Six Ways Dallas City Hall Screwed the Little Guy in 2013

Categories: City Hall

DallasCItyHallFront.jpg
Kent Wang
In 2013, Dallas residents were treated to an unprecedented whiff of Dallas city government, and the experience was something akin to opening that long-forgotten Tupperware container wedged beneath your car seat. The fumes aren't going to kill anyone, but the noxious mix of incompetence and deceit is unmistakable.

An unpleasant experience, but it has to be done if the Tupperware is ever going to get cleaned. So plug your nose while we remind you of the year that was at City Hall.

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Mark Graham
Uber Dallas' Leandre Johns
Taxis
Dallasites, sick of unreliable cabbies yelling at them for trying to use credit cards, eagerly embraced the idea of an on-demand limo-hailing app. City Hall, which collects millions in fees from existing cab companies and has been in bed with (and occasionally taking bribes from) Yellow Cab for decades, did not.

See also: Dallas' Unfair Fight to Crush Uber

What followed Uber's arrival in Dallas was a crackdown of absurd proportions. City Hall sicced vice cops on Uber drivers, tried to ban the private-driver service by slipping stringent regulations past the City Council, and otherwise made life as difficult as possible for the company.

All of this came more or less directly from John Barr, Yellow Cab's foul-mouthed lawyer and a man who knows how to throw his weight around at City Hall.

Gonzalez, trying to stay in the City Council's good graces so they'll give him the top job permanently, eventually apologized, but only on the eve of the release of a damning, $50,000 investigation into the city's handling of the Uber controversy. He was especially sorry for revealing how how business really gets done at 1500 Marilla.

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1600 Pacific, as envisioned by scorned developers Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie
Housing
For decades, segregation in Dallas was dropping. Then, around the turn of the millennium, the trend began to reverse itself. Why? According to HUD, that's when the city of Dallas began illegally steering affordable housing funds into poor, minority neighborhoods.

See also: How Dallas City Hall Put Us Back Behind a 25-Year Eight-Ball on Segregation

HUD's case centers on developers Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie, who were all set to redevelop the tower at 1600 Pacific until they insisted on including the number of affordable housing units required for a project to be eligible for federal housing money. That's when the city decided to pulled the plug.

The feds' allegations are incredibly complicated, mired as they are in the nuances of federal housing policy and local bureaucracy. They're also incredibly serious and could lead to fraud charges and damages of at least $250 million in "false claims" litigation against the city.

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Fracking

When the dust finally settled after years of bruising debate, participatory democracy scored a decisive victory in the fight over natural-gas drilling in Dallas. Citizen activists, facing stiff opposition from lobbyists and city staff, successfully convinced the City Plan Commission, then the City Council, to crack down on fracking in Dallas.

See also: Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal to Push for Drilling on Parkland as She Told Council It Would Be Banned

It shouldn't have been so hard. Schutze broke the news in February that then-City Manager Mary Suhm inked a secret 2008 deal with Trinity East Energy, promising the company the right to drill on city parkland. Never mind that drilling on parkland was barred by city regulations or that Suhm fibbed when she slipped the deal past the City Council. When it came time for Trinity East to get permits, Suhm and her staff went to bat for the company, twisting City Hall's procedural rules to all but guarantee a favorable outcome.

A similar thing happened when new fracking regulations came up for consideration. No matter how emphatically the Plan Commission insisted on a 1,500-foot buffer between drill sites and homes, parks and other protected uses, city staff would quietly change it back to 1,000 feet.

The only reason these tactics didn't work was the activists were watching too closely, alerting the media and sparking a public outcry. Were the issue less closely watched, the transgressions by Suhm and her staff would have escaped notice.

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Daniel Fishel
Land Grabs
Again and again this year, Dallas business and property owners were reminded that hell hath no fury like City Hall in pursuit of its citizens' land.

See also: When Dallas Wants Your Business, Don't Be Stubborn. Or else.

The most recent case involves Dale and Freddy Davenport, a father-son team who own a car wash in South Dallas. In November, the Davenports received a letter from City Hall informing them that their car wash was needed for unspecified "improvements" to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and strongly suggesting that the city would seize the property through eminent domain if need be.

In reality, the Davenports' car wash just doesn't fit into the city's vision for a resurgent South Dallas. Mayor Mike Rawlings, among others, considers it an impediment to economic development and wants it gone.

A similar story played out with Rhadames Solano, whose private soccer complex happened to be a bit too close to the Texas Horse Park and Hinga Mbogo, whose auto shop is not destined to be a part of Ross Avenue's gentrification.

Mbongo eked out a temporary, two-year reprieve and Solano got $300,000 for his land, but neither man was happy. When all is said and done, the Davenports won't be either.

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City of McKinney
One of the horses at Wayne Kirk's McKinney ranch, circa 2011.
Horse Park

Dallas has spent more than a decade struggling to get the Texas Horse Park off the ground. They've overcome countless setbacks and shaken off haters questioning why the hell Dallas needs a multimillion-dollar horse park. Now that the thing's finally getting the thing built, City Hall does the logical thing and hands the keys over to an accused horse abuser.

See also: Dallas Entrusted its $11 Million Horse Park to a Man Accused of Mistreating Horses

To be fair, city officials apparently didn't know when they signed the contract with River Ranch Educational Charities that head honcho Wayne Kirk had faced a 2011 animal cruelty charge for allegedly starving his horses, or that one of the animals had been seized. Their due diligence consisted of a glance at the nonprofit's financial statements, which appeared to be in order.

Dallas officials say they are looking into how the contract was handled and are scheduled to report back to the City Council in the near future.


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Someday. Maybe.
Trails

When then-City Council member Angela Hunt and colleague Scott Griggs announced plans for a $6.4 million network of trails last August, the project seemed shovel-ready. Maps had been drafted. Funding was available. All City Hall had to do was start digging.

Why, then, did a year go by with no progress?

See also: Where's that Trinity Trail Council Approved a Year Ago? Still Buried Under City Hall's Big Lie.

The ostensible reason was safety. It was too dangerous, assistant city manager Jill Jordan said, for bikes and pedestrians to share the paths with the city maintenance vehicles that would have to use them. Why the city was suddenly so concerned about something it had publicly dismissed as a non-issue was never fully explained.

After blowback from Hunt and Griggs, the city did some backpedaling, and the trails are once again a sure thing. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in or after October 2014.


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26 comments
aljessie
aljessie

To suggest that Uber is the little guy is ridiculous.

dallas_dude
dallas_dude

I feel like the entire region is on an upswing in general.  Faults to exist but it could be worse.  I feel like we weathered the economic crash pretty well.  (Hmmmm who should get credit for that.....??)

Having been to the new sundance area recently, I must say, if I was 21 again and starting out my professional career there is no doubt were I would set up shop.

Downtown fort worth is just beautiful.  I know the scale is much larger in Dallas but it goes to show you that when people have an objective other than screwing everyone over for money good things can happen.

Who ever is in charge of the victory park renovation (re-re-renovation?) please take a stroll over to sundance to see how it's done.

Greg820
Greg820

So Eric, Jim:  Where is Dallas on the continuum of corruption compared to other cities our size?  Is there any city that is not corrupt in one way or another when money and influence is involved?  I appreciate the reporting and advocacy then these situations occur, but I am interested to know just where we rank for a better overall perspective.

duanewmurphy
duanewmurphy

Only six, Jeeze Eric, feeling lazy today? or just could not decide where to stop?

lakewoodhobo
lakewoodhobo

Add the same-sex marriage resolution that Mike Rawlings said was a waste of time to discuss and vote on. You can't make this story up, from the way Delia Jasso pulled her support to the way our slimy mayor, all the way from Brazil, kept mayor pro tem Pauline Medrano from bringing it up to a vote.

LGBT voters got the royal treatment at City Hall this year. Thanks Mike!

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Eric, who is Gonzalez? No antecedent to just last name usage...

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Add the whitewater creek, the golf course in the Trinity forest..

Yup, the shitty that works...but not for you.

hurleypic
hurleypic

It is a common theme, isnt it? Dallas Screwing the little guy for the aristocrats!

wcvemail
wcvemail

@aljessie Little guys need freedom of choice in services that are regulated unfairly by the city, that's the point I took away.

Guesty
Guesty

@dallas_dude  


"Hmmmm who should get credit for that.....??"  


A combination of dumb luck (God/Dead Dinosaurs put oil and gas in the shale, not any politician) and not having a housing bubble to burst (which again wasn't the result of any significant state policy).


It also helps that we were willing to sell out the future for a quick economic hit today (who needs schools, we'll just let California educate their kids and import them after they graduate).   

James080
James080 topcommenter

@Greg820 

Are you looking for some positive spin because Dallas may suck a bit less than other cities? Really?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@Guesty

not having a housing bubble to burst (which again wasn't the result of any significant state policy).

actually, the 80% debt to value statutory limit in Texas had a great deal to do with how the residential housing market was not as impacted as other parts of the country.

dallas_dude
dallas_dude

This isn't the only area in the country seeing significant improvement and not all have natural resources to tap.  The national unemployment rate hit 7% when it was 12 something 4 years ago.

(Please spare me the "actual number" BS debate.  The trend is still in steady decline)

People blame the white house when things go bad but never give credit when things look up.  It's amazing to me the lengths people will go to NOT give credit to this administration

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@Guesty@dallas_dude  

"(which again wasn't the result of any significant state policy)"

You might say that subsidizing sprawl, which begets cheap houses farther and farther out, is a state policy. 

dallas_dude
dallas_dude

@Guesty@mavdogI don't think there is anything unique about texas housing law that helped it avoid some of the fate of other housing markets.  Labor is cheap here, land is plentiful, and we didn't get hit in the job sector like other areas.  Fact is, before 2008 you could buy a house w/ shit credit and almost nothing and even NOTHING down. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@Guesty

You apparently don't understand the difference between 80% debt to value and 95% financing....

Guesty
Guesty

@mavdog @Guesty  The "the 80% debt to value statutory limit in Texas" is an illusion.  Many, many houses are bought on 5% down in Texas, and before 2008 many were bought with less than 5% down.  

Guesty
Guesty

@dallas_dude  


1.  Your comment was about economic strength in "the entire region," not nationally.  And I don't think it is disputable that our region's economic strength in the past 3-4 years has been as much about dumb luck as anything else.  


2.  I don't think Obama gets much credit for the economic improvement, mostly because a do-nothing obstructionist congress blocked him at every step.  The bailouts probably saved us from a depression, but they started before Obama took office.  After that, the Federal Reserve has been the only agency really carrying the economy, but the administration only gets a little indirect credit for that.  But even as an Obama supporter, I can't see much in the way of policy that he has accomplished that had much to do with the economy.    

Guesty
Guesty

@Montemalone @Guesty @dallas_dude Fair, but there were bubbles in other places with sprawl.  Our sprawl just never was as desirable, which turned out to benefit us in the end.  

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Greg820 @James080  Although ranked lists of corrupt countries are readily available and publicized, it takes a little digging to find such a list of U.S. cities. In two-year-old data used for a U. of Chicago study, Dallas doesn't make the top ten. That's based on convictions by federal district. 

That categorization also explains Texas' only entry, the southern district encompassing Austin-San Antonio (and unfairly abbreviated in the summary news stories as "Austin".) It's unfair to blame Austin because of the numerous fed convictions for drug-related bribery among far South Texas law enforcement bodies in the Rio Grande Valley.

Check out Table 1 on P. 10.
http://cbschicago.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/leadingthepack.pdf

Chicago FTW -- world-class city.

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