The Ongoing Scrap Over Oak Cliff Scrap Yard

Yesterday The Dallas Morning News editorial page rolled out the big cannons and opened fire again on Oak Cliff Metals, a metal recycling yard on Pontiac Street in Oak Cliff that the paper wants moved, we know not why. The editorial, which I'm sure was written by editorialisto Tod Robberson, basically said this damn company needs to forget the damn legal law and damn well start obeying the damn Morning News editorial page law.

The editorial opens: "What Oak Cliff Metals has gotten away with is so offensive that it's hard to know where to begin. A legal free-for-all seems to exist for this Cadillac Heights metal salvage company. Code enforcers and police are letting the operation get away with blatant abuses, and this must stop."

Reality: City code inspectors have pored over this property for years, sometimes making surprise visits with as many as 12 city officials in tow up to the level of assistant city manager. They have never produced a single violation.

The News sometimes cites notices the business has received. But those have been the notices that say, "You have 10 days to correct, or ..." The fact that those notices have never turned into a single violation means the company has corrected whatever has been brought to its attention.

In spite of that, the editorial goes on to say, "Oak Cliff Metals has been immersed in ownership litigation for years, which, combined with a pending zoning and permit hearing in June, makes city enforcers squeamish about citing the company for vehicle, code and zoning violations."

In other words, sending droves of cops and inspectors to the place has not produced the result The News's editorial page wants to see. Immersed in litigation. Pending permit hearing. Yeah. That's called the legal process.

Instead of that process, what The News is endorsing is city council member Dwaine Caraway, who doesn't even represent the district where the company is located, showing up at the front gate of Oak Cliff Metals with a van full of code inspectors behind him and insisting that the owners of the company deal with him privately, apart from the process.

Oh, sure. That's what Brian Potashnik and his wife did -- agreed to negotiate privately with a council member apart from the legal process. Now they're going to prison.

Caraway's little hench-guy, Mike Davis, his appointee to the City Plan Commission, wrote about all of this on his blog recently. I notice Davis wouldn't post my comment to his blog item, in which I asked why any intelligent business owner would come out of his gate and negotiate with a council member who wants to abrogate the legal process. I asked Davis why the business owner wouldn't assume the council member just wants money. That's what I'd be afraid of.

The News consistently refuses to acknowledge that the zoning and regulations governing the property in question have changed and changed again over the years. When that happens, owners get tossed into the political tempest, required to seek renewals of special use permits at a gauntlet of hearings in order to keep doing what they're doing. That's what Oak Cliff Metals is trying to do now.

The News also perpetuates the blatant falsehood that there are droves of residential neighbors nearby who are injured by and angry at the recycling yard. This is an industrial area, zoned industrial, and the only nearby neighborhoods are being bought up and bulldozed by the city for other reasons.

The council member who does represent the area, Pauline Medrano, says she is unaware of any complaints from residential neighbors.

This is all against a very suspect background of major real estate speculation in the area by well connected downtowners, led by Dallas Very Very Rich Person Mark Cuban.

The Oak Cliff Metal people are supposed to have a full legal hearing of their issue next month before the city council. But here comes The Dallas Morning News, joined at the hip with Councilman Carried-Away, insisting that the process be trashed and the company kicked off its property because that's damn well what The News wants done.

I don't know when I died and woke up as Mr. Bleeding Heart For Scrap Yards. I'm not, really. But I am taken aback by the sheer arrogance of a newspaper wanting to simply dismiss the entire legal process and snuff out a legitimate business enterprise, because that's what they damn well want.

What's to stop me from saying I think all their big ugly trucks and broadcast dishes and loud office traffic in and out of the newspaper are an offense to plans for nearby Parisian-style street life? And I want them out! Don't show me no damn property deeds or titles. Their continued presence doth offend mine eye!

I had a constitutional law professor once who told us the purpose of the law is so we can all close both eyes when we go to bed at night. I'm afraid even if I could close both of them, I'd start dreaming about a half-Dwaine half-Tod creature. Yikes. Fetch me my Benadryl, willya?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze