Council Requests Briefing from Oncor on Power Outage Response

Last Wednesday, I, along with six of my colleagues, requested that Oncor brief the Dallas City Council on the utility company’s response to power outages during the recent snow storm.

I have heard from many residents who went without power for days and who were frustrated by Oncor’s failure to communicate with them.  I also heard from residents who told me they often experience power outages and they would like an explanation was wel as a remediation plan from Oncor.  I look forward to talking with Oncor about these issues.

Here is the memo (click for a pdf version):

OncorMemo

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What the U.S. Census Means to Dallas

Today the City Council was briefed on the upcoming 2010 U.S. Census and what it means for Dallas.  Deputy Mayor Pauline Medrano is leading the city’s effort to ensure that all Dallasites are counted.  A complete count is critical to our city and state — it will determine how federal funds are allocated, how many U.S. Congressional seats Texas has, and how the boundaries for our state legislature and city council are redrawn.

A few quick facts about the Census:

  • Counts every person living in the United States on April 1, 2010.
  • U.S. Constitution mandates Census be conducted every 10 years (since 1790).
  • Used to redraw city council districts, state legislative districts, and number of seats in U.S. House of Representatives
  • Used for various city projects (e.g., number of children reported in an area determines if city should install play structures or other youth oriented equipment).
  • Census data directly affects how $400 billion per year in federal funding is allocated:
     Emergency food & shelter
     Community Development
     Public transportation
     Road rehabilitation & construction
     Programs for elderly
     Head Start programs
     Title 1 grants to educational agencies
  • Census questionnaires will mailed or delivered to Dallas households in February and March 2010.
  • Census takers will visit households that did not return a questionnaire by mail from April to July 2010.
  • Census questionnaire is easy! Shortest questionnaire in Census history, only ten questions, 10 minutes to complete.
  • Answers are protected by law and strictly confidential; information collected is used for statistical purposes only and IS NOT shared with any other local, state, or federal agency.

Here’s the City of Dallas Census website, and check out the City Council briefing on the Census.

Council Briefings: Citizen Survey and Federal Stimulus Funds

This morning, the council has gotten two very informative briefings.

FIRST BRIEFING: The results of the 2009 Citizen Survey that analyzes residents’ satisfaction (or lack thereof) with a broad range of city services. High points:

Overall satisfaction with city services has improved greately during the past 2 years.
* Among 109 areas that were assessed on the City’s survey in both 2007 & 2009
– Ratings IMPROVED in 91 areas
– Ratings STAYED THE SAME in 6 areas
– Ratings DECREASED in just 12 areas
* Overall satisfaction with city services in Dallas is significantly higher than the national average

SECOND BRIEFING: An overview of the projects for which the city has requested Federal Economic Stimulus Funds.

Recreating Dallas: Council Discusses Creating Walkable, Urban Coummunities

Last week’s council briefing was terrific. We had a full-day session on “sustainable development and the value of urban design.” Our City Manager, Mary Suhm, did an outstanding job organizing this symposium, which included Larry Beasley, who led Vancouver’s development processes during a period of inner-city revitalization; Christopher Leinberger, a visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institute and metropolitan land strategist; Maurice Cox, Director of Design at the National Endowment for the Arts; and James Rojas, Transportation Manager for L.A. County Metropolitan Transit Authority and co-founder of the Latino Urban Forum. Continue reading

Council Discusses Sanitation Worker Pay Increase

Today the City Council discussed a contract with a company that provides the city with the workers who ride the trash trucks and pick up our garbage. (Agenda Item #6)

The question arose about whether it was fair to pay these workers minimum wage ($5.85/hr), rather than a living wage. In Dallas, it’s not possible to live on $5.85/hr. To be just out of poverty level, you have to make more than $10/hr. The discussion was whether to require the contractor to pay their employees $8.16/hr. That figure is not based on any analysis of what a livable wage is within our city, but simply represents the lowest hourly amount that the City pays its part-time employees.

We talk a lot about “economic development” in the Southern Sector. That usually takes the form of tax abatements or other incentives to COMPANIES, with the assumption that the company will improve the lives of people in South Dallas. This is a trickle-down theory of improving the Southern Sector.

A more direct way to help is to make sure that people who work for the city make a living wage. More than 63% of the men who collect our garbage live in South or West Dallas. Twenty-five percent of these men have been working as garbagemen from 1-3 years, and another 25% have worked more than 3 years. They fulfill one of the most fundamental services for our city, and are out there picking up trash during the heat of the summer, the rain of spring and fall, and the cold of winter. They deserve to make a living wage.

The council voted to approve the contract at the minimum wage, 15 to 5. I was among the five to vote against it (along with Medrano, Salazar, Atkins, and Davis). If we had required an increase to $8.16, it would have added $0.17 per month to our sanitation bills. That’s a very small cost to pay to ensure that our garbagmen are making a fair wage for their hard work.

In the coming months, we will have a council briefing on requiring contractors who provide temporary staff support to the city to pay those staffers more than minimum wage. If we decide to create our own minimum wage, then we can cancel the sanitation contract that was approved today, and have companies rebid at the new minimum wage for city workers.

Council Briefing: Date of Next Bond Election

The City Manager has recommended moving the next bond election from May 2007 to November 2006. The benefit is that the bond campaign is separated from the Mayoral and Council elections in May 2007. The downside is that the estimated cost to the City for an election in November 2006 is between $500 – $750k.

The Council supported moving the bond election to November 2006.

Council Briefing: Charter Amendments

After talking with residents, my colleagues, and members of the gay and lesbian community over the past couple of weeks, I decided not to propose that we change our City Charter to protect city employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Our Charter currently only protects city employees from discrimination based on race, sex, political affiliation, and religion. A couple of weeks ago, I proposed to my colleagues that we consider adding sexual orientation to this list. By and large, the response I got from the other councilmembers was very positive.

However, like most things in life, timing is everything. Also on the November ballot will be the proposed State of Texas constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Members of the GLBT community were concerned that folks who would come out to vote against gay marriage would also vote against the non-discrimination Charter language. If the proposed non-discrimination Charter amendment failed here in Dallas, it would be a blow to the GLBT community and might have legal ramifications for the non-discrimination ordinance already in place. So I tabled the matter for an upcoming Charter amendment.