By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Mayor Miller, here's a page from your organizer: Get rid of roosters. Check. Pass a law against smoking. Check. Pass a law against people taking shopping carts home with them. Check. Pass a law against panhandling. Check. Force downtown owners to beautify their parking lots. Check. Give 325 speeches about Dallas, "the city on the hill" that you visited as a teenager, and how the most important thing is for Dallas to look that way again. Check check check.
And here's a little memory check: What damn hill? Around that same time in your life, is it possible you visited San Francisco? Time plays strange tricks.
Anyway, wait a minute. I never said I wanted to live in a shopping mall. What? When you're done, we'll rename the city "The Shops on the Trinity?"
And wait another minute. May I ask a question? Whatever happened about the damn potholes? I thought that was your big campaign issue. I don't remember voting for you because you were the candidate who reminded me most of Martha Stewart. Although you're starting to.
Right off the bat, I admit: This has been building, but the straw that broke my back was Laura Miller's pronouncement last week that all news boxes downtown are "litter on the sidewalks" and should be eradicated. That box happens to be my ox.
I'm not exactly in an ownership position around the Dallas Observer. Whenever I encounter the people who are, they always re-introduce themselves. I feel like the guy with the pop-bottle glasses in the movie Office Space. Long after the owners have disappeared, I'm still muttering, "I have stated on several occasions that there is no L in my last name."
But news boxes are how I make my living. Dear reader: Where did you happen to get this copy of the Observer that you're reading right now? I would say it's amazing that the mayor doesn't remember her own recent past as an employee of this particular free-distribution newspaper, but it's not amazing. Not anymore. We all know she doesn't remember.
Here's the point. The scrubby-dubby spritz-spritz business, the Windexing of Dallas, the Lysol Doctrine (all of which is beginning to look more than a tad compulsive) is the closest I can find to a consistent theme in her tenure. Meanwhile, I'm driving down the street here, and the potholes are so bad I feel as if my family and I should be wearing crash helmets.
Another Sunday ride in Dallas. I don't know why anybody buys a new car here. Next street cruiser I buy will be one of those big '80s Detroit felony cars. I never want to own another car I'd feel bad about abandoning on the street.
"OK, on the count of three, throw the doors open and we all break for the DART bus."
We could almost do a deal on the news boxes, if she would agree to put them in the potholes. That would be better for my car than what we have now.
This isn't just a joke. It's serious. Last week I wrote about the city's approach to the issue of homeless people downtown. I had spoken at length with advocates for the homeless, worried that some kind of fascist bug-spray approach might be looming. Since then I have spent another week talking to people on several sides of the issue, and I am not cheered. If anything, I think I may have undersold the story. Few people will talk on the record about it. (What is with this town? I could get more candor in Baghdad.)
But the picture that emerges more and more clearly is one of very strong pressure to somehow sanitize downtown of all homeless people.
Let me declare a few personal biases here. I am not a major defender or proponent of people going to the bathroom on the street in front of me. I do not like getting "panhandled" so aggressively that it's really a stick-up. I do not sympathize with the cops for refusing to enforce the law on aggressive panhandling because they're mad about their pay raise. Get a chief. Get those troops lined up. Go out and enforce the law. That'd be my plan. There can be no life downtown as long as the hard-core anti-social and criminal homeless roam the sidewalks with impunity.
But that doesn't mean it is possible or morally defensible or even especially desirable to make a whole class of people go poof. The impulse to eliminate problems by eliminating people is real bad. And dangerous. No Scrubbing Bubbles for human beings. Got that?
This is all about one major choice: where to put the city's new $3 million homeless "intake" center. An element of the real estate community downtown is pushing for a plan to put the new center at a considerable distance from downtown--farther than the homeless could walk.
There is some legal strategy here: The theory is that such a center would satisfy court rulings requiring cities to create some kind of safe haven for the homeless. In this case, the city would have met the requirement and might feel it was then OK to declare open season on homeless people who refuse to be relocated.