Last night the city held a shmooze event for people who live near a proposed exclusive private golf course and horse park in a poor part of Southern Dallas, but the shmooze blew up. A carefully choreographed scene of friendly information booths and party favors turned into an angry shouting match.
The city has insisted it wants to deed hundreds of acres of land to wealthy golfers and horse enthusiasts as a means of spurring economic development in an economically depressed area near I-45 and Southern Loop 12. But Rhadames Solano, owner of a 23-acre commercial soccer and track facility right between the horse park and the golf course sites, said last night that the city is destroying his business, using eminent domain to seize all of his land and an even larger parcel nearby.
Solano, a former head basketball coach at the Greenhill School, said his property on Elam Road, called The Trinity Club, "is my livelihood." He said he pleaded with the city council to spare him in a public hearing last year:
"I said, 'Allow me five years. Let me get my kid through high school. At the end of that period I will do this and do that. I promise you that in that period this property will not be used for any other purpose. I will not sublease the property to anybody.'"
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Solano said Mayor Mike Rawlings proposed the city give him a 60-day reprieve from eminent domain to negotiate a deal: "They (city lawyers) met with me one day for 22 minutes including walking in and sitting down," he said.
He brought with him a proposal, but he said city officials merely read out loud the city council resolution authorizing eminent domain. Then they ended the meeting.
"Boom, that's it," he said. "They didn't even report to anybody. They didn't show it to the city council. Nothing."
Last night's event at the Trinity Audubon Center turned into an angry shouting match when long-time community activist Carlos Quintanilla showed up with a Univision TV crew in tow. When Quintanilla began to deliver a speech about Solano's plight to the crowd, Vanessa Fry, a vice president of the horse park group, shoved neighborhood leader Yolanda Williams forward to confront him.
Williams, who supports the horse park, tried to stop Quintanilla from speaking. "You are not going to put on a political show," she shouted.
Richard Hill, a longtime property-owner near the horse park, said, "Let him talk."
"I'm not going to let him talk," Williams shouted back.
It escalated from there, with Univision cranking away. I dipped back over to Fry, the horse park lady, and said, "I don't think that went well for you."
When Quintanilla tried to use a city map from one of the friendly information booths to show the crowd where Solano's property is located in relation to the horse park and golf course, city employees took down the map.
When I tried to get city officials at the friendly information booths to explain why they need to seize the property of Solano and others, friendly information time abruptly ended. They told me to "go through the usual channels" for reporters, which means I file an open records demand so they can stall me for six months. Or, in the case of the Observer's demand last May for documents related to gas drilling in parks, the city just deliberately, and probably illegally, concealed the documents.
I looked up the documentation this morning. The various agenda items and memos, if they say anything at all about why the city is seizing the land, say only that the city wants it "for the Trinity River Corridor Project."
I did get city officials last night to acknowledge that there is no environmental or reclamation need for the land. In other words, they want it because they want it. City staffers, the horsey people and the golf course aficionados seemed overwhelmed and perhaps a bit intimidated last night by the sheer size of the crowds pouring into the Audubon Center from surrounding neighborhoods. The event, originally intended only for chosen invitees from the immediate vicinity, became widely known in the larger surrounding region of the city only because neighborhood activists learned of it and spread the word.
Tracie Reed, a community activist who alerted Unfair Park to the event, complained that last night's semi-private shindig was actually the first opportunity people in the area have had to learn anything about the city's intentions. She said the city has never held a legitimate community meeting in Southern Dallas to discuss its plans for high-end recreational facilities.
Reed said she had even filed an open records demand in which she "told them to send me an agenda of the last public information or town hall meeting that was held in the Southern sector" concerning the horse park and golf course. "They couldn't find anything that was any newer than 2007, and this is 2013."
"This is not a community project," Solano said. "This is only for people with money."
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Some residents of the immediate area at last night's meeting support the horse park and golf course. Their argument is that the entire region of the city is utterly and deplorably neglected because it is virtually invisible to City Hall, bereft of city services and without a viable economy. Their hope is that the golf course and horse park will draw in people with money and thereby at least force the city to acknowledge the physical existence of their community.
I get the idea. I don't want to call it pathetic, because that might come across as derogatory to the neighborhoods, so instead I will call it heart-breaking, not least because of the example of Dallas National Golf Club in far west Dallas near Mountain Creek Lake. Its presence in a poor area has had no apparent benefit beyond its own well-protected boundaries. Would it be fair to expect anything else of another exclusive private golf course?
What puts an even more cruel lie to the whole idea of spurring economic development in the area around the horse park and golf course is this seizure by eminent domain of land caught between the two. There can be only one use the city has in mind for the land being seized: it has to have something to do with one, the other or both of these recreational facilities.
The use of eminent domain to seize private property and going-concern businesses for the entirely private purposes ought to be an anathema in this a town that prides itself on cherishing conservative beliefs and principles. This is about as conservative as Hugo Chavez.