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Whipping boy

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"There were some other people there I thought were interfering for reasons I couldn't understand," Loza says. "My point to them was, 'Look, ultimately this is my responsibility, and I will make sure something gets done at city council on this.'"

What was especially shocking to the Bachman-area residents was how different Loza appeared than he did his first year in office, when he established a reputation for being a vocal opponent of sexually oriented businesses. Loza endeared himself to the neighborhood in early 1998, when he fought against a request by black nightclub owner James Price for a dance permit for his Lakeside Night Club. Residents opposed Price's application because Price had operated an adult club before, and they feared he would turn Lakeside into another.

By the time the issue made it to the council, Price and a number of black leaders claimed the residents opposed the club because its clientele was mostly black. After a contentious public hearing on the issue, during which Loza was viciously accused of being a racist, Price's request was denied on a 7-5 vote divided along racial lines. For many of his constituents, Loza's unwillingness to be bullied that day marked the high point of his career.

"Loza was under tremendous political pressure from the mayor and everyone else to buckle, and he didn't. He stood his ground," Dickey says. "The disappointment is, he was [once] so stellar for us and courageous, really."

Although the Bachman-area residents and Dallas Can ultimately worked out their differences and the permit was granted, Dickey says the arrogance Loza revealed was a troubling indication that his loyalties were shifting toward business interests rather than neighborhood interests.

"We want the city to stick with the plan, and they're always coming at us asking for a special-use permit," Dickey says. "All we're trying to do is get the city to go with the program [and] quit trying to get us to go along with the exceptions and telling us we're bad guys when we don't."

The frequent battles between developers and neighborhood organizations are a problem that predates Loza's council tenure. If he is re-elected, his second term likely will be filled with similar fights, and his loyalties to neighborhood associations will be further tested.

Dallas lawyer Roger Albright, a former plan commissioner who represents developers at City Hall, says the trend toward in-town living spells an increasing demand for new businesses. People who choose to live in the city rather than the suburbs still want their Starbucks and mega-markets. That's great for the economy but tough on residential neighborhoods, where vacant land is a shrinking commodity. More requests for variances and other exceptions to the city's planning rules are inevitable.

As the Albertson's case illustrates, Albright says, developers must do a better job of informing the neighborhoods of their plans rather than surprising them with 11th-hour requests for variances. At the same time, neighborhoods must keep an open mind toward development and realize that a strict interpretation of the development code isn't going to work.

"Everyone fears the unknown," Albright says. "One of the problems of living in the inner city is, indeed, it isn't going to be like living in the suburbs of Pleasantville. You have urban investments. You have mixed uses. It's a function of the economy. The city is not a static place where you just hope that things will never change, because they will."

Despite the trouble brewing in East Dallas, Loza says he isn't concerned about the campaign. He's certain that May 1 will be a cakewalk. What troubles him nowadays, he says, is not irate neighborhood activists or former friends who are now enemies.

"My biggest frustration has been that I got there at City Hall thinking that as a council member I could just give orders and things would get done," Loza says, giving his high school ring a twist. "One of the first things that struck me was, there were a lot of limitations on my power as opposed to just actually having power. That's still frustrating."

Loza laughs when he's reminded of an advertisement he placed as a joke inside his senior yearbook. In it, a fat cigar pokes out of a wide-open grin, as Loza poses as the roustabout of "J.L. Political Enterprises, Inc." an imaginary firm specializing in "Bribery, Scandal, Mudslinging, [and] Character Assassination."

"If you have the money," the ad reads in bold type, "we've got it."
"Oh yeah," Loza says, "everybody back then knew I was going to go into politics at some point." He pauses for a moment while he considers the memory. "It's funny sometimes how things foretell the future.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley