Archive for the ‘City Council’ Category

My Response to Jim Schutze’s Post on May 10th

May 11, 2010

While the response below was included in the following blog posts (post one, post two),  in a issue so serious I felt the need to respond in a separate post. The answer to a question that he poses to me personally is also included.


Notice that even in Jim Schutze’s response dated Monday, May 10th he still hasn’t read the minutes that mentioned people opposed or the fact Oak Cliff Metals has illegally using land for years, nor why he bemoans the supposed fiefdoms of 14-1 except for this issue.  


It’s much more convenient when Schutze tries to make it a conspiracy headed by the Dallas Morning News.  The attempt to cloud the real issues with childish name calling is something I would expect from a high-school newspaper.  And if the best he can do is refer to me as a “little hench guy,” then I’ll just keep responding with facts.  For a so-called investigative reporter to use such a tone in such a serious issue makes him seem irrational and ridiculous.  It’s par for the course; the bully can’t take a punch back.  He’s done it before, and will again. 


Schutze only got involved after he thought he had a scoop on Mayor Pro Tem Caraway and figured he could use it to further his vendetta. As I mentioned before, no one at the Observer wrote about the issue on that day or in the days after, despite it being a contentious and contested vote at the City Plan Commission.



To claim that a council member can’t meet with a business owner “outside of the process” is one of the most ignorant comments I have heard about the zoning process.  So businesses should just apply for zoning and never meet with council members?  Such a process doesn’t happen in his district or others. Ask your councilperson if they’ve ever met with a business owner before the case got voted on.  In fact, Schutze should ask his own councilperson that question.  And in cases where a business lies near multiple district boundaries (Caraway’s council district is three streets down), the business will take the time to meet with all of them.  It’s perfectly acceptable and passes any ethics sniff test. Caraway was with the council member from that district at the time he was in front of Oak Cliff Metals, which was written by Schutze himself in his own article. 


What also is blatantly clear is that for someone that writes a political column as if he is a zoning expert, Jim Schutze has little actual knowledge of actual city zoning rules.  Regardless of what citations Oak Cliff Metals does or doesn’t have, the fact remains that they are operating illegally and are too close to residential zoning to get a Specific Use Permit.  This map proves it. The pictures show it. The City’s zoning rules do not allow it. Period. End of story.  I guess this means he’ll finally attend one of the hearings involving this case, since he hasn’t been at any to date.  

Advertisements

Oak Cliff Metals: More Ignored Facts

May 2, 2010

Tod Robberson on the Dallas Morning News checks in twice regarding the Oak Cliff Metals situation.

As he accurately reports:

They are seeking a re-zoning of part of their property, which they have been using without permission for industrial purposes even though it is currently zoned for retail use only.

 My hope would be that reporters like Schutze would more accurately reflect the situation instead of massaging stories and half-reporting for their own benefit.  But it hasn’t happened in two years, so I won’t hold my breath.  We will, however, continue to refute the lies that are reported by that paper.

Oak Cliff Metals: Half the Facts, and it never Mattered Anyway

April 28, 2010

(UPDATE: more on this situation in this newer post. Notice that even in Schutze’s response dated Monday, May 10th he still hasn’t read the minutes that mentioned people opposed or the fact Oak Cliff Metals has illegally using land for years, nor why he bemoans the supposed fiefdoms of 14-1 except for this issue.  It’s much more convenient when he tries to make it a conspiracy headed by the Dallas Morning News. And if the best he can do is refer to me as a “little hench guy,” then I’ll just keep responding with facts. Regardless of what citations they do or don’t have, the fact remains that they are operating illegally and are too close to residential zoning to get a Specific Use Permit. This map proves it. The pictures show it. Period. End of story.  I guess this means he’ll finally attend one of the hearings involving this case, since he hasn’t been at any to date.)

So Jim Schutze writes another article with a negative slant about what’s going on in Oak Cliff (He calls the area South Dallas, which it’s not. It’s Oak Cliff, which is inside Southern Dallas. But I digress).  So what else is new? They had a bunch of lead-up blog posts over the last month acting like they had a bombshell on their hands.  Not so much. Maybe he’s auditioning to be in a movie version of the book to the right. Who knows.

For whatever reason, Jim Schutze has had an agenda regarding Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway for the last two years or so.  I have talked about it from time to time this blog.  He claims to be even-handed, but the truth is the last decent story he wrote involving the Caraways was in March of 2006.  I only bring up this fact because he did.  Moving on.

A lot of things are left out of this week’s article in his paper, most of which is either by convenience, lack of investigation or both.

The truth is that Oak Cliff Metals is three blocks from the boundaries of District Four along Cedar Crest.  District Four residents are the ones that drive by these properties every day.

While Schutze was busy interviewing the security guard for Oak Cliff Metals, did he cross the street and ask the owner of the barber shop about Oak Cliff Metals?  No.  Did he interview the pastor of the church directly across the street? No. They would’ve told you about Oak Cliff Metals being a bad neighbor for as long as they can remember.In fact, they were at the City Plan Commission hearing.

While he claims this is Dwaine’s one-man crusade against the “fantastic” business that is Oak Cliff Metals, did he look at the minutes of the City Plan Commission during which multiple residents and business owners said that they were against the zoning application? No. Did he even attend the meeting that day? No.  Did anyone at the Observer write about the issue on that day, despite it being a contentious and contested vote at the City Plan Commission? No.

Did he writer ever have a problem with council members in North of East Dallas rezoning entire areas or streets? No.

Did he miss the entire process undertaken by the City Council more than two years ago against metal theft and metal salvage yards, on which Dwaine was the lead?  How many times was Oak Cliff Metals mentioned during that process as one of the most egregious of violators? Countless.

Even the owners of Gold Metals on South Lamar are willing to talk to the press about their business. Why does Oak Cliff Metals continue to hide?

Here are some facts about zoning in Dallas: A metal salvage facility must have a Specific Use Permit to operate (zoning rules), and even at that point can only have such a permit on land zoned Industrial Manufacturing.  Such a business cannot exist 500 feet from residentially-zoned land.  Oak Cliff Metals is less than 500 feet from such property. By that definition alone, the permit should not be granted.

Did Schutze mention anything about the fact that Oak Cliff Metals skirted the law by getting a CO for outside storage instead of their true use which is metal salvage? Did he mention that they currently do not have the Specific Use Permit needed to legally operate? Nope.

As mentioned by the Dallas Morning News two weeks ago:

City code enforcers warned Falcon Transit’s owner about several potential infractions last year. “Violation confirmed” and “illegal land use” appear on one Sept. 27 code-enforcement report. A separate notice of violation, addressed to Mr. Smith, lists an invalid certificate of operation.

Did Schutze mention that in addition to their application for a Specific Use Permit, Oak Cliff Metals wants to take land zoned Community Retail along Cedar Crest and zone it Industrial Manufacturing? No.  Then his story would be that much more meaningless.  All facts conveniently left out of his article.

I openly wonder how Schutze writes articles bemoaning “ward politics,” and then write an article about a councilman that has the supposed nerve of speaking out against a problem business that is blocks from his council district.  So which one is it?  Are you for or against so-called ward politics? You can’t have it both ways.

Schutze mentions that he doesn’t live on land zoned for industrial uses.  Of course he doesn’t; he lives in East Dallas where no such zoning exists on main corridors. Let’s see how his neighbors feel if someone wants to take some of their best land on Live Oak or Gaston near his house that’s zoned retail and make it industrial.

Why most of land that is zoned industrial is south of I-30 and not in his high-income neighborhood is a discussion for another day.

As I have mentioned before, they resent the fact that we are as educated about the process of improving our neighborhoods as any other area, and that we address problems. Oak Cliff Metals, Texas-by-Products, and others are on a long list of bad actors.  Clean up takes time.

They use their paper for undercover political motives as well.  I can’t respect writers like Schutze because they have no goal; it’s all about burning people with no real positive goal to bolster their efforts, while hiding behind the cloak of “good reporting.”

Keep writing, keep lying, and keep hating. We’ll keep cleaning up our neighborhoods.

Towing & Booting Revisions are a Good Idea

February 10, 2010

Today the City Council voted, by an 11-4 margin, to change the ordinance involving booting of cars in parking lots.

While the previous ordinance was only in effect in Deep Ellum (downtown lot operators had another six months), today’s vote expanded the rule citywide that prohibits booting of vehicles in parking lots that do not provide drivers a receipt.  In addition, it also eliminated video audits as an alternative to providing parking fee receipts.

Because of the way parking lot operators and tow truck companies have been running their businesses, I have started a practice of only parking at meters.  As much as I dislike nighttime parking meters, at least I know that I won’t return to my car with a boot on it (or towed and missing altogether). 

In my opinion, this should have been done the first time; I didn’t see the reason for changing the law in Deep Ellum and giving Downtown lot owners an additional six months.  It didn’t take too much deductive reasoning to figure out that the next move would be to take the shady practices a few blocks west of Deep Ellum, a practice which was outlined extensively in recent weeks.

Apparently, the owner of Hawkeye Towing came to speak at City Council.  He claimed that his business would be in jeopardy and that he’s a good operator; in my opinion what he calls a business should be in jeopardy. Fortunately his crocodile tears didn’t sway anyone.  Here’s their BBB listing (h/t to Travis from Pegasus). I didn’t see the video, so I can’t confirm if it was this this guy from Hawkeye or not. 

I’ve been in lots “attended to” by Hawkeye Towing.  After a friend’s car was booted after a show in Deep Ellum we decided to turn the tables on this company.  The boot guy tried to talk tough in the beginning, but once a couple of us whipped out our cell phone cameras and recorded the shady event everything got real polite and calm.  The boot was removed from my friend’s car.

To this day, I haven’t figured out why lots in the West End have receipt machines but it is oh-so-difficult for these same owners to install such machines downtown and in Deep Ellum. But that’s an argument for another day.

Today was a victory for businesses and patrons, and a tear jerker for the ripoff artists.  We must continue to stay vigilant and keep a watchful eye out for and shady practices.  Keep those cell phone cameras charged.  On to the next one.

Love Field, New Children’s Aquarium, and more

January 31, 2010

There are several interesting briefings coming to City Council this week.

There are a few things that stand out from reading these briefings.

Dallas Love Field Capital Development Program – Public Information Initiative

There is a $500 million modernization of Love Field currently underway. This briefing talks about the Public Information Approach that the city is using.

FY2009-10 Community Development Block Grant Extensions and Reprogramming

According to page 13 of the FY2009-10 Community Development Block Grant Extensions and Reprogramming briefing, there is still a good amount of money in the Minor Home repair program for the South Dallas/Fair Park area.  Here is the info on how to apply.

OneDAY Dallas
We are one month away from citywide implementation of OneDAY Dallas. OneDAY Dallas is the name of the initiative to collect garbage and recycles on the same day.  This is a great idea, and it will save the city money.  Most trash consists of recyclable materials, and landfill space is a finite resource.
One thing that was interesting in the briefing is the Southern Dallas council districts are requesting a recycling roll carts at a much lower rate

Districts that are primarily southern are in bold

District 1 41%    District 6 40%*    District 11 74%

District 2 51%     District 7 32%      District 12 79%

District 3 46%    District 8 27%      District 13 75%

District 4 29%    District 9 65%       District 14 78%

*District 6 has a large portion of area in Northwest Dallas.

Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park

This briefing discusess the effort underway during which the Aquarium at Fair Park was closed and is being repurposed as the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. It will be open for a sneak preview during this year’s State Fair, and open for good in 2011.

Sign Blight Ordinance is Needed

November 12, 2009
This week  has brought news that the City of Dallas is being sued to fight the sign blight ordinance that was enacted last year. Apparently the plaintiffs feel that their free speech is being violated, when the reality is that the city is trying to clean up its neighborhoods.  Corporations like 7/11 have their own store rules and do not permit excessive covering of windows, and it would be nice if all stores would follow suit and clean up a bit.
When you go downtown to Neiman Marcus, they don’t have 10 signs papering the windows. You know what Neiman’s is offering inside. Well, the same theory should apply to stores and businesses throughout the city. Sharon Grigsby of the DMN states need need for such an ordinance here.
I know that the City Attorney’s office is confident that this case can be defended. This ordinance took quite a long time to be presented to City Council to make sure it would stand against the inevitable lawsuits by various groups.
Dallas’ ordinance leaves ample opportunity for businesses to promote at their location. I’m glad the city is deciding to fight. For neighborhoods like Oak Cliff, South Dallas, and others, such an ordinance is needed.

Bureaucracy Stalls Safety for the Hood

October 27, 2009

I have been following and looking forward to the installation of gunshot detection systems in Dallas. While it was looked at some years ago by DPD, the company that was used produced an inferior product.  A different company is being used in this trial.

So we get to the point where pilot programs take place. One trial is planned for North Oak Cliff and I believe another is set for South Oak Cliff.

According to this DMN article from last week, the installation is being stalled out by Oncor.  Oncor says that they want ShotSpotter (the gunshot detection company) to take responsibility for the utility poles before they allow the system installs.

This is a major mistake by Oncor.  The article says that utility companies in other cities did not require such agreements.  While other cities are experiencing the benefits, Dallas lags behind because of bureaucracy and nonsense and neighborhoods remain at risk of random gunfire.
I also disagree with the whole concept of doing a pilot program, instead of just rolling out the product in a much larger radius. The technology and results of the ShotSpotter system have been proven to be successful nationwide.

Here is an example of the program’s success in San Francisco.  Hopefully, Oncor will wake up and realize how important such a service would be for Dallas’ most crime-ridden neighborhoods and get it together.

Realities and Misconceptions about Downtown

October 13, 2009
There is always a lot of talk about what needs to happen to keep the momentum going in Downtown Dallas. But what you inevitably hear and read are an undercurrent of naysayers bemoaning the same factors for why downtown will never return to its past glory. The homeless. The tunnels. The (fill in the blank).
In my opinion, these are not reasons to ignore downtown.  I don’t see them as barriers to the recovery of downtown Dallas.

Yes, there are homeless people in Downtown Dallas. Unfortunately, there are going to be homeless people in every downtown in every major city. A good friend of mine in real estate made an interesting statement about the homeless, which was “if you had more people downtown, you wouldn’t notice the homeless because they would blend in with everyone else.”  When you compare Dallas to other cities, there are not a lot of homeless people.  I have seen cities with a much higher population of homeless revitalize their downtown. What city lets 10-15 people walking around during the day asking for change affect what is going to happen in a given part of town? See how much sense that makes? The people that don’t travel downtown because of the homeless folks probably will never come downtown anyway.
There is a need for improved lighting, but that will come with time. Also, applications are starting to arrive for video boards, which will provide a little flash to the major downtown streets.
What I really here are a bunch of excuses.
These are really excuses for people that wouldn’t invest, shop, or live downtown in the first place. Yet, some business owners have built downtown to great success.
7-Eleven opened at Commerce & Field. They didn’t say they couldn’t be successful because of the tunnels or anything else.  Try going in the store anytime during the day; there’s always several people in line or moving about the store. I would guess that it’s one of their more successful stores in Dallas.
The Joule Hotel is right in the middle of Main Street. They didn’t say that you couldn’t have a high-end hotel because a few homeless people are walking by the building. It’s a successful place.
Another reality: we’re stuck with the tunnels.  Most of the stores in the tunnels provide basic retail functions. They are a cash generator for the building owners and it’s probably too cost prohibitive to close the tunnels.  Philadelphia has an entire network of tunnels full of similar retail shops; so does Houston. In fact, in Houston the tunnels are marketed as an amenity, and some of them are open at night.
I have a different take on the tunnels than most.  We should look at the tunnels more as an asset and part of the overall strategy. Attract higher-level retail at the street level and leave the rest in the tunnels.  I’m sure the tunnels have lower rent costs, which would allow an aspiring business owner to strike out on his own and move to a street-level space once they have enough business.
I also disagree with the current alignment of the downtown streetcar. In my opinion, the route completely cuts off Deep Ellum from the rest of downtown. It’s a great route for the Arts district, but not for anywhere else.
I know that Deep Ellum is listed as a “potential extension,” but there are great businesses there now.  The main streets have multiple lanes that would be conducive to a streetcar.  How cool would it be to leave your office during lunch, hop the streetcar down to Twisted Root or Lemongrass or St. Pete’s, and get lunch? It also would show out-of-town Arts District patrons about this great alternative retail and restaurant scene right in the middle of our city.  Maybe just throw Deep Ellum a bone by having the train stretch to Good Latimer and Commerce,  circle back to Main and then continue north at Harwood Street.
If it’s impossible to build this route, then they should simultaneously look at a route for Deep Ellum.
The other funny thing is the people that are worried about driving on the streetcar tracks. Do you know how to drive? Seriously. As with a lot of things in Dallas, we want the amenities without any hassle. Well, the real world (which includes the cities to which we compare ourselves) works a little bit different.
It’s all about how you look at the situation.  Dallas has certain realities that must be dealt with downtown, but we should look at them more as opportunities than excuses not to invest, to shop, and to live.

Renters Don’t Pay Taxes?

September 26, 2009
In the weeks and month leading up to the City Council’s adoption of a new budget, I have seen several blogs and forums that have taken the attitude that renters do not pay taxes and that somehow don’t matter in this city.

I saw one post in particular after the council voted this week, which stated that “property owners in the city, subsidize the majority of the population who are renters.” I guess the same goes for commercial tenants.  Sometimes I wonder about the lucidity of these individuals.   So you mean to tell me that none of the rent that is paid by an apartment dweller or office user ends up in the city coffers? Seriously?

Acting like renters don’t pay tax is an arrogant, failed argument.  A check may not be written directly to the municipality by a renter, but don’t act like property taxes don’t get paid  in some fashion.  Anybody that knows anything about real estate knows that any increase in property taxes will get passed along to tenants in the form of a rent increase. It’s as ridiculous as the people picketing with “I hate government signs” but use our police, electric and water utilities. I mean, if you hate government then you at least have a rainwater collection system and solar panels on your house, right? I digress.

In fact, if you do the math on how much tax some of the “renters don’t matter” crowd pays,  I would bet that our unimportant (to them) household of renters ends up paying more in taxes then that amount and has for years.

I guess if there weren’t people to rent apartments and commercial space, the property owners would happily keep paying the same level taxes to the city and county. I guess you would still have a downtown Dallas, since developers build buildings just so they can pay taxes out of their own pockets instead of having renters whose rent will allow for such payments. Or maybe not.  Maybe, just maybe, the lease payments (rent) of said property end up in the hand of the building owner who then (gasp) pays some of it to the city and county in the form of property tax.

The reasoning of some that it’s OK to raise taxes because Dallas voters approved a bond program also doesn’t hold water.  Voters approved that increase in taxes for bond-program related projects, not to fund city services and programs. 

Homeowners and renters make a city. Picture where your city budget would be without renters, then maybe you’ll reconsider your attitude about our contribution.

Absentee Experts on the Inner Workings of City Hall

August 25, 2009

It seems like city officials are always under fire for various things at City Hall. It comes with the territory, but it would be nice if writers dug a little deeper when working on complex and important stories.

If a so-called City Hall expert claims in an article that “people can’t go down there and get a fair hearing without paying off everybody in the world,” surely that person should have some evidence to back up such a claim. Surely you’ve been to a City Plan Commission or City Hall hearing in the last 2-3 years. Right?

Here’s my point: I’ve been reading some of the blog posts and newspaper articles in recent weeks, and been left in amazement. Some of the articles use quotes from people that I’ve never seen at one of our City Plan Commission Meetings or City Council Meetings, that never put public comments on the record about cases in their neighborhoods, but yet claim the fix is in on every case.

I wonder if these same people will support the consultant registration idea now that Mayor
Leppert’s plan has come to light. I know the answer to that one.

She must not have been down there two weeks ago, when Jim Dodd came to City Hall and singlehandedly fought a platting case against real estate giant Ridge Property Trust.

With his personally prepared handwritten packages and freehand maps, Mr. Dodd explained to us why he would be flooded out of his home if the plat was approved. Of course, if you just listen to some of the people quoted in these articles, you would think that we were playing Uno at the horseshoe until Mr. Dodd finished his presentation. On the contrary, what resulted is one of the longest discussions we have ever had about a platting case and the case was denied. Mr. Dodd, of humble beginnings and background, beat the well-financed developer. In fact, the story was covered here (before the vote) and here (after the vote). That’s just one example.

A lot has been made about the need for registration, and now it’s here as evidenced in the article cited above. Well hey, these quoted “experts” didn’t know everything. Now they know.

Just like the electronic campaign filing process that is now being used, more things are coming down the pike. Such news runs counter to articles and blog posts doubting that anything would be done regarding consultant registration or any related issue.

Contrary to what’s written in the paper, nobody on our commission is too naive to know what’s going on. Knowing how much a person gets paid for their work is their business. Whether they volunteer or bill by the hour at a high rate is not my concern. It’s our job as city plan commissioners to ignore all of the noise, campaigning, and random conjecture and look at the merits of the case. Such merits don’t change whether it’s a citizen like Mr. Dodd or a well-financed company looking to win a case. It makes for a boring backstory, but if you come to our meetings that’s what you’ll see.