It's Time for Mayor Rawlings to Pick a Side in the La Bajada Battle

Categories: Schutze

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Great editorial this morning in The Dallas Morning News, coming about as close as the News is ever going to come to endorsing the will and wishes of a neighborhood over development plans that would violate those wishes.

It puts Mayor Mike Rawlings into a most useful kind of focus. Now we finally get his measure.

Since his inauguration in June, 2011, the mayor has been able to walk a fine line. On one side of it he's the big D Democrat, a more affable guy than his predecessor, a mayor who respects and listens to all sides. But he ran his campaign using the old corrupt machinery of the city's rich white oligarchy, now under investigation by the FBI. On big money issues like the Trinity River toll road he tends to come down on their side of the line.

So now we have such a perfect test of that line that even The Dallas Morning News can see it. The News points out in its editorial today that the city has engaged in a yearlong campaign of intense community outreach in the working class La Bajada neighborhood at the West Dallas end of the new Calatrava bridge downtown.

Thumbnail image for MikeRawlings_CityHall.jpg
Mayor Mike Rawlings: He walks the line.
Practically as soon as plans for the bridge were formalized a half-decade ago, a consortium of developers began buying up land at the West Dallas end. Their gamble was that the visual appeal of the bridge alone would be enough to spark the molting of an old industrial district into a dazzling new mixed-use butterfly. They deserve credit for daring.

The residents of La Bajada have voiced no objection to the larger portion of the consortium's plans, which would take place outside the La Bajada neighborhood. But they have spoken forcefully and consistently in opposition to a last-minute amendment pushed by the development group that would melt away the border between La Bajada and the development area and give the developers a precedent allowing them to gnaw their way into La Bajada in years ahead.

La Bajada has drawn a line. The city's Plan Commission has endorsed that line. Now as the matter nears its final City Council vote, it's clear that the developers have enlisted the help of the mayor, who has introduced delays and held last-minute meetings on their behalf.

After the mayor put things on hold, I wrote here that the delay was a good opportunity to go back and check with La Bajada. Were the neighborhood's wishes being honestly represented or had some organizer gotten in there and pushed an agenda? Sometimes people don't especially want to stay where they are and would welcome a chance to sell out at a good price.

That's been done. La Bajada stands by its line. The CityDesign Studio, authors of the La Bajada outreach, got it exactly right. The neighborhood does not want to melt away one property at a time. It wants to stay put. La Bajada holds.

So this is the mayor's test. When he talks about his "Grow South" initiative to spur development in the city's poorer hemisphere, what does he mean? Is he talking about development that will serve the interests of the people who live in that hemisphere? Or is he talking about the southern hemisphere as a kind of barren ground to be taken over by the same moneyed interests that have run the city forever, the same ones that have gotten us into yet another jackpot with the FBI?

Does this involve making life better in La Bajada? Or making La Bajada disappear? Is this deal clean or dirty?

What kind of change do we believe in? What do we think really works? Is it slow organic change that builds gradually on what's already on the ground? Or does change in Dallas always have to be all shock and awe?

And here is the sharp point of the spear for our mayor: If he sides with La Bajada, he must disappoint the shock and awe crowd at the Dallas Citizens Council, the guys at the 19th hole table at the Dallas Country Club, the group our former mayor and my predecessor here at the Dallas Observer, Laura Miller, always used to call, "The Boys."

It's what they call a defining moment. I don't mean this facetiously: If The Dallas Morning News can see it, a blind hog can.

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58 comments
2texans
2texans

Jim, you and DMN are beginning to dig into a story that could have many other facets. Such as the story that residents are telling how a faith based organization last year hosted a will writing event. They wanted to help the poor residents in La Bajada by encouraging them to deed over their homes at the time of death. The recipient? The City of Dallas. While you're at it, ask Mary Suhm how the City of Dallas came to own the gas mineral rights underneath the homes in La Bajada. Since she lives in La Bajada, you xan ask Council member Alonzo the same questions.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Can Mayor Mike support one side and Senor Mike support the other?

Americano
Americano

It's pretty simple, if you take the money, the guys who gave you the money are going to have a say in what happens.  If you want your neighborhood to remain a barrio, don't take the money.  Then, don't bitch about living in a barrio.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

The neighborhood is not asking for the city government to "leave then alone", the residents are asking the city government to set regulations in place that will allow them to determine what happens to their neighborhood.

 

In fact, if city government left the neighborhood alone, it would be easy pickings for the speculators. Speculation depends on the belief that there will be a change in perception of value, that the next guy believes the real estate will be worth more tomorrow.

 

Speculation typically is not conducive to an area's stability; in fact, stability is often exactly opposite to what a speculator wants to happen. Enact a stabilization plan which sets the staus quo and speculation won't go there.

 

That's not to say that investment won't go there. Investment and speculation are not the same. Investment has a long term appreciation in mind, speculation has a short term appreciation in mind.

 

A well thought out stabilization plan that has the endorsement of the residents facilitates investment. When there is a predictable future there is more comfort in making investments. When investments are made in the neighborhood every property owner in the neighborhood benefits.

 

Let's help the residents protect their neighborhood from speculation and encourage investment in their area. Put protections in place that the neighborhood remains intact, which is the wish of the residents themselves. to do otherwise would be to not only allow for speculation, it would signal that speculation has a welcome sign.

 

RTGolden
RTGolden

So, if I read Jim correctly here, the gov(city) is supposed to do 'something' to help revitalize the La Bajada neighborhood.  However, that something must not change ANYTHING in the La Bajada neighborhood itself.  Is this correct?

 

If that's the case, screw it, build around the neighborhood and let them enjoy their current environment in perpetuity.  If we're going to get neighborhoods like Bajada, Dixon, parts of PG, more of OC to revitalize, then the people who live there are going to have to want and embrace change.  If they don't want things to change, things will just stay the same.

JFPO
JFPO

"...a more affable guy than his predecessor, a mayor who respects and listens to all sides."

 

Did you write this with a straight face, or tongue in cheek? Every time this guy speaks, I hear a condescending, smug jackass.

 

"Is he talking about development that will serve the interests of the people who live in that hemisphere?"

Is this a serious question? His existing body of work gives you the obvious answer.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk

Rawlings doesn't pick sides - that would imply that he is an independent actor.

 

Rawlings is a pick-ee, not a pick-er.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

This article confirms that strong neighborhood associations are crucial when dealing with ruthless developers and City Hall.  The power in numbers is indisputable.

claytonauger
claytonauger

Maybe the Mayor isn't quite as on the fence as he seems, or as you portray him. In every test so far, he's come down on the side of the establishment. River freeway. Aerial spraying. Gas drilling. I doubt he'll buck that trend here.

James080
James080

Do you seriously believe the "city's rich white oligarchy" is some monolithic block of people that sits around a table and decide who to screw on every conceivable issue?  More likely, the Mayor has been approached by one developer with a sweaty wad of cash (campaign contribution-wink, wink) and told to make the La Bajada problem go away quietly. He's a Democrat, so I'm certain he understands crony-capitalism.

 

But name some names Jim. Company name and owners. Who specifically is trying to buy out and redevelop that neighborhood? Once you post that, we can try to establish the financial connections to the Mayor, or the Dallas Citizens Counsel. Who specifically comprises your dreaded and feared "rich white oligarchy."

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

The developers seem to see those who currently own homes and live in the area as SQUATTERS in the way of their Progress and Profits .

 

DowntownResident
DowntownResident

From the DMN editorial:

"So far, the mayor won’t tip his hand on how he’ll vote when the issue returns to the council next week."

 

How long before mayor mikey runs another bullshit Facebook poll before declaring: "fuck it, build the parking garage".

JoeBlow
JoeBlow

"The neighborhood does not want to melt away one property at a time. It wants to stay put."

 

vs.

 

"What kind of change do we believe in? What do we think really works? Is it slow organic change that builds gradually on what's already on the ground? Or does change in Dallas always have to be all shock and awe?"

 

Jim,

 

It seems to me that there are three possible outcomes:  (1) no change in the neighborhood; (2) gradual change in the neighborhood; and (3) abrupt change.  It sounds like the neighborhood wants #1.  It sounds like the developers want and you are against #3. 

 

What about #2?  It probably makes no one happy because it means the neighborhood will "melt away one property at a time" and it means a much longer time horizon for a return on investment for a developer.  I could be convinced #2 is best for the city because it is more likely to result in a longer lasting improvement, but that doesn't seem to help either of the most directly interested stakeholders, which puts the city in the difficult position politically.  But I can't tell from your article if you are for #1 or #2. 

 

Fundamentally, the problem for the folks in the neighborhood is that there is no such thing as improving a neighborhood like this without changing its composition.  If the neighborhood improves, prices will increase, pricing out some of the people who now live there and attracting other people with more options.  This will eventually happen under #2 assuming gradual changes are positive.  So we can try and preserve the neighborhood just the way it is so that its current residents can continue to live there, warts and all, or we can improve the neighborhood so that some current residents and some new residents can enjoy it, knowing full well that other current residents will be squeezed out.  It is a price of progress.  I just can't tell if it is a price you think we should pay.         

jerikjonsson
jerikjonsson

Regardless of where Rawlings is, it's a nice sign that a bunch of different people noticed La Bajada, talked about it, and then came down on the side of neighborhood self determination.  That neighborhood did not have a strong organization to present its voice at the beginning of this process.  Dallas Homeowners League and others have worked with them to see what the true will of the neighbors was and to have it heard. 

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

I think those in the area should get ready for a  locust like invasion Code Enforcement people doing fine tooth comb sweeps .

You know to help the area to improve and become a more livable neighborhood .

 

Nothing Sinister in trying to help ?

To bad condemnations won't be far behind .

I suggest they take whats offered now . Or face a not so pleasant but  very foreseeable out come down the road.

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

The deal is dirty. The Boys will win. The fake suspension bridge is still a stupid idea and a waste of money.

 

Looks loopy on the horizon at night. I can find no real reason for it's existence or this fight. It's all about money.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @mavdog Excellent analysis. I bow.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @RTGolden Actually, RT, I think what La Bajada wants is for government to leave them alone and not sell them down the river.

anon
anon

 @James080 It's called West Dallas Investments, LLC. Look it up on DCAD. They bought the land. Look at the dates of the land sales. They donate money to the Trinity Trust so that they can write off the donations (meanwhile, the Trinity Trust's primary objective is to improve the adjacent park and thereby make their investment worth more). The signature sponsors of the bridge are by and large members of the Citizens Council (including the Council itself). 

You make it sound like it's hard to connect the dots. It isn't. It's been done before. The oligarchy IS the Citizens Council. Do you get that?

James080
James080

Never mind Jim, I read the DMN editorial. They outed the city's rich white oligarchy: Butch McGregor, Stuart Fitts and Phil Romano. So these three developers are Dallas' elite rulers. Who knew?

 

Which ones are being investigated by the FBI? Funny thing though, none of the three are members of the Dallas Citizens Council. You can look it up because they post the membership on their website.  Maybe they are secret members.

 

JFPO
JFPO

 @James080 Jim's written about trying to find out who owns what before, and it's quite a legal maze. The people who bought down there don't want you to know who they are.

WhiteGuiltObserver
WhiteGuiltObserver

 @James080 Jim's well of white guilt never runs dry.  White guilt is Jim's full-time job!  In fact, it is why he white-fled from Detroit in the first place.

Americano
Americano

 @oakclifftownie The homeowners have the ultimate hammer.  Just say no.  Short of an Eminant Domain fight, which would reflect badly, and bring national attention to the City Government and Investors, All the homeowners have to do is NOT SELL.  Easy enough.

joseph
joseph

 @JoeBlow Good, thoughtful comment.  The neighborhood will probably change, and all residents  age and eventually pass on, like every one.  This is an element that should be factored in to the decision if Dallas wants to retain a vibrant inner city.  What residents want now, may change.  The solution should try to accommodate that reality to the extent possible.

marianagriggs
marianagriggs

 @JoeBlow "much longer time horizon for a return on investment for a developer" sounds like developer talk. I got a pile of bricks growing grass over at Sylvan/Thirty for you as an example of a "short horizon" on investment. Years, and nothing but zoning changes. We'd be better off trying to put the supposed organic grocery in the old vacant grocery store we already have on Fort Worth Avenue than waiting for our developer to find every incentive under the sun to actually build something. The Dairy Mart was better than the pile of bricks growing grass. Your "horizon" of return could be even shorter if you use an available building instead of insisting every type of economic development has to look prefab and cheap. Who doesn't get a fast return when you demo, start from scratch, buy and quickly unload ugly cheap construction?- again, the Senior Tower on Fort Worth Avenue? Now the rent is much lower since the rest of the development never happened. Some of the Colorado Place Apartments at Colorado and Fort Worth Avenue were better than the dying trees.

Fast is fine, if you do it with the right intentions.

 

observist
observist topcommenter

@OakParkStudio

Your screen name references a (if not the) famous architect, yet you can't find a reason for the existence of a piece of architecture?  It's there for the same reason as the Eiffel Tower and the St. Louis Arch.  It's public art.  Oh, and you can drive across it too.

downtownworker
downtownworker

 @OakParkStudio Reason for its existence: so that people on Woodall Rodgers drive toward the shiny object and spend money in Oak Cliff. 

RTGolden
RTGolden

 @JimSX Got it.  Government: leave Bajada alone; Developers: leave Bajada alone; Bajada: on your own.

 

Exactly as it should be.  However, i don't think the residents there, or anywhere else, actually feel that way.  Even you don't feel that way, if I read your piece yesterday correctly.  A closer guess would be, I think, that they want the city and the developers to make their part of town nicer, safer (of course), and more 'livable', but don't make it so nice we have to move out.

 

I'm not criticizing, or judging.  I don't live in West Dallas, and rarely get over that way, so I have no dog in this hunt.  I'm just trying to get a feel for what the actual issue is (sometimes it's hard to tell, Jim, how much of what you write is actually an issue, and how much of it you're trying to make into an issue).

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

 @JimSX  @RTGolden What is  'OWNED" is what the residents bought when it was all that was available to them.

Drive Oak Cliff around we have a heck of  lot of  going to be REVITALIZED houses apartments and churches that are Vacant lots now Thanks to speculators .

James080
James080

 @anon Sorry to disappoint. All I see are three guys who formed a partnership and are investing in, and developing, Dallas area real property. Sure, two of the three gave enough cash to the Mayor to get their calls returned, and likely more. But this whole double super secret star chamber stuff is nonsense. 

 

"......corrupt machinery of the city's rich white oligarchy, now under investigation by the FBI."   ---Still waiting to hear who the FBI is investigating, other than JWPrice, South Dallas' Man Down Town.

James080
James080

OK, progress made. Phil Romano made five figure contributions to Rawlings in the election. Fitts also kicked in several thousand to Rawlings. Nothing on McGregor, individually.

anon
anon

 @James080 They're the developers - the public face of the investment. I guarantee among their LPs are better-connected members of the Citizens Council. When you start talking about people in Dallas who can write multi-million dollar checks, you are talking about a small group. They don't write the checks solely as charity (usually). If there's no profit in it for them, there is at least publicity and their name on the building/bridge/park/etc.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @joseph  @JoeBlow How about a solution that leaves the neighborhood exactly the way the neighborhood wants to be left, right now.

ceepee
ceepee

 @observist  @OakParkStudio And? Isn't the first thing architects are taught is: FORM FOLLOW FUNCTION. It's like an internal control. It's great to be all artsy, but then you have to ask, why? If you cannot answer that, then you are breaking that rule.

Double-O-Joe
Double-O-Joe

 @observist  @OakParkStudio Bridges are not art. 

 

Bridges are utilities that exist to span a natural barrier.  Making their utilitarian purpose secondary to their appearance invalidates the need for them, and is a colossal waste of resources.  Function should come first in engineering, not form, especially in areas where public funding is concerned. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @anon  @James080 I have yet to see Rawlings do anything that would require him to take shit next time he shows up in the midst of The Boys.

anon
anon

 @James080  @JimSX  @anon seriously, this is not just about the 3 named investors in West Dallas LLC. they have partners who are investing alongside them. the "bridge to nowhere" (which for the record I use twice a day and love) wasn't funded in part by private sources because they wanted something pretty to drive over to buy their guns at Rays. the "rich white oligarchy" is a system in which the backing of the entire organization and the resources of its members goes to bat for each member in turn. clearly, every single billionaire or CEO of  Fortune 100 company in Dallas is not making phone calls on La Bajada. but they are throwing their institutional weight behind the interests of their members. you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. it's just a very organized favor system, really.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @James080  @anon That's fair. I meant that it will be difficult for Rawlings on a personal, social and cultural basis to bow to a bunch of working class Latinos against his peers.

James080
James080

 @JimSX  @James080  @anon no one more than me would revel at seeing little ross jr. indicted with "all of the above" named by Jim. I just don't see the dreaded and feared "rich white oligarchy" hand in the La Bajada battle. I hope the home owner's prevail, but given the level of contributions to the Mayor by Romano and Fitts, I have no doubt he will carry their water. Businessmen don't make 5 figure contributions because they want good government, they give to purchase access and influence. Rawlings knows what is expected of him.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @James080  @anon Well, some of the other people named in subpoenas or visited by agents were the mayor's campaign consultant, Mary Woodlief, and Hillwood Development (the Perots). At least one person on the mayor's team, Kathy Nealy, is a principle target of the investigation. For the precise timing of payments from Hillwood to Nealy and Price's votes to sabotage the Inland Port, go here:

http://digitalissue.dallasobserver.com/display_article.php?id=1091684

 

anon
anon

 @joseph  @James080 Worth more than $10MM is not the same as saying you can invest $10MM in a speculative project with returns measured in years, if not decades. That list is much smaller.

joseph
joseph

 @anon  @James080 Actually people who can write multi million dollar checks in Dallas are not that small of a group. There are literally thousands of people in the Dallas area worth more than $10 million.

observist
observist topcommenter

@JimSX @joseph @JoeBlow which for much of the neighborhood is "behind"

observist
observist topcommenter

 @ceepee  @OakParkStudio Tell that to Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, etc.  "Form follows function" is not a law of nature, it's a modernist maxim, and not all architects are modernists.  Louis Sullivan himself had the most spectacular ornate decoration you'll ever see, and it served no function besides decoration.

observist
observist topcommenter

 @Double-O-Joe  @OakParkStudio I'm not arguing that a) a bridge needed to be built there or b) money should have been spent on the bridge before it was spent on schools, police, or any other city service.  Those issues are.. ahem.. water under the bridge.

 

I'm saying the purpose of the bridge was be public art - to draw people both ways between Dallas and Oak Cliff, to have something attractive and monumental in the Trinity river park instead of something dismal and utilitarian, and yes, to make the real estate between Industrial and the river more valuable.  So really, its form does follow its function, because its function is not just to convey vehicles across the river, but to be an appealing sculpture that enhances an otherwise drab part of the city, and to spur development.  It was intended to be transformative in a way a utilitarian overpass never could be.  It will take 10 or more years to see how much development it spurs - it could still be a failure in that regard, but it's way too soon to declare it a failure now.

Double-O-Joe
Double-O-Joe

 @observist  No.  I stated that art should be secondary to utility, not separate.  Function should be the first consideration for public projects, especially in a time of financial austerity.  Making our public structures attractive is different from making them subservient to artistic concepts. 

 

In the case of your example of greenery on Central, I would point out how much of it is dying or has been removed since there is no budget to take care of it.  The structure still exists, and is usable, even in its absence.  The MHH bridge would not exist without its artistic statement.  There is the difference. 

observist
observist topcommenter

@Double-O-Joe@OakParkStudio

So by your reasoning, it would be OK to have a big sculpture next to a utilitarian viaduct, but not a big sculpture combined with a utilitarian viaduct, because art and engineering need to be kept arbitrarily separate.  So the high-five overpass shouldn't have little stars on the pillars, and there should be no greenery along Central expressway, etc, because it doesn't help cars get from one place to another.

Double-O-Joe
Double-O-Joe

 @observist  @OakParkStudio 

 

Last time I checked, cars and clothes weren't bought with public funds. 

 

Public art is a good thing.  Art enhances life and provides us with a mirror to nature, as a certain Dane told us.  However, art does not have a utilitarian purpose.  The purpose of art is to be art.  The purpose of a bridge is to let us cross natural barriers, not to be pretty and attract tourists.  The Golden Gate, the Oresund, and the Humber bridges, beautiful and artistic as they are, were built for that purpose.  Art is secondary to utility in these cases.

 

The MHH Bridge was built specifically to be art.  It was built in an area that doesn't need it, for more money than should have been spent.  It's the definition of a boondoggle, of shoveling out the pork barrel.  It's art to fool the people in charge into thinking it has value.

ceepee
ceepee

 @observist  @Double-O-Joe  @OakParkStudio Nice strawman there. He never said that art should not exist, or that utilitarian buildings and grey canvass jumpsuits should be without art, he said that FORM FOLLOWS FUNTION. And this bridge has no function other than art. It was not needed, it carries no traffic (at least so far as congestion studies are concerned), and goes nowhere. Hence, it's primary purpose is form. I.E., not needed.

 

Now, if the y would have waited and out all that money into a bridge that needs to be replaced, like say, I-30 over the Trinity River, then great. But they didn't do that, did they?

observist
observist topcommenter

 @jerikjonsson  @OakParkStudio It's better with the tower.  When I was there looking at the city from Montmarte,  I held up my hand to block the view of the tower, and I can state empirically that it got worse.

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