A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Local News

Leading Off (1/21/21)

| 2 hours ago

In One of His Last Presidential Acts, Trump Commutes Sentences for Dallas Attorney’s Two Clients. Brittany K. Barnett, a former corporate attorney with Winstead and former associate general counsel with Orix, co-founded The Buried Alive Project to obtain clemency for nonviolent drug offenders who have been sentenced to life without parole under outdated federal laws. You can hear Terry Gross’ fascinating interview with her here. Barnett found out yesterday that Trump commuted the sentences of two of her clients–Chris Young, a 32-year-old Tennessee man, and Ferrell Scott, a 58-year-old Dallasite, both of whom were being held in Beaumont. Scott was 13 years into a life sentence issued under mandatory sentencing guidelines that have since been found to be unconstitutional. Joe Exotic, the “Tiger King,” and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton were not included on the list of pardons and commutations.

Gas Leak in Old East Dallas Forces at Least 200 to Evacuate. Dallas Fire-Rescue was alerted around 1 p.m. yesterday about the smell of natural gas at Willow Street and Exposition Avenue. The source was ultimately identified as a 4-inch gas main near the intersection. Residents were allowed to return to their homes around 5 p.m. after the gas line was clamped and the fumes had dissipated.

Dallas County Reports 3,469 New Coronavirus Cases and 30 Deaths. “While these are concerning numbers, and I hope the number of new cases and deaths decreases very soon,” said County Judge Clay Jenkins in a written statement Wednesday, “I am thankful we’ve been able to vaccinate almost 15,000 individuals at the Fair Park mega-vaccine clinic since last week, with thousands of more scheduled for today.” But another kink in the plan to get Dallas’ most vulnerable populations vaccinated was introduced yesterday, when the state effectively forced county commissioners to rescind a decision to focus vaccinations on the county’s 11 most vulnerable zip codes. So far, based on limited county data, it appears that a large proportion of the shots have been given to residents of mostly White and affluent neighborhoods despite the purposeful location of the vaccination site south of I-30, but Jenkins had expressed concern that the proposed remedy might not be legal. The Texas Department of State Health Services later clarified that the county and health providers can, and are encouraged to, prioritize vulnerable populations, but they cannot do so to the exclusion of geographical regions without risking their designation as a state-approved vaccine hub provider. County commissioners plan to revisit the issue later this week.

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Dallas’ New Mobility Plan Admits That Walking Here Is Dangerous

| 18 hours ago

The city of Dallas owns and maintains about 4,400 miles of sidewalk, but only 1,200 of those miles are undamaged or unobstructed. A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that judges how safe cities are for pedestrians says Dallas is more than twice as dangerous as the national average, scoring us just outside the 20 most unsafe cities for walking in America.

In considering parking requirements for proposed developments, the city only takes into account what it means for people in cars, not giving any special favor to projects that may encourage the use of public transit or actually reduce the need for a vehicle. Meanwhile, about half of all fatal and severe vehicular crashes occur on just 8 percent of Dallas’ streets, split between the denser core of downtown, Uptown, and Oak Lawn and the high-speed, six-lane arterials you can find all over town. In 2019, 174 people died in traffic-related incidents and another 920 were seriously injured.

These statistics come from the city’s first-ever mobility plan, a project that has been in the works since the Department of Transportation was reorganized, in 2018. Until now, the city has not formally attempted to account for how transportation policies affect pedestrian safety, as well as land use and economic development. Back in 1991, the city considered the very bad idea of widening Harry Hines to eight lanes through the Medical District. By contrast, this plan calls for the opposite: traffic-calming measures where possible and improved infrastructure to make it safer for folks to get around without a vehicle.

This mobility plan, which was unveiled yesterday in a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting, is called Connect Dallas. It identifies some of the city’s transportation problems and provides guidance to prioritize spending on projects that will make it easier and safer for people to walk, bike, and use public transportation. “It really lays out the foundation for other elements such as housing, economic development, and equity and how all of them connect together,” said Majed Al-Ghafry, an assistant city manager. He called it “the framework for how we move forward … in terms of funding strategy.”

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Local News

Leading Off (1/20/21)

| 23 hours ago

Dallas County Changes Course on Vaccine Distribution. County commissioners approved a new plan yesterday that will prioritize vaccine distribution for residents of the 11 county ZIP codes that health officials have identified as the most affected by COVID-19. Commissioners were concerned that early vaccine distribution had disproportionately gone to residents of wealthy White ZIPs with fewer documented cases of the virus. County Judge Clay Jenkins abstained from the vote and later expressed his fears that the new order largely prohibits vaccines to be distributed to residents outside those ZIPs, regardless of age or health condition, and questioned its legality. The county reported 1,589 new cases and 16 new deaths.

Some Schools Resist Showing Presidential Inauguration. Plano, Southlake Carroll, and Keller ISDs are among the Texas districts that may not allow students to watch today’s inauguration, with some superintendents citing concerns about students witnessing violence in real-time and others seemingly concerned that the country’s once-peaceful transfer of power (not so much anymore) will be construed as overly partisan. Meanwhile, in his final hours as president, Donald Trump released a lengthy list of pardons, including the commuting of the sentence of James Brian Cruz, a Dallas man halfway through a 40-year sentence for a drug crime whom supporters describe as a peacemaker in prison who has had an outsized effect on the lives of fellow inmates.

Son Sheltered Fugitive Father for More Than a Dozen Years. In 2008, Yaser Said shot and killed his two teenage daughters in a suspected honor killing and left their bodies in a taxi cab outside an Irving hotel. He then sought help from his son, Islam Said, who helped hide his father for more than a decade inside a Bedford apartment and, later, a home in Justin. Yaser Said was finally arrested last August, and Islam Said now faces up to 30 years in prison for sheltering his father, who made his way onto the FBI’s most wanted list.

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Dining Dispatch

Klyde Warren’s Safe Bet on Mi Cocina Picks a Tex-Mex Fight

| 2 days ago

Klyde Warren Park news as of late tends to ruffle feathers. At the end of last year, the downtown Dallas park announced a forthcoming multimillion dollar water fountain, drawing mixed reactions and hefty criticism. The latest dispatch from the downtown park: Dallas chain Mi Cocina will serve its Tex-Mex and Mambo Taxis to parkgoers and nearby urbanites this fall.

Known henceforth as Mi Cocina on the Park, it replaces the glass-walled Savor, which closed in August after seven years at Klyde Warren. Mi Cocina’s newest outpost has a target opening date of September 1.

As with philanthropist Nancy Best’s fountain announcement, Mi Cocina at Klyde Warren has its share of skeptics already. Some folks online have called the team-up disappointing and predictable. Park boosters liken it to an addition to Central Park; others say it’s more like an Olive Garden in New York City’s Times Square. Klyde Warren Park president Kit Sawers isn’t deterred. “One of the things that, frankly, is most exciting to me, especially being from Dallas, is that people care about this place so much. When people care about a place, they’re going to express their opinions,” she told SideDish. 

There were several contenders, including over a dozen local operators, that Klyde Warren’s powers that be had considered. Sawers says there were myriad reasons they eventually went with M Crowd restaurant group’s Mi Cocina.

“It’s an iconic Dallas brand and so is Klyde Warren Park. So that was a good fit. We liked the fact that Mi Cocina was so family focused across all generations, and frankly, across all different socio-economic brackets; people go to the Mi Cocina throughout the community. We also liked the fact that it was a bigger company who could expand when we had events in the park and be able to serve cocktails or little snacks in addition to what our food trucks have during our larger events. Also, probably the biggest reason is we did a lot of surveys of parkgoers and via our newsletter and with our friends groups, and Mi Cocina was the one restaurant that was mentioned over and over again by name as being a perfect fit…because of the price point and for all different reasons. So we feel like a lot of ways we’re just providing with the community requested.”

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Dallas History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: Art Has Always Been Part of the City

| 2 days ago

Art and artists have always been part of the Dallas landscape, and the Dallas Public Library photograph collections have examples of how cultural offerings helped shape the city. The following photographs are some of the images of the arts I have encountered in the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History and Archives Collection and are available through the library’s online catalog.

The late Dmitri Vail shows his paintings and photographs in 1952. Expatriate German artist George Grosz visited Dallas to create a series called “Impressions of Dallas” on behalf of Leon Harris, Jr., vice president of the A. Harris and Company department store. Sculptor Horace Foxall and his works are depicted as part of the Marion Butts collection, as well. The Dallas Public Library’s historic connection to Dallas art is represented by photographs such as the Art Room of the original 1901 Carnegie Library, the contents of which later helped form the Dallas Museum of Art.

Classroom art instruction, art competitions, and influential artists like Everett Spruce and Ruth Uhler are among these historic photographs. Prominent public sculptures occupy other photographs. Take a look in the gallery below.

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Local News

Leading Off (1/19/21)

| 2 days ago

COVID Update. Because of the MLK Jr. holiday, we don’t have new case numbers for Dallas County. So let’s share some positive news, shall we? According to data from the state, 83,577 people in Dallas County have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and 14,789 people are fully immunized. (Though it should be noted that an early look at who is getting the vaccine shows that more folks from North Dallas and University Park are getting the shots, and some folks aren’t happy that the Fair Park vaccine site was closed yesterday.)

David Kunkle Has Neurological Disorder. This story published Sunday, but it deserves your attention if you haven’t yet read it. Robert Wilonsky came out of retirement to write about Kunkle, the former Dallas police chief, and his wife, Sarah Dodd. The couple bravely shared their struggles with Kunkle’s diagnosis of Lewy body dementia.

Mavericks Drop Third Straight. Last season, the Mavs were the only team that didn’t lose three games in a row at some point. Last night, they did it, falling to the Raptors 116-93. Also, Rick Carlisle got ejected, and Tim Hardaway Jr. went 0-12 from the field. Tough one, buddy.

Wylie Man Arrested for Breaking in to Capitol. The FBI has accused Guy Reffitt of obstruction of justice and unlawful entry. When he started to feel the heat, he told his family, “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors. Traitors get shot.”

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For Fun

The Day a Bunch of Strangers Played Catch Together in Cole Park

| 6 days ago

Halfway through the vote on President Trump’s second impeachment, 10 months into a pandemic that’s left the lucky among us healthy but locked in our homes, weeks after the loneliest holidays of our lives — something normal happened.

I went to a park and watched grown men play catch and become little boys again.

It all started with a post on Oak Lawn’s Nextdoor site, the digital neighborhood hangout where people relentlessly discuss dog doo, feral cats, loud music, and man’s general inhumanity to man. But over the weekend, I noticed a new post that almost made me gasp. It was so simple and sentimental, but powerful in the way it affected those who read it. It felt like a message from our old lives, a weak radio signal from the way the world used to be.

Alice Miller, of Turtle Creek, had written, “My 74-year-old husband would like to have a partner to throw the ball with. He is a former high school and college pitcher and is looking for someone who knows how to throw a baseball. He is in good shape and loves baseball.”

Within minutes, there were replies:

“Count me in!”

“Played for 12 years as a catcher. Would be happy to throw the ball around again.”

“My husband played ball, too, growing up and would love to join in.”

“Wow! Love to see this come together.”

“I can throw.”

“I’m loving it. I’ll join.”

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Local News

Leading Off (1/15/21)

| 6 days ago

More School Days Could Be Coming to Dallas ISD. Yesterday, trustees were briefed about a plan for an “intersessional” calendar, which basically means year-round school. I wrote about this idea back in July, which some trustees were floating as an idea to curb learning loss among students. The district is considering starting school a week earlier and ending four weeks later at 11 feeder patterns. One idea is offering the new schedule to about half of the students while the other option is offering another 23 days of school to all of a school’s enrollment. The News’ Corbett Smith says just 10 campuses will be considered. The board can vote on the schedule before they select the schools that participate.

The Vaccine Distribution Looks More and More Like a Free-For-All. In Collin County, 86,000 people are signed up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. But the county’s health department has only received 2,000 doses. Another 2,000 are coming next week. Meanwhile, 22 mayors of large American cities signed a letter asking President-elect Biden to send vaccine doses directly to big cities. (Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s name does appear on that list, alongside the mayors of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.) It appears that most providers and health departments are following the state’s guidelines until the vaccines are at risk of spoiling, then, as Will Maddox has reported this week, they look for arms to stick. Meanwhile, 39 percent of the doses sent to states have actually been used, per Bloomberg News. Some providers are giving family members of healthcare workers the vaccine regardless of whether they fit the state’s criteria. It’s only fitting that the end of the virus response is as messy and disorganized as every other bit of it.

Local Insurrectionist Goes Free Despite Prosecutors’ Plea. Larry Rendell Brock Jr. is the Grapevine man who was photographed on the Senate floor of the U.S. Capitol wearing a helmet and holding zip tie restraints. He was a former U.S. Air Force combat pilot who, according to an FBI agent who testified in his arraignment, had once been fired from a job for making “racist and threatening comments.” Prosecutors wanted him held in jail, but a federal judge declined, saying that the charges weren’t enough to prove he was a threat to the public. Here is the ridiculous kicker: “It is not yet clear if Brock was required to post bond before being released.”

Sunny, Chilly Long Weekend Ahead. Expect highs in the low 60s, high 50s, and lows in the mid-30s this weekend. There is no rain or snow in the forecast, only the nice sunshine that cuts through the chilly temperatures. Enjoy it.

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Clay Jenkins: Mayor Johnson ‘Undermined’ the Vaccine Effort

| 7 days ago

Mayor Eric Johnson is once again clashing with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, this time over the communication surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination distribution at the Fair Park mega center. Johnson made his allegations in a letter he sent Wednesday night to Jenkins, the city manager, and members of the City Council. Media got ahold of it Thursday afternoon. The mayor said that Jenkins was allowing some individuals to get walk-up vaccinations without registering ahead of time, which disenfranchised others in South Dallas, all while not communicating the change to the city.

Johnson’s letter alleged “a resident … told us they were able to simply walk up and get the vaccine without needing to register.” This, Johnson wrote, was not part of the original process. Upon further inquiry, Johnson heard that Jenkins had requested a select group of residents to keep the arrangement hush-hush. The mayor credited this allegation to “someone who I trust a great deal.” He closed his letter by threatening to “reevaluate our contract” with the county as the city’s public health authority if communication didn’t improve.

Johnson said he would be open to a change in the registration protocol, but he found it “incredibly disappointing” that Jenkins would talk out of two sides of his mouth: telling the general public to register and schedule an appointment while telling others in the know that they didn’t need to do so, all without communicating any of this to the city. “It’s unacceptable that we were not notified about such a major decision,” he wrote.

But Jenkins tells a different version, calling Johnson’s letter “inaccurate.” Jenkins says the outreach was not to those who knew the right people, but rather to seniors in ZIP codes that lack adequate healthcare services and vaccine access. Jenkins says a council member shared the Fair Park registration link with the general public, resulting in Monday-Wednesday’s appointments being filled by a “group [that] was overwhelmingly white, under 75, and from the city’s most affluent ZIP codes.” The unauthorized appointments were not honored on Tuesday and Wednesday, and vaccines went unused.

Jenkins says the county then attempted to “balance the demographic makeup” of those receiving vaccines by reaching out directly to churches, health centers, senior centers and others that work with Black and Hispanic residents. Jenkins says this was to help remedy the imbalance of appointments.

Jenkins blames the confusion on the mayor. “Your and other’s decision earlier today to broadcast that vaccines are available to anyone over 75 without an appointment has undermined that effort and made it less likely the vaccine will get to the people at the highest risk in the hardest hit, most underserved ZIP codes this week,” his response says.

Jenkins seemed to take issue with Johnson’s communication style, closing with, “I trust in the future you will route any questions through the Dallas City Manager’s Office, the city’s (Office of Emergency Management) leads for this response, our [sic] call directly.”

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Politics & Government

The Other Dallas Street Name That Needs to Change

| 7 days ago

Today brings news that a stretch of street in front of Dallas’ Jack Evans Police Headquarters will be renamed Botham Jean Boulevard. Soon enough, every day that every cop who goes to work there will see the name of the man who was murdered by an off-duty cop right across the street from the headquarters. We’re getting close. Next step: change the name of the other street at the police HQ intersection to Santos Rodriguez Street. If we move quickly enough, the street crews can change both names simultaneously and save some taxpayer money.

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Good Reads

Watch: Ex-Dallasite Bradford Pearson Talks Eagles of Heart Mountain Via Interabang Books

| 7 days ago

It’s a real bummer that it’s been about 11 months since I last attended an event. It’s probably an even bigger bummer to folks like my friend Bradford Pearson, a former associate editor and People Newspapers reporter who has spent the last few years of his life researching and writing a book. It came out earlier this month, well before most of us have had vaccines shot in our arms.

So, of course, the book tour moved online. But the one nice thing about all this is that the conversation doesn’t disappear after it wraps up. On Tuesday, Interabang Books invited West Texas-based author Rachel Monroe (whose book Savage Appetites is also very good and now out in paperback) to interview Brad about his new book, The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in World War II America. You can purchase it here.

It’s a great conversation that doesn’t give away too much of his narrative, but signals that too many of us do not understand the full story of the incarceration of Japanese Americans that happened after Pearl Harbor. Brad’s book is ostensibly about a really good football team made up of Japanese American high schoolers who were taken from their homes and relocated to the Heart Mountain camp in Cody, Wyoming. But it’s a bigger story about the history of immigration and longstanding racism in America, themes that are not unlike what we’re seeing play out today.

The video is after the jump. (It’s also a good point to mention that Interabang has convened a lot of great author chats during the pandemic; you can watch them all here. Skip Amazon and support a local bookstore.)

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Local News

Leading Off (1/14/21)

| 1 week ago

This time last year I was in Mexico sipping margaritas in a hammock overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This year, here’s what’s up:

Dallas City Council Agrees to Rename a 4-Mile Section of South Lamar in Memory of Botham Jean. This was one vote that was unanimous. The change will go in effect in 60 days, at which point Botham Jean Boulevard will run from Interstate 30 to South Central Expressway, past South Side Flats, the apartments where Jean lived and was killed by Amber Guyger, and the Dallas Police Department HQ. “This street on which he chose to live and the street on which he died can serve as a lasting memory of the upstanding resident who loved Dallas so much,” said his mother, Allison Jean.

Special Training Program Approved for DPD Officers. Dallas City Council members approved the Active Bystandership in Law Enforcement program yesterday. ABLE will be run by the University of North Texas at Dallas’ Caruth Police Institute. The goal, says BJ Wagner, Caruth’s executive director, is to train first responders how and when to intervene to prevent their colleagues from causing harm. Training will start in February and run through 2024, with costs capped at $300,000.

Dallas County Adds 2,994 Coronavirus Cases and 21 Deaths. By the end of next week, UT Southwestern Medical Center predicts, the county could have up to 1,900 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and 3,600 new cases a day. The vaccination site at Fair Park was temporarily opened up yesterday to all North Texans over the age of 75 to take advantage of a surplus of shots, which critics blame in part on a disorganized process that has been particularly difficult to access by high-risk Latino and Black residents. Dallas County residents age 65 and older, or 18 and older with an underlying medical condition, are advised to register for the vaccine here.

POTUS Was Impeached for a Historic Second Time. Texas reps mostly voted along party lines except for Fort Worth’s Kay Granger, one of four Republicans who simply didn’t participate.

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