The Dallas Examiner
Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates presented by The Dallas Examiner held its final forum before the May 6 general election April 3 at the African American Museum in Fair Park for candidates seeking Dallas City Council District 5 as well as District 6.
The forum began with District 5 incumbent Rick Callahan introducing himself and discussing why he should be re-elected.
“I’ve been involved in that area [Pleasant Grove] heavily for about 32 years,” he said. “I’ve been very much active in the greater community for about 45 years. I’ve been very active on all levels of the political process. With this election, it comes down to something really simple –experience. I have a great deal of experience. Experience is key, and I am happy to serve another two years.”
Audience members capitalized on the opportunity to ask Callahan multiple questions.
Question: What would be your top three priorities, if re-elected, that you would want to see change in the next two years?
Callahan: I am adopting the kind of principle of giving Pleasant Grove and Southeast Dallas a bigger piece of the pie through public safety, parks and infrastructure, and economic development. Those are three things that we need. Public safety in terms of we need to fix the Dallas police and fire pension fund. We’re stuck in the mud right now, but once we do that we’ll begin to hire officers – police and fire – and move forward.
Q: There are vacant businesses on Buckner Boulevard. Are there any plans for that type of zoning to be utilized effectively to benefit the community?
Callahan: There’s really not that much vacancy right now. We do have a lot of negative voters, and I’ve tried to work against that. We’ve been revisiting our plan developers over the last year, and what we want to do is try to eliminate negative businesslike smoke shops and tire and wheels shops and upgrade the retail. There has been a lot of change over the land over the last 10-15 years. As the economy is improving, I’ve seen more investors come down. I think we are on the thumbnail of making this thing operate better than before.
Q: Some say that Pleasant Grove is the forgotten child of GrowSouth. What is your stance on that and what are your plans to promote healthy development in that area?
Callahan: There is probably a lot of truth there. GrowSouth is the mayor’s private marketing program, not mine or anyone else’s. That’s part of his goal set. No doubt we want to grow south. We’ve talked about that for many years. We’ve got GrowSouth along with Neighbor Up and Neighborhood Plus. Those programs are clearly changing the Planned Development District 366 [Buckner Boulevard Special Purpose District]. It’s going to be one way to do that – take advantage of economic development and the mayor’s incentives. That is going to give an opportunity to move forward. He [the mayor] keeps saying, “You’re next.” We’ve been to West Dallas, Bishop Arts and Fort Worth Avenue. Now, it’s time to come to Pleasant Grove, and I think you’ll see that.
The forum ended with District 6 candidates: incumbent Monica Alonzo, Linus Spiller, Alex Dickey, Tony Carrillo, Gilbert Cerda and Omar Narvaez. Carrillo and Cerda were not present
Alonzo introduced herself and elaborated on her guiding principles for the district.
“I’ve been in this position for six years,” she stated. “We have done a lot in District 6, and we would want to continue. We have a lot of work to do. I attribute all of that to that to not only the voters that put me here and gave me that opportunity, but also to those that have been working very hard before me to be able to move all the projects forward. I just want to share with you that I am working on four building blocks: to be able to continue talking and working with the community, to work with them [residents] to economic development, to be able to have access to jobs to and from home and school, and to make sure we have safe and secure neighborhoods.”
Spiller followed with his introduction, discussing his extensive background in community-based work.
“I am a 20-year resident of District 6,” he said. “I’ve worked in various community and civic capacities for that same amount of time. My work experience includes banking and finance, nonprofit services, IT project management, and I’ve been in education for the last 11 years. I am no stranger to the conditions and challenges in our district, whether it is in the Bachman Lake area, West Dallas and Acadia Park. I know all those sections. We even have a section of District 13 that was pulled in there, so now we have four different constituencies that one council member must be able to link, and I am the person with the most experience at a community level who can meet that challenge. I know my way around city hall. I know how to get things done.”
Dickey presented a personal introduction about his life in West Dallas.
“I’ve lived in District 6 my entire life. I was born, raised and currently live in the Bachman Lake and Harry Hines area, which is a rough part of town,” he expressed. “All the while, the city of Dallas has had a booming economy. It seems like the city of Dallas has forgotten about the basic things to improve the quality of life for the average citizen, and that’s why I’m running. I am tired, and I am frustrated, and it is time to get this city back to the basics.”
The introductory section of the forum concluded with Narvaez detailing his leadership attributes in the community.
“I have a proven record of leadership at the Dallas county school board and a representative of this entire county for the last three years,” he said. “I wasn’t afraid to step up to those extreme challenges. That’s what you would want as a leader of city hall; You would want to a leader that will step up to the challenge and get things done, and that’s what I’ve been able to do.”
The nominees were asked a series of questions from audience members regarding the future of the district.
Question: What would be your strategy to create healthy economic development while retaining residents and keeping booming businesses?
Dickey: Economic development is a buzzword everyone likes to throw out. It’s this great thing that is supposed to bring up land values, provide jobs and improve the city. It’s been happening my entire life. In District 6, in West Dallas, there was a lot of economic development after Trinity Groves moves in. What the unforeseen consequence is that this displaced almost over 300 families. Economic development is great for some people, but it can be terrible for the people in the community. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we need to work with our state partners to protect our neighborhoods that are going to experience a rapid increase in land value. We need to make sure we have label stabilization that will ensure that when land value goes up, property taxes for these individuals in improvement of houses that are currently there.
Spiller: District 6 is booming in one area, and that is along I-35. If you swap that area in one way, it would be in Oak Lawn, so District 6 in that area is not booming even though that’s in our district. I want to create a tip that is going to hit the core part of West Dallas, and that is going to be the first thing that I do when elected. I started on a proposal draft and presented at a Greenleaf Village association meeting to get some feedback from them, and they thanked me. They said this is the first time somebody remotely close to city hall has asked us for our input about our area and what we want to see in terms of economic development. So, when the city council is on vacation in the month of July, I am going to be working during the month of July on behalf of the residents of that area.
Alonzo: There is and there is going to be more economic development going on in District 6. There’s a lot of projects coming into the city as well as Toyota coming to Dallas. There is a lot of jobs coming to our city, but I will tell you that those jobs also make sure that we are included and asking those that are bringing those developments to consider the people in the neighborhood to be able to be considered for the jobs. As far as preserving, we have general programs in place that we would like to continue.
Narvaez: When it comes to economic development, here is the big mistake city of Dallas has done for far too long: We keep putting our tax dollars into economic development and not into housing and the city needs for quality of life. What we need to do is move a lot of that money from investing into big developers and put back into our neighborhoods. When you build strong neighborhoods, the businesses will follow.
Q: What is your plan to preserve residents in this district who can’t afford housing?
Spiller: A component of the tip [the proposal draft] I am working on will create a number of affordable units. When I say “affordable,” I don’t mean affordable [at] $1,000 or what they are expecting people to pay. It must be affordable – we have residents that are used to paying $300 to $500 that live in the HMK properties. I am committed to looking at a strategy to seeing how can we subsidize that, where they can pay what they can through other means, like a city program.
Narvaez: We have a housing crisis that we haven’t seen specifically in West Dallas in probably 15 years. We need a strong leader who is willing to pull the community and landowners together and start working on projects. We’ve had six months go by where nothing got done, and what should be happening is we should be pulling the community together and start to build a process how we are going to keep the people in West Dallas. Seventy-six percent of the people whom are living in West Dallas want to stay there, and that’s what I’m committed to doing. What we need immediately is for the city of Dallas to give an extension on the injunction, so we can have more time to find that solution.
Alonzo: It is not what we are going to do, but what we are doing right now. What the voters and constituents said is there is lot of problems in their homes, and that is why we talked about Chapter 27 and how we made some changes to be able to bring those houses up to code, so that they can have a livable place. That is something we have been working on and talked about not only in West Dallas but also in Northwest Dallas.
Dickey: When the city of Dallas created the Chapter 27 ordinance, they put a house built in the 1930s on the same standing as a house build in the 1960s and 1980s. In addition to repealing and pushing back the eviction date, we’ve got to work with a reasonable ordinance that takes a house built in the ‘30s or in the ‘40s for what it is. In addition, we’ve got to get our priorities straight. If we’re going to give $1.5 million every year to the AT&T Performing Arts Center or a private organization $21 million to manage Fair Park, then we have to do something to put some money toward affordable housing. Our track record is criminal given the fact there is $20 million missing from HUD. It’s about time we look at our budget as opposed to talking about and putting $300,000 in a fund to move families that we put millions of dollars into improving the houses people have.
Q: Affordable housing doesn’t take someone from poverty to prosperity. What are you going to do to address the root causes of poverty?
Narvaez: We’ve got to get the affordable housing first, and then we’ve got to partner up with Dallas ISD, so we can get stronger schools. We need a better magnet inside of L.G. Pinkston High School. My vision is for DISD to put a medical magnet inside of Pinkston High School. There are jobs sitting there at Children’s, Parkland and UT-Southwestern that pay $18 to $25 an hour.
Spiller: I’ve worked in nonprofit services particularly with an organization that wrapped-around services in the area of housing, senior citizen division, education and employment. You have to have all of those components working in sync so that affordable housing initiatives can thrive. We also have to partner with community organizations. They are out there. The city of Dallas doesn’t have to spend a whole lot of money on those because there are organizations that are already providing those services. For example, in employment, if we want to teach people how to be employed more, for me, that’s a mission. I work in human resources at UT-Southwestern. We’ve get Texas work commissions all over the city, so we need to partner with them, so we know they are getting those tools. Those wrap-around services are crucial.
Alonzo: It is very important to know your district before you run in your district. In Pinkston High School, we already have a college. We have a collegiate academy there right now, and that is what we are working with to be able to get that education and training to prepare them. We have a lot of programs to help them be prepared in getting that job they are seeking. Through the organizations like the Black Chamber of Commerce, we work with business assistance centers, and we want to make sure that they also have that opportunity because we want to prepare them.
Dickey: Affordable housing can be a short-term measure of providing financial assistance. The city can provide actual affordable housing instead of providing tax incentives for new developers. To attack poverty is a long-term fix. As a school teacher, it starts with education. We have to start educating our children. We have to provide after school programs. One of the worst things at 4 p.m. is [the] bell rings and the kids don’t have to go home, but they can’t stay on campus. We need to provide funding for after school programs so that we can have kids stay on campus in a safe environment and have dinner served and have gyms open and have study hall. We need to put money toward that because that is a 30-year fix. So, we need to use affordable housing for short-term measures and then think 30 years down the line.