REFEREEING THE REFERENDUM 

If you can't get representation, then you have to force a referendum. Those are the sentiments of Enrique Valdívia of Save Our Aquifer, which is helping to organize the referendum petition against the proposed PGA Village.

"Our representatives are not representing the San Antonio voters," says Valdívia, who leads the group with former City Councilwoman Maria Berriozabal. "Who they are representing are the developers and special business interests.

"Despite the way the City Council vote went," adds Valdívia, referring to the 9-2 vote on April 5 that approved the controversial PGA Village proposal, "we know that the majority of San Antonians are with us."

Save Our Aquifer is trying to force the the PGA plan to referendum — a city-wide up-or-down vote that would allow San Antonio voters to decide for themselves whether or not they want to subsidize a luxury golf-and-tourist village on top of the environmentally-sensitive Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. If PGA opponents can collect 68,023 valid signatures of registered San Antonio voters by May 13, the referendum is on — and will be held either September 14 or November 5.

To get an idea of the enormity of the number of signatures, recall that Texas election law required just over 37,000 signatures statewide to put the Green Party on the 2000 Texas ballot, an amount that, when compared to other states' ballot access laws, was deemed ridiculously high.

This is not the only obstacle: After May 13, the city will still have 20 days to disqualify as many signatures as it can. Similarly, PGA opponents will have the same time period to gather additional signatures to replace ones disqualified.

One petitioner says, "We'd like to get double that number, just so we're sure that, even if the city cheats us out of half, we'll still have enough names to force the vote."

Officially, the petition states that either City Council must repeal the Cibolo Canyon Conservation Improvement District No. 1, the special taxing district that will funnel public money to the private resort, or it must allow for a public vote on the issue.

Why has the PGA plan raised so many hackles? The reasons are many and far reaching. But aside from cries of corporate welfare and increased pollution, the lack of implementation of the voters' will has angered many residents.

In 2000, San Antonio residents passed Proposition 3, which made it possible for the city to purchase environmentally sensitive land over the recharge zone for the sake of maintaining the aquifer's purity.

"Proposition 3 made it clear that the people of this town want to protect their aquifer," said Valdívia, "and to the extent that they're willing to buy the land to save it."

However, continues Valdívia, "Even the mere possibility of the PGA Village being built where it has been proposed has caused the speculative value of surrounding property to skyrocket," making it "almost impossible for San Antonio to purchase this sensitive land over the recharge zone."

And the unspoken worry is that the PGA will be only the start of mass development over the aquifer.

That's why others are more concerned about the environmental health of our city. Among them is George Rice, a groundwater hydrologist and Smart Growth member collecting signatures.

On his own time and on his own dime, Rice has been going all over the city to debate PGA proponents from Lumbermen's Investment (the PGA plan's corporate parent) and from the construction firm Pape-Dawson — when their representatives will agree to debate him, that is.

PGA proponents have argued that a green golf course is self-evidently environmentally superior to those phantom 9,000 homes that Lumbermen's has repeatedly threatened to build over the same stretch of the recharge zone if the City Council vote didn't go its way. But when Rice carefully examined the available studies, he concluded that existing evidence suggests that golf courses are actually more environmentally damaging than homes.

Steve Bradley, PGA's senior director, has stated that his group might not bother waiting for the outcome of a referendum should it be placed on the ballot; there is a possibility the PGA might simply write off San Antonio and move elsewhere if the proposed project is threatened by a city-wide vote.

According to Valdívia, that's a long shot. "There are already people out there actively interfering with petitioners," he charged. "We'll really see the opposition come out in force after this issue is on the ballot."

But it is still a long way to the ballot, Rice adds. As the Current goes to press, he issued a last-minute appeal: "The thing I hear most often as I collect my signatures is: 'Where have you guys been? I've been looking for you.' San Antonians want to sign, we just need to get the petition to them.

"But right now, we're in danger of falling short. We need more people to carry the petition. It would be a shame if we lost because San Antonians who wanted to sign the petition weren't given an opportunity to do so."

The PGA referendum can be signed, picked up, or dropped off at the following locations. About 68,000 signatures are needed to put the project to a vote:

Save Our Aquifer Headquarters, 2108 N. Main, Mon-Fri, 9am-9pm
Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, 922 San Pedro Avenue, Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm
ARTique Gallery & Frameshop, 3511 Oakgate (corner of Wurzbach and Vance Jackson), Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm, Sat, 10am-4pm
Custom Structures Corporation, 10221 Desert Sands Drive, Suite 111, Mon-Fri, 8:30am-5pm
COPS/Metro Alliance, 925 San Pedro, Mon-Fri, 9:30am-5pm
First Unitarian Church, 7150 I-10 West, across from Crossroads Mall, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm
St. Leo's Catholic Church, 123 Octavia Place, Mon-Fri, 8:30am-7pm
St. Paul Catholic Church, 3050 Sutton Drive, Mon-Fri, 9am-5:30pm
Colonial Hills Methodist Church, 5247 Vance Jackson, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2114 W. Houston, Mon-Fri, 3-7pm
St. John Berchman Catholic Church, 1147 Cupples Road, Mon-Fri, 3-7pm
St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, 919 Palo Alto Road, Mon-Fri, 3-7pm
Our Lady of Good Counsel, 1204 Castroville Road, Mon-Fri, 3pm-7pm

On the Internet, you can contact the anti-PGA coalitions at www.nopga.com and saveouraquifercampaign@hotmail.com

More by Steve Badrich

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