Friday, May 30, 2008

A note to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee

"It's clear, this election they're having is not going to count for anything."
-Hillary Clinton (referring to the Michigan primary), October 11, 2007

“Votes cast outside the rule of law and in the absence of contested elections lack moral standing and by themselves have no legitimate claim on the selection of delegates to the national party convention.”
-Tom Mann, The Brookings Institution

Wherein I discuss city finances, voting, hotels, and the Trinity River

This is your last day to vote to rename Industrial Blvd over by our new Trinity River park/highway/floodway/boondoggle. Go here to vote!

And while you are exercising your right to make your voice heard to rename a street, remember that your elected representatives aren't interested in your input for things like building a 1,200 room convention center hotel for $500M with revenue bonds. Nope, we don't need a vote for the city getting into the hotel business. But renaming Industrial, now that's important stuff.

Jim Schutze points out the extra incongruity in this whole hotel business when you consider that the city is going to have to curtail basic services due to declining sales tax revenue. So the city is $50M in the hole for the next budget year but we've decided to spend $500M on a hotel. And Jim doesn't buy the argument that it's free money because it's revenue bonds. There's no guarantee that revenue generated by the hotel will cover the debt service on these bonds. And if revenue does fall short they become general obligation bonds. Translation: the taxpayers just bought debt service on their fancy hotel to add to the budget deficit. Thanks Mayor Tom and Council!

Since it's Friday and I don't want to end on a down note, here's some great news about the new Audobon Center, which is one of the bright spots of the whole Trinity River project.

"We wanted the building itself to be a teaching tool," said Craig Reynolds, a principal in Brown Reynolds Watford Architects Inc., the project's architects. "The idea was to create something that's an extension of the natural setting, rather than something that intrudes on that setting.

"We hope that because of the way it's been designed and built, this center will help convey the message that the land and the water are worth preserving."

According to the Dallas school district, there are 37 elementary schools, seven middle schools, six high schools and one Montessori magnet school within five miles of the center. Together, they have almost 38,000 students.

Most of these students are from low-income families. Some have never seen a river except from a car, a forest except on television, a fish except in fish sticks.

The opportunity to reach this urban school population was one of the things that attracted Audubon to the project, said Ben Jones, the group's director of education at the center.

Way to go Audubon Texas, Meadows Foundation, and Dallas Parks and Recreation! This will truly be a great asset to our city.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Bridge opens in Dallas

Dallas' new homeless assistance center, The Bridge (what an unfortunate name, BID), opened yesterday.

How about this for some anecdotal evidence of initial success: I normally pass 3 Street 'Zine vendors (homeless folks selling newspapers) on my walk from the train each morning. I can see each of their faces but I don't know their names. This morning none of them were out there. I am assuming they each got a good night's sleep courtesy of the City of Dallas.

Apparently one difference between The Bridge and our privately run shelters is that The Bridge is not kicking people out the door in the morning. And they will be set up to treat some of the underlying causes of homelessness. I wish them all the success in the world.

I'm scheduled to volunteer at Austin Street Shelter this evening. I will be curious to see if they have less of a crowd than normal due to the opening of The Bridge.

Update: There were about 350 people staying at Austin Street Wednesday night, fairly close to capacity for a mild dry evening. It seems Austin Street has a very good reputation among the homeless population and Dallas can use the additional shelter.

Bring on the general election

Obama passed another milestone yesterday by locking in a majority of pledged delegates with his win in Oregon and despite the drubbing in Kentucky. But can I tell you that I have been genuinely energized by his past couple of speeches. And it's because the focus has turned on McCain, the general election, and the battle of ideas.

And despite McCain's supposed advantage in foreign policy, he appears to have adopted the policies of the Bush administration from Iraq to Iran to Cuba. And if that is McCain's position, that is a debate that Obama will handily win because the American people are tired of a lack of diplomacy and a foreign policy that has isolated our country and made us less safe. Bring it on.

Friday, May 16, 2008

LH Town Center to seek LEED certification

The Lake Highlands Town Center will be pursusing sustainable development practices, including LEED certification for the whole development. This is awesome news, courtesy of the Advocate blog. Props to Prescott Realty!

Going Green: Sustainable Development
Underscoring a commitment to environmental conservation, Prescott Realty Group President Vance Detwiler announced several “green” initiatives that are being implemented with development of the Lake Highlands Town Center, including:

Creation of tree farms to preserve current trees for future use in the development
Rainwater collection system for irrigation
Building planning and orientation to reduce solar effects
Recycling of bricks, appliances and grinding of materials from demolished apartments
Crushing and recycling of concrete slabs for fill material and road base on off-site projects
Prescott plans to seek a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Neighborhood Development certification, currently being piloted by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The very nature of the transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly Town Center will encourage conservation and allow the entire community to take part in preserving and promoting a healthy, walkable environment,” explained Detwiler. “The Town Center’s unique integration of outdoor amenities and urban conveniences will really set it apart from other urban mixed-use developments.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Toll road delays and overruns


WFAA Channel 8 reported last night that the tollroad in our floodway is behind schedule and overbudget from what we were promised last year during the referendum. Might cost more than $2 billion according to the report (that's up from $1.3B in November). Thing is, this is exactly what the Vote Yes folks had been saying. And as Angela Hunt points out in her interview in the report, we don't know who is going to pay for these overruns. Will it be the tollway authority? Leppert claims the city has capped it's commitment to the road. I don't think I've heard that from anyone else.

As Schutze notes, Gene Rice of the Army Corps of Engineers was very noncommital on the timelines for this road. They don't even have an environmental impact statement yet. I have my fingers crossed that the impact statement will shut down the road portion of this project. Putting a road in a floodway is not only dangerous for increasing the risk of flooding, it's also bad for the wetlands in the floodway. I don't know if that is considered in this study or not. But perhaps we'll have an administration that puts a spine back in the EPA before they're ready to start moving dirt.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

$500 million convention center hotel: economic engine or boondoggle?

The Dallas City Council is set to vote today on the purchase of land adjacent to the convention center for the purposes of developing a connected hotel, which apparently the convention folks have long told us we desperately need. Price tag for the land: $42 million. The tax appraisal was recently raised from around $7 million to closer to the purchase price to reflect the fact that it won’t be used as a parking lot any more.

Mayor Leppert is leading the charge for this convention center hotel. He had the council in executive session (read behind closed doors) a week or two ago and it was then decided that Dallas not only needed this hotel now, but Dallas needed to own it outright rather than just subsidize it. And it might cost $400-$500 million to build. And we don’t even know if it will make money, so add years of potential operating losses to that number and all of a sudden we’re talking real money.

And of course the voters shall have nothing to say about it. This hotel is to be financed with revenue bonds that do not require a vote of the citizenry.

Leppert has almost the entire council behind him on this, as he did with the Trinity River referendum, with the exception of council members Mitchell Rasansky and Angela Hunt. You’ve got to admit, the man can build a coalition. They’ve managed to keep Rasansky quiet with a ruling that he could not engage in vote or debate on this issue due to some Citigroup stock he held (the company that will underwrite bonds issued by the city for this deal). I thought this was a flimsy excuse to silence Rasansky when the city attorney announced it, but there it is. It’s not like this is going to really affect his Citigroup stock value, a company with a $122B market cap. I’ll just note that anyone with a mutual fund indirectly owns shares of Citigroup, but I digress.

At any rate, Rasansky is silent no more. He has spoken in an Op-Ed piece in this morning’s DMN, ethics be damned. And it’s a good piece.

Here’s the thing. Neither Rasansky nor Hunt has come out against the hotel! They have both just stated that they would like to look at it further before putting taxpayers on the hook for half a billion dollars. And that is a very prudent position, especially in a city with a low hotel occupancy rate (Rasansky states it is less than 65 percent) and in a location that no private hotel developer has yet said this is where we want to put 1,200 rooms. Add to that a convention business that may be about to change radically with the advent of $120/bbl oil and the fact that Dallas is not a destination city like Miami or Las Vegas.

I haven’t read Leppert’s response yet, but I’ll bet he plays the old “world class city” tune, the one that lulls Dallasites into believing that we are just one signature bridge, one road in our drainage ditch, and one fancy publicly owned hotel away from being Los Angeles.

Leppert and his cronies on the council want to rush this through. And they might yet get away with it. Astonishing, really, that something this big could get slipped in under the public’s apathetic nose. Even the Morning News editorial board, Leppert’s lead cheerleader on the Trinity vote, is saying to slow down.

Slow down, Council. You still answer to the voters.

Update: Unfair Park is reporting that the council voted (with 2 dissents) to "get into the hotel business." I don't know yet if that means they voted to purchase the land or to actually go ahead with development of a hotel. If it's the latter... wow, that was fast!

Update 2: It appears from the resolution language that the council has authorized the sale of bonds for the land purchase and directed the city manager to enter into negotiations with developers and operators to build and operate the hotel. Funding for the actual hotel would have to be at a later meeting. Again... wow!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lost in Austin again

Had a nice little weekend in Austin-town. I am reminded that while I may be considered a tree hugging socialist in Dallas for having an Obama sticker on my V-dub, I look like a prep school yuppie in Austin, even in my Birks.

You need to experience the Austin Motel on S. Congress folks. "So near, yet so far out." It has loud A/C units, but is comfortable, clean, basic, and right in the middle of all that S. Congress has to offer. (And with thematic rooms to boot.)

Watch out for bats.

Shout out to Kim and Jason for their hospitality. ¡Salud!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Closing the deal

That's what we saw last night. Obama closed the deal with a 13 or 14 point win in North Carolina and a squeaker of a loss in Indiana. Now I think Hillary stays in for two reasons: to save face a bit and come away with a couple more wins, and to avoid embarrassing her party's nominee by allowing him to potentially lose a primary or two after she's dropped out.

They were still talking about how unbeatable a joint ticket would be on the Diane Rehm Show this morning. I actually think it could happen except for the fact that I don't think Obama wants a former president second guessing him from the Naval Observatory. That's got to be an even bigger weight than the ego bruising that's been going on.

We shall see. But this primary is pretty much over folks.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Prediction time

I normally don't like to do this but it feels like shooting fish in a barrel at this point: Sen. Clinton will win Indiana. Sen. Obama will win North Carolina, albeit by a smaller margin than he needs to claim a decisive win, and will continue to run out the clock on Clinton through the remaining primaries in a rather uninspiring fashion.

Superdelegates will stick their fingers in the air and see that to override the pledged delegate count would be lunacy on a grand scale, and the majority of them will declare for Obama. After the superdelegates are all declared there will be some kind of compromise worked out to "seat" Florida and Michigan without allowing them to alter the outcome and we will have our nominee sometime in June.

And we can stop the Hillary Clinton deathwatch, pick a VP, and have several months to take on McCain.

Can you tell I'm tired of the primaries? Well, here's something completely different: The Morning News reported on a Rasmussen poll this morning showing Sen. John Cornyn beating Rick Noriega 47 to 43. That's a Republican incumbent in May polling less than 50% in a bright red state. Watch your back Cornyn. Texas might have an early retirement plan in mind for you. And now the big announcement: FV is today officially declaring for Rick Noriega for United States Senate!