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The QueQue


The road to wellville

Lydia Lopez, the San Antonio State Hospital nursing assistant who was severely beaten in June by a patient, is recuperating nicely and feeling upbeat, thanks to weeks of intensive therapy, a neck brace to hold her broken vertebrae in place, a letter from her daughter who’s deployed in Iraq — and a $250 check from State Senator Carlos Uresti. `See “State of unrest,” August 5.`

It’s a drop in the big bucket of expenses awaiting Lopez when she’s discharged from the rehab facility (despite her worker’s comp coverage), but the gesture meant a lot to the 62-year-old Lopez. “Overall I’m feeling fine,” she said Monday, although her doctor extended her initial hospital stay six weeks, through September 16, because her vertebrae weren’t fusing properly.

Lopez has put the down time to good use, contacting her elected representatives to let them know that what happened to her — a random attack on an understaffed floor by a patient who’d been no trouble up to that moment — is not an anomaly, but a symptom of a system stretched to the breaking point.

“I wanted it to be known by the right people,” Lopez said. “The people who can do something about it.”

Uresti, who sits on the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, is one of those people. He’s invited Lopez to testify before the committee, either during the interim or in 2011 when the odd-years Lege reconvenes, about the lack of sufficient personnel to care for the patients. But, the Senator notes, he and likeminded colleagues have not been successful in restoring adequate funding for mental-health services since the disastrous budget-slashing year of 2003.

San Antonio’s facility is one of the oldest, he noted, and in desperate need of an upgrade and/or new construction.

“It is a challenging job,” Uresti said. “It’ll break your heart. The conditions, the salary ... it’s embarrassing.”

“These are the most sensitive populations we’re dealing with,” he added. “We have to make this population our top priority ... we’re their advocates.”

Yet, it comes down to tax dollars in the end, and Uresti notes that’s never an easy sell. Lopez knows this, too, as well as the importance of putting a face to a crisis, so she’s reaching out to fellow employees who have been injured on the job, or who can attest to the fallout from understaffing at the State Hospital, to join her in testifying before the committee: “There’s always strength in numbers.”

All ways here, you see, are the Queen’s ways!

The QueQue is enamored of new Guadalupe Executive Director Patty Ortiz — so charismatic, so funny, so persuasive — and god knows the 30-year-old Latino-arts organization could use a good leadership run.

So, we sincerely hope that snippet of audiotape delivered to the QueQue on Monday isn’t what it sounds like: Ortiz telling Guadalupe Media Arts program coordinator Sandra Peña-Sarmiento that she’s axing the program for now because it’s not a priority. At last week’s board meeting, and in phone interviews, Ortiz told the Current (and the board) she would “never” say such a thing; she’s only eliminating the part-time coordinator position, not the program, because the Guadalupe needs to concentrate its resources on fundraising and outreach.

Fine. But if we’re going to have a relationship — one based, apparently, on flamenco and not media arts — we have to be able to trust you, Patty. Even after the QueQue confronted Ortiz with news that the recorded conversation contradicts her public statements, the Guadalupe’s comandante engaged us in a semantics polka.

“Did I say that the media arts program was being eliminated?” Ortiz finally asked. Yes, you did say there will no longer be a “full-fledged media arts program,” replied the QueQue.

“Yes, but what’s your definition of ‘full-fledged media arts program?’” Ortiz asked. “I imagine a lot `more` going on, and right now it’s just the classes and CineFestival.”

The he-said/she-said got underway August 27, when Peña-Sarmiento sent out an alarming Facebook message, encouraging people to show up at that evening’s board meeting to oppose the change. The QueQue’s calls to the Guadalupe for comment drew no response, but a little Tweet did the trick: the Guadalupe rang us up, chewed us out, and delivered the official line they’ve stuck to since: Sandra goes, the program stays (albeit without a director or an ongoing schedule of activities).

Mystified? So were many board members at last week’s meeting. Not a one raised their hand when the QueQue asked who was aware of the proposed changes to the Media Arts program. Ortiz, incidentally, disputes our interpretation of this survey: “They didn’t say they didn’t know … they just didn’t respond.” Ai, she knows how to keep us interested.

Peña-Sarmiento and her husband, fellow NALIP member Víctor Payan, however, are not enchanted. “Attendance at GCAC Media Arts programs is on the rise, Texas has just passed a major film incentive program, the coastal studios and major players are finally heading to SA, and affordable equipment is making indie-productions accessible for our youth and community media artists,” read the Facebook message.

So, Payan asked the QueQue, “Is this the best time to get rid of a Media Arts program?”

Dead man’s folly

Taking a page out of the Bob Rivard playbook on how to win a nuke-expansion war `See the Queque, August 26`, CPS Energy announced this week that it is pouring more money into solar. This time the infusion is intended to stimulate small-scale utility solar projects inside San Antonio. It’ll cost 12 cents on the average residential electric bill — and likely half-a-cent on miserly QueQue’s — and represents a $2.3-million commitment for CPS, which hopes to reel in 10 more megawatts on top of its contracted 41.

Can we celebrate the investment, even if it’s meant to woo a City Council who will decide in October whether to approve the utility’s planned expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex in Bay City? Well, we do.

And, yet…

QueQue is obsessing over territory many conveniently call “history.” Dirty uranium mines still leak across South Texas. The Navajo Nation, which endured the second largest radiological release in history at Church Rock in 1979, is fighting off another mining assault. Estimated worst-case meltdown data from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1982 showed tens of thousands of Lone Star residents would be wiped out if the STP complex went critical. And nuclear cemeteries, where waste remains lethal for tens of thousands of years, are sprouting atop (or pretty darn close to) one of the nation’s largest freshwater aquifers.

With all this forgotten, but not really past, we wanted to know (call us crazy) more about the legacy of uranium mining in the state. So, QueQue called and asked to speak to Susan Jablonski, head of the radiological materials division at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Jablonski declined our interview request.

Communications staff informed us that Jablonski wants all of our questions submitted in writing; she’ll answer in the same mode.

“It is the policy of the TCEQ to answer the questions as accurately as possible,” said pro flack Andrea Morrow, “and in some cases we have to do it in this way in order to do that.”

Twenty-three open-pit uranium mines were mined and abandoned in Texas prior to 1975, according to the Texas Railroad Commission. Only nine have been cleaned up, according to RRC documents. Since then, many an upstanding Karnes County resident has learned the fine art of water-skiing on a defunct uranium mine. (We’re not joking.)

Meanwhile, some local enviros — in deference to the currently fashionable Respectable-Citizen Think — are trying hard to keep the South Texas debate on purely economic ground. We dearly hope* it jumps the tracks soon, into moral and environmental territory. After all, nuclear’s enviro footprint is only small if you focus solely on SA. As Solar San Antonio’s Lanny Sinkin bravely offered at Texas Public Radio’s excellent energy forum last week: This is about the world we will leave to future generations.

U.S. Military deaths: 4,336 /Civilian deaths: 93,022-101,519 /Cost in U.S. currency:$678,860,050,000 as of 6:36 p.m., CDT, August 18, 2009 Sources: National Priorities Project, Iraq Body Count,

*`Ed. note: Hope is not a method, of course. Look for our cradle-to-grave nuclear-power series, beginning September 16.`

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