News Briefs

DJ is rocked like a hurricane

Current reader and San Antonio resident Tommie Morrow passed along a hurricane's-eye view of Katrina via his cousin, Steve Suter, a DJ at a New Orleans radio station.

On August 29, Suter wrote, "winds are still gusting near 130 mph in the city but conditions are improving a little bit. All of our studios - WWL, Magic, Kool, B97, and Bayou - were destroyed. Winds blew in all outside windows and pressure blew open interior doors. We are broadcasting a signal on low power from the stairwell. The building has been creaking and cracking. All you hear are howling winds and bangs, booms, and crashing.

"Poydras Street is flooded but only about a foot or two high. The Hyatt next door has curtains flying out of the windows. The Superdome roof, which was white, is now black and leaking; the entire roof cover was ripped off and is hanging off the sides. There still is a hard roof but the white cover is destroyed. All trees are down, some uprooted and some with limbs broken off.

"I had a tiny piece of glass fly into my lower leg when the Magic control room window blew in, but I didn't even notice 'til my coworkers said I was bleeding. Without being too dramatic, we are so lucky that we didn't get the full force of this storm; the awesome power of the winds can't be explained but experienced. This storm has given me a new respect for Hurricanes. Power will be out for a while ..."

Million man march to include women

The San Antonio Local Organizing Committee is spearheading a campaign for participants in the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, October 15, in Washington, D.C. The Millions More Campaign will host events this month and next to heighten awareness about the impact the march can make on the local community. Brother Greg Jackson said the committee's goal is to have 1,000 people for the October march; more than 450 have already registered.

In an August 25 kick-off meeting, local men who attended the 1995 Million Man March discussed their experiences and the importance of the upcoming commemoration. "The way we reached out to each other was amazing," said Darrell Duke, who plans to attend October's march "It's important to bring the focus back to the family, and making it strong. I would vouch that seven out of 10 young minority men who are incarcerated come from a fatherless home."

Ricky Marshall Green, a 24-year-old political-science student at UTSA, said he has been planning for the trip since 2000. "When I saw how the '95 march affected people, I made a promise to myself to get as many young black and Latino men to make this journey. The purpose is to get young minds together that want to effect change."

Local Nation of Islam leaders also discussed Louis Farrakhan's announcement on August 20 to open the 10th Anniversary March to include women and all races. "The Millions More Movement is about uniting us, pooling our resources and forming strategic alliances," said Farrakhan.

Those interested in attending the march or participating in local events with the committee can contact Brother Greg Jackson at 391-3735.

- Nicole Chavez

Consumer advocates oppose telecom bill

If Texas' telecom bill passes, consumers should celebrate SBC's victory today, for tomorrow the confetti drops and the rates could rise.

This month, Governor Perry will decide whether to sign Senate Bill 5, the hotly debated telecom bill that deregulates basic telephone rates and allows statewide cable franchises `see "Communication breakdown," May 26-June 1, 2005`. Supporters of the bill say it will create competition and give Texans more choice of who provides their cable service. Yet, consumer advocates, such as the Texas Public Interest Research Group and Consumers Union, say the bill will negatively impact 800,000 Texans who rely on basic phone service.

"Legislators bought into the big phone company competition argument," says Tim Morstad, a Consumers Union policy analyst, "but competition for the well-to-do does not mean competition for the low-end customers, and that's where the bill comes up short."

According to the Public Utilities Commission, SBC and Verizon control 84 percent market share of residential telephone service; in rural Texas they control 91 percent. Cell phone and bundled residential services are more competitive, but as Morstad points out, they are also more expensive than basic residential service, which starts at $10. "`SBC and Verizon` dominate so much of the no-frills market," says Morstad, "that consumers don't benefit from competition until they get into the $40 or $50 range, when they are paying something close to what a cell phone provider charges."

SB 5, Morstad says, could create fewer cable and telephone choices for low-income consumers, because it doesn't place any roll-out requirements on providers; therefore, telephone companies can target services to more affluent customers.

And, history shows that deregulation brings rate hikes, not savings.

According to a 2005 PUC report, since 1999, when Texas lawmakers lifted rate caps on custom telephone services (with the exception of call waiting), rates on the most popular services have continued to rise. For example, Verizon has raised its directory assistance rates 400 percent, from 25 cents a call to $1.25, and SBC raised its rate for non-published numbers 350 percent, from $1.10 to $4.95 a month.

If Perry signs SB 5, Texas phone companies could raise call waiting charges, currently capped at $2.80 a month, in January 2006, and basic rates in September 2007. "In 1995, legislators said, OK we are going to deregulate, but in return we've got some obligations to the consumer, as far as deployment and infrastructure," says Morstad. "This bill gives the big telephone companies full pricing flexibility and much less reporting, and gives consumers very little in return."

- Susan Pagani

Parks advocates asking for more green

About 8 o'clock on a recent Sunday morning at Woodlawn Lake Park, the usual Saturday night aftermath had sprung up like mushrooms after a hard rain: plastic cups, paper plates, and beer boxes lay strewn in a picnic area just feet from a trash can.

Litter cleanup, decaying facilities, and extra security are among the priorities of parks advocates. They are asking City Council and Mayor Phil Hardberger, many of whom campaigned on a platform of improved parks, to increase the Fiscal Year 2006 parks maintenance budget by 20 percent, to $12.7 million.

"There's a mini-revolution happening," said Doug McMurry, chairman of the Parks & Recreation Board. "It's borne out of frustration. Work has been done, but it's been too little, too late."

While efforts such as Propositions 1 and 3 have added open space to the city's parks inventory, the renewed focus is on maintaining existing green space, including mowing, restroom repair, and trail upkeep.

Barbara Johnson of the San Antonio Conservation Society said the deteriorating Japanese Tea Garden `see "They're no Eden," July 1-7, 2005` needs immediate repairs, and the society plans to replace a crumbling porch on the historic Acosta House in HemisFair Park.

"Parks get pushed to the bottom," Johnson said. "When people are driving down streets that are in disrepair, that's what they're seeing first. But parks are really a basic need."

The strategic parks plan calls for at least one more park officer for the outlying areas, but that extra manpower won't cover the acreage at the newly christened Crown Ridge Natural Area.

Parks & Recreation Department Director Malcolm Matthews said the department will likely receive more money this year, but it's difficult to pinpoint how the funds would be spent. "It's a bottomless pit."

Matthews added that aging parks facilities inside Loop 410 need the most upkeep. "When you're running a lot of facilities that people use every day and you compare it to those that are privately operated, you will see a difference that has a lot to do with the age of the building or manpower to keep things clean."

Parks & Rec is contracting out some mowing and trash pickup to improve those services and to partially compensate for lower participation in some cleanup programs. Non-violent offenders used to clean up the parks as part of their community service; now offenders can choose the agency for their service, and they're not opting for parks.

Ray Knox, vice-president of advocacy for Friends of the Parks, added that advocates are developing additional "Friends" groups to augment the City's efforts. "They can organize their community and take pride in it."

- Lisa Sorg

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