Thursday, December 13, 2007

Update on Irving

In this continuation of the story that TWM has been covering for the past three months, the Dallas Morning News reports:

The Irving school district has lost 656 students since the end of September, and officials attribute the decline to a crackdown on illegal immigrants and the shutting down of aging apartment complexes.

[...]Last year, Irving schools lost 283 students during the same period.[...]

Superintendent Jack Singley said a city code-enforcement crackdown on declining apartments where many low-income families live may have caused people to leave town. And some immigrants may have left Irving because they feared deportation.


As the article goes on to say this has a host of implications. State funding for schools is determined by how many children are attending school, so it may have a major impact. The school district is now thinking about whether they need to build the two additional schools they had scheduled, and are wondering if this trend will continue and require them to downsize the faculty.

This appears to confirm the hypothesis that this crackdown is intended to get Hispanics out of Irving, a possibility we raised earlier.

Evidently some in the Hispanic community have started to catch on (quoting the DMN again):

In addition to heightened fear of deportation, city officials are targeting aging and dilapidated apartment complexes for demolition if they don't make required improvements.

Pastor Pedro Portillo of the Santa Maria de Guadalupe Church said he sees the apartment crackdown as targeting the same group as the deportations. Many of his parishioners with children have left the city and are too afraid to return for Sunday services, he said.

"It's another discriminatory way to move the Hispanic community from the area," he said. "Most of the people that live there are Hispanic."


Of course the Hispanic community is automatically going to assume that the main motivation behind the crackdown is racial, but I'm still not convinced of that. I think that the leadership of Irving is looking more at the bottom line (money-wise) than doing anything so petty as persecuting Hispanics (I mean, this isn't Farmer's Branch!), but it works out about the same anyway.

And the city gives the same old excuse:

"I know that this does disrupt families, but our first and foremost concern is the living conditions of these folks, and they were not safe," code compliance director Teresa Adrian said. "We can't turn a blind eye."


The city did, however, turn a blind eye for a long enough time that these apartments became near slums. And then instead of giving them an equally long time to fix the apartments, the city decided that these apartments just had to meet new standards in the period of a few months. But worst of all, really, is that instead of implementing any plans to try to replace those slums with decent low-income housing, the city has done nothing except force the closures of those apartments. There hasn't been any plan to relocate those residents, and certainly no effort to make sure they don't leave Irving.

On a similar note, the City of Irving instituted a program among employees called "Eyes on Irving". The city issued a little booklet to every employee with a card inside it that has a list of common code violations and a 24-hour phone number to call and report problems. The idea behind it is that using every city employee as a spotter for code violations, code enforcement will be much more efficient and stringent. While it's possible that this will never lead to abuse, such as the many city employees who live in Irving reporting on their neighbors who annoy them, I think it's likely that a lot of employees are going to use this to make their problem neighbors regret it.

I have yet to figure out exactly why code enforcement has become such a big issue recently. The city is aging less than gracefully in some areas, but it's far from turning into a trash heap like certain areas of Dallas. It just doesn't seem rational.

Update (4/11/08): Well, recently we've gotten some new information passed our way about events and happenings in Irving having to do with the code enforcement crackdown. If you know or even strongly suspect anything, leave a comment or drop us a line at twisemen@gmail.com. You never know what could happen just from talking!

8 comments:

Xanthippas said...

Do you think some of those city employees salivated when they got their hands on their little code book?

Nat-Wu said...

I don't know about salivation but I know for a fact that some people saw it as an opportunity to take action against neighbors who have too many cars or too many kids or something like that.

Anonymous said...

Simply-stated. Irving has run out of land for developers to develop. Texas forbids use of eminent domain for private profit, so the city is making use of code enforecemet to force property owners to sell out cheap to its friends. Most houses in South Irving are 50 years old. So you can always find something.

In furtherance of this goal, city employees have been trespassing on private property to get evidence. E.g., entering high-fenced yards to establish charges of "outside storage" that would only be only visible to a trespasser. Whatever happened to the 4th amendment and its requirement for "probable cause"?

Nat-Wu said...

Anonymous, drop us a line at twisemen@gmail.com. We'd like to hear more about this.

Anonymous said...

The media hasn't picked up on it yet, but Federal court records indicate Irving got its head handed to it in the "Texas Lunch Box case" ( 1923 Senter rd ). The city was trying to get this property sold-off/torn down by creative code enforcement. Apparently, the federal judge took one look at the cities' case and essentially ordered them to negotiate a settlement with the owner.

Allegedly, the city then agreed to pay 200 grand+ just to tear down the building, which is valued on the tax rolls at about $20K. So, the settlement looks like a "win" for the city, as long as you don't know how much they paid for it.

For obvious reasons, this settlement was supposed to be secret. But then the city welshed on the deal (I can imagine why, it being an election year). So all this gets into the court record.

It gets even better. 1923 Senter is only a couple of blocks from 2005 Bolden, where the city is soliciting bids on a gas lease. Elsewhere, the mayor has stated that drilling on the Barnett shale will be mostly south of 183, which just happens to be the area of major code enforcement.

Drilling on the airport has resulted in about 100% completion of producing wells. Apparently, the field extends at least to loop 12.

So South Irving is sitting on trillions of cubic feet of gas, worth potentially billions. Makes you wonder just how much how that is sitting underneath (say) the old villa martinique property or the other south Irving properties in the same hands. Not to imply anything, naturally. But it sure explains a lot.

In Irving's defense, it is not racism, or nativism that propels the cities crusade to get all those pesky poor folks out of the way.

Anonymous said...

More on the possible Barnett shale connection with Irving's efforts to cleanup South irving:

Barnett shale gas wells tend to have a 1500 ft fracture zone around them. 1923 Senter, which the city got slapped around for trying to grab, is well within the fracture zone of the cities' first lease offer at 2005 Bolden.

Likewise, the gas-producing shale gets thicker the further east you go, until it finally ends at the Oachita upthrust. This is located generally east of West Loop 12/I35 east. So all of Irving is included in the prime area.

Likewise, The eastern part of the Barnett shale tends to be underlaid by a hard impermiable layer that makes extensive fracturing safer.

Similarly, if ya need a further motive for the city trying to force the cheap sale of all those apartment units-- The gas well itself is no big deal, but drilling is pretty intrusive and takes up space. The metroplex is pretty-well built over, so there is not much available.

Consequently, drillers in Arlington are buying up and tearing down local apartment units just to get a place to put their rigs.

http://startelegram.typepad.com/barnett_shale/2008/03/tear-down-apart.html

Headline: "Tear down apartments for a drill site"

"How tough is it to find a drilling site in North Arlington?

So tough that Fleet Oil and Gas has signed a contract to buy two apartment complexes on Washington Drive with plans to tear them down and set up a drilling rig if the city approves the required drilling...."

Anonymous said...

Reading the federal court filings in the Spanish Trace and "Texas Lunchbox" (1923 Senter rd) cases, Irving's legal strategy for urban renewal on the cheap becomes clearer. Stated simply-- They bring actions knowing they are probably illegal.

However, they assume that most people will just roll over and play dead. There is nothing like the potential of a $15-25K fine to elicit co-operation. So, the owner quits, evicts any tenents, and sells off the property to one of the cities' friends.

The few people who do take the city to court for their illegal activities get a quick secret settlement structured to look like a "win" for the city. E.g., the city claims they forced the Spanish Trace management to spend one million dollars on fixing up the place in return for backing off. What they don't tell you is how much they had to pay to get this settlement.

We know about this strategy because the city made such a cash settlement in the "Texas Lunchbox" case. This was to be kept secret.

However, the city decided they had offered too much ($225,000, part of which was allegedly for "damages"-- ie., the city admitted a tort). So they are now attempting to withdraw from the agreement. This has generated a bunch of federal court filings detailing the negotiations.

The Villa Martinique case is still in state court. In retrospect, this is probably because the cities settlement offer is too low and the apartment owners know they have the city over a barrel.

Very clever legal strategy. On the surface, the city can still use its nominal "wins" to bully property owners. It is much cheaper to pay off the few people who get wise to the game than to pay off everyone for their "taking", as both the state and federal constitutions require.

Anonymous said...

Irving has now changed its strategy of driving property owners to sell cheaply by misusing code enforcement. Because of the cold reception in the courts, the city is now actually publically buying properties.

E.g., they just paid $500K+ for some apartments on Tudor lane. Doubtless this was another forced sale. But at least the property owner got something.

Similarly, where they can, the city fathers are now using the fire codes to force out tenants. Harder to argue with and you can get those pesky tenants out instantly. You need them out when you drill those gas wells.

Naturally, the "slumlords" get demonized. But why should anyone put good money into maintaining South Irving properties when the city has sent the message that whatever you do, it will not be enough and your property will be taken. It is like investing in Zimbabwe.