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We Can’t Let Our Guard Down When it Comes to the Trinity Toll Road

Goodness, a bunch of dust has been kicked-up by a little bit of flooding. The past week’s rains have come just at the right time to spark a whole lot of silly talk about flooding and toll roads and Trinity River Project plans. Opponents of the road are circulating memes that use the floods as an excuse to dance on the road’s supposed watery grave — look, the floodway floods! Over at the Dallas Morning News, a couple of editorial writers try to throw water on the fires of panic and hyperbole. A couple of days ago, Rodger Jones made the somewhat obvious point that yes, we can build a road in a flood plain and make sure it doesn’t flood. Today, Rudy Bush chimes in, reiterating his support of the Beasley Plan and attempting to calm everyone down by saying that a road that occasionally floods isn’t the end of the world, let alone the end of plans for a road in the Trinity River watershed.

However, as I wrote earlier this week, I don’t think anyone believes that we can’t build a road that doesn’t flood. Surely the world has seen greater engineering marvels. The question is whether or not this particular road plan is a stupid idea.

Let’s leave that conversation for another day. Here’s the point I want to make: I’m a bit concerned by both Jones and Bush’s eagerness to call Alternative 3C – the engineering plans for a massive highway with high-five style exit ramps flying every which way – over and done.

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Leading Off (5/22/15)

Denton to Be Fracked Over. The day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill severely limiting local regulations of oil and natural gas drilling, Vantage Energy notified the city that it would resume its well operations. Denton made national headlines after banning hydraulic fracturing with a vote last November, but the new law undoes that.

It’s West Nile Virus Season. Batches of mosquitoes in Mesquite and Frisco have tested positive for local newscasts’ favorite bogeyman disease. I’m hoping Zac has already put in a call to his inside source on the insects’ summer plans. Developing.

Attempt to Kill Bullet Train Project Fails. A Texas Senate committee voted against a proposal to prohibit the use of state funds to support the effort to build a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Texas Legislature Legislates. Lawmakers in Austin have reached a deal to cut property and business taxes, instituted new regulations on the chemicals that caused the West explosion, and protected religious leaders and institutions from a problem that hasn’t been shown to actually exist.

Jordan Spieth Still Good at Golf. The Dallas PGA Tour pro, who won the Masters tournament earlier this year, sits tied with three others at the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth.

Wet Weekend Coming. North Texas has already received more rain so far this year than we got in all of 2014. And more and more is on the way.

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Zac Crain Announces Candidacy For 2022 District Attorney Race

Zac Crain, a local magazine editor, told D Magazine that revelations surrounding district attorney Susan Hawk’s 2013 treatment for prescription drug use and other issues had prompted Heath Harris to announce his campaign, even though the election is more than three and a half years away, and since Crain knows how these things go, that prompted him to announce his own campaign, even though we’re now talking, what, almost eight years from now?

“I’ve got to build a base as early as possible,” Crain said to himself as he typed that sentence just now. He didn’t really say it. He kind of mouthed it. He does that occasionally when he is typing. He also softly curses to himself, but that is endearing probably.

When informed that he could probably just run against Harris in the Democratic primary, Crain said that he is a big believer in shotgun rules, and that Harris clearly called it. “I’m not doing much,” he added, also mentioning that he’s “cool waiting, thanks.”

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Ask John Neely Bryan: Can I Park For Free in Downtown Dallas?

Question: What’s the rule on parking your car on a public street downtown that has no such sign declaring it a no-parking zone or a commercial loading zone? I found a tiny block sandwiched between a pair of parking garages that has room for three cars along a curb and no such sign. I’m one of those stubborn downtown workers who refuses to shell out a monthly fee to have my own parking space, so finding areas like this is like finding a treasure. I’ve been parking there all week, and today a security guard for one of the two garages came out and told me I couldn’t park there. I asked him to show me a sign forbidding it, and he said, “You just can’t park here, man.” He then threatened to call DPD, which I welcomed before I realized I had no time to deal with it. So who’s right here? He mentioned that it would be difficult for large trucks to enter a loading bay on the opposite side of the curb, an argument I would certainly cede to if the city were to place a sign forbidding me from leaving my car on this public street. — Matt G.

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Leading Off (5/20/15)

Storms Bring Floods and Tornadoes. There were dozens of reported tornadoes across North Texas and Oklahoma last night. At least one building in Mineral Wells collapsed. And there was “significant damage” reported in Runaway Bay.

Five Dead Bikers Were From North Texas. The dead men range in age from 19 to 47. It will likely be weeks before we know who may have been killed in the original fight and who may have been killed by police. You can see all 171 mug shots of the men arrested here. Zac will be along later with a list of his favorite biker nicknames. (My choice: “Gimmi Jimmy.”)

Former Birdville ISD Student Sues District Over Christian Prayers. Isaiah Smith, 20, claims he suffered years of bullying in the North Richland Hills school district, including anti-gay slurs and having baseballs thrown at him. He says it’s related to the Christian invocations used to start every school board meeting.

That Controversial Black Rhino Hunt Is Over. You’ll recall a few years ago the Dallas Safari Club auctioned off the chance to kill an endangered black rhino. The winner, Corey Knowlton, bid $350,000. (Stephen Colbert mocked the whole thing pretty viciously.) Well, Knowlton eventually got his rhino. And CNN’s Ed Lavandera was along for the trip.

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Grapevine Releases Dash Cam Video of Police Shooting

On February 20, Rubén García Villalpando was shot and killed on the side of Highway 121 by a Grapevine police officer named Robert Clark. For months, activists and family members of the dead man have asked that the dash cam video from that night be released to the public.

Now that a grand jury has declined to indict Clark, the video has been released. Sort of.

Grapevine police put together this video, with footage from the dash cam mixed with the Grapevine police chief explaining what happened, from the perspective of law enforcement. It appears that Villalpando drove away from the officer despite sirens and lights, including weaving through cars on the highway. Then once he did pull over, he disobeys the officer’s orders to stay in the car. He tells the officer, in English, to kill him. Then approaches the officer despite at least 20 orders to move back and stay by the car.

The actual shooting takes place just out of frame. It seems like non-lethal force could have been an option, and other officers have made news by not killing people in similar circumstances. But by most standards, this looks justified. When Villalpando started moving toward Clark, the officer was probably too far away to use a Taser and already had his gun drawn. When Villalpando got close enough, Clark fired twice.

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Help Wanted: Dallas City Hall Reporter/Blogger For D Magazine’s FrontBurner

Recent public discussions about removing elevated-highway barriers that sharply divide neighborhoods and the alternative futures envisioned for the Trinity River floodplain signal that Dallas is on the verge of an important transformation. Whether new ideas or the old guard come out on top in these fights remains to be seen, but it’s clear already just how much is at stake.

Those are a couple of the headline issues, the arguments that have sucked up so much of the oxygen in council debates and municipal elections. But in the ninth-largest city in the United States there are thousands upon thousands of smaller actions taken every day by officials and government staff that have significant effects on the people who live and work here.

D Magazine aims to bring greater attention to all these matters — both those the size of potholes and as big as signature bridges — by hiring a blogger/reporter keen to make a name for himself or herself with thoughtful, data-driven coverage of Dallas City Hall. It’s got to be someone who can spot the opportunities for inquiry in every council or committee agenda, who knows that public meetings usually aren’t where the decisions get made and can find and follow the paper trail to prove it. It’s got to be someone just as comfortable requesting and sorting through reams of data as he or she is talking with sources. We want to move past the political jargon, past the false balance of he said/she said reporting, to get to the facts.

In addition, we want a writer capable of tracking the daily coverage of other news sources throughout the week and offering commentary and aggregation of the best of what our readers need to know. This is an ideal gig for a smart recent graduate who is hungry to become part of the civic conversation. Interested applicants should send a resume and cover letter (including salary requirement) to jason.heid@dmagazine.com.

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Museum Tower May Be Covered in Reflective Film

Is this the end of the Nasher’s dispute with its condo tower neighbor? Says the DMN:

Three years after the Nasher Sculpture Center first complained that it was blinded by the light coming off Museum Tower, the condo tower’s owner — the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System — has voted to cover the 42-story luxury high-rise in a reflective film, which is currently being tested.

“It isn’t a done deal,” says Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, one of four council reps on the pension system’s board of trustees. “But the board had do to do something to continue with the testing.”

Kingston’s council colleague Lee Kleinman says the fix, which was proposed by Texas-based international development firm Hines, will not “take out 100 percent of the reflectivity” that led to the three-year-long dispute with the Nasher. But, he says, “it will reduce it by 50 percent, and that’s significant.” He says he’s “optimistic” this solution will satisfy the Nasher, which has yet to return calls concerning the board’s vote on Thursday.

UPDATE, 4 p.m.: David Dunnigan of PR firm Allison Partners, which represents the pension system, just sent me a note to clarify that the lede of Wilonsky’s post about yesterday’s vote isn’t precisely right. He says the resolution voted on was:

“Authorize the Executive Director to meet with the Nasher and Museum Tower homeowners and negotiate an agreement to be brought back to the Board in 90 days”

So they haven’t exactly voted in favor of covering the building just yet.

UPDATE, Sunday afternoon: Just now seeing a statement from Nasher director Jeremy Strick:

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Leading Off (5/15/15)

City Likely to Dispose of Plastic-Bag Fee. Several companies have sued Dallas over the ordinance that requires retailers to charge customers a 5-cent fee for the use of plastic bags, which went into effect at the beginning of this year. So now five city council members have signed a memo calling for the repeal of the measure, while five others have expressed support for an all-out ban of plastic bags instead. A ban is expected to have a better chance of being upheld by a court than does the fee.

Mesquite Man Charged With Lying to Feds About ISIS Allegiance. Bilal Abood, 37, allegedly traveled to Syria to support the Islamic State.

The Amazing Race Finishes in Dallas. The season finale of the CBS reality TV competition, in which teams of two race around the world, airs tonight at 7 p.m. It’s the second time the million-dollar winner has been crowned in North Texas. (Season 5, back in 2004, ended in Trammell Crow Park.) Based on the preview at the end of last week’s episode, the teams fly from Peru to Dallas-Fort Worth, head to JerryWorld for some sort of football skills competition, travel to Johnson County to play cowboy, and rappel down Reunion Tower before hitting the final mat on the Continental Avenue Bridge. All this fun was filmed on a Saturday, December 6. As a fan of the show, I can tell you that the woman featured in the sneak-peek clip above is just about the most insufferable human you could imagine being stuck with on an international globe-trotting adventure, and her poor partner is maybe the most patient man on the planet. They are one of several teams who were forced to contend with this season’s gimmick. They were matched on a “blind date” and never met until embarking on the race. Because of the way the footage of their difficulties has been edited all race long, I’m expecting them to win it all. The Hyatt Regency (attached to Reunion Tower) is hosting a watch-party.

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Leading Off (5/14/15)

Head Shop Owners Arrested Over K2 Sales. Last summer DEA agents seized cash, cars, and synthetic marijuana from the Gas Pipe and its owners. Yesterday, those owners, Gerald “Jerry” Shults and his daughter, Amy Lynn Herrig, were arrested and charged with conspiring to sell the substance known as K2. Both Shults and Herrig are in federal custody and deny the allegations.

Van Mayor Criticized for Golfing. The city of Van was devastated by a tornado a few days ago. So people are pretty upset that mayor Dean Stone missed a scheduled press conference yesterday to play golf. Not a great look.

Some Places Have More Home Burglaries Than Others. The fine folks at our local CBS affiliate put together a map of the which zip codes in North Texas have the most home burglaries. Bad news for the people in East Fort Worth, Southeast Dallas, and East Plano.

District Attorney Will Hold Town Hall Meeting in Pleasant Grove. In anticipation of tonight’s forum, the Dallas Morning News put out a long-ish story rehashing the paper’s editorial complaints about Susan Hawk, which have more to do with her not answering the paper’s questions about her time in rehab than any specific policies or cases. There’s mention of what seems like a minor car accident and an unfiled financial report, and there are no fewer than 12 references (not counting the headline) to Hawk not answering questions or not commenting for the story. This is what it looks like when newspaper reporters don’t get the interview they were hoping for.

Oh Man I Miss Ron Washington. The former Texas Rangers manager, who resigned last Fall, has apparently been helping out with the University of New Orleans baseball team, in his hometown. Yesterday the 62-year-old Washington was spotted in the UNO dugout wearing a bright orange shirt that read MY BUCKET LIST: 1. Beer 2. Ice. In other news, the Rangers beat the Royals.

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Poll: Is It Too Easy to Graduate High School in Texas?

Yesterday Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a measure that reduces the burden on Texas public high school students to pass exams before graduating. Instead of having to pass five end-of-course exams from the ninth grade on, they only have to pass three of the five. (They’ll still have to obtain a special waiver to do so.)

What do you think of this change?

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Will Mike Rawlings Protect the ‘Vision’ for the Trinity River Project?

After his sweeping victory to a second term in last Saturday’s mayoral election, Mayor Mike Rawlings declared that what residents voted for was a “vision for Dallas.”

In terms of the style and substance of Rawlings’ first term as mayor, it is difficult to argue with his assessment of his own appeal. More than anything, Rawlings is this city’s salesman-in-chief, and his first four years in office were spent mapping out visions of the future, from the promising—if still very inconclusive—Growth South campaign to the controversial re-vision of the Trinity Toll Road. Rawlings is bullish about his city’s future, and the part of his job he seems to enjoy the most is when he has the opportunity to spread the good news about this city’s growth and success.

The problem, however, is that Rawlings’ optimism and penchant for sales-pitching leads him to make sweeping proclamations and lean on ambiguities. And the difficulty with having a Mayor of Vision is that it has never been very clear what, outside of broad generalities, Mayor Mike Rawlings’ vision for the future of Dallas actually is.

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Mayor Rawlings Dominated, But Not As Much As You Might Think

Marcos Ronquillo never really stood a chance, not once Mayor Mike Rawlings publicly — but never substantively — supported the recommendations of his so-called “dream team” to build a kinder, gentler Trinity Parkway. I mean, kind of: all the mayor has really done is pointed at newer, prettier rendering of what the road between the levees could (but probably never will) be and said, “Huh? Huh? Pretty sharp, right?” The Trinity is still one of the biggest issues facing the city, but the mayor did just enough to make it look like it was in the process of being solved.

Which was a problem for Ronquillo, since the Trinity was basically the only issue he was running on. Oh, he had a few other things, too, but they were too esoteric for the average voter. As soon as Rawlings took the Trinity away, Ronquillo’s campaign was like a stool with two legs — he could balance for a little while, but eventually he was going to come crashing down. For two weeks, I have been wondering aloud if Rawlings would get 60something percent of the vote or 70something. It ended up being around 73 percent. No shocker.

“They were not voting for me as an individual,” the mayor said at his victory party at the NYLO Dallas South Side hotel. “They were voting for a vision for Dallas.”

Voters looked at the fuller picture. They saw Rawlings’ leadership on southern Dallas. They saw his support of school reform. They saw his optimism for a better city, and they overwhelmingly returned him to office. The margin of his victory – with three-quarters of the vote – over attorney Marcos Ronquillo should chasten those who would dismiss Rawlings as a figurehead of the city’s power elite. He is the person Dallas residents want leading them. That deserves respect.

And here is where I have to say: hold on.

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Election Excitement Peaks With Philip Kingston’s Return to D Magazine’s Podcast

The EarBurner audience has spoken: They just can’t get enough of city politics. That’s why we invited City Councilman Philip Kingston back on the show ahead of tomorrow’s municipal election. It’s pretty clear by the end of the episode that he’s angling to push Zac out to claim the co-hosting gig for himself.

A few notes to help you better comprehend the recorded nonsense:

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