The QueQue: Bye-Bye Occupy?, Science may win in censorship standoff with TCEQ

Bye-Bye Occupy?

Two months of cooperation devolved with a 15-minute ultimatum Monday when a handful of arrests at HemisFair Park effectively quashed the rosy relationship that’s existed between local police and Occupy San Antonio members. By midday Monday, at least six occupiers had been arrested for disobeying police orders to leave an area in and around a small, open adobe structure near the foot of the park by the Tower of the Americas. The marked transformation of the Occupy SA encampment into a police target started last week when park police began handing out copies of the city’s ordinance related to camping in public, telling occupiers they were in violation and would face class C misdemeanor charges and hefty fines (up to $500) if they didn’t quit making HemisFair their “temporary living quarters.”

Protesters had been in wait-and-see mode, enjoying an unusually calm and friendly relationship with local police even as non-lethal projectiles and pepper spray have become synonymous with police response at other Occupy camps across the country. After the October 6 march that sparked the local movement, gentle prodding from the city convinced protesters to move from Travis Park, their initial targeted encampment, to HemisFair. Occupy protestor Meghan Owen told QueQue last week that park police had made passing threats of full-scale eviction by January 1. “They’ve told us more than once that New Year’s is our eviction date.” Though police denied any plan of a scheduled eviction, occupiers said park police by Friday were shuffling them out from near a gazebo at the entrance to HemisFair, the group’s de-facto headquarters for most of the two and a half month occupation, telling protesters they’d have to clear that area until after a Celebrate San Antonio New Year’s event. By the weekend, however, police had chained off the gazebo and building porches throughout the park with “No Trespassing” signs. Protesters briefly relocated to a spot near the park’s playground that Friday, as requested by police, before setting up shop in a small adobe building deeper inside HemisFair.

The arrests started Monday morning after Park Police told protesters they had 15 minutes to gather their belongings and clear the area. At around 8 a.m., three occupiers refused and were arrested, including Robin Canter, a medic with the group, occupiers said Monday, and police roped off a wide area of the park with yellow caution tape. Officers arrested two more occupiers later that morning for disobeying police orders — at least one was jumping back and forth inside the taped off area, taunting police, occupiers said. At around noon, officers handcuffed protester Sharon Jarvis-Young, carting her off to a squad car in tears.

What led to the crackdown? Last week, police insisted the continual “occupation” had become a health and safety issue. SAPD spokeswoman Sandy Gutierrez claimed drug paraphernalia and trash had started to collect around the occupy encampment. QueQue reached Park Police Commander Steve Baum, who said he couldn’t talk unless the department’s communications office cleared it, which they failed to do by the Current’s Tuesday deadline. Reps with SAPD didn’t return calls Monday afternoon or Tuesday or supply requested incident reports on the arrests. “We were trying to cooperate with them. We were trying to abide by their wishes as best we could,” said John Meadows, another occupier. “We’d report whenever we saw vandals in the restrooms, whenever we saw suspicious behavior. We’d be the ones calling police. … Somehow that got twisted around to mean that we were the ones doing it.”

Members of Occupy SA are expected to show up at the San Antonio City Council meeting to voice their displeasure with SAPD this week.*


Science may win in censorship standoff with TCEQ

It looks like two months of sustained outrage from scientists, academics, and newspaper editorial boards may have turned the ship ‘round at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — at least when it comes to publishing hard, peer-reviewed science. John Anderson, a prominent Rice University professor who in October accused the TCEQ of censorship, says the commission has finally agreed to reinstate references to climate change and sea-level rise the agency chopped from its commissioned report on the health of Galveston Bay, findings that were all gleaned from a decade of peer-reviewed research that had already cleared layers of bureaucracy at TCEQ’s publications department. “They have agreed to publish the chapter as it was originally written, but it took several months to get there,” Anderson said during a presentation in Austin on Friday.

Entire portions on sea-level rise were chopped in the initial edits to Anderson’s report (including mention that historic rates of .5 millimeters per year sharply jumped in the 20th century to 3 millimeters per year and rising). TCEQ management also cut out references to human impact on shrinking wetlands — even as the commission accused the EPA of “bad science” for its proposed cross-state air pollution rules. Even the introduction of Anderson’s contribution to the report was censored. Originally, Anderson recounted how expanding and shrinking ice sheets 20,000 years ago formed the estuaries of the Gulf Coast. The unacceptable line? “Hence, the very existence of Galveston Bay is attributed to sea-level rise. It is ironic that its future will be strongly regulated by the now rising sea.”

Report editor Jim Lester, vice president of the Houston Advanced Research Center, told the Current by email this week that HARC and TCEQ negotiated a set of changes “acceptable to Dr. Anderson and us,” adding that: “The chapter is close to the original, but has some modifications. The negotiations were attended by lawyers and are covered by confidentiality. So I cannot share the exact changes.”

Looking back at the conflict with TCEQ, there’s one bright spot, Anderson said. “Honesty, probably relatively few people would’ve read [the report] without this whole mess.” Still, the spat did more to highlight how in Texas there’s little appetite for science at the policy-making level, he said. “It just seems like the decisions that are being made by the General Land Office, and by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which are the two agencies that tend to get their fingers into the pie here, are being made without a lot of really good scientific input.”

For sea-level rise, climate change, and how to tackle changes along the Gulf Coast in the coming century, Anderson says Texas is “in a state of denial.” He referenced thin barrier islands like Follets Island near Galveston and South Padre further down the coast, saying, “Certainly in your lifetime you’re going to see some of these barrier islands disappear.”

Anderson also pointed to what he feels are real steps the state could take in looking at the future of the Texas coast. The General Land Office, he insisted, could take the roughly $13 million per year it spends dumping sand on coastal beaches and instead pump the money into wetlands preservation and restoration. “But as long as we have people in Austin, and a governor who denies global climate change and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who denies it, then we haven’t even made the first step, that educational step,” he said.

Given the political response to their research, Anderson said he and other Gulf Coast scientists at both Rice and University of Texas are hoping to create a consortium of sorts, comprised of well-respected, published scientists who could issue consensus statements on public policy affecting the coast. “In Texas, there seems to be no hard attempt to actually get information, yet you’ve got some great science going on in this state,” he said. “You just don’t see an appetite for it at the political level.” •

* Except there is no meeting. Blasted Christmas!

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