Pearl to get railroaded
Despite a no vote from District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules and District 5 Councilman David Medina’s no show, San Antonio’s Council bravely vaulted fringe objections from the Homeowner Taxpayer Association (“Mayor Castro, do not railroad us!”) and Tea Partiers (“We don’t need a Solyndra in San Antonio”) to course down the tracks toward a “multimodal” future and our first urban rail project. “First,” that is, if you overlook the city’s original electric streetcar system shuttered in 1933. The eight council members approving the proposal said they earnestly wanted to get the ball rolling on Mayor Julian Castro’s SA2020-driven vision to use transit to help revive downtown. “This is not a plan cooked up by rogue politicians and special interests. This is a response to something that has been asked of us,” District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal said, referencing the numerous VIA public meetings that birthed the first drafts of the city’s plan. “If we don’t take action at this point, we’ll be sitting here in a decade or two talking about an idea that never materialized.”
The project, though, is contingent on two things. VIA (in for $70 mil), the city ($40 mil), and county ($55 mil) must now draft an inter-local agreement to oversee the project and determine the line’s exact alignment. More uncertain is the city’s plan to create a special assessment-district tax on property owners along the streetcar corridor (running from the Pearl Brewery south toward HemisFair and east to VIA’s Robert Thompson Transit Center) to generate the $15 million needed to finish it out. Approval of the district will require approval by more than half of the property owners along the route, according to Assistant City Manager Pat DiGiovanni. On the heels of the city vote, VIA officials, the mayor, and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff were set to meet this week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in D.C. to discuss federal funding for VIA’s planned West Side Multimodal Transit Center, which VIA hopes to open by the end of 2012. If successful, expect more non sequiter eruptions from the peanut gallery.
ACLU sues ICE, CCA over Hutto assaults
The ACLU of Texas sued a former jail guard at the T. Don Hutto immigration detention center, several U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, and private-prison giant and Hutto operator Corrections Corporation of America in federal court last week to recover damages for three women who claim they were sexually assaulted by a guard. Hutto, a family detention facility until a recent revamp made it women-only, has a little history of such things.
Named in the lawsuit is Donald Dunn, a former Hutto guard, who pleaded guilty last fall to multiple charges he abused women detainees while transporting them from Hutto to the nearby airport and bus stations. The ACLU claims routine lapses in the policy may have led to other similar incidents of sexual abuse. According to the suit, each of the three women — from Eritrea, Brazil, and Guatemala — fled violence in their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S. They had been released from Hutto to await hearings on their asylum cases when, during transport, they were either groped or forced to undress, the suit claims. Past charges of sexual abuse sparked an ICE investigation in 2007 and led to revamped detention standards in 2008. Heavy campaigning from the ACLU and detention-watch groups prompted ICE in 2009 to convert Hutto into a 500-bed facility solely for female asylum seekers. ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen wouldn’t comment on the ACLU’s allegations, saying only that the agency keeps a strict “zero tolerance policy” for abusive and inappropriate behavior among its employees.
“Unfortunately, we believe these complaints are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mark Whitburn, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas. As part of a nationwide effort to expose cases of sexual abuse, Whitburn said records obtained by the ACLU show that since 2007, 185 complaints have been made to the Department of Homeland Security regarding sexual abuse of people in ICE custody, 56 of which were in Texas facilities. “Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, and those holding them in custody know it. … Many do not speak English, many — like our plaintiffs — have fled violence in their home countries, and are terrified of being returned,” Whitburn said.
America. That is all.
TCEQ’s plot to destroy the planet exposed
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is continuing to field widespread criticism that it censored a well-respected Rice University scientist, deleting references to human industry’s impact on the environment and sea-level rise because the science behind global warming is apparently too controversial for the state’s Perry-appointed environmental regulators. John Anderson, a professor of oceanography at Rice University and author of an article that was to be included in the TCEQ’s delayed report on Galveston Bay, spoke out earlier this month claiming the commission deleted portions of his report for political reasons. “I don’t think there is any question but that their motive is to tone this thing down as it relates to global [climate] change. It’s not about the science. It’s all politics,” he told the Houston Chronicle. Add state Senator Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, to the list of those wanting answers from the agency.
“I am deeply concerned that the synopsis of a peer-reviewed, fact-based scientific study is apparently subject to a state agency’s capricious bowdlerization,” she wrote TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw on October 19. “That three members of the scientific community” — Anderson and two co-editors of the project, Jim Lester and Lisa Gonzalez with the Houston Advanced Research Center — “have stated they do not want their names associated with the report as currently edited by TCEQ provides sufficient reason to assert that the report no longer reflects science.”
In the letter, Van de Putte writes that she “cannot help but arrive at the conclusion” that the edits were made because of ideology, not science, and goes on to quote philosopher John Stuart Mill: “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” Though she had hoped for some justification from Shaw, her office staff reports that none has arrived. Perhaps we’re all supposed to share TCEQ spokesthing Andy Saenz’s comment to Reuters when he complained that: “Using a word like censorship is very powerful. It isn’t censorship to accurately report in our document what we believe. That’s being responsible. That’s being accurate.”
Honestly, they’re probably still looking up “bowdlerization.”
Attaboy: Build SA Green bags KB Homes
Build San Antonio Green has been recognized year after year as one of the best smart-building resources in the nation. They’ve been lathered in love from none other than that National Association of Homebuilders, Energy Star, San Antonio Water System, San Antonio Business Journal, and Alamo Area Council of Governments. (We’re not counting that TCEQ nod for environmental excellence. We’d like to maintain BSAG’s reputation, after all). But Tuesday’s announcement that KB Homes, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, is coming on board with a pledge to certify all homes built in greater SA at BSAG’s level-one criteria (a minimum 15 percent more energy efficient than city code requires) means homeowners will save an average $1,000 per year on electricity costs. But better than that: those planned 800-plus homes expected to be built in 2012 will be helping keep the area’s energy demand in check. BSAG Executive Director Anita Devora said she expected the deal to “open the floodgates” and raise the standard on new home construction. Fortunately, existing housing stock — representing the bulk of wasted energy in the city — isn’t being left in the dust. The KB Home announcement was made a day after CPS Energy trumpeted their stimulus-fueled weatherization program with Casa Verde SA has weatherized 3,000 homes — more than double the original target. The $16.5 million in federal funds should ultimately weatherize 3,400 homes by the spring of 2012, CPS officials said. •