Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
Robert Rivard: A new energy economy in S.A. could be the next big thing
The refurbished Pearl Stable was a fitting venue for last week's celebration of Bill Sinkin, a visionary who at age 95 continues to imagine a better city.
The Pearl Brewery campus itself has become the most visible symbol of sustainability in a part of the city undergoing its own rebirth.
Sinkin's resume is too long and too well known to review here, but the man who helped convince San Antonio it could host a World's Fair in 1968 now wants us to believe solar power can be a big part of the city's energy future.
It's a good time to believe.
Sinkin isn't getting any younger. It would be nice for our elected leaders and the business community to repay his life's work with a clear signal that we get it.
More importantly, we find ourselves in a time and place when all the elements are coming together. Big change has a chance in San Antonio.
Oil and gas prices with no seeming ceiling are bringing many otherwise indifferent people to the point of understanding the oil economy is a house of cards.
Now is the time for San Antonio to join other communities seeking to design and build a better model.
Solar energy should be part of that new model.
The Pearl, a blend of the old and the new, will soon boast the largest solar project in Texas with the completion of the Full Goods Building, a remarkable development and a first for our city in leading the way in Texas alternative energy development.
The public sector needs to follow, then lead.
There are hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of construction projects on the drawing boards, especially if you count Fort Sam Houston, already the site of one large solar project.
Architects, engineers and some progressive developers and redevelopers are ready to design and build public buildings and private residences that are more energy efficient to the point of being self-sufficient. All they need are clients.
Steven Strong, a solar energy pioneer and recognized national authority, pointed out during his keynote speech at the Sinkin luncheon that leadership, not technology, is the impediment to real change.
But San Antonio's leadership has become increasingly progressive, willing to take risks, to make difficult changes, to convince the public to think bigger.
The recent venue tax election, in which a small but committed electorate approved by overwhelming majorities new levels of investment in the city's smart redevelopment, is evidence that people are willing to support big change.
A serious and sustained public conversation. The only issue that equals the energy discussion in terms of importance is education.
Rather than simply consider an acceleration of solar pilot projects partly funded with federal grants, the city, the county, all of the school districts and the leading corporate entities should come to the table and together agree to conduct a citywide self-assessment.
Here is a suggested agenda: Change is imperative, and the time is now.
While we explore all alternative energy sources, including solar and nuclear power, we also should get busy reducing our overall consumption.
Here are a few things we can do starting now:
•Start over with light rail. San Antonio needs a public transportation system that is more than buses. We need a system that attracts riders in all socioeconomic groups.
•Experiment with free bus ridership in select congested areas. Imagine one day a week when all downtown-bound riders who board buses north of Loop 1604 ride free. A bus ride is free in downtown Seattle, a policy that has significantly reduced rush-hour vehicle traffic into the central city.
•Create tax incentives for businesses and homeowners who retrofit existing buildings and homes with alternative energy systems, or who adopt such systems in new construction.
•Conduct a nationwide review of best practices already under way in other cities.
•Adopt a mandatory citywide recycling program that includes public recycling receptacles everywhere individual trash receptacles are now located. Include businesses.
•Implement a real bike grid on city streets so more people can park their vehicles and safely commute on bicycles.
•Offer incentives to Toyota to convert its manufacturing plant here from Tundras to hybrids. The move will protect jobs as sales of gas guzzlers fall and demand grows for energy-efficient vehicles.
More and more people here understand that the endless pursuit of oil reserves at all costs is not a viable or sustainable course for the future.
Everything seems right for the city to act. For that, we should thank Bill Sinkin, a wise old man who still thinks young.
Robert Rivard is editor of the Express-News. E-mail him at rrivard@express-net.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Pamela Taylor stands next to the banner she posted on the corner of Monsees Road, not far from where the border fence will soon be erected. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) current plans would put Taylor's home on the south side of the fence without any clear access points.
On Monday night, Taylor and a small group of Southmost landowners met with County Commissioner Sofia C.Benavides and DHS representatives to discuss their predicament.
The fence is expected to run through much of Benavides' precinct.
Landowners in the Southmost area - especially those whose property will be behind the fence - have plenty of questions about the barrier. Taylor, 79, isn't sure how fire fighters or emergency medical services will get to her home.
The banner, which reads, "We're part of America. We need representation and protection, not a fence" is Taylor's message to government officials.
"We're trying to spread democracy all over the world, but we don't even have it here," Taylor said. "As an American citizen, it makes me ashamed."
So far, DHS has not offered her any compensation. But even if it does, she said, it wouldn't be enough for the home where she's lived for 51 years.
"It's not the money," she said. "It's the romping and stomping on our rights."
AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) -- Austin Independent School District cafeteria workers, custodians and others are trying to focus school board attention on their paychecks.
"A family of three needs over $35,000 a year to cover health care, to cover for transportation, to cover for rent, to cover for food, to cover for clothing, all those basic necessities. And a lot of these workers barely make $10,000 a year," said Chavel Lopez with the Southwest Workers Union.
One major complaint is that cafeteria workers have to pay for their own uniforms, shoes, hair nets and gloves.
The Southwest Workers Union presented a living wage study to the school board and hopes to spur more discussion soon.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Another chapter concluded on thursday in the epic battle between People Power vs. Nukes -- this time results were indecisive. SWU pulled way ahead in the category of awesome banners (see photo).
As SWU had garnered sufficient pressure against a rate-hike (for the municipally owned utility, CPS) to pay for building two new nuclear reactors, CPS decided to take nukes off the table -- sort of. Instead the rate-hike CPS asked for from City Council will pay for the still-not-finished-over-budget coal plant and maybe some energy efficiency incentives. While the finances are kept from the public and councilmembers, it seemed that fancy accounting took money from the existing accounts for the nuke studies and moved the coal project over for rate-hike funding.
SWU youth, Diana Lopez, told Council "It is time for the Council to take the lead from the youth and not the other way around, we want a green future."
Thursday the City Council was set to vote on the rate hike at 9am, but managed to drag out any decision-making until late in the afternoon. Endless presentations by CPS and numerous hand-fed questions by Councilwoman Herrera (6) kept the meeting going on and on. In the end, the word nuclear was barely mentioned and the debate centered around whether to give the entire 5% rate hike or something smaller. The debate did send a message to CPS that they can no longer treat the council as a 'rubber stamp' and may not be able to continue to keep the council (and the people) in the dark about operations.
Mayor Hardberger passionately linked a vote for 5% to a vote for not only the People but for the Spurs. CPS complained that "we don't own the wind," while the CEO was likened to a "19th century manager." Everyone talked about being green and liking solar power. But no Councilperson demanded any more from CPS.
7 hours later, the vote finally happened. At first it looked like 5% passed... then meekly from the corner Councilwomen Loudres (5) told the Mayor she accidentally pushed the wrong button. After the motion failed, the Council passed a 3.5% rate hike to start in September of this year. There was no mandate about energy efficiency or renewable targets.
In the end, CPS and the Council felt the heat. SWU has elevated the debate around energy justice in the city and educated thousands. The question of funding for nuclear power will probably go to a popular vote in the fall. We will continue to bring forward a movement for green energy and green jobs in south Texas.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
SWU forced the EPA to listen to the community's testimony and concern and offer a tour of the TAGA facilities. Administrators and staff from EPA Regional 6 in Dallas attended along with local families. 20 homes are being studied this week in North Kelly Gardens, and with SWU input we were able to add homes in Normoyl Park area.
SWU eagerly awaits the results of the study and the subsequent dialog between residents and the EPA.
Monday, May 12, 2008
The deep seated legacy of racism and good 'ol boy system pushed back to shut the community out of the elections. Hondo is a City of 8,000, 40 miles west of San Antonio, plagued with a racial and class divide reminiscent of the 1950s. 70% of residents are people of color, predominantly Mexican with a small African-American population. This community is 6 times more likely than its white counterparts to living in poverty. The median income for a household in the city is under $28,000. 1/3 of children live in poverty.
The Nuestra Voz Campaign went door to door for two months educating voters and potential voters about the importance of building our power through using the electoral system and undoing the mentality that 'change is not possible.' We developed a platform around revitalization, education and the environment which was endorsed by the 3 winning candidates, registered 250 new voters and organized numerous events to express our demands for a better Hondo.
From giving Mexican voters ineligible 'sample ballots' to fill out to changing the process for casting your vote to watching voters fill out the ballots to implementing unlawful ID requirements, the establishment attempted to keep folks out of the polling place. Voting cards and vote by mail ballots were sent out late. Even after the election was over the City attempted to load the ballot boxes into the car of the incumbents' husband. After early voting (with record turn out), before election day, the local paper, the Hondo Anvil Herald front page stated:
"voting in the election, which has a record breaking early vote, is crucial if a fair representation of the city's electorate is to decide to keep their current city council members, who by all reports and indications have been very productive, or to replace one, two of all three of them with their challengers."
In spite of the intimidation, the Nuestra Voz campaign pushed back through know-your-rights trainings, engaging state lawyers in voter protection and maintaining a constant presence in the City and County. Volunteers were on the streets every day during early voting and election day to get out the vote, offer rides, assure all eligible voters were counted and energize the community to the polls. Never had so much attention or energy surrounded an election.
In the end the voters rejected the status quo politics and voted for change. HEC is working on establishing meetings with each of the new councilpeople to review our platform for change and maintain a strong sense of accountability to all the folks that came out to vote. HEC will use the energy from the elections to encourage more transparency from the city, more participation in local issues and increase in resources directed towards the needs of the historical marginalized residents.
The elections proves a HUGE victory for the people and for the Hondo Empowerment Committee. Many thanks to our sister organizations SWOP, Southern Echo and CVH for their invaluable support and expertise.
We showed without a doubt our ability to mobilize power and make a huge difference at the polls. Election day is just the beginning. Adelante con la revolucion!
Coverage from San Antonio Current here
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
La Union es la Fuerza