By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Sometimes I am accused of thinking everything at City Hall is a big conspiracy. But that's not true. I am willing to concede that some things are just big idiocies.
Take, for example, whatever in God's name is going on in the Cadillac Heights/Cedar Crest area of Oak Cliff right now. Very Very Rich Person Mark Cuban of Dallas has announced plans for some kind of mixed-use urban development in a blighted area near a bad-smelling sewer plant, three and a half miles due south of downtown, to be called "Wonderview." But not Wondersmell.
That's one thing I don't quite get.
The Dallas Morning News editorial board has launched a campaign to have most of the industrial and manufacturing companies kicked out of a part of the area that is zoned for industrial and manufacturing activities—this from a newspaper editorial page always crying for more industry and manufacturing in the southern sector.
Two things I don't totally get.
And now Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway has gone totally off the hook in a one-man campaign of political terror against scrap metal yards in the area.
But do they add up to a conspiracy? No, not necessarily. These events could just as easily be explained as the coincidental and unintended convergence of several forms of overlapping well-intended but ill-considered not very smartness.
Take Councilman Caraway and the scrap metal yards. Caraway has a long, legitimate and worthwhile history of fighting to clean up trash, bad buildings and bad behavior in his own city council district. The problem here is that the scrap metal yard in question, Oak Cliff Metals, is not in Mr. Caraway's council district. And on the several occasions in recent weeks when I have driven by the place, the street out front has been impeccably clean.
I don't think I am exactly Mr. Bleeding Heart for scrap metal yards. But a member of the Dallas City Council does not have the authority on his or her own hook to drive around town shutting down businesses. I know that for sure.
On the afternoon of April 21, Caraway, the councilman from District Four in the middle of southern Dallas, showed up in front of Oak Cliff Metals with a van full of city code inspectors including Joey Zapata, who is the city's director of code compliance, and demanded that the company's management come out and deal with him. The day before, Caraway stood in front of the same gate and told me, "They've got to go. They need to be out of here."
I need to give you some background.
City council member Pauline Medrano represents District Two, a semi-circle through west, south and east Dallas—the district Oak Cliff Metals is in. Medrano was disconcerted about a year ago to learn that someone had caused 17 different city officials—up to the level of assistant city manager—to visit Oak Cliff Metals in a two-month period.
At the end of that period, the city had to send the company a letter of apology, because none of those visits had produced a single violation, a single thing they were doing wrong. I wrote about this in the April 8 edition of the paper ("Foul Odor").
Medrano conveyed to city staff that she didn't think the "enforcement" effort at Oak Cliff Metals passed the smell test. She told me she suspected somebody wanted the land. Presumably after the city's apology letter went out, City Hall's ward-heeling goon-squad behavior should have come to a halt. Cuban's deal was announced a week after Medrano voiced her suspicions to me.
And now here is Caraway at the gate a week ago with a van full of city staff behind him, haranguing the poor lady who sits on a folding chair out front as a sort of plainclothes security guard.
The woman, who gave me her name only as "P.B.," told me Caraway told her that the management "'needed to have a sit-down and talk with him. They need to clean this place up.' I told him this was my bread and butter, my rent money. He said, 'You don't worry about that. I'll make sure you have something. They need to have a sit-down with me.'
"He said, 'They need to clean it up, and they are not even trying.'"
Oak Cliff Metals' management is not willing to talk to me about this either. I'm not sure they find me any less disturbing than they find Caraway. I do happen to know from sources close to the company what was going on inside. They were deciding not to come out.
This company is right in the middle of a difficult, enormously consequential struggle over something called a "special use permit," which, if granted, would allow it to continue doing business at its current location. Last month the city plan commission voted to deny a renewal of their permit.
An appeal of the plan commission's ruling is slated to go to the city council next June. The Morning News, meanwhile, has been hammering the council not to grant the renewal when the appeal comes up.