By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
At a recent Dallas Plan meeting in Cadillac Heights, residents who had lost relatives that same week to cancer attended. They were still raw with grief. The overwhelming sentiment of the audience was that they didn't care about the levees. They cared about the cancer, and wanted to be bought out.
But the Dallas Plan staff, armed with the little mind-game book, told people they could only address issues such as parks and sidewalk improvements. The audience reacted with angry shouts and derisive laughter.
Later, Diana Sierra told me that meetings such as this and the city's general treatment of the neighborhood have been a source of personal humiliation for her. "It embarrasses me," she said. "I used to love my neighborhood. It's like a small town here. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody knows everybody's business. But people were saying at the meeting, if we wanted the mayor to come and talk to us, we would have to kidnap him.
"Then they have this little clock, and you can't say anything anymore. We would tell them about the cancer, and they would say, 'We hear you.' I just laughed. I thought, 'Yeah, but you don't hear what we are saying.'"
Eddie Bernice Johnson is the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Some months ago, she and all the other members of the Dallas delegation to Congress were visited by Larry Dunbar, a lawyer who is also a hydrologist and former employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he worked on computer modeling. Working with Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in Houston, Dunbar has developed what he says is incontrovertible proof that the Corps faked its computer models in order to justify the Trinity River project in the first place.
Now, think about this one for a minute: Dunbar says he visited with every member or a top staff representative from the Dallas delegation and showed proof that this $2 billion project, to be built mainly with federal tax dollars, is a scam.
"I told them that the correct modeling shows there is no flooding danger in downtown Dallas, and there is no justification for the project.
"They all just said, 'Isn't that project in Eddie Bernice's district? What does she say?' When I said she was for it, they said, 'Well, if Eddie Bernice wants it, who are we to question?'"
I made my perfunctory call to Mayor Kirk's staff, asking for comment. He did not return my call. I devoted more effort to Congresswoman Johnson, whom I have known for some years and with whom I always thought I had a good relationship. Perhaps I made a mistake by telling her staff, both in Dallas and in Washington, what it was I wanted to discuss with her.
She wouldn't talk to me. A member of her staff read to me a prepared statement on the Cadillac Heights issue that said, in part, "Her efforts are geared toward the values she holds dear, which are protecting family and protecting community."
She hears you.
Mayor Kirk continues to refuse to go along with efforts by Councilwoman Laura Miller to schedule public hearings on the Trinity River Plan.
The residents of Cadillac Heights are poor people of color. They believe they are dying of cancer caused by chemicals that rich white people rained over their houses for years. Maybe they're wrong. Maybe they have no more cancer than anyone else does.
But how can anyone--especially Ron Kirk and Eddie Bernice Johnson--justify refusing to let them air their views? How is this one ounce different, at the moral core of things, from the old days when white people used to push black neighborhoods to the river's edge and then let the floods carry off their children?
Dallas Observer Editorial intern Katharine Houpt contributed to this report.