The QueQue

Know when to fold ’em

The Queque’s office betting pool’s got nothing on Congress, which is gambling with the future of Main Street, America (last seen buying as much antifreeze, coffee filters, and cold meds as it could get its hands on and heading for a buried school bus west of Fort Stockton). Monday looked like opposite day at the U.S. House of Representatives: A Democratic majority aligned itself with the Bush Administration on a financial-rescue plan that House Republicans overwhelmingly despised.

It’s probably more accurate to characterize the House’s rejection of the $700-billion package as an orgy of strange bedfellows. Texas Democrats Lloyd Doggett and Sheila Jackson Lee joined the GOP in voting nay, while Republican Lamar Smith signaled his assent (as did local Dem Charlie Gonzalez). Former political rivals Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez were united in their opposition to the teacup-Titanic scenario, and on Tuesday morning, Rodriguez met with the media at his Southside office to explain his vote.

Rodriguez, who is favored to defeat Republican opponent Lyle Larson on November 4, said that media coverage of Monday’s breakdown missed a key point: That members of the Black and Hispanic caucus opposed the bill because they were concerned that it did not include buckets and mops for the average citizen. And it was about as transparent as Dick Cheney’s motives.

Rodriguez noted that, as of Tuesday morning, he’d received more than 900 calls and emails opposing the bill, and only about 100 in support of it. This stubborn popular rejection of the plan suggested that the administration and Congressional leaders did an incredibly poor job of selling the proposal, and that the taxpayer-protection tweaking over the weekend did not register with the public.

Surprisingly, Rodriguez also endorsed presidential candidate John McCain’s suggestion that the President fire Christopher Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (a power which the President does not technically possess, but shoot, what good is the Oval Office if you can’t ... nevermind).

“There has to be some leadership on the part of the administration to show that `Bush` is engaged in this,” he said.

Rodriguez said he expected the Senate to deal with the bill on Wednesday, and he plans to return to Washington on Thursday for another go-round with the House. Congress would probably pass “a better bill” if they waited until after the completion of this lame-duck session, he conceded, but the urgency of the situation required that they act now.

“This is a bill that we’re working on, and that’s the way all bills are,” he said.

Power outage

Our hometown is getting in the fin-de-siècle Washington spirit with a bailout or two of its own. As with the spectacle to the north, we suspect it’ll be some time before winners and losers are sorted out, but that won’t stop your craps-lovin’ Queque from rolling the die.

Our money’s on the City in the game to remake the Electrical Supervisory Board, recently accused of being dysfunctional by none other than District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, who we suppose knows civic dysfuntion when she sees it. District 9 CM Louis Rowe initiated a Council Consideration Request to give the board (some of whose members have been around since the mid-’90s) an enema and a new job description. The Development Services Department was at the ready, suggesting “Electrical Appeals and Advisory Board,” responsible for hearing citizen appeals of DSD decisions and advising DSD Director Rod Sanchez on major City Code changes, when he so chooses. The idea is even being floated of a super board that would address plumbing, electrical, and contractor issues. But in any event, the first go at it, in an ad-hoc subcommittee tasked with reviewing all the boards and commissions, was so heated that Chair Justin Rodriguez says they’ll likely punt the ESB problem to the Council’s Infrastructure & Growth Subcommitee.

One City insider says the board’s legend-making propensity for yelling at members and staff alike and occasionally thwarting quorum with a good ol-fashioned walkout is founded in a deathless union-big business conflict, but District 1 ESB appointee Jonathan Ashkenaze says the DSD/Council move is just a run-of-the-mill power grab. “That’s the way boards work when they’re on very controversial issues,” he says of the meeting contretemps.

In a Septmber 24 email sent to members of Council and City staff, an alarmed Ashkenaze asked, “Do you really want all Electricians supervised by the DSD and not by a citzens’ panel? Do you really want to be the only line between the city offices and the people so you will take all the fodder and have to research every single elecrical decision and code change?”

Sanchez is pushing the line that the board doesn’t really supervise anything since the state replaced its licensing function in 2003; the proposed changes really bring the name in line with the actual power (or lack thereof) it has, he says.

Ashkenaze disagrees and would, in fact, like to add stricter public-oversight provisions and regulation to the infamous Digital Billboard Pilot Program, with ESB’s input, a subject he was planning to bring up at the board’s October meeting `See “Hang ’em high and fast,” August 27, 2008` — one year after the ESB threw a temporary roadblock in the way of Clear Channel’s swift march through federal, state, and local digital-billboard regs.

Perhaps coincidentally, DSD’s proposed changes to the ESB were scheduled to move just ahead of that tight timeframe.

Clear Channel water-carrier Frank Burney gives ESB props for “a useful venue and format for a public hearing” on the digital-billboard issue, but says the flap over highway signs misses a larger problem: on-premise signs, which can do damn near anything the landlord pleases. Yet another CCR is circulating to deal with that issue, but Burney says that his assumption after last year’s experience is that the current ESB would be reluctant to step into that snake pit.

Cisneros’ and Rowe’s offices did not return calls for comment before deadline.

The tell-tale heart

Queque prefers the underdog bet when it can be had, but in the case of Nightmare on Grayson v. the Pearl Brewery redevelopment, the 20-year-old haunted house’s chips are down. In order to obtain the public-street closure they need to scare the bejeezus out of a few hundred punky souls every weekend in October from an increasingly resistant city, Director of Operations Gordon Wise and owner Gene Braden signed a letter to District 1 CM Mary Alice Cisneros “recognizing the changing dynamic of the area” and promising never to ask again — meaning in effect that 2009 may bring the Nightmare on a Street TBA. Parking is also an issue, and Burney, who reps Pearl in this issue, says it can’t lend its sweet set of spots under the neighboring highway because it often needs them for events at the Pearl Stable.

Maybe so, says Wise, but you could have sponsored two soccer games on Pearl’s wide-open asphalt last Saturday night. Although the letter to Cisneros is conciliatory and professional — “We greatly appreciate all of the assistance that your office has provided in helping us to explore our available options and secure a more suitable facility” — on the phone Wise is regretful that the vision for the area’s future, bright with the prospect of an Andrew Weissman restaurant and the completed River Walk extension, doesn’t include Nightmare.

“I genuinely feel that `Cisneros’s` heart is in the right place,” he said (and that Pearl developer Kit Goldsbury’s heart “is close to the right place”), but “I would say you could not be more in bed together than Pearl and the City of San Antonio.”

On his client’s behalf, Burney agrees that Pearl has invested considerably in public amenities, including all that lovely landscaping along Avenue B and Pearl Parkway, but argues that the related increase in adjacent property value should more than support the move and rebuilding of Nightmare’s badass tilted pirate ship and fantastically weird clown graveyard.

If you’ve got three to five reasonably priced acres with major highway access and plenty of parking, give Wise a call, because he’s going to need them.

Huff ’n’ puff

Contrary to their behavior most days, City officials really aren’t interested in getting their chops busted by aggrieved taxpayers — or their pants scandalously sued off of them. At least not for blowing down people’s homes. This week, rather than swear off the house-collapsing fun allowed them under the Dangerous Buildings and Distressed Properties ordinance, staff are recommending a series of tasteful revisions that will ensure only those without the resources to fight City Hall (or at least without strong preservation-community buy-in) will find themselves suddenly homeless in the future.

Preservation folks say the last year has been a veritable “ground assault” on historic properties. As long as it moved along in stealth mode, all was well in the halls of power. But a nasty public-relations glitch caught ’em in the final act, when new Tobin Hill property owner and newly returned Peace Corps volunteer Paul Kinnison declared the City had robbed him of his American Dream by bulldozing his 1930s-era house without so much as a Welcome home, Sonny Boy.” `See “Sound of the wrecking ball,” April 30, 2008.`

Among the changes pending to the emergency demo ordinance would be “hand-delivery of notice to the owner residing in Bexar County of possible emergency,” a note on the property itself, and “additional structural review time before an emergency demolition is executed.” You mean — as was the case in the attempted erasure of East Side resident, outside artist, and subterranean city provocateur Reverend Seymour Perkins’ property — one day’s warning isn’t enough?

Que2 would leap for joy at the proposed improvements, but the reverberations in this old town could collapse who-knows-what.

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