On Wednesday, Dallas City Council delayed voting on a special development deal—eerily similar to Fort Worth’s Panther Island—for the son of a Democrat U.S. Senate candidate; the council will now vote on the issue in August. This week, it was questioned if building soccer fields is the true end goal of the deal, a council member accused some in opposition as paid lobbyists, and a state senator’s home was revealed as the address for the business in the deal’s lease agreement.
Interstate 345, located in southeast Dallas in the Deep Ellum district, is a stretch of highway constructed in 1973 that has been blamed for the decades-long economic downturn of the area.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) owns the land but has leased it to the City of Dallas with an agreement that they can use it to build parking lots. As previously reported, there are two proposals for the future of I-345: one calls for tearing it down to allow for new economic development, and the other calls for Roddrick West—son of Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate and Texas State Sen. Royce West (DeSoto)—to build soccer fields beneath it. Roddrick proposed his idea to TxDOT and has been working with them to try to alter the bureaucracy’s agreement with Dallas, in order to allow him to build his soccer fields. Texas Scorecard received the plans for the fields as part of a response to an open records request sent to TxDOT.
TxDOT revealed at Wednesday’s city council meeting that Roddrick West hadn’t presented at any public hearings they held about the project.
Emails secured by Texas Scorecard reveal that TxDOT allowing Dallas to redevelop Carpenter Park was made part of the soccer field deal that was put before the city council. Critics believe tying the projects together is a classic tactic used to make them harder to oppose.
When asked last week why development for Carpenter Park has been put on the same deal as West’s soccer field, Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry replied, “For the benefit of consolidating everything.” He also said council could separate the projects if they wished.
The West’s deal, combined with Carpenter Park, was put on the city’s consent agenda for Wednesday—meaning it was combined with a long list of items that council would give a straight “yes” or “no” vote on.
Council members Chad West, David Blewett, Adam Bazaldua, and Cara Mendolsohn pulled the item from the consent agenda, forcing the council to debate and consider it as a separate item.
Some council members also tried but failed to divide Carpenter Park and other items from Roddrick’s soccer fields.
“It’s a shame we’re putting Carpenter Park as a hostage to this,” District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon said.
CND President Matt Tranchin pointed out last week that TxDOT had a no-bid process, which led to West getting the deal. Yesterday, Tranchin asked council to delay deciding the matter. “Please don’t embarrass our city by promoting recreational activity under a highway,” he said.
“If you want to know what air pollution is at this site, you have to monitor it at this site for a long period of time,” said Jim Schermbeck, head of Downwinders at Risk—an environmentalist group that works to achieve its goals through community organizing.
“We polled over 2,100 stakeholders in the neighborhood,” Jon Hetzel, president of DEF, told council that day.“By far, the N.o 1 thing that came out of that was that we need to provide some better parking solutions, primarily for employees and special event parking.”
Earlier in the council meeting, District 11 Councilman Lee Kleinman accused some members of the coalition of being paid lobbyists and said they should register as such. “I find it ironic that some of my colleagues are reading scripts written by a secret state super PAC that’s funded by another state senator,” he added.
In response to Kleinman’s script allegation, CND tweeted that the day before the meeting, they had publicly shared a letter they sent to the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 18.
When Schermbeck and Tranchin attempted to respond to Kleinman’s allegations, District 6 Councilman Omar Narvaez and Kleinman objected. Mayor Eric Johnson sustained the objections.
“Can I respond to attacks?” Tranchin asked. “You need to speak to this agenda item,” Johnson replied.
Tranchin told Texas Scorecard:
“As president of the board, I serve in an unpaid capacity and therefore don’t have to register as a lobbyist. I haven’t received compensation from the Coalition since 2018, when I served as the executive director. The super PAC has been dormant for a couple of years, but I was registered with the City when engaged in lobbying efforts.”
Kleinman has not yet replied to a request for his response and any evidence in his possession that could prove Tranchin is a paid lobbyist.
Other citizens voiced their own concerns to council during a time for public comments.
“I’m very skeptical about the process that got us here today,” Ann Drum said.
“I encourage this council at the very least to delay a vote on this until the reports come in, in June,” a Miss Perez said, referring to studies due in that month regarding the area under I-345. “This no-bid process is a slap in the face.”
“This is just the next revolution in the cycle of corruption,” said Andrew Wallace. “The deal reeks of nepotism.”
Some council members raised the question about whether Roddrick’s end goal was really to build soccer fields.
“I saw something in the lease that they can sell alcohol. Is that accurate?” Blewett asked; Al-Ghafry confirmed that was accurate.
“Per the lease, could he put buildings on the site?” Chad West asked. “The permitted use is for affordable building,” the attorney replied.
Chad West also asked the attorneys if the city could stop Roddrick West if he wanted to change the soccer fields to something else. The response was no. West then asked if Dallas could terminate the lease.
“The city has no rights under the lease,” the attorney replied. “So, we would have no rights to influence the contract in any way.”
Council members Blackmon and West asked how much rent TxDOT was charging Roddrick West to build on the site.
“I would have to check with our real estate department in Austin,” the TxDOT representative replied. “We typically do not release those numbers until the lease is finalized,” he said, adding that the lease isn’t final yet.
Texas Scorecard obtained a copy of the lease, among other city documents. The lease lists State Sen. Royce West’s home as the address for Roddrick West’s company, West Fields LLC.
Bazaldua wasn’t at all pleased with the city staff’s handling of the situation. “I’m asking why staff wasn’t charged to present what was a better option for the city of Dallas,” he said. “I will be supporting a delay.”
Council voted 10-5 to defer the decision to August, with Council members West, Blewett, Blackmon, Mendolsohn, and Jennifer Gates voting against the delay.
This article has been updated since publication.