As I write this, I’ve just gotten home after another round trip from East Dallas to downtown, first down Live Oak in the morning and then back up Gaston in the evening. I’m not much of a complainer, but the condition of a lot of our neighborhood streets is so bad you could describe it as tragicomic — you don’t know whether to cry out of frustration or laugh at how farcical it is.

You can’t blame this Council for it — it’s more like 10 or 15 years of penny-wise, pound-foolish deferred maintenance. Of course, the word “deferred” would imply that it would actually be done at some point. So here we are in 2003 with Live Oak and a lot of our other neighborhood streets looking like a patchwork of asphalt humps, steel plates, block-long cracks and seams, uneven patches of concrete, and new bad patches on top of the old bad patches.

So what?

I’m glad you asked. Taken a ride in North Dallas lately, on Forest, Royal, Inwood, Hillcrest or any of the others? My very unscientific observation is that those streets seem to be in a lot better shape than our streets. Could it be that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, or that the Council districts with more political and economic clout get to go to the head of the line?

Which brings me to today’s topic, that of our upcoming bond election. By the time you read this, the Council will have voted on the size of the May bond election package. I’m not at all sure I would have advised them to put it on the same ballot as Council elections, but word was that they were going to stick to that schedule, the only question being the size of the package.

The “needs list” for the whole city runs to several billion dollars, while the bond package looked like it might go as high as $600 million. Everyone’s leery of going higher — despite the truly serious needs and the further deferral of already-deferred necessities — because of the fear that voters in high-turnout districts will vote down a package that raises their tax bills a few dollars a year. That’s also why, when you analyze the bond program, some Council districts appear to get a higher percentage of their needs list, while others, like ours and those further south, where the needs are even greater, get proportionately less.

How’s that for community spirit? Remember back when some people spoke out against more single member districts on the Council because we were supposed to put the city’s interest as a whole first? What do you bet that a lot of those same people would, and still might, oppose a bond program that put more money in the parts of town that most need it?

I’m going to vote for the bond program, whatever size it is, and despite the fact that I believe it’s only a portion of what we really need to maintain our quality of life and to try to keep this an attractive city in which to live and a competitive city in which to do business. But if we let pure self-interest drive our view of what we need to spend, and where to spend it — on parks, streets, fire stations, and branch libraries — and don’t invest more in the city as a whole, including those neighborhoods across town from our own, then the infrastructure we need and that all of our citizens deserve to have will be skewed even more toward the haves and away from the have-nots, or at least the have-less. And that’s not just short-sighted from an investment standpoint, it’s not what a healthy democratic society looks like.

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