So, the Texas Consortium for Environmental Quandries decided that upping the state’s allowable poop ratio in our “first-tier” Texas rivers and lakes — those especially smiled-upon water bodies close enough to influential voters to be deemed worthy of “primary recreation,” ie. bellyflops — wasn’t such a hot idea. The three Commissioners ruled at their Wednesday meeting that 126 colonies of E coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of water in such areas, such as the EPA recommends for healthy swimming, was probably a good upper limit.
The agency had been considering raising the limit to 206 colonies (a good upper-limit for authentic Texans, we're told) to make the work of regulation a touch easier. And yet, the trio went ahead with a plan to raise bacterial limits on less-frequently-visited streams — those especially relied upon creeks and streams close enough to influential agricultural donors to be deemed more desirable as feedlot drainage ditches than as important features draining (ultimately) into both important sources of drinking water and treasured swimming holes.
“We are concerned the final rule would increase the amount of bacteria in Texas waterways, causing adverse effects to the public health,” said Amy Swanholm, of the Office of Public Interest Counsel at the TCEQ, earning our devoted chastity for hours upon hours. “Even intermittent or small waterways not connected to historical use are often used by neighborhood families to swim and play in.”
Our thoughts exactly.
The Lower Colorado River Authority encouraged the Commissioners to keep the 126 limit for popular recreational waters such as Highland Lakes, and TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubenstein ended up leading the way, taking Commissioner Buddy Garcia and a reluctant Commissioner Bryan Shaw with him. “We’ve all sat up here and said 206 is protective,” Shaw said, adding: “I know there are those that will see 126 as overly burdensome.”
But doing right ain't always easy. As soon as the 126 was back in the water, the three approved the creation of various recreation limits, a sort of bacterial sliding scale based on the understood uses of the individual water bodies. For example, the Secondary Contact Recreation II classification would allow E coli limits at 1,030 colonies. Surely, each bend and each bridge will be plainly marked so you and your kids will know if its safe to wade on down.
Sometimes shit flows uphill, however. In this case, new water-quality standards for the state must still be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before the new fecal formulas can be officially, um, expressed.
Food recalls, military contamination, industrial secrecy — our small group had been discussing a range of toxics-related health concerns for possible inclusion in a federal study when the head of San Antonio’s health department enters the room and slumps into a chair against the wall. He’s just come from a City budget session — one he calls “very painful and very worrisome” — and displays the combined exhaustion and relief of someone who has finally convinced a bull terrier to let go of his leg.
Someone add underfunded regulatory agencies to the worry list.
The study we’ve gathered to participate in is a national “conversation” being led by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry is an attempt to plumb the public mood on toxic chemicals and their potential health impacts.
Conveniently, perhaps, the conversation appears to have nearly skipped Texas, not an insignificant emitter of toxic chemicals in its own right. Fortunately, Children’s Environmental Health Institute Executive Director Janie Fields heard about it and quickly set up a meeting for Austin. San Antonio’s Metro Health Director Fernando Guerra, CEHI’s board chair, did the same for San Anto.
The San Antonio results shipped to D.C. today. What good comes of it, we will see. But at least a small group of public health advocates, community activists, and governmental types, had the chance to kick leading questions about the potential loss of “convenience” experienced from demanding safety back up the flagpole. General consensus among the dozen of us gathered last Thursday held that the Great Health Experiment taking place in our bodies was not a voluntary process. As Fields points out to me later: Since the close of World War Two there have been about 80, 000 new chemicals introduced into the marketplace, yet since 1976 only 200 have been reviewed thanks to the Toxic Substances Review Act. Of those, five have been banned. Got flame retardants? Yeah, I bet you do.
[Those concerned about environmental exposures may want to put their voice behind an effort to pass a Toxic Chemicals Safety Act that would attempt to reform the process by which chemicals are approved. Just a thought.]
All this should lead some of you to ponder on San Antonio’s own Toxic Triangle front. Fortunately, San Antonians will see a new wave of information about the potential causes of elevated liver cancers around Kelly Air Force Base, rapidly being transformed into the Port of San Antonio, released this summer. Metro Health is assembling a round of monthly meetings for July, August, and September. Should funding and public interest remain high, however, there may be meetings beyond that.
So far, one of closest things researchers have been able to point to as a possible pathway of exposure linking residents to the contaminated plume running beneath the Kelly area have been water wells. Since the groundwater plume containing a range of heavy metals and industrial chemicals was discovered in the late 1980s, 80 wells have been plugged, said Kyle Cunningham, of the Health Department’s Public Center for Environmental Health.
Now, a new study is wrapping up involving aflatoxin as a possible factor. Another will disclose the variety of chemical compounds found in soil samples, Cunningham said. “With Kelly, it’s not an easy subject,” she said. “We have really pushed to answer those [questions] as fairly as we can.”
Cunningham hopes to also undertake a more site-specific birth-defects study using new, up-to-date plume maps, possibly for release next year. “I think that’s still a question out in the community,” she said.
Until we gather in July to fight over any new pie charts and spreadsheets, make sure to stay out of Leon Creek. Or, with the weather on the way, try to keep the creek out of you.
Read the story on our spay animal issue and want to help out? Here's a list of adoption/spay-and-neuter centers in the area and another list with low-cost spay/neuter events and more throughout the summer.
SA-area Adoption/Spay & Neuter Centers
Upcoming Animal Events 6/30-8/31 2010
We don’t know what kind of crazyrock they’re smoking up there at the Texas Council on Environmental Policy, but we’ll find out tomorrow what sort of brain damage goes with it when its three Perry-appointed commissioners cast two important votes.
The first involves wide-ranging changes to the state’s water quality standards that open wide the poop pipe on Texas lakes, rivers, and streams. By expanding the designation of surface waters used for a variety of “contact recreation” uses, the cleaner surface waters now allowed to contain E coli levels of 126 colonies of bacteria per 100 milliliters (conveniently also the U.S. EPA’s recommended upper limit for “full body contact”) would be adjustment upward to allow for 206 colonies.
While that is still of a range that won’t likely send the U.S. EPA into fits, according to our insider aquatics expert, other waterways designated for less intensive contact recreation (something called "secondary contact number 2," or alternately, "where your kid goes exploring") may be allowed to have more than 1,000 bacterial colonies per 100 milliliters.
Our advice? Don’t fret over accidentally swallowing some crypto, just leave your whole head in a biohazard box back in the boat.
Shocking as this may sound, the TCEQ’s recommended change is not based on some out-of-left-field consensus-busting science proving once and for all that excrement-enriched water is good for us. Instead, call it a matter of practicality. As EPA TCEQ spokesperson Andrea Morrow told the Longview News-Journal recently, the agency was suffering from a nasty case of optimism when it set the original level on allowable feces — but it’s time to get real.
I admit, I have animal brain. No, it's not like rabies, it's just, I have animals ... on the brain. All. The. Time. Since finishing my first long piece on animal care issues in San Antonio, I can't get away from the topic if I tried. Like this Sunday, the day after I finished my story, I'm at a bar and someone walks in with a box of free kittens. Then I go to a potluck dinner and everyone talks about how Wishbone was an excellent TV program. Last night, I decide to start reading a new book and pick up The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a novel about people who breed dogs. Not to mention every night I go home to my adopted stray lion/cat Lil' Homie. When will it end?
Of course, my personal facebook page reflects this growing obsession too. I took a very unscientific poll of my SA friends and where they got their pets. Their choices were:
No matter who you talk to, when it comes to reducing the number of stray pets out there, the most important thing most of us can do is remove the family jewels from the family dog (or cat). This summer, San Antonians will hear this message from Cesar Millan, a.k.a. The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic cable TV channel. Millan chose San Antonio to kick off the Millan Foundation’s campaign to encourage the Hispanic community to spay and neuter their pets. The three-city tour also visits Houston and Los Angeles. In advance of his July 8 appearane at the SNAP Clinic, Millan spoke to us about the campaign’s goals.
C: Hi, how are you?
CM: Very good. How are you? How’s San Antonio?
C: It’s great. You’ll be here in a week. Why are you starting off your campaign in San Antonio?
CM: A few months ago, I was there and I talked to the mayor of San Antonio and I told him I wanted to be part of the biggest movement in the Latino community for us to become aware of how we can help America a little bit more, especially in the pet community. More and more Latinos are making their dogs like family members. I know for a fact that a lot of us don’t know how many dogs die each year and how we can actually help America not to go through such a horrible experience. I always keep my word, so I’m going back.
C: This campaign is being launched by a Hispanic marketing firm. Can you tell me a little more about tailoring this message to a Hispanic audience?
CM: It has always been my dream to reach out to my people. At one point, I said, you know what, I want us to help America a little bit more and the way we can help is to make Latinos aware of spay and neuter. Lopez Negrete [the Houston-based marketing firm] came on board and said they would love to help achieve that dream. They believe in it and they know why we’re suggesting spay and neuter and they want to do it for free with us. It’s a way for us Latinos again to step up to the plate and show America how much we love the country.
C: Here in San Antonio, when we discuss our stray animal issues, there’s been some suggestion, although it seems there’s not too much research to back it up, that the Hispanic community is less likely to spay and neuter their pets. I wondered if that perception has anything to do with this campaign?
CM: This belief system about dogs being neutered and spayed and their spirit will go away, or certain … what would it be called … sort of like an imagination … it’s like a stigma. An unrealistic stigma. [ED NOTE: At the time, I couldn’t think of the word either, although upon reflection, I think it may be ‘superstition.’] All my dogs are spayed or neutered. One thing I tell people is that in America, intact dogs are not going to live freely, they’re not going to have girlfriends or mates. So, realistically speaking, they’re not going to be able to achieve their biological goal, which is to mate with someone. They’re going to be deprived of social behavior more because they’re carrying the scent. Intact, meaning he’s not spayed or neutered, is going to have less friends and is going to enjoy the country much less, because they’re going to have to treat him in a certain way. Even if a dog that is intact doesn’t want to mate, just the fact that he has a scent, the other dogs are going to be triggered by the scent. You see it?
C: Uh … yeah. [ED NOTE: Upon reflection, I have no idea what Millan was talking about. But I looked up some related information via the ASPCA. Click this link and see “social problems.”]
CM: It’s knowledge that we’re lacking and I know that Latinos like to learn from another Latino. I know a lot of Latinos respect what I have to say and respect my knowledge. I think sometimes it takes one of your own to tell you why something is so important, for whatever reason. I know the caucasian community has reached out in the past, but they have not been successful. I believe because I come from Mexico and have been in America 18 years, I know what it is to have that belief system and I know how not to convince them in a way that you force them, but in a way where they do it on their own. You motivate people and you inspire people to do it for the benefit of their family, for the benefit of their dog. Many times they don’t realize that an intact dog can develop prostate cancer. An intact dog gets frustrated more because he’s not mating, so the possibility of a dog biting is higher because of the frustration level. You see what I’m saying?
C: I do. Can you go through the main points that the campaign is going to highlight?
CM: It’s going to highlight spay and neuter and why it’s so important. It’s going to highlight the numbers of dogs dying every year. A lot of people don’t know it, because it goes on behind closed doors. It’s 4.5 million dogs and cats that die in shelters each year. This is kept away from the public. Until we know, how can we help? How can we decrease this? I have to help the Hispanic community realize that this is a very kind thing to do. Those dogs that don’t have the house that you are willing to give, where are they going to end up?
C: Can you draw the connection between how many animals die each year and spaying and neutering?
CM: The end result is 4.5 million dogs and cats. They’re gonna die. Why? Because they don’t have a home. The shelters are overpopulated. The strongest breeds are gonna die quicker, even if they don’t have a psychological problem. Even if they’re the sweetest dog in the world. Just because they’re big or they’re black or they’re strong-looking, they’re not going to have the chance to live the rest of their lives. Preventing this from happening is key. By spaying and neutering our dogs, we will regulate the amount of dogs that live in the country. I don’t think we can ever have a shortage of dogs in the world. I think America has been a leader in many areas and this is a way for us to also lead by example. As Latinos, we have always jumped on board when help was needed. We just need to know how.
C: What are some ways to encourage people to spay and neuter? Does there need to be laws that make it mandatory? Or…
CM: Laws create tension, I think the best thing we can do is to motivate people, so they’re doing it because it’s their own decision. When you start doing things mandatory, you’re going to start creating fight and flight. Every time there’s a law, many people are not going to agree with it because they have their own agenda. But this is an agenda that is not about us. This is an agenda about someone we already love. It’s not so much about a human law, but a life law, a spiritual law. We have respect regardless, no matter who it is. In this case it’s someone who makes our life better, who loves us for who we are. Even if we have no money, even if we are illegal, even if our life is not going too good at that moment, we can always count on a dog. So, this is the time that they can count on us. They’re not asking to be born and then killed. What they’re asking is for us to make a concious decision, an agreement with each other. A dog doesn’t know what you do for a living, a dog doesn’t know if you’re Democrat or Republican, Muslim or Jewish, Catholic or Christian. He just knows if you’re a good person or not.
In the months and even years to come, there will likely be all kinds of organizations parachuting into the Gulf to help set things aright. Unfortunately, many of these good-intentioned newcomers wouldn’t know the difference between a crawfish etouffee and a steaming heap nutria tail (Myocasto deliciousos). So how are they to distinguish between a truly grassroots organization and bureaucratic shell game? That’s why local experts who know the marsh and the communities that call them home are so important — and why the New Orleans-based eco org Gulf Restoration Network paired up with the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health in the Gulf Future Campaign.
The community-directed effort is informed by long-time local organizers familiar with the region’s social, racial, and environmental justice struggles. We spoke with the GRN to find out how folks from non-Gulf communities like San Antonio could best help out.
Here’s our 4-point plan.
“Everyone wants to come wash a pelican or help clean up the oil,” said Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network. “The role of volunteers in all this is relatively limited, so not everyone can come. But they can definitely show their support for a full and complete recovery,”
Maybe it sounds hokey, but your $10 donation also nabs you a petroleum-free, black wristband that shows you stand with Gulf communities. If the United States was ever truly a nation of New Yorkers, as many attested following 9-11, the time is ripe for another mass conversion.
2) Go Electric
Oil is a part of nearly everything we do. It’s in our clothes, our furniture, and even our food. McNuggets, anyone? But with electric cars starting to hit the showroom floors, the possibility of eliminating the internal-combustion engine is finally a prospect nearing reality. Banning transportation combustion would take a serious wedge out of the American petroleum diet and lower the need for the riskiest of drilling. “If it were the rule instead of the exception, we would not necessarily have to be going into the ultra-deep waters and be ultra risky in how we find this oil,” said Viles. If you can’t trade into an electric vehicle, you can lobby lawmakers to help speed the industry’s transition.
3) Party NOLA!
Or Bay Saint Louis. Or Gulf Shores. Or Key West. Or Corpus. “New Orleans is 60-plus miles from the Gulf of Mexico. So New Orleans will be New Orleans whether there’s oil in the Gulf or not,” Viles said. “As much as oil is indeed coming ashore everywhere, there are a number of beaches that have been spared or will have been cleaned. So it is certainly something that, if you can, you should support these economies by coming out here.” And if you were even thinking twice about hitting your own Texas beaches, come off it. This may be the nation’s largest environmental disaster, but Texas is still way out in the clear. Perry’s call to prayer must be working. Eat that sinful Louisianans! Oh, wait. They’re praying too. Too bad no one herded the nation into the prayer closet before this supposed “act of God” to begin with.
Which takes us to:
4) Eat the Seafood
You may have to pay as much as a dollar extra per dish at the crab shack only to find yourself needing to psyche yourself up to actually swallow, but the fishing families need your mouth and digestion thoroughly committed. “If it’s on the menu, it’s safe,” Viles insists. Currently, 32 percent of federal waters are closed to fishing because of the spill, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration are working together to prevent any tainted fish from slipping out of port. “One of the most important pieces is that we as a nation learn some lessons from this and this never happens again.” Though we chide our late-praying governors, we’re saying “amen” to that.
Dippin' Dots: The completed and proposed wells in the Eagle Ford Shale.
It’s been interesting to see the amount of terrifying and tantalizing natural-gas news that sandwiched our opening salvo about South Texas’ shale-fracturing natural-gas developments this week.
First came GASLAND, a scalding indictment (but is it honest?) of all things shale splitting. If that approach hangs too heavily on emotion for you, you can also dip your toes into a couple other “fracking” documentaries, including Haynesville (called “fairer and smarter” by some Cowtown columnist), and the apparent industry handjob, Gas Odyssey, which muscles its way onto the field with middle-school computer animation and very simple sentences. [Imagine treehuggers are keeping you from a shower of gold doubloons. Okay. That's simplistic review of the review.]
So far, South Texas has received its shower uninterrupted by any significant public debate on the potential impact on our groundwater. We’ve seen many of the majors buying up tracks to drill this year, including BP and Shell.
Announced Thursday, India’s largest company has joined Irving-based Pioneer Natural Resources in the fray at a hefty admission price of a $1.3 billion.
Reports Bloomberg reporter Rakteem Katakey:
Happy Belated Father's Day! If you slacked on getting your pop a gift, give him one that won't keep on giving and pass on the message that SpaySA is still offering free spay or neuter surgeries to dads who come in with their family dog or cat. While there, he can also make sure his beloved four-legged pal is protected distemper/Parvo and Rabies with $5 vaccinations. For the non-Dads. SpaySA offers a very reasonable $20 sterilization surgery this month. Offer only good through June!
Call 351-7729 to make an appointment.
Maybe it’s the accumulation of all these less-than-gracious disagreements we’ve witnessed over the years (fists, bottles, cars used as weapons, angry clowns), but we always expect clashing ideologies to lead to clashing bodies. I have to say, San Antonio (one Finger aside), ya’ll did public discourse good today.
And if you’ve been hanging on our blog waiting for the verdict: Item 5, Resolution Urging Texas Legislature And Governor To Refrain From Passing Immigration Law, passed. SA Clerk’s office didn’t have the “little slip of paper” to confirm the votes with us, but said three members voted against the resolution. We’re going to step out on a limb and suggest they may have belonged to the lighter shades of the diaz: Chan, Clamp, & Williams. [confirmed 5:45 pm]
We posted the text of the resolution in our last post.
Mayor Julián Castro told the Current he wanted to send a strong signal to Austin now that state lawmakers are threatening to introduce legislation similar to Arizona's 1070. "The best way to stop a rolling stone is at the top of the hill," he said. "This vote sends a strong message from San Antonio that immigration is a federal issue in need of a comprehensive solution."
You may have noticed we embedded with you participants for a few hours this morning to live-tweet the discussion (and, yes, it’s been a while; and, no, I haven’t been hennaing my hair). For our trouble, we racked in a couple retweets and the accusation that talkin’ politics to our readers just "confused" people, ‘cause no one in San Anto, like, reads. *Face palm*
While we would have loved to stick it out till the actual vote while championing the intellectual capacities and curiosities of our personal Alamo City posse, we had to jump to another meeting. For this fair-weather newshound, talk of industrial toxics trumps all. But more on that later.
Anyway, we’ve got some tantalizing backstory, shocking confessions, and twilight perturbations on this vote to share with you. So check back soon. Someone here’s bound to figure out what perturbations means by then.
I'm on the one mission
To get a politician
To honor or he's a goner
By the time I get to Arizona
— Public Enemy
By the time the anti-immigrant politics of Arizona arrive in Austin with the opening of 82nd session of the Texas Legislature, San Antonio’s objections should be plain to the world. A resolution on the floor right now (below) would push the Feds to pass comprehensive legislative immigration reform and object to any efforts to pass a law in Texas similar to Arizona’s divisive Senate Bill 1070.
It got the support of local law enforcement straightaway.
“This type of law would be very, very bad for local law enforcement,” said SA Police Chief Bill McManus. It would “destroy” the fragile relationship his officers have with the community. While the sentiment was embraced with applause in the Council chambers, the first speaker from the public complains the resolution does not go far enough in decrying the inherent racism of Arizona’s anti-immigrant measures.
State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer has a thoughtful editorial in today’s paper that warns of the expanding employment gaps that he suggests will require expanding immigration.
San Antonio super-organizer Diana Lopez helped organize the People's Freedom Caravan, which decamped to Detroit, Michigan, this week for the United States Social Forum. What's it all about? Our sister paper, the Detroit Metro Times, is tracking the movement:
Radical listening: Why a social forum? Why Detroit?
By W. Kim Heron and Curt Guyette
With thousands of marchers headed down Woodward Avenue toward downtown as we went to press, the second United States Social Forum got under way Tuesday at noon. It's the culmination of more than a year of organizing by a number of groups in Detroit — and the next step for the international network that has been meeting and organizing under the umbrella of the World Social Forum since the first gathering was held in 2001. This is only the second time such a gathering has occurred in the United States, following a forum in Atlanta in 2007.
Why make Detroit the focus of leftists, progressives and various likeminded types?
And what might come from a gathering that features an anticipated 20,000 participants and more than 1,000 workshops put on by groups ranging from major unions to churches to the Sierra Club to Planned Parenthood to the ACLU to Oxfam to the Socialist Party USA?
Along with all those workshops, the forum will feature a handful of protests slated against businesses and institutions, and a lengthy program of cultural activities.
How did all of this come together, and what is the hoped-for outcome from all the networking and idea-sharing slated to take place here in Detroit this week? ... Read the full story.
Metro Times' crack team of bloggers is also tracking the conference:
USSF: The kids are alright
by Simone Landon
In the basement of Cobo Hall, a small group of jaraneros are playing. The traditional guitar music of Veracruz echoes in the warehouse-like space and it makes it difficult for the gathered participants to hear one another.
This is the U.S. Social Forum’s Youth Space, dedicated to those between the ages of 13 and 24. Like the wider forum, there are tracks and workshops on Education, Jobs, and Immigration, as well as cultural programming. The forum claims the space is “a place for young people to decide for ourselves what we want to do about these issues.”
About 50 college students meet under the paper banner of the Student Economic Justice Action Coalition (SEJAC). Most of them are involved in organizing on their college campuses, from Wichita State to Pomona College. Most are dressed in political T-shirts — Coalition of Imokalee Workers, Southwest Workers Union, “No Human Being Is Illegal.” They work with United Students Against Sweatshops, MEChA, and the Student Labor Organizing Project, among others.
Most people are organizing around campus and student issues, like fighting budget cuts and layoffs of campus workers. Many are organizing around the DREAM Act, which would allow greater access to higher education for undocumented students. ... Read the full post.
USSF opening: Rainbow energy
By Curt Guyette
Let the naysayers say all they want. If nothing else (and there is certain to be much else) the opening ceremonies of the U.S. Social Forum proved to be bursting with high-voltage energy and multicultural to the max. As thousands who participated in a parade down Woodward marched into the cavernous convention hall at Cobo Center, the official welcome kicked off (an hour behind schedule) with Native Americans in traditional dress — resplendent with feathers, beads and fringe — dancing to chanted song and drums pounding like a heartbeat, bells jangling in time.
“What incredible energy,” says an older African-American woman from Charlotte, N.C., who came here with 35 others.
She looks up at the stage flanked by two huge video monitors on either side and says, “They’re getting us all …” Words fail her at that point as her hand contracts into a fist and she thumps her chest just over her heart, consumed by the moment.
Organizers promised this would be a rainbow event, and their words proved to be true. Asian, African, Hispanic, Arab, Native American, white and more are here. Strait-laced and dreadlocked, gray haired and fresh faced and the wheelchair bound. All bobbing to the beat in unison. ... Read the full post.
It’s strange to think of our tough-talking Governor — “Deadshot,” “Good Hair,” "Chicken," whatever you’re calling him these days — as “unusually weak,” but that’s where Public Policy Polling ranked the 2.5-term Texas governor in a poll released today.
As the longest-serving Texas governor, Perry has also been considered one of the strongest. He’s been able to stick some of his most faithful contributors on public-service boards and in numerous judge’s chairs, though he has sometimes had to call them in early, as he did with Austin Attorney Sam Bassett of the Texas Forensics Board.
And I can see his point. The death chambers are most efficiently warmed with a steady stream of body heat, anyway.
And yet, despite all his testosteroidal power (if this PPP is to be believed), only 36 percent of y’all think Perry is doing good work. Meanwhile, a potentially power-shifting 37 percent like the former Houston Mayor who took on Energy City’s toxic alley, the Houston Ship Channel. (Good to know our recent differences on open-meetings matters didn’t send the White campaign skittering into the sticks.)
So once again Texas appears to be fulfilling its consistent function of serving as an anomaly to the rest of the Union.
Writes the Triple-P:
Hey Texans, raise your hand if you've recently been frustrated with all
the heated partisan debate in this country ... frustrated that we're not
seeing enough of it here in the Lone Star state what with our part-time
legislature being recessed until 2011. Our great state senators and
reps have largely been sidelined from such charming GOP v. Dem debates
like immigration law, public school dogma, and celebrating
Sarah Palin's birthday with a statewide wild game hunt. Well, cool your
jets, or maybe start firing them up, because as state Rep. Mike Villarreal reminded
us yesterday, 2011 is a redistricting year. For those of you who can't or
won't remember what fun the Lege had in 2001 and 2003, lets just say redistricting is a
magical fount of confusion and rancor that springs forth only once every
10 years, more frequently when visited by kingmaker/salsa
dancer Tom Delay. At its most basic, redistricting helps allocate
government representatives based on new U.S. Census data. At its most
convoluted, the state Legislature carves districts into zig-zags in an
attempt to pack or dilute voters thought to be oriented toward one party
or another. Rather than properly responding to the thousands of bills that
pass through each legislative cycle, representatives on either side of
the aisle go into CYA-mode even more than usual. Instead of just trying
to convince voters they were for this before it was that, or they hate
Obama but not in a racist way, or that they will definitely balance the
budget right after that new community pool gets installed, they actually
try to predict their future based on demographic estimates and then
haggle like hell to create district boundaries most beneficial to them
first, and their party second, and the people last. In Texas, where an
elated Republican-controlled congress tried to re-configure districts to
ensure continued majority in the House during the last redistricting,
things got ugly fast, and eventually included a flight of 52 state House
Democrats to Oklahoma, a correlated field trip by
11 state senate Democrats to New Mexico, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that
at least one district, (23 and by extension 25) were gerrymandered and a
violation of Hispanic voter's rights under the federal Voting Rights
Act. San Antonio got U.S. representative Ciro
Rodriguez (D-23) out of the deal, representing a district that
begins in San Antonio and stretches west to El Paso.
Now the state is at it again, preparing to redistrict with the 2010 census results. With a population the state demographer estimates at over 25 million, Texas is poised to pick up as many as four U.S. congressional seats. For comparison, most other states may pick up one.
Currently, state reps on the redistricting and Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence committee are taking public testimony to consider between now and December, when states discover how many federal congressional representatives they win or lose, and carry through to February, when they get more detailed demographic information. If everything goes as planned, the redistricting committee will present new district maps by the end of next year's legislative session. One of SA's state representatives, Mike Villarreal (D-123), sits as vice chair of the redistricting committee, which joined the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence committee in kicking off a redistricting roadshow at UTSA's downtown campus yesterday morning. Members of both committees, including David Leibowitz (D-Bexar),Bryan Hughes (R-Marshall), Mando Martinez (D-Hidalgo), Jerry Madden (R-Plano), Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christie), Delwin Jones (R-Lubbock), Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), Harvey Hildebran (R-Kerrville), Dan Branch (R-Dallas), and Tryon Lewis (R-Odessa), heard testimony from U.S. congressmen Charlie Gonzalez and Lamar Smith, both intent on impressing that they do NOT write the district maps (a sly response to former U.S. rep Tom Delay's heavy involvement in Texas' last redistricting?) A frustrated state Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) also addressed the joint committee. Is it just us or does Wentworth give the best guilt trips ever? He wanted to remind the jerks under the pink dome that he had been trying since 1993 to pass legislation creating a bi-partisan citizen committee to take over the redistricting process instead of it taking up all the legislators' time one out of every five legislative sessions. Did the jerks listen? Nooooo, though they came thisclose to getting the bill through second reading in 2009. Wentworth wanted to give the committee "fair warning" that he'd be re-introducing the bill this session.
Several other citizens gave testimony. Curiously, many were comely members of the local Grand Ole Party hoping that they would get a bigger slice of the Bexar Co. pie in the state senate and house due to redistricting. Others included Tony Calvert, Jr., who criticized the dilution of the East Side voting bloc by splitting it between three U.S. congressional districts, and MALDEF member Luis Figuerroa, who demonstrated the most in-depth knowledge about Texas' largest redistricting issue: Hispanic voters. Nearly 70 percent of the state's population growth is attributed to Hispanics, said Villarreal, who also stated that in four years, Hispanic Texans will outnumber Anglo Texans. Groups like MALDEF and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project are eager to remind state lawmakers that without Hispanic populations the state would pick up only one new congressional seat, so there better be more brown representation in D.C. as well, either via Hispanic representatives or designating the new congressional districts to areas with high concentrations of Hispanics. One witness mentioned that not only did Hispanics account for 70 percent of Texas' population growth between 2000 and current, they contributed a similar percentage in the previous decade, "we're playing catch-up not for 10 years, but for 20," said Villarreal when we caught up with him after the hearing. His hope is that a redistricting committee evenly-balanced between Democrats and Republicans (which it is currently), will help avoid too much partisan acrimony. "We need balance, but most importantly, we need perspective," he told us. "We all have to be part of the solution."
Perhaps if one party did not have a significantly better track record with Hispanic voters than the other, this wouldn't be a partisan issue. Though San Antonio knows several Hispanic members of the GOP, as we recently learned from the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, not one Hispanic member of the Texas Senate is a Republican. The question both parties will have to answer and refer back to much more frequently than every 10 years is, which is easier, redistricting games to favor your party or inspiring the "minority" voters who will soon make up the majority in most of Texas' urban and rural areas?
If you missed the hearing in San Antonio, but are interested in getting in on redistricting action, the joint committee will hold public hearings on July 19 in McAllen, July 20 in Laredo and July 21 in Corpus Christie. Also, you may submit written testimony through the chairs of the committees, call representatives Delwin Jones at 512-463-0542 or Todd Hunter at 512-463-0672.
No ticker-tape parade, no rioting Lakers fans, no vuvuzela blasts from
the city council audience ... sometimes working for the City must be
such a drag. For instance, Animal Care Services spent more than six
months reviewing the City's animal ordinance, trying to assuage concerns
from all corners of San Antonio's animal world (more on that in the
Current's June 30 edition) by putting together focus groups,
conducting several public meetings, posting opportunity for comment
online, holding special advisory board meetings like the one on June 2
when members sat through the
insane storm that caused massive power outages, listening to
District 5 rep. David Medina's cock concerns at the council's Quality of
Life meeting, and whipping through five drafts of the ordinance in
Chapter 5 of City Code. And for what? For the ordinance to be
unanimously passed in the consent agenda on Thursday. Ho hum. In all
honesty, ACS director Gary Hendel probably didn't even need to show up,
especially not to sit through three hours' worth of talk about SAWS
rates and women and minority owned small business studies. But he did
anyway, because District 9 rep. John Clamp pulled the ordinance from
consent, then changed his mind right before the lunch break and
What resulted is a 39-page, many-colored document of strike-thrus and definitions and parentheses. Like many revised ordinances, it is a tangle to comb through, so ACS provided a list of revisions to council, quaintly assuming they would read it along with the final draft of the ordinance. In fact, we don't want to be so hasty as to post a full analysis before having the chance to talk to Hendel and other animal advocates this week. Our friends in animal welfare said they were thrilled a proposed measure to assess fees to owners of intact (con huevos) dogs got neutered, while our friends in animal rights said the ordinance was an improvement, but didn't go far enough in preventing animal cruelty and requiring spay and neuter. One thing they did agree with was that the ordinance could have used one last look-through by the focus group. The group's last meeting included only six members of the 17 groups ACS courted.
The major changes:
1) Tethering female dogs in heat prohibited
2) The rules for adjective-misplaced "vicious dog owners" have been axed in favor of rules for adjective-misplaced "dangerous dog owners." Owners of allegedly dangerous dogs may now cross examine witnesses during the hearing to determine the animal's threat. Also, a record of the hearing will be kept, making it easier for owners to challenge the City's determination. If the dog is deemed dangerous, owners now must pay a higher fee of $100 per year. Additionally, ACS added a new classification of an "aggressive dog" with three sublevels, determined at a hearing similar to those for dangerous dogs. While "dangerous" addresses dog-on-human behavior, aggressive largely refers to dog-on-animal behavior. A level 1 aggressive dog appears menacing to people or other domestic animals, owners of these dogs must pay $25 ($75 if unsterilized) and prevent their animal from roaming at large. A level 2 aggressive dog has been found to have injured another animal. Its owner must pay a $50 fee and ($100 if unsterilized), restrain it to a leash or enclosure at all times and the owner may be required to take a responsible pet owner course and get $100,000 public liability insurance policy. A level 3 aggressive dog has killed another animal or repeatedly injures other animals. Its owner may only take out the dog if it's leashed and muzzled. The owner must put signs near the dog's enclosure warning about its aggressive status. In addition to the $100 fee ($150 if unsterilized), the owner may be required to take a responsible pet owner course and get $100,000 public liability insurance policy. ACS can revoke the aggressive status if it's determined that the dog has been provoked or abused. If no further incidents are reported, level 1 and 2 aggressive dogs may be declassified after one year, and level 3 aggressive dogs may be declassified after two years.
3) If your animal gets thrown in the clink, it's gonna cost more to get it out, to the tune of $50 PLUS vaccination, for unregistered animals picked up the first time, $100 for animals picked up the second time, $150 for animals picked up a third time. Compare that to the cost of building a simple fence or just acting like a responsible person and get back to us.
The not-as-major-as-you-think changes:
1) Although we would hope an Animal Care Officer would investigate anyone who tethers their animal outside during freezes, tornado warnings or heat advisories, the new ordinance technically only states this sort of tethering is prohibited only if it "unreasonably limits the dog's movement in the case of extreme weather conditions." (emphasis ours).
2) Puppy sellers are now required to get a permit from the city at $250 a year. However, this only applies to sellers of puppies less than four months old, and selling puppies less than two months old is already prohibited. Also, people who purchase the $50 litter permit (allowing for one litter a year) or the $150 pet shop permit are exempt from getting the seller's permit.
The WTF? changes:
1) Be on the lookout for the ordinance's new fowl language, as reported by Elaine Wolff. She's checking with chicken fanciers the city over, miffed at a paltry poultry max of three feathered friends to be kept in coops at least 50 feet from homes or businesses.
The discussed but not approved changes:
1) We heard from Hendel's own lips at a public meeting on the ordinance that a mandatory spay and neuter requirement was originally slated to be enacted, but that it was killed early on by popular demand.
2) While tethering restrictions are tightened, they stop short of banning the practice outright.
One last thing the City asks of you, pet owners: hustle over to Animal Care Services web site to register your pet if you haven't already. It's free until Sept. 30 and will help immensely if little Fido or Spot gets scooped up by the dog/cat catcher.
First City Manager Sheryl Sculley came for the refined sugar, and I said nothing. Then the City Council declared war on tobacco smoke, and I was silent. But at last someone has hit upon the environmental “sin” I may despise most of all — the plastic water bottle.
In a move that guarantees decades of fictitious personal claims of Trinity University alumnihood by yours truly, TU President Dannie* Ahlburg has ordered the school’s departments to stop the inane practice of purchasing the plastic-wrapped delusion.
In a prepared release, a Trinity communications employee suggested Ahlburg had declared students and faculty could no longer continue to chug imported water in toxic shells and still be considered the sort of people he’d like to "hang with." That’s the way I think they intended it to read, anyway. While there will still be water bottles in the vending machines, the student council is rumored to be exploring social shaming strategies, such as mandated “planet killer” sandwich boards, to force a final and lasting change in student body behavior. (That one-shoulder backpack thing just isn't enough anymore, it seems.)
When it comes to transforming campus culture into one that respects the planet (despite her finicky and limited resources) Trinity is right out in front among SA’s schools. Past President John R. Brazil joined a carbon-reduction movement in 2007 gathering signatures among U.S. college and university dons/donnas. Two years ago, the campus was recognized for its waste-stream reduction efforts.
Now, the everything-poisoning plastic bottle, the contents of which have been shown to be no better than typical tap water anyway, has come under the gun up on the hill.
So Reads the Statement:
Can you do this with your water? Do you want to?
You may have heard President
Obama's Oval Office address on Tuesday, where he finally declared
(sans ass-kicking language) that the BP spill is "the worst
environmental disaster America has ever faced," and deemed the deep sea
oil gusher's as-yet-unquantified environmental impact "an epidemic."
Though Congress stole the show this week, alternately recommending Hari Kari to
BP Exec Tony Hayward or apologizinging for the evil government's shakedown of BP
for damages, President Obama did slip in a little pet policy
language. "Dudes, seriously," Obama seemed to say, "if we weren't
guzzling oil like it was a free Big Gulp in July, we would probably not be
drilling one mile underwater without proper safety precautions."
After a little light chastising (from now on, every scolding is going to
seem light compared to subtle suggestions of suicide from Rep. Joseph Chao),
during which the Prez said we were behind even environment-rapers China
in terms of our clean energy industry, he once again called for renewed
focus on alternatives to fossil fuels.
Due to fortuitous timing, just two days later our City Council stepped up to the clean energy plate. "Look, look!" city council agenda item 32 cried. "We've got solar arrays, energy and water conservation studies, bikes for tourists, and energy efficiency financing. And we're even using stimulus money to do it!"
Through City Federal Economic Stimulus grants, the Office of Environmental Policy will now fund a massive solar array at the Mission Verde Center at former Cooper Middle School a hub for green learning and job training. It will also direct nearly $100,000 to studying the economic impact of water and energy efficiency projects as the City navigates through the down and out recession. For $10 million, San Antonio teams up with City of Austin for an interlocal agreement to help both cities provide financing for homeowners and local business owners looking to make energy efficient upgrades to their property.
In the short term, the most visible of these projects will be the Bike Share project. Following recent examples in health nutty cities like Denver and Minneapolis, not to mention pioneering programs in Europe, San Antonio finally took the plunge to offer 140 Trek-crafted cruisers from BCycle to residents and tourists alike at 14 proposed locations. Cost and membership programs have not yet been determined, but Denver's example provides the first half-hour free (bringing new meaning to park and ride for parking-deficient downtown events), the first hour for $1.10 and doubling in price every hour thereafter. A 24-hour membership in Denver goes for $5 and a yearly pass can be had for $65. After the stimulus money runs out, the memberships are expected to fund San Antonio's Bike Share program, with the current program angling to recruit 1,200 members in the first year, doubling the number after two years. One-time users are projected at 15,000 for year one, with a modestly increased expectation of 20,000 by year three. Office of Environmental Policy Head Laurence Doxsey told council the easy-to-ride cruisers would have baskets, and a special design with no salvageable parts and a primary color paint job to deter theft. Proposed calorie and carbon-offset counters provide riders with enough warm fuzzies to keep them pedaling.
San Antonio's proposed solar-powered rental sites largely center on downtown's major draws like the Alamo, Market Square, and La Villita, with some resident-friendly bike check-outs proposed near San Antonio College, Pearl Brewery, Sunset Station and the Medical Center. The hub for rentals, info, and repair is a sweet little house called the OK Bar smack in the middle of HemisFair Park. QueQue hopes the City remembers the perfectly-rideable West Side too, especially considering VIA's proposed Westside Multimodal Transit Center, which aims to bring buses, light rail and trolleys together, and where a Bike Share stand could easily be integrated. Thus far, the program hasn't planned stands for the Mission Trail and Brackenridge Park either, two main sites already popular with riders.
Julia Diana, who oversees sustainable transportation for the City, said the Bike Share sites are proposed, not set in stone, so the current plan could change before the slated program kick-off in early 2011. District 1 City Council rep Mary Alice Cisneros, known for picking only the most dire of battles, sided with Rollette Schreckenghost, president of the San Antonio Preservation Society, and pressed for a verbal commitment from OEP that they would work with the Preservation Society to make sure the fugly stands don't block tourists' view of our historic monuments and quaint King William. (This directed to a town that happily erected the bastion of solemnity that is Ripley's Believe It or Not! directly across from Texas' sacred Alamo.) "These stands can be rather large," said Schreckenghost, "we want to ensure they don't obstruct the view of any historic sites."
Given that august cities like Paris, Philadelphia, D.C. and London have managed to implement successful Bike Share programs without ruining tourist photo-ops forever more, QueQue doubts this will wrench the Bike Share gears too much. A few bike stands are a small price to pay for implementing another way we encourage citizens to break their fossil fuel habits.
Rosendo Gonzalez working on his mural tribute to teacher Robert Sutton
Just one week after celebrated local artists Vincent Valdez and Alex Rubio received an in-person apology from San Antonio Independent School District members who authorized the destruction of the Burbank High alums' mural on their alma mater's western wall, another local muralist says he's getting the run-around from Burbank and SAISD staff.
Last year, Rosendo Gonzalez painted a tribute mural to the late Robert Sutton, a beloved auto mechanics teacher with a 30 year career at Burbank, who died suddenly last April. Gonzalez, who graduated Burbank in 2003, said Sutton was a father figure to him and many other Burbank students and the pair grew particularly close during several years of classes. After his passing, students raised money for supplies and contacted Gonzalez, a budding tattoo artist and muralist, who agreed to paint a giant portrait of Sutton on Burbank's auto shop interior wall. At the time, he said he didn't sign it. "I just thought it was for the teacher," Gonzalez reasoned, "but after all that's happened, I think [signing the mural] is what I should do."
Gonzalez became concerned about the state of his mural when he learned that Valdez's iconic Burbank mural had been painted over during a beautification process earlier this month. Among the many reasons given for that mural's destruction was that Burbank Principal Mona Lopez could not find Valdez's signature on the piece. During their sitdown with Lopez and SAISD board members, Rubio and Valdez said the district promised to catalog and protect existing and future murals. "They also said they would make sure research would be done to find out who these artists are," said Rubio. But when Gonzalez tried to contact SAISD to let them know he painted the Sutton mural and wanted to sign it, he says he ran into issues. For one, just calling the school turned into a byzantine process of transfers and voicemails. With the help of Palm Heights Neighborhood Association president Fernando Velazquez, also a primary organizing force calling for SAISD accountability in the Valdez/Rubio mural debacle, both SAISD school board member Adela Segovia and Assistant superintendent Priscilla Canales sent emails expressing their desire to follow-up with Gonzalez, claiming his many calls never reached their telephones. This morning, Segovia confirmed she had been in contact with Gonzalez, but said they had not discussed the issue in detail. In a Palm Heights Neighborhood Association meeting last night, Gonzalez said he had arranged a meeting with Dr. Canales for Friday morning. Thus far, the only thing approaching an answer to Gonzalez's request to sign his work was an SAISD representative Segovia claiming the mural may be exempt from preservation because its creation was unauthorized. Gonzalez contests that, saying that Burbank students purchased the paint and that the former principal put him in touch with a school counselor who helped arrange access to the auto shop, where he painted the mural over two days in the middle of the week last May. Gonzalez was also told that the school did not have the money to preserve the mural. "My response was that we don't need no money," Gonzalez told the Palm Heights group last night. He painted the indoor mural with high-quality paint, and it's unlikely to chip or fade quickly. Even so, to preserve the mural with clear coating would cost somewhere between $24-$40, Gonzalez estimated. Palm Heights meeting attendee Tony Alvarado quickly volunteered to foot the bill. Recently, Sutton's sister has weighed in on the mural, writing an emotional letter to SAISD superintendent Robert Duron, asking that they not remove the mural. "I know that through his mural, his legacy will live on and be passed down through the years," she wrote, noting that neither she, nor her two brothers nor her elderly mother had seen the mural yet. Many members of the Palm Heights community, including students who commissioned the mural initially, shared those sentiments and hoped that this time, SAISD would acknowledge them.
When informed about the signature snafu, Rubio conceded that Gonzalez ought to have signed the mural in the first place, but also said he would like to attend Gonzalez's Friday morning meeting, to ensure an issue he thought was resolved stays that way.
UPDATE: Gonzalez stopped by the office to give us a photo of the mural and told our art director he may have to reschedule tomorrow's meeting with SAISD. His girlfriend is scheduled for induced labor tomorrow. Congratulations!
"Artistic people are kind of weird and they need to stick together,"
joked Virginia Guzman, explaining just one of many reasons she and a
host of parents and students are angry with San Antonio Independent
School District over its decision to phase out theFine Arts Magnet Academy at Thomas Jefferson High School. Guzman, like many other FAMA
parents, learned of SAISD's plans to halt student recruitment for FAMA
through her son, graduated senior Jordan, during the last week of
The news shocked parents and students who considered the Fine Arts Magnet Academy essential to helping students stand out in the flood of college applications. SAISD, charged with turning around languishing Jefferson, sees things differently. "The magnet title doesn't determine anything if your school is academically unacceptable," said SAISD school board district rep Ed Garza. Jefferson earned the dubious distinction for the first time this year, with abysmal TEKS and SAT scores and an all time high level of discipline infractions.
What does that have to do with FAMA students, wondered the crowd of parents and their kids who met in Jefferson's cafeteria last Thursday to learn more about the new plan for Jeff and confront Garza, assistant superintendent Priscilla Canales, and increasingly irate Jefferson High principal Joanne Cockrell. To the FAMA lovers, it seemed the district held the tiny portion (186) of enrolled students as somehow accountable for the failings of Jefferson's large (2,000+) student body. Moreover, the district coupled FAMA-axing news with a presentation highlighting Jefferson's planned distinction as a "leadership" school, which includes, (gasp!) JROTC. If there's one thing that makes arty kids and their parents even more dejected than screwing with their public school arts programing, it's appearing to do so in favor of military training. Top that off with the suddenness of the news, and it made for quite a heady emotional brew in the cafeteria meeting. Though the only person we witnessed raising their voice and calling people stupid was principal Cockrell ('oh no she didn't!' you're thinking to yourself right now, but, oh, yes, she did, when she gestured to a group of FAMA students, saying 'stupidity comes in all forms' when the kids got a bit indignant toward the end of the meeting), kids and parents panicked that the courses would be dropped all together, that Jefferson would become a military school, that their sensitive artist types would once again be forced into classes with mouthbreathers looking for an easy A instead of a stimulating challenge.
When the dust settled, SAISD provided answers that were somewhat less alarming, though still disheartening for SA parents in possession of creative children but not a lot of money. Garza maintained that the magnet distinction was somewhat of a misnomer at FAMA, since all the courses could be found in other district high schools, and aside from portfolio and entrance applications, the requirements to participate in FAMA mirrored requirements to participate in any other electives in the district. Instead of amping up funding for a better magnet, Garza and district executives reevaluated Jefferson as a whole, focusing on how to draw in more students than FAMA's small numbers, and concluding that, while the same courses could be found at any district school as at FAMA, they could offer a leadership focus, with primary elective groups of creative arts, athletics and JROTC. Garza and Canales are also excited about special courses in enviornmental and military sciences, eliciting eye rolls from fine arts-focused individuals, but big smiles from more left-brained thinkers focused on job preparation specific to San Antonio's economy. To quell those in the community worried about SAISD students' access to quality art programs, Garza also paints this as a move for equality, titling the beginning of the powerpoint presentation made in the cafeteria as "Fine Arts for All," and doing his best to convince a skeptical audience that skimming the cream off the top of talented middle schoolers across the district hurt other high schools' arts programs. Supposedly, Jefferson's rising tide of arts programming, once demagnetized, will lift all SAISD ships, and by the time the magnet designation is phased out in 2015, voila, each school will have its own quality fine arts courses comparable to Jeff's or suffer the consequences of the district's open enrollment policy, allowing kids in any SAISD area to attend any district school. Garza claims he ran on the Jefferson Leadership school platform, and that the reason many FAMA parents and kids were caught unawares is that currently only about 30 percent of FAMA students actually live in his district. During the meeting Canales maintained that no FAMA courses or teachers would be taken away from Jeff, and Garza said the program's most laudable requirements, that students develop a portfolio and complete a senior recital/performance/show/project could stay. Still, students who felt a close kinship with others who had to apply to be part of FAMA, including one 15 year-old autistic boy who went from special needs classes to college prep after joining FAMA and "finally fit in," according to his mother, Maria Davidson, are worried they won't receive the same stimulation and consistency FAMA's four year tracks provided. Other parents like Rina Moreno are still miffed they won't have a decent arts program to send their artistic children starting high school next year. Moreno said she had hoped to send her daughter to the FAMA program, since it was more affordable than paying out-of-district tuition to North East School of the Arts, which itself barely survived talks of shuttering last January. As of right now, until the district can prove its policy of improving arts education for all, "SAISD is basically cutting off its arts students," said Moreno. Amanda Rohm, a 16 year-old singer in FAMA's vocal music strand said she knew the phase out wouldn't affect her, but still she was concerned. "I'm worried about all the other dreamers that come after me," she said.
In an emailed response to a list of questions from the Current, Jail Administrator Roger Dovalina said he is getting cost estimates to see what it would take to make the cells in the Suicide Prevention Unit and Mental Health Unit suicide resistant.
On an inspection of the jail earlier this year, nationally recognized suicide prevention expert Lindsey Hayes called the SPU’s name a “misnomer” because of air vents and bunk beds that provide potential anchor points to which inmates could tie makeshift nooses.
Several of Hayes’ recommendations will be put into practice this year, Dovalina said. For instance, jailers will receive annual suicide-prevention training every year and some detention staff will also be attending Crisis Intervention Training and learning skills that help officers calm those with mental illness who may be experiencing intense stress.
Representatives of the Sheriff’s Office and University Health Systems, the county health program that provides health care services to the jail, are discussing the potential implementation of a “mental health shift report” to log all inmates who may be posing a risk to themselves. “I do believe that it is a good idea,” Chief Dovalina wrote the Current in an email, “but we need to find a method that will work for both UHS and the Sheriff’s Office.”
A sticking point, however, involves one of Hayes’ key criticisms of the jail — the consistent use of isolation and identifying smocks to mark and manage those placed under suicide watch. Regarding the smocks, Dovalina responded only: “This issue is still under review. We do have some concerns about this recommendation and are still reviewing the matter.”
Hayes said that confining a "suicidal inmate to their cell for 24 hours a day only enhances isolation and is anti-therapeutic. ... Under these conditions, it is also difficult, if not impossible, to accurately gauge the source of an inmate’s suicidal ideation.”
Five inmates hung themselves at the Bexar County Jail last year, about three times the national average for county jails.
A follow-up call to Dovalina seeking clarification on some of his answers was not immediately returned.
Ruby Mae Krebs, the charismatic and visible president of the San Antonio Gender Association, is relinquishing her title at Thursday night’s
regular meeting, effective immediately. Vice President Aaron Laughher will step
up until next month, when the organization — which advocates for gender-identity equality — will hold an election.
Krebs took office in February, just in time for the Craig Nash incident, in which the SAPD officer was arrested and charged with official oppression for sexually assaulting a transgender woman.
“Very simply, I have too many irons in the fire at this point, and I don’t feel I can give SAGA the time and effort its necessary for the president to give,” said Krebs, who is a precinct chair with the Bexar County Democratic Party, a board member of the Stonewall Democrats, and serves on the SAPD advisory board. “Plus my job, and an 82-year-old mother who needs me … I feel someone who has more time should take the reins.”
Krebs, who ran for the District 1 council seat in 2009, told the Current last week that she doesn’t have immediate political plans, but didn’t rule out a future Council race — perhaps after fellow Democrat and D1 race veteran Chris Forbrich holds the seat.
SAGA needs to focus on getting its 501©3, Krebs said, and on broadening its appeal. “I feel that some facets of our community maybe don’t feel that welcome; mainly cross-dressers have not really felt welcome because that’s a different thing from being transgendered, and sometimes we transgendered people can be a bit snobby. But that’s something I’ve been working to alleviate because I want every facet of our community to be welcome.”
SAGA’s meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Metropolitan Community Church downstairs social hall at 611 E. Myrtle. Krebs herself may be a few minutes late: She rides VIA, and has an SAPD advisory-board meeting until 6 p.m. Although she says “getting to scheduled appointments is very hard for me,” on account of it, she’s “an incredible advocate of VIA,” and would love to serve on the VIA board …
The QueQue has so much fun at Cornyation’s ribald roman a clef each year — even when we’re not
King Anchovy — that we sometimes forget the program’s good works: a half-million
dollars raised for organizations that fight AIDS and support kids since its
eat-humble-pie beginnings. This year, the organization that has done more to
legitimize drag as an art form than any other SA institution is giving $45, 000 to
Black Effort Against the Threat of AIDS, the majority of which will go to fund its Newly Empowered Women program.
Tomorrow's awards ceremony will double as a
ribbon-cutting for the Eastside facility, which can house up to 24 women for
six months to two years while they take classes in parenting, budgeting,
cognitive problem-solving, and ethnic and gender pride among others. (Political celebrities are promised, including District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.) NEW is designed for women who are HIV-positive or directly
impacted by AIDS, and who are dealing with other complicating factors,
including homelessness, mental illness, addiction recovery, and/or recent
BEAT AIDS Executive Director Michele Durham said the program was developed in response to similar facilities in Texas and other states, as well as interviews with their day-service clients, and depended heavily on the input of a 15-member committee. Participants will be drawn from treatment facilities, substance-abuse programs, prisons, and jails, among other places, with a special focus on San Antonio residents.
“We are especially pleased, glad, and excited that we’re going to have a facility right here in San Antonio where women can come back home,” she said.
The program will prioritize working with women of color because those populations are disproportionately affected by the AIDS epidemic — African-American women are 10 times more likely to become HIV positive than their white counterparts, and five times more likely than Latinas — who in turn are eight times more likely to become HIV positive than white women.
The facility, which will also work with offsite clients, will operate
24/7, providing three full meals and snacks each day. A key part of NEW's programming
reunites mothers with children they may have been separated from due to
homelessness, drug addiction, or prison through onsite visits, without the
pressures of running a household while they’re rebuilding their lives and relationships.
Durham expects NEW to increase BEAT AIDS’ annual $2.5 million budget by another $500,000. The first two residents will move in in July, and the participants will grow exponentially from there until they reach 24.
Cornyation 2010 is also enriching these coffers:
The Robert Rehm Scholarship Fund ($4,000)
SOLI Chamber Ensemble ($2,500)
Help, Action, Care ($25,000)
San Antonio AIDS Foundation ($35,000)
Attend the ribbon-cutting and funding-announcement celebration Tuesday at 6pm at 618 Hudson St.
Right this instant, the ozone, or smog, levels in Bexar County are pretty good (right), but when EPA tightens the definition for what qualifies as clean air next year, putting the San Antonio region into near-certain non-compliance, reps from the Alamo Area Council of Government will have their eyes glued to the air monitors scattered across the county. For good reason.
San Antonio has been skating the line on the current regs, as it is. And though considered state-of-the-art, the devices used to measure ozone in the area sometimes erroneously report levels up to seven percent higher or lower than they actually are. While there are safeguards built in to help catch such lapses in accuracy, Dean Danos, deputy director of AACOG, is hoping the federal government will either improve the monitors or compensate the state for the increased staff hours that will be needed to oversee the ozone sniffers.
“From a statistical point of view, why is there a seven-percent error? Why can’t they get the error rate lower?” Danos said Friday. “From a subjective point of view, we are close [to being in non-attainment with federal air quality guidelines], and every time that there’s a close issue, we have to ask the question, ‘Well, what was the error rate?’”
How has the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which runs the monitoring program, responded to local questions about monitoring errors? “We’ve been squawking so loud the last few years they’ve been very responsive,” Danos told the Current. “They’ve been very responsive to San Antonio.”
Peter Bella, natural resources director for AACOG, said the process of checking and adjusting the ozone data at the TCEQ is a rigorous one. “When there is a difference of plus or minus seven percent accuracy in their readings they can adjust that data up or down,” Bella said. “They flag that data, they go out into the field, they check whether or not it’s an instrument error … If it’s an adjustment factor they can make, they can adjust the data for accuracy.”
However, with new regs coming down the pike it’s important to get the numbers as accurate as possible, he said. “As the threshold lowers and becomes more stringent, every little bit counts. We have to be sure. Because non-attainment is black and white,” Bella said. “It’s critical to ask questions. It’s critical to be critical. … We’re keeping a watchful eye on our systems, making sure we have the best accuracies we can get with the equipment we have.”
Attempts to reach the EPA for comment today were not successful.
Given the number of deaths that have occurred inside Bexar County Jail in the past couple years related to heroin withdrawal (See here and here and here for at least three examples), it’s tempting to root for the sheriff’s deputy arrested this morning on suspicion of trying to deliver narcotics to detainees on the inside.
While we’d never outright root for the pushers of the world, it sure would be nice to empty our jails of all these non-violent offenders and save our hard-earned tax money for bankrupting corporate devils like BP in our underutilized federal courts. And yet the news of the hour deserves mention before we begin unpacking our tangled rant.
Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Falcon (right), 48, was arrested in a sting operation this morning involving marked bills and “simulated” drugs and charged with possession with intent to distribute. Those one-to-four grams of artificial tar could result in up to 20 years imprisonment — one for each year Falcon’s been serving and protecting.
While titillating, the whole ordeal is distracting from the Big Issue in Bexar County. That is: a scalding assessment of the jail administration’s failures to follow procedures intended to reduce inmate suicides.
Nationally recognized suicide-prevention expert Lindsey Hayes delivered his report to Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz back on April 8. It was provided to the Current this week under an Open Records request.
Hayes opens his report by crediting the jail staff for taking the proactive approach of contacting him after a rash of suicides began to build at the facility in 2009. Ultimately, six inmates in the jail system, one of whom had been outsourced to Crystal City because of intense overcrowding, hung themselves in a 10-month period last year, about three times the national average for county lock-ups.
Hayes then documents a long list of failures on the part of the administration (and University Health Systems, which provides mental-health professionals and medical staff at the jail) in recognizing at-risk inmates and preventing needless deaths.
For starters, Hayes calls the Suicide Prevention Unit “a misnomer.”
“The 10-cell unit only occasionally houses inmates on suicide precautions (e.g., only two inmates were on suicide precautions during the time of this writer’s visit) and, other than the posting of two detention officers and a medical staff, there were not any appreciably enhanced services,” Hayes writes. “It would appear that the jail system has an unexplained tolerance for potentially suicidal behavior that has resulted in under-utilization of the Suicide Prevention Unit, as well as other units, for the housing of suicidal inmates.”
And, yet, the most disturbing findings have to do with the jail failing to follow its own written procedures on prevention. For instance, jailers are not supposed to take away suicidal inmates’ personal items unless that inmate is aggressive toward others or themselves. Even then, jailers are supposed to get approval from the shift commander before removing an inmate from general population, after which continuous observation is called for.
In practice, however, suicidal inmates are stripped, put in “safety smocks,” otherwise called “pickle” suits with not undergarments, and confined in isolation for 24-hour stretches. “Confining a suicidal inmate to their cell for 24 hours a day only enhances isolation and is anti-therapeutic,” Hayes writes. “Under these conditions, it is also difficult, if not impossible, to accurately gauge the source of an inmate’s suicidal ideation.”
This would also explain why those who have been smocked work to get “unsmocked” as quickly as possible. The average length of stay in pickle-suited isolation is 24 hours, Hayes wrote, “considerably less than this writer’s experience in consulting with other correctional facilities throughout the country.” Um, yeah, we'd want out of the iron mask ASAP, too.
But an even more obvious problem in immediate need of correction? Air vents and metal bunks in both the SPU and medical unit available for inmates to hook sheets and towels to, enabling suicide to occur within the very units designated to prevent them. Is there a "duh" in oversight?
Jail Administrator Roger Dovalina refused an interview with the Current today, asking instead that all questions be submitted in writing. According to the jail’s press officer, those answers won’t be returned until next week.
So, party on, San Anto! And if you're unfortunate enough to find yourself being processed this weekend, you may want to request a mental-health screening if you're feeling like sinking back into a pre-womb existence. Apparently, jail staff forgot those frequently too.
We really wouldn't want anything to happen to one of our favorite readers.
Before you break out of your cubicle and pop in your Twilight caps or whatever, donate a helpful mouse click or two to San Antonio's Southwest Workers Union to help them grab some competitive grant funds from Brighter Planet.
From SWU's application, we read that Bexar County was "recently ranked 211 out of 221 Texas counties for accessibility to healthy food and green spaces. The creation of an urban garden network can both revitalize unused land as well as provide healthy food choices and increase the food security of local families."
As much fun as cabbage bowling was a few weeks back, we would love to see some zucchini pins added and multiple lanes lined in lettuces. Help dismantle San Antonio’s “food deserts” with this simplest of gestures. They’re down by like 60 votes now, gente, and voting ends next Tuesday. So, hit it now. And remember, this is one contest where you really can vote twice, so make ‘em count.
Alex Rubio and Vincent Valdez in front of the Burbank High School Gym mural, 1996.
A great piece of art inspires, defines a community, and provokes...even if it depicts a giant hot sauce bottle and a soccer game. In 1994, Vincent Valdez created such an art piece (facilitated by a mural design contest sponsored by Tabasco McIlhenny), on the exterior wall of Luther Burbank High School, where he was then a 16 year-old student. Working with mentor, and current Blue Star Contemporary Art Center educator, Alex Rubio, Valdez spent his spring break creating the epic soccer match between an Aztec warrior and a Tabasco-wielding player above the title "Hispanic Soccer! Muy Caliente," visible on the South Side from I-35 near the I-10 interchange. There it stayed for 16 years, becoming a Burbank beacon, and a physical reminder of one of the school’s favorite sons who went on to a full-ride scholarship at Rhode Island School of Design and critical success as a young Chicano artist known for taking on social strife.
And then, overnight, the mural disappeared. “I was just passing by I-35 on Friday evening,” said Arthur Valdez, Vincent’s father, who still lives by Burbank, “it was still up. Then on Saturday around 12:30 or 1:00 p.m. I drove by and looked. It was gone. I did a double take.” Valdez, like many of his neighbors, was deeply angered by the mural’s swift and quiet removal. To him and a group of 280+ people in the neighborhood and on Facebook, the mural’s destruction symbolized yet another outsider imposing its will on the modest community. “The lifespan of a mural is never certain,” said Vincent Valdez, by phone from Los Angeles, “that’s just the way it goes. But there’s an underlying issue in the way the district handled the situation.”
To wit, we accompanied Arthur Valdez and two concerned Burbank alums, Fernando Velazquez and Pete Herrera, to the high school early Monday morning. Valdez wanted to tell the principal, Mona Lopez, his personal perspective. Among hugs and “don’t let her get away with it,” from enthusiastic staff members to Velazquez, who spearheaded last year’s effort to save Burbank from closure by SAISD, we learned Lopez would not arrive until 9 a.m. We killed time admiring Valdez’s still-intact cafeteria murals of rock stars, also completed during his high school days, and a 1966 class photo showing a young Arthur and his future wife. When we heard a loudspeaker announcement that all faculty and staff would meet together at 9, Valdez inquired at the front desk if Lopez would actually be available to speak that morning or not. The staff didn’t know, so Valdez said he would wait in the entrance lobby for Lopez. Just then, we were met by a police officer and an assistant principal; two other police officers appeared at the front door. “Can we help you,” asked assistant principal Roy Gregg. Valdez explained he wanted to speak with Lopez, and Gregg said Lopez would call Valdez after 4 p.m. Valdez, an affable man of slight stature, held his ground. “That was a gift to the school and all of a sudden it’s gone,” he told Gregg, in an even tone “I’m very, very upset about it. [Lopez] never spoke to anyone in the community about it. This is our community, not her community.” Before we walked out the door, Valdez added, “I’m going to take this all the way to the top. I just want to know what her main reason is.” After we were safely outside, the two police officers at the doors left the campus. “They were here just for us,” said Velazquez.
The Valdezes, Velazquez and Alex Rubio’s are primarily offended that neither Lopez nor school board district representative Adela Segovia nor anyone else in San Antonio ISD reached out to the community to gauge interest in preserving the mural, or contacted the artists about it. They point toward the painting contractors’ seemingly overnight transformation of the westward-facing wall from vibrant art to blank slate as further proof that the paint job was meant to be completed with as little community interference as possible.
According to Segovia and SAISD spokesperson Leslie Price, had they known the mural was a Vincent Valdez work, this controversy may never had happened. Segovia said painting over the mural was part of a long-planned facelift for the school. “Our school had not been painted in 20 years,” she said. During the year-long process to flag what needed sprucing and what could stay, district and administration officials walked Burbank’s campus, flagging important murals with signatures to stay and letting others go. Not seeing Valdez’s signature on the soccer mural, they decided to whitewash it. Price seconded that explanation in a separate phone conversation. Segovia and Price also said both the wall and mural were weathered and chipped, though Rubio said if he were contacted, perhaps he could have arranged for a mural restoration. Velazquez and Rubio reported (and disputed) additional reasons stated by Lopez, who could not be reached for comment, that the painting-over had been approved by the Community Leadership Team of school department chairs and that the mural was a magnet for grafitti. Price disputed Valdez and Velazquez’s characterization of painting overnight, since the contractors were only scheduled for 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. As for Valdez’s missing signature, which is prominently featured in a photo belonging to Arthur Valdez, “maybe it fell off,” offered Segovia.
Actually, Vincent Valdez said the signature washed away in a rainstorm that started pouring just after he and Rubio signed their work in 1996. But all the parties we spoke to said many teachers, staff members, students or neighbors would have heen able to identify it as Valdez’s work. In fact, it was part of a tour sponsored by San Antonio Museum of Art that Valdez led just last year. “All the [Burbank] teachers knew who painted it,” said Arthur Valdez. “The district decided it didn’t matter.” Both Price and Segovia said they did not reach out to anyone to discover who painted the mural or whether it was salvagable. Segovia at least accepts partial blame. “It was a judgement call across the district,” to repaint the mural, she said, “maybe it’s my fault for not doing the research.” Price said “it’s very unfortunate that this occurred. There was no intention to disrespect the work of this artist.” She also said the district is taking steps “to avoid something like this happening in the future,” by catalgouing the several murals decorating schools throughout the district. Both stressed repeatedly none of Valdez’s other murals would be touched.
To Burbank alums, “it’s additional insult to the bigger injury of the City trying to shut down the school,” said Vincent Valdez, referencing an SAISD plan released last year recommending the closing of Burbank to help the district save money. During public meetings last fall, residents turned out in droves pleading to keep the school open and helped elect Segovia, who ran for her school board seat on a pledge to save Burbank.
If the alums are passionate about their alma mater, they’re just as inspired by Valdez’s mural. “What it demonstrated was that individuals are able to do more than their surroundings,” said Andro Mendoza, Burbank ’86, a marketing professor at Northwest Vista. Albert Cruz, ’02, said when he recently returned home on vacation from his New York banking job, he took a visiting friend straight to see the mural as an example of the community’s Hispanic pride. “It’s a symbol of Burbank, it’s a symbol of community, and it’s a symbol of an individual who has done great things…The decision to paint over it seems to have been done with malintention, or at least with a great deal of ignorance.”
In the nick of time for your family
weekend outing to the theme park of your choice, we just got off the
phone with David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational
Safety and Health (a.k.a. OSHA), who has lately been issuing some
strong words to the entertainment industry, which includes funplexes
like Six Flags Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld. Forget your own experiences
with neck-snapping rollercoasters and hand-biting dolphins in the
petting pond for a moment, and focus on the plight of amusement park
workers. While we always sympathized with ride gatekeepers wilting
outside in summer's high noon sun, OSHA had more serious reasons for
taking a second look at conditions for these workers, as well as those
in theaters and movie studios. "In recent months OSHA has seen the deaths of several workers in
the entertainment industry, those deaths were caused by hazardous
conditions," said Michaels. "It has become clear to us that hazardous
conditions exist across the industry," he continued. Though he couldn't name names due to a
pending investigations, we're guessing the recent death of Dawn
Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer pulled underwater by a killer whale, made a
big blip on the OSHA radar. Once the investigation is released, we'll
be interested in whether Brancheau's death gets treated as a "willful
violation" of worker safety, subject to the highest OSHA violation fine
of $70,000. Michaels, again speaking generally, said such violations are
based on reasonable employer knowledge that something is dangerous. We
wondered if that knowledge could encompass previous similar
circumstances. "Oh absolutely," said Michaels.
We asked because people like Naomi Rose at the Humane Society International and others in anti-animal captivity organizations have argued for years that previous fatal and severely injurious interactions between trainers and captive marine animals prove the behavior isn't a fluke. After SeaWorld San Diego trainer Kenneth Peters was dragged underwater by another killer whale in 2007, escaping with puncture wounds and a broken foot, the California division of OSHA issued a report stating it was "only a matter of time," before a fatality like Brancheau's occurred. The department later rewrote the report to "only stick to the facts," after engaging in two days of talks with SeaWorld management. Tilikum, the whale that dragged Brancheau, had been involved with two previous trainer fatalities. Last weekend, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals staged a protest outside of SeaWorld San Antonio highlighting, among other things, this very fact.
Whether SeaWorld gets cited for a "willful" OSHA violation, a more common violation carrying an up to $7,000 fine, or no violation at all, Michaels wants establishments like SeaWorld (and convention centers, theaters and amusement parks) to know OSHA has its good eye on them, and if Congress passes the Protecting America's Workers Act to increase penalties for OSHA violators, the entertainment industry will not be spared. "A human life is worth a lot more than $7,000," said Michaels. "You can quote me on that."
Long ago, (o.k. March) in a galaxy far, far away (a.k.a. outside the
Loop), this reporter worked in an office that dumped thousands and
thousands of bright white sheets of paper into the garbage on a regular
basis. The explanation her then business manager gave was that the City
simply doesn't have a recycling program for commercial entities. He's
right. But the Current does have recycling bins everywhere, and they do
get emptied at least once a week. So where does it go? Well, the Current
recycles its paper through AbitibiBowater, it's free and we even get a
small monthly check for our sizable contribution of newsprint and office
paper. As for our modest bins for aluminum and plastic, crusading
environmentalist and staff writer Greg Harman set that up for volunteers
to collect and take to their residential bins or local recycling center.
Meanwhile, R.L. Worth, the property managers at the former office
confirm they contract no recycling collection at the former office park,
leaving workers to go Harman-style vigalante (easier said than done
with pounds and pounds of wastepaper, trust me), or pretend that
recycling doesn't really matter all that much anyway.
Oh, but it does. Setting aside for a moment the positive domino effect recycling has on the environment by decreasing the production of virgin materials, let's talk trash and money. A report recently released by COSA's Solid Waste Management Department pointed out that "currently, San Antonio benefits from having relatively inexpensive, long-term contracts with three area landfills; however, as available landfill space decreases, disposal costs will continue to rise." In a briefing delivered to City Council yesterday, Solid Waste Management director David McCary presented statistics showing that disposal fees per Ton have risen 2.5% annually since 2001, or 22.5% in the past ten years. That gets passed onto citizens via the City Services fees on the bottom of your CPS bill (mine's $18.74 a month, how about yours?). Meanwhile, recyclable materials can actually generate a profit for the City, which McCary says could lead to decreases in that fee. Here's another way to look at it: the Solid Waste report cites a study that estimated all that pesky paper may STILL comprise 34 percent of San Antonio's waste stream. The thousands of tons of combined newspaper and mixed paper San Antonians did manage to get to the blue bins between October 2009 and April 2010 accounted for $1,188,733 of the $1,800,155 net revenue realized from all recyclables. That doesn't count cardboard, which provided an additional $545,676.
Aside from the feel good factor, this might be the reason the City is so interested in pumping up our recycling program. The alliterative title of Solid Waste's report is "10 Year Recycling and Resource Recovery Plan For Residential and Commercial Services: Creating a Pathway to Zero Waste," compiled after three months of focus group meetings of 18 citizens and two reps appointed by the Mayor. In typical bureaucrat-speak "zero-waste" means recycling 90 percent of whatall we might otherwise chuck. And take some deep breaths because this plan is just "a pathway" to get us there. Right now, McCary says residents recycle about 18 percent of our total waste output. The plan he presented to City Council seeks to increase that to 40 percent by 2020. Bearing in mind that through single-stream automated residential recycling alone we've upped our recycling rate from 5 to 18 percent in four years, District 4 Council member Phil Cortez and District 7's Justin Rodriguez advocated for stepping up that goal to 60 percent by 2020. While we seem to finally have our single-family residence recycling ducks in a row (it only took us four years to roll out automated recycling across the City, McCary said we're one of the last major cities in the nation to do so), if SA really wants to cap Mission Verde with a recycled aluminum star, Solid Waste reckons they'll have to get multi-family residences and commercial sites on board as well, and re-evaluate how the City encourages recycling organics like yard trimmings and food scraps.
Number one on Solid Waste's strategic priorities is requiring multi-family dwellings to offer recycling services to residents. According to data from the U.S. Census and Texas A&M's real estate center, about 28 percent of San Antonians live in apartments or condos. Currently, these buildings contract with private haulers and can choose to provide recycling service or leave it up to residents to haul their own recycling to drop-off points. A revision in city ordinance could require private haulers to provide recycling, as many cities with recycling rates near 40 percent already do. The number two priority is to encourage commercial recycling by extending an ordinance similar to the one considered for multi-family dwellings to businesses and office owners, meaning that property managers like R.L. Worth would finally be compelled to help save the trees. While commercial recycling won't effect our residential recycling goal of 40 percent by 2020, it is a vital step toward reaching citywide zero waste. "Because we don't have a baseline [for corporations]" said McCary, "the key is to find out what they're doing now." Some businesses already recycle, some don't; some are small enough to recycle in residential bins, some have their own cardboard compactors on the premises; some are on a paperless system but could recycle plenty of construction material, others go through reams of paper a day but don't trash high volumes of anything else recyclable. Once McCary and co. see what local businesses already do, and what they might need to be mandated or assisted to do, his department can generate an ordinance. The Mayor in particular is a backer of commercial recycling initiatives, urging Solid Waste to "look very long and very hard" at encouraging such practices in business as well as all San Antonio's school districts.
To help determine a direction, Solid Waste identified some potential best practice cities to look at, like Austin (who have committed to zero waste by 2040). Keith Bible, head of Austin's multi-family and commercial recycling initiatives confirms San Antonio solid waste staff members visited him last year. "They grilled us pretty good," on multi-family initiatives said Bible. Currently, Austin requires multi-family residences and commercial entities with 100 or more residents or employees respectively to provide recycling of 2-4 minimum of the following materials: aluminum, tin/steel, glass, plastic containers, newspaper, corrugated cardboard and/or mixed paper. With their zero-waste commitment, they're looking to require even more out of such facilities. Bible says his department hopes to revise the City ordinance to require recycling from entities occupying 100,000 square feet next year, then halve that to 50,000 square feet the year after that and reduce that to 25,000 square feet after that. We expect San Antonio to be looking eagerly north to see how these proposed ordinances take.
Meanwhile, San Antonio may also want to examine another possible best practice city...Plano. Yes, Plano boasts a 39 percent recycling rate and a comprehensive web site to show off their efforts. One way Plano gets such a high recycling return rate is through their residential yard debris collection, which happens on a weekly basis and likely provides a healthy boost to their recycling rate. Currently, San Antonio collects only brush semi-annually, though McCary said the 10 year pathway could include enhanced collection. Plano transports grass trimmings, brush and tree clippings, as well as cardboard, to Texas Pure in nearby McKinney, which composts or mulches it and sells it back to interested residents. On the commercial side, Plano instituted an innovative plan to collect biodegradable food scraps and coffee grounds from local schools and restaurants and also transports it to Texas Pure. In 2008, the EPA stated that such organic material comprised 33% of the total U.S. municipal solid waste generation. If San Antonio could implement a compost plan like Plano's, that would be another way to significantly cut back on our contribution to local dumps and possibly offset recycling program costs through profits made selling mulch and compost. Currently, McCary says Solid Waste partners with Keep San Antonio Beautiful to provide free composting classes to encourage implementing the process at home.
McCary, mindful that our 18 percent residential recycling rate is an improvement but still lower than every other major Texas city beside Houston and El Paso, stressed toward the close of our post-presentation conversation "we're only scratching the surface, we want people to know how much farther we have to go." Solid Waste Services hopes to present ordinance revisions in August or September. Who knows, by next year maybe Harman-esque employees schlepping pounds of paper and Coke cans from office to home recycling bin will be an image we can discard, permanently.
I don’t know where you get your air, but I'll wager it doesn’t pass through an air treatment plant or labyrinthine network of pipes before blowing down your street. Unlike our centralized water system in San Anto, air comes to us as is. When polluted by heavy industry or our millions of combusting engines there are only overburdened trees and periodic rain showers to help us out. But when we’re talking tens of millions of pounds of industry-created toxic chemicals hitting the Texas sky each year, we can’t bank on our trees to keep the cancer away.
Eight years ago, the U.S. EPA examined national skies for 124 air toxics (80 of which are known cancer-causers), and labeled San Antonio as one of those special red-dot cities where the cancer risk was elevated. That, should the air stay as fouled as it was at the time, those forced to breathe it over a lifetime would develop cancer at a rate as high as 25 50 per million*, higher than the national average of 36 per million.
And while powers now are lining up to correct Texas’ regulatory Clean Air flounderings, the toxics in Texas have been declining — just not as fast as they should have, according folks at the state Sierra Club. Many of the older refineries and chemicals plants in the state were “grandfathered” and never required to go through a review of their air pollution emissions. Sometimes only part of a plant is required to submit to review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“It’s a giant quagmire,” said Neil Carman, clean air program director of the state Sierra Club. “There’s nothing like Texas. Nothing.”
The list of complaints against the TCEQ include a miasma of alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, Carman said, including: accepting “flexible” permits from plants, where only a portion of the total emissions are considered, rather than adhering to the more stringent federally mandated New Source Review (NSR) process; the bundling of several smaller permit actions at a facility to avoid NSR; changing legal definitions to allow installation of weaker pollution control systems; and the illegal grandfathering of facilities to keep them from having to go through the permitting process at all.
Texas has more industrial plants that any other state in nation. Nearly About 2,000 individual air-emission reports were filed with the TCEQ in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available. And while the EPA is prowling to take over the air permitting process from the TCEQ if it doesn’t change its ways, the Sierra Club has announced it is preparing to sue the EPA to force stricter federal oversight on Texas.
According to the TCEQ, all of the criteria air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act have been in decline in recent years. Statewide emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide all saw minimal reductions between 2004 and 2006. A larger reduction appeared in 2007, the year the global recession kicked in.
The same is true of air toxics like those studied by the EPA in 2002.
Between 1995 and 2006, a million pounds of toxic chemicals regulated by the U.S. EPA were either sent straight into the air or into flares in Bexar County. Ten years later, that amount had only been trimmed back to 965,878 pounds. In 2006, however, toxics in Bexar County dropped to 847,624 pounds. And once the recession gripped the state in 2008, the toxics dropped precipitously to 505,842 pounds. Statewide, air toxics have dropped from 93 million pounds in 2002, according to EPA figures, to 82 million pounds in 2006. Toxic emissions statewide dropped more rapidly, down to 69 million pounds in 2008.
No one can say how large the reductions would have been if the changes the feds now want to make had been implemented years ago, but Carman said, “We think it would have been greater.”
“If these flexible permits weren’t any better or cheaper than a New Source Review permit, why would industry want them? Why would industry say, ‘We want a flexible permit rather than an NSR permit’? … Our concern is that some of the plants, but we don’t know, may have made reductions that are inadequate.”
Al Armendariz, EPA Administrator for Region 6, also couldn’t say definitely if air would be cleaner today if TCEQ had never adopted the “flexible” permit program. But he did suggest the whole thing has served to keep such data difficult to divine, a fringe benefit that would serve any polluter’s interest.
Al’s Point One: The Lone Star State is the only state in the Union that uses the so-called “flexible” permits to help regulate the federal Clean Air Act. (And, no, these permits were never approved by the EPA.) “All of the 50 states operate a standard New Source Review program. The state of Texas has chosen to also establish the flexible permitting program, which sits alongside and runs parallel to the standard program,” Armendariz said. “That program was never approved by the federal government. It was never approved at all.”
And, you know what else? Those companies are doing fine outside Texas. “The vast majority of them also operate large, very complicated facilities in Louisiana, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, and the other large industrial states. And they operate very profitably in those states without flexible permits … under the traditional mechanisms of the Clean Air Act. If they can do it in those states, they can certainly do it in Texas.
Al’s Point 2: “When you look at the permits that these facilities operate under, in Texas they are much more difficult to interpret and understand. That makes it very difficult for my enforcement staff who do inspections and do oversight to properly do their jobs at these facilities. It also makes it more difficult for the public and the media to understand what the requirements are. And I do think that enforcement and public oversight and media scrutiny can all provide a very strong incentive for facilities to comply with the law and then also go above and beyond that and reduce their emissions. Unfortunately in Texas, with the flexible permitting program the permits are simply too opaque for those kinds of incentives to take hold.”
Al’s Point 3: The Clean Air Act is an economic motivator. “There are people … every time we revise an air quality standard, who claim that EPA’s actions are going to cost jobs and shut down factories,” Armendariz said. “What you find is that the empirical evidence does not support that whatsoever. … When you actually look at the financial benefits that happen in terms of public health — the fact that people are healthier, they live longer lives, workers are more productive, children have fewer asthma attacks and fewer missed days in schools, which means their parents don’t have to stay home with them and miss work. There are so many public health benefits that translate into real-world dollars because of the Clean Air Act.
EPA staff are currently trying to determine if TCEQ also may have allowed some facilities to be grandfathered illegally, exempting them entirely from any regulation, he said.
Bexar County officials and members of the Alamo Council of Governments recently passed resolutions against toughening federal air-quality rules (based on the suggestion of Metro Health that asthmatics in Texas were a tougher breed than asthmatics elsewhere), we have yet to see them step out on this related issue.
I wasn’t able reach any officials with TCEQ by press deadline on Tuesday, but we’ll be following up on the situation here at QueBlog.
South Texas political blogs
Jon's Jail Journal
B and B
Dig Deeper Texas
The Walker Report
Grits for Breakfast
San Antonio Politics (Express-News)
Off the Kuff
South Texas Chisme
Rhetoric & Rhythm
Did we miss your favorite?
Email it to us