If Americans were still interested in a portion of representation with their inevitable taxation, you would think we’d have wrapped up this Census business by now. Yet as of Monday only 37 percent of Alamo City residents had returned their forms, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those numbers were even worse in some Valley cities.
Laredo was reporting only 27-percent returns; Brownsville was way down at 25 percent. Not that any of us should be surprised. Texas is regularly undercounted, and pays for it in the lighter return of federal taxes sent back to the state for things like road work, new schools and libraries, and health care programs.
Our Census numbers are also used in the creation of political districts and apportioning of Congressional seats. Another shortchange on both counts will particularly punish Valley residents, where there has been such dynamic growth these past years.
Back in 2000, Texas was the second highest undercounted state in the nation and lost claim to an estimated $1 billion of our tax dollars for it. Now Census Bureau Director is expressing “concern” about our low numbers. Well, we should all be feeling a little sick.
State Rep. Mike Villarreal wrote Texas Governor Rick Perry more than four months ago to try to muster state resources behind the Census push. Specifically, Villarreal urged Perry to back the creation of a “complete count” committee and use the resources of state agencies to get the Census message out to hard-to-count populations like the “elderly, children, minorities, renters and low-income.” Perry didn’t respond to the letter.
[For more on that, you can read my March 4 blog post and listen to my interview with Anna Alicia Romero, regional census director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.]
It’s sort of despicable. I mean, what does Perry possibly stand to gain from another massive undercount that shortchanges the border-county populations that have boomed over the last 10 years? Hmm. What, indeed?
So, consider this a gentle reminder to mail your form today ... Okay, tomorrow, if you really need to get your head clear for the task. Just remember it's only two days until 2010’s deadline, folks! The fewer door-knockers the Census has to employ, the more ka-ching we're gonna hear, so sayeth these federal enumerators.
Two years ago, our cat lady got shafted, her 50 kitties got gassed, and no one is happy about it (except, maybe, D’Anne Trethan’s feline-hatin’ neighbors). Guess she was raided by the wrong outfit.
Last week, a wildlife rescue volunteer stumbled onto a hoarding situation in San Antonio involving an estimated 27 cats. Call what’s happened since an exploration of alternatives.
In this case, the homeowner called Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation for assistance with problem squirrels. The volunteer, Jim Graham, noticed the home was filled with dozens of sweet kitties and all their productive sweet kitty filth.
From the moment the long-time volunteer walked into the house, “He realized there’s a whole lot more going on than squirrels in her attic,” said WRR founder Lynn Cuny. “He let me know about it … and said, ‘Please, can we do something?’”
As KENS5 reported last week, animal “hoarders” typically “only get help after a search warrant allows animal care workers inside the home to seize the animals.” This time, with Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation at the fore, San Antonio’s Animal Care Services (and their likely lethal solution) has been kept at bay. Instead, WRR volunteers and staff have examined and treated the cats, cleaned the woman’s house, and gotten her into therapy, said Cuny.
“We can’t always step in when we find these situations or hear about them, but we like to lend a hand to some degree,” she added. (Subtext for all you slovenly pet lovers: ‘We’re not running a maid service here, people.’)
The Kendalia County-based WRR opened an office in San Antonio earlier this year and hopes — by working at the grassroots, community level — to assist the city achieve its commitment to achieving "no-kill" status by 2012.
Working with several rescue groups, WRR and the homeowner now face the daunting task of adopting out most of those cats. Until things that happens, the operation can’t be considered an outright success story. But as Cuny sees it: “the woman has kind of a lifeline to some help now, as do the cats”
Those with a kitty-shaped hole in their bleeding hearts (and the means to provide,) contact WRR at (830) 336-2725.
Good grades have gotten harder to come by in Texas, what with the Guv Lite sticking his nose in our homework assignments, an’ all.
Last week, a Tarleton State University student in Stephenville was to present a one-act play in class to complete the requirements of his theater course. After news leaked of the play involving a queer Jesus and crew, our crusading Lt. Governor threw his gauntlet down, demanding tax money not be used to “debase” the (evangelical, fundamentalist) religion of Texans. As if organized religion needed any help debasing itself, I’m sure he was thinking.
Had his staff bothered to investigate, they would have seen the costs of the class assignment were being footed entirely by the student.
After Dewhurt’s comments ramped up the negative publicity (and resultant threats to the school) about the performance, the professor canceled class. Gay Jesus went down in flames; Dewhurst rose to applaud the victory of “reasonable expectations” over free speech.
The recently launched Texas Tribune has been all over the topic.
Judge Peter Sakai ruled early this afternoon that Living Stones Ministries, the Eastside homeless shelter and church, could remain open, provided it accepted no new residents at this time, corrected any additional code violations and safety hazards, and applied within the week for an appropriate Certificate of Occupancy and zoning.
Living Stones residents, who along with supporters filled several of the courtroom's benches, breathed audible sighs of relief when Sakai announced his decision.
"Had it not been for that place, I would not have had a place to go," said Joseph, a former probation officer who is living at the church while he puts his life back together. After the court recessed, he led a prayer circle in thanks in the courthouse's hallway. "We're like a family. I just thank God we have a place to go today."
The City sought to close the shelter in the wake of a March 16 visit by the Dangerous Assessment Response Team, the City's multi-agency dangerous-structures abatement unit. City Attorney Savita Rai characterized the church as too dangerous to live in during the time it would take Living Stones Pastor Jimmy M. Spicer to address the CofO and zoning issues.
But Judge Sakai seemed sympathetic to the defense's arguments: Why if it was an emergency, for instance, did the City wait more than a week to ask the Court to close the place down (and then seek a reschedule for Thursday this morning)? And why did the City do nothing for more than a decade, while Spicer operated his homeless shelter without the proper paperwork?
"But the City would have to concede that it's known in the past that people were living there," Judge Sakai said to Rai. Rai admitted that was true within the past two years. "I wish we could be proactive [about addressing out-of-compliance facilities]," she said, "but we just don't have the resources to do so."
Living Stones residents, and other local ministries, believe that the crackdown was brought about by the imminent opening of Haven for Hope, the City's $100-million homeless-services campus -- a belief fueled by a visit last week to Living Stones by Haven's outdoor-courtyard liaison, Ron Brown. Brown told the Current Sunday that his organization is actively seeking partners to help with overflow food and shelter needs when Haven opens, but the visit coming on the heels of the City's enforcement action has left independent homeless advocates wary. Read more about it in Wednesday's Current.
When negotiating his separations papers with his former masters at CPS Energy late last year, former CPS Board Secretary and the Vice President of Nuclear Development Robert “Bob” Temple asked for so few things, it appears.
His office chair and computer desk went with him. As did his iPhone (purged of company documents). And he took a year’s salary, too.
Temple’s severance package was released today after months of delay. Temple appealed the Current’s January 7 public information request of CPS to the Texas Attorney General, arguing release of the agreement was an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and contained confidential “competitive information.” Citing established case law, Assistant Attorney General Mack Harrison disagreed with Temple, writing on March 11 that the severance was of “legitimate public interest” and “must be released.” Though he had the option, Temple did not appeal Harrison's ruling.
By all appearances, General Manager Steve Bartley negotiated a better out with the City-owned utility than the legally trained Temple. Bartley got a company pension, 15 months of base pay, and nearly two years of health care coverage for himself and his wife. But, of course, we haven’t seen Temple’s chair.
Here’s the deal…
The City lost its first-round skirmish with an Eastside shelter dedicated to the homeless and impoverished yesterday when Judge Toni Arteaga declined to force Living Stones Ministries to close its doors.
The City's move followed a DART inspection March 16. City Attorney Savita Rai claimed inspectors found inch-long bedbugs, exposed wires, and inadequate sanitary facilities, but Pastor Jimmy M. Spicer refused to boot his residents, who pay $65/week (as able; only about a third actually do, he said) to stay at Living Stones, although they did stop preparing fresh food in the shelter's spacious kitchen as ordered.
Late yesterday, the Judge ordered Spicer to install smoke alarms and additional fire extinguishers in order to stay open through the weekend. Spicer called a few minutes ago to say they passed today's inspections "with flying colors," which means the next date with Rai and Co. is Monday at the Courthouse. They are organizing a show of support from homeless citizens, and reaching out to local news media to cover the hearing.
Living Stones is not zoned for its function and occupancy -- a fact Spicer says the City has only now noticed, although Spicer has been in operation for 17 years -- and he hopes to ask the Court for enough time (perhaps three to six months) to correct that issue, as well as any shortcomings in the kitchen and bathroom facilities.
The QueQue toured Living Stones bunkhouse Thursday evening, and found a clean and spacious kitchen, neatly organized bunks with belongings stored underneath them (and in provided lockers). While it's true that one refrigerator was empty and out of order, at least four others and two freezers appeared to be working. Some 34 bunks fill the men's dorm room and living area, which also contains a few rows of pews oriented toward a large flat-screen TV. The two shower stalls were of the painted concrete variety familiar to prisoners and former summer-campers. In the separate women's dorm room, a resident a resident told the QueQue she moved into Living Stones four months' earlier after her allotted time at the Salvation Army shelter was up. She felt safe, she said, and liked her fellow roommates. According to Spicer, the average residency at Living Stones is 18 months, and he estimated 37 residents were onsite this week.
A gentleman from the Dallas-Fort Worth area said he loves the facility, and he worries that COSA will engage in homeless roundups once Haven for Hope, the City's integrated-services campus, opens its doors -- which he alleges happened in DFW after the Bridge homeless campus opened.
Those concerns are fueled both by Haven's long-ago stated intention to virtually monopolize local homeless services, and by news that Corazon Ministries, which is based out of Travis Park church downtown, would be ceasing much of its outreach to the homeless after April 2, including its feeding program, which serves as many as 180 meals per day for lunch. The organization's current City grant expires the first week of April, and there won't be another -- a development that could strain other food-and-clothing initiatives such as Church Under the Bridge, especially between now and the final opening of Haven. Calls to Haven have not yet been returned.
What makes porn ‘porn’?
While researching and writing the story that became Porn, Addiction, and the Black Market it was hard not to stray away from the tale’s natural thread, the question: does online pornography facilitate or accelerate real-world sexual crimes. Just ask my editor about that sometime. The discussion about why the porn we know today looks and behaves the way it does, the bulk of it so deeply colored by male dominance, is deeply nuanced. Getting lost in those weeds along the way was probably important for my personal development, if not totally germane to the article itself.
Still, I can’t say I’ve nailed down my thoughts on what role the gazillions of images of real and staged sexual acts streaming on so many screens play in our sexual behavior. I only know they’re significant. That if the substance of those images doesn’t evolve, if the fantasies we collectively conjure continue to be dreams of dominance and ownership, the enslaved and victimized will remain with us, as well. Trafficking triumphs.
Given the estimated $10 billion the porn industry is valued at, I’m left wondering also if it isn’t time to consider this old seemingly self-renewing dream a corporate one, with the titans of sexual ideation playing a role not unlike the titans of industrial beef, corn syrup, and tobacco of these recent assembly-lined decades. How far will new models (DIY, feminist, alt lifestyle) move our arousal markers? Can they break the hold of the dominant dream?
So far, most of this amateur effort follows much of the same storyline. It’s no wonder. UT journalism prof Robert Jensen cast it this way: “If you have a culture that has grown up on pornography, especially these younger people, and grown up in a heavily mediated society, it’s not surprising that when they create their own media it often looks a lot like the commercial pornography that had a lot to do with framing their sexual imagination.”
Yet one of Jensen’s fascinations has to do with mediation in a more general way. Why people flock to the little video boxes to participate in life, rather than into the wide-open world of substance.
“Why are we obsessed with mediation? This is a culture that is just obsessed with mediated images of self and others,” he continued. “I think there’s a lot of things this culture should be concerned about. … A lot of underpinnings of this society are really in crisis. Whether it’s gender relations, economic relations, the relation of human beings to the eco-system. I’m not a very upbeat person these days, because I see a lot of fundamental problems that the culture simply can’t acknowledge, let alone address.”
Jensen weaves together the fraying threads of gender, capital, and eco-politics and finds our culture ill prepared to act on these co-joined failures. And yet if the old dream has left us scuttled and dysfunctional, still "entertaining ourselves to death," to reference an old touchstone of cultural criticism, where is the new paradigm?
It’s been several decades since so-called “intentional communities” (ie. communes) were in widespread, grassroots development. The last rush not insignificantly dovetailing with the sexual revolution and era of “free love” has certainly passed, replaced with what could be considered the Age of Irony. The new world so longed for seems as distant as ever.
Not everyone has thrown in the towel on re-creating community. Enter Awakening the Dreamer. An email about an upcoming weekend retreat caught my eye recently. Launched by the author of best-selling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the effort is to bring indigenous wisdom into the consumption-driven North. It appears to be gathering energy.
For those of you interested in actively pushing a values shift, this effort aimed at “bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on Planet Earth” may be worth investigating.
San Antonio College students plan to ask the Alamo Colleges board of trustees tonight to add sexual orientation to the list of protected categories in the district's nondiscrimination policy, which currently reads: "The Alamo Colleges do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability with respect to access, employment programs, or services." The move wasn't prompted by any board action or campus incident, said Richard Farias, the faculty adviser for SAC's Gay and Lesbian Association, but it would bring them in line with the best practices of Fortune 500 companies such as USAA and H-E-B, as well as colleges and universities across the state and nation.
Farias says GALA expects to be joined by representatives of the campus's Student Government Association, and students from Northwest Vista College's gay and lesbian student association.
The meeting begins at 6pm at the George E. Killen Community Center, 201 W. Sheridan. Watch this blog and next week's QueQue for updates.
The Express-News ran two pickup stories this week -- one from the New York Times, the other from the Associated Press -- about ACORN's potentially fatal fiscal problems. Below, you'll find a story by Current sister paper Metro Times that details the crimes against an organization that surely (legally and fairly) helped elect Barack Obama, and was just as surely targeted for destruction by elements on the right (with an assist from mainstream media). More related reading: the Current's early look at attempts to bring down the social-justice organization during the 2008 election.
by Curt Guyette
You haven't seen Carrie Guzman on the television shows hosted by archconservatives Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck. Her name hasn't appeared on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal. And she hasn't shown up in any surreptitiously videotaped sting operations conducted by youthful right-wing zealots.
In fact, Guzman represents a face of the group ACORN that has been largely absent from the media in general since various factions of the right wing set out to discredit and cripple the anti-poverty organization.
At least she used to be a part of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. As head of the Lansing office, she worked out of a small office in that city for four years, putting in long hours while making just $30,000 a year. Given that Guzman holds a Ph.D. in community development, the pay is exceptionally meager. But she loved the job nonetheless, seeing it as a way to continue providing a public service after retiring from Michigan State University, where she previously served as director of the undergraduate social work program.
But late last year, after the federal government illegally cut off funding to the nonprofit and threatened to do the same to any other entity either affiliated or even associated with the group, ACORN in Michigan shut down all operations.
One year before the ax fell, Michigan ACORN had offices in Detroit, Lansing, Saginaw, Flint and Grand Rapids. At its peak, it had more than 20 full-time staff and represented more than 10,000 member families around the state.
In 2008, according to organization officials, it helped more than 1,000 families get their taxes filed, saved some 75 families from foreclosure, and assisted more than 150,000 people in filling out voter registration applications.
Continue reading ...
Yes, Obama and the Dems are a Senate vote and a few pen strokes away from systemic health-care reform. In case your divining rod has been whacked off course by the prophesiers of doom, a handy link to several things that the health-care-reform legislation will change immediately, including closing the "doughnut hole" in Medicare prescription coverage for seniors, an end to caps on annual and lifetime care, and funding for community-health centers.
Also law once the President signs the bill: a major change to the student-loan system, which will eliminate private lenders in the middle, thereby saving oodles of boodle, which will beused in part to fund more Pell grants. If I'm reading the outcry from the right on this correctly, they're upset that our college-age kids won't be subsidizing jobs for lenders now, and paying as much loan interest once they graduate. Ah, those freeloading students! On the bright side: Maybe they'll be able to afford cars and homes.
The homeless dig Kiley Jon Clark’s Buddhist “Street Dharma.” But is he for real?
By Enrique Lopetegui
The QueQue spoke with Public Works Director Majed Al-Ghafry yesterday, who says residents living near SARA dam 15R, located by McAllister Park, can sleep soundly. He created a report earlier this year -- more of a "finding" really -- to close out that old OMI file, and says the dam is up to spec: it meets Natural Resources Conservation Service standards, and can handle the demands of both "existing and ultimate land use" -- that is, even if every parking lot and building current zoning allows is built in the dam's watershed (and the upstream dams' watersheds?), "the dam will not be overtopped."
Al-Ghafry said that the San Antonio River Authority confirmed that the dam met all necessary specs, but Public Works didn't take their word for it: his staff did its own hydraulics modeling, although he didn't recall when that was exactly.
Here's what I wrote in the QueQue this week:
Plugging the dam
In December 2009, the Current reported on the unhappy state of affairs at San Antonio’s Office of Municipal Integrity, the small department with the Orwellian name whose mission was downsized in 2006 by incoming City Manager Sheryl Sculley. [“The story that didn’t run,” December 2, 2009.] Henceforth, OMI — which was founded in response to a 1985 KENS-5 investigation that uncovered building-permits bribery — would handle only “fraud, waste, and abuse” of City resources as narrowly defined by a new committee under the guidance of Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni. Everything else — from complaints about physical abuse at the City-run jail to sweetheart real-estate deals for family members — would be shipped back to the departments where they originated, or sometimes sent to an Assistant City Manager to handle.
Those jail-abuse hot potatoes were tossed from one unwilling hand to another until a nosy Express-News reporter forced action in 2008 (his story, alas, was also buried in a shallow grave). And those weren’t the only potential embarrassments festering in OMI limbo. The QueQue was also concerned that substantive-sounding allegations about the construction of a San Antonio River Authority dam and the new River Walk Museum Reach contained no followup reports, only a couple of memos noting that they’d been forwarded to then Deputy City Manager Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley (who is currently the Acting GM of CPS Energy). DiGiovanni told us at the time that there was no requirement that anyone report the results of their investigations to OMI.
“Once they’re referred they are closed,” DiGiovanni said. “When we refer a case we’re basically closing it out in our system.”
Our curiosity unrequited, the QueQue put in an open-records request to find out whether those damn dam complaints were ever investigated, and ... got squat. The only on-point document was an attorney’s memo, we were told, and the Texas AG agreed that the City didn’t have to hand it over. LeBlanc-Burley said she couldn’t recall the exact details, but thought they stemmed from a “disgruntled employee.” It would’ve been in her report, she told us. When we told her an OR request didn’t turn up a report, she said it had been awhile since this all went down, and maybe she never wrote one.
The stormwater engineer who filed the complaint was long gone, and so were his supervisors, all the way up to former Public Works Director Tom Wendorf. So, there we sat, empty-handed, until this week, when some kind of planetary alignment kicked in, and we found the engineer who lodged the original concerns about SARA Dam 15R — that’s the one that sits up there by McAllister Park, anchoring the entire Salado Creek Watershed. Samuel Carreon, a six-year veteran of the City’s Public Works department, was let go in 2007 after he pissed off one too many developers who were anxious to get their projects moving without a lot of FEMA and/or Army Corps of Engineers red tape. He has a wrongful-termination suit pending against the City, and is reluctant to say much, but he confirmed that one of his concerns about the dam is that the models used to design it didn’t take into account the real impact of upstream impervious cover from development (read: parking lots, streets, cement foundations), and in a worst-case scenario, the dam could be topped by floodwaters. Carreon says the City never investigated the substance of his complaints.
Until now, anyways. A phone call to the City Manager’s office was returned Monday with news of a brand-new report by Public Works Director Majed Al-Ghafry; it’s at OMI, we’re told. We can’t wait to read it, because we’re sure we’ll sleep soundly once we have — we just can’t understand why it’s not in our hot little hands yet: Attach document; press send. (Al-Ghafry was unable to return calls for comment before press time.)
For reasons we don't quite understand, we still don't have a copy of Al-Ghafry's "finding" -- OR law doesn't require the City to take 10 days to fill a request.
We have a little news on the River Walk extension, too -- the short of it is that the City didn't do all of its FEMA due diligence ahead of time, but Al-Ghafry says the important thing is that they're doing it now: they're in the process of getting a Letter of Map Revision, which will indicate whether the river's new channel will change the flood-plain status of nearby properties. The OMI complaint related to the project argued that the City shouldn't have proceeded with construction without first getting a Conditional Letter of Map Revision, because a project study indicated "a definite increase in water-surface elevation by 0.5 feet" -- which could, e.g., require some property owners to purchase flood insurance.
"For us to do it 100 percent right, without any exception, we would require a CLOMR and a LOMR," said Al-Ghafry, who was not at Public Works at that time. But he downplayed any concern, saying that the LOMR is the key document, because it tells you how the project is in fact affecting surrounding properties. But the OMI complaint alleged that failure to get a CLOMR could, in fact, jeopardize the city's ability to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, and open the City to liability from affected property owners.
We're currently playing phone tag with FEMA, and the Texas Water Development Board, which is in charge of the NFIP in Texas, referred us to their PIO. We'll update you when we've got more info.
Amy Kastely, attorney for the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition, received word late last week that the Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments in their lawsuit against the City of San Antonio over our contentious parade ordinance.
The new ordinance, which the coalition argues infringes on free-speech and assembly rights by allowing the City to levy discouraging fines (including fees for on-duty police officers), was first passed in 2007 in response to the large immigration-rights rallies of 06 -- a detail on our mind as thousands of protesters head to Washington D.C. this week to remind our elected reps that immigration reform remains unaddressed.
The original ordinance was found largely unconstitutional, but Judge Fred Biery gave a green light to a revamped 08 version. The plaintiffs and the City will present their case to the Fifth Circuit the last week of April.
I realize that the City Hall sanctioned narrative calls for popping champagne corks: the University of the Incarnate Word proposal to lease a small corner of Brackenridge Park for a fine-arts school and gallery (and to use the $1 million+ proposed rent to preserve adjacent Miraflores park) is dead, slayed by the coalition that often protects SA from poor development decisions -- the San Antonio Conservation Society, Friends of the Parks, and the San Antonio Parks Foundation, which is to say former Mayor Lila Cockrell. The winner: The adjacent San Antonio Zoo, to whom the land was originally promised back in 1979, which will clean up the spot for now and eventually extend its Africa holdings there.
A few things it would've been nice to debate with a wider swath of the public before our Mayor tucked tail and caved to the outcry:
- the Zoo is open to the public, but it's not free. You won't be wandering over there to picnic w/o paying the entry fee. Part of UIW's proposal included extending a walkway under Hildebrand, taking the (free) river walk all the way to the river's source, the blue hole, and providing funding for (again free) Miraflores.
- the Zoo is not a perfect neighbor, being the longtime source of hippo-produced bacteria levels and the inexplicable jailer of Lucky the lone Asian elephant
- perhaps the only thing SA is poorer in than greenspace is educational attainment; UIW is a university with a long and deep commitment to San Antonio
- the UIW proposal included fine-arts resources and a gallery, which would've fit nicely with the Museum Reach's other institutions - Southwest School of Art & Craft, SAMA, the Witte. Rice University in Houston is private, but I visit their excellent gallery whenever I'm in town
There are reasons to object to the UIW vision -- yes, it would've been a lease, but once the institutional buildings were there, it's unlikely we would've reclaimed it for public use, but as noted above, the Zoo is not free to the public either, and once they've parked permanent animal exhibits there, it won't be greenspace, either. More importantly, creating more impervious cover (including, perhaps, parking spaces) near the river's headwaters would require forward-thinking design and construction. But, really, is expanding the Zoo so much more preferable that we want to shut down the conversation before it even began? If we had a real debate about it, maybe we'd even find a third option.
Frustrated with the justified swipes your out-of-state friends are taking at the Lone Star State's educational, uh, initiatives? You're not alone; right on the heels of a well-placed insult from a friend in Bodymore, Murdaland, of all places, I received this call to arms:
FORWARD THIS MESSAGE
Last week the Texas State Board of Education, led by Governor Rick Perry’s appointee for chair, Gail Lowe, voted to remove Thomas Jefferson from social studies textbook standards.
Thomas Jefferson was a Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence, and a world-renowned scholar who advocated democratic, limited government. He was deleted from a list of historical figures who inspired political change because Governor Rick Perry provided no leadership or voice for mainstream Texans against people who decided to substitute their political agenda for the judgment of professional historians.
Please join me to send an e-mail to Governor Rick Perry today, telling him it’s time to stop playing political games with our kids future.
From Your name here
To Governor Rick Perry
Subject SBOE's New Curriculum Standards
Message Dear Governor Perry,
Last week the Texas State Board of Education, led by your appointee for chair, Gail Lowe, voted to remove Thomas Jefferson from social studies standards.
Thomas Jefferson was a Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence, and a world-renowned scholar who advocated democratic, limited government. Why was he deleted from a list of historical figures who inspired political change?
Lowe also led the SBOE to pass more than 100 other amendments to Texas' social studies standards, without a single classroom teacher or historian in the discussions.
Our kids' education is not a political game to be influenced by ideologues and partisan politics. Please urge the SBOE to reconsider these changes to Texas' curriculum standards instead of pursuing partisan agendas in public office.
Your John Hancock Here (quick, before our kids no longer know who John Hancock was)
From Texas' real hair-care magnate1:
For Immediate Distribution
March 16, 2010
Gov. Perry Orders Activation of First Phase
Of Texas Spillover Violence Contingency Plan
Increases Ground, Air and Maritime Law Enforcement Patrols
AUSTIN – Following the recent escalation of murders in northern Mexico and the increasing threat of violence crossing over into neighboring border communities in Texas, Gov. Perry today ordered the activation of the first phase of the state’s spillover violence contingency plan. The state’s plan is law enforcement sensitive and will not be released to the public for operational security purposes.
“With the growing threat of violence in Mexico spilling over the border, we have taken important measures to increase the law enforcement presence along the Texas border and have placed additional resources on standby to combat any potential situation,” Gov. Perry said. “It is imperative that the federal government immediately provide additional resources to prevent spillover violence, but with the safety of Texans on the line, we can’t afford to wait.”
At the governor’s direction, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), in coordination with local and federal law enforcement along the Texas-Mexico border, has implemented critical elements of the state’s spillover violence contingency plan. These steps include increased surveillance of border activity by state and local law enforcement, the Texas Border Security Operations Center, and the Joint Operational and Intelligence Centers to ensure the timely sharing of intelligence information; increased ground, air and maritime patrol presence; and increased intensity of day and night DPS helicopter patrol operations along the Rio Grande River, as well as National Guard helicopters to support aviation missions. Additional resources ready for rapid deployment have been placed on standby, including DPS SWAT Teams and Trooper Strike Teams, as well as Ranger Recon Teams prepared to reposition based on threat.
“Texas has a unique cultural and economic relationship with Mexico, and we are committed to a common interest of shutting down these criminal enterprises,” Gov. Perry said. “We will continue to closely monitor this situation, and take any necessary action to ensure the safety of our citizens and to protect continued legitimate cross-border trade and travel.”
Since January 2008, a reported 4,700 homicides have been committed across the border from El Paso in Ciudad Juarez, making it one of the most violent cities in the world.
A porous border places Texas and the nation at risk from international terrorists, organized crime cartels and transnational gangs. Until the federal government fulfills its responsibility of securing our border, Texas will continue filling in the gaps by putting more boots on the ground, providing increased law enforcement resources and leveraging technology along the border.
Gov. Perry has a standing request with the federal government for 1,000 Title 32 National Guardsmen to support civilian law enforcement efforts to enhance border security in Texas, as well as a more recent request for predator drones to be based in and operate over the Texas-Mexico border to provide essential information to law enforcement on the ground.
1 TM 2010 Greg Harman
Seeking to meet Texas Governor Rick Perry’s request to cut expenses by five percent for the coming two-year budget, Commissioners for the Department of Health and Human Services have selected a slew of preferred cuts, including closing 200 mental-health beds at four state hospitals, including 50 beds at San Antonio State Hospital.
If Bexar County Jail had any hope of creating additional space for those suffering psychiatric emergencies or suicidal impulses, they wither and die under this proposal.
As it stands today, state mental hospitals are already turning away those referred to them, said Mike Alkek, a clinical administrator at Bexar County’s Center for Health Care Services. “They tell me, ‘Mike, we don’t have any beds. Forget it,’ knowing I can put them in jail,” Alkek said recently. “They’ll sit there [in jail] for two or three months before the hospital has a bed for them.”
DHHS spokesperson Carrie Williams said the hospital bed-cut was one of the least desired options on the table. “It wasn’t an easy call to make,” she said. “[It] was the the last item on our list.”
It may have been the last item listed, but the hatchet job also represents nearly 30 percent of the proposed $100 million in budget reductions. Hard to imagine how the agency would have managed their five percent without kicking poor, mentally unstable residents into the street … and on into local soup kitchens, county jails, and morgues.
Among 24 proposed cuts, the reduction of space at state hospitals is expected to save $27 million.
The next highest cut has to do with freezing an immunization program fueled by federal stimulus dollars, with a projected savings of $12 million. After that are $7.3 million in indigent health care cuts and $7 million eliminated from planned new and expanded health clinics (this one also stimulus backed).
If that sounds like a lot of free federal money to be turning away, it is.
According to the analysis of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the $100 million in savings involves the loss of “$176 million in federal dollars for our health care providers and local communities. Overall, the HHS reduction proposals would lead to a loss of $304 million in federal funds in the 2010-11 state budget.”
Governor Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus are expected to announce in three weeks what options they will accept.
Meanwhile, critics at the CPPP point out that Texas doesn’t need to take such drastic measures. “It’s not that they don’t have the money, it’s that they don’t want to raise taxes a year from now,” said Eva DeLuna Castro, one of the paper’s authors. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have passed a big tax cut without finding a way to pay for it.”
After a record-breaking number of suicides at Bexar County Jail in 2009, the administration is desperate to find more room for mental-health and suicide-watch beds — particularly after an inspection by one of the nation’s experts in suicide prevention last month found that as overcrowding at the jail subsided this year, the mental-health units remained jam-packed.
Under the health department’s proposal, Castro said Tuesday, mentally disturbed “people [will] wander around until they hurt themselves or somebody else and then they end up in county jail.”
Or, to put it in report terms: “Reductions in services to children with special health care needs, cutting psychiatric hospital beds, and reducing personal attendant care hours are all moves that are likely to simply shift costs to local governments and exacerbate some illnesses and disabilities.”
Meanwhile, other cost-reduction measures include leaving 285 children with special health care needs on the state waiting list through 2012 ($3.5 million saved); cutting regional health care services around the state, including immunizations and tuberculosis control programs ($1.8 mil); and hiring delays in environmental-health, radiation control, and food and drug regulation.
By Enrique Lopetegui
Remember our favorite cat lady D'Ann Trethan?
On September 6, 2007, Animal Care Services seized and, according to Trethan, euthanized 37 cats she was caring for at her home. Trethan claims the City has nabbed 50 felines. She sued the City, and the City responded. Sort of.
Trethan sued for seizure of property without due process (the City was supposed to hold a hearing before destroying the animals), physical pain and mental anguish (“I didn’t have a broken arm or anything but, you know, it’s all inside,” she said Monday), and for the value of the cats. She now wants the City to make things easier for animal lovers who turn their homes into sanctuaries. Even though the lawsuit doesn’t mention a specific figure, she has a pretty good idea of how much it would take to make her happier.
“I ask for $10 million to be used for a grassroots program to benefit the citizens that are helping the animals,” she said, referring to her idea to organize up-to-code home shelters. “The more help people get, the more help the animals get.” The jury trial has no scheduled date yet.
You can laugh all you want, but Trethan has a legitimate question the City hasn’t been able to answer yet: When did the City destroy her cats?
On the day of the seizures, ACS public information officer Lisa Norwood was present at Trethan’s house on Clydeville Street. In a written statement to the court, she described what she saw.
“In this area [the front porch and yard], Officer Wright used a device that measures the amount of ammonia in an environment,” Norwood wrote. “Ammonia is a by-product of cat waste and can accumulate in areas where large numbers of cats are kept.” Large amounts of ammonia were found in and out of the house, according to the City.
After the officers repeatedly knocked on the door, identifying themselves as ACS employees carrying a warrant, the team entered the house through a side door and found her on the phone with “local television stations.”
“Within five minutes I did receive numerous calls on my City cell phone,” wrote Norwood. She claims the press told her that “frantic” phone calls from “a D’Ann” indicated ACS was “breaking into her home.”
Inside the house, Norwood saw “numerous loose cats … some food was scattered on the floor and on the various pieces of furniture … no litterboxes or fresh water [were] evident.” Trethan has told the Current the animals had plenty of food and water.
Norwood noticed that “some [cats] appeared to be suffering from some sort of disease or illness as they had mucus or discharge coming from their eyes or noses.”
Trethan says that after the City seized the animals, ACS’s Dr. Melissa Draper told her the animals would be euthanized. Draper could not be reached for comment.
“I can’t speak for Dr. Draper but I will certainly ask her if she'd like to speak with you about this case and her involvement in diagnosing the cats,” Norwood wrote the QueQue on March 9.
Right after seizing the animals, the City gave Trethan a notice to appear in court for a September 19, 2007 hearing “to determine whether the domestic felines … should be returned to their owner or, if neglect or abuse is determined, the final disposition of said cats.”
On that day, Municipal Court 5 judge Tino Guerra ruled that the animals should be “given to a non-profit animal shelter, pound, or society for the protection of animals, but if no such placement can be made within a reasonable period of time and public health and safety would be served by doing so, the animal(s) may be humanely destroyed.”
The problem is that, according to Trethan, “the [woman] representing the city” told her the cats were already dead.
“[She] told me that, if I signed the [September 19, 2007, Notice of Administrative Hearing], they would reduce my fine [from $1,729] to $200,” Trethan said, adding that she was so shocked by the news of the cats’ euthanization that she signed the paper under the “agreed by” line, waiving her right to a hearing.
“I signed this under duress,” she wrote on the margin of the official hearing notice she provided the QueQue. “My cats and I had no hearing.”
Finding the name of the mysterious woman who, on the day of the hearing, supposedly told the cat lady that her animals were already in cat heaven, has been hard for the QueQue. Trethan doesn’t remember her name, and Trethan’s lawyer, Gregory Canfield, didn’t return our repeated phone calls. Norwood wrote to us that “[ACS] is represented at administrative hearings connected to our cases by staff from the Municipal Courts ... [and] they may be able to tell you which attorney was assigned to this particular case.”
On Thursday, City Attorney Judith Sánchez — who signed the City’s responses and perhaps knows who the mysterious lady is — told us “I can’t speak about a case in litigation, but I can tell you this: The animals were in deplorable condition,” even though the City’s answers (signed by her and served on January 22, 2010) admit that the City “has not informally [sic] consulted any experts at this time” and that they are still “in the process of researching its records for details regarding the euthanizations.”
Municipal Court Five on Frio St., as well as Central Filing had no records of who was the City’s prosecutor on Trethan’s hearing, but somebody at Central Filing said “maybe it was Clarissa…” So the QueQue went up one floor to the prosecutor’s office, and spoke to Assistant City Attorney Sam García.
“Hmmm … It looks like Clarissa’s handwriting,” García told the QueQue, “but it may have been Chris Hebner.” But Trethan claimes the person “representing the city” was a woman. If prosecutor Clarissa Chavarría (who at press time didn’t return the QueQue’s message left at the prosecutors office) was the person in Trethan’s hearing, why didn’t she sign the notice presented to Trethan on September 19, 2007? When the QueQue asked García for samples of similar notices, we saw that most of them include both signatures: The defendant’s and the City Attorney’s.
“Yes, but it is not required,” said García. “All you need is the judge’s or the defendant’s signature.” Really? So why did the prosecutors sign in all those other ones? “It’s a better practice, but it is not essential.”
So all we have is the City’s responses to Trethan’s suit. In 25 of 39 answers, the City objects that the cat lady’s requests are “overly broad,” “unduly burdensome,” and/or “not relevant” to the case. Trethan’s requests include things like the number of times the City has seized cats and euthanized them, whether the City has at any time disciplined animal services employees for failure to follow City policy, what that policy is, and who makes it.
“It’s all about money,” Trethan told the QueQue. “The more animals that ACS takes in, the more money they can get. If they really cared about my cats, they would have left them with me and helped me [have a] clean and up to code [shelter] … [The cats] were 15, 16, 17, and 18 years old. I had to be doing something right for them to live that long with me … even in a dirty house!”
The QueQue asked Norwood whether the City had found the records that would explain when and why the animals were killed.
“As the time period in question was a transition period between our former computer data system and our present one, the department will attempt to locate the written euthanasia logs from three years ago and effort [sic] identification of the specific animals you are referring to,” Norwood wrote in an email March 8. “I have asked staff to move forward with locating said logs.”
“They don’t have anything,” Trethan told the QueQue on Sunday. “What can they have? Maybe I did something wrong, but what they did was even worse. That’s why they have no answers.
“The shelters are always full, and the citizens are willing to take responsibility, but there is really no place for the citizen to turn to in order to receive any kind of help, so we end up turning our own homes into shelters because there is no other place to put them. We love the animals and we want to help them, so we just do the best we can. I want to use all of what happened to my cats and me to show the problems the citizens have, all because we love animals and care enough to dedicate our time, money, and energy to help them. The city needs to take the limit off of how many animals we can have. As I have said so many times over the years: Rescue the rescuer!”
Market Street rang with shouts of "Hyatt, Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" "Hyatt, Listen! We are in the struggle!" Saturday, March 6, as approximately 2,100 mothers, daughters, teachers, students, veterans, activists and other supporters gathered at the Grand Hyatt downtown to kick off the 20th Annual International Woman's Day March.
Women from all walks of life came together to celebrate their gender and to eliminate abuse and other hate crimes directed at women. According to organizers, the event drew twice as many participants as last year and ended with a rally in the Plaza del Zacate that highlighted many of the struggles that women face. "Every year we have a theme, so we wanted to do something with 'Women Leading the Struggle,' because there are so many women who go unnoticed," Esperanza Peace and Justice Center staff member Rosalynn Warren told the Current at a sign-making rally the week before the march.
After a blessing and a moment of silence at 10 a.m. for the missing and murdered women of Juarez, Iola Scott, an active member of Unite Here, accused the Grand Hyatt of mistreating housekeepers, especially minority women. Scott spoke of the abuses she and others suffered while she worked for two years in the laundry-service department, and how her experiences led her to join the Unite Here union.
Viola Casares and Petra Mata spoke of how injustices against women and the "exploitation caused by corporate greed and free trade has to stop." They spoke on behalf of Fuerza Unida, an organization that once was called a "bunch of illiterate women" but that has given voice to the concerns of women workers for more than 20 years.
Dozens of organizations and supporters, including the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative, Girls Inc., Fuerza Unida, San Antonio Free Speech Coalition, Planned Parenthood, the Rape Crisis Center, and the UTSA Mexican American Studies Student Organization participated in the Woman's Day March, making it colorful and diverse.
Peacekeepers, all of whom were women, were designated to ensure that everyone at the march was safe, and that bystanders wouldn't interfere with the peaceful nature of the event. March organizers said this was an important gesture, demonstrating to San Antonio that women can take care of their own safety without relying solely on the police force.
People downtown stopped to watch as the march progressed from the Hyatt and snaked its way from Market all the way to the Plaza del Zacate rally. Local soul siren and musician Suzy Bravo opened the rally with an inspiring rendition of "Heavy Cross" by the Gossip.
Leading the speaker lineup was Lisa Caldera of Planned Parenthood, who was followed by a wake-up call from San Antonio's long-time activist Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez. For more than 45 years Betita has been a social-justice activist and organizer. She's published six books and written many articles highlighting the struggles faced by people in the Americas. She is currently the co-founder and director of the Institute for Multiracial Justice, which builds alliances between peoples of color.
Martinez's speech focused on the idea that women should come together as peacemakers.
Following a poem by Merle Woo read by San Antonio activists Rosalynn Warren and Justine Blakemore, Antonia Padilla spoke of her experiences as a 50-year-old transgender woman who has faced years of discrimination since she came out in her 30s.
To end the rally, Patricia Castillo, Executive Director of the P.E.A.C.E Initiative proudly announced that along with her organization, Fuerza Unida and Ezperanza are celebrating 20 years of work in the San Antonio community to end the oppression of women.
COMING HOME TO ROOST
At 8:30 Saturday morning, the dining room at the Luby’s on N.E. Loop 410 was already full of the party faithful. It was the first meeting of the North East Bexar County Democrats following the March 2 primary, and the first order of business after the usual agenda protocol was Dan Ramos, new Bexar County Democratic Party Chair.
As folks filled their coffee cups, checked the precinct map, and snacked on pastries, immediate past chair and County Clerk candidate Carla Vela settled into a seat, defiant red nails clutching a plate bearing a large cinnamon roll. Judge Michael Mery — one of several incumbents who unexpectedly lost to a primary challenger — shook hands and kicked off the meeting with a thank-you that drew a heartfelt standing ovation. Immediately prior to Mery’s farewell, Northeast Bexar Dems Chair Scott Nelson introduced the VIPs, which included a dozen officeholders and candidates, and told the crowd they needed to focus on Democratic turnout, which was notably lower than Republican numbers.
Then Ramos, a small bear of a man with a full beard, took the mic. Ramos beat long-time operative and Henry Cisneros ally Choco Meza 59 percent to 41 percent, and he was not there to offer balm to a party burned by last fall’s theft of more than $200,000 in 2008 primary funds owed to the County. (Former Treasurer Dwayne Adams, a Vela pal and would-be business partner, is suspected of taking the money.)
“We’re going to see if what [County Judge] Nelson Wolff said on the steps of the courthouse is true,” Ramos said, alluding to a promise by Democratic officials to raise funds to fill the hole left by the theft. “I heard he made that pledge because he didn’t think I was going to win.” (In fact, the Express-News reported the next day that Wolff says the deal is on hold; read on.) “There’s plenty of money in Bexar County,” Ramos assured the audience. “What there has not been is integrity and trustworthiness.”
Ramos had visited the party offices last week, he added, and heard that precinct packets not picked up after the primary election would be tossed, “a third-degree felony.” Taking another shot at the party leaders he believes have it in for him, he reminded the members that “Your County Executive Committee is the only authority that runs the party … I’m just your servant.”
Vela snorted quietly into her coffee.
When a party member questioned the significance of the precinct paperwork and Ramos’s interpretation of the election law, he retorted “I’m not going to quibble with you … that’s why we had a lot of problems under your [tenure].”
A gasp and loud murmurs of disapproval filled the room, and Ramos departed.
As the meeting turned to relatively mundane business — will Bill White’s campaign take over the lease payments for the San Antonio Area Progressive Area Coalition offices? — one elected official lamented Ramos’s debut. “He insulted a longtime party volunteer, and then left,” she said, shaking her head, incredulous. But, she added, she’s not sure the party matters like it used to. “Candidates really have to do it for themselves.”
NO QUARTER (OR DOLLARS)
County Judge Nelson Wolff agrees that candidates have to work beyond the local Democratic Party to win elections, but he said, it’s “a little naïve to think that an indictment and a financial mess wouldn’t be derogatory.”
Wolff says he’ll meet with Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, and others later this week to chart a course. He’d like to talk to incoming Party Chair Dan Ramos, too, who has issued public challenges in the press, but hasn’t picked up the phone. Concerns that need to be addressed before they would move ahead with plans to replace the lost funds include Ramos’s vision on issues such as the joint primary, which he’s opposed in the past.
“What we’re going to have to get straight is financial management,” Wolff said. “ Who can come in that we have confidence they can manage the money?”
Ramos has done little since the election to allay concerns that he will be a divisive force. In a phone call Friday with the QueQue, he indicated that he’s looking to settle old scores.
“I ran before, and I was cheated. And I ran again and I was cheated, and I’m taking those cases to the FBI,” Ramos said. Certain established Bexar County Democratic Party fixtures, he said, “are now out of a job, because they will never extort any more Bexar County candidates.” He’ll also be suing Compass Bank for “negligence” over the stolen Party funds, but not with Democratic donor and trial attorney Tim Maloney (who writes a column for this paper). “No, no, hell no,” Ramos said. “He’s not qualified to do that type of work.”
The former Kelly Air Force Base machinist and union organizer says the results in his primary election were “a referendum … on Henry Cisneros, Leticia Van de Putte, Nelson Wolff, and the other co-conspirators on our Commissioners Court.”
The QueQue observed that Tommy Adkisson and Paul Elizondo (whom we might term a super-incumbent, now that his tenure is trans-generational) won their primaries handily. But Ramos has a message for the Precinct Four commissioner, too:
“The toll-road people saved Tommy. He’s either gonna have to straighten out or I’m gonna get an opponent after him.”
Ramos’s election may mean the restoration of at least one pre-Vela Party official: Former Party Treasurer Fernando Contreras, whom alleged thief Dwayne Adams unseated in 2008, served as Ramos’s campaign treasurer. But if Ramos can’t get Wolff’s team of elected officials back on board, there may be little to manage.
“The party’s in deep trouble, I guess,” said Wolff of that potential outcome. “At some point the County has to take some legal action.”
One longtime donor told the QueQue that local clubs such as the North East Bexar County Dems could step in to fill the void. Jacob Middleton, chair of the Northwest Democrats, says that "Personally ... I fear for the Party,” but that his group is very strong right now, and just held its most successful Superbowl fundraiser yet.
Ramos takes office May 3.
One week after a local trans-gendered woman, described in the arrest warrant as a “Latin Male,” walked into the South Frio police sub-station alleging she had been raped by a San Antonio Police officer, SAPD Chief Bill McManus and two officers met with members of the San Antonio Gender Association pledging to take swift action on the case and work to prevent future assaults.
However, there was no talk about expanding transgender sensitivity training to veteran officers at the Thursday night meeting. Currently, only incoming SAPD cadets receive the four-hour training on transgender issues.
After nearly three years of quarterly trainings by the all-volunteer Police Officers Training Committee, only one session for more senior officers has been held. That meeting exposed innate prejudices among officers, according to training committee member Antonia Padilla, which she attributes to negative interactions with transgender individuals on the job that are likely exacerbated by a lack of exposure to those with less traditional gender expression.
They’re prejudices not typically found among the younger cadets, she added.
The trainings include a definition of terms, brainstorming about stereotypes, and breakout discussion groups. “It’s in these small discussion groups that the tensions in the veteran officers became apparent,” Padilla said. “Most everyone expressed some sort of, ‘Hey we’ve been cops for years and we know what it’s about. We have to deal with it on a daily basis. It’s not pretty and we don’t like it. We just wish it would go away’ is basically what they were saying.”
One officer in particular kept referring to transgendered individuals as a “subset,” Padilla said. “He was saying subset like every 30 seconds. ‘Oh, you’re in a subset this and you’re subset.' I felt, and this is just my opinion, I felt he was actually instead of saying subset he really wanted to say sub-human. I really had to sit on my hands with that guy.
“Just the very fact they feel that way when dealing with someone is going to cause them to have less empathy, or even no empathy, and to feel like, ‘They don’t really matter. They’re not important. And we don’t have to offer them the same level of civil protections … We’ll just treat them as less than human and it’s OK and nobody’s gonna care,” Padilla said.
Officer Craig Nash, arrested on charges of sexual assault and official oppression in the alleged rape, is a seven-year veteran officer.
Nash was arrested the same day a transgendered woman walked into the Frio Street substation at 4:20 am February 25 saying she had been abducted by an SAPD officer and raped, according to Nash’s arrest warrant affidavit. She told an officer on duty that her assailant, later identified as Nash, “wasn’t going to get away with this” and “she ‘had cum up her butt’ which would prove her truthfulness.”
The victim said Nash handcuffed her and took her to an unknown location, where he demanded a blowjob. She complied. Then she said he raped her while in uniform.
After the alleged incident, the woman took the bus to the South Frio substation to make her complaint and was quickly taken to Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital for an examination. At the hospital, “suspected DNA” was collected from the victim’s body and clothing. A search of GPS logs confirmed the vehicle assigned to Nash was in the area reported.
SAPD media officer requested the Current submit its questions about last week’s meeting in writing, but a promised interview didn’t materialize before press deadline Tuesday.
Reverend Mick Hinson of Metropolitan Community Church, whose church hosted the forum and who serves on the training committee, said he hoped the trainings would one day expand to all SAPD officers and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, but he did not want to comment on them for publication out of fear that potential negative public reaction would jeopardize their continuation. The Current agreed at the start of the trainings in 2007 to delay reporting about them until they got more established at SAPD.
Thirty-nine percent of San Antonians are ready to install solar panels and solar hot-water heaters on their rooftops, according to a survey performed last year for the non-profit clean-energy-advocating Solar San Antonio. That is, they’re ready to go solar — if they could afford it.
Even with the on-and-off-again solar rebates offered through City-owned CPS Energy (now on again), solar remains a game largely reserved for wealthier greens. Homeowners must shell out thousands of dollars for even the smallest rooftop arrays, a daunting challenge in very un-affluent San Antonio. However, a bill carried through the Texas Legislature last year promised to eliminate all up-front costs by allowing Texas cities to float the loans themselves, receive payment through the accumulated energy savings realized, and lighten the load on homeowners by tying the loan to the property itself rather than to the individual.
Loans would be offered not only for the installation of solar panels, but also for solar hot-water heaters, geothermal systems, reflective roofs, and a variety of energy-conserving home improvements.
Leaders in several Texas cities began hammering out the fine print necessary to breathe life into San Antonio state Representative Mike Villarreal’s broadly worded House Bill 1937 — the only renewable-energy legislation to slip through the 81st Legislature thanks to Perry's Voter ID kerfluffle. Members of San Antonio’s PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) Task Force started meeting way back in August.
This month, PACE — based on programs operating in Berkeley, California, and Boulder, Colorado — appears to have become another victim of the housing and financial crises.
According to Lanny Sinkin, executive director at Solar SA, members of the city’s bond council wanted to establish liens to ensure the PACE loans were paid off before the home’s mortgage, something that appears to run contrary to Texas real estate law.
Laurence Doxsey, director of the City’s Office of Environmental Policy, said the inability to tie the loan to the front of a mortgage so that it is required to be paid back first makes securing the backing of the bond market unlikely.
“That doesn’t give us the position we need to get a good interest rate,” said Doxsey. “If we go to the bond market and try to sell this idea, they’ll say, ‘That looks pretty risky to me.’ You know, the way the real estate market is and the way people are losing work, we could be stuck with something here.”
In the event of a foreclosure, it would be harder to recoup home-improvement costs and reclaim the value of the installation.
While city staff continues evaluating options, Doxsey said salvaging the program will likely take a return to the state Legislature to work out the apparent conflict with other state laws or require loan guarantees to be issued by the federal government, a route now being pursued.
Despite the serious problems grounding this highly anticipated program, Sinkin remains upbeat.
“One of the things it has done is inspire creative thinking,” he said. “If that model is not going to be the thing that works, how can we do something similar that offers people the opportunity to get rid of the up-front cost in a low-interest, long-term loan fashion of some kind.”
To that end, Solar San Antonio will host a roundtable with local bankers on May 18, a couple weeks after this year’s Solar Fest, to explore ways the financial institutions could meet federal pressures to open up the taps on new loans and create renewable-energy opportunities.
“We’ve got ourselves running around chasing our tail in some ways," Doxsey said, "and then also have these distinct issues that need to be solved to make this function right."
Meanwhile, as the coal kings at TXU rolled out a solar leasing program with no up-front costs and free installation in North Texas, national and state-level solar outfitters are on the prowl in San Antonio as solar costs continue to drop, hoping to cut costs further through community-level co-ops and by sweetening the pot with additional rebates.
By Enrique Lopetegui
Three detainees [names changed awaiting their permission to reveal their identities] from the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos sent out letters to the Southwest Workers Union announcing hunger strikes, in protest for the condition of their detention and the uncertain status of their immigration cases.
“[My] few brushes with the law have been only for self-use of marijuana,” wrote “D.,” a 42-year-old native of Trinidad in a letter received by the SWU on February 11. “They are all minor brushes with the law. So how is it that if I broke state law in my state [Maryland] and was punished for them by my state … that DHS and ICE want to deport me for those same crimes?”
“No due process,” continued D., a legal resident since the age of 13. “Never being able to contest, object, or deny the transfers means no due process ... I do not deserve this. I am not a criminal … Whatever DHS and ICE want to do, let them do it in my home state. This is my reason for embarking … [on] this hunger strike. I will not stop until I get the proper and right results.”
“I’ve made up my mind 1000 percent,” wrote “J.O.,” a 24-year-old Jamaican legal resident since age 13, on February 28. He has been detained for eight months and claims that, after 13 bond hearings with no decision due to resetting of court dates, he was attacked by ICE guards when he took part of the last organized hunger strike. “If I don’t receive some form of relief from Texas or this facility, I refuse to eat or be forced-fed, just in case they try, as I was told by Asst. Field director M. Watkins.” [The QueBlog assumes he refers to the in-house ICE official in charge of Port Isabel, whom could not be reached for comment on Saturday]
“I used to talk to him everyday, but I haven’t heard from him in a week,” his mother told the QueBlog on March 5. “I was told he’s in the infirmary [of PIDC].”
Another Jamaican, 21-year-old “R.K.,” also accuses guards of excessive force and said that Texas pro-bono lawyers can’t assist him in court.
“I’m sick of this place and I’m fed up to the point that I don’t care anymore,” he wrote February 27. “I’m going on a hunger strike and I’m not going to break, until they either release me or move me back to New York where I can get a free legal representative … My case is a piece of cake if I had the help [of a lawyer]. I have no drugs or weapon charges, just two false impersonation [cases], which [are] minor … but I still risk being deported. I haven’t been to Jamaica since I was a kid … and I know how rough Jamaica is and I wouldn’t know what to do if I was [separated] from my family and friends.”
He started his hunger strike on March 1.
Besides being held at PIDC, the three hunger strikers have another thing in common: They all have to face judge Howard E. Achtsam, who handles all Port Isabel cases.
“Everyone in this place knows [Judge Achtsam],” D. wrote. “He never gives bail, always denies bail, and always denies change of venue. All he does is deport, deport.”
According to the Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, between 2001 and 2006 Achtsam denied 75 percent of asylum-seekers, a rate of denial 16 percent higher than the national average. During the 2004-09 period, Achtsam denied 78.3 percent of asylum claims. The national rate of denials for the same period was 57.3.
“If judges were ranked from 1 to 261 - where 1 represented the highest denial percent and 261 represented the lowest - Judge Achtsam here receives a rank of 66,” according to the TRAC page on Achtsam. “That is 65 judges denied asylum at higher rates, and 195 denied asylum at the same rate or less often.”
Jodie Goodwin, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, knows Achtsam well from her work with Cuban refugees. In 2008, she told the Houston Press that, "If you're unfortunate enough to get Judge Achtsam, that means you're probably going to get denied … I think he has got to be the only immigration judge in the country that routinely denies asylum for Cubans."
"He's pretty horrible when it comes to discretion, and pretty horrible when it comes to bonds," Goodwin told the QueBlog Friday. "I don't know if it just gives him satisfaction, or what. I've never been able to figure out why he's like that."
“We do not force-feed at ICE,” said ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda on Wednesday. “But what do you mean by forced-feeding?”
She then sent the us ICE’s policy on hunger strikes.
"Before involuntary medical treatment is administered, staff shall make reasonable efforts to educate and encourage [the detainee] to accept treatment voluntarily,” reads the official policy, without specifying whether “involuntary medical treatment” refers to I.V.-feeding or feeding by tubes forcibly placed through the nose, as some detainees have denounced they’ve been threatened with, a system condemned by the World Medical Association.
“Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the doctor as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially,” reads the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo of 1975. “The decision as to the capacity of the prisoner to form such a judgment should be confirmed by at least one other independent doctor.”
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) respects the fundamental right of individuals to advocate for reform of our nation’s immigration laws,” reads an ICE statement released after the February 25 rally in front of ICE building in San Antonio. “Moreover, last fall, ICE announced a major overhaul of the immigration detention system to prioritize health, safety and uniformity among our facilities while ensuring security, efficiency and fiscal responsibility. These reforms include aggressive steps to increase oversight and fundamentally change the immigration detention system. ICE has taken important initial steps to change this system and is committed to finishing the job.”
“I don’t buy that at all,” Goodwin said of the statement. “I think it’s propaganda in the part of ICE. It’s just a PR move announcing that they’re going to do things differently, but the proof is in the pudding: Until I see action on the ground with actual changes, I won’t believe it. Have I seen any actual changes? No.”
What’s a billion dollars of free social services worth? Apparently, not the carefully cultivated anti-Washington rugged-individual political image of Governor Rick Perry. Less than two weeks away from Censusmania, the state’s true hair-care magnate has failed to make any motion to ensure Texas’ consistently undercounted population is accurately recorded.
It was nearly four months ago when state Representative Mike Villarreal wrote to Perry, urging him to “ensure our state government is taking every appropriate step to ensure the highest possible level of participation by Texas residents” in the Census. Response? Dialtone.
As the second-highest undercounted state of the 2000 Census, Texas may be about to flub its chance to not only rake in hundreds of millions in taxes (taxes we have already paid), but also increase the number of Congressional seats we hold, according to Anna Alicia Romero, regional census director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). (You can hear our full conversation below.)
If you’ve got a naturally sunny disposition (despite the long shadow of those prison bars falling on your shoulders), chances are you’ve got more room to roam on the inside of Bexar County Jail these days. You may even be tempted to crack open a $3.59 can of “no bean” commissary chili to celebrate the new-found breathing room.
Hey. We know surviving the pileup of ’09 was no easy feat. [For background on overcrowding, scary voices, and suicide, see "Hang Time."]
Most of last year, the land of Los Orejones was full all the way up to its “Mother”-tattooed neck. With a capacity just shy of 4,600, Bexar County’s admin found itself juggling another 100 on top of that. Now we’re down in the 4,000 range and things are runnin’ smooth again — unless you happen to be mental.
It seems that despite all our cubic yards of reclaimed turf, the mental-health and suicide-prevention units are still packed tight. That is the initial assessment of national suicide expert Lindsay Hayes, who completed a three-day investigation of the jail policies and procedures with regards to suicide prevention last week. And it’s no wonder.
According to officials at University Health System, “The vast majority of persons screened by mental health at the time of booking had evidence … for a major mental illness.” And yet only a handful (about 25 per week — or the kind of crazy impossible to ignore) are weeded out at the door, according to Community Health Care Service officials.
UHS officials tell the Current that 900 Bexar County inmates (nearly one in four) on average are receiving psychiatric assistance from their staff. And the U.S. Department of Justice estimates three-quarters of county-level inmates nationally are suffering from one mental disorder or another.
“We’re not overcrowded in jail space; the nuance is, we are overcrowded in terms of mental-health space,” said Debra Jordan, deputy chief at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.
Although UHS had last year recommended expanding the mental-health unit into an adjacent area and been rebuffed by the jail administration, this time it really appears to be happening.
“We’ve asked the Texas Commission on Jail Standards about opening some space across the street at the annex for a mental-health unit,” Jordan said. “Because the classification is what makes all the difference in the world. You can’t just house people wherever you want to house them. We need more mental-health space.”
We can hear the shrinks at UHS breathing a collective sigh of relief from here.
We’ve always thought of the Bexar County icebox as a crazy-making machine: If you’re not crazy going in, you soon will be. So this small victory (if its plays out) goes out to our manic-depressive comrades in stir. You are not forgotten.
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