South Dallas Car Wash Owners Targeted for City Hall Harassment Are White. Is That a Coincidence?

This week I have a story in the actual newspaper about Jim's Car Wash at the corner of MLK Boulevard and Myrtle Street in South Dallas -- the business that is the object of an eight-year running battle at City Hall. One important point in that story may get short shrift. I don't want to look like I'm hiding the ball, so I'll deal with it here.

See also: Dallas City Hall versus The Car Wash

For eight years, southern Dallas elected officials have been trying to run Freddy Davenport and his son Dale out of business at the car wash. As I think you will see if you take a look at my story, the Davenports enjoy heartfelt support from the people who work detailing cars at their car wash -- understandable since the car wash is the only source of income many people in this very poor African-American part of the city can find. So why, if so many people depend on the car wash for a living, have elected South Dallas officials spent the last eight years trying to shut the place down?

As I suggest in the piece, City Hall officials from the mayor on down have dreams for this stretch of MLK -- dreams that probably involve a nonprofit entity run by former City Council member Diane Ragsdale. It already owns 80 parcels of residential land near and around the block the car wash is on. The mayor would like to see her nonprofit move on out to MLK and establish a commercial foothold.

Two lots right next to the car wash are already in city possession. Dale Davenport has inquired about bidding for those properties. He says city officials told him he could not bid on them and that the lots could be sold only to a purchaser approved by the City Council member for that district, Carolyn Davis. If anybody really said that, they got their story a little bit wrong.

From what I have been told, the lots can only be put up for bid if the council member says they can. But once they are up for bid, Davenport's money should be as good as anybody's.

Nevertheless, it is my very strong impression based on conversations with people at City Hall and with property-owners along MLK that the Davenports are not going to be allowed to buy that property, in spite of the fact that they have good credit, in spite of the fact that they have community support, in spite of the fact that they have the business experience and acumen to develop it. I believe that those two lots, along with the property the Davenports now own, have been politically bequeathed to Ragsdale.

The Davenports are the soft spot. Their property is the path that City Hall can use to bring Ragsdale out onto MLK without ruffling feathers elsewhere up and down the street. And why is that? OK, here is the tough part, and please listen carefully so you can hear what I am saying and what I am not saying.

The Davenports are two white guys from East Texas. Did I just say City Hall is targeting because they are white? Not exactly. The entire block east of them is owned by a white family, but it happens to be a very old white family with deep roots and strong ties to South Dallas and to City Hall. What I am saying is that the Davenports, because they are white and because they are from out of town, lack those roots and those ties that might otherwise protect them from this kind of incursion. They are a path of least resistance.

As I report in the story, the mayor has already declared the city's intention to use zoning law to shut down the car wash. It sounds draconian, but the fact is that current law and current zoning on that site will allow the city to do it. The city must declare the car wash a nuisance first, which is going to seem pretty rotten to the people I profile in my piece in the paper this week who depend on it for a living. They talk about it like it's a cross between a church picnic and the public square.

But nuisance laws and zoning are used in my part of East Dallas and all over town to effect the will of neighborhoods trying to better themselves. And I don't know what the mayor and Ragsdale have in mind for MLK. Maybe it's magnificent.

This fact remains: Not everybody up and down MLK has to pay the price for this magnificent adventure, whatever it is. Not everybody gets his business shut. Not everybody must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending his business from an eight-year onslaught of transparently trumped up City Hall harassment.

The Davenports do. They are the target. They are two white guys from East Texas. And none of that is coincidental.

In response to commenters below, here is most recent 990 I could find for Diane Ragsdale's community development corp. My only comment: I see about $41,000 a year in salary and benefits for Ragsdale, but then the form shows another $91,000 in additional salary and wages, and I can't tell who gets that. Anyway, here 'tis, and have at it:

S Dallas Fair Pk 990 2011 by Schutze