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….Behind the Curtain


By D. Hughes – The good folks in Arlington got the new Dallas Cowboys stadium for their trouble.  You know, the trouble of losing their homes and land so that the new stadium could be built.  The high price of eminent domain (those two rascally words that enable a government entity to come in and stake its claim on your land) was crystal clear then – some families would lose their homes but Arlington would gain a beloved football stadium.  

Not exactly the best love story, well maybe for some, but not too shabby of a deal, right? But what about the folks in East Dallas who are currently entangled in an eminent domain battle with the Dallas Independent School District?  How do they stand to benefit?  What exactly will the residents of East Dallas gain from the cost of dislodging homeowners and businesses from its community?  

Although DISD has so far refused to hand over any actual plans, it has been kind enough to inform the community that they will be getting a hefty tax bill to the tune of $22 million dollars in order to build a new elementary school.  Next to a highway with approved plans for major expansion.  Despite the fact that DISD already owns property with ample space for a new school just a few blocks away from said expanding highway.  

Oh, and let's just forget about that awkward issue regarding the $2.6 million dollars of taxpayer money already spent to renovate the very school DISD now claims is unsuitable for its students.  Huh.  I suppose it's no shock that the community members are pretty peeved about it, to say the least. DISD is using the guise of eminent domain to hoard some land, which, sadly, is not hard for it to do since it is a public entity.  

DISD says the community needs a new O.M. Roberts Elementary school primarily due to the school's overpopulation.  However, DISD's Board of Trustee Bernadette Nutall has recently confirmed that O.M. Roberts is not overpopulated.  In fact, she has determined that O.M. Roberts is underpopulated.  

Ms. Nutall is also, out of the kindness of her own heart, attempting to determine how that $2.6 million in renovation money was actually spent.  And what clouds the issue even more are those pesky plans being floated around about the construction of townhouses at the exact same location DISD supposedly wants to build a new school.  You know, townhouses for when that major highway expands.  

Right, then.  It's no wonder the community of East Dallas thinks DISD is being disingenuous.  Maybe because it is. So, the big question on the community's mind is this:  What exactly is DISD's plan and how is it going to benefit the public?  

Instead of doing a better job with its budget and running its schools like a good little school district should, DISD seems to be on a mission to waste taxpayer money by flexing its muscle through the use of eminent domain, all in a noticeable attempt to simply acquire property it doesn't need for a new school it hasn't committed to building.  Not to mention DISD's low-balling tactics in acquiring that property.  

Yep, nothing like using the all-time low economy to spoil a neighborhood's good source of economic stimulus.  Way to keep the economy down, DISD.  That should earn you better press.  

At the very least, DISD should be forthcoming about what the community stands to gain by kicking out stable families and thriving businesses as a result of its eminent domain lawsuit.  Isn't that what the residents of East Dallas voted for? Thankfully, the residents of East Dallas are no shrinking violets.  They are pushing back hard against DISD's eminent domain strategy and are looking for support from whatever resources they can get, and these residents have certainly earned their stripes through challenge.

Take the Garrett family, for example.  Back in the 1960's, when their children were still young, Mr. and Mrs. Garrett fulfilled their American dream when they bought a house on Gurley Street and made it their home.  The Garrett family, like many other Americans, faced their own set of difficulties in keeping their dream intact and hard work was not a stranger to them.  As one of the first African American families to purchase a home in the East Dallas area, they faced challenges others never had to.  

The Garrett children were the first African Americans to attend O.M. Roberts Elementary.  One can imagine how that might have been for the family, especially in the 1960's when the heartbeat of prejudice was a coronary in the making.  But the Garrett family stayed the course, became active members of the community and have made East Dallas their home for almost 50 years.  Through hard work and perseverance, the Garrett family now owns their house free and clear of mortgage, and DISD, for the sake of a maybe plan for a new school, is trying to gut them out of their savings.

Then there's the Lozano family.  Yet another family's livelihood being threatened with eminent domain proceedings by DISD.  Their home, located on Philip Street, was a classic fixer upper when they moved to the area in 1970.  Mr. and Mrs. Lozano saw the house's potential and believed that with some TLC the house would make a great home.  Shortly after purchasing the house, Mr. Lozano began a daily regime of renovation.  He would wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day and work on the house until his regular work day began at 11:00 a.m.  The pride of ownership still shines to this day.  

As the first Mexican-American family in the neighborhood, the Lozano's have also had to overcome many challenges.  Today, they too own their home outright. In fact, many of the homeowners targeted by DISD's land grab are not entangled in the current housing crisis that many of our country's neighborhoods are facing.  

Most of them are retired, senior citizens, and/or disabled, who own their houses free and clear of the banking industry's grip.  Not only did they work hard and play by the rules to accomplish such a feat, they remain actively involved in giving back to their community in many ways, including paying their property taxes, shopping at the local businesses, volunteering, and voting.

Those homeowners are not the only ones being forced out by DISD's eminent domain lawsuit.  The Vickery Wholesale, which is a flourishing business and has been in the East Dallas neighborhood for almost 60 years, is also being forced out by means of eminent domain.  

The Vickery is owned and operated by Mr. Pat Berry, who joins the strong opposition to DISD's actions.  Not only does The Vickery stimulate the economy in the East Dallas area, it also sustains employment for 24 of its residents.  If DISD is successful in taking the land The Vickery is currently on, Mr. Berry will have no choice but to close its doors for good, which will, of course, create an adverse affect on the 3,000 plus customers, his hardworking employees, and the community as a whole.

One might argue that DISD would not be stockpiling the land for free.  Well, sure.  The homeowners and businesses will be compensated for the loss of their property – at 2009 appraisal rates (not fair market value), which are at record lows, if they're lucky.  

The residents will be on their own for any relocation expenses.  Oh, and then there's the high probability of being forced to take on a new mortgage since what little money the residents receive in return for their land will not be enough to cover the total cost of another house.  That is, of course, if they can qualify for a new mortgage, what with the banks being so generous these days.  Gosh, why wouldn't those retired, senior citizen, and/or disabled residents of East Dallas be excited about starting all over again with a brand spankin' new mortgage and home, all for what again?  

Oh, that's right.  They really don't know.  They only know it's going to cost a lot more in tax dollars.  And then, as the ultimate thank you, DISD will move to collect on that whopping $22 million dollar tax bill (plus eviction costs, thank you very much) from its remaining taxpayers.  Hmm.  Does anyone else see something wrong with DISD's "plan" and its use of eminent domain, or is it just me and my silly 'ol cynicism? Yeah, they may call it eminent domain, but it just seems like theft. Feel free to find out more by contacting DISD's Board of Trustee Bernadette Nutall at 972-925-3700.  Maybe her office can share what DISD's "plan" actually is and how much it's going to really cost the taxpayers.

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