PLANiTULSA notebook: Protecting the integrity of the process

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In addition to the lovely winter storm we're enjoying on the first day of spring, there's a storm swirling around PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's first comprehensive plan since the late '70s.

After almost two years of public input from thousands of Tulsans, the PLANiTULSA policy plan, vision document, and land use map have been submitted to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC). The TMAPC is in the midst of a public hearing on PLANiTULSA, with the third and possibly final session of that hearing this coming Tuesday, March 23, 2010, at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers. After the public hearing is closed, the TMAPC will stop taking public comments and will deliberate, possibly making significant modifications to the plan. They will then forward the plan to the City Council for final approval, at which point there will be another public hearing.

Here at the end of the process, several groups -- traditional Tulsa power brokers with declining influence -- have emerged asking for significant, even radical, changes to the plan and are asking for an extension of the public comment period to give them more time to twist arms for their pet provisions. They were given a seat at the table, had representatives on the citizens' advisory team, and even had private meetings with the PLANiTULSA consultant team. Now they claim they haven't had enough time to read and evaluate the plan, and they're presenting changes that would unbalance the plan to suit their self-interests.

Jim Beach, a former INCOG land use planner and now a land use consultant for Wallace Engineering, has a blog post asking these groups, "Where have you been the last two years?"

Over 6,000 individual Tulsans took their opportunity seriously when invited to attend numerous workshops and have their opinions heard openly during the past two years of PLANiTULSA. The result is a world class Comprehensive Plan proposal that an unprecedented number of people have helped create in a healthy, open, engaging, and democratic process. It has been inspiring and refreshing.

This process didn't happen behind closed doors. It's not the product of special interest deal making. It didn't happen by following the old familiar back scratching methods we're all familiar with and with which many are vaguely uncomfortable but generally accept as "the way it's done."

If you are a member of one of the groups just now opening your door and coming out to delay, derail, or dilute the work of thousands of people over thousands of hours, you are demonstrating exactly the behavior that creates a vast divide between "us and them".

Read the whole thing. (And you'll also want to read his remarks to the TMAPC, urging approval of PLANiTULSA.)

Beach points out that what's at stake is not just the substance of the plan but also how we handle major public decisions in this town. If you've been involved at all in Tulsa civic matters, you know the old pattern of task forces and vision processes: a public input phase, followed by the special interests hijacking the process for their own purposes, with the resulting conclusion being whatever the powers-that-be wanted in the first place. PLANiTULSA -- so far -- is a complete break with that pattern, but we need to show up and speak out if we don't want a relapse to occur:

If left unchallenged, the old methods will continue to be effective in their tried and true, subversive ways.

Part of the paradigm shift that has already occurred through the PLANiTULSA process includes fundamental changes in how we approach the process of public engagement. There is a renewed expectation that everyone has a place at the adult table and if you want to be part of the discussion, you need to show up on time and have your say.

It is absolutely crucial that as many of us as possible make it clear to the TMAPC that we want them to recommend approval of our new Comprehensive Plan - as we created it, with a solid and well documented background of vision development and citizen input.

My intention is to write something specific today about each of three groups who feel threatened by PLANiTULSA and are trying to alter the plan for their own purposes. I hope to explain why the points of the plan they are challenging are worth defending. (Will I get that done? I'm trying to juggle time with family and the hectic final stages of a major project at work -- the job that actually pays the bills -- with staying engaged on this important process through its conclusion.)

But even before we get to the the 11th-hour complainers and the substance of their complaints, the integrity of the PLANiTULSA deserves to be defended. The city planners running PLANiTULSA and the consultant team have been committed to an open and above-board process, driven by public input. We shouldn't sit complacently while traditional power brokers with a sense of entitlement try to remake our plan to serve their narrow interests.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 20, 2010 7:20 AM.

Magical history tour was the previous entry in this blog.

PLANiTULSA: My comments to the TMAPC is the next entry in this blog.

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