TMAPC & PLANiTULSA: The hearing and the delayers

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I spoke at Wednesday's TMAPC public hearing on PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation. I haven't had time to write my thoughts on the event, but my friend Jamie Jamieson copied me on an email to a Pearl District neighborhood leader. He did a fine job describing yesterday's PLANiTULSA hearing at the TMAPC and analyzing the undercurrents among the special interest groups seeking to delay the process and dismember the plan. With his permission I'm publishing it here.

At the end of the meeting, the TMAPC decided not to end the public hearing, but to continue it until March 23, at 6 p.m. The public will again have the opportunity to speak, and comments may be also submitted online between now and the end of that meeting (unless the commissioners decide again to extend the time).

Let me underscore what Jamie says about the need for ordinary Tulsans to make your voices heard. If you participated in PLANiTULSA, in the citywide workshops, the small-area workshops, the survey, or some other way, if you want your input to matter, you need to express your support for the plan to the TMAPC.

I will be [unavailable for the March 23 meeting]. I delayed [an event] so that I could be present at and speak at yesterday's meeting, which I believed would be the last such hearing. As it was, so many people spoke - at length and to good purpose - that I didn't get to speak. It was a well-run hearing in that many people had their say and the Commissioners took time to engage closely with speakers in detail. The Commissioners handled it pretty well, particularly Bill Leighty and Liz Wright who both asked incisive questions. All the fog of misinformation circulated in recent days evaporated after a series of close questioning by BIll Leighty at the very outset of the hearing. I think it is imperative that the official voice of the Pearl District is heard, from the President at the next hearing. Christine [Booth] did very well, at short notice at the first hearing, and I spoke at that meeting too. We both sat through yesterday's 3.5 hour hearing, when we could have been doing our day jobs. We now need others to take up the slack.

It's starkly clear that the homebuilders, realtors and the Chamber, all of whom showed up to complain yesterday, are mounting a serious effort to torpedo key features of PLANiTULSA. They give the impression of having lain in wait for two years.

It looks as if the strategy is to drag out, obfuscate, confuse, conflate, alienate, discredit and ultimately emasculate the Plan to suit a myopic view of their own narrow interests, at the expense of Tulsa and Tulsans. A tactic in this is (i) to show up at the tail-end of the process when normal people have made their contribution to the process, and are at their day jobs, (ii) to gradually wear everyone else out to a point where no one else shows up except them, and (iii) to connive and lobby behind closed doors. They are now variously asking for a 60 or more days delay for their 'members' to consider PLANiTULSA's 200 pages. Never mind that everyone else has already read it. Perhaps - being charitable - they're just slow readers.

The Chamber, of which I am a long-time and slightly embarrassed member in particular made itself look hopelessly out of touch: it sent a new and floundering employee along to ask for a delay with the flimsiest of rationales. It seemed pretty clear that it's been 'got at' by the Home Builders, who merely succeeded in making the Chamber look stupid - to the extent that the audience laughed at the Chamber's first utterances. Their representative left early. 'Mission accomplished'. Engagement Over.

It seems to have escaped these organizations' notice that their respective, individual members are also Tulsans, who have had the opportunity to engage at any point in the last two years with PLANiTULSA. In fact many individual members such as I have actually done so. I am hoping that the Commissioners, who are an intelligent group of mature people, see through this for the sham - and shame - that it is.

While these respective groups have every right - and indeed duty - to speak at hearings, their seemingly calculated absence from the PLANiTULSA discussion process until the last minute is at best negligent, and at worst cynical, irresponsible and reprehensible. Up to 6,000 other Tulsans like them spent more than two years working on this project, as individuals. Now these organizations think they can come in and over-ride it at the last minute with a torrent of proposed corrections (most of which have actually been accommodated - almost to a fault - by the PLANiTULSA team).

An inspired, progressive, constructive, mature, public process is threatening to turn into a tedious yet predictable struggle of unimaginative, vested interests wishing to preserve a crumbling status quo (characterized by back-room deals, with scant regard to the real world) versus Tulsa's residents and the true interests of Tulsa and its economic and fiscal viability.

It's enough to make me want to move to Portland, along with everyone else under 30: the vocabulary there is about progress, adaptation to a radically changing world, innovation, new ideas. Our public policies here in contrast seem orientated around protecting the interests and personal feelings of a bunch of good ole boys whose time has... gone. The intellectual and policy high ground has transferred to the neighborhoods and to hitherto sidelined planners. Philanthropists and tax-payers meanwhile pay for the intellectual deficit - in hard cash.

So I trust you and other neighborhoods will show up and speak on March 23. Whilst the critics of PLANiTULSA were heavily out-numbered yesterday some opponents still haven't spoken, and will take up their right to do so at the next - and, I trust, final - hearing.

This is, sadly, a fight that in my view will determine whether Tulsa has much of a future.

As Jamie says, the hearing was very well handled. I felt I was heard. At many public hearings of this sort, the committee or board hears the speaker without response or interaction, and the speaker doesn't know how the members will process the information until the board discussion has begun, at which point there's no opportunity to clarify or rebut. After I spoke at Wednesday's hearing, however, a number of TMAPC members asked me questions that indicated they'd been paying attention and that gave me a chance to clarify and expand on my prepared comments. They did this for all the speakers, and that's why it seemed to take 20 minutes to hear each person, despite the 5 minute time limit.

As for the special interests asking for a delay and/or at the last minute requesting massive changes to the plan: These groups all were given a seat at the table. Home Builders Association executive VP Paul Kane and homebuilder Ken Klein were both members of the Citizens Advisory Team for PLANiTULSA, as was Al Unser, the head of the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors, and Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Many more people connected with the Chamber and the development industry were appointed by Mayor Taylor to those committees. (I was rather worried about it. I needn't have worried, apparently, as they opted not to participate actively. The two-tier distinction between advisers and partners was quickly collapsed into the single tier of the citizens team.)

These interest groups should have been following the process all the way through and should have raised their concerns earlier on, to be discussed by the Citizens Team. If they came to the meetings, they never seemed to have much to say. It's as if they thought it beneath their dignity to have their concerns aired amongst οἱ πολλοί. The concept of "Areas of Change and Stability," the issue that has the Home Builders Association upset, has been under discussion since spring 2009. It was included in the online background material for the "Which Way Tulsa" survey, issued in May, and it was in the draft Vision document issued on September 15, 2009.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 11, 2010 6:55 PM.

Dear TMAPC, please don't dismember PLANiTULSA was the previous entry in this blog.

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