Trinity Toll Road Public Hearing on Tuesday, May 5

In recent months, several facts have come to light that suggest that Dallas should reconsider its decision to locate the Trinity Toll Road in our city’s floodway.

First, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that Dallas’ levees failed to meet their new, post-Katrina safety standards. The Corps also discovered sand in our levees, which presents a problem for toll road construction. Further, the Corps indicated concerns about allowing the toll road’s large concrete piers to pierce the levees, which could weaken them.

In addition, the North Texas Tollway Authority acknowledged that there is a billion dollar funding gap for the toll road. No additional funding sources have been identified. Continue reading

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Central Realignment in Downtown

After several months of work, the Council passed a new alignment for Central Expressway.

The part of Central Expressway we’re talking about is not the elevated portion, but the part that is a city street in Downtown. From Commerce to the Farmers Market, Central is a nice two-way boulevard with a green, treed median. But from Commerce to Live Oak, the street narrows and becomes one-way, creating a complicated and arguably dangerous entry to Downtown.

The new alignment will remove part of Pearl Street that divides a Downtown park, and widen Central to create a two-way boulevard. Rather than moving forward with the proposed alignment (which was 9 lanes of concrete), I asked Downtown Dallas and Larry Good to help redesign the road to make it greener and more pedestrian-friendly. Thanks to their help, we now have a better entry to Downtown, and an expanded park.

[mappress]

Juvenile Curfew

The council considered whether to renew the juvenile nighttime curfew, and whether to expand the curfew to include daytime hours (9am to 2pm) on weekdays.

The new law makes it illegal for children to be in public between the hours of 9am and 2pm on weekdays (there are several defenses: being accompanied by parent, school wasn’t in session, etc.). The purpose of the law is to punish truants with fines of up to $500. State law prevents schools from imposing fines or otherwise penalizing students until they have committed 10 offenses. Supporters argue that a daytime curfew will reduce juvenile crime.

While I understand the motivation of those supporting this ordinance, I cannot support a curfew that criminalizes children being in public places. I also cannot support an ordinance that will further burden our police when they are struggling to respond to serious 911 calls. Furthermore, because Dallas has dozens and dozens of private and public schools, all with their own calendars and holidays, imposing a juvenile daytime curfew will prove an administrative nightmare for police.

The daytime curfew is unnecessary. If the purpose is to get truants off the street, the police already have the authority to stop truants and taken them back to their schools.

I voted against the nighttime curfew (it passed 13-1). The council unanimously delayed the daytime curfew decision to May 13.

Why are the Mayor and Ron Natinsky Lying to Voters (Again)?

I have tried very hard to parse my words and not be so blunt about it, but the fact is, the Mayor is lying about the convention center hotel.

The Mayor (along with Ron Natinsky) has told voters that without a hotel, the convention center itself is going to be a drain on Dallas taxpayers, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. That is simply not true. Continue reading

Let’s Play “Who Loves Dallas More”

I am amazed by the rhetoric of some of the hotel supporters who claim to be “pro-Dallas” who argue that we MUST have a hotel or our city will die…. Really? So, we haven’t had a convention center hotel, our convention business is on the upswing and doing better than publicly-owned hotel cities like Houston and Denver, yet our city will be ruined without a hotel? I seem to recall our city was also going to fail without a toll road in the Trinity Park. How’s that working out?

If we’re going to play “who loves Dallas more,” then a fair argument can be made that hotel proponents who claim the sky will fall without a city-owned hotel are actually anti-Dallas. They see nothing beneficial or desirable about our city except huge, expensive projects (Calatrava bridges, Trinity toll roads, convention center hotels). They think so little of Dallas and what we have to offer that they desperately throw money at any unnecessary (but flashy) project just to convince people we’re a decent city. Whatever your position on the hotel, our city has much more to offer than the Mayor and others give it credit for, and we don’t need a hotel or any other massive, taxpayer-funded monument to excess to prove it.

Trip to Portland and Seattle – Streetcars and Bicycle Infrastructure

Councilmember Koop and I traveled to Portland and Seattle last weekend to tour each city’s streetcar system and bicycle infrastructure. Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez (who oversees economic development) and Jay Kline (DART’s streetcar coordinator) joined us.

STREETCARS
Both cities have used streetcars as economic catalysts, allowing considerable mixed-use development in depressed areas. The Pearl District in Portland is a great example. Only a few years ago, it was a run-down, crime-ridden warehouse district. Today, it’s a vibrant, clean, mixed-use community with businesses and residences. Continue reading

Vote YES on Prop 1 and NO on Prop 2

I’m voting YES on Proposition 1 because I am concerned with the risk to Dallas taxpayers. Proposition 1 will prohibit the city from owning a convention center hotel, as the Mayor has proposed.

In theory, the hotel would be able to pay for itself through its own revenue. But if the hotel doesn’t meet the Mayor’s rosy projections for occupancy, taxpayers get stuck with the bill. So I am voting YES on Proposition 1.

I am voting NO on Proposition 2, which will essentially call for a referendum whenever the city provides more than $1 million in financial incentives for a development.

There are areas of our city that need incentives to convince developers to build there, and developers won’t stick around for a public vote. They’ll simply go elsewhere — Las Colinas, Irving, McKinney — where they can get the same incentives without waiting months for a vote. Bottom line is, Prop 2 has the potential to make Dallas non-competitive and seriously damage our city’s ability to provide reasonable economic incentives to businesses.

UPDATED:
On another website, someone posted “So many things would have to go wrong for this hotel to use taxpayer funds.” Not really. Just missing a mortgage payment could force the city to dip into taxpayer debt.

While the hotel debt is initially secured by hotel revenue, it is also secured by taxpayer dollars. Apparently, the market didn’t feel comfortable betting solely on the hotel, so it required additional security — in the form of taxpayer funds. So here’s how it works:

The city’s going to borrow $550 million for the hotel: $500 million to build it and $50 million to set aside in a rainy day fund (the “reserve account”). The reserve account protects bondholders so they know they’ll get repaid — the city can dip into this reserve account if the revenues for the hotel aren’t enough to repay the debt.

If it ended there, I’d be supporting the city-owned hotel, but it doesn’t. The reserve account has to stay at $50 million to satisfy bondholders. Guess who has to keep the reserve account full? Well, if the hotel doesn’t have enough money to pay its mortgage, it surely won’t be able to refill the reserve account. So that will fall on taxpayers. It’s really not that complicated, or that unlikely.

This city-owned hotel is a gamble, and in this economy, it doesn’t make sense for the city to be putting taxpayers at risk.