The response didn’t match the crisis. City of Dallas citation notice outside Shingle Mountain in 2019.

For almost two continuous decades Dallas residents had a string of thoughtful, sincere, and righteously-angry advocates who served on their City Council.

As Mayor, Laura Miller just about single-handedly stopped over a dozen new coal plants from being built by Rick Perry and implemented the region’s first Green Procurement ordinance.  As a council member, Angela Hunt hunted down waste, corruption, and Staff shenanigans. If she couldn’t get her peers to pay attention, she made sure a reporter did. Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, then Mark Clayton  followed suit. They defeated the zombie Trinity Toll Road AND gas drilling – the latter being “a done deal” according to then-Mayor Rawlings.

Sometimes they fought their council opponents directly. Sometimes they made sure documents that were never supposed to see the light of day got their own spotlight. You knew these partisans would find a way to advance the cause. Because that cause was why they wanted to serve.

But when Griggs couldn’t overcome the cynical Mayoral bid of Eric Johnson, and Kingston’s bad boy behavior cost him his Council seat, the horseshoe lost its last devoted grassroots insurgency. As a result, the current Dallas City Council is the least progressive in deed, if not in rhetoric, since 2002.

Who among the present 15 members could a City Hall observer nominate as the rightful heir of any of those past True Believers? Not a one.

Residents have no confidence that current council members would put ANY cause, no matter how righteous, before their own political ambitions. That’s not a prediction. 2020 provided the proof.

There were exactly two urgent historic crises that brought nationwide attention to Dallas city government last year: Police response to the George Floyd protests, and Shingle Mountain. This Council failed to meet both with integrity.

 

POLICE ABUSE AND REFORM

Even after the loss of eyes and other serious physical harm inflicted by a Dallas Police Department that was out of control during the May and June protests, not a single Council Member called for the Police Chief to resign. Not a one.

It took the former Chief being caught in a lie regarding that excessive force months after the fact that led to her departure. There were no brave stances from Council Members. Not a one.

Even after Dallas’ youth and People of Color organized well-attended and persistent protests before and during the budget process to win re-prioritization of police funding, not a single City Council member proposed a budget that reflected their demands. Not a one.

We’ll leave it to the long-time advocates of that cause who are now council candidates, including Changa Higgins, running to replace Adam Bazaldua in District 7, to explain how badly the Council failed to meet the moment. But there’s no question that when a large segment of Dallas residents wanted something done about the use of force and the redeployment of resources away from the Police Department, they had absolutely no champion on the current City Council. Not a one.

What are the consequences to those elected officials for their  inaction? For most Dallas “progressive” groups making endorsements on the Council Races, there aren’t any. Not a one.

SHINGLE MOUNTAIN

The entire Council also turned their backs on Marsha Jackson and her neighbors while Choate Street residents suffered daily  health problems caused by the City’s most high-profile example of Southern Dallas negligence, Shingle Mountain.

During the 2019 election, 10 current city council members – Chad West, Adam Medrano, Carolyn Kind Arnold, Jaime Resendez, Omar Narvaez, Adam Bazaldua, Tennell Atkins, Paula Blackmon, Cara Mendelsohn, David Blewett – said they’d work to re-establish the Environmental Health Commission if they got elected. Not a single City Council member made a motion to do so when Jackson and her allies asked them to follow through on their commitments last April. Not a one.

Not a single council member has ever apologized to Jackson. There were no leaking of documents that would have shown just how much the city’s silly demand for some kind of cash payment from the landowners needlessly delayed the clean-up at the dump for over a year. No push back to staff’s irrational claims about why they couldn’t have used the illegal status of the dump to enter the property at any time after it opened and begin a clean-up. Jackson could not count on a single current city council member to be her advocate. Not a one.

While nobody was expecting North Dallas members to take up these causes, there were supposed to be “Progressive” city council members that would carry on the work of Hunt/Griggs/Kingston. Turns out, not so much.

The best that can be said about Chad West is that he’s no Scott Griggs. Adam Medrano seemed to be coasting on his way to terming out. Casey Thomas was never part of that crowd and neither was Carolyn Arnold. Nobody expected much from Jamie Resendez in his first term and he delivered. Paula Blackmon? She was the Mayor Rawlings PR aide when he was calling gas drilling in Dallas a done deal and those Real Progressives were fighting both of them.

But by far the steepest falls from expectations to performance were Omar Narvaez and Adam Bazaldua.

 

DISTRICT 6

CM Navarez knows the names of every character in the Star Wars universe, but couldn’t name any children suffering under Shingle Mountain.

Almost two years into the job and Council Member Narvaez still tells everyone that will listen that he never expected to be the Chair of the Council’s Environmental Committee and didn’t know that much about environmental issues. His real passion was for housing, but for some reason, the Mayor gave him responsibility for the Environmental Committee, and the shepherding of the City’s precious Climate Plan.

Maybe because of his lack of familiarity with the subject matter, or maybe because it was made clear by the Mayor and Staff that his job would be exclusively about getting the city’s climate plan passed but he froze like a deer in headlights when Marsha Jackson needed him most.

He refused to consider adding the re-establishment of the Dallas Environmental Health Commission to the Climate Plan ordinance despite Ms. Jackson’s personal pleas that she and other residents needed a forum that took these problems seriously.

He kept using the old “it’s in litigation” dodge in public to avoid answering any questions about Shingle Mountain even though city officials routinely discussed it when it suited their PR agenda.

He never met with Ms. Jackson, inquired about her health, toured the mostly Latino neighborhood or asked what he could do as the Chair of the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee to relieve their suffering. He never offered to lobby for more air monitoring or health protections. He never offered to do anything.

Despite his district hosting the region’s largest asphalt shingle factory (and Sulfur Dioxide polluter), GAF, whose products filled the 6-story Shingle Mountain dump, the Chair of the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee never discussed this environmental justice connection between POC neighborhoods in Dallas.

Despite two well-researched published reports identifying vast inequities in the way the City enforces Code in Southern Dallas and how its air pollution burdens are distributed, the Chair of the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee held no hearings or meetings related to these environmental justice issues during the last 18 months. Not a one.

Despite national media coverage of the City’s inept handling of Shingle Mountain, and the city’s poor environmental justice record, including articles in the Washington Post and Philadelphia Tribune, and a hour-long documentary on BET,  the Chair of the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee held no hearings or meetings related to how to avoid another Shingle Mountain during the last 18 months. Not a one.

Despite never holding any meetings devoted to environmental justice the Chair of the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee did find an urgent need to convene a special task force to examine and come back with solutions to the pressing issue of Oncor’s cutting down 5 acres of trees near White Rock Lake.  Replacing trees in North Dallas, not reducing human suffering in Southern Dallas, was the priority of a council member representing an overwhelmingly POC district, which also happens to the the birthplace of the modern Environmental Justice movement in Dallas.

And of course, the majority of his Committee Chairmanship was spent making sure Staff got its way with the passage of the city’s “North Dallas” Climate Plan, of which many dollars in potential grants depends, if not actual changes on the ground. The plan does zero to address problems like Shingle Mountain and GAF,  does nothing for Narvaez’ district, but is very, very concerned about stormwater management and tree cover.

Throughout the entirety of the Shingle Mountain crisis, CM Narvaez was a good soldier for the Mayor and Staff. Which made him an awful Chair of the Environmental Committee for Southern Dallas residents during the most serious environmental justice controversy in the last 25 years.

Not content to just do no good in that case, Narvaez has gone out of his way to praise and campaign with District 8 Council Member Tennell Atkins, a primary architect of Shingle Mountain. In doing so, he fuels Atkins’ mind-blowing Big Lie that he was the facilitator of a clean-up instead of a major obstacle. Atkins is among the most unconscionable right-wing members on the Council but Narvaez treats him like a conquering hero, rubbing salt into Marsha Jackson’s wounds with every unsolicited and unearned act of praise.

Was it embarrassment over this performance this last year that kept Narvaez from granting an interview with Soledad O’Brien for her BET documentary? Instead, the Chair of the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee let Atkins alone represent the City on the record.

And he’s followed Staff’s lead right over the cliff on other important environmental health issues too. This might be hard for his Progressive admirers to believe, but he actually bragged about Joppa getting an unprecedented TCEQ air monitor when in fact it’s located three miles north in Bonton.

Then he made that lie worse by claiming that this TCEQ monitor’s location – miles away from industrial sources of pollution in Joppa – could more accurately show what the air was like there than if it had been put in Joppa itself.

You read that right. According to the Chair of the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee, air monitors three miles away from Joppa more accurately reflect the air Joppa residents are breathing than monitors right outside their front doors.

Does CM Narvaez really believe this, or is he just parroting Staff’s opposition to local air monitoring? Which interpretation is more damning?

And what’s his inevitable pretzel logical response to finding out that his own District’s residents are embracing local neighborhood monitoring? Will he be advocating those “local” West Dallas monitors to be located three miles north, in Irving, to get a “truer picture” of West Dallas pollution burdens?

The cynicism is strong in this one.

CM Narvaez should have been the Chair of Housing, not the Environmental Committee. As the latter, he’s set the cause of environmental justice back years. Despite being an over-the-top Star Wars geek, when the time came to make his own choice in his own movie, he went over to the Dark Side.

 

DISTRICT 7

Despite appearances, CM Bazaldua is neither Jewish or an environmentalist.

CM Adam Bazaldua has disappointed in a slightly lower profile, albeit more personal way.

Bazaldua represents District 7, home to the Freedman’s town of Joppa, and per capita, Dallas’ most polluted neighborhood.

In Joppa sits TAMKO, the other large asphalt shingle factory that operates in a Dallas POC neighborhood. Shingle Mountain is literally right down Central Highway from Joppa, and TAMKO. You can routinely smell its asphalt cooking at all times of day. Along with GAF, it was TAMKO’s  products you saw most often being dumped at Shingle Mountain.

But Bazaldua, like Navarez, never brought up that toxic connection that binds his constituents to Choate Street residents. Not once.

In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anything related to environmental justice concerns uttered by Bazaldua once he took office despite Joppa being a battle ground for such concerns for at least the past three years. He’s conspicuously avoided any mention on it in his campaign material. You’d never know his district was bothered by any pollution problems at all.

When Staff, and CM Navarez  told the public there was a new monitor in Joppa that was really in Bonton, he didn’t disagree. He went along with the charade. He didn’t demand overdue air monitoring for a community whose residents had been asking for it since at least 2018.

There was no effort by the Council Member to join residents in opposing the Joppa-based Austin Asphalt batch plant permit renewal, even after it was learned that the plant’s air modeling hadn’t been revised from its original sparse West Texas location to reflect its new dense urban Dallas spot.

There was no call for locomotive electrification in the Joppa switch yard, and in fact two more tracks were laid down that can only result in more carcinogenic black soot from more diesel engines in more locomotives.

Most disheartening however, was the fundamental error in elected official protocol Bazaldua committed last year when Marsha Jackson turned to him in desperation to intervene and advocate for the Dallas Environmental Health Commission on the eve of the Climate Plan vote.

Jackson asked him to look at the language in the proposal she and her Southern Sector Rising allies had submitted to him. She asked him to take it to Chairman Navarez and make the case for what both had pledged to do less than a year earlier. And then she asked hm to please let her know the results of that discussion before the Council voted on the Climate Plan. He told her he would do so.

He didn’t.

When a 61-year old woman being buried daily under tons of waste that the City helped put there comes to you and asks you to plead her case to another Council Member in private and you not only never even read her proposed language, you never bother to even call her back – it is not acceptable behavior from any kind of Council Member, much less one that is described as “progressive.” And no, he never apologized.

What are the consequences to the Council for their collective snub to Marsha Jackson? For most Dallas “progressive” groups making endorsements on the Council Races, there aren’t any. Not a one.

 

NOT DESERVING

Maybe you think this criticism is all too-narrow. Too specific. It doesn’t account for all the “good things” accomplished by these “progressive” city council members that balance out these woeful absences of empathy and courage.  It’s too much to punish them all for losing their way on just these two issues.

But those “good things” were not hard sells, they didn’t require risk-taking. Here’s an exercise: name one issue the Progressives on this risk-averse Council have put themselves, their positions as elected officials on the line for.  We’ll wait.

Maybe you weren’t seriously injured by Dallas police in a protest. Your house probably doesn’t back up to 140,000 tons of illegal hazardous waste.

But maybe next week, next month, or next year you will be in a similar situation. Through no fault of your own you’ll need a Council Member to intervene on your behalf. But if it conflicts with the Staff’s agenda, or makes the Council Member go out on limb, you might be disappointed.

If the Council won’t take on the Police when they put out eyes, or polluters when they dump illegally by the truckload, what are the odds your cause will rate action?

That’s the point. Just like all of us, a Council Member shows their true selves in times of crisis, not when the going is easy. In 2020 there were two times history called, and not a single Dallas Council Member answered the phone. Not a one.

What other way can Dallas “Progressives” proclaim these things matter other than using the blunt language of the ballot box and refuse to vote for them? There aren’t any.  Not a one.

2 Comments

  1. LS on April 5, 2021 at 3:25 am

    This is single-handedly, the best piece of political writing about modern Dallas, PERIOD. Whoever or whomever you are, “jim” you are talented and spot on. Thank you for this work of art and history.

  2. Mary Potter on April 5, 2021 at 5:59 pm

    I’m in district 8. It looks like pretty slim pickings here.

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