Friday, August 19, 2011

"I Fear There Must Be a Fight..."

Bales of aluminum, each one containing about 34,000 flattened cans, await shipment at Gold Metal.

Interesting article appearing in the D/CEO magazine about Gold Metal Recyclers. It includes a pretty accurate portrayal of a Unify South Dallas meeting in which the concerns of residents and advocates are represented.

"On a sweltering Saturday in June, a community group called Unify South Dallas has gathered for one of its regular meetings at the Forest Heights Community Center on Holmes Street, off South Lamar. Led by Walter “Changa” Higgins, Unify’s chairman, the group has several topics on its agenda this morning, including payday lending, the school-budget crisis—and Gold Metal Recyclers."
"Among the 15 or so people in the cool, air-conditioned center are the Rev. Gerald Britt, a vice president of public policy and community program development for CitySquare; Cherelle Blazer, an environmental scientist and founder of a nonprofit urban-activist group called You Can’t Live In The Woods; Ron Price, a former trustee of the Dallas Independent School District; Alvin Gray, who lives in the neighborhood across from Gold Metal; Jeffery Muhammad, a minister in the Nation of Islam and a Dallas representative of the Hon. Louis Farrakhan; and Frank Clark from W&M Environmental Group, which conducted environmental testing several years ago on Gold Metal’s South Lamar land."

"Much of their discussion about Gold Metal will focus on that testing, which the recycling company commissioned voluntarily as part of its application for a so-called municipal setting designation on its property. Based on a state statute intended to expedite addressing contamination involving non-potable water, the MSD—which is now pending before regulators—would make it easier for Gold Metal to sell its acreage, or buy more, if it ever chose to do so. Any contaminants the testing discovered do not threaten it or its neighbors, the company contends, because the toxins are isolated, don’t impact the water table, and are capped with concrete."

"Blazer, who grew up in Oak Cliff, starts off by telling the gathering that she was disturbed to see all the scrap yards on South Lamar when she returned to Dallas after college. She couldn’t figure out why developers weren’t coming into the area, she says. Then she learned about “the chemicals found in the soil and water” beneath Gold Metal, and began to understand. The testing had revealed arsenic, benzene, lead, xylenes, and “petroleum stuff” in the Gold Metal soil, she says. Some of the chemicals are cancer-causing, while “volatile organics” from all the company’s vehicular traffic can lead to lung disease, she says."
There appears to be a tendency to believe that South Dallas residents aren't concerned about the presence of this heavy industrial presence in their neighborhood. The idea that poor and working class people in our city should have no real voice or choice in what 'commerce' locates in or predominates in their communities. And of course, if the 'business' brings jobs, that of course is the maximum good which triumphs morality, health and quality of life - no matter how few the jobs, or how little they pay.
But if those things are not true, why didn't south Dallas residents show up en masse to protest the expansion of Gold Metals? Why didn't they provide the counter argument to the 'supporters' of Gold Metals when they spoke before the city council?

Robert Foster, a south Dallas resident and leader with Unify South Dallas, tells us why in an essay originally intended to be an op-ed column submitted to the Dallas Morning News. 

In one of my favorite movies, 'Wyatt Earp' there is a line that sums up my analysis of the situation with Gold Metals: 'I fear there must be a fight'. Foster's column shows why...

"How much effort—or due diligence—should city officials exert before voting on ordinances with lasting impacts on local communities? Citizens have a right to full disclosure about such decisions. How far should city officials go to ensure their constituents are fully informed?"

"Just days before a fire last week at Gold Metal Recyclers in South Dallas, our city council voted to allow the recycler to expand its enterprise even closer to the residential neighborhood in which they do business. Given that a fire in February of this year led to an EPA Superfund Enforcement and Clean-Up action, similar to one required of Gold Metal in 2008, shouldn’t residents have known this before the council vote?"

"Perhaps they would also like to know that the city staff advised against the expansion, and not for the dangers represented by the fires. The addendum published by the council reports that staff advised against expansion because expansion runs counter to the Trinity River Corridor Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the goals and policies of ForwardDallas! The staff is also concerned about the recycler’s operating their business in the floodplain. While the Goldberg’s (owners of Gold Metals recycling) claim to have applied to remove the floodplain designation with FEMA, staff found no evidence of the application."

"Or maybe the residents would like to have known about the process leading to the vote. The opening line to Addendum 32, which went before the city council on June 22, states that the vote concerned, “A public hearing to receive comments regarding an application for and an ordinance granting an amendment to and expansion of Planned Development District No. 331.” What public hearing? Residents viewed the proposed streetscape changes at the Lamar-B-Q held on the Gold Metal property last November. But unveiling a few sketches while public officials made speeches hardly serves as a public hearing. Maybe local residents would like to know what happened to the public hearing voted on by the city council."

"What about the results of the one community poll conducted by the city? The city mailed 149 notifications to the neighborhood to see who opposed and who supported the expansion. The returns were not that impressive, seventeen in all. More to the point, the returns included 9 opposed and 8 in support. Six of those supporting expansion either had the last name of Goldberg or the company name Loshel, one of the owners of the Gold Metal Recyclers. In the end, only two residential property owners supported the expansion. Do two residents in support prove enough to move forward with the plan, with at least nine in opposition? Didn’t the potential impact on the community call for a door-to-door canvass to get a real perspective on how the residents feel about the proposed expansion? Perhaps the majority of residents wonder what effect their voice might have on the council vote."

"Sufficiently informing the residents of this proposal is the responsibility of city councilmember Carolyn Davis. Several community members responded to the initial mailing by speaking with Ms. Davis, who assured them she would take care of their interests. Trusting their elected representative these residents decided not to attend the council hearing. That trust earned a unanimous vote by the council to expand the Gold Metal Recyclers’ presence in the community."

"We at Unify South Dallas are definitely concerned about how this process and the results impact this community. We are concerned that residents were not properly informed about this ‘public hearing.’ Would their views on this subject effect the outcome of the council vote?"

"Sadly enough, we’ll never know."

It's a sad state of affairs, when the elected officials who should be looking out for the interests of their constituents blatantly and nefariously ignore their interests. It's also a shame that those representatives serve as an additional obstacle to their health, well being and quality of life. 

It's just another example of how much of a fight this really is...

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