Hey, Mr. Jensen. I’m so ashamed. I feel terrible. I wrote all those stories about the city screwing you out of your home and warehouse in West Dallas and how Monica Alonzo, the City Council member for your area, ignored your repeated pleas for help.
You kept saying, “I don’t know what to do.” You said you didn’t know where to turn. Ultimately the street realignment that was going to take your home out from under you and conveniently help a well-connected apartment developer across the street from you was all up to Alonzo. And she was shutting you out.
I should have told you. I just didn’t think of it. It didn’t come to mind until this week.
Alonzo, who normally says and does nothing at council, turned into the Energizer Bunny over the last two weeks and went to bat for a car dealership that wasn’t even in her district. And it struck me. Oh, yeah. Now I remember what Jensen needed to do to save his home in West Dallas.
Hire Steve Salazar.
You remember Steve Salazar, Mr. Jensen. He was the council person for your district before Alonzo. She worked for him. Now she “occupies the seat,” a quite literal description in her case, and Salazar, a lawyer, is now a City Hall lobbyist. People hire him to get stuff done for them at City Hall.
What kind of stuff? Well, his sub-specialization is getting Monica Alonzo to do stuff. For the sake of precision hereinafter we shall refer to him as an Alonzo lobbyist.
I should say, I am not aware of any cases in which Salazar has been able to get Alonzo to do anything for anybody in her own district. But he has been able to bring the mountain to Mohammed when it’s a case way outside her own district where you normally wouldn’t think she’d have much interest.
In February 2013, for example, way up in North Dallas in District 10, which was then represented by Linda Koop, Alonzo got involved in the most intense and detailed kind of a way in a bizarre zoning case about dead people.
Restland Cemetery had gotten itself caught in a complicated zoning case in which they had to get the council to renew some prior zoning for them. Koop thought she had it all worked out, including a comprehensive landscape plan to shield the perimeter of the cemetery with berms and trees, pretty much the way the rest of Restland is shielded, mainly to protect the privacy of visitors inside the cemetery.
But on vote day, the owners of an adjacent office tower showed up with Salazar as their hired champion and made a curious appeal: They wanted cemetery zoning stripped from the land and Restland stopped dead in its tracks, because they said Restland was causing people to think about death, which they seemed to think was a tort of some kind.
With Salazar at his elbow, a spokesman for Whitestone Office LLC told the council, “Tenants have expressed concern. They are looking down on burial activities every single day right next to our office building.
“We have talked to outside brokers to try to convince them to work with us. They don’t want to work with us. They can’t lease space where the tenants have to look down on burial activities all day long.”
The spokesman said prospective tenants were frightened by the proximity of the cemetery. “They have said to us, ‘Are you kidding? We’re not going to drive through a cemetery to get to work and then have to be reminded of our mortality the entire day.’”
I’m trying to imagine that conversation.
“So, what do you think of the space? Do you like it?”
“Gosh. Sorry to hear that. Do you mind telling us why you don’t like it?”
“It reminds us of our mortality.”
I mean, I think about that all the time just catching a glimpse of myself in a shop window, but I don’t tell people about it. Every little chance I get I always try not to creep people out.
On this occasion when it was clear the council was going to grant Restland the zoning it needed, Alonzo sprang into action with a multi-page, highly detailed substitute motion listing all kinds of extra landscaping features the owners of the office building wanted Restland to install at its own expense so people wouldn’t guess there were dead people out there. But she tried to offer the amendment just by handing the pages over to the mayor.
Mayor Mike Rawlings said he wanted her to explain what was in the amendment. She shrugged and mumbled something to the effect that she didn’t really know, she just got it from Salazar. Rawlings made her read it, anyway, so she did, but that took a long time and was not a pretty process.
In the end, the council voted Alonzo’s motion down and went with Koop’s plan, granting Restland the zoning it needed to keep burying dead people in the cemetery.
This was by no means an isolated incident. For example, a year later Alonzo awoke again from her meditations and went to bat for a drive-through beer store in District 1, also not her district. Alonzo championed the owner’s application for renewal of zoning that was opposed by city staff, by District 1 council member Scott Griggs and by all of the major nearby neighborhood groups.
The beer store was represented by Salazar. He lost. In that case the council voted against Alonzo.
But this week, barely a week after the City Council had voted not to turn city property near Love Field into a car lot — also not in Alonzo’s district — Alonzo provided the single necessary signature the owner needed for a reconsideration, which the owner ultimately won.
So ask yourself, Jensen. What is the unifying thread here? Alonzo rises from her dreams to go to war against dead people, not in her district. She rolls up her sleeves and goes to bat for a drive-through beer store, also not in her district and opposed by nearby residents. And even though the council person for the district in which the car lot deal was done this week said surrounding neighborhoods hated the idea, Alonzo rose to be the car lot’s single most important champion on the council. And won.
Is she just genuinely anti-dead-people and pro-drive-through-beer-and-car-lots? An anti-corpsitarian hops-motorite? Or, as Sherlock Holmes might ask, Is there more afoot here, Dr. Watson, than meets the eye?
After this week’s vote, David Norton, attorney for the car lot guy, told The Dallas Morning News, “[our issue] had been to council once and [the Economic Development committee] three times, and we were totally blindsided by the politics. So we reached out and said, ‘What did we miss?’”
By now, Mr. Jensen, you know what they missed. Steve Salazar. They missed hiring Salazar, the Alonzo lobbyist, the first time, and that time the council voted to deny their deal.
The second time around, they didn’t miss Salazar. They hired him. He went to work using his considerable skills as an Alonzo lobbyist. Alonzo leapt out of the woodwork and provided the signature that Salazar needed to get his client’s deal back before the council. And they won.
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SHOW ME HOW
The car lot guy hired other lobbyists as well, who fanned out and talked to other council members. That’s how the deal got enough votes to pass the second time around. But Salazar is a specialist. He just pushes the Alonzo button.
I tried to reach both of them, of course. Mr. Jensen, you may not be surprised to learn that Salazar follows the same policy Alonzo does on phone calls. Never return them, ever. In fact he probably taught Alonzo.
You lost your deal. The city is going to take your home, as I have reported here. You didn’t have to lose. I’m not saying Steve Salazar would have won for you — his record seems pretty mixed — but at least Alonzo might have met with you.
It’s democracy, Mr. Jensen. That’s all it is. I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker. Freedom Isn’t Free.