Dallas is on the verge of having a citywide plan to address racial inequities, but City Council members wonder where the money will come from to implement the strategy in the years ahead.
The racial equity plan could be approved by the council as early as Aug. 24 and would be a first for Dallas, which is still trying to get over a legacy of disparities in neighborhood infrastructure, racial wealth gaps and other inequalities that city policies helped create.
The plan is meant to be a guide for all city departments to use to make sure policies have measurable goals that work to decrease systemic racial barriers impacting residents in housing, public safety, environmental justice and other quality of life areas.
But the city has plans going back decades touching on all those issues and ways to address them, council member Tennell Atkins said during a briefing Wednesday where city equity and inclusion office officials presented an overview of the plan. He cited as examples areas in southern Dallas still in need of city water and wastewater service, poor roads in many areas, a lack of affordable homes, and a need for a lower property tax rate among the pressing issues in need of funds.
For this latest strategy to work, Dallas will need to “put dollars behind the word equity in the budget,” he said.
“It all boils down to dollars. How are you going to pay for it?” said Atkins, who represents far South Dallas. “I don’t care what you say, it boils down to dollars and people.”
Among hundreds of progress measures proposed by the plan, it seeks to:
— Increase the number of teams that proactively monitor illegal dumping in historically underserved communities from two to four by May 2024.
— Increase outreach in historically underserved communities to get feedback on the city budget by 10% every year.
— Lower the amount of residents from historically underserved communities arrested for low-level offenses from 7,585 to 6,068 by December 2025.
— Improve the indoor air quality at city-owned buildings in historically disadvantaged communities with high asthma rates by fall 2024.
— Expand recruiting efforts to increase diversity of candidates for city employment.
— Have a more inclusive hiring process to increase the number of women working for Dallas Fire-Rescue over five years.
— Increase the number of bilingual supervisors in the 311 department to 30% by the end of 2026. There are currently none.
The presentation comes as City Manager TC Broadnax is set to unveil his latest proposed budget for Dallas on Friday. He said it’ll likely take billions of dollars to fix communities where the city has neglected to invest.
He said his office is planning to recommend economic incentives to encourage more development in underserved areas as an option.
The racial equity plan stems from the council approving a resolution in March 2021 in response to the police killing of George Floyd the year before and the racial reckoning that followed. The racial equity resolution vows that the city is committed to understanding how racism impacts the way city services are given to residents and coming up with policies that get rid of it.
A 2019 report showed Dallas residents of color face large disparities compared with white residents in economic opportunity, education, neighborhoods and infrastructure, public health, incarceration and government representation.
Other studies have found that Dallas neighborhoods mostly made up of Black and Hispanic residents have more substandard housing and environmental hazards, ramifications of historic segregation and city-sanctioned redlining.
Hispanic and Black residents make up the majority of all the districts south of Interstate 30, which is commonly viewed as the dividing line between the northern and southern areas of the city. White residents make up the majority of all but one district in northern Dallas.
Of Dallas’ 1.3 million residents, Hispanic residents make up 42% of the population; white residents, 28%; Black residents, around 23%; Asians, 4%; and Pacific Islanders are among other racial groups that make up less than 1% each.
The city last September paid Dallas firm CoSpero Consulting $85,000 to help its office of equity and inclusion do outreach work to get racial residents’ feedback and help craft the equity plan.
Kevin Acosta, partnership liaison in the city’s equity office, said one of the main concerns participating residents had was that they wanted to see more progress from the city and fewer plans.
“Residents are cautiously optimistic that department-level equity progress measures provide an avenue for greater government accountability and leadership,” he said.
The latest version of the racial equity plan has 213 progress measures for the city’s 42 departments. Lindsey Wilson, the city’s equity office director, said all department leaders were consulted in crafting the goals, some which range from three- to five-year time frames, to others expected to take up to 20 years.
She said results are planned to be documented online for the public to see.
Council members Cara Mendelsohn and Gay Donnell Willis said they didn’t agree with sections of the draft goals that recommended focusing on areas historically “with the greatest need.” They said the city should use data it already collects to figure which areas to focus on first.
“I feel like if we’re going to be equitable, we need to be looking at what’s at the bottom of the barrel that we need to clean up and get at that fastest,” said Willis, who represents northwest Dallas.
Mendelsohn said the city’s issues came down to mismanagement and money not being properly invested in communities. She said departments need more funding to help more people around the city.
“We keep fighting over dollars that really we need for everybody,” said Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas. “There’s not a single district that doesn’t have people in poverty or people of color.”
She noted the city continues to allocate money to housing development in northern Dallas despite city officials for years saying revitalizing southern Dallas is a priority. She suggested a plan for the city to only greenlight projects south of I-30.
“When we have a city that’s one of the most segregated by race and income, isn’t that what’s really the problem?” she said. “And this plan is not addressing that.”
Council member Adam Bazaldua, who represents South Dallas, said the plan won’t work if the city doesn’t have a clear understanding of equity versus equality.
He said equality was unrealistic in Dallas given the gaps in some communities over others.
“These equity issues that have to be addressed are not about who has more of what, it’s about what has taken place in our past and how can we fix it in our future?” he said.
“Equality does not do the people who have already been forgotten about any justice because they’re starting on a playing field that is not level,” he said.
Assistant City Manager Liz Cedillo-Pereira, who oversees the equity and inclusion office and was the department’s director before being promoted in February, said city staff plan to lay out exactly how the equity plan will be implemented after it is approved.