Whipping boy

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As a result, the lines of District 14 snake through East Dallas toward Lakewood, gobbling up buildings Anglos live in and avoiding those occupied by Hispanics block by block. Neighborhood associations had to be sacrificed in order to accomplish the goal of increasing the number of minorities on the council.

While Loza can't be blamed for the way the district lines were drawn, Swiss Avenue resident and Vaca supporter Virginia McAlester says she's disgusted by the divide-and-conquer strategy the Loza campaign has employed. McAlester, a member of the city's Landmark Commission, says Loza ignores the fact that many of the neighborhood associations that oppose the Albertson's project lie in his district as well as Lill's.

"You can't divide a neighborhood down the middle and say, 'OK, people on this side of the street can work for one council person and people on the other side of the street can work for this other council person," McAlester says. "Part of our [Swiss Avenue historic] district is in District 2, and those people have as much right to ask their council person for help. What happens in two blocks of our neighborhood affects the other 10 blocks of the neighborhood."

Jo Blount, the president of the Mill Creek Homeowners Association, which lies in both districts, says that although she likes Loza personally, his position on Albertson's has turned her into a Vaca supporter.

"When the constituent homeowners who are working so hard to reclaim a neighborhood...are just pointedly ignored, I just can't feel safe putting my trust in him," Blount says.

Although he knew his decision would be unpopular in East Dallas, Loza says, he decided to support Albertson's for the same reasons he backed the arena and Trinity River projects.

"The one thing that I have to look at above all else is what's going to be good for the entire district," Loza says. "The bottom line with Albertson's is, I'm supporting it because I think it's good economic development for the district and the city. The only way I can even try to do all of those things I would like to do for the district is to have an expanding tax base."

Loza says his job is to decide what's best for the district and take a stand--even if it goes against the wishes of neighborhood associations. Yet while there's no doubt that the Albertson's project is the root of Loza's political troubles, it's not the only decision he has made that has angered neighborhood residents.

Earlier this year, people living near Bachman Lake were concerned about a proposal by the Dallas Can Academy, which auctions donated used cars to pay for youth programs, to relocate its auction site from downtown to a six-acre lot near the lake. Dallas Can is one of the city's most prestigious charities, and the Bachman Lake proposal drew a $220,000 pledge from Dallas investor Jack Furst, a partner in Dallas Mavericks owner Tom Hicks' firm of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst.

To Bachman-area residents, the proposal meant that the lake would soon become home to a giant junkyard--a "special use" that wasn't authorized under the area's zoning laws. Although the cause was good, residents were hesitant to support the proposal. They had experience with the problems that granting exceptions to city codes can bring--such exceptions had brought a slew of sexually oriented businesses to their neighborhood. To make matters worse, the neighborhood was under pressure to support the project, says Tim Dickey, president of the Bachman/Northwest Highway Community Association.

"The heavy civic weight of Dallas Can was evoked early on," Dickey says. "It was like they could do no wrong. Everyone was talking about their board of directors as if they were civic gods."

Although the residents were willing to compromise with Dallas Can and support their request for a special use permit, they wanted to know whether the auction lot would be a permanent fixture at the lake. Dickey recalls how his impression of Loza changed when a neighborhood meeting on the proposal disintegrated into a shouting match and Loza intervened. In essence, Dickey recalls, Loza told the residents that they had better find a way to support the permit before it went to council because he was voting for it with or without them.

"Here's your council member, two months before an election, coming to a community group...threatening to shove it down our throats," Dickey says. "He lost so much support that night. This is not a group that takes that kind of dictatorial attitude from a council member well."

Loza confirms that he was direct with the neighborhood residents that evening.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley