Council election runoffs for D1, D7
District 1’s turntablist underdog came out ahead in Saturday’s city elections, winning 40.5 percent of the vote. That solid first-place finish marks Diego Bernal, local musician and civil-rights attorney, as the clear frontrunner for the June 11 runoff against retired firefighter Ralph Medina, who seized 28.44 percent of the vote. It’s unclear just how many votes Medina can pick off from supporters of Carolyn Kelley and Chris Forbrich, both of whom have now thrown their support to Bernal.
A candidate forum for Bernal and Medina has been set for 6:30 p.m., May 24, at Mark Twain Middle School.
Over in District 7, Cris Medina took 48.16 percent of the vote, nearly escaping a runoff against Elena Guajardo, who won 19.9 percent. Candidate Gloria Rodriguez, however, said she’s still considering filing for a recount by Friday’s deadline, noting that she fell behind Guajardo by a mere 26 votes.
Cesar Chavez Blvd pitch returns to Council
To hear former Eastside Councilman (and one-time Cesar Chavez bodyguard) Mario Salas tell it, Thursday’s Council vote to turn Durango Blvd into Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard could have happened 12 years ago. Only back then the push was for Commerce Street — a move strongly resisted by downtown merchants and Eastside business owners. After all, a vibrant African-American business community had gravitated to Commerce and saw it as their own. Salas’ offered compromise led to the addition of memorial signage along the major thoroughfare instead. Then-Councilman Bobby Perez floated Durango Blvd in place of the requested Commerce. “At the time, Jaime [Martinez, founder of the Cesar Chavez March for Justice] characterized it as an alley,” Salas said. “I think he was just pissed off, to make a long story short. He was just mad about it, and he refused to compromise. He didn’t want Durango Street.” And yet now a yea vote on transforming Durango from SW 36th Street to South Hackberry Street being carried by D4’s Phillip Cortez is a near certainty. We’d put forward one of the many roads honoring Anglo slave traders (Houston? Bowie?) but we’d hate to tangle with the proud Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Vote is Thursday at the City Hall Complex (114 W. Commerce) and expected to cost the City $100,000. If and when you need help changing your signage, grab yourself a nearby Chavista. They’re said to be happy to lend a hand.
Texas open for business: as national radwaste cesspool
Here’s a creative way out of our fiscal mess: sell “low-level” radioactive dumping rights inside Texas to other states for $30 million and $50 million a pop. Regular readers will remember it’s been more than a year since the guardians of Texas’ glowing trash starting advocating for turning a far western corner of Texas into a nuclear sacrifice zone. While the art of dumping has been privatized, legislation approved in the House Tuesday requires the initial price of dump admission to go to Texas, our Texas. After that, it’s payday for WCS. Perry-backer Harold Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists is poised to reap hundreds of millions off his radioactive pits in Andrews County. As this paper was going to press, members of the Texas House were approving legislation that would potentially allow radioactive waste stockpiling around the country to be dumped in Texas at WCS. Up to 30 percent of the company’s capacity (which still needs updating from TCEQ, which bent over backward to get the thing licensed in the first place, overriding staff protests about suspect geology) could be filled with waste from “non-compact” states, that is: states other than Texas and Vermont.
Karen Hadden of the SEED Coalition said the state should set strict capacity limits first and deal with Texas and Vermont’s waste before opening the site to the rest of the country. Texas and Vermont joined in compact with each other in 1998 for the disposal of the states’ low-level radioactive waste. Texas was tagged the receiver state. “They’ve got a waste stream. What they’re trying to do is, the billionaire is trying to get richer still.” There is more than a billion dollars to be made off the South Texas Project nuclear plant in Matagorda County and Comanche Peak west of Fort Worth already, she said, what with all those mammoth, trashed reactor heads and steam generators lying around. Twelve steam generators, approaching 400 tons each, could clear the company a cool billion, she said.
But the really hot stuff? That spent fuel sizzling in pools at plants around the country? Obama’s expert panel on all things radioactive (the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future) recommended last week dumping all that potentially very lethal nuclear fuel in one centralized location. Think Yucca Mountain without Yucca Mountain. A hop over the Andrews County line, New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is one possibility: if state residents here and there don’t balk at radwaste trucking plans billed in the ’90s as the “Mobile Chernobyl.” Stay tuned.
SAISD Tasers in the dark
If you have kids in San Antonio ISD, you have no clue if or when the district’s cops (also known as “school resource officers”) can attack your children with pepper spray or Tasers. That’s because it’s secret.
Two years ago, researchers with Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based non-profit advocacy group, began requesting use-of-force policies from some of the state’s largest school districts to see which school police forces use Tasers, pepper spray, and other forms of restraint on campus. While many districts willingly made their policies public, SAISD has fought to keep theirs out of the public eye.
Texas Appleseed took SAISD to court last week, arguing that the public has a right to know their district’s use-of-force policies. SAISD has claimed release of the information would interfere with law enforcement on school grounds.
Deborah Fowler, who heads Appleseed’s legal team, said, “We think that because of the vulnerability of the school-age population, it is imperative that the community knows and has a voice over whether pepper spray and Tasers are used on their students.”
The group sued in 2009 after both SAISD and Spring Branch ISD fought to keep their policies private, followed by a Texas Attorney General opinion that said school use-of-force policies were exempt from public record. Fowler said she’s afraid the opinion, if not overturned by a judge’s decision, would essentially block parents from knowing what types of enforcement police can use on their kids.
Use-of-force policies in schools vary across the state: Policy at Austin ISD allows officers to use Tasers, pepper spray, and even dogs on students, while Houston ISD officers only use physical restraint.
One of the unintended consequences of a constant police presence at schools, Folwer said, is that thousands of Texas school children are now ticketed every year for Class C misdemeanors like “disruption of classes” or “disruption of transportation.” The increased criminalization of student misconduct not only increases dropout rates but creates a “school-to-prison pipeline” by throwing more kids into the Texas criminal justice system.
Barton blasted for loving coal plants more than kids
Of all the industry groups and GOP politicos fuming over the EPA’s proposed new standard for air emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other pollutants flowing from coal-fired power plants, Texas Congressman Joe Barton has certainly been one of the loudest. At a congressional hearing last month, Barton insisted the EPA claims that tighter pollution standards could reduce up to 17,000 premature deaths a year were “pulled out of thin air.”
“There is absolutely nothing to back it up,” Barton said, adding that reining in pollution wasn’t worth the cost of upgrading existing power plants because there was no real health benefit. Baffled by his remarks, a group of doctors from leading national health organizations last week sent Barton a politely worded letter telling the congressman, in so many words, that he’s full of it.
“We write you today to provide you with information regarding the wealth of peer-reviewed research that establishes a clear link between air pollution and a range of serious adverse human health effects.”
The doctors — with organizations like the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others — told Barton that fetuses and young children are often the most harmed by mercury exposure because it impedes brain and nervous system development. Numerous studies, they said, also show clear health impacts from even short-term exposure to particulate matter, including increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and inflammation of lung tissue. Industrial emissions, particularly from coal-fired plants, are the leading source of environmental mercury.
The most recent EPA data shows that in 2008 the Fort Worth-Arlington area, which falls in Barton’s district, experienced 27 days in which the air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups like the elderly and children with chronic illness. San Antonio experienced 10 days of air quality unhealthy for sensitive groups in 2008. •