Contrary to rumors floated by a Coronado supporter earlier in the campaign that the two men are "the same," and on that basis, citizens should vote for Coronado, the candidates for District 3 differ greatly on their qualifications, financial backers, and philosophy of aquifer management. If you need further proof, just look at them:
Coronado: navy blue suit and tie, white dress shirt, pressed and starched as if he has just emerged from the dry cleaners. Cell phone rings frequently. Glossy campaign brochure. A retired Air Force colonel, he was director of the Selective Service System in Washington, D.C. during the Clinton Administration.
Rice: black jeans, white tennis shoes, and a two-pocket shirt — cotton or fleece, depending on the weather — with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. No cell phone. Campaign issues printed on a postcard. After his tour of duty in the Army, he later worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Washington state during the Mount St. Helens eruption.
What these personal details say is that a politician, Coronado, and a hydrologist, Rice, could not be more different, and those distinctions will influence public policy, depending on who wins. Although a slot on the EAA's 17-member board is not as high profile as a governorship, it is arguably one of the most important positions in South-Central Texas. The state legislature has endowed the EAA with broad powers, but the board constantly battles attacks on its stronghold: from the outside — often from development and real estate interests — and from within, as business and environmental camps, which were designed to balance the board, instead lock horns on how to best regulate the aquifer. Yet, water quantity and quality is the primary concern of the millions of residents in the nine counties served by the Edwards Aquifer, and who rely on the EAA and its board to protect the lifeblood that flows from their taps.
PGA brings EAA to forefront
Several Saturdays ago, Rice blockwalked on the West Side — the same part of town that Coronado considers to be his power center.
"You're the guy that's going to save our drinking water," said Linda Aguilar, who was holding a yard sale along Ruíz Street.
"Well, I'm going to try," Rice replied.
"This gentleman is anti-PGA," Aguilar told a friend standing nearby. "I hate the way some companies contaminate the air and water."
This is the kind of voter Rice is targeting. An outspoken opponent of the PGA development over the recharge zone, he is one of the most visible members and a scientific expert for Save Our Aquifer, a citizens' group that is fighting the project over potential pesticide contamination and the ensuing sprawl the golf resort would attract.
"What I hear is that people are peeved over the PGA," Rice explained, adding there is no scientific data to show that golf courses are more environmentally safe than housing developments. "They're also ticked off over their vote being taken away more than the PGA itself." The new PGA annexation project isn't subject to a petition drive or public referendum, as was the previous taxing district proposal.
Coronado was appointed to the board in June — over Rice — and has evaluated the proposed development. Although he doesn't endorse tax abatements for the golf mecca, he said he believes the PGA would be less harmful to the aquifer than 2,000 additional homes.
"When I looked at the PGA, it comes in with TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, formerly the TNRCC) standards," Coronado says, "Golf might be a better option than building homes. What is the better option — 5,000 versus 3,000 homes? But we have to have strong rules and regulations and some method of continuous evaluation. Monitoring is vitally important."
"The PGA's concept of monitoring the plan is laughable," Rice countered, adding that there are too few monitoring wells to determine if the aquifer has been contaminated. "We've been in forums where we ask, 'Can you not use pesticides or hazardous materials?' And 'no' is the answer."
Recently, the project's environmental oversight plan became even less funny; during an October 10 City Council briefing, city staff revealed that under a new proposal, Lumbermen's would have to pay for environmental monitoring for only 15 years; it would not have to foot the bill to drill at least four new groundwater monitoring wells; nor would it have to pay $1 million to a liability fund that would help pay for a cleanup.
And although Coronado places his faith in SAWS (which is currently trying to strike water deals that would pump water up from the Gulf and cost Bexar Countians millions of dollars) and the TCEQ (which is notoriously corporate-friendly) to monitor the aquifer, Rice disagrees, saying that, "The EAA is the only hope for meaningful protection.
"SAWS doesn't have the will or competence to do it," Rice added. "The TCEQ is highly politicized. They both have a pitiful record and there is no good reason to expect them to change."
Coronado backed by big bucks
Coronado hails from San Antonio's West Side, where he graduated from Lanier High School. So in District 3 — which is about two-thirds Hispanic — it follows that he is trying to clinch the Hispanic vote. "I'm running for this seat to be a public servant, to be the voice of the low-income people," Coronado proclaimed. However, his campaign finance reports reveal that if his donors are the ventriloquist, and he is the puppet, then it's Howdy Doody time for real estate, bankers, development, and golf interests. Coronado has raised more than $8,700 for his campaign from Earl & Brown ($3,000), who represents Zachry contractors, Golf San Antonio, Golf Clubs of Texas, American Golf, the San Antonio Country Club, Woodlake Country Club, and the Oak Hills Country Club; Gene Dawson ($250) of Pape-Dawson, engineers for the Lumbermen's PGA development; real estate lawyer Richard B. Moore ($200); architect Walter Embrey ($500); Martin Weiss of 4M Realty ($500); the Political Action Committee for Valero ($500), the energy company that has many underground tanks in the recharge zone; even Mike Beldon, EAA Board chairman and owner of Beldon Roofing, kicked in $500.
Ironically, none of these donors contributed to Coronado's 2001 run for Lieutenant Governor — the most powerful elected post in Texas. So what do his contributors hope to accomplish now? "I don't sell my vote," Coronado said, adding that he hadn't asked these contributors for money during his previous contest, as he did via a mass mailing for the board race. "`Those contributions are` a vote against George Rice; that's a possible explanation."
It's logical that Rice's anti-PGA stance has made him unpopular among Coronado's donors. Instead, Rice has raised about $5,500 for his campaign, mostly from private individuals, such as Armando Quintanilla ($25), who is on the Kelly Restoration Advisory Board with Rice; Keith Lyons of the Green Party ($50); and many activists from Save Our Aquifer including Maria Berriozabel ($100) and Annalisa Peace ($200). Although he's gathered three times as many donors — 94 to Coronado's 31 — Rice's average amount of donation is $60, compared to $283 for Coronado. For a complete listing of both candidates' campaign donors, go to www.sacurrent.com.
Will the EAA use its power?
In some respects, the PGA and other housing and business developments are at the EAA's mercy — if it chooses to flex its muscle. The board can regulate the amount of impervious cover, prohibit underground fuel tanks (which it did last week), and even choose whether to honor grandfathering. A week after the election, the board will decide how much businesses and residences will have to reduce their water use when the aquifer level dips to a critical level.
With his specialization in groundwater contamination, it follows that the issue is Rice's main interest. "We are far too lax in the hazardous materials allowed over the recharge zone. Being careful isn't good enough. There is a lot we don't know about the recharge zone: how a spill will spread, and where its sources are."
Much of the contamination comes from runoff that flows from parking lots, sidewalks, and other impervious cover. "Limiting that is the most important thing to do," Rice explained. "Science says that once you're about 10 to 15 percent, then contamination starts to increase rapidly."
Coronado, who admits he has no technical expertise in water issues, denies that the aquifer is at risk. "I've been there two months and I assure you, no one is destroying the aquifer," he said. "Save Our Aquifer — we're `the EAA` saving it, and yet there's an organization to save it. It's anti-development, maybe."
Those kinds of soundbites are the politics that helped secure Coronado's assignment to the board — he touted his presidential appointments and bureaucratic savvy as his strong points — and the same forces that kept Rice off.
Instead of board members with ulterior motives determining who wins the District 3 seat, the voters will choose whom they trust to accomplish the task of protecting the aquifer. FOCUS ON THE CANDIDATES
San Antonio native
Graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University and other U.S. government schools
Retired Air Force colonel, decorated with Bronze Star and more than 30 other military awards
Lobbied the Federal Aviation Agency for the City to secure funding for Stinson Field
Appointed by President Bill Clinton to direct the U.S. Selective Service System
Michigan native, has lived in San Antonio for more than a decade
Served in the Army, discharged in 1970
Graduate of University of Arizona, degree in groundwater hydrology
Also has master's degree, specializing in groundwater contamination
Work experience includes consultant to Brooks Air Force Base, U.S. Forest Service
Member of Kelly Restoration Advisory Board
District 3 boundaries:
Roughly I-10, Fredericksburg Road, and Cupples Road to the west; Highway 90 to the south; McCullough to the east; Loop 410 to the north, but extending slightly outside the Loop to Lockhill Selma, Huebner, and Vance Jackson.