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May 8th, 2023:

A tale of two Propositions A

I usually write my own sentence or two to introduce the article I’m linking to and commenting on, but honestly I can’t do any better than the lede of this story.

Proposition A, the wide-ranging police reform measure also known as the Justice Charter, went down in flames Saturday night, with a wide margin of voters casting a ballot against the measure.

Opponents began celebrating just minutes after early vote totals posted.

“The defeat of Prop A is a victory for local families, for local businesses and our quality of life,” wrote San Antonio SAFE PAC Co-Chairs Eddie Aldrete and April Ancira in a statement. “San Antonio is one of America’s unique, great cities and today our citizens professed with a loud and unequivocally clear voice we want to keep it that way.”

Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, which gathered more than 38,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, said Saturday night she thought it would be a tighter contest — early vote totals came in with more than 75% against Prop A.

With all 251 vote centers reporting, election day voters had reduced that lead to just under 72%.

But the “grassroots effort” was no match for the police union’s money and political reach, Tomas said. “It’s just big, monied interest and misinformation that’s out there.”

The Current adds on.

In addition to decriminalizing abortion and low-level pot possession, Prop A would have codified cite-and-release for Class C misdemeanors such as petty shoplifting and vandalism. Additionally, it would have codified SAPD’s current ban on police choke holds and no-knock warrants.

Prop A’s backers were outspent 10-to-one by opponents including the powerful San Antonio Police Officers Association and deep-pocketed business interests.

Indeed, Prop A’s fatal flaw may have come down to the difficulty explaining exactly what it would do amid a barrage of ads depicting it as a step toward rampant crime and violence in the streets.

“We still have to do a lot of public education. We’ve been doing it for several years and we’re going to continue,” Ananda Tomas, executive director of police reform group Act 4 SA, told reporters at the Prop A watch party. “We know when we’re at the doors and we break all of these things down, that folks are with us.

High-profile leaders including San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and most of city council also declined to back Prop A. Proponents accused the mayor of backpeddling on his prior support of cite-and-release.

“The challenge with Proposition A is that I think it mischaracterizes what cite-and-release was about,” Nirenberg previously told the Current. “Cite and release has always had officer discretion. Prop A effectively removes officer discretion, and again, theft and property damage are not victimless crimes.”

Tomas said she was disappointed with the the mayor’s decision to campaign against Prop A. However, she said that she and fellow progressives aren’t giving up in their fight for criminal justice reform.

I had mostly described San Antonio’s Prop A as being about marijuana decriminalization, but it was a lot more than that, I think to its detriment. I get the appeal of trying to address these things systematically, but this is one of the downsides of that approach (see also: Obamacare and Build Back Better), in which the more controversial and less popular aspects of the package are weaponized against it. It also may be the case that the electorally successful marijuana reform referenda from 2022 benefitted from being more under the radar, while this effort was regularly topline news. I don’t think most of the individual components of Prop A are any less popular on their own – marijuana decriminalization, not pursuing abortion-related prosecutions, banning choke holds, that sort of thing. It’s just that proponents of them will need to strategize further in advancing them. (How many of them will be to a city or county’s discretion following this legislative session is another matter.)

Meanwhile, it was a different story in Austin.

The May 6 election made it clear: Austin is ready to dramatically expand civilian oversight of police.

With about 78,000 voters turning out for the May 6 election on two police oversight propositions with the same name (Austin Police Oversight Act), the progressive Prop A got approval from a resounding 70% of voters, per unofficial voting numbers. Prop B, which copy-pasted language from Prop A and then edited it to reduce oversight powers, received support from only 20% of voters.

As we observed from early voting numbers, turnout overall was not spectacular. In 2021, when a GOP-aligned PAC Save Austin Now was able to get a measure on the ballot to increase police staffing, roughly twice as many people cast a vote (and the police association-backed measure lost). A little more than 10% of Austin voters showed up this election, which is not atypical for a May election without high profile offices on the ballot.

Still, the passage of Prop A – which seeks to grant the Office of Police Oversight a whole lot of freedoms, including greater access to Austin Police Department’s internal affairs investigations – marks a huge stride for the city, and possibly the beginning of litigation over the legality of some of the measure’s language. If a court does eventually throw certain elements of the measure out, the undisputed parts of the ordinance will still stand.

I was vaguely aware of Austin’s referenda, but saw much less news of them than I did the props in San Antonio, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not saying this is the only way forward – indeed, as I have said before, what we really need is a better state government, because even this path forward is increasingly narrow and hostile – but what was tried in San Antonio didn’t work, and seem unlikely to be viable elsewhere. Let’s learn what we can from what happened and make the best of it going forward.

Lawsuit filed against FAA over SpaceX launch and explosion

I can only imagine how Elno feels right now.

Conservation groups sued the Federal Aviation Administration [last] Monday, challenging its approval of expanded rocket launch operations by Elon Musk’s SpaceX next to a national wildlife refuge in South Texas without requiring greater environmental study.

The lawsuit comes 11 days after SpaceX made good on a new FAA license to send its next-generation Starship rocket on its first test flight, ending with the vehicle exploding over the Gulf of Mexico after blasting the launchpad to ruins on liftoff.

The shattering force of the launch hurled chunks of reinforced concrete and metal shrapnel thousands of feet from the site, adjacent to the Lower Rio Grand Valley National Wildlife Refuge near Boca Chica State Park and Beach.

The blast also ignited a 3.5-acre (1.4-hectare) brush fire and sent a cloud of pulverized concrete drifting 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to the northwest and raining down over tidal flats and the nearby town of Port Isabel, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

SpaceX hailed the launch as a qualified success that will yield valuable data to advance development of its Starship and Super Heavy rocket, major components in NASA’s new Artemis program for returning astronauts to the moon.

But Monday’s lawsuit said the April 20 incident marked the latest in a series of at least nine explosive mishaps at Boca Chica, disrupting a haven for federally protected wildlife and vital habitat for migratory birds.

Noise, light pollution, construction and road traffic also degrade the area, home to endangered ocelots and jaguarundis, as well as nesting sites for endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and critical habitat for threatened shorebirds, the suit says.

The disturbances show the FAA violated federal law by permitting expanded operations at Musk’s Starbase in Boca Chica without mandating the full environmental impact study (EIS) normally required for major projects, the lawsuit asserts.

The 31-page complaint seeks to revoke the FAA license and require an EIS.

The FAA’s chief of staff for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation had stated in a June 2020 email that the agency planned to conduct an EIS, but the FAA “subsequently deferred to SpaceX” and performed a less rigorous review instead, according to the lawsuit.


SpaceX had vigorously opposed subjecting its Starbase to an EIS review, a process that typically takes years. An EIS involves extensive analysis of the project at stake and alternatives, along with mitigation plans to curb or offset harmful impacts. It also entails public review and comment and often re-evaluation and supplemental study.

The FAA granted its license following a far less thorough environmental assessment and a finding that SpaceX activities at Boca Chica pose “no significant impact” on the environment. The lawsuit challenges that finding as a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, contending that the assessment and mitigation measures incorporated into the license fall short of the law’s requirements.

According to the Associated Press, Musk “said his company could be ready to launch the next Starship in six to eight weeks with the FAA’s OK”. Requiring an EIS would be a big kink in those plans.

The Trib adds some more detail.

The lawsuit was filed in Washington, D.C., on Monday by five plaintiffs, including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. The groups argue that the FAA, which authorizes rocket launches, should have conducted an in-depth environmental impact assessment before allowing SpaceX to proceed with its plans and claim the agency delegated that task to SpaceX.

They are asking the court to suspend SpaceX’s five-year license, granted by the FAA.

“We want to see the FAA cancel the permits until they’ve figured out how they can either minimize or at least mitigate the environmental damage the rockets are doing,” said Michael Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy.

The goal of the lawsuit is to protect wildlife and front-line communities, Parr said. Shorebirds such as piping plovers that live near the SpaceX facility are sensitive to the heat, noise and smoke from the rocket launches, he said.

The Boca Chica area is biologically diverse, the groups state in the lawsuit, and an essential habitat to many species, including federally protected wildlife such as migratory birds.

“It’s vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of space flight,” Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a written statement. “Federal officials should defend vulnerable wildlife and frontline communities, not give a pass to corporate interests that want to use treasured coastal landscapes as a dumping ground for space waste.”


Juan Mancias, chair of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, said the FAA also failed to consider that the land SpaceX chose for its launch site is sacred to his tribe, which he calls “the original people” of that land. SpaceX’s facility has made it harder for the tribe to access the beach, hold traditional ceremonies and leave offerings to their ancestors, according to the lawsuit.

“We’re humans. We have a human right to take care of our lands and our villages and all they’re doing is digging up our bones and digging up our ceremonial sites,” Mancias said.

I’ll keep an eye on this one. The Musk/SpaceX history with Boca Chica Village goes back a few years and has been a mixed bag for the area. Musk is now trying to claim another piece of Texas for himself. What could possibly go wrong? TPR, CNBC, and the Current have more.

The sore loser election contest lawsuits have been delayed

This obituary of local Republican activist and professional election denier/vote suppressor Alan Vera was far too kind to him – Votebeat did a better job of accurately capturing his “achievements” – but it did contain one useful piece of information, which I will note here so that when the question comes up later we’ll know the answer.

Vera was also a key witness in the upcoming trial to decide an election contest challenge brought by GOP judicial candidate Erin Lunceford, who lost her race against incumbent 189th District Judge Tamika Craft by 2,743 votes.

Lunceford’s legal team was relying on Vera to explain several types of alleged voting irregularities and asked for an extension on the trial date because of Vera’s death. Judge David Peeples said the trial would likely be postponed from mid-June to early August.

Guess they need time to find someone who can make shit up with as much flair. Anyway, it was in one of the parts of the Chron stories that I didn’t quote from in these posts that said the trial was expected to start in mid-June. Now it will be in August, barring any further delays. You would be forgiven if you had missed this update, as no normal person would bother reading a story like this, but I did and now you benefit from that sacrifice. You’re welcome.