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The QueQue

The march hare

Judge Fred Biery dissolved the injunction against the City’s revamped Parade Ordinance last week, just as the Current was hustling its April 1 edition to press. So, for the time being: government-approved processions get a free ride (Diez y Seis, the MLK march, and the Veterans Day parade), the City comps up to $3,000 in barricades and cops for marches they deem First Amendment, everyone else pays full fare, and the SAPD still decides who’s who and what costs what according to SAPD Standard Operating Procedure 214.

The latter item is one of the reasons Judge Biery decided the City had allayed the concerns of his Federal bench colleague, Judge Xavier Rodriguez, who last spring declared the original November 2007 ordinance unconstitutional. But plaintiffs the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition say the new Police Department guidelines, drafted as part of the City’s response to last spring’s ruling, still allow the City too much discretion re: how much to charge groups for “traffic control” and what constitutes a First Amendment procession — which could easily result in de-facto discrimination.

The plaintiffs were headed to court this spring in any event, because Judge Rodriguez didn’t address some of their additional Constitutional objections, e.g.: The City’s proposed alternative for groups that can’t afford parade fees is the sidewalks, which in many parts of San Anto resemble, variously, Dresden circa 1945 and the Pedernales River bottom.

Next up: The City has a Motion for Summary Judgment before the Judge, but, says lead plaintiffs’ attorney Amy Kastely, if he rules in favor of the City, they will take their case to the Fifth Circuit. “Because so much of the Civil Rights struggle happened in the South,” she said, “their Civil Rights law precedents are actually quite good, and we would definitely appeal.

Registered voters may wish to know that mayoral hopefuls and councilwomen Sheila McNeil (District 2) and Diane Cibrian (District 8) voted for the original November 29, 2007, ordinance and its March 13, 2008, rewrite.

Julia´n Castro says that he thinks some of the plaintiffs’ remaining objections have merit, and he would work with the City Manager’s office to address them. “Sidewalks often leave something to be desired,” he said, and while he didn’t want to commit to a parade-fee cap without studying the matter, he agreed that the “government should limit its discretion” in First Amendment matters. “My gut tells me we need to make it easierrather than harder for people to assemble.”

Trish DeBerry-Mejia says she doesn’t necessarily agree that “you should have to pay a fee,” and wonders why a parade in San Anto should cost more than a parade in, say, New York City. DeBerry-Mejia comes from a military family whose members fought for the rights promised in the Constitution, she says, and she’s committed to protecting “the right to protest, the right to assemble.”

21st Century B.C.

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I suppose some 2.5 million years of human activity on Planet Earth (none of which, incidentally, overlapped with Technosaurus, Iguanodon, or Alamosaurus*) would have taught us this: Matter is not created or destroyed; it just gets around. Or, if you prefer: When a reactionary closes a door, somewhere a liberal opens a window.

Even as right-wing radio sweetheart Dan Patrick’s ultrasound abortion bill makes its way onto the floor of the Texas Senate this week `see the March 25 QueQue`, the San Antonio delegation is upholding the legacy of the “lawn ladies” who founded our local Planned Parenthood and San Anto birth-control pioneer Dr. Joseph Goldzieher with a set of bills that would move Texas reproductive rights out of the Handmaid’s Tale and into the present — or at least nudge us out of one ignominious number-one ranking: most repeat teen births.

HB 741, authored by Julia´n twin Joaquin Castro, would require health-education classes that include sex ed to use medically accurate and age-appropriate information, but in deference to the conservatives who still hold the balance of power in the Pink Dome (lease is up in 2010) retains lots of abstinence-only friendly language.

Abstinence-only sex ed, though still near and dear to social conservatives, has taken a beating from a number of research-based sources, including the Texas Freedom Network, which issued an alarming report earlier this year re: the dearth of reality-based sex ed in our public schools. Capitol sources say the mounting evidence that what kids don’t know can, in fact, hurt them, coupled with moving testimony in the Public Education Committee hearing has led to a much more open dialogue on this bill than expected.

“The Committee was left with the sense that sex ed in the schools is in disarray,” said Castro. “When it is being taught, it’s not comprehensive enough.”

Compromise language is in the works — earlier and more frequent opt-out notices for parents who don’t want their kids to participate, and some version of the language requiring sex educators to address “the emotional trauma associated with adolescent sexual activity” — and the Public Ed Committee is expected to pass it to the Calendars Committee in the next week.

Track this bill and other woman-friendly legislation by SA reps at legis.state.tx.us.

*Actual dinosaur names

Energy end times

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On Monday, as part of the city’s unfolding Mission Verde sustainability plan, CPS Energy and a smattering of their City administrative masters met with representatives of some of the world’s foremost clean-energy programs for a workshop about building a sustainable, decentralized utility model based on non-polluting energy sources scattered around the city. Political lightning rod Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and adviser to numerous European leaders on matters of energy use, presided over the two-day event at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort.

To keep up with the energy needs of the greater San Antonio area (eight counties big) while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions will likely cost up to $30 billion come 2030, said Skip Laitner of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is it’s going to cost the region $400 billion anyway just to keep up with an expected 90-percent population boom during the next two decades. Fortunately, dollars spent on efficiency and renewable power have a way of paying for themselves, and the area could recoup that $30 billion twice over in energy savings and other productivity gains.”

“Everything we’re going to do is costly,” said Steve Bartley, interim general manager for CPS Energy. Efficiency “is the smartest thing to do compared to the alternative.”

CPS Board Chair Aurora Geissaid CPS is considering setting aside one percent of its revenue (roughly $9 million per year) to fund sustainable energy development — the same amount already being aside for a program to bury utility lines.

“That’s not going to do a heck of a lot for a 20-percent goal,” replied Laitner.

Funding is a key issue for the utility, which froze its residential solar rebate program at the beginning of the year in reaction to the City Council’s decision last summer to trim CPS’s requested 5-percent rate increase to 3.5 percent.

“We’re in a bit of a catch-22,” said Bartley. One the one hand, the utility wants to grow its renewable and efficiency programs. But having one of the lowest electric rates in the country makes it impractical to move too quickly, he said. San Antonio can’t close the price gap between traditional energy sources and renewables through its own subsidies.

“I think Texas needs to step up. I think we have an abundance of resources here,” Bartley said. “This could be a huge economic development issue for Texas.” However, in Texas, “I’m not sure we have an appropriate sense of urgency.”

Then again, Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, seems to have caught the bug. “Jeremy scared me so much last night about climate change, I couldn’t sleep,” he said.


Candidate issue of the week

And in a short-term QueQue feature that will run from now till the city-election runoffs are completed mid-June, an excerpt from one of the 25 candidate questionnaires that we featured in last week’s 2009 election issue. You can find all of them online at sacurrent.com.

What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the
subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit?

District 1 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros: I voted against the parade ordinance. I believe it unfairly restricted people’s first amendment right to peaceably assemble. My position has not changed. No fees should be assessed for parade permits.  There should be no distinguishing in types of applicants or events.

(Ed. note: According to the City’s online City Council Minutes, Cisneros voted for the November 2007 ordinance, but against the March 2008 rewrite.)

District 1 challenger Chris Forbrich: I think you should have the right to assemble.  I believe that organizations wishing to have a parade or public demonstration should purchase a permit for such an event, but one that doesn’t exceed around $40.  The cost of the permit should go towards the costs of informing the police, fire & EMS, health department of the activities so that they can better prepare.  It is unfair to charge certain groups to express themselves and allow other groups to do this without charge. 


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