This month’s referendum to decide whether to increase the City’s sale tax rate to fund Fair Park improvements is more than just a vote on fixing up the park.

It’s an opportunity for those of us in the neighborhoods to decide if we want to put up with business as usual – and it’s a business, as we have seen repeatedly, that doesn’t want us as customers.

The City doesn’t want to raise taxes by one-quarter of one percent to repair streets or add bicycle police officers or do something to get the homeless off the streets or tear down vacant houses or enforce building code violations.

The City – in this case, a majority vote of the City Council that included each of the East Dallas’ three council members, as well as Mayor Steve Bartlett – wants to raise our taxes so Dallas can dazzle the world as a World Cup soccer tournament host city.

This hardly seems like brilliant urban planning. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense considering how Dallas’ governing elite makes decisions. They will choose the spectacle over the practical every time, as they have shown consistently over the past decade.

Consider, for example, the on-again, off-again push to build a Downtown mall. Instead of spending money for retail development in the neighborhoods – Has anyone suggested granting property tax abatements to encourage shop owners to go into empty strip malls? – a succession of councils, mayors and city managers has pursued the Downtown mall.

This is a pipe dream, spelled with a capital P and a capital D. Even if it is ever built, it will result in a little more than tax breaks for developers, some minimum-wage jobs in gift boutiques, and more parking lots built Downtown in anticipation of the suburbanites who won’t come.

I would rather give a small business owner a tax concession to enable him to open a free-standing drug store (of which there is all of one in East Dallas in an area south of Mockingbird Lane, between North Central Expressway and White Rock Lake) than give someone such as Trammell Crow more money to construct yet another empty building.

There is no question Fair Park needs renovation, but I’m not convinced Fair Park is the real reason for this referendum. Yes, Fair Park is, to paraphrase the editorialists at Dallas’ Only Metropolitan Newspaper, the city’s crown jewel.

But there are plenty of questions about whether this is the time or the place or the way to renovate Fair Park.

For if Fair Park is so damned important, why did the City’s governing elite wait until now, when Dallas is broke and the library has to send begging notes in our water bills, to decide to tax us for its repair? Why didn’t anybody notice Fair Park was falling down a decade ago, when the City had money to burn?

There are any number of reasons, and since this is Dallas, most of them have to do with money. In the ’80s, there was more money to be made developing North Dallas and the suburbs than in wasting time with those of us down here. After all, how many times could the Cotton Bowl be flipped?

Today, though, when real estate is a federal offense and Dallas may be the largest city in the country without a locally owned major bank, the Cotton Bowl looks a lot better. That, perhaps more than anything else that has happened since the boom days ended, is an indication of just how bad things really are. The governing elite is so desperate to convince us that the situation isn’t as horrible as it is that they are willing to invest money in the inner city.

Their battle cry is: “Don’t worry, be happy – Fair Park will become Epcot Center!”

“I’ve got a battle cry for them: “Millions for pot holes – not one penny for soccer games!”

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