Vi Vi's remains, Alameda's $ pains

Summer shift

Your local City-owned utility is dying — just as we suggested it should two years ago. Evidence: 14 megawatts of liberating solar power, to be constructed here in town by the end of next year, powering 1,800 homes. The deal, announced Monday, follows on the heels of a 27-megawatt West Texas solar purchase revealed two months ago.

But CPS is not marching boldly into a “decentralized” non-polluting energy future. What we’re witnessing is more akin to the grudging shuffle of Steve Martin as The Jerk’s Navin Johnson as he finally hits bottom.

“I don’t need this or this,” Johnson bleats, a picture of dejection as he shuffles, pants around his ankles, through his mansion while furniture is being carted off around him. “Just this ashtray, and this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this … remote control.”

Walking ambivalently into the new-energy future, CPS wants to keep just one thing from its old life — a little bit of that bad nuke stuff, a 40-percent slice of a two-plant expansion at the South Texas Project nuclear complex outside Bay City. Mayor Julián Castro has assented, though at a smaller 20-percent buy-in. And the editor of your daily paper, while allowing a larger, sometimes helpful, discussion to play out on his pages, has jumped the gun and called the game early.

Nukes win, in case you’ve been wondering.

“In a city that already relies on STP for more than one-third of its electricity, groups that outright oppose nuclear energy don’t stand much chance of prevailing,” Rivard wrote Sunday, by way of complement to the grossly extended he-said she-said retread of a story on the front page.But to concede the debate based on old habits is to admit a deep ignorance of the full human cost of uranium mining the world over, the gravity of nuclear-plant operations, and the forever waste stream that is the byproduct of fission. The history of uranium is brutal and amoral — and grossly undertold. Rivard could do something about the latter were he so inclined.


With 41 solar MW under contract, CPS is at the head of Texas utilities and deserves an agreeable nod, but before San Antonio will be ready to buy into a Windtricity spin-off (Solartricity is taken, I think), the utility needs to come clean on a few things.

The money it continues to spend fighting federal climate legislation, for one. And an alternative green-power report we’ve purchased from respected global energy advisor, Jeremy Rifkin.

The Current reported in April that CPS had spent more than $90,000 trying to stop cap-and-trade legislation in Washington. It wasn’t a joke. At the time, mayoral candidates were outraged (overheard at one debate: “If that is true … ”). Since then, the pro-dinosaur lobbying has continued. In response to a recent Open Records request, CPS attorneys confirmed the utility has spent another $30,000 “in the attempt to influence U.S. climate policy.”

Meanwhile, CPS Board Chair Aurora Geis promises QueQue that the Rifkin report, which CPS has been sitting on for weeks and should offer San Antonio a nuke-free model for a decentralized energy economy, will be available to the public before the Council’s vote on the STP expansion in October.

CPS officials said this week they have shuttled the report back to Rifkin’s camp for some final edits. Rifkin, sadly, was unavailable for comment.

Ides of the tiger

San Antonio’s Wild Animal Orphanage held a press conference August 20 to respond to accusations of animal abuse, neglect, and unexplained disappearances leveled over the past two years by the San Antonio Lightning. WAO Director Carol Asvestas is suing Lightning publisher R.G. Griffing for libel. As the QueQue reported last week, we were promised details regarding the July death of Vi Vi the tiger, and autopsy reports for her and all of the cougars who have passed away in the previous year.

Mostly reading from a piece of paper, Loretta Ehrlund, the veteran who gave Vi Vi a clean bill of health in March, said that the tiger, who arrived from the Rio Grande Valley when she was “three to four months old,” declined rapidly after Ehrlund first met her in February 2009.

 “As the year went on it was reported that she was a little dizzy, and then she would get better. And then she didn’t. At that point we thought we had some sort of encephalitis going on ... The attacks became worse, and one day she just got a seizure,” she said. “Carol `Asvestas` called me and, when we were preparing to come up, `Vi Vi` passed away.”

 Ehrlund said the tiger’s seizure was caused by brain lesions.

 “Those lesions are normal in a young growing animal without enough Vitamin A. We didn’t have a chance to be here long enough to change that. And that’s been documented in lions before. I couldn’t find that same documentation in tigers, but I think you can probably extrapolate to the same thing.”

 Ehrlund says the tiger’s body was taken to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory for a complete necropsy, but Ehrlund departed before the QueQue could ask about the necropsy report’s details. WAO didn’t provide the promised documents, either, citing the Lightning litigation.

Meantime, we still don’t have a complete accounting of the number of deceased felines. Asvestas said at the press conference that “four cougars died,” but according to the Lightning, in December 2008, WAO had 29 tigers and 14 adult mountain lions, and as of July 2009 those numbers had dropped to 25 tigers and six adult mountain lions.

“Really, we thought the questions would be centered about Vi Vi,” WAO Attorney Eric Turton told the Current, minutes before Asvestas opened a drawer full of hanging folders containing animal death reports for the last two years.

 “Everything is here,” she said. “We have nothing to hide.”

 But when the QueQue asked to examine the files, she said we’d need to consult with her lawyer. “If it’s OK with him, it’s OK with me.”

 “I don’t mind that you look at them, but I’d like to be here when you do,” Turton replied. No time like the present, we thought, but we’ve since been put off till next week, while Turton recovers from minor surgery.

Interest-free account

The City wants to help the perennially underfunded Alameda, but first the San Anto-based Latino cultural-arts center must help itself.

For starters, spend face time with local leaders, not just the fancy pants in New York and D.C. who are always appointing Museo instigator Henry Muñoz to boards. Por ejemplo, the QueQue heard that Cultural Arts Board Chair and Texas Commission on the Arts Commissioner Nelson Balido wasn’t even invited to last week’s star-studded gala, where the guest of honor was former Mexican President Vicente Fox. Nor was Office of Cultural Affairs Director Felix Padrón.

Balido and Padrón represent the key folks to whom the Alameda is accountable for its $390,000 in annual City arts funding. 2010 is the second year in the City’s two-year arts-funding cycle, which usually means that funded organizations will receive the same amount of cash they got the first year, assuming they fulfill their contract with the City. “They have satisfied their first year’s contract, without a doubt,” says Padrón.

But the other leg of that stool is financial stability, and Balido is concerned that the new board chair and the interim director of the Alameda — which was shy of payroll at the Museo earlier this summer `see the QueQue, July 22` — haven’t yet shared their plans for achieving that stability with the CAB or OCA. The gala reportedly raised just under $400,000, but at least $10,000 of that was already spent: Valero agreed to expedite its table donation as part of a $50,000 pledge paid early to cover this summer’s gap.

“Before we award tax dollars,” says Balido, “we need to see a plan for success and solvency. In my opinion, the Alameda has not presented us a plan for success.” Balido says he’s especially conscientous of the CAB’s responsibility to spend public money wisely during the current recession, which will shrink next year’s HOT funding for the arts by an estimated half-million. “We’re looking out for `the Alameda’s` behalf. At the same time, we are also the steward of taxpayer dollars.”

At last week’s gala, a $1.5 million gift from Ford (which has donated $5.5 million to the Museo and the Alameda Theatre restoration) was announced, but two-thirds of that money is earmarked for the new Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School for Art & Design, a partnership with established arts schools Say Sí and the Southwest School of Art & Craft. If the QueQue’s reading the press release correctly, none of the other $500,000 goes directly to the Museo, either, but to other specific programs. A request for clarification from the Alameda was not returned.

And lack of communication is what seems to be bothering Balido. “I’ve reached out to the Chairman `Margarita Flores` over the past month,” he says. “I’ve reached out to Henry Muñoz over the past year — I can’t get a call back.”

He hopes they’ll get it all straightened out before the CAB’s September 8 funding meeting. But, you know, Henry’s dance card is very full.

U.S. Military deaths: 4,334 /Civilian deaths: 92,898-101,388 /Cost in U.S. currency: $674,862,670,000 as of 7:00 p.m., CDT, August 25, 2009 Sources: National Priorities Project, Iraq Body Count,

Scroll to read more The QueQue articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.