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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Animals

A Big Venomous Cobra Might Be Running Loose in Grand Prairie

| 37 mins ago

I don’t have much to add to the headline (above) or Grand Prairie Police Department news release (below), except perhaps a three letter acronym beginning in “w” and ending in “f.” Watch out for — and do not mess with — this large venomous snake, whose poison is evidently serious enough that authorities “initiated a protocol with Parkland hospital to treat this type of snake bite in event of a human encounter.”

On Tuesday, August 3, 2021 at around 6:30 P.M., Grand Prairie Animal Services responded to a report of a missing snake from a residence in the 1800 block of Cherry Street. The owner noticed his venomous West African Banded Cobra snake, permitted by the State of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, missing from its enclosure around 5:00 P.M.

Animal Services, the owner, and a venomous snake apprehension professional actively searched for the snake inside and outside of the residence through the night with no success.

Residents who live in the area and see any type of snake believed to be the missing cobra, are asked to call 911 immediately.

**Do not approach or attempt to capture the venomous snake**

The Grand Prairie Police Department has partnered with the Grand Prairie Fire Department who has alerted area hospitals of the missing snake and initiated a protocol with Parkland hospital to treat this type of snake bite in event of a human encounter. GPPD has also been in contact with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department related to policy and procedures on the permitting of venomous snakes in residential areas.

Image of the beast after the jump.

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Local News

‘High Transmission’ of COVID-19 Happening Throughout North Texas, Says CDC

| 1 hour ago

To go with its new guidance that even vaccinated people should wear a mask indoors in areas with “high” COVID-19 transmission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an up-to-date county-by-county COVID transmission map of the U.S.

A high level of community transmission, according to the CDC, is occurring in areas where more than 100 new COVID-19 cases are reported per 100,000 people in a seven-day period. As of today, nearly every county in North Texas has passed that threshold. That’s a lot of red on the map. Not so long ago, in the glory days of early July, we were enjoying a yellow map and, per the CDC, a “moderate” level of COVID-19 transmission. Not anymore.

If you’ve got a minute and would like to experience a powerful sense of dread, here’s a time-lapse of that CDC map showing how much things change in a month.

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Local News

‘If We Don’t Have Rules We Have Anarchy’: Southwest Pilot Asks Passengers to Please Just Wear the Mask

| 6 hours ago

This reminder for us all to behave ourselves during air travel comes courtesy of a Southwest Airlines pilot who must be as sick as anybody of unruly passengers disrupting flights over airlines’ mask rules.

This guy’s good. He’s got jokes. He’s got wisdom. And he’s got the authority that comes with wearing “polyester pants and a short sleeve dress shirt” and keeping a 300-ton aircraft in the sky. We should listen to him.

He knows you don’t like masks. He doesn’t like them either. And yet, “We have to wear them. It’s a rule. It’s not a political statement. It’s not me taking your rights away. It’s not me asserting my will on you, etc. All the rhetoric that I hear, I don’t want to hear it anymore. I get it. It’s just a rule and if we don’t have rules we have anarchy.”

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Local News

Leading Off (8/4/21)

| 8 hours ago

Dallas County Raises COVID Threat Level to Red. New cases of the virus and hospitalizations are soaring, including hospitalizations of children and people in long-term care facilities. This is the first time since March the county’s color-coded warning system has been at red, which means health officials recommend sheltering in place, only traveling for essential needs, and wearing a mask. COVID testing demand has surged to levels not seen since February leaving some testing sites “overwhelmed.” Thirty-one Dallas firefighters are quarantining because of the virus, raising staffing concerns at the department.

Investors Sue Kaaboo Festival Over Alleged Swindle. Kaaboo was DFW’s own Fyre Festival. It boasted VIP experiences at high-dollar prices but wound up a weird, sparsely attended bust. Now a group of investors are suing the festival organizers saying that they were suckered into sinking $3 million into the festival with the promise that the event would earn back their money and more by staging annual editions of the concert. Kaaboo was discontinued in 2019 and the brand was later sold. Among the scorned investors: developer Bill Hutchinson, who is facing multiple accusations of sexual assault in Texas and California.

Airline Cancelation Chaos. Both Spirit and American Airlines have canceled hundreds of flights. Spirit’s cancelations came after crew inexplicably walked off the job. American is still struggling to catch up after Sunday’s thunderstorms halted DFW traffic.

Allen Officer Shoots Dog After Attack. Not sure what on earth is going on up in Allen. A couple of loose, aggressive dogs bit an adult and child, prompting neighbors to call the police. After the officers arrived, one “used a catch pole to try to get the dogs into his vehicle” before he shot at the animals. One dog was hit by a bullet and was later taken to an animal hospital. A second dog was later found dead “from causes unrelated to the shooting,” police said. The wounded dog’s condition was not released, nor was any information about the severity of the dog bites.

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Local News

DART Board Nominee Vonciel Jones Hill Says LGBT ‘Conduct’ Is ‘Contrary to the Word of God’

| 1 day ago

A former Dallas City Council member, in an interview for a seat on DART’s board of directors, said Tuesday that “the conduct of homosexuality” is “contrary to the word of God.” What does that have to do with public transit in the Dallas region?

Let’s back up for a second.

Last week the Dallas Voice reported that former four-term Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill had been nominated to an open seat on DART’s board of directors. The city of Dallas appoints eight members of DART’s board. The people in these volunteer positions are critical to shaping policy at the agency, which is facing declining ridership, revamping its bus service, rethinking a downtown subway line, and pushing ahead with an ill-advised suburban line to DFW Airport, all while generally trying to improve itself in a region that’s never known efficient public transit.

In other words, it’s an important position. Jones Hill was nominated by three council members representing southern Dallas: Tennell Atkins, Casey Thomas, and Carolyn King Arnold.

But Jones Hill’s track record on transit planning is suspect. When she was last nominated, in 2017, she didn’t make it on. And as the Dallas Voice writes, there are other reasons why she isn’t fit for a seat on the board:

During her time in office, she opposed anything the LGBT community did. She complained about HIV billboards in her district, although her district included areas that were hard-hit with HIV.

She voted against updating wording on city ordinances that were more inclusive of the trans community.

And she was the only council member to refuse to sign a letter welcoming people to Dallas for Pride weekend each year. She said she wouldn’t be supporting the LGBTQ community because of her beliefs then and she wouldn’t in the future. She has not made a statement changing that statement.

An online petition calling for the council to reject Jones Hill’s nomination had almost 350 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

She was interviewed Tuesday by the Dallas City Council’s transportation committee along with two other candidates for the board, community organizer and recent council candidate Hosanna Yemiru and Carmen Garcia, who leads DART’s outreach programs.

Jones Hill went first. It was up to new Councilwoman Gay Donnell Willis to mention the controversy around the former council member’s nomination.

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Urbanism

Why It Is Time to End Mandatory Parking Minimums in Dallas

| 1 day ago

As you may have heard, the city of Dallas is currently reviewing its parking ordinances with an eye toward relaxing or eliminating regulations that force businesses to create way too much parking. The process has been in the works for more than a year, and back in June, the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee received a briefing about feedback the city solicited at a few public forums about the proposal. “Public,” however, may a bit of an overstatement.

A grand total of 33 people spoke at the online meetings, representing a whooping 0.0025 percent of the city’s population. That low turnout is understandable given how wonky an issue parking policy is, but parking policy also has an outsized impact on shaping the environments everyone of us interact with every day. Despite the low turnout, the feedback did include some common fears and misconceptions about parking and how we use it, including arguments that public transit needs to improve dramatically before we can even talk about parking as well as fears that changing mandated parking minimums will somehow going to magically make all the parking disappear (if only!).

Those fears suggest that it is a good time to step back for a moment and take a broader look at why there is a push to revisit the parking codes and the role parking has played in destroying American cities.

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Local News

Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch Removed From Meeting for Refusing to Wear Mask

| 1 day ago

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins had a bailiff remove one of his colleagues from this morning’s meeting of the Commissioners Court after the commissioner refused to wear a mask.

Commissioner J.J. Koch, who later virtually joined the meeting from his office, said Jenkins couldn’t impose a mask mandate in the courtroom. He pointed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order last week that prevents local governments from requiring the public to wear masks.

“You do not have the authority under the governor’s order,” Koch said. “In fact, this morning I went to Starbucks, and I have a mask. If you did the right things and weren’t abusive of your power and very demeaning and unfortunately condescending to your board-mates…”

Jenkins asked Koch if he would either put on a mask or voluntarily leave the courtroom to participate in the meeting from his computer. Koch declined.

“I’m going to ask the bailiff now to clear the courtroom of people who refuse to wear their mask, and I only see one, and that would be Commissioner Koch,” Jenkins said.

Koch left with the bailiff.

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Local News

The COVID-19 Delta Variant Is Ruining Summer

| 1 day ago

Since June 30, COVID hospitalizations in North Texas are up 366 percent. Just over a month ago, there were only 368 patients being treated with a coronavirus infection. As of August 2, there were 1,714 patients across the 19 counties that make up what is called Trauma Service E.

That is almost certainly because the highly transmissible Delta variant is ripping through our sizable population of unvaccinated residents. UT Southwestern says that the Delta variant now represents 90 percent of all positive test samples conducted at its hospitals and offices. County Judge Clay Jenkins says the county believes this new uptick is being driven by the Delta variant infecting unvaccinated residents, “based on what the doctors are saying.”

We learned this week that Delta appears to prefer to concentrate most of its viral load in the nose. This New York Times report detailed the difference between what happens in vaccinated and unvaccinated people better than anything else I have found:

Still, when the virus tries to snake down into the lungs, immune cells in vaccinated people ramp up and rapidly clear the infection before it wreaks much havoc. That means vaccinated people should be infected and contagious for a much shorter period of time than unvaccinated people, Dr. Lund said. “But that doesn’t mean that in those first couple of days, when they’re infected, they can’t transmit it to somebody else,” she added.

This is becoming an epidemic of the unvaccinated, whose stories are shared in brutal reporting that details patients in hospital beds begging for the shot after it’s too late. So-called “breakthrough infections” among the vaccinated are remarkably rare. NBC News found 125,682 infections among vaccinated people across 38 states: that is just .08 percent of the more than 164 million people who are fully vaccinated. For emphasis: that is less than one tenth of one percentage point.

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Local News

Yes, Your Boss Can Tell You To Get Vaccinated

| 1 day ago

With COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases again surging, the private sector is beginning to play an outsized role in a flagging vaccination campaign. That’s especially true in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has limited mask requirements and prevented local governments, school districts, and any institution taking state money from imposing a vaccine mandate.

Your boss, however, has more leeway. Employers’ vaccine mandates are legal and, evidence shows, effective. Not long after the Houston Methodist Hospital System gave its 26,000 employees a choice — get vaccinated or get fired — it reported a staff vaccination rate of nearly 100 percent. (Exemptions were granted for medical or religious reasons.) Baylor Scott & White and Texas Health Resources followed suit with employee vaccine mandates last week. Parkland can’t, because of Abbott’s rule.

Outside of healthcare, there’s nothing resembling a consensus, although employers around the country report ramping up their efforts to get workers vaccinated. In April, more than 90 percent of the businesses polled by the Dallas Regional Chamber said they weren’t requiring their employees to be vaccinated. But that was before the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, coupled with sluggish vaccination rates, sent hospitalization numbers shooting back up. And it was before major national employers like Walmart and Disney (along with a host of tech companies) began embracing vaccine mandates. Walmart, the biggest private employer in the U.S., is requiring managers and employees at its headquarters — but not at its individual stores and distribution centers — to get vaccinated. Salaried and non-union Disney employees will also have to be vaccinated.

The Dallas Regional Chamber is again polling its members for a pulse check, with the results due later this month. I emailed the in-house PR shops for some of the bigger employers in the area to see what they’re doing. A smattering of the responses:

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Local News

Leading Off (8/3/21)

| 1 day ago

Slovenia Beats Germany. Luka Dončić didn’t have a great shooting morning in Japan, going 8-18, but he played well enough to make Zac proud and racked up a technical foul for good measure. A possible gold medal game against the United States looms, as they beat Spain, despite Ricky Rubio’s 38 points. The DMN published an editorial this morning saying the paper is all twisted in knots about which team to cheer for, which proves that Katrice Hardy has a lot of work to do.

COVID Update. The average number of new daily cases in Dallas County over the last two weeks is 561; for the previous two-week period, it was 213. It wasn’t that long ago that we’d dipped below 100. UT Southwestern says by August 19 we’ll hit 1,500 new cases a day. Encourage your friends to get vaccinated, and start wearing a mask (again) when the situation calls for it. (Hospitals in North Texas have asked the state for additional staff to handle a surge in COVID patients; the Texas Department of State Health Services denied the request.)

Premium State Fair Tickets for Sale. For $24, you can buy a ticket that is good for any day of the fair, which starts September 24. [clears throat] You see that previous item? The one right above this item?

Today Is Tuesday. This is true.

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Local News

A Story of Two Deaths at the Collin County Jail

| 2 days ago

Marcia Riley heard her 22-year-old son’s voice above a commotion of knocks and police commands. Marcus Elliott was on the phone in an apartment bathroom in some town in Texas that his mother had never heard of. He had moved to Plano to put some distance between himself and the life he was leading in Atlanta. A U.S. Marshal had called Riley to tell her they had federal warrants to arrest her son and demanded he surrender to the cops who were outside his door.

Riley tried to guide and support him through the incident. Run-ins with police in Georgia had piled up. On at least one occasion she co-signed to help him make bond. She was proud that Marcus had earned his GED while serving time in county jail back home. He was making an effort to fix his life while he moved between agencies and courts and jails. She thought about her son, who weighed no more than 130 pounds, up against what sounded like dozens of police officers. “I could hear extreme fear in his voice, a tone I have never heard before,” Riley later wrote in a newspaper essay. She convinced Elliott to give himself up. “I assured my son that he would be safe.”

Her son’s life was in the hands of law enforcement 800 miles away from her. Officers drove Elliott to the Collin County Jail. Jailers there placed Elliott on suicide watch as soon as he was booked in on June 28, 2007. Officers at the scene reported Elliott threatened to take his own life throughout their encounter with him. Detention staff that day had already sent a 45-year-old inmate to a hospital after he was found unconscious; the man later died from suicide. Back in Atlanta, a fog of anxiety and confusion settled over Riley as she dialed the jail’s main phone line repeatedly. Jail staff told her Elliott could not be reached. She finally talked to him the next morning. “He was eager to get back to Atlanta, serve his time, turn his life around, and have a future,” Riley wrote of the conversation, their last.

The next day, Elliott was killed. In a struggle that lasted nearly 20 minutes, detention officers tried to force Elliott into a restraint bed. A jail nurse reported to officers they found Elliott trying to asphyxiate himself.  In a custodial death report, officers claimed Elliott began to kick and swing at detention staff. Local news media and the sheriff’s office reported his death as a suicide. In reality, Elliott died after jailers strapped him into the restraint bed, according to the Collin County Medical Examiner’s Office, which ruled Elliott’s death a homicide.

Fourteen years later, Marvin Scott III would be arrested for a small amount of marijuana outside the Allen Premium Outlets. He, too, would die in custody at the Collin County Jail while being restrained. Like Elliott’s, the medical examiner would rule his death a homicide. 

Scott was 12 years old when Elliott was killed. Their lives were not mirror images. The circumstances that brought them into the same jail over a decade apart were worlds away, but their lives ended in similar fashions. 

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Local News

High Levels of Lead Discovered in Soil at Shingle Mountain Site

| 2 days ago

Residents of the southern Dallas neighborhood where the six-story industrial dump known as Shingle Mountain once stood are calling on the city to pay for further pollutant testing after an environmental survey found high levels of lead in the soil at the site.

In June, as part of a lawsuit against the company that formerly operated the site, the city took over the 4.3 acres of land where 100,000 tons of roofing materials had piled up. Shingle Mountain, a towering danger to public health and a monument to the years of terrible public policy that put environmental hazards like this in neglected neighborhoods, had been cleaned up. Neighbors and activists called for a park to be put in its place. City Council members patted themselves on the back for taking long overdue steps to “right a wrong,” although at the time the city declined to reveal the contents of an environmental assessment it had commissioned of the site.

“They made that press release [about acquiring the property],” says Marsha Jackson, who lives next to the site and has spent years pushing City Hall to take action. “So why didn’t they make the press release that the property was full of lead?”

The environmental assessment, quietly published online this summer, only recently came to the attention of Jackson, who co-chairs the neighborhood association Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos. According to the report, conducted by the firm Modern Geosciences, soil samples taken at the former site of Shingle Mountain showed amounts of lead “above expected background levels.” Other screened-for pollutants were not detected in the soil or groundwater samples above “residential criteria.”

Four soil samples showed between 1,220 and 1,450 parts per million of lead–more than three times the 400 ppm residential cleanup standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency. There is “no safe level of lead exposure in children,” who can suffer from serious developmental issues caused by exposure, according to the CDC. The discovery of lead contamination near a West Dallas smelter in the 1980s accompanied the smelter’s closure and years of Superfund cleanup. Contamination was still present decades later.

“We have children here,” says Jackson, who said the city had been silent about the results of the environmental assessment and its discovery of high lead levels in the soil. “This is our neighborhood. This is our community. Anything that happens over here they should let us know.”

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