COPS/Metro & Texas IAF Declare State Power Failure 'Act of Sheer Negligence' and Demand Accountability from Elected Officials
While state officials announced later in the day that power had stabilized and forced shutoffs were no longer needed, more than 300,000 households remained without power....Texas was especially hard hit because most of its power grid is isolated from the interconnected networks serving the eastern and western parts of the U.S. That made it difficult to import energy from other states when frozen pipes shut down generating station.
The failure of Texas' electric grid led faith leaders across the state on Thursday to call out Gov. Greg Abbott for a lack of leadership and preparation. They urged him to request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and dip into the state's $10 billion "rainy-day" fund to help Texans cover expensive home repairs and energy bills.
They also called on state leaders to act on a 2012 plan to modernize and weatherize the electric grid....
"We are calling for Gov. Abbott to first take responsibility for this gross negligence and stop finger-pointing. This is a gross act of negligence that has caused harm to the whole state of Texas, and it's time to put people over profits," the Rev. John Ogletree of the First Metropolitan Church of Houston said at a virtual press conference Thursday. The event was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 10 mostly faith-based organizations statewide that represents more than 1 million people.
"The state leadership has known that this needed to change, and they have done nothing," Elizabeth Valdez, director of Texas IAF, told EarthBeat.
"The storm may have been an act of nature, but the devastation of the electrical grid shutdown is an act of sheer negligence," Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Diocese added in a statement.
Kelly and other faith leaders who spoke during the press conference and with EarthBeat described the struggles facing their state's people because of the freeze: Temperatures in homes hovering at 30 degrees. Elderly people unable to use dialysis machines. A 76-year-old woman sleeping in her car for warmth. Churches that would typically offer shelter could not because they too lacked power and water...
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
Crews have improved a curve off FM 1560 and Riggs Road that drivers called dangerous and deadly with the hope of fewer crashes in the area.
In late 2018 improvements were made to the area to create better traffic flow. However, cement barriers created a new problem for drivers.
Last year, more than 200 people packed the parish hall at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and voiced their concerns to Texas Department of Transportation officials.
Lucia Hernandez attended the meeting and recalled being hit by a driver when she pulled out onto FM 1560. She blamed the cement barrier and said it created a blind spot.
However, more than a year later, the barrier has come down, and in its place is a new guard rail.
Catherine McCoy, the COPS-Metro Alliance leader, said the spot was dangerous to drivers, especially with the growth in the area.
She and others gathered at the former problem curve Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the changes.
“People should have a right to know that when they’re on the road that these roads are safe, that the engineers have designed it in a safe way,” McCoy said.
[Photo Credit: KSAT]
COPS/Metro Urges TxDOT to Address "Deadly Curve" Near Church and School, West / Southwest IAF
Community Group and Parishioners Celebrate Changes at Controversial Intersection in Helotes, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro in partnership with Community Churches for Social Action (CCSA), and the Baptist Ministers' Union (BMU), has recognized the effort and commitment of elected officials and city staff for revising the San Antonio Police Use of Force policy to completely prohibit, with no exception, the use of neck restraint (strangleholds, choke-holds) collectively referred to as lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR), along with the use of no-knock warrants.
"These policy changes certainly will not solve all of the challenging surrounding relationships between police and communities, but they do represent concrete actionable change that help confirm the city's commitment to live into the Compassionate SA ethos," read a press release from the three organizations.
Faith Leaders Recognize City Council and Staff for Policy Change, Today's Catholic
San Antonio Report Reframes COPS/Metro Ballot Initiative as Opportunity to Celebrate Labor Day in November
About five years ago, COPS/Metro sought and won “living wage” minimum pay for City workers, resulting in raises for about 20 percent of the civilian workforce. They won similar measures from Bexar County, and some school districts followed suit.
Now two measures on the Nov. 3 ballot offer San Antonians the opportunity to again help lower-rung workers. Both involve a one-eighth-cent sales tax that for 20 years has provided funding to buy development rights to protect sensitive lands over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
The first ballot measure would transfer those funds to provide about $154 million over the next four years for a job training program projected to boost the incomes of up to 40,000 workers. That’s an aggressive goal, but what gives it credibility is that its approach is based on Project Quest, a jobs training program designed by COPS/Metro 28 years ago.
Interestingly, it was COPS/Metro and their sister organizations around the state that persuaded the Legislature back in 2001 to authorize local governments to spend money on job training and early childhood education. That same law, the Texas Better Jobs Act, permitted San Antonio voters to approve Pre-K 4 SA in November 2012. The highly successful preschool program is up for renewal on the ballot.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, San Antonio Report]
Election Day Ballot Will Let You Celebrate Labor Day on November 3rd, San Antonio Report [pdf]
COPS/Metro Among Heavy Hitters Called By Mayor to Win Voter Approval of Coronavirus Economic Recovery Plan
Less than two months before early voting begins, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has called in several heavy hitters to steer his campaign to use a sales tax to help residents get back to work after they lost their jobs to the coronavirus.
The campaign, known as “Build SA,” faces the daunting task of figuring out how to break through a noisy November election to convince San Antonio voters to put more than $150 million toward a still loosely defined proposal that city officials estimate would help 40,000 residents get higher-paying jobs....
The mayor has assembled a trio of co-chairs to lead the effort: Blakely Fernandez, a partner at law firm Bracewell and former Alamo Colleges trustee; Linda Chavez-Thompson, former executive vice president of the national AFL-CIO and a former VIA Metropolitan Transit board member; and Sonia Rodriguez, a leader of the local grassroots organization COPS/Metro.
[Photo Credit: KENS5]
Voters will be asked to approve a 1/8-cent sales tax to fund job training and college degrees for San Antonians who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money also would help participants pay rent and other living expenses while they complete those programs.
The sales tax revenue would be dedicated to those purposes for four years....
“Today, San Antonians need this investment more than ever,” Virginia Mata, a leader of the grassroots coalition COPS/Metro told council members Thursday. “It is not only the right thing to do but also the right investment. The seeds that you plant today will have a lasting effect and will help San Antonians rise from the shadows to the light.”
[Photo Credit: Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News]
'We Need Action Now': Sales Tax Proposal for San Antonio Economic Recovery Now in Voters' Hands, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro Calls for Sustained Investment in Workforce Development as Path to Post-Covid Economic Improvement
Since the onset of the pandemic, COPS/Metro with our allies, Project QUEST and the Alamo Colleges, have led the way to ensure San Antonians whose lives have been shattered by the economic free fall can re-enter the workforce equipped with new skills and good salaries. This month, the workforce development program supported by CARES and the city of San Antonio began accepting applicants whose jobs went on hiatus or completely disappeared. These applicants are supported with critical wraparound services that include a stipend, child care, transportation, tutoring and counseling, like the highly successful services provided by Project QUEST, which is recognized nationally for its high graduation and job placement rates. The Alamo Colleges will play a vital role in this program, using Project QUEST’s model along with partnerships that will strengthen and expand its capacity to serve displaced workers.
To be successful, the new Education and Workforce Program will need to adhere to a set of standards like the CARES recovery program, whose primary focus is meeting the needs of the participants. Addressing those needs must be the focal point of decision-making, not business as usual. This means providing quality wraparound services, including a 1-to-100 ratio of counselors to participants, ensuring job placement upon program completion and connecting graduates with jobs that pay a living wage with benefits. And the overall policy direction and management of the program must reside within city government, along with participants, educators and community members who can offer insight into program implementation.
Approximately 160,000 workers have been displaced due to the pandemic. The lion’s share of the funding should be directed toward them. While the majority of tax dollars will be dedicated to workforce development, funds could also go to participants with some college credits who want to complete their degrees. If the higher education institutions adequately address their needs, it is possible a fair number of college graduates could result from a small investment into this pathway. However, using public dollars to offer the same programs and services that previously failed these same students will not do. This is not a scholarship program; it is a jobs program.
[Photo Credit: Billy Calzada/San Antonio Express-News]
Improving Economy of City, Lives Of its Residents in Grasp, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro Advances Tenant Rights in San Antonio. Landlords Now Required to Inform Tenants of Rights
City council unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday requiring landlords and property managers to provide a document called a “notice of tenant’s rights” to tenants they want to evict, a measure they hope will curb evictions locally during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The notice informs renters of their rights within the eviction process, provides them a list of resources, including San Antonio’s COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program, and urges renters and landlords to resolve the dispute through a payment plan before both sides have to appear in court. Landlords who do not comply face a fine up to $500, and can be given multiple citations....
The ordinance has been crafted by housing advocates, including COPS/Metro, and landlord groups, including the San Antonio Apartment Association.
San Antonio Landlords Now Obligated to Inform Tenants of Rights, San Antonio Current [pdf]
COPS/Metro, a network of grassroots community and religious organizations, wants $200 million of the city’s and county’s stimulus funds to underwrite what it describes as a GI Bill for the working poor. After beefing up the city fund for emergency housing assistance, COPS/Metro is calling for putting jobless workers through school at Alamo Colleges with a stipend.
“It would be a down-payment for the long term,” said Steve Mendoza, a COPS/Metro leader and co-author of an Express-News guest column outlining the proposal. “Tourism is not going to come back right away. And if we continue to focus on tourism, we’re going to get the same” dependence on low-wage jobs.
He added: “When there’s a crisis, there’s an opportunity.”
[Photo By William Luther, San Antonio Express-News]
Jefferson: $270 Milllion In Stimulus Aid Won't Plug Holes In San Antonio Budget, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
While it likely won’t address every need that arises from the economic downturn, [a new City program that provides $25 million in financial relief for San Antonio residents] has been touted as an example of how local government can partly fill a gap for families who don’t qualify for federal aid.
“No strings attached, no citizenship necessary, no documents, no paper necessary. Just residents in San Antonio and economic need,”
said Father Bill Kraus of Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church.
Kraus worked alongside other COPS/Metro leaders to lobby City Council to increase the fund from $15.8 million to $25 million before it gained final approval. And the organization’s leaders are still working throughout the city to identify potential solutions for immigrant families.
Angelica Reyes, a COPS/Metro leader, parent in Harlandale Independent School District, and immigrant, discovered her own challenges as her school-age children switched to at-home learning. Reyes learned that she didn’t have the basic computer skills needed to help her kids adjust to class on a computer. Reyes and other parents and decided to approach the district for help.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, Rivard Report]
With No Federal Aid, Immigrant Families, Students Lean on Local Support, Rivard Report [pdf]f]
Commentary: A GI Bill for San Antonio, San Antonio Express-News ]
$25 Million Housing Assistance Fund Offers Relief to San Antonians Affected by COVID-19, Texas Public Radio [pd