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Making Dallas Even Better

Leading Off (5/4/16)

Ciao, Ted Cruz. Your senator, the man whose father, a Carrollton preacher, believed that God himself ordained his son’s White House bid, lost the Indiana primary to Donald Trump yesterday, prompting Cruz to withdraw from the race for the Republican nomination. Cruz’s announcement came in the form of an insult-laden speech (Update: this particular speech came earlier in the day. H/T: the comments) in which Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and “utterly amoral.” That kind of language feels tame in an election year that has also seen Cruz compared to “Lucifer” and Trump accusing Cruz’s dad of involvement in the JFK assassination. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of the many intellectual luminaries who occupy positions of power in state government, suggested Trump nominate Cruz to the Supreme Court. At this point, you could follow the rest of the 2016 election year, or you could just watch Robert Altman’s Nashville on repeat. Your choice.

The Mayor Thinks He’s Helping Dallas Grow South. During a Grow South update, regional marketer-in-chief Mike Rawlings gave his southern Dallas development initiative straight A’s, but also admitted that he wished Grow South could happen faster, better, and cheaper. I read about his perceived accomplishments, thought about the people who actually helped realize many of them, and wondered if what makes Mike Rawlings a poor mayor is the precisely the fact that he thinks of mayoring in terms of “faster,” better,” and “cheaper.” Does our mayor have the patience, vision, or political seriousness to actual plant seeds of substantial change in the impoverished, historically segregated city south of I-30? Or, as a developer rather acutely commented to me recently, is he merely “a quarterly returns guy?”

Susan Hawk Back in the Hot Seat. The DA’s department is under fire once again after an innocent man accused of heinous crimes and sent to prison for two years may have been convicted because prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence.

Suspect in Gruesome Church Murder Still At Large. Police in Midlothian are looking for help identifying a man caught on surveillance camera at Creekside Church of Christ on April 18. He was wearing a black helmet, balaclava, and vest with the word “police” on it, and he is seen brandishing a hammer and breaking windows while going through an office. Moments after the footage was taken, a fitness instructor arriving for an early morning class was bludgeoned to death.

Southlake Murder-For-Hire Trial Continues to Shed Light on Drug Cartel’s Inner Workings. The murder was cold, methodical, and it wasn’t supposed to happen in Southlake.

Time to Pine for Seguin. It’s not just that the Blues are up 2-1, it’s that after a gutsy comeback in a game 2 they eventually lost, the Stars fell to pieces in a 6-1 rout in St. Louis last night. Prediction: the Stars somehow scrape together a few wins and force a game seven. Then, a still half-injured Tyler Seguin enters the game in overtime and scores a goal that is likened to the hockey version of Kirk Gibson’s walk-off.

Burger Baron Jack Keller Dead at 88. “The secret of this business,” Keller told the Dallas Morning News last year, “is a good, consistent product, year in and year out, at a reasonable price.” Keller delivered that product at his classic, throw-back burger joint on Northwest Highway for 50-plus years. R.I.P.

Don’t Worry, There is Hope and Goodness in the World. Watch a motorcycle cop rescue a stray dog caught in traffic on I-30, and read about the dogs that were rescued from a Korean dog-meat farm that are now safe in a Dallas shelter.

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No One Is Drilling in the Barnett Shale

The Star-Telegram reported on natural-gas industry data that shows that there are no active rigs drilling anywhere in the two-dozen county region of North Texas under which the Barnett Shale formation sits. A decade ago, there were nearly 200:

Plummeting oil and gas prices, along with the seductive lure of bigger payouts in other parts of Texas and across the country, have brought exploration in North Texas to a halt. In March of last year, the count dropped to one rig for a week, then stayed under 10 since then.

Things have gotten so bad that the Powell Shale Digest in Fort Worth, once a must-read for those following industry activity in the Barnett, is publishing its last edition on Tuesday.

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D CEO Women’s Leadership Symposium Speakers Announced. Join us June 1!

D CEO is proud to announce our first Women’s Leadership Symposium hosted on June 1 at the Hilton Anatole. Join us for a half-day packed with empowerment, education, and actionable takeaways on the subjects of leadership, entrepreneurship, mentorship and community involvement.

Our twelve speakers are powerful DFW-area executives transforming their industries and breaking the mold right in our region. Expect to learn and be inspired by stories of success and biggest mistakes (and how they learned from them), how innovation and creativity drive leadership, and how to create the best network of mentors and your own personal board of directors.

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Study Highlights the Poor State of Dallas’ Poorest Children

In a week when we’re all enjoying a bit of fun by hate-watching what Real Housewives of Dallas is doing to our city’s national reputation on the upper end of the income scales, the Austin-based Center For Public Policy Priorities think tank has released a study that reminds us just how badly off young Texans at the opposite end of the economic spectrum are. It also serves as a reminder of how racially and economically segregated our state remains.

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Leading Off (3/31/16)

Battaglia execution postponed. The Dallas man who killed his daughters in 2001 while their mother was on the phone lives to see another day. A few hours before John Battaglia was scheduled to be executed yesterday, he won a stay from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for his attorney to go after mental incompetency claims. For now, the case will go back to trial court in Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys and WWE Divas visit kids at Scottish Rite. Cowboys including running back Darren McFadden and tight end Gavin Escobar along with WWE wrestlers lifted kids’ spirits yesterday at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. They helped them color and painted faces. This is pretty cool, especially since I was treated at Scottish Rite for three years of my childhood for scoliosis. Way to go, guys!

Last year, 78,000 people moved to DFW. This is partly due to Toyota, Liberty Mutual Insurance, JP Morgan Chase, and FedEx moving to Plano. But that’s still a big number. Collin County had the most new residents with more than 20,000, followed by Denton County with 19,000 and then Tarrant County. From mid-2014 to mid-2015, DFW boasted the second-fastest-growing population in the U.S.

Arlington man wins Texas Lottery scratch-off. Lawrence K. Barrow won $2.6 million from the Texas Lottery’s Set for Life game. The Lone Star Conoco that sold him the winning ticket is eligible to receive a $10,000 bonus.

Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day. Start planning your shenanigans now.

The Racist Legacy of America’s Inner-City Highways

There’s an article on Vox today that offers a concise summary of just how we went from being a nation of streetcar riders to a nation of long haul auto commuters. Its a familiar story to anyone who knows the history of urbanism in the 20th century. First came pressure from the auto industry to build new roads for their cars, resulting in a push for public funding of “freeways.” Then came the vision of a future America modeled after the modernist Utopian dream so compellingly depicted in General Motor’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 Worlds Fair.

With public sentiment favoring a world made easy by zipping to and from suburban homes and downtown offices on ribbons of concrete — and a booming post-war economy that made car ownership more possible — President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, kick-starting the interstate system. Eisenhower didn’t want the highways to extend into the cities, but once he signed the federal legislation, the highway engineers took over. There was no turning back.

In America’s cities, highways became more than a transportation amenity.

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U.S. News Ranks Dallas-Fort Worth 21st-Best Place to Live in the U.S.

U.S News & World Report has released this year’s list of its “Best Places to Live,” and Denver tops the list. I’d like to hem and haw and declare it an outrage that Colorado’s capital is thought to be a more appealing a place to call home in the estimation of a bunch of Washington-based editors than is Dallas. Only thing is, Denver is pretty great. It’s hard to argue that seeing the Rocky Mountains on the horizon when atop a downtown skyscraper isn’t a more fulfilling daily experience than is seeing JerryWorld (which is what’s visible from D Magazine’s World Headquarters).

No. 2 on the list is Austin, which soundly beats Dallas-Fort Worth on the U.S. News scorecard thanks mostly to its cool-kid reputation. See for yourself. Here’s Austin on the left, and DFW on the right:

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The Fed Says Dallas Economy Will Outperform Rest of Texas

To be more precise about it, in a report issued today about the industries of Texas’ major cities, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says the economy of the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan area (this includes Dallas, Collin, Denton, Rockwall, Ellis, Kaufman, and Hunt counties) will do better in terms of employment than the rest of the state this year:

Although the Dallas area is not immune to the impact of low oil prices, it will likely achieve net job gains in 2016 and outperform the state average. One factor is that only 6 percent of the metro area’s workers are employed in the mining and energy cluster. Additionally, the U.S. economy is doing well, and thousands of jobs are coming to the Dallas area as companies such as State Farm, Toyota and Liberty Mutual consolidate operations. Despite a few challenges, the area will continue to realize good growth in the medium term.

Just like Mayor Rawlings has assured us. By contrast, the Fed has some concerns about the Fort Worth-Arlington side of North Texas.

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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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