The bright lights of Broadway, the low lights of the Alameda

The Bourne agenda

The memory of last spring’s brutal public throwdowns over extending the City’s pilot digital-billboard ordinance are fading fast, and the current negotiations over on-premises blinkety-blinks have been a comparitive snooze. Perhaps because the stakeholder committee is populated with the individuals most likely to get bent out of shape: sign builders and users. And two of the citizens appointed to rep for neighborhoods and aesthetics have been mostly no-shows, says responsible-signage advocate Bill Bourne.

Bourne, who was a major thorn in the side of digital-billboard giants Clear Channel Outdoor during the last dustup, says the proposed ordinance elements presented at a public meeting March 22 are “pretty good.” His main concern: the rules allow animation, not video, but they don’t have a definition yet for either.

“Now to me, what’s the difference?” Bourne says. “It’s still a moving image.”

As part of the stakeholder group’s work, Bourne reviewed complaints about local LED signs submitted to the City. Most kvetchers registered unhappiness with the brightness and distracting nature of moving images.

The committee meets again on April 5 before the proposal heads to Zoning and the Infrastructure and Growth Committee with a tentative June Council date. Then the real trouble may begin. According to Bourne, Clear Channel reps sat through almost every meeting of the on-premises committee, and he suspects a lawsuit could be in the works. The City has let the digital-billboard ordinance lie, which means Clear Channel’s current crop of “message-variable” signs are technically non-conforming and vulnerable to takedown provisions if, e.g., they sustain major damage.

Citizens at that March 22 meeting also grumbled that San Antonio has only two field sign inspectors (the same number as our little pocket of privilege to the north, Alamo Heights), and they’re already busy approving new permits and investigating those complaints. And while it’s true there’s not much we can do but call and complain about the most obnoxious signs (hello, AT&T Communications on 281 North), the City reminded QueQue Tuesday that it has deputized every one of us to deal with the low-lying riff-raff: the code allows us to tear down illegal signs in the right-of-way. We’re thinking of getting a backhoe.

Keeping the house

Like many recently liberated young’uns in these uncertain times, Centro Alameda is moving back in with its parents. Sort of. City Council is scheduled to consider a proposed Memorandum of Understanding April 1 that would take back the master lease on the Alameda Theater and the Casa de Mexico International Building and use $500,000 from the Market Square Improvements Trust Fund to cover maintenance, security, and utilities costs for the Museo Alameda building. This negotiated dependence follows a tough year for the 13-year-old Museo (baptized in 1997, it officially debuted in 2007); it’s flirted with bankruptcy since last July, and last week employees went public with complaints of unpaid bills and payroll shortages.

Office of Cultural Affairs Director Felix Padrón characterized the 18-month intervention as a smart move for both parties. “The only thing the City of San Antonio is doing is protecting its assets,” Padrón said. “The buildings need to have some level of maintenance. I don’t think having any of our buildings close is a good strategy at the end of the day.

“The Alameda is facing some financial challenges, and in order to allow them to regroup and revisit their business plan, this is very appropriate.”

Board Chair Margarita Flores says the new business plan includes splitting the Alameda parent nonprofit into three distinct 501(c)3 organizations: school, theater, and museo, to reflect both the divergent interests of board members and the distinct missions.

“Obviously we appreciate the continued support of the City,” Flores said. “We’re all trying to move forward with this.”

The agreement would also allow the City to use funds earmarked for the theater to make needed capital improvements to the Casa de Mexico, which houses offices for OCA and the Hispanic Chamber. The new theater nonprofit would then need to replace those funds to meet its obligations under the County venue-tax extension that’s slated to provide $6 million in much-needed renovation funds.

“One thing I think the Memorandum of Understanding is clear on is that the City won’t lease the theater back to the new nonprofit until they get clearance from the County to move forward,” Padrón said.

Although COSA is picking up the overhead for the next year-and-a-half, the Museo Alameda will still be responsible for the expenses of its programming and staff, including security guards for the artwork and shows. Flores says they will just take it one month at a time.

Temple’s throne

When former CPS Board Secretary and VP of Nuclear Development Bob Temple negotiated an untimely separation from his former masters at CPS Energy late last year, he fought for just a handful of things, it seems. After being drummed out of the utility for rushing to the defense of former General Manager Steve Bartley during last year’s meltdown over manipulated nuke-expansion cost estimates, Temple was permitted to take his office chair with him. His computer desk, too, and his company iPhone (purged of sensitive company documents). Also: an additional year’s salary.

Temple’s severance package was released this week after months of delay. He appealed the Current’s January 7 public-information request to the Texas Attorney General, arguing release of the agreement was an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and that the documents may contain confidential “competitive information.” Citing established case law, Assistant Attorney General Mack Harrison disagreed with Temple, writing on March 11 that the severance was of “legitimate public interest.”

By all appearances, General Manager Steve Bartley negotiated a better out with the City-owned utility than the legally trained Temple. For starters, Bartley was granted up to $5,000 for an attorney to represent him at his “early retirement” discussions. It appeared to pay off: After being granted nearly two years of additional service time, Bartley was able to qualify for a company pension. He also received 15 months of base pay and nearly two years of health-care coverage for himself and his wife.

As one of the top-paid employees at CPS, Bartley’s salary was considered public information. He earned about $415,000 in salary and perks in fiscal 2008. Temple’s lesser salary, however, was not disclosed.

Bartley’s deal may sound awfully sweet — you know, for a traitor to the public interest — but we haven’t seen Temple’s chair.

Gay Jesus bluster

Good grades have gotten harder to come by in Texas, what with the Guv Lite sticking his nose in our homework assignments, an’ all.

Last week, a Tarleton State University student in Stephenville was to present a one-act play in class to complete the requirements of his theater course. After news leaked that the play included a queer Jesus and crew, our crusading Lt. Governor threw down his gauntlet, publicly demanding tax money not be used to “debase” the (evangelical, fundamentalist) religion of Texans. Had his staff bothered to investigate, they would have found the costs of the class assignment were being footed entirely by the student.

After Dewhurst’s comments ramped up the negative publicity (and attendant threats), the professor canceled class. Gay Jesus went down in flames; Dewhurst rose to applaud the victory of “reasonable expectations” over free speech. The Texas Tribune paraphrased the student who had hoped to stage the performance as saying it was like having “the state’s second highest-ranking official issue an unsolicited critique of a college English paper.”

As it should be obvious to all by now: our state leaders don’t read, they march. Dewhurst’s morality moderation has been outdone by our posturing prosecutor, Greg Abbott. Most recently, AG Abbott took on heath care from the “uninsured capital of the United States” and attempted to broadside federal efforts to arrest climate change in the most flagrant greenhouse emitter in the nation (were we truly a “whole ’nother country,” we’d be ranked seventh-worst polluter on the planet).

Abbott dared not challenge outright the science linking CO2 with climate change (first grasped more than a century ago). Instead, he bemoans the economic impact CO2 regulation would have on Texas and chides the EPA for “outsourcing” its scientific responsibilities to the International Panel on Climate Change. Of course, the complaint is a flagrant red herring unlikely to delay an overdue era of accountability in Texas. Whatever the IPCC’s troubles, it is not some lone voice monitoring criminal greenhouse polluters.

As Jim Dawson (quoting the Environmental Defense Fund) pointed out at Texas Climate News, the arsenal of damning greenhouse-gas-climate-chaos data is also generated by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautical and Space Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, and plenty others. In short, the war on the EPA via further demonizing of the IPCC is not only ignorant but doomed.

Even worse for his political future, Abbott joined the sales staff in the Lost Cause Department as one of a dozen Republican Attorney Generals suing to stop implementation of health-care reform. Were repeal even possible, dismantling the reforms — which will soon add 1.5 million Texas children to the ranks of the insured with the support of the American Medical Association — would be two solid black eyes for Republicans marching toward November with bricks in hand.

While bricks and black eyes are rugged, they don’t scream “responsible voice of the people.” QueQue looks forward to seeing how these not-so-compassionate conservatives will make their case why 5 million Texans don’t deserve breast-cancer screenings, affordable dental work, or, in the worst cases, must be forced to watch family members die because insurance companies aren’t required to help them.

Surely one of these university systems will be happy to pick up Dewhurst, hero of this new-styled free speech moderated by “reasonable expectations” of dollars and cents. We could torch many a money-draining library with that sort of reasoning.

Kitty killers

Two years ago, our cat lady got shafted, her 50 kitties got gassed, and no one is happy about it. Guess she was raided by the wrong outfit. `See the QueQue, March 17, 2010.`

Last week, a wildlife-rescue volunteer stumbled onto a hoarding situation in San Antonio involving an estimated 27 cats. Call what’s happened since an exploration of alternatives. Current death count? Zero. In this case, the homeowner called Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation for assistance with problem squirrels. The volunteer, Jim Graham, noticed the home was filled with dozens of sweet kitties and all their sweet kitty filth.

As KENS-5 reported last week, animal “hoarders” typically “only get help after a search warrant allows animal-care workers inside the home to seize the animals.” This time, with Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation at the fore, San Antonio’s Animal Care Services (and their likely lethal solution) has been kept at bay. Instead, WRR volunteers and staff have examined and treated the cats, cleaned the woman’s house, and coaxed her into therapy, said WRR founder Lynn Cuny.

“We can’t always step in when we find these situations or hear about them, but we like to lend a hand to some degree,” Cuny said. (Subtext for all you slovenly pet lovers: We’re not running a maid service here, people.) Kendalia County-based WRR opened an office in San Antonio earlier this year in hopes of helping the city achieve its 2012 no-kill goal.

Working with several rescue groups, WRR and the homeowner now face the daunting task of adopting out most of those cats, which remain at their newly cleansed casa. Until then, the operation can’t be considered a complete success. But as Cuny sees it: “the woman has kind of a lifeline to some help now, as do the cats.”

Those with a cat-shaped hole in their heart and the means to care for one or two, contact WRR at (830) 336-2725.•

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