Broadway drainage, promises, and bones
Lawyers with the Headwaters Coalition and the River Road Neighborhood Association who went to court last week seeking an injunction to stop the city from spending any 2007 bond money on a controversial drainage project down Hildebrand were still waiting for a ruling Tuesday afternoon from state District Judge David Berchelmann as the Current went to press.
Did the city break the law when it reworked the Broadway drainage project to instead flow down Hildebrand and into the San Antonio River’s headwaters at Miraflores Park? Last week, Judge Berchelmann said he didn’t know. “The question is, can the city do something different than what they promised? And honestly, I don’t know the answer.”
Initially, the project was meant to ease flooding on Broadway by piping storm water underground from Burr Road into an existing drainage structure near Carnahan. Many of those who lobbied for the project, including San Antonio River Oversight Board member Glenn Huddleston, insisted a future project phase would connect the water to the cement-lined Catalpa-Pershing drainage channel, fixing the area’s flooding woes.
Huddleston insists the “Hildebrand drainage boondoggle” was intended to get some 150 local properties out of the 100-year flood plain — something the revised plan won’t accomplish.
Former neighborhood association chairwoman Barbara Witte-Howell served on the bond committee that approved the original language and actively lobbied for the project around town. Outside the courtroom last week, Witte-Howell remarked, “I never would have voted for `the project` if this was the plan. … This isn’t the plan I lobbied for. This isn’t the plan I voted for.”
The project, as the city now presents it, would put a 70-by-8 foot concrete wall with two large 6-by-9 foot drainage culverts on the east bank of the river between Miraflores Park and the river’s headwaters.
Native American groups are also warning of certain damages the revision will cause. Not only does the Miraflores area of the headwaters have cultural and religious significance, but it’s thought to be rich with prehistoric deposits.
Last week, while touring the area where the new drainage structure will stand, Richard Garay, a Coahuiltecan, remarked, “To people who are building drainage pipes, what does it matter if there are a bunch of Indian arrowheads or possibly bones of our ancestors?” Since they’re not a federally recognized tribe, Coahuiltecans, an umbrella group that encompasses many native tribes, were not given a seat at the table of interested parties when the project was discussed with the Army Corps of Engineers, Garay said.
In a 2008 UTSA Center for Archaeological Research study examining Miraflores Park, researchers consistently found prehistoric material buried in the soil on the park’s northeast side. Though no shovel tests were done on the northwest corner of the park, where the city will build the new massive outfall, researchers suggested the soil there would be equally rich with prehistoric deposits. “For a long time, the Blue Hole and all the area around it has been sacred to us,” Garay said. “We are very afraid they’re going to destroy cultural artifacts, our cultural artifacts.”
Deborah Klein, assistant city attorney, told Judge Berchelmann the law doesn’t require literal performance or interpretation of the bond language. “This is how bond projects go,” she said.
The project, initially tagged at $9 million, has since swelled to over $14 million, including nearly $1 million needed to restore the north side of Miraflores Park, parts of which will be dug up during the construction. Whichever way Berchelmann flows, expect a quick appeal.
Public power versus coal power
When San Antonians had a chance to sound off on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last year, the chorus was directed at perceived failures of the agency to adequately protect the state’s air and water. But as House Republicans work to retrofit the agency now under Sunset Review they’re approaching the matter from the business angle first, plastering the TCEQ’s sunset bill HB 2694, which reorders the agency’s mission and funding, with dozens of amendments to stiff public participation and access.
For starters, the bill keeps the Office of Public Interest Council from assisting the public. And though slated to lose hundreds of employees, an East Texas Rep has succeeded in advancing a bill that would require the agency to devote bean-counter resources to considering the economic impact of every enforcement action — a measure that SA’s state Rep Joaquin Castro unsuccessfully sought to counterbalance by also requiring consideration of potential lost federal funding as a result of failures to act, according to the Dallas Morning News.
But it’s Rep Warren Chisum that has captured the progressive lobby’s attention this week. The Pampa Repub has been filing amendments to dismantle reforms of the agency made a decade ago during the last sunset combing, including a failed Chisum bill beaten back in committee by bipartisan opposition that would make it more difficult for Texas citizens to get a contested case hearing on controversial permit applications by industry. With a slew of new TCEQ-approved (over the objecting bodies of the state’s Ad Law judges) coal (and petroleum coke at Las Brisas in Corpus) plants about to turn dirt — to later seriously foul skies — the measure matters.
With tougher air-quality regulations likely on the way from Washington, D.C., Chisum is playing defense for industry, said the director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter this week. “Texans need to retain that leverage of a contested case process to get coal plant operators to the table to agree to tighter air pollution protections or to get TCEQ officials to require truly protective emission limits,” said Ken Kramer. Passed with Chisum’s amendment in place Tuesday, it’s up to the Senate to attempt repair.
Shamblen & Teapot Party rising
Early one morning this past November, officers arrested pot-loving Texas icon Willie Nelson as he traveled through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at Sierra Blanca. Charged with possessing less than 4 ounces of pot, Nelson forked out $2,500 for bail before quickly speaking out to celebstoner.com, a marijuana-tinged celebrity blog, saying, “There’s the Tea Party. How about the Teapot Party? Tax it, regulate it and legalize it.”
That call has since sparked up a number of so-called Teapot Parties, including one organized by San Antonio Council candidate Steve Shamblen, running in District 6.
Shamblen started actively pushing for marijuana legalization in 2000, not long after a botched surgery left him disabled. Though he formed SA’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) chapter, and helped run it until around 2005, ongoing health problems led him to withdraw.
Shamblen, who now walks with a large, ornate wooden staff, is also a major solar proponent. He’s hot to land a major solar-panel producer to set up shop in the city and develop a “department of residential alternative energy” within CPS, which would install and maintain residential solar arrays — both efforts continue to be explored by the powers that be.
But Shamblen also wants to draft an ordinance requiring major retail stores and businesses with massive parking lots (think Walmarts, Targets, and strip malls, he says) to build large structures for solar panels and rainwater catchment systems. “Like marijuana reform,” he says, “`these ideas` might seem a little far-fetched, but you have to start getting these ideas out there.”
Shamblen is opposing incumbent Ray Lopez and local engineer Pete Galaviz.
At a local debate late last month over comprehensive immigration reform, San Antonio Tea Party leader George Rodriguez stood as the sole conservative voice on a panel of reform advocates, insisting that waves of non-tax-paying undocumented immigrants were unfairly draining American taxpayer dollars.
This week, the Immigration Policy Center released a report, with hard numbers from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which should bury that myth once and for all. According to the report, the data backs up what economists and immigration reformists have been saying for years — that undocumented workers pay just like everyone else.
Undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes and, if they rent, also pay property taxes. A 2005 President’s Economic Report estimated that at least half of undocumented immigrants actually pay income taxes. By using estimates of each state’s undocumented population and average family income for undocumented households, the institute found that undocumented immigrants paid about $11.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2010 — including $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $8.4 billion in sales taxes.
Texas, according to the report, received the second-highest tax revenue from undocumented households with $1.6 billion in 2010, behind California with $2.7 billion. Of course, this should come as no surprise to Texas lawmakers. State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn released a report in 2006 that showed undocumented residents contributed $17.7 billion in goods and services to the state in fiscal ’05 and that the $1.58 billion they paid in taxes well offset the $1.16 billion in state services they utilized.
‘Pink Building’ before Council
In an echo of the still-painful La Gloria demolition and reminiscent of valiant efforts to save the historic Lerma’s Nite Club, Westside redevelopment is marching to take down another historic structure in the name of progress. So far, Esperanza Peace & Justice Center has collected 1,700 signatures in favor of saving the 90-year-old building at 1312 Guadalupe, and regularly fills meetings with supportive voices. While the building has yet to net an obvious Council champion, look for the full Council to pass a resolution granting the building “Landmark Designation” this week.