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Tundra: the new South Texas landscape

The new Toyota Tundras manufactured in San Antonio will be bigger, better, and stronger, says Hidehiko “T.J.” Tajima, the honcho at the new Toyota plant on the South Side.

Tajima welcomed a majority of City Council members last week for a presentation and tour of the grounds of the Toyota Tundra plant, which was built on one of South Texas’s oldest cattle ranches near the Medina River.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Texas will roll out the first Tundra pickup trucks in November from the new plant on Applewhite Road on the South Side. The new Tundra will be longer and taller than earlier models.

“We will make the best truck in the world,” Tajima told Council during a special B Session convened at the Toyota plant to cheer on the captains of industry.

According to a Toyota “Fun Facts” press release, the 2,000-acre site now includes 950 acres of main plant and on-site suppliers in the land of the feral hog, mesquite, and chaparral. The remainder of the 2,000-acre site will be held in reserve for future expansions. Tajima said Toyota is still studying the possibility of manufacturing a Tundra hybrid, with no immediate plans to produce them at the San Antonio plant.

Annual capacity for the San Antonio plant will be 200,000 Tundra trucks per year in an $850 million, 2 million-square-foot facility. The Toyota plant will ship 80,000 Tundras by rail and 20,000 by truck. The plant will use water-based paints and will operate with 70 percent recycled water from San Antonio Water System treatment plants. Toyota’s environmental plan includes no impact on local landfills.

“This is the most environmentally friendly `auto manufacturing` plant in North America,” Tajima says. “We will be as good a corporate citizen as possible to the great city of San Antonio.”

The new Tundra, expected to roll out of the plant by mid-November, will be a half-ton cab pickup that can tow up to 10,000 pounds, produced by 2,000 employees working two shifts. The on-site suppliers will employ an additional 2,100 employees.

“This will be the perfect full-sized truck for America,” Tajima told a grinning Council and City staff. The biggest, boldest truck in history will be the next Tundra, a gargantuan leap to the head of the pack. “It will be a big, fat, Texas-size truck.”

Michael Cary

Cuellar extends torch of friendship

Mariachi music and the sizzle of fajita platters served as the backdrop for a small Democratic party kiss-and-make-up session last week on Alamo Street.

The event, held on St. Patrick’s Day as green-clad tourists strolled along downtown streets, heralded District 28 U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar’s attempt to mend a rift in the Bexar County Democratic Party after a rough-and-tumble primary campaign against opponent Ciro Rodriguez (a whopping 7 percent of voters turned out for the Bexar County primary).

St. Patrick's Day revelers, on the left, pause on the sidewalk to ponder the words of Lauro Bustamante as he honored Henry Cuellar as the Democratic primary victor in the hotly contested District 28 race for U.S. Congress. Cuellar opponents Victor Morales and Ciro Rodriguez failed to appear at the Democratic unity rally that was held across the street from the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce downtown. The man on the right is minister-architect Fred Rangel. (Photo by Michael Cary)

Lauro Bustamante, a candidate for Place 5 on the 4th Court of Appeals, convened the small gathering at the Alamo Street Streetcar Station, in the shadow of the giant red “Torch of Friendship.” He said the Democratic Party should come together in a spirit of unity. “It’s OK to have disputes and conflicts, but at the end of the day, we’re all united.

“This year the Democrats will win, but we need to win big,” he added.

Cuellar, says Lauro, is an OK guy.

“People don’t know you as well as they should,” Bustamante said to a beaming Cuellar. Rodriguez was a no-show for the “gesture of Democratic unity.” Rodriguez’s campaign headquarters telephone was taking messages, but no live voice answered.

“Once they know who `Cuellar` is and the talent he brings to the community, they will appreciate him,” said Bustamante.

Look to Cuellar to champion education issues in Congress, Bustamante urged. “Education is the key reason Congressman Cuellar is here, and the reason I’m here. Education is the No. 1 priority, and the community will be behind him 100 percent on that issue.”

“What we’re talking about today is unity,” Cuellar said as he took the podium. “I’m a Democrat, and I will always stay as a Democrat. We’ve got to have diversity within the Democratic Party. Diversity allows us to move forward and address the issues that are important.”

Michael Cary

Winona Laduke speaks at St. Phillips

When Winona LaDuke speaks at St. Philip’s College this week, she’ll challenge her audience with a series of questions.

“I consider myself to be a patriot to the land more than a patriot to the country,” she told the Current. “I think we need to ask ourselves, what is American identity? What is significant to our identity? What should be significant? How do we make a culture of dignity between humans and between humans and the earth?”

LaDuke, Native American activist, actor, environmentalist, and writer, will speak at St. Philip’s College 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 23, as part of the school’s free President’s Lecture Series (Info: 531-3260). LaDuke is the author of the novel Last Standing Woman and the non-fiction work Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming. In 1996 and 2000, she ran for vice president on the Green Party ticket with Ralph Nader. LaDuke plans to run for Governor of Minnesota in 2011.

LaDuke is Anishinabe (Ojibwe) from the Makwa Dodaem (Bear Clan) of the Mississippi Band of the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. In the ’80s, LaDuke, a Harvard-educated economist, moved to White Earth and worked on a lawsuit to recover land promised to the Ojibwe in an 1867 treaty. The lawsuit was not successful, but LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project, raising funds to purchase more than 1,700 acres of the original land holdings for community land, where 20,000 people now reside.

During her talk, “Moving towards a Multi-Cultural Democracy,” LaDuke also will address citizen activism, including energy-conservation issues, using White Earth as a model of community activism. “We are on the cusp of global de-climatization and we have a chance to make a change,” she said, “so we’ve been working on an energy plan: What do the reservations need to do to be ahead over the next 50 years? These are not questions people are asking; they just assume there will be more gas for them.”

White Earth recently secured a $1.3 million Department of Energy grant to purchase a wind turbine that will provide 1 megawatt of energy, enough to fuel a small village, said LaDuke, but she is also a “big proponent of in-your-house change,” for example using incandescent light bulbs to save power and pushing utilities to buy green energy. “You may have to pay a premium for it, but you’ve got to force it,” she added. “You know that saying, when the whatever-you-want-to-call-it hits the fan, you better be the one holding the fan? I like to say wind turbine.”

“We could wait for Washington or you can solve it yourself while you’ve got a shot,” she said. “I’d rather put up a wind turbine than wait for Washington to sign Kyoto.”

Susan Pagani

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