Hiding the agenda

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I was asked whether a Tulsa Metro Chamber committee report on infill development (posted here, comments here) was formally adopted by the Chamber or by any governmental body. I don't know that it has or hasn't, but in a way, it doesn't matter, because the ideas contained in it are already guiding the practice of land use regulation in Tulsa, in a piecemeal, evolutionary fashion, while its more radical concepts are on the wishlist of many influential people and institutions.

When I ran for City Council in 2002, I submitted to an interview by David Averill and Julie DelCour of the Tulsa Whirled Editorial Board. Given my opposition to "It's Tulsa's Time", I figured a new downtown arena would be the dominant topic. Instead, they were most interested in my positions on three issues. First, they wanted to know my position on abortion. I told them I am pro-life, and that I believe that we have an obligation to protect innocent, defenseless human life. They told me not to worry and that the Whirled sometimes endorses "anti-choice" candidates.

The second key issue was whether I approved of the use of government condemnation to "assemble" land for private redevelopment. Clearly they supported the notion. I told them I felt it was an abuse of the power of eminent domain. And they wanted to know where I stood on the six-laning of Riverside Drive, a pet project for them -- I oppose it because of the effect on the park and neighborhood, and said so.

Despite the areas of disagreement, it was a civil, even pleasant conversation, and I left thinking I still had a shot at an endorsement, or at least the hope of not being hammered on the editorial page. Some time later, before the primary election, I was surprised to see the Whirled endorse Tom Baker, not just for the primary, but for election. Such early endorsements are usually reserved for districts where one party is dominant and winning a primary is tantamount to being elected.

So I called David Averill and politely inquired about their decision. He told me that my support for neighborhood empowerment (through the use of urban conservation districts) was why they wouldn't endorse me. Averill said that neighborhoods had opposed every good thing that had happened to Midtown, and they shouldn't be given any more clout to oppose progress. I cited several counter-examples to his assertion, but he was not interested in discussing the matter further.

The bottom line for the Whirled was this: If elected to the Council, I would be an obstacle to their vision for the redevelopment of Midtown, because I would work to protect the rights of homeowners and other property owners and make them a part of the decision-making process. I believe that we can accommodate growth and new development without endangering the character of our older neighborhoods, and with a minimum of red tape and regulation.

Of course, the Whirled's endorsement editorial was not so plain-spoken and made no mention at all of land use, zoning, or eminent domain. These issues did not figure in their news coverage of the race or in their last minute editorial, which blasted me for making no constructive contribution to the community, in their view. They did not dare give zoning and planning issues any exposure, because they know that their position is unpopular, particularly in Midtown.

Zoning and planning was the hidden central issue of the 2002 council races, and you can see where it mattered most by looking at the contributor records for the candidates. A real estate coalition interviewed candidates, made endorsements, and gave PAC money. Neighborhood-friendly candidates like Roscoe Turner and Bonnie Henke were targeted and defeated in the primary. Money poured into the campaigns of Susan Neal, Tom Baker, David Patrick, Art Justis, and Randy Sullivan.

The Whirled and other powerful forces have a vision for Tulsa's future, and they believe that they must sneak it past us to make it happen, because they figure we won't like it, even though they would tell us it's good for us. Their vision doesn't allow consulting with the ordinary Tulsans who would be affected. They aren't interested in empowering Tulsans to define their own future. They know better than we do, after all.

This election we need to put zoning and planning issues out on the table for full public debate and discussion. Voters should have clear choices between competing visions of Tulsa's future development and citizen involvement in planning our future.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 4, 2003 1:18 AM.

Official area code maps was the previous entry in this blog.

Dear Mayor, Veto the 71st & Harvard zoning amendment is the next entry in this blog.

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