Council Adds to Bond Package

Yesterday, the Council added about $70 million to the city manager’s proposed $1.28 billion bond package. After getting community input on the manager’s recommended package, I made the following changes to projects in District 14:

Add: Turtle Creek effluence capture system
This will help keep trash from coming into Turtle Creek. Trash that goes into our storm drains near Turtle Creek goes right into the creek. This system would catch the trash before it gets to the creek, and would be a pilot program for 6 of 43 interceptors.
Add: Katy Trail ADA ramp/staircase
This will make the Katy Trail accessible to all users. The proposed funding would also qualify the project for a sustainable development grant.
Add: Cole Park improvements
Cole Park is a highly used park in Uptown, but improvements to this park did not make it into the manager’s recommended bond program. Residents had expressed a desire to improve this park, so we will be making improvements based on the park master plan.
Add: Greenville Ave. lighting and pedestrian improvements
Due to ongoing problems on Lower Greenville, the recent violence, and the fire that destroyed one of the historic blocks, we need to find ways to make the area safer for residents and patrons as well as more attractive to retail businesses. These funds will address lighting and other pedestrian improvements along Lower Greenville, between Belmont and Ross.
Add: Twin Sixties/Yale Blvd. lighting and pedestrian improvements
These are pedestrian and lighting improvements near Mockingbird Station. There are two new developments planned to transform the industrial businesses into transit-oriented, dense residential use. We have a good opportunity to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment with wider sidewalks, attractive medians, and street lighting.
Alley improvements
During my Neighborhood Listening Sessions, many residents expressed a desire for the city to pave their unpaved alleys. The City’s policy is to share the cost of alley paving after residents have submitted a petition request. These funds would allow District 14 residents to have their alleys paved after submitting a petition.
Street improvements:
Several streets that did not make the manager’s proposed program, but which were listed in the need inventory as some of the streets needing real improvement:
Elsby Ave – Lover Lane to Catawha (4500 blk)
Hyer St – Lomo Alto to Dead End
Purdue Ave – Chadbourne Rd to Devonshire Dr. (5400-5600 blk)
Delete – Converting Browder St. to Vehicular traffic
Browder St. is a small side street in Downtown between Commerce and Jackson that residents had been enjoying as a plaza/park. Right now, it is pedestrian only. The manager’s proposal would have funded opening the street to cars and making it two-way. There was overwhelming support from residents to keep this a pedestrian area, so we’re going to do so.
TOTAL $3,571,333

See all proposed amendments.

City Proposes Police Pay Raises

Today the Council was briefed on a proposal to increase police pay so that we can (1) attract new recruits and (2) retain our experienced officers. Having more police officers is critical to reducing crime in our city. Our police chief has done a great job using the resources he has, but we need to support him in giving him the tools and personnel he needs to fight crime.

First, some good news: our recruitment is up as a result of the $10,000 recruitment bonus the Council recently approved.

Now we’re looking at other ways that we can address police recruitment and retention. Today’s briefing compared Dallas’ police salaries to 9 surrounding suburbs. Base pay plus “special pay” (state-mandated longevity pay, field training pay, detective pay, certification pay, education pay) were considered. We compared different levels of officers. Here’s where Dallas ranks:

Recruits: 4th
3-Year Officer: Last
5-Year Officer: Last
7-Year Officer: Last
Top-Step Senior Corporal: 2nd

The proposal provides a 3-year plan to become more competitive with surrounding cities to address the issue until the pay referendum lawsuit is addressed.

–Restructure the pay “steps,” eliminating the lowest steps, so that new recruits would make $41,690/year instead of $38,640.
–Give new recruits $10,000 bonus (already in effect)
–Give between $100-$400/month bonus for officers who have special certification training
–Reestablish tuition reimbursement for all city employees
–Add $5000 bonus for 5 years of service

–Make step increases more frequent. Instead of taking 15 years to achieve top pay level, reduce to 8 years
–Increase salaries for each step by 5%
–Add $3000 bonus for 10 years of service
–Increase certification monthly bonus by $100 for intermediate and masters certification

–Increase salaries for each step by 5%

If we adopt this plan, Dallas will have the following ranks compared to 9 surrounding cities:

Recruits: 1st
3-Year Officer: Last
5-Year Officer: 5th
7-Year Officer: 8th
Top-Step Senior Corporal: 1st

View the proposal.

There is a real sense among all councilmembers and staff that we need to do whatever we need to do to make our city safer, and there is real support for this proposal. I also spoke with representatives from the Dallas Police Association and they are pleased with the proposal.

My hat is off to City Manager Mary Suhm for proposing police pay raise and incentives that will help us recruit and retain good officers to make our city safer.

New City Budget Process Creates More Transparency

The Council was briefed today on the upcoming city budget. (Our budget year runs from Oct. 2006 to Sept. 2007.) This year’s budget process is different from previous years’. It is based on a “budgeting for outcomes” approach. Instead of giving city departments the same amount of money year after year without analyzing whether we are achieving our goals, we are now building the budget from the ground up.

At the council retreat in January, we did what policy-makers should be doing: giving staff goals to meet, and requesting that cross-departmental teams of staff members bring back proposals for programs that help us meet each of those goals. The council also set the “price of government” at $1.68 billion, which means we would not have to increase the tax rate.

The draft budget shows those projects that can be funded and those projects that cannot be funded under the current $1.68 billion budget. The following updated information indicates that we will have an additional $63 million in revenue, for a total of $1.743 billion total revenue with no tax rate increase:

–$11.5M Additional projected sales tax
–$16.8M Additonal property tax base growth
–$2.1M Additional sanitation fee increase (to do recycling and full cost recovery)
–$1.6M Additional building inspection activity
–$6.0M Red-light citations
–$25.0M Additional refinements of estimates (such as franchise fees, landfill fees, landfill feees, interest earnings, property tax collection rate and courts)

Please take a look at the draft budget. Today I asked City Manager Mary Suhm to provide a little more specificity in the “bid name” so that it was clear what was being proposed, and she agreed to do so.

The draft budget reflects a focus on providing more cost effective city services. While there are reductions in costs for many projects and programs, the service level remains the same.

The transparency of this process is very impressive — we know what we’re spending money on. We can’t fund everything, and it will be challenging to decide what programs to eliminate. But now we have much better information to work with, including performance measures tied to ensure that the project meets the goal set by the council.

Wright Amendment Compromise Announced

In March, I and eight of my fellow councilmembers traveled to Washington, DC to meet with our Congressional delegation to discuss various legislative matters. Among the issues we discussed was the Wright Amendment.

All of our congressional representatives, on both sides of the Wright debate, conveyed a sense that the Wright Amendment was not under threat of immediate repeal was going to be chipped away, bit by bit, over the course of several years. (We witnessed an example of this with the recent exclusion of Missouri from the Wright Amendment.)

Our Congressional delegation requested that the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth come up with a local solution or else Congress would do it for us. Without our input, in a decade we would arguably be left with 32 gates and no Wright Amendment in place to reduce the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

The cities have since been negotiating a local solution to the Wright Amendment. At the heart of the discussion, and a critical point for me as the councilmember who represents the neighborhoods most impacted by Love Field, was creating an impact neutral solution. In other words, if the Wright Amendment did not exist, how do we create a solution that would cause no additional noise, pollution, or traffic than that envisioned by the Love Field Master Plan that was premised on 32 gates and the Wright Amendment in place?

The same consultants who created the Master Plan analyzed the traffic, noise contours, and pollution generated by the Master Plan with 32 gates and the Wright Amendment in place. They determined how many gates would have to eliminated to retain the same impact if the Wright Amendment were gone. This analysis was the basis of the compromise announced last week by the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth.

The compromise resolves the debate about the future of the Wright Amendment and Love Field Airport. Last Thursday, Dallas, Fort Worth, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and DFW signed off on the following proposal:

• Immediately allow “through ticketing,” which lets passengers buy a single ticket to a non-Wright Amendment destination, as long as there is a stop-over in a Wright Amendment state.

• Repeal the Wright Amendment in 8 years.

• Reduce the number of gates at Love Field from 32 to 20.

• Create a voluntary noise curfew precluding scheduled flights between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am. (The federal government, not the city, controls noise and flight time issues.)

• The City of Dallas will invest at least $150 million in modernizing and improving Love Field over the next 8 years. Landing fees and facility costs will be adjusted to undertake these improvements.

• Dallas and Fort Worth will oppose commercial passenger service at any other airport over the next 8 years.

• The City of Dallas will extend the leases of American Airlines and Southwest to 2028.

• If Congress passes legislation inconsistent with this agreement, and if Southwest begins flying non-stop to a non-Wright Amendment destination, then Southwest will voluntarily relinquish control of 8 gates to be made available to other carriers. If American Airlines does so, American will relinquish 1 1/2 gates.

• Congress must enact legislation to this effect by December 31, 2006 or the agreement is null and void.

View the agreement.

The decision is now in the hands of our Congressional leaders.

Council Approves Staff’s Comp Plan

I am very sad to report that the City Council passed staff’s version of forwardDallas! today. Only the least significant changes proposed by the Plan Commission made it into the version passed today. The big changes, the ones that kept neighborhoods and property owners in the driver’s seat when it comes to zoning and planning for their area, didn’t make it in.

The chambers were packed, with the vast majority wearing stickers saying “CPC Yes.” Speakers spoke very eloquently about why it was so important to adopt the CPC changes.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Garcia moved to approve the version of the plan approved yesterday by the Council Committee. She accepted a change from Linda Koop, with whom I’d discussed changing the definition of “transit corridors” to make them more focused on transit than land-use. That change made it into Dr. Garcia’s motion.

I moved to amend the motion, to add back all the significant CPC changes. Councilmember Rasansky seconded my motion. He and I were the only councilmembers voting in favor of the amendment, and against Dr. Garcia’s motion. forwardDallas! passed 12-2. (The Mayor was absent.)

Response to DMN Editorial on Comp Plan

In a bold move, the Dallas Morning News proclaimed the staff’s version of the forwardDallas! comprehensive land use plan to be the best thing for Dallas since a toll-road through the middle of the Trinity river.

I know I shouldn’t be sarcastic in my blogs, but it’s hard not to. Three things about this editorial really got my goat:

(1) “Transit corridors disappeared….[S]tripping out transit corridors, which designate where DART stations and denser developments will be built, leaves a gaping hole. “

You know what a transit corridor is? Let’s start with what it’s not. It’s NOT a “Transit Center,” which is what Mockingbird Station and West Village are. That’s a mixed-use development with retail and residential at or near a light rail stop. Those make a lot of sense, and they remain in the CPC’s version of the comp plan.

I would point you to a transit corridor in Dallas, but we don’t have one, so you’ll have to settle for a definition from the staff’s proposed comp plan. It’s a long section of street that’s supposed to become a corridor of dense mixed-use development (imagine Mockingbird Station or West Village stretched out along miles of road). It is “focused around bus rapid transit corridors” according to staff’s plan. The mass transit component of the corridors makes sense, because otherwise, you’d just have an insane traffic jam from all the residents of the dense developments along the corridor. Sounds neat, right? Well, it would IF THERE WERE ANY PLANS FOR RAPID BUS TRANSIT ALONG ANY OF THE 135 MILES OF TRANSIT CORRIDORS PROPOSED BY THE PLAN.

I talked to DART, and guess what? There are NO bus rapid transit routes in our city today. According to DART’s long-range plan, over the next 24 years, there may be a total of TWO roads in Dallas with “BRTs.” There are no plans for such service on the other 130 miles of staff’s proposed transit corridors. Oh, and don’t even think about what transit corridors might mean to the residential neighborhoods along the route to have dense multi-family and mixed-use development encroaching on them. The “Transit Corridors” can go anywhere from a block to a half mile into surrounding neighborhoods (but will somehow supposedly “mitigate” any negative effects to the area).

(2) The editorial also laments the silly Plan Commission’s meddling into two years of hard work by the consultant and staff. Well, fact is, the consultant and staff have been reluctant to incorporate input from the public into their version of the plan since the process began. Sure, there have been minor tweaks here and there, but for the most part, they have made quite a show of “receiving public input,” but have done nothing to incorporate such input into the plan. Having lots of meetings and creating a database of public comments are MEANINGLESS unless the input makes its way into the final product. The Plan Commission, made up of citizen volunteers from every council district in the city, examined the input from residents, business groups, neighborhoods, and community leaders, and (gasp! shock!) incorporated the will of the people into the plan.

(3) Lastly, God forbid that neighborhoods and property owners have input into the future of the city: “City leaders are hoping to send the message that Dallas is open for business. But by giving neighborhoods more power than other stakeholders, the city appears skittish about progress.” I’m not sure how any of the changes give neighborhoods MORE power than other stakeholders; the changes the CPC made just ensures they’ve got a seat at the table.

The most important thing about this editorial is seeing what the crux of staff’s arguments are going to be to pass their version of the plan. Mainly, “the CPC is moving us backward, while the consultants and staff are moving us forward.” It’ll be the song and dance of “the CPC likes the status quo and just doesn’t like change,” when in fact, this document creates great, positive changes, but keeps the reins in the people’s hands, not city staffs’. Staff can guide and advise and suggest, but at the end of the day, it’s the residents and tax-payers who must live in this city. And your voice matters.

Just Because You’re Talking Doesn’t Mean Anyone’s Listening

Getting input and holding meetings are meaningless exercises if the suggested changes don’t make it into the final product. After dozens of meetings, emails, and letters, the fundamental recommendations of council constituents weren’t incorporated into the final forwardDallas! product.

The Plan Commission went back, looked at the changes recommended and supported by groups as diverse as The Real Estate Council, the Dallas Homeowners League, and Preservation Dallas, to name a few. They incorporated those changes into their recommendation to the Council.

Shouldn’t residents and property owners who have to live with this thing have a say in the final product? Or should we be satisfied with the fact that we “gave our input,” even though doing so resulted in no substantive change?

Have you read this thing? Liking the idea of a comprehensive plan and approving this particular plan are two different things. I support having a comprehensive plan, too, but it’s even more important to get it right.