Northside drivers’ Public Enemy Number One was outed last week across San Antonio’s media spectrum shortly after Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas filed a lawsuit objecting to an application to proceed with the construction of a new interchange at perennially congested U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 without a full environmental study.
AGUA and equally catchy TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom) have been all over the area's highway-expansion plans for independent but complementary reasons. AGUA wants complete Environmental Impact Statements prepared due to the fact both highways — designated as hazardous cargo routes — cross the porous Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. TURF is fighting the double-taxation of privatized toll roads.
While the Express-News has cast the conflict as motorists-versus-cave bugs (the shy-for-a-reason karst invertebrates living in the Edwards that spur Endangered Species Act concerns, and thus, lend AGUA legal muscle) and all but issued a fatwa on AGUA Board President Enrique Valdivia (running his smirking mug under the editorial, “AGUA’s lawsuit clearly misguided”), don’t load up your truck bed with sacks of ammonium nitrate and set sail for Valdivia’s place just yet.
Try checking in with those who live in the interchange’s shadow. Hollywood Park Mayor Bob Sartor (local GOP precinct chair — no hugger of blind salamanders) said residents there object to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority and TxDOT suggesting that there would be no negative effects from the interchange as designed. “We adamantly disagree with the Categorical Exclusion’s finding there are no ill health effects associated with this project. I haven’t found any that agree with the ARMA.” Nobody but the E-N’s influential editorial board, that is.
Next, consider that it was TxDOT (prodded on by Governor Perry) that chose back in 2002 to reconfigure the project as a toll project, sparking the original delaying turf war. “Ultimately, TxDOT and the bureaucrats answer to our politicians,” said Terri Hall, founder of TURF. “It really goes back to the governor and his toll-only agenda. That’s what this comes down to. There’s enough politicians, apparently, in Bexar County that are bending to … [Perry’s] will. That are willing to sacrifice all kinds of things in order to try to toll the living daylights out of the Northside.”
AGUA’s agenda, if guilty of a quest for control in demanding members be allowed to choose environmental consultants, is informed by past TxDOT efforts to manipulate data, a discovery that stalled the project again in 2008. “The interchange could have been built — and should have been built — years ago,” said AGUA Board Member Richard Alles. It has been the agency’s continued resistance to performing a comprehensive environmental analysis that is to blame.
More than beetles — more than even the health and safety of the sensitive aquifer all of us depend upon — the overpass lanes as proposed will also cross within 100 meters of St. Thomas Episcopal School, said Alles, a trained engineer who plotted the GIS points himself. “Some of the constituents of exhaust gas are going to be heavier than air,” he said. “A school like this is considered a ‘sensitive receptor.’”
And for the rest of you, this is just a reminder now: the interchange is not the “Super Street” (AKA US 281; AKA the slowest highway in America). It will not move you faster once you’ve been elevated and deposited again. That process is getting the full environmental review, as it should.*
[Calls to TxDOT's local public-information team were not immediately returned.]
Everybody knows stuff that costs more is better. Why buy a $3 jar of Smucker’s when there are $12 rhomboid-shaped jars of artisanal marmalade, chutney and fruit curd on the shelf? Plus it just feels good to treat oneself to luxury.
So who can blame our City Council for scoring San Antonio one hell of a status symbol in City Manager Sheryl Sculley, whose current salary already places her well above the national median for her position, and whose proposed increase would set her pay at a monocle-popping $355,000?
Just think of how envious LA* is going to be. Our City Manager is a rock star, dammit! She runs marathons. She has wisely replaced the high-caloric, sugary drinks in City buildings with delicious, healthful Diet Fanta (mit aspartame!). She's got dreams of getting San Antonio on the move and on the map. San Antonio is big time; we’re ballers.
Earlier this month Sculley presented a proposed balanced budget, which includes a generous 2% cost of living allowance for City employees and retirees, and an incentive-based pay increase for City execs (not to exceed 5% for any individual). The budget contains the typical feel-good language about cost-saving efficiencies, property tax freezes and improvements to infrastructure and emergency services. She's doing a heckuvajob. But $3355,000 a year? What else do we get for all this cheddar?
Not social services. Among the budget recommendations to fund programs like Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), there are also proposed cuts for other volunteer-staffed programs that help poor San Antonians learn ESL and study for their GED. Apparently it's just too costly to keep the buildings open on Saturdays … all of $332,000 costly.
Seems it doesn't really matter how you or I are doing economically. None of us needs to be told that these continue to be difficult times. Texas is overwhelmed with requests for food stamp aid — HHS just requested more than 1,500 new eligibility workers to deal with the onslaught. Locally, the San Antonio Food Bank has seen a significant increase in requests for assistance, many from folks who've never sought such services in their lives. Kinda makes a 12.7% pay bump seem a little excessive, no?
But at the end of the day, this isn't about Sheryl Sculley. We need to evaluate how City Council perceives “value.” While other cities across the country have subjected their city executives to furloughs and pay freezes, and working families are finding it damn near impossible to keep themselves clothed, housed, and fed, maybe it’s time to consider the wisdom of this rather exorbitant payday.
First there was a call for a federal investigation into Waste Control Specialists’ growing nuke waste dump in West Texas. The August 11 press release issued by the reliably anti-nuclear Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and SEED Coalition urged the EPA (or possibly the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to take over the job of regulating Texas’ nuke trash storage and disposal from an inept Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in the same way it had some of the state’s air-permitting activities.
In the release, Texas Public Citizen Director Tom “Smitty” Smith pointed out that the TCEQ Commissioners overruled their staff’s recommendation of license denial before then TCEQ Executive Director Glenn Shankle resigned to go work as a lobbyist for the dump. “How can we rely on a decision made by someone who goes to work for the regulated company six months later?” Smith asked. “Could his decision have anything to do with the fact that he may have been angling for a job with WCS?”
Texas state Representative Lon Burnam warned that state taxpayers could get hooked with the ultimate cleanup costs from the operation, which may sit atop the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer.
The grito was a success. SEED Director Karen Hadden said the coalition’s release ran in papers as far away as India, which may have contributed to the tone of WCS’s PR response of the following day.
Hadden had only recently settled with the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to appoint a treasurer for the No Bonds for Billionaires PAC, an Austin-based outfit used to oppose WCS’ effort to secure a bond from Andrews County voters. The Ethics Commission listed 15 “findings of fact” (PDF) supporting the allegation, and Hadden settled for $1,000.
Not only did WCS celebrate Hadden’s "outing" as a key anti-nuclear conspirator behind the No Bonds for Billionaires website, they took the opportunity to do some smearing of their own. Hadden, the WCS release states, is an “extremist” supporting a variety of "liberal causes." Of those suspect allegiances, the only one listed was Peace Action for Texas, through which Hadden has “actively protested against U.S. troops in Iraq.”
Karen chides the company for trying to turn a debate about public safety into something else. “It was appalling that they would respond to serious concerns about safety of the site with launching a tired and worn personal attack,” she said. “Obviously they’re very worried.”
And there are reasons for concern on the nuke front. In recent weeks, both WCS and an effort to expand the South Texas (nuclear) Project in South Texas have been cited by federal and state regulators.
In Matagorda County, NRC investigators alleged in an August 13 letter that the nuke plant operators had failed to accurately characterize the ability of the proposed Units 3 & 4 to withstand an attack by an aircraft. The Current reported last year about past federal studies that attempted to quantify the loss of life such an attack could mean (See “Risky Business,” September 30, 2009). The federal Notice of Violation states the company “did not use realistic analyses” for elements of it’s Aircraft Impact Assessment and “did not fully identify and incorporate into the design those design features and functional capabilities credited.” The company was given 30 days to respond.
Meanwhile, WCS was cited by the TCEQ for storing some of the most radioactive waste allowable under its permit conditions for more than 365 days. The violation followed the discovery of inch-wide cracks in the asphalt pad on which the radioactive waste is stored.
Austin-based attorney Marisa Perales is handling a Sierra Club legal challenge to the TCEQ Commissioners’ denial of the group’s request for an evidentiary hearing on the license approval. She said the first part of the appeal has been pending for more than a year with 261st District Judge Lora Livingston. But there is no injunction that would wastes from being disposed in the meantime, Perales said.
Earlier this year, the commission overseeing the disposal of Texas and Vermont civilian-generated wastes, a curious bi-state arrangement that grew out of federal efforts in the 1990s to make states to take responsibility for their stockpiling radioactive waste streams, attempted to develop rules that would guide the disposal of wastes from outside the two states, potentially leading to a de-facto national dump for so-called low-level wastes. However, intense public and political pressure forced the commission to hit the pause button.
And while state newspapers have recently taken to running stories about how much money Perry’s appointed regents have funneled to his campaign coffers, few have chosen to dig into the TCEQ dump approval in spite of more than $600,000 kicked to Perry over the past decade by WCS owner and Dallas billionaire (and certified "Evil Genius") Harold Simmons.
So, can expect the EPA to intervene? In a prepared release, a spokesperson for the regional EPA office wrote:
Hundreds of San Antonio residents who sued the U.S. Air Force over toxic contamination impacting their homes will soon be sharing in $1,000 slices of federal settlement gains. Yet, the mystery of elevated cancers and other health complaints around the former military base remains — as do toxics in the community.
A state fishing advisory has been expanded on the Lower Leon Creek, which winds past the base’s western boundary. And recent sampling found the infamous pesticide DDT in the water and sediment at levels expected to cause damage to aquatic life there.
Funded by a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a researcher from Texas A&M’s Health Science Center will be sampling soils at 10 homes in the Kelly area this fall for DDT. Associate Professor Thomas McDonald says he is studying an array of issues across South Texas for his report Border Environmental Health and Toxicological Education Research Programs, and plans to complete the Kelly-area work begun by his former boss, K.C. Donnelly, who died of cancer of the esophagus last summer.
Robert Alvarado has long been a fixture at meetings about the toxic contaminants discovered to be spreading under area homes in the 1990s. Today he is waiting for a new kidney and thinking about funeral expenses. While he once thought he could see justice for affected residents in his lifetime, he now hopes that his death will bring clarity to the debate.
“Even if I’m gone, I still want to leave something behind. People can read why I felt [this] about my sickness,” he said. “I think it’s going to continue until somebody really gets sick and winds up in the middle of the creek dying from this contamination.”
The Air Force’s settlement, announced last week, is not for alleged health impacts affecting residents but a violation of the homeowners’ property-rights by the underground plume. About 400 residents will be paid roughly $1,300, depending on their property value.
If (White, Christian) American is sick of anything more than (Brown, possibly Muslim) America, it’s the bait-and-switch reports of the ever-coming economic recovery. Every trend daring to hint at improvement has an economic lens shoved so far up its backside that it offers up whatever conclusions the fund-hungry researcher requires.
Over in Houston, an influx of new residents and increase of homes going on the market are signs of the end (of the recession). Unanswered is how many of these new residents were fleeing BP’s Gulf fires and the oil-industry obliteration of coastal livelihoods? That is: are they really refugees a la Katrina?
Texas Parks & Wildlife is boasting of the renewed popularity of camping workshops among Texas families without letting on how many of the more than 1,000 families trained in the rudiments of setting up camp and bagging perfect perch are the economy-crushed of the vanishing middle class. How many plan to use their new skills to survive hunter-gatherer style in parks across the state.
(One can’t help but wonder how many of the kids lingering on Big Brothers Big Sisters’ waiting list could one day wind up training subsistence-style in one of SA’s city parks. At least the state has a program for them. Priced at $55 per family, it’s a steal.)
Joining the rosy wallpaper club, the Express-News enjoyed a personal sit-down with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano but chose to keep things simple.
They spoke of how the just-passed border security bill will bring more drones and agents to la linea, about the right-left ‘rassle over immigration reform, and mention exactly one dead Texas rancher. But, judging form the story out today, staff failed to pose the most pressing question: is the escalating policy of “prevention through deterrence” responsible for thousands of dead migrants along the border?
Instead of demanding, in spite of resistance from the rampant xenophobes of our New America, Dems have allowed themselves to be pushed into a “militarize-lite” version of what the Right would advocate. And we’re not asking why.
From the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights:
Last week, Google and Verizon came out with a controversial policy recommendation in an attempt to solve the dispute over net neutrality. Our readers may remember a short blog I wrote in May about a battle over internet regulation between Comcast and the FCC—a battle that Google and Verizon hope to end with this proposal.
The short agreement outlines principles for dealing with the regulation of data flow on the internet. It specifies a limited role for the FCC, which would adjudicate conflicts on a case-by-case basis, based on standards created by what the agreement calls “independent, widely-recognized Internet community government initiatives.” It also sets out basic consumer protections for internet service, barring internet service providers (ISPs) from preventing anyone from using broadband internet in lawful ways.
The agreement also demands transparency from ISPs—insisting they “disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language about the characteristics… of their… services necessary for consumers and others to make informed choices.” It ends with recommendations for the government to support the development of internet in low-income areas.
This sounds like a promising step toward ensuring equitable and universal internet access. However, many internet watchdogs are up in arms over the proposal. “Advocates of net neutrality will look at these documents and charge betrayal,” insists blogger Matthew Lasar. Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lobbying group, claims the agreement includes some “really terrible ideas.”
The crux of the criticism is this: While promising on its face, Google and Verizon’s agreement contains exceptions and ambiguities that could undermine what it claims to protect.
First, let’s talk about these “independent initiatives” the agreement charges with developing rules for acceptable data management. Individuals from within the industry would populate these groups, which is promising; they have the expertise to create good rules, which is more than can be said for Congress (remember when the late Senator Ted Stevens (RIP), at the time in charge of regulating the internet, described it as “a series of tubes”?). And yet these individuals are likely to come from major ’net players and could be beholden to their corporate interests, with little accountability. Say what one will about the FCC, but at the end of the day it answers to us. Independent committees? Maybe not so much.
“Prioritization of internet traffic would be presumed inconsistent with the non-discrimination standard, but the presumption could be rebutted,” says the proposal (italics mine), in the statement that most troubles watchdogs. Those who lobby for net neutrality argue specifically against prioritization of internet traffic, saying that if companies are allowed to prioritize traffic at their discretion, they will use it purely for profit, charging higher for better and specialized internet access. Net neutrality is directly opposed to this “tiered” approach to the internet.
The same section of the agreement suggests a category of “additional or differentiated” services, a term left vague, but one that could essentially be used to create a second tier of internet service. Ironically, as Lasar points out, Google itself has previously argued against this idea: “If a last-mile broadband provider dedicates only a small slice of its broadband capacity to the open Internet while reserving the vast majority of the network’s capacity for proprietary ‘specialized’ services, the public interest would be compromised.”
Finally, the agreement includes a glaring exception for wireless broadband, exempting it from all but the transparency requirements. Wireless internet is fast becoming the go-to way to access the internet. It’s also already the most non-neutral form of internet access, with frequent bandwidth limitations. If any form of network access needs regulation, it’s wireless.
What happens now is uncertain. Google and Verizon have adopted the proposal as statements of their own policy from here on out, and they’re requesting the FCC turn it into law. Whether or not it does, the two companies will likely do everything they can to influence other major internet firms to adopt similar policies and collaborate in Google and Verizon’s version of self-regulation.
And why do Google and Verizon care so much in the first place? Money. The vast majority of Google’s profits come from online advertising revenue, giving them a vested interest in how the internet is accessed. And Verizon is a major ISP, providing internet to more than 92 million people.
Google is famous for its informal corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” an acknowledgment of the self-serving behavior of many corporations. But with policy suggestions like this, how well they ascribe to their own motto is increasingly coming into question.
Future dropout? Meet City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s proposed City budget for 2011. Y’all can, like, hang out in the garage for a little bit together, but then you’ll have to go.
Future Baby Momma? Yeah, I know the rec center is closing early these days because of the budget cuts. But we’ve got a date with an old coke buddy and don’t want you around. Can’t you find an abandoned loading dock somewhere to hang with your friends?
Wannabe gangster? For the last time, no, Big Brothers doesn’t have a mentor for you. Now shove off. The Street will look after you.
Under the City’s proposed 2011 budget, a thousand at-risk San Antonio children will linger on a growing waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas mentors even as City leaders lament out sky-high teen pregnancy and dropout rates.
For the second year in a row, BBBS has been zeroed out of the City’s budget, meaning that dozens of kids that otherwise would have been paired with a caring adult volunteer and begun learning key life skills … won’t.
It’s hard for BBBS President & CEO Denise Barkhurst to understand.
“I’ve been here 13 years. We met with every single councilperson including all their staffers during the past year to ask why our budget had been cut for the current budget cycle. No one really knew why,” Barkhurst said. Of course, when the 2010 budget was put together, there was no CEO at BBBS. The group was in the midst of a transition in leadership.
After she was named, Barkhurst started trying to get in to see the director of community initiatives to get the group’s funding restored. It took six months to get the meeting, and then then-director Dennis Campa said he wanted “more information on which kids you’re serving,” Barkhurst recalled.
“I said, ‘I can send you more information about the kids we’re serving … We’re serving kids in poverty, living in homes affected by incarceration of a family member, sometimes both parents.’ I’m not really sure what he was talking about.”
It was troubling, because the City and BBBS had a long-standing relationship. For at least 10 years, the City had committed anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 to the program. It takes about $1,000 per year to serve each child by trainings mentors and managing those relationships.
“We’re a little disappointed because we have been working with the City on its dropout initiative, knowing that kids in our program, statistically, research has proven are more likely to graduate, stay in school, stay out of trouble,” she said.
She’s supported by statistics culled from BBBS literature, such as the following:
Council (and cretinous Council watchers) got an introduction to the City Manager’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year this morning, one which, perhaps unsurprisingly, balances itself on expected revenues from San Antonio’s powerhouse CPS Energy and its magically* inflating natural-gas prices.
The $2.3-billion budget holds property taxes steady at their current rate and keeps the SA employee ranks relatively stable (with a 2-percent, across-the-board cost-of-living adjustment), yet makes it into the black in another economically stilted year on the promise that CPS will make up the difference. Of course, many of you may remember the relatively warm winter** we just went through. A warm winter that would have saved you money on heating had the City-owned utility not artificially* bumped their natural gas charges to make up for Sr. Frost’s case of missing chill.
By keeping property taxes static at 56.569 per $100 property valuation, City Manager Sheryl Scully said she expects a dip in property tax-related revenue of about $5 million, or roughly 2 percent. Sales tax is also expected to return less this year. So, new CPS CEO Doyle Beneby, who got a gracious welcome from individual Council members, the pressure is on to tax the city on the sly again since forecasts suggest another warmer-than-normal winter is on tap for the region. Said Scully: “We’re counting on Doyle and his team to maintain a well-run utility.”
There are still a slew of budget meetings ahead for budget hawks (and doves … see bottom), but Mayor Julián Castro predicted the CM’s handiwork will pass pretty much as is when it comes back for a final vote September 16.
While the total budget is trimmed by a neat $12 mil, Scully is suggesting $5.5 $1.5 million go to Haven for Hope [bringing, if adopted, City's total commitment to date to $5.5 million], while $830,000 worth of other city services are proposed to be axed. There are also some sneaky “fee adjustments” (read, increases) that would be made to medical transport and parks fees.
Other highlights include:
As a good friend announced to her family she was headed to Mexico for some R&R, her sweet abuelita objected. “It’s not safe,” peeped the timorous voice at the head of the table. “I’m not going to the border,” my friend clarified, and the family around the table visibly relaxed.
One would have thought we were talking about Afghanistan in the rainy season.
So, who would have guessed, despite news of dramatic shootouts, beheadings, and mass graves, Mexico’s murder rate is actually down from a decade ago, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. (That's pretty sobering news ... unless you happen to traffic in human rights or journalism, two career paths strongly discouraged by the drug cartels these days.)
And despite Texas Governor Perry’s grandstanding on the issue yesterday, things are even rosier on the U.S. side of La Linea. According to what is being billed as the first ever safety poll of border dwellers, the Border Network for Human Rights reports that more than 86 percent of border residents said they feel safe walking and driving in their neighborhoods. I’d wager that’s as good or better as folks in many parts of San Antonio.
Of the 1,222 residents surveyed from California to Texas, another 70 percent said they felt their neighborhood was probably as safe as any in the U.S. Of course, respondents in El Paso, recently ranked as one of the safest large cities in the United States, would be wrong on that point, but in their own secure point of favor.
So we ask: why do we need the U.S. National Guard and round-the-clock drone surveillance from San Diego to Brownsville?
“Politicians creating border policies need to talk to the people who actually live at the border instead of listening to pundits and opportunistic politicians set to score political points by fanning the perception that the border is out of control,” said Fernando García, director of the Border Network, in a prepared release. “It is time to rethink our border policy by increasing the quality and accountability of border enforcement, not the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border.”
Yeah, we get there are hot spots in Texas. Isolated spots like Fabens come to mind. But these years of fear mongering and macho posturing are getting a little tired.
Watching the regulatory kabuki up in North Texas can’t inspire a lot of confidence in the increasing number of South Texans leasing their land for so-called “non-traditional” natural gas development in the subterranean Eagle Ford shale.
Late last month, the industry’s PR front organization, the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, released a little report that could have been titled, Frack Gas: Good For You Or What?, and branded with big double-thumbs up.
Dutifully reported as a news nugget by the Fort Worth Business Press, the totally underwhelming finding of industry’s contracted environmental engineers? Natural gas drilling put “some contaminants” into the air, but “not at levels that would cause any health concerns,” Titan Engineering wrote.
Even when the readings ran red-hot — such as was the case when formaldehyde was detected at levels that activist/blogger Sharon Wilson charted at nearly three times Houston Ship Channel’s worst — they were rationalized away in the gas company’s favor.
If Supersize Me taught the world anything, it was that bad diet can kill a person as surely as a bullet. Unfortunately, the “access of evil” of modern inner-city life means that reaching a fat-and-salt-rich meal is often as easy as locating that ubiquitous liquor store or firearm. Securing foods that boost cellular health, maintain weight and energy levels, and improve mood, however, can take multiple bus transfers and punishing hikes [See “The Urban Garden Revolution”].
In foodie speak, such nutrition-starved city sectors are “food deserts.” A gathering Food Policy Council is being organized to develop ways to flood these areas with affordable, healthy food. “We want to make healthier, affordable food more accessible to all of San Antonio and try to limit or make the unhealthy food not as accessible,” said Len Treviño, of San Antonio Metro Health and the effort’s team liaison. “We want people to know where their food comes from.”
The effort is being launched with federal stimulus dollars targeting San Antonio’s obesity rates with the help of the Texas Hunger Initiative and the San Antonio Food Bank.
“We want to kick-start this thing, and we want them, the experts, [to] come together and do what they do well,” Treviño said. “One of the biggest priorities of this group is to develop a sustainability plan … They may decide to become a non-profit agency … but one of the directions we’re taking them is they need to put themselves in position where they can legally apply for grant funding.”
Folks are being sought from a variety of areas, according to the applications being circulated.
By Greg Harman
At a certain point, sustained ignorance becomes so “willful” that it becomes criminal. Texas’ leadership is approaching that territory now in its campaign to deny its responsibility to regulate the gases that are destabilizing the planet and projected to cause untold human suffering especially in developing parts of the world.
In late July, a paper by a Princeton team of researchers suggested that climate-induced crop failures in Mexico could force one in 10 residents of that country to flee to the United States as climate refugees in coming decades. A week later, Texas joined a second lawsuit seeking to stop greenhouse regulation from coming to the Lone Star State.
Attorney General Greg Abbott and Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, wrote to the U.S. EPA that Texas has no intention of regulating greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, which the pair refer to as a “trace constituent of clean air, vital to all life, that is emitted by all productive activities on Earth.”
Of course, water’s a wondrous constituent too, until mudslides sweep your house and family away.
Until eclipsed by China earlier this year, the U.S. has reigned as the world’s largest emitter of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases (we’re the purple; China’s lavender). When considered its own country, Texas itself regularly ranks among the top ten global greenhouse emitters.
Now, with a large chunk of the nation feverish over immigration, a team of three professors at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University projects that warming-related agricultural failure brought on by could force millions of Mexican residents streaming toward the United States in search of relief as climate refugees.
Depending on the severity of crop losses, between 1.4 million and 6.7 million people would migrate to the United States by 2080. At the high end, that would represent a doubling of the current number of Mexican nationals already living and working in the United States. And, yet, the team’s numbers are likely low considering expected crop losses from climate change “are considerably larger” than those observed between 1995 and 2005, the years from which data was derived for the study’s methodology, the report concludes.
Of course, there could be a massive, rapid, international climate response that makes this whole conversation moot. But judging from the non-progress so far, it’s not likely.
Some fear the anti-migrant soundbites the Princeton report could inform.
"It would behoove them as scientists to shift their focus," Lorenzo Cano, associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston, told Nature recently. "[This is] research that will contribute to the xenophobia that is already running amok in our country today."
Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said “a misinterpretation of the message” of the study could suggest the authors are opposed to immigration. “We’re not taking any position on whether migration or immigration are good, bad, or indifferent, we’re simply trying to state the numbers and we certainly would not want this used as a club against the immigrant population.”
Certainly, if left unchecked, the thugish political discourse and spread of border vigilantes in the U.S. leaves little question as to whether these victims of industrialization would be treated as refugees or criminals when they arrive. However, the faster we move beyond our low-intensity border conflict and move forward on bi-national efforts to turn our shared land into a hub of clean-energy development and wise water and agricultural practices ever mindful of our shared human rights the better off we’ll all be.
And academic research can propel such policy responses, says (son-of-an-immigrant) Oppenheimer.
“Our real motivation is to provide a scientific basis so that policy makers can make decisions that in a warming world will make people’s lives easier. It doesn’t pay to put your head in the sand and pretend this isn’t gonna happen,” Oppenheimer said. “The more that policy makers know about it, the more that individuals know about it, the more likely it is they can take action that either reduces the need to migrate, by reducing emissions or by improving adaptation capacity so people can stay where they are, or, if they have to move or want to move, to facilitate that movement so it doesn’t create violence and it doesn’t impact people in the receiving country in a negative way.”
As the hottest decade on record closes, and Texas’ juvenile argument against the prevailing science of climate change is debunked (read the EPA’s “myths and facts”), climate-action obstructionists like Abbott, Shaw, and Texas Governor Rick Perry should do some serious soul-searching and start looking beyond the perceived economic impact greenhouse regulation would have on Texas and consider the larger human toll not acting represents for the world’s poorest. It won’t only be Mexico’s farmers impacted by our choices. Other flashpoints referenced in the Princeton paper (and elsewhere) include Africa, India, Bangladesh, (all of) Latin America, and Australia.
“The human race is in the middle of a great transition in terms of the way it views its role on the planet and its responsibility for the planet,” Oppenheimer told the Current. “The climate problem is one of those issues, and the human race is going to wrestle with it and eventually get on top of it. But I don’t think it will make the world unlivable as long as we act accordingly.”
There's that word "act" again.
The first time Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputies wrenched the cuffs on Jose Luna Torres was bad enough. It was 2006 when they showed up at his West Harding Street home and booked him on charges of indecency with a child. Only they had the wrong address and the wrong Torres.
Yet that mistake didn’t keep them from returning two years later to arrest him again on the same charge, even though their arrest warrant still bore a Hollenbeck street address. Other clues they had the wrong man included Torres’ middle name (ie. not “Tejada”) and his driver’s license number.
This time the 60-year-old retiree suffered a stroke while in custody, a medical event that went undiagnosed and untreated, resulting in slurred speech and disorientation, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this year in federal court.
The suit names a slew of law enforcement — from the Sheriff’s Department to the Bexar County Jail, DA’s Office, Bexar County, and the “Unnamed Officers.” For it’s part, the DA’s office has claimed “immunity” from prosecution; Bexar County has yet to file a response.
The suit doesn’t name a desired dollar figure to help make things right, but it does state Torres’ two false arrests have “caused extraordinary personal damages, from the shame and embarrassment of being handcuffed and hauled away in front of neighbors and arrested as a child molesterer [sik].”
Torres couldn’t be reached at his home earlier this week. His attorney, Christa Samaniego, failed to return repeated calls for comment.
Go figure that Torres, twice burned by the system, has refused to have his case heard and decided by a magistrate judge. Instead, he has demanded a true trial by a jury of his peers. If a settlement isn’t reached before next April’s trial date, he’ll get his chance.
Y’all know how much I looked forward to the San Antonio kiddie council’s first day of school
meeting. So, it was with a special poignancy that I looked on today’s
proceedings, the first council meeting since they went on summer break
way back in July.
See, Callie Enlow won’t be kicking council members around anymore (or, more honestly, lightly tapping them until they return my phone calls). That doesn’t mean they won’t get a swift one to the groin from Elaine Wolff or Greg Harman semi-frequently, but I will primarily be annoying bands and maybe a film distributor or two for the Current starting very soon.
So, unless council members John Clamp and Elisa Chan make good on that reggae duo they’ve been threatening*, I probably won’t be writing about them or their colleagues too much. With much heaviness in my heart this morning did I watch our City’s deciders struggle to outdo one another in thanking every single city department manager who presented today. How much time would they save if they didn’t do this, wondered my colleague in the media box. Shh. The council ways are not for us to understand, but only for us to deeply appreciate. I may even have squeezed a little tear when Mary Alice Cisneros halted council business to tell them about taking her granddaughter to see Ramona and Beezus this weekend and what a fine film it was, fine enough for her to recommend the book version to the San Antonio Library’s reading program. Or something. I don’t know, I was laughing too hard.
But, council did manage to discuss and effect something particularly important today. They passed (unanimously, duh) an ordinance adopting the FY 2010-2011 Community Development Block Grant that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) doles out annually. The grants are meant to assist local governments in improving low-income housing and communities. This year, San Antonio received $16,191,955.57 total for public service, housing and neighborhood revitalization projects. Many private groups received funding for neighborhood revitalization. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center received $337,319 for their Rinconcito de Esperanza, in the old Ruben’s Ice House and an adjacent building on Colorado Street. Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the center and perpetual mistruster of government appeared at City Council just to make sure there wasn’t any last minute reversals. She spoke, calling the “little corner of hope” the gateway to the Westside and promising big plans to improve and expand the fotohistorias del Westside oral history project, create an organic farmer’s market for the surrounding community, install solar panels and a water cistern, and build a storefront for the center’s Mujerartes pottery collective at their casita on Guadalupe and El Paso streets. Other than the Esperanza, the other big gainer was supposed to be the Eastside Eye Care clinic, operated by the UIW School of Optometry, but District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor told council she learned just yesterday the clinic had been delayed “a year or two.” So the $725,330 earmarked for that project was split between several Eastside needs, including $200,000 for sidewalks in Government Hill, $125,000 for the Myra Davis Resource Center, $150,000 for the Ella Austin Community Center, among other projects. Ten other projects throughout the City received additional funding as well.
Still, as District 3 Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos reiterated, “over $42 million worth of need in San Antonio was applied for.”
Officials and staff at Bexar County’s Adult Probation Department are bracing for another year of deep budget cuts as they tally up state funding commitments received over the past few days. Over this closing fiscal year, the department’s $23 million budget was reduced by $600,000. However, this year’s cuts could be twice that as a result of state leaders seeking 5-percent cuts for state agencies, said newbie Chief Probation Officer Jarvis Anderson.
The department receives 75 percent of its funding from the state and only one percent from Bexar County. Nearly one in four of its dollars come directly from the probationers themselves. Compounding budget worries, Anderson said those probationers are also having a hard time making ends meet in this bad economy.
“If they don’t have the money, it’s almost like a wash,” Anderson said. “We typically try to extend [the deadline] if a victim’s involved as far as restitution. But in the end, if they don’t have it, they don’t have it. We work with them.”
Many of the offenders will likely wait until their next tax return to pay off their balances, he said.
Despite the losses, small planned raises for some officers will go forward. And there will be no layoffs even as some vacated positions will start to be restaffed, Anderson said. For the past year, the department has been under a hiring freeze.
While nationally recognized programs like Bexar County’s drug and mental-health courts will be forced to operate at reduced funding levels, the controversial contract with Treatment Associates may come to an end.
TA has been the subject of intense criticism for a rash of “fasle positive” drug test results (see 2008's "Test-Tube Maybes") and for tossing confidential client records in a public dumpster, among other things. Allegations of union busting, improper surveillance, and sexual harassment ("Urine Trouble," 2009) were frequent during the last couple years of former Chief Officer Bill Fitzgerald's time at Adult Probation. Local judges replaced Fitzgerald with Anderson in January.
Anderson was careful in his phrasing on the subject — both TA and Adult Probation are still the subject of at least one lawsuit brought by former probationers alleging bad test results — but he allowed the contract with TA will be carefully reexamined by the end of the year.
“That’s going to be looked at closely,” Anderson said. “There’s going to be something going on with our UA lab, but it has to be where the offenders can afford to go to the UA.
“I don’t want to go it alone, either. If there’s other agencies that need service, maybe we’ll get service for a little cheaper.”
Out-of-work probationers may want start brushing up on their chemistry chops. There's a win-win if ever we saw one.
Lone Star: not as bad as a set from HBO's The Wire
Holy Frijoles! After living in the Lone Star neighborhood for more than one year I attended my first neighborhood association meeting and who should I see but SAPD chief William McManus. I didn’t know we were neighbors? Turns out we’re not. McManus held court at the St. Phillip’s Hall on East Lambert Street to inform the 70-person plus audience about Problem Oriented Policing, or “POP.” It’s a crucial element of the city’s combined Eastside Initiative implemented earlier this year to address District 2 woes from stray dogs to hookers. At some point, someone Lone Star denizen probably read one of several glowing Express-News reports on the POP program, walked out onto their Steves street front stoop and thought, “hookers? strays? Hell, I’ve shooed both off my lawn before my first cup of coffee!”
Thus the humble Lone Star neighborhood association found the Chief in its midst, carrying on about how their ‘hood would likely be the next to host the community-policing crossover conversations between SAFFE cops, quality of life city departments, and neighbors (and these viejita/os LOVE to talk, trust). According to Chief McManus, he attended on the invitation of the Neighborhood Association just to hear their concerns on a host of issues from major to laughably minor, like one elderly lady’s complaint that her young next door neighbor’s music was “so annoying it made me nervous.” The chief quickly mentioned POP as “the solution to the issues Lone Star has.”
Now, I know my little corner of the world, located south of Alamo Street, North of I-10, west of Mission and East of South Flores, isn’t as safe as, say, a gated community, and friends and family have offered me various self-defense mechanisms because they “know the part of town I live in,” but, is crime really so bad as it was on the Eastside? As a whole, this year our City Council District 5 reported two murders from Jan. 1 through June 30, the lowest of any district, and drilling down to the Lone Star neighborhood, violent crimes make up about 15 percent of all our reported crimes, based on YTD stats gathered by the Neighborhood Association. However, people be thievin’ on the regular over here, too. Those same statistics show that burglary and theft of homes, businesses, and cars accounts for nearly 40 percent of reported crimes in Lone Star. We also have our fair share of tacky graffiti, and, to hear some meeting attendees tell it, panhandlers. In a follow-up interview McManus explained that the Eastside’s huge coordinated push led to a misconception about POP. “Lone Star is not going to be ‘the next’ big initiative,” he said, “POP can be a smaller project that the police substation manages.” And don’t worry too much, Lone Starites, any neighborhood with quality of life concerns could benefit from a POP, said McManus during the meeting. “Every neighborhood in the City wants a POP, so we have to pick our battles.” He surveyed the large and attentive crowd, “just form the turnout here tonight, this is the next battlefield.” McManus appeared with local SAFFE officer Steve Ornelaz, two code compliance officers, COSA Housing and Neighborhood Services Department sweep program analyst Domingo Portillo and Michael Tejeda, chief of staff for Councilman David Medina office. Portillo got high marks for accessibility, handing out his business card to everyone at the meeting and ensuring the Association that he is “on call 24/7,” to help address issues from speeding to improperly parked cars.
Somewhat less impressive was Mr. Tejeda’s advocacy of the 311 system. “I’m gonna tell you, the service level is getting pretty high,” he indeed told the crowd. Based on some 311 responses (or lackthereof) discussed in the meeting, it seemed the only thing “getting pretty high” was the 311 responders themselves. Like the one who recommended an elderly lady (yes, there were more than one in attendance), corral a pit bull that liked to chase her home from church in her own yard until Animal Care Services could come and pick it up, which takes at least one day unless it starts biting grandma. Tejeda also tickled us when a concerned Deborah Vasquez, an artist at the Gallista Gallery at Lone Star and Flores and new owner of the adjacent Cafe Citlali, asked if anything was being done to address the underlying issues of panhandlers asking businesses and residents for food or money. She said she didn’t mind helping them, but seemed a little peeved at the audience’s callous calls to make more effort to lock up spare-change-seekers. “Are there any efforts to be proactive?” she wondered. Tejeda replied that perhaps they could consider not just fining the hapless hand-out seekers, but also the business owners throwing a taco or two their way. “I think you’re misunderstanding me,” she said. To his credit, we later observed Tejeda and Vasquez in private conversation, hopefully clarifying Vasquez’s important question.
To here McManus tell it, POP may be more aligned with Vasquez’s social justice concerns than one would normally expect of a police initiative. “You can’t arrest all these problems away,” he repeated to us (see “No Happy Endings” in Aug. 4 QueQue ) before acknowledging, “I say that all the time.” A neighborhood like Lone Star might not need an initiative on the scale of the Eastside’s, but he reckoned, it likely needs a little extra TLC to address the type of small potatoes issues that pile up on residents, especially the elderly and impoverished, and can lead to neglect. “When the appearance of a neighborhood is bad, it attracts bad things, that’s how neighborhoods go into a tailspin,” he told me. First, code compliance officers, SAFFE officers and members of other relevant city departments (Animal Care Services comes to mind...) meet with neighborhood residents to identify the most pressing, systemic issues. Then the most relevant city agencies develop a response plan to address the issue, which is then evaluated for effectiveness until the end goal is reached. That doesn’t always mean dispatching more cop cars, or writing more tickets. “This area needs a smarter approach than simply saturating it with extra police,” McManus said. It could be simply identifying city programs that the neighborhood could tap into, like graffiti abatement or housing grants.
I immediately thought about the two vacant lots on my block, the shady warehouse, and the neighbor’s yard that reeked of cat pee before recalling the many amateur gardeners on my street, the art galleries around the corner and the new Mission Reach bike trail an easy pedal down the road. Not exactly a set from “The Wire”, but still, not even atheists want pit bulls chasing little old church ladies down their block.
How do you like them apples, Arizona? Even as Texas steps up border militarization via National Guard troops, many San Antonians cheered for the preliminary injunction against the controversial Arizona senate bill.
Had the entire bill gone into effect on its scheduled July 29 date, it would have effectively made being an illegal immigrant a state crime in Arizona. But U.S. District Court judge Susan Bolton, after hearing oral arguments on suits brought against Arizona by both the U.S. Department of Justice and human rights groups ACLU and MALDEF, barred several of the most ire-inducing elements from being implemented. Those included: requiring police to check the legal status of anyone under “reasonable suspicion” of being an illegal immigrant; requiring police to check immigration status before releasing arrested individuals; allowing warrantless arrests of foreign nationals if the alleged crime is punishable by deportation; and requiring all foreign nationals to carry papers proving their legal status in the U.S.
San Antonio resident Nina Perales, southwest legal counsel for MALDEF, was of counsel on that group’s plea for the preliminary injunction and said they were pleased with Judge Bolton’s order. “An independent immigration process is a very serious matter and very unconstitutional,” she said Monday. “What Arizona was trying to do was set up its own immigration system with its own set of crimes and its own enforcement that were distinct from federal policy.” Both the White House and the human rights coalition asking for the injunction argued that allowing a state to form immigration policy separate from federal policy encroached on the nation’s constitutional responsibility and set a dangerous precedent. “The threat is a patchwork of immigigration schemes that cause interferrance with foreign policy and our relationship with other countries, and endanger U.S. citizens abroad,” said Perales.
Nadine Saliba, a member of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center said “I had a great sense of relief when I first heard the news. I was pretty emotional. The prospect of what could have happened was awful.” However, she cautions, “Some of the most egregious elements have been stopped, but we can’t forget other elements of the law are in effect now.” While Saliba, herself a non-Mexican immigrant to the U.S. uses the words “ridiculous,” “dangerous,” and “demumanizing,” to characterize the pieces of the bill not stayed by an injunction, including criminalizing the knowing transportation or harboring of illegal immigrants and hiring day laborers off the streets, Perales did not appear as worried. She noted the judge could still overturn that portion of the bill when she rules on it later this year, likely in November or later.Both women agree that the injunction sends a clear message to the handful of legislators in other states, like Texas, seeking to introduce a similar bill. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision late on Friday not to expedite an appeal on the injunction hearing strengthens SB 1070 opponents’ belief that the bill will ultimately be overturned. Even though this bill, and immigration issues, will rightfully continue to be hot-button issues during fall’s mid-term elections “I think that this has taken the wind out of the sails of the most extreme anti-immigrant politicians,” said Perales. “They can’t point to this law as an example as something states should do.”
After months of anxious waiting for news from the U.S. Department of Energy on needed federal loan guarantees, NRG Energy, one of the City of San Antonio’s partners at the South Texas Project nuclear facility in Matagorda County, announced today it will idle payments into a planned two-reactor nuclear expansion on the Texas coast.
By reducing its monthly expenses by roughly 95 percent, partner Toshiba will be left carrying even more of the day-to-day responsibility for developing the site.
If that weren’t bad enough, the pesky U.S. Department of Energy has been lobbying Japan and France to kick in more for what have become bi-national projects of sorts.
From the WaPo back in June (emphasis mine):
Retired Air Force Major General Susan Pamerleau confirmed today that she is seeking the Republican nod to run against Precinct Four County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson. Adkisson's previous opponent, Larry Click, a retired deputy sheriff who was uncontested in the Republican primary, died suddenly July 19.
Pamerleau, who spent eight of her 15 years in the military in San Antonio, is also retired from USAA. "I chose to retire here," she said. Eight months ago, she moved downtown and, she says, she loves it.
According to the Bexar County Republican Party, at least one other candidate is seeking the party's nomination -- the choice will be made by the Precinct 4 Republican Precinct Chairs on August 14. If Pamerleau does get the nod, says one local political consultant, "I think that is a race. That is [Adkisson's] worst-case scenario."
Adkisson, a 12-year incumbent, handily defeated former District 2 Council Member Sheila McNeil in the Democratic primary, despite polls that reportedly showed him to be vulnerable -- and despite some business support that may now coalesce behind Pamerleau. Since then, however, Adkisson, who chairs the Metropolitan Planning Organization, has refused to hand over emails addressing the toll-road issue from his personal email account, incurring bad press in the process.
When we reached General Pamerleau on her cell phone, she was walking (! in 100-degree weather) to an appointment downtown, and had to go just as we were asking her what we're told is the toughest question to answer in politics: Why are you running? We're looking forward to learning the answer asap.
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