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Programming Note: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

The D Magazine Partners offices will be closed beginning this evening until January 5, and as you may have already guessed by the relatively light output today on FrontBurner, most of us already have one foot out the door.

We’ve planned a number of bits and bites online for you between now and then, so be sure to check those out. And I’m sure some member of our staff is bound to get sick of his or her family during the break and will turn desperately to FrontBurner as an outlet.

Also important to note is that we’ll likely be inattentive to the moderation of comments, meaning that if you choose to comment without logging in via any of the social media IDs that our system accepts, it may take awhile for one of our editors to get around to approving your comment so that it will show up. There’s a simple way for you around this: Don’t comment anonymously and your point of view will be heard immediately.

Other than that, have happy holidays, and we’ll see you in 2015.

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Mayor Rawlings Implies Trinity Toll Road Opponents Don’t Respect Democracy

Tod Robberson just posted about a 90-minute meeting the Morning News editorial board had today with Mayor Mike Rawlings and city council members Vonciel Jones-Hill and Rick Callahan about the Trinity Parkway. Rawlings said he takes umbrage when people characterize his position on the road as unclear, so he wanted to leave no doubt where he stands: “The more I study it, the firmer my feet get in the concrete about this being an important thing for the city of Dallas.”

Rawlings repeated the oft-used argument of proponents that the votes of Dallas have twice approved this project, never minding the fact that many of those voters thought what they were going to get involved things like sailboats majestically traveling across picturesque lakes and other campaign images of the Trinity park project that will likely never be.

“What voters voted on has not changed. … The bigger question there is really respect for the rule of law and respect for democracy,” Rawlings said.

So toll road proponents are both anarchists and racists, apparently.

Meanwhile Robberson decries “scare tactics” on both sides of the debate. He buys the claims of Rawlings and other supporters that the road will yield positive economic benefits to the people of southern Dallas:

If Rawlings, Hill and other proponents stick to the basic arguments about economic impact and the positive impact on the lives of working people in southern Dallas, they will win the day. If they go that other route, this debate is going to get really nasty and threatens to widen this city’s already sizable racial gap. My advice: Just don’t go there.

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Leading Off (12/19/14)

Mavs Acquire Rajon Rondo. In a move that signals the 19-8 Dallas Mavericks are planning a serious run at the NBA title this season, the team traded three players and draft picks to the Boston Celtics to get the point guard. Rondo is set become a free agent after this season.

Pilot Dead After Small Plane Crash. He was attempting to land his aircraft at Mesquite Airport just after 6 p.m. last night when he struck two homes in Seagoville about 9 miles south of the airport and landed in an open field. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

Cow Thefts on the Rise. Just two or three cows are now worth $4,000 to $5,000 thanks to our insatiable appetite for beef, so the number of incidents of cattle rustling at North Texas ranches is up. As this great recent Planet Money podcast episode explains, the crime is fairly easy to get away with.

UT-Dallas Graduates Its Youngest Ph.D. Ever. Austin Howard started college at age 13 and earned his bachelor’s degree before he was 16. Now, at 22, he’s got a doctorate in physics. Yeah, so what have you done with your life, slacker?

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Potable Groundwater and the Excruciating Business of City Bureaucracy

This morning a St. Paul Place corner-office-dwelling FrontBurnervian passed along a public meeting notice he received at his Uptown condo. It concerns a request by a McKinney Avenue landowner to have the city officially prohibit the use of groundwater found below property between Leonard and Fairmount streets.

You see, about 28-30 feet down is a “perched shallow groundwater unit” that’s been affected by the chemical compound benzene at an unsafe level, so the water shouldn’t be considered potable. The contamination apparently was slowly released over time from the tank system of the Shell gas station right across Leonard.

Because this magazine-founding FrontBurnervian lives within a half-mile of the site, he had to be invited to a public hearing scheduled for December 29 at Reverchon Recreation Center. It amused him that such a formality was necessary since who in the neighborhood was going to argue that the water should be considered potable? Who’s going to want to drill a well in Uptown Dallas anyway?

I shared in his amusement, so I set about trying to determine what possible sense there could be in such municipal requirements.

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Museum Tower Designer Insists Nasher Needs to Yield in Reflectivity Dispute

In a piece earlier this month for the Architect’s Newspaper, Scott Johnson of Fain Johnson, the principal designer of Museum Tower, says the only possible solution to the Nasher Sculpture Center’s demands to be free of the light reflected upon its building and garden lies in the proposed alterations to its roof — changes which the museum has refused to make:

In the meantime, the Dallas Police & Fire Pension Fund, after exhaustive technical studies, has recommended recalibrating the clerestory cells in the ceiling without touching any other elements of the Nasher’s architecture. It is my understanding that they will turn their engineering research over to the Nasher design team to vet, design, and install the recalibration, and they will pay for it. The Nasher, I understand, has declined this solution, however, the original charge to “eliminate all reflection and do it all on Museum Tower,” given what we know, seems frankly unachievable.

I remain hopeful that new participants in the process will look beyond entrenched positions and a consensual and effective solution will be agreed upon. Dallas is a beautiful city and I hope that a resolution for this difficult issue between Museum Tower and the Nasher can be found soon.

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Poll: Where Is Dallas’ Most Difficult Holiday Shopping?

Tis the season for driving around for half an hour to find a parking space, trying not to take an elbow to the face as you navigate through crowds, and counting your blessings if you’re lucky enough not to have a little one who requires you stand in an interminable line to meet Santa.

There’s much to love about the holidays, but there is also much to despise about the consumer warfare that accompanies the season. Which area shopping center do you do your darnedest to avoid this time of year?

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Yawn, Another Earthquake in Irving

A 2.7-magnitude earthquake shook Irving at about 6 a.m. this morning. These minor events, none of which have caused significant damage or injuries, have been so common in the area (it’s the 12th since the beginning of October) that I’ve begun to feel downright Californian in my lack of excitement in hearing news of another.

The Morning News has a map showing the close proximity of the epicenters of each of these quakes to a natural gas well. Fracking, and more specifically the injection of wastewater from fracking being injected into the ground, has been found in some studies to be correlated with greater seismic activity.

A FrontBurnervian in the oil and gas business sent me a note with a map from a drilling industry information site showing the horizontal track of the well’s drilling bores was in the opposite direction from where the quakes are clustered. He argued that because of this, and because the well hasn’t been active since 2012, it’s likely not responsible for the tremors.

I ran this claim by Brian Stump, a seismologist at SMU.

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Why Dallas Is Allowed to Ruin a Park With a Highway

In an Unfair Park post this morning explaining why it’s difficult for him to trust Trinity toll road proponents because of all the lies that have been told about the proposed highway and the adjacent park, Schutze recounts how our elected officials (most prominently former Mayor Tom Leppert and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison) created a special exemption just to make the project possible:

In 2010 when Republicans were filibustering President Obama’s defense spending bills — when defense bills were hard-fought battles in the congress, in other words — Leppert persuaded Hutchison to do some last-minute legislative sleight-of-hand with a defense spending bill that was about to finally get passed. She stuck two “riders” on that bill, provisions of little interest to anybody outside of Dallas, which received scant news coverage even here except in this newspaper.

Those riders said the Trinity River in Dallas was exempt from Section 4(f) of the act. A current U.S. Department of Transportation online publication explains that the FHWA is required by Section 4(f) to put “a thumb on the scale” in favor of park land wherever a highway touches a park, either by running along its edge or by cutting through its middle. Proponents can’t merely argue that a route that harms park land is the cheapest alternative, and, in fact, the FHWA must seriously consider any alternative that would spare the park.

That is the law everywhere in America but in Dallas and along the Trinity River, thanks to Hutchison and Leppert. At the time, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm said the exemption was only for impacts to historic sites (as if that were a good thing). But we quoted people saying her statement was untrue, that the effect of the riders was so broad that they denuded the toll road project of all of the protective requirements of Section 4(f).

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New Websites for Morning News and Star-Telegram

Both of our metropolitan region’s major daily newspapers have recently unveiled revamped web designs. The new Dallas Morning News, in fact,  launched yesterday. Seeing as (given my job title here) it could be said that I live in a glass house myself, I’m going to refrain from detailed critiques of their new looks.

I won’t refrain, however, from saying that I like what the Star-T has cooked up a little better at this point. It appears to be in use by the rest of the McClatchy newspaper chain as well. I find its homepage more pleasant to look at, and easier to navigate, thanks largely to the use of those blue directional tags (like “Politics & Government,” “Crime”) that help to visually separate stories from one another. The overabundance of white space on the Morning News, by contrast, leaves me unsure where I’m supposed to be looking as I scroll down. Its headlines seems to bleed into one another.

I also much prefer the Star-T‘s mega-menus to the white-text-on-blue-background of the simplistic Morning News navigation bar. All that said, word is that this is just step one for the Morning News, and there could be more changes coming. I’ve heard, for instance, that the DMN homepage was supposed to have a wallpaper ad yesterday (one of those annoying ads that runs on either side and above the content, like we have on some of our site too) on it, but I couldn’t see it on my small laptop screen. With any launch, there are bound to be bugs.

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Leading Off (12/12/14)

OSHA to Investigate Thanksgiving Tower Fire. Thursday’s blaze beneath the downtown Dallas building’s parking garage claimed the lives of three men working in a thermal storage tank. The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined. Officials don’t know if the workers may have been welding or cutting even though the company that employed the men hasn’t had a valid permit for that sort of work since 2009.

10th Irving-Area Earthquake in 2 Months. Last night at 9:25 p.m., a 2.6-magnitude quake struck near Spur Road and the Trinity River northeast of the former Texas Stadium site.

Dallas DA’s Office Dismissed Cases Without Informing Victims. WFAA reports on two family violence cases dropped by the district attorney in violation of the Texas Bill of Rights, which states that crime victims are entitled to be told about all proceedings involving their cases.

Former Fort Worth Cop Not Indicted For Shooting Dog. Kenneth Wayne Flynn shot a neighbor’s German shepherd back in September after being led to believe the dog had killed his cat. A grand jury yesterday no-billed him on animal cruelty charges.

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SMU in Violation of Title IX

The U.S. Department of Education has determined that SMU has violated the federal law prohibiting gender-based discrimination. The Morning News reports:

Investigators determined that SMU violated Title IX “by failing to promptly and equitably respond to student complaints of gender-based harassment and sexual violence, including sexual assault, and to reports of retaliatory harassment,” according to a Thursday news release.

In one case, investigators found that SMU did not respond “promptly and equitably” to a complaint of a sexual assault of a male student by another male student. The student withdrew from SMU after other students harassed and retaliated against him.

They also found SMU’s sexual harassment and sexual violence policies and nondiscrimination notice didn’t comply with Title IX requirements, according to the news release.

SMU has already reached an agreement on steps it can take to comply with the law, including revision of its grievance procedures, and the university’s official response to the Morning News tried to spin the news as a positive (which is what PR departments are supposed to do.)

“We appreciate OCR’s recognition of the new policies and procedures SMU has implemented prior to and during its investigation, as well as recognition of the work of the President’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct. Although we take issue with some of OCR’s conclusions and generalizations, we look forward to taking additional actions as outlined. The well-being of our students is our highest priority.”

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