We hope you are safe, well and ready for action right from where you are.
We already know you believe that officials using the COVID crisis to conduct business as usual for their friends is morally bankrupt. So, we need you to take a few minutes to read this and make some calls, all the way to the Governor's office.
LIV will soon round up Texas independents behind urgently needed election reforms to open up, clean up and secure free and fair elections. Interested? Reply or give us a call.
Have SAWS and Vista Ridge Fallen Victim to COVID-19?
At their April 7 meeting, the San Antonio Water System Board of Trustees gave General Manager Robert Puente unilateral power to negotiate and execute contracts without approval by, or even advance notice to the Board. The excuse? In the midst of the COVID crisis, Puente needs authority to act in an emergency, such as a water main break. While SAWS Trustee Amy Hardberger correctly pointed out he already has this power, we note he didn’t have the power to execute contracts without prior approval.
Now he does, at least until the May 5th Board meeting.
The “bills” to Vista Ridge’s lenders are probably coming due amidst the COVID-19 international financial crisis.
COVID19 raises widespread concerns about the ability to perform, and cost of performing, under commercial contracts like Vista Ridge. SAWS and its private partners each have to rely on their legal and financial advisors to carefully navigate these unchartered waters – their respective public-private interests don’t necessarily coincide. Now that the project is built and his private partners need to refinance their construction loans in the midst of a financial pandemic, should we trust Mr. Puente will act solely for the benefit of SAWS ratepayers?
San Antonio is not obligated on those private loans. If Vista Ridge’s “credit-worthiness” is in question due to COVID-19, we pray Puente will not be too quick --- this time ---- to make concessions or otherwise “give ground” to help salvage the "San Antone Hose" project. Puente should stand firm and get the best deal for his ratepayers, not the expedient deal for his Vista Ridge partners. But how would we ever know, given the secrecy at SAWS that is now given the Board’s outrageous stamp of approval.
We believe City Council and public scrutiny is required before any promises or contract amendments are made to save Vista Ridge.
The April 13 Express News article entitled “Coronavirus has upended local government, moving democracy online and putting it on hold in some cases”, falls short of the point we’re making. Our point is all about Vista Ridge, its timing and Puente’s opportunity to again abuse power. Recall his bloated pay and SAWS’ transparency transgressions. A glaring example is as recent as last month's request by the Vice-Chair of the Rate Advisory Committee, Joe Yakubik, for rate data in order to do his job. This fell on SAWS deaf ears.
What’s behind SAWS decision to give Puente too much power?
SAWS’ private partners need to re-finance their loans and try to preserve their whopping 18% projected profit margin, in the midst of a pandemic! Yes, you read that right, 18%!
To boot, there are engineering problems on the SAWS end of the pipeline and SAWS has agreed to accept water as early as April 15th. (Our documentation of existing issues with this project– here -- was sent to city, county, groundwater and state officials last August.)
SAWS Accountability Activists Unite!
SAWS Accountability activists are an array of groups from conservatives to progressives. We have been doing the unthinkable for nearly two years, by working together across a region. When it’s safe to do so, we will hit the streets in San Antonio with a petition drive for SAWS accountability. (Visit SAWSAct.org) We also continue working in the source counties – Burleson, Milam, Bastrop and Lee counties, east of Austin. We want groundwater district and local officials to help avert the creation of a totally manmade natural disaster with Vista Ridge. (See LIV testimony to the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District on April 14th .)
After years of stonewalling, SAWS must publicly account for the real numbers and financial burdens of this $3.4 billion water boondoggle --- the main driver of rate hikes as the San Antonio City Council repeatedly and concertedly refuses to hold the SAWS Board accountable.
What can you do? Your civic duty!