Friday, September 13, 2019

Elections Have Consequences, Lesson #214

The Dallas Observer's Jim Schutze is a rabble-rouser. Sometimes his rants are spot on. Sometimes not. But he's always worth reading. Dallas needs him. And if you read him with the right squint in your eyes, you could say Richardson needs him, too. His latest report on a vote by the Dallas City Council on a big zoning case at Northwest Highway and the Dallas North Tollway is a case in point.

The Dallas City Council approved 13-0 a zoning change to allow a developer to build "a soaring tower" on 12 acres of land that nearby residents had been assured by the city would be limited to four stories maximum height. According to Schutze, 85% of nearby owners opposed the rezoning. Schutze, who usually defends neighborhoods, says this time it's their own damned fault. There was an election in May. Jennifer Staubach Gates, the council member in whose district the property lies, was re-elected handily.
[Gates] won by a margin of 2 to 1...The district spoke. And Wednesday night when the City Council voted unanimously to support the Gates giveaway, it honored the democratic process the way democracy works at Dallas City Hall, maybe not the way it works in democracy heaven.
Residents of City Council District 13 had one opportunity — a clear opportunity — to defeat the Gates giveaway when they chose between Gates and her challenger, former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, in the May 4 City Council election. They chose Gates. And that was it. Done deal. The die was cast. No do-overs. When voters of District 13 chose Gates, the incumbent, over Miller, the challenger, they decreed with their season for any developer to up-zone any neighborhood.
Source: Jim Schutze.

What does this have to do with Richardson? In Richardson, it was the Palisades development that had the neighborhood united in opposition. There was a hotly contested 2013 mayoral race in which development played a key role. Both candidates said they opposed more apartments near single-family neighborhoods. Laura Maczka was endorsed by the rest of the city council. Maybe she was perceived as getting along better with other council members. In any case, Laura Maczka won. She then voted, along with a majority of the city council that endorsed her, to up-zone the Palisades development, allowing the developer to add hundreds of new apartments.

Clearly, the voters would not put up with it, right? The mayor reneging on an election promise would get her booted out of office, right? Well, no. She ran for re-election in 2015. Not only was she re-elected, she was unopposed. No one even bothered to run against her. If the neighbors were unhappy with her, they weren't unhappy enough to challenge her at the voting booth.

So, which exercise of democracy should we respect? The hundreds of residents who turned out in opposition to the Palisades up-zoning vote in the city council, or the next election when no one even stepped up to oppose the mayor's re-election? I side with Jim Schutze:
The handwriting is on the wall the moment the voters make their choice in a city council election and put a civility type in office in place of a fighter. A vote for civility is a vote for surrender.
Source: Jim Schutze.

The time to protest is not in front of a raucous crowd at a city council meeting. The time to protest is silently, one by one, in voting booths all across the city. Elections have consequences, folks.

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