Saunders: Dix park plan is on the chopping block

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMarch 24, 2013 

Danged if they aren’t fixing to dump dirt all over Dumpling’s legacy.

A Republican-led Senate committee passed a bill last week to undo what was sure to be the enduring mark of former Gov. Bev “Dumpling” Perdue’s tenure – the lease of the former site of the Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital to the city of Raleigh for use as a park.

The Republicans’ plan? Tear up that contract and sell the rolling hills of green, green grass to the highest bidder. Given their infatuation with digging and drilling, don’t be surprised to hear that they’re fixing to take that beautiful, historic property and start fracking on it.

The GOP representatives who are sponsoring the bill claim the state got short-changed in the Perdue deal, and they want to revoke it and start negotiations anew with developers and the city. They know, of course, that it’s unlikely the city would be able to compete with some deep-pocketed strip mall magnate who wants to dot the grounds with yet another nail salon, check-cashing place and Manny’s Adult World Emporium.

Could the state have gotten more green for the greenery?

Undoubtedly it could have, but to paraphrase Jackie DeShannon, “Lord, we don’t need another strip mall.” To quote Joni Mitchell, though, they’re about to “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

The state leased the 325 acres to the city of Raleigh in a $68 million deal – $500,000 a year for 75 years plus 1.5 percent interest. Republican Sen. Ralph Hise of Spruce Pines said the true market value of the property is $84 million.

Big frackin’ deal. As Rep. Larry Hall of Durham said when I spoke with him Friday, “Everything is not just ‘maximum dollar value.’ Some things have generational value that can’t be measured” in dollars and cents.

Not only does Hall, a Democrat, think the Republicans are wrong to try to squeeze every cent out of the deal, but he also said, “They are setting a dangerous precedent. There’s a big principle involved here. Will we go through this every time there’s a change of administration? The worst thing we can do is start undoing state contracts because of a political vendetta.”

Republican Rep. Tom Apodaca even called it “illegitimate.” Yikes.

Hall responded: “Due diligence was done. There was an eight-year process in which citizens had a right to be heard.”

He also scoffed at some Republicans’ claims that they are sticking to the land’s original charter that it be used only for mental health. “If they were so concerned with mental health, they’d have approved Medicaid expansion,” he said, referring to the state’s rejection of millions in federal money for the poor.

Besides, in the real world, what could be more conducive to good mental health than a bucolic oasis in the midst of a concrete jungle?

No one should be surprised that the Republicans are trying to squeeze every dime from every deal. Our governor, remember, refers to citizens as “customers.”

It’s a good thing these legislators, who seemingly know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, weren’t around when the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.

You know that inscription “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. ... I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”?

Our legislators would most likely declaim, “Give me your earthmovers and tractors yearning to bend trees. Oh, and developers – leave your gold beside the door.”

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