THE TOP TEN LOCAL NEWS STORIES OF 2013:
10) WRONG WAY DRIVERS. Motorists on all sides of the city were bedeviled in 2013 by people driving the wrong way on major freeways in the area, and they caused several accidents, including ones involving deaths and serious injuries. Most of the motorists were drunk but some were not, and TxDOT wrestled with various solutions. New brightly lit 'WRONG WAY' signs were installed. Warnings were painted on the surface of exit ramps to make sure motorists didn't enter where they were supposed to exit. But police continue scrambling to stop wrong way drivers, and the problem is expected to continue into 2014.
9) STREETCAR. The Via Board of Directors voted in 2013 to move ahead with a wildly unpopular downtown streetcar project. This despite the fact that the project was already $70 million over budget even before it won final approval, and the entire idea is so universally loathed by the taxpayers who are footing the bill for it that the City of San Antonio felt it necessary to include written disclaimers in material supporting the 2012 bond issue, making sure voters knew that 'none of the money will be used for the Via Streetcar plan. Via, mind you, not the city. And, unlike that similarly controversial downtown development proposal, the Alamodome, supporters of the streetcar don’t dare put it up to a public vote, because they know full well what the outcome of that vote would be. But as we go into 2014, Henry Munoz, the prime mover behind the streetcar, is leaving the Via board, and two challengers to County Judge Nelson Wolff vow to make the streetcar an issue in the upcoming elections. So it might be premature to buy a ticket for the streetcar just yet.
8) UIW SHOOTING. The shooting of a University of the Incarnate Word student off campus by a UIW police officer in December made national news, and also reopened the issue of police conduct, especially when paired by the still unresolved case of a Bexar County Deputy who shot and killed an unarmed man following a not fully explained traffic accident earlier this year. At issue is trust of police, what powers should officers rightfully have, and what should the relationship be between the citizen and those who are sworn to protect the citizen.
7) RFID TAGS IN THE NORTHSIDE ISD. The use of RFID equipped student ID's for students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School was a bridge too far for some students and parents, who thought it was an infringement on their privacy. The courts didn't agree, but before the Fall 2013 school year began, the district dropped the idea, saying the small number of students they were able to get into the classroom using the system didn't justify the expense. But Northside and other school districts say the concept was a good one...and the idea may return.
6) MASSIVE BILLION DOLLAR TOLL ROAD PLAN UNVEILED. Much like Streetcars, toll roads in Bexar County have long pitted the people vs. the powerful, but with the people's money being used to build the unpopular projects. The Regional Mobility Authority, which is now an arm of Bexar County government because the independent agency was unable to build toll projects, unveiled an ambitious plan to build toll lanes on Loop 1604 (at least the politically expedient parts, and excluding the area between Bandera and 151), as well as along I-10 from La Cantera to Ralph Fair, and Highway 281 from Stone Oak from the Comal County line. But not even every member of the RMA board is on board with the proposal, and more toll road battles will certainly be again one of the top stories of the year for 2014.
5) THE SCOOTER STORE. 2013 was not kind to the company which for years had been the largest private employer in Comal County. After months of dealing with changing landscapes for federal reimbursements, the business which once had a global reach and more than 2,000 employees, was raided by federal and state investigators in February, and things went downhill from there. In March and April almost the entire Scooter Store work force was laid off, and by September The Scooter Store was officially out of business, and much of its remaining assets were sold at a bankruptcy auction.
4) SPURS MAKE THE NBA FINALS. June was the cruelest month for the San Antonio Spurs, and June 18th was the cruelest day. In a game which has already entered timeless Spurs lore, the silver and black, ahead 3 games to 2 over the favored Miami Heat, appeared ready to close out a fifth title, and do it at American Airlines Arena in Miami. The Spurs were so close to victory, up five points with less than :30 left, that Heat fans began leaving the arena, and NBA employees began setting up the stand for the Commissioner to present the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the Five Time Champion San Antonio Spurs. But, with Tim Duncan on the bench, Miami tied the game and dragged it into overtime, where they won 103-100. As so often happens after a devastating championship series loss (St. Louis Cardinals in 1985, anybody?) the Spurs lost in Game Seven, 95-88.
3) ABORTION RESTRICTIONS PASS LEGISLATURE. Roe vs. Wade marked its 40th birthday in 2013, and the decision which will succeed Roe vs. Wade will almost certainly involve the types of abortion restrictions which were approved by the Texas Legislature in 2013. The measures which limit abortion to 20 weeks gestation, require clinics to employ only doctors who have admission rights at a nearby hospital, and require all clinics to meet the stringent restrictions of critical care centers were in many ways the high water mark of twenty years of Republican domination of Texas politics, essentially putting half or more of the state's abortion clinics out of business. Not only did the law spawn lawsuits which will dominate much of 2014, but they created State Senator Wendy Davis, whose spirited filibuster of the measure until the midnight mark of the First Special Session made her a Democratic Party heavyweight and laid the groundwork for a 2014 bid for governor.
2) NIDAL HASAN CONVICTED, SENTENCED TO DEATH. After four years, it was all anti climactic. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist turned jihadist who fashioned a mental image of himself as a 12th Century Muslim Crusader, finally stood trial for the 2009 massacre of solders who, like Hasan, were preparing to deploy to the Middle East. Testimony at the trial revealed it may have been more about cowardice over deploying to a war zone than a deep commitment to Muslim extremism that turned a middling major with poor reviews as a psychiatrist into a mass murderer. But in the end, a miltiary court calmly convicted him and just as calmly sentenced him to death. All as quietly and uneventfully as taking out the garbage which, in a sense, it was.
1) NON DISCRIMINATION ORDINANCE. The top news story of 2013 was the raging debate over whether San Antonio should enshrine into city law protections for gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals. It was very divisive and in many ways pitted different groups in San Antonio against each other, something that didn't have to happen, were the measure not proposed in such a clumsy fashion. Outrage over Councilwoman Elisa Chan espousing essentially the same opinions about same sex marriage that Barack Obama expressed as recently as in 2011 exposed some nasty anti immigrant xenophobia here in usually open minded and immigrant-friendly San Antonio, and turned Chan into a conservative crusader with a good chance of catapulting into the State Senate. The issue inflamed passions on both sides which have not been seen in San Antonio in years, sparking no end of rallies on the City Hall steps, and getting many people involved in San Antonio politics, following a municipal election in which total turnout was in the mere thousands. In the end, San Antonio Council voted to bring the city up to where we should be in making sure we are a welcoming place for all people. But, also in the end, it was two of the three council members who voted no, Chan and Carlton Soules, who got the biggest political bump out of the issue.