Saturday, December 15, 2007

Interview: Juan Rangel

I saw Juan Rangel at the League of Women Voters' Forum in October and was very impressed with him. I found him knowledgeable and passionate. After that event, I must say that I was disappointed that his campaign decided to use the Trinity Trees mailing list for election purposes. I was also disappointed when he compared a fellow Democrat to Karl Rove in another campaign mailer.

However, I believe that this is an important election and I am approaching Tuesday's vote with an open mind. I am interested to hear what Juan has to say. Juan was gracious enough to respond to an e-mail interview dealing with this campaign's most important issues. I hope you will take a few minutes to read Juan's responses before going out to vote on Tuesday.

The Caravan of Dreams: The District 9 campaign has been as bitterly contested a race as Fort Worth has seen in a while. Are there any aspects of the race that you would have done differently if you had to do it again? Also, if you win, how do you propose moving forward and mending fences with any wounded parties?

Juan Rangel: I have tried to run a positive campaign that focuses on my experience and positions on the issues, especially gangs, gas drilling, Medstar and neighborhoods. I hope future campaigns in Fort Worth learn the lessons of this campaign and focus on issues important to Fort Worth families rather than people's sexual orientation, ethnicity, or by following someone around with a video camera.

I hope to mend fences by offering to sit down with Joel after the election and talk things out over a cup of coffee. I will listen to his perspective on the campaign and I hope he will listen to mine. In my experience, people get worked up in the heat of a campaign because these issues are very important to people, and sometimes both sides just need to count to ten and then talk to and listen to one another. I would also reach out to his supporters and ask them to help the City by serving on the many Boards and Commissions that Council members have to nominate individuals to serve. For instance, while the Tarrant Stonewall Democrats have been strong supporters of Joel, I agree with their goal of equality and I am impressed with several of their members, and hope that they would serve the City on Boards and Commissions. We need everyone to work together to meet the challenges facing Fort Worth.

TCoD: If you win the District 9 seat, one of the first issues you will face is urban gas drilling as the city reconstitutes the gas ordinance task force. How do you hope to approach this issue and what to you think you can accomplish for the voters in District 9?

JR: The Fort Worth Gas Drilling Task Force should be reconstituted to include new and fresh perspectives. In September, I called for the Gas Drilling Task Force to be reconstituted to address neighborhood and environmental concerns raised in recent months. I proposed that in addition to the representatives appointed by each council member, the Task Force should be expanded to include two at large members, one to represent neighborhoods and another charged with protecting Fort Worth’s environment. Shortly after I called for reconstituting the Gas Drilling Task Force, I was grateful that the City Council indicated that the Task Force would be reconstituted. I believe no issue should be off the table for the Gas Drilling Task Force. I believe that the Gas Drilling Task Force should focus on increasing protections for neighborhoods and our environment, with far more emphasis on traffic congestion from drilling and fracing operations, quick responses to hazardous conditions and dangers, water and air pollution, and broader safety zones around homes, schools, hospitals and churches.

At the same time we reconstitute the Gas Drilling Task Force, the City of Fort Worth should conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment of the effects of urban natural gas drilling. Fort Worth’s Gas Well Ordinance was drafted without any assessment of the effects of gas well drilling on our urban environment. To safely and effectively conduct urban drilling, Fort Worth must perform a thorough assessment of the effects of drilling on our air, water, streets, homes, schools and economic engines. I believe that once we identify the risks and benefits created by urban drilling, Fort Worth will be better able to take appropriate action.

TCoD: Gas transmission pipelines are becoming a larger issue in the city because they run through some city parks, and gas companies have begun applying for permission to build pipelines close to neighborhoods. Because state and federal laws make it difficult for cities to regulate pipelines, how do you propose the city approach this issue?

JR: We need a comprehensive system for mapping and overseeing the placement of natural gas pipelines. I want the City to work with all gas companies and drillers, and provide incentives so that companies would share pipelines, much as power lines are shared, to minimize impacts related to the proliferation of pipelines. Buried piping should also be identified with signs at the surface, to prevent damage by unrelated construction activities. These measures can limit the risk of the release of pressurized natural gas, explosions and fires caused by construction activity near unidentified pipelines. I believe the City should coordinate with gas companies to coordinate the placement of gas wells to limit as much as possible the duplication of gas drilling activities.

Trinity Park, Tandy Hills Park, the park space at the Zoo, the many City softball and soccer fields, Fort Woof Dog Park - our parks are great public spaces for our families to enjoy their free time. While some state and federal laws make it difficult to regulate pipelines, other laws make it difficult to convert public parkland to private use. We need to keep pipelines from compromising our City parks by enforcing these park laws and working to find alternative places for gas lines to be placed.

TCoD: As gas drilling moves into the neighborhoods, the issue is becoming more contentious. Do you believe that 600 feet is an adequate setback requirement? Do you believe in high-impact variances to allow drilling operations within that 600 foot limit? Are there other things the city should do to protect the safety of its residents and the environment?

JR: We need a wider safety zone between gas wells and homes, schools, hospitals, churches, and the Trinity River, of a distance recommended by a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment. The safety zone should also be enforced near water sources and economic engines like the Trinity River Vision, Sundance Square, the Hospital District, the Museum District, and major traffic arteries. As a Fort Worth ISD Trustee, I have already advocated for a minimum of 1,000 feet between wells and schools (instead of the 600' zone currently in effect). While there may be rare situations where such limits are not necessary, there are others that require an even larger zone of protection. We need to find a protective zone that puts our safety first.

I can't think of any situation in which a high impact variance should be allowed.

I support a ban on injection wells for disposal of frack water from the drilling process within Fort Worth city limits. This would protect Fort Worth's water supply. The City’s Environmental Director has stated that injection wells pose serious risks to our water supply. About 4.5 million gallons of water is used in the drilling and fracking processes, and at least 26 chemicals, including carcinogens, are used. If handled improperly, this highly polluted water will leak into our water supply. I believe that drillers should be encouraged to dispose of polluted wastewater through methods other than injection wells, such as recycling and off-site disposal of non-recyclable waste byproducts.

I was the first candidate to call for a 1,000-foot moratorium on drilling within 1,000 feet of the Trinity River and other water sources. I initially made this proposal as a partial response to the concern over the proposed destruction of the Trinity Trees, although my primary reason for the proposal was to make sure our water sources were protected. Shortly after making the proposal, the City’s Development Director also proposed that drilling should not be allowed near the Trinity River.

The City needs limits on the hours and days when drillers can drill and frac, to minimize the noise, light, air and traffic pollution from these activities. Also, drillers should pay for and conduct prompt road repairs for road damage caused by their trucks and equipment.

TCoD: One gas drilling issue that I am concerned about is the fact that the TCU gas drilling well will be going in 1,000 to 1,200 feet from my daughter's elementary school -- Alice Carlson. I don't like something that dangerous going in so close to a place where my daughter spends a third of her day, but it appears that the parents at the school will have no say. If you were the City Council representative for District 9, how would you handle this?

JR: I share your concern for Alice Carlson and other schools near proposed wells and pipelines, such as Daggett Montessori and Lily B. Clayton. Since I was first elected to the FWISD Board of Trustees in 2000, I have been charged by parents and all voters to protect our children and provide them the best education possible. As a FWISD Trustee, I have proposed expanding the zone of safety for our schools to 1,000 feet. If the Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment recommends that a drilling near schools be from a distance greater than 1,000 feet, than I will fight to impose the broadest safety zone needed to protect our schools and children.

In the interim, all FWISD schools should immediately develop evacuation routes, plans and protocols to protect our children in case of accidents at well sites or pipelines.

TCoD: What is your position on the Trinity River Vision project? Do you believe that the cost of the project is getting out of hand? Do you favor any spending caps?

JR: I support the Trinity River Vision project because it has real potential to provide economic growth and other benefits to Fort Worth families. But we need to make sure that the Trinity River Vision project provides benefits to the public at large and not just a select few. We need to be more frugal with public funds spent on the project. While I do not favor a cap at this time, we need to be up front about the price tag so the citizens may make an informed decision about whether to spend more money on the project.

TCoD: Regarding crime and fighting gang violence, is the situation in Fort Worth really that dire? This hasn't been an issue that has been in my consciousness. What am I not seeing?

JR: Talk to our police officers and they will tell you that gang crime is increasing every day. Talk to our teachers at Daggett Middle School, Paschal High School and the many other schools in our district south of Berry Street, who see kids drop out because of gang activities. Gang activity causes an increase in school drop out rates, and results in crimes including assault, burglary, vandalism, graffiti and auto theft. During this campaign, a teenager was shot and killed by suspected gang members, and another child was shot and injured by a suspected drive by shooting. Gang activity is an increasing problem that will become an epidemic that will spread to more and more neighborhoods and schools. We must nip it in the bud right now for the sake of children like yours.

I am proud that the Fort Worth Police Officers Association has endorsed me, in part, because I have the experience and a plan to deal with the emerging gang problem.

TCoD: Right now a moratorium exists on new injection wells in this city of Fort Worth. Do you believe that injection wells can be safely operated in the city? If not, do you have a position on disposal of wastewater from the fracking process?

JR: As I discussed earlier, I do not think injection wells can be operated safely in the City. And I think injections wells should be banned within the city. Instead of burying drilling waste, we need to recycle as much of this water as possible, and dispose of the non-recyclable material in off-site waste management facilities.

TCoD: Recently, Chesapeake Energy purchased 26.74 acres in various parcels between Montgomery Plaza and the Trinity River in Fort Worth. Because this land is so close to downtown, the river and the 7th Street corridor, are you concerned that this could disrupt the development going on in this area?

JR: Absolutely. The development along 7th Street and downtown will be a big boost for our economy. We need a balanced approach to gas well drilling that allows our City to reap the benefits in a way that minimally impacts on the things that make Fort Worth a special place to live and work.

TCoD: What is your position on tax incentives and special tax districts being used to entice businesses to relocate and/or expand in Fort Worth? In a few cases, these incentives have gone to businesses (Cabela's for example) which can more than afford to operate without them, thus costing the City much needed tax revenue. Will you continue this practice?

JR: I do not favor or oppose every tax abatement. I would consider tax abatements on a case-by-case basis. My number one criteria would be does the abatement provide a serious benefit to Fort Worth, such as creating good jobs for Fort Worth families. For example, there are over 65,000 jobs in the medical district (which is located in District 9) providing life saving care for our families. Tax abatements in the medical district to spur medical research or innovative medical care might be a good thing that will bring good jobs. Tax abatements to restore downtrodden neighborhoods and return vital services to them (like grocery stores and bans) can also be appropriate. All too often, tax abatements have been perceived as taking care of those who don't need taking care of. We need to avoid those types of abatements.

TCoD: What is your position on the development of commuter and light rail in Fort Worth? If you support this, what are some things that you believe that you can do to facilitate that development?

JR: I believe we need to encourage the development of commuter light rail in Fort Worth. While urban gas drilling along Eighth Avenue is not wise or responsible, I think Eighth Avenue might be a good location for light rail stations, connecting our district to Downtown and other job hubs. We need the State to take leadership for the traffic and environmental problems of the North Texas Region and coordinate the solution. We should work with other North Texas Cities to get the State to implement a comprehensive traffic plan that includes light rail that addresses traffic that cause long commutes and threats to our environment.

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