Vamoose

Alma Vazquez's husband apparently killed himself, but Laura Miller can't wait to close her business

To some, Miller's inflexibility toward Alma Vazquez confirms what they already suspect.

Miller has made it clear in the past that she has little tolerance for the tire shops, rim stores and slightly unkempt, Hispanic-owned businesses that make up much of Davis Street, the commercial strip closest to her home in Kessler Park and other increasingly expensive Anglo neighborhoods north of that commercial drag.

Over the past several years, the former Dallas Observer columnist has told reporters she'd like to see Starbucks, The Gap, Barnes & Noble and Ann Taylor shops move into the area. As for the brightly painted, modest businesses on Davis now, she told one writer she was going to hit them with a zero-tolerance approach to code violations. "I'm going to go up and down that motherfucking street, and if they don't shape up and comply, I'm gonna close those fuckers down," Miller said.

No time to grieve: Alma Vazquez believes her husband's zoning fight with the city contributed to his decision to take his own life.
Peter Calvin
No time to grieve: Alma Vazquez believes her husband's zoning fight with the city contributed to his decision to take his own life.
Mexico bound: Passengers load a southbound bus at the Lucano Transports depot on Davis Street in Oak Cliff. If Councilwoman Laura Miller has her way, the depot will soon close.
Peter Calvin
Mexico bound: Passengers load a southbound bus at the Lucano Transports depot on Davis Street in Oak Cliff. If Councilwoman Laura Miller has her way, the depot will soon close.

While the three-term councilwoman finds the street's profusion of two-bay auto repair garages at odds with her plans for the area, most appeared on a recent afternoon to be busy filling the down-market niche of keeping 20-year-old Hondas and Toyotas running for their working-class owners. "I own this shop. Business is good," said one oil-stained owner, who declined to give his name for fear of being embroiled in the Lucano fight.

"It cuts down racial lines with her," Chapa says of Miller. Adds Moreno: "Hispanics on the street, everyone, is afraid Laura Miller will send code enforcement to shut them down. She wants to close Mrs. Vazquez. She won't give her a week. These people have no sympathy. What if it happened to your own husband or brother or father?"

When the Anglo-owned deli City Harvest ran into land-use problems last year, Miller took to the radio to raise money to build a proper parking lot, Chapa says. When a less-spiffy, Hispanic-owned restaurant, El Pulpo, had similar problems in 1999, she did not. "I asked her [at the meeting] if she would go on the radio and help us raise money," Chapa says. "She said no."

Miller says she is far from hostile to Hispanic businesses and has been helpful to Hispanics on the street. "I've helped many Hispanic businesses and landowners when I found $2.4 million to put into the Bishop Arts District," she says, referring to part of the street hosting a mix of shops and restaurants.

Several Anglo-dominated groups and neighborhood activists who have crusaded against Lucano Transports say they are firmly behind Miller's moves.

"I'm not trying to be insensitive, but these are the battles we fight every day in Oak Cliff," says Amy Autrey, president of the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association. "It's upsetting, but her husband had [five] months to put his affairs in order, and he didn't."

Autrey says the neighborhood has plans for the Lucano property. "This neighborhood is growing, and an important part of that is getting rid of the bus line," she says. Under a planning process unknown to Alma Vazquez until earlier this year, her bus depot property is scheduled to become a park under the Bishop Davis Urban Design Study, adopted by the City Council in November 1997. Deed records show Vazquez's husband purchased the property in 1996. It's valued for property taxes at $115,700. The city would be required to condemn it and pay Vazquez if it ever follows through on the plan.

Rick Garza, president of the Kings Highway Conservation District, says Alma Vazquez has had enough time to move, even since her husband died. "They've already had 23 days, according to my records," says Garza, who bought several apartment buildings within a block of the station in 1999 and is now renovating them. "We're unanimous against it. There are cars all over, buses having trouble maneuvering, people all over waiting for the bus," he says.

The station sits on a loose border between an area chock-full of expensively renovated period homes with new SUVs in their drives, and blue-collar apartments mixed in with more modest frame homes.

Ed Spence, a lawyer who owns buildings in the neighborhood, says he was responsible as Miller's appointee to the board of adjustment for initiating the action that resulted in the city moving to close Lucano.

He says the matter is not a battle of upper-income Anglos versus blue-collar Hispanics carried out on the Davis Street fault line. Instead he calls it "a clash of American notions of city planning, which is not the sole dominion of white people, and the laissez-faire world of Mexican business. In Mexico, these buses discharge their riders at the market, at street corners. There is no terminal."

In late 1998, two years after Vazquez began operating his business legally, Dallas passed an ordinance prohibiting bus depots from settling within 500 feet of residential areas. The change was made in an attempt to regulate the explosion of buses and vans making direct Dallas-to-Mexico runs. Oak Cliff was being overrun with "renegade" bus operators, some with a bus or two and no terminal at all, operating out of houses and apartment buildings. Residents complained of 40-foot buses parking on the streets overnight.

Because Fermin Vazquez's depot was in place before the new ordinance passed, he was affected only if his business was found to be a nuisance. Last fall, Spence initiated that nuisance complaint, he says.

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