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The QueQue

The QueQue: Mass marriage snub, Death penalty malaise, Down-zoning dustup

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High-profile cases out of Texas have helped buttress the abolition movement in recent years, death penalty opponents claim. Texas inmate Anthony Graves, who was freed in late 2010 after 18 years in prison, including 12 on death row, for a crime he didn't commit, has become a new face of the movement. He served as master of ceremonies at the weekend conference. Now an outspoken activist, Graves was the 12th Texas inmate to be wrongfully convicted and removed from death row, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry hasn't shown any sign of unease with the apparent flaws leading to potentially wrongful executions. In fact, has heralded Graves' case as a sterling example of the system's checks and balances at work. He's less quick to tout the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who's 2004 execution for the supposed arson-murder that claimed his three children that is widely believed to have hinged on bogus evidence. The nation's preeminent fire expert, Austin-based Dr. Gerald Hurst, has been saying for years the science used to convict Willingham was junk. He even presented his findings to Perry's office prior to the execution — Perry refused to act. The growing discord that didn't prevent Perry from labeling Willingham a "monster" in recent years, saying claims of his innocence were merely anti-death penalty propaganda. And it certainly didn't keep him from stalling the state inquiry into Willingham's execution, a process that sputtered along for years until State AG Greg Abbott effectively quashed it last summer.

Down-zoning dustup

Zoning battles, while fundamental to local government, can be mind numbing to follow. But add golf, wounded vets, and Walmart, and you've got yourself a show. The development and real-estate community turned out in droves to rail against two controversial rezoning requests at Council last week. In one, D9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan, responding to residents who don't want a Walmart in their backyard, pushed to rezone 19 acres on the edge of Hardberger Park to block a Walmart Supercenter. Meanwhile, just a month into her appointment as D3 Councilwoman, Leticia Ozuna is leading the effort to down-zone the historic Pecan Valley Golf Course on the Southeast Side. The new zoning would ensure the 200-acre site stay strictly a golf course and not, say, a retirement community and 9-hole golf course — dubbed The Valor Club — for disabled veterans, as owner Foresight Golf wants. Council voted to send both to the Zoning Commission for further debate before they come back to council for action.

A host of development interests delivered dire warnings that such down-zoning would set a chilling precedent: in both cases, the zoning changes would ruin owners' current development plans. "We've got to be really weary about the message we're sending," said Bart Koontz, president and CEO of local development powerhouse Koontz-McCombs, adding such measures threaten to turn San Antonio into a "buyer beware city." Dean Bundrick, president of the Real Estate Council of San Antonio insisted: "This is a taking." While both Ozuna and Chan caught grief from the development community, much of the heat and rhetoric was aimed at Ozuna (note: it's easier to drum up sympathy for wounded veterans than big-box behemoths). "This is worse than going against motherhood and apple pie," said a rep from the South Texas Commercial Association of Realtors. Foresight Golf brought a crew of disabled veterans, pushing emotions well beyond the routine rezoning dispute, though a number of residents living around the course also showed to say they'd become wary when Foresight refused to spill plans for its new development after it abruptly closed the course in January. Ozuna said her office received over 300 petitions from neighbors around the course asking her to seek rezoning on the property to keep it a public golf course. Although D8 Councilman Reed Williams cast the sole down vote for both requests, he gave Ozuna an impassioned defense: "She has taken on a very difficult task and has received unjustified criticism and attacks from folks that are totally unnecessary," he said. "This particular case can be solved if people would just get their bullheaded heads out of this thing and just talk." Talk. We like talk. •

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