The city of Dallas gave away an inner city park, gave a loan to a grocery store, and has a new report on how to reduce crime that it needs to digest.
Here's what happened in Dallas this week:
In its first meeting of 2020 on January 8, the Dallas City Council voted to go ahead and hand off Reverchon Park, a mostly pastoral park in the Turtle Creek area, to a private group led by Don Nelson, general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, to build a 3,500-seat stadium for sporting events and concerts.
The council had already voted against it in December, but the lure of some rich guy pretending to give Dallas something was too much to resist.
The proposal was never offered to the public for comment, and the public was almost barred from commenting this time, until Mayor Eric Johnson begrudgingly accommodated a change in meeting rules.
Nearly 100 people showed up to speak. Most of the "pro" camp were in a position to benefit financially. The pro folks also trotted out a few athletes; some staffers from North Dallas High School, whose teams would use the facility; and DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa, of all people.
The "con" speakers were neighbors who'd never been informed this was happening or former park board members and activists trying to preserve the park's natural assets. Many asked the City Council to postpone the vote for 30 or 60 days and give the neighbors input.
One neighbor, Karen Robertson, said that the deal seemed like it was simply a way to take the park away from local residents, and that it would be "another boondoggle the city of Dallas takes on while destroying a facility for neighborhood children who need this park."
Park board member Tim Dickey recalled when the park board first began considering renovation in 2016 and wondered why this deal couldn't go somewhere other than this "precious historic ball field." Erica Altes Cole suggested moving it to southern Dallas, an area that everyone keeps saying should be developed.
Council member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents District 12 in far North Dallas, said the city doesn't do proper diligence on these RFPs (requests for proposals), and that the city really should start doing diligence on this kind of thing, then voted against everything she said and approved the deal.
Council member Chad West, who represents District 1, said there should be better community input and "we gotta do a better job marketing that," then approved the deal.
The most eloquent comment came from council member Adam Bazaldua, who represents 7.
"It's crazy that we all agree that the RFP process needs to change, but I don't know why we're waiting for this proposal to pass and then address that?" he said. "When we first put out this RFP, the intention of the Park Department was to improve the ball field. It was not about being an economic driver. Not about alcohol sales. Not about concessions. It was about restoring a field so that the taxpayers whose park it is are able to play there."
"And now it has evolved into catering to two different things, but you cannot use one to leverage the other," he said. "You can't say that because we don't like this deal, we don't want to provide for the inner city kids. Give me a break."
"The idea of the original RFP was only focused on inner city kids; this new RFP is taking away from that," he said. "I wholeheartedly stand behind our green space and preserving our parks, and I think that it is very unfortunate for us to feel we have to jump into something because it's dangled in front of our face."
Bazaldua voted against the proposal, along with Adam Medrano, Omar Narvaez, and Jaime Resendez.
Voting yes to give up the use of valuable public land to a private company for free were Mayor Eric Johnson, Cara Mendelsohn, Carolyn Arnold, Casey Thomas, Chad West, David Blewett, Jennifer Gates, Lee Kleinman, Tennell Atkins, and Paula Blackmon.
At the same meeting, the city council approved a taxpayer-funded loan for Royal Blue Grocery, which is opening a location in Bishop Arts, in the former Bolsa Mercado space.
Royal Blue initially requested a $350,000 loan, and $350,000 in grant money. But many people protested the idea of giving money to a grocery that sells fancy fare, so the grant money was taken off the table.
As penance, Royal Blue must now hold job fairs in Oak Cliff and West Dallas; pay a minimum hourly wage of $15; and sell some items at affordable prices, which shouldn't be hard since it already does that.
The Dallas Task Force on Safe Communities, appointed in August 2019 to find ways to reduce crime in Dallas, submitted a 39-page report on December 31, with a recommendation for the city to focus on four areas:
- Fix blighted buildings and abandoned lots
- Add outdoor lighting where nighttime violence is worst
- Teach kids in schools to pause before they act
- Hire "violence interrupters" in high-violence neighborhoods
These strategies have been used successfully in other cities to reduce crime, including Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Baltimore.
Each recommendation comes with an explanation - for example, areas with dilapidated buildings and abandoned lots have a higher rate of violent crime - and each also has a map of the city of Dallas showing areas where these actions would have the most significant results.
NBC 5 has downloaded the full report with maps and data, it's well written and easy to read.