For the elite few among you allowed entrance to The Dallas Morning News behind-the-pay-wall pages, I recommend a piece in today's paper by Roy Appleton about Oak Cliff.
He quotes neighborhood activist Jason Roberts, pushing for bike lanes and stuff, as saying North Oak Cliff really isn't asking for big money items:
"Our focus is let's just get things on the ground," Roberts says. "We're trying to show you don't have to spend $20 million to have a better place."
My heart aches.
All they want are some street closures to create plazas, bike racks and safe lanes for cyclists and walkers. How tough can that be? But too many years covering City Hall have taught me how difficult it is to move that mountain, even a micron.
Worse, over the years I have even come to see things from the mountain's point of view, once in while, even though every time I catch myself sympathizing with City Hall I want to gouge my eyes out and perish of shame.
The City Hall paid staff sees this stuff coming and going year after year. Sure, one group wants to close a block to create a plaza. But then the business owners on that block come downtown with torches and a noose looking for the council member from that district. The council member bravely points down the hall toward the paid staff and says, "They went that-away." And sometimes in bad cases some 20-year veteran staffer gets walked out the door with a cardboard box and a chopped pension.
So City Hall does not jump when somebody snaps a finger. It does not jump if somebody cracks a whip. It does not jump if somebody fires a shotgun at it. I know. It just plain does not jump.
But why shouldn't a smart, activist, optimistic part of town like North Oak Cliff be able to remake itself in its own image? They should. They can. They do. But it all comes down to one thing.
The council member.
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The council member can make it happen or refuse or fail to make it happen. Look at the Lower Greenville Avenue plan that Angela Hunt got done for her constituents. That was very tough going every inch of the way, but it got done and it means life and death to the neighborhoods that had been locked in a losing battle for years with a metastasizing scum-bar scene on Lower Greenville.
The reality is that only a city council member, acting in the interests of his or her single-member district, can effect real change. It's just how it is. The council member can't do it alone. He or she has to be smart enough and effective enough to be able to line up seven more votes from other members, but only the council member can get it going and see it through.
One place where people might want to keep all of that in mind is District 12, where former council member Sandy Greyson is in a run-off with a Tea Partier who seems not to know or care where City Hall even is. A district that saddles itself with a politically ineffectual representative is in for two years of absolute Siberia at City Hall. If the council member can't schmooze and get the deal done, there is no deal to do.
That's why I always cringe a little when I hear people criticizing the single-member district council system. I know it has its flaws, but I'll tell you what: You take away that system, deprive the council members of their hegemony in their own districts, and nobody will ever be able to get City Hall off the dime. They'll wear out the dime. Then they'll say, "I'm sorry? Which particular dime was it you were referring to? Please go online and fill out a missing dime request for consideration of possible inquiry form at www.dallascityhall.gov.texas.us.kissmyass."