On Monday night the San Antonio River Oversight Committee tasked with helping guide the greater SA River Improvements Project asked the city to delay a controversial drainage project that has taken a sharp turn since its initial approval in a 2007 bond package.
The original project was meant to mitigate flooding on Broadway by piping storm water underground from Burr Road to Carnahan, just north of the Witte Museum, flushing the water out into the cement-lined Catalpa-Pershing drainage channel. But somewhere along the line the city nixed that plan and decided it would be better to have the line hang a sharp west turn at Hildebrand, draining the water out into the river between Brackenridge Park and the river’s headwaters.
Local residents, including the River Road Neighborhood Association and some Native American groups, are only now becoming aware of the switcharoo … and crying foul.
Helen Ballew, executive director of the Headwaters Coalition, said she first heard of the change second-hand from a friend over lunch in December. The new plan involves two 6-by-9 foot culverts with a 70-foot concrete apron opening out into the river just a quarter mile south of the headwaters. “We had followed the project closely. We thought we knew what they were doing. … My jaw dropped into my plate,” she said.
Ballew vehemently opposes the new plan, saying it would pump water out into an historically sensitive area between Miraflores Park and the Spanish colonial acequia system. The Headwaters Coalition, a nonprofit sponsored by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, had planned on building a “spiritual reach” of the river, linking trails up from Brackenridge Park to the headwaters sanctuary and the Blue Hole, the river’s source.
Many of the SAROC members also charge the new drainage plan doesn’t accomplish what voters approved back in 2007. Developer Glenn Huddleston, a committee member who owns several properties along Broadway, called the plan the “Hildebrand drainage boondoggle,” saying voters approved the project to solve the larger problem of getting some 150 local properties out of the 100-year flood plain.
The new project, he says, would do nothing to solve the larger flooding issue. The city claims the plan has always been a targeted street drainage project.
Voters approved $9 million for the original plan in 2007, and the price tag has since grown to about $14 million. The City Council will vote Thursday on whether to dump another $3.1 million in bond savings into the project.
It was no surprise that Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Dan Ramos’ recent bigoted statements became something of a litmus test at Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio’s candidate forum on Sunday, leading to the group that represents the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in the city endorsing one incumbent, several newcomers, and two former councilmembers seeking another shot.
District 6 incumbent Ray Lopez offered the most colorful critique of Ramos when he suggested the Bexar County Democratic Chair “is the ass of the Democratic Party.”
Most of the candidates were enthusiastic in their willingness to sign on to a Stonewall letter urging Ramos’ resignation and supporting efforts to drive him from office.
“I will sign the letter. I will do whatever it takes. He’s a friend of mine, we go way back in labor, but what he said was unacceptable,” said former councilmember and District 5 candidate Lourdes Galvan.
Most surprising about the day’s discussion was that a sitting councilmember like Ivy Taylor of District 2 (left) would expose herself as being so uncomfortable about LGBT issues. In response to a candidate survey, Taylor said that if she were endorsed by Stonewall she would not carry that endorsement on her website or campaign literature. “Many in our area would look at that as something that would be divisive,” Taylor told the group.
She added that she’d be happy to meet with her lesbian, gay, and transgender constituents, but she wouldn’t be marching in the annual Pride Parade in July.
Interesting to note that “divisive” was the same word she later used to describe Ramos’ comparisons of Stonewall to the Nazi Party, in effect placing Stonewall’s potential endorsement on parity with Nazi comparisons.
Her opponent made a much better impression when he stood in front of the group at the downtown Luby’s cafeteria meeting room. Darrell Boyce has been working with SA Fighting Back as the group’s Project Hope coordinator working to combat the spread of HIV in the community. When asked if he would sign on to a letter demanding Ramos’ resignation, Boyce responded, “I would sign it with my eyes open, my eyes closed, with a pink, purple, blue pen — however you want me to sign it,” earning appreciative laughter from the room.
Apart from giving the nod to Lopez, Galvan, and Boyce, the group also threw their weight behind fellow Stonewall members Chris Forbrich (District 1) and Elena Guajardo (District 7). Others receiving Stonewall’s endorsement this year include Rey Saldaña (District 4); Caron West (District 8), and Laura Thompson (District 10).
True: President Obama hasn’t weighed in on the Ramos affair yet (Mayor Castro’s sort of like our little, personal Obama around here), but on Tuesday the nation’s largest LGBT org — Human Rights Campaign — did. Guess what they said? “Apologize and resign.” It seems to be catching.
The sighs, exasperated faces, and brief bouts of shouting showed early on that Monday’s immigration debate at St. Mary’s University would go nowhere. As the other panelists spoke, local Tea Party leader George Rodriguez rolled his eyes at almost every turn, making it clear he would be the sole voice of opposition at the dais. He opened with talk of the U.S. Constitution, calling it a “divinely inspired” document. Immigration laws need to be reformed, sure, but “there has to be first a securing of the borders,” he said.
Rodriguez faced off against U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez, Benita Veliz, an undocumented St. Mary’s grad facing deportation, MALDEF’s national litigation director Nina Perales, and St. Mary’s law professor and activist Lee Teran. All four favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country and say the U.S. needs to implement a more reasonable immigration policy.
While the intent was to bring opposing voices to the table, the debate made it clear those polarities would agree on nothing — except that the immigration system is broken. After almost an hour of back and forth between Rodriguez and the other panelists, Rep. Gonzalez remarked, “If the opponents of comprehensive immigration reform believe that deportation is the only answer to someone that’s here illegally, where do you go with that? … So the only thing Benita can do is go back to Mexico? There is no other alternative?”
Veliz, 25, who holds two degrees from St. Mary’s, first entered the U.S. from Mexico when she was 8 years old, thinking she was on vacation with her parents. Arrested three years ago on a routine traffic stop, Veliz has been able to stay her deportation for two years, though her next deportation hearing is set for later this spring.
Veliz said many like her, who came to the U.S. as kids and now consider themselves Americans, are simply unable to immigrate legally.
“The problem between this poor young lady is between her and her parents,” Rodriguez said, at one point remarking, “I’m tired of hearing about how sad it is that this poor young lady is in her situation when we should be putting the onus on her parents.”
It’s commonly assumed that juvenile offenders thrown into the adult court and prison system are the worst of the worst, beyond rehabilitation. But a new report released last week paints an altogether different picture.
“The juveniles that are being transferred to the adult system and those that stay in the juvenile system are almost identical in terms of criminal offense and criminal background,” said Michele Deitch, a lecturer at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs and author of the report examining Texas juveniles transferred to the adult criminal justice system.
In Texas, a judge can certify juveniles between ages 14 and 17 as adults if they’ve committed a felony. While being tried as an adult, they’re housed in county jails and are then handed over to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice if convicted.
But Texas law gives judges another option. A judge can give juveniles a so-called determinate sentence, up to 40 years depending on the charge, which is initially served in a Texas Youth Commission facility. By the time they’re adults, they are then reevaluated and can be transferred to the adult system if a judge sees fit.
Since 2005, Texas judges have transferred 1,292 adolescents to the adult criminal justice system, compared to 865 kids given determinate sentences and placed in a TYC facility. And while it’s generally thought that teens tried as adults are the most serious offenders, data from Deitch’s report shows little difference between those who wind up in an adult prison and those sent to a youth facility. Most have committed some type of violent offense and have either a single or no prior juvenile court case.
About 15 percent of teens transferred to the adult system are charged with non-violent felonies, including drug charges, and almost 90 percent have no prior history with the TYC at all, Deitch said, adding, “This shows the vast majority have never even been through the toughest options the juvenile system has to offer.” •
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