It was former mayor Phil Hardberger (starring as the whiskery tree-loving Lorax) who first locked horns with Milestone Potranco Development in 2005 in a case that drove the developer to the mat (via the State Supreme Court in 2010), all to show the world that San Antonio can and would protect our air-cleaning and flood-buffering tree canopy in the extraterritorial jurisdiction.
While the developers targeting 150 acres just outside 1604 on Potranco Road lost (again) on appeal before the U.S. Fifth Circuit, the earth eaters haven’t given up. A bill carried by East Texas state Representative Bob Nichols would cut SA’s legal argument off at the knees by adding a short sentence to state law. Under Nichols’ SB 732, cities would no longer be able to regulate “the planting, clearing, or harvesting of trees or vegetation or other uses of trees or vegetation on a particular tract of land.”
And dismantling of city controls over clear-cutting would likely cause increased flooding and contamination of the Edwards Aquifer, warn the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and the San Antonio Citizens Trees Coalition, while also pushing the region toward ozone non-attainment and putting increasing pressure on endangered birds like the golden-cheeked warbler, thereby jeopardizing the mission at Camp Bullis.
Since Texas counties have very little control over how development occurs in their boundaries, what controls occur must come from the city. Or as Jim Cannizzo, environmental attorney for Camp Bullis and surrounding Army operations, puts it: “If this doesn’t get regulated here, it’s not going to get regulated.”
Cannizzo highstepped over a gaggle of developer lobbyists to testify against the bill last week on the House side and returns to Austin today to speak against it on the Senate side, where San Antonio’s state Senator Jeff Wentworth will cast a key vote in the drama in the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations.
All together, the 315,000 acres of tree canopy in the city’s ETJ provide the area with an estimated $1.6 billion worth of stormwater mitigation services and clear 35 million pounds of air pollution from the skies, according to a 2009 study by the non-profit org American Forests.
With new federal air standards expected to be announced this summer, San Antonio, on the cusp of being out of attainment with current standards, has a lot to lose.
“As soon as they come out with the new proposal, we’re gonna be in non-attainment,” Cannizzo said. “And trees can make a big difference. There’s a couple different studies that show having a 20- to 40-percent canopy can reduce your ozone by a couple of points, and a couple of points may be the difference between one rung down or two rungs down in non-attainment.”
Non-attainment rating makes it much more difficult for the military to justify expanding (or continuing) operations in a given area, he said.
Needless to say, all eyes are on Senator Wentworth, who could lead the five-member committee’s two Democrats in opposition and kill the bill in committee. Wentworth could not be reached before press deadline Tuesday.
“I’m very worried. Very, very worried,” said Richard Alles, director of the Citizens Tree Coalition. “I think if it gets out of committee it will be a beast to kill.”
If conveying the right temperament to lead is a requisite of a politician on the stump, then one Alamo Heights council candidate may have some real explaining to do. Bobby Hasslocher, 59, of Frontier Enterprises — the company founded by his father that operates the Jim’s restaurant chain — is hoping to unseat an incumbent on the Alamo Heights City Council come May. In a picture on the municipal website, a smiling Hasslocher posed with a pair of mayoral contenders after drawing a favorable position on the upcoming ballot. The picture of camaraderie is a far cry from two years ago, when Hasslocher was driving from the San Antonio Rodeo en route to the Jim’s at Loop 410 and Broadway. News reports at the time describe Hasslocher as injuring a police officer who was directing traffic after Hasslocher threw his SUV in reverse to avoid the delay while the officer tried to speak with him. He was arrested on charges of aggravated assault on a public servant. Since the incident, Alamo Heights residents report Hasslocher has kept something of a low profile around town until his surprise council candidacy. For everyone involved, here’s hoping the race doesn’t get too heated.
State Representative Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, is hoping to win this year’s continued budget battle with the help of an empowered public. A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Villarreal said state budget questions shouldn’t boil down to: “‘Do I pay for schools or do I pay for nursing homes?’ Rather, something along the lines of, ‘Do I provide Pre-K for Texas children or do I keep giving this special interest group a tax loophole?’”
Hoping to arm locals with budget facts and figures they can use to join the fight, Villarreal is hosting a meeting Saturday morning to develop strategies he hopes will push state leaders toward a “more reasonable” budget approach. Given slim Democratic and progressive numbers at the Capitol, community organizing may be the greatest leverage tool available to those who fear the deep cuts to education and social services as proposed. Show up or be damned.
Save Our State organizing meeting with Rep. Mike Villarreal, Saturday, March 26, 9:30am to noon, at the VIA Metro Center, 1021 San Pedro Avenue.
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