Thursday, June 22, 2023 Jun 22, 2023
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A Daily Conversation About Dallas
Local News

Just How Happy Are Dallas Residents With How Their Tax Dollars Are Being Spent?

Bethany Erickson
By |
Street conditions are always top-of-mind for Dallas residents.

Customer satisfaction surveys are tricky. They’re especially tricky when a city of 1.3 million people asks its residents how satisfied they are with how their tax dollars are being spent, as Dallas does every two years. The 2023 edition was shown to the City Council on Wednesday, just as city staffers map out a multi-billion dollar bond program next year.

The city will have to navigate some of what appears to be contradictory: 62 percent of the 1,475 respondents say the city is an “excellent” or “good” place to live, but only 28 percent say they are “pleased with the overall direction that the city of Dallas is taking.” (About 53 percent responded in the affirmative in 2014.)

Overall, residents reported that they thought city services were either “excellent” or “good” for about two-thirds of the city’s categories. But only 29 percent agreed that they “receive good value for the city of Dallas taxes I pay.” (About 44 percent responded in the affirmative in 2014.)

Dallas fares well when compared to the other major cities that also asked the ETC Institute to conduct a survey. (The ETC keeps its findings in a handy database for everyone it does business with.)

The Council was presented with a 27 page report that showed a fairly positive view of the city, but the full, 180-page report with more of the nuance is here.

Each of the 14 Council districts clocked 100 or more respondents. (Most districts averaged about 7 percent of the total response, while White Rock Lake and East Dallas in District 9, represented by Paula Blackmon, was the outlier with 8.3 percent.)

Overall, 66 percent of Dallasites rated their neighborhood as an excellent or good place to live, and 62 percent said Dallas was an excellent or good place to live. (Only 7 percent reported it as “poor.”)

Some of the key takeaways:

Local News

Local Company Attempts to Simulate Hell in Grapevine

Tim Rogers
By |
Solo Stove's Mesa fire pit

First, let me say that for Christmas I got my mom a Solo Stove, and it’s great. I don’t know how the magic works, but it really does produce a smokeless fire. Five stars.

But the Grapevine-based company and its PR agency have come up with a stunt that I don’t understand. Here’s how I imagine the conversation went:

PR EXEC: “I got one idea that I’m especially psyched out of my mind about. As you know, National S’mores Day is July 22. Are you ready for this? We set a Guinness World Record for the Most People Making S’mores Simultaneously—using a Solo Stove!”

SOLO HONCHO: “How do we crowd all those people around a Solo Stove?”

PR EXEC: “Great question! I love where your head is at. Come with me on this journey. It’s not one Solo Stove. We use 400 Solo Stoves. The Mesa fire pit model. And we do it at Chicken N Pickle.”

SOLO HONCHO: “So you’re saying 400 fire pits. With fire. On July 22. In Dallas.”

PR EXEC: “Grapevine. The Chicken N Pickle is in Grapevine.”

SOLO HONCHO: “But you want to light 400 fire pits on July 22.”

PR EXEC: “And we call it Solo Stove’s S’moresapalooza!”

SOLO HONCHO: “That does have alliteration, doesn’t it? [thinks for a minute, stares out window at hellscape that is North Texas right now, with heat index of 120 degrees] Tell you what. If you get a Dallas Maverick to show up and sign autographs, we’re in.”

PR EXEC: “I know a guy who knows a guy who knows Theo Pinson’s agent. Let’s do this!”

Dallas City Council, Mayor Sworn In at Inauguration Ceremony. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson got his way and there were no guests onstage at the Meyerson Symphony Center during the ceremonial swearing in on Tuesday. Municipal Court Administrative Judge Preston Robinson swore in each of the 14 council members, while Mayor Eric Johnson, who is a registered Democrat serving in a nonpartisan role, was sworn in by Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. The mayor hasn’t commented on his decision to pick Cornyn and largely played the hits in his speech: more parks, less crime, lower property taxes, and better infrastructure.

This Heat Is Now Dangerous. Our heat index will soar to between 110 and 120 today despite highs being in the upper 90s. Yikes. That’s all the humidity in the air. There are storms forecast for areas west of us, but it’s not clear whether that will make it all the way here. Stay hydrated.

And We’re Being Asked to Conserve Energy. It took the sun setting for ERCOT to get comfortable with the electricity supply. Expect more conservation warnings and alerts throughout the summer; another should be coming today.

Local News

For Oak Cliff Started in a Classroom and Now Feeds a Community

Austin Zook
By Austin Zook |
For Oak Cliff feeds its community in South Oak Cliff, literally and figuratively. For Oak Cliff

For Oak Cliff began in a classroom.

Co-founder and CEO Taylor Toynes recognized a need in his community when he was teaching at W.W. Bushman in South Oak Cliff. Many of his students did not have school supplies. 

So he got to work. He helped organize the inaugural Back to School Festival in 2015, a now-annual event that equips students with the supplies they needed.

“Our community was in a space where [there was] always negativity,” says Toynes. The problems went beyond a lack of school supplies. Toynes saw systemic issues that affect the area. But he also saw plenty of positivity and potential.

In the years since that first Back to School Festival, For Oak Cliff has grown dramatically in scope and scale. The organization that began in a classroom now provides resources for Oak Cliff community members of all ages. They host job fairs and offer GED and phlebotomy programs, helping train residents for specific jobs.

These services are often held at the For Oak Cliff Community Campus, a 20,000 square foot former YMCA that sits on 10 acres of land. It has classrooms, a gymnasium, tennis courts, a pool, and an e-sports center.

“Our mission is to liberate Oak Cliff from systemic oppression by building a culture of education to increase social mobility and social capital,” says Xavier Henderson, For Oak Cliff’s co-founder and chief development officer.  

Dallas History

Juanita Craft’s Little White House Is Now a Museum

Catherine Wendlandt
By |
When restoring the Juanita Craft house after the 2018 flood, Spriggins says they relied heavily on the building’s historical structural report, which recounted the home’s physical past. “That document became the guide for how we needed to approach the rehabilitation of the house.” Isometric Studio

Hundreds of people packed into buses at Fair Park on May 20, but Patricia Perez had other plans. They were all heading to Juanita Craft’s house at 2618 Warren Avenue, to celebrate the reopening of a museum that took more than six years of work. Perez, 70, skipped the bus ride. She had her ride share driver drop her off at her aunt’s old house in South Dallas. She then walked the familiar three-block route to the freshly painted white craftsman on Warren, a trot she’d made hundreds of times before.

Perez met the civil rights activist on Saturday, October 2, 1965. Her mother had sent her and her little brother from New York City to live with family in Dallas. When she picked the kids up from Love Field, their aunt said, “I have someone I want you to meet.” An hour and a half later, 12-year-old Perez was knocking on the back door of Craft’s home. The woman who met them was unforgettable.

“Mrs. Craft was a large woman in physical stature,” Perez remembers. “But whenever she opened her mouth, you realized if she had been four feet tall, she would have still been a large human being. And at 12 I knew that.”

The influence Juanita Craft had on Dallas, and across the country, was just as large. “I don’t think the city recognizes her impact and legacy continues today,” says HERitage founder Froswa’ Booker-Drew, who served on the museum steering committee and pushed the State Fair of Texas to donate thousands of dollars to the museum efforts. “The impact that Ms. Craft had is beyond South Dallas. It’s national.”

Over a period of 50 years, the longtime South Dallas resident registered thousands of people to vote, organized citywide cleanup campaigns, and served two terms on the Dallas City Council. She worked to integrate the State Fair, the Dallas Independent School District, and colleges like University of North Texas. As a leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she founded more than 180 local NAACP chapters and hosted a long roster of activists, politicians, dignitaries, and celebrities, like Thurgood Marshall, in her humble, 1,300-square-foot home.

“You’d be surprised the kind of people coming in and out of that house, everybody from presidents to senators to ambassadors,” says Peter Johnson, a Civil Rights activist and longtime friend of Craft. “I mean, it is a museum whether you want it to be or not.”

Craft donated her house to the city of Dallas after her death in 1985. It took nearly 40 years for her house to be officially opened as a museum and a monument to the local civil rights movement. Unlike other Dallas museums, the Juanita Craft house doesn’t tower over freeways or take up whole city blocks.

It sits, as it always has, quietly in the middle of the Wheatley Place neighborhood, ready to host anyone from a Supreme Court justice to a teenaged neighbor.

Local News

Gallery: Dallas Celebrates Juneteenth in Old and New Ways

Bethany Erickson
By |
The Elm Thicket/Northpark neighborhood celebrated Juneteenth with its 13th annual parade on Saturday, June 17, 2023. Bret Redman

Juneteenth may have been officially celebrated Monday, but it was a weekend-long party in Dallas that included longstanding gatherings in the city’s historically Black neighborhoods and freedmen’s towns. There was also an inaugural celebration in Deep Ellum that acknowledged the history and contributions to the arts of Dallas’ Black residents.

Photographer Bret Redman went to two celebrations on Saturday—the 13th annual parade in a former freedman’s town —the Elm Thicket/Northpark neighborhood—and the Morney Berry Farm, which has hosted its 30 years of Juneteenth celebrations on land that was originally purchased by the formerly enslaved James and Kathy Morney with several bales of cotton and six years of savings in 1876. (Their descendants own it today.) On Sunday, he visited the brand-new Juneteenth Block Party in Deep Ellum that featured local artists, vendors, and an appearance by the R&B group Dru Hill.

Head to the gallery for images over the weekend.


The City of Dallas Should Prioritize Squirrel Eradication

Tim Rogers
By |
Evil creature (left) and my girdled red leaf maple (right)

With the Dallas City Council being sworn in today, the Morning News published an editorial arguing that our elected officials need to focus on the basics: cops, streets, permitting, and code enforcement.

That is not basic enough. The city of Dallas needs to get more basic. Before we fill all the potholes and get our traffic lights working, we need to focus on the squirrels. Specifically, the city needs to kill them all.

A little context: on the right in the photo above, you see a picture I took of the trunk of a 20-foot red leaf maple that we planted in our front yard four years ago. With the insane heat wave we are suffering, I went out this weekend to water my beloved maple and saw that the bark had been removed all the way around the young tree’s trunk. This is called girdling. A tree can’t survive it.

In a panic, I texted pictures of the girdling and of other bark damage higher up in the tree to two arborists who’ve helped us take care of our trees over the 24 years we’ve lived in our East Dallas house. Someone from Arborilogical Services and someone from TreeTechTX (a new outfit staffed by a bunch of former Preservation Tree folks) both identified the damage as the result of squirrels eating the bark.

I don’t know if we had a bad crop of acorns this year or if the heat is driving the squirrels to do this. And I don’t care. The simple fact is that the squirrels must be eradicated.

I will leave the details to the experts. Should we put a bounty on the squirrels and allow citizens to be paid for every carcass they bring to a special squirrel-carcass collection center? Should the Dallas Police Department’s SWAT unit be deployed each night to shoot all the squirrels while the city sleeps, using night-vision goggles and sniper rifles? Should the city use the lessons it has learned from the ransomware attack and take over the squirrels’ computer network, refusing to relinquish control until the squirrels agree to relocate, en masse, to Oklahoma? Every option should be on the table.

If Mayor Eric Johnson truly has Big Dallas Energy, this should be his first priority.

Local News

Leading Off (6/20/23)

Tim Rogers
By |

Another Excessive Heat Warning. We’ll hit about 100 today, but factoring in humidity, it will feel more like 116. The National Weather Service out of Fort Worth says you should avoid spending extended periods of time outside. Hang in there, guys.

Highland Park ISD Buys House for Superintendent to Live In. Across the state, this doesn’t happen often, but HP has always made arrangements to allow its super to live within the pricey district. The previous super got a no-interest loan to buy a house. In this case, Mike Rockwood will get to live rent free in a $1.8 million house owned by taxpayers.

Gunman Kills 7-Eleven Clerk. The store is on North Hampton Road, near the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard. Yesterday a robber demanded cash and shot a 54-year-old clerk multiple times. Police are investigating and searching for the killer.

City Council to Be Sworn In. Two newbies and 13 vets on the Dallas Council will be sworn in today. In an editorial, the Morning News says the new Council should focus on the basics: “Dallas has gotten to the point where it isn’t very good at the basics. The resources the city has are stretched as it is. We just don’t have the money to address the growing needs of an aging city. There aren’t enough police officers. There are too many potholes. The traffic lights go on the blink when it rains. The public safety pension is in trouble. Even the garbage has been left sitting. The new council needs to put its energy and focus into addressing basic services before it signs off on massive social programs that the city has proved it isn’t very good at in the first place.”


Is It Impossible Right Now to Predict North Texas Weather?

Tim Rogers
By |
Today's forecast out of NOAA Fort Worth

Yesterday we had us a weather situation that had most of the region at sixes and sevens. The National Weather Service out of Fort Worth issued a severe weather watch that lasted until 10 p.m. and included a warning about hail larger than a baseball. That didn’t happen. Not anywhere near Dallas. And then, oddly, around parts of North and East Dallas, the tornado sirens sounded under mostly clear skies. Big Bob Wilonsky tweeted about it, and lots of people expressed their frustration, including one guy whose job requires a 2 a.m. wakeup.

So today I emailed the National Weather Service in Fort Worth the following question:

“I feel like I’ve had some version of the same conversation multiple times recently with friends and colleagues. The thrust: ‘We can’t predict the weather anymore. No one knows what’s about to happen.’ Especially phone apps. They all seem useless at this point. All last week and this week, the Apple app, for example, has been calling for 40% storms all day. Never happens—until it does. I got hailed on last Saturday. So here’s my question: what the hell? Has there really been some sort of change that is making the prognostication business more difficult? Or is it just me?”

Short answer: yes and no.

Longer answer: in response to my email, I got Jason Dunne on the phone. He’s a meteorologist in the Fort Worth office. He told me the weather pattern we’re in right now is “really, really hard to forecast.” Normally summer in North Texas, Dunne said, means humidity and light winds. But recently we’ve had more spring-like winds above the surface and our “cap” has been, um, less cappy? I was trying hard to keep up with what he was saying. Anyway, he said, “It adds a complexity to forecasting that we don’t usually see at this time of year.”

Dunne said that yesterday’s conditions were favorable for storms, “but it didn’t get going out west like we thought it would.” He pointed out that folks northeast of our metro area did indeed see some big weather.

One last thing: Dunne said he doesn’t use weather apps on his phone. He said if you’re looking at an hour-by-hour forecast on your phone, it’s mostly useless. “We’re just not that good,” he said.

Local News

Days Before Juneteenth, Opal Lee Joins Kamala Harris for a White House Concert

Bethany Erickson
By |
Opal Lee Juneteenth
Opal Lee, photographed in 2021. Elizabeth Lavin

This week, Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a Juneteenth concert at the White House and Fort Worth’s own Opal Lee was front and center.

Lee, known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” joined Tony-winner Audra McDonald, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man Tuesday in a concert on the South Lawn of the White House. Choirs and bands from historically Black colleges and universities also performed, including the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Hampton University Concert Choir, Morgan State University Marching Band, and Tennessee State University Marching Band.

Vice President Kamala Harris laughs as Fort Worth's Opal Lee jokes about being able to see over the microphones at the White House Juneteenth concert Tuesday, June 13, 2023.

The Vice President invited Lee to the microphone to share a few words as she opened the evening. “Make yourself a committee of one to change somebody’s mind,” she said to the crowd on the White House lawn. “If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.”

She also told them that it was “up to you to do it.”


Deep Ellum’s Video Bar Lives For a Night at the Kessler Theater

Austin Zook
By Austin Zook |
Bart Weiss, who ran the Video Bar in Deep Ellum before starting Dallas VideoFest. Courtesy of Dallas VideoFest

The Video Bar was a venue in Deep Ellum that brought music—and, more specifically, music videos—to the city in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. It was a spiritual successor to On the Air, a club with the same premise on Lower Greenville. 

On Friday, June 16, the Kessler Theater is bringing the Video Bar back to life for one night. They will be playing “era-specific music videos all night,” which will include the full-length version of Nine Inch Nails performing at The Video Bar in 1990.

And the music videos aren’t the only thing returning to Dallas: members of the team who worked at the Video Bar will also be in attendance.

Bart Weiss, who will be hosting the reunion with Video Bar regular Helen Stark, was involved with both On the Air and The Video Bar. His job was to program the videos they would play each night. While it seems like a dream job for the man who would eventually co-found Dallas VideoFest, he wasn’t initially sold on the medium.

“During that era, I was a film guy,” says Weiss. “I taught filmmaking. And to me the video stuff looked really… I don’t know, it just didn’t look that great.” 

However, Weiss was instrumental in getting On the Air off the ground. He mentioned an idea for a bar in Dallas that showed music videos while he was out one night. It didn’t take long before he was contacted by someone who had purchased a space in Lower Greenville. The buyer said he was open to making the property either a gym, or working with Weiss to create his music video bar. Weiss decided to take the opportunity.

“To understand On the Air, you [have] to understand why music videos were important at that time. And they were culturally significant because…people watched MTV and saw music they couldn’t see. But then we showed things that MTV wasn’t playing,” says Weiss.

Sometimes On the Air showed music videos from bands that were not in MTV’s lineup. Other times, though, Weiss screened alternate versions of videos that were in circulation—ones that wouldn’t have been appropriate for a television audience.

“So, like, there is a Duran Duran video for “Girls on Film,” [and] the club version is much more interesting than the one they could show on MTV,” says Weiss, laughing. He also recalls a version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” that was “definitely not airable,” but a perfect fit for On the Air. (“Girls on Film” was actually created for clubs like the Video Bar, where there was no limit to the content they could show.)

Police Searching for Racing Truck Drivers. Dallas police Thursday said they need help identifying the drivers of two vehicles that were in the area of a hit-and-run crash that killed a pedestrian over the weekend on Lake June Road. James Stockton, 51, was killed in the incident, and surveillance images show two trucks speeding side by side near the area at that time.

Abbott Signs Bill Creating Athena Alert. Gov. Greg Abbott this week signed House Bill 3556, which allows local law enforcement agencies to issue an alert before a missing child meets the criteria for an Amber Alert. Information about the missing child will be sent in a 100-mile radius. It is named after Athena Strand, who was murdered last year in Wise County.

Garland Business Allegedly Sold Very Potent THC Products. Garland police arrested two men after confiscating more than 200 pounds of allegedly illegal THC products from the Bee Hippy Hemp Dispensary. Some products reportedly showed THC levels more than 300 times higher than the legal limit of 0.3 percent but were allegedly sold to customers as being within the legal limits. The store’s owner, Charles Fagan, and manager, David Lee Dranguet, are both charged with delivery of marijuana under five pounds.

New Fairfield Lake State Park Owners Ready to Fight. Just days after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to proceed with condemnation proceedings to acquire the land where Fairfield Lake and Fairfield Lake State Park sit through eminent domain, the property’s new owner says they’re ready for a legal battle. Todd Interests CEO Shawn Todd told reporters Thursday that he is proceeding with work on the property, and has not yet received a formal written appraised offer from the state.

North Dallas Starbucks Workers Won’t Unionize. Starbucks employees at the location on Inwood Road near the Dallas North Tollway voted this week 10-5 not to unionize. The store had filed to unionize last month. Stores at Mockingbird Station, Addison, Flower Mound, and Denton have also explored unionizing.