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Six Ways Dallas City Hall Screwed the Little Guy in 2013

In 2013, Dallas residents were treated to an unprecedented whiff of Dallas city government, and the experience was something akin to opening that long-forgotten Tupperware container wedged beneath your car seat. The fumes aren't going to kill anyone, but the noxious mix of incompetence and deceit is unmistakable.

An unpleasant experience, but it has to be done if the Tupperware is ever going to get cleaned. So plug your nose while we remind you of the year that was at City Hall.

Uber Dallas' Leandre Johns
Uber Dallas' Leandre Johns
Mark Graham

Taxis Dallasites, sick of unreliable cabbies yelling at them for trying to use credit cards, eagerly embraced the idea of an on-demand limo-hailing app. City Hall, which collects millions in fees from existing cab companies and has been in bed with (and occasionally taking bribes from) Yellow Cab for decades, did not.

See also: Dallas' Unfair Fight to Crush Uber

What followed Uber's arrival in Dallas was a crackdown of absurd proportions. City Hall sicced vice cops on Uber drivers, tried to ban the private-driver service by slipping stringent regulations past the City Council, and otherwise made life as difficult as possible for the company.

All of this came more or less directly from John Barr, Yellow Cab's foul-mouthed lawyer and a man who knows how to throw his weight around at City Hall.

Gonzalez, trying to stay in the City Council's good graces so they'll give him the top job permanently, eventually apologized, but only on the eve of the release of a damning, $50,000 investigation into the city's handling of the Uber controversy. He was especially sorry for revealing how how business really gets done at 1500 Marilla.

Housing For decades, segregation in Dallas was dropping. Then, around the turn of the millennium, the trend began to reverse itself. Why? According to HUD, that's when the city of Dallas began illegally steering affordable housing funds into poor, minority neighborhoods.

See also: How Dallas City Hall Put Us Back Behind a 25-Year Eight-Ball on Segregation

HUD's case centers on developers Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie, who were all set to redevelop the tower at 1600 Pacific until they insisted on including the number of affordable housing units required for a project to be eligible for federal housing money. That's when the city decided to pulled the plug.

The feds' allegations are incredibly complicated, mired as they are in the nuances of federal housing policy and local bureaucracy. They're also incredibly serious and could lead to fraud charges and damages of at least $250 million in "false claims" litigation against the city.

Six Ways Dallas City Hall Screwed the Little Guy in 2013

Fracking

When the dust finally settled after years of bruising debate, participatory democracy scored a decisive victory in the fight over natural-gas drilling in Dallas. Citizen activists, facing stiff opposition from lobbyists and city staff, successfully convinced the City Plan Commission, then the City Council, to crack down on fracking in Dallas.

See also: Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal to Push for Drilling on Parkland as She Told Council It Would Be Banned

It shouldn't have been so hard. Schutze broke the news in February that then-City Manager Mary Suhm inked a secret 2008 deal with Trinity East Energy, promising the company the right to drill on city parkland. Never mind that drilling on parkland was barred by city regulations or that Suhm fibbed when she slipped the deal past the City Council. When it came time for Trinity East to get permits, Suhm and her staff went to bat for the company, twisting City Hall's procedural rules to all but guarantee a favorable outcome.

A similar thing happened when new fracking regulations came up for consideration. No matter how emphatically the Plan Commission insisted on a 1,500-foot buffer between drill sites and homes, parks and other protected uses, city staff would quietly change it back to 1,000 feet.

The only reason these tactics didn't work was the activists were watching too closely, alerting the media and sparking a public outcry. Were the issue less closely watched, the transgressions by Suhm and her staff would have escaped notice.

Six Ways Dallas City Hall Screwed the Little Guy in 2013
Daniel Fishel

Land Grabs Again and again this year, Dallas business and property owners were reminded that hell hath no fury like City Hall in pursuit of its citizens' land.

See also: When Dallas Wants Your Business, Don't Be Stubborn. Or else.

The most recent case involves Dale and Freddy Davenport, a father-son team who own a car wash in South Dallas. In November, the Davenports received a letter from City Hall informing them that their car wash was needed for unspecified "improvements" to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and strongly suggesting that the city would seize the property through eminent domain if need be.

In reality, the Davenports' car wash just doesn't fit into the city's vision for a resurgent South Dallas. Mayor Mike Rawlings, among others, considers it an impediment to economic development and wants it gone.

A similar story played out with Rhadames Solano, whose private soccer complex happened to be a bit too close to the Texas Horse Park and Hinga Mbogo, whose auto shop is not destined to be a part of Ross Avenue's gentrification.

Mbongo eked out a temporary, two-year reprieve and Solano got $300,000 for his land, but neither man was happy. When all is said and done, the Davenports won't be either.

One of the horses at Wayne Kirk's McKinney ranch, circa 2011.
One of the horses at Wayne Kirk's McKinney ranch, circa 2011.
City of McKinney

Horse Park

Dallas has spent more than a decade struggling to get the Texas Horse Park off the ground. They've overcome countless setbacks and shaken off haters questioning why the hell Dallas needs a multimillion-dollar horse park. Now that the thing's finally getting the thing built, City Hall does the logical thing and hands the keys over to an accused horse abuser.

See also: Dallas Entrusted its $11 Million Horse Park to a Man Accused of Mistreating Horses

To be fair, city officials apparently didn't know when they signed the contract with River Ranch Educational Charities that head honcho Wayne Kirk had faced a 2011 animal cruelty charge for allegedly starving his horses, or that one of the animals had been seized. Their due diligence consisted of a glance at the nonprofit's financial statements, which appeared to be in order.

Dallas officials say they are looking into how the contract was handled and are scheduled to report back to the City Council in the near future.

Someday. Maybe.
Someday. Maybe.

Trails

When then-City Council member Angela Hunt and colleague Scott Griggs announced plans for a $6.4 million network of trails last August, the project seemed shovel-ready. Maps had been drafted. Funding was available. All City Hall had to do was start digging.

Why, then, did a year go by with no progress?

See also: Where's that Trinity Trail Council Approved a Year Ago? Still Buried Under City Hall's Big Lie.

The ostensible reason was safety. It was too dangerous, assistant city manager Jill Jordan said, for bikes and pedestrians to share the paths with the city maintenance vehicles that would have to use them. Why the city was suddenly so concerned about something it had publicly dismissed as a non-issue was never fully explained.

After blowback from Hunt and Griggs, the city did some backpedaling, and the trails are once again a sure thing. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in or after October 2014.


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