The people who love and defend White Rock Lake Park are not idiots and nutcases. They went to war two years ago against a plan to mow Winfrey Point meadow and turn it into a commercial parking lot, because they did not want a commercial parking lot in a beautiful park. But five months later they reached a peaceful accommodation, after some brouhaha, with a Park Cities rowing club that wanted to build a clubhouse. That was for rowing. Rowing's OK, right?
That's the thing about an urban park like White Rock. Its entire and intrinsic value is that it is not the city but an escape from the city, a respite from the city, a place you go to do non-city things like have a picnic or fly a kite, fish, paddle a kayak, feed the gulls, snooze on the grass.
The people who wanted to build a parking lot at Winfrey Point were the idiots and the nutcases. The hardy alliance of neighborhood associations, naturalists, park-lovers and friends of the lake who rose up to defeat the parking lot were the sane ones: They got what the park is for.
Now comes Round Three: the proposed restaurant on Boy Scout Hill.
Private parties want to build a commercial restaurant on parkland at the northern end of the lake, just off Mockingbird. They are conducting what is being called a "listening tour" to see how the neighborhoods and other defenders of the lake feel about giving parkland away so somebody can stick a business inside the sanctuary of the park.
Bad. That's how they feel. Yesterday I talked to Michael Jung, chairman of the White Rock Lake Task Force, a consortium of neighborhood associations and friends groups. He said the task force, in a non-binding straw vote , voted unanimously against the restaurant.
Jung takes heart in recent statements by city park director Willis Winters, who said he won't recommend the idea to the park board if public sentiment remains overwhelmingly negative. Jung trusts Winters. "We've all heard park department officials vow transparency over the years," he said, "but the feeling among people I talk to is that Winters actually means it."
Still, Jung worries. Past experience has been that the worst threats to White Rock tend to come not so much from the level of the director but from some murky lower tier. Somehow a cadre of deeply embedded career employees got the idea that every city asset should be looked at as a revenue source. And they can't get over it.
To this day, nobody has unearthed the precise mechanism by which The Dallas Arboretum was able to pursue for as long and as far as it did its Tear Down Paradise plan for a parking lot, but many close observers suspect there was close collaboration with park department personnel who saw it as a chance to collect royalties.
When the friends of the lake jaw-boned the Park Cities rowing club into shaving off the second-story rental ballroom from their proposal, the Parkies openly thanked them for getting them out of it, explaining they had been pressured to beef the thing up by park department personnel hoping to share in rental revenues.
Now we have this idea for a restaurant on parkland, which the lake needs like it needs a used car lot. Restaurants belong on restaurant land. Parkland is for parks. Who doesn't get that? OK, now you see the pattern, right? We know who doesn't get it. And now you know why Mike Jung is still worried.
All the initial guarantees offered by promoters of the restaurant were that the idea would go straight into the dumpster if the community opposed it. But past experience has left the community jaded. They know that backers of an idea like this can stitch together an alliance of mid-level city employees with some wack-a-doo park board members who want to give everything away anyway to their rich friends. All of a sudden you've got another Winfrey Point.
If so the restaurant guys are going to learn the same hard lesson that the Arboretum and the rowing club did: The friends of White Rock Lake never sleep. They see you coming. And they are street fighters.
"You already see the yard signs appearing in some neighborhoods," Jung said. "Can the T-shirts be far behind?"
Personally, I prefer torches.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.