Dallas officials approve Elm Thicket -Northpark zoning changes that reduce new home sizes

modern home
modern home
Construction on a modern home, right, alongside an older home in Dallas’ Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood in September 2022.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

By Everton Bailey Jr.

The Dallas City Council approved zoning changes to a northern Dallas area Wednesday which supporters hope will help preserve its legacy as a historical Black neighborhood.

The changes include limiting maximum lot coverage to 40% for new single- and multi-story homes in the Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood, a more than 500-acre area founded as a Freedman’s Town that borders and sits east of Dallas Love Field airport. The limit in most of the city is 45%, but most of the original homes in the neighborhood cover 30% or less.

Height restrictions for new homes were also reduced from 30 feet to a maximum of 25 feet.

The new zoning has divided the neighborhood of mostly single-family homes, which is now made up of a mix of Black, Hispanic and white residents. The more than 40 people who spoke to the council ahead of the vote were split in favor of and opposing the changes.

The council vote was the culmination of a nearly decadelong process with the city to address concerns from residents and homeowners over newer construction and rising property values that have forced out families who’ve lived there for generations.

In 2016 the area was designated by the city as part of Dallas’ Neighborhood Plus program, a revitalization plan that targeted 12 underserved areas to come up with ways to expand homeownership and rental options, reduce poverty, attract and retain middle class residents and other goals.

“At this point, we have to deal with the fact that this is an African-American neighborhood that wants to maintain its integrity and that wants to keep our children, grandchildren living in an area that our foreparents fought for,” said Zac Thompson, who owns his childhood home in the neighborhood.

He said his family was forced to move into the neighborhood more than 60 years ago when displaced from their original home in the area via eminent domain by the city because of the expansion of Love Field.

Thompson said the home once worth $6,000 is now valued at $400,000.

Other residents called for the council’s vote on zoning changes to either be delayed or voted down, arguing the new zoning would infringe on property rights and wouldn’t stop gentrification or the displacement of historical residents.

The city sent nearly 2,400 notices to area property owners about the proposed changes. Of the 901 who responded, 285 property owners said they were in favor and 616 replied in opposition.

Julie Coffman said she bought her house in the neighborhood over seven years ago and doesn’t believe the issues boiled down to race.

“I didn’t kick anyone out of this neighborhood. I bought a house from somebody who sold it to me. That’s it,” Coffman told council members before the vote. “And now you’re going to tell me what I can do with the single biggest investment I’ve ever made in my life.”

According to the city earlier this year, median real estate taxes in the area increased at least 33% between 2005 and 2019. In 2000, the neighborhood’s residents were 62% Black , 20% Hispanic and 11% white. But by 2014, the population has shifted to almost 43% Hispanic, 32% Black and almost 20% white.

The City Plan Commission approved the changes in July, forwarding them to the City Council. The most recent proposal limited multistory homes to 35% of lot coverage, but council member Jesse Moreno, who represents the Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood, made a motion Wednesday to modify the lot coverage to 40%.

He said he saw no reason to further delay a vote, described his modification as a compromise and the changes in totality as “a chance to build out the neighborhood in an equitable manner for all residents.”

“While what is being proposed is not a save-all, fix-all solution, it’s a step in the right direction,” Moreno said. “It’s a nod to the history of Elm Thicket.”

City officials disagreed that the zoning changes would take away property rights.

Bert Vandenberg, an assistant city attorney, told council members that it was a vote “just changing the development standards of the property.”

Properties already at or over 40% lot coverage won’t be penalized, said Andrea Gilles, assistant director of the city’s planning and urban design office.

“There’s nothing retroactive about this,” she said. “Nobody needs to conform to the standards after the fact.”

Also Wednesday:

+The Dallas City Council denied a request from electricity distributor Oncor to increase its rates in the city. Dallas is one of 169 cities served by the state’s largest electric delivery company planning to oppose the rate change, arguing that it is excessive and unjustified. Oncor told Dallas officials in May that it wanted to increase rates system wide by 4.5% or $251 million, according to the city. It included a proposal to bump up residential rates by 11% and street lighting rates by almost 2%.

The company said an average Oncor residential customer uses about 1,300 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month and the rate change would mean an extra $6.02 in their monthly bill. Oncor can appeal any city’s denial of rate changes to the Public Utility Commission of Texas and current rates would remain until new ones are set by the state agency, which could go into effect by the end of this year or in 2023.

+A three-block stretch alongside South Oak Cliff High School’s football field, baseball field and parking lot will be renamed Golden Bears Way. The City Council voted to change the name of Garza Avenue between South Marsalis Avenue and Vanette Lane after the school’s mascot. Council members Carolyn King Arnold, who represents the area, Casey Thomas and Tennell Atkins made the street name request in May. The school last December won its first state football title — the first Dallas-based school to do so in several decades.

Open Letter from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson

The Dallas City Council approved a contentious rezoning clearing the way for a large high-rise apartment building overlooking the Katy Trail.
The Dallas City Council approved a budget increase and tax rate decrease.
The Dallas City Council approved a budget increase and tax rate decrease.
Library Of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

You probably know that I am not afraid to vote against a city budget.

After all, back in 2020, I did just that. That was because the budget then didn’t meet residents’ needs to the levels it could have and should have. The budget that year included public safety cutbacks, lacked meaningful tax relief, and did not provide for sufficient infrastructure spending.

So, hopefully, my vote in favor of this year’s new annual budget will also speak volumes.

The vote this year was 15-0 — the first unanimous vote on the budget since 2019.

That’s indicative of a strong budget. That’s not to say it’s perfect, of course. No budget is. There are many needs across this city and limited resources. And elected officials and city staff all have competing priorities they want to have addressed.

But overall, this budget very closely aligns with the top priorities that I outlined earlier this summer.

Public safety needed to come first. The goal must be to become the safest major city in the nation. That won’t happen overnight, but this budget is another significant step in the right direction because it recommits to both robust data-driven policing strategies and community-based solutions to deter violent crime.

And this budget helps meet the increasing needs of Dallas firefighters and paramedics — as well as those of the residents who rely on them in life-threatening situations.

Residents also needed tax relief to help mitigate the rising cost of housing. As you all know, city government doesn’t determine your home’s value — that’s the county appraisal districts. But the Dallas City Council can control the tax rate. And this is the largest rate cut in at least four decades in this city — and the lowest tax rate since 2006.

Yes, it should have been an even bigger cut. But an amendment to cut the tax rate further unfortunately didn’t get majority support from the Dallas City Council.

Still, this was a historic move in the right direction.

This is also a budget that invests in families and neighborhoods. The budget continues to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements, addresses homelessness through new strategies, increases library hours, and tackles code issues.

The Dallas City Council approved a contentious rezoning
The Dallas City Council approved a contentious rezoning clearing the way for a large high-rise apartment building overlooking the Katy Trail. Credit: Jake Dean / Dallas Business Journal

To recap, the Fiscal Year 2022–23 budget includes:

  • A 2.75-cent tax-rate reduction — the largest tax-rate reduction in modern Dallas history.
  • An increase in the age-65 or older and disabled homestead exemption from $107,000 to $115,500.
  • A plan to hire 250 police officers during the upcoming fiscal year.
  • Market-based salary increases for police and firefighters and a retention bonus program to retain veteran officers.
  • A new night detail unit to work in the city’s entertainment districts during peak hours.
  • Increases in training instructors and hiring for Dallas Fire-Rescue.
  • The purchases of an additional ambulance and a fire engine in addition to replacement vehicles.
  • $1.75 million to address the highest-priority Dallas Fire-Rescue facility repairs.
  • A new $3 million master leasing program to rapidly rehouse people experiencing homelessness.
  • A new $1 million capacity grant program for nonprofits that help address homelessness in this city.
  • Additional Code Compliance officers to inspect multi-family properties and deal with illegal dumping.
  • A $157 million plan to maintain street infrastructure.
  • Full staffing support for the new Office of Inspector General, which will monitor, investigate, and prosecute ethics complaints and corruption cases.
  • An expansion of hours of operation for libraries across the city.

This city has an incredibly bright future. And this budget can help address long-standing issues while building a city government that is as strong as the people of Dallas.

And while this year’s budget process is over, your feedback, as always, remains critical. The city manager and his team are now responsible for putting this document into action. The Dallas City Council must provide oversight. And there are many more policy discussions ahead that will shape next year’s budget.

But thanks for all your thoughts, and remember to stay engaged throughout the year!

Time to visit a Dallas park
At Pacific Plaza Park, kids can enjoy the new Juneteenth Story Walk.

The weather is cooling off, which means it’s the perfect time to enjoy a city park or trail. Here are a few things to consider this month:

At Pacific Plaza Park, kids can enjoy the new Juneteenth Story Walk. It was an honor to kick off the exhibit with the Grandmother of Juneteenth, Texas’ own Opal Lee.

At Fair Park, the great State Fair of Texas has officially begun! Check out the schedule here before you make your visit.

At Klyde Warren Park, it’s the 10th anniversary of the innovative park’s opening! Festivities are ongoing, and the exciting new Nancy Best Fountain is now open!

And the historic Cedar Crest Golf Course has officially reopened after the greens were replaced over the summer. A ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday at the course — a jewel of southern Dallas — helped kick off the 10th Annual Radio One Golf Classic, which benefits kids from Dallas’ underserved and overlooked communities through the I AM A Golfer Foundation.

Also, don’t forget to spend some time at a neighborhood park near you.

Parks and trails are critical to Dallas neighborhoods, and adding new green space will be vital to the city’s future.

And now that it’s October, here’s a question for you: Which park do you think should be the October Park of the Month, and why? Reply to this email with your nomination and thoughts!

That’s all for today. Be kind to each other, go get a corny dog with Big Tex, and have a great Red River Showdown Week in the City of Dallas!

Until next time,

DALLAS DISTRICT 4: The Next First is You!

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

By Carolyn King Arnold

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

To all Black people and specifically all Black women and women of color. Regardless of your age and current social economic status, with desire, imagination, faith and persistence all things are possible. This past week two firsts for Black women
took place, one nationally and one locally.

Nationally, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman placed on the highest court in America — she is now a Supreme Court Justice. Locally, thanks to my colleagues on the Dallas City Council I was voted in as Dallas’ first Black Woman Mayor Pro-Tem.

As Mayor Pro-Tem, in addition to fulfilling my normal duties as a member of the city council serving the residents of District 4, I assist the Mayor in carrying out the Mayoral responsibilities as well as assuming mayoral duties in his absence as the Mayor.

It was my desire and want to become an educator, earn a Doctorate degree, become President of a Homeowner Association and now serving my third term as a Dallas City Council person.

It was my imagination and the ability to confront problems that led to the organization of the District 4 Faith-Based Coalition, #Dallas365 Safe Initiative, Domestic Violence Awareness – It’s Not Your Fault, Knowledge is Power Partnership and D4 Youth GOTV activities.

It was my faith that gave me the confidence that helped earn me numerous honors and awards: Community Service Leader – National Council of Negro Women; Women of Wisdom Recognition and H.I. Holland Education Awards- Elite News; Community Service Leader – Gospel Connection Award; and Who’s Who in Black Dallas.

It is my persistence, the driving force behind my faith that assisted me to win the Dallas City Council seat on my first try, only to lose two years later and pick myself back up to win, that gave me the opportunity to achieve this astounding first.

I start each day with a plan of action making sure I end every day by accomplishing all things that could be accomplished that day. Yes, two firsts took place this past week but the next – first – is you “Black Women.”

Together we will transform today’s Dallas and specifically District 4 into a thriving district where jobs, community pride, respectable affordable housing and the essentials of quality of life are commonplace for all residents.

City of Dallas Adopts Resolution to Support a Free-Fare Student Transit Program; DART to Consider a Student Program

omar narvaez
omar narvaez

Dallas – The Dallas City Council approved a resolution in support of the development and implementation of a Student Transit Program offering free fares for kindergarten through twelfth grade students on DART’s bus and rail transit system. DART is in the early stages of researching this potential program. Omar Narvaez, District 6 Councilmember and Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the Dallas City Council, requested that the resolution be considered by the Council. It was unanimously supported by members of the Committee and 14-1 by the City Council.  

Chairman Narvaez said, “The potential for a free fare program for school-age children is something the City Council overwhelmingly supported. The opportunity to remove barriers to accessing school, work and extra-curricular could be transformative for our community. DART is working expeditiously to study the financial, operational, legal and security factors. I look forward to seeing the next steps when they are available.” 

DART has begun their preliminary discussions to vet a Student Transit Program in the context of their broader agency goals, which will be presented at a future date to be considered by the board of directors. “Board members Jon Killen and Hosanna Yemiru have been instrumental in bringing this idea forward for study. The agency will examine the pros and cons of a variety of student fare subsidy programs as part of our comprehensive fare policy study,” said DART Board Chair Michele Wong Krause.  

“As we build for our future, Dallas must strive to be a city of opportunity,” Mayor Eric Johnson said. “Providing free DART fares for schoolchildren could be a game-changer that would open a world of opportunities for them. I am grateful to Chairman Narvaez and the members of the Dallas City Council for supporting this important effort. We look forward to working with DART to make this happen for our kids.” 

The City of Dallas and DART continues to encourage everyone to take advantage of the existing fare discounts for students, seniors and individuals currently utilizing an assistance program. 

Dallas City Council votes to restrict sexually oriented business operating hours to reduce crime

Dallas City Council

DALLAS — The City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to restrict operating hours for sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) in an effort to reduce violent crime.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson

The new regulations require SOBs, which must be licensed to operate by the police department, to close between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. The SOBs will also be forbidden under the City Code from hiring or contracting with anyone under the age of 21. The latter change matches a new state law that is meant to combat human trafficking — a top priority of Mayor Eric Johnson.

Mayor Johnson had placed the proposal on the City Council’s agenda. Police Chief Eddie Garcia had recommended the changes to the City Code as part of his department’s violent crime reduction plan.

“This unanimous vote proves once again that public safety is our top priority,” Mayor Johnson said. “By restricting operating hours for these businesses, we are taking another step forward in our ‘kitchen sink’ approach to public safety that helped Dallas buck the national trends and reduce violent crime in 2021.

“And by continuing to follow the data and to look for solutions that reduce our reliance on our police department, as we have done today, I am confident that we can reach our goal of becoming the safest large city in the United States.”

The changes bring Dallas in line with other Texas cities — including El Paso, Fort Worth, Plano, and San Antonio — that have restricted operating hours for SOBs.

In Dallas, Chief Garcia formed a departmental task force in March 2021 to address frequent crime at SOBs. The task force’s work led to the recommendation to restrict operating hours.

City Councilmember Adam Bazaldua first introduced the proposal to the Dallas City Council in December. The Public Safety Committee, chaired by Adam McGough, voted in favor of the proposal and sent it to the full City Council for a briefing on Jan. 5.

Two days after the briefing, Mayor Johnson announced he would schedule a vote on the item for Jan. 26, giving City Councilmembers nearly three weeks to further assess the proposed changes to the City Code. At the time, the mayor said he supported the plan and that Chief Garcia “has done exactly what we have asked of him.”

“We have requested clear plans to address violent crime where it occurs. We have asked police commanders to make data-driven decisions. We have called for solutions that would alleviate the burdens on our police department by eliminating the need for a police response,” Mayor Johnson said. “This plan accomplishes all of those objectives.”

Adam Bazaldua
Adam Bazaldua

McGough and Bazaldua lauded the vote Wednesday.

“I’m appreciative of the mayor’s prioritization of public safety in our city,” said Chairman McGough. “Council’s unanimous vote to amend the Dallas City Code as recommended by Chief Garcia is encouraging news for Dallas residents and a win for public safety. The recommendation is data-driven, well-documented and makes common sense, and I’m proud my colleagues and I did our part to support the Dallas Police Department’s efforts to reduce violent crime in Dallas. Public-safety trends are moving in the right direction, and Chief Garcia and his team have made it clear that these amendments will enhance progress made since the initiation of the new violent crime reduction plan.”

“Today, we made an informed decision based on data and research,” said Chairman Bazaldua. “These changes are reasonable. We are prioritizing public safety for survivors of human trafficking, residents, and first responders during National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This crime reduction plan will help lessen our reliance on police resources and they will make our city safer. I am proud to have introduced this proposal, and I am grateful to Mayor Johnson, to Chief Garcia, and to my City Council colleagues for their attention to this issue and for their collective efforts to move our city forward.”

Mayor Eric Johnson Says Dallas Will Be Safest Big City in America

On November 17, 2021, Mayor Johnson gave his State of the City address to city officials and stakeholders. / Credit: Elias Valverde II, The Dallas Morning News, Staff Photographer

By City of Dallas, Office of 60th Mayor Eric Johnson

On November 17, 2021, Mayor Johnson gave his State of the City address to city officials and stakeholders. / Credit: Elias Valverde II,  The Dallas Morning News,  Staff Photographer
On November 17, 2021, Mayor Johnson gave his State of the City address to city officials and stakeholders. / Credit: Elias Valverde II, The Dallas Morning News, Staff Photographer

State of the City Address

SECTION I.

Madam Secretary, City Manager Broadnax, City Attorney Caso, City Auditor Swann, members of the Dallas City Council, I want to thank you for joining me this morning. I also want to thank the distinguished elected leaders who are in attendance today. It takes partnerships to get things done at every level of government, so I want to say that I appreciate you being here.

We’re gathered here today because the Dallas City Charter requires me, as your mayor, to update you all each year on the state of our great city and on our plans for its future. It is my distinct honor and privilege to do so today. This is a great tradition, one that dates back to at least 1875, when the mayor’s State of the City address was also delivered in the Dallas City Council chambers.

Today, we are at a turning point in our city’s history. And so far, this city council is on the right track. We’ve voted for a $4.3 billion budget that gets us back to basics, puts public safety first, and makes key investments in our neighborhoods and in our infrastructure.

And, in spite of all the unrelenting states of emergency of the past two years, I’m proud to say that the state of our city is stronger than ever.

But our work isn’t finished by any means. Our job now is to ensure that Dallas takes its rightful place as the undisputed premier city in the American southwest.

It won’t be easy. We have plenty of big city problems to address. But this isn’t just any big city. This is Dallas, Texas.

We’re not a city of destiny. We got to where we are today through hard work and determination. In Dallas, we roll up our sleeves and make our own luck. Every time our mettle has been tested, we’ve demonstrated incredible resilience, unshakeable resolve, and undeniable grit. That spirit will help us build for our future and navigate any difficulties on the road ahead.

I’m confident that we can accomplish great things together because we’ve set ourselves up for success during the past year. We’re being tough and smart on crime behind a new police chief with a new approach. We’ve forged public-private partnerships to build new parks, improve our libraries, and expand our arts and culture programming. We’ve passed a new comprehensive economic development policy that focuses on equity and innovation. And we’re discussing the most meaningful ethics reform proposal that has been put before the Dallas City Council in more than a decade — a decade that has been marked by serious questions and a series of federal corruption investigations that have brought shame on this institution.

The challenges and the opportunities of our times demand leadership, not passive stewardship. And for the sake of future generations, this City Council and our community partners must continue to work together. I know that we can, and I sincerely believe that we will.

SECTION II.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson
Mayor Eric Johnson, 60th Mayor of Dallas / Credit: City of Dallas

Five months ago, at the City Council inauguration, I spoke about the need for our city to get back to basics. And as I mentioned, in our recently passed budget, we did just that.

Our top priority in this budget is, without a doubt, public safety — the most basic service a city government can provide. I’m thrilled to say that this City Council has made a greater commitment to keeping our neighborhoods safe than any other City Council in recent history.

It was a necessary commitment to meet the needs of a growing city. Dallas’ population increased by 9 percent in the last decade. Only two other top 10 American cities experienced faster growth during that time. But as our population increased, our police department decreased by hundreds of officers — the result of a pension crisis that will again demand our attention, and the support of the state legislators in this room, very soon. And with a smaller police department, crime became a bigger problem. Response times lagged. Our neighborhoods felt less safe.

Thankfully, Police Chief Eddie Garcia has given us a data-driven, community-based, and resource-conscious violent crime reduction plan. And it’s working. It’s still early, but the turnaround is remarkable. Before Chief Garcia got here, there was a lot of pointing at national trends and throwing up of hands by our police department leadership.

But now, we’re bucking those trends, and we’re leading the nation. While other cities across the country are still struggling to slow violence, crime in Dallas is going down.

Our City Council has given Chief Garcia the resources he needs to sustain that success with an “all-of-the-above” blueprint. We committed to hiring 500 officers over the next two years. We’ve made sure we’re paying our first responders at the market rate. And, critically, we also provided our police commanders with the resources they need to fight crime. With new squad cars and a restored overtime budget, we can address some of our residents’ most pressing concerns, such as domestic violence, illegal street racing, and violent incidents in our entertainment districts.

Of course, public safety is about more than law enforcement. It’s also about creating opportunities, offering quality services, and strengthening neighborhoods.

I’m pleased to say we are also continuing to fund and expand our nationally recognized programs that help us properly address mental health emergencies. At the neighborhood level, the programs recommended by my Task Force on Safe Communities are eliminating blight, dispatching community-based violence interrupters, and bringing long overdue street-lighting improvements to high-crime areas. And, through Dallas Works, my summer jobs program for Dallas youth, we put nearly 1,000 of our young people to work last summer, allowing them to earn money and to stay out of trouble.

By continuing and expanding these programs, and by providing a major boost to our police department, we’re sending an unmistakable message: If you live in Dallas, we’re committed to ensuring that you live in the safest large city in America.

SECTION III.

Without safety, we can’t expect people to thrive. And if our people can’t thrive, we’ll miss opportunities to compete economically in the years ahead.

I want to be clear: Dallas is an economic success story. But we have much more work to do. The economic playing field has been changing. And while we’ve long known that we’re competing nationally with other major cities, we’ve been slower to recognize the serious challenges in our own backyard.

The cities that we used to call our “bedroom communities” have caught us napping over the years. And every time we’ve rested on our laurels, our regional competitors have lured away residents and businesses with the promise of better schools, better infrastructure, better amenities, lower crime rates, and lower taxes.

While Dallas has continued to attract Fortune 500 companies, such as CBRE and AECOM, we can do so much more to ensure we get our fair share of the new workers, new businesses, and new development that is coming into this region.

Now, it’s important for me to say this: there is value in regional approaches to solving our common problems.

For example, look at our city’s $25 million contribution to a regional effort to reduce homelessness, championed on this council by our Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee Chairman Casey Thomas. Programs like this demonstrate what is possible when we work together.

But, as a philosophy for economic development, regionalism will leave Dallas in the dust of new construction to the north.

It’s time to assert ourselves more aggressively. Dallas is the economic engine of this region, and we need to start acting like it.

We can do so in six significant ways.

First, we need to keep cutting our property tax rate. We just reduced the city’s tax rate for the sixth-straight year. We should be proud of that. But I know we can do even better for our homeowners and our small businesses who have been pressured by valuations that rise endlessly, forcing them to make sacrifices to pay the rent or pay the mortgage. The people of our city, and the businesses that employ them, need tax relief.

Second, we need to move thoughtfully, but swiftly, to create an economic development corporation that serves the City of Dallas and encourages growth in southern Dallas. I trust that our esteemed Economic Development Committee Chairman, Tennell Atkins, will help us move forward with this new entity — the centerpiece of our comprehensive economic development policy.

Third, we need to boost our efforts to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that can give us an edge over our regional competitors and put Dallas in the national conversation about tech hubs. Dallas was built on innovative thinking, and we have every right to be considered an entrepreneurial city. With the help of my newly appointed entrepreneur-in-residence, Nina Vaca, we can ensure that Dallas attracts new capital and earns the attention befitting the city that brought the world the microchip and helped usher in the tech revolution.

Fourth, we need to put our city on the international stage. Dallas is already an international city with a diverse population, major attractions, and two world-class airports. But we can do more to promote our unique assets, enhance our global business ties, and bring in more international tourism. We’re bidding to host the 2026 World Cup, and I’m working closely with my International Advisory Council and its chair, Ambassador Jeanne Phillips, to bring new foreign trade offices to Dallas. Our world is increasingly interconnected, and we need to be at the forefront of the global economy.

Fifth, as we look to attract visitors, we need to modernize the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. It’s a vital asset that can help us attract visitors and business from all over the world. But it’s also critical to redeveloping downtown. As it stands now, the convention center is an albatross.

Rather than connecting the development of the Cedars and the Main Street corridor, which now features the incredible AT&T Discovery District, the convention center is a barrier — a dividing line, rather than a welcoming place.

We should take advantage of this game-changing opportunity to improve our convention center and open up land nearby for dense, walkable urban development.

But let’s also stand firm on this point: public amenities — such as park space and public transportation — should be deemed essential to this project. The convention center and surrounding district should provide an unforgettable experience for our out-of-town visitors, but it should also serve as a magnet for people in this city and throughout this region.

SECTION IV.

Sixth, and most importantly to me, we have to think more about economic development in terms of whether we’re doing enough to empower our residents.

For as long as I can remember, the health of the Dallas economy has been judged in terms of real estate deals or the number of jobs we bring in from someplace else. And to be sure, both are important. Development is critical to growing our city’s tax base.

But, to truly build for our city’s future, and specifically for the future of southern Dallas, we have to start thinking more about the people who can fill those jobs — the people who already call our city home.

I’m talking about working people who want good jobs with decent wages so they can afford to live in nice, safe homes. I’m talking about families who struggle to scratch out an honest living in an economy that has gone through extraordinary upheaval since they left high school. And I’m talking about parents like mine, who were willing to work day and night to put food on the table for their family but had no real options for improving their careers, other than to just keep moving forward, no matter what.

Workforce development is one of the most important and least discussed issues of our time. We’re going to start talking about it a lot more. I’m excited to announce that, tomorrow, we will officially release our new report on workforce development.

This report is the result of months of research and conversations with experts and partners in our community. The Workforce, Education, and Equity Committee, led by Chairwoman Jaynie Schultz, will be briefed on the report, which includes recommendations such as new formal agreements and the creation of a new navigation tool that can point people toward upskilling programs.

I look forward to naming a new workforce czar by early next year to help us implement these recommendations, and I’m willing to dedicate discretionary American Rescue Plan Act funds to help implement them.

With this plan, we can prove once again that the American Dream is alive and well in Dallas.

But people need more than economic opportunities. The pandemic put an inordinate amount of pressure on our families. For my own family, our parks, trails, libraries, and cultural offerings have been a godsend.

Throughout our city, we’re creating partnerships that are great for our families. The Park and Recreation Department’s Teen All-Access Pass provided cultural experiences for thousands of young people this summer. We’ve added more than 11 miles of new trails in the last two years, and we’re building more. We’ve opened five new parks and broken ground on several others in that same span, and we’ll be announcing another new park in the coming weeks. We’ve opened, upgraded, and renovated our rec centers, aquatic centers, and libraries. And we’ve improved our programming, such as SMART Summer, my summer reading program, which saw a 30% increase in registration this year.

We still have more room for growth on all of these fronts. Another important way we can become more family friendly is by tapping into our past as we build for our future.

Throughout our history, Dallas has served as a launching pad to famed entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes, and public servants.

We’ve made some progress in recognizing and preserving our history. But before the last few years, it feels like we hardly ever talked about some of our hometown heroes, hidden places, and our many contributions to the world. It took far too long to get a sculpture honoring blues legends Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan in Kiest Park, near where they grew up. We’ve done very little as a city to highlight people like baseball Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks, who attended Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas, or legendary Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson, who went to Skyline High School in Pleasant Grove.

And strangely, we’ve done nothing at all to recognize Dallas-native Tom C. Clark, who served as our nation’s Attorney General and went on to spend the better part of two decades as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court — including sitting on the court that unanimously struck down public school racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education.

Looking back isn’t really the Dallas way. And I get why. In Dallas, we prefer to look forward. That’s great, but we’re missing out on both tourism dollars and the chance to create educational and family-friendly programming for our city.

That’s why next year, I will launch a new initiative called Dallas Is For Families. To start this work, I intend to put together a task force that will recommend ways we can create, enhance, and promote our programming, infrastructure, and policies aimed at families.

I will also want them to work with our Quality of Life, Arts, & Culture Committee Chairman, Adam Bazaldua, who, like me, has a young family, and understands the importance of catering to these families in order to keep them in our city.

I realize that schools are perhaps the biggest factor in attracting and keeping young families here in Dallas. And we don’t have much say in K-through-12 education at City Hall. But we can and must do everything in our power to make Dallas the safest, most vibrant, and most fun city in Texas for families.

SECTION V.

As we enact our agenda — the agenda of the people of Dallas — accountability is paramount. The City Council’s votes on policies and plans are only as good as their implementation.

Dallas City Hall has become a bit notorious over the years for making plans that sit on shelves. In the past few years, however, that criticism no longer applies. Our Task Force on Safe Communities policies and our Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan prove that, with the help of fierce advocacy from this council, we can turn ideas and plans into reality.

We’ve made more plans in this year’s budget. We’ve allocated money for more police officers, more 911 call takers, and more Code Compliance officers. We’ve dedicated tens of millions of dollars to neighborhood revitalization efforts, homelessness services, street resurfacing, sidewalk repairs, and to bringing broadband to our underserved communities to close the digital divide.

And we’ve taken steps to improve our sanitation services to ensure that garbage is collected on time.

Through our committees, the City Council must monitor our progress and ensure that our city bureaucracy is coming up with ways to fix issues that have lingered for far too long.

There have been many. As we know, issues with our data and software management have threatened our ability to administer fire and ambulance services and have called into question the integrity of our criminal investigations.

We should also never have to hear about our permitting operations at the City Council level, and yet, permitting has achieved a level of infamy among people doing business with the city, posing an existential threat to our city’s growth.

While we’ve struggled at times with these basics, our government has continued to grow, taking on new responsibilities without ever truly considering what we should stop doing.

Today, I am asking our Government Performance & Financial Management Committee, led by our intrepid Chairwoman Cara Mendelsohn, to develop a sunset review process for our city departments, offices, and programs.

It simply cannot be the case that every part of our city government should be allowed to grow indefinitely. This new process for periodically reviewing city departments will help us eliminate waste, materially reduce our tax rate, and modernize our services.

This oversight is key to improving our city government. It’s become clear to me, after nearly a decade in the Legislature and more than two years here, that a sunset review process can help us at Dallas City Hall.

We also have to hold ourselves accountable. To be a truly great city, this City Council must pass meaningful ethics reform.

Ethical behavior is the foundation of everything we do in this building. That is why I have put before the City Council a proposal from a task force of experts to reform our ethics code.

This new policy promotes a culture of ethics and compliance, and it will show the people of Dallas that their best interests are our only interests.

The centerpiece of the proposal, which makes our ethics code simpler and easier to comply with, is the creation of an Office of the Inspector General. This new office would weed out frivolous complaints that waste our time, but also thoroughly investigate serious allegations that lay waste to our city government’s credibility.

I’ve asked Councilmember Paula Blackmon to spearhead this effort. She has extensive experience in government, including as part of the last major effort to overhaul our city’s ethics code.

I should also mention how impressed I’ve been with our new councilmembers — Paul Ridley, Gay Willis, Jesse Moreno, and Jaynie Schultz — for their commitment to accountability.

Now is the time for the Dallas City Council to come together to pass a common-sense ethics policy our city so desperately needs.

SECTION VI.

I realize that what I’ve laid out today is an ambitious agenda for the year ahead, one that is supplemented by other priorities I will provide to our committee chairs. Things like bringing back scooters, which I like. Or dredging White Rock Lake, which I want to do. Or creating new policies to make it easier to operate food trucks, which I really can’t enjoy on my diet.

But, we’ve already come a long way in a short time.

Last year, in my State of the City address, I chose to speak at the beautiful, historic, and newly renovated Hall of State. I wanted to mark the beginning of a new era at Fair Park — one in which we could honor our past while we looked to build a place for all the people of Dallas to enjoy.

Unfortunately, like so many other events during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to give the address virtually.

About two months later, that same building, like so many of our homes and businesses, was flooded. February’s awful, devastating deep freeze burst our pipes, destroyed many of our homes and businesses, and left us feeling hopeless and alone. The most vulnerable among us were, as always, the most heavily impacted.

But eventually, the darkness receded. The sun came up again in Dallas. The power returned. And what we saw in the following days was the people of Dallas rallying around each other. Volunteers, including city councilmembers and our board and commission appointees, gave out water and supplies to the families who so desperately needed them.

More than $1 million of donations poured into the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund — most of it thanks to our home team, the Dallas Mavericks. Grants quickly went out to dozens of organizations that work, day in and day out, to make Dallas a better place.

The darkness we endured revealed a shining bright spot, an undeniable truth: if you live in Dallas, you’re never alone. You’ll always have a community behind you.

Our city’s not perfect. We have some historical mistakes to rectify, many ongoing problems to tackle, and growing pains to endure.

But our mistakes, our problems, our anxieties — they don’t define us. What cynics, naysayers, and doom-scrollers often don’t see clearly is the indomitable spirit of our city.

I’ve seen Dallas change over my lifetime — 46 years now. I’ve watched our city become more caring, more inclusive, and more cognizant of how we develop and grow.

Dallas, the city built for business, is becoming a city defined by its diversity and its compassion.

As someone who was born and raised in Dallas, as someone who has called this city home for my entire life, and as someone who is raising three children here, I’ve never been more optimistic about our future.

That’s because of many of the people in this room, but it’s also because of the people of Dallas — people who might never come down to City Hall, or even give much thought to what we do here, but who nonetheless want what’s best for their families and their community.

If we continue to get back to basics here at City Hall, and if we continue to build for our future, we can trust that the people of Dallas will take it from there, and that they’ll roll up their sleeves and make their own luck.

Thank you all, again, for being here with me today. May God bless you all, and may God bless the great city of Dallas.

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