Thursday, June 7, 2007

Eminent Domain, lies, manipulation and deceit on both forks of the Trinity

Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer calls D Magazine publisher Wick Allison on distortation of "facts" (Trinity Toll/Park project)
Ed Oakley mutters against bothersome property rights in Dallas City Council;
Citizens face elected officials on both sides of the Trinity over eminent domain and property rights

By Faith Chatham - June 8, 2007

The saga in Dallas continues between media moguls, (DMN and D Magazine publisher Wick Allison, City Council person Angela Hunt and Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze. Biased coverage of the political scene is nothing new in big city journalism, but DMN under BELO's coverage of toll roads and transportation frequently seems to translate it into a new art form.

For a couple of weeks I've been posting articles on the Trinity Park-- er Tollway -- with sparring between opponents and proponents of the Trinity Toll Way. Trinity Vote has attempted to clarify the facts.

This week Jim Schutze's column (My Brain on Crack - Wick Allison, The Trinity Park Project. Have I gone mad?)
It costs money. We have to borrow. We have to pay more taxes. It's an investment.

But look. This is also like a car deal. We went to the showroom in 1998 when we voted to let the city borrow $246 million for the Trinity River Project. We chose a fancy one—the Lexus SUV with the leather and the mag wheels and the two DVD players and the GPS navigation.

Now it's eight years later. They're trying to get us to take this Ford Escape with steel rims, cloth seats, a cheap portable CD player with earbuds and a map of Texas in the glove box. And the contract says we could owe them a billion dollars.

Irritated with coverage which he's termed "fiction" rather than "fact", columnist Jim Schutze ripped the facade off of the DMN's editorial a few weeks ago. City Council woman Angela Hunt took her speaking tour on the road and penned an open letter to Wick Allison to set the record straight. A soft-spoken very articulate lady with a Mission, Council Woman Hunt is upset that the project described to the citizens before they were asked to vote on the bonds for Trinity Park is vastly different now than what the citizens approved. She's (along thousands of other registered voters who have signed the Trinity Vote petition) are demanding that the Toll Road be taken back before the voters before ground is broken. Hunt outlines the differences between what the citizens were told prior to the bond election and what the City of Dallas, TxDOT, the RTC of the NCTCOG and other planners plan to deliver with those precious bond dollars which get paid by hard-earned dollars out of citizens’ pockets plans to actually build. The Belmont Debate between Councilwoman Hunt and Craig Holcomb has made it onto YOU TUBE VIDEO)

Numerous decades old DMN news stories and public meeting descriptors of Trinity Park with its PARKWAY, described as a 'low speed 45 mile and hour parkway with numerous entrances in to the park' have surfaced recently. Big dollars backers of the Toll Road (Trinity Commons Foundation) have been on the speaker’s circuit, trying to strike fear into the public about flood control and potential loss of Federal flood control dollars if the Toll Road proposal is killed. Jim Schutze came out with his computer keys blazing over that one. He quoted U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson who fought hard for those flood control dollars and clarified for the Dallas Observer readers that there the flood control dollars remain for flood control whether any road ever gets built in or near or through the Trinity flood plane near downtown Dallas! Amid charges (and a YOU TUBE VIDEO of what some allege are "paid educational consultants" who functioned as political operatives during the May 12th City of Dallas elections to interfere with the petition drive to collect signatures calling for a referendum on the Trinity Toll Way, and charges that they were employed by the non-profit Trinity Commons Foundation promoting the Toll Way, and rumbles about possible lawsuits and/or charges for violations of election law, the plot thickened in Dallas and the soup smelled worse than the stagnant sediment ponds cropping up in Wise County and other places where injection gas drilling is changing the landscape. Schutze referred to "Laura's goons" in earlier columns.

Angela Hunt earned accolades from Schutze in the spring for detailed research and for saving reporters from boredom at meetings of Dallas City Council Trinity River Committee.This week's Jim has devoted his column to taking DMagazine publisher Wick Allison to task. I'm including excerpts here but urge you to read it in its entirety.
Jim Schutze is one of the best columnists in this area. He's consistently refused to cave to pressure by publishers or peers to water down his rhetoric or avoid topics which fly counter to the financial interests of the high and powerful, politically ambitious, or his own publishers (which has changed over the years, probably due to his refusal to sell out his journalist integrity to satisfy the corporate board room.

Schutze writes:
Wick Allison, the publisher of D magazine, has devoted his entire publisher's note in the December edition to a discussion of whether Jim Schutze—that would be moi—has been telling the truth or distorting the facts about the Trinity Project. He doesn't come right out and say it, but I think his implied conclusion is that Jim Schutze smokes crack.

So first off, let me take you back to what we saw in that showroom eight years ago. Before the 1998 bond election the "We Love Dallas" bond campaign committee published a brochure showing a sailboat regatta on a lake the length of downtown with a huge fountain in the center and promenades and terraces on the downtown bank.

The brochure's promise to voters was clear and explicit: "If you've ever taken a stroll down San Antonio's Riverwalk, sat by a lake in New York's beautiful Central Park, or driven along Austin's scenic Town Lake, then you know how valuable these recreational resources are to a city...

"With absolutely no tax increase to Dallas citizens, the Trinity River Project is the key to making 21st Century Dallas a world-class city—an 8,500-acre greenbelt bursting with new business and entertainment."

I'm a big advocate of following the money. Schutze lays out the Trinity Park -er Toll Way? Project shortfall.
In response to my open records demand, Trinity Project director Rebecca Dugger provided me with numbers to show the ultimate cost of each portion of the plan as it exists now. She also gave me the amounts available from the 1998 bonds and all of the money that has been found from other sources to help pay for the project.

I put all this in a simple spreadsheet and figured the shortfalls. Let me just give you some highlights. According to the city's own official numbers, provided to me in response to a legal demand for them, the cost for building trails alone will be $36.149 million.

Of that, the bond money will pay for $10.256 million. The city told me it had found $7.067 million from other sources. That leaves a shortfall of $18.826 million for the trails.

Look at it again. The money we approved eight years ago now only pays for 28 percent of the cost of the trails. The city has persuaded other entities to pick up an additional 20 percent. That means you and I, dear local taxpayer, are on the books for an additional 52 percent or almost 19 million bucks just for trails.

I sat at a conference table in City Hall and challenged the mayor, the city manager, Dugger and Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to show me where my shortfalls were wrong. I gave them my spreadsheets.

Here are samples of the things they did not argue with: a $16 million shortfall to make the river curvy instead of straight; a $50 million shortfall for park roads; a $19 million shortfall for digging out the proposed lakes; a $27 million shortfall for improvements to S.M. Wright Boulevard.

To me and in public, Mayor Miller has been offering an excuse for these shortfalls that strikes me as especially dishonest. Her mantra is that everything costs more these days. It's sort of the Neiman Marcus defense: Only a cheapster would be surprised that stuff costs more than it used to.

Tarrant County citizens are up in arms over Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Whitley, a board member on NASCO, an international non-profit organization based in Dallas with a stated mission to develop interstate international super transportation corridors to speed up shipment of freight from ports in Mexico through Texas to Kansas City and Canada), fervently lobbied the Texas Legislature to exclude the DFW region from the 2 year moratorium on toll roads. Now Whitley is trying to persuade the Tarrant County Commissioners Court that it is wise for them to sign a letter urging Governor Perry to veto HB 2006 - a bill which curtains some of the dubious practices enacted in the previous session of the Legislature in TTC empowering legislation (promoted by NASCO!). Arlington school teacher Linda Lancaster showed up at Tarrant County Commissioners Court Tuesday (6-5) and said her piece. They delayed voting on signing the letter until next week. Hopefully many others will show up at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday the 12th and remind those folks that the powerbrokers who met in Fort Worth last week with NASCO are not the people who voted them into office and can vote them out!
The Dallas Observer readers also weigh in this week (published June 7, 2007) on Eminent Domain. Kudos to Fort Worth Star-Telegram political reporter Anna Tinsley for alerting readers to Whitley's attempt to undermine the citizens of Tarrant County to the detriment of landowners all over Texas.
Pirates of the Council |Hardee Har |Past Tense |And Finally Pirates of the Council and subtitled: The Pixies, The Police, Dallas comics, property rights ,
Is it safe?: "The Good Laura"—perfect title for Jim Schutze's article (May 31) exposing Bill Blaydes' ruthlessness and Ed Oakley's incredible disregard for individual property rights.

Folks, they can come after your property if they can do what Blaydes with Oakley's assistance tried to do to Jack Pierce at Hollywood Overhead Doors.

Makes you wonder if it's safe to invest in Dallas anymore. Well, at least Blaydes and Oakley will be private citizens in a few weeks.

Sharon Boyd

Jim Schutze's column (published May 31, 2007) The Good Laura, Or, how Bill Blaydes locked up the Bastard of the Year award

I have to tell you this story because it's three things: 1) an appalling example of arrogance and sleaziness at City Hall, 2) a stirring example of integrity and courage at City Hall, and 3) it's about Laura Miller.
This guy owns a business that has been in his family since 1938. Since the 1950s the business has occupied a series of metal barns on nine acres down in a hollow near Walnut Hill and White Rock Trail, in a little leftover remnant of countryside swallowed up by the city.

A small equestrian center is near him, as is a DART train track and a creek called Jackson Branch. You could pass this place a thousand times and never know it's there.

Across the DART tracks from him, major development plans are afoot. The guys doing the developing want this guy's nine acres. Offered to buy him out. He said no. Not interested.

Jack Pierce's business, Hollywood Door, makes garage doors, but its main business is the hand manufacture of huge, very heavy industrial overhead doors. His product is expensive to ship because it's so heavy. Over the last seven decades, his family has developed a good regional trade based in part on having the business right where it is.

He does not want to move, at least not at the prices being offered. The location is worth more to him than its real estate value. This company employs 40 people, and it makes a product, which it actually sells to other people.

Makes stuff. Sells stuff. This is what used to be called a "business," as opposed to insider grease-ball political land-flipping, which is what some people think is a business today.

Got it so far? Developers offer. Business owner says no.

Then he gets a letter. An official letter. A City Hall letter. It appears that Bill Blaydes, the council person for that area, wants to call a hearing to see whether the city should yank the man's zoning out from under him, which would force him to sell.

The saga moves to the City Council chamber:
I mean, are you still with me here? The guy's been on the property since the 1950s. His business is almost invisible from the road, emits no smoke or noise, generates very light traffic. But Commissar Blaydes comes along with his letter and pretty much tells him to get the hell off his own property.

And even worse in my book: While Pierce is standing there at the microphone looking up at the mighty councilpersons with his life and his family's business in his hand, Councilman Ed Oakley, one of two candidates for mayor in the June 16 runoff election, launches into this big, sleazy package of lies aimed at pushing him into giving up.

Talking in his trademark incomprehensible used-car-salesman-on-crank cadence, Oakley says to Pierce: "Let me just ask you hypothetically if you were to go through this process and the process and the staff would allow you to have your area that allowed the use that you have there today which is a manufacturing facility and in addition to that it was created into a p.d. or sub-district that allowed for the other uses such as mixed-use or whatever the neighborhood would determine but you were allowed to be legal and conforming but along with that some of the obnoxious uses that maybe the neighborhood would be fearful of such as a recycling plant or something would be left out of that and would allow you to continue the family business in perpetuity which would be legal which would be a given zoning which would allow you to use that specific use but then the additional uses would allow for residential or mixed-use development or office or retail which aren't allowed there today which actually gives you more land-use rights than what you would have today giving up some of the things that would be obnoxious would you be amenable to sitting down having that conversation?"

Pierce gave the perfect answer. He said, "Sir, I am out of my depth here today."
Read more

Oakley, a City Hall apologist who has replaced Laura Miller as the city's point person working with Trinity Commons Foundation to get the big high speed Toll Road built through the what the voters voted to fund as a Park, is not high on the list of many of his former supporters. His opponent in the Dallas's Mayoral runoff also favors building the Parkway, but as an outsider, Tom Leppert seems less offensive when he discusses it than does insider Ed Oakley. Oakley, who represents a district in the southern quadrant of the city, should be concerned for the property rights of the little guy, but seems to spout the Corporate, big developer, big dollar interest line more than adhering to a more populist Democratic line. The Dallas County Democratic Party made an unprecedented move in endorsing a candidate in what is normally a nonpartisan city race, yet many of the Democratic activists I know are less than enthusiastic about the prospects of having Mr. Oakley as Mayor. Objections do not seem to relate to his openly gay lifestyle but to his conduct in rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful and failure to champion the plight of the little man in eminent domain squabbles and other issues when John Q Citizen must face off against the City of Dallas.

In previous column's Schutze has chided DMN reporter Steve Blow for superficial coverage of City Council and the Trinity Toll /Park Project in particular.

Today, as our fledging group of activists (DFW REGIONAL CONCERNED CITIZENS) trot down to the NCTCOG offices on Six Flags Drive in Arlington to tell the RTC and NCTCOG staff how their policies disturb us, it is encouraging to open my e-mail box and find Jim Schutze's column. Schutze can make dead serious squabbles entertaining. The Texas Legislature has scattered and I'm left to summer re-runs on television. Honestly, video links to Texas Senate Transportation Hearings and battles on the Texas House Floor as representative after representative asked Speaker Craddick to vacate the chair provided much more entertainment to me this Spring than slick news entertainment journals on network TV. (For me, one of the definite pluses to watching the Texas House and Senate via internet is that they don't cover Anna Nicole, any of her offspring or relatives or alleged paramours!)

Maybe it's those early bedside stories read to me as a child about knights and the round table and crusaders rescuing the underdog from the wicked, selfish despot that are rekindled when I watch Angela Hunt and Jim Schutze take on Trinity Commons, big corporate donors and Dallas City Hall. Whatever it is, I'm gratified that the Dallas Observer fights the giant with their feather.

In Fort Worth, Mayor Mike Moncrief (dubbed by the Fort Worth Weekly as the "GASFATHER" for his facilitation of the drilling of hundreds of gas wells in the densely populated cowtown,( and Fort Worth City Council members voted to send a letter to Perry urging veto of HB 2006 (restoring protection to landowners from seizure of property through eminent domain for private commercial development. Decades of property rights were bartered away by legislators in the 78th and 79th session of the Texas Legislature by massive changes to the Texas Transportation Code and eminent domain laws were enacted by state representatives and state senators who had accepted substantial campaign contributions from pro-toll road proponents. Speaker Craddick and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst moved the bills at rapid speed through their branches of the house. (Craddick, Dewhurst, Perry, Abbott, and Susan Combs all accepted campaign donations from Zachry Construction and Zachry family members. A significant correlation emerged between Democratic and Republican incumbents who accepted Zachry and other toll road proponents campaign contributions and their roles in sponsoring, voting for and moving TTC/CDA enabling legislation through both houses of the Texas Legislature. Public outcry against the taking of hundreds of thousands of acres of Texans unified grassroots activist in both parties to descend upon Austin. This past legislative session several folks who were instrumental in getting these bills passed stood and appeared to repent. (Steve Odgen, Florence Sharpio and others). When it was time to vote, however, Odgen's "Come to Jesus" contrition evaporated and he voted for Perry's detested "market valuation language" which many think negates the two year moratorium on CDA toll roads for most of the state.

It's been a busy season. Keeping up with who's pulling what and how the truth is twisted to give an illusion but the citizens are left holding lots of debt, empty promises, and developers, politicians, and engineering firms and highway contractors sit licking their lips with cream all over their greedy mouths seems to surpass the energy it must have required British Royalty to keep up with the palace intrigues in centuries past. We may be "tilting at windmills" but with citizens' access to the internet and writers like Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer and Jeff Prince of the Fort Worth Weekly maybe enough voters will wake up and realize that Judge Glen Whitley, Mayor Mike Moncrief and most of the City Council and County Commissioners in the DFW Region have conspired to fleece them of property and to double tax them for use of public infrastructure! Hammering on computer keys helps, but ultimately it is the voter's responsibility to evaluate whether local officials are truly looking out for citizens' welfare. Pushing that button or marking that little box in the election booth is ultimately the only way we can depose folks who misuse their office to lobby to ensure that the rich and powerful get richer and richer and the honest working folks forfeit property and political privilege to the dark room schemes of scum bags who think that the TTC is good for Texas!

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