Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson touted the return of “Big Dallas Energy” in his State of the City address on Tuesday, saying that the city is back after pandemic restrictions and economic impacts.
“The state of our city is stronger than ever and Dallas is back,” he said.
Johnson said the last few years have been difficult for many, but he promised residents a safer, greener, and more equitable city.
“Dallas is back. Dallas is strong,” he said. “And the future is ours.”
Johnson gave his State of the City address at the Briscoe-Carpenter Building in Fair Park, relishing in the city’s overwhelming approval of Proposition A, a bond measure that raises the collected hotel occupancy taxes from 13% to 15% to finance rebuilding of the downtown convention center and renovate Fair Park venues.
The mayor, born in West Dallas, said it’s time to focus on the neighborhoods surrounding the park, where the city forced hundreds of Black families from their homes in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Unfortunately, like too many communities in our city, Fair Park and its surrounding neighborhoods have largely been underserved and overlooked and for far too long. I’m here to tell you, ‘No more,’ ” Johnson said.
In recent years, the park has served as a site to pick-up back-to-school supplies, a COVID-19 vaccination site, large football games, and this year’s state fair broke attendance records.
His speech also emphasized the importance of public safety and affordable housing investments.
Johnson stressed his loyalty to the Dallas Police Department and efforts to reduce crime. He said while others were looking at options to defund the police, he saw the importance of supporting them, prioritizing resident safety.
“We must be guided by the core belief that every single one of our residents deserves to be safe,” the mayor said.
According to Dallas police data, violent crime is down. Johnson attributes this to DPD’s violent crime reduction plan, which increased police presence in historically high crime areas. The city has seen a 12% reduction in violent crime in areas where it has been implemented, Johnson said.
The city has also budgeted for 250 additional officer positions next year, which Johnson said will help further implement the city program.
Addressing violent crime takes a “kitchen-sink approach,” Johnson said, and relies on several strategies including improving lighting in high-crime areas and working to hold bars and clubs accountable to keep customers safe.
This year’s count of people experiencing homelessness in Dallas County reached almost 4,000, more than 1,000 of whom reported to be chronically homeless, according to the 10-day Point-In-Time Count.
Johnson called on Dallas County and neighboring cities to help shoulder the cost of homelessness.
“While this is a major public health issue, and Dallas County is our contracted public health authority, the City of Dallas has nonetheless been the most proactive governmental entity dealing directly with this issue in our region,” he said.
This month, Dallas County allocated $23.6 million in rapid rehousing vouchers and spent about $12 million on the St. Jude transition housing center in North Dallas.
“This body has put its money where its mouth is, literally,” Housing Forward’s David Gruber told the Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.
The City of Dallas used its federal COVID-19 relief dollars and other funding streams to buy hotels to turn into shelters, create inclement weather spaces and partner with nonprofits to help with rapid rehousing efforts. The city’s partnership with Housing Forward has helped about 1,300 people transition off the streets this year.
There have been some bumps in the road in converting these facilities. Johnson said he will name a task force to develop further recommendations on the city’s homelessness response.
“Dallas is a city of love and empathy. But we’re also a city that cares about health and safety and respects our residents who simply want to walk to work or into one of our public libraries without being accosted and without fear,” he said.
Johnson said he wants to review all unused, underused or vacant city-owned land, to add more green spaces and affordable housing across the city.
Johnson, who announced his plans to run again for the top city job next year, focused his speech on the return to “normal” from the pandemic, looking at its economic growth. He called Dallas the “Comeback City,” with an added $14 billion in new development over the last four years.
The mayor wants more transparency – through a fully-funded Office of the Inspector General in city hall, and responsiveness – pushing for a quicker turnaround on the issuing of city permits. Johnson called on City Manager T.C. Broadnax to address that in his speech, after a short-lived call this summer to remove Broadnax over issuing building permit times.
“Now, Mr. City Manager, we need you to take our city government to the next level by ensuring that the services we offer, such as those in our city’s permitting office, are first-class and customer-centric,” Johnson said. “I know our City Council is ready to give you whatever tools you need to make that happen. We need urgency, and we need results.”
Residents should prepare for another bond measure in the coming years. Johnson said the city will push for a billion-dollar bond in 2024 – the fourth bond package in less than two decades to pay for better streets and city infrastructure.