The Accidental Activist: Who Is Jonas Park?

Jonas Park_2014-1-2He’s a quiet, almost shy young man who was born in Korea and came to the United States to study in 1991. Jonas Park lives in East Dallas and has emerged as the leader of a small activist group not happy that a Sam’s Wholesale Club is moving into their neighborhood.

“The last thing I think of myself as is an activist,” says Jonas, “but I love my neighborhood. I was one of the first ones to move into a new house here because I believe in this neighborhood.”

Jonas works as an art director and set designer. He teaches what he calls “donation yoga” at his home, for free, and teaches professional yoga classes at the Joule Hotel, Exhale Mind & Body Spa, and other locations across Dallas. He first heard of the Sam’s Club moving into his neighborhood through NextDoor, a private social network that connects neighbors to promote neighborhood cohesiveness and communications.

East Dallas, says Jonas, is changing. When he first moved to Rusk Court in 1998, they used to hear gunshots all the time, he told me. Now “young white women jog the neighborhood”, he says, because the Dallas police are on top of crime, and the neighborhood is changing. For the better, says Jonas. He and others do not want to see it take a step backwards.

His mother is Japanese, his father was Korean and died when Jonas was two years old. He has three sisters and brothers. His mother came from an affluent family, his father was more of an intellectual; their’s was an arranged marriage, he told me. Hard work and education were paramount in his family. After his father died, his mother ran a Japanese restaurant in Korea and he worked in the restaurant from the time he was 8 years old.

“We were pretty middle class,” says Jonas.

He told me about the shoes Korean children wear: leather (the finest), sneakers or rubber shoes.

“It was my mother’s pride that we never wore rubber shoes,” he says.

Academically gifted, Jonas graduated #27 out of his high school class of 700 and finally, after a stint in the Korean army and some work, made it to Fresno, California to study English on a full scholarship. He ended up in San Diego at Mesa College for two years with a 4.0 average, he says. In San Diego, he also fell in love.

Then he got bored living in San Diego. Bored in San Diego?.

“Everything was so perfect: same perfect wealthy beautiful people,” he says. “I didn’t want to become one of them.”

So… he looked at a map and found Texas, where his partner had family. The University of North Texas at Denton seemed to be close enough to Dallas, so he applied and got in. At the age of 25 he moved to Denton with his partner, bought a house, and Texas became their home.

No MegastoreI tell you Jonas’ story because the current malcontent over the Sam’s Wholesale Club going up at Cityplace is a real estate story. It’s a commercial real estate story, obviously, and there is the whole sub-plot of how the zoning got through, was it above board, was it just sloppy, or what. But what means more to me as a real estate reporter is what this development means to the homeowners who live in the neighborhood, people like Jonas who invested their hard-earned money in a dream of home ownership, a dream I very much believe in. People living around this site, and the developers coming in, are now terrified that their investments may be in jeopardy.

Buying real estate is very much a huge part of the American Dream. These are real people with good hearts, like Jonas.

While living in Denton, Jonas’ partner became ill and sadly, died.  How to heal a loss? Fall in love with a house. Jonas searched and found his East Dallas neighborhood. What appealed to him about this area in 1998?

“I always see the silver lining,” he told me. “Friends call me the “yellow Pollyanna”.

Jonas, like his neighbors, saw the potential for a thriving urban neighborhood. So he plunked down the money he had on his 1581 square foot townhome with a current DCAD appraised value of $230,000.

“The last couple years, crime has really decreased,” says Jonas, ” the City has made the area so liveable. There are signs of progress. People here all bought their places thinking more residential would be coming in.”

Then comes Sam’s.

I asked him what he fears the most. Jonas rattled off his list:

-decreased property values

-increased crime rate

-trucks operating all day and increased traffic in the neighborhood

-it’s a  bad, anti-growth move for the City of Dallas

“This Sam’s will be like a landfill,” he says. “I asked the Trammell Crow people, how would you like it if they put a landfill in your neighborhood, across the street from your home?”

In fact, Jonas went over to the existing Sam’s Wholesale Club on Northwest Highway at Abrams, and took photos of all the trash in the parking lot.

True story here: I was once terrified, and almost pecked, by the grackles at that Sam’s Club — they are aggressive grackles who thrive upon all the food tossed in the parking lot, and they emit a freaky Hitchcock-esque “The Birds” vibe.

Well, Saturday Jonas went over to film the trash in the parking lot, he was approached and stopped by Sam’s security who accused him of taking photos of license plates.

“He told me I was scaring people and they were reporting to him.  I asked him who were the people complaining and I said no way how I was scaring people. He proceeded to tell me I was “legally detained” and must produce my ID. I was shaken and taken aback. He was an off duty police working for the Sam’s Club.”

 

I’m sure they were just doing their jobs, but maybe Sam’s security could also stop people from dumping trash while they are stopping photographers?

When he first heard about the Sam’s Club coming to his neighborhood, Jonas says he thought it was a spoof. Are we not going to do anything about this, he asked? He drafted a petition on Change.org, contacted some friends and neighbors including an attorney, Alex More, got to Channel 8 through William Moore, who owns some skin laser clinics in the area, who brought out David Schector and, soon, the rest of the media. Then came the stickers and signs and they went to City hall to try and stop the vote — it was detained for one month.

“Then I felt, oh my God, what have I done? I have no intentions of being an activist! But no one was doing it, so I had to do something.”

As for Sam’s, despite the dirty parking lots, Jonas does not dislike Sam’s at all.

“We are not opposing Sams,” he told me, ” We are opposing a megastore coming here and not taking care of the neighborhood.”

The developer and Sam’s could do plenty to mitigate what has happened, to be a good neighbor. Jonas’ ideas include having no surface parking, jogging trails, maybe even build a small community center for the neighborhood.

“I think they should move the store to the center more, not have it in the back,” says Jonas. “We fear the crime rate will skyrocket.”

And… maybe compensate local residents for lost real estate values?

“The Trammell Crow people originally said it was going to be an East Village high density development,” says Jonas. “Now they say it will be the number one money-making Sam’s in the country.”

Indeed, a report in The Huffington Post indicates that sales at Sam’s are down .05% from last year, and Costco is beating them, mostly because Costco shoppers tend to be more affluent while Sam’s caters to the lower income financially suffering consumer, like Walmart.

“What if they make it the best Sam’s, a more user friendly store?” says Jonas, the yellow Pollyanna.

“All we want is for them to be a good neighbor.”

5 Comment

  • Candy, great story! Meeting Jonas and others from his neighborhood has made me smile — they are just what Dallas needs and they are representative of what’s happening in neighborhoods throughout the inner core of Dallas. A new generation ready to change the way things have happened for generations is taking root. And it makes my heart flutter!

    • mm

      I know! He just got to me! I am in Houston and cannot believe the growth this city has seen since I was last here like 20 years ago… high rises and offices and they tell me so many young people are moving here they cannot build apartments fast enough. So what do we do in Dallas? Build a Sam’s WC Club! ARRRRGH! They have highways and traffic, sure, but they also have light rail and a great bus system. Thank God for Jonas and his contemporaries and my kids, they make me believe in the future of Dallas and I will support them all I can!

  • Candy, Thank you for the great story. I am humbled and ever so hopeful we will see the bright light. I hope more citizen would be actively engaged in civic and community duties.

  • Sure everything is so much better now that white women can jog, such bullshit. I bet this guy only dates white girls. Good lunch with your yuppie activism

  • How modest of Mr. Park that he didn’t want to become one of the perfect, wealthy, beautiful people of San Diego…

    Give us a break.