We’re a year out from our next round of Council elections, but the race for District 1 is already percolating, and, man, it’s looking like a good, strong brew. Chris Forbrich, the fresh-faced out IT whiz who gave Council Member Mary Alice Cisneros an unexpectedly strong reelection challenge in ’09 is back, and sounding more confident than ever. “Our primary focus is on education in the inner-city,” he told the QueQue. “For so long we’ve been afraid to cross those lines,” but he thinks that in addition to supporting after-school and literacy programs, Council needs to talk about pushing for financial restructuring in some of San Antonio’s multiple districts, as well as supporting ideas like the vocational school for police and firefighters at Edison High.
Forbrich says he’s also concerned by what he sees as a tendency to look at government as a cash-generating entity, and he points to that new bike-light ordinance (read on) and its hefty fine schedule as an example. “All we did was find ourselves a way to make some revenue when you violate the law,” he said. “We’re getting away from good government into revenue-seeking.”
He’s also picked up on one of the Current’s pet peeves: “One of the complaints I’ve always had about City Hall is no one answers the phones. Better City service starts there.”
Well-known media personality, teacher, philanthropist, and former Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Director Maria Elena Torralva-Alonso is also mulling a run. “I haven’t made a firm decision, but I’m definitely leaning in that direction,” she said Tuesday. But one factor in play is husband and County Court Judge Al Alonso’s current reelection bid. “My husband keeps telling me there’s only one politician in the family, and he’s probably right.”
Torralva-Alonso is also concerned about education-related issues, especially literacy, and quality-of-life improvements such as sidewalks and streets in some of the “neglected areas” of District 1, which covers much of the heart of SA’s inner city as well as several historic neighborhoods.
And last week, District 1 Zoning Commissioner and Tobin Hills Community Association President Carolyn Kelley resigned her Zoning seat in advance of a probable campaign. Kelley, a nonprofit-development professional with stints at the American Payroll Assocation and the Alamo Community College District Foundation on her resume, was out of town this week and unavailable for a conversation, but she confirmed that she is putting together an exploratory team. From her involvement with THCA, which she has led since fall 2008, we can guess that her areas of interest include inner-city redevelopment that preserves a place for long-term residents, and working with school districts to invest in the urban campuses that are so key to luring young families to old ’hoods.
This little light and fine
From the files of Obscure Safety Ordinances With Expensive Fines comes a new one unanimously passed by City Council on April 8. (If by “new,” we mean “something that has been a part of the state law since 1995,” but that’s our edgy council for you). The ordinance in question amended the city code to “require the proper use of bicycle lighting equipment when operating a bicycle at nighttime by incorporating language contained in the Texas State Transportation Code into the City Code.”
What the TTC considers proper is a white light on the front visible from 500 feet, or the length of 1.5 football fields, plus a red lamp/reflector on the back visible from 50-300 feet. Nighttime means 30 minutes after sundown or before sunrise. Failure to outfit your bike with the appropriate light/reflector combo could result in a fine of up to $200. That’s on top of the shame of being pulled over for bad bike behavior and the threat of death/serious injury when Bubba in his dualie truck rams into your cruiser at night and gets away scot-free because your dumb ass didn’t have a light.
Lighting up your bike is a pleasantly cheap and easy process. Bike World has smart little LED lights with 2,000-foot visibility for about $13 which affix to handlebars via an elastic strap. Bicycle Heaven in Stone Oak says they have moved more of their slightly fancier lights (with colored straps!) for $15 since news of the ordinance. The hipsters over at the Blue Star Bike Shop recommend the very cool Knog Frog bike lights at $20 a pop for front or back. Or you could spring for a $500 600 LED version by Niterider. Whatever spins your wheels.
If the price of a matinee and popcorn is too much to spend on your bodily safety, perhaps the Texas Bicycle Coalition can help. As major proponents of bike safety, the nonprofit lobbying group has applied for a TXDOT grant to provide 5,000 lights for free to “non-discretionary” riders around Texas, says TBC’s Robin Stallings. They won’t know until June whether they’ll be awarded the grant, but assuming it goes through, people who must commute by bike because they have no other public or personal transportation options will be eligible to receive safety lights for free. Stallings said this could particularly help bikers in the service industry since they most frequently commute after dark. District 9 Council Chief of Policy Thomas Marks, who helped council member Elisa Chan usher in the ordinance, said his office hoped SAPD would dole out the free bike lights instead of tickets to first-time offenders.
You may as well spring for the lights ASAP since enforcement of the ordinance is already in full effect under the state’s transportation code says Julia Diana, who’s in charge of San Antonio Bikes for the City’s Office of Environmental Policy. “The `police department` can write you a traffic ticket . ... if they can see you,” she says, though Marks said enforcement prior to the city ordinance was limited. San Antonio Bikes and District 9 introduced the new law as a way to garner media attention (success!) and educate bikers about safety gear, much like the Safe Passage ordinance approved in February educated drivers about safe ways to circumvent those who choose to move without the help of a motor and four wheels. Both ordinances fit into San Antonio Bikes’ Bicycle Master Plan, which you can learn more about May 15 during the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Walk and Roll Fest at HemisFair Park on May 15.
Two years ago, the QueQue attended a Texas State Board of Education meeting as an unpaid intern for an Austin-based publication. We were one of three journalists sitting in the press box, one of whom (not us) spent the majority of the two-day meeting napping in his chair. Now that many across the state and country are rightfully sitting up and taking notice of the same hard-headed, culture-war-crusading, ultra-conservative seven-member bloc of the 15-member board that time and again pushed their personal beliefs on everything from basic biology lessons to our Founding Fathers, concerned citizens must grapple with the difficult question of how they can curtail powers they view as misused at the expense of a generation of Texas schoolchildren.
Obviously, voting is one way to make a preference known, and San Antonians have two opportunities this coming November. To the north, one-term conservative SBOE rep Ken Mercer is up against Democrat and Texas State professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau. To the south, the elusive Rick Agosto slips out of his seat, to be filled by one of two career educators: Michael Soto, a Trinity professor from the Valley with a Harvard education or Joanie Muenzler, a proud Tea Party candidate with Masters degrees in Theology and Political Science.
The problem with the November 2 elections? They’re in November. Meanwhile, May 19-21, the SBOE is scheduled to vote on the social-studies curriculum standards that have alarmed so many here and nationally. The actions taken at that meeting could affect textbook and testing subject matter for the next decade.
Locally, State Representative Mike Villarreal, District 123, is circulating a petition calling on the board to “place the education of Texas students above your own agenda.” Gubernatorial candidate Bill White has a similar web campaign urging his opponent, Governor Rick Perry, to ask the SBOE to delay its May meeting until the curriculum-review team can evaluate the more than 100 amendments the SBOE made to the review team’s original recommendations. A new local group, the National Alliance for Education, comprising members of the GI Forum and the NAACP, is trying to arrange meetings with legislators to voice their disapproval of what they see as a “whitewashing” of state and national history, removing historical Latino figures like Tejano Alamo defenders and Cesar Chavez and recommending that “the unintended consequences” of the Civil Rights movement be discussed.
“We’re not asking history to change, we’re asking for it to be taught accurately,” said Joe Flores at an April 5 meeting of NAFE. That sentiment was expressed almost verbatim by both Representative Villarreal and Christina Gomez of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The Caucus recently announced it would hold a hearing on the State Board of Education April 28 at Capitol extension building 2.012, beginning at 9 a.m. Gomez said the hearing, which will also include African-American legislators like our own Ruth Jones McClendon, will hear from people who have not been able to speak in front of the SBOE.
From there, sufficiently concerned legislators could move to strip the Board of some of its powers.
“I believe that there is a role that the legislature can play in response to this overreach,” said Villarreal by phone last Monday. He mentioned two buzzed-about bills, one introduced last session by Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) to limit the board’s constitutionally provided oversight of the Permanent School Fund and one State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-20) is expected to introduce next session abolishing the State Board of Education entirely. Many legislators believe they have the power to suspend the May vote until a sunset review of the SBOE has been completed or after the November 2 elections. While the Lege attempts to sort through the messy politics, Villarreal said school districts have been authorized to purchase e-books that meet TEKS standards but don’t necessarily conform to all the SBOE textbook requirements. Which is great, assuming every child in Texas has equal access to e-books.
Lucky gets a cellmate
A settlement between the USDA, an East Texas elephant exhibitor, and the San Antonio Zoo last week suggests our zoo’s sole remaining elephant isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Efforts to pressure the San Antonio Zoo into releasing Lucky to a sanctuary have dragged on ever since her half-acre exhibit mate Alport died in 2007. Last Friday, Wilbur Davenport of Maximus “Tons of Fun” LLC signed away his last remaining elephant to the San Antonio Zoo to stave off federal Animal Welfare Act charges and cut a $100,000 fine down to $15,000.
It’s nice that “Queenie” will soon be receiving experienced medical care away from the roadside-circus circuit, but here’s the rub: Before the Zoo pounced, Queenie was a stroke away from being sent to an elephant sanctuary to live out the rest of her life away from prying eyes on hundreds, if not thousands, of wild acres. On Monday, April 12, San Antonio resident Kerrie Kern of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force was negotiating a deal with Davenport to ship Queenie to one of two U.S.-based sanctuaries. One of Davenport’s stipulations during that phone conference was for visitation rights, Kern said. “He wanted visitation, a couple other different things. I told him, ‘Let me work on it.’” By the time she bagged the needed concessions from both the Performing Animal Welfare Society and the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, and called him back, he was apparently entertaining other offers.
“I called him Tuesday morning to tell him, ‘Hey, we got everything that you asked for. It’s set in motion, pick your place,’” Kern said. “Wednesday, he was supposed to talk to an attorney out in D.C., and he was supposed to call me back. He never called me back. Then I got word the settlement was signed on Wednesday afternoon.”
The consent decision was approved by a USDA administrative law judge on Friday. While Davenport and San Antonio Zoo Director Steve McCusker failed to return calls for comment, McCusker told the Current way back in 2007 that Asian elephants like Lucky and Queenie don’t figure into the long-term plans of the Zoo with the “Africa Wild” expansions under way. If the San Anto Zoo is a “less bad” outcome for the East Texas sideshow superstar, a better less-bad improvement would be to reunite her with her two former colleagues, Tina and Jewel. They were seized by the USDA from Mr. Maximus last summer and shipped to the San Diego Zoo. Even back then McCusker was prowling.
“The zoo made an offer when the other two were confiscated,” Kern said. “They offered him 10 grand.”
The current USDA settlement does not state if Davenport is receiving compensation for “Queenie,” so it’s possible the San Antonio Zoo just picked up Davenport’s USDA tab. Darn nice of ’em, if so. Meanwhile, an online petition has been launched at change.org and calls are rolling up to the USDA. So far, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro’s office has been spared, according to one employee there, but it’s likely the Free Lucky contingent will be working around the clock to put him and other local leaders in the glare of the spotlight.
“This is a highly unacceptable exhibit for one elephant,” Kern said. “It’s unconscionable to bring in another one.”