The Whore Truth About Tomorrow's City Council Meeting

Categories: News

Tomorrow’s city council meeting is filled with several interesting items -- though once again, the addendum is where the most titillating items can be found. So much to get to: the convention-center hotel, natural-gas drilling, cell phones ...

You know what? We need more room to stretch out. Like maybe the bed of a pick-up truck? Or a jump.

Let’s just begin with addendum item No. 8, which is a vote to authorize plans for $42 million in certificates of obligation to purchase land that will be used as a potential convention center hotel site.

In last Tuesday’s Economic Development Committee meeting, council member Angela Hunt asked Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez why there wouldn’t be a vote on this. She used the $128 million expansion to the Dallas Convention Center in 1998 as an example of why voters should be involved. Gonzalez didn’t say exactly why, but he made it clear there would be no vote. When Unfair Park broke the news that Hunt was questioning the legality of keeping voters outta this, she said she’d be asking City Attorney Tom Perkins to explain.

Perkins didn’t respond to an inquiry from Unfair Park, but he did speak with Hunt. Hunt tells us that she was mistaken about the 1998 expansion -- um, because there wasn’t a vote after all. Perkins told Hunt that the $128 million in bonds were secured using hotel and motel taxes and revenue from the convention center, not ad valorem (property) taxes. Hunt says she was told that even though the certificates of obligation for the land will be secured with property taxes, they will be eventually paid off using bonds secured by revenue from the proposed hotel.

So let’s try to wrap our brains around this one together. When property taxes (which is to say, Your Money) is used to secure the dough, then the citizens of Dallas get a vote. When it comes from hotel and motel taxes or revenue sources tied to the convention center, not so much. I understand this in theory, but it reeks of a scam. Because, see, I would argue that since taxpayers’ money was used to build the convention center, then any revenue is taxpayers’ money too. And any revenue from a convention center hotel that taxpayers will help build is kinda taxpayers’ money as well.

But here’s the kicker: They’re using taxpayers’ money to, supposedly, temporarily pay for the land until the convention center hotel deal gets worked out. So, what if a deal doesn’t work out? Then the City of Dallas is stuck with the land and, um, how is it gonna get paid for? No one is asking this question because one thing is clear: This convention center hotel will get built no matter what. The writing was on the wall when council members approved the feasibility study to refinance the convention center and the $500,000 from the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau to put an option on the land. Ultimately, this should be the biggest concern to taxpayers. The decision has already been made without a thorough analysis of the risks involved.

Speaking of decisions already made ...

City Manager Mary Suhm decided that the city should lease City of Dallas property for gas drilling when she made the budget last year. When an addendum item came up regarding special-use permits (SUPs) for gas drilling in September, council members Hunt and Mitchell Rasansky attacked Suhm for putting $20 million of revenue from leasing the property in the budget without getting input from the community or the council. Hunt explained her concerns in a blog item written after the February 6 council briefing about the lease.

Hunt reinforced her frustration after yesterday’s Quality of Life and Government Services Committee meeting. Hunt told Unfair Park that after spending an hour debating the merits of dogs on patios and a lengthy discussion about registering for garage sales, she couldn’t understand why so many council members jump feet first into these issues and ignore larger ones. (I have an opinion about the dogs on patios item, but I’ll defer to fellow Dallas Blog alum Trey Garrison over at FrontBurner, who has the same thoughts I do on this.)

“Where was this erudite conversation and insightful analysis when we were discussing oil and gas drilling, increases in the Trinity price tag or the convention center hotel?” Hunt says. “Is it because these issues are easier to wrap your arms around, and you don’t have to dig into details to really get what’s happening? It’s so frustrating to me.”

The leases are addressed in addendum item No. 16, which includes six pages of the properties that are covered, most of which are in Steve Salazar and Dave Neumann’s districts. The city is selling the mineral rights for all of the land, along with surface rights for only some of them, according to Mark Duebner, Director of Business Development and Procurement for the City of Dallas. The city divided the acreage into five sections: Dallas North Properties (2,031.11), Dallas South Properties (1,536.91), Trinity River (1,613.48), Dallas Love Field (1,322.79) and Dallas Executive Airport (1,176.32).

Hunt says she was floored when she saw the list of the properties and continues to compare the drilling to the city’s proposal to add kiosks, which Hunt was opposed to because of the lack of concern for aesthetics.

“I’m just out-and-out aghast that after spending so much money and time talking about how much we care about the environment, the Trinity and blah, blah, blah. What’s that about?” Hunt says. “We constantly talk about being a walkable city and an attractive city, but we whore ourselves out for a buck at the slightest provocation, at the slightest promise of a dollar, and let our city get aesthetically destroyed.”

The contracts with XTO Energy, Inc. and Trinity East Energy, LLC will yield more than $33 million for the city, with $20 million applied to the current budget and the remainder applied next year. Nearly $1.5 million in revenue from the Love Field properties has been delayed because the lease agreement has yet to be finalized. Additionally, if gas is found, the city will get 25 percent of Trinity East Energy’s revenue and 26 percent of XTO’s revenue from hydrocarbons produced. Duebner stressed that this item merely gives the companies mineral rights and some surface rights, and any rigs will need to be approved by SUPs, three of which have already been granted to private land owners. He says the number of rigs that will be build is undermined, but “probably only a handful of rigs will go up.”

Duebner says that the rigs used are approximately 120 feet high, and a likely destination for one of them is Hensley Field, a former military base and training field from 1929 to 1998 located at the northwest corner of Mountain Creek Lake. He also says the drilling is a temporary activity and will take place for four to six weeks. Once the drilling is completed, a wellhead will be left behind. Hunt says the aesthetics and neglect to involve the community aren’t her only concerns.

“Anyone who thinks that this won’t have any impact on the ground where these things are being drilled, I think they’re mistaken,” she says.

A December 9, 2007, story by Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Bob Ray Sanders explained how gas drilling has affected Fort Worth. I’d love to link you to it as it’s a must read, but it’s already in the archives. Essentially, Sanders says not enough questions were asked about the gas drilling because most people didn’t know what ones to ask. He also wrote about the scarring of the land, ugly industrial sites built to support the industry, large trucks crowding the streets and waste produced from the drilling.

“I can't help but ask: While some people are getting richer during the great North Texas gas boon, is the land getting poorer?” he wrote. “I'll be long gone by the time most people begin to ask these questions, and certainly before they begin to get the answers to them. In the meantime, I'll watch this area and its leaders bask in their new riches while I drive over mud-caked streets, look upon unsightly machinery erected near parks and residential areas and wait for that first nickel from a royalty payment.”

This alone shouldn’t put the kibosh to the drilling, but it should raise enough concerns for the council to demand that citizens be educated about this process, especially the ones living near the sites.

Finally, for the few who have made it this far, I want to quickly (I promise) hit on addendum items No.’s 9 and 10. The first item will create an ordinance prohibiting “the use of a hand-held mobile telephone to engage in a call or the use of a mobile communication device to send, read, or write a text message while operating a moving motor vehicle in an active school zone.” The penalty? Two hundred bucks. The second item will use $144,265 to install traffic signs, warning people of the ordinance. --Sam Merten

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