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Tommy draws a top gun

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.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 8/2/2010 5:28:47 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

The $100 Million Question: How much do we invest in charter schools.

I’m beginning to think the Texas State Board of Education is the Sarah Palin of state government bodies. Just when it seems the members have collectively strained the board’s credibility to the max and it’s time for them all to take a nice, quiet break from the media circus, they burst back onto the scene with another headline-making controversy.
The board’s latest foray into using children as the human shield behind which they launch socially-conservative firebombs relates to funding charter schools. Charter schools, as older readers may remember, came into being in Texas in 1995 as a free alternative to crappy public schools. At best, they resemble the inspiring Knowledge is Power Program schools, the largest charter chain in the U.S., frequently recognized for their exemplary learning environment and commitment to minority students. At worst, they’re “the last house on the block,” as one juvenile court judge recently described local charter schools to me, a little-monitored place to send public school cast-offs and juvenile delinquents.
Last week, perhaps bored by the lack of opportunity to call our president Barack HUSSEIN Obama, board member David Bradley (R-Beaumont), chair of the Permanent School Fund Committee, introduced a motion to use half a percent of the $23 billion Permanent School Fund to provide funding for charter school facilities. And, as is their wont, the Board passed it in the shadiest way possible.
“Charter schools are essentially fully-funded by the state,” says David Dunn, Executive Director of Texas Charter Schools Association and former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education, referring to the 1995 Texas Education Code provision that allocates money toward charters’ educational, operational and maintenance, “but they get zero funding from the state for facilities. Unlike school districts, charters can’t levy property tax or raise any kind of tax revenue.” They also aren’t able to secure bonds at the rate of school districts, who may use the Permanent School Fund as their bond guarantee, they pull a BBB rating to districts’ standard AAA. Dunn claims this relegates many charters into sub-par facilities like empty grocery stores, strip malls and other bizarre locales willing to offer leases to financially unproved institutions. On a recent drive-by tour of 10 local charters, there was indeed a charter housed in a lonely shopping center off Hillcrest Drive, one in a shabby two-story house, and one in what appeared to be a former small apartment complex on Blanco. Some charters, like KIPP and the Dr. Harmon W. Kelley Elementary did manage to invest in large, school-like buildings, however.
Bradley’s proposal is to use the Permanent School Fund to buy school properties and then lease them to charters. Opponents of the plan wonder if charter schools pass the muster of the legal requirement that the Board invest Permanent School Funds in minimum risk/maximum return ventures. Lawyers for the SBOE advised against the plan and outside management hired to consult on Permanent School Fund investments refused to make a recommendation. “I’m totally against this allocation, I have publicly voted against it,” said  Rick Agosto (D-San Antonio), a member of the Permanent School Fund Committee and chairman of a global real estate and investment firm. Though Dunn points out that charters are on far less shaky ground then their dismal debut, with only five closing in the past two years compared to 71 total closures, many remain skeptical of their viability. “If you understand investments, you know that returns are driven by allocation ... but I don’t even know what a charter school allocation is,” said Agosto. Moreover, Agosto wondered, if you’re investing in charter schools for a maximum return, why would you choose a charter in a struggling, poor area rather than in a well-to-do area?
Agosto voted against the plan last Thursday in the committee of the full board, helping to kill the measure in a 7-7 split. He checked into Friday’s final meeting and then left due to business commitments. Little did he know the board would reverse itself while he was gone. “Friday is just an overview of the committee, there’s never any amendments,” said Agosto, still baffled. He believes Bradley and others in his conservative voting bloc saw that Agosto and fellow Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga would be absent, and with the secured vote of Rene Nunez (D-El Paso), jumped at the chance to reverse course.
Agosto and fellow board members denounced the vote. Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, (R-Dallas), who runs a commercial real estate firm co-wrote an editorial with her husband, founder of said real estate firm, warning “Purchase/leaseback real estate investments of school facilities are specialized developments in residential neighborhoods rented to typically not well-capitalized users. Additionally, funding of usually nonprofit charter schools is normally by volunteer and student contributions, making this type of investment highly unsuitable for the school fund.” Even Dunn is slightly hesitant to give the plan an enthusiastic endorsement. Noting that an Attorney General opinion must be secured before the investment plan could move forward, “obviously we are for anything that helps charter schools,” he said, “but we are not for anything that would not be in the best interest of the permanent school fund.”
Both Agosto and Miller are off the board in November, as is Cynthia Dunbar, who made the motion to adopt Bradley’s plan, and Don McLeroy, the former chairman who voted for it. Agosto noted that a new board could move not to fund this allocation, an action the local candidates I interviewed seemed interested in. Michael Soto, the Trinity University professor running for Agosto’s open seat criticized the “government-subsidized real estate scheme” in an email. On a follow-up phone call he questioned whether such financial support of charters was consistent with the free market economic theory the conservative bloc has favored in Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards. “It’s the kind of practice that conservatives like to belittle except when they themselves are doing it,”  he said. His Republican opponent, Tony Cunningham, thought the allocation was fine, but had little else to say on the matter. Rebecca Bell-Metereau, running against Republican incumbent Ken Mercer (who could not be reached for comment), said she wouldn’t have hesitated to vote against the motion. “It’s not a matter of whether charter schools are good or bad, it’s a matter of making good, sound investments,” she said.

Posted by Callie Enlow on 7/30/2010 3:30:22 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

The devil’s details: Kelly AFB, corn tortillas, and sick Leon fish

Greg Harman

Remember all that stuff about bad tortillas explaining away high cancer rates in South San Antonio? Bad mistake. Strike it; reverse it. While a follow-up study of liver cancer and aflatoxin bacteria across three San Antonio zip codes is pending publication, it’s no longer being considered relevant to addressing public concerns of contamination in the Kelly community, says Kyle Cunningham, program manager at the City’s Public Center for Environmental Health.

Though once suggested as a contributor to the range of health problems plaguing residents living near the old Kelly AFB, the fear of killer tortillas are now a matter for national digestion.

“That’s a bigger question and almost a totally different question from Kelly,” Cunningham said. “It’s a different thing. It’s not really a Kelly thing. It’s more diet and are we testing our corn products as rigorously as we should.”

At Metro Health's meeting next week, City staffers are focusing on the results of their study of toxic chemicals in the various waterways inside the San Antonio River’s watershed. For the first time, residents will be able to compare Leon Creek’s laundry list of industrial toxins with the muck lining the Salado, Calaveras, and Elm creeks, for instance.

Jennifer Wilson of the U.S. Geological Survey will present the findings from a sediment study from 6 to 8 pm, Tuesday, August 3, at the Cuellar Community Center, 5626 San Fernando.

The work of the USGS, Metro’s Public Center for Environmental Health, and the San Antonio River Authority, was delayed because of last year’s drought conditions, Cunningham said.

The study itself still won’t be available at the meeting; it won’t be officially released until September. However, Wilson will be sharing significant elements of it next week.

The Air Force canceled funding for the City’s continued water sampling along Leon Creek a couple years ago. That didn't stop the creek from getting sicker and the fishing advisory from being expanded as Metro Health set to work testing creek mud. And yet the data should be supremely illuminating.

“What this does is give us more of a total picture,” Cunningham said. “Before we just had Lower Leon Creek to look at, but nothing to compare it to. This gives us a comparison.”

The meeting will be followed by at least two others in late August and September. Possible topics include air quality and public health and a history of PCEH studies in the community.

Those in the Kelly area are reminded that while probable pathways of exposure to Kelly's contaminated groundwater plume were linked to old water wells (since plugged) and through possible vapor intrusion, the fruit and nuts sampled all came up clean. So, by all means, don’t waste those pecans this fall. Bake your pies and send them to family members not already immune-system compromised by the stress of living a (possibly) military-grade-toxic lifestyle.

Posted by gharman on 7/27/2010 5:10:18 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Roberta’s First Protest: What about dying springs, streams?

Greg Harman

As representatives of the nine-country Groundwater Management District 9 worked their way around yesterday to saying “so long” to 30 feet of subterranean water for future development, a lone voice of protest peeped.

While the managers haggled over various depletion scenarios, Roberta Shoemaker-Beal squeaked from the back of Boerne’s Champion High School: “How about zero?”

As a representative of the Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District agreed to go with the flow and vote for 30 feet, the voice piped up. “What about the springs?”

And as the final tally was taken, it cried out “No!” “No!” with each affirmative vote.

Hays County resident Shoemaker-Beal, a first-time protester with freshly marked sign said she was aghast by the failure of the board members to discuss how recent years of drought had sucked down Jacob’s Well (PDF), dried up Blanco River, and called out the water-delivery trucks again.

In honor of this solitary expression of regional sustainability, the Current extends its unofficial and possibly irrelevant Lone Protester Award to Shoemaker-Beal, GMA-9’s conscience for the day.

Posted by gharman on 7/27/2010 11:33:45 AM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Ouija boards, water planning, and 30-foot sucking sounds

Dig In! Thirty feet of groundwater: must sell!

Greg Harman

BOERNE — If the Texas Water Development Board accepts the recommendations of regional water planners, area groundwater supplies from Bee Cave to western Bandera County will be expected to decline by 30 feet in the coming decades. Only one member of the Groundwater Management Area 9 — Bandera County — objected to the amount.

Though they don’t want to see any more groundwater loss, Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District board members had been hoping to hold the line at 10 feet of aquifer drawdown in the Trinity and Edwards aquifers in the 8-1 vote held in Boerne on Monday. (The vote does not cover the portion of the Edwards Aquifer managed by the Edwards Aquifer Authority.)

“You’ve got to balance what you think sustainability is with growth,” said Dave Mauk, assistant general manager of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District, told the Current. “At the same time you have to manage your resources, and water is the most important one we have.”

Although things have slowed down in the past couple years, Bandera County’s population doubled from 10,000 in 1988 to more than 20,000 in 2008. “There’s plenty of water, but there’s too many people,” Mauk said. “That’s the problem with every place. Yeah, there’s water, but the population growth.”

Next door, in Kendall County, the pace has been even greater, rising from 14,000 in 1990 to an estimated 34,000 last year. The Texas Water Development Board expects to see 100,000 residents in Kendall County by 2060.

Micah Voulgaris, general manager of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District, said he would love to reign in water use by setting the drawdown at a lesser figure, however many water-intensive businesses in Kendall County haven’t bothered to get permitted through the 10-year-old Cow Creek. When factored in, these existing users required him to vote along with the 30-foot drawdown number. A 20-foot drawdown wouldn’t have covered them.

“There are still businesses and irrigators and stuff out in the district who don’t have a permit. It’s their own fault they don’t have those permits, but for us to adopt a 20 foot drawdown, basically those people would never get a permit and we’d have to take water back from people who are already permitted,” Voulgaris said.

The vote will likely reduce the Edwards Aquifer in Kendall County by two-and-a-half feet, Voulgari said. Springs from the Edwards west of Boerne form the headwaters of Cibolo Creek, which in turn contributes to the recharge of the Edwards Aquifer beneath Bexar County, which supplies the vast amount of San Antonio’s drinking water.

And yet all it would take is a few years of monster drought to shut down business. “If we get seven years without rain most of the wells in this county will probably be dry,” he said.

For lack of a Ouija Board, Jorge Gonzalez, veep of the Trinity Glen Rose Groundwater Conservation District in Bexar County, went along with the vote. “I feel butterflies in my stomach to make some decisions because who knows what’s going to happen?” Gonzalez said.

If Gonzalez or any of the GAM-9 members had been paying attention, they’d know that those figurative seven years are right around the metaphorical corner. Natural climate patterns are already returning the American West to a drier state, and global climate change is expected to add as many as seven degrees to average temps this century.

Yet despite the wealth of climate forecasts that have been coming out of places like the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, and the like, the TWDB and regional water districts are only starting to try to factor them into their plans, Voulgaris said.

Meanwhile, lone objector Mauk had his finger on another pulse: energy.

“How much is gasoline going to be? Are we still going to be on oil? And if we are on petroleum products, is gas going to be $6 a gallon? In which case, nobody is going to be commuting anywhere of any distance,” he said.

While predictions about the convergence of a coming energy crunch with climate change may make many of the water votes irrelevant before their time, a caveat: 30-feet of drawdown is not zero-to-30-feet of drawdown.

Ron Feisler of the Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District, who led the meeting, said “to the extent possible” districts are supposed to permit the full amount approved. While the numbers may be adjusted in five years, it appears those 30 feet may be accounted for quickly.

Also, Kerr County will soon have unlimited access to the shallow portions of the Edwards Aquifer, which by unanimous vote of GMA-9 members was declared “insignificant” on Monday. The resolution will not carry over to Kendall County, however, where the aquifer is known as the major source of Cibolo Creek.

Voulgaris expressed sympathy for the water planners who will come behind this group. “This next planning cycle, 100 years out, you’re not going to be sustainable with 100,000 people on groundwater out here,” he said. “They’d have to have some major water projects, major lifestyle and cultural changes as to how people water and how people use water.”

GMA-9 covers the counties of Kerr, Medina, Travis, Comal, Hays, Kendall, Blanco, Bexar, and Bandera.

Posted by gharman on 7/26/2010 6:21:00 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

City will pay for "emergency" demo

Chalk one up for the Constitution: U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled against the City Wednesday in a lawsuit over its 2008 demolition of Chance Kinnison's Tobin Hill fixer-upper. The City razed the historic bungalow that April, a little more than a week after Kinnison bought it from Richard Brownlee, who has sued the City over its condemnation of another Tobin Hill home. Kinnison learned of the demolition the day the bulldozers arrived from the foundation-repair crew he had hired to level the house.


In its defense the City argued that the house was in such a state of disrepair that it was impractical to give notice to Kinnison -- an argument the Judge noted was undercut by the City's own dilly-dallying: approximately nine days passed between the day a dangerous-premises officer first inspected the property and the day it was torn down. (And the house, of course, did not get that way overnight; read on.)


The City was within its rights to declare the house a nuisance and demolish it as part of its police powers, the Judge said, but, "If no emergency situation existed to justify the City's demolition of the structures on Kinnison's property without notice, then the City's actions failed to provide Kinnison with procedural due process." It was a case for the Dangerous Structure Determination Board, in other words, not emergency demolition. Because the City acted without affording Kinnison due process, Rodriguez concluded, its actions constituted an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

"Imminent danger just was not present in this case," said attorney Tyler Rutherford, who represents Kinnison.


"I think I'm still in shock," Kinnison said. "It makes me sort of feel like a citizen finally, that there is a reason for the Constitution to exist."


A public outcry following the demolition of Kinnison's house (and a rash of other "emergency" demos) prompted the City to update the code that governs those actions in October 2008. The code now distinguishes between emergency conditions caused by catastrophic events, such as fire or flooding, and long-term deterioration. In the case of the latter, it requires City officials to take more meaningful steps to notify the property owner, who then has up to 72 hours to produce a plan of action to stabilize the structure.


City Attorney Michael Bernard says those changes were prompted by Mayor Phil Hardberger  -- "If I recall correctly, [the Mayor] just said we ought to do more," Bernard said -- not by a realization that the City was legally out of bounds. (It is perhaps worth noting here that Mayor Hardberger is a former chief justice of the Fourth Court of Appeals.)


As the Current reported earlier this year, a number of problems with the system remain, including questions about the qualifications of the Dangerous Premises Officers and building inspectors who initiate and second demolition orders, and substantive conflicts of interest on the Dangerous Structure Determination Board, which consists entirely of City staff. 


A former Peace Corps volunteer, Kinnison was 31 when the City demolished his dream rehab project, and he refers to the ensuing lawsuit as "a really dark part of my life." Now, with some legal vindication, he might be ready for another renovation project. "I'm always thinking of finding great old houses that need some attention," he said. "That's just what I want to do with my life."


The City may have become an unintentional investor in his next project. The lawsuit now proceeds to trial on damages, and Kinnison will be seeking punitive as well as actual damages. "This little blunder by the City could get pricy for them," Rutherford said.


Posted by Elaine Wolff on 7/23/2010 6:48:30 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

CPS Energy’s secret CEO pick and the nukes of distraction

Greg Harman

When CPS Energy and their nuke partners at NRG Energy and Toshiba settled their differences in February, they also shut down, in large part, the city’s broader debate about nuclear power. NRG/Toshiba took full control over pumping the federal government for needed loan guarantees for the would-be Matagorda County reactors STP 3&4. San Antonio then was able to sit back with its 7-percent share secured from the hundreds of millions it had already paid in. While SA Mayor Julián Castro has played project booster, as per the terms of the settlement agreement, the city has since been able to shift its energy attentions to less controversial efforts, including home weatherization, programmable thermostats, and solar power.

However, CPS’ hiring of Exelon Power President Doyle Beneby yesterday after a super-secret process does little to assuage the fears of the City-owned utility’s many critics. (Chest bumps to the daily for their editorial on the topic, btw.)

On the surface, tapping an Exelon exec seems to communicate that CPS remains a solidly nuclear utility at the end of the day. And while the Express pounds on the table over the process, there’s something else to be said about the vote: Austin just brought a sustainability expert into their utility’s top spot. We appear to have gotten a well-connected old-school engineer with a lot to prove.

Exelon is the largest nuclear utility in the country, deriving 92 percent of its power from atom-splitting, and somewhat inconveniently also sent millions of gallons of tritium-contaminated wastewater into Illinois groundwater over a decade at three nukes.

Some readers may remember Exelon as the utility that filed construction permits for two new nukes outside Victoria before embarking on an ultimately unsuccessful hostile takeover of NRG Energy, instead, which would have placed the highly ranked ghost ships of STP Units 3&4 in their hands and brought a new partner to San Antonio.

Exelon Power, subsidiary of Exelon Corp., is over the non-nuke side of generation, though it specializes in selling “environmentally preferred” electricity options, a broad-brush code phrase for low-carbon emissions. In promoting nuclear power as a source of power that emits less carbon dioxide than photovoltaic solar panels, EP's sales teams enter highly dubious waters. How much carbon dioxide was emitted in the mining and refining of all those fuel rods? In the hollowing out of Yucca Mountain to possibly one day bury all those highly radioactive rods, resins, and sludges for 100,000 years or more?

And yet, Exelon Power is also the force behind sun- and earth-friendly developments like Exelon City Solar in Chicago.

Illinois utility Exelon Power unveiled the nation's largest urban solar power system in Chicago this week.

The project, called Exelon City Solar, sits on a former brownfield in Chicago's South Side, a part of the city once pockmarked by crime and blight.

The 41-acre site was rehabilitated and cleansed of toxic chemicals - and the benefits of the new solar array are manifold for city residents, Exelon CEO John Rowe and Chicago mayor Richard Daley said.

Exelon City Solar, Rowe enthused, will "enhance the neighboring community by beautifying a brownfield and improving safety for local residents."

And Daley lauded the project as "a great example of the good things that happen when government and the private sector work together. "

The solar array, Exelon reports, will generate 14,000 megawatt-hours of energy each year - enough to power 1,500 average homes. It will offset the emissions of 31.2 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year, as well.

If Exelon City Solar is successful, more solar projects - and more green jobs - could come to Chicago. Illinois' unemployment rate, at 10.4 percent, is higher than the national average, and solar construction jobs would no doubt be welcome in the state.

Considered alongside TXU’s recent free-installation solar leasing program, the Exelon endeavor shows the for-profit utilities may have a few things to teach municipally owned CPS. It's possible we have something to learn from Beneby’s recent experience, or at least from mining his Rolodex.

In the past year, CPS has launched a business solar rebate program and seen nearly 100 new residential rooftop arrays go up, putting us at about 125 total. And yet the $1 million set aside for residentail solar rebates this fiscal year will likely only cover another 60 installations. If the price on solar continues to drop (as has been the trend), CPS will need to step in front of this train as it picks up speed to ensure the track is in position. Otherwise, we’re looking at another jobs-displacing solar bust, like the city experienced when the utility let the rebates go dry in a squabble with City Council.

It would be hard to coax back the solar companies a second time.

Beneby’s resume is a strong traditional-utility resume: two posts with Exelon (most recently overseeing coal, natural gas, and hydro generation), time inside Exelon subsidiary PECO, and 17 years in “various positions” at Florida Power & Light. But what CPS has been dying for (other than long-promised honest and open dialogue wit the public), is new utility thinking, traces of which are hard to find in Beneby’s resume as it has been explained so far.

And so begins another wait-and-see.

In a prepared CPS release, Beneby said:

“Although I leave a large, investor-owned utility, I believe the skill sets that I have acquired over the years in all facets of the business will transfer very well to CPS Energy … Whether investor-owned or municipally-owned, the challenges for utilities are essentially the same – continuing to deliver reliable, affordable service to customers, keeping employees safe and challenged, protecting the environment, and executing sensible, cost-effective carbon reduction and renewable energy strategies that include a mix of energy alternatives.”

Service that’s “reliable”; renewables that are “sensible.” It sure would have been nice to hear some of his observations on the past couple of years at CPS to see how he defines those terms in action. At least the Express got an editorial meeting with the man. The rest of the city got a lotta nada.

Smitty Smith of Public Citizen added that Austin’s recent pick carries a little more green cred than what CPS reeled in. Something (if one takes into account the overwhelming message of all those public meetings last year) local residents would have demanded, given the chance.

Larry Weis, the “green” general manager from Turlock Irrigation District Austin Energy tapped, Smith writes:

… has developed strong energy efficiency and renewable energy programs (Weis’ utility has 28% renewable energy compared to Exelon’s 1% renewable portfolio) and has voiced his concern about global warming and the costs of coal which could force Austin Energy to act sooner than later to shut down its coal plant due expensive pollution control upgrades at the Fayette Power Plant.

Since the public was not privy to the public utility’s selection process, we are left to speculate what Beneby ‘s plans are. Will the vision of Mayor Castro and the legacy of Mayor Hardberger to turn San Antonio into a green city come true, or will San Antonio slip back into the nuclear spiral?

Some of us still recall the last rate increase and Mayor and CPS Board member Castro’s harping on the utility’s lack of transparency. We also remember the promises to do better. And yet here we are, still in the dark, wondering if better was ever an option.

Posted by gharman on 7/23/2010 4:54:25 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Texas headed for serious water crunch, says NRDC report

This land is your (bleeding) land: Water use predicted to be way (more) out of whack by 2050.

Greg Harman

Population growth, rising temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns are poised to wreak havoc on the country’s water supply, leaving one in three counties facing high risks of water shortages by 2050, according to a report released this week by the Natural Resource Defense Council.

And the study, which bases its findings on population trends and leading international climate models, places Texas at center stage of those expected shortfalls. Already in many areas of the state more water is being withdrawn from surface and groundwater supplies than is returned. Factoring a near doubling of the state’s population, loss of an inch of rainfall per year from changing weather patterns, and adding a nearly three-degree rise in average temperatures by mid-century expected to cook off another five to seven inches of rainfall through increased evaporation rates would place most of the state at “extreme” risk of loss of water sustainability, the researchers found.

“Water shortages can strangle economic development and agricultural production and affected communities,” said Dan Lashof, director of the NRDC’s Climate Center, said in a prepared release. “As a result, cities and states will bear real and significant costs if Congress fails to take the steps necessary to slow down and reverse the warming trend.”

That the Texas of the future will be a much drier place is not exactly new information. The Texas Water Development Board wrote in its 2007 State Water Plan states that as we add another 20 million residents by 2060 water demand is expected to grows by 17 percent, mostly in the cities. And Texas will have about 22 percent less of the wet stuff to pass around. As daunting as that sounds, the TWDB's chapter on climate doesn't even mention the anticipated impact of global climate change now underway.

While a natural drying is already occurring across the Western U.S., the impact of human-induced climate change — expected to upset rainfall events and increase temps by seven degrees this century if unaddressed — is a complete game-changer.

When I was writing on climate predictions and Texas (“Last Chance for a Slow Dance?”) more than a year ago, Richard Seager, a Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades NY, suggested that folks in the Southwestern U.S. and western half of Texas should be settling in for a nice long spell of “permanent drought.” [You can listen in on our 20-some-minute discussion about megadrought.]

NRDC contracted out their most recent study to Tetra Tech, a research outfit frequently employed by the Feds. In creating their rankings of all U.S. counties, Tetra Tech evaluated projected water demands, precipitation levels, susceptibility to drought, and projected summer water deficits. Changing precipitation patterns were also a key factor.

The group draws on a variety of climate models to project future conditions, including data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and research centers in Japan, Germany, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Russia.
In the coming month, water districts across the state will be hustling to finish up work on their Desired Future Conditions reports due September 1. These documents will be used by the TWDB to fashion the state’s next State Water Plan. Considering the forecasts, residents across the state may want to press for the most conservative scenarios possible. While weather is a funny thing, and Texas weather especially quixotic, I have yet to find any suggestion that the clouds on the horizon are bringing anything but sad dust and mesquite thorns.

If you’re interested in how the groundwater for Bexar, Bandera, Blanco, Comal, Hays, Kendall, Kerr, Medina, and/or Travis counties is being managed, we humbly suggest you descend on Boerne at 10 a.m. Monday when Groundwater Management Area 9 holds their next DFC meeting (PDF). Your future self will thank you.

Posted by gharman on 7/21/2010 5:23:45 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

But is it news? Adkisson, Hall, and anti-toller intolerance

Don't tell Tommy! Visions of Cali tollways courtesy of TURF.

Greg Harman

The tug-of-war between the Express-News and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson has been partly settled, with the County releasing hundreds of pages of emails to toll-road opponent and Mysa.com blogger Terri Hall from Adkisson’s official email account. Readers piled on in the comments section, though not to raise torches against Adkisson and Hall. Instead, the majority of comments were irritated by the daily’s apparent siege on Adkisson, a vociferous critic of efforts to turn U.S. 281 into a toll road.

There is nothing improper exposed by the records, but it’s understandable the writer and editors in this case would feel compelled to make something out of it as Adkisson has so resisted complying with the paper’s full request. And yet … that doesn’t make it a news story.



The article shrieks that Hall plays an “intimate and significant role” in Adkisson’s management of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. That through Adkisson, Hall has found “a de facto seat at the table.” For starters, we thought that was sort of the job of our elected leaders, to carry the concerns of residents to the table for us. For finishers, hasn’t Adkisson been loud and proud in his anti-toll posture from the start?

“I move around the community as any public official in Bexar County,” Adkisson told the Current this week. “I don’t get any comment from anybody saying, ‘Hey. Toll those roads.’ They’re all saying, ‘Hey. Be careful about those tolls.’”

Adkisson has refused to release emails to Hall from his private email accounts, ensuring the fracas will continue. “I just feel like it ought to be possible to think out loud without having every measure scrutinized for its stupidity or its brilliance,” he said. “In the process of arriving at public policy, you’re ‘What do you think about this?’ and the other person may say, ‘I think you’re a dumb ass if you say that.’ And I’d just rather not shower that on everyone and their brother.”

If there is a story at the MPO, it has long been about the intersection of private gain and the public good. From the cashing in of Perry cronies on the now-slumbering Trans-Texas Corridor to TXDOT and MPO skirmishes over tolling 281, pressing highway needs mean there is the scent of mad money in the air. Perhaps, the Express should listen to their readers when they suggest they should instead be shooting for MPO board members who may be overly influenced, I don’t know, by the monied interests at work and not gunning for two ideologues bridging a yawning political divide through their mutual distain for the notion of double-taxing residents for a functional roadway.

Hall frames her objection to the article by asking:

Why is [the Express] so interested in what I have to say to Commissioner Adkisson, but have no interest in what Richard Perez (Greater Chamber of Commerce, former MPO Chair), Carri Baker-Wells (Greater Chamber of Commerce), the Dawsons (owners of Pape Dawson Engineering, Sam Dawson is President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce), and SAMCO (lobbies for toll roads with taxpayer money along with dues from over 70 private highway construction, finance, and engineering firms, chaired by a tolling authority board member, Jim Reed, who has the power to vote to give contracts to firms in SAMCO) have to say to public officials? These people actually profit from the public trough by their actions, versus us taxpayers who foot the bill for their feeding frenzy!

Asked one reader mildly: “Why is this news?”

And, yet, still unresolved is the question of Adkisson’s emails.

“It shouldn’t be a crime to try to include more public comment and input, especially when it’s not driven by some big, powerful, wealthy corporation type or special interest,” Adkission says.

Of course, it’s not illegal. Unless, like our other politically well-grounded friend, Mr. Nico LaHood, treated in this tomorrow’s feature story, one’s good work is at risk of being polluted by questionable gropings after secrecy.

Undoubtedly, I also support strong open-records laws. However, I also support journalism functioning in the public’s interest. If the increasingly thin Express has the resources to run and publish investigative campaigns like this one, I can think of a few possibly worthier email accounts they could be hacking.

Posted by gharman on 7/20/2010 4:07:49 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

Future still cloudy for airport and park police

While the San Antonio Police Department recently negotiated a fairly cushy contract with the City (CLEAT, the legal association that represented the SA police officers association in negotiations even brags about ‘the top of the line’ deal on their web site homepage), the San Antonio park police and airport police still wonder whether their jobs will exist when their own contract expires in 2013. Their worries were heightened by a recent decision by the City to fill open positions in airport police with private security rather than new officers.
A forlorn source in park police, who asked not to be identified for job security reasons, contacted The Current shortly after we reported on the SAPD contract. While that agreement, which passed in May after more than a year of negotiations, assures wage increases of two percent in the upcoming fiscal year and three percent each year after until the contract expires in 2014, park and airport police saw their wages frozen, including the step pay rates they thought were guaranteed in the meet and confer agreement their bargaining unit signed in 2008.
The agreement, denounced by many park and airport police advocates, put 190 airport, park, and code enforcement officers under SAPD management, but left them out of the police officers association bargaining unit that determines many aspects of officer life from salary to hours worked to legal representation. In 2009, Ron DeLord, a CLEAT lawyer who represents both SAPD and the park and airport police bargaining unit, met with the City to try to improve the meet-and-confer terms. “Over one year ago, the City came to the airport and park police and asked to be allowed to transfer airport police officers to the park police department,” says Jim Caruso, president of the Airport Police Officers Association. “We said yes, but we want to secure internal rights, seniority and uniform allowances. The City turned us down.” DeLord says ever since, “we’ve been at an impasse with the City.” According to DeLord, the airport and park police want some of the same legal benefits afforded to SAPD, who have a discipline appeals process separate from the City, while park and airport police must appeal via the municipal civil service commission.  Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh said, “I’d characterize it differently, an impasse means there’s no existing agreement,” and pointed out that the meet-and-confer agreement is “nothing new.” About the stalled efforts to renegotiate the agreement, Walsh said “They wanted to make changes to [the agreement] and we were open to making changes,” but what the bargaining unit asked for, “we were really weren’t interested in.”  
Meanwhile, consolidation rumors continue to swirl (and drag moral down) at the airport and park police offices. While the meet-and-confer did manage to save the jobs of officers hired prior to the spring of 2008, “I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen in 2013,” Caruso said. “The City will fire the airport police and replace it with full-time SAPD officers.” He and others believe that goes for park police, too. When the meet and confer contract expires in September, 2013, “all those provisions go up in smoke,” said Caruso. “The City of San Antonio has no intentions of going back to the table.”
As proof of his suspicions, Caruso can point to the recent City directive he said his department received to keep eight positions open. An outside consultant recommended that the City reduce number of airport police officers in favor of private security, said Walsh, noting that many airport police duties are consistent with FAA and TSA training that national security firms can provide. However, Caruso said, “they’re replacing qualified, certified peace officers,” and losing the psychological deterrent of an armed police officer in the terminal to prevent theft and other crimes.
Caruso claimed the City’s reasoning was that they could hire 1.5 security officers for every airport police officer. But beyond that, budget concerns become a murky motive. Starting salary for airport and park police is nearly $10,000 less than for SAPD officers after cadet service. To replace these officers with SAPD would appear to cost the City more, but whether it will balance out with saved costs in training and management efficiency remains unclear.  “SAPD officers cost a lot more to do the same job,” said Caruso. Both have TCLEOSE license. Park police and airport police generally view their duties as proactive, meaning their presence deters crime, while they say SAPD is fundamentally reactive, more conditioned to respond to crime after it’s occurred. Much of their education is the same, minus SAPD's more rigorous physical training requirements. In the SAPD general manual, it lists under jurisdiction, “park police officers direct their primary enforcement activities to designated parklands of the City, are available to respond to calls for police service within the City as dispatched by SAPD, and take enforcement action on those incidents occurring within their presence or view throughout the City.” Specifically, park police officers have the authority to investigate third degree felonies and lower crimes, non-fatal accidents or crimes, plus parking, ordinance and transportation code violations. Our source in the park police also said they frequently help out SAPD with nearby police calls, too. “Why would the City want to get rid of us?” asked our source.
“They are nervous about their jobs, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said DeLord. Walsh maintains the City has been upfront about a transfer of airport and park duties to SAPD. Walsh said the City, which meets with airport and park police on a quarterly basis, has been open with the bargaining unit. “They know at some point we’re looking at transitioning those responsibilities,” he said. Rather than a mass-firing of the department in 2013, Walsh said the City is likely looking to downsize the existing departments through attrition. “Our goal is not to eliminate people’s jobs and then replace them,” said Walsh. “If that’s your plan, then you need to tell everybody that’s your plan,” countered DeLord, “these officers need to know honestly what their long-term prospects are.”
Park police have a small ray of light, at least until 2013. Due to the new linear creekways opening around San Antonio, an announcement went up last week that the City is hiring, for park police officers.

Posted by Callie Enlow on 7/20/2010 11:09:46 AM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

More local fundraising reports

Someday soon I will write a very thorough piece about why we should all pay attention to judicial elections. For today, I will just tell you that as a Bexar Co. voter, you're going to have to wade through several of these elected positions as you pull the lever Nov. 2, so you might as well start paying attention now.
I looked up the 15 or so contested county judge and justice of the peace races and each candidate's July 15 campaign finance filing. Not nearly as exciting as the Guv race money, or even the DA money, but at this level, these reports can help separate the serious contenders from those that don't stand a chance.
For instance, it looks like Republican Jason Pulliam, an African-American former JAG lawyer, is making a concerted effort to take on Democrat Ina Castillo in the race for County Court 5. They raised roughly the same amount of money in the past six months, over $9,000 each. While Pulliam can count Red McCombs and the Republican Women of Alamo City as steady backers, Castillo has attracted donations from all over the map, including a member of the District Attorney's office, Peter Holt, and U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez. That's a serious race.
For comparison, assistant DA John Fleming, running as a Republican, only raised $550 in six months (yet somehow won the primary), while incumbent Democrat Al Alonso made the genius move to host a fishing tourney fundraiser in Rockport, contributing mightily to the $14,775 he raised in the same period.
Speaking of the District Attorney's office, assistant DA Jason Wolff must be very popular there, or else the office must hate 20 year vet Judge H. Paul Canales, no fewer than nine employees at the DA ponied up cash for co-worker Wolff, a Republican running to unseat Canales in the County Court district 2 spot, helping him outraise Canales nearly three times over. However, Canales has amassed a large warchest over the years and still has $20,000 cash-on-hand to blow Wolff out of the water.
Full rundown of the candidates, even those who didn't file campaign finance reports this period (cough, libertarians, cough), to come soon.

Posted by Callie Enlow on 7/16/2010 6:26:27 PM Permalink | Comments Bookmark and Share

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