Members of the Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association are exploring three legal initiatives to combat unwanted activity in their neighborhoods.
The group has started a petition drive to pressure businesses to stop selling drug paraphernalia products. They are exploring the possibility of obtaining a community prosecutor from the city attorney’s office. And resident lawyers are volunteering their time to represent the area’s legal interests.
The drug paraphernalia initiative is an effort to persuade liquor stores, cigarette shops and convenience stores to remove rolling papers, individually packaged cigars and cigarettes, pipes, glass tubes and baggies from their shelves.
The products are being marketed to a clientele that residents do not want in their neighborhood, says LHAIA president Steve Wakefield. Most of the products serve no other purpose than aiding illegal drug use, he says.
“What is the point of that other than to cater to the very people you’re trying to get rid of – dope dealers and dope users?” he asks.
Although the petitions hold no legal weight, organizers say they show business owners the community’s opinion and therefore can influence them. At least one store, Cigarette Plus, has already pulled the items at LHAIA’s request, says executive vice president Sean Christopher.
“We’ll ask, and if they don’t do what we ask, we’ll go to other avenues they may not like,” he says.
That could include seeking a city ordinance banning sale of the items.
City Councilman Bill Blaydes called the petition drive an admirable endeavor and says it is attracting attention from other neighborhoods that want to join the crusade.
“I think if they (LHAIA) are as successful with this as they have been with other programs, it is well worth the time and the effort,” he says.
Blaydes says he could not predict whether the City Council would approve an ordinance, but he would welcome it coming forward for consideration.
On another front, LHAIA is investigating whether they can find funding for a community prosecutor in the area. The city attorney’s office has six such prosecutors assigned to neighborhoods. They work directly with residents and police to solve quality of life problems such as code violations, noise violations, prostitution, alcohol offenses and transient crimes.
“We think that is something that we need,” says Wakefield. “We’ve got to have a way to pay for it.”
A full-time attorney and part-time code inspector would cost about $100,000 annually, Wakefield says. Because grants and donations can be unreliable funding sources in the long run, the association is gauging public opinion on a public improvement district.
“The idea is very definitely worth talking about; I just don’t know how it would be received,” Blaydes says.
The funding would come from a tax of 10 cents per $100 of value ($100 on a $100,000 house) assessed on all property within the district. Owners of 51 percent of the district’s total property value and the City Council must approve such a district.
“We don’t really have a feel right now if it’s supported by enough people,” Wakefield says.
Dallas has five PIDs within the city. Their funding can be used for improvements such as security, bike trails and street maintenance. Vickery Meadow previously paid for a community prosecutor with its funds but has discontinued the program.
Wakefield, a lawyer, is also spearheading a third initiative to form a volunteer Attorney Advisory Group. The group would develop legal strategies so that LHAIA and individual homeowner associations could assist the city with code compliance and recommend new city ordinances.
“It’s all kind of intertwined,” Wakefield says. “There are certain things I think people are just fed up with. We’re just trying to help people get educated about what they can do.”