By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ever since the 1998 bond election when the city got its hands on $246 million in tax money for the Trinity River Project, City Hall has done everything it could to keep the public out of it. Now, thanks entirely to council member Mitchell Rasansky, the lone wolf of the North, we might even get a chance to vote on what they're doing down there.
But not without a muddy, bloody fight first.
The city manager and most of the council are solidly behind a formal City Hall policy which says City Hall does not have to honor any of the promises made to citizens eight years ago when the Trinity River Project was up for a vote.
Look, we don't make this stuff up. This isn't an ABC docudrama. This is court record.
In 2001 a group called Taxpayers for Sensible Priorities sued the city for breaking all the promises it made to voters to get them to pass bond money for fixing up the river where it flows through downtown. During the campaign we were bombarded with television commercials showing people sailing on a lake downtown and happy families strolling on a promenade along a riverfront that looked like the Seine in Paris. Now I think it was the Seine in Paris.
But as soon as City Hall got the money, it changed the plan, taking all the nice stuff out and spending the money instead on a freeway we weren't even told was going to be down there and that isn't even needed, according to standard measurements used by highway builders.
So the Sensible Priorities outfit sued. The city manager went to court and argued the city was not bound by its advertising campaign or even by brochures it had published under its own official logo. The only thing it had to follow was the ballot language itself--so vague that it barely limited the city in how it chose to spend the bond money.
The Sensibles lost. In September 2001, state District Judge Anne Ashby handed City Hall a summary judgment supporting its position. It was a windfall for City Hall. Predictably, the main thrust of the project has detoured 180 degrees away from the grand central park proposed to voters.
The most outlandish detour of all has been a plan to tear down all the freeway bridges downtown, none of which need tearing down, and replace them with fantasy suspension bridges designed by Spanish über-architect Santiago Calatrava. The total cost of this adventure, billed as an exercise in "public art," would be 160 percent of the total 1998 Trinity bond program amount.
I have tried to say in the past that I don't know much about architecture. And I don't get much argument on that. But I do know this: The whole Trinity River thing has become a kind of pebble stuck in the city's throat. The project has departed so wildly from the public promises made in 1998 that it has become a kind of standing joke. No one will ever build anything like a true political consensus or any public momentum in this city until the Trinity River question gets cleared off the table.
Enter Mitch Rasansky, council representative from District 13 in the Royal/Marsh lanes part of North Dallas. At the end of last week, Rasansky announced he no longer supports the bridge scheme and thinks it should be submitted to the voters in a citywide election.
Before I go on, let me add some context here. A recent poll showed Rasansky as a leading contender for mayor in 2007 should he decide to run, according to the person who commissioned the poll, council member Ed Oakley of Oak Cliff. Oakley, already a declared candidate himself, told me at the end of last week that he and Rasansky emerged from Oakley's poll as the top two candidates, based on a scenario in which the heavy-voting districts of the North get split by multiple candidates. Oakley stressed that his poll provides only a snapshot that may change in the months ahead.
He said he and Rasansky registered well based on high citywide name recognition and loyal bases of support in their own districts.
I'm not writing about who's going to get elected mayor of Dallas in the May 2007 election. By then I believe we will have been invaded and taken over by the French anyway. All this obsession with Islamo-fascists, and we forget what somebody with an agenda and a boatload of really good foie gras can do to us. What I'm saying is that today, right now, when Mitchell Rasansky speaks, he speaks as a contender.
I happen to think he has a powerful argument--that City Hall isn't being square with the voters on the money for the Trinity project. And when the rest of the gang down there talk about it they sound like telemarketers from a former Soviet region.
"Let me tell you what has really ticked me off," Rasansky told me. "You can check back on city council tapes. At least a dozen times in the last year, year and a half, there's always this money being spent out of the $246 million bond issue.