Now that restaurants and bars are reopening, so will one of our favorite pastimes. No, not professional sports. I’m talking about complaining about potholes, congestion, and the other acts of simple maintenance our city routinely falls short on.
Since Austin is unwilling cease donor brown-nosing and close a 20-year property tax loophole that almost exclusively benefits commercial real estate owners, we must again, do it ourselves. (Ya know, since we won’t vote out the idiots in Austin who keep the loophole open that costs the state billions in tax revenue annually.)
Equally at issue is the opacity of taxing in general. We pay and things happen. But are they the things residents would prioritize? Unlikely, but it’s all part of societal good (i.e. the childless paying for schools). But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way neighborhoods could have more say in fixing some of their pet projects?
Synchronized Traffic Signals
Several weeks (or maybe months – who knows anymore), I recall hearing D14 council member David Blewett say that synchronizing traffic signals throughout his district would cut a good amount of pollution. Oak Lawnians, Uptownies, and those who traverse these areas know that Powerball has better odds than a driver getting two green intersections in a row. This is because the underlying traffic control system is probably older than your grandparents and equally difficult to teach new tricks to.
The benefits are at least two-fold. Besides the obvious cleaner air, there’s the time savings for drivers. I know this first hand. During the Preston Center area plan debacle and subsequent PD-15 nightmare, TXDoT synchronized all the traffic signals along Northwest Highway. The effect was immediate and almost celebratory. I recall actually traveling Northwest Highway from the Athena to Lemmon/Marsh without stopping.
If time = money, then money spent can equal time saved. I know I’d pay cash money if the signal at Oak Lawn and Scottish Rite Way only turned red when there was a car waiting to turn left (almost never).
Come Fund Us
Of course there’s not enough money in the city coffers, but I suspect a huge amount of support from roadway users in Oak Lawn and Uptown. I propose some type of Gofundme campaign to raise monies for specific projects residents value. Certainly within D14 there are a number of forums capable of measuring and prioritizing these initiatives – Oak Lawn Committee, The Uptown Neighborhood Association (TUNA), and Uptown Dallas spring to mind. In D13 (Preston Hollow), the right dinner party would about cover it.
There could be all manner of fundraising opportunities. I recall WFAA’s sportscaster Dale Hansen donating dinners in his home for Black Tie Dinner auctions that generated thousands. It’s funny, as I write this, I’m racking my brain to think of who I’d pay to meet – zip. I can see myself thanking Mark Cuban for his 2016 donation of $1 million to Dallas Police to combat anti-LGBT violence or asking developer Mehrdad Moayedi who made his dining room chandelier. But I can’t imagine the experience being anything but a contrived meeting of strangers-before and strangers-after. (Yes, I’ve supped at Moayedi’s home, but never met him – let your imagination run wild.)
And remember, the city always has some money, it’s just never enough. So really this type of campaign is more about making up a shortfall than expecting total direct resident funding.
If campaigns like this were successful it would help city leaders better understand what’s really important to the plurality of their constituents. This might affect how budgets are allocated and provide various rallying cries in political elections.
I wonder if such a system had been in place would Reverchon Park become the debacle it has? Would a bluntly transparent city government – “if we can’t raise $X for Reverchon, we’ll be forced to privatize it which will result in “Z” impacts” – have changed the outcome?
On the downside, the city might feel it paints them as desperate. I’d urge them to resist this thinking (But you are, Blanche, you are desperate). If these projects get successfully funded, it might chip away at the mountain of lapsed maintenance and infrastructure that might similarly chip away at our need for bond money to pay for maintenance.
Mitigating The Dangers
As always, there are dangers to be aware of. Getting wealthier citizens to partly fund pet projects is a lot more likely than those without the means to similarly self-fund. So inherent in any Gofundme-type of campaign must be that a certain percentage goes for projects in poorer parts of the city – where infrastructure and maintenance are always worse.
A campaign like this can also create donor fatigue if it is non-stop. I’d suggest a single project per district per year. And who knows, maybe some of those billions lost in commercial real estate property tax dodging would get donated if those dodgers could slap an ad on a filled pothole. And really, doesn’t it seem like the less corporate tax collected the more money they have to slap their names on things that never needed corporate support before?