Fan mail from down south
Our reader Paul Riddell, who runs the Texas Triffid Ranch, dropped us a nice note this morning about what's going on in his neck of the woods:
I've been keeping really close watch on your reports on City of Portland spending insanity, admittedly because it's great theater. What's tragedy next door becomes comedy 2500 miles away. I just wanted to let you know that I certainly don't figure that Dallas is better than Portland, and sometimes we come up with ideas of a whole new level of dumbth:Most uplifting e-mail message we've received in a while. Few things in life are as entertaining as local politics.
To fill you in on the particulars of this, which the Dallas Morning News conveniently leaves out, the Trinity River barely qualifies as a river this far north into Texas, and during the summer, it's little more than a mud wallow heading toward San Antonio. Worse, Dallas is on the Trinity River's floodplain, and the only thing preventing downtown from waking up underneath ten to twelve feet of floodwater (as what happened in 1905 and 1909) is a levee system overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers that's about as well maintained as the levees in New Orleans. That said, we've seen any number of dumb ideas on what to do with it, starting with a big plan in the late Seventies to dredge the entire river and turn Dallas into the world's most landlocked deep-water port. During the Eighties and Nineties, it alternated between turning this toxic water into a park and sailboating area or building a big toll road on pylons. Now...it's all about whitewater kayaking, all on a river that has as much flow as a water-saver shower head in summer. (It's quite telling that the top predators in the Trinity ecosystem are spotted and alligator gar, which can breathe air when the water becomes too stagnant for other fish.)
The reality of the situation is that just like Portland's situation with the soccer arena, the Trinity River developments are being pushed by the ultra-rich in Dallas, and it's all expected to be paid for with state and city funds. The toll road idea comes straight from Ross Perot Jr., who wants a major thoroughfare connecting downtown to Alliance Airport but without spending a pfennig of his own money. The park plans all come from a group of developers, particularly Harlan Crow (son of the late real estate emperor Trammell Crow), who've bought up otherwise worthless land in South Dallas and Oak Cliff in anticipation of this. They all figure that if the city puts in all of the work, then they can swoop in and build lots of "community" for our own creative class. And when Dallas is talking about "creative class," it really means "Southern Methodist University and Baylor brats with more family money than brains."
Now, the one good side to all of this is that we don't have anybody comparable to Sam Adams in this hunt. Our current mayor, Tom Leppert, is an unrepentant pimp for real estate interests through North Texas, but the Dallas charter makes sure that the mayor has almost no real power. (For the most part, anyone crazy enough to want the job was either intending to go on to higher office, such as with Ron Kirk in the Obama administration, or was attention-crazed narcissist, such as Laura Miller or Max Goldblatt. And then we had Annette Strauss, sister-in-law to the late Russian ambassador Robert Strauss: Annette was so incredibly stupid, even for the Dallas City Council, that when she died of a brain tumor, the nearly universal response was "How could you tell?") The bad news on this is that most city power is really combined in the City Council and on a group of four city commissioners. One of the commissioners, John Wiley Price, is famous worldwide for his very public temper tantrums (including his claim in 1992 that if Dallas didn't choose a police chief that was personally approved by the black community, he and his supporters would be up on rooftops with AK-47s), and he's VERY business-friendly...so long as he and his many, many friends get a piece. It's nearly impossible to get anything done in Price's jurisdiction in South Dallas without greasing a plethora of his staffers and supporters (including ones who insist upon getting a percentage of the company in exchange for helping to convince Commissioner Price to let a company move into the area), and the fact that he's been really quiet about the Trinity tells me that he's been a bought man for at least the last twenty years.
Anyway, I've gone on long enough, but I just want to let you know that you have wider ranging supporters than you thought. More importantly, by studying what's going on in Portland, we're trying to keep it from happening elsewhere. Thank you.