Let's talk about sincerity. It's awfully easy to take a certain position on an issue and be sincere about it when that position happens to coincide with the interests of your boss.
We speak here of The Dallas Morning News editorial page and its campaign against scrap yards near mainly minority residential neighborhoods in southern Dallas.
For 14 years the Morning News has been a principal proponent of the Trinity River Project, a highway-building and real estate redevelopment scheme along the river in downtown and southern Dallas. In the meantime the Morning News editorial page has been especially muscular about calling for certain types of businesses to be thrown off land that they own and occupy near the river, by any means possible.
Gold Metal Recyclers
In the case I'm about to tell you about, the city and state are using eminent domain to whack off 40 percent of the land of two businesses for a road project. The owners are asking the city for permission to squeeze their operations onto the remaining land, their own land.
The News is saying hell no, here's a chance to get them by the throat. They say the city should use this technical approval process to run the scrap yards off their land entirely.
Why? Well, the editorial page is very committed to the removal of businesses it considers unsightly or corrosive of the surrounding social fabric. Near the river.
Most of those businesses also probably have the effect of holding down land values and making redevelopment of the area along the river more problematic. In particular the News' editorial page has settled on recycling yards as engines of oppression.
Wait. Am I in favor of scrap yards near minority neighborhoods? Good question. Before I answer, let me point out a couple things.
First of all, the News' editorial page has suggested repeatedly that the recycling yards near the river must be moved because of their damaging effect on nearby minority neighborhoods, but whenever they come up with a suggested relocation site, it's always in the southern Dallas "Inland Port" area where the yards would be near other minority neighborhoods.
So I don't think it's the minority neighborhoods they want the yards moved away from. I think they want the yards moved away from the river.
Gold Metal Recyclers and Okon Metals are recycling yards—scrap yards—in southern Dallas between the river and South Lamar Street. The state is going to take almost half their land for a much-needed project to rebuild a dangerous highway.
Both businesses operate under tight restrictions dictating where they can place each element of their operations on their own land. Months ago they went to the city and asked for permission to move the things from the land they are about to lose, relocating them to the land they will be able to keep, closer to Lamar Street.
This is what the News said in an editorial about it on June 1:
"The problem is, people live directly across Lamar in poor neighborhoods, and many feel the scrap yard owners don't have their best interests at heart. The more than 100 homes that will be affected are occupied by politically powerless people, many of whom lived there decades before the scrap yards opened.
"These residents have rights that have been repeatedly ignored by City Council and Plan Commission decision makers, who for decades saw no problem placing noisy, ugly and polluting heavy-industrial businesses in the midst of homes."
OK, I'm a bleeding heart, right? How can I not be racing around in circles barking like a dog at this very moment? They've painted it so well: the dirty recycling businesses are ruining the lives of "politically powerless" people who have been "repeatedly ignored" by City Hall. It's my kind of red meat, and they've served it up on a sesame bun with salad on the side. But look, I say the problem is not what the News says it is. The problem is the News.
At the end of last week I attended the City Plan Commission hearing where all of this was considered. Half of the 250-seat city council chamber, where the plan commission meets, was filled by residents of the neighborhoods around the recycling yards, many of whom were also employees of the scrap yards.
Several of those employees got up and made speeches to the plan commission praising the owners of the yards for providing more than 300 good jobs in an area of high unemployment.
But let's be cynical. Let's say they were only doing what I have accused the Morning News editorial page writers of doing: sucking up to their bosses. Here is the part that dumbfounded me:
From that crowd of more than 100 residents, not one person rose to speak against the scrap yards. Not a single person. That just does not comport with my experience of politically powerless Americans who have been ignored. Usually once you get those folks to within 10 yards of a podium, they have a lot of saved-up stuff to tell you, including where you can put it.
This all comes barely a month after a community service group with deep roots in southern Dallas, "Friends of Fair Park," bestowed a special appreciation award on the Goldberg family, owners of Gold Metal Recyclers.
In giving the award, the executive director of the Fair Park group said, "The Goldbergs have proven to be good citizens contributing to the welfare of the South Dallas area by providing hundreds of jobs, giving back to charities and organizations in need, preserving natural resources, and putting millions of dollars back into the economy."
Another interesting point of reference: Last November before the newspaper got cranking on its land expropriation campaign against these two scrap yards, guess who named Gold Metals one of Dallas' "Top 100 Places to Work?" The Dallas Morning News did.
How quickly they fall. In barely eight months Gold Metals goes from leading citizen to engine of racial oppression. I guess the answer is not just to jump when the News says jump. It's hurry up and jump.
The Plan Commission obviously was in a mood to accept the proposals of the owners to stay on their own property and rearrange their businesses. Member Ann Bagley made a moving speech in defense of the yards, pointing out how imprudent it would be of the city in these times of high unemployment to shut down 300 jobs, especially in light of evidence that the operations comply with all of the environmental and land-use requirements at every level of government regulation from local to federal.
The Plan Commission had to delay its vote while the city attorney reviews the final draft of an agreement, but when this comes back to the commission for a vote later this month we can expect a slam dunk for the owners.
Back to the subject of sincerity. I do not believe that the editorial page people at the News are insincere or consciously duplicitous in their campaign against uncool businesses along the Trinity River. I just don't put much value on sincerity. Anybody can be sincere. You should see my dog when he tries to make me think I haven't fed him already.
Let's talk about what's actually going on. The News editorial page has focused on a few businesses that happen to be right in the path of the newspaper's own grandest designs for the Trinity River. The News has propounded a theory by which the city should use its police and zoning powers to run people off land they already own. The paper doesn't care how many jobs they provide.
We take people who are obeying the law, obeying the regulations and keeping faith with the neighbors, not to mention making a payroll, and we're going to use tricks to put them out of business? Why is that not absolutely outrageous?
Look, environmental racism is a real deal. I don't know how much or how often you drive around the southern sector, but I do a lot, and I see a great many land-uses that would never have been allowed on the white side of the river. Maybe these recycling operations are among them.
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But if we are sincere about rectifying the wrongs of the past, we don't start out with a few businesses that happen to be right in the path of our own main real estate schemes. There are comprehensive, positive, non-punitive, incentive-based ways Dallas could and must approach the development of its southern half, but those methods are never going to start out with a laser-dot on the forehead of one guy. That's not equity. That's a hit job.
The biggest best hope the southern sector has ever seen was the development of the huge rail and truck shipping complex called the Inland Port in southern Dallas. The Morning News editorial page joined Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price in sabotaging the Inland Port, which had the direct effect of benefiting the competing Alliance Airport inter-modal facility in Fort Worth, owned by one of Dallas' most powerful families, the Perots.
Remember that? They did it by holding up the development until more planning could be done, even though five years of planning already had been done. The editorial page was all for planning—very, very sincere about planning. Wrote about it beautifully. Isn't it interesting that now they want to send the scrap yards to the Inland Port—something nobody ever planned on and the Inland Port doesn't want?
But when they sing the praises of planning, the editorial writers at the News do sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's heavenly. Meanwhile Ross Perot Jr. is standing in his penthouse clinking ice cubes in his Waterford glass and singing "My Way." And he's sincere too. Sometimes people just want other people's stuff. Very, very sincerely.