By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Well, just a second. Let's take a closer look at Slide No. 54. Turn back again, OK? Oops, hey, what's this? Never saw that on the list before: $80 million to rebuild Industrial Boulevard through the Trinity industrial district, where all the road pushers own their land. That wasn't here at all last March. The assistant city managers explain at the briefing that they just sort of realized recently we need to do that.
Oh, puhleeeease! They just now noticed that they have to spend $80 million redoing Industrial Boulevard? This town is famous, infamous, notorious for having terrible cracked-up potholed streets all over town. I thought that was the issue that made Laura Miller mayor. The city's total budget this year for streets and thoroughfares, with money drawn from three prior bond campaigns, federal funds and other sources, is $194 million. And in just the past few months they sort of looked up and noticed that we need to spend $80 million lavishly refurbishing a crapped-out backwater thoroughfare in a crumbling 1950s warehouse district that virtually no serious big-box shippers even use anymore?
I'm sitting here, and I am telling myself in the very sternest tones possible that it's their shell and their pea and their cardboard, and this is my lunch money. I still have my lunch money, right? OK. I must not play their game.
But I have to check out just one more thing about the shells. The $16 million they now say they are going to spend on the lake is actually for all kinds of things that are not the lake, like "gateway parks" and "Elm Fork Levee improvements." So we voted in 1998 for $31.5 million for the lake. How much money--American greenback cash--is actually going into the lake now?
That's on Slide No. 26. It's $1.6 million. Put me in the damn game! I'm not getting off this bus until I see what's under that shell right there! After the briefing, I call Rebecca Dugger, the city employee who is director of the Trinity River Corridor Project, and I ask her how the city possibly can build a $31.5 million lake for $1.6 million.
And, oh, those shells start their magical hummin' and singin': Dugger tells me on the phone that digging the lake will be cheap because the city has a deal to sell the dirt from the lake to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so that the corps can use it for making the river levee embankments higher downtown to add more flood protection.
"They will do it with dirt out of our lake," she says, "so raising the levees helps us build our lake. So that's how we are able to put money...we are going to build our lake, we are going to use some of this money to dig out our lake, and then we're going to turn around and give this dirt to the corps, so that's our contribution to raising the levee."
Time out!!! I call the Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth. They tell me they don't have a project to raise the levees in downtown Dallas. They don't have any authorization from Congress to do a project like that. They haven't asked for any authorization. They say they can't ask for such an authorization before 2007.
Later, Dugger and Chief Assistant City Manager Mary Suhm show me numbers to prove, they say, that no money has been taken out of the lake. I feel like they're selling me a time-share. I keep thinking, "The picture doesn't show a path."
I'm watching these shells, and I'm listening to the sing-song of the bus wheels, and I'm starting to nod: Gonna pay for the lake with the levees and the levees with the dirt and the dirt with the money from the money for the lake and the money for the lake is the money from the levee, but the levee's not ready, so you find the pea!
Stop! Don't play! Where's the lake?
Where is the lake with the sailboats and the promenades and the parks and the stuff they showed us when they asked us to foot the bill? Point to the picture. Point, point, point: Where is that lake? That lake right there. Not a mud hole. The lake in the picture. Because if they don't make that lake in the picture with the money we voted for, then...I have to get off the bus.
Hey! I thought you said I still had my lunch money!