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Making Dallas Even Better

Leading Off (1/21/16)

Ethan Couch to return to U.S. soon. Yesterday, his attorneys said they expect Couch to be present at his Tarrant County probation hearing on February 19. They also said Couch’s legal team in Mexico will not attempt to block his return to the U.S. anymore. We’ll find out soon enough if Couch’s case will be transferred from juvenile to adult court.

Gaylord Texan primed for $120 million expansion. The Grapevine hotel’s owner announced yesterday that the planned expansion for the Gaylord Texan will make it the second-largest hotel in Texas and one of the country’s biggest non-gaming convention hotels. 300 guest rooms will be added to the 1,511 rooms currently at the Gaylord.

Dallas seeking new fire-rescue chief. The city will pay search firm Affion Public $24,000 to help Dallas Fire-Rescue continue to search for a new fire chief as Chief Louie Bright III will retire in March. The job will be posted for 30 days.

city streets still bad, says Rawlings. Dallas City Council during a meeting said that 37,656 potholes had been patched on Dallas streets over the past year or so. But Mayor Rawlings didn’t seem to be as content with that as the city council was. Although it was contended that the streets did not get any worse than they had been, Rawlings said that keeping streets in bad condition is not the goal. At least spending on streets will be up in 2016.

W: Protectionism Ignores the Reality of a ‘Globalized World’

One thing shared by the insurgent/outsider candidates of both parties in the 2016 presidential race is a populist skepticism about the benefits of unfettered free trade. Think Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Meantime, Chamber of Commerce types (and their candidates) on both sides continue insisting that unrestrained trade is the only way to go. Think Jeb Bush and, until recently, Hillary Clinton.

Today the George W. Bush Institute came out with something it calls the “North America Competitiveness Scorecard,” which you could easily imagine the Establishment using to bolster its argument for unencumbered trade and increased globalization.

The scorecard ranks the competitive position of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada (the NAFTA countries) against the world’s other big economic regions. Great news, NAFTA countries: We got a B+! The other major regions scored Bs, a C+ and a D- (that was the bad-boy “Mercosur” countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, etc.). During an event at the Bush Institute this morning unveiling the scorecard—one component of the institute’s Economic Growth program—Margaret Spellings, outgoing president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, said, “We are convinced that the key to America’s prosperity is to open global markets.”

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Moody’s Downgrades City’s Bond Rating

The fiscal chickens are coming home to roost. Years of under-maintained infrastructure and a police and fire pension system suffering from incompetent management and terrible investments have resulted in a downgrading of the city’s bond rating from from Aa1 to Aa2. The downgrading came on the same day the council approved $227 million in bonds for capital improvement projects, including $3 million for the relocation of a concrete plant at the behest of real estate developers already profiting from public investments in the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and new West Dallas infrastructure.

As a result, the city will wind up paying about $887,000 more in interest than it expected over the life of the debt stemming from the sale of the bonds approved Wednesday, said Jeanne Chipperfield, the city’s chief financial officer. Chipperfield said that will come out to an average of $46,700 a year over the next 19 years.

And while that’s a fraction of the city’s annual $3 billion budget, that’s still money that could have gone toward paying public safety officers and fixing streets, Mayor Mike Rawlings said Wednesday night.

And I would expect that bond rating to decrease before it improves considering the city has no real plan for improving the overall quality of its streets and the police and fire pension plan faces an FBI investigation as it stares down potential insolvency.

Here’s looking at you, A.C. Gonzalez.

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Leading Off (10/29/15)

Dallas to spend $3 million so Trinity Groves concrete plant moves. The Argos Ready Mix facility at the foot of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge will move further into West Dallas near Thomas Edison Middle School. The city of Dallas is helping pay for that move to the tune of $3 million at the behest of Trinity Groves owners, who want to build the existing plant area up. Some West Dallas residents are skeptical at the thought of dust emission, while others say it will help the community. City council approved the subsidy for Argos yesterday.

Retail program that helps people advance to higher-paying jobs coming to Dallas. The pilot program will help entry-level retail workers move up in their industry. Because turnover rates are so high in retail, it can be difficult to secure a promotion. Innovate+Educate is the nonprofit leading the program and chose Dallas due to its large retail presence and job openings. The program is set to start early next year.

Female prisoner escapes from Parkland Memorial Hospital. 47-year-old Anna Cardella escaped from sheriff’s deputies at Parkland yesterday morning, according to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. She was being held on drug-possession charges and driving with a suspended license. She was being kept in the airborne isolation unit, although deputies wouldn’t say why due to federal privacy laws. She was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans when she escaped.

Mavericks come out swinging in opening game. Last night, the Dallas Mavs smoked the Phoenix Suns, 111-95, with eight players in double figures. After an iffy offseason, this is a solid start to the 2015-16 season. Take that, Chandler.

Leading Off (10/1/15)

Susan Hawk to return to work today. Today´s the day that a lot of people have wondered about. Will Dallas County DA Susan Hawk be at her desk and ready to work? The past nine months have been troublesome for her and others—only time will tell if she regains her footing.

MACARTHUR high school bomb threat turns out to be hoax. Yesterday, Irving´s MacArthur High School was evacuated due to a bomb threat. After officers searched the building and came up empty-handed, they allowed the students to return. No word yet on who called in the threat. With the Ahmed saga, MacArthur High has had a month.

Police investigate possible kidnapping of teenage girl in Arlington. Yesterday evening, a teenage girl reported that men in a dark blue SUV had tried to kidnap her while she was jogging. Police are still investigating the whereabouts of these men.

National soccer hall of fame museum to come to frisco. The U.S. Soccer Federation and FC Dallas announced yesterday that Frisco will be home to the National Soccer Hall of Fame Museum by 2017. More details to come at a news conference on October 14. Soccer!

Is Prosper On a Path to Prosperity, Or Is it Lost in Suburban Limbo?

There was an interesting article in Monday’s Dallas Morning News that seemed to unintentionally make a case against the suburbs even though it was optimistic with regards to reporting on the suburbs’ success. The story is about the little town of Prosper, TX just north of Frisco on the Dallas North Tollway.

Prosper is the latest exurb to experience an incredible development boom thanks to our prevailing macroeconomic strategy for growth in North Texas, which entails extending and widening roads as a means of attracting increased investment to undeveloped areas of our land-rich, sprawling region-city. In the last decade, thousands of people have moved to Prosper for its relatively affordable luxury-style homes, proximity to workforce centers in the northern sector, and quality public schools. In fact, to attract homeowners, real estate investors helped build those schools, places like Light Farm Elementary, for which Republic Property Group of Dallas provided both land and $2 million to build.

However, Prosper is a victim of its own rapid prosperity.

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Forget Subsisting at Poverty Level — What’s a Decent Life in Dallas Cost?

Over on real estate blog Candy’s Dirt, Jon Anderson spent some time with a Family Budget Calculator recently updated by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank. It uses market-specific date to estimate the income necessary for living in various cities not just at the subsistence level of the federal poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four) but at a standard of living that most of us would consider a bare minimum to, as Anderson puts it, “live like a human” with (according to EPI’s guidelines) “structurally safe, and sanitary rental housing of a modest nature with suitable amenities,” “nutritionally adequate diets,” as well as adequate health care coverage and meeting transportation needs.

Those numbers:

$5,096 monthly ($61,150) for a two-parent, two-child household

$4,458 monthly ($53,492) for a single-parent, two-child household

You can adjust the calculator to see other household arrangements as well, but the bottom line is that minimum-wage work doesn’t come anywhere near these levels. Even the median household income in Dallas County is just $49,481, with 19.5 percent of people living below the poverty line. Anderson notes:

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Millennials Are Better Off in Denton and Collin Counties

That’s as compared to the U.S. and Texas averages, as well as compared to their counterparts with the misfortune to call Tarrant or Dallas counties home. The Census Bureau’s recently released tool for determining how much worse off people ages 18-34 are now — as opposed to 1980, 1990, and 2000 — is a glorious form of infotainment to suck the hours right out of your morning.

In general the national trends hold true in Dallas-Fort Worth. Those born in 1982 or later now represent more than one-quarter of the nation’s population. According to these estimates, compared to past decades, the currently youngest cohort of adults are better educated — with a higher percentage of them having attained bachelor’s degrees — but make less money (with more living below poverty level) and are therefore more likely to still live with their parents and never have married.

However, most these changes are less pronounced in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area than they are state- or nationwide. The exception is income, where D-FW-A lags a tiny bit below the U.S. median.

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Visualizing Poverty Growth In Dallas

Before we head into the weekend, I thought I’d jump back into the fray after some time away from the office with a really depressing post about poverty growth in Dallas. Shall we?

I don’t have new information for you, just a new way of looking at it. The data comes from a report from 2014 put out by which looked at population change in the nation’s poorest urban neighborhoods and argued that the most pressing problem confronting our cities is not gentrification, but rather the concentration of poverty. This concentration of poverty is illustrated in a map I pointed to back in July that showed income inequality broken down by neighborhood. But now we have a new set of nifty maps by designer Justin Palmer that presents the issue in bleak, ominous tones.

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Bernie Sanders’ Warning for Billionaires: ‘Your Greed is Destroying America, and We Are Going to End Your Greed!’

They started letting people into the big Sheraton Dallas Hotel ballroom at 11:30 a.m. yesterday, 90 minutes before Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate, was scheduled to show up for a campaign rally. Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” blared from the sound system as they poured in: a young white guy wearing an Obama t-shirt, a 50ish Hispanic woman in a pink cowboy hat, older Anglo men with long gray ponytails, a middle-aged black woman in a business suit. Among the early-arriving crowd near the makeshift stage was Denton-born Roy Holcomb, a 57-year-old real estate investor who’d come with his daughter Jessie Pike and her husband, David Pike, both 26-year-old Lewisville schoolteachers.

“I’ve been reading Bernie pretty hard for five years,” Holcomb said. “What got me stirred up was Citizens United. Money has just taken over, and he’s the only one calling out the banks, the Koch brothers, the corporations. The corporations do one thing: make money and eat everything in their wake. I’m the cowboy, and the Indians—the Republicans—are all around me, everywhere. My wife is a nut Fox News-hound, and I started watching Fox and thought, ‘This is propaganda.’ ” Holcomb, who said Sanders’ chief rival Hillary Clinton is “bought and paid for by the corporations—just like Jeb Bush,” added with a laugh that he had to talk his daughter and her husband into accompanying him today. Said David, choosing his words carefully: “We’re still trying to figure it out.”

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The New York Times on the Federally Subsidized Dallas Exodus

The New York Times reports on the success of an experimental housing policy the federal government rolled out in Dallas. In short, the new program offers vouchers to people who qualify for housing subsidies. That’s not new. Here’s the new bit: if the person receiving the voucher wants to move to a more expensive neighborhood, the government will give that person more money.

The thought is that by helping families move into better neighborhoods, they will have a better chance of breaking the cycles of poverty that persist in poorer parts of town. Better schools, safer neighborhoods, short commutes: in the long run it all translates into lower costs for everyone, those receiving the subsidies and the government. So far, this strategy has been proven successful, even if the program is not perfect:

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Dallas-Fort Worth Has the Worst Income Inequality by Neighborhood in the U.S.

Governing reports on a new Urban Institute report that looks at how income inequality affects neighborhoods. In short, the report demonstrates that between 1990 and 2010, wealthier neighborhoods have become wealthier, while poorer neighborhoods have become poorer, further exaggerating levels of income inequality between neighborhoods across U.S. metro areas. And the region that leads the way in this trend towards increasing neighborhood income inequality is Dallas (or, more accurately, DFW). Via Governing:

The analysis examined inequality within commuting zones, or large regions of several counties that resemble metropolitan areas. Of all commuting zones with at least 250,000 residents, those with the largest neighborhood disparities were Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The Dallas commuting zone, home to about 3.7 million residents, had the highest degree of neighborhood inequality of any area reviewed. The Urban Institute’s Rolf Pendall, who wrote the report, attributed this to the area’s extremely low average wages for poor communities, along with a regional education system that trails other parts of the country.

There are a few interesting takeaways from the study.

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Why Dallas Is a Terrible Place to Grow Up Poor — And a Great Place to Be Rich

The new study by two Harvard economists written about in the New York Times this week presents some disappointing data about Dallas County. By looking at the incomes of more than 5 million people who moved, as children, with their families in the 1980s and 1990s, they found that 20 years of growing up in Dallas County led to children who grow up in one of the poorest families (income of less than $30,000/year) earning $1,340 less in annual income than the national average. That’s better than only 19 percent of the other counties in the nation.

On the other end of the spectrum, the children of the Dallas County’s richest families (earning more than $100K/year) made $990 more annually than the average among the nation’s wealthiest — and those in the richest 1 percent of families were $1,900 better off than the average.

Dallas is hardly alone among populous counties in seeing this sort of disparity in outcomes for the rich and the poor. But note also (image above) how poorly it performs as compared to neighboring North Texas counties in serving its poorest. Collin, Denton, Rockwall, Tarrant, Ellis, and (especially) Johnson all see their kids on the lowest end of the economic spectrum do better than the national average.

So what are the causes of these differences?

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