Top 10 Schutze Columns of '10
Nothing slow about us, but just when you thought my third annual list of Schutze's best columns wouldn't take shape, Jim's check finally cleared, so I took the time to look back at his fine work throughout the year and picked out the 10 that made me fall in love with him all over again. As in past years, the list is chronological and without any commentary from me because, well, I'd screw it up. So says Jim, at least.
All kidding aside, here's the best of 2010 from a guy who has somehow managed to avoid a Wikipedia entry bearing his name. Unless you count this, which you shouldn't.
Dallas is covered by a federal law that says Washington will rebuild the levees if the levees are destroyed in a flood. But because of the city's negligence in maintaining the levees, we're right on the cusp of losing that coverage. That would mean if the levees were lost, Dallas would have to pay the entire bill itself.
So if the flood that's 700 percent more likely than we thought it was does take place and does knock down the levees or some stretch of them, we will be 100 percent more screwed than we thought we were.
The council members are right. The creation of a community garden can conceivably become a divisive issue, in which case it becomes a pain in the ass for city council members.
By the same token, city staffers are not wrong, entirely, in their wariness. And we citizens are not pure as the driven snow, either. In our own wisdom as voters and taxpayers we refuse to fund the city's park department at anything like an adequate level. Next time you see a park department crew out there on the street, take a good gander at their equipment. They're driving trucks the Joad family would have disdained in Grapes of Wrath.
The staff figures nobody is going to give it any money to pay for regulating community gardens. So here we are, back at our very familiar ground zero in City Hall affairs. Let's just stall this thing, and maybe after a while it will go away. People will become interested in a new dance craze instead, or fancy hats or aerobic leapfrog or something that doesn't involve real estate, and City Hall will be able to heave a vast sigh of relief. The trick is how to stall it off until they forget.
To wit: the special use permit.
Picture one candidate as a guy in a pinstriped suit with slicked-back hair smoking a fat Cuban cigar. A bunch of old walruses are crowded in behind him stuffing greenbacks into his pockets and down his collar. He grins and says, "That tickles."
Then picture the other candidate--a smart, clean John Q. Citizen--looking straight out at you. Pointing at the rest of them with his thumb, he says, "That stinks."
That's this election.
It's the smoke-filled room, the insider guys, the new oligarchy, whatever you want to call it, versus open and above-board dealing and a fair shake for all. In the one corner it's Clay Jenkins--a Manchurian Mr. Nobody chosen by the very same guys who attempted to screw up the Inland Port deal trying to dish contracts to their buddies. In the other corner it's Larry Duncan, who has one of the longest, best track records in this town for getting things done and for real and fair minority participation.
Duncan is the level playing field. Jenkins is the trap door.
She parks her car and walks toward a backwards-walking handheld camera, downhill on Elm Street from the Dealey Memorial, stripping off articles of clothing as she moves through a crowd of tourists. Several things strike me.
One. You can take off your clothes in the midst of a crowd of tourists in this life and attract remarkably little attention. Some of them turn away dismissively, as if to say, "Sorry, I don't have any change."
Two: Most of them don't even see her. They look right through her. Here is this striking woman walking next to them, taking off all of her clothes, and they're craning around staring at the sky like gun-startled chickens, probably searching for the picket fence where the supposed second or third gunman was supposedly hiding. Or supposedly not.
And third: The powerfully graceful movement of her body separates her from the physical space of the crowd. She glides among them as if in a channel apart, a separate dimension. She is a spiritual visitor, seen but unseen.
Last: Real Life. Her physical act of nakedness is somehow profoundly and touchingly modest. There isn't an ounce of ego or provocation. She is vulnerable, and her nudity is moving.
Take the curious case of Curtis Lockey, Craig MacKenzie and the LTV Tower 1600 Pacific Avenue building. Lockey and MacKenzie, who have long, serious résumés as commercial developers, tried to do a redevelopment deal that would conform to federal law.
But the people running downtown Dallas don't want developers to comply with federal law. Federal law requires a lot of low-income housing. Dallas wants fancier things downtown.
So Lockey and Mackenzie got tabled. They tell me the table cost them $30 million. Cash. Dead presidents.
Look. This is about a square deal versus the table. You invite people to sit down and play poker with you. No fair slipping them a roofie and pocketing the chips.
Here is where we get to fee fi fo fum. How could the city get away with telling people not to meet HUD guidelines while it was certifying to HUD every year that it was "affirmatively furthering" HUD guidelines?
Easy. The same way coal-powered generating plants and deep-water off-shore rigs and unemployment insurance departments got away with flouting federal regulations for a long time. There used to be a different sheriff in the White House. I refer to the guy who rides his dirt-bike around Dallas now.
Every year on every HUD-financed downtown housing project, Dallas applied for waivers from the federal guidelines for downtown projects. And got them. And before I blame all of that too much on Mr. Dirt Bike, the downtown Dallas waivers actually go back to the Clinton years when Andrew Cuomo was Secretary of HUD.
So doesn't that let Dallas City Hall off the hook? They asked for waivers. They got them. End of story? No, Morning Glory. Not the end at all. Fee fi fo fum. There's a new sheriff in town, and here he comes.
In explaining why the city sought Hutchison's help in exempting the project from certain federal laws, Suhm said invoking federal historic protections might delay important flood control work.
But I have spoken with experts here and around the country who say the riders Hutchison stuck onto the appropriations bill on May 27 are meat-axes. There is nothing surgical about them, nothing to limit their effect to mere historic designation issues.
"This is sweeping," said David Conrad, senior water resources specialist for the National Wildlife Federation in Washington.
Whether Hutchison and Leppert intended it or not, Conrad said, their amendments, if passed into law, would chop a raw, gaping hole in federal law as it applies not only to the Dallas project but to the entire 700-mile course of the river.
There was even a famous incident in which Miller herself had her driver stop her car so she could roll down the window and rail at a homeless panhandler, telling him he was breaking the law.
The problem was, he didn't give a damn. The homeless people brought their own twisted logic to it: If they obeyed the law and didn't panhandle, they starved to death. If they broke the law and got caught, they were taken to jail and fed. How can you deal with people who think like that?
Every time we have tried to use logic to combat the problem of homelessness, the homeless have come up with another trick. So, is it time at last to come clean with ourselves about what we really want to achieve? Don't we just want them to go away? And if that is the case, doesn't that mean we have to kill them?
This gets so weird. At one point during council debate on all this, council member Jerry Allen called fellow council members snake-oil salespersons for telling people that the rate they favor -- the higher rate -- is a tax cut by a little bit. I think Allen probably was sincere. He just couldn't feature how the rate could go up and the outcome could be slightly lower taxes.
Let's make it easy. If your house is worth $100,000 and the tax rate is 10 cents per hundred dollars in value, your tax bill is $100. Imagine that the value of your house falls to $50,000. But the tax rate gets jacked up to 15 cents. Now the tax bill is $75. The tax rate went up 50 percent, but you get to write a smaller check. I call that a tax cut.
What the minority on this council should do is spend some time in Montessori school. Then they would know that three-quarters of a small wooden block can fill up the same amount of space in a box as half of a bigger wooden block. And nobody's a communist or a satanist or anything. It's just blocks.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal government agency in charge of the levees, has been talking to them in girlfriend: "Oh, I'd love to, but I'm going to be out of town. Yeah, I did say my mom was going to be in town. She's going to be in town, and I'm going to be out of town."
They never say, "I am dumping you." But after the second or third lame excuse, you are supposed to be able to figure it out. It's called Life I.Q.
And just so I can go home at night after this column appears, I should hasten to add that boyfriends are no better at dumping girls honestly. If anything, their excuses tend to be lamer, as in, "I can't, because I have to wash my truck."
The point is, if you are the dump-ee, you need to do yourself and everybody else a favor by knowing that you are the dump-ee, and that the deed is done. Leppert and Neumann are like the guy standing in the lobby of the girls dorm with a box of chocolates under his arm shouting, "What are you doing with him? I'm the one you're going steady with!"
All of a sudden, sitting there in the council chamber, I felt embarrassed for them.