Do you like having a previous speculation confirmed in black and white? I kind of do. A lot. That’s why I got such a kick out of the endorsement editorial in The Dallas Morning News last weekend urging people to vote for three people not named Scott Griggs for mayor — the not-Griggs troika.
The News urged Dallas voters to elect Eric Johnson, Lynn McBee and Miguel Solis mayor in the May election. So if that works, the winner will be Mayor JoMcLis? Mayor SoMcJo?
Not to brag, not to say I told you so, not to gloat … well, truthfully, I'm doing all of those things ... but I must point out that I saw this coming early in the year. I said the Ray Hunt/Robert Decherd/Morning News/Dallas Citizens Council/Park Cities/fake kayak rapids/bad bridge crowd would run a strategy in the upcoming mayoral election amounting to two words: Stop Griggs. I just didn’t know they would make it obvious.
They’re so desperate, they want us to vote for three other people, just so it’s not Griggs. I could write that editorial in one paragraph: “Go vote for anybody, as long as it’s not Griggs. If you don’t like the troika, then vote for the commie (Socialist Workers Party candidate Alyson Kennedy). Fine. Whatever. Ray and Robert can live with the commie. But, puhleeeze, people, not Griggs!”
Makes you wonder. What’s so threatening about a 40-something family man, a lawyer from a burgeoning inner city neighborhood that he helped to burgeon? I haven’t seen this much panic in high circles in Dallas since the Katrina buses were headed this way in '05.
Here’s a clue: the Morning News editorial includes this line: “Griggs is the leader of a deeply divisive political bloc in Dallas.”
Really? If that’s true, it must be more like thousands of blocks. Griggs is clearly the front-runner in this over-populated field, because he’s the only one of 10 candidates with an established base in City Hall elections. Griggs is a trusted name in the high-voting, civically active communities of North Oak Cliff, East Dallas and Oak Lawn with significant outreach into both southern Dallas (the only person running who has represented southern Dallas as an elected official) and North Dallas, where anti-boondoggle messages have resonated like a gong since 2002 when Laura Miller was elected mayor.
So is that a “divisive bloc”? C’mon. Really? The entire sweep of neighborhoods swirling out of downtown is “divisive”? What makes it divisive? From whom is it divided? I could guess, but then I’d have to type out that whole long name again that I gave them above. Why do they think the whole urban core of the city is divisive?
Three different types of issues come to mind: one down in the weeds, the other more at rooftop level and the third at 10,000 feet. The weeds list is about all the goofy, incredibly wasteful boondoggles that the long-name group has gotten us into — $200 million wasted on a toll road through downtown that never got built, $115 million for a bridge that still can’t be opened, $6 million for something about kayaks in the Trinity River and now a fancy new park proposed on the river downtown that sounds like it will end up being 300 statues with their heads sticking out of the mud. Maybe the Chinese can come here 500 years from now and do archaeology.
The long-names are furious with Griggs and his allies on the City Council for calling them out on all of this goofy stuff. They have to worry that if somebody calls them out on goofy thing after goofy thing after goofy thing, people might get the impression, God forbid, that they’re goofy. So those are weeds-level reasons they think Griggs is divisive.
At the more significant rooftop level, Griggs represents a significant body of thought among people in the city’s Middle Earth who feel that City Hall needs to stand up better and bargain harder for the interests of its citizens. I’m not talking about an anti-business, anti-development mentality. It’s more the kind of responsible civic-mindedness my staunchly Republican Grandma Alice had in Wichita, Kansas, all her life — a belief that it’s up to everyday citizens to make sure the buses run on time and see to it the garbage gets picked up properly and not just sit back and wait for the Wizard of Oz to do it.
An example would be Griggs' recent victory on inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning is this: A developer buys a block of land for X dollars — a price that reflects zoning already in place that will allow the developer to build 100 apartments. The developer then goes to City Hall and says, “I want new zoning so I can build 150 apartments.”
City Hall could say, “If you wanted to build 150 apartments, you should have paid the price for land that already had zoning on it for 150 apartments.” But what does City Hall do now? If it’s the right developer with the right connections, City Hall usually shrugs and says, “Sure, no problem. You got it. Here’s your new zoning.”
Many people in the urban neighborhoods have wanted the city to stand up a little. Not to say no. Not to stop development. But to say, “Let’s make a deal. We will grant you your new zoning, for free, allowing you to make way more money on the land than what you paid for it. But do us a favor. We badly need affordable housing. So make 10 of your 50 extra units affordable. You will make more profit than you would have made without the new zoning we’re giving you. But we want 10 affordable units out of the deal.”
The long-names hated it! They despised it! They considered it pushback and insolence. But Griggs led the way to win a recent unanimous council vote in favor of it. This kind of thing is being done in cities all over the country. New wave urban dwellers are taking an active hand in shaping their own communities, not by opposing all development but by driving better bargains to build smarter cities. Inclusionary zoning is just one example of the many ways the city could stand up better for itself and be smarter.
That’s the rooftop level of why The Dallas Morning News thinks the entire urban core of the city is “divisive.” Asking for inclusionary zoning, asking developers to hire local workers when they get handed hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, asking for anything, or just standing up is “divisive.” Yeah. What’s not divisive? Being a lay-down.
Then there’s the 10,000-foot level. Dallas/Fort Worth was the No. 1 metropolitan area in the country in population growth in 2017-2018, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Growth of that magnitude generates enormous new wealth and opportunity but also staggering social and community obligations that fall on the shoulders of taxpayers. Yes, we get jobs. But, yes, too, we will need more schools and sewers.
At the 10,000-foot level, the question is who will keep the books on that? Who will keep track? “We want your new training facility, but, no, we can’t give you the size of tax break you have asked us for because, if we do that, we won’t be able to pay for the sewers and schools that your new facility will require us to build.” Who will stand up? What kind of candidate? What kind of mayor?
The same mentality that gets all jacked out of shape over criticism of the boondoggles, that thinks inclusive zoning is an insolent idea, that same personality is going to get even more angry and arrogant when regular citizens try to manage growth through their elected leaders. There is a French term for it, lèse-majesté, pronounced lez-maj-eSTAY. It means insulting the monarch. It was once a serious crime.
Let’s go back to the crime of divisiveness. A really interesting issue awaiting the new mayor and City Council will be tearing down the Interstate 345 expressway downtown (elevated portion of Central Expressway from Woodall Rogers to I-30, dividing Deep Ellum from downtown). And, by the way, the question is not really about tearing down I-345. The real agenda is creating an entire new urban community on 245 acres that would be opened up in the heart of the city.
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Even though some of Griggs’ constituents may not be totally on board with it yet or fully understand it, tearing down I-345 is the quintessential window on the kind of thing Griggs’ Middle Earth constituency is thinking about and interested in. Creating a new walkable mixed-use community, including workforce housing and dreaming up cool urban amenities: those are goals that unite Middle Earth.
Coalition for a New Dallas, the political action committee leading the I-345 campaign, just published a list of mayoral and city council candidates who answered yes on a questionnaire asking them if they favored tearing down I-345. Five of the 10 mayoral candidates — Mike Ablon, Albert Black, Griggs, Lynn McBee and Miguel Solis — all said yes. A total of 27 City Council candidates said yes. In 11 of the 14 council districts, two or more candidates were in favor.
If somebody truly thinks that kind of dialogue is divisive, if they think City Hall standing up for itself is divisive, if they think keeping book on growth and managing it sanely is divisive, then maybe they are the ones who are divided. From the future.
Note: Do not really vote for three people. That still is a crime.