It's your store (like it or not)

Albertson's wants to build in East Dallas, and it's not about to let future customers get in the way

This Friday afternoon is the third day Ehrhardt has spent walking the neighborhood, and she has heard enough to confirm her suspicions: The tenants in the four buildings that would be destroyed were largely unaware that they might soon be evicted. And the tenants in neighboring buildings who had heard about the store were told only that it would bring the possibility of new jobs.

Francisca Guerrero, a native of Mexico, lives in the Port au Prince apartments at 4906 Live Oak and manages them and numerous complexes in the neighborhood. Until Ehrhardt knocked on her door, Guerrero didn't realize some of the apartment buildings she manages are in danger of being razed.

"They only told me it's on this lot over here," Guerrero says, pointing to a vacant piece of land across the street. The empty lot represents only a portion of the future store site, but Guerrero says petitioners who had already been here led her to believe that the entire store would fit into the vacant parcel.

Like many of her tenants, Guerrero is staunchly against the project.
"I live here," says Guerrero, who adds that she has worked to make the units a safe place for families. "I don't want anybody drinking. I don't want children outside with no adult. I keep it clean. It's quiet here now, [and] I don't want all the families to move out."

But not all of the tenants here are siding with Ehrhardt's position. Jaime Lagunas Gonzalez, also a native of Mexico, says he's supporting the store because he's been told it will bring 500 and maybe as many as 1,000 new jobs.

"I can't get work," says Gonzalez, who sometimes earns a few dollars selling tamales outside a nearby convenience store. "Maybe a store is better. Maybe we can get work."

Gonzalez exhales the unmistakable scent of alcohol as he explains the other reason he supports the store.

"If I am drinking, like I am now, I don't need to use my car. I can walk across the street," says Gonzalez, who at three in the afternoon offers his opinion about why some of his neighbors might be against the store. "All of the people here, they're no good. They're lazy. They don't want to work."

Ehrhardt politely smiles at Gonzalez and moves on to another apartment. Who in the world, she wonders aloud, could have told that man that the 140 to 150 jobs the new store would create had mushroomed into 1,000 new jobs?

Joe May has been a hard guy to track down since the controversial late-October news conference that he and Jake Fuller threw together. A business opportunities specialist for the Small Business Administration, May says he's been busy collecting signatures on behalf of Albertson's.

Like Ehrhardt, May confirms that many of the tenants he's spoken with were unfamiliar with the Albertson's project. "It's an educational process is what it is," May says. "Nobody knew about this project."

Anybody who pays attention to East Dallas politics has heard of May at some time or another. A longtime East Dallas resident, May has worked on numerous campaigns, including those of Dallas City Councilman John Loza and, more recently, DISD school board member Se-Gwen Tyler. If there is anyone who knows how to gather the Hispanic vote for office-seekers--or, in this case, commercial developers--it's May.

"On election day we were at the polls, out collecting signatures," May says. "Basically, what we tell them is that Albertson's wants to build a store in the neighborhood, and we're trying to get support for it."

To his credit, May freely admits that he doesn't tell the tenants that their apartments, or those of their neighbors, might be torn down, but that's not because May doesn't want to let them in on the secret.

"Do I tell them that some of the buildings are gonna be torn down? No I don't," May says. "I don't have any problems with letting them know. I just never thought of telling them."

May acknowledges that the value of his property near the proposed site will increase if the store is built, but he thinks that's destined to happen anyway.

"At some point something is going to get developed. There's just too much vacant land there, and it's too close to downtown," May says. "So whether you end up with in-fill housing, apartments, or commercial, it's going to go up in value."

As far as May is concerned, the advantages the store will bring are far more noteworthy than his own personal stake in the project or the problems caused by the displacement of tenants.

"The area needs jobs," May says. "A lot of the people that live there don't have transportation. It [the store] has been placed right in the heart of a pocket of poverty, which would provide amenities that would be convenient to people."

The store's potential for spurring economic growth in the area is an argument not lost on Dallas Plan Commissioner Rick Leggio, who says he's not sure how he'll vote on Albertson's request when it comes before the commission in December.

"When you get to the question of economic development, putting in a new place that will create jobs and may perhaps spur economic development in an area that has a lot of substandard uses on it or around it, I think economic development becomes a real bonus to consider," Leggio says. "When's the last time someone wanted to put $8 million in District 2? Right now, I'm leaning against the project, but my mind is still open."

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