Dallas' Old Guard Can Lie and Bob and Weave, But Change Is Coming Like an Earthquake

I have a column that hasn't quite been published yet that I would like to withdraw in advance. Well, not withdraw. More like re-draw. I don't think it's possible to correct something you haven't said yet, is it? So let's think of this more in the vein of an expansion. In advance.

Sometime late tomorrow my column in the paper will go live online, urging that the biggest and maybe only issues in the May 2015 elections should be truth-squad questions about the Trinity toll road. Oh, wait. I already said that last Friday here.

See also: The Next Dallas City Council Election Will Be about Liars

But this week in the print paper I'm saying it in greater detail. My argument is that the consistent and long-term pattern of deliberately deceiving the public is actually way more important than the toll road question itself. The toll road question is whether we should build a 10-lane highway in the flood zone along the Trinity River cutting off downtown from the city's only significant natural asset, the river.

The lying question is whether the old establishment in Dallas is such a liar that it must have to get somebody else to call its dog. When you stack the Trinity River project lies end to end, you have to wonder why we would trust the old establishment on any important issue ever.

So here is my amendment. In the longest view, if you back far away from it, put your glasses on upside down, sort of fuzz your eyes for a second and look at the situation, maybe lying isn't really at the center of it. They do lie. We can prove that, and there will plenty of ammo brought to bear when the next round of council races gets going. But maybe lying isn't their worst problem.

I think the bigger problem is that the old leadership that has dominated City Hall for so long just does not get it. And the not getting it filters down through the City Hall staff because the old guard has always operated the staff like its own private Punch and Judy Show.

Last week Eric Nicholson and I covered a meeting of environmentalists and nature activists with city staff in the Great Trinity Forest, convened to discuss depredations of the forest by the city and its contractors. It was eye-opening to see how little the staff understood about nature. And they admitted it. The nature activists were explaining to city engineers how the city had set off broadly destructive ripple effects on plant and animal life throughout that entire part of the forest by cutting a road through the forest and sucking all the water out of a natural pond.

See also: Vonciel Hill's Loony Memo to Scott Griggs Versus the Facts on the Ground

You could tell it was all news to the staff. I found that shocking. I can guarantee you there isn't a kid at the Hockaday School who doesn't understand the intricate connectedness of nature.

Let's look at another example, the monumentally stupid, ill-conceived, destructive attempt by the city to create a "white-water feature" in the Trinity River, a concept akin to a hockey rink in the Sahara. The white-water feature came about after a gaggle of Park Cities ladies saw kayakers somewhere in Colorado and decided Dallas needed something like that, kind of like bringing home a very expensive souvenir. The White Water Feature was not the product of lies, or at least not until after they built it and there was a major Blame Alert. It was originally the product of old, very square rich people who still dominate Dallas City Hall -- people whose ideas of nature were born in luxury travel in the last century.

See also: Trinity White Water Feature Still There, Still Stupid

Yes, they lie when they get embarrassed or when they fear things are not going their way. But things don't go their way because... they ... do ... not ... get ... it.

That's my expansion on the theme. I still think it's important to hold the toll-road backers' feet to the fire on public lies and deceptions. But maybe it's even more important to recognize that a tectonic cultural tension underlies all of this, and that the time has come for the new culture to elbow the old one out of the way.

There was an intriguing moment at the thing Nicholson and I covered last week out in the forest. I was kind of eavesdropping on the nature advocates, who had gathered in a knot to discuss strategy. They were an informal thrown-together alliance of people, some of whom had been very actively involved in defending White Rock Lake from the Dallas Arboretum's attempts to turn it into a fancy Coney Island, others of whom had been focused on saving the Great Trinity Forest from hordes of corporate duffers.

One of them told the rest of the group, a little proudly, that he had overheard a city staffer at some time in the past say he was worried about the day when the White Rock Lake people would join forces with the Trinity Forest people. They all chuckled, I assume because it seemed to them this was that day. But I didn't chuckle. The hair stood up on the back of my neck.

What if this was that day? What if that meeting in the forest was the occasion when the tectonic plates finally cracked, groaned and shifted, one above the other, the new above the old, and all of these heretofore isolated pools of interest began to merge into one force?

Oh, take it easy, I'm not talking about the Red Army. I'm not even taking about anything formal. But I am saying the new sensibility in the city could begin to see itself as more of a movement that would address every single aspect of the city's life. If that is really happening now, will it coalesce enough to make a significant difference in next May's City Hall elections? And if not that quickly, what about the election two years from now?

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze