The Queque - September 1, 2010 

E-N’s beetle-buggy battle

Northside drivers’ Public Enemy Number One was outed last week across San Antonio’s media spectrum shortly after Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas filed a lawsuit objecting to an application to proceed with the construction of a new interchange at perennially congested U.S. 281 and Loop 1604.

AGUA and equally catchy TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom) have been all over the highway-expansion plans for independent but complementary reasons. AGUA wants a complete Environmental Impact Statement prepared due to the fact both highways — designated as hazardous cargo routes — cross the porous Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. TURF is fighting the double-taxation of toll roads.

While the Express-News has played up the motorists-versus-cave-bugs angle (the shy-for-a-reason karst invertebrates living in the Edwards spur Endangered Species Act concerns that lend AGUA legal muscle) and all but issued a fatwa on AGUA Board President Enrique Valdivia (running his smirking mug under the editorial, “AGUA’s lawsuit clearly misguided”), don’t load up your truck bed with sacks of ammonium nitrate just yet to set sail for Enrique’s place.

Try checking in with those who live in the interchange’s shadow. Hollywood Park Mayor Bob Sartor (local GOP precinct chair — no hugger of blind salamanders) said residents there object to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority and TxDOT suggesting that there are no negative effects expected from the interchange as designed. “We adamantly disagree with the Categorical Exclusion’s finding there are no ill health effects associated with this Project. I haven’t found any that agree with the ARMA.” Nobody but the E-N’s influential editorial board, that is.

Consider that it was TxDOT (prodded on by Governor Perry) that chose back in 2002 to reconfigure the project as a toll project, sparking the original delaying turf war. TxDOT got scuttled again a couple years later after they were caught fudging enviro data. But more than beetles — more than even the health and safety of the sensitive aquifer all of us depend upon — the overpass lanes as proposed will also cross within 100 meters of St. Thomas Episcopal School, said Alles. That makes the project a clear case for further — gasp — study.

Million-dollar makeovers

San Antonio is developing a case of the Trumps. It seemed to start inside CPS, where a lingering deadbeat CEO continued raking in more than half-a-million per year while encouraging mid-level managers to encourage those beneath them to stage some early exits. In seeking rate increases from Council, our finally former CEO Milton Lee bragged repeatedly of the 500 employees he had driven from the utility.

Such “slimming” action is part of the stuff our City-owned utility needs to continue laying the gravy on thick upstairs. Last week’s board decision to ladle out a $200,000 attagirl for the now-former interim GM Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley is a perfect case in point. While wages have crystallized in the rest of the world, it’s good to know that eight months of dedicated service pays back in spades at Club CPS.

LeBlanc-Burley came to CPS from the office of the City Manager, where we’re sure former boss Sheryl Sculley must be knuckle-masticating hardcore. Under terms of her contract, Scully is only entitled to a $40,000 salary bump (up to the rarefied level of $355,000). She opted for the full amount in her proposed fiscal 2011 budget, set to be adopted in two weeks (and here’s where we graciously tip our hat to the E-N for public-interest reporting). In that guiding document, Scully suggests spreading around the love to the rest of the City’s staff — though at a reduced rate of 2-percent.

When a speaker at a budget hearing last week challenged the logic of raises in a time of continued economic recession, Assistant CM A.J. Rodriquez defended his department’s stance, suggesting that the City had to stay “competitive.” After all, if staffers were denied raises for a second year in a row, they’d go … Where exactly? Lay-offs and furloughs are the order of the day at most other major metros. Though, so far, the only councilmember we’ve heard suggest there are some misplaced priorities in Sculley’s willingness to slice social services `See “Strike against literacy,” Page 11` has been District 3’s Jennifer Ramos. Then again, new Current blogger Tricia Llanes suggests that’s the price San Anto has to pay to stable a certified “rock star” whose take-home pay makes even the international imagineers on Los Angeles’ Council look shabby.

Wild Bunch ruptures

Ron and Carol Asvestas built it, then screwed it up; next, daughter Nicole García sacked Mom and Dad; then, the new board, led by Jamie and Michelle Anthony-Cryer, sacked García. Such has been the very wild history of the Wild Animal Orphanage. If the cycle is to continue, who will sack the Cryers? That is, if there is a Wild Animal Orphanage left at all.

On August 23, Laurie Gage, big cat specialist for the USDA, posted a message on a Google animal-lovers’ group reading: “The Wild Animal Orphanage near San Antonio, Texas is having difficulty caring for their animals … They are now trying to find homes for 55 tigers, 14 lions, 3 cougars, 6 wolf hybrids, 2 old (17 years) leopards, and about 200 primates.”

Former WAO vice-president and treasurer (and recent volunteer) Kristina Brunner expects the worst. “It looks like the Cryers decided it was too much work to save the WAO, so they have thrown in the towel,” she wrote in an email. “My heart is completely broken over this.”

Not so fast, cat lady. According to Rob Mitchell, listed as “community relations” man for WAO, the orphanage is alive and, uh, well. “Are we closing? Not that I know of,” Mitchell told the Current on Friday. The search for new homes is “a normal function,” he said. “That happens all the time. We’re not shutting down.”

It happens all the time? Really? The 280 animals in need of homes represent more than half of the “approximately 400 animals” WAO claims in its website. Not even at the lowest point during the Asvestas’s era did the orphanage attempt such a massive animal exodus.

Got an AZA-certified playground that’ll hold a couple hundred primates, give a shout. The Cryers insist they’re just in a stretch of serious reorganization. Time will tell. •


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