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Since the 81st regular legislature closed up shop June 1, environmental organizations here waited to hear Governor Rick Perry say yes and officially sign HB 821, otherwise known as the TV TakeBack Bill, into law – or at least let it slide by unconfronted. The TV TakeBack Bill was based on the 2007 Computer TakeBack Bill (HB 2714), and it would have created a widespread recycling system less reliant on taxpayer dollars, according to Jeff Jacoby, Director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment’s Dallas office. Everyone was ready for the yes.

The digital transition that took place on June 12 was one motivator for the creation of this bill because consumers are expected to dump their old TVs en masse. “Ninety-nine million TVs are currently sitting in storage in the United States. If you look at the number proportionally, eight million TVs are sitting and gathering dust in Texas,” Jacoby said. “With the switch, we estimate about 3 million TVs could be sent to the landfill.” Even so, not everyone decided to dump their TV’s.

But Perry vetoed the bill, June 19. Before the TCE found out about the veto at 4 p.m. that Friday, “all indications from his staff were that he was OK with the bill,” Jacoby said.

“At the end of May, that’s when we got a very strong message that the Governor would be fine with this,” Robin Schneider, TCE Executive Director, said.

The office of Representative David Leibowitz seemed similarly confident of Perry’s support. Prior to the veto announcement, Rob Borja, Leibowitz’s Chief of Staff, noted that Perry signed the Computer TakeBack Bill, so there was a high probability he would sign this bill as well.

Rep. Leibowitz himself was stunned at the announcement. “It did nothing but help people, then out of the blue, he vetoes it. It absolutely boggles my mind,” he said. “Of all the missteps and all the screw-ups in this session, this is probably the most tragic.”

The bill’s author, Leibowitz, is taking the veto personally. “It’s as if somebody said ‘Who cares about your hundreds of man hours?’” he lamented.

Governor Perry’s statement concerning his veto was full of reasons why this bill was not beneficial for Texas – many of which are seen as contradictory by the TCE and Leibowitz’s office. “Although House Bill No. 821 attempts to make it easier for consumers to recycle old televisions, it does so at the expense of manufacturers, retailers and recyclers by imposing onerous new mandates, fees and regulations,” his statement said.

Schneider assessed the statement as “strange, because these groups worked with us [to create the bill]. The retailers were not necessarily for it, but they were not opposed.”

“The first draft of the bill that we worked off of, which was provided by the television industry, included these fees,” Borja said. “The industry said the $2,500-a-year fees were fine. It was a trade-group and TV-manufacturer proposal.”

“All the different perspectives kept meeting until we came up with a compromise everyone agreed on,” said Leibowitz. “It was very unique in the sense that all these different groups worked together . . . I know we even met with a Baptist organization.”

Schneider received no better answer when she confronted Perry the morning after the veto. “The weird thing was he said he vetoed the bill because it was an industry-backed bill. He said it was backed by GE,” she said. “What he failed to mention was that the [Computer TakeBack bill he passed] was made by computer manufacturers like Dell.”

Perry recommends “that the next legislature look at this issue and maybe look at ways to make [the TV TakeBack Bill] like the computer recycling bill,” Perry’s Press Secretary, Allison Castle, said.

Yet after looking at Perry’s statement, participants in the creation of the bill were again confused. “[Gov. Perry] put it in the veto message that the bill needed to be more like the Computer TakeBack Bill,” Borja said, “but that was the bill this was based on.”

Even with the veto, the fight is not yet over. “Well we can’t override a veto if we are not in session, and the governor has not called a special session,” Leibowitz said. He believes the Governor might have waited until the session ended on purpose, but he said “[I am] working on a response to his veto right now.”

Check out this link for a point by point rebuttal of Perry’s explanation of his reasons for the veto provided by Robin Schneider, TCE Executive Director: www.sacurrent.com/blog/hb821rebuttal.pdf

Published online by the San Antonio Current on 06/23/2009. Read it here.

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A father gets up in the morning to make a cup of joe and watch the news before heading off to work. In preparation for the analog to digital switch, he had purchased a TV converter box for his old analog TV and set up his rabbit-eared antenna. Nothing should prevent him from watching his favorite morning broadcast. But the TV only displays static – even after wires are twiddled and buttons are pushed.

This was one problem that hit San Antonians on June 12, 2009, the official date of the transition from analog to digital broadcast signals. Patricia Gonzales, Senior Vice President of the William C. Velasquez Institute said that the main difficulty people experienced this past weekend was that they already had the converter box, but it was not set up correctly. The Velasquez Institute provides English and Spanish speakers to answer questions over the phone and to help individuals acquire the government-issued coupons for converter boxes.

With the switch to digital signals, people need to buy a new digital set or have the mirepoix of electronics – the analog television, the signal converter box, and an antenna – but “[people] didn’t know that once the transition occurred you would have to rescan [reset] your converter box” Wesley Zernial, program coordinator for the Alamo Area Agency of Aging, said. All the puzzle pieces must be there, and one has to know how to hook them all together.

Since electronics are so easy to not understand, the phone calls and requests came flooding in on Friday morning and continued through Saturday. The WCVI received a substantial amount of calls for help on Saturday, according to Gonzales. “Saturday was our ‘whoa’ morning,” she said.

But Friday was a particularly crazy day for the FCC-funded South Texas Resource and Assistance Center – a nonprofit organization that, among many things, sends technicians to install converter boxes and antennas for free. “Our call center crashed twice because we got so many calls . . . We couldn’t keep up with the volume,” Adam Rodriguez, vice chair, board member and grant writer for the Center, said.

The Center received approximately 150 calls per hour for the first two days (phew!), and Rodriguez says the Center needs more bilingual volunteers. “There are three demographics [of people calling us],” he said. “There are folks that were prepared, but they didn’t know how to rescan; there are ones that weren’t ready and were calling for coupons; and then there were some seniors and disabled who didn’t understand what happened.”

“We were stretched,” he said, and no wonder. The FCC placed the Center in charge of aiding all of South Texas, Houston, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.

Many other companies around San Antonio felt the heat – indoors that is. Bjorn’s and Best Buy experienced increased customer demand over the weekend. Bjorn’s had heavy phone traffic on Friday from people calling to get information on how to rescan their converter box, said Joey Martinez, assistant sales-floor manager. Ernest Rangel, manager for the Best Buy in Selma, said “Not too many people came in looking for new TVs; they came in for convertor boxes and antennas.”

Prior to the switch, the NTIA identified seven cities that would need extra assistance during the switch. “[San Antonio was] at risk due to the high level of low income, elderly, Mexican [Spanish speaking], and deaf populations [who would need help],” said Deanne Cuellar, Project director for the Texas Media Empowerment Project. A June 10 Nielsen Media Research press release projected that 3.17 percent of homes in San Antonio were still not ready for the change.

But now, most coordinators for groups aiding San Antonians with the switch believe the transition went well, all things considered. “I think it was pretty smooth . . . there will always be people that need help, [but] I would give it a B if I were to grade it,” says Rodriguez.

However, Zernial sees it a bit differently. “I think the transition has been really good . . . we were ranked as number 2 in the nation for DTV preparedness” he says. “What makes San Antonio different is that all of the DTV grant recipients have been very cooperative and worked together . . . We share resources,” Zernial says. “San Antonio has done a really great job.”

Published online by the San Antonio Current on 06/16/2009. Read it here.

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With the date of the analog to digital television signal switch looming closer, reality has become more prominent – millions of unused analog televisions have the potential to wind up in Texas landfills. Alongside this threat, recycling has risen higher on many individuals’ to-do lists, including the Texas Legislature’s.

Even if it might not be yet in vogue to recycle one’s television, HB 821, otherwise known as the TV TakeBack bill, was approved by the Texas Senate. Since May 31, it has been waiting on the desk of Gov. Rick Perry for his signature of approval.

If it officially becomes law, the TV TakeBack bill will obligate all TV manufacturers to provide a free television recycling plan for their customers if they want to be able to sell their products inside Texas borders, said Rob Borja, chief of staff for San Antonio Rep. David Leibowitz.

Borja said that the bill’s first draft required some changes because TV manufacturers initially opposed the bill which, in its early stages, added televisions to a similar computer-recycling bill passed in 2007.

Televisions have a nasty habit of sticking around for a truly extensive length of time, even outlasting the lifespan of their own manufacturers.

To deal with this problem, “the manufacturers wanted a market share set up” Borja said. If a manufacturer only sells 20 percent of its televisions in Texas, then it will only has to recycle 20 percent of televisions turned in for recycling, while televisions beyond that 20 percent are given to other manufacturers in the market to recycle, he said.

“The enforcement mechanism [for this bill] is that retailers are not allowed to sell any TVs from manufacturers that do not have a recycling plan,” Borja said.

Manufacturer recycling plans must be approved by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality no later than May 1, 2010.

“We are going to use a stakeholder process” in which everyone who is impacted by this legislation will be sought out for their input prior to the formulation of the rules, Director of the Small Business and Environmental Assistance Division for TCEQ, Brian Christian, said. “The stakeholder meetings would be a part of the overall rule-making process.” The process of creating the regulations can take anywhere from six to nine to ten months.

While these TCEQ rules are yet to be laid down, Sony appears to be getting a jump start at Bjorn’s on US 281.

Assistant sales-floor manager Joey Martinez said “Sony is getting ready to launch a recycling and environmental awareness program specifically in Bjorn’s because we have a Sony gallery.”

With the switch from analog to digital television signals coming up on June 12, the importance of TV manufacturers’ recycling program is growing. Jeffery Jacoby, Texas Campaign for the Environment program director for Dallas/Fortworth, said “we anticipate that there will be millions of TVs that will be rendered obsolete . . . we have a responsibility to prevent these TVs from making their way to landfills.”

Yet the bill is not perfect. “The problems with the legislation are that the bill will not be enforced until after the switch from analog to digital [and that] there are no incentives in the bill for manufacturers to begin their programs early,” he said.

“While there are shortcomings if you look at the long term, this is a great investment in our future,” Jacoby said.

Published online by the San Antonio Current on 06/04/2009. Read it here.

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Occasionally you’ll spot a lone cyclist braving the heat, whizzing down the access road. They’re doing some serious sweating — this is Texas — and you think: crazy-ass. But to that rider, the trek is worth the 10 gallons of water (or other beverage) he or she will need to drink to maintain consciousness. San Antonio is full of such people who, despite the heat, put butt to bike when in need of some me time, or just as a form of transportation.

“There are literally thousands of people who are out there riding in San Antonio,” says Bob Baker, a coordinator for the Cool Cats Cycling Club.

For college students in particular cheap transportation is key — I know I definitely don’t have a $10,000 car fund laying around — but cycling is also a good way to exercise, blow off steam, and hang out with friends.

“For some people, it is therapy. It helps reduce the stress in your life,” Samuel Perez, chair of education for the SA Wheelmen, says. “I sleep better at night when I ride.” Perez rides his bike to work most mornings. “I drive … a pollution machine, but I only drive it for less than 6,000 miles per year because I bike so much,” he says.

Fabien Jacob, a life-long cyclist (and key member of the Current’s Travels With Frenchie restaurant-review team), started biking because his father was a pro cyclist. “You grow up wanting to be like your dad,” he says.

For Jacob, cycling is a way to escape the hectic rush of daily life — the I-don’t-even-have-time-to-eat life that college students know well. As your thoughts bounce from homework to job to bills, cycling can quiet the overtaxed mind.

“I just like the fact that you can go away from city and relax,” Jacob says.

Perez and Jacob have been cycling for years, but you don’t black belt in biking to enjoy the sport or to participate in San Antonio’s many group rides.

“Group rides can be a good thing” says Carlos Montoya, an avid cyclist and a bicycle repairman at the Bike World location in Alamo Heights (and another core member of the Travels With Frenchie team). “Just being comfortable riding around other people … helps you be more aware of your surroundings.”

Montoya suggests beginner cyclists look for clubs that fit their style, whether it’s road, mountain, competitive racing, or all three. There are so many
bike-group options here, though, that they’re somewhat overwhelming. You can choose from the SA Wheelmen, Ride like a Girl/Ride with the Girls, the Hill Country Bicycle Touring Club, the Cool Cats Cycling Club, and on and on. If you Google San Antonio bicycle clubs, many clubs’ websites will pop up (the Bombay Bicycle Club is a restaurant and bar, though), and Facebook is another good way to connect with other bike lovers.

“We are a road-riding club, and we specialize in people who are new [to cycling],” says the Cool Cats’ Baker. “We always keep an experienced rider with a new rider, even if they are at the back, because it can be scary if you are just starting out for the first time and are riding with traffic.”

The Hill Country Bicycle Touring Club also focuses on including the newbies, rather than beating them up. “We are there to help out,” says Heidi Lynn, a ride leader for some of HCBTC’s beginner rides. “That’s our goal: to keep people out biking and staying healthy.”

“[The SA Wheelmen] are purely road and recreational oriented,” Perez says. “For the layman though, we are the ‘hot dog’ racer club — which is a misnomer, if you will … we just happen to have a lot of people who are skilled riders. It is a diverse club and becoming more so every year … Our members are from college students to great-grandmothers.”

“The [SA Wheelmen] has been trying to increase participation in the social aspect of the club,” adds Ericka Garcia, chair of social events, who is pumped about the August 2 cycling picnic the Wheelmen recently hosted.

Safety, of course, is paramount, and many resources can help you learn safe bike-riding habits. Perez will offer a basic bike skills course this upcoming year through the League of American Bicyclists (it’s listed at bikeleague.org). The Texas Bicycle Coalition’s website (biketexas.org) offers a rundown of bicycle rules of the road and Bike World sells a simple tip book, Cycling from A to Z.

“It’s a comprehensive guide for kids and adults,” says Mike Beaty, who manages the Alamo Heights shop fleet and coordinates the store’s supply of police bikes to the City.

The San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization publishes a San Antonio bike map that labels every road’s degree of safety for cyclists, based on location and traffic. Lydia Kelly, the MPO’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator/Planner, hopes that the map’s third edition will be ready for the October 14 Bicycle Mobility Advisory Meeting. Give Kelly a ring at (210) 230-6911, or check out the Bicycle Mobility Advisory meetings, which are scheduled the second Wednesday of
every month.

Of course, it’s difficult to learn to safely ride a bike sans bike.

“We always tell people that if you are going to get into cycling and you don’t have anything, it will probably cost you about $1,000,” says Baker. Even so, there are ways to pursue bike heaven without sacrificing your other earthly comforts. Lynn says Performance Bike at 281 and Thousand Oaks seems less expensive than some other shops, and eBay and craigslist are also options.

Cheap bike (hopefully) in hand, you need to protect your investment.

“Two weeks ago, a guy called who had had his bike stolen off of his second-story apartment’s porch,” says Beaty. “Most bikes are stolen because they are not locked.” So if you don’t want to lose your pricey purchase, Beaty recommends dismemberment (take off the front wheel) and chains (use both a U-lock and double-ended cable).

Once you’ve purchased your bike (and helmet!), finding ride time and companions will be relatively easy.

“I was having yogurt at TCBY; I walked across to Bike World, and that was the end of that,” says Tim Tilton, a rider of 15 years and an unofficial leader of the Thursday-night bike ride that leaves from the Bike World parking lot.

Ah, frozen yogurt; mysterious key to the cycling world, probiotic genie in a bottle. This theory hasn’t been scientifically tested, but just head out to Red Mango and see. You may wind up sweating along the access road, in pure cycling bliss.

Published by the San Antonio Current on 08/26/2009. Read it here.

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What, can’t make it to the farmers market at Pearl Brewery every Saturday before the lines form? Mason Arnold, a UT-Austin grad who dreamt up Greenling Organic Delivery in Austin four years ago, expanded service to San Anto in 2007 and has been collecting enviro-entrepreneur awards along the way [see the MashUp, September 24, 2008]. Via his innovative shopping and delivery service, Greenling hooks up the potential eaters of organic and/or local products with the farmers and craftsmen who produce ’em. All you have to do is get online, hit a few buttons, and pick a delivery date. Despite the economic downturn — which did cause Greenling to prune — the company currently offers delivery to two-thirds of Ciudad 210, with plans to service the whole tomato.

“There is an underserved demand in San Antonio,” said Arnold. “There are much fewer options for local and organic food.” Arnold is looking for funding from private investors, so that he can ramp up his SATX campaign and expand into the rest of the Lone Star State. His new greenling.com website, which launched July 5, includes additional nutritional information for his comestible offerings and a handy substitution guide to help you shop seasonally without ditching your favorite recipes. Yum.

Published by the San Antonio Current on 07/08/2009. Read it here.

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An action film centered around a conversation, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 explores the intricacies of human connections and the development of relationships via the unlikely venue of a fast-paced hijack flick. But don’t worry — there are guns, too.

Pelham, based on the novel by Morton Freedgood (aka John Godey), immediately jumps into the action with the hijacking of a subway car by an enigmatic individual known only as Ryder (Travolta). A man with his own mysterious past, Walter Garber (Washington) happens to be the subway-car dispatcher who initially speaks with Ryder, placing Garber in the middle of the crisis since Ryder subsequently refuses to speak with anyone else.

Since the majority of the film focuses on the relationship between Ryder and Garber, Pelham leans heavily on Travolta and Washington. The two have an unlikely screen chemistry, and throughout the course of the film, Travolta flaunts his dark side, while Washington shows a little depth as his character, Garber, is forced to admit and come to terms with past failures. Washington mainly plays Garber as a simple, good-hearted man, though, so Travolta’s is definitely the more interesting character — an emotional sphinx whose true motivation is never fully understood. Even though these two characters are strikingly different, an intriguing, complex bond forms between the “hero” and the “bad guy.”

Since this story has already been put on the screen twice before, director Tony Scott ran a high risk of redundancy in both plot and narrative, but he generally succeeds at avoiding it. Due to the film’s dialogue-heavy script, Scott tries to keep suspense high and creates the illusion of high-velocity action throughout the film using handheld cameras. Quick cuts between scenes and jerky panoramic shots of New York City pointedly emphasize the urgency of the situation. Although some have criticized Scott for overusing this trick, the spasmodic and fitful approach syncs effectively with the plotline and film style. Without it, the tension would be muted.

Considering Pelham is an R-rated action film, a certain amount of blood and gore is anticipated, but the few brutal scenes are overdone. At one point in the film, two criminals are pumped full of bullets by a massive crowd of police officers for no apparent reason, yet the shooting continues for several minutes while gallons of blood splatter in slow motion.

If you can stomach the few scenes of gratuitous violence, Pelham delivers generally what one would expect from a big summer action movie — not too much thinking, plenty of jump cuts and cussing, etc. — and it even ups the ante with some extra character development. It’s not much of a first-date movie, but it’s a better-than-average way to kill a Friday night.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Dir. Tony Scott; writ. Brian Helgeland; feat. Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Brian Haley (R)

Published by the San Antonio Current on 06/09/2009. Read it here.

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