Putting the ‘bull’ in Bullis
If landowners around Camp Bullis ever have to get an endangered-species seal of approval from the City, one thing they probably won’t have to aver is that they actually understand the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
You can thank Gene Dawson Jr. for that.
In an attempt to get a handle on the rapid destruction — some call it “development” — of natural habitat around the Camp Bullis military training post, the San Antonio Planning Commission’s Technical Advisory Committee hashed out a proposed amendment to the city’s Unified Development Code.
The new language would require landowners of more than two acres to submit a signed affidavit to the City regarding the presence/absence of rare neo-tropical songbirds or endangered cave spiders on their property any time they set out to clear trees, subdivide, master-plan, or throw down a PUD. Environmental and military-mission advocates have long alleged that property owners (read: developers, especially those on our rapidly congesting northerly flanks) are either not completing or not providing their endangered-species surveys for inspection to the Feds. Meanwhile, the erosion of endangered-species habitat around Bullis is putting increasing pressure on the base, according to Bullis brass, limiting the military’s ability to train there.
After delaying the proposed code changes for several months for “legal analysis,” Planning’s TAC finally pushed the baby out of the barn this week. The affidavit language was massaged, however, so landowners will no longer have to swear they are “aware of and have had the opportunity to review the Endangered Species Act’s rules and regulations and have complied with the requirements of the Act.”
“There’s no way in hell I’d sign that certification,” bleated TAC Vice Chair Steve Hanan, of the Hanan Development Company, at TAC’s August 3 meeting.
Even so, under the amended version, landowners will still have to certify they have had a biologist survey their property for endangered critters.
Committee member Dawson, of Pape-Dawson Engineers, Inc., brought forward the amendment striking the ESA-comprehension clause, saying the committee’s effort suffered from a “perception problem” in that “some people don’t think it’s legal.”
Currently, state law holds that local governments “may not discriminate against a permit application, permit approval, or the provision of utility service for land that: (1) is or has been designated as habitat preserve or potential habitat preserve in a regional habitat conservation plan or habitat conservation plan; (2) is designated as critical habitat under the federal act; or (3) has endangered species or endangered species habitat.
Responding to that challenge, Norbert Hart of the city attorney’s office fussed, “You have to read the whole chapter and not take a clause out of context.”
“It’s confusing to the layperson,” Hanan responded, “but we’ll rely on your judgment.”
With the most offensive language axed, the proposal passed without opposition.
Long-time activists fighting to protect the Edwards Aquifer, or open space, etc., have learned to ask questions even when they win. Odious tradeoffs often lie buried in those all-too-rare victories: Some offender gets a big payoff, or a loophole is cleverly wired sub rosa. Which is why [former*] TAC board member Richard Alles was 1) surprised the proposed amendment cleared the committee, and 2) is pessimistic about its potential impact.
He wasn’t present for the vote, but he mused to the QueQue this week: “I’m wondering what that really accomplished … There is a real question as to whether this ordinance is too late to affect any significant development around Camp Bullis.”
Case in point: As of press time, the North Side’s last large unpaved parcel was scheduled to come before the City Council for a rezoning request Thursday, which would allow mixed commercial and residential development with 43 percent or more impervious cover on 389 acres over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. But according to Alles, District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan plans to ask her fellow council members to postpone a vote.
* Michael Westheimer, husband of Current Editor Elaine Wolff, sits on the Zoning Commission, which approved the proposed zoning-change request. He was not present for the vote.
South Texas isn’t exactly a leader in hydro power, and judging by our skimpy summer-pool hours, it seems COSA doesn’t appreciate the magic of H20, either (you’d think the hottest July on record might point up its charms). True, our municipally owned pools are free — when they’re open, which is 1-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday**, June 6 through ... August 9?!
The Current was so upset about this that it asked video correspondent Jeff Turner to make a documentary (a dry-doc!), which you can watch at sacurrent.com/arts/mixxedmedia.asp [“SA Pools: Patiently waiting”].
The City, it seems, heard the pleas of its citizenry (or perhaps feared street demonstrations; remember, if they’re “spontaneous,” you don’t have to pay for them] and announced this week that COSA’s outdoor pools will remain open until August 16. Nine pools — Dellview, Lady Bird Johnson, Lincoln, Normoyle, Roosevelt, Southside Lions, Springtime, Westwood Village, and Woodlawn — will stay open through August 23. Once those cease weekday operation, you can swim at the four regional pools — Dellview, Roosevelt, Southside Lions, and Woodlawn — weekends through Labor Day. And, yes, all still free! You’ll find a complete pool list and a handy map at sanantonio.gov/sapar/swimming.asp.
The estimated cost to the City for the extra cool pool time: $114,000, which Parks & Rec Director Xavier Urrutia says will come from savings in his department’s budget. The relief? That’s right: priceless. It’s something the Mayor and City Manager wanted to do for the people, said Urrutia.
But why not a full swimming season, like Austin? Free pools are nice, but the QueQue would happily pay a couple of bucks during the “fall” and “winter” for access to some outdoor aquatic recreation. Urrutia says that most of the City’s lifeguards are high-school and college students, and once the fall semesters get underway (August 24 for many local schools), staffing becomes an issue.
Yet, the QueQue wonders ... according to the Parks & Rec website this spring, City lifeguards make $9/hour. Why not combine job training (learn to be a lifeguard!), health and wellness (endurance laps!), and job creation (more lifeguard hours!) into a local stimulus package? We’d call it the Pursuit of Happiness initiative.
Speaking of uprisings: On July 27 the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition, et al., as promised, appealed the trial court’s Parade Ordinance ruling to the 5th Circuit.
On June 30, Judge Fred Biery dismissed the plaintiff’s suit, which argues that the ordinance effectively quashes free speech by imposing hundreds, even thousands of dollars in fees for parades — even clearly First Amendment events such as the International Women’s Day March — in addition to a $75 parade-permit fee. COSA ostensibly picks up the first $3,000 in hard costs, but those on-duty police officers and barricades can add up fast.
The plaintiffs are busy working on their brief for the 5th Circuit, which is due by September 8. The ACLU of Texas, which filed an amicus brief the first time around, is likely to do so again, said Staff Attorney Fleming Terrell: “Our concern is really with making sure the citizens of San Antonio have a fair and equal opportunity to express themselves.” Even with the City rewrite that Judge Biery signed off on, the ACLU is worried that the ordinance may allow the City to exclude some groups based on content or financial resources.
Our City Council could, of course, intervene, and adjust the offensive ordinance, and in comments made to the Current and reported in our July 8 story [“The parade suit marches on”], Mayor Julián Castro indicated that he agrees with many of the plaintiffs’ key points, and would seek to meet with them in early August. “I think we should work toward a system where the [cost] is predictable and it’s not expensive,” he said.
As of press time, no confabs were scheduled, but the Free Speech Coalition isn’t waiting around for the phone to ring: They’ve organized a community action for 10 a.m. Saturday, August 8, on Main Plaza, in front of the City Council chambers. Esperanza is encouraging likeminded marchers to bring signs, noisemakers, and other instruments.