Lucky me, I attended two debates on the Trinity River toll road referendum this week -- one held by the Dallas Homeowners League and the other by the Belmont Neighborhood Association. I would like that on my tombstone: “Jim Schutze, 1966-2076, attended two debates on Trinity River toll road in one week. (Dates not exact.)”
The debaters at both were current Dallas city council member Angela Hunt (against the road, for the referendum) and former council member Craig Holcomb (for the road, against the referendum). These are two smart folks who both come from neighborhood politics in East Dallas.
If anything, I see them both drawing down to the legitimate issues we will get to hear debated fully and citywide if a petition process succeeds and a referendum is called on building a high-speed toll road through the proposed river park downtown.
Hunt does not argue that we shouldn’t build a so-called “reliever route” downtown. She says the people need a chance to vote on putting it through the park. And Holcomb, I think, is gradually backing off some of the scare-tactic talk about how even having a referendum will unwind the deal and destroy the whole project, of which the toll road is only one part. He’s basically saying, as he said at the Belmont debate, that the land along the river is scabby waste land. It’s free. Why not use it?
In the current D magazine, publisher-editor Wick Allison reprises all of the nonsense about how calling for an election will wreck the world. Hunt has already thoroughly debunked all of that. So far she has lined up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the North Texas Tollway Authority and the United States Congress to say it’s not true. Wick must be holding out until she gets Barney the purple dinosaur to hold up his paw and say she’s right.
Way beneath the surface of the debate, however, I think I hear an even more fundamental issue rumbling. I truly believe that only an election will get this one out on the table.
I think a very important and powerful constituency in Dallas really does not believe in the park, because it really does not believe in parks. These are people who would never for a million dollars venture out into a place of open and free public mixing to enjoy themselves.
They don’t like things that are public. They don’t like things that are mixed. They like things that are pretty, fancy and gated. Very, very gated.
So they figure screw the park. Give us the Calatrava bridges, which will be fancy and which we can look at while whizzing by at 70 miles an hour with our door locks down. And then get out of our faces.
Then you have what I know is Hunt’s vision. You live in a tower downtown. You take your mountain bike down on the elevator, slip down through the canyons of the city and out into a vast green kingdom of trails, birds, water, outdoor concerts, people fishing, touch football and cricket -- all of it -- and everyone out there is in the same vast and open space.
That’s the debate we need to have. --Jim Schutze