Devil In The Details

The Carnival Cruise Ship boat club barge that a rowing club wanted to build on White Rock Lake seems to have shrunk back into a modest, nicely designed facility that shouldn't really bother anybody.

More amazing, the rowing club people themselves seem to have shed their long forked tails, horns, gnarly teeth and bloody claws, and now they all look like perfectly nice people who just want a place to row.

How in the hell does something like that happen? Was there an exorcism? Is it all an elaborate deception? Or, last and least likely, did I get it somewhat wrong in the first place?

Well. I did pretty much paint them as demons from hell. And I may have suggested indirectly that construction of the floating clubhouse they want to install at the top of the lake would bring about the collapse of Western civilization.

But if I was wrong, it was only in degree. And I probably did pick the wrong bad guys.

A larger threat still looms over the lake's 1,300 acres in the form of shabby stewardship by the city. Someone at City Hall harbors a notion that the lake should be turned into a revenue-producing amusement park. That's where this kerfuffle came from and also the even worse one before it, an attempt by the city's park department to give away a valuable green space at Winfrey Point on the lake to a private institution, the Dallas Arboretum, for use as a parking lot.

The park department just loves parking fees and dance-hall rents. Among schools of thought in public park philosophy, we might call the Dallas Park and Recreation Department's approach the "Carnie School."

Last week Dallas United Crew held a public informational meeting at an East Dallas church. Their plans became known to most of the key constituencies around the lake last June when activists stumbled across them in documents obtained through public records demands related to the Dallas Arboretum/Winfrey Point debacle.

At that time, the plans called for a substantial public space on a second story to be rented out for social events, which presumably would have paid a cut to the park department. I probably can't even convey what kind of alarm bells a suggestion like this sets off around White Rock.

I spoke last week with Michael Jung, a lawyer who has served on many Dallas boards and commissions and now is secretary of the White Rock Lake Task Force, an advisory body established by resolution of the Dallas Park Board. Jung recalled the last time, a decade or more ago, when someone else proposed a floating social facility on White Rock.

"There was an idea at one point to revive the so-called 'Bonnie Barge,'" Jung said, "and run a party barge out of the Teepee Hill area.

"That sort of died an unnatural death because the proponents of it were so politically inept. When they got to the part about how SMU fraternities would be one of their main marketing targets, but, no, they wanted to assure the public that there would not be any alcohol consumption whatsoever, that's when people sort of dismissed them as being from Mars."

And that's exactly what the White Rock Lake advocates saw coming at them when they learned that the park department had been negotiating with a rowing club from Highland Park about what sure sounded like another party barge scheme.

Let's just get all the biases and bigotry and preconception out on the table where we can sort through it all frankly. When this idea hit the fan, it was met with horror by most of the people I talked to in the traditional White Lake constituency, by whom I mean the save-the-lakers, the Love-of-the-Lake crowd, the people who brought about the lake's fourth and most recent dredging in 1996-'98.

The lake lovers had nightmare visions of spoiled brat Park Cities children barely able to see over the dashboards of the Hummers they were driving around the lake at night, drunk out of their minds playing whack-a-mole with the peasantry.

And in the other direction? I watched the very tautly controlled faces of the rowing club people at last week's meeting as my own people, the East Dallas A'Ginners, rose one after another to deliver rambling harangues unsubtly suggesting that the rowing club was against democracy, transparency and crippled children. I think I could read a little of what the rowing clubbers thought of us while they sat there clutching their pews with white knuckles to keep themselves from rising to the bait.

Crazy senile hippie paranoid delusional crackpot wingnuts. It was on the tips of their tongues. I know it was. And frankly, I'm not going to argue the point. In some corners of East Dallas, those are honorific terms. (None of them applies, by the way, to Michael Jung.)

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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