STUDENT COUNCIL REPORT
SA’s newest Council members got their swearing-in on Friday, June 19, but the lame ducks did not go gently into our tropical night.
An entertainingly cantankerous Lourdes Galvan lit into Roderick Sanchez, director of Planning and Development Services, over the City’s plan to waive procedural requirements and rename two sections of Perez Street to Hardberger Way, in honor of the former mayor’s work in developing the nearby Haven for Hope.
“I love Hardberger and respect him,” Galvan said, but she objects to the renaming because the City made no effort to get feedback from the community. “It took me almost a year to get a street renamed for someone who lived in the neighborhood,” Galvan told Sanchez. “This is disrespectful to our community.”
During the afternoon session, Terrell Heights residents delivered detailed objections to a proposed zoning change that would allow a three-story apartment complex in their neighborhood. They complained that the new Zoning Commission-approved development — on North Vandiver Road, near Austin Highway — would threaten residents’ privacy and exacerbate infrastructure problems in the neighborhood. They also provided photos showing that signs in the neighborhood had misled residents into thinking that single-family homes, not apartments, were being planned for the lot. Some residents took parting shots at outgoing District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, saying she never talked to residents; her successor, Ivy Taylor, opposes the new development.
After more than an hour of emotional objections to the zoning change — and a few notes of support — McNeil swiftly dismissed the opponents’ concerns by saying the apartment complex would improve a rundown neighborhood and provide potential housing for BRAC (on the north side of Fort Sam, Eastside activists will note). The Council unanimously and just as swiftly backed her.
In other Council news: The City doesn’t keep official records on such things, but it’s widely believed that Galvan’s District 5 successor, David Medina, 23, is the youngest elected Council member in SA’s history. In any event, Medina is claiming that distinction for himself on his Council web page. Kid Medina has chosen Michael Tejeda — a Harlandale ISD board member whose household contributed $1,000 to Medina’s campaign — as his chief of staff.
Also, City Manager Sheryl Sculley announced last week that COSA will receive $110 million in generational-theft, uh federal-stimulus, money, with the possibility of more to come. She noted that $56 million will be earmarked for street improvements and infrastructure, with $25 million set aside for the City’s Mission Verde energy program.
D4 Councilman Phil Cortez called it “the first major initiative” of Mayor Julián Castro’s new administration. At the very least, Castro’s proposed changes to the City’s Ethics and Municipal Campaign Finance Codes — approved last week by the Council’s Governance Committee — can be viewed as the Mayor’s first fulfilled campaign promise.
That said, the changes offered by Castro merely expand the range of — or bring greater clarity to — existing provisions, rather than dramatically altering the City’s ethics rules. Up till now, for example, signatories to high-profile contracts with the City (those in excess of $1 million, with a high degree of community interest) could not contribute to the campaignsor political-action committees of Council candidates from the day they applied for a contract until 30 days after the contract was awarded. Castro’s revision will enable contributions until 10 business days after the City has released the Request for Proposals and will, in addition to signatories, apply to company executives and their spouses, as well as lobbyists hired on behalf of the entities. Under Castro’s plan, these standards will also apply, for the first time, to zoning cases. He also intends to ban entertainment, lodging, and travel gifts, which are currently allowed up to $500. (The Council is expected to vote on the revisions on June 25.) Now if Castro can devise a way to keep his friend, peek-a-boo lobbyist Gerardo Menchaca, out of City business, we’ll really be getting somewhere.
Accountability is good, but openness is even better says our new Mayor, so Castro plans to let the sun shine in on City Hall’s open-records division. Not that he thinks there’s a problem, he quickly adds — “just a question of pace, `and` sometimes completeness.”
“There’s a sentiment on my part that we should be as forthcoming as possible under the law,” he told the QueQue. “I want to look at ways to work with requesters to make sure that information gets out as soon as possible.”
What that means, exactly, we don’t know yet, because the Iron Lady and City Attorney Michael Bernard will be in charge of any particulars. “I need to have a long conversation with them about it,” Castro said.
ALL THE DEMOCRACY WE CAN AFFORD
Two of the losing candidates in the June 13 runoff — District 2’s Byron Miller and District 5’s Lourdes Galvan — threw in the towel last week despite their opponents’ narrow margins of victory (54 in Miller’s case, 45 for Galvan), clearing the way for Friday’s cloud-free swearing-in. (In District 8, Reed trounced Berlanga.) While both cited the usual well-meaning platitudes about moving forward, etc., money no doubt played a role. A District 5 recount petition would have run more than four grand, and District 2’s was a pricey $7,215. And that’s just to essentially rerun the machines’ tally.
If you really wanted to question the vote — registration, validity, etc. — as the Miller campaign suggested it might early last week, you’re talking about an Election Contest, which requires a lawyer and more cash. One local elections attorney cites $7,500 as his fee to get the ball rolling, and a local political organizer suggested that the investigative footwork involved was easily a mid-five-figure investment.
Ten days before the runoff, Miller called Taylor’s residency into question, alleging in a press release that she didn’t really live in the house she and her husband bought on Olive Street for six months before she filed, as required by City law. Now that Taylor’s the victor, recent Texas court rulings suggest that Miller doesn’t have standing to challenge her right to hold office, and he would have to convince Texas AG Greg Abbott or Bexar County DA Susan Reed to take it up. A source close to the campaign implied that this political unlikelihood was a deciding factor in Miller’s eleventh-hour concession, but the QueQue suspects Miller’s own well-documented residency questions might’ve precluded a real challenge on this point.
But the QueQue also wonders whether the bars to requesting a recount or investigating possible voting irregularities are unnecessarily high? Taylor says she wasn’t surprised by her opponent’s decision to accept the runoff results despite his campaign’s early posturing.
“Well, it’s pretty costly,” she said.
Maybe not as costly as the 2004 Cuellar/Rodriguez Democratic-primary showdown, because we’re talking about far fewer than infamous Webb County’s 15,000 ballots. But we’re also talking about smaller potatoes in the end: Recorded City kickbacks average far less than the cost of the recount alone.
(Just kidding, of course. SA council members learned their lesson with Kike Martin and John Sanders a few years back & QueQue is in no way impugning the character of the D2 candidates.)
HERE COMES THE SUN
Appropriately named CPS Board Chair Aurora Geis announced Monday that 27 megawatts of concentrated solar power — enough to power 4,000 homes on a typical South Texas day — will be streaming along transmission lines toward the Alamo City beginning in 2010 thanks to a partnership with relative newcomer Tessera Solar, which is building a solar farm in the Big Bend area of West Texas. CPS Energy has agreed to buy power from that farm for 20 years, part of its commitment to build 100 megawatts of solar energy in the power mix.
“It’s a good start. We’re on our way to 100 megawatts,” Geis said. “We will be negotiating and signing other solar contracts in the future.”
“Folks, this is not your father’s solar technology,” Tessera CEO Robert Lukefahr told a small group gathered downtown Monday.
And by all initial appearances, that’s a good thing.
Take water, for instance (uh, if it ever rains again): The 27 megawatts of concentrated SunCatcher solar dishes will use about the same amount of water as three typical homes, Lukefahr told the QueQue.
While CPS officials declined to detail the projected costs of the 20-year deal, Lukefahr said he expected to be producing pollution-free kilowatts out of either Brewster or Presidio county at a cost of less than $3,000 a pop — a competitive figure. Power will start flowing in 2010, and the full installation is expected to be online by mid-2011.
With this week’s addition of Tessera’s sun heat, CPS Energy is on the hook for enough non-polluting renewable wind, solar, and biogas to make up 17 percent of its total generation capacity during the hours of peak demand, Geis said.
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U.S. Military deaths: 4,315 /Civilian deaths: 92,393-100,868 /Cost in U.S. currency: $680,834,130,000 as of 3:56 p.m., CDT, June 23, 2009
Sources: National Priorities Project, Iraq Body Count, icasualties.org