Saturday, June 9, 2007

Still hope for transit expansion

Sales tax funding plan derailed in Legislature,
but regional coalition is set to try again in 2009

By MARICE RICHTER - The Dallas Morning News - Friday, June 8, 2007
Area transportation advocates are disappointed by the failure of legislation that could have expanded rail transit in North Texas, but they aren't giving up hope.
Instead, meetings and discussions have already begun to regroup and develop a new strategy to target the Texas Legislature in 2009.
"I wish we didn't have to wait two years," said Mark Enoch, chairman of the DART board. "But I think we will get it next time. For a first effort, we did very well. We got the bills out of two committees and onto the floor."
A coalition of more than 100 local entities – including city councils, county commissioner courts and chambers of commerce – endorsed a plan that would have allowed local-option elections on raising the state sales tax cap by up to 1 cent to pay for transit expansion.
Efforts by Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, and Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, to push this plan through as legislation died on the House floor near the end of the session.
Some Tarrant County officials said they may try to explore other funding options for new passenger rail lines. However, most area transportation leaders said research has shown that sales tax remains the best way to finance an estimated $3.5 billion to $5 billion in rail improvements needed in North Texas.
As local leaders begin regrouping, a top priority will be to counter opposition to the local-option sales tax plan. They said opponents succeeded in derailing the plan in the last session.
Opponents have argued that higher sales tax in North Texas would hinder the region's competitive edge in business. Detractors also suggested that cities that want to join a rail authority could redirect funds from their economic development and crime control districts rather than raise sales taxes beyond 8.25 percent.
The local-option plan would have allowed cities to raise the sales tax up to 9.25 percent. It also would have allowed cities that are already part of a transit authority such as Dallas Area Rapid Transit to raise their sales tax by 1 cent to create economic development or crime control districts, officials said.
Since Grapevine voters recently agreed to join the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, known as "The T," there are only a few small cities left in North Texas that can still ask voters to raise their sales tax rate to join a transit authority.
A recent survey of area cities found that most have economic development and crime control tax dollars tied up in long term bond-indebtedness that will take 15 years or more to repay.
"It would take too long for all those cities pay off that debt and then hold elections to pull out of their other districts," Mr. Humann said. "By comparison, we can accomplish a lot more a lot quicker if we can get the plan we have approved by the Legislature in two years."
In the meantime, transit agencies can spend their time on right-of-way acquisitions and seeking federal grants to help defray costs, officials said.
Tarrant County transportation officials said they may look at the possibility of creating tax-increment-financing districts or using property taxes to jump-start some new rail corridors or add more stations to a line being developed between southwest Fort Worth and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. "Sales tax is still the best option for financing regional rail," said Vic Suhm, executive director of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition. "But we'll consider any other forms of financing to open up some new corridors."

Read more

Flattened by freight carriers, fleeced by slick operators and dumbfounded by the audacity of the Rail Roads

By Faith Chatham - Texas Rail - June 9, 2007
The railroads and regional and Arlington city officials have been meeting, discussing plans and seeking funding to relocate the Union Pacific tracks which run through the heart of Arlington and Grand Praire. Toxic chemicals carried on those tracks pose risk to large populations, but that does not seem to be the major consideration for relocation of the tracks. There is now much community support for commuter rail. Arlington, one of the three cities in this 16 county NCTCOG region, with a population which places it in the top 50 most populous cities in the nation, combined with neighboring Grand Prairie, are the largest cities in Texas not to have mass transit. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have no transportation alternative except private automobilies which contribute to air pollution.

Failure of the region to meet EPA clean air standards by the year 2010 may lead to Federal funding sanctions. Increased gas drilling has also skewed previous air pollution forecasts even further into the negative column. Cities of Arlington and Fort Worth rushed to permit gas drilling without accounting for increased carbon dioxide emmissions from generators on gas drilling units. This is cited by the EPA as reasons for rejecting the regions Clean Air Plan.

The dialogue about relocating the Union Pacific tracks irritates me. For decades cries of concerned citizens over shipment of dangerous chemicals on freight trains through major population centers have been ignored. Now, as the freight lines want to improve their bottom lines and reap the profits from shipment of tonnage from China through Texas to Kansas City and Canada, there is a big push to get the taxpayers to underwrite relocation of rail lines. Despite how the rail roads, regional planners and groups like NASCO attempt to sell it, I doubt that protection of civilian population groups or promotion of passenger rail is prompting these inititives. The rail carriers want the tax payers to pay to upgrade rail infrastructure owned and controlled by private rail corporations.

Gee... does this seem familar? Private rail promoters acquire massive segments of American real estate to build railroads and provide passenger and freight services to the American people. Rail road promoters get rich, decided that oil and gas is more lucrative than running rail roads and hauling freight is less bothersome than providing passenger service. Passenger rail is discontinued by most carriers. Eventually public transit authorities develop passenger rail and the US government leases use of the tracks from private rail roads to provide AMTRAK passenger rail service to American citizens. Oil and gas makes land developers rich. Citizens sit for hours while freight trains have priority to the tracks over passenger trains. The energy sector gets richer and richer and citizens pay higher and higher electric, residential gas and automobile gasoline rates.

Somehow it is insulting to think that the public is being expected to pay for upgrading rail road infrastructure for freight shipments! Then comes the push to get the public sector to pay for relocating the UNION PACIFIC tracks which run between UTA and the new Cowboy Stadium in Arlington!

It makes absolutely no sense to me to relocate the Union and Pacific tracks that run through the heart of Arlington. What better location could there be for PASSENGER rail tracks? They run a few blocks north of the University of Texas at Arlington and a few block south of the new Cowboys Stadium.

Why is it that lawmakers and RTC members rush to convert highway transporation project to PRIVATE PUBLIC PARTNERSHIP while ignoring rail which has been a private partnership from its inception?

Why are public dollars tapped for improving privately owned and rail road controlled rail lines? One of the biggest obstacles to effective passenger rail in Texas (AMTRAK) has been the control of privately owned tracks. Freight carriers grant right of way to freight trains while AMTRAK passengers sit for hours, unable to estimate reasonable arrival or departure times.

BSNF, KCS (de Mexico), and Union Pacific want the benefits but do not intend to fork out the cash to maintain and improve their infrastructure. Most train derailments in the US have been attributed to the railroads refusal to properly maintain their tracks. It's time that the rail industry and elected officials (such as County Judge Glen Whitley and the RTC) face some realities. Ownership comes with responsibility. If the railroads refuse to maintain the tracks and pay for desired infrastructure upgrades, they should GIVE the tracks to the government and allow them to be coverted to passenger lines. If they want straighter routes from Mexico to Oklahoma to ship freight at better profit margins for their companies, they should pay for the right of way and construct their own straighter routes. They should not expect the citizens of Texas to underwrite their schemes to improve their bottom lines through prioritization of the TTC over more critical transportation projects designed to solve Texas's most critical transportation bottlenecks. Moving freight is a commercial enterprize. Freight haulers should pay for upgrades to commercial infrastructure.

Moving people is the governments responsiblity. If private public partnerships are called for, there is an excellent opportunity running right straight through the center of Grand Prairie and Arlington. The Union Pacific track passes within walking distance of Grand Prairie's downtown business district, Arlington's downtown business district, the University of Texas at Arlington, the Cowboy's Stadium and Glory Park. There is not enough money left in the sales tax cap (after citizens underwrote the Cowboy Stadium) for Arlington to underwrite rail as a city initiative. However, there is a great opportunity for a private partner to step up to the plate, negotiate a deal for use of existing Union Pacific tracks and provide passenger rail service to citizens of Grand Prairie and Arlington.

The rail roads should devote the effort they've expended on lobbying to change the Texas Transportation Code and changing the eminent domain law to favor exercise of eminent domain for private gain in their push for the construciton of the Trans Texas Corridor into pursuing existing opportunities to provide transportation solutions in passenger rail.

The rail roads (and regional transportation planner) have focused on getting the laws changed so that the public underwrites improvements to privately owned rail infrastructure. It is time Union Pacific, KCS, BSNF and other rail conglomerates step up to the plate and carry more of the civic repsonsiblity. Hey, maybe Mr. Jones might underwrite some of the expense. After all, passenger rail in Arlington located near his stadium would be a definite plus for transporting fams to all games -- not just a one time trip to the Super Bowl.

Lobbyist describes status of toll roads

by LAUREN THOMPSON - Longview News-Journal - Friday, June 08, 2007

Hank Gilbert was not impressed with the 80th meeting of the Texas Legislature.

Gilbert, a former candidate for agriculture commissioner and Democratic anti-toll road lobbyist, offered his opinions and reported on his efforts, specifically on bills concerning the toll roads, at the Texas Democratic Women of Gregg County's monthly meeting Thursday.

"The 80th session probably had some high points," he said of the Democrats' progress. "But I didn't see them; except the raising of the minimum wage to $7.25, which won't go into effect for another two years."

Gilbert spoke in detail about Texas House Bill 1892, a piece of toll-road legislation putting a two-year moratorium on all toll-road projects.

"They said, 'Hey, let's stop where we are, study the vitality of these roads and make a decision from there,'" he said.

The bill was approved by the House and the Senate with a combined vote of 166-5. Gov. Rick Perry promised to veto the bill, prompting the Senate to compromise with Senate Bill 792. This new edition added amendments protecting certain roads and businesses from the two-year moratorium, including the development of Interstate 69, as it would hinder the economic development of the Rio Grande Valley. Interstate 69 is expected to extend from Northeast Texas to Mexico.

He said he saw this compromise as big business deliberately infringing upon smaller towns' rights, which will be affected if the Trans-Texas Corridor continues adding highways through small towns.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is a 4,000 mile plan of tollways, according to

"We have to work together to campaign against the legislators down in Austin who aren't there to represent their people regardless of their political party," he said.

Read more

Friday, June 8, 2007

FW residents protest over dilapidated street

By DARLA MILES - WFAA-TV - Thursday, June 7, 2007

People in a Fort Worth neighborhood are growing impatient after scheduled repairs to their roads were delayed.

Two dozen residents in the historic Morningside district of south Fort Worth took to the streets this morning in a bid to get the city's attention.

The patchwork is particularly noticeable on Ramsey Street.

Families say they have lived on the street for 46 years and this patchwork was all that has ever been done during that time. They say there has never been any comprehensive paving.

Residents say they have been negotiating with the city since November to get the road improved.

They said they were told street repairs would begin this March but construction hasn't started yet.
Read more and see photos

Putting Humans into the TTC -- Autism

Putting Humans into the Trans Texas Corridor Discussion

Amidst the various hearings that I have attended concerning either the Trans Texas Corridor of the North Central Texas Council of Governments dealing with the Dallas/ Fort Worth Region segment of the TTC, one factor in all of it has been absent.

Where do the actual people who live in this region actually fit into all the complex formulas and debates?

If demographic predictions are anywhere near correct, there will be about twice the people in this region in about 25 years. Common sense would suggest that absent an effective system of mass transit (light and heavy rails, buses, perhaps even trolleys and subways, etc.) there will be roughly twice as much traffic on the roads. That would mean, absent some extensive technological controls, the amount of airborne pollutants may well double from non-fixed site pollution sources, i.e. vehicles primarily.

Take the impact of airborne pollutants on one particular group of people, those who suffer autism. Researchers studying this population have been brave enough to ask the question, “Does environmental pollution affect or even cause autism?”

Their answer is “Yes.” They do not claim that all autism is caused by pollution; however, they have proven a causal link in a significant number of cases.

Autism in Texas is rising -- between 1992 and 2003 autism cases have risen by 594%, with annual growth rates of between 12% and 21 % for each year over the growth rates of all disabilities (“Texas Public Schools Autism Prevalence Report School Years 1992-2003,

One report has documented that certain chemical levels below the standard toxic levels as defined by Federal Regulations may act in conjunction with other chemicals to cause autism (Kreiling J., Stephens R., Reinisch C. “A Mixture of environmental containments increase cAMP- dependent protein kinas in Spisula embryos. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology 2005; 19; 9-18.).

These chemicals can enter the environment in various ways, but airborne transmission can disperse these pollutants into both ground water and soil, and thus into the food chain. Many of these chemicals come from vehicular exhaust from internal combustion engines.

“It has been proposed that autism has features in common with other neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (particularly the environmental responsiveness and brain inflammation that all three conditions appear to share) and with other illnesses with strong environmental components such as various immune and autoimmune diseases.” ( “Time to Get a Grip,” Martha R. Herbert, M.D. and PH.D., Autism Advocate, Fifth Edition, 2006)

Twice the vehicles causing twice the amount of exhaust pollutants. How many more cases of autism alone will occur? How many other environmentally responsive diseases will also arise?

Thus far the people arguing systems to resolve the transportation problems of the future for the DFW Region have only offered one response -- pave more land and offer some light rail.

Are they ignoring the victims who will suffer from such a pathetic response?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Public Meetings of RTC (NCTCOG)

Public Meeting - to inform and take comments from the public:
Topics: Changes to the TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan), Funding for Transportation and Clean Air Project Planning for the next two years, and CDA (Private/Public Partnership) on 675 miles of toll roads in the DFW region and how to spend the upfront concession payments:

June 7, 2007, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Meeting Location: NCTCOG Offices, Arlington, TX Transportation Council Room

June 7, 2007, 6:30 - 8:00 PM
Meeting Location: Christopher A. Parr Library, 6200 Windhaven Parkway, Plano, TX 75093


NCTCOG's RTC deliberates regarding changes to the TIP!

The public is encouraged to sit in and listen to the proceedings at the next RTC meeting.
PLACE: NCTCOG Regional Transportation Council Room, Arlington
DATE: June 14, 2007, 1:30 - 4:00 PM

Water Resources Council:
DATE: June 14, 2007, 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Meeting Location: NCTCOG Offices Arlington, William J. Pitstick Executive Board Room

Tower 55 (Rail in Fort Worth) Technical Advisory Group Meeting:
DATE: June 15, 2007, 1:30 - 3:00 PM
Meeting Location: NCTCOG Offices Regional Forum Room, Arlington

Outer Loop/Rail Bypass Meeting:
DATE: June 15, 2007,1:30 - 3:30 PM
Meeting Location: NCTCOG Offices - Arlington, Pecan Conference Room

Outer Loop/Rail Bypass:
DATE: June 20, 2007, 1:00 - 3:00 PM
Meeting Location: NCTCOG Offices - Arlington, Pecan Conference Room

Storm Water Public Education Task Force:
DATE: June 21, 2007, 1:30 - 3:30 PM
Meeting Location: NCTCOG Offices, Tejas Conference Room

NCTCOG Executive Board Meeting:
June 28, 2007, 7:00 AM - 4:30 PM
Meeting Location: NCTCOG Offices - Arlington, William J. Pitstick Executive Board Room

The NCTCOG Offices are located at 616 Six Flags Drive, Arlington, TX 76005

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!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"I guess they can overrun us."

Planners bypass Frisco's toll-road objections
This article is being posted again in a prominent place because it highlight how the RTC, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley ignores the will of the people.
GORDON DICKSON - Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Thursday, April 13, 2006

ARLINGTON- North Texas leaders often say they put the good of the region above local desires. On Thursday, that was put to the test.

The Regional Transportation Council, the area's official planning body, agreed to pursue a toll road on Texas 121 in Collin County -- and potentially many other future toll roads in Tarrant and other counties-- over the objection of elected leaders in Frisco.

The RTC also agreed to allow pricing on toll roads to vary by time of day, reaching up to 17 cents per mile during rush hour beginning in 2010. Today's Dallas-area toll rate is a flat 10 cents a mile.

The approval, on a voice vote --with at least three of the RTC's 40 members opposed--was a notable break with tradition. When development decisions are made in North Texas, it's not uncommon for politicians to grant veto power to a city or county directly affected by a project. Not this time.

"We left here with the reaction that the region is the No. 1 priority for the RTC," Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said.

Frisco Mayor Michael Simpson had a different take.

"I guess they can overrun us," he said after the meeting at the Arlington Convention Center. "I'm not happy about it."

Simpson said he calculated that if the 17-cent maximum was applied to Texas 121, a typical commuter using the road during peak morning or afternoon traffic would spend about $1,100 a year on tolls.
"We want a toll low enough that people are willing to pay," he said. "I hope it doesn't kick traffic onto the streets of McKinney, Allen and Frisco."

Last week, the Frisco City Council withdrew its support for the proposed toll road roughly from the Dallas North Tollway to McKinney.

Frisco originally supported the toll road, on the condition that tolls be kept as low as possible. But other North Texas leaders and the Texas Department of Transportation wanted to seek bids from private companies, to see whether the toll road could generate a large cash payment up front.

All Thursday's action really does is set up a competition for the Texas 121 Collin County toll road project between the tollway authority and any private bidders.

The state transportation department could select a winner by November.

Whether Frisco likes it or not.

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

RTC ignores people's will in establishing transportation policy
By Faith Chatham - June 6, 2007
On June 4th the NCTCOG staff was asked at the media briefing if they surveyed the public or asked the people whether they wanted to pay for other projects with surplus toll revenue before the RTC adopted the policy of expanding existing highways and building most new freeways as tolled roads with rates set high enough to generate surplus toll revenue to spend on other projects. Mike Morris and Lara Rodriguez stated that "We held 20 meeting last year between Feb. and April and they were well attended. We discussed CDAs, toll rates and surveyed attendees. They were held along the SH 183 corridor, the SH 121 corridor and the SH 161 corridor." THey said that about 161 people attended and they surveyed a few additional people.

Lara sent the survey to DFW Regional Concerned Citizens.
They surveyed 214 people. There are 6.5 million people in the NCTCOG Region.
Not all citizens in all counties were given opportunity to take the survey. Random samples were not taken from different parts of the metroplex attempting to get a sampling of various income groups, ethnic groups, and ages groups (young adult to senior citizen). Most of the questions pertain to SH 121.

No question on the survey asks if the citizen prefers having toll rates set higher than necessary to maintain the roads and retire the debt so that surplus toll revenue can be generated to fund other projects.

The RTC appears to have ignored the preferences of the majority of the respondents to the survey. The policies adopted.

QUESTION: If the CDA anticipates toll revenue greater than the anticipated cost, do we request revenue up front or over time. 97 said OVER TIME.l 17 UP FRONT; 27 LOCAL DECISION. The RTC adopted a policy requiring PRIVATE and PUBLIC toll companies to pay substantial up-front concession payments to acquire and operate toll projects in the region.

QUESTION: The RTC should take into account the number of toll roads in a specific area before setting toll rates? 171 yes; 26 no.
They did not ask any question about how many roads citizens thought should be tolled, about the ratio of non tolled to tolled major highway miles in a county or district. There is no question asking if the citizens think 675 miles of additional toll lanes to existing highways and new toll roads is appropriate for this region.

QUESTION: What should the 2010 toll rate be for SH 121? NO TOLL -28; .09 cents per mile - 17; .10 cents per mile - 17; to NTTA max .12 cents per mile - 121; .14 cents per mile - 1; .15 cents pr mile - 20; .25 cents per mile - 2.

QUESTION: How should the toll rate grow over time? 108 of the 188 respondents answered NO MORE THAN 1.5% per year- no growth increase in 5 year increments as operating and maintenance costs increase. The RTC adopted a plan which escalates every 2-3 years at rates substantially higher than the maximum 1.5% per year favored by the citizens surveyed. Also the rates will escalate upward based on Consumer price index and inflation and other factors.

QUESTION: Should there be a Comprehensive Development Agreement CDA in Collin County?
The majority (141) of the citizens said NO! Only 41 answered yes. The RTC and TXDOT initially selected Cintra and announced plans to sign a CDA with the Spanish-based firm. When the Texas Legislature stipulated that public toll authorities in a region were to be given right of first refusal members of the RTC objected. Judge Glen Whitley at the March 2007 RTC meeting exclaimed: "Why ever would we award the NTTA a contract? They'll have to meet the up-front concession payments offered by Cintra or I know I won't vote for it!"

QUESTION: Should we have a differential toll rate for peak and off peak conditions?
The majority (171) said NO. Only 41 said yes. Both the NTTA and Cintra bids are based on different toll rates for different times of day. The RTC ignored the preference of the people.

Ignoring the preference of the people is a pattern with the RTC and TxDOT.
They adopted policues which will require citizens to pay tolls for 50 years, at rates higher than necessary to construct and maintain the roads, without giving the 6.5 million citizens in the region opportunity to address the questions.
They ignored the peference of the 180-214 respondents to their survey.
They refused to evaluate their plan after hundreds of citizens showed up at EVERY TTC hearing held by TxDOT in the region during the summer following the RTCS series of meetings.

Citizens yelled and protested eminent domain for private developlment, toll roads instead of highways paid for by gas tax and bond money, 50 year contract and CDAs with Cintra, a Spanish company.

The will of the people was unmistakable.

The RTC and TXDOT and most local leaders chose to ignore the people and push through policy which will require the citizens in this region to depend upon toll roads for 50 years and to pay higher tolls than is necessary to build the roads and retire the debt and maintain the infastructure.

The RTC lobbied the State Legislature to exempt this region from the 2 year moratorium on toll roads. The rest of the rest of the state will benefit from a re-evaluation of CDAs before commitments are made on 50 year contracts in their region. It is possibe that the State Legislature will fix some of the problems with Transporatation financing (such as a need to index the gasoline tax to keep up with inflation) and enable Texans to again have roads built with tax money instead of toll money. This region may be left having to pay higher gasoline tax and having to pay high tolls to drive on Texas state highways in this region.

The RTC and local officials have failed to be responsive to the economic welfare of the residents of this region. They appear to place greater priority on moving freight and speak more about "economic growth" than they do on creating systems that efficiently move people at affordable rates.

Their plan contains too many miles of toll roads for one region. They have modeled much of the additional capacity after a toll road in Orange County, CA which has proven to be a dismal failure. Begun as a private public partnership, the rates and management of the road irritated (infuriated) citizens so much that the state bought back the toll road from the private partners at a very high cost to the taxpayers. During rush hour the toll lanes are nearly empty while the not tolled lanes are so congested that traffic hardly moves. They have dedicated valuable real estate to under utilized toll lanes. If all lanes were non-tolled, they could equalize traffic among the lanes and everyone would have a better opportunity to get to their destination in a reasonable time. Because of creative funding strategies, the citizens in that region are poorly served.

It is unfortunate that regional transportation planner have chosen to model much of this regions proposed transportation projects after a project with is neither a success nor an improvement.

Eminent domain letter is delayed

By ANNA M. TINSLEY - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Wed, Jun. 06, 2007
Tarrant County commissioners must wait to send a letter to Gov. Rick Perry asking him to veto an eminent domain bill, because the full court must approve such a move, and one member wasn't present at Tuesday's meeting.

Even so, Arlington property owner Linda Lancaster spoke to the Commissioners Court, urging them to instead send a letter supporting the bill.

"Why on earth would elected officials think citizens want less protection from eminent domain?" she asked. "We depend on you for protection and representation."

The issue: House Bill 2006 would give landowners more rights when governments take property through eminent domain, a controversial practice in which local governments appropriate land for public projects. The bill would ensure that landowners receive good-faith offers, be compensated for damage done to adjoining property, and have a chance to buy back their land -- at the same price they received -- if it isn't needed in 10 years for the development.

The cost: Officials have said the measure could cost the state an extra $1 billion a year in transportation projects.

The status: Perry has until June 17 to sign or veto bills. Commissioners say they hope to vote on sending a letter asking for a veto Tuesday.[Tuesday, June 12th at 10:30 a.m.]

Roll call: Commissioner Gary Fickes was not present Tuesday, preventing the vote.

Read Linda Lancaster's address to the County Commissioners

Governor emphasis on tollways, private road-builders has generated urban and rural unrest

By Ben Wear - AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Sunday, August 20, 2006
Excerpts from a long story last year on Perry's transportation policy.
Perry, with his famously well-coiffed look and perfectly tailored suits, surely doesn't look the part of a revolutionary, and he rejects that characterization. But he acknowledges that transportation is the area where he made the most "wide-sweeping" changes.

Perry declared the gasoline tax a lame duck, dismissing talk of raising it. Perry and his allies decreed that all new road projects would be evaluated for tolls. They contemplated slapping tolls on existing roads, then backed off after a public outcry.

Perry in early 2002 outlined what seemed to be a pie-in-the-sky plan for 4,000 miles of rural toll roads called the Trans-Texas Corridor. After hearing people scoff for more than two years, Perry introduced some Spaniards who said they'd spend $7.2 billion on the first 300-mile piece, including a $1.2 billion payment to the state. And Perry's Department of Transportation declared Texas "open for business," inviting private companies — foreign or domestic — to privately finance and operate the next generation of Texas expressways and railroads.

"What is happening in Texas on public-private partnerships is being watched by every state in the union and several foreign countries," Perry said during a late July interview in his Capitol office.

"When I parachuted in here on Dec. 21, 2000, I inherited a state that had huge infrastructure challenges."

Gas tax not enough

Evaluating just how huge that challenge was — is it a crisis or just an emerging problem? — has involved an escalating war of statistics over the past couple of years.

The state's population has increased more than 20 percent since 1990 and annual miles traveled on the state's roads have gone up about 50 percent. Meanwhile, the Texas highway system, with increasing maintenance costs and more expensive urban construction needs, grew only 4 percent during that decade and a half.

The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from those numbers, one borne out by most people's experience behind the wheel, is that Texas roads are more congested than they were 15 years ago.

The state Transportation Department's budget, meanwhile, has tripled since 1990, including an 80 percent jump from the budget Perry inherited from George W. Bush to this year's $7.7 billion spending plan.
Perry and his people say that's still not nearly enough to deal with the state's transportation needs now or, especially, in the future. Using figures gleaned by asking local transportation planners what they would build if money were no object, they say the state will have $86 billion in unmet transportation needs over the next 25 years. [NOTE: Perry's Governor's Taskforce on Transportation later revised this down to a $44 billion shortfall.]

They say the only way to close that gap, to extinguish the blaze, as it were, is to put tolls on every road you can and recruit private capital to build as many new toll roads as possible. Increasing the state gasoline tax, frozen at 20 cents a gallon since 1991, is not an option, Perry and his fellow GOP legislative leaders say, particularly with unleaded gas selling for close to $3 a gallon. But that was already his position when gas was selling for well under $2 a gallon.

...A few cents, in Perry's view, would be irrelevant. Each penny raises about $100 million in a year, or enough for one fair-sized freeway interchange with flyover bridges. So a 20-cent increase, which would give Texas the highest gas tax of any state, would bring in an extra $2 billion a year. Perry says that wouldn't be nearly enough to return Texas' transportation system to its former lofty status among states, particularly as hybrid vehicles and other improvements from Detroit increase gas efficiency and cause gas tax revenue to sag.

A 20-cents-a-gallon increase in the tax would cost the average driver about $100 a year. That's much less than a driver regularly commuting on a toll road would pay. The U.S. 183-A tollway due to open next year (in Austin) will cost $2 for one trip through, or about $1,000 a year for a five-day-a-week commuter.
Read more

NTTA proposes having 121 built by 2012

By Danny Gallagher, Staff Writer - Plano Star - Sunday, June 03, 2007
The proposal for the North Texas Tollway Authority submitted Friday to the Regional Transportation Council said it can have State Highway 121 built in five years.

The 1,000-plus-page proposal, released by the NTTA on Friday, proposes splitting the construction of the roadway into four segments and completing the entire project by 2012 if the state awards the NTTA the construction project.

Construction would take place between Denton Creek and Hillcrest Road, Hillcrest Road and Watter’s Road, Watter’s Road and east of the U.S. 75 intersection and the Dallas North Tollway and the SH 121 interchange. The total design phase for the project would take place between July 1, 2007, and Feb. 20, 2008, and the total construction phase would take place between Nov. 9, 2007, and March 20, 2012, according to the proposal.

The NTTA would also continue to maintain and inspect the road for the next 50 years. They would conduct annual inspections every September until 2057, and handle maintenance procedures on the roadway such as joint sealing, “moderate” pavement repair, overlay, sign refurbishing, pavement markings, and landscaping and irrigation management, according to the proposal.

Financing for the project remained the same as earlier estimates stated in presentations given to the RTC and at NTTA board meetings. NTTA said financing the project as part of the Dallas North Tollway system would include an upfront payment of $2.5 billion at the financial close and $833 million in guaranteed payments for a total of $3.3 billion.

The NTTA also said it would be able to provide a lower overall cost, and greater flexibility to respond to “shifting needs, priorities and requirements that should arise over the next 50 years,” according to the proposal. They also included several offers such as a board resolution that adopts the Texas Department of Transportation/RTC toll policy as the maximum rate for SH 121, an agreement to fund an escrow with $75 million upon acceptance of the proposal, and a commitment from a “AAA-rated” financial institution to provide $3.5 billion to ensure a financial close.

It also reiterated earlier claims that it would be able to keep the funds in local pockets.

“Every penny of cash flow generated from the SH 121 project for the next 50 years will remain in North Texas to fund regional mobility needs,” the report said
Read more

Keller City Commission ousts Planning and Zoning member

By ADRIENNE NETTLES - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Wed, Jun. 06, 2007
KELLER -- A biting comment about the quality of a proposed subdivision has cost a Planning and Zoning Commission member her seat.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to remove Frances Marek because of comments she made in January that other commission members viewed as inappropriate.

Marek got out of her seat after the vote to protest the council's decision, telling the members that what they had done was illegal.

"You're supposed to take this before the [city] ethics commission," she said. "It's amazing you can all just sit there and do this."

But Mayor Pat McGrail said during a break in the meeting that the council did nothing illegally.

"The city ordinance calls for the fact that the council has the right to remove with or without cause," McGrail said. "These are the kind of comments we in the city of Keller cannot condone or support."

During a Jan. 8 public hearing, Marek, 75, questioned the quality of the proposed patio homes that a developer had planned for a 14-acre project near her home after she visited a local development that she was told was similar.

Speaking as a private citizen, she told the commission that the proposed Heritage Heights looked like a tossup between slum tenement housing in New York or "the government slum houses that they gave to African-Americans."

"It's not good," she said after the statement. "It's not good. It doesn't look good."

The developer, Johnson Diversified Enterprises, was requesting that the site on the east side of Old Town Keller, the city's downtown district, be rezoned from single-family residential to planned development.

Marek's Park Addition home on College Street is east of the proposed site.

The council and the commission eventually denied approval for Heritage Heights, city officials said.

After the council appointed Marek to the commission May 1, all six of her commission colleagues wrote McGrail with concerns. The members asked that Marek's appointment be revisited.

"We are committed to the integrity of this board and its public hearings," the members wrote. "Our newest commissioner has previously made statements in public forum on matters before this commission. In light of those statements, we are seriously concerned about her ability to serve on the Planning & Zoning Commission in a fair and unbiased manner."

Marek said in interviews that her comments weren't racist but were in reference to the segregated public housing built decades ago.

"I didn't make up anything that wasn't true," Marek said.

Read more


By city ordinance, Planning and Zoning Commission members are appointed with a majority vote of the City Council and serve two years. Members can be removed with a three-fourths majority vote of the council, with or without cause.

Jan. 8: Keller resident Frances Marek speaks out against the patio home development Heritage Heights, comparing it to slum tenement houses in New York or "the government slum houses that they gave to African-Americans."

May 1: The City Council appoints Marek to Place 2 on the Planning and Zoning Commission. Marek takes her oath of office.

May 12: Voters elect Pat McGrail as mayor and Ray Brown as Place 1 councilman.

May 14: Six members of the Planning and Zoning Commission write McGrail asking that Marek's appointment be revisited.

June 5: The City Council considers a resolution to remove Marek from the commission and approves it unanimously.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Linda Lancaster addresses Tarrant County Commissioners Court on Eminent Domain

County Judge Glen Whitley presented a letter for the County Commissioners to sign from Tarrant County to Gov. Perry urging him to veto the Eminent Domain bill passed by the 80th Legislature. Linda Lancaster spoke to the Commissioner's Court at their 10:30 a.m. meeting this morning (Tuesday, June. 5, 2007).

I am a resident who is very concerned with the issue of the abuse of the power to use eminent domain. Since the 2005 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, which opened the floodgates for cities and states to seize property from homeowners, business owners, farmers, and ranchers, this has become a hated and dispicable use of government power.

In her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor argued that this decision would allow the rich to benefit at the expense of the poor, asserting that "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms." Sound familiar?

80% of Americans despise eminent domain in order to hand over private property to private development. There has been a huge public outcry and backlash by ordinary citizens who could have their homes taken and given to private companies for retail stores, Starbucks, golf courses, condos, stadiums, etc. The public has spoken very, very clearly and I assure you that this is not a Republican, Democrat, or Independent issue—it effects ALL of us.

Why on earth would judge Glen Whitley and Tarrant Co. commissioners think citizens want LESS protection from eminent domain??? After watching the city of Arlington demolish street upon street of entire neighborhoods for a private economic development stadium, watching people lose their homes for NE mall expansion, watching Gov. Perry reach out his arms in aim of 500,000 acres for his private Transcorridor Tollroad, why on earth does Tarrant Co. want a screaming headline of "WE WON”T PROTECT YOU FROM WEALTHY PRIVATE DEVELOPERS"? H.B. 2006 seeks to protect regular Texans, yet you want Gov. Perry to veto this bill? And you think this is okay to do so in a very public manner with our blessings?????

Recently North Texas flexed its muscle and persuaded the state legislature to tack on exemptions for the Tollroad Moratorium. I see a direct correlation in wanting to make sure municipalities in our region have NO barriers in seizing property for tollroads and other private projects. Eminent Domain without limitations is a disasterous policy with long-lasting consequences. People who lost their property with the SuperCollider project now look at their former land sitting empty, destroyed and without value. The most famous case in the use of eminent domain in Arlington is of Evelyn Wray, whose property was worth $2.75 million, but who was offered a $351,000 lowball figure and she had to spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting the very same government that is, …. or WAS designed to protect her.

My family has 200 acres in the path of Perry's Transcorridor. I attended the March Transportation hearing and was part of what the Dallas newspaper called the "howling mob". Guess why we're howling? Regular citizens can own land for a century, yet when officials and developers start slobbering over our land, we find out we have no protection.

The most infuriating part -- hearing Gov. Perry claim that the "Transcorridor Tollroad is the ONLY way to relieve congestion off of I35", while TxDOT leader, Ric Williamson, said that the "Transcorridor would NOT relieve congestion". It's all and only about getting the upfront money as a new and very disturbing way to fund our public roadways. To Hell with the public, who will then be saddled with excessive tolls, hidden fees, camera fees, invoice fees, and Non-Compete clauses on existing roadways. My family's land has been in our family for almost 100 years. The thought that it can be taken and turned over to Cintra-Zachary (a huge political contributor) and then used for a private tollroad, hotel, gas station, restaurant, or nothing makes me absolutely nauseous.

The term “public use” as it turns out can be a project that allows the middle-class to be thrown off property to a new set of people with money can live in mixed-use condos. Imagine that. In addition, these new private tollroad projects will depend on very limited protection of private land, esp. from people who are powerless and who don't have money to fight land grabs. We are depend on you for protection and representation.

You have a choice and it is very simple – represent the people of Tarrant County OR represent private companies who want to build private tollroads, private toll bridges, a strip mall, condos, a yacht club, etc. It's bad enough for city/county/state officials to take land with these economic development projects disguised as "roadways", "flood control", and "blight elimination" projects. I cannot imagine elected officials actively seeking the seizure of property and not fighting to protect us from having our land/homes/businesses taken for private development. I cannot fathom that this is okay. If you want to “zip a letter to Austin”, make it one that urges Gov. Perry and lawmakers to SUPPORT protection from the abuse of the power of eminent domain. Represent us, protect us, just don’t take rights away from us.

Linda Lancaster
Arlington, Texas

Linda commented:
I just delivered this message personally as I spoke at the Tarrant Co. Commissioner's meeting today. All Commissioners were there except, Gary Fickes, but his staff member came out in the hall, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming to speak on this issue. I reminded Judge and Commissioners that if they wanted to write a letter as individuals that was okay, but to write publicly and as representatives of Tarrant Co., many people would take offense. Judge Whitley did all of the talking and reminded the audience of the same rhetoric that "buying land for roadways, tollways, and our projects would be too expensive and slow down progress". He said that most people don't want to sit in congestion and want clean air -- two popular talking points that don't justify stealing people's land out from under them.

The fallout from SB 792, the counterfeit moratorium, begins!

Terri Hall, Executive Director of T.U.R.F. and the San Antonio Toll Party, writes about the impact of market valuation on toll projects from a San Antonio perspective. Many of her observations are applicable to citizens in the DFW NCTCOG region.

By Terri Hall - San Antonio Toll Party - June 5, 2007
Senator Wentworth tried to MAKE SURE his buddy Zachry could still toll Loop 1604 AND Representative Frank Corte was the ONLY state rep from San Antonio to vote FOR SB 792 that had 1604 stripped from the moratorium and allowed the highest possible tolls (through market based toll rates)! Every San Antonio Senator voted FOR it as well. They didn't mean it when they voted for the PEOPLE'S bill, HB 1892, in "veto-proof" margins when they turned around and voted FOR the GOVERNOR'S bill before they had even read the bill (history here)!

Read more

By Terri Hall - Executive Director of T.U.R.F. - Tuesday, 05 June 2007
As we warned from the time the Governor's bill came into play, SB 792 has more trap doors and loopholes than teeth. The PEOPLE'S BILL, HB 1892, was left vetoed while our politicians passed a pro-toll, pro-TxDOT bill so they could get on with their summer vacations, which will come back to haunt them. This way they could pretend to throw a bone (HB 1892) to the grassroots knowing full well the Governor would veto it and it would NEVER become law, while passing a toll industry bill crafted by the most detested Governor in recent history! Read about our reaction to the bill and our attempts to educate legislators on what was in it here. Perry's claiming victory and his chief toll architect Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson is invoking the same Winston Churchill quote we are, "Never ever give up," what does that tell you? Note that Senator Jeff Wentworth tried to make the legislative intent of this bill such that his buddy Zachry can still have access to your wallets using a 50 year monopoly & private toll CDA contract on Loop 1604! And most all of the North Texas and Houston reps and senators voted to exempt their toll projects from the moratorium to the tune of $20 billion in concession fees from PRIVATE, FOREIGN companies. The taxpayers will have to pay these fees back with interest! Time to throw the bums out! The list of the Good Guys is here. The rest SOLD US OUT

Read the rest of her T.U.R.F article here

Monday, June 4, 2007

Don't count on the Legislature to do what a community can do for itself

By Faith Chatham
One of the best op-ed pieces I've read recently was by O.K. Carter.
Arlington voters dedicated most of the sales tax to building the Dallas Cowboys a new stadium. North Tarrant County voters moved forward independent of the State Legislature on rail initatives. Citizens in Arlington are hearing about plans to run rail through Arlington for the Super Bowl game but Arlington citizens needing to leave their gas guzzling cars parked and commute to work on mass transit see no train in the near future for them to ride. Air Quality continues to be dismal and City and County and NCTCOG leaders have failed to deliver transit solutions other than toll roads and more concrete. Most Arlington citizens favor rail more than buses yet there are no firm plans for either in Arlington except for tourists.

In North Tarrant County rail initatives are moving forward and there are expectations that they will be funded, partially with surplus toll revenue from CDAs. Arlington citizens will soon be paying toll fees to avoid congestion on I-30 and probably HW360. The City of Arlington has only until the end of this month to submit applications for transit and air quality projects to be funded with part of the regions up-front concession payments. Michael Morris of the NCTCOG said that the CDA concession money can be spent on rail in this region. "If Arlington wants rail, and wants part of the concession payments to help fund it, the City must submit applications to the NCTCOG by the end of this month." Morris continued: "The NCTCOG has worked out an agreement with BNSF railroad to bring passengers through the center of Arlington for the Super Bowl game." Other than that one weekendm there are no plans for passenger rail in Arlington at this time. The NCTCOG has been holding workshops for city and county leaders, providing training on submitting grants for funding for transportation and air quality projects in Tarrant, Collin, Denton and Dallas counties. The CDA concession funds can be spent on rail projects.

"If the City of Arlington were to submit a proposal for rail to the NCTCOG," Mike Morris said: "It would be considered but the City must decide on a rail or mass transit solution and submit the application." He continued:
"If they don't by the deadline (the end of June), then we'll (the NCTCOG Staff) will continue to work with them encouraging them to choose passenger rail. We think Arlington needs it."

If Arlington wants a rail solution - other than the one weekend train to the Super Bowl - the initiative must come from the City. Citizens of Arlington, whether they want it or not, will be paying tolls to avoid congestion on HW360 and I-30. The City must move swiftly to insure that some of the surplus toll revenue returns to solve commuter and air quality problems in Arlington.

Smart rail move may be genius
By O.K. CARTER - Star-Telegram staff writer - Sun, Jun. 03, 2007
Before the Legislature met, the decision by Grapevine's leadership and voters to fund the Cotton Belt passenger rail line merely looked like a reasonably intelligent, environmentally responsible act.

Now that the legislative session has concluded, the quality of that move has to be upgraded.

Maybe genius would be the right word.

Recollect that, during the 2005 session, a delegation from North Texas pitched the idea of a voter-approved supplemental sales tax to fund regional rail and the Legislature gave some support to the idea.

But lawmakers put off a decision, suggesting that a voter-attitudes survey would be necessary.

That survey, conducted by the Rail Transit Initiative (a coalition of area elected officials), between legislative sessions showed considerable support for passenger rail.

The idea of a sales tax not counting against the current cap went to the Legislature again.

Grapevine leaders -- in particular Mayor William D. Tate -- were certainly aware of the possibility of the enabling legislation.

The safe course would have been to wait.

But they didn't wait for the Legislature.

Grapevine voters were instead asked to approve an increase of three-eighths of a cent in the sales tax to fund a rail-only project via the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.

The idea was to extend the 21-mile stretch of Cotton Belt line from Fort Worth through Grapevine to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, ultimately ending up with 40 miles of rail.

It will link Grapevine, Colleyville, North Richland Hills and the Fort Worth Stockyards.

It will also pass by Haltom City, Richland Hills and Southlake.

With proposed extensions, the southernmost stop would be near Texas Christian University at Berry Street in Fort Worth, with other stops in the Medical District, downtown and near Interstate 35W north of 28th Street.

A Colleyville stop may eventually be included.

From Grapevine, the line will go to D/FW Airport and connect with a future DART line. Very cool.

The idea had so much appeal that county voters kicked in $25 million more.

And it appears that the North Central Texas Council of Governments will eventually contribute as much as $60 million.

The rail line should be running by 2012.

What happened with the half-cent regional sales tax idea in the legislative session that just ended?

It received only the most perfunctory hearing and then disappeared.

That leaves Grapevine sitting pretty -- its transportation accessibility and regional identity about to be considerably enhanced -- and cities like Arlington, frankly, feeling pretty glum. And looking for Plan B.

"The short answer is that we don't have a Plan B, though I'm really looking for one," concedes Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck. "Our own surveys show an enormous amount of support in Arlington for rail transit, but our remaining quarter-cent [sales tax availability] simply won't get the job done."

In the end, Arlington -- and maybe a big chunk of the rest of Tarrant County -- will have to look for a workable substitute for rail, probably something like bus rapid transit: buses linked together, possibly with dedicated lanes and traffic-signal control to ensure that there's never a red light.

But that's not as appealing as passenger rail, is it?

Grapevine gets a major boost because economic development is often about velocity.

The city now has a substantial head start in what urban planners term "transit-oriented development."

This will be particularly true of new urbanism style: mixed-use development with quick access to passenger rail. It's potentially a bonanza.

Maybe there's another message in this as well: Don't count on the Legislature to do what a community can do for itself.

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AARP and TXU make moves

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Wed, May. 30, 2007
AUSTIN -- In almost simultaneous actions, a major consumer group urged Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday to call a special session to fix "the deregulation mess in Texas" and TXU pledged to provide more rate cuts to more than a million customers.

Both actions came a day after lawmakers ended the 80th Texas Legislature without adopting legislation to protect ratepayers. Many lawmakers had promised such legislation, and consumer groups like AARP had made it a top priority.

TXU announced plans Tuesday to provide an additional rate cut of 5 percent, to complement a 10 percent reduction already announced by the company and the private investors set to buy it. TXU said in a release that the full reduction will mean about $395 a year in savings for a typical customer.

A spokesman for the private investors said the final 5 percent reduction will go into effect when the transaction closes and will remain in place through December 2008.

The price reductions are for customers who have never switched service.

Michael MacDougall, a partner with Fort Worth-based TPG, which, along with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., is in the process of buying TXU, connected the decision to the legislation that failed.

"This issue was debated during the 80th session of the Texas Legislature that ended yesterday. We listened closely, and we understand that the driving force behind the legislation was the desire of elected officials to lower prices for residential customers," MacDougall said.

At almost the same time that TXU and the private-equity firms announced the rate cuts, AARP Texas issued a letter to Perry, urging him to call lawmakers back to Austin.

"Specifically, we ask you to instruct legislators to provide a 20 percent rate discount that does not have loopholes, create new disconnection protections for vulnerable customers, reform the wholesale pricing system that inflates rates across the board and take strong actions to prevent big electricity companies from dominating the market," AARP Texas Director Robert Jackson wrote in his letter to the governor.

Jackson said the cuts announced by TXU on Tuesday do not change the need for a special session, because ratepayers in other parts of the state won't see any benefit and because the company's commitments do nothing to address problems with the deregulated power market.

Group backs funding for N. American trade route

By GORDON DICKSON - Star-Telegram Staff Writer -Tue, May. 29, 2007
FORT WORTH -- Tiffany Melvin says her group isn't trying to erase the U.S., Mexico and Canada borders to form a new sovereign land -- a "North American Union."

She says the North America's SuperCorridor Coalition simply favors economic development along Interstate 35 and connecting routes in all three countries. NASCO wants more funding for roads such as I-35W in Fort Worth, as well as rail lines to move goods.

But for the past two years she's appeared on dozens of radio and television shows, in newsletters and online to deny that NASCO is part of an international conspiracy.

"People who criticize this organization don't understand the discussion. It should be educating people about how transportation is funded and why it's going awry," Melvin said during a recent trip to Fort Worth, where the group will hold its annual meeting Wednesday through Friday.
About 350 officials from the three nations, including many Tarrant County political and business leaders, are expected to attend the conference.

Unpopular map

About two years ago, NASCO published a map showing how roads in the three nations could be connected to form a freight corridor.

International boundaries were barely visible on the map, and critics said that was evidence of a plan to remove borders.

Many U.S. interest groups oppose friendlier relations with Canada and Mexico, as spelled out in the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. They fear that U.S. citizens would lose jobs to foreigners and that the country's security could be compromised.

High-level talks?

The Virginia-based American Policy Center recently sent mailings to Dallas-Fort Worth residents warning them to "Stop the NAFTA Super Highway." The envelope was decorated with a copy of NASCO's map.

A newsletter in the mailing said the map was part of a three-nation merger begun in a 2005 meeting in Crawford by President Bush, then-Mexican President Vicente Fox and then-Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.

American Policy Center spokesman Tom DeWeese did not return calls to elaborate.

High-level U.S. officials say there is no conspiracy.

The White House has said the cooperation with neighboring countries, known as the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, is just a framework.

David Pelletier, a spokesman for Alliance developer Hillwood who plans to attend the conference, said the issue is really about improving traffic so that businesses wishing to locate in the Metroplex aren't scared off by gridlock.

"It's about understanding the relationship between investments in infrastructure and the return of jobs," he said.


North America's SuperCorridor Coalition is based in Dallas. Its annual conference is this week in Fort Worth.

Where: Renaissance Worthington Hotel downtown. Some events will be off-site, including at Texas Motor Speedway and BNSF Railway headquarters.
For more details, go to
... Highlights: Edward P. Bass hosts a Bass Hall tour, and Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams hosts a barbecue and a concert by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers at his Weatherford ranch.

Top speakers: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on NFL international marketing; governors of the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon and Guanajuato; and premiers of the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Quebec.

Source: NASCO
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Sunday, June 3, 2007

Tarrant County Commissioners urged by Glen Whitley to urge Gov. to veto Eminent Domain HB 2006

Anna Tinsley of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram alerts citizens that an agenda item on Tuesday, Tarrant County Commmissioner's Court meeting is the Commissioners signing a letter to Governor Perry urging him to veto the bill which restores some rights to citizens against having property lost to private developers through eminent domain.

Judge Glen Whitley is the major advocate of vetoing the bill. A member of the NASCO Board of Directors, a Dallas based international organization which has promoted massive changes to the Texas and Federal Transportation Code during the past 6 years, enabling private companies to acquire property rights to develop infrastructure using eminent domain, Whitley serves on the NCTCOG Executive Board, the RTC, and is in his first year as Tarrant County Judge.

We urge citizens to speak out to Tarrant County Commissioner, urging them not to sign the letter to Governor Perry urging him to veto this legislation. Read this excellent article by Anna Tinsley. She lists the Amendments which will be on the ballot in November in Texas at the end of this informative article.

Tarrant County opposes legislation on eminent domain

By ANNA M. TINSLEY - Star-Telegram staff writer - Sun, Jun. 03, 2007
It pits property owners against government agencies, wildlife conservationists against bureaucrats.

And it's kicked up a firestorm throughout Texas.

Pleas from both sides are flooding into Gov. Rick Perry's office over House Bill 2006, a measure awaiting the governor's signature that would give property owners more protection when forced to turn over their land to the government through eminent domain.

Tarrant County is leading the charge against the bill, preparing a letter asking Perry to veto the legislation. The Texas Wildlife Association, the Institute for Justice and other supporters want it to be signed. Perry has until June 17 to take action.

"We are convinced that the legislation ... will result in much greater costs to taxpayers because the overall costs of acquiring right-of-way for public road projects, both local and state, will be increased significantly," the proposed Tarrant County letter says.

Rep. Beverly Woolley, who carried the bill along with fellow Houston Republican Sen. Kyle Janek, said it's geared to protect property rights.

"Texas courts have chipped away at property-owner protections for decades," Woolley said. "I believe governmental entities should not operate with a sense of entitlement to my land.

"House Bill 2006 restores these property-owner protections."

Added protections

If Perry signs the bill, landowners would have more rights when governments step in to take property through eminent domain, a controversial practice that allows local governments to take and buy land for public projects.

The bill would ensure that landowners receive good-faith offers for condemned property, be compensated for damage done to adjoining property, and have a chance to buy back their land -- at the same price they received -- if it isn't needed in 10 years for the development.

If signed into law, the provision would go into effect Sept. 1. The buyback provision would require a constitutional amendment that would go before voters on Nov. 6.

The measure defines "public use" to keep land from being taken for economic development and creates a process for courts to determine whether initial purchase offers are fair.

It has followed sharp reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 in a Connecticut case that said local governments could take private homes and businesses for economic development. That same year, Texas lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting such use, and they came back this session to add further protections.

Seeking a veto

Tarrant County commissioners will vote formally Tuesday on sending the letter to Perry asking for the veto. Whitley said other counties, including Harris and Denton, are expected to follow suit.

The Texas Municipal League is urging any cities concerned about the bill to send letters to Perry asking for a veto.

"It's much worse than we thought it would be," said Frank Sturzl, the league's executive director. "Requiring the state to pay for loss of access, that has never happened before. That will make some roads very expensive."

Fort Worth officials are still evaluating the bill's impact on city projects.

"We are real concerned about provisions in the bill, and we believe we'll be in more litigation for projects where eminent domain is being used," said Joe Paniagua, an assistant city manager. "We are concerned about the unintended consequences."

Officials with the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Trinity River Vision Authority -- which are overseeing the $435 million Trinity Uptown project -- said the changes to the law should not dramatically affect their operations.

J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, said the buyback provision shouldn't affect Trinity Uptown, since eminent domain provisions will be used only for land needed directly for the flood-control portions of the project.

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