A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Local News

Programming Alert: Preston Hollow’s Finest Explorer Featured on HBO

| 5 hours ago

Subscribers and print readers should recall the long-haired St. Marks grad who graced the cover of the February issue of this magazine, holding a rocks glass and wearing a watch that had traveled with him to the deepest part of the world. Victor Vescovo may live in Preston Hollow, but he’s the only person who has actually been to the very bottom of each of the world’s oceans.

He did it in a year, and he’s spent the pandemic taking scientists down to the Pacific in his submersible. (The middle of the ocean is probably safer than your favorite restaurant, for what it’s worth.) On Tuesday, HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel features a segment on Vescovo’s accomplishment. It brings to life the deepest portions of the ocean floor, even showing a few of the 40 or so new species the Five Deeps expedition uncovered.

It also does a good job of breaking Bryant’s brain in a few places: Vescovo is not normal. What sounds crazy to us—climbing the seven summits, skiing both poles, building the first-ever submersible that can withstand the pressure of the very bottom of the ocean again and again—are simply calculated risks to him. Was he scared to go down the first time? “I trusted the testing,” he responds. Does he want to go out in a blaze of glory on an expedition? Absolutely not. It would reflect poorly on his preparation. That would mean “I didn’t properly assess the risks,” he says. He bailed on Everest after getting frostbite, and Kilimanjaro took another try because of altitude sickness. He knows when it’s time to walk away and try again later. He has always succeeded afterward.

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Dallas History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: The Crowds In Our Past, From Bonnie Parker to JFK

| 11 hours ago

This year will be remembered. With the COVID-19 pandemic, protests against systemic racism, and a presidential election with the highest voter turnout in United States history, 2020 is clearly historic.

As I find myself looking through archival collections at the Dallas Public Library through the lens of social distancing and this year’s events, many from our past stand out.

The crowd photos depicted in the following gallery are from the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History and Archives Collection and are available through the library’s online catalog. Plenty seem unusual in these days of isolation, like the bank robber Bonnie Parker’s funeral and the crowd surrounding the subsequent 1935 “harboring trial” of her family and friends.

Also depicted are photos of Dallas segregation in travel and State Fair gatherings, images of horse-drawn transportation and Love Field aviation generations ago, as well as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson visits in Dallas. As this month is the anniversary of the JFK assassination, those images have an additional timely significance. 

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Local News

Leading Off (11/23/2020)

| 16 hours ago

Cowboys Win. After coming from behind twice to defeat the Vikings, the Cowboys — who just won their third game — will improbably play for first place in the NFC East when they face the Washington Players of Football on Thanksgiving. CeeDee Lamb had an insane touchdown catch.

COVID. Dallas County reported 1,862 cases and one death on Sunday. That makes it 1,800-plus cases for four days straight. It’s bad all over the state, so please keep that in mind on Thanksgiving.

JC Penney Moves Out of its Plano Headquarters. It’s finishing up its bankruptcy case, it hasn’t paid rent in months, and its employees are working from home, so it makes sense to vacate.

Mavs Offseason Begins and Ends. After trading for Josh Richardson on draft night and then noted tough guy James Johnson on Saturday (or maybe it was late Friday — a lot of things were happening), sending out Seth Curry, Justin Jackson, and Delon Wright in the process, then re-signing bubble hero Trey Burke, Willie Cauley-Stein, and J.J. Barea, plus signing wing Wes Ukundu, along with draftees Josh Green, Tyrell Terry, and Tyler Bey, the Mavs actually have too many players. They’ll have to cut someone in training camp. Nothing flashy happened and I’m honestly fine with that. A lot of bad deals went down over the weekend. The Mavs didn’t make one of them.

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DPS Returns to Help With Violent Crime, and One Former Critic Is Welcoming It

| 3 days ago

Violent crime in Dallas has become so severe that the governor is again sending state troopers to help the police department, an arrangement that quickly went sour a year ago. But this time, the strategy is different, and the loudest critic from the previous intervention is now in support of the measure. Instead of flooding the zone in South Dallas with fishing expeditions masked as traffic stops, the state police will be non-uniform and assisting in investigations to free up Dallas cops to patrol.

“This is definitely a resource strategy,” said Councilman Adam Bazaldua, who represents South Dallas and in 2019 led a coalition that called for the troopers to leave town. “I ultimately am happy that they have seem to have learned from past mistakes and made adjustments accordingly.”

The state says it is sending state troopers to “support DPS gang and drug investigative operations.” Partners include special agents, a team of intelligence analysts, and Texas Rangers investigators who will provide help with murder cases. The department also has access to state-owned patrol planes for air support and surveillance. Bazaldua says he’s been assured the public won’t notice them; troopers are not planned to park and wait for minor traffic violations in search of drugs and guns. Last year, troopers made 12,500 traffic stops and 1,000 arrests over 12 weeks. Last year, state troopers opened fire on a resident, killing him. An autopsy found he had been shot 16 times. Despite a nearly 10 percent year over year decline in violent crime over that period, the neighborhood still felt unfairly targeted.

“I am hopeful this is a better situation for us because I believe this is a better use of added resources and will cut away from the community feeling that over-policing and over-targeting that was happening,” Bazaldua said.

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Architecture & Design

Can Developer Mike Ablon’s Oak Lawn Towers Keep the LGBTQ Neighborhood Intact?

| 3 days ago

Grabbing a round of drinks on The Mining Company’s outdoor deck. Perching on the upper mezzanine of Sue Ellen’s for New Year’s Eve. Crossing Throckmorton atop a rainbow-painted crosswalk. Over 50 years ago, Oak Lawn began to build a rich community of LGBTQ residents and businesses. Today, Cedar Springs Road remains a vibrant mix of gay-friendly retail, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in the heart of Oak Lawn, where change will soon come.

Real estate developer and Dallas native Mike Ablon will have a hand in such change. He plans to build two high-rise towers in the gayborhood behind a stretch of mostly one- and two-story buildings that contain the beating heart of the community. 

Specifically, as the Dallas Voice reported last week, “Caven [Enerprises], which owns TMC–The Mining Company, Sue Ellen’s, JR.’s Bar & Grill and Station 4, will sell its properties to PegasusAblon but continue to own and operate its bars. The sale involves property on the west side of Cedar Springs Road, from Reagan to Throckmorton Street, and at 4001 Cedar Springs Road.”

For those familiar, that’s behind Roy G’s and S4. Caven also owns the parking lots behind the buildings, which means the company is paying taxes on land that isn’t generating revenue. Something has to change. Bringing in Ablon was viewed as a way to develop the land without kicking out the businesses.

Ablon, a former mayoral candidate, has done this before. He reinvigorated the Design District without stripping the neighborhood of its character. He only leased to local businesses with a likeminded concern for aesthetics. Ablon is driven by questions like, “What complements with here?” and “Who is the local talent that does it in a way that’s of Oak Lawn, of Dallas, of the community?” He says this is his underlying approach.

The goal, Ablon says, is to look at what’s needed and work from there. One such need is more housing. Another is a gathering place, a communal hub for the area that’s currently lacking one. The heart of Oak Lawn, he says, is the corner of Throckmorton and Cedar Springs, “but you can’t stand in the middle of the street to wait for each other, so I’m going to build an urban room, a gathering spot, an urban collection point…wrapped around existing buildings, and to let you know it was there I put a 70-foot waterfall coming down.” It’s not subtle. Though two high-rises, somewhere in the realm of 20 stories tall with 450 rental units, among single story buildings can’t exactly be subtle.

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Local News

Leading Off (11/20/20)

| 4 days ago

Police Chief Hall Is “Offended and Exhausted” With the Mayor. The issue started earlier this week, when Mayor Eric Johnson called the media to City Hall to talk about crime and COVID-19 (and Shingle Mountain and code compliance and Fair Park.) Jack Fink from CBS 11 asked what he wanted to see in the next police chief, as U. Reneé Hall will step down at the year’s end. He said he wanted accountability and “someone who takes what is happening in this city as it pertains to violent crime personally” and a few other things that Hall appears to have taken personally. The chief went on NBC 5 and said as much; the mayor then fired back with another statement about how he is offended by the rise in violent crime in the city and accused Hall of “picking fights in the media with elected leaders.” There have been 220 murders in the city of Dallas, which surpassed last year’s total of 210. Hall has said most of these homicides are between acquaintances, which make it difficult for police to respond before they occur. The governor is sending troopers in to help with investigations, which will free up officers to patrol. I’ll have more on this later today, but there appears to be no love lost between our police chief and our mayor as violent crime hits peaks not seen in 15 years.

Dallas Police Release New Images of Mo3’s Shooter. Melvin Noble, better known as Mo3, was chased down on Interstate 35 near the Dallas Zoo by a man who shot and killed him. Yesterday, police released images from that incident. The man is masked, but investigators hope there is enough to identify him.

Correctional Officers Being Denied Benefits After Death from COVID-19. WFAA has a really frustrating story about the state denying insurance claims to the families of correctional officers who died from COVID-19. Survivors have also been denied benefits, but the decision is particularly cruel for families who are mourning and suddenly without an income stream. The law as it’s currently written doesn’t account for a pandemic, which gives the state the power to deny those benefits. In other situations, families of first responders who die in the line of duty are eligible to receive half a million dollars. In a statement, a spokeswoman for Gov. Greg Abbott sent the following: “Governor Abbott’s heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19.”

No Shutdown Coming to Texas. Speaking of Gov. Abbott, the recent spike in cases won’t be enough to spur a shutdown. Abbott cited the economy as his reasoning. Across the state, new infections and hospitalizations are setting pandemic highs.

Beautiful Weekend Ahead, Mostly. There might be some showers Sunday morning, but your highs are 77 today and tomorrow and 66 on Sunday.

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Architecture & Design

How Dallas Architect Firm Gensler Approached the Renovation of Fair Park’s Hall of State

| 4 days ago

Plaster was falling from the lath, the paintwork was damaged, decorative aluminum was peeling, the paint finishes on doors and windows were fading, and there was major water leakage into the basement every time a big rainfall happened—all problems that plagued Fair Park’s Hall of State building, a centerpiece of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.

Several years ago, Dallas architecture firm Gensler was enlisted to repair the crumbling facility and this month unveiled the results of a three-year $14.4 million renovation made possible by a 2017 bond package approved by Dallas voters.

D CEO spoke with project architect Felicia Santiago to learn more about the process.

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‘Non-Partisan’ School Board Runoff Is Partisan-‘Til-You-Drop

| 4 days ago

Early voting starts Monday for the December 8 District 2 Dallas school board runoff, a richly funded nip and tuck between incumbent Dustin Marshall, a Preston Hollow guy, and maverick challenger Nancy Rodriguez of East Dallas. These elections are supposed to be non-partisan.

Forget that. It’s partisan up one side and down the other. But just try to figure out who’s really who and what’s really what, I dare you.

Marshall, who has been a champion of the successful school reforms put in place by former superintendent Mike Miles, is definitely a Republican, but he doesn’t advertise it. Rodriguez advertises the heck out of being a Democrat, but I’m not sure she is, depending on what you mean by Democrat.

I looked up their voting records. The usual way to determine a person’s party affiliation is by which primaries they have voted in, a matter of public record. Marshall’s primary voting record is all Republican. But so is Rodriguez’s.

To be fair, Rodriguez has voted in only one primary in Texas – the Republican primary in 2016. “I did vote in the Republican primary,” she says. “I thought it was important to choose the Republican candidate, especially given who we wound up with.”

Her advertising in this officially non-partisan race is aggressively Democratic, showing off a roster of endorsements from Democratic political organizations. She and her husband, retired lawyer Barry Jacobs, promote her candidacy online as a crusade to “take this seat back from the millionaire and billionaire Republicans.” (That would be Marshall, who owns a freight and logistics company).

Marshall is interesting on this score as well. Most of his endorsers are Republicans, but he appears to be endorsed also by far more Democratic elected officials than Rodriguez – Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Democratic State Rep. Rafael Anchia, former Dallas school board president Miguel Solis, former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, and former Dallas Mayor and Obama cabinet member Ron Kirk. For a Republican, his list looks suspiciously Democrat. For some serious East Dallas cred, he also won an endorsement from former (nonpartisan) Dallas City Council Member Angela Hunt.

Some small irony may be found in Jacobs’ animus for Republicans, given that his own voting record is at least as Republican as Marshall’s and his history of political contributions maybe even more so. According to the political reporting website “Open,” Jacobs contributed money to the presidential campaigns of Rudolph Giuliani in 2007, Herman Cain in 2011 and Ted Cruz in 2016 (twice). Rodriguez tells me that, “We have always been a bipartisan family,” and she quite properly says she should not be judged by her husband’s political contributions. Her name does not show up as having made any reportable contributions.

But then, part of the puzzle here is that the ostensibly hyper-partisan nature of the race isn’t really what it’s about anyway.

For that part – what it is, what it isn’t – I turned to my distinguished and estimable neighbor, former State Rep. and former Dallas school trustee Harryette Ehrhardt, a stalwart of the Texas Democratic Party and, frankly, the smartest Democrat I know. Ehrhardt started off by decorously and diplomatically telling me to take my questions about Rodriguez’s true party affiliation and put them where the sun don’t shine.

“I have not talked to her about her party affiliation,” Ehrhardt says, “but I did talk about the things that I believe are important, and [her positions on those issues] more nearly reflect the policies of the Democratic Party. To that extent, you don’t have to say, ‘Are you a Democrat?’ You can say, ‘How fond are you of Trump?’ and you know.”

Why is being a Democrat or a Republican so important, if this is a non-partisan school board race? There are several reasons, some of which are fairly transparent, others a bit more subterranean. The obvious part is that the district Marshall and Rodriguez fight for on Dec. 8 is a crazy doughnut around the affluent Park Cities, with a heavily Republican electorate on Marshall’s western end in Preston Hollow balanced against what is believed to be a majority Democratic demographic on Rodriguez’s East Dallas end.

Rodriguez beat Marshall narrowly in the general election, but neither got enough votes to win outright. Hence.

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Local News

Leading Off (11/19/20)

| 5 days ago

Numbers Off for Second Day Due to State Reporting Issue. Which makes yesterday’s 947 new coronavirus cases and record 17 deaths, one a new mother in her thirties, even more troubling. Tarrant County became the first county in North Texas to report more than 2,000 new cases in a single day. And Dallas County health officials are investigating the Union Gospel Mission Dallas homeless shelter after five employees and 10 residents tested positive for the virus as of last night.

Gov. Greg Abbott Announces Plan to Send State Troopers to Dallas After One of Deadliest Weekends, With Seven Homicides in 24 Hours. It’s not clear how many will be dispatched, but it sounds like the intent is to have them help with investigations and not serve on patrol, in contrast to what happened last summer.

Six Former Dallas Jesuit Prep Students Are Added to Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Abuse by Priests in the 1970s and 1980s. The lawsuit was originally filed by two former students in Dallas County civil court in August 2019. Along with three deceased priests, the other named defendants include the Rev. Peter Callery, a teacher and wrestling coach; Vincent Malatesta, a former teacher and counselor; and Robert Crisp, a former priest.

People Forget How to Drive and Crash Into Two Dallas Restaurants. In what appear to be entirely unrelated incidents, drivers drove into S&D Oyster Company and Haute Sweets Patisserie on Tuesday. The driver at Haute Sweets accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and injured three employees when the vehicle drove into the kitchen, including chef-owner Tida Pichakron. The shop will be closed for at least a month for repairs, but it will be open today to sell off all surviving pastries.

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Local News

Sales Tax Revenue in Dallas Has Dropped Less Than a Percentage Point Despite the Pandemic

| 5 days ago

The city of Dallas didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of its spending. For the last fiscal year, of which COVID-19 infected the community for six months, sales tax receipts reported to the city of Dallas were only down less than a percentage point from the prior year. In all, Dallas brought in just $2.7 million less than it did in 2018-2019, an encouraging sign for the economy, if not for public health. That loss amounted to .9 percent.

“The governor began reopening in May and that really changed the course of the trajectory of sales tax forecast,” says Elizabeth Reich, the chief financial officer for the city of Dallas. “Clearly people had emerged from shelter in place and were back shopping and sustaining the economy. So aside from the safety issues—we still want people to be very, very safe and there is concern now with community spread that we all need to do more on that front—from a fiscal standpoint, the additional spending has been very helpful.”

The fiscal year runs from October through September. A major drop in sales tax revenue would require a reduction in city services, Reich says. Property taxes basically pay for public safety; sales tax revenue covers most everything else, including homeless services and libraries and parks. In 2019, the city brought in a little over $313 million. That number for 2020 was just shy of $311 million.

In May, the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center reported that states had lost $6 billion in sales tax receipts compared to May 2019. Texas was down 15 percent year-over-year. That month, Dallas dropped 12 percent, but then began improving. Reich says there is evidence that the suburbs have benefited from workers staying home, which Dallas loses out on. She expects that trend to continue as the pandemic forces companies to keep their offices closed.

The back half of the year was buoyed by the first four months. Dallas brought in about $11 million more year-over-year from October through January. That was about a 10 percent increase. February barely topped its prior year, adding just $376,799 in receipts when the previous three months each saw year-over-year increases of between $2 million and $3 million. March suddenly plunged 9.4 percent, down about $2.8 million compared to March in 2019. The bottom fell out in April; the city of Dallas lost about $6.3 million, a drop of 24 percent.

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Local News

Leading Off (11/18/20)

| 6 days ago

COVID Hope. New trial results show Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine shot is 95 percent effective. The FDA is expected to approve the first rapid at-home COVID-19 test. And new cases of COVID-19 in Dallas County dropped from the record rates we’ve been seeing in recent days, but Dallas County health officials expect the numbers to rise again, particularly with the coming Thanksgiving holiday.

FBI Investigating Attorney General Ken Paxton. Sources told the Associated Press that the FBI is looking into accusations from former members of the AG’s staff that Paxton committed bribery and abused his office. Paxton has shown no signs that he is willing to resign amidst the ongoing scandal.

Three More Shootings in Dallas. Thankfully, no one was killed in Tuesday night’s shootings, but the three separate incidents came after a weekend that saw at least 13 shootings in Dallas that left seven people dead. Police arrested a teenager accused of shooting and killing another teen in Oak Cliff Monday. The two were fighting over a gun.

Braniff Airways is Back — As a Hotel. The former Braniff flight attendant dormitory near Love Field will be transformed into a boutique hotel by the same company that redeveloped the Statler Hotel. As with the Statler, the new hotel will attempt to capture the nostalgic feel of a bygone age, and it follows similar retro air travel-themed hotels that have opened near JFK Airport in New York and SeaTac in Seattle.

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How Urban Planning Consultants Can Shape the Future of Dallas

| 6 days ago

Would you rather bring the family to a restaurant that offers you a few pages of menu items or a restaurant that only makes two or three dishes? Probably the former, right? Now what if the first restaurant had a terrible health department record, was panned by every dining critic in the city, and takes an hour to get the food on the table—but the second restaurant has a Michelin star?

Different story.

This is, essentially, the game Dallas Area Rapid Transit played this summer when it surveyed Dallas residents about its planned bus system overhaul. DART has long insisted that Dallas residents favored a bus system that covered as much of the city as possible. After all, whenever the agency threatened to change a bus line, riders pushed back. And when DART asked riders, non-riders, and other stakeholders in its survey whether they preferred a system with broad coverage over one that focused on increasing ridership, 55 percent said they wanted coverage.

But then DART asked the question again in a different way. Would Dallas residents prefer a short walk to a bus stop followed by a long wait for the bus, or a long walk to the bus stop followed by a short wait for the bus? The results flipped. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they preferred the long walk and the short wait, while another 29 percent said just make the whole damn hassle with the bus go as quickly as possible.

In other words, 76 percent of the respondents preferred the ridership-oriented, high-frequency bus network model. The question just had to be asked in a way that made it clear that they were choosing between quality over quantity.

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