Unstoppable churches
Terrific piece on the St. Ann's landmark case ["On holy ground," February 4] and the larger issue of George W. Bush's so-called religious freedom bill (by the way, Steve Wolens is a co-sponsor).

Almost without exception, the courts have thrown out landowners' suits claiming property damage--including diminution in value--based solely on the threat of or even the actual zoning or rezoning of property (landmark designation included). It would only be after the Dallas Landmark Commission denied a development proposal on the site following landmark designation that a claim of damage would be considered, and the courts have pretty consistently found that reduction in value is not a taking. The regulation has to almost entirely remove value for the courts to consider it a taking.

Since only part of the St. Ann's site is to be protected from future development, and the building itself can certainly be adaptively used, the owner of the property would probably have a pretty hard time proving that they could get no value from it. (I believe that the diocese paid nothing for the property--it was donated to them--so a $1 million sale to the Guadalupe group would constitute a net profit. No taking there!)

By the way, St. Ann's would not be the first landmark designated in Dallas over an owner's objection: the Knights of Pythias Temple (Elm at Good Latimer) was landmarked years ago despite then-owner Union Banker's Life's strenuous objection. It, too, doesn't have much architectural zing presently, but as you know it has a tremendous cultural history, particularly for the African-American community. You'll recall that Al Lipscomb worked very hard at the time to persuade his fellow council members of the importance of landmarking the few remaining African-American cultural landmarks.

Regarding the "religious freedom" bill: Of course, it's terribly scary. Any property owner in Texas would be in danger of having almost anything appear next door if that property were owned by a religious institution. Since the latter would be exempt from all zoning and land-use regulations, not just landmark ordinances, neighborhoods would be at extreme risk of galloping development. Huge parking lots and other inappropriate uses would be virtually unstoppable.

Name withheld
Via e-mail

Praise for stink
Kudos to Rose Farley and contributor Mark Donald for "Raising a stink" [February 11]. Dallas Community College District's court action against Mr. Thomas is a serious matter that concerns those familiar with the Public Information Act. Please continue to report the matter.

Not long ago, the Coppell City Council and city manager whined regularly at council meetings about the "burdensome cost" of complying with the act. However, the city secretary's latest report to the Texas General Services Commission indicated the total cost of open-records access was only 8 to 12 hundredths of 1 percent of the overall city budget. After I made this fact public, city officials have not attacked the "subversive" open-records requesters lately. Open-records requests exposed the city council's "burdensome cost" mantra as public propaganda intended to shame open-records requesters into not researching more documents that exposed city mismanagement. In your follow-up, please report what percentage of the DCCCD budget is actually spent complying with the Public Information Act.

Arthur Kwast, webmaster
Via e-mail

Dangerous regulations
As an 18-wheel truck driver with 12 years of experience, I found Ann Zimmerman's article on safety problems within the trucking industry to be remarkably comprehensive ["Highway roulette," December 31]. There are two points that deserve more emphasis:

1. It is impossible to legislate safety without changing the way drivers are paid. Because over-the-road drivers are typically paid by the mile and regulated by the hour, there is an incentive to use the precious on-duty hours recorded in the logbook only for driving. So if a driver spends eight hours waiting in a warehouse office to be loaded, you can be sure that those hours will not be correctly recorded as "on-duty not driving" but instead as "off duty" or "sleeper" time. Even on-board electronic monitoring will not catch this falsification. And after being loaded, no matter how long it took, you can be sure the driver will then drive at least 10 hours to maximize his pay. These conditions lead to 18-hour days that end with driving. Because the trucking companies are in a competitive regulatory environment, built into the pay scale is the assumption that the drivers will falsify their logs to the maximum.

2. The narrowed lanes that are next to the HOV lanes in Dallas are grossly unsafe. Not only are the lanes narrowed to the absolute limit for safe driving, but since the narrowed lanes now put the seams between the slabs in the lanes instead of at the edges, trucks are obliged to drive on top of the seams instead of between them. The seams grab the tires and drag the truck laterally, toward adjacent lanes. With no margin for error because of the narrowed lanes, an increased accident rate is inevitable and is the fault of the Department of Transportation.

It's easy to blame the driver or the companies, and both deserve some blame. But the laws that permit only paying by the mile and regulating by the hour encourage violation. Until this is changed, the trucking industry will continue to run on the ragged edge of safety.

Scott Sutton
Grand Prairie

What's in a name?
Was it really the truth, Ms. Miller? Laura Miller seems to be grooming herself for a loftier position, without the dues-paying avenues one usually has to take ["Truth hurts," February 11]. Grandstanding for the cameras, or shelling out the truth? Does she act this way when there are no cameras present? Time will tell whether she is sincere or just sincerely making a name for herself.

S. Jones
Via e-mail

Hooray for Levon
Hooray for Levon for shakin' the trees and lettin' the shit fall where it will ["The Great Divide," February 4]. Levon, Rick, Richard, and Garth are The Band. Robertson appears to be nothing but the emperor in new clothes supplied by Scorcese. God bless Levon for standing up against all the bullshit. And Robertson wanted to cut Muddy from the film to make room for Neil Diamond--ouch. Hey Levon, I need a drummer. We won't make any money, but we'll sure have a real good time.

Mark Prentice
Via e-mail

Very good, insightful article on Levon Helm. (I am one of the investors in his new New Orleans nightclub, so it was interesting to me, to say the least, to read this profile).

Mark Prentice
Via e-mail

Boo for Robert
The article "The Great Divide" by Robert Wilonsky was purely disgusting. I cannot imagine how any man or newspaper would publish an article that verbally abuses an older musician. True, Levon Helm may have a bad attitude, and it is probably for good reason. In Helm's telling of his story, I think that his side should be taken with a grain of salt and a belief that the man may have valid reasons for being angry. Your article does nothing but bash Levon Helm and The Band. It does nothing to illuminate the reader on the music that these men have given to the public for years. If they have personal conflicts amongst themselves, that is their problem. Your agenda seems to be to smear their image and their music, and I just don't understand the point of that. Your portrayal of Richard Manuel's suicide is just sick and disgusting. How can you even begin to know what was going on in that man's mind? I would guess that it is uninformed opinions such as those in this article that would push a man over the edge more than the music that he was making. I hope that before you bash someone the next time, you take more time to learn why they are angry and who they are. Maybe you need to grow up a little and gain some perspective before you write another article.

Leigh Smith
Via e-mail

Please, he's blushing
Robert Wilonsky's article on Paul Westerberg ["Bastard of middle age," February 11] is the most compelling article that I have ever read in the 15 years I have followed Westerberg. You can boast of having the finest wordsmith covering rock music today.

Via e-mail

Thank you for the thought-provoking article about Paul Westerberg and his descent into a tortured soul's innards. I have always admired Westerberg as an artist and admit that the new material on his latest record Suicaine Gratifaction is jarringly sober and spare. However, if you give it time to infest itself, you will be amazed at how deeply it grows with repeated listens. The quotes I read in this article were some of the most honest, frank revelations I've ever heard Westerberg confess to in more than 15 years of being a fan of his. Bravo!

Patrick McOwen
Via e-mail

The article on Paul Westerberg is well written, thorough, and informative, but the writer is trying to hard to be the clever revisionist critic. I find it very hard to argue against the fact that Let it Be, Hootenanny, Pleased to Meet Me, and All Shook Down stand up very solidly as albums, whole and complete. Even the greatest albums have duds, but the Replacements' duds are never boring, just slight. And let's not forget that Westerberg is the poet laureate of the slight moment, stupid jokes, and the sadly lost art of being a goofball. That was the thing that made the Replacements great, and it's a good thing that Westerberg recognizes it, but as his much underrated Grandpaboy album shows, he still has the knack. He just won't admit it.

Jeff Barnosky
Via e-mail

Popular does not equal good
Is this review serious? ["Out there," February 11] Blondie sold 40,000,000 records! This man is either dumb or 5. The single "Maria" debuted at No. 1. Try to count with me...1! Time will always prove you wrong; just be glad you didn't have to wait too long.

Martin Scibilia
Via e-mail

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