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What Does La Bajada Neighborhood Want? Why Not Ask Them?

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I was right on the verge of what I am sure would have been a very satisfying episode of outrage, when my damned libtard alarm went off. It's a case of certain past experiences coming back to haunt me, getting in the way of what might otherwise have been some really enjoyable self-righteousness. I do hate it when that happens.

Roy Appleton, who tends to be the best on-the-ground neighborhood reporter at The Dallas Morning News, has a story in this morning's paper telling how some big, fat-cat, rich white developers (not Appleton's term) have thrown a monkey wrench (not his term) into efforts to protect a fragile little ethnic enclave in West Dallas from ruthless, vulgar, Soviet-scale real estate redevelopment (also not his term).

So what's to wonder? My role here is clear, is it not? Go to the corner of the little guys. Ah, but every time I lurch reflexively in that direction, the libtard alarm goes off.

What does that mean? I think it means we have to go ask the little guys again what they want. The answer may not be what I want to hear.

The neighborhood in question is called La Bajada. A year ago our own Leslie Minora wrote a lyrical description of this neighborhood nestled at the foot of the new Margaret Hunt-Hill (Calatrava) bridge ("Bridge to Somewhere," June 2, 2011) and how developers banking on a boost from the bridge might overrun it. A coalition of neighborhood leaders and outside community activists have banded together to ask the city for protective zoning.

The developers in this scenario are an outfit called West Dallas Development, more specifically Larry ("Butch") McGregor, Phil Romano and Stuart Fitts. For several years these guys have owned a bunch of over-the-hill industrial property, holding it for the obvious reason. They hope to redevelop the area as some kind of super-duper something or other and make a zillion bucks. Why else would somebody hold on to a bunch of worn-out metal barns?

Today the Dallas City Council was to consider adopting protective zoning designed to make sure the little community of modest homes near the western foot of the Hunt-Hill bridge would not be over-run, displaced and erased by new high-end development. But Appleton's story this morning reveals that West Dallas Development has succeeded in persuading a La Bajada resident to file the paperwork necessary to delay consideration of the proposal until July, giving McGregor and company more time to lobby the council and the neighborhood for modifications.

Like I say, I read that, and it was about to light my firecracker. I mean, c'mon, give me a break. As a lifelong libtard -- I do actually consider myself a professional -- I live for this shit. Rich sons of bitches coming along to trample a poor ethnic neighborhood, conning the residents into filing paperwork with the city against their own interests -- this is Christmas in June for me.

So what was the alarm about?

Ah, well, you see, we've been down this path before. Multiple times. The two that stick out most clearly in my own memory are the area around the Cityplace Tower at Haskell and Central and the residential area around Henderson Avenue between Central and Ross Avenue. Those were both instances where many modest homes, owned mostly by Hispanic families, were gobbled up to make way for more expensive and intensive development.

I hated both of those stories. I loved both of those neighborhoods. I wanted them both to stay put. But the lesson for me was this: Since those neighborhoods got largely wiped out, I have had occasion to chat with families who had lived there, sold their homes and moved out. Pretty much the dominant theme in what they had to say about it, even though they did have fond memories, was that they had been delighted to sell.

They didn't want to stay put. They got good prices for their houses, better than they could ever have hoped for without the spur of redevelopment, and they used the money to move to the promised land. Mesquite.

Mesquite? That strip shopping center, raw-land desert? That endless wasteland of McMansionettes? That's the promised land? Not my Blue Heaven. Maybe not yours. But, yeah. Theirs.

With the money from their old houses in their hot little fists, those families went out and bought into areas of new homes, better schools and less crime. It may not be libtard heaven out there, but it's a major leg-up for people pulling themselves up from the tough lower rungs of the ladder.

Sometimes. I still say there's a whole lot to be said for preserving communities, for sequestering places where people have roots and ties, shared culture and memory. It can't always be a good thing to blow everybody out into the grand suburban nowhere just so they can have swimming pools that leak after five years.

But you do have to make sure everybody knows what the choice is and has the option of exercising that choice. I assume that's what McGregor and company will be doing in the weeks between now and the July hearing on the La Bajada protection ordinance. They or some agent of theirs will go around to the neighborhood and say something like, "You guys stand to make a very nice profit if you get bought out for major redevelopment. Are you sure you want to stay put badly enough to forgo that opportunity?"

Yup. We do have to do that. It's wrong for developers to slip up behind a neighborhood surreptitiously and have their way with it. It's just as wrong for anybody else to do the same thing. We need to make sure the people in the neighborhood have a full picture of their options and possibilities -- all of them -- and then we need to stand back and have respect for their decision.

I'm sure the people who have been doing heroic and yeoman work to get this protection ordinance done are gnashing their teeth, if they are reading his, thinking, "Jim, what the hell do you think we've been doing with our lives the last year and a half?"

Given the people involved and what I know of their process, I would assume there has been nothing surreptitious done by their side. I mean it. I'm sure it's all been entirely open, a process of consensus-building. But the other side wants to have one more say. The law says they can have it. The lesson of life is that they should.

Damn! Oh, well. I can be patient. Maybe later on today the city manager will oppress an organic vegetable gardener. Good things come to those who wait.

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