INTERVIEWEE: Ed Scharf (ES)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: February 18, 2206
LOCATION: Helotes, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Jenny Gumpertz and Robin Johnston
Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise.
DT: My name’s David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s February 18th, 2006, and we’re outside of Helotes, Texas, and have the good chance to—to visit with Ed Scharf, who is a retired civil service staffer from the Air Force and the Army. And—and in more recent years has become involved in a lot of conservation efforts of involving land planning, water, and politics, and a number of other issues. And I wanted to take this chance to thank you for talking to us.
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ES: You’re welcome. Glad to be here.
DT: I thought I might start with where you started. How did you first get interested in conservation? I understand there was a group called the Scenic Loop Playground Club.
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ES: Club, mm-mmm.
DT: And maybe you can talk about how that first got you intrigued with the whole issue.
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ES: Actually, I’ll have to blame my wife, Irene, for probably getting me more intrigued. She used to drag me to Sierra Club meetings. But you’re right; we do have this little Scenic Loop Playground Club out here. It’s sort of a quasi-homeowners association group. I know the word “playground” sounds strange, but thi—this is the subdivision name out here, Scenic Loop Playground, as it was planted back in the—not—late 1920’s. This whole area near Grey Forest outside of Helotes about three miles was set up as a kind of a little resort area for the very wealthy of San Antonio back in the late
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‘20s—early ‘30s, but since then a lot of us poor folks have moved out here and raised our families here. But about fifteen years ago we thought, well, it’d be nice to spark a little interest in the community, get a little dialogue going like the old German settlers used to have here in the Hill Country. Just sit around and beat the—our gums, and about the various topics that might be of interest. So we drew up about a—a dozen topics, including water, education, politics, anything that might be of interest to the people,
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even to the teenagers, you know, the younger people. And we were surprised at the results we got. Down in our little club building people did turn out. They especially turned out on the water issue, the aquifer. There was a lot of concern because we had gone through a couple of droughts in the recent years, and people’s wells were going dry in the area. So that really got things started. The other issues did continue, but not to the extent that the water issue did. And so from that we formed a group of people, of
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Fenstermakers, Nottinghams, Bradshaws, that we met consistently with and this thing grew quite rapidly. And then we were meeting with counties in the Hill Country north of us, because we share the same aquifer, which is the Trinity Aquifer, which has several substrata known as the Upper Glen Rose, the Lower Glen Rose, the Hansel Sands, the Cow Creek, and then after the Cow Creek it gets—we’re out of water if we get to that point, because then comes the Hammett Shale and the Slygo and Hosston Formations,
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which are pretty much about the degree of which you’d find in motor oil. They’re not very drinkable. And right now everybody is tapping into the Cow Creek, they’re drilling wells now, and it’s really totally uncontrolled. So our efforts were to push to get our legislature to—to grant us a aq—a conservation district, like you have in so many parts of the states, to make sure our water is preserved and maintained, and that there—you know, it—it’s not polluted, and—because there is a real problem with so many individual wells
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going in they’re often not protected, you know, with the necessary reinforcement around the pipe to keep bad water from coming in and dropping down at our last remaining source of—of good water in the Cow Creek.
DT: And tell me about your experience in trying to get a conservation district set up.
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ES: Well, it—it was a real sporty course. We—when I say we, I’m including my wife, Irene, and the other friends I mentioned, would often travel to Austin, we’d go through the maze of hallways, talk to our representative and senator as well as others that could have influence in it. You know, the chairs of the committees, what have you. We appeared before committees. And actually I’ll have to mention that my wife, Irene, was primarily responsible with several other people in writing the legislation that today is the Conservation District in north Bexar County. It—it was quite a struggle. And the—the
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disappointing thing is one thing we learned, that after all the efforts; you can’t trust your elected representative or senator to really end up doing the right thing. They’ll let you do all the work, but then afterwards then they basically appoint the trustees, which are—their developer friends. And some of them admitted point blank that, hey, we have to leave the dance with those that brung us, which in effect says they’re the ones putting the money in our pocket to keep us in office. It’s not you voters, it—it’s the—the money
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people and they expect the voters to stay gullible and apathetic, and keep electing them based on the money that they buy for billboards and TV ads and this type of thing.
DT: I think that part of your effort to try and get some control over how this area, a very beautiful part of Texas is developed was to try and create a master plan. And I think there was a group called Bexar CLAWS that you helped put together to try and organize that effort. Could you tell about that experience?
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ES: Yes. Now Bexar CLAWS is quite extensive. It—it came about as a result of—of our aquifers. Say the—you know, our aquifer which is the Trinity Aquifer. It was—start—started as a news letter between all of us, and we of course made it pretty wide-spread to the news media, to our—all the elected people and everyone else. And it dealt with a variety of subjects. It started with the water. And what we wanted, what we visualized should be done for the water. But Bexar CLAWS, which is Bexar Clean Land, Air, and Water Effort, that’s where the CLAW comes from. It made our efforts known to
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everybody right above board what we as citizens think, you know, should—should be happening. From that actually emanated our master plan, because that was the basis for our—our master plan. Now in 2000 the City of San Antonio Planning Department came out and said here’s what we envision for you people out there. Here’s the way it’s going to go. And we’d already jumped our—our state representative with various issues, but really to no avail, because he—he pre—really admitted it in front of a town hall meeting that we work for the developers, we don’t work for you voters or citizens. But anyway,
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the city—City of San Antonio decided we’re going to lay out a plan for you people. And we said, wait a minute, we got our own plan. Wait—I mean we want our—have some determination in our own destiny. So we threw together our own master plan real quick, and went to the newspapers with it, and they graciously gave us great coverage on it. And then the Bexar—then San Antonio Planning Department decided publicly and in the newspapers, okay, we’re going to pull our plan back. The citizens have spoken. So I mean if citizens will stand up in communities, you know, not be apathetic, not just roll over, and not just keep engaging, the elected officials or the bureaucratic appointees—
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now here I’m talking about the utility companies, the w—water conservation districts, you—you know, you name it, the roads people, they—they of course do get taken aback and say wait a minute, these—here we’ve got some citizens here talking. But one of our big problems is always getting the apathy and the gullibility issue, you know, past the—our citizens. But—so that 2000 master plan sent them back, you know, just like the Save Scenic Loop effort that I’m sure my wife has talked about. The—they always say, okay,
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we’ll pull back for now, but we’re—we’re coming back at you in the future. We’ll—we’ll get you one of these days. And sure enough they’re coming back at us with wanting to do a lot of things. And we say, wait a minute, it’s time for us to update our master plan. And so that’s exactly what we’re doing. We—we’re getting much better support on the master plan, and we’ve got a lot better concise and very definitive master plan that we’re just about ready to release here in the next few weeks again.
DT: And the master plan, does it involve infrastructure like roads, or the density of development, or the spacing of wells? What does it involve?
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ES: Everything you just mentioned. We start with land, and we say here’s what we envision. We’d like to keep, you know, as much of the beauty and aesthetics, landscape of the Hill Country as we possibly can. We understand development’s going to happen. You can’t stop it, you know. Hey, we came out here almost forty years ago from the
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south side of San Antonio because we wanted to live out in this setting, and—and I know a lot of people have moved out here since to say now we don’t want anybody else to come out anymore more, now stop. But that’s not realistic. But, you know, we have realistic plans. We say, okay, as an example, the land shouldn’t be cut into areas of less than a certain size, because primarily, not only the beauty, but we have very limited water here in the Trinity Aquifer. If—if we—you know, a developer can prove that they—they
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have enough water to supply, you know, their developments, you know, and—and they wouldn’t be tearing up the landscape, you know, fine. We have no problem with that. But we do have some water as a separate issue that it’s got to be protected. Wells have to be cased. Well heads have to be protected so pollution doesn’t go down into it. Openings for water recharge—you know, caves and various sink holes, you just can’t go cementing them over like so many developers have done just immediately south of us on the—some of these big developments going in. We—we do get into road issues that we
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don’t really care to see pol—them lined with politician signs or—or huge advertising. We’d like to keep as much of nature as we can. We get heavy-ended taxes. For instance, impact fees has always been a—a great issue with us to—look, why should we, the taxpayers, pick up the taxes for infrastructure, for the education system, for the developers? They’re getting by tax free on their first year of operation. We pick it up, and in fact are encouraging them. I’ve—we’ve tried to get people to understand this issue. Things that California, other states are way ahead of us on, they have impact fees.
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The impact fee just says no more than, hey, four percent should be added to the cost of any new development to take care of the education and the infrastructures—excuse me, schools and infrastructure, basically. And here again, our—we confronted our—our state rep right in a town hall meeting and say, we need impact fees. And he stood up and said no, my developer friends would not allow for that. You know, they ke—they want to sell them as cheap as they can, as wall-to-wall housing as they can type thing. We—we’re getting on our case, our—against our county commissioner. He keeps repaving perfectly
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good county roads. And these are for his developer friends, let’s face it. I mean Scenic Loop is beautiful. It’s been beautiful. In another few months he’ll repave it again. Why waste—I mean we’re wasting taxpayer money like crazy. Why not support—use that to support our volunteer fire departments, which are—are begging hand to mouth to try to stay alive. Give them those tax dollars. Pay our—our county police better, or return it to the taxpayers, you know. No, he—it—it’s just a scheme to waste money from our viewpoint, but not from his developer friends’ standpoint, because, oh, they like good roads, that leads them. They like CPS coming in to give—get the electrical there.
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They—you know, all the utilities in. And they—they—they put in wall-to-wall housing out here. So representation is another thing we have (?). We’re not a political organization by any means. You know, we call it our Master Plan Coalition, Citizen’s Master Plan Coalition. But w—we—we’re on an issue basis. We don’t care if they’re Republican, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Independent, whatever they are as l—
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because so many of them—I don’t know, Republican and Democrats seem like one party to a lot of us today. We—we can’t distinguish between them. They’re both just, you know, robbing us blind, raping the landscape, and putting roads and what have you, it—it’s all for developers really. We’re saying, hey, we’re going to start supporting people that have a realistic approach on—on our whole environment out here. So…
DT: Well, speaking of the—the whole environment, I noticed that the Bexar Clean Air Water—Clean Land, Air, Water Scenery Group has air listed in its title. Have you been involved at all on air pollution concerns? Do you have any views about that?
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ES: Very definite. We’d like to get people to start reading the EPA emission rates that come out of their various boxes around San Antonio, around any city for that matter. And it’s alarming. It is here in San Antonio. We’ve got two coal burning CPS ut—you know, utility plants. They elect—generate electricity for the whole county basically. And they’re planning to put in two more coal burning plants. And if people would just wake up and look at what the emissions as far as mercuries, so—nitrogen oxides, PM—particle mattal—matter 10 and 20, the things that are destroying our ozone layer, I mean are horrendous out of coal burning plants. Sodium nitrates, nitrogen oxide, I don’t know what are—(?)—I’ve never had chemistry. I don’t know a lot of these chemicals. But it alarmed me to see what some of the EPA reports turn out. So yes, a friend, Jack Nottingham, he’s well of about eighty-five year old guy, been mayor out here three times,
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and myself, if—and—and the rest of the group have really made efforts. We’ve approached the PTA, like over at the Helotes Elementary School, made presentations saying, hey, these things are highly dangerous to unborn children and little children. We—it’s destroying their—their brain power. And been heavily involved in the school district myself, and noticed a sharp increase in special ed-type teachers, because kids are having learning disabilities like you won’t—wouldn’t believe today. And of course, it’s not good for us old people either. But then we’ve also approached the three—(?) the
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three meteorologists in San Antonio at Channel 4, 5, and 12, and say, you know, we really appreciate, you know, you giving us all these pollen counts that make us sneeze, now how—why don’t you give us these things that are killing us? And they said, well, we don’t get into the death business, basically. So, yes, we—we’ve tried to alert people to the fact that the—the air, even this far north away from the coal burning plants, you get further south and you’ll forget reports where it’s taken the paint off some of the farmers’
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barns out there, what have you, but it’s really a lot worse in the southeast part of town, especially in the summer, the prevailing winds come up from the coast and they just—they sweep it all the way into this area as well. So, yes, we’ve been involved in the air issue as well. And that is one of the issues on our master plan, too.
DT: What—you—you discussed some of the—the water problems up here in—and air pollution issues as well. Can you talk a little bit about the—the land development questions? You touched on it before about the political power that many developers have. But are there other aspects to where things are built and how they’re built, the intensity of development that you could mention?
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ES: Now that—that’s going to be quite a—a varied issue depending on where you go. For instance, we have a developer just up Scenic Loop Road from us. I forget the name of his particular subdivision, but he is very environmentally or ecologically minded. He split the tracts into like, oh, six—seven acre tracts, but then he has Green space, a lot of Green space around it. And—and that’s what we’re trying to encourage, that—but the developers coming at us are those that want half acre tracts for homes. You know, like they built just around Helotes. Now Helotes tried to stop that, but then they got into
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massive lawsuits and the developer won. So—but then Helotes had no master plan, basically, ahead of time. The—you know, the same way like on the Wal-Mart issue that you might have heard about for Helotes. And the—I’m not just picking on Wal-Mart, even though they are probably the singlest political con—contributor to the Republican campaign giving some two million dollars, and we basically have all Republican elected officials, you know, in the area, well, except for maybe one. But—so it’s hard for them to get involved in a fight against one of their biggest contributors and that’s understandable. But—this is why we’re saying, hey people, don’t vote for the big contributors that elect their politicians. But anyway, getting back to the land issue, we—we are trying to encourage larger acreage, you know, not only to preserve the—the
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beauty of the landscape, you know, that people can enjoy driving through, or enjoy living in. We’re saying, hey, our water won’t he—won’t sustain it as far as we can see. You know, the amount of water available. Also, we have one of the biggest 4-H programs in the state out here. Kids, you know, keeping their ties to the—the land and—and the wild—not the wildlife, but the animals. You know, raising them and then showing them. So for that aspect, too, we’d—we’d like to keep them no less than five-six-seven-
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eight-ten acre tracts. As a matter of fact, right outside of our back fence here, we have some almost some five hundred acres that they would like to develop, but they’re talking about seventeen acre average tract size, wh—which would be very—very suitable, really. So you’re not crowding in people together, you’re—you’re not over taxing the—the roads, you know, type—just—or the—if we had that wall-to-wall development behind us, then Scenic Loop Road would disappear totally with that kind of a population coming out here. So we’re just trying to slow the desecration of our Hill Country here.
DT: I understand that you have MBA, and I was wondering if you could explain to us how the city can help finance and they give incentives for development, and maybe direct it in ways that you wouldn’t prefer so much.
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ES: Very definitely. Right now the city—I’m talking San Antonio primarily because that—that’s our primary thet—threat. The little villages of villages of Grey Forest and Helotes are not, but they’re being threatened the same way we are. Right now the city and the county seem hell bent on giving all of the huge business interest, you know, like the PGA golf course you—you might have heard about that take hundreds of acres around north—just east of here or whenever a big development comes through, it’s not only the city. I have to mention the school trustees, are very involved in bringing in
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business, because first of all, the school tax is probably three-fourths of our property tax, you know, citizens, homeowners, property taxes. That’s the big bulk of it. So they’re very involved, and along with the city and county officials in trying to track new, huge businesses. And so they always want to give a massive tax breaks—I mean massive tax breaks for—and they almost—so also want to give them taxing authority, which has been unheard of, you know, until recent years, that where they can set up their own taxing districts. And our position is, look, small businesses are the backbone of this country, the
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economic backbone of this country. That’s supposed to account for ninety percent of it. It’s not the big businesses. Why not—and small businesses are—are started by people like you and me. You know, just ordinary citizens. They’ll invest their life savings to start a little business, you know, a little mom and pop business, or—or vi—a cottage-type industry that really would fit in with the Hill Country here. And—and they struggle like crazy, and it’s going to take them two, three, four years before they hit the break even line, can make a profit. Why not concentrate on middle class America, basically, we’re talking, the small businesses, and give them a—a—a tax break, you know, instead of the
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big businesses that destroy our, you know, so much of our landscape? Where the small business would fit in. They wouldn’t have—throw in the massive parking lots, with the impervious cover that don’t contribute to our aquifer—you know, the water, they pollute the air, they jam the roads, they totally destroy everything. It’s the small mom and pop businesses, the cottage industries, the arts—artist and the crafts people. And they’re the same kind of citizens, you know, that wouldn’t go for the wall-to-wall housing that you see these big developers. So that’s our—our scheme basically.
DT: Can you maybe give us some examples from particular developments around San Antonio that were encouraged by the city or the school district to build by different kinds of taxing arrangements?
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ES: We have fought some of those and been successful, where they wanted to build—bring—actually, these were people from out of state, Arizona, that had kind of dubious credentials to come in and build massive home—amount of homes and apartments along with heavy business inter—interests, you know, in our school district here. And then we—we would go up and fight them at the school district. It is really—because that’s where most of the money is for—that attract the—or the tax savings that would attract them, and that’s where they wanted to give them the tax breaks. So we’ve been actually successful in the past years in stopping some of those things that would have just made—turned this into a downtown San Antonio sprawl type thing. They—I can’t recall, it’s
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been too many years, because see, I’m going back like fifteen years now as to where any—actually—well, I mean—they—they actually had been successful in creeping towards us, you know, inside of 1604. And—or you can just take a look at what’s happened in Helotes where they put in their wall-to-wall housings. They—they had bought dairy farms, they—the developers, had bought dairy farms years ahead, and then they wanted to develop these. But they can’t develop them—or—or their method of development is, okay, get good roads—they, the developers again—get good roads
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through the area, so they’ll push par—the—part—the road people, you know, in—in San Antonio, and the county, to get the roads through here. Then they’ll push utilities; get tho—electric lines out here. And they’ll push sewage, you know. Then they’ll get the school to build very expensive schools—I say expensive because they’ll buy high priced land. Years ago the ranchers and farmers used to set aside land for school. Then after that—here I’m talking forty-fifty years ago. Then later the developers said, well, we’ll take that over from you, we’ll set aside a part for the school system, you know, acreage
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for the schools to be built. Not always the best territory, but we have some of those examples not too far from us. And then once that happened, the homes came in like crazy. You know, just wall-to-wall houses. And that’s the same thing that’s been happening out here. We’d been successful in really stopping a school out here because we’re—mostly because we don’t have the water, and we really didn’t have the need for it. But now, you know—eventually it’s going to come, and eventually O’Con—Connor
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High School went in. Then they built a massive stadium not too far from Stinson Middle School. And that’s another issue. I’m—ju—I’ve always been taking issue with the school board, or—or on, and, you know, most of those people are my friends. Known them for years, (?) the trustees. The amount of—you know, they always need more and more mon—three-fourths of our tax dollars is for school, and they keep saying for educating our kids. And I’m saying let’s look at your budget here, okay? What are you
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spending on academic UIL activities versus athletic UIL activity? Well, it’s zero for academic, and music and the arts, UIL activities. UIL is University Interscholastic League administered by the University of Texas (?). Great program. But they choose to only pick that half of the program that pertains to the athletic part. A massive amount of our education budget is not in education. It’s in athletics. Yes, they charge admission to some of—like some of the football game, but it’s not near enough to cover it. It—it’s not for really ed—to me education is academic. You—you know, it’s English, it’s math, it’s
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science, things that we’re falling way behind in—in other countries. You know, when you compare us to other countries, I mean—the—the Asians, the Europeans, they’re beating our kids terrifically, you know, in a lot of those areas. We need to focus on that, but then first of all we need to stop lying to the people whenever we come up with, like, bond issues—this is for our kids’ education. Wow, that big, huge stadium they just put up was not for free. The amount their friendly architectures and their builders in the education system in building some of these schools is mammoth. So, hey, let’s split that
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budget and say, what’s really for education? Let’s stop lying to the people. Or le—let’s—misleading them. I know you can say you can’t separate Texas and football, but I think we—we ought to be honest about what’s really in the budget, what really goes for the educational area. I’m not sure I’ve digressed or not from your question, but…
DT: No, no. As I understand it, a lot of these schools not only are for legitimate reasons for educating students, but they’re also magnet for development that—that a lot of these large scale subdivisions really can’t be built and attract home buyers unless there’s a school to educate their kids. Is that fair to say?
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ES: Absolutely. It—it’s a terrific magnet. I mean it is the schools, the roads, you know, they’re going to—I—and the utilities, the infrastructure. That’s all approved pretty much and set in place. Then comes, whew, some of—millions of houses way—(?) wall-to-wall housing. So, yeah, it—it’s—it—it se—it seems to be backwards, you know. It seems that, hey—and—and I can understand, like the school system trying to forecast we’re going to need this much, and I know they do work with the developers. The developers are saying we’re planning to go here, here, here, and here, and so the school has to try to buy some land, high priced land before it gets too expensive. These are things that used to be given to a—you know, support the school system. Now we pay through the nose for high priced territory, in addition to the high priced buildings, and the high priced stadiums and everything else.
DT: My understanding is that your experience in trying to protect land and water and air in your part of Bexar County has led you to get interested in politics. And that you’d been involved in the Republican Party but eventually migrated to run as a Green candidate for the U.S. House. And I was wondering if you could tell about why you decided to change from one party to another, and then why you chose to run for office.
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ES: Okay. For years—I—I basically grew up as a Republican. My dad was a strong Taft-type republican, and that’s really all I heard at the house. And then, well, I might mention my teenage years and into the twenties I was kind of a religious leader for our—our church, and was going across—state leader for the youth of the state, and it seemed like they were all Republican for some reason. Religion and Republicanism and war all seemed to go to fit together. Anyway, I forgot football. Seemed all to be under the same basic theme, you know. And so I was kind of strong in that. And then—I for—my
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wife came along, and here she’s a s—oh, and incidentally I was groomed for the ministry, too, I might mention, too. But then all of a sudden some of the things didn’t seem to fit too well. But then my wife came along and she was a staunch Democratic. And for years we—we had argued our political positions. We always cancelled out each other’s votes for years, so I mean—could have saved time by not voting, but we always did vote. And then—a—well, I—for quite a while I was Republican Precinct and Caucus Chair here in northwest Bexar County. We’d go to the Re—conventions, and my wife
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was equally stro—strong, you know, involved in the Democrat. And for years we’d been arguing, my party is a lot better than your party, until all of a sudden we found ourselves—the argument changing to, my party’s a lot more corrupt than your party. And we thought, wait a minute, that’s—that’s not a good thing, is it? It—it just seemed like the lights went on. We did—there—it seemed like they came out to be one and the same party. We couldn’t distinguish between them. And we said we got to go somewhere else. So we were basically going independent. Some of the other parties
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didn’t fit until we found the Green party. We were a little bit familiar with the Green party. They were quite strong in Europe. And that as a matter of fact, I liked the democracy of their party system, or their representation in Europe because they get a percentage of that party vote is represented in their parliament. And possibly the same is true of—of France and England, too, and maybe Italy, I don’t know—but in Germany. And I thought well, here it’s a winner take all, you know, so the minority interests are never heard, and it’s—historically it’s been the minority influences that have changed
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this country’s directions in to—in—in to going the correct direction. But yet they have no representation. And—and it—it’s so slow in coming. So it seems like a better form of democracy exists in other countries than this country which is so famous for democracy. But—then we did find the Green party, these part of little college kids running around, and we said, you know, these kids seem to know what they’re talking about. They—they’re on the right track. So we made contact with them, and they
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needed people to run for office because they didn’t want to run. But we said, sure, we’ll run. So yes, I ran for the U.S. House. My wife ran for the Ed—State Education Board. Our son ran for the Texas House, and our daughter also ran for the Texas House. And friends of ours, like Jack Nottingham, the—the three-time old mayor of Grey Forest, he ran for the State House also. So it was an interesting experience. We didn’t expect to win, but we—we had a lot of fun. Medina County Republicans said we’re going to have an open forum. And incidentally, this is part of our master plan to have forums—
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candidate forums like crazy, you know, whether—maybe it’s a primary or it’s the election, to get them down in our little clubhouse, our country clubhouse building here, under the lights, and grill them on issues, you know. Not this I’m for you, I would do everything. You know, the—the lies we’ve heard so much—long from these politicians. We represent you—no they don’t. They represent the money in their pockets, you know, that are allowing them to be elected. But case in point, on having fun in the elections, Medina County over in Hondo said we’d like to have some forums, so they called
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Republicans, Democrats, Greens, everybody, and I had a lot of fun debating the—well, Henry Bonilla, who never bail—bothered to show up, sent s—a spokesperson to speak for him. And then Henry Cuellar was running at that time, who now is in the House but from a distant district. The three of us went up, basically said what we had to say. But after it was over, the guy that spoke for the Republican guy came over and said I really like what you said. I’m going to vote for you. And here he’d been talking for the Republican guy. But anyway, you can have a lot of fun. You get the—hopefully get the mess—message out. To people, it’s issues, not what people really say. You know, how they really vote on things.
DT: You said earlier that you and your wife both decided about the same time that you weren’t being represented well by your parties. And what was the threshold, what was the watershed issue that sort of made this decision clear to you?
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ES: You know, I’m—I’m not sure there was, you know, a—a light from above, or a—a light bulb to go on, or anything. It—it just kind of all of a sudden dawned on us that neither one of these parties—you know—I guess what really wha—made the difference was these people that we were supporting in our parties were not rep—we (?) realized all of a sudden that, hey, they’re both so corrupt, you know, when we both said—start arguing, my party’s a lot more corrupt than yours, thinking that was a good thing, all of a sudden it—hey, wait a minute, this is not a good thing. And, you know, this just
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happened not too many years ago, maybe in the last twelve or fifteen years that we’d pretty well held our party lines until we said, wait, you know, that guy up there is not doing the right thing and trying to hide it out, you know, over. And then we saw what our locals were doing on destroying our landscape, and pl—repaving roads that didn’t need to be repaved, or putting a—schools where schools didn’t really need to go. So I don’t know if there was really one thing that all of a sudden the light switch went on. It just kind of came at us—slower.
DT: Well, I wonder if you’re—you’re tapping into an old tradition that’s been here for many years of free thinking, of dissent and independent thinking, that I think you got involved with from your early days with the Scenic Loop Playground Club where you tried to put together these forums, and then more recently with the Cenotaph. And I was wondering if you could talk about that tradition, and then the—the more recent discussion about the Cenotaph Monument.
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ES: I’ll be happy to. You know, you—you might maybe have answered my question better than I did, because—I don’t know, my wife and I have always been interested in history. We’ve done histories in the area. Like I published History of the Early Schools going back to the 1850’s, some of the old buildings. But then for some reason we got interested in the—an old Freethinking group which we didn’t know a lot about, even though I can remember my mother talking about one—how one of her cousins had married into this strange group of people in this area just north of us. You know, it
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includes like that Boerne area, Sisterdale, Comfort. It doesn’t really include, like, the New Braunfels or the Fredericksburg area. Those are settled by German farmers, basically, that were brought over first by Prince Solms and later by Baron R—von Meusefeld, who really saved the whole German area in Texas. They had envisioned a—a New Germany here starting in—in the Hill Country here. But Meusefeld himself was
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a—a Freethinker I found out later in the research. But we decided just to go up there and find out what—what that was all about, just it intrigued us. And—and—and these were basically very well-to-do people in Europe, lower-level royalty—Barons, Counts, Dukes that gave up massive land-holdings in—in Europe. And a lot of them had been involved in the Revolution, the 1840—’48 I believe it was, and so pretty well had to get out. But they brought with them volumes of, you know, their literature, their musical instruments.
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Not like the farmers bringing over their plows and what have you, and sickles. But—and they had to pretty well lie to say they were farmers to get—get even over here. But these people, I mean it’s amazing they even survived. They didn’t know how to plant. They weren’t farmers. But then they got with the Indians, a—and a—a group of Mormons I believe it was that ran a little mill there. But the Indians they—they befriended were primarily some of the most feared Indians in the country, the Comanche. They sat down,
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there’s a—a monument in a park at Fredericksburg where von—von Meusefeld sat down with—it—it shows him se—showing one of the twenty Comanche chiefs that were involved, and they had a beautiful peace accord for years. They lived with them. I mean the Comanche’s would come and visit with them in their homes. I mean they weren’t savage at all to each other, not until later when San Antonio tried to res—get some of their—their captives back from the Indians, so they invited them all into the courthouse. Well, then they tried to trap them and hold them. And then the Indians went through the—the windows, the second floor, and escaped. And then they we—I mean they turned
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pretty wild, but you can understand. But the—the Freethinking group—and they were called Freethinkers even in Europe—they—they didn’t really—they—they were—they didn’t like any organized religion because you understand, organized religion was part of the power structure, the pol—politics in Europe. I mean a religious figure could go down the street and order somebody’s death just like a—a ruler could. I mean things were—the—the dictators, or the—the—the kings and emperors, they used the religious people, and vice versa, to hold power. And that’s what these people, the Freethinkers,
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realized, that we want to think for ourselves and we don’t want anybody to have that kind of power. A—I mean if you want to believe something, that’s fine. Believe whatever you want. Everybody believe what they—they want. And—but don’t push it on everybody else and say this is the way it’s got to be, like some of the religious zealots in this country that you’ll see on TV are saying, this is the way it should be, you know, the way we think it should be. And so they lived—had a beautiful peace and harmony situation, you know, in the Hill Country here. And some of them grew to quite famous
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perspectives. For instance, the founder of the San Antonio Express Newspaper was a Freethinker. Had originally set it up. They were journalists, they were artists, they were really cultured people living in a wilderness with the most savage of savages you could find in this country, which was weird. But not when you understand, you know, their makeup. They wanted peace and harmony throughout the world. Let’s all get along, let’s all do our own thing, you know, and we’ll all prosper and be better people for it.
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And there were some religious leaders that tried to come in to the Freethinking area here, and they just weren’t too well received. They didn’t have a church, I think, constructed in this Freethinking part of the Hill Country, I think for almost fifty years. And that—that’s kind of op—opposite from a lot of my other ancestors that came to this country maybe for religious re—reasons. The first thing they would do is build a church before they even built their homes. But these people were—were just the opposite. The Herff family, which is one of the most famous medical practitioner families in San Antonio,
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were among that group. Their early ancestor performed eye surgery on one of the Indians on the ground. And the b—it looks like it was a cataract surgery, and it turned out successful. And as a result the Indian ended up giving Dr. Herff a squaw which he didn’t know what to do with. It’s a little—his wife didn’t know what to do with her either. But—it gave him a decision, do I keep the squaw or do I keep my wife? No—kidding. But there were a lot of really famous people, and Comfort is really where most of them ended up with. But Sisterdale, a little village where some of the early Freethinkers were,
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wha—called one of the Latin colonies because they often spoke in Latin and Greek. Very learned professors, and what have you, from that area. And they had even petitioned for the first public college or university in Texas some fifteen years before the University of Texas, or A—A&M were on the (?). Fifteen years. They were going to put a public college down in the little village of Sisterdale—to show you how far advanced these people were, in—in my opinion.
DT: And—and you tried to honor them by helping organize a—a memorial to them.
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ES: Right. Okay. So we thought, hey, they should have a—why—why isn’t there a state memorial or some—a—a—a monument of—you know, the state placard. You see these signs—these state historical signs all up and down the road, but—I mean thi—this I felt was—what I thought was quite a—a novel group, and historic group. They really—there—there were Freethinkers in other parts of the country. You’ll find them in Missouri; you’ll find them up in the North, where they were much more influential. But here, their influence was—come the Civil War was—was really squashed, because, can
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you believe it? They—they thought women should go to school, too. I mean girls should go to school with boys. And that was unheard of. I mean girls’ minds shouldn’t be wasted on school. They should be learned, you know, how to work in the kitchen and take care of the kids and what have you. But these Freekan—Freethinkers thought women should be on an equal basis with men. They—they even thought Blacks, Hispanic, any color, you know, were of equal importance. And—and some of that
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thinking came through later when you see—there was a—(?) county up here had sh—Black sheriff. You know, African-American sheriff. Another one had a woman sheriff, believe it or not. But a lot of it was, you know—a—and as a result a lot of the other people around them didn’t like them. So the Civil War ev—actually ended up kind of
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killing off their movement, and a lot of them just filtered in to the rest of the economy—or the rest of the culture, and a lot of them decided to go back to—to Europe, too. But, yeah, we thought they should be honored, and so I talked to the powers that be in Kendall County here. And they agreed, and the cha—Chamber of Commerce agreed, the—see, there is no city government of Comfort. They’re so strong-willed they don’t want a city government. So they—these are the powers that be. And they agreed, and I talked to the Historical Commission and they all agreed. And then what kind of a structure. And we
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talked about a hundred different kinds of structures and finally decided a natural rock, you know, would be—be the best answer. And they wanted to keep it maybe eight feet high and about four feet wide. And then we went running and looking through quarries all over the state looking for the perfect rock, and most of them were going to be several thousand dollars. Then we went to our own quarry right here by Helotes and just started wandering around down in a hundred and thirty degree temperature down in the bottom of the quarry, spotted a rock that looked perfect, you know, laying at the bottom of the
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quarry. It was capstone that had fallen some hundred thirty feet off the cliff when, you know, when they had been cutting it back. We said that looks like the rock. And laying down it was hard to tell. And the quarry was wonderful. They pretty well gave it to us, you know, when everybody else was charging thousands. And they drug it all the way to the top. And I worked with a couple of fellows for a couple of weeks in a lot of heat with hammers trying to make the bottom flat, and what have you. And we put it in a
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good foundation up in the park in Comfort. And the park is pretty desolate, and we thought, well, this will help really dress up and maybe attract people to the park. And so, yeah, it weighed thirty-five and a half tons, I think. And so we threw it on a truck and drug it up there, set it up. And then a little controversy started over where some folks were saying it’s our rock, and the other said, no, it’s not your rock. And then the atheism versus theism issue started cropping up between them. And I told the people, look, if there’s going to be a controversy I don’t—I don’t, you know—this is historic.
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We want to keep it strictly to honor the history of the people. And then some of the folks who—well, these people were all atheists, and others said, no, they weren’t. And—the—with that kind of controversy it—it—it was dividing the—the area tremendously. So the rock—and then—and then some people were calling it “satanic rock” and some were worshiping it. And, yeah, ha, oh, my gosh, you know, can’t we just put up a historical marker, people? Since then the owner of the Ingenhuett Store, the Krauter Family, decided, hey, let’s just put one up in front of their store with a monument, and that has gone up since then. But it—it was an interesting exercise to say the least.
DT: Why, I think it’s interesting that a historical monument like this brings up so much debate nowadays. Maybe a hundred and fifty years later, why do you think that these same fissures are so relevant to many of the people now? About orthodoxy and dissent?
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ES: It—it’s small minds, really, at work, is all I can say. The people who’ve le—led such sheltered lives and within their own small area that they—they—they can’t visualize anything outside of their—their own small minds. They—they—they don’t educate themselves. They don’t see what’s really going on in this world. They—they can’t accept other people. I—I think you see it with some of our national religious f—figures that it’s got to be this way, you know, on things like we’ve got to have God in the Pledge of Allegiance. I grew up in my school for years we—you know, we’ve got to make sure
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these things are in there now. And some say no. I mean to me these get to be kind of redi—diculous arguments. Let everybody (?) do what they want to do. Birth control is another thing. The lifestyle of some people bothers some people tremendously. I mean, hey, what’s—what’s your hang up, people? I don’t know what the answer is. The—why people can’t get more informed, why they have to just pull that one lever, Republican or Democrat, you know, are yellow-dogged one way or the other. It—it—maybe our schools aren’t doing a good enough job on educating people. Of course I think our young
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people are a lot more enlightened than so many of our older people. And I guess that’s what maybe what drew us to the Green party, too, that, hey, these people are open-minded, free thinking. The—they’re not hampered by some of these old constraints that you have to do it this way, it has to be that way, you know.
DT: Well, given your experience with the Freethinkers, and your experiences in these conservation debates, do you have any advice for young people how to deal with some of these controversies?
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ES: You know, I wish I did. It—all I can say is, you know, with—with an open mind. I—I know back when I was a state religious leader for the youth, and a lot of our kids were coming back and saying to me, you know, I’m having real trouble with my religion because they’re—they’re teaching that we—there were dinosaurs on this earth millions of years ago, and our religion teaches us it was—earth is only six thousand years old. And they’re saying there’s something like Evolution. And I mean—let me tell you, I had a tough time with that. And all of a sudden, I, you know, just—a—as you—a person gets
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more educated—now most of my education comes later in life—but I thought, you know, what they’re saying in the biology and anthropology classes and geology classes, how do you argue with that stuff? And so it really made me question my religion, and I think it’s doing that with a lot of the younger people too. I’m not saying give up your religion, but hey, don’t close your mind to—to science. And I don’t think our young people are doing, but unfortunately, I think so many of our old people are. I get—can see that among my brothers and sisters. That, no, there were never were any dinosaurs. No, there’s no such thing as Evolution. We didn’t spring from monkeys. Well, I’m saying if you really study that, we didn’t. That’s not what Darwin says, or any of the biology that you study. So it—it’s just a long, hard process. I—I wish I had an easy solution. But that fight is going on today, you know, about—like Evolution, for instance.
DT: So maybe the word would be to keep an open mind? Is that…
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ES: Just keep an open mind, and do some—yeah, keep a free thinking approach and—then you have to weigh what you can accept and what you can’t accept, you know. But I would say, hey, at least listen to what the scientists are coming out with, or—or, you know, what you see on television. You know, an example of this is how our kids learned geography. You know how they learned geography? Not in school. They learned it from the wars we get involved in. They—they didn’t know where Afghanistan or Iraq and Iran were. Russia and what have you. They—we—we’ve learned it through our
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wars, you know, which it brings up another supposedly open-minded debate. Should we even be in Iraq today? Was that all justified, these weapons of mass destruction? Or these dictators? There are a lot worse dictators in this world and other countries than Iraq, for instance. But, yeah, I’m not saying Saddam Husei—sein wasn’t a bad man, and I really support our troops. I’ve got relatives over there. But—and they question should—what are we doing here? And—and I like that. I think too often our military says we don’t question, we just go. But look where they—that got Nazi Germany. They got them to the Nuremberg Trials after that. We asked their leaders, you knew this was wrong, why didn’t you question it? I was just following orders. We need to learn, but to
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teach I think something in our military training, maybe in our ROTC programs in schools, part of the education process should be question whatever your, you know, leaders tell you to do. Don’t just blindly obey because it could be wrong. Ask Nazi Germany. So…
DT: So use your conscience.
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DT: All right. I think we can leave on that.
End of reel 2346
End of interview with Ed Scharf