The QueQue

Purple majesty

Evolution is barely out of the woods, and who’s up on the Texas State Board of Education’s chopping block but Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall. Having done its best to remove science from the science curriculum, the board has set its sights on Social Studies, and two of the “experts” appointed to review the existing texts are already raising alarms with two-fisted takedowns of Americans who don’t fit the Founding Fathers precise demographic mold.

David Barton, who’s built a lucrative publishing and speaking career debunking the separation of church and state as a latter-day Supreme Court conspiracy, takes the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills to task for a failure to emphasize our nation’s many founding texts in favor of aggrandized arts-and-crafts projects (a quibble QueQue doesn’t disagree with, having wondered aloud many times whether our children’s construction-paper Pinta or Thirteen Colonies board game adds all that much to an understanding of our complex democracy). But Barton also has a problem with rabblerousers. Labor organizer Cesar Chavez isn’t that impressive, wrote Barton, “and his open affiliation with Saul Alinsky’s movement certainly makes dubious that he is a praiseworthy to be heralded to students as someone ‘who modeled active participation in the democratic process.’” From which the QueQue gathers: Shooting redcoats = good. Striking for fair wages = bad.

Fellow evangelical Peter Marshall (no relation to the aforementioned Justice), who operates the eponymous Ministries, is concerned that religion is not emphasized enough, and is also vexed that “The student is expected to: ‘identify some governmental services in the community such as libraries, schools, and parks,’ etc. etc. These examples are not as good as: the fire and rescue department, the police, and school buses.”

Our Council’s outgunned fiscal-conservative contingent may wish to bus in Marshall for a stump speech ahead of the pending City budget negotiations. Private-pay ticket, of course.

The Social Studies curriculum adoption process is lengthy; follow it online at

Light bright

Councilmay be laying low for the dog days of summer, but City staff have been busy prepping thorny issues for our top ten’s return. First up: digital billboards. Comments have been running against expanding the 2007 off-premise digital-billboard pilot program at the City’s round of community meetings `see the QueQue, June 17`, with a solid majority expressing a desire that the City leave the current ordinance in place, which caps existing signs on local roadways at 13 (12 of which belong to national digital-billboard promoter and local political heavyweight Clear Channel Outdoor). A small number of participants (perhaps the Clear Channel staff and lobbyists one commenter accused of filling out cards at every meeting?) support extending the current ordinance as is, and the remainder of the comment cards are split almost evenly between allowing additional billboards with more restrictions, and allowing more signs but with fewer restrictions.

The tiny handful of undecidedparticipants at the meetings indicate the divisiveness of the issue, as does the full-color commentary. “`Digital billboards` are like whores along the side of the road,” reads one card, “all dressed up with no place to go that’s good.” Other citizens shared their suspicion over the City’s motives. “Questionnaire has always been to allow more digitals — the first four questions deal with allowing more,” complained one, while another pleaded, “Just let us know what has already been decided.”

You can signal COSA yourself on their extravagantly appointed web page devoted to the issue — — where you’ll find the 2007 ordinance, maps of current digital-billboard locations (including scenic corridors), comments, presentations, and video from the first four meetings, and a pdf comment form you can submit — and at the final community meeting, 6-8 p.m. Thursday, at the San Antonio Tool Yard, 10303 Tool Yard. (You will not find highway-safety expert Jerry Wachtel’s extensive digital-billboard safety survey; the City’s comment card essentially treats the safety issue as optional — one of a range of items you might wish to know more about. For a quick link to Wachtel’s work, visit, and check out our series, starting with “Hang ’em high and fast,” August 27, 2008.)

Of course, as noted above, digital billboards are not without their (paid?) admirers. “This is an amazing new form of mass communication,” gushed one commenter, “and a benefit to local business.”

Bizness, shmizness. When can the QueQue get our Tweetsposted directly to the sign at 281 and 37?

Chop shop

Hot potato number two: the Tree Canopy Preservation Ordinance, currently being pruned by City staff and a Stakeholder Committee “to capture more trees to preserve,” according to the Planning and Development Services Department. Or, if the panicked emails flying through the internets are to be believed: to remove protections for those bothersome significant and heritage trees that are always in the bulldozer’s way.

The membership of the committee is one source of worry for preservationists, who feel it’s tilted toward developers, with three real-estate and construction-affiliated representatives. Representing Team Lorax: the San Antonio Conservation Society, the Citizens Tree Coalition, and the Texas Forest Service.

The phrase “significant or heritage trees” is crossed out in favor of tree canopy or “tree(s) or tree canopy” numerous times in the draft ordinance prepared by City staff, available here, Or it was crossed out several times in the version posted on the website Tuesday morning, before we spoke to Planning and Development Services staff. Now all those cool footnotes that tell you what’s been deleted are missing, so you’ll have to compare the old and new the old-fashioned way, although you can still read the stakeholders’ notes. Strange.

Development Services staffer Thomas Carrasco, who’s sitting in on the meetings, says we should remain optimistic. The overhaul was inspired by an alarming tree-canopy study that recommended the City implement a 40-percent preservation goal (which in these 100-degree days doesn’t sound near shady enough). “We want to get something better,” says Carrasco, “and at the same time we want to encourage development.”

But things weren’t looking up at Tuesday’s stakeholders’ meeting. After getting hung up talking about tree canopies in Seattle, the developer side of the table balked at Goal No. 1, insisting a 40-percent tree-canopy benchmark is too subjective and that staff should go back to research how past permits had or had not protected existing tree canopy. So, factor in a three-week delay for a major number-crunching operation with dubious results.

State Forester Paul Johnson made a forceful, if lonely, plea to save the 40-percent goal, while builder-proffered alternatives included a decrease to 25-percent tree canopy, numbers-free “no net loss” language, or kicking the whole mess back to Council, since City leaders, it was repeated, had never “officially” endorsed the study by American Forests that recommended the 40-percent number to begin with.

“You think it should be scientific,” Rick McNealy of the San Antonio Real Estate Council said of the process, “but it’s not, it’s political.”

That was minutes after he browbeat, in perfect bully-pulpit style, City Arborist Debbie Reid into silence by interrupting her explanation of why Seattle’s canopy study did not compare with San Antonio’s more detailed analysis. “Are staff going to be argumentative or are we going to solve this as a committee?” he demanded.

But there’s another reason we shouldn’t be talking about Seattle, fellas. Their tree canopy has crashed in past decades, from 40-percent cover in the 1970s to about 18 percenttoday. For innumerable reasons, from air to water to heat islands, it’s not a pattern to follow.

Double dam(n)

If a wall going up in southern Cameron County north of the Rio Grande is going to negatively impact the endangered ocelots that still call the thornscrub home, just imagine what a second wall would bring.

A rowdy band of Senators last week approved an amendment to a Homeland Security appropriations bill that requires the agency go back to the mandated double-fencing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Texas Senators Kay Bailey “I Wanna Guv Ya” Hutchison and John “I’m With Sonia” Cornyn voted for the amendment.

Though the Feds are deep into site preparation, construction hasn’t begun in Cameron County, where one of the last sections of the proposed 700 miles of border wall will soon cut through much of the U.S. Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge — 90,000 acres of some of the most ecologically diverse habitat in the United States. Officials with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serviceexpect the border wall as planned will negatively impact up to 75 percent of refuge lands, either directly or indirectly.

The prospect of a second wall was not met with enthusiasm.

“Walls and fences in general are pretty tough on wildlife,” said Nancy Brown, public outreach specialist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife. “Two walls, you’re asking a lot at that point.”

Since the Senate amendment carried by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMintdid not have a House counterpart, it will have to be hashed out in conference committee. A date for that debate, however, has not yet been set. Of the more than 650 miles of border fence already completed, only 34 miles were double-fenced, according to DeMint.

While plans for the impending Cameron County section call for 8-by-11-inch gaps to be cut every 500 feet through the refuge, “We can’t say with absolute certainty whether or not an ocelotwould use that,” Brown said. “That’s what’s really challenging about this, there’s nothing comparable.”

Folks from the Nature Conservancy and National Audubon Society have already been hard at work trying to save the sabal palms that happen to be in the way of the Cameron section. Along with lowering a steel curtain on the ocelots, the Feds will soon be fencing the last remaining sabal palm forests south of the wall.

U.S. Military deaths: 4,323 /Civilian deaths: 92,489-100,971 /Cost in U.S. currency: $687,121,795,000 as of 6:59 p.m., CDT, July 14, 2009
Sources: National Priorities Project, Iraq Body Count,


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