The QueQue

Bully pulpits

It becomes incumbent on your hustling lil’ Que2 from time to withering time to bend the lean switch of correction upon the backsides of certain politi-dopes and pedagogues.

This past week has proven no different.

Hard nut No. 1: Jerry Patterson

Significance: Texas Land Commissioner

Offense: Hostage-taker

There was a time in the recent past that a lovely group of folks donated to the State of Texas — each of us endowed with a 1/24,000,000 shareholding — a lovely parcel of moonscape in the Big Bend known as the Christmas Mountains.

Along came a man who controlled the lands for we 24 million, deciding he’d like to up and sell this range of hills. More than a few of you noticed and a storm of outrage crashed into the General Land Office. The National Parks Service offered to step in and take over the 9,200 acres, but Patterson’s response was: No guns, no deal.

Nonetheless, two-thirds of the GLO Board voted a year ago to open the door for a parks acquisition, and Patterson’s own insistence on firearms has now been met by the recent Bush Administration order to allow concealed handguns in federal parks (meaning old iron-in-the-boot Patterson no longer needs to break federal laws to take comfortable strolls in Big Bend). One would think the time for concessions had finally arrived.

Not so.

Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he wouldn’t approve transfering the property until he is convinced the incoming Obama Administration won’t revoke the Bush order.

Which leads us back to point A: Exactly whose land is this?

Helotes hustle

Hard nut #2: Helotes Mayor Tom Schoolcraft

Significance: Gavel Thumper (and bad prompter reader)

Offense: Iron-fisted ignoramus

QueQue had to crack open the Helotes file after Schoolcraft spent last Thursday’s meeting brow-beating local residents. Schooly opened the Council meeting to a packed house thanks to a prominent parcel up for commercial rezoning, a property once threatened by one of those incendiary neighbor-against-neighbor issues. Namely: a WalMart Super Center.

“The purpose of these hearings is to give you, if you so choose, a chance to present your thoughts and concerns and ideas on the items we will be discussing,” Schooly pledged.

Then he set about trashing half of the comment forms filed by opponents of the rezoning request — a request the town’s planning committee itself had recommended be denied — to even out the fors and againsts, while making sure “we won’t be here all night listening to much of the same rhetoric.”

Expectedly, that vulgar display of censorship didn’t sit well with those who bothered to fight traffic from work, ditching family and tube for the rancor of development hostilities.

Experienced groundwater hydrologist George Rice warned the Council that the property being discussed either sat atop of or near the recharge zone for the Trinity Aquifer, and drains on to the Edwards Aquifer.

“One thing we know is there is a strong relationship between the amount of impervious cover in an area and contaminants in surface water. Once the impervious cover of an area gets above 15 percent, the amount of contaminants rises very rapidly,” Rice said. “So any contaminated groundwater that’s generated as it crosses this site, a portion of that would either enter the Trinity Aquifer or the Edwards Aquifer.”

Are you saying the property owner should leave 25 acres undeveloped? Schoolcraft gasped. “In a perfect world that might be great … but I don’t think there’s any conceivable way we could demand someone do that.”

Citing City of San Antonio regulations regarding the Edwards, Rice called Schooly’s blind-man’s bluff.

“All it requires is the will of elected officials to do it,” Rice said.

But in Helotes one needn’t waste breath.

Said Schooly, “We’re not going to do anything knowingly that would hurt the property or the city.”

Funny. He didn’t mention impairing public drinking water.

Following the announcement that the public-comment portion of the meeting was over, several rose in objection. Some even dared to give Schoolcraft an earful.

After the furor subsided, the Council approved the rezone.

Sculleys and crossbones

When the San Antonio City Council spent three hours discussing the first item of their very full agenda last Thursday, it felt like a good time to send out for sleeping bags. All the palaver could be patience-testing (and parking-meter-straining), but Council did close out the year with a holiday-season epic, approving a hot-button 3.9-percent rate hike for SAWS, giving Sheryl Sculley a new contract that surely makes her the envy of city managers everywhere, and allowing time during a Camp Bullis protection discussion for citizen complaints (and even a short film!) about the harmful effects of digital billboards (look for that issue to pop in January).

After a self-congratulatory Power Point presentation from new SAWS CEO Robert Puente and Chief Financial Officer Doug Evanson, things got complicated. While most Council members praised SAWS and justified the need for the hike, there were a couple of rebels on the dais. Delicia Herrera noted that the proposed increase would only add $1.63 to the average San Antonian’s monthly water bill, but she argued that the symbolism of a rate increase in the midst of a recession (even one that hasn’t hit SA as hard as other areas) was unacceptable. John Clamp echoed her statement and offered a compromise 2.9-percent hike, backed by a Power Point presentation of his own, which earned him the nickname “Professor Clamp” from his colleague Justin Rodriguez.

Clamp’s alternative died pretty quickly and he ultimately withdrew it from consideration, but his argument drew applause from citizen attendees such as the ever-present Jack Finger, who accused the Council of rewarding locals for their water conservation by “sticking it to us” and pursuing “boondoggles.” He illustrated his point with an SA version of a Bronx cheer which earned grudging laughs on the dais.

As for Sculley, she remained her stoic self through the avalanche of praise and the few critiques from citizens who came to speak. She laughed only when one speaker (in an unwitting double-entendre) said he’d “checked her out from all the angles, and she’s all right.” Lourdes Galvan accidentally called the city manager “Shirley” at one point, but otherwise raised important questions about whether Sculley planned to stay in this city for the long haul (Sculley nodded in the affirmative).

While most Council members kept finding new ways to say that Sculley was the best city manager in the nation and worth every penny, Rodriguez offered a more sober assessment. He agreed that Sculley has done an excellent job, but complained about not getting a chance to see the new contract (which will give her a $60,000 raise over the next 25 months, the chance to teach a graduate-level class in Austin, and a handsome severance package) until the night before the Council session, and noted that “the devil is in the details” with contracts of this type. As the lone vote against the contract, he stood out on a Council that desperately craves access to Sculley and thinks gushing is the way to get it.

Lila time

“What Lila wants, Lila gets,” Bexar County judge and fellow mayoral alum Nelson Wolff once said of Ms. Cockrell, who these days holds court at the San Antonio Parks Foundation. Hell, he probably says it a lot, but the QueQue happened to witness it at a rally for last spring’s successful campaign to extend the Venue Tax — a levy on car and room rentals in the Alamo City that will pay for, among other things, new trails near and along the river between Pearl Brewery and Hildebrand — aka the San Antonio River Improvements Project Park Segment. `See, say it with me, “It’s for the birds,” April 30, 2008.`

What Lila wanted at Monday night’s River Oversight Committeemeeting was to give the public process its due. After Ford Powell & Carson presented a $17-million plan for the Park Segment trails that doesn’t include a controversial link between the Highway 281 underpass and the Avenue A bird respite, she pressed the Committee to acknowledge that the subcommittees charged with forging a compromise had done a good job of collecting citizen input, and then closed with finesse. “I would say probably not everyone got what they wanted,” she said, but there was nonetheless “a large area of agreement” around the Avenue B route. Consensus? she suggested. And before you could say “democracy,” it was over.

As frequent Current readers, Audubon members, and River Road residents know, this stretch of future hike-and-bike heaven has been contentious because the City already gave away the Brackenridge Good-walk-spoiled to the Municipal Golf Association, which no-way-no-how will have club-free citizens trekking between its $4.5-million Tillinghast fairways (even if they canduck like George “Dawg” Bush).

That concession left one of two routes available to get from Pearl to Brackenridge: 1) through a narrow western canyon between Highway 281 and the back nine, along the southern edge of our favorite eccentric SA enclave, across the WPA-era weir dam, and up the Avenue A bird sanctuary/fishery/lovers’ lane. OR 2) easterly, again along 281 for a shorter stretch, winding between some trees, before playing hard-to-get with the Avenue B bike lane and the Catalpa-Pershing sluice.

The Avenue B supporters, which have enjoyed an unspoken the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend alliance with the MGA, were unexpectedly victorious at the subcommittee level, despite the opposition of yet another former mayor (Howard Peak). `See the QueQue, “Third verse, same as the first,” November 12, 2008.` The diehard defensive line showed up at Monday night’s River Oversight Committee meeting to protect their hard-won plan from backsliding.

Thanks to Lila, they needn’t have worried.

The final plan — about which there are many questions, such as how much and what kind of fencing the MGA will get between the public paths and the golf course, and whether money can be found or diverted to spruce up the Catalpa-Pershing ditch — still has to run the Committee of Six gauntlet, as well as the bodies they represent: the County, the City, and SARA. But you know what Nelson says …

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