The real NIMBYs

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Ruth Kaiser Nelson was, for all practical purposes, my first Latin teacher. When I was an eighth-grader, our scheduled teacher, Bill Bippus, took a semester's leave of absence, and Mrs. Nelson taught us instead. Because the class occurred during the girls' PE period, it was an all-boy class, and Mrs. Nelson, the mother of three boys and a girl, did a fine job of keeping us in line, but also keeping us amused, and giving us a good start in the language.

I'm sure Mrs. Nelson is familiar with this sententia sapiens: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi. Literally, it means, "What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to the ox." It is a justification for double standards for the wealthy and connected versus the hoi polloi. The standards which apply to the commoner should not bind the plutocrat.

At Thursday night's City Council meeting, homeowners from the neighborhoods near Admiral and Yale came to protest the location of a 76-unit home for the chronically homeless, some of whom are currently housed at the downtown YMCA, some of whom are mentally ill. The large apartment building is part of the Building Tulsa Building Lives (BTBL) initiative. The Ruth K. Nelson Revocable Trust is listed as one of the initiative's principal partners, along with the George Kaiser Family Foundation (Mr. Kaiser and Mrs. Nelson are siblings), and the Tulsa Housing Authority, a public trust of which Mrs. Nelson is the chairman.

According to the Tulsa World report, Mrs. Nelson characterized the concerns of neighboring homeowners as typical NIMBYism:

Neighbors typically have a "not in my backyard" response, she said.

"If we were to move all of these facilities to places where no one would protest, they would be in the middle of nowhere," she said.

"Isolated people would not have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society."

The site was selected because it is relatively close to downtown, where many social service agencies are located, is next to a bus route and has stores nearby that residents can walk to, Nelson said.

The concern for isolation is touching, but she is making these people more isolated than they already are. At the Y, they are downtown, "where many social service agencies are located." She's moving them four miles from those services on the west side of downtown.

At the Y, they live a block away from a bus station that gives them access to 20 bus lines which will take them directly to shopping, jobs, doctors, parks, and services without needing to transfer. Four of those lines provide night time service to hospitals and schools for shift work and night classes. She wants them to live where they'll have only a single bus line, and they'll have to wait around and transfer at the downtown bus station to get anywhere else in the city. They won't have any access to nighttime service.

At the Downtown Y, they have the library and the County Courthouse across the street and the State Office Building and a hospital just a few blocks further west. Riverparks is about a mile to the south. There are a half dozen churches downtown. Social service agencies are just a few blocks north. There aren't any groceries nearby, but there are a few convenience stores not too far away, there are many nearby places to eat, at least at breakfast and lunchtime, and the bus can take them to their choice of grocery stores. They won't even have to walk far to see the Eagles or Celine Dion at the BOK Center. walkscore.com gives the location a rating of 89 -- "very walkable."

At Yale and Admiral, there is a Sonic across the street, a nearby QuikTrip, and it's about three-quarters of a mile to the Piggly Wiggly. The nearest library is in Maxwell Park, about a mile away, and it's only a small branch in the middle of a neighborhood. There's a bar just two blocks away, right across the street from a plasma center. Dong's Gun Store is about six blocks away -- handy for those who are hearing voices in their heads.There are a few churches down Yale. 10 S. Yale has a walkscore.com rating of 45 -- "car dependent."

Moving residents of the Downtown Y to Admiral and Yale will make them more isolated than they are now, not less. So why are these mentally ill, semi-homeless people really being moved out of downtown? Because downtown property owners and the BOK Center management and Downtown Tulsa Unlimited are NIMBYs. They don't want these people in their backyard. They even say so on their "Building Tulsa, Building Lives" website:

The opening of the BOK Center and other Vision 2025 projects are important components in securing the economic future of downtown Tulsa. But before downtown can become the vibrant destination it has the potential to be, developers and investors must be assured of its inviting and family-friendly environment.

Eliminating homelessness will attract further development and investment to downtown.

But it's OK for George Kaiser and Jim Norton and Kathy Taylor and Twenty-First Properties and SMG to be NIMBYs. If your place cost $200 million, you're allowed to say, "There goes the neighborhood," even if that $200 million came mostly from the taxpayers. If you have a nice little 1,000 sq. ft., $60,000 house, that you paid for yourself you're not allowed to say that. You know: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

(What's funny is that the neighbors that seem to be a problem for the BOK Center were there before the site was selected for the BOK Center. A number of us pointed out that between the jail, the bail bondsmen, the homeless shelters, the Y, the Sheriff's Office, and the Courthouse wasn't the smartest location for the arena -- maybe they should put it closer to existing entertainment districts on the other side of downtown -- but someone with influence has land along Denver just north of the south leg of the IDL, so that's where the arena went. Is it fair to be a NIMBY about neighbors who were there before you moved in?

According to the World, "After listening to the protests, Councilor John Eagleton said people can try to push such a project out of their neighborhood out of fear, but that doesn't make it right." Shouldn't he have been saying that to the downtown interests who want to clear the homeless out of downtown?)

The residents who spoke at the meeting were treated with a great deal of condescension. They were told that their fears were unfounded, abhorrent even, a sign of moral inferiority. The residents of this new facility will not pose a threat to their safety or their property values, thanks to new programs and new methods for helping these people become productive citizens again.

But if these new programs and methods are so effective, wouldn't they work just as well in a remodeled facility downtown, with the added bonus of keeping these people in familiar surroundings and connected to job opportunities and services and transportation? The fact that Mrs. Nelson and her brother and DTU and Mayor Taylor and SMG are so anxious to get these people away from downtown suggests that they don't really believe in the efficacy of their methods.

And the argument about having to demolish the Y residence doesn't hold any water. I suspect they could add sprinklers and remodel the building to meet fire code for much less than the $17 million in private pledges and state grants that they're spending on the Admiral and Yale facility.

But BTBL backers don't have to be consistent or logical or reasonable to get their way with city government, and they can be NIMBYs if they want to: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi works with exclusive negotiating periods, too.

If you're Kathy Taylor, of course you should expect Tulsa Drillers owner Chuck Lamson to honor his exclusive negotiating period with the city, and even to extend it if need be. I'm sure she'd be teary and outraged if Lamson had terminated the exclusive negotiations a month early to go flirt with Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland again. But how dare lowly entrepreneur Will Wilkins expect the Tulsa Development Authority to honor their commitment to an exclusive negotiating period! How dare he rally public support to try to prevent the TDA from breaking their word! Only wealthy and connected and powerful people have a right to expect such commitments to be honored.

(From the World: "Exclusive negotiations preclude the team from entertaining other offers...." Not if you're the TDA, they don't.)

Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

But that's an ancient pagan thought. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob insists on a single standard for all:

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

MORE: David Schuttler says that Councilor Eric Gomez's comparison of the Treepoint Apartments in his neighborhood to the proposed I-244 and Yale facility is apples and oranges.

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11 Comments

webworm Author Profile Page said:

These people get more arrogant with each passing day! If I were Lamson, I would head for Jenks right now. What will they do next? We need an election or a recall as soon as possible.

Did you get to read that article in The Atlantic about scattered site housing leading to increases and spread of crime and violence? Maybe that's a relevant point. Moving such a unit (and that's a lot of units, too) into a neighborhood is likely to bring an increase in crime and falling of property values, much for the reasons you outline why it's not helpful to the homeless and mentally ill.

I've lived down the street from such a facility, in a mixed- income and race neighborhood in San Antonio. We already had a good deal of young gang-banger crime so maybe we were used to it. But the homeless / mentally ill problem was more difficult to deal with, since the gangs tended to shot at each other or steal cars from the main street (easy escape). But one of my church kids lived in a local shelter at one point, and I know that they are really needed to help people like her family get back on their feet when a minor disaster hits. It's hard to live on the edge.

The rich always get their way, one way or another, it seems. That's a how politics in America works.

Pamela said:

If my memory is correct KT said that she was going to do this long ago. She did not give details but I remember this being mentioned on KFAQ with the previous hosts. It was laughed to scorn as it should have been. It is the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Sad to say she was serious and is cramming this down the throats of residents. I doubt she will run again for mayor. Pay close attention to those that are kissing up to her now and avoid them like the plague if they decide to run for anything.

The A Team said:

Let's call this thing what it really is, a zero security, insane asylum, that operates on the honor system.

vph said:

Are there any meetings, etc. where the rest of us can go to offer support for the people in White City?

I'm completely disgusted that this city sneaks through everything they know won't fly, otherwise. I'd be happy to sign a petition for recall of the mayor. I don't think we can wait until she's up for relection.

den said:

Hello- I am a resident of White City and we have partnered with other opposition that includes other neighborhoods in the District 4 area. WE are not the only ones affected by this. If you would like to receive more information please visit: www.whoownstulsa.org

Thanks.

Paul Tay said:

4 miles for Downtown services? Well, good grief, that's why they gonna need Community Cycling Project!

Oh, come off it, A Team. Zero security, insane asylum on the honor system? Good grief. We already got one of those. It's called City Hall. So, what's another one?

Give it a chance. Let it work itself out. If it tanks, the Sheriff could probably use more space.

While 10 S Yale is well-intentioned, the way this thing got fast tracked probably doesn't do much for winning hearts and minds. Why does Tulsa's "well-intentioned" oligarchy keep doing the same things, expecting different results? At some point, there will be all-out REVOLT.

Jan Thomas said:

I hope all of the District 4 residents unite on this one and go for a recall of their councilor. I am afraid they are in for a long fight. I live in the 23 square miles of north Tulsa that they gave us about 3 weeks notice that we were getting ready to get annexed to the Tulsa City limits. Fortunately for us, we fought long and hard, and had a few sensible councilors that realized that Tulsa was in no fiscal condition to take on more area as far as streets, water, fire and police were concerned! We still keep our ear to the ground to see if there are any rumblings to try to annex us again.

Fight on District 4 residents! We back you up here. Just more government, rich folks and Kathy Taylor shenanigans. We had to fight against Bill LaFortune. Good luck!

bigassbelle Author Profile Page said:

This feels like such a sneaky underhanded deal I want to slap someone. The first I heard of it was after the thing had already passed and I've lived in the area since 1989.

My business is at the corner of 11th & Pittsburg. For the last 6-7 years, we've had fairly regular traffic of men traveling the corridor between 11th and downtown looking for work. They're coming from the motels out east of Memorial and most have been drug addicts or alcoholics, looking for a day's pay.

I used to hire them but over the years they've become increasingly aggressive and threatening until the last one physically threatened me and also promised to burn down my warehouse.

I was a social worker for 16 years and retain a commitment to helping others no matter their circumstances. I'm not even entirely sure I'm wholly opposed to this project. What I resent ~ resent terribly ~ is the way it appears they tried to sneak it through. It was done in an underhanded, back door, arrogant and condescending fashion and the reasons given on their website as to why this is needed are even more annoying. "We have to create the perception of safety" or words to that effect, for those visiting our grand new downtown buildings.

What about the "perception of safety" for those of us who live near this planned project? And what of the perception of safety of potential buyers should we eventually decide to sell our homes? That seems to be of little account to these smug individuals and their dismissiveness of our concerns shows nothing but contempt for us.


Ms Fed UP said:

I am fed up and livid.
I have lived in White City for 23 years. I have poured my sweat into renovating my house. The neighborhood has come up so far. I feel safe,our property value is at an all time high. It broke my heart to speak with a elderly couple at the meeting Tuesday, they are scared to death. It is not fair to dump 80 people in one neighborhood. It is confirmed Kathy T. and her cronies are trying to as quoted,"spread them around like peas". So people won't be in danger walking to the arena with no parking. We can just be afraid to mow the lawn or have our children out playing. Perhaps Ms. Kaiser could bulldoze her neighborhood and build them next door to her, then she can take care of them.

Bob said:

Great blog sir. I work with John 3:16 Mission a lot and you would not believe what they have done to try and run them out as well.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 8, 2008 10:22 PM.

TDA breaks its word, dumps Lofts @ 120 was the previous entry in this blog.

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