- Michael Barajas
Occupy San Anto! (sort of)
Taking a cue from the ambitious, ongoing protest in New York City aimed at shaking the foundations of the corporatocracy, a group of local activists have been gearing up for the past week hoping to catch a fire in San Antonio. Occupation? We’re getting there. After nearly a week of planning, kicked-off with a packed meeting at Southwest Workers Union headquarters last week, organizers with Occupy San Antonio are planning for a rally Thursday in Travis Park, with defined hours between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. In a statement this week, the group said, “Although this meeting is a rally against corporate and governmental corruption, it will be a celebration for people to appreciate the gift of human life, share the love that we all feel for those around us, and raise awareness that there is hope for a better tomorrow.”
Tar sands = human rights?
The proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline to pump Canadian tar-sands crude down to Houston-area refineries represents a no-brainer for lovers of freedom everywhere. So said Perry-appointed Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman who popped into a public hearing on the project in Austin last week, promptly skipping a long line of folks waiting a chance to speak to offer a glowing endorsement. Naming a select few OPEC countries (the scary ones like Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia), Smitherman concluded: “If you believe in democracy and human rights and freedom, you will take whatever necessary step we can to facilitate the development of this project.”
And while supporters of the TransCanada line claim its construction will pump sorely needed jobs and cash into local economies along the route, a blunt report out of Cornell University last week challenges the assertions, reporting that TransCanada’s job figures are inflated and unsubstantiated, while also hammering energy-security claims, saying Keystone XL is “driven by global interest” and primed for the export market. “Clearly, Tar Sands oil and energy independence do not really belong in the same sentence,” the report states. Some landowners joined a protest outside the State Department’s hearing, angered by TransCanada’s use of eminent domain. Tea Party favorite Debra Medina even helped lead the protest, saying, “Imminent domain is the club that is used to beat private property owners into submission.”
Julia Trigg Crawford of Lamar County was questioned the company’s own archaeological assessment approving a 30-acre stretch of her property for use — a site, she claims, is rich with indigenous artifacts. Crawford commissioned a subsequent test that dug up stone tools and ceramics, items she’s now having tested to confirm their origins. “Needless to say, we are very glad we took a second look.”
Castro redirects VIA streetcar plan
VIA spent 2.5 years publicly vetting their long-range plan for streetcars and light rail and about two hours having it bulldozed by the San Antonio City Council. The message from Mayor Julián Castro at last week’s VIA presentation during the B Session of Council on Wednesday was three-fold: 1. VIA is not welcome to any of next year’s mammoth $596 million bond referendum; 2. any City funding will require City staff on the design table, along with “any other funding entities” (according to Assistant City Manager Pat DiGiovanni’s presentation); and 3. he already knows where that first streetcars should run. (VIA CEO Keith Parker’s complaint that VIA is “the most underfunded public transportation agency in the state, by a longshot” didn’t get any immediate sympathy from Council, either.)
Castro’s vision to feed Pearl Brewery Complex visitors through downtown to the AT&T Center seems to be informed by the bank accounts powering those front-end loaders suddenly tearing up abandoned lots all along lower Broaday this week. “If we could get this right, if we can nail it … that will propel us to invest in the rest of the plan,” he told Parker. Sounds like planned 2025 light rail just got an ultimatum.
What remains to be seen is if the Council’s elevation of economic returns from streetcar and rail is an improvement on 13 public meetings and the frequent gatherings of VIA’s Technical and Citizen’s advisory committees. VIA’s proposal was to have five miles of streetcar lines criss-crossing downtown by 2017 at a price tag of $164 million. Then there is the $1.5 billion, 20-mile east-west light rail crossing from the southern side of Ft. Sam Houston, past the AT&T Center, past UTSA’s downtown campus, and west past Our Lady of the Lake to a to-be-built Kelly-area transportation hub. Year of operation? 2023. (A second proposed line would run 15 miles from the International Airport into South San Antonio.)
Downtown Councilman Diego Bernal came out in support of Castro’s plan, saying that the “wheels will continue to turn eternally unless we put our foot down.” That the Pearl-AT&T Center alignment will return the area “‘Back to the Future,’ if you will” and it can “happen immediately.”
QueQue was sort of busted up about VIA’s gaping new orifice rent by Council. We sought to comfort them, sought commiseration, conversation. Our request of an interview (requested in writing by PR flak last week) has yet to materialize. We had been skeptical before, such fundamental failures suggest maybe VIA really does need someone in City Hall running things for them.
Texas needs $53 billion (with a ‘b’) for water planning
Still crawling through our worst one-year drought on record, Texas got a scientifically informed kick in the ribs by State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon last week when he said the drought that has already wrought $5 billion in agricultural sector losses may not break until 2020. That makes the Texas Water Development Board’s new draft water management plan are all the more alarming. Those “worst case” scenarios — extended droughts that could cost the state $116 billion a year — now read more like an extended forecast. The draft warns that a rising state population over the next half-century will push water demand in Texas far past its dwindling supply, to the tune of an 8.3 million acre-feet gap by 2060 if Texas doesn’t put up major cash to shore up its water infrastructure.
To avoid future pain, the TWDB set the price tag at $53 billion, much more than the $31 billion the board asked for in 2007 and many, many billions more than the $100 million the Legislature allocated for water projects this year, noted Carolyn Brittin, a TWDB planning official, at a quiet public hearing in the San Antonio River Authority Board room Monday night. “Better safe than sorry, in my opinion.”
The plan anticipates that Texas’ population will swell to roughly 46.3 million people between now and 2060, an 82 percent population increase. All the while, through depletion of the Ogalalla Aquifer and increased silting of reservoirs, Texas’ overall water supply is projected to actually decrease by 10 percent over the next 50 years.
For the first time, the TWDB appears to be taking into account manmade climate change, stating: “In Texas, temperatures are likely to rise; however, the future precipitation trends are difficult to project. If temperatures rise and precipitation decreases, as projected by climate models, Texas would begin seeing droughts in the middle of the 21st century that are as bad or worse as those in the beginning or middle of the 20th century.” •