In many ways the inaugural Forward Dallas “neighborhood summit” on Saturday was a microcosm of the current state of affairs at Dallas City Hall when it comes to Environmental Justice.
For the first three-quarters of the City’s presentation, staff used all the right language in explaining the goals of the once-a-decade, re-imagine-your-neighborhood, citywide land use planning exercise to the approximately 120 registered participants. Primary among them of course was “Equity” – City Hall’s reflexive one-word description of anything it does now days.
But there was also acknowledgement by Interim Director of Planning Julia Ryan that “previous racial inequities” had been ignored and needed to be redressed. Might there be some newfound ambition in this map redrawing to take on the baked-in racist zoning that’s made Southern Dallas the city’s dumping ground?
As it turns out, no. Dallas City Hall still thinks those “previous racial inequities” can be redressed by planting more trees. Honest.
During the last 30 minutes of the “summit,” participants were disbursed to three Zoom “breakout rooms,” one of which promised to focus on the environmental impacts of land use planning.
If you’ve lived in Dallas the last four years, the Dallas where a six-story illegal “mountain” of shingles has become a national environmental justice symbol, the Dallas where Joppa and other Southern Dallas neighborhoods are constantly fighting off new batch plants, the Dallas that hosts an ancient polluter in West Dallas that appears to be openly flaunting the law. If you lived in this Dallas you might have expected this breakout presentation to include a section, if not base the entire session around, the idea of how to get rid of these kind of “previous racial inequities” that put people dangerously close to industrial polluters.
But City Hall lives in a different Dallas. At least according to this breakout session. One where the most pressing Environmental Justice issues revolve around better water management and planting more trees. According to staff, “heat islands” is THE EJ priority for Southern Dallas.
There was not a single mention of Shingle Mountain, Joppa, or West Dallas. In fact, there was no mention of Dallas’ industrial pollution problems at all. Not a one.
We can’t remember one recent public protest aimed at eliminating heat islands south of the Trinity River. There’s no shortage of trees in Joppa and Floral Farms. Indeed, it’s the City of Dallas lax code enforcement and on-going encouragement of industrial polluters that put the magnificent woods in those neighborhoods at risk.
On the other hand, since 2018 there have been countless protests, posts, and articles about the problems caused by the City’s continuing embrace of racist zoning, meant to corral “undesirable” people and dirty industries along the Trinity floodplain. Saturday’s session pretended those never happened.
Why? Because City Hall keeps intentionally substituting “Sustainability” for “Environmental Justice.” The two terms aren’t synonymous, though staff uses them as if they were. Sustainability is a catch-all term usually paired, as it was on Saturday, with traditional conservation concerns like water management and urban forestry. A lot of mainstream green groups use it to update those concerns in light of the Climate Crisis. Nothing wrong with that. But it isn’t on point when it comes to the urgency of vastly unequal pollution exposure burdens currently suffered by Black and Brown residents.
Environmental Justice is inherently about those unequal pollution burdens, they’re not tangential to any other goals. And driving those unequal pollution burdens in Dallas is racist zoning that puts the most polluting industries in predominately Black and Brown neighborhoods. To host a session on the environmental impacts of land use planning and not mention this fact even once is like holding a symposium on the Afghanistan War and never mentioning 9/11.
When this absence was noted in the Question and Answer part of the breakout session, staff were quick to assert how “really important” and “extremely important” the topic of “buffer zones and those kinds of thing” were to them and the process.
So important they never talked about it until they were forced to. This is a very bad sign.
Staff didn’t even have the courage to quote the specific charge given to the Forward Dallas process by the much ballyhooed Climate Plan. There it is, listed as goal #4 under Air Quality:
The City will review and potentially amend its zoning standards to separate residential and industrial uses. In addition, it may also consider buffer zones between industrial uses and residential or recreational areas to protect residents from harmful emissions and hazardous industrial activities. The City should evaluate the appropriate buffer distances for air quality and industry types.
Every other air quality goal from the CECAP, including ones with a lot less overlap with land use, were reviewed. This one, directly on point, was ignored.
The most generous interpretation is that the Planning staff may want to sincerely try to resolve EJ issues but feel they lack the expertise, and default to relying on OEQS (Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability) (¯\_(ツ)_/¯). This is an even worse sign.
Despite neighborhood opposition, OEQS has given its OK to every batch plant recently proposed for Southern Dallas, paid more attention to water run-off issues than human health effects at Shingle Mountain, and refused air monitoring requests from Joppa residents. OEQS has no one on staff with public health expertise or experience. It has been part of the problem Forward Dallas is supposed to be solving.
When this was pointed out in the Q&A, OEQS staffer Suzanne Alvarez defended her own and her peers’ experience with “environmental remediation.” Remediation is the term regulators use for cleaning-up environmental problems after the fact, and is usually applied to soil and water contamination. It has nothing to do with measuring or anticipating human health harms from land use based on a public health perspective.
Alvarez’ own degree is in Civil Engineering and includes no public or environmental education at all. She’s not alone. OEQS is heavy on engineers and absent of any public health expertise. So the Department’s answer to every problem is also engineering heavy and absent any public health insight except to say whether a specific monitor is meeting federal standards or not. You’ll never get a comprehensive or honest Environmental Justice evaluation or prescription from such a group. The failure is baked-in.
This is why it’s a fatal mistake to let OEQS take the lead on this subject within Forward Dallas. If you want to change the Status Quo, you have to have someone other than the folks in charge of the Status Quo to do it.
One of the best examples of a public health perspective being integrated into local government policy in Texas is in Houston.
Dr. Loren Hopkins is the Chief Environmental Science Officer for the Houston Health Department. Dr. Hopkins has served on the U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board and Risk and Technology Review Methods Panel and been a visiting scientist on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health in Atlanta, Georgia. Since 1998, she’s conducted research on the human health effects of Houston’s air pollution.
Rather than a purely reactive mode, Dr. Hopkins has been a proactive environmental health and justice advocate. Here’s an excerpt from a Houston Chronicle article about a neighborhood batch plant fight:
“Echoing the community’s health concerns about the fine particulate pollution emitted by concrete batch plants, the City of Houston’s Chief Environmental Science Officer, Dr. Loren Hopkins, shared data showing that the Acres Homes community already suffers six times the rate of ambulance-treated asthma attacks and twice the rate of cardiac arrests compared to the rest of Houston. Those health impacts are directly associated with exposure to fine particulate pollution, which is compounded by the multiple concrete batch plants already existing in Acres Homes.”
Can you imagine any staffer from the OEQS saying the same thing about a batch plant in Southern Dallas? Houston has public health advocates who oppose new polluters in communities of Color. Dallas has engineers who approve them.
If Planning staff really want to use the Forward Dallas process to tackle the systematic environmental justice issues driving so much grassroots discontent in the city, it needs to rely more on public health professionals like Dr. Hopkins and less on the engineers at OEQS.
It’s Earth Day 2021. Board members Cindy Hua and Evelyn Mayo built this great archival tool to explore the history of EJ frontline fights in Dallas County. Click the image to start looking around.
Expect updates that expand its reach in the coming months. To contribute to our Frontline Fund to support Community Organizing to fight current frontline fights, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck is joining eight other area environmentalists in helping to produce an environmental and climate plan for the Dallas Independent School District.
Schermbeck was appointed by District 8 School Board Trustee Miguel Solis to the newly formed DISD Environmental and Sustainability Committee, which had its first (virtual) meeting two weeks ago. Molly Rooke from the Dallas Sierra Club, Mellan West from the North Texas Renewable Energy Group, former DISD teacher Bill Betzen, and Aaryaman Singhal from the local Dallas Sunrise Movement chapter are also members. Trustee Ben Mackey and DISD staff are leading the effort.
According to the resolution passed by the District back in February, the group is officially charged with the job of recommending “goals and progress measures, along with specific recommendations for acting on climate change that are within the purview of the District, such as: Curricular and Educational Opportunities; Facilities and Operational Priorities, including bond projects; Transportation and Food Services.”
Committee members will be meeting as a whole and in subcommittees from now until they make their final report by November 1st. Between now and then they’ll be community meetings to receive feedback in August and September.
Since 2018, Downwinders has been pushing for full electrification of all DFW bus fleets a a way to address both the climate crisis and reduce PM pollution. Diesel and natural-gas powered buses are a significant source of PM exposure – from their tailpipes on the outside to the PM that migrates to their interiors. DISD owns the largest fleet of school buses in North Texas. None are electric and the school board just voted to buy hundreds of new diesel buses last year. So Schermbeck and the other electrification advocates have their work cut out for them.
Schermbeck will advocate for that agenda as well as other issues like less plastics use and landscaping to mitigate air pollution. He’s also hopeful the group can address how to extend their recommendations out into the neighborhoods surrounding schools via a new proposal that’s part of larger school bond package up for approval by voters in November.
A brainchild of Solis, the effort ties a portion of facilities improvement monies to providing community needs at DISD school campuses in neighborhoods suffering the greatest lack of services and resources.
$40 to $50 million out of the bond’s whopping total of $2 billion is expected to be earmarked for this effort, distributed over just four school feeder routes at first: LG Pinkston High School in West Dallas; Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Oak Cliff; Lincoln High School in South Dallas; and H. Grady Spruce High School in Pleasant Grove.
The idea is for the school district to extend itself into the community sending its students to its schools, and in doing so help fulfill an identified community need. For example, a school in the middle of a food dessert could help build a grocery store on school property. A school in an area that suffers from a high rate of childhood asthma could build a new family health clinic. Solar or electric bus battery electric power generated at a school site could be sold to surrounding residents at a reduced rate.
As far as anyone can determine, Dallas is the first school district in the nation to try something like this. Its creation is far from certain – the bond package is already encountering opposition because of its size – but the District’s willingness to be creative is admirable.
Even if the new bond goes down to defeat they’ll be a list of new environmental policy recommendations left by the Committee to implement in current facilities and operations. With any luck those will also be pushing the envelope. Stay tuned.
Arguing that the City Of Dallas has always had the authority to clean-up the huge illegal Shingle Mountain dump in Southern Dallas, but chose not to because it’s in a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood, lawyers for Marsha Jackson added City Hall as a defendant in their federal lawsuit.
Dallas joins the Rogue’s Gallery of grifters, including former operator/con man Chris Ganter and his accomplice landowner Cabe Chadick, being sued by Jackson’s lawyers, famed civil rights attorneys Mike Daniel and Laura Beshara.
At issue is the creation and continuing health threat caused by Dallas’ largest illegal dump – a 100-foot high, 100,000 ton pile of asphalt shingles that began surrounding Jackson’s house in Janury of 2018.
Speaking on behalf of Jackson’s in their amended complaint filed July 8th Daniel and Besharal state, “The City, along with the operator and owner, is responsible for the existence of Shingle Mountain.” The trail of official negligence they document backs that claim.
Shingle Mountain’s operators were in violation of numerous city regulations and laws the day it opened. They violated a specific deed restriction put in place to prevent the very dumping from which they profited. They didn’t have a required Special Use Permit. They didn’t have any solid waste or storm run-off permits. They had no pollution permits to spew asphalt dust into the air by the tons. And they had set up shop in a floodplain which made the entire business an illegal use. Incredibly, the City of Dallas issued the dump a Certificate of Occupancy anyway.
But the suit does more than document the specific abuses leading up to the creation of the Shingle Mountain crisis. It also cites a pattern of racist zoning the City knowingly put in place that practically rolled out the red carpet for the con men responsible for the dump.
The City Council deliberately changed the zoning on the Shingle Mountain dump site to the heaviest industrial zoning possible despite knowing that Ms. Jackson’s home and other homes were adjacent to the site. The City changed the zoning knowing that the heavy industrial zoning adjacent to the homes violated City zoning policies.
Jackson’s suit points out there are no industrial dumps in predominantly White residential neighborhoods in Dallas. The City Council hasn’t approved or contributed to the presence of illegal dumps in predominantly White residential single-family neighborhoods. The City hasn’t issued permits in violation of deed restrictions and doesn’t impose heavy industrial zoning adjacent to single family homes in predominantly White residential neighborhoods. There are no Shingle Mountains or any illegal dumps in a predominantly White residential neighborhoods in Dallas. With only one limited exception there’s no industrial zoning adjacent to ANY predominantly White neighborhoods in Dallas.
It also cites several example of when the City moved quickly to pay for contaminated sites…when developers requested it. In 2010 the Dallas City Council expended over $1 million in City funds to provide for the removal of lead soil contamination for the construction of Belo Garden park downtown. In 2015, the Dallas City Council paid $2.5 million in City funds to relocate and remove the Argos batch plant out of the newly gentrified “Trinity Groves” district and relocate it deeper into West Dallas where it’s adjacent to Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
But in 2019, when Marsha Jackson requested funding for the clean-up of Shingle Mountain because of escalating health problems, the Dallas City Council refused.
As a result , Jackson’s lawsuit against the City is for: 1) violation of the federal environmental laws by contributing to the creation of the illegal landfill and 2) for treating her differently on the basis of race by creating the industrial zoning that is harming her and by failing to remove the illegal landfill when the City acts to perform environmental remediation in white areas. Ms. Jackson’s suit against the City asks for the City to enter onto the Shingle Mountain property and remove the illegal landfill. She asks for the City to clean up the Shingle Mountain property to remove the environmental and health hazard and to re-zone the property to a compatible use for the homes that are next to the location.
Since the first day it opened for business without any warning, Ms. Jackson and her neighbors have complained about health problems, including respiratory and neurological problems. Specifically, they’ve cited poor air quality resulting from the black dust permeating the air they were breathing. Three years of decomposition is stripping carcinogens and toxins like Silica, Formaldehyde and fiberglass from their adhesive backings and putting them into the air as Particulate Matter pollution. In these summer months, standing downwind of the dump is like standing next to an asphalt batch plant or oil terminal, with fumes overwhelming even the most healthy.
Perhaps most infuriating of all is the argument by Jackson’s lawyers that the City has had the authority to act to remove the dump at any point over the last almost-three years:
“The City of Dallas has the legal power to require the removal of Shingle Mountain. It can summarily abate the use because it is located within the floodplain. The use is not one allowed by the City in a flood plain. Texas law gives the City of Dallas the power to abate the violation by causing the work necessary to do so after notice and an opportunity to comply to the owner. If the owner, as in this case fails to comply, the City, without legal action, may pay for and cause the work to be done and assess the costs to the owner. Until the costs are paid,interests at 10 percent per year and the City has a lien on the property for the costs incurred and the interest. (Tx. Local Gov’t Code. § 54.020.)”
After three years Dallas has seemingly run out of excuses for its discriminatory treatment of Marsha Jackson and her neighbors. A well-worn truism is that the only time the City responds to its residents is when a lawsuit is at stake. Now that the City has been named a “responsible party” to the crisis in a lawsuit, Jackson’s plight might actually be a priority at City Hall.
In March the City of Dallas invited a speaker to its Climate Symposium to advise them about air pollution monitoring for environmental justice. By June, they’d already ignored him. Another great short by Rick Baraff.
Join Us for Another Timely Town Hall on Environmental Justice This Coming Tuesday
Our Neighborhood Self-Defense Project is on a Mission to Eliminate the Racism That Redlining Left Behind.
It’s a funded, multi-year campaign to re-map pollution burdens in Southern Dallas. Learn about this exciting new challenge
to the Status Quo. We can make sure new
Shingle Mountains don’t happen.
|Like you, we’re tired of playing defense. We want to start making fundamental changes to the status quo. An upcoming city-wide comprehensive re-examination of Dallas zoning gives us that opportunity.|
While overt racist tools like redlining and neighborhood covenants are gone, the patterns of land use they left behind still haunt South Dallas.
The reason most polluters are found along and South of the Trinity River in Dallas is because that was one of the very few places they, and Black and Brown residents, were allowed to locate. All were considered “undesirable” by the White Powers-That- Be. Redlining meant both people and industry were segregated. Paul Quinn’s recent report, “Poisoned by Zip Code,” explicitly maps this on-going industrial segregation.
It’s the mundane but fundamental tools of city zoning and land use that have propped-up this obsolete legacy of racism for decades. It’s these same tools which must be used to reverse it, only this time wielded by the residents themselves.
That’s the idea behind the Neighborhood Self Defense Project.
Southern Sector Rising, The Inclusive Communities Project and Downwinders at Risk are combining to take on the task of organizing residents to remake their neighborhoods, tract-by-tract by taking advantage of the City’s upcoming “forwardDallas!” process.
Sponsored by Dallas City Hall once every decade or so, “forwardDallas“ is a comprehensive neighborhood planning process that can redraw the futures of communities to better reflect residents’ desires. Usually it’s another consultant-driven under-utilized City Hall exercise that gathers dust on a shelf. But a number of factors make this time different.
For one thing, we and our allies are prepared and funded to wage a multi-year campaign to see the process all the way through. We’ve already begun holding organizing meetings with specific neighborhoods to get them ready. We’ll be there when the City holds its meetings. We’ll be there when the final document is written and when it passes the Council. This is the first time a grassroots campaign like this has been organized specifically to take on the “forwardDallas!” process on behalf of Southern Dallas residents.
Secondly, the Plan Commissioner who will be Chairing the City’s “forwardDallas” Committee is committed to packaging a lot of fundamental change into the final resolution. District 11 Commissioner Jaynie Schultz has been an advocate for Southern Dallas residents in past fights over batch plants. She wants residents to submit their own neighborhood plan for immediate adoption by the Council instead of waiting for up to three years to go through the usual hearing process.
Third, the Dallas City Council just passed its Climate Plan which pitched the hot potato of environmental racism to the “forwardDallas!” process to address. Commissioner Schutz has said she wants to take this problem head on and the Council just gave her their blessing to do that.
Finally, thanks to our supporters, we’ve made the on-going Shingle Mountain disaster a very real and living symbol of the impacts of this kind of racism. City officials know they have to do something. Our job is make sure that something is as big and deep and impactful as we can make it.
Tuesday’s Town Hall is our official debut of the Project. It’ll offer a run through on how “forwardDallas!” works as well as how to get a head start for your own neighborhood plan.
We’ll be joined by:
Chris Dowdy, Dean of Academic Affairs at Paul Quinn College
Rev. Danielle Ayers, Justice Pastor at Friendship West Baptist Church
Jaynie Schultz, D11 Plan Commissioner and the Chair of the “forwardDallas!” Committee.
Peer Chacko, Chief Planning Officer and Director, Planning and Urban Design
Jennifer Rangel, Community Outreach and Planning Director with The Inclusive Communities Project
Evelyn Mayo, Chair of Downwinders at Risk, author, “Poisoned by Zip Code”
Racist zoning is a “pre-existing condition” that keeps Southern Dallas residents trapped in disproportional poverty and illness. We have a unique chance to fundamentally improve public health and end one of the most harmful legacies of Jim Crow.
LEARN HOW TO REVERSE RACIST ZONING
ZOOM TOWN HALL
THE NEIGHBORHOOD SELF-DEFENSE PROJECT
Tuesday, June 23rd
6 pm to 7:30 pm
Meeting ID: 864 5927 9112
A FaceBook Live Event on Southern Sector Rising
On May 27th Dallas City Hall rejected pleas from Southern Dallas residents and supporters to establish an Environmental Health Commission as part of its new Climate Plan.
On June 1st it provided the best reason yet as to why one is so desperately needed.
Proclaiming that the city had finally come through with a new air monitor for the beleaguered Joppa neighborhood, Office of Environmental Quality staff reported to the Council’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee that the new monitor the residents had fought so hard to get would actually be located…3 miles away on Bexar Street in Bonton.
3 miles away.
Staff rationalized putting “Joppa’s air monitor” (yes, they kept calling it that) in Bonton by promising it would reflect what Particulate Matter air pollution Joppa residents were breathing from the combination of batch plants, locomotives, and a large asphalt shingle factory…3 miles away. Committee Chairman Omar Narvaez went out of his way to make the same point. In fact, he patiently explained to the video audience that you could actually get more accurate readings for Joppa pollution from Bonton, 3 miles away, than you could in Joppa itself!
But not only is none of that true, it directly contradicts everything science knows about how Particulate Matter air pollution is transported and deposited. Donald Trump could not have done a better job of inverting the facts.
Smog is like a blanket. PM pollution is like sparklers. Smog rolls in large slow moving masses of air over many miles. PM is local and unless its coming from a 100 foot smokestack or fire, will not travel en masse 3 miles downwind undiluted. Smog is lighter than air and accumulates. PM is heavier than air and falls to the ground.
Smokestacks in Joppa are a lot shorter than 100 feet and their pollution is rarely as dense as house fires. PM pollution from these sources will not travel 3 miles downwind without a very heavy wind. It will travel 500 to 2000 feet. A monitor 3 miles away the Joppa pollution sources is incapable of telling you what people are breathing across the street from them. Heck, it’s incapable of even picking up the dust from the Bonton Farm goat herd 2000 feet down the road.
The localized nature of PM pollution – it could be very bad on one end of a street block and fine on the opposite end – is why experts like UTD’s Dr. David Lary are advising local governments to place PM monitors every mile or even half mile from each other in dense networks. Scientists such as Dr. Lary have devoted hours to research showing how PM monitors must be packed close together in order to reveal what people are actually breathing from location to location. A single monitor is incapable of accurately reflecting all the sources of PM pollution in a large area, much less telling you what different neighborhoods next to those sources are breathing.
If a Council Member had asked the most preeminent expert on PM air monitoring in DFW, he could have told them all this. But Dr. Lary, who has worked for NASA, was not asked. Nor were any toxicologists, or professional air scientists of any kind.
Staff and Chairman Narvaez’ assertions about the uselessness of next-to-source fenceline monitoring to reveal air hazards will come to a shock to the countless industry and government entities employing it to understand more precisely where air pollution problems are generated. EPA even has guidance for such monitoring, saying “New cost-effective approaches to measuring air pollutants at the fenceline or in communities near industrial facilities can help identify and control air pollution that may drift across property lines.” We could find no EPA guidance recommending monitoring local PM sources from…3 miles away.
Somebody from EPA could have told the council about that that if they’d asked. But they didn’t ask a real air modeler or researcher from EPA, or anyone else that knows what they’re talking about when it comes to air pollution. As a result, council members are endorsing an anti-scientific, backasswards approach to air monitoring guaranteed to make real scientists roll their eyes and sigh. It’d be funny if it didn’t involve real people’s health and well-being.
To know what the residents of Joppa are breathing, science says you must monitor the air in their community, not the air 3 miles away from their homes. By putting the monitor adjacent to the Joppa sources, you’re able to capture what pollution is really trespassing into residential neighborhoods and possibly causing problems. You might even be able to hold specific polluters accountable. By putting the monitor 3 miles away, you can’t do that. At that distance, there’s no way to tell what’s producing the PM levels you’re recording with the monitor. Maybe that’s the point.
Because in the briefing and subsequent Q&A with Council, it was clear this wasn’t really a “Joppa monitor” but a combination of “I-20/I-45/ traffic corridor” downwind monitor. “Joppa” is just the cynical Environmental Justice label applied to a monitor that has nothing to do with that community or cause. The new monitor’s placement is a compromise with EPA and the state to monitor PM from highway traffic. But even on this front the monitor isn’t up for the job. I-20 is 6 miles south, while I-45 is a mile upwind and west.
Even the most protective California buffer zones for PM pollution from freeways are a maximum of 1500 feet. That is, based on studies and monitoring, most of the worst pollution from a large highway or freeway is expected to fall out within 1500 feet of the traffic corridor that produced it. So again, the monitor’s official job description is at odds with its own limitations. Taking air measurements 6 miles or even a mile away from a freeway will give you no readings that reflect what its like to live next to it and breathe the pollution it produces.
Since there’s no heavy industry in Bonton like there is in Joppa, even if the new monitor records extremely high levels of PM pollution, we’ll have no idea what’s causing it. No one to blame. That may be by design.
Dallas OEQS has a history of not wanting the job of telling people they’re breathing crap. Staff refused residents’ pleas to bring the City’s portable monitors to Joppa in the middle of the Dwaine Caraway batch plant fight three years ago. It’s refused to deploy monitors at Shingle Mountain. Staff walked out of participating in the on-going UTD air monitor network deploying over 100 sensors throughout DFW. Staff has refused to use a dozen brand new air monitors it’s locked up in storage after a failed project with DISD. While other cities race to establish dense 21st century air monitoring networks, Dallas defaults to a single 1990’s-era PM monitor and calls it quits.
This lack of imagination and initiative is the result of having a lawyer, James McQuire, in charge of OEQS instead of a toxicologist. The lawyer’s goal is to meet minimum regulatory standards. The toxicologist’s is to improve public health.
The one overarching air quality goal of this OEQS and the new Climate Plan is to keep Dallas from violating the Clean Air Act. It’s a low bar considering all of the legal “standards for PM show there is no safe level of exposure to the pollutant and people are dying from being poisoned by PM in areas that meet those standards.
One way to meet those standards and insure your goal is by not being too curious about health impacts. You limit the amount of testing and where you test – another page out of the Trump playbook. You don’t go looking to put monitors where air pollution is high, like Joppa or next to a freeway. That’s thinking like a toxicologist and it could put you in violation of the federal standard pretty fast. Instead, you put the monitor where you know the pollution isn’t – like Bonton, 3 miles away from Joppa and 6 miles away from I-20.
So this monitor gives staff the best of all its possible worlds – they get to claim they got a new monitor for Southern Dallas that doesn’t really accomplish much, without it actually being a City of Dallas monitor. If it ever does reveal terrible numbers one day, it will be the state downplaying the results, not City staff. (Lawyer’s) mission accomplished.
And because its a state monitor, don’t expect it to be easy to find online, or give you any real time data. There was no hint by staff of how the data from this monitor would be accessible to the public. Also no timeline for its installation and no air modeling offered to back-up the claim it could capture PM pollution from Joppa sources. All you have is staff’s word. A staff that doesn’t want to find air pollution problems.
What was as discouraging as staff not offering any of these important details was that not one Council Member on the Environmental Committee knew enough about air quality to ask about them as well. Nobody on the City Council knows enough about this topic to make an informed decision or even ask the right questions. And nobody on staff is going to quit misleading them. Meanwhile Environmental Health in Southern Dallas – and everywhere else – is held hostage.
Despite it being a heavily debated topic during last Wednesday’s council meeting there wasn’t even a single question about the City performing air monitoring at the site of the controversial Asthma Cave Soccer Fields under I-345 or the OEQS staff’s opinion about the safety of the concept. It’s just as well. They probably would have endorsed it as a great recreational opportunity for kids.
Video recording of the Monday, June 1st Dallas City Council’s Environmental Quality and Sustainability Committee is available to watch here; the Dallas monitoring presentation begins at 38:20: https://dallastx.swagit.com/play/06012020-522
For over a year Southern Sector Rising has been lobbying the City Council for the restoration of the Dallas Environmental Health Commission. With the adoption of the City’s Climate Plan, the Council has a chance to do that next Wednesday , May 27th. But they must hear from you.
Opposition is coming from management in the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability who don’t want the word “health” used for this new body. Why? Because this is the same city staff who doesn’t want to responsibility of telling citizens they have bad air or are living too close to industry. Houston has a staff toxicologist advising City Hall. Dallas has a lawyer.
This is why residents must have the Dallas Environmental Health Commission. It serves as a citizen-friendly forum for putting environmental health issues on the official City Hall radar and generates important new public policy proposals. Every Council Member would appoint a member and various experts would serve as advisors. It would instantly elevate the status of Environmental Health at Dallas City Hall.
You can help make this happen by sending a quick “ClickNSend” email to Mayor Johnson and the City Council urging them to vote for a new Dallas Environmental Health Commission. You can add your own comments as well. It takes all of 30 to 60 seconds, and it could mean the difference between Dallas and the next Shingle Mountain.
HERE’S THE LINK TO SEND YOUR EMAIL TO THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL https://www.downwindersatrisk.org/featured-citizen-action/