Sunday, September 24, 2023 Sep 24, 2023
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A Daily Conversation About Dallas
Nature & Environment

How Addison Saved Some Really Big, Old Live Oaks Amid Construction

Catherine Wendlandt
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One of the AMLI live oaks atop the air bags that will drag it to a new location. Courtesy of AMLI

Trees improve communities. They cool neighborhoods, provide shade and green space, and can help mitigate climate change. But what happens when trees get in the way of construction? You could cut them down. Many developers would, says Jon Hillis of Houston-based Environmental Design, which provides tree services all over the world. 

Or, you can move them. 

AMLI Development Company faced this predicament earlier this year as it planned a 13-acre community along Midway Road in Addison. The project will include a five-story apartment building, 34 townhouses, a separate three-story complex with attached garages geared toward seniors, and retail space. Construction is set to begin in early 2024.

Before that, AMLI had to figure out what to do about the trees. For years, the location had been occupied by an old event center and a collection of defunct office buildings, along with dozens of trees. Unfortunately, most of those trees were too close to the buildings to be saved, says Taylor Bowen, AMLI’s president. Four heritage live oaks, though, were far enough away that they didn’t have to go. 

Each of those live oaks are 50 to 70 years old, Bowen says. They are 35 to 40 feet tall, with spreads of 45 to 60 feet. “These are the best that we found out here,” he says. 

Trees are vital for reducing heat in cities, says Rachel McGregor, the Texas Trees Foundation’s urban forestry manager. They are especially important as populations become denser and infrastructure proliferates. They shade, of course, preventing sunlight from hitting concrete, which absorbs sun that then radiates heat. Trees also act like a swamp cooler in a process called transpiration, McGregor says. Moisture from trees’ leaves evaporate, “and that results in a decrease in temperature in the immediate area around the tree.” 

Local News

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson Is a Republican

Matt Goodman
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Eric Johnson speaks at the Fairmont to supporters after winning the mayoral election in 2019, back when the city thought he was a Democrat. (Photo by Bret Redman)

Mayor Eric Johnson has officially switched parties. The former Democratic state representative writes in the Wall Street Journal that he has joined the GOP and will vote in the Republican primary next spring. “I realize this will come as a surprise to many,” he writes. But it really doesn’t.

The mayor has been walking along this path for some time. During the City Council inauguration in June, Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn swore in Johnson for his second term, while the rest of his colleagues took their oaths from a municipal judge. Texas’ Republican junior Sen. Ted Cruz watched from the seats in the Meyerson, an official guest of the mayor’s. Johnson refused to endorse a candidate in the 2020 presidential election, citing the technically nonpartisan position he occupies. “It’s important that we keep nonpartisan offices nonpartisan,” he told the Dallas Morning News in 2020, adding that he was “committed to not endorsing candidates in partisan races while serving as mayor.”

Jump-cut to today: “But I don’t believe I can stay on the sidelines any longer,” he writes in his WSJ op-ed. “I have always tried to be honest and say what I think is right for my city. The future of America’s great urban centers depends on the willingness of the nation’s mayors to champion law and order and practice fiscal conservatism.”

He has spent the last few months giving friendly interviews to Fox News and local conservative outlets like WBAP. And his opinion piece cites his belief in “fiscal conservatism” that guided his recent failed effort to lower the city’s tax rate, a key tenet of the Republican platform.

His push during the budget season 2020 was to “defund the bureaucracy,” directing the city manager to cut staff salaries. It failed. The Council instead sliced the line item for police overtime by $7 million, prompting the mayor to claim that his colleagues were “defunding” the police. The City Council generally works the margins of the police budget. This year, the department’s budget grew to $669 million, in line with annual increases since Johnson took office.

“I have no intention of changing my approach to my job,” he wrote in the WSJ. “But today I am changing my party affiliation.”

Dallas County votes blue. Biden carried the county with 65 percent of the vote in 2020, and MJ Hegar picked up 61 percent in her race against Cornyn. Hillary Clinton picked up 60 percent of the vote in 2016, and Beto O’Rourke pulled in 66 percent in 2018 when he challenged U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Johnson won the runoff for Dallas mayor in 2019, when he was still serving in the Texas House as a Democrat. He courted the business community, pulling in maximum $5,000 donations from folks who are frequent contributors to Republican candidates: oilman Ray Hunt, telecom billionaire Kenny Troutt, investor Doug Deason, developer Ross Perot Jr., and former Rick Perry advisor George Seay, to name a few.

What does this change? Probably not much operationally, at least during his remaining time at City Hall.

Local News

Leading Off (9/22/23)

Matt Goodman
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Tony Timpa Died Under Officer’s Knee; Cop Says He ‘Did Nothing Wrong.’ Dallas police officer Dustin Dillard held his knee on Tony Timpa’s back for 14 minutes before realizing something had gone wrong. Timpa, who was having a psychiatric emergency off Harry Hines Road, died in police custody in 2016. The civil trial is the first time we’re hearing the officers involved. Dillard maintains that he followed protocol, although he did not identify himself as a police officer before instructing Timpa to “get on the ground.” Dillard held him there in a “prone position” while Timpa “yells for help and grunts, then falls silent.” The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide caused by sudden cardiac death, compounded by “the toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint.” The trial continues today.

Arlington Officer Killed in I-20 Crash. Darrin McMichael was driving to work on a motorcycle a little after 6 a.m. when he rear-ended the car in front of him and fell off his bike. He was struck by another vehicle, which fled the scene. McMichael had been on the force for 24 years. Dallas County Sheriff’s officials are asking for help identifying the dark-colored “Dodge/Chrysler-type vehicle” that hit and ran.

Ken Paxton Revenge Tour. The attorney general, who narrowly escaped impeachment amid pressure from top Republicans like Donald Trump, has gone on an interview tour of conservative media to promise retribution against those who voted to impeach him.

Cold Front Coming. We just have to get through Saturday and Sunday in the high 90s. Next week’s highs drop to the high 80s with lows in the upper 60s. Expect storms for much of the area on Sunday.

Philanthropy & Nonprofits

North Texas Giving Day Prepares For Its Final Sprint

Bethany Erickson
By |
The Dallas skyline was lit up in North Texas Giving Day's blue and green last year. (Photo by Kim Leeson)

Midnight marks the end of North Texas Giving Day, a one-stop shop for local giving. If you have a cause dear to your heart, there are likely at least two or three organizations you can support in large and small ways.

The largest community-wide giving event in the nation, North Texas Giving Day raised $62.6 million from 94,385 donors last year, which benefited 3,210 nonprofits. Since it began 14 years ago, the day has raised more than $503 million. As of 4:30 p.m., the Communities Foundation of Texas’ signature event has brought in a little over $43 million for 3,176 organizations. It sets a new record for donations every year, and it’s on pace to do so again.


Meet the Ceramicist Responsible for the Most Artful Plates in Dallas

Kathy Wise
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Marcello Ortega ceramics
The child of Chilean immigrants, Ortega first got his hands in the clay as a student at St. Mark's. Elizabeth Lavin

“There’s this element to the functional work that’s about how I grew up connecting with my family around the dinner table and food and that whole thing,” Marcello Andres Ortega says of his ceramics. “And then there’s this other aspect of the work, which is about the process and the material. Those pieces are more sculptural.” The child of Chilean immigrants first got his hands in the clay as a student at St. Mark’s. Now he’s making dinnerware for the top tables in town and sculptures inspired by the waves he surfs in Mexico. In between, he had a successful corporate finance career.

The Quonset hut in the Cedars that houses Marcello Andres Ortega’s ceramic studio was once used for the construction of Neiman Marcus floor displays. One of the store’s white script signs still hangs inside the rusting structure. The whole place has a bit of a Mad Max greenhouse vibe, with wild vines growing through the glass awning windows and up the galvanized steel walls. 

Just inside the door, Ortega shows off his shiny new kiln, yet to be installed and named, although he’s leaning toward Big Girl. (His others are R2-D2 and Big Boy.) He hasn’t fired her yet, but he soon will. He’s already had to cut off orders because the kilns are at capacity.

Local News

Cistercian on Pace to Win North Texas Giving Day

Tim Rogers
By |
Not an actual Cistercian priest

I’d like to make something clear right up front: North Texas Giving Day isn’t about any sort of competition where there are winners and losers. This annual fundraiser is all about coming together and doing our part to support the thousands of nonprofits that make a difference in our community.

That said, NTGD does maintain leaderboards. Look at the one for schools. My alma mater, Cistercian, is destroying Jesuit and St. Mark’s. If you think that all-boys private schools perpetuate the patriarchy and that they are as dumb as Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House, then, by all means, take whatever screen on which you are reading these words, and cover it with pink nail polish.

For the rest of you still reading, though, just know that I’ll be cracking a brewski beer at the end of the day to celebrate this win. Right now Cistercian, which enrolls only about 330 kids, has racked up 419 donations totaling $472,551. Jesuit and St. Mark’s, which both enroll about three times as many students, have respectively generated 29 donations for $8,926 and 14 donations for $8,100.

(Side note: for obvious reasons, I am ignoring the fact that Cistercian sits at No. 2 on the schools leaderboard, behind Westlake Academy.)

You know what the great thing is about not having a comments section? Our sports guy, Mike “The Looch” Piellucci, proud graduate of Jesuit, can’t say a dang thing about this post.

Hox vobiscum

The Dallas City Council capped weeks of debate on Wednesday by approving the largest budget in the city’s history without including as deep a cut to its tax rate as the mayor wanted. Ten members voted for the rate—73.57 cents per $100 valuation, about a penny less than this year’s—and approved the almost $4.9 billion budget.

Council members Kathy Stewart, Paul Ridley, Gay Donnell Willis, and Cara Mendelsohn joined Mayor Eric Johnson in voting against both the budget and the rate.

Johnson and Mendelsohn spent weeks rallying support for a tax rate five cents below what the city manager recommended. Both argued that residents wanted a more substantial property tax break than what passed. They voted against both the budget and the rate.

Both touted what they called a “No New Revenue” rate, which attracted support from political action committees that sent out text messages and launched websites. A majority of their colleagues remained unconvinced that cutting the rate by another 5 cents per $100 valuation wouldn’t require reductions to services, considering estimates showed a reduction of about $104.2 million in revenue. They were concerned it would hamstring the city’s ability to meet its infrastructure and maintenance goals.

The Council did reduce the tax rate by slightly more than what City Manager T.C. Broadnax initially proposed. But as property tax values continue to rise, it also means that many residents will still see an increase on their property tax bill next year. The city’s tax rate only represents about 29 percent of a homeowner’s total tax burden. The rise in land and property values is far outpacing what the city has control over.

Mendelsohn presented a budget amendment that would have lowered the rate to 68.38 cents. That amendment failed 12-3, garnering support from only Mendelsohn, Johnson, and North Oak Cliff Councilman Chad West. 

“Telling people you voted for a tax rate reduction and sending them a higher bill is misleading to the residents,” she said. “They’re smart enough to understand their values’ (have) gone way up, the rate needs to go way down or they’re going to pay a lot more.”

Local News

Leading Off (9/21/23)

Bethany Erickson
By |

Feds Arrest 134 People in Sting. The Department of Homeland Security Wednesday announced that 134 people—including a pending hire with a “major city police department” and a “prominent Dallas-Fort Worth city employee” —were arrested in a federal commercial sex sting. The operation ran from September 11 to September 15 and included 15 law enforcement agencies (including the Dallas Police Department and Dallas County Sheriff’s Office) across four cities. Marijuana, meth, cocaine, and firearms were also seized.

Lewisville Enters the STR Chat. While it’s not certain that Lewisville will be joining a growing number of North Texas cities to ban or regulate short-term rentals, the city will have its first public hearing on the matter next month. Following the hearing, city staff will research the matter and present options to the city council.

Search for Tortoise Owner Slow Going. Dallas Animal Services this week said it has a “very healthy, very large” tortoise on a stray hold. It’s been sharing the animal’s photo on social media in hopes of finding the owner. Fun fact: When single male tortoises uh, are ready to mingle, they can become terrific escape artists. 

Today is North Texas Giving Day. The one-stop shop for local giving is the largest community-wide event of its kind in the country, and has raised more than $503 million in the 14 years it’s been around. Last year’s day benefited more than 3,200 local nonprofits. You can search nonprofits here. Want to maximize your donation? Several organizations have matching funds, which means your donation doubles. 

Batten Down Your Hatches (Maybe, Probably). The National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office says parts of North Texas could get some storms this afternoon and overnight, so make sure you grab that umbrella on your way out the door, and maybe consider your poncho choices to protect your silver duds if you’re planning a trip to Arlington for Beyonce’s visit.


Scottish Rite and By Way of Dallas’ Custom Prosthetics Collab

Will Maddox
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Shaleigh is a Scottish Rite patient who plays volleyball. Courtesy: Scottish Rite for Children

Scottish Rite For Children and Hance Taplin’s By Way of Dallas fashion line are coming together to create one-of-a-kind influencer-designed prosthetics for children to flip the perception of those with prostheses.

The orthopedic children’s hospital is teaming up with the in-demand Dallas-based designer to launch the first streetwear collaboration in the history of prosthetics, turning prosthetic limbs into works of art with the help of artists, athletes, and local influencers. Dak Prescott, Dude Perfect, Dwight Powell, Hance Taplin, NIL marketing consultant Jordan Rogers, and many others are collaborators on the project.

“Scottish Rite’s remarkable mission of giving children back their childhood through the very best care goes beyond our medical and technological expertise,” says Robert L. Walker, president and CEO of Scottish Rite for Children. “Scottish Rite for Children is thrilled to collaborate with By Way of Dallas through artwork contributed by advocates to give our patients the ability to celebrate their individuality and keep them active and happy.”

Scottish Rite’s in-house team creates custom prosthetics for patients regardless of their ability to pay, and patients will have the opportunity to customize their prostheses. At an event to celebrate the partnership’s launch, Scottish Rite’s Senior Director of Communications McKay Hendershot described how the idea started with customizing the soles of prosthetic feet and grew to what it is today. “This allows us to change the conversation on inclusivity,” she says.

Local News

Leading Off (9/20/23)

Matt Goodman
By |

Billy Chemirmir Killed In Prison. Chemirmir was serving two consecutive life sentences in the 2018 murders of two elderly Dallas County women, but was accused of killing over 20. Prison authorities say his cellmate, who was also a convicted murderer, killed Chemirmir in their cell. He was awaiting trial on murder charges in Collin County. The suspect’s name has not been released.

Brace Yourself for Today’s Budget Fight. One of the matters is a $190,000 allocation to move the headquarters of the Office of Arts and Culture from the old Majestic Theater to a new, as-of-yet undisclosed location. The director, Martine Elyse Philippe, says the move is necessary because of ADA compliance issues, overcrowding, and parking. Most arts organizations (and the department’s former director) say that money should be going to artists, not administrative officials. The City Council will vote on the final budget today.

Fort Worth, Plano ISDs Join Suit Against the State. This is the challenge over the district’s new A-F grading policies, which has pretty much every district up in arms over how vague the details have been. Sixty school districts have added themselves as plaintiffs, including Dallas.

It’s Going To Be Humid Today. Hope you enjoyed last night’s storms.

From the unstoppable force that is Dallas Texas TV comes this amazing video that I would embed in our site if Twitter weren’t broken. Or WordPress didn’t have a problem with Twitter. Or whatever. Anyway, naked guy. DFW Airport. Post your hypothetical explanations in the comments section here, if we had one. Wrong answers only.

Local News

Moves to Tweak Scooter Rules Fall Flat With Council Transportation Committee

Bethany Erickson
By |
Dallas hoped try two on scooters would result in less of this. So far, that's not completely the case. Shawn Shinneman

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, the proverb goes, and that is especially true when it comes to the city managing electric scooters.

In the spring, the Dallas City Council approved a second attempt to introduce scooters to the city, establishing limits on how many scooters would be deployed, where they could operate, and how they would be distributed around the city. On Monday, a Dallas City Council committee got a report on how the new attempt at micromobility was faring. It needs work.

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