Wind Beneath Their Own Wings

By Gilbert Garcia

This is the moment when today's Council lovefest got out of hand: After nearly an hour of Council members telling Daddy ... um, make that outgoing Mayor Phil Hardberger, how much they'll miss him, District 2's Sheila McNeil saluted her friend, District 6's tearful Delicia Herrera, by referring to her as "my she-ro."

One of the most glowing plaudits came from Diane Cibrian, who told Hardberger that he had been "the greenest mayor in San Antonio history," a compliment he accepted and boomeranged her way by calling her "the greenest Council person that's served."

Those titles were put on the line only moments later when Council had to consider a staff-recommended plan to give Medtronic, Inc. nearly $3.7 million in financial incentives to establish a National Diabetes Therapy Management and Education Center over the Edwards Aquifer contributing zone.

The issue carried all the hallmarks of any Development vs. Environmental Protection debate. To be fair, it was a tough call. Medtronic reps have talked about bringing as many as 1,400 new jobs to SA over the next five years, and, as Hardberger pointed out in his even-handed (vaguely judicial) assessment of the situation, they are a "world-class" company doing important work with a particular resonance for our local population, and the skilled, college-educated work force they require "uplifts the intellectual tenor of our community."

A facility already exists at the site Medtronic plans to use, and it's likely to be used by another, possibly less welcome, business entity at some point. Cibrian, the biggest Council advocate for the deal, noted that the spot â?? the overlook at the rim in District 8 â?? was formerly an industrial quarry, adding that "it's actually much greener today than it was."

On the other hand, local environmentalists know that giving up a piece of land near the recharge zone, particularly to a company with long-range expansion plans, could lead to bigger water-supply issues in the future. As AGUA's Elizabeth Earnley put it: "AGUA is not concerned about a facility that already exists," they're worried that this project was set up "in anticipation of satellite developments" in the area.

Hardberger said he agrees with local environmentalists "95 to 100" percent of the time, but stated that "advocacy groups have the advantage of a solitary viewpoint" while a mayor has to look at the "universality" of an issue. With carefully worded deference to water advocates â?? and District 5's Lourdes Galvan, the lone Council member to oppose the deal â?? he said that he would have preferred to see Medtronic establish their base in a different part of town, but nonetheless supported their decision to set up shop in the aquifer contributing zone. The Council, as usual, dutifully followed his lead.