Mayor Tom Leppert Talks K2 Ban, Dallas Watersports Complex and Cliff Manor

Initially, this was to be a quick chitchat with the mayor about the proposed ban of K2 and other dope substitutes, which, as Andrea noted earlier today, is on its way to a sure slam-dunk by mid-month at the latest. But Tom Leppert hung around long enough to talk to Unfair Park about some other topics -- you can probably guess what they are from the headline. So, then, no need to waste your time with further throat-clearing. Let's get down to business on the other side. Might want to load up your blunt, but leave the fake weed outta there. That stuff's nasty.

When did K2 first come to your attention, and at what point did you think: You know, we should really think about banning this stuff?

I am guessing middle of June, and that's a guess. There were a couple of conversations raised to me by people in the community, and I had a brief conversation with the police. And I happened to be, in the end of June, with a couple of mayors from the Midwest at a U.S. Conference of Mayors. These were not big cities -- more medium-sized. Both of them said they saw K2 in their cities. It was a combination of those things. Before I was not familiar with K2, and then it appeared a lot of people were manufacturing the product, which was doing the same thing [marijuana] was doing but trying to come under the radar screen and take advantage of the kids and the community.

I imagined this ban was just a matter of time when Dwaine first mentioned it at a Public Safety Committee meeting in June.

Dwaine had mentioned it.

I assume you want this ban to begin pronto, as Plano's begins [today] and other cities have managed to get theirs passed and on the books ASAP.

That's the hope -- it heads to council, and I'd like the vote to be on the 11th. But I will also tell you: On a lot of issues we've been very deliberate. On some issues like this, it's important to move quickly. If you'll remember, there was the 12-year-old dancing nude in the clubs. From the time it was raised to me in my office by vice to when we passed the ordinance, that was three weeks. So we're moving quickly on things where there's a need and being deliberate where appropriate.

That out of the way, let's talk about Cliff Manor. In June, you asked a task force be put together to look into how to reconcile Dallas Housing Authority and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's desire to put close to 100 formerly homeless residents into the building with the neighborhood's concerns about putting more subsidized housing in the area -- without any advance heads-up, much less input. When did you know the DHA was moving ahead this week without any discussions with the task force?

It became clear in conversations earlier in July. Let me take you back on the time line. Clearly this issue was one that wasn't at the city level, that wasn't on the agenda of the council. The way it came up was when DHA announced and it appeared in the paper that they were going to move 18 people into Cliff Manor, which was a surprise to everyone. I wasn't aware of it. No one was. According to DHA, they had conversations, but not about moving forward with actual implementation.

Then Dave [Neumann] came to me, because his constituents came to him upset. We jumped into it and tried to do a balance between permanent supportive housing units, which has been successful. Our goal is trying to get people out of a homeless situation and back into society. It's to our benefit. It doesn't take resources -- they get jobs, pay taxes, things like that. And you're not having to deal with people being on the streets.

You try to balance that with the community issues and concerns with these projects. That's what people in Oak Cliff raised. ... I called people and said, "Let's at least make sure the community is a part of this process, which I thought was important for two reasons. We have relationships and obligations to the community we represent. And I think we've made some pretty good success on the homeless situation in the last couple of years. People say Dallas is headed in the right direction. The number of chronic homeless is down by 57 percent. You can clearly say we've had a lot of success. So in trying to balance that, how do you deal with the community. They were clearly upset on this one. And we got them to hold off and say, "Let's meet as a community."

That was in June, at Methodist ...

So we got them to agree it would be held off. There were a bunch of conversations during the first part of June leading to that. Then by the time we came into July there were other conversations, and it became apparent from the city attorneys and the DHA that there was the very real threat of litigation, as far as the DHA was very concerned. I was told that was a very real issue and one where there were not a lot of responses available. We pushed them out to try to get it to the August time frame, and they were agreeable but said it's ultimately not a city issue. It's a litigation issue, and we can't deal with it. That was where the conversation was last week -- where Dave said August 1 is the move-in date for the 17.

My understanding was Neumann told the task force he'd only found out about the move-in a few minutes before the July 26 meeting.

He didn't have much warning on it either. And we didn't have the say on these units. We're not funding them. They fall under different set of laws -- federal fair housing. But I think what Dave was trying to do and what becomes important is we are trying to have the community be part of the process, and we have a understanding with DHA and MDHA and the neighborhood to ask about operations: What's security going to be like? Who's moving in? Who are the caseworkers? Will they live there? Those sorts of things. Clearly I wish that would have happened earlier, but I am still hopeful we've set a foundation where DHA and MDHA is more sensitive to issues of the community. This isn't an exercise. But they need to have a community that's more welcoming. If we can do that, they have a better chance of success.  We want the homeless out of The Bridge and into permanent supportive housing, into jobs and out back into society. That's the agenda. That's the whole goal behind The Bridge. It's a revolving door, not a shelter.

Again, I think the community on the front end didn't feel anyone spoke with them, and that's accurate.

Several people say they've heard the number of people moving into Cliff Manor is 50, not 100, but that's only a handshake agreement with DHA and MDHA.

The number has been reduced from 100 to 50.

To the larger point: DHA has been incredibly unresponsive when people try to get information. I've yet to get MaryAnn Russ on the phone despite several attempts, and I've heard the same from people who have far more pressing business with her than I. And I know you've heard that as well.

We've used this example to make that very point.

To that end, perhaps you can tell me what will become of Chad Lacerte's Dallas Watersports Complex. Because that passed the council with great ease over several months' worth of conversations, only to have DHA come in at the last second and kill the thing after he purchased what he says is $800,000 worth of equipment.

My goal is to try to get people in the room. My objective is I don't want to walk away from that and look back in two years and nothing happened. There are two sets of issues -- the water issue first and foremost, and we've taken steps to pull the right peple in and ensure the safety of the water. No one I work with wants to have some child down there when the water's not safe. We're trying to get the best response. And I a not a chemist. I've seen the three reports, and there are different signs in all three.

Assuming that get resolved -- and it may not be something where everyone agrees, but objective people can give a fair answer -- the second piece is to try to get something done. The jobs that are created are perhaps not the jobs that an older generation would want to have there. Nevertheless, those are jobs that may put a kid through school, so in that sense they are valuable. Other people may want retail instead, and both of the objectives can be reached -- a watersports facility and do some retail elements as well as some of the other things, like local clinics.

I'd like people to step back and say, yes, there are different agendas -- there always are. But from a community standpoint, if we can accomplish everything there's recreation and retail, and in areas without investment I want to see it. There's good and bad investment, sure, but this creates jobs and becomes a base to allow people to do other things.

Were you unhappy when you learned of its demise?

It was a little bit of a surprise because it wasn't something I'd been involved in. I'd listened to staff as it went through the council, and as far as I recall, no one spoke about it. People were for it, but no one spoke about it. It was just, "This is neat," we voted on it, and went to the next item. It wasn't till I got down the line that staff said to me, "There's an issue on this because of a concern at DHA." Likewise I am convinced some of the senior people at DHA weren't aware of it. They were trying to look at it as a project and weren't aware of issues.

There needs to be better communication up and down the line. You'll get a lot of he said-she said about who talked to who, but at the staff level at DHA, there were no issues. That's where it got off the line. But let me tell you: Two years ago, understand what the issues were at DHA. There has been enormous progress made with the operations side. The audits have been cleaned up, and the place runs more efficiently. Like any other organization, there will be other steps taken.

Could there have been better communication about Cliff Manor on the front end? Yes. DHA and MDHA would say that too. But in the context of that operation, there has been a lot of progress made.

Where do you stand on Mike Daniels' threat of a lawsuit? Do you think he meant it -- or that, just maybe, he was doing DHA's bidding, as many people suspect?

When it became apparent, I went to the city attorney and asked him what you asked me. And he said, "There's an issue." He pulled for me and we walked through the history of Walker, and he said, "This is a real issue."

Many southern sector residents say the same thing: They feel as though they've become the first and last choice for permanent supportive housing, that it's not spread citywide. Various people offer the same number: 77 percent. As in: 77 percent of all subsidized housing is, well, not in North Dallas, let's put it that way.

As we move forward with PSHs, we want them spread throughout the community. I asked for a chart that says where they are -- and not just the permanent supportive housing units, but where the Dallas Housing Authority has affordable housing units funded by the city and federal funds. We'll get you that. [And he did.] The PSHs are better distributed than people think. People think there are 50 percent in one district. They're spread out much more than people think. It's not a north-south thing.

But will you and the council work to make sure they're more evenly distributed citywide?

Absolutely. I talked with MDHA about this [Thursday]. They're real supportive of this too. They said, "We'll do what we can." But you can't just take 50 units and say, "We'll deal 'em out: District 1 gets two, District 3 gets three ...". We want an objective person to say, "Yes, those are units being spread around the city," and I made that clear to everyone. The council has. The council has been receptive to it. Can the chart be refined? Absolutely, but the DHA wants to spread them out.

But some people have this perception ... I saw this at Methodist. There's a lot of misinformation. People think permanent supportive housing is affordable housing. It's different. Affordable housing, there's a lot of stock that goes back years and years, and it'll take years to redistribute. But on PSHs we have a better opportunity there. Again, I think it's a better distribution than people expect.

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