The QueQue, June 15, 2011 

IRS bites LULAC

More than 17,000 Texas nonprofits had their tax-exempt status yanked recently in a sweeping federal action intended to purge the rolls of defunct organizations. San Antonio orgs like the Nimrod Rifle Club, Ethical Breeders Association, and the Koi and Fancy Goldfish Society will now have to file applications for reinstatement — if they are still functioning. As will a whopping 34 San Antonio-based chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which had their status revoked in late May.

The offending orgs — which included 275,000 nationally, according to the IRS list released last week — failed for three years running to file annual reports as required by 2006’s Pension Protection Act. While the IRS says most of the de-listed groups are likely defunct, the LULAC chapters will likely have to seek reinstatement.

Attempts to reach multiple local chapters and state LULAC treasurer Valentine Villa were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said the feds are taking “additional steps” to assist the groups — “without jeopardizing their operations or harming their donors.” This help is said to include reduced application fees. Other disarmed nonprofits include the Senator Frank Madla Scholarship, San Antonio Research Foundation, Military Widows Association, San Antonio Nightmare Softball, Riders of Azgard Search and Rescue, and San Antonio Oink Inc.

Cost of water going up

Rather than risk cutting pumping rights by half in periods of drought — or, worse, a takeover of the Edwards Aquifer by the feds — the steering committee of the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program is recommending raising pumping fees to reduce water use. For the typical SAWS customer, the change would mean another $1.50 per month in fees. Of course, better solutions are out there, but this was not a season for creating new taxes in Austin. Otherwise, legislation carried by SA Repub Jeff Wentworth and favored by the likes of Robert Gulley, EARIP program manager, could have led to a more equitable solution by creating a sales tax to be paid by residents of the eight counties drawing on the aquifer, and possibly downstream users, as well.

It will take some time for the EARIP to put the plan together on paper (a rough draft has been running 500 pages, Gulley said), but it still must gain approval from the likes of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (who Gulley briefed Tuesday) and SAWS before it is shot off to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service by this fall for federal approval. The plan must meet the water needs of area cities, industry, growers, and the endangered species that call the aquifer home.

“We’d rather pay a little more to keep the programs in place rather than risk the untoward consequences of the pumping cuts,” Gulley said. “We’ve got a plan we believe will pass muster and be protective of the species, but we’ve had to find a way to pay for it,” Gulley said. And with the watchdogs at the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance on board, expect it to move forward pretty smoothly, once all those technical writers wrap things up.

SA’s first Labor Councilmember?

Soon-to-be Councilman Diego Bernal was celebrating with San Antonio’s political elite Saturday night when he took the run-off election for District 1 over Ralph Medina. But also flanking the newly elected activist/DJ were dozens of supporters sporting bright red “Unite Here!” garb. “Diego was really the only candidate in the whole city that we backed like this. We felt very strongly that Diego was the right kind of leader to build this kind of partnership and consensus between city leaders, business, and common workers we want to see,” said union organizer Danna Schneider of Unite Here.

Once seen as a long-shot candidate, Bernal rocketed to front-runner status quickly, scoring high-profile endorsements from the likes of Mayor Julián Castro and state Rep Mike Villarreal. But Unite Here targeted Bernal from the start, and viewed the civil rights attorney and musician as the most union-friendly candidate in the running, Schneider said. Hotel workers, restaurant employees, and Unite Here workers volunteered throughout the campaign to drum up votes for Bernal, Schneider said, and mobilized on both May 14 and June 11 to boost Bernal’s election day numbers — a move Schneider said the union has tried in other major cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix to plant the seeds for more labor-friendly councils.

Speaking to his supporters Saturday night, Bernal seemed proudest of the broad range of groups that had backed him throughout the campaign, saying his victory party showed local leaders rubbing elbows with everyday hotel and restaurant workers. “There are lobbyists and developers standing next to people who fix beds and clean rooms for a living,” he said.

Muni Auditorium contest warming up

Attorneys for residents opposing plans to gut the historic Municipal Auditorium in order to plant the multi-million dollar Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in its shell and those tasked with carrying out the said gutting toured the inside of the 1926 building last Friday afternoon, signing an agreement that could delay for two weeks a potential lawsuit that could force the construction to stop.

Opponents such as local attorney Sharyll Teneyuca have objected to the demolition of significant elements of the auditorium to make way for the bond-funded Tobin Center. “Right now they say they’re removing asbestos from the building. I obviously don’t care if they remove asbestos, but I don’t want them to tear down any walls or impact the structure of the building, seeing as they’re already removing things from the inside,” said Teneyuca. However, auditorium lighting and seating have also been removed, she said, as has the metal lettering across the front of the building spelling out “Municipal Auditorium.”

Opponents are both inspired and informed by the successful community lawsuit that stopped the city’s retooling of a Broadway drainage project that would have rerouted floodwaters into the San Antonio River’s headwaters instead of a concrete culvert further south as originally promised. Attorneys for the County are hoping to delay any legal action until Bexar County Performing Arts Foundation head Bruce Bugg returns from Europe next week, she added. “We want to make sure in the interim they don’t do anything to significantly alter the building.”

Teneyuca quit practicing law recently to focus on completing a novel about her aunt, the radical organizer and San Antonio cultural icon Emma Tenayuca (of slightly different spelling), who led a famous strike of San Antonio’s pecan shellers in the 1930s. One of the most popular stories involving Tenayuca occurred in 1939 when an angry mob stormed the auditorium as she was prepared to address a meeting of the Communist Party there, forcing her to escape out the back. •

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