Just Say Yes to the Trinity Toll Road?
Months of debate. Endless hours of colorful accusation, innuendo, inference and implication. More hydrological data than a soul can handle. And what does it all come down to?
Yes, we have no bananas.
In next month's Trinity River toll road referendum, do you vote yes for no toll road? Or vote no for yes, a toll road?
Trinity River project
Last week I taped a panel discussion of the toll road debate for Channel 8. It will air next week. Part of what we talked about was the confusing ballot language, but while we were explaining it we got it wrong.
You vote no in order to say yes you don't want the parkway you voted yes for before, because you haven't changed your mind. Yes?
Zowee. How could it be this bad? Why is the ballot language inside out and upside down?
YES. That's how you vote to stick with the original plan for a low-speed parkway inside the levees downtown and NOT the high-speed limited access expressway that the plan has morphed into. YES, for the original deal that passed in 1998, not the new thing nobody ever had a chance to vote on, which is a big toll road inside the levees and inside the park.
YES is no toll road. YES is yes, a low-speed parkway like the one the Texas Department of Transportation described before the election in 1998. YES is stay the course with what we already voted for.
NO is no, we don't want the parkway thing any more. We changed our minds. NO says, "OK, we know we didn't get to vote on this toll road before, but now we like it." NO is NO to the parkway and a little bit NO to the park, too.
For a punchy explanation of the VOTE NO! side, go to Dallasblog.com and read a column by Scott Bennett: "My side thinks the Trinity Park will be a very large homeless shelter without any shelter and the lakes are more likely to breed mosquitoes that sprout sails," Bennett writes.
His piece is refreshing because it declares right out loud the subliminal message that the Vote No! team has been afraid to whisper in public: Parks suck. For Bennett, the idea of a vast central park in the heart of the city is a Yankee carpetbagger anathema thought up by "Birkenstocker" refugees from Detroit like Jim Schutze.
"Full disclosure," he writes. "I grew up on a ranch north of Fort Worth so big cities still baffle me."
Bennett thinks the idea of a big park downtown is stupid and a waste of money. This is the Steve Blow point of view, too, over at The Dallas Morning News, when you get right down to it.
Parks suck. The only people who go to parks are homeless people, hippies and Birkenstocker Yankee carpetbaggers. Decent people stay in their own backyards and make smoke on the grill.
I think Bennett and Blow have given honest voice to a theme that has been embedded but unspoken in the Vote NO! message from the beginning. It's the late middle-age, little bit sedentary, living-in-Sunnyvale view of life:
"The truth," Blow has written, "is that a far greater number of people will enjoy the new Trinity parks through their windshields than in a kayak or on a jogging path. And that's OK. That's the way I most often enjoy White Rock Lake."
That's a real thing. No kayaks. Kayaks are for Eskimos. What is a kayak, anyway? Pretty much you need to stay in your car between work and home, pretty much stay indoors most of the year when it's hot, try not to sweat unless you are grilling or cutting the yard, pretty much look at life through your windshield: It's a lifestyle. Easy to make fun of, I guess, but that really is how a lot of people live.
The question November 6 will be whether these are the people who live in the city and vote. I am confident that Blow, who lives in Sunnyvale, will not try to vote in a Dallas election. Pretty much you need to not vote. Voting is some kind of Birkenstocker Detroit thing. Pretty much you need to not do that except this time when you need to vote NO! if you can to stop the Birkenstockers from making a park.
This isn't that hard. NO is NO to the original vision of a grand park downtown and yes to a great big multilane toll road instead. Got it? If you do like the toll road and you do not like the park, vote NO.
If you do like the park and you do not like the toll road, vote YES.
"Yes, we have no bananas" was a popular song in the 1920s. There's a whole history of why people thought it was really funny at the time. Do you mind just terribly if we skip over that? It's about...I don't know, a banana shortage and then later the Great Depression and I think also Irish independence. Do we not already have enough to break our heads on here without going into all that? I thought so. Thank you. Let's move on.
Why is the ballot language upside down? Why do we have to vote YES in order to say NO to the toll road? Shouldn't it have been set up so we could vote NO in order to get rid of the toll road?
Yeah. Look. Like everything else, this question is the subject of 28 conspiracy theories. At one point Mayor Tom Leppert (Vote No!) was confronting city council member Angela Hunt (Vote YES) after debates, demanding that she 'fess up to having made the ballot language tricky. Hunt had to point out to Leppert that the ballot language was written by the city attorney, not her, and that she had complained about it to no avail when it was first unveiled.
City Attorney Tom Perkins told Hunt he was required by state law to frame the question in an upside-down inside-out way (although that obviously isn't how Perkins put it). I must point out that the city attorney's office is where we got the original 1998 bond election ballot language which forgot to mention the high-speed multi-lane limited access $1.3 billion toll road that the Vote No! side now insists it had in mind from the beginning.
It was not on the ballot in '98.
The Office of Dallas City Attorney is also the same outfit that went to court some years ago and argued that the city should not be bound by the ballot language anyway. A judge, thank goodness, just said no. Meaning yes. The city is bound by the ballot language.
But as a consolation prize, the judge said the city did not have to live up to any promises it made voters in 1998 in brochures, briefings or speeches about the Trinity project. This ruling has been enshrined in my own private legal compendium under the principle, "Go ahead and lie out the wazoo."
So was the city attorney being tricky when he framed the ballot question sort of upside down this time? Oh, yeah, probably so. The entire city staff is lined up, enlisted and saluting in support of the Vote NO! campaign. I covered an appearance by the city's Trinity project director Rebecca Dugger last week in which she made a long straight-up campaign speech for the Vote No! side.
I sent City Attorney Perkins a detailed description of the speech and asked him how in the world it wasn't a violation of the city's ethics code, which prohibits city employees from taking part in campaigns. He didn't even answer me.
Kind of like, "Grow up, buddy. Ethics is for Birkenstockers."
The Vote No! side has been tricky from the get-go. They discovered that the original opponents of the toll road, a group called "Save the Trinity," had allowed their rights to the name to lapse, so the Vote NO! people cobbed it for their own and started calling themselves, "Save the Trinity: Vote NO!"
My suspicion is that they were too clever by half. That must be why Leppert started getting jacked out of shape about it. Vote No! has been doing a ton of polling. They must have been calling people who said, "Yeah, I'm really for that toll road. I'm gonna vote yes."
People have been telling the TrinityVote side (Vote YES against the toll road) that they have received unidentified "survey" calls in which the caller asks whether they are for or against the toll road. When they say they're against it, the caller says, "So you're going to vote NO, right?"
That would be wrong. If you're against the toll road, you would vote YES.
From the beginning, the Vote No-sters have claimed they have an unfair disadvantage because the other side's message is so simple. All TrinityVote has to do is tell people to vote against the toll road (by voting YES). The No'sters say they can't think of a slogan as simple as that.
Know why? Because they still don't want to say what they didn't want to say in 1998. How about, "Vote FOR the toll road?" What's so hard about that?
Know why they don't want to say "Vote FOR the tollroad?" Go back to 1998. Come forward to now. Who in the hell wants a toll road?
Their problem is not that they can't think up a simple slogan. It's that they can't think up an honest slogan. Thank you, Scott Bennett and Steve Blow. Parks suck.
From the mouths of babes!