In the latest installment of our weekly conversation with Fort Worth leaders, District 9 Council member Elizabeth Beck talks about her background and her stance on a proposed cruising ordinance and a failed mask mandate for city-owned buildings. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio attached to this article.
Jessica Priest: Hello everyone, this is Jessica Priest with the Fort Worth Report, and I’m spending a few minutes with Councilwoman Elizabeth Beck. She represents District 9. I live in District 9, so how would you describe District 9? It’s a big area of the city.
Elizabeth Beck: I like to call District 9 the heartbeat of Fort Worth. It’s the heart of Fort Worth. It is our center city. It is our old historic communities. It is diverse in population. It is diverse in the built environment. And it is also, I think, the best district in Fort Worth.
Priest: We have only talked when you were running or right before the run off, so I refreshed my memory. I went to your campaign website and read your bio. You have a very varied background. What of all your background most informs who you are as a city councilwoman?
Beck: I think that what molded me or what has shaped me the most is my childhood and how that impacted my life. It’s something that I carry with me. And I step back to that little girl often when I make decisions because I want to ensure that we’re taking care of Fort Worth. And so I think the perspective that it gives me as someone who grew up in poverty and chaos and was able to find a pathway out informs so much of the priorities that I have and the perspective that I bring to counsel.
Priest: For people who haven’t read that part of your website, could you tell them a little bit about your childhood?
Beck: Both of my parents were drug addicts. And my dad was homeless for large portions of my childhood. My parents were divorced. And we lived with my mother and family members from time to time and friends. And so, as one can imagine, that left a pretty big scar on my upbringing.
Priest: Have the issues that you faced in your childhood come up already in your service on council? Have you dealt with the homelessness issue?
Beck: Absolutely. I think it really informs my point of view when it comes to homelessness, when it comes to mental health, when it comes to the services and the support that the city can provide its residents to enable them to succeed. Homelessness is something that people don’t like to see in the city. They don’t like to have to look it in the eyes and name it. And I think that having a father that had been homeless for a good portion of my life because of mental health and drug addiction, it gives me a sense of compassion.
Priest: Do you have any ideas you want to bring forward as a city councilwoman to address those two issues?
Beck: District 9, when I talked about it being a very diverse district, I have some of the loudest voices in the room here in Fort Worth and then also some of the quietest, those that don’t have a voice. And I would really hope to be that voice. The most direct path to end homelessness is to put someone in a home. We spend a lot of time and effort giving people the tools that they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. What we really should be giving them is a boot because if you don’t have a boot, a bootstrap is pointless. And so I would like to see more permanent supportive housing for our homeless population throughout the city, not just in District 9, but I think that there’s a need for it in District 9 as well. When it comes to community policing, I think that some of the changes we’ve seen by the Fort Worth Police Department and how they address homelessness, mental health are huge steps in the right direction of how we become more compassionate, empathetic as a community.
Priest: We’ve covered this a little bit, but what are your top three priorities right now?
Beck: Specific to District 9, affordable housing is a big issue. I know it’s a problem across the city. But as we have seen District 9 and the center city redevelop, we’re often pricing folks out of neighborhoods or areas that they’ve lived in. We have some really amazing entertainment areas throughout the district, we have downtown, we have West 7th, we have Magnolia and near Southside, and we also have our Medical District. And those are industries that we need to make sure we’re supporting and we’re providing housing to and in a close proximity to where they work. And as we see the cost of rents and homeownership throughout the district increase, I think it just amplifies our need to make sure that we have a diverse housing stock and a diversity in price point as well and that we have workforce housing that’s attainable. That is really important to me, and, obviously, making sure that our downtown is healthy. I talk about the heart of the city, and the heart has to be healthy for the rest of the city to be healthy.
Priest: What do you mean by that?
Beck: COVID took a really tough toll on downtown. And I think it took a toll on the rest of the city. But the nature of the built environment and downtown is where you see the most impact. We want to make sure that the office buildings are filling back up with people — because it takes that community to support our retail and our restaurants — and to bring back that thriving nature of downtown. And then I think my third would definitely be a push and a drive to really double down on public transportation throughout the city. There’s a focus on building for density, particularly in the district that I have the honor of representing, but we are building as if we have a robust transit system when we do not have a robust transit system, and that’s going to create a lot of problems if we don’t provide the system that we’re building for. Because to have that density that we’re looking for, you cannot build enough parking. We do not have the space. We don’t have the land in District 9 to build the parking required for the level of density that we put a focus on building in the district. I don’t think that building out is necessarily the solution. It’s having that tough conversation about how we’re going to finance a robust public transportation system to move folks around the city.
Priest: That leads me into my next question. The council has been talking about this cruising ordinance that would affect your district. A lot of your constituents say that the real problem is public transportation. What do you think would be the best way to ease congestion, to make it safer in the West 7th Entertainment District?
Beck: I think the long-term solution is investing in that robust transit system to give people the opportunity to leave their car at home and use, whether it’s a bus or light rail, to get to these entertainment districts. But that’s a longer-term solution. I think that we have to look at the operations of that particular district. Every entertainment district has its own unique setup and need and mix of residential and commercial, but for West 7th we know that it’s a safety issue, that you cannot get cars or it’s very difficult to move in and out of that area. And there’s a lot of pieces that are creating that issue. We have designated areas for rideshare, but they’re not well marked. And we haven’t worked with our apps the way that we could to make sure that those are really being utilized. One of the tough pieces is the Door Dashes and the Favors of the world. Parking is at a premium in that area. And if you’re in Doordash or you need to stop and get that order out quickly, you see a lot of the time the solution is just to stop the car right there. Commercial deliveries at peak times. I think that there is some congestion management. I think there are some congestion management tactics that we can employ to help reduce the congestion down on West 7th.
Priest: Besides making some streets one way?
Beck: They’ve done that already. And the idea with that was to alleviate some of the traffic or to at least streamline it so that you’re moving it at a greater rate. But we know that that hasn’t been enough to alleviate it. There aren’t a ton of parking options and there aren’t a ton of affordable parking options in that particular area. And so I think it’s a little tougher problem to solve. But I think with some innovative thinking we can get that done so that people aren’t driving around looking for a parking space and that we’re easing that congestion where we’re providing a more pedestrian, more pedestrian friendly environment. And I think that will go a long way to making it a more pleasurable experience to visit West 7th.
Priest: Could you work with or could you ask the people who have parking garages down there like to make their spaces cost less or be more affordable? Is there anything you could do on that piece?
Beck: To the extent private property rights rule in Texas, that would be difficult, but it’s a conversation worth having as part of that broader conversation to bring folks to the table and really determine what solutions are viable. I think there’s a lot of ideas, but you really have to focus on what are the practical and the viable congestion mitigation techniques, whether it be short term or or long term.
Priest: What public transportation to that area currently exists? Do you have an idea of how you’re going to get your fellow council members to support funding public transportation, funding Trinity Metro more?
Beck: Right now, there’s a dash that operates and Trinity Metro does operate a bus service, their bus service in and around the West 7th area. I don’t know that it’s conducive for use because of the timing, when service starts and when service ends, for that particular district. I think that you have a city council that has more members than it did previously that are truly committed to public transportation and a public transit system. And so to that end, I hope to work with my colleagues to prioritize public transportation in the future. But again, those are tough decisions, tough conversations, because money is a finite resource. We have to be good stewards of our residents. How do you balance an affordable tax rate with the needs of a rapidly growing city? That’s going to take prioritization. We are going to really need to look at how we prioritize what we’re spending and what we’re putting in our budgets and our bond packages.
Priest: The cruising ordinance was taken off of the Aug. 17 City Council meeting agenda. Do you think that ordinance is dead, or do you expect it to come back before the City Council?
Beck: Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t had a conversation with (City Manager) David Cooke as to why it was pulled off the agenda.
Priest: Is there any more information you want about the ordinance before you vote on it, if you get to vote on it?
Beck: Yeah, I asked for some additional data before we took a vote for not just my benefit, but the benefit of my colleagues and the community to make sure that we’re making a decision that’s grounded in fact-based evidence.
Priest: What data points were you looking for, number of tickets or crashes?
Beck: Safety is obviously a big concern, so the number of citations, the type of citations not just for cruising, which right now is (against city ordinance in) just north side, but how long it takes our emergency response vehicles to get into the interior of that particular area when needed and what other mitigation strategies we have employed. And what does cruising look like in that area? One of the things I asked for was visuals. Show us who is cruising. Show me what that looks like, show us what that looks like, so that we get a better idea of what we’re looking at because one of the big concerns was that it was going to disproportionately impact or it was targeting specifically the folks in the low rider community. If that’s the case, if we looked and we saw nothing but low riders, then I think that there’s probably a good point, a fair criticism that this might be disproportionately targeting a particular population. I know that to not be the case in this particular situation, but let’s make sure. I don’t think that slowing down sometimes just to make sure that we are being thorough is necessarily a bad thing.
Priest: Has the police department explained to you how they enforce the cruising ordinance? I am picturing an officer having to be by a stop sign and jotting down someone’s license plate and looking for it again. It seems very tedious.
Beck: I think practically speaking, it is difficult to enforce because it would take a police officer at a particular location making note of which cars drove past and if they drove past again and what that timeframe was. It’s not easy to enforce. That gives me some ease that because it is so difficult to enforce at times, that only truly egregious violators will be identified and it won’t be a tactic used to profile anyone in our city.
Priest: Lastly, I want to ask you about masks. You and I are talking after the Aug. 17 City Council meeting where there was a vote on instituting a mask mandate in city facilities. You joined Councilman Chris Nettles in asking for that to be put on the agenda. This came after a judge struck down Fort Worth ISD’s mask mandate. With that happening, why did you want to bring this forward and have a discussion about it?
Beck: With the rise of COVID-19, I think it’s incumbent upon us to care for the health of our community and instituting a mask policy in the city is a step toward doing that. I spent a lot of time in crafting that resolution and understanding why courts had either upheld certain ordinances or requirements from different jurisdictions and why they had tossed them out. And across the state, when a city or county or school districts have instituted mask policies specific to their facilities to date, the governor has not taken proactive action to enjoin them from doing so. Fort Worth ISD’s was struck down because there wasn’t a board vote on it, which is why I asked for a council vote. I looked at other ordinances, what our sister cities were doing across the state, what the courts had said about those particular ordinances or mandates, and attempted to craft one that I felt could hold up to legal muster.
Priest: With the mask mandate not passing today, what’s next? Do you foresee bringing this issue up again or is it time to move onto other things?
Beck: At this point, I’m not going to belabor my colleagues with continual votes on something that they’ve already spoken on. I don’t think that that’s a good use of resources. I think we need to see how this plays out in the courts. There’s been mask mandates ranging from just facilities countywide to all businesses across the state and they’re all in various forms of litigation. I think it’s probably best to stay that course and see what happens there so we legally have an idea of what we can do. You’ll see more of me, leading by example, wearing my mask, encouraging my colleagues to wear their masks, encouraging my constituents to wear their masks and continuing to have that conversation because I think the people of Fort Worth need to be encouraged to wear a mask. We need to keep it in conversation until we see the surge of COVID-19 because of the delta variant start to decline.
Priest: Great. Well, that was all of my questions. Thank you so much for joining me. Listeners, if you have any follow up questions for Councilwoman Beck or if you’d like to suggest future guests for us to have on, please reach out to us on our various social channels. If you’d like to read any stories about these issues that we’ve talked about, go to fortworthreport.org. You can support our journalism by going to fortworthreport.org/donate.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.