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Making Dallas Even Better

It May Cost More to Remove the Dallas Wave Than to Fix It

I just happened to spend my morning hanging out at a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board (always a good time, let me tell you), and got to sit in on the first public briefing on the Dallas Wave since the January 20 city council meeting. If your short term memory needs refreshing, the January 20 meeting was when the city council found out that they had 5 hours to respond to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers request to finally figure out how to fix the whitewater feature on the Trinity, which has been closed since it opened in 2011.

There wasn’t much new revealed in the meeting that hasn’t been batted around to death. One of the most eyebrow-raising revelations was that most of the people on the parks board have never been briefed on the Dallas Wave, despite the fact that a power point presentation seemed to suggest that city staff spent much of 2015 trying to figure out what on earth to do with the thing. According to city staff, the city is looking at two options for fixing the wave problem. The first is to lengthen the bypass channel in order to decrease the grade, making it possible to navigate upstream. The second is to simply take the white water feature out altogether.

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City of Dallas Pushes to Keep Porn Out of Convention Center

But that pesky First Amendment made it impossible to do so last year when the Exxxotica Expo came to town. The city is apparently looking for a workaround:

[Ron King, executive director of the convention center] said he took the issue back to city attorneys when they started hitting “speedbumps” thrown in front of them by “people who said, ‘You shouldn’t have that in this facility.” He wasn’t more specific than that, but said that given the interest from the mayor’s office in the past, he thought it best to make sure Rawlings and the council knew what was coming.

“I suspect there will be some action this coming Wednesday,” said King. “I am awaiting what that action may be so we can move forward.”

[Exxxotica director J. Handy] said he doesn’t know what that would be. When asked if Exxxotica would sue Dallas if it’s not allowed in 2016 or simply move to another city, Handy said both options were, at this point, unfathomable.

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Why Yesterday Was Such an Important Day for Dallas History

As Tim mentions in Leading Off, the Dallas Landmark Commission voted in favor of pursuing protection for a number of important historic sites and structures yesterday, choosing preservation over lazy private interests in each case. The decision to move a 19th century home in the Cedars, rather than bulldoze it for a parking lot, and to move towards designating the Meadows Building on Central Expressway as a historic landmark, thus protecting it from its current owner’s planned demolition of a wing, demonstrates a rare and welcomed willingness from a city board to stand up to private developers in the name of the public’s interest. And the move to protect Big Spring also showed that the commission is willing to step in on behalf of Dallas’ dwindling natural resource, even in a case where the chief threat to the preservation of that natural resource is the city itself.

Mark Lamster runs through all of this in a column, and I don’t have much to add to his thoughts, though it is worth highlighting a few of them:

If the Meadows isn’t a landmark, than nothing is. The commission’s unanimous vote in favor of designation was a heartening indication of this reality, and a welcome validation of its own responsibility. A landmarks commission that cannot protect a building like the Meadows is not worth its name, and serves no purpose.

Yesterday, Dallas demonstrated that it has a Landmark Commission with a purpose. That should be an encouraging source of optimism. Perhaps we are transitioning into a new kind of Dallas, a city that bucks the character cliches of its ensconced business-first civic mentality that has historically devalued not just history and nature, but the public oversight of municipal government to boot.

Leading Off (2/2/16)

Joseph Randle Gambled on Sports. The former Cowboys running back was arrested Monday on a speeding warrant (making that his fourth arrest in 17 months), and the DMN is reporting that part of the reason the Cowboys released him last year was because he was betting on sports (though not, apparently, Cowboys games).

Dallas Landmark Commission Votes To Protect Big Spring. After so much bad news recently about city contractors bungling around in the Trinity Forest, it’s nice to hear this. The Landmark Commission has voted to protect Big Spring, one of the last artesian springs in North Texas. Surely the Plan Commission and the City Council will now do the right thing and approve the vote.

Meadows Building Might Get City Protection. Speaking of the Landmark Commission, it also voted yesterday to begin the lengthy process of giving the building on Greenville Avenue a historic designation (much to the new owner’s chagrin).

Dallas City Council To Discuss Bond Package. The Council is holding a retreat today. One of the topics they’ll discuss: putting off a $1 billion bond package till 2018. The mayor says he is concerned about the city’s financial stability. So enjoy your potholes, people.

Dallas May Wait Even Longer to Repair Its Streets

As the DMN notes, at a retreat next week the Dallas City Council will discuss the possibility of postponing until 2018 a $1 billion bond program initially planned to go before voters in 2017. The reason is that Mayor Mike Rawlings and some other council members want the city to pay down some of its outstanding debt before taking on any more:

As things stand, $235 million out of Dallas’ $3 billion budget will go toward debt service this fiscal year alone .

“That’s money that could be going toward other services,” said council member Lee Kleinman, who has advocated that the city pay for repairs only when it can afford to do so. “That’s money that could go toward streets.”

“We’re trying as a council to bring our credit card spending down,” Rawlings said.

Any delay could be a disappointment to residents eager to get repaired many streets that are now in a near-post-apocalyptic state. Councilman Philip Kingston sounds ready to serve as their champion on the horseshoe:

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Leading Off (1/29/16)

Dallas Schoolchildren Required to Play. The DISD board voted Thursday that all district elementary schools must give students 20 minutes of recess each day for the rest of this school year, increasing that to at least 30 minutes daily next year. Recess also can’t be withheld as a form of punishment in disciplinary matters. Trustee Dan Micciche, who brought the proposal to the board, cited studies indicating recess improves social and emotional health. Considering the gorgeous weather we’re expected to have today, I plan to make the same argument to Wick this afternoon.

Arlington Woman Awarded Millions For Awful Book. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, unless you count Buzzfeed’s abridged, illustrated version. But millions have bought author E.L. James’ book that began as fan fiction published through a website co-founded by Arlington woman Jennifer Pedroza. A jury last year found that Pedroza’s partner had cheated her out of her rightful share of royalties from the work, and on Thursday a judge awarded the Fort Worth schoolteacher $10.4 million in royalties plus $888,643 in pre-judgment interest, as well as $1.7 million in attorney’s fees. So Fifty Shades has made so much money that a woman who didn’t even write the thing, and is splitting her royalty share with the other partners who worked to publish it, still looks to make $11.5 million? Jeez, you people like your S&M.

Dallas Police Chief Doesn’t Need Your Resume. Testifying as part of a civil suit filed against the city, David Brown explained the process by which he decided whom to promote to the rank of major within the department. His “intricate vetting process” has “little need for resumes, job interviews, detailed personnel histories or opinions outside of his command staff.”

Kennedale Smells Like Old Rotted Fish. Parts of Arlington too. Residents there are blaming recent changes at a landfill run by the city of Fort Worth. If I were better acquainted with Kennedale, I’d insert a cutting punchline here. But for all I know it was previously a veritable Garden of Eden, redolent of lilac and baby powder.

Will the Knox Street Redo Move the Most Dangerous Valet Stand in Dallas?

Tomorrow the Dallas City Council is expected to approve the Complete Streets Design Manual, a long-gestating project that’s the result of a $400,000 federal grant received in 2010 that in turn spawned the city’s Complete Streets Initiative.

The resulting document (see it in the council’s posted agenda) is intended to serve as a “comprehensive policy guide for all public or private projects that impact the planning, design, construction, and operation of streets.”

You may recall that in September 2012, the city authorized an experiment — with the help of the Better Block Foundation — wherein Knox Street between Central Expressway and the Katy Trail was narrowed, with bike lanes added and street parking rearranged. That effort was part of the development of a vision of building “streets that are safe and comfortable for everyone: young and old; motorists and bicyclists; walker and wheelchair users; bus and train riders alike,” as the Complete Streets Design Manual puts it.

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Why the Trinity River Project Remains Dallas’ Impossible Dream

If you haven’t been following the ongoing fiasco surrounding the Dallas Wave very closely, I don’t blame you. It has been particularly depressing and infuriating. Last week, the city council found out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatened to shut off the city’s water supply if the city didn’t take immediate action to fix the white water feature that opened five years ago and was then swiftly closed because it was deemed too hazardous.

Today, Jim Schutze reports that some people inside city hall hoped to get Congress to exempt the river from a federal law regarding waterway navigation in order to get around the corps’ objections to the broken white water feature. You may remember that the city already managed to persuade Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson to slip a measure into a piece of federal legislation that exempts the stretch of the Trinity near downtown from all sorts of federal environmental oversight.

There are two pretty rich ironies floating around this latest scuttlebutt over the Dallas Wave.

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Why All the Secrecy About the Dallas Wave?

Jim Schutze has posted a humdinger of an account of what went down in a Dallas City Council emergency executive session on Wednesday, when city staff surprised the council with the news that they had only hours to commit to spending $3 million-$5 million to fix the dangerous Dallas Wave whitewater feature on the Trinity River.

If the city didn’t pony up, they were told, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could shut down the entire drinking water system. Or, as Schutze puts it:

All of a sudden — bang! out of nowhere! — the lawyers lock the council up where the taxpayers can’t see them, shove a letter from the Corps in their faces and tell them if the council doesn’t agree to spend millions more on this already atrociously over-budget fiasco by 5 p.m. that day, the Corps is threatening to yank federal permits that could effectively shut down the city’s water supply.

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New Trinity Parkway Advisory Committee Includes Vocal Critics

So reports the Morning News this afternoon:

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings today sent word to his fellow City Council members that the citizens advisory committee will include project champions Ron Kirk, a former Dallas mayor; Lee Jackson, a former Dallas County judge; and Mary Ceverha, a Trinity Commons Foundation board member. On the flip side, it will also include vocal project critics Rafael Anchia, a state representative from Dallas; Angela Hunt, a former council member; and Robert Meckfessel, another Trinity Commons board member.

Those six will join — and were collectively selected by — City Council member Sandy Greyson and former toll agency chairman Jere Thompson

It’ll be this committee’s task to decide whether whatever technical solution government staffers come up with to reconcile the proposed toll road with a park alongside the river fits the pictures the “dream team” got everybody all hot and bothered over last year.

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Leading Off (1/15/16)

DISD Could Save Millions Consolidating Offices. Dallas school trustees were told Thursday that there’s big savings to be gained by bringing together under one roof operations now scattered among two dozen buildings. Three options for doing so were discussed, with the Nolan Estes Plaza site on Beckley Avenue looking like the most feasible. The cost of the proposed project would be $71.1 million, but the district stands to save $5 million-$7 million per year with the changes.

Truck Driver Killed in Train Collision. None of the 44 Amtrak passengers who were involved suffered serious injuries, but the man at the wheel of a rock hauler that was on the tracks by Scyene Road near Mesquite Metro Airport died Thursday afternoon.

Plano Mom Sued Over Loud Kids. Kelly Counts set up a playhouse for her four children in her backyard, only to have a neighboring couple file a lawsuit claiming that the noisy kids have upset their tranquil way of life. The neighbors are demanding that the playhouse be removed and have begun playing loud music with raunchy lyrics to drown out the sounds from next door. In response, the Counts family has filed its own lawsuit to stop the less-than-family-friendly tunes.

Dallas Income Gap Growing. A new study by the Brookings Institution has found that the income disparity ratio between the 95th percentile ($220,000 per year) and the 20th percentile ($18,000) in Dallas is 12.2 (by this measure, then, the rich earn more than 12 times what the working poor do). That’s the 17th-greatest gap among cities in the country. It’s also a greater difference than is found in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a whole, where the 95th percentile is only $174,000 while the 20th percentile earns about $21,000. That’s a ratio of 8.3. Nationwide, incomes among poorer households remain 13 percent lower than they were prior to the 2007-2009 recession. These numbers further justify the concerns Mayor Mike Rawlings expressed to Bloomberg this week.

Mayor Rawlings Tells Bloomberg Oil’s Drop Doesn’t Worry Dallas, But Poverty Rate Does

Yesterday Mayor Mike Rawlings sat for an interview with Bloomberg. He described himself as a “middle-of-the-road” leader in terms of where he falls on the left-right political spectrum and boasted (as it’s one of his chief duties to do) about the “very good” state of the Dallas economy.

He was careful to draw a distinction between the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area and the city itself, underlining that each of the positive indicators he was citing was related to what’s happening strictly within the municipal boundaries. Apparently he’s heard the complaints about his office’s past conflation of the two.

Rawlings explained that, unlike much of the rest of Texas, Dallas’ more diversified economy protects it somewhat from the precipitous drop in oil prices. It’s the city’s unenviable spot on the list of big cities with high childhood poverty rates and poor economic mobility that concerns him more.

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Dallas Still Safer Than Decades Past, But Violent Crimes Up in 2015

This morning the Dallas City Council’s Public Safety Committee will be briefed on the Dallas Police Department’s 2015 crime statistics, and naturally DPD is crowing (in the briefing packet) about how much safer the city is than it was a dozen years ago:

Unprecedented 12th Consecutive Year of Crime Reduction

4th Lowest Murder Rate on Record

45% Reduction in Police Involved Shootings

67% Reduction in Excessive Force Complaints

And

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Leading Off (1/8/16): True Crime Edition

Dallas Murders Up 17 Percent. But that’s compared to the historically low 2014 number (116) and ranks as the fourth-lowest annual homicide rate — 10.7 per 100,000 residents — since the police started counting in 1930. However, our city was still a bloodier place per capita during the past year than were Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio, New York, San Diego, or San Jose.

12 DA Employees Back Their Boss. Lawyers for Dallas County district attorney Susan Hawk filed a motion yesterday afternoon calling the attempt to remove her from office “contemptible.” The motion was supported by affidavits from eleven prosecutors and Hawk’s secretary who oppose the effort. Judge David Peeples of San Antonio will preside this morning over a hearing to consider whether the suit to decide Hawk’s fitness will proceed to a jury trial.

Armed Standoff Ends After 15 Years. Rather than face charges of assaulting a police officer in 1999, Joe Gray retreated, armed, to his 47-acre property in Henderson County. No one told him until now that the charges got dropped in December 2014.

Paxton Prosecution Costs Collin County Big. Collin County Judge Keith Self isn’t happy that the three special prosecutors appointed to pursue felony charges against Attorney General Ken Paxton are being paid $300 an hour rather than the standard rate of $1,000 for pretrial work, and $1,000 a day during the trial. The presiding judge signed off on the payments. Collin County Commissioners are looking into whether they have any legal recourse.

Fugitives Coming Home. Co-“Worst Parent Ever” Tonya Couch has returned to Texas and is now in Tarrant County Jail with bail set at $1 million, while the Marine who allegedly killed a UNT student in Denton on New Year’s Day will soon be transferred back from Arizona.

Former Trinity River Project Manager: ‘I Felt Like I Was Part of a Giant Con’

Eric Nicholson has an important piece over on the Dallas Observer today about Bryan Kilburn, the man who used to be in charge of managing the Great Trinity Forest for the City of Dallas. Long story short, Kilburn became a Senior Project Manager with the City of Dallas after earning a degree in forestry from Stephen F. Austin university. He was instrumental in putting together the city’s forest management plan, which laid out a 100-year program for preserving and enhancing the ecological asset that is the Great Trinity Forest. He thought he was doing good work.

However, in light of the many recent instances of contractors draining ponds, cutting down trees, and otherwise unleashing havoc on the forest, Kilburn now says he believes that he was a cog in a “giant con” that is the Trinity River Project. Here’s what he posted on Philip Kingston’s Facebook page:

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