One Bullhorn is Needed

First, it is important for me to clarify something lest it be left to assumption.  I believe in the First Amendment to the US Constitution and feel strongly that the free right of assembly should never be shunned or its power reduced. Hopefully, my writings here don’t question the medium but rather highlight my concern of this particular message.

  Photo Credit: Ed Steele (Denton, TX)

Photo Credit: Ed Steele (Denton, TX)

It is estimated that millions of people (mostly American women) participated in the “Women’s March on Washington,” or one of it’s “sister” marches, around the country and globe.  According to local organizers, Denton saw about 2,500 people participating in the march on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

It seems, unlike the protests and demonstrations that sporadically pop-up from time to time over the past few years, this one march was set to be more unifying, more deliberate and focused. This was not an impromptu gathering; it was planned. Though spawned from a Facebook post, the march seemed to have quickly organized into something pretty formal and direct. The website for the march is now a hub for information and resources. Despite all this effort, I can’t help believe the outcome of this will be mute. I suppose Madonna was speaking to me when she said, "And to those who insist that this march will never add up to anything: f**k you. f**k you!"

When listening to organizers and speakers detail their efforts, it seems as though the women's marches are meant to bring about change. Janet Mock said, "We are here not to merely gather, but to move." Maryum Ali was quoted, "So this is what we gotta do: don't get frustrated, get involved. Don't complain, organize... We have to start spending time... standing up for equal rights." It is clear to me that those two women (and many more speakers) want to see some sort of change occur.

The idea of marching for a change sparked me to consider past marches with goal achieving outcomes. And When I think about historical marches that brought about change, two spring to mind: the Women’s Suffrage Parade and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (The similarity in titles between Saturday’s march and the civil right’s march isn’t lost on me.)

However, those two important marches had something in common: focus and specificity; they rallied hundred of thousands towards one common goal. The Women’s Suffrage Parade (1913) demanded a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. The March on Washington (1963) demanded civil and economic rights for African Americans.

According to the Women’s March website, the demands of Saturday’s marches were eight fold. The lack of singularity in their unity will ultimately lead to a zero outcome. Moreover, the lack of singularity provides ambiguity to the rest of Americans, much less the government, as to how you would like us to respond. The simple fact that this was supposed to be an inclusive march for women but pro-life activists were uninvited questions the sincerity of motivation and the earnestness of desiring one voice. “We want to be heard, but we don’t want everyone to speak.” It seems.

I think the parade in 1913 and the march in 1963 were whole-heartedly needed and I am thankful for the outcomes they created. Similarly, if a subset of Americans feel trampled upon and need to unify their voice to be heard, then it’s their protected American right. It would simply be helpful to everyone else if we heard one bullhorn, not eight.

Decision Process | Buc-ee's ADP

Last night at the Planning and Zoning meeting, the vote for the approval of an alternative development plan (ADP) was approved 4 votes "aye" to 3 votes "nay." It my short tenure, it was the first nonunanimous vote in which I have participated. 

The applicant of the ADP for an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) was Buc-ee's Travel Stop. Because of the relatively high profile business coming to Denton and the public outcries of its imminent construction, I certainly felt the hyper-necessity to consider all aspects of the project in order to absolutely defend the decision I was to make. Whether good or bad, I was aware that the applicant's public perception was at play in the discussion and perhaps even the vote. 

At its crux, the issue at hand was the request from Buc-ee's to remove roughly 13,000 sq ft of an ESA in order to build an internal road on the property. As per the city of Denton, they would be required to mitigate this disturbance. The question to the commission seemed simple enough: Are the conditions of the mitigation enough to approve the removal of the designated ESA for a road? 

Both in work session and in the public session, questions were raised to the applicant from the commission about the validity of the mitigations and any alternatives to the internal road design. Buc-ee's mitigation proposal included an equal (1:1) trees mitigation (realized at the maturity of the trees) as well as Stormceptors (used for collecting and filtering runoff from adjacent land). The engineer of the project provided ample information about the mitigation being significant and sufficient. He also provided sound reason, logic and data negating the potential for the road the be rerouted. It was clear that Buc-ee's had taken time to look at the impact, any alternatives and present, what they felt, was their best effort. This effort, when analyzed by the city resulted in a recommendation from staff to the commission of "approve." 

Despite compelling information from both the applicant and staff, the commission has the obligation and privilege to listen to city feedback on the matter. This is the single best opportunity a citizen has to bring forth issues to the matter at hand that could be helpful to me and the other commissioners in making a decision. In public hearing, nine citizens spoke about the issue; eight marked opposed and one indicated support. The testimony, however, convoluted the discussion by identifying reasons in which Buc-ee's was a bad idea (generally speaking) and not to the specific point of the proposed ADP. It is worth noting that there was a minority of opposition that spoke against the ADP specifically. However, the information provided by the citizens (on a whole) on the matter didn't serve to provide any additional or unique concerns about the ADP that had not already been addressed by staff or the applicant. In hindsight, I could have done a better job at asking questions to those who did not specifically speak to the ADP to provide them an opportunity to more directly speak pertaining to this vote. 

After public testimony, the commissioners spoke amongst ourselves about the concerns. All issues brought up were absolutely valid concerns to the project, but some were geared more to issues to be identified at a later stage and were explicitly not part of the pending vote on the ADP. The process of filtering out irrelevant information is tricky as its human nature to bring in all available information. It is my hope that I do well at the filtering process, finding that correct balance: I want to remain focused on my charged task while still understanding the larger scope and impact of the project. Admittedly, that dance is still one I am learning.

Ultimately, I felt that the ADP was the correct decision and that the proposed mitigation (in which the commission added 2 conditions) was sufficient to counteract the loss of the riparian buffer segment. Considering Buc-ee's is going to be built, I desire to find the best options for the city given its imminent arrival. The traffic and safety issues that would be introduced if the ADP was not approved would have significant impact on the city.  

I am thankful for the discussion surrounding Buc-ee's as it ultimately brings about deeply thoughtful conversations leading to decisions, in which I do not take lightly. I continue to have upmost respect for my fellow commissioners and look forward to continued discussions about matters important to the City of Denton.

Related: Commissioner Beck wrote an article regarding his vote. For his perspective, click here.