Saturday, April 19, 2008

Diversity Essential to City's Quality of Life

In the classic film, The Wild One, Marlon Brando’s character is asked, “Just what is it you’re rebelling against, Johnny?” His answer, delivered in a slow drawl just dripping with contempt is, “Whadya got?”

The little town Johnny and his “hep cat” bikers rode into was a quiet, comfortable place that only existed in the movies. By today’s gang standards motorcycle thugs were actually pretty mild. But as an alien influence, they really shook up the place.

Sometimes Frisco can feel a little like that mythical town, fittingly named “Wrightsville.” Face it, over the past couple of decades, we’ve been riding the crest of the wave. Some great foresight by our elected officials and city management has positioned Frisco as one of the hottest economic dynamos in Texas, if not the nation. When you look at the list of the top 20 cities in Texas in sales tax revenue, Frisco is one of only 3 with a population below 100,000 (Round Rock and Sugarland are the other two). This economic fuel has allowed us to build top-notch civic facilities, from our award-winning parks, to our unique Safety Town, and even our stately, new city hall.

Just like Wrightsville, Frisco projects an image of the traditional, midwestern home town. Every local politician trumpets our “Family Friendly” qualities. And to be sure, Frisco is a great place to raise the kids. As with many of my neighbors, the quality school system was one of the primary factors I considered when I moved to the area in 1999. Robust youth sports programs and great parks added to the mix.

But not every Frisco resident fits the “mom-pop-and-two-little-kids” mold. Take my friends John and Adele. They moved to Frisco to be near their son and grandkids. But they’re enjoying their retirement, rather than raising a family. Other than watching their granddaughters playing soccer, they’re unlikely to get much use from the acres of sports fields in town. Likewise, most of the neighborhood parks, with their playground fixtures, aren’t going to attract them.

Fortunately, we have built a number of services that are geared toward our older residents. The downtown Senior Center comes to mind. And many of our community parks include ample trails for walking, running and other outdoor activities.

Our younger residents – fresh out of high school or college, just starting their careers – aren’t quite as lucky. They, too, fall outside the bounds of the “family friendly” definition and probably don’t care much about the abundance of youth soccer fields. Some may consider having a family some day, but whether that is in Frisco or not is an open issue. And, of course, there are others who choose not to have a family at all. What services and features do we have in place that caters to these residents?

Virtually every candidate for civic office this year make note of supporting the family-oriented nature of Frisco. And that’s good. It’s certainly been a major factor in shaping our city. As we grow we need to protect those features that have made our city synonymous with quality living. At the same time, we should look for opportunities to create services and facilities that appeal to all members of the population. Yes, we may find ourselves investing in facilities that cater to a minority, or services that are focused on a smaller group. That’s okay, because whether they have kids or not, they’re still tax-paying citizens and deserve to benefit from the abundance that Frisco provides.

We don’t need a wild biker to shake up our little hamlet. But in our zeal to protect the family, let’s not overlook the diversity present in our population and the value that it brings to all of us.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Don’t Strip the Truth about Liquor Sales

Did you hear the one about the “strip joint” coming to Frisco?

It seems this is the bogyman that certain people in town love to trot out every time there’s an alcohol-related issue on the ballot. I recall in 2002 - when the beer/wine ordinance was being debated – a large sign popped up at a nascent construction site at the corner of Coit and 121. “Coming Soon!” the sign boasted, “Gentleman’s Club.” And I have to admit that I was recently involved in an “adults-only stripping” incident at that location… when I visited the doctor to have my back examined. Centennial Hospital is a far cry from Baby Dolls.

And that’s the problem I have with the way the upcoming “Late Night Hours” ordinance vote is being portrayed by its detractors. I spent some time perusing their website and couldn’t find a single cogent argument to support their position. Instead, they’re relying on what my industry calls “the FUD factor.” If you don’t have a strong position, spread Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt to discredit the other side.

Their home page shouts “Why risk it?” and then lists a litany of items that sound like they’re taken from the book of worldly ills. They even have an FAQ (what web site would be complete without one?) that lists a few other maladies that are likely to befall our “hamlet” if we have the temerity to allow people to drink for a couple extra hours. But here’s the disturbing part. Nowhere on the site do they include one shred of evidence to support any of their positions.

Now, when I took my high-school debate classes, that kind of arguing would have left me with a big fat “F” on my report card. I’m happy to say that I avoided that particular situation until my initial semester of college (c’mon, Fortran?!? Who needs to know that?). So let me present a few facts about this key issue to help clear the air. First and foremost, we have to consider the reason this issue came up in the first place. Frisco is a growing city, with a number of attractive features. But we’re competing for tax dollars with some better-established and better-known neighbors. And the current restrictions on “last call” put us at a disadvantage compared to cities like Plano and The Colony. Nowhere is this more evident than attracting conventions and other events. Bill Bretches, the general manager of the Embassy Suites hotel adjacent to the Convention Center, recently estimated that the loss of one such event could cost his establishment more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Next, there is absolutely no evidence that extended hours attracts strip clubs, honky-tonks or speakeasies. Those businesses tend to congregate in areas with a lot more traffic than our little suburb. Don’t believe me? Then please show me even one “gentleman’s club” in Plano.

Finally, it’s important to keep this issue in perspective. Current city ordinances allow businesses to stay open until one A.M. on Saturdays, and midnight any other night. So we’re only talking about adding a couple of hours each night. Hardly enough time to bring on global Armageddon, or to even hinder our quality of life. More significantly, the issue is likely to be moot in just a few years. Once the population of Collin county reaches 800,000, state liquor laws kick in, over-riding any city ordinances. With the current head count hovering around 730,000 it’s highly likely that we’ll hit that mark well before the next official Census. So is it really going to hasten the fall of western civilization if we pre-empt that by a couple of years?

With daily reminders of global warming, the terrorist threat and other global crises rampant in today’s media, we must all be vigilant for those who would debate matters of public policy armed with nothing but innuendo and logical fallacies. If you’re opposed to drinking after midnight, then by all means, don’t do it. And if you feel strongly enough about it, arm yourself with reasoned arguments and salient facts and wade into the fray of public discourse.

But don’t try to peddle uncertainty and doom just to scare us into conforming to your view of the world. I outgrew the bogyman in the first grade, and I’m betting that most Frisco voters did as well.