Although the city ultimately removed the pile Saturday, it had taken Abtahi months of pushing for the mulch pile to be dealt with.
Prior to its removal Saturday, one of the latest estimates Abtahi had received from the city was that the pile would be gone by Tuesday, Sept. 20. But it was still there when he got home that day. When he woke up Wednesday morning? Still there.
After several months, the mulch hardened and started to attract pests, Abtahi said. Children would pass by it twice a day as they walked to and from school. Some kids would play on the mound. “This has been here for a long time,” Abtahi said. “Why is it still here?”
Abtahi said he and others noticed the mound of mulch in early February.
He figured the city was waiting until spring to clean it up, so he waited. But spring came and went, and the mound was still there. That’s around the time he started reaching out to city officials, who said it would be cleaned up soon. And again, nothing happened.
He hoped the city would get around to it in April or May, just before his and other kids would get out of school for summer vacation. Yet, summer vacation passed without any action, even after he contacted the city again in July.
“It gets to the point where it kind of hardens,” Abtahi said. “It’s not just mulch anymore. … At this point it’s got grass growing in it. It’s got bugs and mice.”
He added, “Kids climb on that thing and it’s, like, collapsing.”
Wanting to give the city the benefit of the doubt so he continued to wait. Last week, he was told it would be gone by Sept. 20. He said he was disappointed to see it still there when he got up the next day. So, he posted about it on Twitter, tagging the Dallas Park and Recreation Department.
The Observer contacted Abtahi about the problem on Friday morning. Had the mound been removed, he said he wouldn’t have responded. But it was still there, right in one of his children’s path to their school. Abtahi said he wasn't sure what the holdup was or what else he could do to get the city to act.
“My goal is not to embarrass anyone or get anyone in trouble,” he said. “I just want to bring this issue to light. … As a parent and a citizen, all I can tell is that they don’t care.”
“I actually know who to call and what to do. If I can’t get it done, what chance does the average citizen have?” – Bobby Abtahi, local attorney
As a former city attorney, Abtahi added, “I actually know who to call and what to do. If I can’t get it done, what chance does the average citizen have?”
In the past, Abtahi was also the vice chair of the Dallas City Plan Commission, as well as the president of the city's park board. He was appointed to the Park board by former Mayor Mike Rawlings and resigned from the position in 2019. Abtahi also ran for the District 14 seat on City Council in 2012.
He said if the pile was all still there by the end of the day Friday, he might try to take care of it himself over the weekend.
Abtahi said if the city can’t fix something as simple as this, he’s not sure how it expects to be able to address bigger problems.
Reached for comment Friday, Paul Ridley, the City Council member for this part of town, said he was only just hearing about the mound of mulch. “I had no knowledge of this small pile of mulch before today,” Ridley said in an emailed statement. “As a result of your email, I visited the location today to inspect it myself.”
When the council member brought it up to his Park Board representative, Rudy Karimi, he told Ridley that the mulch was supposed to be used for a pollinator garden project started by his predecessor. This would be the Park Board representative appointed by District 14’s former City Council member, David Blewett. His representative on the Park Board was Amanda Schulz.
“According to Karimi, the Park board representative who served under my predecessor started this project but did not complete it in her term,” Ridley said. “Subsequently, my park board rep allowed her to work with the neighbors to get this completed out of courtesy to her.”
On Sept. 13, Abtahi reached out to Karimi and told him about the “growing concerns with the mulch pile,” Ridley said. That’s when Karimi reached out to Schulz to give the garden a completion deadline of Sept. 19. If it wasn’t finished by then, Karimi “would have to get it removed,” Ridley said.
“It is unfortunate that the pollinator garden project was not completed in a timely manner by the previous park board member, leaving this neighborhood nuisance,” Ridley said. “I have instructed my staff and Park board rep to get the mulch removed as soon as possible.”
For her part, Schulz, the former park board rep who started the project, said there's been some misinformation surrounding the mound's removal. "I told Rudy [Karimi] that we would be working to move it over the weekend before the 19th," Schulz told the Observer via Facebook Messenger. "Some of it got moved and the pile was leveled at the top. The rest of it is being moved this weekend. If there is any small bit remaining, the park department is going to remove that next week."
Around noon Friday, Abtahi said he thought something was finally going to be done about the mound. Two hours later, he wasn't so sure. Abtahi said Ben Heistein, a maintenance manager with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, reached out saying the mound wouldn't be removed Friday. Instead, the pollinator garden would finally be finished Monday, Heistein told him.
Reached for comment, Heistein told the Observer that the mulch has been there for a few months as part of a pollinator gardened maintained by volunteers. "The pile's been there for, I think, since last spring and they just haven't been able to spread it," Heistein said. "I've spoken to them, the coordinator [Schulz], as early as today and they ensured us they would finish spreading it out by the end of the weekend. If they don't finish, park maintenance is going to arrive and remove everything that is left by Tuesday."
He added: "The parks department works with volunteer groups and often helps supply mulch and, unfortunately, this project got a little away from the group and it's taken quite a bit of time to get to it. But, due to the recent complaints, we're working with them really close to make sure they get it done."
Asked whether he believed the project would be finished or removed by then, Abtahi said: "I have no clue. My mind is blown that the Park Department, which manages 397 parks and 23,000 acres of land, can’t handle a pile of mulch."
But late Friday afternoon, Abtahi said he got a call from Arun Agarwal, the president of the Park Board. "He confirmed he is on it and it will be fixed before Monday morning school drop-off," Abtahi said by text. "I have faith it will be done now."
By Saturday afternoon, the mound was dealt with with Abtahi marking it with another Twitter post.
"Many thanks to Park Board Prez [Agarwal]," Abtahi wrote. "He was notified of the problem just yesterday afternoon and less than 24 hours later it’s fixed. I banged my head against a wall of bureaucracy for 6 months. I should’ve called him first."