Being Avi Adelman
A night out on Lower Greenville Avenue provides enough stuff for a Hollywood movie.
The story line would be something gripping about a lone antagonist threatening small-business owners. Or perhaps a feel-good piece where a group of money-hungry capitalists trample the rights of residents until one man takes a stand. Maybe a teen flick featuring hordes of drunken revelers who guzzle beer and drive around wildly, terrorizing a neighborhood of kindly townsfolk. A political thriller? An inept city government ignores residents' pleas until a crusader exposes political corruption. No? Then how about this: City officials battle local terrorist while building toward a dream community.
Lower Greenville Avenue is all of those things, depending on one's perspective. And in each scenario the central figure would be the same: a small, stocky, middle-aged man named Avi Adelman.
Many residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Lower Greenville dismiss his antics as counterproductive, at best. "I think his problem is that he pisses off everyone--neighbors, bar owners, the city," says John Carlisle, a Greenville Avenue-area resident. "That's not the way I would do things." Adelman inspires hatred and hurls it back in equal measure. "He tells so many lies about me," complains one bar owner who requested anonymity. "How does he get away with it? I've busted my ass to do what I'm supposed to do, and all I get in return are raids and harassment. Avi calls 911 on us." In addition, Adelman posts crude snapshots of drunks urinating in not-so-secluded spots around Lower Greenville on his Web site, Barkingdogs.org. He referred to Bob Peterson, owner of Blue Goose, as "Dirty Bob" and called him "an evil person" in one e-mail message. He razzes the mayor and City Council members and longs for the day when bars along the Lower Greenville strip board up their doors for good.
Definitely the basis for a feature film, if the whole damn fight wasn't really just about parking, publicity and the normal pace of city business.
Bars and restaurants generate more than half of the total demand for parking spaces--2,880 spots calculated according to city code standards--in the area around Lower Greenville, often competing with residents of the neighborhoods abutting the entertainment strip. City planners claim that customers of the 54 establishments between Belmont and Ross account for much of the area's off-street parking shortage. Desperate for parking, bar and restaurant customers search deep into the neighborhoods for a place to drop their cars for the evening. Valet parking only exacerbates the problem, says Leslie Cooke, owner of the Corner Tap. "Valets will park in the first available space, and the easiest spots are behind Arcadia, Milkbar and other bars," he says. "Customers then have to drive around."
Much of the shortfall has to do with exemptions granted to commercial properties in business before the parking code was adopted, and the city's arcane parking regulations add to the trouble--for example, establishments with patios or rooftop seating are not required to provide parking for these additional seats. As a result, area residents must put up with steady traffic early in the evening--Greenville Avenue alone carries 24,000 vehicles a day--and an unsteady flow of obnoxious drunks staggering back to their cars late at night. Along the way they sometimes pause for a few moments to ensure that neighbors' lawns grow thick and lush.
"When you confront someone urinating on your lawn, they always say, 'I had to go,' neighborhood resident Bill Dickerson reports. "Well, I don't care. Go in your shoe. Go in your car. Why do our kids have to play where you urinated?"
Dickerson patrols west of Lower Greenville as part of his neighborhood's crimewatch program. Each weekend he discovers men and women relieving bladders in yards, on fences, in bushes and so forth. One night a panicked drunk even plowed into him with a Jeep. The scrappy Dickerson landed on the hood of the speeding vehicle, taking an eight-block ride down Ross Avenue.
Adelman, who lives on Belmont near Greenville, decided three years ago to alert the entire city to the parking problems, soiled lawns, litter and other attributes of life alongside a bar district. "It was terrible every weekend," he recalls. "So how do you bring this to people's attention? Who do we talk to? Well, the media." He began an e-mail advocacy campaign and created a Web site. His first big coup came when he ran an ugly trash bin contest, posting photos on his site. "It got on Fox 4, and it worked," he beams. Next he called for a New Year's Eve boycott of the strip. "Channel 8 picked it up," he says. "That started the media ball rolling."
People insist that the media-savvy neighborhood activist is a kind person, intelligent, witty and even nice. But his demeanor changes once you become a target. "You're not going to reduce stupidity," he says of the bar patrons wandering his street. "There is a definite trend downward in quality. Last year we had Infinitis and BMWs. Now we see regular cars." In e-mail messages to subscribers to his Web site he blasts city officials regularly, especially after the annual St. Patrick's Day street party. On his Web site he charges that Mayor Ron Kirk "regards the citizens of Dallas as no more important than roadkill on the highway to personal riches." He definitely has a way with words.
"This is an aggressive approach," he admits. "It's never been done here before; this is Dallas."
The bars along Lower Greenville had formed the Historic Greenville Business Association some time before Adelman entered the picture, hoping to engage in shared promotions and advertising. At the same time they worked with neighborhood associations to ease some of the problems. "Then the negative stuff started coming out," says one owner. Bar owners tried to assuage the fiery activist, purchasing garbage cans at $400 a pop for the sidewalks, printing up signs urging patrons to respect the neighborhoods and paying for off-duty officers to patrol the neighborhoods. But Adelman turned his attention to code violations, valet parking and the St. Patrick's Day celebration. He successfully removed 200 to 300 parking spaces from the mix by gaining residents-only-parking (ROP) approval from the city for four streets, then took away a few hundred more when he challenged street parking under National Fire Safety Code rules. "Yes, it's a safety issue," he says. "That's how we played it, but it's also a loss of parking for bars."
His crusade continues, but support appears to be wavering. His e-mail advocacy campaign lashes out at city planners and bar owners with unnecessary venom, many say. Adelman, for example, accused bar owners and city events planners of collusion prior to this year's St. Pat's Day event, claiming in an e-mail message that "the residents tried to work with the bars through the Special Events Committee. But the City Special Events Staff and the bars had a plan ready and did not give a damn about the neighborhood." Others involved in the meetings, however, report that the bar owners readily agreed to most neighborhood requests. "The bars bent over backwards to help," says Carlisle. "At the first meeting, Avi got 85 percent of what he asked for, so he had to find something else to complain about." That "something else" came when the Corner Tap, a bar Adelman reportedly frequents, issued a request for a small St. Patrick's Day party. When Dallas special-events manager Phedra Amarante expressed initial doubts about the plan, Adelman rushed to the bar's support. "Avi had stood up, yelled and screamed in previous meetings about how there were to be no other permits," says a resident who wished to remain anonymous. "However, Avi blew a lid because the owner of the Corner Tap was a friend of his. I wish I had the letter he sent to Phedra, which was scathing and way out of line." For her part, Amarante followed city policies and issued the permit. "We had to make certain we had the resources to handle the event," she says of her initial hesitancy. "It was odd that he [Adelman] was pushing for this and slamming me for being unfair."
Such tactics offend supporters and threaten the fragile relationship growing between businesses and the community. "I don't agree with personal attacks, least of all on city employees," says Dickerson, a supporter.
"Most of the people in the neighborhood started seeing an improvement," says a bar owner who claims to pay $1,500 a month to help support neighborhood issues, "but Avi stayed negative." An off-duty officer costs $256 each weekend, and the bars often fall $2,000 to $3,000 in arrears on payments to the neighborhood associations. "He didn't let up, so a lot of businesses said 'fuck him.'"
Craig Stadler, owner of The Old Crow, believes that ROP aided the situation by spreading awareness of the parking problems. Residents on ROP streets pay a $50 application fee, $42 for each sign and $6.50 per year to cover the cost of tags identifying each local vehicle. Adelman initially demanded that area businesses pay the cost of ROP--causing even bar owners supportive of his cause to lose composure. "What else do you want, Avi?" Stadler asks.
Perhaps the answer exists in an e-mail message Adelman sent to subscribers in March: "Maybe it's time for the bars to move somewhere else."
Everyone involved, including the bars, admit that Adelman illuminated a serious problem, but they insist now that things have improved. "The thing about Lower Greenville is that it's never going to be Bourbon Street or Main Street at Disneyland, either one," contends John Loza, deputy mayor pro tem and City Council representative for District 2. "There are people who try to arrive at a solution, and those are the people I have respect for." Dickerson, for example, works closely with the bars, despite bouts of indifference.
The city's Lower Greenville Land Use Study promises to solve the problems plaguing the area through additional parking and the creation of a mixed-use buffer zone between the bars and the homes. But Adelman vows to continue his crusade. "I'm never going to give this up," he promises. "It's making the point that matters."
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