Thanks to San Antonio activist Henry Rodriguez, the League of United Latin American Citizens took a strong swipe at the fluoridation of public drinking-water supplies in July. But as quickly as his proffered resolution against the forced “mass medication” of the public while potentially harming minority populations and “sensitive subpopulations” received an unanimous vote of support at the national convention in Cincinatti, Ohio, the resolution was suspiciously removed from LULAC’s website. That sparked Rodriguez, head of LULAC Zapatistas Concilio 4383, back into action, agitating for it to be posted again. “Usually we don’t air our dirty laundry, and I don’t mean to, but that was something that pretty much upset me,” Rodriguez told QueQue this week.
Rodriguez was one of many who resisted efforts to add fluoride to San Antonio’s drinking water when it was presented as a public referendum twice before finally passing with 52.6 percent of the vote in 2002. “I always considered it a civil-rights violation. I consider it a poison,” he said. “Plenty of people can back me up on that.” What he objects to most is that while none other than the Centers for Disease Control warns against mixing baby formula with fluoridated water to prevent mild dental fluorosis, poor families frequently can’t afford the water treatment to remove the mineral.
LULAC Executive Director Brent A. Wilkes makes no bones about pulling the resolution, telling QueQue that he got concerned after he started being approached to take on battles against immunizations and compulsory education and wanted to investigate if the resolution that prompted this new attention had passed legally in the first place — which they determined it, in fact, had. And while he noted that the “official position of the organization is to support the resolution,” Wilkes boiled the matter down one with scientists on one side and “conspiracy theorists” on the other. “The opponents [of fluoridation] are a more eclectic group of individuals who pursue their policy agenda in a way that’s more akin to the Tea Party or the folks with Occupy Wall Street,” he said. “It is not a typical issue for us.”
But while Rodriguez got the resolution passed in Ohio unanimously and without debate, don’t expect a public campaign to remove the mineral (typically hydrofluosilicic acid, an industrial byproduct of U.S. fertilizer production) locally. For now, Rodriquez is focused on networking nationally with other activists on the issue. Then, who knows?
We’ve already told you how VIA spent over two years publicly vetting their five-year vision to make modern streetcar a reality in downtown San Antonio, and how City Council effectively bludgeoned it within two hours of meeting with the agency earlier this month. Well, now VIA’s had two weeks to go back and tweak its plan if it wants any cash out of City Hall, leading to a critical juncture for our streetcar future this week.
At the heart of the disagreement between VIA and Council is which comes first: a north-south streetcar line pushed along by wealthy landowners or an east-west route that would likely bring in more wealth to areas that could use it. VIA’s initial proposal was to lay five miles of starter streetcar lines across downtown by 2017 for $190 million, the first leg of which would be an east-west stretch connecting two fresh VIA transit hubs on each side of the city. It was to be paid for with VIA funds, $55 million already approved from Bexar County, and an equal sum, yet to be approved, from City Hall. Then, with results to show for themselves, VIA would shop the north-south development-friendly line to the feds, hoping for transportation dollars to float the last leg of its streetcar starter line.
But the City wants success faster and isn’t willing to bank on federal dollars in this new age of austerity. “We want to be able to point to success — this is the best route for that,” Assistant City Manager Pat DiGiovanni said. “This is us putting our best foot forward.”
The city has made it clear the north-south venture is more “economic-development oriented” than transit-oriented. Under the city’s plan, property owners along the corridor who would benefit from streetcar would help front some $15 million in taxes from a special assessment district, something property owners in the area would have to approve. At a public transportation hearing in District 9 last week, DiGiovanni called it a “quid pro quo situation” for landowners along the proposed Broadway corridor. The rest of the cash from the city would come from 2007 bond savings, as well as a chunk from the city’s general fund leveraged over the next several years.
After canceling Friday’s board hearing over the new streetcar plan, VIA was set to endorse the city’s proposal Tuesday afternoon — something that seems almost certain if VIA wants any cash out of City Hall. Council will consider the revamped plan Thursday.
What started out as an amiable primary race between state Rep. Joaquin Castro and longtime congressman Lloyd Doggett, two strong, like-minded Democrats, has begun to devolve into an exercise in barb exchanging. Both are fighting for a district, newly-created congressional district 35 stretching from San Antonio to Austin, which they call a product of blatant GOP gerrymandering, part of a map that may not even fly once the federal courts have had their say. Still, discontent started to simmer when, while testifying in the federal redistricting trial last month, Ryan Downtown, a lawyer who helped guide state Republicans through redistricting, testified that Castro and state Rep. Mike Villarreal “liked the idea of 35,” and “wanted to make sure that the district was sufficiently weighted towards Bexar County, as opposed to Travis County.”
For supporters of the long-serving congressman, it was sign that Castro helped devise the very map that put the GOP-guided bullseye on Doggett’s back. Then, in part of a largely glowing Express-News profile of Castro early this month, the daily noted that Castro phoned state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, for help in redistricting — like pushing more Hispanic precincts into the newly-formed District 35. “I’m not inclined to believe that this is some evidence of his (Castro’s) prowess. … If being a savvy politician means carving up communities, that’s just not what good representatives do,” said Doggett campaign manager Matt Arnold last week. “The reason Tobin Hill is now connected to Montopolis, the reason that King William is connected to the Austin airport is because Joaquin Castro went in and helped draw the map,” he charged.
Also, there’s the damage done to freshman GOP Congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco’s district, Arnold said, which got significantly less Democratic this go around, paving the road for Canseco’s reelection. Not to mention the hatchet job done to the district of the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, longtime Democratic Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, Arnold said.
Castro fired back with his own message Friday, releasing a YouTube video defending himself and sending off an email containing a letter from one supporter, Eugene Sepuvelda, saying in part, “It’s sad that Lloyd is more worried about keeping his job than standing for the principles we’ve long known him to champion.” In his video, Castro claims Doggett’s “so worried about losing his job that he’s spreading conspiracy theory rumors about me working with the Republicans to draw him out of a job.”
You can bet many in Democratic circles are praying the federal courts will throw the standing map in the trash bin and start over. Maybe then we can put this little Castro-Doggett saga behind us.
For all the escape-from-wonkiness that Occupy Wall Street offers (there have been many marches, a few statements, but no “demands”), some people get frustrated: they want specifics. Well, a day before the Occupy San Antonio contingent camping out at HemisFair Park joined what became a global Day of Rage and marched on the Alamo with MoveOn support, they released their first communication — urging locals to cash out from the big banks and move to local banks and credit unions. (“The big banks gamble with all of our money, and they must be held accountable for their crimes,” the group wrote.) Efforts are also being made to establish partnerships with local businesses that support Occupy. “We are all for small business. … We are fighting to take back control of our government from special interest groups and corporations, but we cannot do it alone. We need the help of our local community.” Supportive establishments so far include DeliveryMarketSA.com (you can phone in or email food orders for the protestors here, according to the group’s website), as well as Pat O’Briens, Rhines Restaurant, Guillermo’s, and Planet K. See more at the group’s website at occupysatx.com.•
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