details, and we'll follow up with the City in the morning.

In the meantime, Esperanza Director Graciela Sanchez emphasizes that the Coalition's lawsuit will proceed. Kastely and free-speech advocates will offer an update on the case tomorrow evening, April 1, at 6:30pm at the Esperanza, 922 San Pedro.

In the meantime, you can find pertinent court documents here, including the original ordinance, and the City's modified ordinance, which Judge Biery's ruling puts into effect.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/31/2009 7:15:33 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Sanctuary sayonara on hold

Certain Texas legislators have been busy jockeying for position to introduce controversial bills that would target illegal immigrants, but they’ve got only two months left to pass such legislation or they’ll have to wait until 2011.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently issued a ruling that the state legislature would be within its right to craft legislation that would compel so-called “sanctuary cities” to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts, but no such legislation is actually pending.

"'Sanctuary cities' advocate policies which are favorable to illegal immigrants but contravene federal immigration law," Rep. Franke Corte, (R-San Antonio), wrote in his request for the AG's opinion.

A bill that attempts to utilize Abbot’s ruling is still a ways off though — the deadline for introducing new legislation was March 13 and the Texas legislature bizarrely only meets in odd years, meaning such a law is on hold until at least 2011.

“He did the inquiry in order to set the parameters, it’s not his intention to craft it,” Corte spokesperson and policy advisor Kathi Seay said today.

In the meantime, Rep. Leo Berman (R –Tyler) has already spearheaded several bills to ratchet up pressure on officials in sanctuary cities. Berman’s House Bill 254 would require all illegal immigrants to live in such sanctuary cities, while his House Bill 261 cuts off state funding to local entities that match the definition of “sanctuary city” from HB 254, which defines it as “a municipality that adopts a resolution declaring that the municipality does not discriminate or deny municipal services on the basis of a person’s immigration status and that all persons are treated equally regardless of immigration status.”

Berman has also filed bills that would deny U.S. citizenship to children of immigrants, bar them from state colleges and universities, and require documentation for public school students. He admitted to the Texas Observer that he doesn’t expect HB 254 to go anywhere, saying that he crafted it to make a point to mayors of such cities “that if you want to support illegal aliens, we’ll send them all to your city.”

Though he said he won’t be pushing HB 254, Berman has requested hearings on HB 261, which is in the State Affairs Committee awaiting action from Chairman Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton). An anonymous Berman spokesperson acknowledged that HB 254 and HB 261 would actually technically conflict with each other, further framing HB 254 as the political stunt that it is.

While the ACLU has contended that immigration legislation is the jurisdiction of Congress, Berman disagrees.

“It’s not the purview of Congress,” Berman told the QueQue today. He said that the Ninth Amendment offers states the ability to act on issues that aren’t being addressed by the federal government.

“You can’t pass a law that’s in direct violation of federal law,” said Berman of sanctuary city laws. “It’s my duty as a state legislator to protect… all Texans.”

Berman said Texans need protection from the loss of roughly $4billion a year in state funds to support about two million illegal aliens, who are “totally taking advantage of us.” (He  attributed the $4 billion figure to a report from the Lone Star Foundation.) He was unsure if HB 261 would come up for a vote before the end of the legislature’s current session on June 1, saying it’s his understanding that Solomons will start dealing with immigration legislation around April 21.

The Texas ACLU argues that any such local legislation fails to get to the root of the problem, which they say is federal inaction, and that Abbott overstepped his authority in even ruling on it since the courts have historically ruled that immigration regulation is the “exclusive purview of Congress.”

Texas ACLU Policy Director Rebecca Bernhardt thinks Berman may have been thinking of the Tenth Amendment, which limits the federal government’s power to tell the states what to do.

“The attorney general’s opinion seems focused on the idea that states have to do what the federal government says about immigration, and I think that’s not… an accurate impression to take from the decision,” said Bernhardt. She cited U.S. Code: Title 8, 1373 on communication between government agencies and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Immigration and Customs Enforcement), saying that the code does not mandate local entities to follow the federal immigration law.

“This is a pretty darn complicated area of law,” admitted Bernhardt, but she said the policy arguments are straightforward. She rejected Berman’s assertion that illegal immigrants are costing the state.

“There’s actually a lot of evidence to show the opposite is true,” said Bernhardt, citing how illegal immigrants contribute to the economy in ways that aren’t recordable due to their underground status.

Bernhardt said the thing to know about sanctuary city policies like the loose ones employed by Dallas and San Antonio, where police are barred from asking people about their immigration status unless they’ve been charged with a crime, is that such policy is usually motivated by the desire to protect public safety.

“Because when local law enforcement goes into immigration status, they lose access to victims and witnesses… Victims stop reporting crime and witnesses stop providing information,” said Bernhardt. “The criminal element gets to take over and that is dangerous for local governments.”

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund has argued similarly, by saying that local immigration ordinances increase racial profiling and discrimination and complicate local-federal relations by defying the longstanding principle that the federal government regulates immigration. MALDEF also argues that courts have repeatedly found that local “immigration reform” initiatives conflict with federal law and violate the U.S. Constitution, including the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Operation Border Star gets thumbs down too

The Texas ACLU also recently came down on Operation Border Star, a $110 million, state-funded effort that is supposed to combat violent crime, drug smuggling and terrorism at the border. But an ACLU report says that the program’s “performance measures encourage participating agencies to engage in law enforcement activities that do not further the state's goal of improving state-wide public safety and protecting Texas from organized crime” and that it lacks meaningful oversight of the six-figure investment.

“Ten of the eleven departments we looked at did not invest the resources into fighting border crimes,” said Laura Martin, Texas ACLU policy analyst. She noted that the operation’s broad performance measures encourage increased arrests for crimes like public intoxication and standard traffic violations, which are not what the Border Star funds are intended for. “So there’s a need for tailored performance measures and greater oversight.”

Martin says that the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management is the agency currently overseeing the operation. “We’re concerned, based on what we’ve seen, that that has not led to an optimal use of funds,” said Martin.

In other border news, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will conclude a three-day border tour witha stop and press conference in Laredo on Friday afternoon, where she will be meeting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials, observe border protection operations at ground level and hold discussions with Mexican leaders on ways to combat increased violence with warring drug cartels.

In related news just out today, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said most of the guns found in the largest gun seizure in Mexican history back in November have been traced to Texas retailers.ATF agents traced 383 rifles and said that 80 percent came from licensed gun dealers in Texas, mostly along the border. If she’s really serious about cutting down on that drug violence, maybe Ms. Napolitano might want to think about convening with Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature on a bill to make those guns less accessible? The QueQue will not be holding its breath.

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/31/2009 6:44:04 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Swapping constitution for chaos in Honduras?

Brian Thompson

Imagine for a second that George W. Bush did not leave the White House quietly. Instead, he assumed that he had done such a stellar job that the country needed a third term under him to set things right.  

Naturally, this situation would have created something akin to civil war, with various groups demanding his resignation. A similar thing is happening today in the tiny Central American republic of Honduras, except the outcry is has not been nearly as great as you would expect.

Elected in 2005, Manuel Zelaya Rosales (right) has turned out to be one of the more polarizing presidents in Honduran history. Presiding over a series of scandals that included allegations of corruption that shocked a nation accustomed to corruption scandals, Zelaya's presidency has been a slow-motion disaster from start to finish.  

The constitution only grants Zelaya one term with no chance for re-election. However, Zelaya has announced that he will hold a referendum to vote on whether or not the constitution needs to be scrapped. However, he will not divulge what a new constitution would look like or what changes it would contain.

This is like selling someone a car without telling him if it's a Kia or a dump truck.

Zelaya, however, has labeled those who oppose the reforms as traitors and sellouts, and his deepening ties to Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, both militaristic leaders with questionable democratic credentials, are worrying to some.

Zelaya's increasingly close ties to the military is another cause of concern, as the military in Honduras has historically played pivotal roles in overthrowing democratic governments.

Honduras is a small nation, and the United States has its own problems to deal with during this recession. With little international attention placed on the storm brewing in Honduras, Zelaya is set to get away with any power grab he chooses. For the seven million citizens of the hemisphere's second-poorest country, the future seems anywhere from uncertain to chaotic.

Posted by gharman on 3/31/2009 11:47:14 AM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

A lobbyist by any other name

By Gilbert Garcia

Say this for local attorney and all-round political shaker Gerardo Menchaca: When he strikes, he rarely leaves fingerprints behind.

Menchaca registered with the City as a lobbyist in June, 2007, and even though he’s no longer registered, he continues to behave much like a lobbyist. Last month, Menchaca, working on behalf of CPS Energy, coordinated a one-day trip for SA councilmembers to the South Texas Project’s nuclear facility near Bay City, with the hope of persuading local elected officials to embrace a plan to build two new nuclear reactors on the site.

On Friday, March 13, six passengers made the flight from San Antonio to the nuclear plant: Councilmembers Lourdes Galvan and Philip Cortez; two of Galvan's assistants; Mike Kotara, CPS executive vice president of energy development; and Menchaca. A City Hall source says Menchaca aggressively and persistently pushed other councilmembers to go as well.

Galvan told QueQue she was initially reluctant to tour the nuclear site but added, “I wanted to educate myself and make sure that when the topic comes up this fall, I’m well informed.”

Galvan said she hasn’t decided whether to back the expansion of the nuclear facility, because she maintains worries about the treatment of radioactive waste and possible cost overruns for the project.

While it’s easy to understand why Galvan and Cortez would want to view the site, the big question is why Menchaca, a private attorney, is arranging trips on behalf of CPS for the purpose of influencing local politicians. CPS spokesperson Theresa Cortez would only say that Menchaca “helped with scheduling,” and CPS Government Relations Analyst John Leal, who worked with Menchaca to coordinate the trip, refused to comment on Menchaca. No one at CPS would answer questions about whether Menchaca received any pay from the agency, a scenario that could possibly put him in violation of City ethics rules.  

“The guy walks as many fine lines as he can to enable the candidates that he wants to succeed, for his own personal stake,” says a City Hall source who’s dealt with Menchaca. “That’s basically the nature of what lobbyists do. But you’ve got to file [with the City].”

Menchaca’s nebulous role in City politics is particularly important because of his close relationship with mayoral frontrunner Julian Castro. Menchaca served as deputy campaign manager for Castro’s 2005 mayoral campaign, and has also contributed to Castro’s current effort. On October 17, 2008, the Castro campaign paid Menchaca $3,000 for “consulting,” and exactly a year earlier they paid him $6,000 for “campaign services.”

It’s worth pondering what role Menchaca might play in persuading a Mayor Castro on the hot-button, highly divisive nuclear-power issue, and whether Menchaca is the kind of connection that Castro should maintain.

Menchaca did not respond to the Current’s repeated requests for an interview.

Posted by gilgamesh470 on 3/31/2009 12:52:03 AM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Mikhail Gorbachev sings in the solar choir

You know, he actually looks a lot like my dad...

Greg Harman

Gorby has an idea about the sun. And a pretty good one, too.

We’re all wound up, the ranks of the working press — lights, cameras, notepads, and an arrogant wire-service man in argyle socks — waiting. We’re waiting to hear the former president of the former Soviet state (not quite as united or nearly as socialist as some would have liked) pontificate on our planetary well-being.

Had he been here a week ago, Gorby would have made a terrific interview for “Last Chance for a Slow Dance.”

As he is settles into a chair beneath an American flag and stark Green Cross/Global Green banner and slowly takes control of the podium, I realize he’ll do just fine to reinforce the article’s conclusion that the world must jump now to avoid possible worst-case runaway global warming. Maybe.

In a somewhat dragging baritone, the 78-year-old insists, much as President Barack Obama has been want to do, that the economy can be revived by deep and rapid deployment of green technology, something that will also uplift the less prosperous nations of the world. That solar, in fact, can save the world.

Though he was criticized in some quarters for delaying the then-radical economic reforms of the mid-1980s that ultimately brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev said that “If we act late now, all of us will be the losers … If we do not take this opportunity, this will be a big mistake.”

So here in the industrial lull of our current global recession it is time to get serious about solar power. Folks with the U.S. DOE-hosted Solar American Cities meeting, gathering in downtown Alamo City tonight, have got to love that.

Thankfully (if we can speak of gratitude as millions are pushed toward poverty and gunmen blast away at innocents almost daily), as the machines of production slow, so too does our output of greenhouse gases. An initial report out of the Northeastern U.S. suggests we may be seeing emissions finally declining after years of greenhouse gains in spite of all the heated rhetoric about saving the planet. However, this period will end and production and all associated heat and gas will return.

At this momentous crossroads, hoping to lure some of Big Oil’s investment dollars and draw some media attention, Gorbachev is taking this possibly heretical message not only to Texas but straight to the beast itself, addressing the 33rd annual meeting of the International Petrochemical Conference wrapping up in San Antonio tomorrow.

“Moving toward a low-carbon economy is an urgent task, both political and economic,” Gorby tells us through his translator. “The leaders of a number of countries have already taken steps to make the economy less carbon dependent.” You see it in Obama’s plans for green jobs, he says, and in the European Union, and, more recently, from Russia and China.

After addressing our small group of newsers and activists, the grades are delivered.

Unsurprisingly, the Green Cross International gives the U.S. fairly low marks for failing to invest substantially in solar technologies (C+). But, hey, the Ruskies and Poles are way down in the potato cellar. Too bad competitive nationalistic gloating won’t hack a way out of this here global-warming calamity.

Then again, when the subject is solar-power investment and planning, a little gloating couldn’t hurt.


Pretend to be a privileged journalist and listen in on the full press conference (Then tell us, who loves ya, baby?):


Highlights of the Solar Report Card
(from Global Green US)

The Global Solar Report Card by Green Cross International and its American affiliate, Global Green USA outlines successes and failures in 16 countries’ (and the state of California’s) efforts in designing promising policy frameworks for sustained solar development. It finds all countries still in the early phases of solar deployment, even Germany, which is currently setting the pace. The ranking is based on a 100-point system that allocates a maximum of 30 points to the amount of solar installed so far, and the remaining 70 points to drivers for future growth (56 points for financial incentives, 12 points for regulatory incentives and 2 points for educational and advocacy efforts).
The following are some of the highlights of the analysis:

    * Germany (A-), which scored highest being the country with most PV installed and having put in place promising ‘drivers for future growth’, still finishes with only 70 out of a 100 possible points. The state of California (B), also scored well in 2nd place, having implemented a 10-year $3 billion rebate program for solar.
    * Spain (C+), which saw tremendous growth since 2007, overtook the US in 2008 as the 3rd country with the most installed PV. A period of policy uncertainty followed by a decision to cap the market for 2009 negatively affected Spain’s grade. However, based on Spain’s installed capacity for 2008, Spain would score a B.
    * The United States (C+), with the extension of its only federal-level financial support for solar, assured a much needed long term commitment to the sector. Additional support has since been allocated in the context of the stimulus package. Still, much more could be done in a country with such solar, financial and technological resources.
    * Countries such as Italy (C+), France (C+) and Greece (C-) fare moderately because of still young markets, but all earn points for putting in place substantial drivers for growth. Recent efforts focused on lifting bureaucratic hurdles, which have in all 3 cases, acted as significant barriers to market take up.  Solar markets are expected to grow in these countries moving forward.
    * With recent policy changes, Australia (C) missed an opportunity to put in place a considered federal-level policy to capitalize on tremendous solar resources and spur significant investment in the country’s solar sector. Similarly to the US, the country could do much more to reach its solar potential.
    * Japan (C), once the leading country in terms of both production and installed capacity, scored low after ending its flagship program in 2005. Japan however, hoping to regain its solar panel makers’ competitive edge in the world market, recently put in place the first step of a new residential PV program.
    * China (D-), which seems committed to developing a clean energy infrastructure, has set ambitious targets and put in place a comprehensive renewable energy policy framework. However, the country scores poorly here because up until March 23rd, the specifics for solar PV were unclear. Indeed, China just released details for a PV rebate program. The country stands to gain a lot from supporting the deployment of solar, given its tremendous energy needs, high insolation and its position as one of the three largest PV producers in the world.
    * Finally, countries that rate poorly in the study are Russia (F) and Poland (F), with no solar markets and no mechanisms to capitalize on their solar potential, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom (D-) with a very small market and no significant support for solar growth at this time. While the UK is in the process of designing a solar support program, impact will not be seen until the end of 2010.

Posted by gharman on 3/30/2009 6:51:37 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

CPS and climate politics: By the numbers

CPS has spent $91,000 fighting global warming solutions

Greg Harman

As Washington strains under the weight of industry and environmental lobbyists seeking to influence the outcome of what would be our first national climate bill, CPS Energy has been quietly working the angles on Capitol Hill to keep the coal power the city has come to rely on cheap for consumers in the short term. So-called “cheap” power is the mandate the utility operates under, after all.

Too bad that mandate is now at odds with the survival of the earth as we know it and, quite possibly, our survival as a city and a nation.

The most recent peer-reviewed science on global warming has found that due to the build-up of greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere we are already locked into unavoidable “permanent” drought across the Southwest and through Central America, as well as a complete redefinition of global coastlines by one or two meters (Check out “Last Chance for a Slow Dance” to get the background here). However, measured against the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change, we have limited amount of time to change course — only until 2014 to level off greenhouse emissions, for instance.

Responding to an Open Records request submitted by the Current, a CPS Energy legal staffer wrote that the City-owned utility has spent $91,700 lobbying in the past year “in the attempt to influence U.S. climate policy.”

According to Zandra Pulis, senior legal counsel at CPS, the utility has also spent about $67,657 in membership dues to the Climate Policy Group, an industry group it joined in September of 2006 that lobbies Congress against limiting carbon emissions under cap-and-trade legislation. An effort that, to this point, has been remarkably successful.



Those of you CPS watchers out there should know that the utility’s membership with the politico-industry group Nuclear Energy for Texans is granted free of charge and no City donations to the group have, as yet, been made.

All told, CPS has spent $2.56 million on lobbyists (since 1999) working the statehouse and the Capitol, according to Pulis.

When it comes to running PR for CPS and the two-reactor South Texas (Nuclear) Project they want to expand by two, give us a few hours and then refresh your screen. My esteemed colleague Gilbert Garcia has that in the pipe as we speak.

Posted by gharman on 3/30/2009 4:00:40 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Cat Lady sues San Anto

Here inspecting a cat trap used to catch feral cats after a 2007 City raid on her home-based shelter, D'Ann Trethan is now suing for damages related to the raid.

Greg Harman

It’s been a while since staff here feasted on “the cat lady’s” cake. Dear D’Ann Trethan has been understandably enamored with the Current since we ran a good-sized story about the city of San Antonio’s SWAT-like home invasion of her cat rescue one year and two HEB “thank you” cakes ago.

But what have we done for her lately, right?

Today, we are pleased to say we have a genuinely newsworthy reason to shine our little newslight on D’Ann again: After months of anguish and lament, she is finally taking the City to court.

In a suit to be filed this week, Trethan alleges former City Animal Control officer Eddie Wright ordered her to remove all her cats from her home-based shelter, “For the Love of Animals,” a run-down rental home north of the airport that has since been demolished. Wright’s order came on September 5, 2007. Without warning, he returned the next day with backup, kicked in the door, and took nearly 50 cats out of the home.

We quote (a journalistic trick to conserve mind power):

“Plaintiff was given notice of an administrative hearing which was going to be held on the 19th day of September … to determine the disposition of the cats. Prior to the hearing which was scheduled for September 19, 2007, the City of San Antonio exterminated all the Plaintiff’s cats.”

Before you jump on me over this one, I admit, yes, the sanctuary was pretty foul. Trethan has been called a “hoarder” by more than one animal lover. But she is also staunchly defended by others that well know what the underfunded feline lover was up against. That is, a city awash in strays.

But you don’t need to to convince you on that point. In fact, you don’t need me at all. Here’s D’Ann in her own words:

Posted by gharman on 3/30/2009 11:12:45 AM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

SAPD pot raid kills dog, nets all of ten pounds

Greg M. Schwartz

Don Nichols was standing in front of his house on the 100 block of Glorietta Street on the near East Side Wednesday night (March 25) about to unload some groceries from his car when he was taken aback by an SAPD tactical response unit that arrived to serve a no-knock narcotic search warrant on his next-door neighbors, Vincent and Veronica Maggiano.

Nichols, a 51-year-old electrician, says at least 15 officers, a van and four pickup trucks were involved in the raid. He says they broke through the front door, shot and killed the Maggianos’ two-year-old pitbull Rabbit and arrested the couple. Police found ten marijuana plants as well as some other bags of marijuana, all totaling around ten pounds. 14 grams of cocaine were also found, along with a lighting system, timer and power system for a growing operation. Veronica Maggiano, 26, was later released with Vincent, 29, receiving all the charges after telling police his wife had nothing to do with the operation. Rabbit's body still laid in the yard under a yellow cover the next day.

“I’m all for police protecting the public, but when they pull this, that’s over and above… it was stormtrooper tactics at its best,” said Nichols of the way the SAPD brutally shot and killed Rabbit, a dog Nichols says was known in the neighborhood as a “gentle giant,” who was so gentle that he even got along with Nichols’ cats. He said that Rabbit never even had time to bark and  that he knew the Maggianos as a nice, quiet couple who never bothered anybody.

Nichols says the cops left the other pitbull who was chained in the yard alone. There is a “Beware of Dog” sign on the front fence, although Nichols says that was there before the Maggianos even moved in. He hollered at the police that the dog inside was non-aggressive, but says the cops walked right past him. When the police came back out, Nichols hollered that their actions were a little aggressive.

“They said ‘It’s none of your damn business, you weren’t inside the house.’ It seemed a bit Gestapo,” said Nichols, noting that it was the first raid conducted on the street in his 18 years living there. “It seemed like they thought they were going after Dillinger, Capone and the Barker Gang all in one.”

The police report from Officer Phillip Bourcier indicates that while assigned to the Tactical Response Unit – Gang Detail, he applied for and was granted a narcotic search warrant for the house. His report claims that as police entered the residence, “the pit bull charged toward them in an aggressive manor. Fearing the pit bull may attack, they discharged their duty weapons, striking the dog.”

Veronica Maggiano says the claim that Rabbit charged toward the officers is false and that the dog was sleeping next to the couple’s bed where they were watching TV, in a room adjacent to the front door.

“They just barged in and we all stood up and they shot the dog,” she said. Maggiano says she and her husband had been living in the house for about six months and had been married since 2000.

The police report notes that Vincent Maggiano admitted to intent to sell ten pounds of marijuana to someone to make a profit of $500. These quantities hardly indicate any sort of a drug kingpin, and Nichols said he wonders why so many officers were necessary to bust such a small time operation.

Louise Mendoza, a 56- year-old landscaper who has lived across the street for five years, said he’d never seen anything like it on Glorietta Street and had no idea that Vincent Maggiano sold any drugs. He came outside after hearing something he thought sounded like fireworks.

“They were ok, they didn’t bother anybody. They were just good neighbors,” said Mendoza.

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/27/2009 7:26:52 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

The Commander Strikes Again

By Gilbert Garcia

Let's be diplomatic about this: Michael Idrogo is a slightly eccentric mayoral candidate.

We gave the Navy veteran the benefit of the doubt when he insisted that this year's election ballot show his name as "Michael 'Commander' Idrogo." The red flags started going off, however, when his website indicated that, as mayor, he'd be able to use his connections to big-name Milan fashion designers to bring major fashion shows and boutiques to SA.

This week, with Idrogo's press release (sent to just about every news outlet in town) that California Attorney General Jerry Brown had shut down a pro-Julian Castro blog powered by Google (according to Idrogo, Brown was prepared to shut down Google itself, if the search engine didn't comply with his demands), things got positively surreal.

Idrogo's claim sounded weird and incomprehensible, but we put in a call to the Cali AG's office just in case the Commander was on to something. Sure enough, Scott Gerber, spokesman for the California Attorney General's office, told us that Brown had taken no such action. "I don't know of anything along these lines, and I have no idea why it would be in our jurisdiction," he said with a laugh.

Neither do we, and we're willing to guess that Idrogo doesn't have any answers either. The Commander has not responded to QueBlog's questions about the issue, but we'll keep you posted.

Posted by gilgamesh470 on 3/25/2009 6:26:48 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Candidate questionnaire: Chris Forbrich, District 1

Beginning March 4, the Current emailed the following questionnaire to all candidates who filed by March 9 for the May 2009 municipal elections. As responses begin to roll in, we will post them in their unedited entirety here on QueBlog. Excerpts will appear in the April 1 print edition of the Current. if you're a candidate, and did not receive a questionnaire from us, please call Elaine Wolff at 388-0625, or email her at ewolff@sacurrent.com, and provide the best email address for contacting you.

Ed. note: Mr. Forbrich rephrased some of the questions. You can find the original questions here, along with District 7 candidate Elena Guajardo's answers.

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 alternative you favor.  If so, please explain your position or philosophy on the long term storage of nuclear fuel waste.

I support expanding the Nuclear Project.  I support all sources of energy that provide a reliable and reasonable electric source for our metropolitan area that would not impact the air quality.  Nuclear waste is a serious issue that needs to be considered; however we are already using Nuclear Power in the area.  The proposal is only to expand.  I believe that the nuclear waste should be stored in the safest possible way, using the commercial standard for that industry.

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)?

Mission Verde is a great program.  I think that there are some issues with installing solar panels in the Historic Districts of San Antonio that really need to be considered.  Historic Neighborhoods wouldn’t be the same with large solar panels on the roofs and yards, but that isn’t to say that doesn’t work for other neighborhoods in the city.  I agree strongly that transportation changes need to happen, but don’t support a mileage fee to subsidize mass transportation.  Energy should be saved whenever possible both for the environment and for cost reasons.

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?

I think either stimulus money or bond money needs to be used, in cooperation with the County and other municipal governments to build a metropolitan metrorail that can move people from major points of interest (Downtown, Stone Oak, La Cantera, Judson area, Port San Antonio and Medical Center).  Every major, modern metropolitan area in the world has mass transit options.  A great test to how this system will be used is to institute a bus rapid transit program and a marketing campaign to remind everyone that public transportation is for everyone.

4. If San Antonio faces a major budget shortfall, where would you be willing to make budget cuts?

All non-core city services.  I believe strongly that the city must continue to provide for the health and safety of its residence and would want to make sure that those departments were unaffected by budget cuts.  San Antonio spends a lot on administrative costs, which could be cut, as well as the Mayor & Council’s discretionary funding.  The next few years of recession are going to be difficult for the city and its people. We can cut back on the bureaucracy and keep essential services.

5. What are your top spending priorities for the Hotel Occupancy Tax?  Would you support a recommendation to use some of those funds to expand the convention center?

Arts.  HOT can not be used for infrastructure improvements such as streets and sidewalks.  I would like to continue to invest that money in culture and arts to encourage the tourism and cultural activities that make our city unique to continue.  The more successful this industry is, the more money that is available for those programs.

6. Please briefly describe your conception of San Antonio’s economy, its strengths and weaknesses, and what you would do to build the former and address the latter?

San Antonio is fortunate that it is not dependent on just one industry.  The Tourism, Medical, Military and Education industries are strong in San Antonio.  By continuing to work with leaders of these areas to provide zoning opportunities and build on what we have, we can continue to see good jobs for these areas.  San Antonio also has a large number of Small Businesses that are vital to our day to day lives.  By keeping their concerns in mind when making ordinance, changing fees or proposing different taxes, we can be sure that they continue to have fair opportunity.
What San Antonio lacks is enough large businesses.  With the departing of AT&T, a number of high paying jobs left the area.  In order to get and keep large employers the mess at the Airport needs to be cleaned up and property tax incentives need to be aggressively offered to companies that would be willing to make a large presence here.  There are several buildings in the downtown area that could be used to house these companies, providing the downtown business with customers, the building with a tenant, and the people of the city with jobs.  It’s a good deal for everyone.

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?

I think City Council Meetings should take place on a weekend.  There are a few people who take time from there schedules to question their elected officials in council, but for the most part, the average working person can’t leave their office and come to City Hall on Thursday at 10am to provide their input.  I propose having the meetings on a Saturday, making government more accessible to the people.  Further, I am strongly against back door deals and secret meetings.  When elected, I would only wish to discuss lawsuits and personnel problems that might lead to lawsuits in executive sessions and leave all other discussions to the open meeting.
I believe that the City Council should continue to select the city auditor.  The auditor needs to honestly review the books of the City and provide information based on that requirement.  If the auditor was elected, like the councilmembers, the office becomes political, making someone have to decide if their decision is popular for the city, or just simple what they actually found during the scope of their audit.  I think it would be inappropriate to put an auditor in that type of situation.

8. Do you support extending the digital billboard pilot program?  If so, what restrictions, if any would you recommend on their placement and use.

I do not support putting in any additional billboards, digital or otherwise.

9. Do you support SAWS current plans to secure San Antonio’s Water Supply?  If so, please explain why?  If not, please explain what they should be doing differently…

Yes.  I believe that new sources are essential to our economic future.  Water is a precious resource and we are a growing city. While more water is needed, conservation is needed.  SAWS does provide a reasonable amount of conservation material to its customers, but could do better about informing the people of the city, through their newsletter, about the aquifer and how San Antonio’s future is going to depend on have and getting water for the people.  We are far ahead of other large Texas cities, but we can do more.

10. Please briefly describe how you financially support yourself.  How will you balance your work demands with your council responsibilities?  Do you foresee any conflicts of interest between your profession (or former profession, if your retired) and a position on council?  If so, how will you handle these?

I am an IT Manager at a medium sized Oil & Gas Operator based in San Antonio and I also own a small computer consulting firm.  My schedule is flexible and I feel that I will be able to take my troubleshooting skills to City Hall to find solutions to the problems facing the people of District 1.  In regards to conflicts, as I do work at an Oil & Gas company, it would be inappropriate for me to vote directly on issues relating to natural gas, as the company I work for sells natural gas, though not to San Antonio.  Having a strong sense of ethics in government is vital to being a leader, no matter what the arena. I will disclose any potential conflicts (no matter how remote the possibility is) and discuss with the City Ethics Office to ensure we maintain the highest level of discretion.

11. What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit?  Specifically, what fees, if any, should the city charge for parade permits?  Should they distinguish between types of applicants and events, and if so, how and by whom should these decisions be made?

I think you should have the right to assemble.  I believe that organizations wishing to have a parade or public demonstration should purchase a permit for such an event, but one that doesn’t exceed around $40.  The cost of the permit should go towards the costs of informing the police, fire & EMS, health department of the activities so that they can better prepare.  It is unfair to charge certain groups to express themselves and allow other groups to do this without charge.

12. Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces, such as golf courses, libraries, parks and El Mercado.  Should these entities break even, make a profit, or be viewed as investments with tangible returns?  Please propose a solution for the issues surrounding either Healy-Murphy Park, El Mercado or La Villita.

I think that the cost of the Golf Course Green Fee should be equal to what it costs the city to provide you with the space to play the round.  The quality of life added by these facilities is vital to our economic health.  When companies are surveyed about features that would attract them locate their businesses to a certain place, golf courses are always at the top of the list.
In regards to parks, libraries, and the zoo: these are public spaces that the city provides to the people for their education, enjoyment and culture.  I believe these are investments we making in the people and should.  I do believe decisions regarding these institutions should always be made in the public and with as much public input as can be collected.
El Mercado, La Villita, the Missions, and the Alamo are our history, heritage and legacy.  They should never be sold off to the highest bidder.  There are many options including lease-operate agreements that could be implemented to make facilities more profitable.

13. If we failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.

The residents of District 1 have been struggling with the same major challenges for the past 20 years.  We need to get back to basics and address many of the base concerns. Crime prevention, graffiti prevention/abatement, code compliance, green spaces, and pothole prevention/repair are top priorities.  As councilman for District 1 I will be present and active in the community.  We will place quality of life at the top of the list of things to do.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/25/2009 3:31:30 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

The Healy-Murphy bid: Parks & Rec board says no

If you've been following the Current's coverage of the Healy-Murphy Park sale, you already probably already know that the sole bidder for the small Eastside greenspace is the very same developer who first inquired about its availability (and proposed a handy solution for meeting state-law requirements for moving public parks into private hands) through lobbyist (and reliable campaign donor) Walter Serna.

Here's this week's QueQue update about the Parks board's thumbs-down on the bid, and, as promised, the bid itself for your perusal.

Sell-by date
Not that the City Council will necessarily side with the Parks & Rec Board’s sentiments, but the members voted at Monday night’s meeting to reject the sole $350,000 bid for Healy-Murphy Park’s scant acre. The lone would-be buyer? The very same La Villita del Rio Development corp whose inquiry re: the small, neglected Eastside lot put the auction wheels in motion last year. The vote is something of a blow for District 2 Councilwoman and mayoral hopeful Sheila McNeil, who’s championed the sale on behalf of City Hall lobbyist and La Villita Development rep Walter Serna, and is rumored to be telling her dais co-tenants that she has the community’s support.

The Parks board had voted once before not to proceed with the public bidding process, and the unexpectedly low price (the City was touting a figure as high as $800,000 last summer, although it halved that prospect for Monday night’s presentation) as well as the plan’s uninspiring details (another wing of the adjacent Comfort Suites, plus parking, with the historic Dullnig house preserved for shop or office space) sealed the bid’s fate. [Read the bid sheet on QueBlog, at sacurrent.com.] Chair Mark Treviño barely had the introductory remarks out of his mouth before District 1 rep Hector Cardenas motioned for a thumbs down; a move followed with lightning speed by District 2 rep Alexander Saucedo.

A mighty brief discussion ensued, the gist of which was summed up neatly by Cardenas: “I hate to say it, but it’s not enough money.” A couple of members suggested the low ball might be a heavenly sign.

The proposal goes to the Council’s Quality of Life committee next, which is chaired by Delicia Herrera, who like McNeil is term-limited this spring. All five of the District 2 candidates vying to replace Her Sheila-ness have said they oppose the sale (although Dan Martinez would rather lease it to the Salvation Army than preserve it as a park). Merced Housing VP Ivy Taylor was the only contender in attendance at Monday’s meeting, but the bid is likely to suffer a quick death if it’s not through Council by May.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/25/2009 1:21:31 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Sculley grounds former Airport Police officer

By Gilbert Garcia

Sheryl Sculley has made it clear: She will not abide misconduct in the Airport Police Department.

On March 17, the city manager disregarded a decision by San Antonio's Civil Service Commission, and upheld the December, 2008, termination of Corporal Russell Martin.
Sculley ignored the commission's 2-1 finding that the department had misrepresented Martin's concerns that there might be "fisticuffs or shooting" if he was teamed with Sgt. Orlando Battles as a threat of violence, when Martin viewed the statement as an expression of concern that he might be attacked by Battles. Sculley also tossed out this logical standard applied by the commission: If Martin was a threat, why did the department wait nearly six months to terminate him? That long delay supported Martin's argument that he had been targeted because he blew the whistle on Battles' pattern of time-card fraud.

In her letter to Martin, Sculley said: "The City of San Antonio maintains a zero tolerance policy in an effort to keep the workers free from hostility, violence or threats of violence."

Apparently, Sculley is less concerned about threats of violence to the general public, considering that Sgt. Battles' law-enforcement career has survived a 2003 incident in which he was arrested for public intoxication and allegedly tried to break into the apartment of a neighbor. In a similar misconduct-pays story, city officials don't seem to be losing any sleep over the fact that Airport Police Chief Ron Bruner, as a member of SAPD in 1992, submitted a fake report stating that his son had died, and falsely told a female officer that he was divorced and was battling cancer.

With all this in mind, the big question is why Corporal Martin didn't get a promotion instead of a termination letter. With frustration mounting among Airport Police officers over the management of the department, Sculley's decision will likely send department morale plummeting.

Posted by gilgamesh470 on 3/24/2009 5:47:32 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Council candidate questionnaire: Ivy Taylor, District 2

Beginning March 4, the Current emailed the following questionnaire to all candidates who filed by March 9 for the May 2009 municipal elections. As responses begin to roll in, we will post them in their unedited entirety here on QueBlog. Excerpts will appear in the April 1 print edition of the Current. if you're a candidate, and did not receive a questionnaire from us, please call Elaine Wolff at 388-0625, or email her at ewolff@sacurrent.com, and provide the best email address for contacting you.

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.

At this point, I am very skeptical about the addition of two new nuclear power plants.  I prefer focusing on alternative ways of generating energy, such as wind and solar. In addition, I am supportive of CPS Energy’s vision of moving from a centralized power model to a distributed energy model.  I am also in favor of using building techniques that reduce the need for energy from fossil fuels.  We must also continue to educate the public about the need for energy conservation.  

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)?

Yes, I do support the Mayor’s Mission Verde initiative in its entirety and when I am elected to City Council will encourage the new council and Mayor to make every effort to implement the recommendations included in the initiative.  

In order to implement the specific initiatives in the Mission Verde plan, it is very important that we have a working group that involves relevant city staff and other knowledgeable members of the community to oversee the effort.  Ensuring that all the city staff members embrace and understand the overall effort is key so that each of the city departments can contribute toward the effort as well. Continued public education is also important, so that the citizens can support the effort and understand any budget allocations made toward it.

I am particularly excited about the idea of the Green Jobs program.  I believe that human development is a critical component of any of our efforts to improve the city and we have many citizens who could benefit from the opportunity to be trained for jobs in the emerging green sector.  An example that would fit our needs in District 2 is training residents to perform weatherization and “green retrofits” on many of our existing older homes.

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?

We should definitely focus on maximizing our current public transit agency, VIA.  As part of that effort, I believe that we should provide incentives for individuals and families to locate in the inner city.  These areas are already served by VIA and an increase in density would facilitate greater efficiency in service provided by VIA.  It is very expensive for VIA to try to reach all the new development areas north of Loop 1604.

I also believe that Bus Rapid Transit is a viable option that should be explored for areas beyond the Fredericksburg corridor.

While I would enjoy the opportunity to use light rail, I believe that further study is needed in order to determine whether the benefit would justify the cost.  Our city’s development pattern over the last thirty years has not provided the dense clusters necessary to make light rail efficient. I am not sure whether development in those dense nodes would follow the light rail if it were built.  I believe that a thorough dialogue with our transportation entities, elected officials and citizens is necessary before a final decision is made.  
I believe that we should continue to use the existing funding from federal transportation funds, funds generated through the farebox and also the sales tax used for the Advanced Transportation District.  If we were to pursue light rail, a large amount of subsidy through the federal government would be necessary.   I also would be in favor of being creative in seeking new sources for transportation funding. 

4. If San Antonio faces a budget shortfall, where would you be willing to make budget cuts?
I would make budget cuts to non essential services that do not immediately impact the health and safety of the community.

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?
I would continue to use the Hotel Occupancy Tax to support and market tourism which is a vital element of our economy.  In addition, I would use the funds to preserve and restore some of our historical and cultural resources that attract people to San Antonio as a vacation or convention destination.  District Two has many historical sites of interest that could generate interest from visitors if an investment is made into restoring and interpreting the sites.
I would want to carefully examine a proposal for a convention center expansion.  With the recent downturn in the national economy, the number of large conventions may decrease and I would want to have a cost benefit analysis based on projected attendance at conventions to determine whether the additional space is needed. 

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?
San Antonio’s economy is strong and as evidence of that, we have not felt the full impact of the current national economic downturn.  Our strengths include our military sector, tourism, and emerging bioscience and technological sectors.  We have many small businesses that deserve continued support.  The most recent Base Realignment and Closure has presented a tremendous opportunity for our community and will have a long term impact on the city.  As councilperson, I will work to facilitate the BRAC plans and maximize the positive impact on the community surrounding Fort Sam Houston.  In addition, I will work to support our many small businesses.   
Our biggest weakness is that many of our citizens are not prepared for jobs.  Our high school drop out rate and teen pregnancy rate seriously threaten our future economic development.  San Antonio will not be an attractive spot for companies to relocate if they are not able to fill jobs with our citizens.  As councilperson, I will make human development a major priority and will work collaboratively with a variety of organizations and institutions to address these issues.  Another solution for our community is to facilitate UTSA achieving Tier One status.  As councilperson, I would look to assist in that effort as well.  

An emerging weakness for our city, are the increasing traffic and transportation issues.  We have not reached the point of having crippling traffic like Houston, Los Angles, and Atlanta.  If we want to remain competitive, we must ensure that we address our traffic and transportation issues proactively.  In addition to seeking funding for new roads, connectors and public transportation options, I believe that we should incentivize development in the inner city and pursue balanced growth options.  

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? 

As a City Councilperson, I will be transparent and accountable.  I plan to increase regular communication with constituents through a variety of means, including regularly scheduled town hall meetings, newsletters, and e-mail blasts.

At this point, I would not recommend changing the role or method of choosing a City Auditor.  The Auditor already reports to the Mayor and City Council through the Audit subcommittee and also has a peer review process to ensure the integrity of the audit program.  In light of the playground scandal, I would like to discuss the potential for citizen advisors to work in conjunction with the City Council’s Audit subcommittee to increase accountability.  But ultimately, the citizens must elect council people who have integrity and are genuinely working to further the health, safety and welfare of citizens.  I will be that type of councilperson.   

8. Do you support extending the digital-billboard pilot program? If so, what restrictions, if any, would you recommend on their placement and use?

At this point, I am not in favor of extending the digital billboard program. I would reconsider pending the results of any studies initiated to determine the impact of digital billboards. I am particularly concerned with the possibility that the billboards increase the likelihood of auto accidents.  

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.

Yes, I support SAWS current plans to diversify San Antonio’s water supply.  We cannot continue to only focus on the Edwards Aquifer, given the rate of growth of our population.  I support their efforts to seek water from a variety of sources including other aquifers and also using recycled wastewater for non drinking purposes.

10. Please briefly describe how you financially support yourself. How will you balance your work demands with your council responsibilities? Do you foresee any conflicts of interest between your profession (or former profession, if you're retired) and a position on council? If so, how will you handle these?

I work for Merced Housing Texas, a nonprofit housing provider.   I plan to continue working part time when I am elected to City Council.  If an issue involving Merced comes before the City Council, I will recuse myself to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.  If I find that I am unable to meet the demands of City Council while working, then I will resign my position and my husband will support our family.  

11. What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit? Specifically, what fees, if any, should the city charge for parade permits? Should they distinguish between types of applicants and events, and if so, how and by whom should those decisions be made?

I strongly believe that we must protect our right to free speech and our right to assemble for peaceable protests. The City should only charge the fees necessary to cover the costs associated with ensuring a safe environment when large groups of people assemble.  The anticipated size of the event should be the determining factor is setting a fee.  

12. Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces such as golf courses, libraries, parks, and El Mercado. Should these entities break even, make a profit, or be viewed as investments with tangible returns? Please propose a solution for the issues surrounding either Healy-Murphy Park, El Mercado, or La Villita.  

I believe that the City should make every effort to ensure that these types of entities are not a drain on the budget.  Our goal should be for them to break even or make a profit.  I don’t believe that they should be viewed as financial investments but we still have a responsibility to avoid a negative impact to the City’s budget as a result of owning and operating these entities.  As Councilperson, I would encourage the staff to explore creative solutions and partnerships to maximize the potential for our golf courses, libraries, parks and cultural landmarks.

In reference to Healy Murphy Park, I would explore several solutions; including determining the open space needs of the adjacent Salvation Army and determining what uses may be appropriate for the historic Dullnig house which could possibly also utilize the open space. The suggestion has been made to convert the Dullnig house into a police substation.  I would consider that, but would want to examine the costs involved and also determine whether that use would be compatible with the historic nature of the existing structure.  I would also explore whether any community partners would assist with the cost of upgrading the park to include new plantings and playscapes.   

13. If we've failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.
I briefly addressed it in my response about the economy, but I would like to re-iterate that one of my major priorities will be human development.  People are the building blocks of our neighborhoods and businesses. It is imperative that we increase access to educational and job training opportunities.  In addition, I believe it is important to address the barriers that citizens face in accessing job training and educational opportunities.  While many of those issues may not specifically fall under the authority of San Antonio City Council, we must work collaboratively to address issues like our high school dropout rate and high teen pregnancy rate.  I will commit to working creatively with community partners to address barriers to success.  Once people have the tools to be self-sufficient, it will reduce the need for many services that the City provides.  In addition, I strongly believe that we must protect and support our community’s seniors who hold our community’s history and cultural heritage in their hearts and minds.  

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/24/2009 4:23:26 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Council candidate questionnaire: Byron Miller, District 2

Beginning March 4, the Current emailed the following questionnaire to all candidates who filed by March 9 for the May 2009 municipal elections. As responses begin to roll in, we will post them in their unedited entirety here on QueBlog. Excerpts will appear in the April 1 print edition of the Current. if you're a candidate, and did not receive a questionnaire from us, please call Elaine Wolff at 388-0625, or email her at ewolff@sacurrent.com, and provide the best email address for contacting you.

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.

I look forward to a spirited debate on the nuclear power issue. This is clearly an issue that affects our future quality of life, and one where reasonable minds can differ. Anti-nuclear power advocates need to step up and explain what wind and solar technologies are in place as viable alternatives to nuclear power. CPS and other pro-nuclear advocates need to explain how we’re going to dispose of nuclear waste without endangering our environment and our safety. There’s not much margin for error in a world characterized by sweeping environment changes and threats of terrorism where our resources to deal with these issues are already strained to the maximum. So, we need a long-term perspective, not just a knee jerk reaction or quick fix mentality. My job is to make sure all the fine print gets read.

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)?

Mayor Hardberger is supporting President Obama’s plan to develop alternative energy infrastructure, create new energy-based industries and jobs, and weatherize homes in the community, and I support him doing so. People in my district stand to benefit from initiatives like the Green Jobs program and home weatherization, so I consider these important elements of my economic development platform.

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?

In an economy where people need to commute back and forth to work, but the price of gas is high, it makes sense to the most efficient system for public transportation possible. A cost-efficient bus system with sensible park and ride alternatives, and a rail transit for commuting to other areas in our region, will both go a long way to help our economy compete for business in growth industries and help our residents compete for jobs in and outside San Antonio.

4. If San Antonio faces a budget shortfall, where would you be willing to make budget cuts?
We need to ensure that we don’t cut programs that deal with the elderly, the youth, and the delivery of services. But when in office, investigating the budget with a fine toothed comb to ensure financial efficiency in assorted programs will be a high priority for my office and in consultation with fellow council members and the city auditor.

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?

The Hotel Occupancy Tax rate levied on every single room night charge is currently 16.75%, 2% of which is a source of revenue dedicated to paying debt service and fund capital improvements and/or maintenance of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Its current usage is sufficient and serves its purpose well. Considering San Antonio’s primary industry is tourism, the HOT Tax and its use should remain generally unchanged. Any adjustment of it could involve a loss of tourism which would negatively impact the city. Any additions to the expansion of the Convention Center could also be detrimental to a city that has just seen a drop in tourism. Adding on to this issue is economically unsound.

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?

San Antonio’s economy has traditionally focused on tourism, health, education and the military, and these have brought us to where we are today. Now we need to look at some of the information technology industries and alternative energy industries, and beef up our workforce development programs to make us more competitive with other cities and regions in the areas that most contribute to economic growth.

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?

The best way to deal with issues of self-government like the ones you mention is to make sure there’s an independent review process in place for times when the political process fails to achieve the desired levels of accountability and transparency. The City Auditor position is only one of several checks and balances the City Charter establishes to do that. Under our City Charter, the City Auditor position operates in conjunction with a City Ethics Code and an Ethics Review Board, two other important independent checks and balances in our municipal system. In theory, the ethics review process ought to be equal to, if not greater than, the City Auditor position in terms of independence, accountability and transparency. Unlike a city audit, any citizen can invoke a review under the Ethics Code simply by filing a complaint that falls within the jurisdiction of the ethics review board. In theory, the same process is also fair to the respondent of the complaint since it provides due process and a neutral forum to confront allegations that may be unfounded. The possibility that this process is ineffective and underutilized is a factor that the current dialogue on the City Auditor completely neglects to consider. If we neglect important checks and balances like our citizens review processes, accountability and transparency at City Hall probably won’t change much no matter what adjustments we make to the City Auditor position. So, if accountability and transparency is what we want, then what we need to look at along with the City Auditor position is how the citizens’ review process actually works in practice, and whether it gets the job done when our citizens try actually to use it.

8. Do you support extending the digital-billboard pilot program? If so, what restrictions, if any, would you recommend on their placement and use?

The digital billboard program should encourage diversification of ownership. Most of the billboards are owned by only a few companies who have a monopoly over the billboard marketplace. There should be a quid pro quo for extending this privilege in the form of provisions to promote inclusion of small businesses.

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.

As an elected representative to the Edwards Aquifer Authority representing District 2, the Authority is engaged in issues that pertain to the quality and quantity of our water, currently we are focusing on the Recovery Implementation Plan which addresses issues relevant to endangered species, vegetation, and horticultural quality. I agree with the EAA’s initiatives that address conservation plans in which SAWS has done a good job with its conservational campaigns. We want to educate the public on the needs for alternative sources of water. While we have done quite well with our sole source in the aquifer, looking into alternative sources would help us as we endeavor to manage our great natural resource.

10. Please briefly describe how you financially support yourself. How will you balance your work demands with your council responsibilities? Do you foresee any conflicts of interest between your profession (or former profession, if you're retired) and a position on council? If so, how will you handle these?

I am currently owner of my own small Insurance brokerage firm, Miller-Lucek, LLC. I intend to continue with this business if elected but will still give 100% of my effort to the community.

11. What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit? Specifically, what fees, if any, should the city charge for parade permits? Should they distinguish between types of applicants and events, and if so, how and by whom should those decisions be made?

The bottom line here is that government always needs to be extra careful when fees and permits, or any other procedure, touch on people’s First Amendment rights. Clearly, my job as a city councilman will be to make sure that the city complies with the letter and spirit of the constitution and any future court ruling applying it to the city’s Parade Ordinance. The Coalition is basically alleging that the city’s parade ordinance process is discriminatory because it favors some groups at the expense of others in terms of fees, and places too much power in the hands of the police department. The fact that the Coalition got a favorable ruling on part of their grievances, and still has the chance to prove the rest of their case to a jury, says to me that they’re getting a fair trial. Now we can all look forward to a court decision that tells us exactly what limits the city should observe in making decisions about parades, and in distinguishing types of applicants and events. But in my opinion, that’s only one example of the city’s obligations to the First Amendment rights of its citizen-pedestrians. The other pedestrians whose rights we need to respect are the everyday people in my district and elsewhere who use the streets to come and go from their homes. There’ve been credible complaints from my district that innocent people are being stopped, searched, and cited, in some cases, simply for walking alongside neighborhood streets that have no sidewalks. At the end of the day, my job is to pay attention to the First Amendment rights of all our citizen-pedestrians -- those who use the streets for parades and those who use the streets for daily necessities of life -- and to make sure those interests are represented effectively along with the general interest in public safety for the greater good.

12. Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces such as golf courses, libraries, parks, and El Mercado. Should these entities break even, make a profit, or be viewed as investments with tangible returns? Please propose a solution for the issues surrounding either Healy-Murphy Park, El Mercado, or La Villita.

No city is complete without treasures like libraries and parks. Our city is a jewel of this nation because of our publically owned spaces and we should do all we can to keep them in the hands of the people, whether or not they make a profit. Still, we should do all we can to make sure places like these are still patronized and aren’t a financial burden on the city. Looking into innovative solutions to make endeavors like these profitable benefits the city because we own these treasures. We are responsible for them.

13. If we've failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.

[Ed. note: No answer was supplied to this question.]

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/23/2009 4:42:37 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Healy-Murphy bid discussed tonight

The Parks and Rec Board will take the first public look at the single bid for Healy-Murphy Park -- the under-resourced Eastside park that District 2 Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Sheila McNeil is trying to unload before she leaves office -- tonight, 5:30-7:30pm at the Lion's Field Adult & Senior Center, 2803 Broadway.

The public bidding window just closed last Friday, and as of 2:30pm, Parks and Rec Director Xavier Urrutia hadn't yet examined it in detail. Parks and Rec is charged with presenting the bid to the Quality of Life Committee, which meets the second Tuesday of the month.

And the lone bidder? None other than La Villita del Rio Development, the company on whose behalf City Hall lobbyist Walter Serna first inquired, setting the park's sale in motion.

As the MashUp noted last month, the citizens that appeared to discuss the issue at a mid-February public meeting were overwhelmingly opposed to the park's impending future as a hotel (or hotel parking lot). And the issue was one of a handful that drew applause at a March 16 debate for District 2 council candidates. Merced Housing staffer Ivy Taylor answered the question first with a firm pledge to stop the sale if she were elected. Only Dan Martinez opposed the opposition, with a proposal to lease it to the adjacent Salvation Army facility for $1/year. Which means if McNeil's going to deliver the parkland to her once and future donors, the deal probably needs to be done before she leaves office in May. Although citizens will have 60 days to gather 1,500 signatures to force a public vote on the sale if and when Council officially accepts the bid, surely her plan is to get it through City Hall asap, and hope that her opponents don't have the recources to mount a successful petition drive.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/23/2009 3:31:53 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Why you’re not finding Heartland science in my climate dispatches

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe: Votex of climate misinformation. Got a problem with that? Don't read us on Wednesday.

Greg Harman

When I first started addressing global warming after my time with daily newspapers, I made one quick change: I didn’t cite the warming deniers, those that claimed contrary to all peer-reviewed and published literature that the sun or the moon or celebrity sexcapades were truly to blame for the past decades of global warming.

As I figured it, these fronts for Big Oil had already done too much damage by delaying international action as long as they had.

As international scientists converged on Copenhagen earlier this month, there was sort of a “counter-conference” held in New York, a sweet little tea party tailor made for the last die-hard climate-change deniers.

It was hosted by a Chicago-based “think tank” (and I use that term loosely) called the Heartland Institute.

You can’t find out who pays for Heartland opinions anymore, they keep that secret now, but there’s plenty enough funding history linking them to Big Tobacco and Big Oil to give you Big Suspicions about their ideological thumbprint.

And, predictably, they’re not about to buy into this Global Warming crap.

You may have noticed that I haven’t used much of their material in my blogging this past week. You’ll be seeing a lot of the same neglect when my climate story runs Wednesday. The simple reason being that these vents of hot air aren’t providing the debate with contentious science, they’re just bringing noise.

I spent a couple months “debating” a local subscriber of denial theories when the Current published my first examination of CPS Energy, “CPS Must Die.” It was an enlightening experience, providing me a pretty good grounding in what passes for the logic behind how some of these folks think. For a quick overview of the Top Ten Denier Arguments (and why they are wrong), check out Skeptical Science.

While I have found deniers more than willing to misquote or misrepresent the findings of a variety of scientists, it’s a far rarer thing for these folks to publish anything that significantly challenges the fundamentals of our understanding of climate change. If you happen to be that extraordinary person with a smoking-gun peer-reviewed paper in hand that achieves this, by all means forward it my way.

And if you’re a spectator feeling a bit shaky on what those fundamentals are, unsure whom to trust, I suggest you pick up Climate Literacy, a good guide provided by a few humble scientific organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Interior, State, Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Agency for International Development and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It offers firm footing.

Last Friday, Dr. Malcolm Cleaveland, professor of merit in the department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas (right) graced me with his perspective not only on the latest findings related to sea-level rise and our future water-intolerant climate (I’m speaking now of the U.S. West and Central America), but he cut loose a bit on this whole denial “industry.”

All I can say is, God bless him. Not a lot of researchers like to talk policy, much less speak possible ill on colleagues. He’s come the closest yet to getting candid with me.

Cleaveland said that, in many cases, today’s deniers “play the same role” as those scientists who continued to do favorable research for the tobacco companies long after the science linking smoking to cancer had become undeniably clear.

Though he said he had “no idea what their motivations are,” Cleaveland did allow that scientists (like all of us) “are economically motivated.”

“Their product is not scientific knowledge — their product is uncertainty… There is no real scientific uncertainty about the fact the earth is warming up and that it’s the greenhouse gases that are doing it.”

And Big Oil? Cleaveland says it’s involved in a “disinformation campaign that would do the CIA proud.”

Listen in:

He seems on target there. Apparently, the industry-formed Climate Action Partnership (which includes enviro groups the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense) has publicly been urging Congress to act on global warming while funding deniers behind the scenes.

The best report on the impact of industry on pending climate legislation has come from Marianne Lavelle of The Center for Public Integrity.

She writes:

A Center for Public Integrity analysis shows that, by the end of last year, more than 770 companies and interest groups had hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change. That’s an increase of more than 300 percent in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.

Some of the lobbyists, like those representing the U.S. Chamber, clearly are seeking to derail any federal effort to mandate a reduction in fossil fuel emissions. But others have more subtle agendas — they seek to blunt the costs, or tailor any new climate policy to their narrow agendas. Some just want a slice of that revenue stream. Others hope to shape the rules of the bazaar in the market-based system that the politicians, including Obama, favor for grappling with global warming.

In all the cackle and din, it will take the firmest of convictions to meet the International Panel on Climate Change’s recommended 25-40 percent reductions below 1990 emission levels by 2020.

Unfortunately, Obama’s first offer as president has been only to meet 1990 levels, nothing more. Is that so bad?

Given that change is happening faster than the IPCC predicted when it issued its last report in 2007, it just could be. Imagine temperatures too hot for sweat glands to cool the human body, and you start to get the idea.

Posted by gharman on 3/23/2009 12:46:26 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Digging for dirty needles in TCEQ’s Kelly AFB haystack

Greg M. Schwartz

Digging through TCEQ’s voluminous files relating to the former Kelly AFB and the plethora of contamination issues that plagues San Antonio’s “Toxic Triangle” is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. The agency has literally thousands of pages of documentation on Kelly relating to testing, remediation, interagency memos with EPA and environmental contractors, and challenges on such testing and subsequent judgements from local activists.

But an all-day slog through that hay produced several interesting data points that the Current will herewith be pursuing.  On June 20, 2002, project geologist Kathleen Bradley of Earth Tech, Inc., communicated with TCEQ about a Class V Injection permit for four areas around Kelly. Not sure what that is yet, but the memo included maps for proposed wells and the QueQue wonders if TCEQ followed through with those well proposals. Austin-based environmental attorney Rick Lowerre has gone on record as saying that TCEQ’s well monitoring of the toxic plume coming from Kelly is inadequate.

Then there’s PAT, the Coalition Seeking Justice for People Affected by Toxins While Working or Living Near Military Installations. Back in 2002, PAT submitted a lengthy list of complaints to TCEQ (then TNRCC), alleging that the proposed remediation plan was technically incomplete and failed to address numerous issues with regard to contamination.

PAT alleged that the contamination from Kelly had drifted into not just the shallow alluvial aquifer but also into the underlying Edwards Aquifer. If that’s true, all of San Antonio is in trouble. PAT cites work from none other than Dr. Katherine Squibb, the toxicologist who wrote about the shortcomings of analysis at Kelly in last week’s new Congressional report that ripped ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) a new one.

A September 4, 2003 document reveals that TCEQ was once again using the infamous SPLP (Synthetic Precipitation Leachate Procedure) to clear some soil borings at Kelly’s Building 424 of selenium contamination, a toxic heavy metal. The document indicates that the selenium concentrations had exceeded background levels at Kelly, only for the re-analysis with the SPLP to bring it in below the groundwater protection standard (just like SAHA environmental contractor Geo-Marine did with heavy metals at the former Swift site where SAHA is building low-income housing.)

The SPLP is the test that Neil Carman, clean air director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, has called a “phony test” that was “pretty much guaranteed to find no problem.”

Then there’s an interoffice memo from June 29, 2007 that references exceedances of the highly toxic benzo(a)pyrene in sediment at Leon Creek, adajacent to Kelly, which could be contaminating fish in the creek.

“…ATSDR, which uses different methodology and assumptions, concluded that consumption of fish caught in Leon Creek does not pose a threat to recereational anglers,” reads the memo. “However, the responses also indicate that DSHS [Texas Dept. of State health Services] has issued a fishing advisory for PCBs for Leon Creek Segment 1906…”

And there’s more. Stay tuned as the Current digs into all of these troubling data points, including impending interviews on the matters at hand with Dr. Squibb and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez….

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/19/2009 8:42:52 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Absence of M.Alice

By Gilbert Garcia

Considering that it was billed as a Mayoral and District 1 candidate forum, Tuesday night's North Shearer Hills Neighborhood Association gathering featured a rather skimpy collection of office seekers.

Only Diane Cibrian and Sheila McNeil showed up among the mayoral contenders, and even Cibrian had to leave after a few minutes because of another obligation. And District 1 insurgent Chris Forbrich was left to debate himself. In fairness, Julian Castro did send a surrogate who explained that the mayoral frontrunner was taking family time after the March 14 birth of his daughter, and planned to resume campaigning the next day.

The absence of District 1 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros was harder to explain, and, apparently for many of the neighborhood activisits in the crowd, harder to accept.

Neighborhood Association President Mary Alice Ramsay announced that both candidates had been invited and both promised they would make it, "but Mary Alice Cisneros is not here." An elderly man in the audience shot back: "As usual."

it was a bad sign for Cisneros that the crowd laughed knowingly when Forbrich told them he wanted District 1 to have a Council rep who returns their phone calls.

Toward the end of the event, Choco Meza, Cisneros' longtime friend and supporter, emerged from the audience and asked to say a few words on the incumbent's behalf. "I can assure you that as long as I've known her, being irresponsible is not part of her trait," Meza said. Meza disputed the assertion of an audience member that Cisneros "spends her time with celebrities," crediting Cisneros with fighting to shut down topless bars Club Babylon and Extreme. "I can tell you unequivocally," she said, "that Mary Alice Cisneros does not sit on her laurels."

Posted by gilgamesh470 on 3/19/2009 6:05:06 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

‘Permanent drought’ researcher suggests water managers shouldn’t wait for perfect science

Drought by numbers... Good farmland opening up toward the pole.

Greg Harman

Richard Seager is sort of the Don of horrendous drought predictions for the Western United States.

A Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades NY, Seager’s research has been cited in numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers since he first advanced the theory in 2006 that the Southwestern United States and Central America will soon be entering a state of “permanent drought” — if they haven’t already.

What is permanent drought? It’s pretty much just like it sounds.

When I ask (with serious journalistic intonation, I might add) how long a permanent drought would last, he answers simply: “It would just become the new climate.” Duh.

Seager’s team utilized 24 climate models (“the best and the worst”) from around the world to reach their findings. All of the models suggest the same thing. And since the modeling doesn’t rely on highly uncertain elements, such as cantankerous cloud feedbacks, he says the theory enjoys a high degree of certainty, he tells me during a phone interview this afternoon.

For Texas over the next few decades this means a decline by about three inches of rain per year … forever.

I called Seager because I wanted to build on what University of Oregon professor Peter Clark told me earlier this week on the topic.

Come listen in:

In my Clark interview post, I shared the latest from the climate front, the idea that our coast is in for serious rearranging. (You can see maps of what the now-projected meter of sea-level rise looks like.)

Today, I’m getting schooled in what apparently is an unavoidable shift in our weather patterns here in South Texas.

While Seager couldn’t say definitely whether or not we are already seeing the beginning of Global Warming-inspired drought (he’ll have that research ready for us in a few months), he did suggest water utility managers get on the stick.

“It’ll be 10 years before science is good enough for water managers,” he said. “But, that’s no reason to do nothing.”

As the San Antonio Water System wisely begins to look at construction of a desalination plant to meet the region’s future water needs are they considering powering it — as they do in the Canary Islands — with solar or wind?

I’m waiting on my call back…

Posted by gharman on 3/19/2009 5:49:17 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Candidate questionnaire: Dan Martinez, District 2

Dan Martinez, Candidate for City Council District 2

Beginning March 4, the
Current emailed the following questionnaire to all candidates who filed by March 9 for the May 2009 municipal elections. As responses begin to roll in, we will post them in their unedited entirety here on QueBlog. Excerpts will appear in the April 1 print edition of the Current. if you're a candidate, and did not receive a questionnaire from us, please call Elaine Wolff at 388-0625, or email her at ewolff@sacurrent.com, and provide the best email address for contacting you.

Ed. note: Mr. Martinez edited and rephrased the questions. You can find the original questions here, along with District 7 candidate Elena Guajardo's answers.

Question #1
Would I support the addition of two new Nuclear Power Plants to the South Texas Project?

No, I would not support nuclear power plants at this time. I do support Solar & Wind Energy as an alternative to future energy sources. I do not accept the premise that nuclear power is cheaper in the long run. The fact of the matter is that nuclear power would be more costly in the short investment term and at a time when the economy is at its worse time, and is not getting any better.

Question #2
Do you support Mayor Hardberger’s Mission Verde in its entirety?

No, I do support the Mission Verde in general terms, but not in its entirety. I have some reservations on Initiative #7 of the project. Particularly, anything to do with Toll Roads!

Question #3
What is the right mix of public-transit options for San Antonio’s future?

I think more emphasis need to be given to light rail and essential routes where there is more traffic congestions. Fares on light rail transportation will pay back investment bonds that would be used for construction based on a construction scale over a 10 year period.

Question #4
If San Antonio faces a budget shortfall, where would I be willing to do budget cuts?

I would first examine the Management Letter from the Independent Auditor to the City Manager for the last 5 years; secondly, I would eliminate Administrative Departmental Travel Budgets, subject to need on a case by case basis; I would freeze all departmental expenditures for equipment & supplies in the last 3 months of the fiscal year ending, I would also examine beginning fiscal year proposed departmental budgets and deduct the expenditures for equipment & supplies purchases made in the previous year-end period.
This will ensure un-necessary wasteful spending of departmental budgets in order to obtain an increase over the previous starting budget.

Question #5 (a)
What are your top spending priorities for the HOT tax? (Higher-rate Option-Tax)*

My top spending priority would be in providing funding for Community Policing to Neighborhood Associations in order to prevent the escalating of criminal activity in neighborhoods. The funding would be used for surveillance cameras, sponsoring Guardian Angels Recruit Training for Safety Patrolling, public safety stations in densely populated neighborhoods, speed humps and other calming traffic methods to reduce neighborhood speeders, etc.

*[Ed. note: The question was meant to refer to the Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax.]

Question #5 (b)
Would you support a recommendation to use some of those funds to expand the Convention Center?

 Answer: NO

Question #6
Please briefly describe your conception of San Antonio’s economy?

Local government plays a large factor in hamstringing and obstructing potential start-up business ventures due to un-necessary regulations and requirements imposed on business investors. A complete review is needed in the process to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy from start to finish. We must encourage business start-ups to build our economy and provide more job opportunities.

Question #7
How would you increase accountability and transparency at City Hall?

Council Members having access and review authority of the Independent Auditor’s Management Letter to the City Manager and recognizing that the Manager is only the custodian of the records. Elected Council members are in fact the owners of the records and should devote the time to examine the records accordingly.

Question #8
Do you support extending the digital-billboard pilot program?

Yes! Digital Billboard lawful locations are like any other Business Service Location. They provide a service and they are required to pay annual taxes on each location. They pay premium rental space to property owners and provide meaningful skilled jobs for billboard workers and help consumers and the economy as well.


Question #9
Do you support SAWS’ current plans to secure San Antonio’s water supply?

Before I would make a commitment in support of SAWS’ current plan I would need to review the Independent Auditor’s Management Letter and examine water usage for the past 5 years to determine if there is sufficient justification for the plan. Transparency is an absolute must for the operation of SAWS. Currently, there seems to be concerns and questions on accurate monthly meter reading totals.

Question #10
Please describe how you would financially support yourself, and how you will balance your work demands with your council responsibilities?

I am retired, and I manage very well on my Social Security with nearly a debt free status. I see absolutely no conflicts of interest at this time!

Question #11
What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit?

While I have no legal opinion answer, I do favor a reasonable relaxation of the ordinance to allow for Free Speech to occur and take place.

Question #12
Please describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned facilities?

I see no difference in selling franchises to private companies that is currently in place at this time and receiving a percentage of the revenue that is generated. Vending Machines, Wrecker Services, etc. are just an example.

Regarding Healy-Murphy Park I would lease it to The Salvation Army on a long term lease for a dollar a year.


Question #13
If we failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.

Yes, I would like to point out that it is the responsibility of each Council Person to safeguard his or her own district in the criminal activity that occurs and tell all the Victims that have been victimized by criminals the reasons why they have not provided community policing funds for community groups and neighborhood associations to prevent crimes! Instead of making excuses and placing the responsibility on our Police Force!

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/19/2009 2:45:30 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Candidate questionnaire: Elena Guajardo, District 7

Elena Guajardo, Candidate, City Council District 7
Beginning March 4, the Current emailed the following questionnaire to all candidates who filed by March 9 for the May 2009 municipal elections. As responses begin to roll in, we will post them in their unedited entirety here on QueBlog. Excerpts will appear in the April 1 print edition of the Current. if you're a candidate, and did not receive a questionnaire from us, please call Elaine Wolff at 388-0625, or email her at ewolff@sacurrent.com, and provide the best email address for contacting you.

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.

The next sitting council will decide the future energy pathway for the city of San Antonio.  In conversations with residents in my district, they have expressed opposition to adding more nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project, currently a two-unit facility.  There are many unresolved questions regarding waste disposal, safety and security, and the total cost to consumers.  CPS has already budgeted $276 million dollars in preliminary design and engineering costs for the expansion.  That money could have been used immediately to winterize 69,000 homes.  Additionally, labor and materials could have been purchased locally and thus injecting those dollars into our local economy. I would be open to a conversation about putting to public vote the expansion of the South Texas Project so voters can decide for themselves if they want to add two new nuclear reactors or consider diversifying our energy portfolio with other sources.

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)?

San Antonio was described as a “low wage, high waste economy” by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago.  The Mayor’s Mission Verde Initiative speaks to creating jobs and reducing energy waste so that San Antonio won’t be left behind.  I believe it is a bold initiative with recommendations for investing in green technology, energy conservation, renewable energy, efficient transportation, and smarter buildings.  As a city, as a workforce, and as energy consumers, this initiative will put us on the right track.  The first portion of the Mission Verde Initiative was brought to council at the March 12, 2009 meeting, and subsequent portions are sure to continue on with the next council. I look forward with great enthusiasm the opportunity to be able to carry out the goals of conservations, job creation and the green growth of this initiative.  Our city and our citizens will no doubt benefit from it for many generations.

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?

Recently there was a restructuring of the transportation authority aimed at creating less duplication and overlap among the entities that tackle the issues of transportation.   In addition to large scale, long-term planning and solutions such as light rail, we need to consider small scale, short-term solutions.  For instance, we presently don’t offer an express bus from Bandera at 1604 all the way into downtown.  During my term on council, VIA only offered service out to Mainland and Bandera.  I was able to help facilitate the creation of a community friendly bus route all the way to 1604.  Now, we need an express route that gets these riders directly into downtown. The expansion can be funded by passengers who would participate in more rider-friendly routes.

4. If San Antonio faces a budget shortfall, where would you be willing to make budget cuts?
The state of the economy is pushing our city to get back to the basics – to return to the nuts and bolts services outlined in our City Charter.  First and foremost our safety cannot be compromised.  We must continue to support and prioritize police, fire and emergency services to protect and keep citizens safe.  And, we can still be innovative in increasing our revenue streams.  During my term on council, I brought to the City Manager’s attention that the city did not have a full-time, dedicated grant writer on staff.  Thanks to my recommendation, funding was allocated for that position and that person has since brought in over a million dollars in grant funding. Additionally, the downtown merchants asked me to champion an idea that became the Commercial Loading Zone Extended Time Permit, which generated monies for the Parking Enterprise Fund in additional permit sales.  Our city employees are also a resource for balancing the bottom line.  Because of their hands on, daily experience and expertise, they can be helpful in identifying how to cut costs and wasteful spending without sacrificing vital programs and services.

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?

The Hotel Occupancy Tax rate levied on every single room night charge is currently 16.75%, of which 2% is a dedicated source of revenue to pay debt service and fund capital improvements and/or maintenance of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Complex.  With the downturn of the economy, many conventions have lessened the number of days of their events, and in doing so they lessen their need for the convention center facilities.  It would not seem prudent to expand the Convention Center at a time when the demand for its use is lower, and impractical to further burden our tourists with more taxes. The City uses 7% of the HOT fund to support tourism, convention activities, as well as art and cultural programming across the City. Our focus should be on thinking of creative and innovative ways to attract visitors and more, longer staying conventions.

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?

All business indicators show that San Antonio is feeling the outside pressures of the economic tailspin that our Country is experiencing, yet not to the extent of other cities. That is a blessing but we must be proactive in creating the dialogue and partnerships with the various Chambers, education institutions and workforce development agencies to prepare workers for the next “green” jobs and the job clusters as identified by San Antonio Technology Accelerator Initiative (SATAI) and the City’s Office of Economic Development. In addition, we must do everything we can to create new jobs and keep San Antonians working. Let’s make sure that jobs funded by our tax dollars go first to San Antonio families and encourage the hiring of San Antonio residents for taxpayer funded projects, and also give preference to San Antonio firms seeking city contracts. With the million of dollars headed to San Antonio under the federal stimulus package, let’s work to ensure that the paychecks created by these jobs go into the pockets of people living in San Antonio. When these contracts are awarded to local businesses we help guarantee that every dollar spent will stimulate our economy and generate more tax revenue for the City.

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?

During my term on council I met monthly with then City Auditor, Pat Majors, on the audits her office was conducting and the status of audit reports. When given the task of finding Ms. Majors’ replacement, I approached several CPAs from throughout our city and asked what questions would be reasonable to ask prospective job applicants. After those discussions I concluded that a City Auditor needs to be an independent agent whose job it is to ensure that the City’s business practices are transparent, ethical, accountable and efficient.  It is not the job of the City Auditor to be a whistleblower or an “I got you” position.  With that said, I am unclear why it is taking so long for the City’s Audit Committee to define the City Auditor’s role and relationship with the council.  The Committee was given the task of outlining these issues in June of 2008 and we have yet to see a report of their findings.

8. Do you support extending the digital-billboard pilot program? If so, what restrictions, if any, would you recommend on their placement and use?

The residents in my district have voice some disapproval of the digital-billboards. The council’s inaction during the January 29th, 2009 meeting only leads us to presume that this issue will be taken up by the incoming council. Should this be the case, I would hold townhall meetings in my district addressing this issue to solicit recommendations on restrictions and placement.   The people’s voice should be heard on this matter.

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.

Because of the efforts of the San Antonio Water System, San Antonio is a national leader in water conservation. Despite a population increase of 50%, San Antonio uses the same amount of water it did 20 years ago.  As a result, we have saved $550 million by not having to acquire new water resource, and our rates have stayed low. We are very fortunate in San Antonio that the Edwards Aquifer provides us with an extremely pure water source.  Anything we do to limit its absorption or create impurities is a disservice to the health of our community.  Scientific research tells us that impervious cover over 15% can endanger the Aquifer.  Sadly, we do not know what the total impervious cover of the Aquifer is today nor is there a comprehensive plan.  This is a conversation what we should be holding at city, county and regional level.  There is current program that uses sales tax money to buy undeveloped land over the Edwards Aquifer and its tributaries and I would like to see this program continued.

10. Please briefly describe how you financially support yourself. How will you balance your work demands with your council responsibilities? Do you foresee any conflicts of interest between your profession (or former profession, if you're retired) and a position on council? If so, how will you handle these?

I’m retired and live on my monthly retirement check. Serving on council will be my full-time job and will get my full-time commitment. And more importantly, I will not need to recuse myself from a vote because of a conflict of interest, something that my opponent has recently done on a CPS vote.

11. What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit? Specifically, what fees, if any, should the city charge for parade permits? Should they distinguish between types of applicants and events, and if so, how and by whom should those decisions be made?

The current council, including my opponent, voted on the Parade Ordinance that is being challenged in court today. During my term on council, the issue was tabled.  I felt that the ordinance brought to us at that time was a limit to freedom of speech and freedom of public assembly. I think we should consider what other cities have done.  For instance the City of Houston could be a model.  They require an application, a permit is issued, and they have a designated number of blocks that a march can travel without charge. Beyond that limit, applicants must pay a $1,000 per intersection cost. The city also provides appropriate traffic control and cones for all applicants on a first come bases for the designated number of blocks.  But more importantly, all parade applications are equally considered.

12. Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces such as golf courses, libraries, parks, and El Mercado. Should these entities break even, make a profit, or be viewed as investments with tangible returns? Please propose a solution for the issues surrounding either Healy-Murphy Park, El Mercado, or La Villita.

First of all, parks and libraries contribute to our quality of life and are not profit centers for the City.  During my term on council, I sat on the Quality of Life Committee that appraised the golf courses that were losing money. That discussion led to a hybrid decision to keep ownership of some city courses and create a non-profit entity to manage other golf courses. It’s this innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that needs be applied to other city-operated spaces.  

13. If we've failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.

[Ed. note: no answer provided.]

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/19/2009 1:39:34 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

COPS/Metro Alliance candidate forum draws good crowd, provided candidates little time to speak

Greg M. Schwartz

Last night’s forum for District 5 and District 1 city council candidates at the St. Philip of Jesus Catholic Church’s parish hall was billed as an “accountability session,” with candidates being asked to say whether or not they would support 12 particular issues as voiced by members of COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service) and the Metro Alliance.

District 5 candidates on hand were incumbent Lourdes Galvan and challengers Eiginio Rodriguez, David Medina and John Carlos Garcia. District 1 candidates present were Mary Alice Cisneros and Rudy Krebs.

COPS/Metro Alliance members read all twelve questions first, with a big scorecard set up to record candidates answers of yes or no. The issues included securing funds to build a multi-purpose Community Center at St. Philip of Jesus; prioritizing neighborhood infrastructure projects including train “quiet zones”; requiring that CPS nuclear plant contractors agree to pay all cost overruns and that CPS present an alternative plan for solar and wind energy; funding $250,000 per year to reopen Lanier High School Health Clinic; doubling the dollar amount of the city’s Education Partnership scholarships; keeping low fees for After School Challenge and Kid Quest; increasing funding for Project QUEST to $3 million next year; and meeting with COPS/Metro two weeks after the election and quarterly thereafter.

Anna Rosales of the Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church gave the most passionate reading of any of the questions when she addressed the candidates on the CPS issues.

“We’re here to remind CPS that [we] have institutional memory. We say members of city council should not agree to a contract [with the STP nuclear project] unless the contractor agrees to pay every penny over [the estimated cost of] $8 billion,” said Rosales.

A spirited crowed in the neighborhood 200 people attended and COPS/Metro Alliance can be commended for attempting to generate enthusiasm for the elections and awareness of the issues. But if the point of the exercise was for voters to attempt to differentiate the candidates by their answers, then the process seemed set up to fail.

Each of the six candidates on hand was given a mere 90 seconds to address all 12 of the issues. This predictably led to very similar answers, with all six candidates saying they would support all 12 issues and having little time to elaborate on their views.

Garcia seemed like the best-prepared candidate for the format as he was able to touch briefly on the first 10 issues. “We need to exhaust every single option before we go down that road,” said Garcia of CPS Energy’s nuclear expansion plans.

Rodriguez was the only the candidate to make a specific mention of the potential hazards of the nuclear waste that would be created, while Medina voiced dissent against the nuke plans by saying that residents on fixed incomes cannot afford an increase in electricity rates. Galvan said she still remembered the previous CPS cost overruns and was committed to supporting that issue.

Krebs said she has a problem with $8 billion for nuclear plants, “especially if the nuclear jobs are not coming to my district.” Cisneros was the only candidate who first addressed the audience in Spanish, and then said she was especially committed to requiring nuclear plant contractors to pay the cost overruns.

If you’re having a hard time distinguishing the candidates’ positions on the CPS issues, there was even less differentiation on the other issues. COPS/Metro Alliance leaders said that they had met with each of the candidates previously and would be relating further information from those meetings to their various congregations and members. But if you’re going to go to the trouble of gathering the candidates and members together for a community meeting, wouldn’t it make more sense to give those candidates a little bit more time to talk?  The Current would love to hear from anyone in attendance as to whether they felt they were able to better distinguish their preference amongst the candidates, and if so, based on what?

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/18/2009 6:59:14 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Kicking carbon out of homes, before the sea swallows us whole

We don't say 'global warming' anymore?

Greg Harman

Home Sweet Homes in Alamo City have until 2030 to get the carbon out for good.

As the first major accomplishment of Mayor Phil Hardberger’s Mission Verde, new building codes approved last week require new homes to be 15 percent more energy efficient starting in 2010. Those standards will be ratcheted up regularly until the homes being built include energy-generating measures like solar panels or microturbines so that they use no more energy than they are able to generate on their own.

There is much more to be accomplished — jobs, greenbacks, a carbon-neutral city — before Verde can be definitively classified as a success, and supporters have openly worried about what will happen to it after Hardy leaves office in May.

Former Tesoro Petroleum CEO Michael Burke partially answered that question by introducing the city’s environmental policy director at the “clean tech” forum today. After all, the office established by Hardberger and staffed by Laurence Doxey will endure, as far as we know.

So, if all goes well, our new homes will be certifiably Greenhouse Free about the same time Indonesia is watching 2,000 of its islands slip beneath the rising seas.

Other USA Today favored predictions include the loss of 60 percent of the Amazon that same decade.

The suggestion that we may be facing rapid and serious climate chaos tightened over this past weeks as scientists gathered in Copenhagen, the site where the “new” Kyoto agreement on climate policy must be adopted come December, began to speak freely.

General consensus seems to be that the IPCC has underestimated a few things, including the pace of sea-level rise facing the world this century.

There was a vote for 18 inches or more:

Global warming is expected to cause the sea level along the northeastern U.S. coast to rise almost twice as fast as global sea levels during this century, putting New York City at greater risk for damage from hurricanes and winter storm surge, according to a new study led by a Florida State University researcher.

And a nod to a more than a meter:

Research presented today at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen shows that the upper range of sea level rise by 2100 could be in the range of about one meter, or possibly more. In the lower end of the spectrum it looks increasingly unlikely that sea level rise will be much less than 50 cm by 2100. This means that if emissions of greenhouse gases is not reduced quickly and substantially, even the best case scenario will hit low lying coastal areas housing one in 10 humans on the planet hard.

The researcher, however, was saying “meters”:

According to Dr. John Church of the Center for Australian Weather
and Climate Research, Hobart, Tasmania, who spoke at the conference, recent observations have shown that sea level has been continuously rising for the past 15 years at 3mm/year rate. This, he said, is above the average of the 20th century, adding that oceans continuously warming and expanding, and mountain glaciers and ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland continuously melting also contribute to sea level rise.

“Unless we undertake urgent and significant mitigation actions, the climate could cross a threshold during the 21st century committing the world to a sea level rise of meters,” Church also said during the conference.

What does a meter look like?

Brownsville gets coastal

Corpus builds new bridges

Galveston phones for a lifeline

University of Oregon professor Peter Clark’s research for a synthesis report on “abrupt” climate change for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program presented in San Francisco three months ago concurred on sea rise, but added in a dose of "forever" drought for the Southwest United States.

Here’s a bit of our conversation for those of you that just can’t help yourselves…

Posted by gharman on 3/17/2009 5:32:35 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

New congressional report opens Kelly toxic triangle up to new questions

Greg M. Schwartz

Those who have doubted government conclusions about the health problems surrounding the former Kelly Air Force Base received fresh ammunition for their suspicions last week when a new report from the U.S. House of Representatives concluded that officials from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry “deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate health concerns.”

The report from the House Science and Technology Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee goes on to say that ATSDR “often obscures or overlooks potential health hazards, uses inadequate analysis, and fails to zero in on toxic culprits” and that “Time and time again ATSDR appears to avoid clearly and directly confronting the most obvious toxic culprits that harm the health of local communities throughout the nation.”

Kelly AFB is even one of the ten examples specifically cited in the report. It notes a 1999 ATSDR report that examined cancer incidence around Kelly and found increased levels of liver and kidney cancer as well as leukemia, but failed to link the illnesses to toxins that had leached into the neighborhoods from aircraft operations at Kelly.

Dr. Katherine Squibb, a toxicologist from the University of Maryland, found that ATSDR’s report on Kelly was based on minimal information, that some Air Force studies ATSDR relied on for its conclusions failed to measure important exposure pathways, and that ATSDR failed to conduct an adequate assessment of whether or not some chemicals migrated off- base.

“It is questionable as to whether ATSDR’s conclusion that no public exposure to contaminants occurred through domestic use of groundwater in the past is correct,” wrote Squibb in the report.

Regarding another ATSDR report, Squibb concluded that ATSDR had examined health risks from exposure to soil from a part of the base only after it had been cleaned up and remediated.

“It does not appear that ATSDR has considered health risks associated with soil from this site that migrated prior to remediation,” said Squibb.

Squibb’s comments concerning ATSDR’s conclusions about the groundwater back up this reporter’s recent hunch that the ATSDR opinion leaves a critical hole in assessment of the matter. Upon attempting to determine who had the final say on the question of what is causing the reported health problems, I targeted a 2001 ATSDR study indicating that while rates of certain cancers and birth defects were high, that ATSDR could not attribute them to the toxic substances that have emanated from the base. The plume of chemicals underneath is known to stretch for at least five miles, lying under more than 20,000 homes and businesses, with the primary carcinogens being TCE (trichloroethylene) and PCE (perchloroethylene).

Upon a recent query about what ATSDR would attribute those high rates of illness to, if not Kelly, ATSDR spokesperson Jeff Dimond responded by saying that the agency is no longer active at Kelly AFB and would have to refer the matter to the EPA.

“EPA is not in a position to speak for ATSDR in this matter and must
refer you back to them,” responded EPA Public Information Officer Dave Bary. Dimond then said he’d run the question “back up the flagpole,” which garnered a statement a week later from David Fowler, ATSDR Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (Lead Health Assessor for the Kelly AFB study).

“At the time of initial investigation in 1996, groundwater plumes were
just beginning to move off base to the north (North Kelly Gardens) and
south (Quintana Road) of the base,” wrote Fowler. “The groundwater plumes through and from East Kelly were not yet characterized… Because the plumes… were just beginning to move off base, because gas sampling in homes did not reveal a public health concern, and because the contaminated aquifer was not a source of drinking water, it was deemed unlikely that cancer elevations were caused by groundwater contamination.”

Fowler went on to state that cancer latency for most cancers may
be 10 to 20 years or more, and that “ the liver cancer was so
widespread (in south San Antonio) that contamination from Kelly could
not be the primary cause.”

But all of these conclusions now come under further question due to the new congressional report about ATSDR’s inadequacies. When queried last week for further comment in light of the new report, Dimond said that ATSDR Director Howard Frumkin's testimony before the House Sub-Committee on Science and Technology and comments posted on the Committee's website are the only comments that ATSDR will be making on the matter.

Frumkin tried to minimize his agency’s culpability at the hearing, saying that “While communities expect us to provide definitive answers about the links between exposures and illnesses, even the best science sometimes does not permit firm conclusions.”

Committee chairman Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), wasn’t having it though as he accused ATSDR of poor science and “a keenness to please industries and government agencies that prefer to minimize public health consequences of environmental exposures.”

Results of recent indoor air testing by EPA to determine if chemical vapors are seeping into area homes are due to be released at the next meeting of the Kelly Restoration Advisory Board on April 14. This new report is sure to be a hot topic of discussion as well. The Current will be interviewing Dr. Katherine Squibb about Kelly later this week, so stay tuned for more on these latest revelations…

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/16/2009 7:03:01 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Dictatorial fashion rebounding in Latin America?

Bryan Thompson

Let's face it, the last time El Salvador crossed your mind, you were probably driving around in your '77 Chevelle blasting Springsteen on your 8-track.

Back then, the country was ruled by a brutal military junta and the impoverished peasantry was rising up in an insurgency known as the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). Ronald Reagan announced El Salvador would never fall to the Communists and proceeded to aid the government, even if it did have a habit of killing its political opponents by the thousands.

Fast forward to 2009. El Salvador has been at peace since 1992 and globalization has brought considerable wealth to the nation. However, the distribution of that wealth is still amazingly uneven and the economy is tanking. Crime, always high throughout the 1990s, has skyrocketed, giving the country the world's second highest murder rate.  

This Sunday, a historic change could sweep El Salvador as the presidential elections roll around. Now a legalized political party, the FMLN could take power for the first time in history. A former journalist, FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes is well-spoken, educated, and promises to rule the nation in a moderate, yet socially responsible, manner.

Naturally, the conservative ARENA party is quite worried as this could end their quarter century of uninterrupted rule.  

However, some in the United States are more vocal about their opposition to an FMLN victory on Sunday. Some, such as Arizona congressman Trent Franks, called the FMLN a “pro-terrorist” organization and warned that this could threaten American interests. In Republican circles, El Salvador was synonymous with rolling back communism, and American conservatives may not view a leftist victory in that nation favorably.

The biggest setback El Salvador could face under the FMLN is to become a satellite state of Venezuela. Rather than become an independent leftist government with a strong international presence a la Brazil, El Salvador could succumb to a reenactment of the old political feuds of the 1980s, much like Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega.  

Chavez-affiliated governments are characterized by a general erosion of political freedoms, an increase in militarism and abolition of term limits. Already the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have attempted or succeeded in eliminating term limits. If we keep advancing at this rate, dictatorship in Latin America just may become fashionable again.

Posted by gharman on 3/13/2009 3:53:03 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

CPS Energy fighting carbon caps as climate prognosis worsens

Science suggests Australia's present drought and wildfires may be tracking to Texas. And guess who's fidding?

Greg Harman

The word from Copenhagen 2009 isn’t encouraging.

As the world’s governments scramble to replace an expiring Kyoto Agreement, a gathering of international scientists released the message that the world is warming faster than the International Panel on Climate Change predicted just two years ago.

Lisa Bryant quotes Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado for Voice of America:

“The key finding of this meeting is that we have up to one-meter sea-level rise by 2100, based on our new insight of glaciers. And that will affect up to 600 million people that are living close to the coastline and it will include major cities like New York,” he said. "We already know that New Orleans is in the same way, but also areas like Bangladesh or smaller areas of islands that will be flooded within that one-meter sea level rise."

Quoting economist Lord Stern, the BBC expanded on this concept pending forced migrations:

“You'd see hundreds of millions people, probably billions of people who would have to move and we know that would cause conflict, so we would see a very extended period of conflict around the world, decades or centuries as hundreds of millions of people move, " said Lord Stern.

"So I think it's very important that we understand the magnitude of the risk we are running."

In general, scientists — never great at playing media games — are sick of being drowned out by “political noise.”

Here in San Antonio, we are proceeding along diverging paths in this increasingly brambled pressent.

On one hand, we have a city government getting down with Mission Verde. On the other hand, our city-owned, coal- and nuclear-based utility is actively lobbying to prevent a federal carbon cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions — the primary long-lived gas blamed for climate change.

As a member of the Climate Policy Group, CPS Energy has taken the position that “a cap and trade system is not appropriate for controlling CO2 emissions due to the lack of affordable, reliable and commercially available control technologies.”

A cap-and-trade bill to begin reducing national greenhouse emissions is expected to be pushed to Congress for debate in coming weeks.

What may represent one of the last coal-fueled power plants to be built in this country, CPS’ Spruce Two got under construction in 2005, long after the dangers of carbon emissions were well understood. Meanwhile, significant efforts to reduce energy consumption were not undertaken by the utility until this year, despite calls to do so five years ago and consultant studies showing investments in energy efficiency could make a new power plant unnecessary.

Jere Locke, founder of Texas Climate Emergency, spoke with me about Copenhagen, rapid climate change, and the need for San Antonians lean heavily on U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez.

Listen in:

Posted by gharman on 3/13/2009 1:24:03 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Social networking on the campaign trail

By Gilbert Garcia

Barack Obama changed the electoral game in 2008 by embracing the power of the Internet, and mayoral hopeful Julián Castro has obviously studied the Obama blueprint.

On Tuesday, March 10, Castro hosted his first-ever "media/blogger summit" at his Broadway campaign headquarters. Seated at a small table with a combination of private bloggers and print reporters, and surrounded by friends and supporters (including his nine-months pregnant wife, Erica, only a day before her due date), Castro took questions for an hour, including some from the summit's 30 online viewers.

Castro, whose Facebook campaign page has nearly 600 members, described the event as "an opportunity to bring the power of social media to bear on a political campaign." He noted that voter turnout in recent SA elections has languished in the 13-17 percent range, and said he hoped "to leverage social media" to bring up voter involvement in local politics.

Castro emphasized the need to maintain present funding levels for essential City services such as police and fire, even with the threat of a budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, and dismissed the possibility of a property-tax hike. He did, however, voice tentative support for City Manager Sheryl Sculley's suggestion of a temporary municipal "hiring chill" to keep costs down.

He advocated that SA follow the example of Oakland and Philadelphia by creating a "green-collar job corps," and lauded the emergence of the city's homeless center, Haven for Hope: "I've visited and toured it three or four times and it's going to be a fantastic service for this city," Castro said.

Additionally, he addressed the city's growing traffic concerns by voicing his support for light-rail and bike lanes, and said San Antonio should use federal-stimulus money to help relieve traffic congestion at 281 and 1604. He also declined to take toll roads off the table for discussion, even while he acknowledged that they're almost universally disliked. He warned that if the city doesn't aggressively move on the traffic issue, "we'll have a Round Rock situation," alluding to the example of businesses avoiding Austin in favor of its suburbs, because of Austin's traffic problems.

Bringing the discussion back to the social-networking theme, Castro said he's observed the disintegration of neighborhood cohesiveness over his lifetime and suggested that social networking has brought some of that interconnectness back to our lives, but without a neighborhood's sense of physical proximity. With that in mind, he talked about looking into an experimental city project that would create a neighborhood social-media network "to use the power of social media to re-link people together."

Afer the Webcast concluded, Castro campaign manager Christian Archer said the campaign hopes to schedule more online summits — at least one every couple of weeks — between now and the May 9 election.

Posted by gilgamesh470 on 3/12/2009 5:57:28 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Texas Senate advances Voter ID bill after all-night session

Greg M. Schwartz

The Texas Senate’s Committee of the Whole voted through passage of a Voter ID bill along party lines this morning, following an all-night session of debate on the contentious issue. Senate Bill 362, requiring that voters present a photo ID in order to vote, passed 19-12.

The result was all but guaranteed after Republicans had tweaked Senate rules in January to enable members to debate the ID bill with a mere  majority vote rather than the two-thirds' margin normally required. The bill will now go before the full Senate, perhaps as early as Monday, for final passage. If it passes there, it will go on to the Texas House, whose members passed Voter ID bills in 2005 and 2007. Democrats have gained 11 seats in the Texas House since trailing 87-63 in 2005, narrowing the Republican majority to 76-74, but still enough to pass the bill if the vote follows strict party lines.

"I sort of know how the Manchurian candidate felt," Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) told the Austin American-Statesman regarding the all-night session, an intriguing reference to the classic 1962 film where a former American POW and son of a prominent politician is brainwashed by Communists who deprive him of sleep while programming him to become a mind-controlled assassin.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) grilled witnesses such as Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Elections Commission member who is currently with the conservative Heritage Foundation, on the issue. Von Spakovsky spoke of reports of illegal aliens registering and voting in Bexar County, but when Shapleigh asked if any of those allegations led to prosecutions or convictions, von Spakovsky admitted he didn’t know.

The Texas Democratic Party takes State Senator and SB 362 author Tommy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) to task for a bill that they say will discriminate against women, among others. The Dems seized on Fraser’s comment that he has trouble hearing women’s voices, after he’d been questioned by Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) during the floor debate.

“Sen. Fraser’s voter suppression legislation threatens to take Texas back to the days when some citizens had a voice in the election process and others, including women, were silenced,” said Texas Democratic Party Spokeswoman Kirsten Gray in a press release.  “Sen. Fraser and his fellow Texas Senate Republicans need to move past their selective hearing and listen to what this bill really is: A sad and divisive echo from the past.”

Gray cited US Census Bureau and Federal Highway Administration stats that women are more than twice as likely as men not to have a drivers license, that one of every five senior women does not have one and that 70 percent of al those without a license are women.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst continued with his disingenuous palaver about the bill’s importance in preventing alleged vote impersonation, of which his party has still failed to present any prosecutable evidence for.

“The very foundation of our democracy rests on preserving the integrity of one person one vote, so we must do everything we can in Texas to ensure each vote cast is legal,” Dewhurst said in a press release. “I congratulate Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) on passing this legislation out of committee, moving Texas one step closer to a more secure voting system that will help us prevent voter fraud and instill greater confidence among all Texans that their vote counts.”

Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra breaks down the bottom line when he writes that the ID battle is about which party gets to control the redistricting process for the state legislature.

“What this is really all about is that Republicans don't want a lot of African Americans and Latinos to vote in Texas in 2010, since 90-plus percent of blacks and 70-plus percent of Latinos voted for Barack Obama,” writes Guerra today. “And though Democrats tend to vote straight tickets at a rate lower than Republicans, the minorities' numbers might still overwhelm the GOP in the next general election and end the Republicans' control of the Texas House, and maybe even the Senate. So what is really at stake is which party is going to draw up redistricting maps for the Texas House and Senate, and especially, Texas' expanded congressional delegation.”

Curiously, none other than Karl Rove was sited in the Texas Capitol cafeteria on the eve of the debate. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/12/2009 3:06:52 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Oh Sheila

By Gilbert Garcia

For weeks, Queblog assumed — or possibly hoped — that Sheila McNeil's flirtation with a mayoral run was not serious; that it was either a trial balloon to set up McNeil for a county or state race in the near future, or purely an attention-seeking, ego-driven stunt.

Well, it remains questionable how serious McNeil's candidacy is, but her mayoral bid can at least be termed an official one, with the District 2 councilwoman filing yesterday, just ahead of the deadline.

Given McNeil's dubious rep in her own district, her controversial crusade to sell Healy-Murphy Park, her trip to the Obama inauguration on the tab of SA taxpayers, and her callous "let them pay for tollroads" jab at northside residents, where is the demand for a McNeil candidacy?

McNeil's presence in the race increases the possibility of a mayoral run-off, but hardly makes it a sure thing. Her political baggage and extremely late entry in the race make it hard to imagine McNeil drawing more than 5 percent of the vote, and that could easily leave Julian Castro with more than 50 percent on May 9, particularly if Trish DeBerry-Mejia — his most formidable rival — fails to make a surge in the next few weeks.

Posted by gilgamesh470 on 3/10/2009 5:09:27 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

50th anniversary of Tibetan national uprising

Greg M. Schwartz

From the International Affairs Desk –

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising that led to the Dalai Lama’s escape and exile from Tibet in 1959. The Dalai Lama issued an extensive statement today in which he summarized his country’s plight.

“These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet. Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them. Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction; in short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death,” said the Dalai Lama.

A BBC article today covers wide ground with the Dalai Lama saying China has put Tibet through “hell on Earth,” while Chinese officials claim that “democratic reforms [under Chinese rule] are the widest and most profound reforms in Tibetan history.”

Chinese news outlet Xinhua continues to push propaganda that followers of the Dalai Lama are a mere “clique,” an absurd notion considering that nearly all Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be both their religious and governmental leader. Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s principal translator, issued a statement in the Wall Street Journal reiterating that Tibet seeks only autonomy, not independence.

“For both sides, there is not much to gain from invoking history to contest the legitimacy of each other's claims. For the Tibetans, the facts on the ground are such that, whether we like it or not, today Tibet is part of China. Tibetans need to understand that any proposed settlement that fails to respect the territorial integrity of modern China will be unacceptable to any government in Beijing,” writes Jinpa. “Beijing, meanwhile, needs to recognize the legitimacy of the Tibetan people's aspiration to protect the integrity of our language, culture and identity."

For those who are curious about how the 50 year conflict developed, director Martin Scorsese’s 1997 Dalai Lama biopic Kundun offers a detailed and compelling cinematic dramatization of the events in the 1950s that led to the current stalemate. Celebrity Buddhist Richard Gere, meanwhile, suggests that the ascension of Barack Obama as President of the United States creates optimism that China could one day have a Tibetan leader.

"30 years, 20 years ago, who would have thought there could be a black president of the United States? Things change rapidly -- and it's usually in crisis and tragedy that things change the most,” said Gere. “I can see a time when there may well be a Tibetan-Chinese prime minister or president or whatever form of government there is then. But the words have to be spoken.”

Activists for Tibetan freedom rallied at the White House on Monday in hopes of pressuring President Obama to take up their cause. But many of those activists are disturbed by recent comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that China’s human rights violations could not be allowed to "interfere" with the Washington-Beijing dialogue on three other pressing crises - the global economic downturn, the climate change problem and security issues.

Such a view from Washington would seem to indicate a maintenance of the status quo regarding Tibet. Amnesty International issued a statement last week saying that the organization was “shocked and extremely disappointed” in Clinton’s comments.

“It's not too late for Secretary Clinton to do the right thing for the Chinese people. Amnesty International urges Secretary Clinton to repair the damage caused by her statement and publicly declare that human rights are central to U.S.-China relations before she leaves Beijing,” said T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi offered some hope for the Tibetan cause when she spoke at a reception commemorating the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet yesterday, with her remarks indicating that the status quo is not acceptable.

“For the last year, Tibet has been under martial law and the human rights situation continues to worsen. Last week, the U.S. State Department issued its Annual Country Report on Human Rights stating that 'the [Chinese] government's human rights record in Tibetan areas of China deteriorated severely during the year,” said Pelosi. “Sadly, there has been no progress in the discussions between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama. It is clear that the Chinese government has not won the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people. Rather, the Tibetan people have accumulated legitimate grievances from decades of repressive policies… It is long past time for Beijing to make progress on a solution that respects the human rights of every Tibetan.”

While some might feel that 50 years of exile with little to show in the way of progress is a lost cause, the Dalai Lama’s ever-optimistic view demonstrates otherwise.

“Looking back on 50 years in exile, we have witnessed many ups and downs. However, the fact that the Tibet issue is alive and the international community is taking growing interest in it is indeed an achievement. Seen from this perspective, I have no doubt that the justice of Tibet's cause will prevail, if we continue to tread the path of truth and non-violence.”

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/10/2009 4:18:51 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

First Friday backlash


Video by Jeff Turner

Posted by jaimemonzon on 3/9/2009 5:45:08 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

It's alive - Texas Republicans engineer a new Voter ID Frankenstein

The Texas Senate is once again gearing up to re-launch its contrived effort to pass Voter ID legislation with a hearing on March 10. Like a Frankenstein monster that just won’t die, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Senate Republicans are back for another try with SB 362, allegedly because of what a huge problem vote fraud is in Texas.

“We all know thousands of people have voted illegally in Texas elections, threatening the sacred American principle of ‘one person, one vote.’ We cannot allow our democracy to be undermined by voter fraud,” says Dewhurst at his website.

But Dewhurst’s words strike a disingenuous tone since he fails to provide a shred of evidence for a single case of such alleged vote fraud, much less thousands (the Current is still waiting for his press lackeys to respond to multiple requests for such information.)

The Texas Democratic Party is calling upon citizens to attend the hearing at the Senate Chamber in Austin on Tuesday to offer public testimony of their opposition to SB 362.

“There is no evidence of voter impersonation and Texans face far more urgent problems, but Texas Republicans are following a national Republican agenda to keep failed leaders in office with laws that would reduce turnout among seniors, students, people of color and those with lower incomes,” argue the Texas Dems in their appeal for the Lone Star citizenry to attend the hearing with a dissenting voice.

“The voter fraud epidemic they talk about is a ghost epidemic… to suppress turnout to keep failed leaders in office,” said Kirsten Gray, spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “This is an attempt to put bureaucratic hoops between you and the ballot box.”

Gray cited study after study showing that photo ID laws discourage turnout across the board. These included former Texas Republican Party Political Director Royal Masset’s estimation that a photo ID requirement would reduce Democratic turnout in Texas by 3 percent, and a 2006 study by the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice which found that 18 percent of Americans over age 65 and 25 percent of African-Americans did not have a government-issued photo ID.

“This isn’t voter ID, it’s a photo ID. It amounts to a poll tax,” said Gray in regards to money that some people would need to spend in transportation and taking time off from work to fulfill the photo ID requirement. She also said the red tape could keep still others from being able to vote. “If you’re born in Texas and you can’t get to Austin, you may have to wait up to six to eight weeks to get your birth certificate in the mail.”

Tuesday’s hearing of the Whole Committee of the Senate is set to begin at 9 a.m., with the public testimony scheduled for the afternoon.

Posted by Gschwartz on 3/6/2009 6:39:41 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Lobbying at City Hall

By Gilbert Garcia

Two weeks ago, when attorney Ted Lee publicly confronted District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian over her role in the City's zoning process, one of his big assertions was that Cibrian has an overly chummy relationship with lobbyist Bill Kaufman.

The Current, which looked into Cibrian's front-end role in the zoning process last month ["Boundary Issues," February 4, 2009], recently filed an open-records request with the City to look at email communications between Cibrian and Kaufman in the two years since she became a member of Council.

While the emails do not provide any examples of Kaufman explicitly bending Cibrian's thinking to suit his lobbying agenda, they do indicate that a mutual-admiration society exists between the lobbyist and the Councilmember.

Before Cibrian addressed the North Chamber of Commerce in November, 2007, she sent Kaufman this email request for advice: "Hi Bil, I am speaking for 20 minutes. Any tips?" He responded like a diligent City Hall staffer: "Pro economic development, improving Development Services, having City Staff be responsive to businesses, bring reasonableness to zoning cases (you are personally involved) — you know, your normal speech. You want to help small business grow in a regulated environment. You may, or may not, want to address term limits."

That same week, Cibrian sent Kaufman the following email: "I would like to visit with you about how we can make the zoning process better at City Council meetings. After you left, I had a difficult time." Kaufman quickly responded: "You bet. When do you have time available?"

Beyond the cryptic "after you left, I had a difficult time" comment from Cibrian, it's a legitimate question why an elected official should feel compelled to have summits with lobbyists to make the zoning process flow more smoothly.

We also get the occasional "you are great" and "you made my day" notes from Kaufman to Cibrian, and one effusive testimonial from the Councilwoman in response to a critical letter from neighborhood activist Cynthia Nemcik about Kaufman. Nemcik opposed the commercial development of two acres of residential property at Green Glen and Oak Grove, a project for which Kaufman lobbied.

Cibrian reassures an aggravated Kaufman this way: "I have always found you to be highly professional, ethical, and honest. I was quite surprised by the email Ms. Nemcick sent to me. Please disregard her letter as i have found much of the information she provides to be highly inaccurate and unfortunate. You have worked very hard with my office and the neighborhood to come to a positive resolution on this case. As a result, you have my full support."

Probably the pithiest exchange between Cibrian and Kaufman occurred on November 29, 2007. Cibrian sent Kaufman an email with the subject line: "Your being bashed at Council," and wrote: "You should consider listening...". He shot back: "On what issue?" She responded: "Zoning over aquifer for VIA intermodal."

Posted by gilgamesh470 on 3/6/2009 5:39:45 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Canary Islanders bring next-tech lessons to San Antonio

Alfonzo Chiscano, president of Friends of the Canary Islands, prepares to introduce his necktie to his handkerchief.

Greg Harman

Canary Islanders represented a good portion of the European settlement stock of colonial San Antonio, ultimately helping transform the San Antonio River’s headwaters into an organized system of canals for drinking and irrigation water hundreds of years ago.

The hits just keep on coming.

On Thursday, water experts from across the region shared the seats and stage at UTSA’s downtown International Center with a team of Canary Islanders here to share their latest water-stretching engineering feats.

Thanks to the Islanders, small-scale solar-powered desalination plants have begun to pop up around Northern Africa, converting the ocean itself into a sustaining source of drinking water for small villages in Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania.

Makes sense for desert islands and Northern Africa, but I’m not prepared to eat crow on my mockering of ocean desal for San Anto.

That said, the collision of renewable power and desalination being demonstrated by some of our Spanishy forebears is exciting.

Consider the El Hierro Project.

El Hierro is the Island's largest land mass. The “Project” writ large is the process of making the island totally reliant on wind and sun.

It makes for good press, which is nice for a two-million population island economy ruled by 12 million annual tourists.

From Monsters and Critics:

By the end of 2009, El Hierro should be the first of the world's larger inhabited islands to generate its entire power requirements from renewable energy sources. Three windmills and two hydro-electric power plants are all that is needed to achieve this aim.

The energy project fits in well with the kind of image which tourists bosses want the island to project. For years now the local administration has been trying to sell El Hierro to tourists and businessmen as an 'ecologically-sound' island.

'We don't have the wide sandy beaches of Grand Canaria and the island is a difficult place to reach,' said Javier Morales, deputy mayor of the capital Valverde. 'That's why we have to try and exploit niches in the market such as eco-tourism or compete against mass- production on Teneriffe with our eco-friendly fruit.'

Even more exciting to renewable power wonks are plans to store wind energy in water.

All the domestic criticisms alleging renewable powers like wind and solar are hampered by their intermittent nature are laid to rest in the extremely simple plan to pump water uphill when the power from El Hierro’s wind turbines is not needed (late at night, for instance, when even the most decadent of cities are tumbling into snoozes).

And when there is no wind?

“We let the water fall down when there is no wind,” said Gonzalo Piernavieja (right), of the Canary Islands Institute of Technology. As it “falls,” the water runs over a series of turbines to generate more electricity.

Though still in its “tender” phase — God Bless ESL speakers for unintended poetry — “we think in a few years we will be known worldwide.”

What does it all mean to SA?

For starters, plans by the San Antonio Water System to embark on the energy-intensive desalination of brackish water in Southern Bexar should similarly be run on renewables.

But we can expect added animosity from our rural neighbors, suggested another panelist.

Updating the old adage “Whiskey’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’,” was the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s analyst Steve Niemeyer who paraphrased regional attitudes on the wet stuff: “Mi case es su casa; Mi agua es mi agua.”

Greg Flores, Veep of Public Affairs at SAWS, added that the future of San Antonio’s water needs will require additional water treaties with San Antonio’s neighbors, but that “what we have found is that’s very difficult to do.”

Maybe if SAWS reps put on Castillian Spanish accents and talked a bit more about life on the Islands? Just saying, it worked on this audience.

Posted by gharman on 3/6/2009 12:30:59 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Sewer dooings: Local politicos slow to embrace anti-sewage bill

Return to Sender? Bexar Commissioners having a hard time making their mark.

Greg Harman

As far as bill language goes, House Bill 595 pending in the House Natural Resources Committee up in Austin is as plain as a one-sided coin. Clocking in at a mere 423 words, the bill to outlaw the discharge of septic water into creeks and streams over the contributing or recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer doesn’t take much puzzling over to comprehend.

So why have our Bexar County Commissioners still failed to support it?

It’s being carried by our hometown delegation. State Representative David Leibowitz (right) has it on the House side, and Leticia Van de Putte holds the companion bill in the Senate.

Your Commissioners were prepared to adopt a resolution in support of the bill early last month but held off after the building community came after them.

Becky Oliver, executive veep of the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, wrote the Commissioners in a letter dated February 10 that the bill would result in an explosion of “endless acres of onsite septic tanks” in the Hill Country north and west of San Antonio. And as everyone knows, “Individual septic systems have more potential for contaminating groundwater than do wastewater treatment plants with appropriate effluent standards.”

Besides, an unsigned letter on Real Estate Council of San Antonio letterhead, adds, shit is just plain good for creeks.

“Discharges have the advantage of providing a constant source of flow to the local creeks,” the realtors objection states,  “rather than potentially piping it downstream … ”

It all served to gum the Commissioners works.

While many aquatic activists expected them to bring the matter back up for consideration at last week’s meeting, there was no such luck.

Meanwhile, the Board of Directors at the San Antonio Water System has been slow to embrace 595, too.

Despite turning down a developer’s application for the very fact they didn’t want septic running down into the San Geronimo Creek — and ultimately the Edwards, San Antonio’s primary water source — there has been no indication of when they’ll weigh in.

At a monthly SAWS board meeting yesterday, Chairman Alexander Briseño said only that the board needed to take a position on the bill.

So, maybe give ‘em another month.

Annalisa Peace of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance wasn’t nearly as shy, saying the builders’ letters were full of misinformation. “If the developers are so worried about septic then we invite them to work with us to make sure we get that taken care of.”

As currently stated, state rules on septic system prohibit much density, she said, and rural septic systems would still be able to use their “gray” water for irrigation under HB595.

A boisterous email making the rounds suggests the Commissioners may brave into those septic waters again at their next meeting: Tuesday, March 10. (We've been having trouble getting a call back to confirm/deny.)

Wade on over, if you’re so inclined.

Posted by gharman on 3/5/2009 4:43:04 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

City Council: (Policy) check's in the mail!

As promised, we started emailing our candidate questionnaire yesterday to folks who've filed to represent you at City Hall come May.  The 9th is the filing deadline, and we'll make sure the late-comers get theirs, too. If you're a registered candidate and didn't get one yet, it may be because we're having trouble tracking down an email address for you. Give us a call at 388-0625, or email me at ewolff@sacurrent.com.

Thanks to the readers who emailed or posted suggestions. Here's the final set that went out, with a due date of March 20. We'll post the answers in their entirety online as we receive them, and run excerpts in our April 1 print edition.

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. Please briefly describe how you financially support yourself. How will you balance your work demands with your council responsibilities? Do you foresee any conflicts of interest between your profession (or former profession, if you're retired) and a position on council? If so, how will you handle these?

11. What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit? Specifically, what fees, if any, should the city charge for parade permits? Should they distinguish between types of applicants and events, and if so, how and by whom should those decisions be made?

12. Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces such as golf courses, libraries, parks, and El Mercado. Should these entities break even, make a profit, or be viewed as investments with tangible returns? Please propose a solution for the issues surrounding either Healy-Murphy Park, El Mercado, or La Villita.

13. If we've failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/5/2009 9:43:22 AM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Asked her for water, she gave me Listerine

Keeping the animals in line: SAWS Board Chairman minds the ring.

Greg Harman

Point one: If you are buying water in little plastic bottles, you’re an idiot. Tough love, I know. But it’s time get over all that insanity.

Point number two: We sit on an ocean of beautiful, crystal-clear freshwater (unless you live over in Leon Valley or nestled up against Kelly AFB) and have some of the best tap water in the nation. So why is our water utility talking about desalination of ocean water?

Excuse me while I get my chat-room acronyms in hand, but WTF?

As part of the San Antonio Water System’s 50-year plan being trotted out to a variety of community groups over the next month or so, better minds than mine have been crunching a sea of statistics (assuming, of course, one crunches statistics, which are, at bottom, just numbers, right?).

These masters of hydromorphology who like to talk in terms of “load,” have determined that a shitload of people are going to keep moving to San Antonio — and each and every one of them are going to need water.

Now apparently to withhold said water to these future neighbors would be on par with some sort of genocidal war crime, so we are obligated to deliver this water, even if it means driving a pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico to get it for them.

For my money, these future new residents should have thought about drinking before they rented that U-Haul, but that’s my uncharitability shining through.

Florida offers an innovative notion here: Taxing those who take local water out of state in million of shiny plastic insults.

Here’s where that conversation starts:

Every day, Nestle Waters of North America sucks up an estimated 500,000 gallons from Madison Blue Springs, a limestone basin a mile north of town. It pipes the 70-degree water to its massive bottling plant and distribution center, fills 102,000 plastic containers an hour, pastes on Deer Park or Zephyrhills labels, boxes it up and ships half of it out of state.

The cost to the company for the water: a one-time $150 local water permit. Like 22 other bottled water companies in Florida, including giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co., Nestle's profit is 10 to 100 times the cost of each bottle.

And the payment to Florida? Not a dime.

Texas doesn’t get squat from those who pump and bottle our water for export, either.

The Texas Water Development Board was instructed by our Lege last session to check it out as a potential “revenue stream,” but isn’t including any potential tax on water bottlers in their departmental priorities this session, according to a source at the TWDB.

It’s a shame. Seems to me that allowing bottlers to export our water for their profit doesn't exactly add up in the long equation.

Considering a drought on par with what the state experienced in the 1950s could sap our current supply by 2012, new funds will be needed.

But how do we plan to fund the rush of new taps? To not only "take care of our own," so to speak but keep up with migration?

Consider some options for funding light rail being explored at the county level, included in one recently filed bill. They'd allow for taxing you for the number of car miles driven, the size of your engine, or foulness of your emissions.

Another option would have new residents footing the bill as they seek to set up shelter here.

If we don’t figure it out soon, SAWS is prepared to run that pipeline to the Coast, and you and I can kiss any semblance of an affordable bill on bubbly goodbye.

Expanding desal operations in South Bexar County is likely going to happen one way or another, but cleaning up seawater is a much more expensive and energy-intensive activity.

The difference for ratepayers may boil down to paying an extra $80 or $100 per month for water inside of 16 years.

SAWS’ current 50-year plan is expected to cost about $3.5 billion, all told. If we are forced to jump to ocean desal, however, it would jump to $4.47 billion.

“I think we’ll be able to find a source of water that is less expensive than that,” one presenter told SAWS board yesterday, while suggesting ocean desal could be an alternative “maybe in 60 years.”

Can hardly wait.

Posted by gharman on 3/4/2009 1:48:56 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Rolling out the carbon-cutting guillotine

Greg Harman

Over the weekend a new audience got a little better acquainted with Mayor Hardberger’s rush to lay down new tracks in his final months in office — tracks that ideally would steer San Antonio on course to become an international leader in pollution-free energy development, if all goes well.

Even if much of Hardberger’s plans are lost in transition as he steps aside for Julian Castro this May, a three-day date with sustainability advisor Jeremy Rifkin in April should flower loving repercussions and some unexpected paradigm shifting.

“A whole league of investors follow him around like little dogs waiting to see where he’s going to squat,” a San Antonio green-energy advocate tells me of Rifkin.

Beloved San Antonio, Rifkin is prepared to squat on you.

Yet questions bubbling up for Hardy’s second, Larry Zinn, at the Saturday evening gathering in Esperanza’s upper chambers, were held to allow for the battering and frying of a bigger fish. In this case, the topic was the consistently delayed and/or scuttled federal efforts to put a pricetag on climate change. The target was U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez.

Sadly, with two-thirds of the Current news staff playing rock star & groupie in San Fran, and the third third crawling armadillo tracks in the (San Antonio) Bay area, we’ve been forced to canvass attendees and organizers to gauge the performance of the aforementioned Charlie Gonzalez (left, in world's most unflattering photo). Unfortunately, what many had been hoping to uncover, Charlie’s position on renewed efforts to implement cap-and-trade carbon legislation, remain murky.

While Gonzalez is said to have waxed casually about the ongoing political battle taking place over carbon and shown off his knowledge of green matters, that longed-for transparency didn’t occur.

Calls to his media handler got us a dressed-up quote, (Ah, were we a power-brokering media conglomerate daily, downturns an’ all. *sigh*) to the effect that:

“A market-based approach to limiting emissions has the potential to revitalize several large segments of our economy and improve our environment at the same time. When industry sees the incentives and revenue-potential of controlling pollution, the private sector will come alive with innovative solutions and we will see a surge in new, green-collar jobs. That’s American ingenuity at its finest, and I will continue to support such entrepreneurship.”

Gonzalez already as a few strikes against him here. He was a no vote last time the current Chair of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, Congress member  Henry Waxman, was stalking supporters back in the darkest days of Bush Era.

Of course, things have changed since then.

Alyssa Burgin, local rep to the Austin-based Texas Climate Emergency Campaign, was supportive of Gonzalez while noting his lack of commitment, saying, “He’s been very generous in letting us know what he believes the opposition to carbon emissions cuts will look like, but he’s not allied himself with that opposition … He has spoken well about green technology and the future of Texas, but at the same time he hasn’t assured us of his vote.”

Event organizer Luke Metzger, head of Environment Texas, said that while Gonzalez “stated his support for more action on clean energy” several times at the gathering, her organization was “disappointed [he] failed to take the opportunity to clearly declare his support for a strong, science-based cap on global warming pollution.”

That “market-based approach” Gonzalez seems to favor appears to have support in a network of environmental law professors that have begun to advocate for it in Washington.

The effort to draw upon the success of Acid Rain cap-and-trade legislation from the Reagan era — along with the belief that no “significant” environmental successes can be claimed in Washington since — is what propels the members of Breaking the Logjam, a partnership grown from the conversations of professors at New York University School of Law and New York Law School.

“The pollution control statutes that we enacted in the 1970s required the government to tell businesses exactly how to control their pollution. So regulators in Washington were writing commands to hundreds of thousands of sources around the country,” said Richard B. Stewart, professor at New York University School of Law and Breaking the Logjam cofounder.

“Now that actually worked pretty well at the beginning. Action was needed… there were some pretty clear things, some simple things … We’re in a very different situation today. We’re getting down to the last little bit and that’s much harder to do.”

Stewart is right in line with what I am forced to assume is Gonzalez's position on this point. If we put a price on pollution and enforce it, businesses will figure out “the cheapest and more innovative ways to get the further reductions that we need.”

Of course, the market solution of cap-and-trade has been with us for a while. And Gonzalez wasn't there.

Worse, when it comes to CO2, the reductions needed are far beyond what anyone is even proposing. It is this logjam writ large that erupted in civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., today, where hundreds to thousands rallied to dethrone coal and save the planet (right).

From a Capitol Climate Action press release:

WASHINGTON— A national coalition of more than 40 environmental, public health, labor, social justice, faith-based and other advocacy groups today announce plans to engage in civil disobedience at the Capitol Power Plant in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of March 2, 2009. The Capitol Climate Action (CCA), the largest mass mobilization on global warming in the country’s history, reflects the growing public demand for bold action to address the climate and energy crises.

“The Capitol Climate Action comes not a moment too soon. For more than thirty years, scientists, environmentalists and people from all walks of life have urged our leaders to take action to stop global warming; and that action has yet to come,” said Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. Dr. Hansen will join the protest. “Coal is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country and that must change. The world is waiting for the Obama administration and Congress to lead the way forward on this defining issue of our time. They need to start by getting coal out of Congress.”

And while it’s good mental relaxation for some of us to imagine solar panels blanketing our cityscape in San Antonio, it is important to remember that until grossly overvalued coal industry is dealt with, there is no room clean energy to flower.

That’s where many are expecting Gonzalez to lend a hand. He’s prized due to his seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where the climate bill will be first considered. He’s also one of the more liberal Texas members on that committee, where it is conceivable that three of the five Texans — Joe Barton, Ralph Hall, and Michael Burgess — will be voting against a carbon cap-and-trade no matter what the language of the bill.

Waxman's next climate bill is expeted to hit committee by Memorial Day. We wouldn't be upset with you if you placed a few encouraging calls to Gonzalez. We just happen to have his number right here: (202)225-3236.


Consider these stats on climate change provided by TCEC:
Greenhouse gas cuts of 25-40 percent under 1990 levels by 2020 will give us a 50/50 chance of avoiding 2-degree (Celcius) temperature rise above preindustrial levels. Most scientists agree that if we reach this temperature it will automatically lead to 3 and 4 degrees Celcuius above pre-industrial. Nature will have taken over.
President Obama has recommended cuts that would only get us back to 1990 levels by 2020, well below IPCC recommendations.
The best 100 scientists in the IPCC would undoubtedly make emission cut recommendations more severe than the IPCC because the IPCC waters down its own science in its consensus process and it did this assessment in 2007 before much important research was released.


What we will lose — even if we follow IPCC recommendations:
  • As much as half of Africa's food production will be gone by 2020 according to the IPCC 
  • The Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035, according to the IPCC, if the world keeps warming at the current rate. Over 40% of the world's people will lose half their water.
  • If we stopped all emissions today, there are enough present emissions that the changes underway won't be reversed for over 1000 years. This is from a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

More from Environment Texas on Gonzalez:

As one of the audience members pointed out at the town hall, last year global warming champ Henry Waxman (now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee) sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi laying out basic principles that must be part of any global warming legislation. More than 150 members of Congress, including three Texans, signed on to that letter, however Congressman Gonzalez did not. When asked about this, Congressman Gonzalez again took a pass on endorsing strong action on global warming. As a key member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Congressman Gonzalez is in the driver's seat for developing clean energy and climate legislation this spring. The town hall meeting demonstrated widespread community support for bold action. Moving forward, we hope Congressman Gonzalez will support reducing total U.S. global warming pollution by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 through a combination of domestic cuts and international financing. We should not include loopholes, such as "offsets" and mechanisms that allow polluters to delay cutting pollution. We should auction 100% of allowances and invest all of the revenue in accelerating the transition to clean energy and assisting consumers.

Posted by gharman on 3/2/2009 5:50:15 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

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