Letters

Unstoppable churches
Terrific piece on the St. Ann's landmark case ["On holy ground," February 4] and the larger issue of George W. Bush's so-called religious freedom bill (by the way, Steve Wolens is a co-sponsor).

Almost without exception, the courts have thrown out landowners' suits claiming property damage--including diminution in value--based solely on the threat of or even the actual zoning or rezoning of property (landmark designation included). It would only be after the Dallas Landmark Commission denied a development proposal on the site following landmark designation that a claim of damage would be considered, and the courts have pretty consistently found that reduction in value is not a taking. The regulation has to almost entirely remove value for the courts to consider it a taking.

Since only part of the St. Ann's site is to be protected from future development, and the building itself can certainly be adaptively used, the owner of the property would probably have a pretty hard time proving that they could get no value from it. (I believe that the diocese paid nothing for the property--it was donated to them--so a $1 million sale to the Guadalupe group would constitute a net profit. No taking there!)

By the way, St. Ann's would not be the first landmark designated in Dallas over an owner's objection: the Knights of Pythias Temple (Elm at Good Latimer) was landmarked years ago despite then-owner Union Banker's Life's strenuous objection. It, too, doesn't have much architectural zing presently, but as you know it has a tremendous cultural history, particularly for the African-American community. You'll recall that Al Lipscomb worked very hard at the time to persuade his fellow council members of the importance of landmarking the few remaining African-American cultural landmarks.

Regarding the "religious freedom" bill: Of course, it's terribly scary. Any property owner in Texas would be in danger of having almost anything appear next door if that property were owned by a religious institution. Since the latter would be exempt from all zoning and land-use regulations, not just landmark ordinances, neighborhoods would be at extreme risk of galloping development. Huge parking lots and other inappropriate uses would be virtually unstoppable.

Name withheld
Via e-mail

Praise for stink
Kudos to Rose Farley and contributor Mark Donald for "Raising a stink" [February 11]. Dallas Community College District's court action against Mr. Thomas is a serious matter that concerns those familiar with the Public Information Act. Please continue to report the matter.

Not long ago, the Coppell City Council and city manager whined regularly at council meetings about the "burdensome cost" of complying with the act. However, the city secretary's latest report to the Texas General Services Commission indicated the total cost of open-records access was only 8 to 12 hundredths of 1 percent of the overall city budget. After I made this fact public, city officials have not attacked the "subversive" open-records requesters lately. Open-records requests exposed the city council's "burdensome cost" mantra as public propaganda intended to shame open-records requesters into not researching more documents that exposed city mismanagement. In your follow-up, please report what percentage of the DCCCD budget is actually spent complying with the Public Information Act.

Arthur Kwast, webmaster
www.applink.net/opengovt/coppell
Via e-mail

Dangerous regulations
As an 18-wheel truck driver with 12 years of experience, I found Ann Zimmerman's article on safety problems within the trucking industry to be remarkably comprehensive ["Highway roulette," December 31]. There are two points that deserve more emphasis:

1. It is impossible to legislate safety without changing the way drivers are paid. Because over-the-road drivers are typically paid by the mile and regulated by the hour, there is an incentive to use the precious on-duty hours recorded in the logbook only for driving. So if a driver spends eight hours waiting in a warehouse office to be loaded, you can be sure that those hours will not be correctly recorded as "on-duty not driving" but instead as "off duty" or "sleeper" time. Even on-board electronic monitoring will not catch this falsification. And after being loaded, no matter how long it took, you can be sure the driver will then drive at least 10 hours to maximize his pay. These conditions lead to 18-hour days that end with driving. Because the trucking companies are in a competitive regulatory environment, built into the pay scale is the assumption that the drivers will falsify their logs to the maximum.

2. The narrowed lanes that are next to the HOV lanes in Dallas are grossly unsafe. Not only are the lanes narrowed to the absolute limit for safe driving, but since the narrowed lanes now put the seams between the slabs in the lanes instead of at the edges, trucks are obliged to drive on top of the seams instead of between them. The seams grab the tires and drag the truck laterally, toward adjacent lanes. With no margin for error because of the narrowed lanes, an increased accident rate is inevitable and is the fault of the Department of Transportation.

It's easy to blame the driver or the companies, and both deserve some blame. But the laws that permit only paying by the mile and regulating by the hour encourage violation. Until this is changed, the trucking industry will continue to run on the ragged edge of safety.

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