Tulsa: December 2003 Archives

Sad news in Sunday's paper (jump page here): The University of Tulsa plans to replace yet another Route 66 landmark with empty space.

The Metro Diner is not historic, but it still matters. I remember when it was an Arby's, in the late '70s, and I'm told it was a gas station before that. The Diner was created in the early '80s in the style of old Route 66 diners, and it became an instant tourist attraction. It gives Route 66 tourists exactly what they hope to see (and eat) along the old highway. Its brilliant neon sign is compensation for the many other spectacular neon signs along Route 66 in Tulsa that were demolished along with the establishments they pointed to -- like the Will Rogers Motor Hotel and the Villa -- or replaced with backlit plastic signs.

Losing the Metro Diner will hurt our city's drive to capitalize on our Route 66 heritage, just as we prepare to host an international Route 66 convention and have voted to spend $15 million in taxpayer dollars to enhance our appeal to Route 66 tourists. We want to encourage others to rehabilitate businesses that are still standing and to build new facilities that revive the look of long-gone roadside establishments. But allowing TU to knock down Metro Diner will have a chilling effect on anyone considering private investment along the old highway.

The chill will be even worse if the City uses eminent domain to acquire the property on TU's behalf, as it has done for TU in the past. Why fix a place up if some politically-connected institution can use government muscle to take it away from me and tear it down?

If TU had acquired all its land from willing sellers, you could make the case that we have no place telling this private institution what to do with its own land. But TU has gained so much property through the unconstitutional use of eminent domain for private benefit, the least we should expect is that TU use its land efficiently. Instead we see this ill-gotten land taken up with surface parking lots (TU has no multilevel parking) and suburban-style apartment complexes. Now they want to use four blocks for nothing but a clear view to 11th Street.

TU claims it is doing this for aesthetic reasons -- to create a visual entrance to campus from 11th Street. Of course, they could have created such an entrance along Harvard, but chose not to. By pursuing this course, TU is also doing a disservice to its students, killing the only commercial properties within easy walking distance from campus. Why not create a "campus corner" commercial development on the north side of 11th Street? Leave Metro Diner alone and encourage other businesses to locate nearby to serve the student community.

The Whirled praised TU's plan on Friday's editorial page, as usual innocent of the idea that there might be two sides to the story. The editorial writer praises TU for improving the surrounding neighborhoods, by which I guess the writer refers to the demolition of most of the surrounding neighborhoods. The homeowners that remain live in perpetual fear that TU will take their neighborhood next, with the City's blessing and active assistance.

The Whirled editorial also emits this howler:

TU also retains its roots in buildings such as Kendall Hall, McFarlin Library and Sharp Chapel.

Kendall Hall is a great example of TU's disregard for its roots and history. The first building on campus, it was demolished in the early '70s -- the cupola is all that remains -- and replaced with a modernist monstrosity.

Perhaps the folks hosting next summer's Route 66 festival and the folks overseeing the Vision 2025 money for Route 66 could have a word with the TU folks and help them understand the serious damage they're about to do to Tulsa's Route 66 prospects.

The agenda for Thursday night's City Council is up, and there could be fireworks aplenty.

Early in the program, the Mayor's appointees to the Vision 2025 sales tax overview committee will come before the Council. The appointees are David Paddock, Kevin Crosser, John Benjamin, Tony Ringold, Fred Ramos, Liz Hunt, and David Elsworth. David Paddock is immediate past president of Brookside Neighborhood Association. Liz Hunt is current president of Tracy Park neighborhood association. Fred Ramos is president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is a resident of Jenks.

Then there's John Benjamin, former City Councilor. Benjamin was the point man for "It's Tulsa Time" -- the 2000 attempt to raise sales taxes for a new sports arena. He's responsible for encouraging Randy Sullivan to run for council in 2002. He is a true-blue Chamber pot. His endorsement of Terry Simonson did a lot to alienate grass-roots Republicans from Terry's 2002 mayoral campaign. Having him on this committee is like the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse.

I don't know the other three at all. I am told that at the Council committee meeting, all but one of the seven indicated that they were enthusiastic supporters of all four propositions.

Then Monte Dunham is being reappointed to the City Board of Adjustment -- the Board that considers special exceptions and variances from the zoning laws. Mr. Dunham is yet another example of the dominance of development and real estate interests on boards dealing with zoning and land use planning. He's also an example of how not much seems to have changed since Mayor LaFortune was sworn in on April 1, 2002. The same people as before are in charge of the departments and sitting on various boards and commissions.

After that you've got the 41st & Harvard rezoning case -- another controversy involving the conversion of residential to commercial (a Wal-Mart neighborhood market) contrary to the Comprehensive Plan. Here's an earlier entry explaining the case. In this case, the planning commission voted 5-4 to recommend approval -- a very slim margin indeed. The neighbors who are fighting this would appreciate your presence and support Thursday night at 6 pm at City Hall. If you can't be there, drop your councilor a line at distX@tulsacouncil.org, where the X is your district number (1 through 9).

Then the Council may be voting to override a veto for the first time in history over the issue of managing the City's use of cellphones.

Be there if you can, otherwise catch it live on C-SPAN Thursday night at 6 p.m., or on Cox Cable 3 Saturday morning at 6 a.m.

Those districts belong to us

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I've been thinking about redistricting reform lately. (Redistricting fascinates me because it combines three of my favorite subjects -- politics, number-crunching, and maps!) With term limits kicking in, and the possibility of a change in control in the state legislature, this may be the optimal time to reform the system that has given us ridiculous gerrymanders which work against representative democracy.

So please indulge a bit of retroblogging -- here's an op-ed piece I wrote back in 1991, calling for reform of our state's redistricting process. From the May 31, 1991, Tulsa Tribune:

Beef Baloney

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In one of my first entries, I lamented the decline of locally produced television. So I was thrilled to learn about a new locally produced half-hour comedy program called Beef Baloney, which airs on Fox 23 every Saturday night (actually Sunday morning) at midnight.

Tonight's episode was all about politics. They had a man on the scene at the Democratic debate in Stillwater, talking to the activists and to several of the candidates. Presidential candidates aren't quite sure how to respond to a reporter who says he's from Beef Baloney.

They did a hilarious parody of the Vision 2025 ads. This was an ad for Vision 2026, a tax initiative to stimulate the local production of comedy -- it's for the children.

Then there was an instructional video for politicians -- how to disengage from a conversation with a voter. It's a five step process, evidently, involving a pat on the arm, a point of the finger, mutating into a wave and a thumbs up. After explaining each step in slow motion, Beef Baloney then presented film of an actual politician executing the maneuver to perfection -- Joe Lieberman, as he backed away from the Beef Baloney reporter.

Most of the remainder of the program was taken up debates and commercials in a fictional mudslinging local campaign.

Support local comedy and tune in. This episode will air again Friday and Saturday nights at 2:30 am and Wednesdays at midnight on channel 71.

Shame on me. Shame on all of us. School board filing period was last week, Monday through Wednesday, and I forgot to remind you about it. I knew it was coming up soon, sometime in December, but forgot it was the very first Monday, and this year, that was December 1st. (I did mention it a couple of months ago, however.)

So last Thursday the Whirled published the list of candidates who filed for school board seats in Tulsa County. Of the 18 seats on the ballot, 13 drew only one candidate. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall a Whirled story announcing the beginning of the filing period.)

The Tulsa district has two seats out of seven up next February. One seat is contested -- incumbent Cathy Newsome faces challengers Betty Pelton Morrow and Claudia L. Brown-King. In the other seat, Ruth Ann Fate is reelected to her third four-year term without opposition. (She beat Marilyn Wigger in 1996 and Dennis Dowell in 2000.) Most of the suburban districts have five members, each serving a staggered five-year term.

While ignorance of the law is no excuse, the school board election system in Oklahoma seems designed to keep the school board election process out of the public eye and insulate the schools from the democratic process. Filing takes place during the busy Christmas season, after the regular election date has come and gone, when ordinary people and the news media are paying attention to other things. Elections are in February, and the campaign is conducted during a season when early sunsets and cold temperatures interfere with door-to-door campaigns. Terms are long, making board members less accountable to the public. And it is impossible, because of staggered terms, to throw all the bums out. I often get the impression that school board members are more interested in representing the administration's views to the public, than holding the administration accountable on behalf of the public.

I offered my idea for school board accountability and taxpayer empowerment a few months ago -- elect the full school board, in partisan elections, every two years. For now, I guess we'll just have to put up with a school board that has no problem with French classes that don't teach French.

If candidates in the contested school board elections would like an opportunity to air their views publicly, please drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com. I'd like to do my part to give voters an informed choice.

Mayor wields the veto pen

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For the first time in his administration, and only the second time since the current form of city government was adopted, Mayor Bill LaFortune has wielded the veto pen. He chose not to exercise this power in the 71st & Harvard rezoning ordinance, even though the ordinance was passed by a narrow 5-4 vote, was opposed by his own appointee to the planning commission, and was accomplished by neighboring property owners being illegally deprived of recognition for their protest, thus triggering yet another civil liberties lawsuit against the city. No, in that case, the Mayor chose to defer to the prerogatives of the Council.

So what Council action was egregious enough to get the Mayor to whip out his veto pen, sans Liquid Paper? A 9-0 vote by the Council to require by ordinance that cell phone expenditures be accounted for by department, rather than as a single budget category. The Council's proposal, initiated by Bill Christiansen, is a sensible measure. It is too easy to hide unnecessary expenditures in one big government-wide budget item. By having each department responsible for its own cell phone expenses, each department has an incentive to control its own cell phone usage. The Whirled story quotes Christiansen drawing a comparison to copier usage:

A neighborhood weblog

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Lewis Crest Neighborhood Association, which is southeast of 51st & Lewis, has set up a Movable Type-powered weblog for announcements of interest to the neighborhood. This is a great idea, and I'm pleased to see that this site helped to inspire this development.

With some template manipulation and creative use of categories, Movable Type could be adapted for use as a general-purpose content management system, an easy way to set up and maintain a website.

Speaking of categories I'm thinking it's about time to revise my category structure, and specifically to add some hierarchy to the Tulsa category -- with zoning and Vision 2025 as a couple of subcategories. If you've got suggestions for organizing the site, let me know at blog at batesline dot com.

Today's news next week sometime

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Sometimes I don't get around to writing about something for a week or so after it happens. I have good excuses -- a full-time job, family responsibilities, civic involvement. This blog is not a paying gig: Although some donors (four, actually) have contributed enough to pay the hosting bills for a couple of years, it isn't so much I could quit my job and do this full-time.

The Whirled has no such excuse -- they're paid to cover the news -- and yet they frequently defer stories on City Council committee or regular meetings until the next Saturday. This last Saturday they published a story about a Council meeting that had occurred nine days earlier. (Jump page is here.)

In the past I've been told that even if the reporter files the full story the night of the Council meeting, but it's often drastically cut short or omitted entirely by the editors for space reasons.

That excuse made sense when newspapers were merely ink on paper, but with unlimited space available on the web, it no longer holds water. Why not provide the full story when it's filed, as a "web extra", thus adding value for your subscribers? An Internet news site has the ability to marry the immediacy of radio or television -- "news when it breaks" -- with the detail that only the written word can offer.

The story itself is a pretty fair explanation of the issues surrounding the zoning protest petition. The only glaring omission is a list of the "city officials" who invalidated the 71st & Harvard petition -- a list that would have to include INCOG staff, City Attorney's office staff, and the six city councilors (Baker, Justis, Neal, Sullivan, Patrick, Williams) who voted to accept INCOG's invalidation. It's odd, though, that the Whirled would delay running it, and then wait until the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, a day when not as many people are reading the paper, I suspect.

The highlight of the story was news that Mayor LaFortune had signed the 71st & Harvard rezoning, but his signature was covered with correction fluid (no brand specified), and Deputy Mayor Steve Sewell's signature was superimposed on it. To be fair, the Mayor has taken ultimate responsibility for approving the rezoning in radio interviews, even though it's his deputy's signature. But the use of White Out or Liquid Paper on an official signature provides opens a window onto the decision-making process on the 11th Floor of City Hall. (And I wonder if a signature over a whited-out signature is valid. I'm pretty sure you couldn't do that on your closing documents when you buy a house.) When did the Mayor first sign the document? When was it whited out? Who decided to white it out? When was it signed by Sewell? What brand of fluid was it? Inquiring minds want to know.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa: November 2003 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: January 2004 is the next archive.

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