Two weeks ago, when attorney Ted Lee publicly confronted District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian over her role in the City’s zoning process, one of his big assertions was that Cibrian has an overly chummy relationship with lobbyist Bill Kaufman.
The Current, which looked into Cibrian’s front-end role in the zoning process last month `“Boundary Issues,” February 4, 2009`, recently filed an open-records request with the City to look at email communications between Cibrian and Kaufman in the two years since she became a member of Council.
While the emails do not provide any examples of Kaufman explicitly bending Cibrian’s thinking to suit his lobbying agenda, they do indicate that a mutual-admiration society exists between the lobbyist and the Councilmember.
Before Cibrian addressed the North Chamber of Commerce in November, 2007, she sent Kaufman this email request for advice: “Hi Bill, I am speaking for 20 minutes. Any tips?” He responded like a diligent City Hall staffer: “Pro economic development, improving Development Services, having City Staff be responsive to businesses, bring reasonableness to zoning cases (you are personally involved) — you know, your normal speech. You want to help small business grow in a regulated environment. You may, or may not, want to address term limits.”
That same week, Cibrian sent Kaufman the following email: “I would like to visit with you about how we can make the zoning process better at City Council meetings. After you left, I had a difficult time.” Kaufman quickly responded: “You bet. When do you have time available?”
Beyond the cryptic “after you left, I had a difficult time” comment from Cibrian, it’s a legitimate question why an elected official should feel compelled to have summits with lobbyists to make the zoning process flow more smoothly.
We also get the occasional “you are great” and “you made my day” notes from Kaufman to Cibrian, and one effusive testimonial from the Councilwoman in response to a critical letter from neighborhood activist Cynthia Nemcik about Kaufman. Nemcik opposed the commercial development of two acres of residential property at Green Glen and Oak Grove, a project for which Kaufman lobbied.
Cibrian reassures an aggravated Kaufman this way: “I have always found you to be highly professional, ethical, and honest. I was quite surprised by the email Ms. Nemcick sent to me. Please disregard her letter as I have found much of the information she provides to be highly inaccurate and unfortunate. You have worked very hard with my office and the neighborhood to come to a positive resolution on this case. As a result, you have my full support.”
Over the last six months, Cibrian and Kaufman have also exchanged several emails about Red McCombs’ petition to have the City close and abandon a portion of Mockingbird Lane between I-10 West and Greatview Drive (which would enable McCombs to purchase that part of the street, and use it to link his businesses), an effort for which Kaufman lobbied on McCombs’ behalf.
At the Council’s March 5 meeting, Cibrian publicly backed McCombs (coincidentally, a supporter of Cibrian’s run for mayor) on the plan, noting that McCombs provided a petition with signatures from 266 people in support of the closure. Ted Trakas, president of Vance Jackson Neighborhood, Inc., however, has argued that a majority of those signatures came from outside Cibrian’s District 8, and were actually from District 1 residents who will not be affected by the closure. Trakas and VJNI insist that the Mockingbird closure will severely limit I-10 access for nearby residents and office tenants.
Despite such neighborhood concerns, the Council — with Cibrian taking the lead — approved McCombs’ Mockingbird request.
As the QueQue went to press, the Texas Senate was hosting a public hearing for Senate Bill 362 — which would make exercising the franchise in the Lone Star State roughly as onerous as applying for a U.S. passport. No longer would that creased piece of thin cardboard from the county registrar do; voters would need to present an approved form of photo ID (including a passport, which is kind of like double taxation, if you think about it) or, say, a birth certificate and a hunting license.
Senate Republicans and Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst have continued to strongarm the measure through the 81st Legislature, although they’ve yet to demonstrate the problem it would solve.
“The voter fraud epidemic they talk about is a ghost epidemic,” said Kirsten Gray, spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “This is an attempt to put bureaucratic hoops between you and the ballot box.” Gray cites numerous studies showing that photo ID laws discourage turnout across the board, including former Texas Republican Party Political Director Royal Masset’s estimation that a photo ID requirement would reduce Democratic turnout in Texas by 3 percent, and a 2006 study by the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice which found that 18 percent of Americans over age 65 and 25 percent of African-Americans did not have a government-issued photo ID.
Gray says the time, effort, and, in many cases, fees required to obtain acceptable identification amounts to a de-facto poll tax. You can track SB362 and contact your reps at legis.state.tx.us.
HB595 is pending in the House Natural Resources Committee, awaiting the endorsement of various influential governmental entities. To wit: the Bexar County Commissioners and our public water utility, SAWS. Clocking in at a mere 423 words, the bill would outlaw the discharge of sewage effluent into any water in the contributing or recharge zone of the San Antonio or Barton Springs portions of the Edwards Aquifer.
Hometown Rep. David Leibowitz has it on the House side, and our own Leticia Van de Putte holds the companion bill in the Senate. So why are our Bexar County Commissioners, so progressive in matters of venue taxes and public amenties (and, indeed, voter ID requirements, which their current legislative agenda requires them to “monitor and oppose”), dragging their feet? Mssrs. Adkisson, Elizondo, Rodriguez, and K. Wolff, headed by Judge N. Wolff, were prepared to adopt a resolution in support of the legislation early last month, but held off after the development community weighed in.
Becky Oliver, executive veep of the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, wrote the Commissioners in a letter dated February 10 that the bill would result in an explosion of “endless acres of onsite septic tanks” in the Hill Country north and west of San Antonio. And as everyone knows, “Individual septic systems have more potential for contaminating groundwater than do wastewater treatment plants with appropriate effluent standards.”
Plus, says an unsigned letter on Real Estate Council of San Antonio letterhead: Shit is just plain good for creeks.
“Discharges have the advantage of providing a constant source of flow to the local creeks,” the realtors’ objection states, “rather than potentially piping it downstream … ”
Many aquatic activists expected the court to bring the matter back up for consideration at its February 24 meeting, but no such luck.
Meanwhile, the SAWS board of directors has been slow to embrace 595, too, despite turning down a developer’s application for the very fact that they didn’t want septic running into the San Geronimo Creek — and ultimately the Edwards, San Antonio’s primary water source. At a March 4 board meeting, Chairman Alex Briseño said only that the board needed to take a position on the bill.
So, maybe give ’em another month.
Annalisa Peace of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance says the development communities concerns are misplaced (not to say disingenuous): “If the developers are so worried about septic then we invite them to work with us to make sure we get that taken care of.”
Current state rules on septic systems prohibit much density, she said, and rural septic systems would still be able to use their “gray” water for irrigation under HB595.
District 4’s Adkisson says he just wants to hear both sides of the story in a full-on work session before the Commissioners make a decision. Although he’s sympathetic to the bill, he wonders why it’s not statewide. “If effluent in our creeks is bad, it ought to be bad in any creek,” he said. “We’re all eating seafood out of the Gulf,” the end repository for downstream waste that doesn’t trickle into the aquifer. But, he promised, “It’ll go on `the agenda` sometime real soon.”