Here's an odd discovery: a city councilmember who calls you back, who's well informed on the subject at hand, who doesn't speak in the hyperbole of someone trying to deflect the issue and who actually calls you back a second time to do some fact-checking before answering questions to which the answer is not immediately obvious. Yesterday, councilmember Angela Hunt had no problem sharing her feelings about Forward Dallas!, the so-called comprehensive master plan that promises--or threatens, depending upon your perspective--to change the city's landscape in the near, near future should council give it the OK today as expected. There she was on her blog, on our blog, on everyone else's blogs and, yesterday evening, on our phone saying the same thing: The plan's good for Dallas, absolutely...just not the particular version council's expected to get behind today. (She even kicked Dallas' Only Daily square in the balls yesterday; bless her.) That is the version given the OK yesterday by the City Council Comprehensive Plan Committee, on which five councilmembers sit: Elba Garcia (the chair), Ed Oakley, Linda Koop, Don Hill and Hunt, who was the only member of the CCCPC to vote against the version of Forward Dallas! being forwarded to council. Seems the council wasn't terribly interested in greenlighting the changes made by the City Plan Commission last week, save for some minor issues of language--which mean somewhere between zip and nada. So Hunt voted no.
As we wrote yesterday, Forward Dallas! is pretty incomprehensible--some 400-plus pages of plans, instructions, illustrations and rules having to do with how the city will be laid out in the coming years. It's such a bear of a document, Hunt says, "my brain is about to explode," and it doesn't help that they're on their fourth version now. "It's a real pain in the rear," Hunt says of the plan the council's supposed to pass today--after the council's first and only public hearing on the subject. There have been multiple citywide workshops and town halls about Forward Dallas!, of course, but Hunt's among those claiming the council and city staff listened to the public's suggestions...and then promptly tossed them.
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"Just because you're getting input doesn't mean you're implementing those suggestions," she says. "It's like when I ask my husband about something I'm going to wear before we go out. I may ask him for his input, and 20 percent of the time I ask him I may take his advice, but 80 percent of the time I wear damned well what I please. I take his input, that doesn't mean I do anything with it. And that's what has happened here."
Here's where we could get into what the city staff did listen to and what they ignored; but I'd be lying if I said it meant anything to me at this point. Suffice it to say that there is one astoundingly troubling piece here: Hunt says the city refuses to act on the Plan Commission's recommendation (or demand) that the neighborhoods create their own destiny. Apparently, that will be left in the hands of the city, which has done such a bang-up job of planning neighborhoods we had to pay a guy in Portland more than $1.2 million to give us our 342nd master plan in about 20 years to fix the problems created by...the city. Hunt is also concerned about the plan's obsession with multi-family housing; but like we said yesterday, John Fregonese, the creator of the plan, doesn't think people really want the backyards they claim to be clamoring for. Better an apartment or row house than a home.
"There is way too much focus on multi-family and not enough on small, single-family housing," Hunt says. "But when I have raised my concerns, I am given an explanation. It's never, 'Wow, Angela, you brought up a good point, let's revise the plan or discuss it.' It's always, 'You just don't understand, and if you did, you would love it.' I am sure there are lots of things I don't understand in this world, but I can read black lines on a page and usually get the meaning of them. This stuff just troubles me. There's this kind of an arrogance at work here, and arrgace, there are important issues that have yet to be embraced and addressed."
That process begins--and ends, most likely--at 1:30 at City Hall today. Already 50 people have signed up to line up and speak about Forward Dallas!. It's gonna be a very, very long day. --Robert Wilonsky