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Making Dallas Even Better

Leading Off (2/12/16)

Another Porn Convention Targets Dallas. Adultcon — likely jealous of the free publicity that competing adult expo Exxxotica has been getting from the Dallas City Council and more than willing to take its own settlement cash from a lawsuit if their request is likewise rejected — inquired on Thursday about available dates for an event at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Odds that the council soon reverses course on this sex-filled can of worms it’s opened?

Southwest Airlines to Pay Record Profit Sharing. Due largely to a drop in fuel costs, the carrier posted $2.2 billion in net income for 2015. That’s resulted in a record $620 million available for its profit sharing program. Each eligible employee will receive 15.6 percent of his or her annual salary —  eight weeks’ pay — as a bonus. Sagging oil prices sure aren’t all bad for the Dallas economy.

High-Speed Police Chase From Rockwall to Waco. At times the pursuit topped 100 mph, and it only ended when the driver crashed into a median guardrail.

Plano Cops Rescue Kid From Fire. Officers Russel Harris and Mark Jones saved the 5-year-old boy from the second story of a burning home.

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Dallas City Council Bans Exxxotica From Using Convention Center

Today’s title fight at the horseshoe — over the mayor’s proposal to ban the Exxxotica sex show from returning to the city-owned Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center — unsurprisingly centered on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment vs. the desire not to contribute to the exploitation of women and girls.

The measure was approved, by a vote of 8-7. Those in favor were Adam McGough, Carolyn Arnold, Casey Thomas, Erik Wilson, Jennifer Staubach Gates, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Rickey Callahan, and Tiffinni Young. Against it were Adam Medrano, Lee Kleinman, Mark Clayton, Monica Alonzo, Philip Kingston, Sandy Greyson, and Scott Griggs.

Rawlings began the council’s debate by explaining that he proposed the resolution as part of his (self-described) duties as “chief brand officer” and said that he doesn’t believe the event is good for Dallas’ reputation.

He drew parallels between this potential legal fight and past fights the city has accepted even when it knew it was likely to be sued, as with denying gas drilling in a park or the (short-lived) plastic-bag ban. (Though, it should be noted, neither of those disputes centered on constitutional matters.)

Rawlings’ case was essentially that denying Exxxotica the use of the convention center is no different than restrictions the city is allowed to put on such things as the size and placement of billboards. There are many such decisions where the city has a right to determine to what length the freedom of speech extends.

“I read online that there’s a place [in the Exxxotica event] called the Dungeon, where women are tied up and whipped,” Rawlings said, his voice breaking with emotion. “There’s where it crossed the line for me.”

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Mayor Says Plano Is No Longer a Suburb

Last night Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere delivered his annual state of the city address at the Cinemark West Plano theater. His theme was that Plano has entered a new phase in its development: “Plano 3.0”:

“In the ’80’s we were a bedroom community, and in the ’90’s we were known as a big suburb. Today we are our own city, and we compete on a global stage for businesses, and individuals or families looking for a home.”

LaRosiliere called Plano an “economic engine for employment” citing the moves of major companies, like JPMorgan Chase and Toyota, who are moving to Plano.

And with new businesses come new jobs. LaRosiliere said 18,000 new jobs were coming to Legacy West in the next three years.

“We’ve become a true employment center,” he said. “You can fill up AT&T Stadium twice with the number of people coming to work in Plano.”

According to the U.S. Census, the average commute time for Plano residents is 25.7 minutes. For Dallas residents it’s 25.6 minutes. For the Pleasant Grove neighborhood of Southeast Dallas, it’s 34.75 minutes.

These numbers suggest that the people of Plano don’t have to drive into Dallas for jobs. They’ve got employment there, along with much higher median incomes ($82,944 vs. $43,359), which feed better-performing schools, which raise property values, attracting more of the upper-middle class to choose Collin County over the bigger city. Then corporations looking to relocate decide to set up shop closer to where their employees want to live, and this economic cycle feeds on itself all over again.

Maybe it is time they come off our Best Suburbs list.

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The Lesson South Oak Cliff High Just Taught All DISD Students

Yes, there’s a story about it on the front page of today’s metro section. Sure, the incident was widely covered on local TV stations. But I’m not quite sure it has sunk in yet just what a potentially city-changing event has been unfolding over the past couple of months in South Oak Cliff.

It began with the sad fact that South Oak Cliff High School is in terrible shape. Students describe falling ceiling tiles, leaky classrooms, malfunctioning HVAC, decrepit locker rooms, and empty library shelves. The district set aside $13 million to address some of these issues in the upcoming $1.6 billion bond program, but that’s a drop in the bucket when compared with the $40 million it is estimated to take to make South Oak Cliff High School look like, you know, a real school. So the students walked out. Last December, 250 of them demonstrated in front of their school demanding that the district figure out how to provide a place where they can learn that doesn’t communicate to them on a daily basis that they have already been written-off by the world.

And the district responded.

Now trustees plan to double the amount of money they will spend on fixing South Oak Cliff High School to $25 million. It’s still short of the $40 million the school needs, but that’s a huge concession. Students staged a collective action, and they forced the hand of the district, which will now double the amount of money it will spend on fixing South Oak Cliff High School.

I believe that’s major, and here’s why.

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Poll: Should Dallas Ban a Porn Convention?

I’ll be surprised if this isn’t a landslide result. On one side of the issue that the Dallas City Council will consider at Wednesday’s meeting are Mayor Mike Rawlings and billionaire Ray Hunt, who believe there’s an opportunity to block the return of the Exxxotica sex show to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

On the other, there’s city councilmen Philip Kingston and Lee Kleinman (who often disagree on other decisions), as well as future buddy-comedy co-stars Mike Hashimoto and Zac Crain, plus (probably) the United States Supreme Court and most of the Founding Fathers (not John Adams, who was a bit of a prude, but definitely Ben “Early to Bed, Early to Rise” Franklin.)

What do you think?

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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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