Tulsa: June 2003 Archives

I think I'm going to take a weekend off from blogging and this comes up: After months of piddling around by the attorney for Bell's Amusement Park, Roy Johnsen, Bell's has finally filed an appeal in their zoning case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In October 2001, the Tulsa County Board of Adjustment voted 3-2 to approve a special exception to allow Bell's to build a new 88' tall roller coaster to the west of Zingo, much closer to a nearby and long-established neighborhood. The neighborhood appealed, and in August 2002, District Judge David Peterson rejected the zoning change, which was contrary to the Comprehensive Plan, which requires low-intensity development for that portion of the Fairgrounds.

I'll later update this entry with more detail, but for now I'll say that Peterson was right, with law and precedent to back him up. The Comprehensive Plan, which is approved by the City and County governments, prescribes what zoning changes are permissible for a given parcel of land, by means of an intensity designation. In 1984, the Fairgrounds was divided into three bands of intensities -- the westernmost section as low intensity, the easternmost as high intensity, and in between a medium intensity section. The low and medium intensity sections directly border neighborhoods, while the high intensity section abuts retail development.

The Tulsa County Board of Adjustment exceeded its authority in granting a special exception for a high intensity use in an area designated low intensity. Here's a quote from an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling relevant to this case.

The board of adjustment cannot have unconfined and unrestrained freedom of action. It is not at liberty to depart from the comprehensive plan embodied in the ordinance and it cannot, under the guise of exceptions and variances, modify, amend, repeal, or nullify the ordinance by establishing new zone lines and creating different areas for the drilling of oil and gas wells and thereby essentially change and substantially derogate the fundamental character, intent, and true purpose of the zoning law. Its power of review in granting variations and exceptions is limited to adjusting practical difficulties and unusual emergencies which may arise in a particular case when the strict enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance would constitute an unnecessary hardship.

The BoA isn't free to do whatever it wants, and property owners should be grateful. Well-written zoning and planning regulations help to remove uncertainty that might prevent investment.

Okie bloggers


There don't seem to be many out there yet, but I have found a few others blogging from Oklahoma.

Okie Pundit focuses on Oklahoma state government. Here's an archive page from the end of the legislative session, covering the impact of cuts and pork-barrel "pass throughs" on state departments, and critcizing Governor Henry for destroying our state's ability to build our economy, by replacing professionals with hacks. Here's a sample:

In what seems to be a trend with the Henry Administration, old George Nigh and David Walters political functionaries are replacing career professionals. Kathryn Taylor brought in Delmas Ford, formerly Secretary of Transportation under Walters, to take the place of former Department of Commerce Executive Director Ron Bussert - a true professional. Mr. Ford, not known for business or economic development acumen, is seen as Ms. Taylor's link to the state's good ol' boy network. Ms. Taylor, one of the richest people in Oklahoma, has been busy in her first two months destroying the careers of numerous long-serving and low-wage civil servants.

The irony is that when Brad Henry came into office he promised that during these challenging times he would focus on economic development and existing business and globalization. Instead, he and Ms. Taylor are busy destroying one of the premier economic development agencies in the United States. For almost 15 years the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has been remarkably free from political cronyism. While agencies in neighboring Texas, Arkansas and Missouri have floundered under rampant cronyism and political micromanagement at their economic development agencies, Oklahoma had invested in non-political career professionals. Those days seem to be gone under Brad Henry and Kathryn Taylor. This is turning out to be one of the worst administrations in memory.

Okie Pundit may sound like a conservative Republican here, but I don't get that impression from other posts on the site. There's much more of interest -- have a look back through the archives.

Cam Edwards is a talk show host on KTOK in Oklahoma City, and his blog style is short, punchy, and frequent. The blog covers a wide range of topics. Here's an excerpt from a post I particularly liked -- rules to live by for talk-radio hosts:

1-Yelling doesn't make you smarter. I can't stand listening to people getting themselves worked up in a lather, to the point that they're yelling at me. You can be passionate without shouting.

2-Don't lie. Don't lie about your beliefs. You'll get caught, sooner or later. You have to be yourself or you'll have no credibility.

A minor quibble: He misuses the term "dittoheads" later in the post. Now that we have conservative talk shows covering the dial 24 hours a day, and myriad conservative opinion outlets on the web, it's easy to forget what it was like in 1988. Rush was a breath of fresh air to conservatives, and callers wanted to express their appreciation for his presence on the airwaves. One listener decided to skip the long litany of thanks and appreciation and just said "ditto to what that guy said". "Dittos, Rush" became shorthand for appreciative remarks, allowing the caller to get to the point more quickly. It was never meant to indicate total agreement with everything he stood for.

Speaking of Rush, does anyone else feel that Internet news and commentary has made his radio show dispensible?

More Okie blog profiles to come.

Tulsa's high-tech brain drain


Susan Hylton of the Tulsa World called Wednesday about Tulsa Now's letter to the Dialog / Visioning 2025 leadership team. My comments made her front-page article in this morning's World. (Starts here, my quote is here.) I don't remember saying (as she summarizes my 10 minute conversation with her) that the pursuit of Boeing "pushes aside" the vision process, but I did identify it as one of three factors that could derail the vision process, and that was the reason for the letter.

She did correctly reflect one of my key concerns: Aerospace manufacturing jobs won't create high-tech jobs for the WorldCom and Williams workers who lost their jobs last year. New manufacturing jobs are not to be despised -- they would help a lot of Tulsans, and the new jobs should make life better for retailers and for people trying to sell their homes. But software engineers and electrical engineers won't get jobs at the Boeing plant because they aren't qualified for that kind of work. Perhaps these laid-off engineers will be able to get jobs at Radio Shack or Best Buy, selling computers and DVD players to newly employed mechanics. Perhaps they will get a better price on their homes when they move to Plano where their new engineering jobs are.

Woo Boeing and encourage American to stay, but let's not spend so much in that pursuit that we have nothing left to make our city more attractive to high-tech employers, nothing left to encourage local entrepreneurs to stay and grow their businesses. Is it right to lay a heavy tax burden on these engineers who have been unemployed or underemployed for months, so that we can pursue jobs that they can't have?

When Joel Kotkin came to Tulsa last May, he told us that the telecom layoffs could leave us stronger than ever, if we act boldly. Here he is quoted in a column by Janet Pearson of the Tulsa World:

Tulsa has demonstrated its adaptability by rebounding from the energy bust, Kotkin noted, but its heavy reliance on telecom creates new challenges. But Tulsa can emerge from the Williams Communication Group Inc. bankruptcy crisis stronger than ever by coming up with a plan.

"You should react by saying not that the end is near, but how do we overcome it," Kotkin said. "Those in the telecom industry still have knowledge and skills. Find a way to redeploy them, either in existing companies or by starting new ones."

Tulsa should refine its ability to attract and retain well-educated and highly skilled workers or lose out to other communities with that edge, he said.

"That is the real key issue for Tulsa. . . . All the traditional ideas of economic development, particularly those used here in the Midwest, have failed. I really believe human capital will be much more important in the future, and Tulsa has much to offer in that regard."

The whole article is worth reading, and I hope our Dialog / Visioning leadership reviews its options in light of his wise words.

As far as I am aware, Tulsa's leadership has done nothing to try to stop the brain drain, to create opportunities so that we keep these talented people here in Tulsa. While local government probably can't do much directly to help, government and business leaders could work to develop venture capital funds and to set up business incubators to help people with talent and ideas create jobs. There are people in this city with a lot of money -- the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of oil patch wildcatters -- couldn't our leaders encourage them to take some of their money out of conservative investments and use it to back a high-tech "wildcatter"?

Over at Tulsa Today, David Arnett has posted a wide-ranging analysis of the vision process. He says the risk-takers have left Tulsa.

Historically, Tulsa’s entrepreneurs have stepped forward with private money to jumpstart public facilities from bridges to airports to exhibition centers. By definition, entrepreneurs are those that assume risk of an enterprise and sadly from Tulsa many major players are gone. Those in charge of our corporations today are managers, accountants, and bureaucrats who view risk with distain. Even the Board of Directors of the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) is now mostly populated by people who must plead for checks to be written rather than pull out the checkbook to write one on the spot.

The Boeing pursuit is a classic case of the traditional approach to economic development -- bribe an big company to build a plant and hope they stay around. It may be a useful stop-gap. It would be a confidence builder if it came to pass, but it is no substitute for making Oklahoma a better place to start and build a business.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa category from June 2003.

Tulsa: May 2003 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: July 2003 is the next archive.

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