Brave New City

What if people downtown actually got smart?

He had grown up mainly in suburban Dallas but had family in Mexico. They became reacquainted a few years later when he came to Mexico City to attend college. Domingo was a young Chicano rad, and she was an upper-class Mexican university student headed for medical or dental school.

"His Spanish was terrible, and my English was really bad, but we were able to communicate because of our social ideas," she said. We spoke in the living room of her Oak Cliff home across the street from Lake Cliff Park. Their house, known as "La Casa Blanca," is on the National Register of Historic Places.

By the time they married in 1984, she had completed dental school in Mexico, and he had completed law school in the United States. "We knew that whoever moved to the other one's country, Domingo or I, that one would have to go back to school."

Elba Garcia is the Citizens Council’s worst dream--a smart, well-educated Latino professional, successful in her own business. How do you buy off somebody like that?
Peter Calvin
Elba Garcia is the Citizens Council’s worst dream--a smart, well-educated Latino professional, successful in her own business. How do you buy off somebody like that?

She moved here and went all the way back through dental school at Baylor University. She graduated, again, in 1990. Two years ago she bought a practice in Oak Cliff. She has five dental associates working in the practice and says she can afford both the time and financial cost of serving on the council.

She told me her husband urged her to run after listening to her complain for years about the low quality of basic city services in older neighborhoods.

"I was sure we needed a change in basic services," she said. "I live across the street from a park, and I am sick of the problems with the trash in the park, the dogs running loose, the lights needing replacement. I called the city all the time, and I became very frustrated at times.

"Domingo finally said, 'You are always complaining. Why don't you run for office and do something about it?' I think he was partially kidding. He may have been surprised when I said, 'I think I will.'"

Great. All very interesting. But now it's time in the conversation for a test question. You know: like when the dentist takes the sharp pointy thing and says, "Tell me if you feel this."

I ask: "How do you feel about the effort to bring the Olympics to Dallas in 2012?"

She doesn't miss a beat.

"I believe the Olympics is a great idea, but if that task is going to take away a single police officer or a single animal control officer, then we need to consider that we may not be able to afford it.

"In the economic boom of the last 10 years, it was OK to say, 'Let's go ahead and do bigger things.' But I think we may have gotten carried away. If we don't start reprioritizing basic services, we are going to have a bigger problem."

Yeah. Well, that might sound like a perfectly reasonable answer to the uninitiati, but it definitely ain't what the WBBS guys want to hear. Their approach on the Olympics has been strictly, "Here is the blank contract, hurry up and sign it."

So I try another probe. "How do you feel about the toll road they want to build along the levees on the Trinity River?"

"For District 1, I have very mixed feelings about that. We will mobilize to be sure they understand that the neighborhoods do not want a toll road on our side of the river. If the downtown interests disagree, we will go to downtown..."

I can't constrain myself. I interject, "And burn it down?"

She laughs. "No, that would be Domingo. I would work with downtown to come up with a compromise."

So, driving away from La Casa Blanca, this is what I'm thinking. The WBBS boys only know how to deal with two kinds of people: 1. the people who cave in immediately to their every whim, and 2. the ones who dare to raise questions, whom they immediately try to marginalize as dangerous nut cases. But what if you start to get a core, however small, of smart, reasonable, middle-of-the-road, middle-class people, people who can't be so easily marginalized, who are dedicated to rebuilding the city the old-fashioned way, by rebuilding the city?

What happens to the World's Biggest Ball of String guys then?

And is it even possible that Garcia, Miller and Rasansky together would form enough of a center of gravity to encourage some of the other munchkins on the council to come tap-dancing out from under their flowers and actually stick up for their constituents once in a while?

Perchance to dream.

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