Radio voice proclaimed Monday “D-Day on Wall Street.” So depending on your perspective, we’re either about to be liberated from the chains of the entrenched Corporatocracy or sacked by foreign aggressors in really uncool helmets. Either way, there will be a period of adjustment.
With the collapse of the banking titans, the betrayal of our natural systems gorged on a carbon-rich diet, and shrill political untruthtelling driving sub-sea volumes to an all-time high, we have a prescription for you meandering, meaning-seeking, bipedal surface-dwellers. Ike evacuees fill our area shelters, so this week represents a perfect opportunity to get your Next Depression karma on by assisting San Antonio’s (mostly) temporary guests. More than 4,000 Ike evacuees are holed up here — mainly at Freeman Coliseum and Brooks City-Base — and the disastrously titled San Antonio Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (SAVOAD) is asking those with the call to head down to Brooks today (Wednesday) or call (210) 224-5365. Needs range from pet care to data entry, so you wouldn’t have to, latex-gloves forbid, tend to puss-filled hurricane wounds or spoonfeed old people.
Like a stowaway on the Titanic, the Office of Cultural Affai ... Wait. Rewind that. Like a stowaway on the Good Ship Lollipop, the Office of Cultural Affairs’ $6.3 million in arts funding slipped quietly into harbor last Thursday, concealed deep inside the City’s $2.3 billion budget and (so far) absent the drama of last year’s appropriation.
“It was always a goal to get [the arts-funding process] finished in time so it could be adopted as part of the overall budget,” said OCA Director Felix Padrón. While the cargo was delivered without incident this time around, distant storm warnings flashed on the horizon: There was still talk early last week that in light of the increased Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue that almost singlehandedly funds the City’s arts agency, some councilmembers favored reducing its 15-percent allowance (to make hay for more convention cattle).
Fat chance, that, while Mayor H holds the gavel. Securing the full HOT percentage allowed by law for cultural programming was one of the earliest campaign promises Hardberger fulfilled, back in those sunny, pre-playground-scandal, pre-Main Plaza-anticlimax days.
“I believe there were some internal discussions among City Council,” said Padrón of the HOT allotment, but I don’t think the idea went far.” So, smooth sailing till next year’s 50-percent-plus brand-new council — including a new Hizzoner/Herroner — takes the dais.
Dedicated readers may recall that euphoria over last year’s unexpected arts-funds bonus soon gave way to a public outcry over its dispersal. Rather than routing some additional $700,000 along to OCA for sweetening pre-approved grants to local arts orgs, City Hall made a cash grab, funneling $200,000 to the Mayor’s inaugural Luminaria arts night, and most inflammatory, $315,000 to the Museo Alameda — which in its short history has a somewhat spotty paper trail when it comes to attendance and income — in addition to the $184,000 it had already been awarded by OCA’s Cultural Arts Board. Several arts agencies groused off-the-record, CAB Chair and Texas Commission on the Arts member Nelson Balido was publicly pissed off, and the Esperanza suggested the end-run might violate the arts-funding transparency promised in the consent decree resulting from its successful lawsuit against the City. [See “Cutting out the CAB,” October 17, 2007.]
Rubbing salt in the wound, the Council promised another $315,000, sans application process, to the Museo for 2009, but subsequently the Alameda made out handsomely in the May 10 Venue Tax election ($6 million toward a $20 million-plus tag on its namesake theater). No telling whether it was the big Venue Tax score or the public outcry, but this year the Alameda played by the rules, said Padrón, and got its City money the old-fashioned way (that is, vetted by peer panelists, whose scores are digested by OCA staff and Cultural Arts Board members). And came out just fine, at $359,000.
Residents wondering whether the completed San Antonio River Improvements Project will take them up Avenue A or B on their Saturday stroll from Pearl Brewery to Brackenridge Park have a fresh chance to weigh in on the decision. [See “It’s for the birds ... ” April 30, 2008.] The Park Segment subcommittee, tasked with ironing out the (perhaps) competing needs of hikers, bikers, birds, and the adjacent and partially ambivalent River Road neighborhood, will begin meeting weekly September 25 — and, says SARA River Oversight Committee Co-Chair Irby Hightower, things have changed. The Witte has a new development plan now, he notes, including a parking garage that wasn’t part of the 2001 guidelines, which could mean a whole new master plan.
The Park Segment falls within the currently under-construction Museum Reach of the river, which rolls past the San Antonio Museum of Art on its way to the Hugman Dam at Lexington, and accordingly, both the Witte’s Marise McDermott and SAMA’s Marion Oettinger are on the subcommittee. The crew is rounded out by former Mayor Howard Peak, credited with introducing the idea of a linear river park running from near the headwaters in Brackenridge to the Mission Espada; Reid Meyers, the Tillinghast-loving attorney who runs the MGA-SA, tasked with making the City’s greens produce some green; a representative of the River Road Neighborhood Association; Xavier Uruttia, currently overseeing the recently maligned Parks & Rec division; and the San Antonio Audubon Society’s Barbara Kyse.
The roster caused Charles Bartlett, bird enthusiast and Chairman of the Avenue A subcommittee of the Parks & Rec Board, to express concern via email to Hightower last week. “The subcommittee as presently constituted is heavy on the arts/museum community,” he wrote, adding that he considers Oettinger, McDermott, Meyers, and Peak “advocates for the Ave. A route.” Bartlett and his Audubon compatriots are concerned that any increased traffic, foot or wheeled, will disturb the rare urban migratory-bird habitat along Avenue A (it currently dead-ends at a small dam accessible only by foot).
McDermott, who is hosting the Park Reach meetings at the Witte, says no decision has been made, or is even close. “I think there’s a lot of very important discussion,” that needs to take place, she said.
Hightower has since reassured Bartlett that any Avenue A-Team will be met with debate and even outright resistance. “I think we have strong advocates for every possible route on the committee,” he said. You don’t have to take his word for it, though. The meetings are open to the public: 8:30 a.m. Thursdays, Witte Museum,
3801 Broadway, beginning September 25. •
San Antonio River: Vision Statement
Within its city limits, the San Antonio River is 18 miles in length. In some respects, the River defines the city. One’s experience of the River changes in different parts of the city. As large parts of the River are improved and adjacent development occurs, the River will change. The River Commission has adopted the following Mission and Vision statements to be used as a universal lens by which all future River-related decisions are viewed:
Vision statement: The San Antonio River will be a fully linked linear park that unifies the city and serves as a community gathering place for all to enjoy. The River will have many special places and uses; some active, some quiet. Each will be unique, genuine, and will vary by design.
1. Community Access: Community access to the River and its public spaces should be provided and encouraged.
2. Environment: The public spaces of the River will celebrate the natural environment, where wildlife and aquatic species flourish. The public areas of the River will be protected from intrusive commercial activities which diminish the experience along the River corridor.
3. Surrounding Land Uses/Development: Development activity occurring along the banks will be in keeping with the unique character of the River at that location. Land uses will also be in keeping with the City Master Plan (Neighborhood and Community Plans). In all cases, development and activity along the banks will not damage the natural environment or ecology of the River or its public spaces, but will enhance the quality of the site and environment.
4. Adjoining Buildings and Design: Historical buildings and features along the River will be preserved to help tell the story of what the River has meant to San Antonio over the generations. Where development occurs, buildings will be unique, and incorporate design elements that celebrate the natural or built context of the River at that location.
5. Private Enterprise: Policies will encourage existing and new business development and regulate enterprises within these Guiding Principals and Vision.
On September 17, City Council is scheduled to vote on the above Vision Statement of the San Antonio River Commission, created in June 2007 after the Mayor advanced and then hastily retracted a proposal to ban chain restaurants on most of the River Walk. The Commission’s Mission Statement, also on the agenda, is as follows: The River Commission provides public policy advice regarding the River Walk and San Antonio River to preserve, protect, and enhance the history, heritage, and ambiance of the River.