Today's Edition of The News Is Caught Between a Rock Island Street and a Hard Place

There's a great story by Steve Thompson on Page One of The Dallas Morning News today about old industrial businesses on Rock Island Street, a quaint one-block lane tucked between the Trinity River levee and Lamar Street a mile due south of downtown. Several businesses there are fighting to keep City Hall from zoning them out of existence in deference to the Trinity River project, and it looks as if they may win their case at council.

Thompson's piece is a fair-minded , well-rounded story with color and character, turning a bone-dry topic -- zoning -- into a compelling little narrative. I guess I feel compelled to say something, because I so often use this space as a flail against The News for just the opposite kind of journalism; maybe there should be some acknowledgment when they manage to get it right.

What makes Thompson's story all the more poignant is the perfect example on the editorial page of the same edition of the pissed-off frat-boy voice of The News when it comes to anything that interferes, in the paper's view, with its beloved Trinity River Project, a hopelessly screwed up billion-dollar boondoggle designed to enhance the real estate interests of the people who own the paper.

In this case the editorial, written by one Tod Robberson, is a strident attack on, among other businesses, Orr-Reed Wrecking, an architectural salvage yard that is a favorite haunt of young couples -- and a person who lives in my house -- re-doing old houses themselves and decorator-designers looking for a certain look. The editorial comes about a millimeter shy of calling Orr-Freed and a couple other businesses along Rock Island terrorists ("A VIRTUAL RIVERSIDE BOMB!!!!) (exclamation mark and caps added).

Their sin? They have been lobbying the council to spare them from a unilateral Draconian re-zoning intended to put them out of business because their presence is considered offensive to the design of the Trinity River Project. In fact -- get this -- the editorial argues seriously that these long-established and privately held businesses should be eradicated because during the winter, when leaves have fallen, the sight of these businesses might be offensive to trail-walkers on the top of the levees, should a trail ever be placed there.

This absolutely fruitcake argument passes over the fact that the whole Trinity River Project is in the crapper because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decreed that the existing levees are decrepit to the point of worthlessness, imposing serious risk to life and property. People walking on trails when the leaves have fallen? How about some urgency for the possibility of baby carriages and old folks washing down the river when the levee blows?

Ah, but stop me. No, that's not how we started here today. The point is that today's Morning News is a huge departure from the newspaper we saw during the 2007 referendum on the river project, when even the poor sods who normally write the Captain-Billy's-Whiz-Bang columns on the Metro front were required to toe the company line and attack critics of the project as if they were Taliban. Today's Morning News is better.

We are left, nonetheless, wondering how much more money, treasure and inflammatory rhetoric will be wasted on the Trinity River Project before we admit as a city that most of it, especially the toll road, was the single dumbest idea in the history of Dallas.

A step at a time.