October 2003 Archives

City Council replay


As always, Thursday's City Council meeting will be rebroadcast on Tulsa's Cox Cable channel 3, starting at 6 a.m. The debate on 71st & Harvard will begin about 6:30 and will run until about 9:30. Tune in: It will give you a chance to evaluate for yourselves the quality of representation you have on the City Council.

I got an e-mail last night from someone considering a run against an incumbent Councilor, asking how to proceed. The time is now to get organized and raise money if you want to make a serious run at it. Filing is in January, the primary is in February, and the general election in March. I'd be happy to provide the benefit of my experience to candidates who are serious about running and serious about serving the public interest with energy and intelligence. E-mail me at blog at batesline dot com. And if you're a registered Republican, contact Chairman Don Burdick at Republican HQ, 627-5702, chairman@tulsagop.org. If you're a Democrat contact Chairman Elaine Dodd at Democrat HQ, 742-2457.

DNS weirdness


My hosting provider has moved to a new server, and I'm finding that there's some cyberspace confusion as the Domain Name Service (DNS) record for www.batesline.com is moved from pointing to one machine to pointing to another.

On the Internet, a diverse and diffuse system, such changes are not made instantaneously across the Internet from "Internet Central Control". (Internet Central Control doesn't exist. In fact, that is the key design feature of the Internet.) Instead, a change to the correspondence between a domain name (www.batesline.com) and a numeric Internet Protocol address ( -- the new address) spreads through the Internet like ripples through a pond, as one DNS server tells several others about the change.

Ultimately, your ISP needs to find out about the change, as does software in your own computer. At the moment, my computer at home and work still have batesline.com pointing to the old address, while my laptop is pointing to the new. This creates certain side effects -- I've posted to the blog from home, and it goes on the old server, but I don't see the post from my laptop, which is somehow pointed to the new server, which has the site as it was when the ISP moved my files over.

This will just be a weird couple of days, I'm afraid, until the DNS change is fully propagated, so bear with us. I will try to post to both old and new servers until the changeover is complete.

The good news is this -- the move to a new server is necessary because my hosting provider -- BlogHosts -- is doing a great job of providing affordable hosting, so they're winning lots of new clients. I recommend them highly.

[To keep this from filling the home page, I've put most of this report in the extended entry. Click the link after the next paragraph to read the whole thing.]

Just a quick note to let you all know that the Council approved F&M Bank's zoning application by a 5-4 vote -- Joe Williams, David Patrick, Tom Baker, Art Justis, and Randy Sullivan supported F&M's application and opposed the homeowners -- Chris Medlock, Sam Roop, Bill Christiansen, and Susan Neal voted against. All this despite an effective presentation by Medlock, and effective testimony from neighborhood representatives Mona Miller, Chris Denny, and Kay Bridger Riley, who did as effective a job as I've seen in making their case and remaining calm. (They were only able to speak at Councilor Medlock's behest. The public hearing was held on October 9, and this meeting was a continuance.)

I received word yesterday that the formal protest filed by property owners in the 71st & Harvard area has been rejected as insufficient by INCOG staff, and so a super-majority of the council will not be required to approve the rezoning of the southwest corner of 71st & Harvard. The rezoning case will be before the City Council tomorrow night (Thursday, October 30, 6 p.m.). Neighborhood leaders from across the city should turn out to support our fellow homeowners. You should also e-mail or phone your councilor (distX@tulsacouncil.org, 596-192X, where X is the district number) and register your opposition. You can also e-mail the council secretary at wshott@tulsacouncil.org to send a message to all nine councilors. The meeting will be in the Council chambers, starting at 6 p.m. (The location is marked as number 2 on this map of the Civic Center.)

(Click here, here, here, and here for earlier articles on the rezoning, with links to the application and the planning commission minutes.)

The proposed zoning change is not in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan and sets a precedent for commercial development at totally residential arterial nodes. This precedent could be applied at Midtown intersections like 21st & Peoria, 31st & Peoria, 31st & Lewis, 41st & Lewis. The change also breaks a promise made to area residents when they dropped their lawsuit against the six-laning of 71st Street.

State law and city ordinance provide a safeguard against arbitrary zoning changes. If owners of at least 50% of the lots within 300 feet sign a protest against the change, it requires a 3/4 vote of the council to approve it. That means there must be seven yes votes (abstentions count as if they were votes against).

The neighborhoods near the proposed change have done an excellent job of mobilizing and secured the necessary signatures, but INCOG and the City of Tulsa legal department have been working equally hard to find any technicality to disallow the protest. Today, INCOG land development staffers Wayne Alberty and Jim Dunlap went through the protest petitions and disallowed most of them with the encouragement of Alan Jackere, an attorney for the City of Tulsa. Here are a couple of the reasons used to disallow a protest:

* The property is jointly owned by husband and wife, but only one spouse signed. In one case, the husband's name is still on the deed, but has been dead for several years. That protest was disallowed.

* The property is owned by a trust (a means of avoiding probate), and the owner signed his name, but failed to sign it with the word "trustee".

The homeowners learned that these technicalities might be used and so they filed an amended petition, correcting any nit the lawyers might wish to pick. The amended petition was disallowed on the grounds that it was not filed before the initial TMAPC hearing (back on August 27), but there was a difference of opinion between two City lawyers, with Patrick Boulden saying the petition could be filed prior to the City Council hearing, and Alan Jackere saying it had to be filed prior to the initial TMAPC hearing. The wording in the ordinance (Title 42, Section 1703 E) is very clear that the deadline is three days before the City Council's public hearing.

I am informed that this provision has never been successfully used -- they always find a technicality for rejecting the protest.

So now the question is before the Council. Unfortunately, most of the City Councilors -- Patrick, Baker, Justis, Sullivan, Christiansen, and Neal -- received at least $1,000 in campaign contributions from F&M Bank Board members, and Christiansen is the only one of those six who opposes F&M's rezoning application. (Christiansen has constituents who would be affected by the rezoning, which may explain why he is opposing it despite the contributions.) The other five who got F&M money are said to support the rezoning, but we will find out for sure tonight.

Of the three who did not get funds from F&M -- Medlock, Roop, and Williams -- Medlock has been very supportive of the neighborhoods, working to ensure fair treatment of their protest petition, and leading the opposition to the change. Roop and Williams are also reported to oppose the change.

So it appears that Christiansen, Medlock, Roop, and Williams will oppose the rezoning -- if one more councilor would support the neighborhood, or even abstain, the precedent-setting rezoning would fail.

So please e-mail or phone your councilor, and if possible show up to speak in support of the neighborhood.

71st & Harvard zoning update


The F&M Bank 71st and Harvard rezoning issue is back on the City Council agenda this week. It's on the Urban and Economic Development committee agenda on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., at which time it's expected that the neighborhood's protest will be certified, requiring approval of the zoning change by seven councilors. The zoning change itself will probably be before the City Council on Thursday night.

I am awaiting confirmed details, but I am told that several of the councilors who support the rezoning received campaign contributions from F&M executives. In doing some research into Savannah's zoning process, I saw this prominent notice, which appears at the top of the planning commission's agenda each week:

The Georgia Conflict of Interest in Zoning Actions Statute (OCGA Chapter 67A) requires disclosure of certain campaign contributions made by applicants for rezoning actions and by opponents to rezoning actions. Contributions or gifts which in aggregate total $250.00 or more if made within the last two years to a member of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, City Council, or County Commission who will act on the request must be disclosed by applicants. Persons who oppose a rezoning request by speaking before these officials, by direct contact with these officials, or in writing to these officials must also disclose such contributions. Disclosure reports must be filed with either the Clerk of Council or the Clerk of the Chatham County Commissioners, as appropriate, by applicants within ten (10) days after the rezoning application is filed and by opponents at least five (5) calendar days prior to the first hearing by the Metropolitan Planning Commission. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor.

This seems a fair way to provide the public with information to evaluate the performance of the councilors. I would hope that any councilor who took a significant amount of campaign money from F&M executives or board members would voluntarily recuse themselves from this decision.

Republicans saddle up and ride


Joe and I headed out to a barbecue Saturday night -- a fundraiser for the Republican State House Committee at the Kellyville ranch of Todd Hiett, five-term state rep, House Minority Leader, and the next Speaker of the State House (I hope). It was too chilly and windy, but we had a good time and great food anyway. (Dinner was sliced pork -- appropriate.)

Nearly all the Republican members of the State House were there, as were many candidates. Congressmen Ernest Istook and John Sullivan were there, along with Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune, and Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys. Another ex-Congressman was there as well, and a Democrat at that -- Clem McSpadden, rodeo announcer and lobbyist, who served eighteen years in the State Senate, and a single term in Congress (elected 1972) before an unsuccessful run for Governor in 1974.

The Congressmen and Mayors each had a chance to speak. Mayor LaFortune recounted a conversation at the OU-Texas game with Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- LaFortune described him as the leader of the competition -- who told LaFortune that nothing Oklahoma did to compete for jobs would matter until we dealt with our income tax and tort reform.

The highlight of the evening was the bullriding competition -- most of the state legislators got aboard a mechanical bull and tried to hang on for the prescribed time, as Clem McSpadden provided commentary. Kirk Humphreys took a spin on the bull as well. (The amateurs had a chance to ride earlier. I took a pass -- back problems -- but Joe rode it twice.)

There was some juicy political gossip floating around. There's a rumor that County Commissioner Randi Miller may face primary challenges next year from both proponents and opponents of Vision 2025. I'm told that the issue is not so much the sales tax election but a perception that she's timid and unwilling to make tough decisions. Her absence during the recent vote on raising county salaries (including her own) is cited as an example of trying to dodge politically tricky issues.

As the sun went down, the party wound down, and the conversations continued as Joe played hide-and-seek with some of the other boys.

I can't close without mentioning that on the way to and from the ranch, we passed the old Max Meyer spread -- the ruins of his native stone tourist cabins are still visible, on 66 just west of the 33 junction, just east of the Creek County Fairgrounds. (If you haven't read Lewis Meyer's book about his amazing father, you have missed a treat.)

The state Attorney General's office is holding seminars around the state this fall to help citizens and public officials understand the Open Meetings and Open Records act. These two acts are important tools in ensuring public access to the decision-making process. They have sometimes been misunderstood and abused -- for example, twisted to stifle public comment at public hearings, on the grounds that a citizen has brought up a topic not on the agenda. So it's important for ordinary citizens concerned about the way government is being run to educate themselves on their rights and the government's responsibilities.

Unfortunately, all the seminars appear to be outside the metropolitan areas and during working hours. Here's the schedule of remaining events:

Oct. 27 Ardmore Southern Oklahoma Technology Center
Oct. 29 Lawton Great Plains Technology Center
Nov. 12 Alva Northwest Technology Center
Nov. 14 Weatherford Weatherford Pioneer Center
Nov. 19 Claremore Rogers State University
Nov. 24 Ponca City Pioneer Technology Center
Nov. 25 Stillwater Meridian Technology Center
Dec. 8 Seminole Seminole State College
Dec. 9 McAlester Eastern Oklahoma State College

All seminars begin at 1 p.m. They are free, open to the public, and no reservations are required.

No strings attached to AA money?


A disturbing quote from County Commission chairman Wilbert Collins in Saturday's Whirled (continued here):

Tulsa County voters approved $22.3 million in incentives for American that will be used for capital improvements, tooling, equipment and inventory.

Prior to the Sept. 9 vote on the $885 million Vision 2025 package, County Commissioner Bob Dick had said he would not support giving the airline money only to have it leave Tulsa later. Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune said the funding would come with "big strings" attached, those being job retention and growth, [Carmine] Romano said. [Romano is AA's Tulsa vice president of base maintenance.]

"That's the whole intention of the 2025 vision, to provide employment here, and I'm dedicated to that," said Romano.

While American announced it will keep its maintenance facility in Tulsa and add new work, Collins said the county could not force it to follow through on those plans.

"We can't make any demands on American. We can talk about what we'd like to see, but we can't make any demands on that corporation," he said.

At the moment, the county is having an attorney (county fair board member Jim Orbison) work on an agreement between the County and American Airlines, prior to the airline receiving county tax funds. I hope the County will make demands of American before they hand over the $22.3 million.

Carmine Romano has said he'd be willing to sign an agreement. We should take him up on the offer. The time to insist on terms is before Tulsa County hands over the money. Otherwise we may find ourselves in the same position as Wetumka, Oklahoma, which raised money to bring a circus to town, only to have the promoter run off with the cash. Ever since the good people of Wetumka have commemorated their credulity with a "Sucker Day" celebration. Let's hope we don't follow in their footsteps.

Change the charter?


One of the interesting items on the City Council agenda this week is consideration of proposed changes to the City of Tulsa's charter -- our City's constitution, which defines the structure of City government. Tulsa's charter was completely rewritten in 1989 and took effect in 1990, replacing a system of five elected commissioners acting as both executives and legislators with a "strong mayor, weak council" form of government, which vested all executive authority in the Mayor, and creating a relatively powerless City Council designed to provide representation for all parts of the city. The charter has rarely been amended. I've proposed a few changes in the past, mostly advocating for election reforms: non-partisan elections (a first round election, followed by a runoff if no one gets a majority), adoption of "instant runoff voting" when voting machine technology makes it practical.

The charter specifies that amendments will be put before the voters at the biennial general election. The Council sets the timetable for considering amendments, receiving suggestions from the public and from Councilors the summer before the election, then selecting some for which a draft amendment will be prepared by the City Attorney's office, and finally settling on which amendments will be put before the voters. Few amendments have made it all the way to the ballot, and of those that have, I think all of them have passed.

The proposals are scheduled to be discussed at this Tuesday's Council committee meetings (2nd floor of City Hall, 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.), and a public hearing will be held on November 6.

This year there were proposals to increase the Council's term from 2 years to 4, to make the City Auditor an appointed official, and to move city elections from the spring of even-numbered years to the fall of odd-numbered years. I haven't seen all the details yet, but I like the election date proposal and am skeptical of the others.

There are two good reasons to support moving the election date. The current election sequence culminates with the swearing-in on the second Tuesday in April. Within two months of taking office the Council must consider and approve a city budget for the coming fiscal year. New councilors have complained that there isn't enough time to get up to speed on such a complex document. The current schedule has new councilors taking their seats in the midst of the budget process, dealing with a budget largely shaped by their predecessors. Moving the elections back to the previous November -- swearing in could be that same month, December, or January 1 -- would give incoming councilors plenty of time to find their feet before budget crunch time.

It's been suggested that moving the start of the fiscal year to January would alleviate the problem and eliminate the need to move the election dates. But there's another great reason to move the election dates to the fall of odd years: It's better for grass-roots campaigning, putting the candidates in touch with the voters.

Door-to-door campaigning is important for a number of reasons. Candidates learn a lot about what matters to their constituents, often changing their preconceived set of priorities, and making them more effective representatives. Voters get a chance to talk to the candidates face-to-face, get their questions answered, and form an impression of a candidate unfiltered by the media or by the candidate's own publicity machine. And door-to-door campaigning is an equalizer -- you can knock doors even if you don't have the money for lots of direct mail or newspaper ads.

Currently the primary is the first Tuesday in February, leaving only four weeks to campaign for that hurdle -- no one will be paying attention before Christmas and New Year's Day. And that campaigning must be done during the darkest and coldest part of the year, with very little prime time for door-to-door campaigning between when people get home from work and when the son goes down. Although I've been blessed with unseasonably warm weather for most of my two campaigns, I did take a nasty spill on an icy driveway toward the end of the 2002 race.

A fall campaign enjoys warmer weather and plenty of sunlight, as most of it will be conducted during Daylight Savings Time, and during the late summer and the warmer part of autumn. Candidates will be able to start campaigning as early as they need to to allow them to meet as many prospective constituents as possible.

On appointing an auditor: By default, I'm skeptical of any proposal to make an elected official no longer elected. When Tulsa's charter was proposed, Bob Dick, who campaigned for the new charter, described the Auditor under the new form of government as the "anti-mayor", someone with enough power and scope to act as a check on the Mayor's power. It hasn't worked out that way, perhaps because of the man who has held the office since before the charter changed. Phil Wood is a dedicated public servant and committed to the ethics and principles of the auditing profession, but tempermentally he will never be an "anti-mayor". The proposed change would create a nine-member board, one member appointed by each councilor, to appoint the auditor. Advocates of this change believe it will make the auditor more responsive to the City Council and provide more of a counterweight to the Mayor.

I don't like the idea of longer terms for councilors either. I think running for election every two years helps keep councilors from becoming alienated from their voters -- at least it should, assuming the councilor has a strong challenger and has to work hard for re-election. I would also oppose staggered terms -- I think it's healthy to have a way to throw all the bums out at once. I hear that supporters of the idea believe that it would give councilors who wish to challenge the status quo more time to pursue reforms before the establishment comes after them in the next election. Again, I'm skeptical.

I'll add a link to the proposals once their available online.

If you're curious, Savannah has its municipal elections in the November of the year before the presidential election. The City Council consists of a Mayor, elected at large, two at-large councilors, and six councilors elected by district. Day-to-day, the city is run by the City Manager. All the councilors are up for election every four years. Elections are non-partisan -- everyone is on the initial ballot, and if no candidate gets more than 50%, a runoff between the top two contestants three weeks later. The election was in full swing during my visit, and the Mayor's race is a wide-open, six-candidate contest. The incumbent was term-limited out. Here's a link to the election coverage of the Savannah Morning News, and a link to Savannah city government's home page. The paper had nice things to say about all six mayoral candidates, but they favor Dicky Mopper, owner of a real estate company.

More Savannah notes


* Savannah has a number of historic home tours, and one is presenting a variation on the traditional haunted house. The Isaiah Davenport house (Historic Savannah Foundation's first preservation success) has a living history presentation this month called "Deadly Pestilence", a depiction of the yellow fever epidemic of 1820, based on the diaries of a doctor and other historical records. Small group tours watch as the doctor treats a victim of the "black vomit", as it was also known, and hear period characters discuss the epidemic and the evacuation of the city.

* One of the pleasures of visiting several times over the last six years is seeing the city's progress. Broughton Street has improved by leaps and bounds, most notably with the restoration of the 150-year oldMarshall House Hotel. The beautiful Lucas Theatre is finally open -- the long restoration was finally getting back underway when I first visited in '97. The Pulaski monument had been taken down in 1997 before it fell down -- now it's back in place, fully restored. Vacant lots in the southwest corner of the Historic District are being replaced with new townhouses done in the local style -- an area now called the "Gardens District". (Infill development that fits its surroundings is another lesson Tulsa can learn from Savannah.)

* Another example of sensitive infill is the Hampton Inn on Bay Street, where I stayed this trip. It was built in 1997, with the right materials, scale, and details to make it a good fit for the area.

* A great example of adaptive reuse is Parkers' Market, an old gas station on Drayton Street restored a few years ago as a gourmet convenience store. (Think of a small Wild Oats Market. Here are pictures of the inside.) The covered forecourt is striped for three lanes of customers -- left lane has three gas pumps, the right two lanes are for other shoppers -- and each lane can accommodate three or four vehicles. You pull up as far as you can, and you may have to wait a bit for the person in front to leave, but usually not long. The forecourt was a convenient shelter on Saturday night. I was out for a late walk, stopped in for a bottle of pop. It was close to midnight but the store was full of shoppers -- many of them students from nearby SCAD residences. While inside, the skies opened up, and so I spent the next twenty minutes under the canopy drinking my Diet Dr Pepper, watching the downpour and the customers come and go, and waiting for the rain to slacken enough so I could walk back to the hotel. (The only exterior photo I can find is this one, as it's being boarded up for an oncoming hurricane.)

* Sunday morning, I worshipped (with only 22 others) at Thunderbolt Baptist Church, and after lunch went for a walk in Bonaventure Cemetery, remarkable for the variety of statuary and monuments, the last resting place of Johnny Mercer and Conrad Aiken, and famous as the site of the photo that graces the cover of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". (The "bird girl" statue in the photo is now in the Telfair Museum downtown.) It was a beautiful afternoon, a fine day for contemplating one's mortality (particularly as one's 40th birthday is rapidly approaching). And there is something wonderful about a live oak tree draped with spanish moss, and the way it filters the sunlight, and even more wonderful to walk down a lane lined with live oaks.

Clayton Cramer calls attention to a remarkable survey by Barna Research, which reveals a lot of theological confusion in America -- born-again Christians who believe that you can earn a place in heaven by good works, and atheists who believe in heaven, hell, and that Jesus is the way to eternal life. From the report:

Many of those who describe themselves as either atheistic or agnostic also harbor contradictions in their thinking. “Half of all atheists and agnostics say that every person has a soul, that Heaven and Hell exist, and that there is life after death. One out of every eight atheists and agnostics even believe that accepting Jesus Christ as savior probably makes life after death possible. These contradictions are further evidence that many Americans adopt simplistic views of life and the afterlife based upon ideas drawn from disparate sources, such as movies, music and novels, without carefully considering those beliefs. Consequently, the labels attached to people – whether it be ‘born again’ or ‘atheist’ may not give us as much insight into the person’s beliefs as we might assume.”

On the one hand, this is encouraging news for Christians, because these contradictory beliefs held by atheists represent a point of contact between the atheist and the Biblical world view, and thus an avenue for the Gospel. On the other hand, the idea that one's worldview should hang together logically no longer seems to be accepted by the American public -- that's bad news for the spiritual realm and the civic realm.



I'm back from Savannah, as of late last night, but I still have observations to pass along.

The weather was just beautiful -- mid-70s, blue skies, a dry breeze from inland. October is still hurricane season, but except for one stormy night, the weather was ideal. Most of my trips have been in July and August, so this trip evened things out a bit.

I fell off the low-carb wagon this week. I did Atkins over the summer and lost about 25 pounds. I regained a few this week, thanks to sweet tea, fresh biscuits and gravy, and candied yams. Savannah's the home of Dixie Crystals, so you don't think they'll use Splenda in their recipes!

My last morning in town -- I've packed up, checked out of the hotel, and have some time to walk around and get some lunch before going to the job site, and then on to the airport.

It's a bit OCD of me, but when I'm in town, I like to set foot in all 24 of the historic district's squares, even the two (Liberty and Elbert) that were nearly obliterated back in the '30s. That way I cover the entire historic district -- get my exercise and see what's changed since last time. So I was finishing my rounds and crossing Jones Street. It's about 12:45 and I notice that the line outside Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room is not very long. I had not figured that eating at Mrs. Wilkes' place would be possible this trip, and had planned on getting my last fix of Southern cuisine at a buffet I hadn't tried yet, on my way to the job site.

It took about 15 minutes to get seated. Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes ran the house as a boarding house for railway workers, using the raised basement (basements in Savannah are at street level, front doors are 8 feet or so above) as a dining room. Food is still served boarding house style. I sat with tourists from New England, Florida, and Oregon. As dictated by the dynamics of family dinners, all the serving dishes tended to cluster on one side or the other.

There are usually about 20 dishes on the table. Wednesday we had fried chicken, beef stew, mashed potatoes, gravy, white rice, brown rice, pickled beets, candied yams, boiled okra and tomatoes, collard greens, green beans, lima beans, boiled cabbage, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, sliced tomatoes, butter beans, turnips, squash, biscuits and cornbread, sweet tea, and banana pudding for dessert. All for $13.

So I completed the trifecta of Savannah Southern restaurants -- The Lady and Sons (now about three weeks away from opening in their new, much bigger space a couple of blocks east), Nita's Place, and Mrs. Wilkes'.

Paula Deen, the owner of the Lady and Sons, has her own show on Food TV, and her restaurant is always packed. With the new location, it will finally be possible once again to show up for lunch without a reservation. This time, we booked ahead for Tuesday at 11, and were there when one of the cooks came out to announce the menu, ring the dinner bell, and holler "Come and get it!" My first visit was back in '97. I needed a place to eat Sunday lunch, and Mrs. Wilkes' is closed on weekends. I saw a little newspaper ad for a Southern buffet, and decided to give it a try. Paula was out meeting and serving the customers, and she autographed a copy her self-published cookbook for my wife. (My anniversary gift to her that year.)

The Lady and Sons have an incredibly rich dessert called gooey butter cake, which comes in various flavors -- I've tried pumpkin, chocolate, and lemon, and I've even made chocolate gooey butter cake for potlucks ("providential dinners" as we Calvinists call them).

Nita's Place used to be here on Abercorn; now it's on Broughton, the main shopping street. Meg Ryan ate here and loved it. Postcards from satisified diners from around the world are on the walls and under the glass on the table tops.

I had no shortage of good meals in Savannah:

* Barnes' Restaurant -- good ribs and brunswick stew

* Don's Famous Barbecue -- Lexington, North Carolina, style sliced pork in downtown Pooler, Ga.

* A Big House breakfast at the Huddle House in Garden City, on my way in to work at 1:30 a.m. (Huddle House restaurants bear a shocking resemblance to Waffle House -- not sure who copied whom, but sure looks like someone copied someone.) Listened to the only other customer in the place pour out his troubles to the waitress -- his wife doesn't understand why he needs to go down to Huddle House in the middle of the night for coffee, a cigarette and time to clear his head.

* A big omelet at Clary's Cafe

* And bubble tea (boba nai cha) at Boba!, the Internet cafe in City Market. I won't try to explain it -- read about it here.

I'm grateful I didn't gain any more back than I did.

Iain Murray has linked to a report called "The Cost of Policing New Urbanism". The report concerns "Operation Scorpion", a British research project to determine whether a new urbanist neighborhood is more "criminogenic" than the suburban cul-de-sac form. The report claims that a New Urbanist neighborhood requires three times the police coverage as a neighborhood that is "Secured by Design".

Here is how the report describes the "Secured by Design" neighborhood:

Table 1 - Some Key Features of the "Secured By Design" Scheme * Create defensible space and territoriality. * Organise the built environment so that anti-social behaviour is less likely to be ignored. * Create space that generalises a sense of ownership (so restrict the amount of public space, and create 'buffer zones' between public and private spaces) rather than space which promotes anonymity. * Restrict the number of escape routes available to criminals (which is a large part of the explanation for why the Secured by Design scheme has come to be associated with the cul-de-sac). * Promote natural surveillance from residents' houses. * Restrict the number of crime generators such as: - footpaths which link places together; - supermarkets and other activities which are out of scale with the locality because they are intended for a wider community; - 'honeypots' (such as fast food take-aways) which encourage people to concentrate; - 'hotspots' (places which already have a record of criminal and anti-social behaviour); - 'fear generators' (places which cause perceptions of fear) * Effective site management regimes, that promote the sense of a cared-for environment.

This is the traditional suburban form as we have come to know it in America: Being able to walk from your house to a store or a restaurant is a Bad Thing, because Bad People might walk from the store to your house. A neighborhood is only for the people who live there. Public places should be segregated from neighborhoods.

New Urbanists would point out that Secured by Design neighborhoods will tend to empty out during the work day, making them prime targets for burglary. And because of the cul-de-sacs, chances are the burglars will be able to work unobserved and undisturbed by passing vehicles or pedestrians.

I think the author of the report has misunderstood New Urbanist principles, because the photos accompanying the report, described as of a high-crime, New Urbanist development in the northern Home Counties, show a development that violates many New Urbanist principles: pathways that take pedestrians out of sight of roads and houses, bollards blocking traffic, walls and underpasses that create hiding places and block passageways from public view. Jane Jacobs would not approve. Bricks, paving stones, and decorative lighting do not constitute a New Urbanist neighborhood.

A real New Urbanist neighborhood would allow for parking on the street, would keep pedestrian walkways alongside streets, and would have homes that provide "eyes on the street". This is described as a feature of "Secured by Design" -- "natural surveillance from residents' houses" -- but most homes in cul-de-sac neighborhoods are designed to minimize the view of the street from the home (and vice versa). Garages are prominent, entries are small, and the biggest windows face the fenced backyard, leaving the public space to whatever hooligans wander by.

I look forward to reading a rebuttal of this report from a prominent New Urbanist designer.



The prime force behind the restoration of Savannah's historic institutional buildings is the Savannah College of Art and Design. Founded 25 years ago, SCAD began in the armory in the Historic District. As the college expanded, it continued to acquire and restore individual buildings across the Historic District and in the Victorian District to the south. SCAD now owns 2 million square feet of space in 50 buildings. You can visit the buildings online through this link. (This page has links to a brief description for each of SCAD's buildings, and many of the building descriptions have a further link to a website with more detailed information.) SCAD's inventory includes a '60s motel now used as a residence hall, a department store that serves as the library, an art moderne movie theatre that serves as the school auditorium, a diner, and the old county jail, which houses the athletic department and the English as a Second Language program.

A college typically wants a large contiguous campus, isolated from the rest of the world and fully under its control. In Tulsa, college campus development has relied heavily on urban renewal. The City of Tulsa promised to acquire 240 acres for the campus of the University Center of Tulsa (now OSU-Tulsa). Greenwood had already been demolished to form the core of the campus; the western portion of the campus has been acquired by demolition of homes on Standpipe Hill overlooking downtown. Many of these homes were two-story, of the sort and vintage that you find in North Maple Ridge and Brady Heights. The University of Tulsa has also enjoyed the help of the city's power of eminent domain to acquire the property of homeowners unwilling to sell.

By acquiring and adapting buildings across the Historic District, SCAD has integrated its campus with the surrounding community, reused historic institutional buildings that would have been unsuited for residential or commercial use, and added 24/7 life to Savannah's downtown, as SCAD's nearly 6,000 students go between dorm rooms, classrooms, studios, and shopping. The approach to campus-building is in perfect harmony with the school's mission, providing to its students a responsible example they can follow throughout their careers as architects, designers, and city planners.

(Here's a large PDF map showing the location of SCAD's buildings.)

Broughton Street


Skeptics will object to my use of Savannah as a role model for Tulsa. Savannah, after all, was founded in the 1730s, the first city in the colony of Georgia. It's renowned for its beautifully restored historic district, full of buildings which were around long before the railroad came to Tulsa.

All this is true, but one of the most interesting streets in the historic district is full of buildings that were built in the first decades of the 20th century about the same time, and in the same character, as those once lining Tulsa's Main Street. Broughton Street is a major east-west thoroughfare through Savannah's historic downtown, a commercial street of buildings from one to four stories high, mostly two or three stories. Every building has a storefront on the first floor, nearly all of them with an active business. The continuity of buildings is a major reason that the street is a pleasant place to be at any hour -- the street as a whole seems intact, not a shattered remnant.

Like every other American Main Street, Broughton Street went through a long decline as the population moved to the suburbs and the retailers followed. Remaining retailers tried to bring customers back by refacing their classic turn-of-the-century buildings with "modern" metal cladding. But unlike the Main Streets in most other medium-sized cities, Savannah did not indulge in an orgy of government-funded demolition in the name of "renewal". The buildings remained, albeit neglected and underutilized, and there remained eight or nine blocks lined on both sides with a nearly continuous row of storefront buildings, a tremendous resource to be rediscovered.

The rediscovery began to happen in the '90s, just one phase of a long-term commitment from city government and the private sector to restoration of Savannah's historic district. One of the ways city government is helping is with a facade rehabilitation revolving fund. A building owner or tenant (with the owner's permission) can borrow from $12,000 to $30,000 at low interest over eight years to pay for restoring the building's facade to its historic condition. Over the 10 years of the program, $600,000 in public investment has leveraged $6.5 million in private investment and the rehabilitation of 28 buildings. (Click the previous link to look at a couple of examples and see program details.) The city also offers sprinkler cost assistance loans to encourage the redevelopment of the upper stories of these buildings. More and more upper stories have been converted into loft condos, selling for over $100 per square foot.

Broughton storefronts have filled with restaurants -- on this trip so far, we've had lunch at Nita's Place, a famous soul food cafe that relocated to Broughton a couple of years ago, and dinner at the Casbah, a Moroccan restaurant featuring belly dancing. There are bars and clubs, clothing stores, and the Gap has arrived, which may herald the return of national retailers to the street.

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) restored an 1947 art moderne movie theatre as their school auditorium and performance hall, now called Trustees Theatre. (Can you imagine if some Tulsan had had the vision to reuse one of our glorious downtown movie palaces as a concert hall?) Across the street, an 85,000 square foot department store, built in the 1890s, is now the college library.

There are still a few gaps in the streetscape ripe for infill development. Savannah has rules (scroll down to "Commercial Design Standards") to ensure that new development is consistent with the historic character of the street, thus protecting the investment made by those who have restored older buildings.

Tulsa can't bring back our Main Street as it was, but we can protect our successful historic commercial districts, like Brookside and Cherry Street, and where old commercial buildings still exist, the public and private sectors can take steps to encourage their preservation and renovation. Sadly, demolition continues to be the preferred approach to redevelopment, and there is a sense of resignation when a historic building is demolished.

Here in Savannah, resignation was replaced with outrage back in the '50s, when the city market, a Romanesque structure, was demolished for a hideous parking garage, and when historic 18th and early 19th century homes were being torn down for brick to be used in new suburban homes. Private resources were marshalled to purchase and preserve endangered properties, and laws were changed to provide protection for historic buildings. Today the public and private consensus supports rehabilitation and adaptive reuse and sees demolition as a last resort rarely required.

Tulsa has historic preservation zoning, but by all accounts homeowners, developers, and preservationists are all dissatisfied with the way the system works. There is no protection at all for historic commercial buildings in Tulsa. When will Tulsa reach the tipping point?

UPDATE: Added link above to Savannah zoning regulation governing the Historic District. The entire Savannah zoning code can be found here.

Saturday was a work day for us, and in fact I had to go back in to work that evening. I got the call about 10 p.m., went out to the site, and got back sometime after 1 a.m.

As I drove back to the hotel in downtown, I was amazed at the numbers of people still out on the streets in the wee hours. Mostly young, some middle-aged. So I decided to park the car and take a late night walk.

You need to know that Savannah is not a huge city -- less than 300,000 people in the metro area. I was in Montreal a couple of months ago, another city with a bustling street life, mostly the result of high population density -- a million people in a few square miles.

On my walk, there were lines outside night clubs -- as some clubgoers left, others were admitted to keep under the fire marshal's limit. Groups of young people stood around on the sidewalk and in the city market district's plaza. Hot dog vendors on the street had a steady line of customers.

With all this activity, there must be a 20,000 seat arena nearby!

Well, there is an arena, built in the '60s and ugly in the style of government buildings of that era. At 9,600 seats it's about the size of Tulsa's downtown arena. The Civic Center also has a 2,500 seat theatre which appears to be busier than Oklahoma City's Ford Center. But nothing was happening at the arena that night, so why the crowds?

Savannah has a promenade along the Savannah River, in front of the old cotton warehouses, now filled with restaurants, bars, and souvenir stands, but that's not where the crowds were. They were along Broughton Street, in the City Market district, and along Bay Street, well away from the river.

Even tonight, there's been a steady flow of people through the internet cafe (Boba, in the City Market district).

So what was the attraction in Savannah? My guess is that people came because they knew lots of other people would be there.

Isn't this what young Tulsans are really after when they talk about entertainment options? Not sitting for hours in an arena listening to a concert, but going from club to cafe, mixing and mingling. So how did Savannah bootstrap that process? Building an arena -- even if we pick the ideal location -- by itself won't create that kind of excitement. We need to understand the other elements at work in cities that have the qualities we're after.

An interesting discussion over on the TulsaNow forum about the silence in civic dialog since the passage of Vision 2025:

Is this not ultimately what this group was formed for, to influence the process, originally this influence may have been seen as necessary to get a revitalization plan passed by the groups founders, but during that time some people got involved that wanted to influence the process in such a way as to insure that the money was well and wisely spent and that the projects were well thought out and executed. The roar of the silence since the vote has been deafening.

The silence has not only come from this group but the whole community in general, we debated the pros and cons of the project and it’s elements, but now that it has passed we are sitting back waiting for all of the great things to happen....

I fear that to many in Tulsa view this is my mother does, after the first Tulsa project failed she stated that “she may have voted no, but it didn’t make any difference, they would just keep coming until we gave them their money” this last time, she voted yes and could care less about the individual projects she is just glad it will quiet them down. It was stated in the “post vote” meeting, this is not the end, it is just the beginning, the really hard work lies ahead.

It is the beginning, and TulsaNow could be a great vehicle for doing that hard work, but people with good ideas and energy need to get involved, and those of us who have been involved in leadership need to facilitate the infusion of new energy. All the hoped-for results won't come true just because the promised projects were built. There are a lot of other things Tulsa has to get right if we want the kind of energy, excitement, and beauty Savannah has.

Reader Mark Keesling writes with a report from last week's Republican Assembly meeting, which was about Vision 2025 and what happens now. I couldn't be there, but I thought you'd appreciate reading his detailed report and commentary. The Republican Assembly is one of several clubs affiliated with the local GOP that meets monthly for dinner and a speaker, a chance to socialize and talk politics. (Not really relevant to this item, but Assembly members tend to come from the left-wing or center -- depending on your point of view -- of the Republican party, and includes many who were party volunteers before the influx of social conservatives during the Reagan years.)

I’ve consistently opposed the Vision 2025 proposition since about a month before it’s passage, but since it has passed, have at least hoped that perhaps what I viewed as it’s shortcomings had more justification than appeared to be the case. However, my attendance at last night’s Republican Assembly Meeting served only to dim such hopes. While much, if not all, of my observations will likely come as no surprise to you, I wanted to share them with you for whatever benefit you may derive from the information. The speaker was Paul Wilkening, Chief Deputy to the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners. His subject for the evening was "Vision 2025, After the Vote", which spurred not only discussion of what comes next, but inevitably, why things are as they are. Also in attendance, by the way, was Tulsa City Councilman, Chris Medlock.

My first disappointment was hearing Mr. Wilkening comment early in the meeting on how he had voted against Susan Savage’s proposition, "…but the Republicans got it done". This, and other subsequent responses to questions posed to him after the meeting indicated that a, if not the, main factor behind his vote on these propositions was the party involved in proposing them, rather than the merits of the propositions. Perhaps this reveals a severe degree of naiveté on my part, but I would think most people would be a bit surprised at the lack of integrity such an admission indicates. I would give Mr. Wilkening the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he really drew more significant distinctions between Savage’s plan and Vision 2025, but this would seem to indicate that he was merely tailoring his comments to what he judged to be an audience with low integrity.

Discussion quickly turned to possible ways of avoiding continued collection of taxes after the project-funding needs had been met. Several options were mentioned, but Mr. Wilkening indicated that there was no legal way of capping the taxing now, though some (Councilman Medlock, I believe) suggested that actions might be taken that would at least be politically persuasive to those in charge when that time comes. When asked if he was indicating that it wasn’t legally possible to have written the proposition to cap tax collection at $885 million, Mr. Wilkening grasped for answers, eventually indicating that it would have been legally possible but that he wasn’t sure about the exact reason that this hadn’t been done. He went on to suggest that it was probably done that way since the ending cost of projects such as those involved can often vary depending upon circumstances, prompting the question "So the $885 million figure is actually an estimate then?" Mr. Wilkening quickly refuted that characterization, but, in my opinion, never clearly explained why, while it wasn’t an estimated cost, the decision wasn’t to cap the taxes collected.

When pressed to address why there had been no competitive bidding for the bonds to fund the projects, his answer was that a local preference for all aspects of the projects was desired. There was no answer to what the potential cost is of what is really a monopoly on the bidding instead of a preference. A "preference" would seem to imply at least some possibility of someone outside Tulsa getting the business, should they be able to save us a few $million in costs.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Wilkening made a comment causing me to question my naiveté for a second time that evening when, after a pause in the conversation, he stated that "Well, we had to do something". I found the statement lacking in its indication of any significant thought behind the propositions. It’s been my experience that when the best justification for action is that it is not inaction, it is not very well justified. I only wish Mr. Wilkening had been in charge of the Vision 2025 posters. Had they only read, "Vision 2025, We have to do SOMETHING", I suspect the vote might have gone differently. Now, to be fair, I still realize that Mr. Wilkening may just not be the best spokesperson for the plan. However, having heard about half the debates on the proposition, and last night’s talk, I find myself still searching for someone who is.

That concludes the guest opinion -- Bates here again with one comment. I thought "we have to do SOMETHING" was the official slogan of the Vision 2025 campaign. That seems to have been the reason most often cited by people who told me they were voting for it.

Savannah is a port city. Located on the Savannah River, about 20 miles inland from the Atlantic, it was a key port for cotton shipments and today is a major container port, handling over 13 million tons of cargo last year, about 9 times the cargo handled by Tulsa's Port of Catoosa.

The other night, I was down on River Street, where Savannah's old cotton warehouses have been converted to restaurants and souvenir shops, walking past a huge yacht and a couple of Royal Canadian Navy vessels, and people-watching, when I saw, barely visible in the darkness, this huge thing coming downstream under the Talmadge Bridge. The deck of this suspension bridge hangs 185 feet above the water, and this huge thing must have covered 80% of that height. It was a container ship, the MOL Discovery, Panamanian registry, its deck stacked six high with containers -- the kind you see pulled behind semis -- and the bridge and towers looming even higher.

I watched in awe as this massive ship obscured our view of Savannah's convention center on the other side of the river. It had come from New York and Newport, and was on its way to the Panama Canal, then Yokohama, Pusan, Shanghai, Yantian, Hong Kong, and Kaohsiung, a 32 day journey. This ship can carry 16,000 tons of cargo.

The sight of this behemoth drove home the meaning of the phrase, "deep water port", oft mentioned in the context of Boeing's search for a home for its 7E7 final assembly plant. A deep water port can accommodate an oceangoing vessel like the MOL Discovery; Tulsa's port can't. In the time it takes for a vessel coming from the Pacific to reach New Orleans for cargo transfer to a barge, the same vessel could be unloading cargo in Savannah.

Savannah has been mentioned as a finalist for the 7E7. In addition to the deep-water port, Savannah has a trained workforce, thanks to the presence of Gulfstream Aerospace, which does design and final assembly of its luxury business jets here. It's a very livable city, hot and humid in the summer, but pleasant the rest of the year, and beautiful all year round, with plenty of cultural and entertainment options. If Boeing doesn't stay in Washington, I'll bet that Savannah gets the nod.

(Yes, I'm aware that Boeing is now talking about moving subassemblies by large cargo plane rather than ship, but the winning city will have to pay for the planes, and Boeing says that a port is still a necessity.)

Live from Savannah


As I type this, I am sitting at a corner table in Boba, a 24-hour internet café on the second floor of an old commercial building in Savannah's City Market, a double cappuchino next to my laptop, which is connected to the internet at high speed via a wireless connection (free for customers). Some folks are out on the balconies listening to live music downstairs in the market. Others are surfing the web, playing checkers, studying.

I'm in Savannah, Georgia, for a few days on business. It's one of my favorite cities to visit, and in the next few entries I'm going to try to convey what makes it such a wonderful place, and what lessons Tulsans can learn.

Tulsans have been talking about how to make our city more exciting, how to create a lively urban district, how to attract to tourists and new companies, how to make our young people want to stay here. I wish every Tulsan concerned about these issues would visit this city. Savannah is by no means a perfect city, but it has many of the qualities Tulsans want for our city, as well as most of the qualities we already enjoy (such as family-friendliness, a strong Christian community, a relatively low cost of living, not too big and not too small). Savannah has made its mistakes and has its problems, but Tulsa would do well to make it a role model.

Urban design experts talk about walkability and a pedestrian-friendly environment -- Savannah embodies those concepts, and you see people (normal people) out walking until the wee hours.

I'll be posting some observations from this and earlier visits over the next couple of days. In the meantime, here are some links that will give you an introduction to the city.

The Savannah Morning News: The daily paper

An aerial photo of the historic district

Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau

A brief historical sketch from the Savannah CVB site.

Photos of Savannah

City government website

Historic Savannah Foundation, the driving force behind the revival of downtown Savannah.

Savannah Development and Renewal Authority -- imagine, an urban renewal authority that looks for alternatives to demolition!

Savannah College of Art and Design

Woolaroc, Bartlesville, Mr. Limey's


The car problem ate into our last day of fall break. We decided to replace the transmission, rather than consider buying a new car right now. That was where things stood when I left to run an errand Wednesday morning. Before I returned, Mikki called to say she found a five-year old low-mileage minivan on sale at a dealership for less than $7,000. It sounded too good to be true, but I agreed to check it out before we left to visit Woolaroc for the afternoon. The minivan seemed in decent shape, handled well on the road. Joe was ready for us to buy then and there -- he liked the separate air conditioner controls for the back.

We left the dealership, got on the road, stopped at Tastee Freez in Skiatook for lunch, and finally made it to Woolaroc about 3. We spent much of the remaining two hours in the museum, with the kids marveling at all the hunting trophies. I enjoyed the historical stuff about Frank Phillips and his company. In that gallery, next to the Woolaroc aircraft, they have on display Phillips related ephemera, including currency issued by the First National Bank of Bartlesville in the years just before the Federal Reserve was established. We had a few minutes to walk around the lodge and peek inside, then walk one of the trails down toward the lake. It was a beautiful day, and over too soon.

Woolaroc was closing, so we drove into Bartlesville to Johnstone Park to give the kids some more outside play time. Joe had fun chasing around with an older boy, while Katherine climbed and went down the slides over and over again. When I was Katherine's age and younger, we lived just three blocks away, and Mom and I would walk to Johnstone Park. Mom would do "underdogs" -- push my swing and run underneath it (beside it, really) as the swing went forward. The same old swings are there, and a couple of them had been wrapped around the crossbar a couple of times to put them higher off the ground -- perfect for underdogs, so I did one for Joe, who laughed but told me he didn't want to do that again. Katherine wouldn't let me put her in a higher swing to try one with her.

I remembered an odd phrase about swinging we used growing up. "Let the cat die" -- which means stop pumping your legs and let the swing stop, and then we'll go home. Listening to these swings, the phrase made sense -- these swings sounded like a cat, creaking with high-pitched mews, short and separated, rather than the usual long, continuous, low creaks.

I said that we lived within walking distance of Johnstone Park. We moved from Lawrence, Kansas, to Bartlesville when I was 18 months old, so all my earliest memories are from our first Bartlesville house, downtown on Delaware Street, which we rented from Cities Service Oil Co., my Dad's employer. His office was within walking distance, as was the grocery store, our church (First Baptist), and the "Sani-Pool", a nearby public swimming pool. So at an early age, I had the idea that it was normal to live downtown and to be able to walk most everywhere.

Of course, the Kiddie Park (Bartlesville Playground) was also nearby, and I have happy memories of visits there. For the last five years, we've made it a point to bring the kids at least once each summer. You can't beat a park full of rides designed for small children, just 25 or 50 cents each.

We had supper at Mr. Limey's Fish and Chips, not far away off of Frank Phillips Blvd. If can overlook the ethnic slur and stereotypes (the logo is supposed to be an upper-class Brit in a bowler, monocle, and handlebar mustache), you'll enjoy the food. The fish is cod, with a light breading that Mikki compared to tempura. There was malt vinegar on the table, as there should be, and the "chips" were the proper size (although not quite greasy enough to be authentic). Both the kids ate everything on their plates. The owner said she had been a cashier for Cities Service, but opted to stay in Bartlesville when Cities moved to Tulsa around '69. She started working for this then-new restaurant called Mr. Limey's and has been around ever since.

The New York Times had an article about Bartlesville last week, and its use of world-famous architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff to draw visitors. Here's a link, but you will probably need to be a registered Times user to access the article.

About that van: The price was below blue-book, and we were inclined to go for it, but we had our mechanics check it out, and there was some serious rust damage underneath the car -- had either been in water or an area where they use a lot of salt on the roads. So now we know why the price was so amazing. We took a pass.

Fall break


The beginning of this week was fall break at Joe's school. We had considered a trip to Silver Dollar City, but we learned it wasn't open on Monday and Tuesday this time of year, so we decided to make day trips and visit places around Oklahoma.

The failure of our Mitusbishi Expo's transmission on Saturday changed everything. We borrowed a car from Mikki's folks for her choir reunion events. Monday we arranged to have the Mitsubishi towed back to Tulsa, and we lost nearly all of the day we had planned to spend sightseeing somewhere. Katherine got very upset as she saw the car being pulled up on the back of the flatbed tow truck.

Tuesday morning we went to the Oklahoma Aquarium -- my first time there, the sixth or seventh visit for my son. It's not Sea World, but there are a lot of interesting and exotic sea creatures on display, with a lot of useful interpretive information. The octopus was fascinating to watch. The shark tank is Joe's favorite, and it is amazing to watch these big creatures swim overhead. The triggerfish at the coral flat exhibit was another favorite. If you wiggle your finger around a few inches over the surface of the water, the triggerfish will think it's an insect, and the fish will skim along at the surface following your finger, almost on its side, then spit at the presumed bug to try to knock it into the water.

We only had a couple of hours there, as we wanted to see Apollo 13 at the IMAX theatre. Mikki and I had seen it back in 1995, and we wanted Joe to see it too. The first time I saw it, I was impressed at how faithful it was to Jim Lovell's book "Lost Moon". The film didn't make the astronauts the lone heroes, but showed the heroic efforts of the team on the ground -- hundreds of engineers working to solve the problems.

Another reason I love this film: Name another movie where flight simulators play a significant role. At the beginning of the film, we see the astronauts train, practice reacting to surprises, and learn to work as a team in perfect sync with each other. At the end, the simulator is used to test scenarios for restarting the command module within very narrow power constraints.

Watching Apollo 13 again, I paid more attention to the challenges of making a film about a situation where the tension and conflict come from the laws of physics, and where the people involved are trained to react calmly. How do you convey the urgency to a general audience? Dramatic music, of course, and closeups of gauges and indicator lights. Often a technical explanation would sneak into the dialogue. In the real mission control, for example, one controller might tell another that the projected reentry angle is 5.9, which might cause the other controller's brow to furrow with concern, as he begins to think of approaches to solving this new problem. No one would need to say, as in the movie, that the angle would cause the spacecraft to skip off the atmosphere and back into space -- everyone would know the significance of the number without being told. In a book, the significance of an event would be explained in the narrative. For a movie, I suppose you could have interruptions where Bill Nye the Science Guy explains each point in the drama, or use subtitles. Building the explanation into the dialogue is less obtrusive.

After the movie, we went to Joe's first flag football game of the year at Maxwell Park. He played last fall with a team from his school in a YMCA league. This year the school team -- the Raiders -- is part of a Tulsa Parks league. Joe scored the first touchdown for the Raiders and had a great "tackle" a few plays later. He's really catching on to the game -- now if he can just leave his mouthguard in his mouth between plays....

Parks website


A cool site -- if you've ever wondered where a particular Tulsa city park is, or where the nearest park is, the city has a clickable map on its website and a clickable lists of parks. Clicking on the park will bring up an aerial photo with the park outlined in color. Clicking on "Upper Haikey Creek" will reveal that said park is an undeveloped 40 acre tract between 71st & 81st east of Mingo and currently inaccessible by road. Hours of entertainment for map lovers and park lovers alike, and handy to find a park by name.

"We're together again"


Blogging has been light -- we've been taking it relatively easy the past few days.

Doing our part to help the local tourism industry, we decided to stay in Oklahoma for my son's fall break, including a day here in town.

We actually left the state for the weekend, so that my wife, Mikki, could attend a reunion of her college church choir, the New Creations. The New Creations choir was part of the collegiate ministry of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The choir was founded in the late '60s and was active for 30 years, involving over a thousand students over the years. During Mikki's involvement (1980 - 1985), the choir sang at the Sunday morning collegiate services and went on spring break tours around Arkansas and around Europe. In addition to weekly rehearsals, a singer would meet once each week with a different singer for prayer. Tanner Riley was the choir's director during my wife's involvement, and many students who sang for him describe him as more than a choir director -- a friend, mentor, and counselor as well.

UBC has the distinction of a mission that matches its name -- University isn't just an indicator of proximity to campus, but ministry to college students has been the heart of its mission, particularly under the nearly 40 years of leadership from Senior Pastor H. D. McCarty. Along with the choir, UBC ran a student housing program for many years, using nearby houses and an old fraternity house. UBC housing was not just a place to live but also a program of mentoring to develop students as followers of Christ. Mikki is also an alumna of that program.

About 100 singers, and three of the choir's four conductors, gathered for the reunion, along with spouses and kids. Although I was just there as the spouse of a singer, I enjoyed the weekend as well. I didn't feel out of place: Many of Mikki's fellow singers were still around Fayetteville when Mikki and I started dating, and I met them at them at the many weddings we attended in the years after graduation. It was fun to watch the directors put the choir through their paces.

The music they sang would never be described as timeless. The music, by composers Beryl Red and John Purifoy, among others, reflected its era, a time when church musicians were trying to connect with the Baby Boom youth culture by dropping old hymn tunes and campmeeting songs in favor of more modern sounds. To be honest, the attempt at being contemporary was always about 10 years out of date, and the sounds I heard had more in common with an Andy Williams rendition of an adult contemporary chart topper than with the Beatles or Janis Joplin.

The music may have been the audio equivalent of polyester bell-bottom slacks, but the message is timeless. I was especially touched by John Purifoy's setting of Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me all who labor
And are heavy-laden down
And I'll give you rest...
Here you'll find rest,
You'll find rest for your weary souls,
For my yoke is easy,
And my burden is light.
Come to me.

Those words must have had a poignancy for these singers that they lacked decades ago amidst the relative simplicity of college life. In the rubble of broken dreams and good intentions unfulfilled, there remains a promise of rest in Christ Jesus.

UPDATE: 2009/10/07 -- There's now a New Creations group on Facebook to help alumni of the choir reconnect. And David Winberry has digitized some of the performances from the late '70s and early '80s.

UPDATE: 2012/07/06

Audio from the 1984 New Creations spring concert:

"Come to Me All Who Labor" (MP3)
Invitation and comments from Pastor J. D. McCarty, with a reprise of "Come to Me All Who Labor" (MP3)

The Facebook page is still online, but it seems to have had its membership purged at some point, so if you had joined before, you will want to rejoin.

Yes, you read that right. The grandson of Ayatollah Khomenei, himself a Shiite Muslim cleric now living in Baghdad, is hoping for American initiative in the overthrow of the Islamic theocracy established by his grandfather. Christopher Hitchens interviewed Hossein Khomenei for Slate:

In any event, added Khomeini, there was an important distinction between what the Quran said and what an ayatollah as head of state might say. "We cannot nowadays have executions in this form." Indeed, he added, it was the policy of executions that had turned the Islamic revolution in Iran sour in the first place. "Now we have had 25 years of a failed Islamic revolution in Iran, and the people do not want an Islamic regime anymore."

It's not strictly necessary to speak to Hossein Khomeini to appreciate the latter point: Every visitor to Iran confirms it, and a large majority of the Iranians themselves have voted for anti-theocratic candidates. The entrenched and reactionary regime can negate these results up to a certain point; the only question is how long can they do so? Young Khomeini is convinced that the coming upheaval will depend principally on those who once supported his grandfather and have now become disillusioned. I asked him what he would like to see happen, and his reply this time was very terse and did not require any Quranic scriptural authority or explication. The best outcome, he thought, would be a very swift and immediate American invasion of Iran.

Hat tip to Clayton Cramer for the link.

County Commission update


No time to elaborate -- hope to get time this weekend to provide you with a full report -- but the Curtis Killman's story (continued here) in the Whirled did a good job of capturing the essence of the meeting. The quotes from the former Mayor of Edmond are interesting:

Authority member Bob Dick said there was a "great deal of value with having a team that understands the government they are serving." But not all with experience in selling bonds believe sticking with past practices is always the best decision. Edmond city officials discovered they could save money in bond issuance costs if they considered proposals from other firms.

Former Edmond Mayor Randel Shadid, now a private attorney, said his city saved "a bunch of money" when officials decided in the early 1990s to test the market prior to issuing bonds.

Like Tulsa County, the Oklahoma City suburb for years used the same bond counsel and bond adviser. Shadid said "there are plenty of people out there that can provide those services that have the expertise. I guarantee you when you get them into a bidding war, it's a feeding frenzy."

How does that Lending Tree slogan go? "When banks compete, you win."

A browse through bondbuyer.com revealed that there are a number of other Oklahoma firms that serve as financial advisors and bond counsel on local government bond issues.

With at least half-a-billion to be financed, it would only take a tiny difference in interest rates and fees to make a huge difference to the bottom line. While I understand the desire to work with a familiar team, I'm disappointed that none of the commissioners chose to pursue competitive bidding for investment banking services.

More later.

Alert: City Council to consider


There is an important Tulsa City Council meeting tonight (Thursday, October 9), dealing with two matters of zoning and planning policy, which we've written about before. The meeting is at 6 p.m., in the Council chamber -- the two story building just north of City Hall.

First up is a zoning change and PUD at 71st & Harvard, for an F&M bank branch and office use at a residentially zoned vacant lot on the southwest corner. The proposed change is not in accord with the Comprehensive Plan, but the TMAPC approved it any way by a vote of 7-1. Dell Coutant, Mayor LaFortune's first new appointment to the TMAPC last summer, was the lone vote against.

The key issue for other Tulsa neighborhoods and homeowners is the precedent of introducing commercial development at an "arterial node" which is exclusively residential, and doing so despite current zoning and a Comprehensive Plan designation of "residential, low intensity". There are many similar "arterial nodes", where two major streets intersect but there is no commercial development -- 21st & Peoria, 31st & Peoria, 31st & Lewis, 41st & Lewis, and 61st & Harvard are a few examples. The precedent would be set to allow a commercial developer to buy and demolish existing homes and rezone for commercial development at these intersections.

Nearby property owners are filing a protest in accordance with a provision of the zoning code and state law. If owners of more than 50% of the land area of the lots within 300 feet of the targeted area protest the zoning change, the Council must have a 3/4 vote to approve, rather than a simple majority -- that means they will need seven votes to approve the change. This is an important safeguard for neighboring property owners against arbitrary and harmful zoning changes. There was an informal opinion from an attorney (Pat Boulden) in the City Attorney's office that protests from Guier Woods residents wouldn't count, because Guier Woods is platted as a single lot divided into condominiums. (Guier Woods is a gated community of single-family homes.) Only unanimous agreement from all Guier Woods owners would allow any of that area to count toward the 50% requirement.

Tuesday, at Council committee meeting, another attorney (Alan Jackere) from the City Attorney's office announced a reversal of their earlier, nonsensical interpretation. The new interpretation will count individual homes in Guier Woods separately. INCOG is still in the process of certifying the protest, and if they don't finish by tonight, Council action on the zoning change may be postponed.

Regardless, at tonight's meeting, the Council will consider a resolution in support of clarifying the zoning protest ordinance, so that a common-sense interpretation will be codified for future zoning issues. If the resolution passes, TMAPC would be directed to prepare a zoning code amendment spelling out this interpretation of this protection. Upon TMAPC's action, the amendment would then be taken up by the Council. Passing such an amendment will help close loopholes in this safeguard. Property owners concerned about protecting their property values should show up and express support for this proposal.

The Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) will hold a special meeting tomorrow, Thursday, October 9, 11 a.m., in Room 315 of the County Administration Building, 6th & Denver, to approve contracts with attorneys and investment bankers to handle the sale of revenue bonds for the new county sales taxes (aka "Vision 2025"). The agenda reveals that the TCIA board (the three County Commissioners) have already decided who will get the contracts, and they will not use competitive bidding to ensure that the taxpayers get the best deal.

From the agenda, it appears that things are a bit different this time around, but it's still a behind-the-scenes-deal for the benefit of politically connected local firms. Ordinarily, all the county bond business goes to Hilborne & Weidman (bond counsel) and John Piercey of Leo Oppenheim & Co. (bond underwriting).

They get a piece of the action this time, too, but some of the work is going to the law firm of Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison, and Lewis and to Wells Nelson and Associates, the public finance affiliate of F&M Bank. Riggs Abney is the "retirement home" for a number of politicians: Mike Turpen (Attorney General), Gary Watts (City Councilor and 2002 mayoral nominee), David Riggs (State Senator). Riggs Abney partner Jim Orbison is very tightly connected to the county machine. He's been on the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority since 1983 and has done legal work for other County trusts.

When the County Commissioners meet as the TCIA they meet in a small room on the 3rd floor. They aren't used to having a big crowd for meetings, and they regularly cancel the scheduled regular meeting, then schedule a special meeting on short notice. Tulsa County taxpayers need to let the Commissioners know we are concerned about getting good value for the billion dollars we've given them to play with. That begins by getting the best deal on the issuance of revenue bonds, and that means putting it out for competitive bids and advertising the opportunity far and wide, for example with specialist media outlets like The Bond Buyer. (If you register, you can read Requests for Proposals that other cities, counties, and trusts have put out to attract competitive bids for financial services.) It might make sense to give sole source contracts on small bond jobs, but when you're borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars, even small differences in interest rates and commissions can mean millions of dollars to the bottom line. Let's show up tomorrow at 11 and politely ask our County Commissioners to do the right thing.

Yesterday I posted some educratic bilge from 20 years ago:Larry Zenke, then superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, defending declining test scores by saying that knowing things wasn't really important anymore, and teachers would no longer be "disseminators of cognitive information". I closed by writing, "I suspect that Zenke's ideas are now mainstream among public education administrators, but perhaps better disguised behind a veil of Educanto."

A reader whose daughter takes French at a Tulsa high school writes and confirms my fears. [Identifying info has been redacted.] "This is what I received back from [my daughter's French teacher]. I was concerned when my daughter was complaining that they have not been studying or learning any French yet. I did figure that she was stretching it a bit but I was surprised at the answer I got back from the teacher as to why. Am I just out of the loop?"

Here is the answer he got back from the teacher:

On the first day of school, the students were given a course expectancy sheet with a copy of the syllabus on the back side. They were asked to read and sign the sheet and to have their parents/gardians read and sign it also and return it the next day. It was their first homework assignment. [Your daughter] has hers, signed, in her notebook.

The theme for the year is Discovery. The concept for the first 6 weeks is systems. Then the concepts are perspectives, celebrations, economics, exploration and adaptation.

The training I received this summer on the Tulsa Model for School Improvement stressed the importance of accessing the knowledge that students already have about the themes and concepts and then building on it. Building the background knowledge they will need for the new learning, introducing the themes and concepts is to be done in broad generalizations that they can apply to their lives now and in the future before it is "narrowed" for specific classroom use. After a summer of asking the experts what they would do/how they would do it, I decided to introduce the new learning in English to enable the students to more easily and quickly grasp the concepts that we will be using. New strategies and techniques are to be non-academic the first time the students use them to allow them to concentrate on learning the new strategies and techniques before they are used academically. To this end, I have been teaching the 7 Learning
Community Guidelines and the Life Skills, class and team building activities to teach the new strategies and structures. Teachers are also expected to teach students about the 8 Multiple Intelligences and how they learn best, the 7 Learing Community Guidelines and the 18 Life Skills which are the basis of the Tulsa Model discipline plan. This is what we have spent the first several weeks concentrating on.

What has been "French" in the classroom:

The day, date, month and classroom directions are given in French. We have reviewed classroom objects. The 7 Learning Community Guidelines and Life skills have been translated into French. The colors (used for learning preferences and communication styles) have been learned in French, also. Since we have been working with the names of the colors in French, the students have created a pattern book about the colors in French that will be read and donated to a local elementary school. This meets the community service/social action component of the Tulsa Model and satisfies the PASS objective of using the foreign language outside of the classroom in the community. The quiz on the colors was 10/3. The students saw a video on the French impressionist artist Edgar Degas when I had to have a substitute for a professional development day. The students evaluated how effectively Degas, the ballerina and Degas' housekeeper used the Life Skills and what the students would have done in the same situations.

We have been working on class and team building activities and stressing mutual respect and attentive listening since research proves that students learn best in cooperative groups. Sadly, most students do not know how to work effectively in a group and these skills must also be taught. What does this have to do with learning French? It is setting the background for the rest of the year and the rest of their lives. It is also part of the Tulsa Model for School Improvement that I am expected to teach the students in addition to teaching them French.

I am doing my best to integrate into the curriculum everything that I am expected to teach the students in addition to teaching them French and to do so in a brain-compatible manner. (This includes using music and movement activities.) The Multiple Intelligences, the Learning Styles, the 7 Learning Community Guidlines, the Life Skills, how to work effectively with others and so on fit best at the beginning of the year. I am open to suggestions on a better, more effective way to accomplish what is expected of me.

I hope this addresses your concerns.

Yow! That really is appalling. This isn't the raving of some rogue teacher, imposing her own nutty ideas on her defenseless pupils, but a teacher trying to do what her school district has trained and instructed her to do. This is the "Tulsa Model for School Improvement".

This approach to teaching is ill-suited to learning a foreign language, which is, I believe, the point of a French class. Learning French in America means learning sounds and words with which you have no personal experience. (It would be different for an English-speaking student in Quebec.) Learning a language has nothing to do with grasping big ideas and key concepts. It's about learning spelling and pronunciation and verb forms and sentence structure -- many little details that you just have to learn. J'ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont. Yes, a good teacher will draw on the student's experience to help explain concepts or teach vocabulary words, but much of a foreign language is by definition foreign and just has to be learned by heart. Yes, a good teacher will draw on different techniques to help students with different learning strengths, but memorization, learning by ear, and learning by sight are essential to learning a language well enough to use it.

This sort of thing is why my wife and I are willing to spend the money to send our son to a private school, where they still have the idea that school is about learning facts.

(UPDATED 2008/01/21 to replace broken link with a working link to the Wayback Machine.)

If the previous entry got you riled up, if you believe that education ought to be about the development of understanding, knowledge, and judgment, and you want our local public schools to be engaged in that enterprise, you should consider running for school board. All too often school board races draw only one candidate, or an incumbent and a weaker opponent. Occasionally they draw no candidates at all. It's a shame because, in Tulsa, a school board term is four years long, and giving an incumbent a free pass means it will be a long time before there's another chance to replace him with a reform-minded board member. For the sake of public accountability, terms ought to be shorter, and all board members should be up for election at the same time.

In Oklahoma, school board filing period this year is December 1-3, but if you're going to make a serious run, you need to make a decision soon. Let me know if I can help.

Found this in the archives of the Underground Grammarian, as a result of a Google search on "Tulsa Tribune". The column sheds some light on the state of public education in Tulsa in the late '70s and early '80s. I'm quoting at length, but you still should go and read it all -- it's brilliant, and I don't say that lightly.

Indeed, we have to begin our sixth year with a couple of the most sickening documents we have ever seen. We found them quoted, and appropriately, although not sufficiently, derided, in an editorial in The Tulsa Tribune.

What documents? The Grammarian quotes one:

Students do not read, write and do arithmetic as well as they used to because they can get along quite nicely without these skills. . . . Americans are finding that they need to rely less and less on "basic skills" to find out what they want to know and what they want to do. Our basic skills are declining precisely because we need them less. [Peter Wagschal, Futurist, University of Massachusetts]

And the Grammarian comments:

YEAH. And that’s not all! Just you take a good look at the standard American dogs and cats. They live pretty damn well, tolling not, neither spinning, and they’ve never even heard of stuff like reading, writing, and arithmetic. They "do quite nicely without those skills," and so do tropical fish and baboons. And so, too, did black slaves and Russian serfs, and all those marvelously skillful and industrious ancestors of us all who gathered nuts and roots and killed small rodents with sticks. They all knew everything they needed to know.

Why was the Tribune interested in Massachusetts futurist Peter Wagschal? Because Larry Zenke, Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, brought him to town to help explain declining test scores.

Jack Ganssle is an expert in embedded software -- the kind of software that runs not on a computer but as part of another device -- controlling your car's performance, your digital cable converter box, your pacemaker or hearing aid. He writes that the Federal Election Commission's standards aren't sufficient to guarantee that the software running in voting machines is trustworthy.

California's recall election will be tallied by a mix of voting machines, ranging from punched cards to the latest in high-tech wizardry. Anyone following the comp.risks forum knows of the furor over electronic voting machines.

They're junk.

That's a strong statement, but it applies to any product that does not fulfill its mission. In the case of voting, the only important feature is trust. And few computer scientists feel the devices deliver an accurate count.

Vendors claim their machines work correctly and are tamper-proof, citing the Federal Election Commission's standards. Well, check those standards out. Any computer jock with the faintest knowledge of building good code will be appalled.

Ganssle links to the FEC standard and delves into some technical detail, then proposes to replace the FEC standard with something more stringent and reliable:

The FEC's mandates are much too weak to eliminate miscounting machines. It's time for a different approach.

Let's get the mob involved.

Don Corleone would never tolerate gambling machines that might rip off the five families of New York. State lotteries and casinos won't tolerate rip-offs either. They know how to instill trust in their products, trust that though everyone loses, customers know by how much. Customers would flock to other casinos at the faintest hint of a cheating machine.

Outside contractors verify the integrity of all gaming machines, electronic or otherwise. They do this so thoroughly that granny hasn't a care in the world when she pulls the lever of the one-armed bandit.

One such outside auditor is Gaming Laboratories International (GLI). To certify a new device, or even a software upgrade, vendors send GLI all of the source code, all of the tools needed to build the code, maybe a development computer, and even an in-circuit emulator if that's how you debugged your code. Expensive? You bet. Accurate? It sure seems to be.

GLI tears the design apart, digs into the guts, finds back doors impossible to isolate via testing and ensures the customer will lose by exactly the amount specified. Tests check both functionality and threat resistance. Technicians zap every square inch of the gaming machine with a 27 KV prod - because cheaters often try to rip off the devices using ESD to confuse the electronics. GLI jimmies the coin box, and generally simulates all of the attacks observed by those hidden cameras in the casino's roof. That's regression testing of a whole new order. ...

Change the code -- even just one line -- and the whole process repeats. The FEC has no such requirement. ...

If a gaming auditor certified voting machines, elections wouldn't be so much of a, uh, crap-shoot.

The 71st & Harvard zoning controversy will come before the City Council this Tuesday morning in committee and at the regular Thursday night meeting. By a 7-1 vote, the planning commission (TMAPC) approved a zoning change from residential to light office to accommodate a proposed F&M Bank branch on what is now vacant land. While the bank may not have a detrimental effect on the surrounding neighborhoods, neighboring property owners are concerned that this change would set a precedent for rezoning residential land to commercial even when such a change is out of accord with the Comprehensive Plan.

Nearby property owners are concerned enough to file a formal protest with the City Council. The owners of over 50% of the property within 300 feet of the proposed change have signed on to the protest. By state law and city ordinance, such a protest means that the zoning change must be approved by 3/4 of the City Council (7 members of the 9) in order to be enacted. Three Councilors could block the change. This is a safeguard to protect neighboring property owners from arbitrary zoning changes.

There is a complication with the protest. Guier Woods, which constitutes the majority of the land within 300 feet of the proposed F&M site, is platted as a single lot owned as condominiums. Patrick Boulden in the City Attorney's office has written that the area of Guier Woods can't count toward the 50% unless every owner of every condominium, both husband and wife, sign the protest.

This is a nonsensical interpretation of the law which makes it impossible to mount an effective protest -- unless Guier Woods owners are unanimous (no opposition, no abstentions), 50% cannot be reached, even if the remaining property owners within 300 feet are unanimous in their opposition. While Guier Woods may be a single lot, units are bought and sold separately along with a share of the elements in common (e.g. the gatehouse). Units are also taxed separately by the county. Either the separate units should be treated as separate properties, or else Guier Woods's duly elected board should be able to protest on behalf of the entire development.

To illustrate the absurdity of Boulden's interpretation, imagine that one of the lots was owned by a public corporation -- by his approach, every shareholder of the corporation would have to sign the protest before that lot's area counts toward the 50% requirement.

This Tuesday, Councilor Chris Medlock will be putting forward a proposal to clarify the requirements for filing a protest, in accordance with a common sense interpretation of the state law. Without some clarification, an important safeguard for property owners will be neutralized by a technicality.

UPDATE: The minutes of the planning commission meeting, with details of the proposal and comments from commissioners, attorneys, and interested parties are online here, on pages 2-23.

When you buy a home in the middle of a neighborhood, surrounded by other homes, it's reasonable to expect that you won't wake up some morning to find your neighbor's house gone and a zinc smelter or slaughterhouse being built in its place. People less for a home next door to something busy and noisy, more for homes in quiet neighborhoods. That kind of price differential wouldn't make sense if any parcel could suddenly change to any other use. We have zoning an d planning laws in place to provide for orderly changes in land use, to protect the investment we've made in our property. Our zoning laws aren't perfect, but they ought to be applied evenhandledly. That doesn't appear to be happening in several recent controversial zoning cases that will soon be coming before the City Council.

One case is a proposal to rezone an area around the southeast corner of 41st & Harvard. The current zoning is RM (residential multifamily). As with the proposed F&M Bank at 71st & Harvard, the proposed change to the zoning runs counter to the city's Comprehensive Plan. Once this zoning change is approved, a second zoning change, called a Planned Unit Development (PUD), would combine the existing commercial zoning at the corner (the site of the Christmas tree lot) with the newly rezoned commercial area, plus some areas zoned for offices and single-family residential lots, to create one big commercial lot for a Wal-Mart neighborhood market and gas station.

We had the leaders of the neighborhood groups opposing the zoning change at the Midtown Coalition meeting a couple of weeks ago. They aren't NIMBYs: These homeowners would support commercial and multifamily development in accordance with existing zoning. The zoning change being requested is not in accord with the Comprehensive Plan for the parcels in question and involves a significant increase in intensity of use. They are not reassured by the fact that a PUD will be applied to the site, as they have an example on the NE corner of 41st and Harvard -- promises when the PUD was approved were then broken through amendments some time later.

In layman's terms, these neighbors bought homes that backed up to other homes. The adjoining lots were zoned and designated in the comprehensive plan for residential development. They had no reason to expect a supermarket loading dock across the back fence, and they paid some market-based premium on the basis of that expectation, which was grounded in existing use, zoning, and the Comprehensive Plan.

The key issue in this case and in the 71st and Harvard case, from the perspective of homeowner associations and neighborhood associations is the bypassing of the Comprehensive Plan.

The Comprehensive Plan is meant to give property owners and prospective property owners some degree of predictability. When considering the purchase of a piece of property, I should be able to look at the zoning map and the Comprehensive Plan and know what I am allowed to do with my land and what neighboring property owners are allowed to do, and the range of possible land use changes that may occur in the future.

Comprehensive Plan land use designations (such as "low-intensity residential" or "medium-intensity no specific use") are tied to zoning changes by a matrix which specifies which zoning categories (such as RS, CG, OL) are in conformance, are not in conformance, or which may be in conformance with the land use designation. By restricting the possibilities, property owners can invest with some degree of confidence that their investment will not be undermined either by an arbitrary zoning change or by an arbitrary refusal to grant a zoning change which is in accord with the Comprehensive Plan.

An owner's ability to make rational investment decisions is undermined by the frequent practice of changing the zoning without regard to the Comprehensive Plan, then amending the Comprehensive Plan after the fact to match the new zoning. Rezoning is no longer a matter of following the rules, but often who can hire the cleverest lawyer, or whether the applicant's plans will generate more sales tax and property tax revenue than the current land use.

I have heard it said that the TMAPC is right to ignore the Comprehensive Plan, since it hasn't been updated in ages, and there isn't any money to update it. The counter-argument is that there is no compelling reason for developers to push for a Comprehensive Plan update, because they can get any zoning they want without regard to the plan. (No land-use reforms will be considered by local politicians unless the development community is supportive, so great is its influence over local politics.) This reminds me of Oklahoma's old prohibition against liquor-by-the-drink, a law so often skirted that it was called liquor-by-the-wink. Only strict enforcement of the existing rules created pressure for reasonable reform.

The planning commission recommended approval by a vote of 5-4, and it will soon go before the City Council.

Front Line Voices from Iraq and Afghanistan


Periodically I check out a global news weblog called Winds of Change, which features a twice-weekly roundup of news from Iraq. The latest roundup included a link to an item about the challenges posed by Iraq's tribal social structure, which is reinforced by the practice of cousin marriage.

There was also an item about a new weblog. Blogger Frank Fleming, voicing the widespread frustration in the Blogosphere with the Western media tendency to trumpet bad news from Iraq and Afghanistan, has launched a new website called Front Line Voices. Here's what it's all about:

Since, as the saying goes, perception is nine-tenths of reality, those who control what we learn about the war in Iraq and other conflicts have an immense power. They can spin a victory into a failure, and a perceived failure in the fight against tyranny can only strengthen the resolve of tyrants.

It has increasingly been the complaint of many troops that the picture that the media is painting of the progress in the War on Terror is far from reality. The mission of this site is to get out the full story by posting first-hand accounts as written by men and women who have actually been to Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no editing or commentary by those who run this site, and we will print any letter or story submitted by a legitimate source who has served overseas. Our only goal is to offer you the opportunity to read these stories and to find out what the reality is.

They have already gathered a number of stories from months past that have been published on various weblogs, including many letters written in response to care packages from the US. Here's an excerpt from a letter written by a Navy corpsman to his mom, who had written asking if he would mind if she joined an anti-war demonstration in Hollywood:

Dear Mom:

It's really your decision to march if you want to or not. You are the one who has to decide if what we are doing out here is right or not. My opinion is not yours. I do, however, have things I would like for you and Grandma and everyone else at home to know. ...

We live in a country where people feel secure with their daily lives. They do business like usual and don't worry about the thought of terrorism actually happening to them.

The people of 9-11 thought the same thing. We now know that it can happen to anyone at any time.

Yet as Americans we're afraid of losing our soldiers to defend our security. I can only speak for myself when I say that my life is an easy expense to ensure that my family and friends can live in peace. I strongly believe in what we are doing and wish you were here to see for yourselves the honor and privilege that American soldiers aboard this ship are feeling, knowing that we are going to be a part of something so strong and so meaningful to the safety of our loved ones. Then you would know what this potential war is about. We will stand tall in front of terrorism and defeat it. We as soldiers are not afraid of what may happen. We are only afraid of Americans not being able to understand why we are here.

This site will be worth our attention.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2003 is the previous archive.

November 2003 is the next archive.

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