By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Sure, Buzz likes good city disputes, but it's easy to nod off when they turn out like the topless bar brouhaha: official bungling followed by endless, hydra-headed court action. Before long, the whole thing becomes a muddled jobs program for lawyers.
It's too early to say for sure, but this looks to be just where the Mexican bus depot dustup is heading--the one Laura Miller touched off when she tried to close a little Oak Cliff bus station.
It began with Councilwoman Miller vowing (dirty words and all) to sweep aside all the messy little businesses on Davis Street, making North Oak Cliff safe for rising residential property values. She lined up her broom on Lucano Transports, which sends one bus a day to Mexico, and went after it as if it were Tom Hicks looking for a handout. The city activated its mighty legal machinery, and the depot's owner, Fermin Vazquez, agreed to move out by August 1.
Then something awful happened. Vazquez turned up dead two days before the deadline, the victim of an apparent suicide. Rather than grant his widow, Alma Vazquez, a few weeks or months to grieve and get down the road, Miller called in code enforcement and led the city on a full-court legal press to close the business.
That's where things stood last week when state District Judge Ann Ashby stopped Miller in her designer-shod tracks. The judge denied the city's push to padlock Lucano and ordered both sides into mediation.
"The city thought it could bully this through, using all its pressures and resources and attorneys. It found in Alma Vazquez someone who says, 'Hey, I'm gonna fight back,'" says Carlos Quintanilla, who has organized a group of 23 small, Latino-owned bus companies that see their futures similarly threatened by the city.
Quintanilla's group is backing Vazquez's legal fight and readying its own federal lawsuit, Quintanilla says. Among the legal questions being researched: whether selective enforcement is being pursued against Hispanic-owned companies, whether the Vazquezes were given due process and whether Miller violated the city charter by taking such a hands-on role in the city's push against the depot.
Two weeks ago, after a public protest downtown, Miller said she wants to work with the bus companies to iron out their troubles. But Quintanilla, who is pushing Hispanic politicos to get behind his group, doesn't sound like someone ready to make up. "She gave the orders on this. We want to know why she is being so aggressive," Quintanilla says.
Mentioning Miller's possible mayoral bid, Quintanilla says, "This is going to be a major blow to her political aspirations." At least he is trying to make it one.