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Watching La Bajada Get Mown Down by Traffic Is Like Watching Kittens in the Street

Last week I attended a community meeting for the La Bajada neighborhood, an old working class Hispanic community at the foot of the fake Calatrava suspension bridge in West Dallas. A new entertainment district is already well established cheek by jowl with the neighborhood, and developers nearby are ready to break ground on $100 million worth of fancy apartments and shops.

People can handle a rogue drug dealer in La Bajada, but they have no idea what to do with developers. It's like watching kittens wander into traffic.

And traffic was on everybody's mind. The meeting was scripted and run by city staff, but citizens impatient with the protocol interrupted the official speakers to express anger and something that sounded a little like fear: They can feel in their guts that their world is changing in ways over which they have no control.

Forever and a day this little neighborhood was a lost island, ignored by the city and not all that unhappy about it. If the cops never showed up, so what? They had barking dogs inside fences wreathed in roses, and even the gangs knew who not to mess with. Taxes were low. It worked out.

Now they've got traffic coming straight off the fake suspension bridge at 60 mph, because, in a typical display of Dallas City Hall urban planning genius, the city dumped a freeway straight into a neighborhood. A police spokesman told the crowd the cops can't write tickets fast enough to make a dent. What can they do? It's a fire-hose of freeway traffic straight into a water glass.

Probably even more of the traffic headed for the Trinity Groves entertainment area from North Dallas crosses the river at Inwood (North Hampton) and Wycliff (Sylvan), then streams southeast on Canada Drive and tries to get to the restaurant scene by cutting through on the narrow residential streets of La Bajada.

Sitting there listening to these people pour their hearts out about this invading horde in the heart of their community, I kept thinking that they only knew the very least of what lies ahead. It's going to get so much worse that La Bajada will cease to exist at some point in the not too distant future.

See also: Bridge to Somewhere

A while ago I told you about David Jensen, a white guy who owns and occupies a warehouse just south of La Bajada on the other side of Singleton Boulevard. Call it skepticism, call it orneriness, I don't know: Jensen is better equipped than the people at that meeting to figure out the game behind the game.

The people at the meeting were placated by their City Council member, Monica Alonzo, who showed up and offered them bromides about how it's all going to work out. It's not, certainly not if it's up to her. I called her again for this story, and again I got no response. Jensen tells me he gets pretty much the same thing from her: She's working something out with the developers, and she'll let him know when it's all worked out.

That's like saying, we're holding your death-penalty trial, and when we get a verdict we'll give you a jingle.

Jensen spotted something on his own street right away: Alonzo and the developers are going to realign Herbert Street and put a traffic signal where it crosses Singleton, in effect turning it into a major short-cut for traffic moving through La Bajada between Singleton and Canada Drive.

Herbert south of Singleton, where Jensen is, will become one of the main access points to the $100 million mixed-use development that Columbus Realty is about to start building there. The realignment and the traffic light will turn the north end of Herbert through La Bajada into a 24/7 racetrack.

None of this is to say that either the Trinity Groves entertainment area or the Columbus Realty project is a bad thing. Both projects represent big gambles people are taking to convert a toxic industrial wasteland just outside La Bajada into a vibrant community and strong tax base. Those can't be unhealthy outcomes, at least not entirely.

But what La Bajada needs in order to defend its own interests is an Angela Hunt. In fact several people got up at the meeting I attended and asked why their neighborhood can't have resident-only parking signs and other protections designed to take some of the bite out of their new situation, like what they have seen in Hunt's former council district along Lower Greenville Avenue in East Dallas.

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The city employees at the meeting gave them bland assurances that there are ways to do such things, and I sat there thinking, "Yeah, but you sure as hell aren't going to help them do it." Traffic restrictions are always viewed by developers and businesses as antithetical to their interests, and city staff will always lie down for the development interests if you let them.

But development and commerce also can be wrestled into some fairly congenial relationships with nearby residential areas, if you've got a professional political wrestler representing you who can make it happen. When Hunt represented District 14 in East Dallas, she forged a living peace between the businesses on Lower Greenville and the neighborhoods nearby, not by going after the businesses with a baseball bat but by forcing each side to recognize the other's legitimate position and their shared interests.

As far as I can tell and for whatever reason, Alonzo is a doormat for the development interests. And doormats never bring out the best in developers.

I felt sad, sitting there listening. I had a thought that surprised me. These people need a different kind of barking dog. Do they need an Avi Adelman-style barking dog? Or maybe an Alvaro Adames, El Perro Ladrando. Somebody better than Alonzo, or they're gone in five years.

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