Arkansas River Category

Walt Helmerich III, whose foundation donated $1 million toward the 1991 purchase of the riverfront property now known as Helmerich Park, and who served on the board of the bank that owned the land, rebuffed an overture from a private developer who wanted to create a "major mixed-use entertainment, recreational, retail and office complex" on the site, according to a sworn declaration by Rodger Randle, who was Mayor of Tulsa when the land was acquired. The city's half of the purchase price was paid out of the Park Facilities Improvements Account of the surplus from the 1985 Third Penny Sales Tax fund.

Randle's history of the park's acquisition provides some important context in the dispute over the city's proposed sale of part of the park at the corner of 71st and Riverside for commercial development.

In March 1991, according to Randle, Helmerich contacted him, offering to raise private funds for half of the $4.5 million purchase price for the 67 acres between 71st Street and Joe Creek, Riverside Drive, and the Arkansas River.

At about the same time, Randle writes, local zoning attorney John Moody approached him on behalf of an out-of-state developer with a plan for commercial development for the land, telling Randle that the developer would seek to purchase the land from the bank. Randle attempted to arrange a meeting between Moody and Helmerich, so that Moody could present his plan, but Helmerich was not interested:

Mr. Helmerich was a member of the board of the First National Bank. Helmerich was also an avid supporter of public parks. I was informed that Mr. Helmerich wanted to cancel the meeting and was not interested in Moody's proposal. I directed a member of my staff to inform Mr. Moody that the meeting had been canceled.

Later in the declaration, Randle explains the constraints created by the "Brown Ordinance" process, which ensures that Third-Penny sales tax funds are spent as promised and which imposes a process for amendment intended to draw public attention to any proposed changes, including the expenditure of surplus funds:

In this case, we were allocating the surplus funds specifically to the Park Facilities Improvements account of the 1985 third-penny sales tax. Had we wanted to include the future option of this land being developed by a private party for economic development purposes we would have allocated all or part of the surplus 1985 sales tax funds to acquire the property to the sale tax's Urban and Economic Development category as we did other items in the 1985 third penny sales tax ordinance, TRO, Title 43-B, §§ 100, et seq., as amended. We did not do this because itwas our intent to use the property exclusively as a City park....

In my opinion, any sale of any part of the park property for a commercial shopping center, such as is proposed in this case, would be a violation of this ordinance, an attempt to divert the funds to other purposes or projects and a breach of official City policy as clearly established in 1991.

Randle also explained the decision to put the property in the name of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority:

Prior to closing on the property, city staff recommended that formal legal title be held by TPFA, as was done with the convention center. Why this was done is not clear to me but had something to do with achieving maximum flexibility regarding municipal bond financing for possible recreation facilities at the park. At no time was it contemplated that the park could or would be sold for private commercial development.

As a Title 60 trust, TPFA would be able to issue bonds against its own anticipated revenue. This suggests to me that they were considering the possibility of revenue-generating activity on the site as a means of financing recreational facilities -- perhaps concessions renting bicycles or canoes, a rentable facility for events, a snack bar or cafe. In this situation, TPFA would have borrowed against anticipated revenues from these activities to build the facilities to house them, without requiring additional taxpayer investment. Such a scenario wouldn't make sense unless you intended to keep the land under public ownership.

The copy of Randle's statement that I received was an attachment to a letter from attorney James L. Sturdivant to Mayor G. T. Bynum IV. The late Tulsa philanthropist Patti Johnson Wilson was Sturdivant's client and was one of about 30 contributors to the $1.25 million in private donations that was added to the Helmerich $1 million and the city's $2.25 million to purchase the land for the park. Sturdivant writes, "I do not know the amount of her contribution but I do know Patti would not have given money to the City to engage in a land play. She certainly would have given to acquire a park."

Sturdivant and Randle both expressed concern about the impact of the park land's sale on future donors. Sturdivant writes, "Will future donors worry about the City taking their money, buying park land, then selling it?" Randle stated, "[Selling the land for commercial development] was never contemplated because it would undercut the City's future ability to seek private donations for other projects. Donors would be uncertain that their funds would be used as intended. In this case, in addition to Mr. Helmerich, almost thirty other private parties contributed."

The complete text of Randle's declaration follows the jump:

The Oklahoma Supreme Court voted unanimously today to allow Tulsa residents to move forward with a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority over the proposed sale of part of Helmerich Park to a private developer. Here is a statement from Save Helmerich Park, the citizen group opposing the sale of park land:

The Oklahoma Supreme Court today denied the City of Tulsa's and the Tulsa Public Facility Authority's request for the Court to assume original jurisdiction in the pending lawsuit to stop the sale of land in Helmerich Park to a private developer.

The Court's decision was unanimous. The City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) had escalated their efforts to bar Tulsa citizens' access to the Courthouse contrary to Article II, § 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution which provides: "The courts of justice of the State shall be open to every person, and speedy and certain remedy afforded for every wrong and for every injury to person, property, or reputation; and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, delay, or prejudice."

By filing a Writ of Prohibition with the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, the City and the TPFA directly challenged Tulsa District Court Judge Jefferson D. Sellers' decision to deny a motion to dismiss the suit filed by Tulsan Craig Immel on August 11, 2015, which was amended and joined by four other Tulsans in January 2016.

For a year and a half, attorneys for the City and the TPFA agreed that Tulsa County District Court was the proper place to hear this controversy and agreed the plaintiffs were proper parties to bring the lawsuit to prevent the sale of land in Helmerich Park. But at the eleventh hour - apparently anticipating a loss in District Court - the Mayor and the TPFA directed their attorneys to reverse course and sought to prevent Tulsa citizens and taxpayers from having a say in the proposed sale of publicly-owned parkland and the potential misappropriation of city tax dollars.

The plaintiffs are resolute in their position, presented a vigorous written and oral response to the City's attempt to deny citizens and taxpayers access to the court system.

The lawsuit now returns to the jurisdiction of District Court Judge Jefferson Sellers for trial.
Speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs, former Tulsa Mayor Terry Young expressed pleasure with the decision.

"We're prepared to fight this in District Court and we believe we have the winning arguments," Young said.

Young added, "It's time for the Dallas-based developer - UCR - to withdraw from the sale contract and go home."

Save Helmerich Park posted the following comment from R. Dobie Langenkamp, former Director of the National Energy Law and Policy Institute and Chapman Distinguished Professor of Energy Law at the University of Tulsa Law School, about the business flaws of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority effort (with Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's enthusiastic approval) to sell 9 acres of Helmerich Park for a commercial development, reciting some of the history of the property and analyzing the price against the market value of land near major intersections. Even if you don't have a problem with selling off riverfront parkland, you ought to have a problem with the city selling a valuable piece of property at a major intersection without competitive bidding.

Dear Friends of Helmerich Park.

Craig Immel, Terry Young, Herb Beattie, and Greg Bledsoe have spelled out the legal and policy flaws regarding the Helmerich Park decision. Let's look at the deal from a business standpoint. Do so and you will agree with me that it is absurd if not suspect.

The entire 60-plus acres was mortgaged over 30 years ago to the First National Bank for $12.5 million. Surely its appraisal at that time substantially exceeded that amount. The Bank foreclosed on it and Walt Helmerich arranged for the purchase for the City from the bank (he was a member of the board) for $4.5 million. He raised $2.5 million from public spirited friends (Who attended a breakfast at the Tulsa Club for $800 each) and Roger Randle as Mayor came up with the remaining $2.5 million announcing that the land would be used for a park to be exceeded in size only by Mohawk.

The developer - possibly using REI as a bait and switch - has proposed to buy the key nine (9) acres - the "cream" as it were - for $895,000 ($1.465 million less a $570,000 credit to the developer in return for on-site infrastructure improvements). This amounts to less than $2.50 per square foot. Ask any of your realty friends what a corner on two major thoroughfares is worth these days. The numbers I get are from $10 and up. The entire 60-acre parcel was worth about $5.00 a foot when the First National Bank took the $12.5 million mortgage on it 30 years ago. This corner lot should be appraised before further action. such an appraisal would indicate a value of 5 million or more (400,000 sq ft x $10).

This option to the developer was given for virtually nothing ($5,000, refundable consideration) and has just been extended until August for exercise without additional consideration.

Initially, Tulsa was told the parcel sought would be for REI alone - after Clay Bird has finished his no competition sweetheart deal - it was for a full 9 acres for an entire shopping center not specifically requiring the involvement of REI.

Why are Dewey and Clay Bird giving this park parcel away without an appraisal or a public bidding procedure?

Why is Dewey hell bent on seeing that this particular Dallas developer gets this park property for a song?

Grand Juries have been impaneled for less.

R. Dobie Langenkamp

Save Helmerich Park adds this note: "The former Luby's parcel diagonally across the intersection from this corner of Helmerich Park - 2.48 acres/108,217 square feet - has a 2016 value of $3.695 million. If my math is correct, that is over $34.00 per square foot."

Remember, Mayor Bartlett Jr supports this deal, and not one member of the City Council opposed changing the comprehensive plan to facilitate the deal. (G. T. Bynum IV recused himself.) If this bugs you, as it should, you have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to file to run against these mis-representatives.

Originally posted on April 3, 2016. Bumped to the top for those who may have missed it during the election.

We've been hearing lately that we need dams in our river to attract creative young people to Tulsa. Yeah, no, it doesn't make sense to me either, but given that we do want to attract creative young people to our city, we should pay close attention when a creative young man from New York City says he loves Tulsa and tells us what he loves about it.

In February, LAist ran a feature story about a 35-year-old New York City man who checked out a "Citibike" (bike share) last August and rode it all the way to Santa Monica Pier, arriving in mid-January, turning his Citibike into a Countribike.

Along the way, Jeffrey Tanenhaus passed through Tulsa, and he liked what he saw:

Again and again, Tanenhaus found himself drawn to smaller cities, finding that though they lack the sort of cosmopolitan reputation of his hometown, they have vibrant local cultures he liked as much, if not more, than his home. Where Angelenos and New Yorkers may look towards the middle with pity, Tanenhaus thinks the coasts could stand to learn something from the American interior. Some of his favorite places were Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Flagstaff and Redlands. His absolute favorite was Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"It was kind of surprising. There is no ocean and there are no mountains," he said of Tulsa. "It's big enough to be a city, but small enough to feel like a community, and cool enough to attract a progressive crowd of young professionals."

Tanenhaus liked it so well he may come back to stay:

As for what's next, Tanenhaus plans on returning the bicycle to Citi Bike dock in New York City, through the shipping help of Santa Monica Breeze Bike Share. After a quick trip to San Francisco, he will return to New York for a some time while exploring the possibility of a more permanent move to Tulsa.

You can read through Tanenhaus's entire journey at his Countribike site and blog, and you can peruse a Google map of his favorite places along the path.

His introduction to the Tulsa metro area began with a flat tire in Claremore, which lead him to a service station and a chance meeting with someone from 6:19 Nutrition, who invited him to drop by the nutrition store and smoothie cafe. There Tanenhaus was treated to a shake, good conversation, and a body fat analysis while he awaited a lift from a Tulsa cyclist. The staff sent him on his way with a couple of tubs of supplement powder. His host for the evening, the founder of Oklahoma Cycling, got Tanenhaus and the Citibike down to Lee's Bicycle Shop, and they found a hardware store with the right Torx bits to work on the "tamper-proof" bike-share cycle.

As for his impressions of Tulsa:

What surprises me most about Oklahoma's second largest city of 400,000 is that Tulsans are so easy to befriend. There is something special here and it's hard to describe. More than any place I've been before or after, I feel the best chemistry with Tulsa. This magnetic attraction begins at a cafe in Claremore 30 miles northeast.

Everywhere I go I meet someone new and cool. People here are helpful, kind and open to meeting strangers. After one week in Tulsa--broken by a brief stint in a nearby hospital--despite my shallow history here I depart with more contacts in Oklahoma than in NYC.

I'm writing this while sitting on the quad of Pomona College in Claremont, CA. I find that Tulsa has a campus familiarity where there's a decent chance you'll bump into recognizable faces at coffee shops, bars and cultural events, yet the size of the city dilutes these interactions as not to be too often, but just frequent enough to feel like you own the city.

The best thing about New York, in my opinion, is that anyone can become a New Yorker. In Tulsa I feel I can make the city mine, but also that people actually care who I am....

Off-the-radar and an underdog, T-Town is incredibly appealing. Cool people are treated as overstock in Austin, Brooklyn, Portland and San Francisco. But Tulsa? Come on in! There's vacancy.

You'll want to click this link to read about all the creative, young Tulsans Tanenhaus happened to meet in just one day.
Entrepreneurship is like a contagion here -- one person taking a risk to start a business inspires a friend to think that she, too, can build something new -- and it filled Tanenhaus with a new hope:

I've already done the improbable--bike commute across the country (update: 55 miles from the Pacific Ocean). Maybe Tulsa will give me the hospitable new beginning I was searching for when I left New York where jobs didn't lead to anything except stress and disappointment.

Tanenhaus had a great time connecting with Tulsa's cycling community, visiting the cycling-themed Soundpony Lounge next to Cain's Ballroom and getting to know the great work done by Tulsa Hub, a non-profit that rehabilitates used bikes into basic transportation for people who need a cheap way to get to work.

A run-in with road rage west of Sapulpa led to a trip to the ER and a little more time in the Tulsa area than he had planned, but it only seems to have deepened his appreciation for the city.

After an unprovoked assault on a rural road in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, I need four stitches in my lip and return to Tulsa by vehicle. I stay put the next day to rest and catch up on thanking Okies for their support. It's unfortunate this happened in my favorite state to date, but leaves me liking Oklahoma even more than before.

In his extra time in Tulsa, he had a root beer freeze and onion rings at Weber's and spent an evening at Oktoberfest. The map of his route shows favorite spots around Tulsa: Fassler Hall ("Excellent sausages and duck fat fries. Good beers on tap, too!"), Chimera Cafe ("Nice lunch and chai with plenty of bright space."), Tally's Cafe ("Greasy spoon on Route 66 where I take my cyclist host as a thank you"), R Bar & Grill ("Where I meet Samuel from Instagram for a drink (paid for by a patron who saw me on the news)"), Tom's Bicycles ("Tuned up my bike for free while Channel 8 news interviewed me. Thanks Eric, Chance and Ginny! xox") In Vinita, he'd already fallen in love with Braum's Ice Cream.

So what made Tulsa attractive to a cross-country cyclist thinking about a new start in life? Friendly, welcoming people with an entrepreneurial spirit, great small businesses, both old (like Lee's and Weber's) and new (like Soundpony and Bohemia Pizza). Maybe we'd attract more people like Jeffrey Tanenhaus if we'd stop bemoaning sandbars and start celebrating the great people who are already here and the one-of-a-kind places they're creating.


Here are my recommended votes in the Tulsa County special election on April 5, 2016, for the unexpired term for Tulsa County Sheriff and county and municipal sales tax propositions. Links lead to more detailed information or earlier blog entries. (This entry may change as I decide to add more detail or discuss additional races. The entry is post-dated to keep it at the top.)

Printable one-page "cheat sheet" ballot card
Printable timeline of current and proposed changes to Tulsa city and county sales taxes

Print them, take it along to the polls, and pass it along to your friends, but please read the detail and click the links below.

Here's a synopsis of all the items on the ballot around Tulsa County today.

Podcasts from the Pat Campbell Show on 1170 KFAQ:

And now here are my recommendations and rationale for each ballot item.

Tulsa County Sheriff, unexpired term: Republican Vic Regalado.

Sales tax propositions: General advice

  • The sales taxes on the ballot are intended to replace the Vision 2025 0.6 cent sales tax which doesn't expire until December 31, 2016.
  • If there's something in a package that you think is foolish or wasteful, if the rate is too high or the duration of the tax is too long for your liking (or permanent) vote NO, and then tell your elected officials why.
  • Commissioners, councilors, and mayors will have plenty of time to propose better packages and bring them to a vote on the June primary, August runoff, or November general election ballots.

Tulsa County sales tax: NO.

  • This is a 0.05%, 15-year sales tax.
  • While most of the projects on Tulsa County's tentative list seem modest and reasonable, the list is not set in stone, and the tax is for 15 years with plans to borrow against future revenues.
  • A tax no more than 5 years in duration, with a fixed set of basic infrastructure projects, and no advance revenue bond funding, would be worth considering, but this plan does not meet those criteria.

City of Tulsa, Prop. 1: NO.

  • This is a permanent increase in the city's sales tax rate, earmarked to fund police, fire, and 911. The rate starts 0.16% and after July 1, 2021, permanently increases to 0.26%.
  • This tax doesn't address the causes of runaway increases in police and fire department spending. The police and fire budget consumes all of the permanent 2% sales tax for operations, plus a little. (107% in Fiscal Year 2014).
  • According to a 2014 report, "City of Tulsa Fiscal Constraints", "Since 1980, Police and Fire operating budgets have increased by 470%. Higher operating budgets have not translated into additional 'boots on the ground,' however. The number of Police and Fire personnel has only increased by 4% over that 34-year span."
  • The police and fire budget, adjusted for inflation has doubled since 1980. We need an investigation and explanation for this dramatic increase in cost without a corresponding increase in service.
  • Shrugging our shoulders and throwing more money at the problem only means a future sales tax increase a few years down the road.
  • A temporary tax to tide us over while we figure out the causes of our fiscal hemorrhage might be acceptable, but not a permanent increase is not.

City of Tulsa, Prop. 2: NO.

  • This is a permanent increase in the city's sales tax rate by 0.085 cents on the dollar, earmarked to fund street maintenance and public transit.
  • While many projects have been informally promised for this permanent tax, for some reason, none of them were written into the Brown Ordinance that controls spending for the tax.
  • Nor does the ordinance dictate how the money will be split between street maintenance, public transit operations, and public transit rolling stock and infrastructure.
  • In the age of Uber and Lyft, it seems backwards-thinking to commit a permanent tax to an old-fashioned bus system with fixed routes, long waits, limited hours of operation, one-size-fits-all vehicles, and unionized public employees as drivers. A flexible, data-driven, private-sector approach could meet the public transit needs of Tulsa citizens with lower cost and greater comfort and convenience.
  • A temporary tax, targeted to specific spending plans, and a plan to research innovative new approaches to transit would be worth voting for; this vaguely defined permanent tax is not.

City of Tulsa, Prop. 3: NO. This is the dam tax package.

Beyond the dams, this package has numerous other wasteful and often ill-defined projects.

Suburban sales tax propositions: NO.

  • Because these taxes are a minimum of 15-years duration, in some cases permanent, I recommend that voters say NO and ask their leaders for a maximum five-year, pay-as-you-go package with a very specific list of projects.
  • Jenks voters should reject their sales tax because it includes funds for a low-water dam.
  • Glenpool voters should be aware that passing all three propositions will increase their already-high tax rate by another 0.55 cents on the dollar. This growing suburb has plenty of new retail, and you'd think Glenpool should be able to fund increased public services from growing revenues without a tax increase.
  • Sapulpa voters may not wish to fund city land acquisition and removal of historic Route 66 motels in the Turner Turnpike gateway area.
  • Owasso and Collinsville voters should look closely at their lists of proposed projects and consider whether their growing cities could fund improvements without a higher city sales tax rate.

As I wrote back in January, before the City of Tulsa proposal was set in stone:

If I were a cynic, I might believe that the City Council had no interest in whether these projects were feasible or appropriately budgeted. I might believe, were I a cynic, that these items were included just to get a few more hundred voters to the polls in the mood to vote yes on everything.

The better path would be for the Council to whittle down the list and propose a shorter-term (five years, max), pay-as-you-go (no "advanced funding" line item for interest and bond fees) sales tax that funded only those items that were of general public benefit and had been thoroughly vetted for feasibility and an accurate estimate of cost.

The City Council and Mayor Bartlett didn't follow that better path, so we need to tell them NO and tell them to put together a better package for our consideration.


Published at 23:45 on Monday, April 4, 2016. Postdated to remain at the top of the blog until the polls close.

Tomorrow, April 5, 2016, voters across Tulsa County have a special election for sheriff and will also vote on the county's sales tax proposal (1/20th of a cent for 15 years) for capital projects. Here's what the white countywide ballot will look like.

Voters in several Tulsa County municipalities will also be given a colored, city-specific ballot to approve increases in municipal sales tax which will go into effect on January 1, 2017, right after Tulsa County's Vision 2025 sales tax expires on December 31. Here's a synopsis with links to sample ballots on the Tulsa County Election Board website:

Collinsville0.55%, permanent, for capital expenditures
GlenpoolProp 10.29%, 20 years, for capital improvements
GlenpoolProp 20.26%, 20 years, for police and fire vehicles, facilities, communications equipment, and other equipment
GlenpoolProp 30.55%, permanent, for staffing additional police and firefighting personnel
Jenks0.55%, 15 years, including $16,670,000 for low-water dam and additional funds for other capital projects. Dam money subject to mutual agreement between Tulsa and Jenks approved by December 31, 2020.
Owasso0.55%, 17 years, for street improvements and adjoining infrastructure and right-of-way expenditures on 96th St. N. and 116th St. N.
Sapulpa0.50%, 15 years, only in Tulsa County, for economic development and land acquisition
TulsaProp 1: Public Safety0.16%, 4.5 years, then 0.26%, permanent, for police, fire, and 911
TulsaProp 2: Street Maintenance and Public Transportation0.085%, permanent, for maintaining and supporting public streets and public transportation systems
TulsaProp 3: "Economic Development"0.305%, 4.5 years, 0.805%, 4 years, 0.305%, 6.5 years, for low-water dams and other projects

Bixbyvoters also have a municipal ballot, but it's for a 25-year extension of the Oklahoma Gas & Electric franchise, which allows OG+E access to city utility easements to deliver electricity to its customers.

It's interesting to see that the City of Sapulpa is proposing a tax increase only in the part of that city in Tulsa County (along I-44 between 51st and 61st), where an existing sales tax will be expiring. The reference to land acquisition suggests that they plan to purchase and clear some of the old Route 66 motels along that stretch (some of which date back to the completion of the Turner Turnpike in 1953) and then try to redevelop with more lucrative national chains.

Shoppers in the Osage County section of the City of Tulsa won't be as lucky -- the overall sales tax rate will rise there, since there isn't a corresponding tax expiring. (Here is the current list of city and county sales and use tax rates from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.) That'll affect the Walgreens, Family Dollar, and other shops on the northeast corner of Edison Street and Gilcrease Museum Road, and the gift shop and restaurant at Gilcrease Museum itself.

Tulsa County has a tentative list of projects for its 0.05%, 15-year package on its website, but with a caveat: "The list of projects outlined on this site have been discussed or requested by Tulsa County residents, County staff and/or the Tulsa County Commissioners. Only after further input from the public will a final decision be made as to what projects to include in a final package submitted to Tulsa County voters." The assortment of projects is reminiscent of the first Four to Fix the County vote in 2000 (in effect October 2001 - October 2006). At that time, the County Commissioners put four separate items on the ballot to avoid violating the Oklahoma Constitution's "single-subject" anti-logrolling rule. Given the refusal of judges to enforce the rule strictly, they seem to feel safe in lumping all of the projects together under one vague category.

The verbiage in the Jenks proposition about the dam is very interesting. The drop-dead date for an agreement with Tulsa is written into the proposition and set for the end of 2020, while the corresponding date for Tulsa to reach an agreement with Jenks and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) is the end of 2016, and it's written into the Brown Ordinance for Prop. 3, rather than the ballot language. In both cases, failure to make the date releases the funds for other purposes, but the mismatch in dates means that the dam could be dead for four years before Jenks could legally repurpose that $16.67 million. Interesting, too, that the funds for the dam are described on the ballot in a way that focuses on operation and maintenance and other expenses that would be incurred long after the dam is built -- interesting because City of Tulsa officials have said they expect the MCN to cover maintenance costs for the dams. The Jenks ballot language makes no reference to MCN involvement.

Here's the language on the Jenks ballot:

Shall Ordinance No. 1392 of the City of Jenks, Oklahoma, adopted on February 1,2016. which levies and assesses a sales tax of five and one-half tenths of one percent (0.55%) upon the expiration of the current Vision 2025 sales tax be approved as a City of Jenks sales tax upon the gross receipts or proceeds on certain sales as therein defined, effective January 1, 2017, for 15 years for purposes including, Sixteen Million Six Hundred Seventy Thousand Dollars ($16,670,000) for funding of the proposed Jenks-Tulsa Arkansas River low water dam project, for the purposes of constructing, reconstructing, improving, remodeling, repairing, operating and maintaining the proposed low water dam and related facilities; with additional funds to be used for capital projects including constructing roads and road maintenance; park improvements and construction; construction of sidewalks and trails; and upgrades to storm water and sewer infrastructure; engineering; acquiring necessary lands and right of way; and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of the City of Jenks for such purposes. including payment of the costs of issuance of such loans or bonds; defines terms; prescribes procedures, remedies, liens and fixes penalties; subject to a mutual agreement between the cities of Jenks and Tulsa for construction of the low water dam approved by December 31, 2020, otherwise funds identified for construction of the Jenks-Tulsa Arkansas River low water dam may be used for additional capital project categories as identified in this proposition, be approved?

Here's the language in the Tulsa ordinance:

The project entitled 'South Tulsa/Jenks Lake and Related Amenities' is contingent on additional funding for other aspects of the entire project, to be provided by the City of Jenks and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, including a long-term operating and maintenance endowment. If a Memorandum of Understanding is not executed by all three funding partners on or before December 31, 2016, funding allocated by the City of Tulsa for this project ($64,214,000) will be reallocated according to the provisions of this ordinance, provided that Eighteen Million Dollars ($18,000,000) will first be reallocated to a long-term operating and maintenance endowment for Zink Lake and Related Amenities.

MORE: Visit the Re-Vision and the Arkansas River categories for complete BatesLine coverage of Vision Tulsa and the proposed low-water dams.


UPDATE: For the record, here are some links to coverage of Citizens for a Better Vision:

Fox23: Vision Tulsa responds to opposition group, Mar 15, 2016 - 9:01 PM
News on 6: 'No More Dam Taxes,' Tulsa Vision Opposition Group Urges, March 15, 2016
KWGS: Citizens for a Better Vision Ask Voters to Reject Tulsa Sales Tax Measures

Fisheries biologist Chris Whisenhunt with a sauger he caught in the Arkansas River beneath the 96th Street (Jenks) bridge, an area that would be affected by the proposed south Tulsa / Jenks dam.

Tulsa fisheries biologist Chris Whisenhunt has some concerns about the dam's effect on fish and fishing. With his permission, here are some comments he has posted on Facebook about the dams .

Voting Yes on Proposition 3 will almost assuredly destroy the delicate ecosystem within the Arkansas River by displacing or eliminating many sensitive, native aquatic species for the sake of "economic development". As a fisheries biologist, it is my opinion that dams in the river are a BAD IDEA! (And no, the new lakes that would be created will not be good for fishing but would actually eliminate the existing fisheries). Tulsa should explore other ways to create economic development that doesn't risk damage to the environment for what is simply aesthetic reasons.

He adds some specifics:

Many indigenous species (sauger, white bass, paddlefish, shovelnose sturgeon, and many others) currently thrive in the area of the river to be impacted by the proposed dams. Voting yes will most likely displace those fish, eliminating the existing fishery for the sake of aesthetic value in hopes of promoting economic development. The new lakes will not be able to support a viable fishery. Any loss of, or damage to, the existing fishery may result in mitigation by the city at the cost of its tax payers.

And in response to diagrams of the dam operation, Whisenhunt notes the dilemma -- officials will have to open the dams and let the lakes drain out for five months to allow for fish spawning or keep the dams shut and degrade the stock of fish over time.

I've seen the cartoon videos & diagrams of how the dams are supposed to work and am not overly impressed. First, many sensitive species in the Arkansas River are benthic (bottom oriented) & most likely will not make it over the contour of the dam. Second, spawning season for the variety of fishes in the river is from February to June and we have no guarantee the city is prepared to leave the dams down that entire length of time. Third, I've asked for & have yet to receive any SCIENTIFIC, peer reviewed research proving the dams allow fish passage (a little something more than a cartoon). Finally, the continuous filling & draining of the lake will prevent any viable fishery from being established in the lake itself, one of the selling points the city of Tulsa has tried to give the public. The city is risking ecological disaster for aesthetic value...a very bad idea!

MORE: News on 6 spoke to another local fisheries expert:

Sand islands and braided channels are what make the prairie stream that is Arkansas River.

"It's not dry, it's just not the Mississippi, but it's not supposed to be the Mississippi," Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Fisheries Biologist Josh Johnston said....

"We're on that knife's edge already of being too fragmented. It's taken the perfect year to get these fish where they are. They're persisting, but just barely," Johnston said.

Johnston has studied the river and the species that call it home for years. He said adding another dam could severely hurt or even wipe out several native fish, like the shovelnose sturgeon, American eel, white bass, sauger and paddlefish....

But Johnston said the river is always flowing, even though it may not look like it. He said most of the fish in the Arkansas River are genetically made up to survive and thrive in that sort of harsh environment.

"We're not looking at what we have and being thankful that this is native, this is Oklahoma right here," Johnston said.

He said for fish to migrate properly, most of the gates would need to stay down throughout spawning season. It wouldn't work opening and closing them throughout the four-month period, Johnston said.

"I just don't think the city is going to be willing to leave that down long enough," he said.

Johnston said he's gone to the city's public meetings, but said the city hasn't consulted with his division of the wildlife department since about 2009.

"This one's been the biggest push I've ever seen Tulsa make for these dams and we were not invited to the talks, we were not asked, we were not questioned," Johnston said. "They say they've had a lot of biological input by some of the greatest biologists, but it's not with my agency, and we are the biologists that work on this system."

Two years ago, when the river was unusually clear, the same biologist made an interesting discovery:

The Arkansas River usually only has strands of what appears to be muddy water. Biologists know there's a rich diversity of fish, but only through a remarkable bit of luck, were they able to show the rest of us.

"And we found just wads of fish that you wouldn't think would be here in our backyard," said Josh Johnson with the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

It started with an idea to see if any sturgeon were still in the river. Hardly anyone in the Wildlife Department had ever seen one.

"We never even took into consideration that this might have been a better place to look for them, and all of a sudden this guy calls in and he's caught one," Johnson said.

That led to an underwater survey on what turned out to be three days of clear water in unbearable cold, the water was just above freezing but there was 20 feet of visibility. They saw stripers and buffalo fish and photographed five shovelnose sturgeon.

It's very typical of Tulsa to embrace an urban development fad just as other cities are rethinking and reversing course. (Case in point: No sooner did we close off Main Street for a pedestrian mall than other cities began noticing that pedestrian malls killed retail businesses and started reopening pedestrianized streets.) When officials push Tulsans to be early adopters of new fads, Tulsans say no, but officials stubbornly keep pushing, long after the moment has passed. In September 1969, Tulsans voted down a bond issue for low-water dams, 29% to 71%, but 47 years later, officials are still trying to talk us into it. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is waking up to the safety and environmental hazards posed by these decorative dams.

Danger: Low Water Dam Ahead

From the October 2015 edition of Columbus Monthly, "Low-Head Dams: Danger Below":

Though their usefulness faded decades ago, low-head dams are a lingering threat to people and wildlife. Since the 1950s, at least 441 people have died at 235 submerged dams in 38 states. About half of those deaths occurred in the past 15 years--a period in which many cities have sought to repurpose their rivers into picturesque attractions that would draw tourists and shoppers to business districts....

The dams, dubbed "killer dams" and "drowning machines" by critics, can be dangerously misleading. Most onlookers observe a scenic, harmless-looking waterfall, but a submerged hydraulic jump forms deadly whirlpool-like currents....

Aside from their threat to human safety, low-head dams have been causing a deluge of ecological problems for decades, conservationists say. They stifle fish migration up and downstream, degrade the river's chemical quality, increase the water temperature and starve fish of oxygen....

As for FLOW, the group conducted water-quality studies to look at the physical, chemical and biological attributes of the Olentangy River near and around the 8-foot high concrete dam at Fifth Avenue, and found the river did not meet quality standards. FLOW, which developed the Lower Olentangy Watershed Action Plan in 2003, recommended the dam be removed. Doing so would increase dissolved oxygen levels (making it easier and better for fish to breathe), unblock sediment flow backed up by the dam and increase fish migration, they reported....

When the Fifth Avenue dam was dismantled in 2012, it joined the list of more than 50 dams removed in Ohio since 1973. In total, the project cost about $6.9 million; it took $200,000 to remove the dam. Some of the funds were allocated to create four large wetlands, establish native vegetation, and reconstruct river features and infrastructure such as storm-water outfalls. The cost was shared by Ohio EPA, Ohio State and the city....

Communities working in partnership with nonprofit organizations and state and federal agencies removed 72 dams in 19 states in 2014, according to American Rivers, a national river conservation group. Five of those removals were in Ohio, adding to the 1,185 dams removed across the U.S. since 1912.

Finding a balance between public and environmental safety can get thorny when dam owners and community members don't want their dams removed. Garcia says residents in Yorkville, Illinois, felt a strong sense of nostalgia for a 1960s-era dam on the Fox River. The dam's spillway has since been modified with four concrete steps, a fish ladder and a bypass channel for kayakers and canoeists.

"Usually the people who want the dams removed don't live near them," Garcia says. "There is almost an emotional attachment."

But Garcia says there's one driving force behind all of this: liability. Tschantz agrees, questioning the legality of having low-head dams present on waterways as a hidden and concealed danger rather than an open and obvious hazard.

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

Over the last 13 years, I've written quite a bit about the Arkansas River and proposals for damming and remodeling it, and about what Tulsans really are seeking when they ask for water in the river. Recently I resurrected several of my Urban Tulsa Weekly columns and my 2007 cover story on the topic from Internet Oblivion.

Here's a selection of past BatesLine stories about river development. I especially recommend the first story, as it has lots of pretty pictures like the one above, and it reflects a change of heart on my part -- the realization that a low-water dam would be a bad deal even if it were given to us free, because of the beauty that it would cover up.

Here's a link to the complete archive of the Arkansas River category on BatesLine.


Immature bald eagle and hundreds of white pelicans perch on a sandbar and in the shallows of the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014. Looking northwest from Helmerich Park toward the 71st Street Bridge and Turkey Mountain.

Vision Tulsa Vote Yes ads claim (dishonestly) that approval of the Vision Tulsa Dam Tax hike on April 5, 2016, will prevent future strip malls from being built along the river. In fact, nothing in the Vision Tulsa propositions address development standards. Moreover,
the City Council has the power right now to prevent inappropriate development, both through the zoning ordinance and through placing conditions on the sale or lease of city-owned land. Far from helping protect the river corridor, voter approval of the proposed Vision Tulsa Dam Tax would instead surrender the only financial leverage Tulsans have to push for common-sense rules to ensure appropriate future development along the Arkansas River.

The City Council has had the power all along to amend the zoning ordinance to require appropriate and compatible development along the river. The City Council could create a new zoning district along the river and specify design guidelines for any new construction within the district. If the design guidelines are sufficiently objective, they could be enforced directly through the permitting process. If the design guidelines involve a degree of subjective judgment, the ordinance could require that applications for construction be approved by a design review board before a building permit is issued. While this cannot be done overnight -- the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission would have to review such an ordinance and make a recommendation before the City Council could act -- it can be done. We have an example just down the turnpike.

Oklahoma City has numerous design-focused zoning overlay districts; many of them have been in place for over 30 years. Some are intended to preserve the walkable, urban characteristics of historic commercial districts like 23rd Street and Classen Blvd. Some are aimed at ensuring that new development is compatible with existing development in a neighborhood. Two districts, established in 2007, specifically deal with the banks of the North Canadian River (aka "Oklahoma River"): The Scenic River Overlay District and the Scenic River Overlay Design District.

It's not as though the need for design guidelines along Tulsa's riverfront has suddenly arisen. Starting around ten years ago, chain restaurants, a shopping center, and a convenience store were built on the west side of Riverside between 96th Street and 101st Street. All of these buildings turn their backs to the river, and most are typical cookie-cutter, chain-store architecture, a huge waste of the unique opportunity presented by the river (sandbars or no sandbars). That nothing has been done to date leads me to believe that nothing would be done once the Council has secured the dam tax increase.

(MORE: In an August 2006 column, I explained why design guidelines were appropriate for unique places like riverfronts and the gateways to our city. In February 2007, then-Mayor Kathy Taylor called for a study of special zoning for the river corridor, but as far as I can tell, the effort never went beyond the discussion phase.)

City leaders have even more control over riverfront development when the project requires the use of publicly-owned land. And yet our current mayor and council seem determined to discard that leverage.

Back on August 11, 2015, the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) voted 3-2 to sell the northern section of Helmerich Park, a city park along the Arkansas River southwest of 71st and Riverside, to a commercial developer for the construction of a strip mall and large parking lot.

Just a few weeks earlier, on July 16, 2015, the City Council voted to change the comprehensive plan land-use designation for the parcel from "Park and Open-Space" to "Mixed-Use Corridor" and from "Area of Stability" to "Area of Change." This greased the path for any zoning accommodation that the developers might need. A no vote by the Council may well have deterred the developer from pursuing the shopping center.

A lawsuit challenging the TPFA's authority to sell city-owned land without the blessing of the City Council has put the sale on hold, but there are reports that proponents of the sale have found a way around this roadblock, and that this will be under discussion at a meeting of the TPFA this Thursday, March 31, 2016, 4:30 p.m, in Room 10-203 at City Hall. (The meeting notice is online, but the agenda has not yet been posted.) The way around the roadblock? If the City Council votes to abandon the section of the park as surplus to the city's needs, the lawsuit would be moot, and TPFA would have permission to move ahead with the sale to the developers.

Former Tulsa Mayor Terry Young has been a leader in the effort to stop the commercial development of the northern half of Helmerich Park. Late last week his alert was posted to the Save Helmerich Park Facebook page:


Helmerich Park Friends:

The Tulsa Public Facilities Authority has scheduled a new Special Meeting to act on a request to the City Council to ABANDON parts of Helmerich Park.

The request to ABANDON a tract in the park is to allow the sale of the land to private developers for the construction of a 52,000 square foot shopping center and acres of asphalt parking.


The meeting will be:

March 31, 2016
4 p.m.
Room 10-203 (Tenth Floor)
City Hall - One Technology Center
175 East 2nd Street

Please mark your calendar and try to attend. Bring other supporters. This board needs to know the depth and breadth of our opposition.

Here is what is at stake:

In response to our lawsuit which makes it clear that TPFA does not have the power to sell any or all of Helmerich Park, TPFA is planning to ask the City Council to do it by:
Passing a resolution abandoning the park use of a portion of Helmerich Park and finding it is no longer needed for public use.


TPFA will ask the City Council to:

Endorse, support, and consent to the sale of Helmerich Park to North Point Property for building a shopping center.

We have a full week to add this meeting to our respective schedules.

I hope you will join us to add many, many more faces to our efforts to sway TPFA and to SAVE HELMERICH PARK.

Terry Young

Here is a timeline of statements made by Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) elected officials regarding their financial involvement in the low-water dam. When you clear away the wish-casting statements being made by city officials, you'll notice that there aren't any MCN officials offering money to the project. Instead, MCN officials merely acknowledge that city officials are asking for MCN money for the south Tulsa/Jenks dam, and MCN officials note the large amount of money the tribe has already put into development along the river and the unmet economic needs of Creek citizens living on the southern end of the nation's territory.

So why don't Creek officials go ahead and rule out financial support for the south Tulsa/Jenks dam, regardless of the outcome of the April 5 vote? I suspect they would prefer not to be the "bad guy." If the proposition fails in Jenks or in Tulsa, as seems likely, Creek financial contribution will be moot, without Creek officials having to be the ones to say no. If the proposition passes, they can offer some token amount of money, figuring that Tulsa officials will be so anxious to satisfy the "memorandum of understanding" requirement in the Brown Ordinance for Proposition 3 (Title 43-K), that they'll take anything. Here's the actual language that ties the south Tulsa/Jenks dam to MCN involvement. Note that there's no minimum amount that Jenks and MCN have to contribute:

The project entitled 'South Tulsa/Jenks Lake and Related Amenities' is contingent on additional funding for other aspects of the entire project, to be provided by the City of Jenks and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, including a long-term operating and maintenance endowment. If a Memorandum of Understanding is not executed by all three funding partners on or before December 31, 2016, funding allocated by the City of Tulsa for this project ($64,214,000) will be reallocated according to the provisions of this ordinance, provided that Eighteen Million Dollars ($18,000,000) will first be reallocated to a long-term operating and maintenance endowment for Zink Lake and Related Amenities.

If other projects and purposes described in Section 100(B) above cannot be completed due to circumstances beyond the control of the City of Tulsa, funding allocated for such projects and purposes will be reallocated according to the provisions of this ordinance.

Many of these quotes come from the Muscogee Nation News, the bimonthly print publication that serves as "the official tribal newspaper of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation." Many of the articles that appear in the print edition were first posted to the Muscogee Nation News Facebook page.

Last week, a local TV station spiked a well-researched news story about funding problems for the proposed south Tulsa / Jenks low-water dam and the awareness of Tulsa elected officials of the problem before they voted to put the proposal on the ballot. The story's sudden withdrawal hints at pressure by local power-brokers, panicked that the public will become aware of the flimsy foundation of the "Vision Tulsa" sales tax proposal. Tulsans will vote three proposed new city taxes and a new county tax up or down in an April 5, 2016, special election.

An extensive 1163-word news story by reporter Rick Maranon about the Muscogee Creek Nation's refusal to commit to funding for maintenance of the dam was posted to last Tuesday evening, March 15, 2016, then was deleted from the website later the same evening. While long website news stories are typically transcripts of video reports airing on Fox23's nightly news cast, no such story was aired.

The story cites a letter from Muscogee Creek Nation officials to city leaders, panicked emails among city officials about the implications of the MCN letter, video of council committee meetings, and other sources of information. Reporter Rick Maranon did a solid job of connecting the dots. Here's one of the more damning excerpts from the story:

FOX23 has reported numerous time within the past year that current and past city officials have stated the current state of the Zink Dam in Tulsa is the result of a lack of proper maintenance funding, and they wanted to set up an endowment so the current disrepair of the dam wouldn't happen again.

City officials long assumed that the Creek Nation would be more than willing to pick up the tab because of their properties along the river involving Riverspirit Casino and the Flying Tee.

But after FOX23 reported that the Creek Nation was going to set up an endowment, members of the Creek Nation began to contact FOX23 saying they were not aware of the multi-million dollar commitment Tulsa officials had allegedly assumed they would be fine with.

The tribe's own internal news agency quoted Creek Nation representatives to Tulsa as saying they were not informed of the plan to set up the endowment and partner with Jenks and Tulsa on the dams.

Multiple sources close to the Vision Tulsa project who have been asked not to be identified have simply said city leaders assumed the tribe would be on board without consulting them of their plans before they presented them to voters as a done deal set in stone.

The first officials meeting to discuss an endowment happened on February 11th, and days later, the tribe officially notified city leaders they were out of the Vision low water dam plan....

On February 23rd, Tulsa City Council Vice Chair Anna America stated in an e-mail to councilors, "I think we need to make that clear to the public ASAP, and not try to be ambiguous at the press conference or in any other comments."

She went on to state in the same e-mail," I don't want to wait that long to say there won't be a south Tulsa dam if the Creeks say today they aren't participating in funding this year."

But the request appears to have fallen on deaf ears because two days later on February 25th, Tulsa city leaders launched the Vision Tulsa campaign stating that two low water dams would be built on the Arkansas River if the proposal is approved April 5th.


On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at 7:58 pm CDT, Fox23 posted the detailed, 1163-word news story, headlined "Tulsa dam plan dead in the water"

The article was posted at the following URL, which now leads to a "404" page.

A person who saw the story on the Fox23 website when it was live reports that it was offline soon after.


As of Saturday, March 19, 2016, at 7:00 pm CDT, however, the story was still available in the cache of the Bing search engine and cache of the Google search engine captured by Bing when they crawled the page during its brief time in existence.

For posterity, I printed both cached versions of the story to PDF, using the Chrome browser's simplified print option.

Here is a PDF of Bing's cache of Tulsa Dam Plan Dead in the Water.

Here is a PDF of Google's cache of Tulsa dam plan dead in the water.

Other automated web-content harvesters captured portions of the story:

Places to Go in Tulsa: Tulsa dam plan dead in the water - KOKI FOX 23


According to multiple documents, including internal e-mails, Tulsa city leaders knew the south Tulsa-Jenks dam had fallen through, yet Tulsa city leaders not only kicked off their Vision Tulsa campaign in late February as if nothing had happened, they ...

See Full Article

Dams Infrastructure News: Tulsa dam plan dead in the water | FOX23 - KOKI FOX 23


Tulsa dam plan dead in the water | FOX23


A plan to build a low water dam on the Arkansas River in the south Tulsa-Jenks area is dead. The Muscogee Creek Nation said they do not have the funds to ...

and more »

So what happened? Fox23 isn't commenting on the story's disappearance, but it's reasonable to speculate based on behavior by Vote Yes forces in past big-project sales tax elections. I have reason to believe that Vision Tulsa supporters threatened to pull advertising, threatened to cut off any cooperation by city officials on future Fox23 stories, and threw some confusing but irrelevant information at station officials at the last minute -- confusing enough to convince station officials to hold off on the story until more research could be done.

Happily, the story's brief appearance online has pointed other news organizations to the sources of information that Maranon uncovered, and now Jarrell Wade of the Tulsa World has a front-page story today on the Creek Nation's unwillingness to fund the dam. We look forward to further coverage of the story, and we'll also post the full text of the relevant public documents and offer further comment here at BatesLine in the days to come.

We can hope that Fox23 management will realize that they were played by the Vote Yes forces and lost a great scoop as a result, spiking a story that reflects serious journalistic effort and investigative depth. May it only make the Fox23 team more aggressive in exposing dishonesty, obfuscation, and misdirection by public officials.

The last time the Tulsa County Republican Party approved a platform was at its 2013 convention. The platform included 13 "planks" (resolutions) dealing with local government, and many of them are applicable to the upcoming Vision Dam Tax vote on April 5, 2016:

3. We believe that public safety - police and fire protection - should be a priority in the city budget, using existing sources of revenue. We oppose a special tax increase to fund public safety.

4. We oppose any tax increase without demonstrated public need. We believe County government should fund its function through property tax, leaving sales tax for municipal functions.

8. We oppose any sales tax, either municipal or county, levied for river development.

As part of the quadrennial series of conventions, the platform committee of the Tulsa County Republican Convention began meeting this last Saturday, and I am a member of the committee. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover I had been assigned to the education committee, and that there was no committee assigned to handle local issues. When I asked specifically which committee would be dealing with planks relating to the river tax vote, I was not given an answer. I know for a fact that at least one precinct submitted resolutions relating to the tax hike proposal.

I was told that the process would not be removing planks from the previous platform but only adding those sent forward by the precinct caucuses. That should mean that the above planks, plus those from this year specifically addressing the Vision Dam Tax vote should make their way into the final document.

But there is a new practice that could be used to keep the Tulsa County GOP from taking a clear stand. Subcommittees are allowed to pull planks out of their section if they call for specific legislative action. These removed planks would be placed in a "legislative action document" to be sent to legislative leaders for their consideration. I was given mixed signals about whether this document would be considered as part of the platform as published and whether it would be available to the general public. This new document has the potential for being used as a pretext for pulling anti-Dam-Tax resolutions out of the platform. Beyond that specific concern, this new approach seems to reduce the platform to a grab-bag of suggestions, rather than the party grassroots speaking collectively on issues of concern. This new approach was not brought before the platform committee for debate or approval.

The picture will be clearer after next week's platform committee meeting, in which the whole committee will consider the entire document. If grassroots sentiment about the Vision Dam Tax is shunted out of the platform, under whatever pretext, you can expect a effort to add it in to the platform from the floor of the county convention. And if that grassroots effort is blocked by new rules, that simple vote could turn into a messy floor fight.

I'm proceeding on the assumption that these novel practices are all well-intentioned, if susceptible to misuse, so I'm not jumping to any conclusions. But I do remember back in 2003, when county party leadership was under heavy pressure to block any official statement from the executive committee in opposition to the Vision 2025 tax plan. This year, with the County Convention happening during the month before the Vision Dam Tax vote, the largest gathering of grassroots Republicans presents an ideal opportunity for the party to speak credibly and to be heard.


Here are the resolutions submitted by our precinct regarding the Vision Dam Tax.

  • We oppose any use of taxes or bonds to fund dams in the Arkansas River. We urge Tulsa voters to go to the polls on April 5, 2016, to defeat the proposed sales tax for Arkansas River dams.
  • We oppose any attempt to logroll recreational and "economic development" projects with public safety and transportation projects in sales tax and bond issue elections. For example, we oppose including Arkansas River dam construction in the same ballot item as levee repair. We urge Tulsa voters to go to the polls on April 5, 2016, to defeat the proposed sales tax.
  • We oppose the use of sales tax and use tax revenue bonds for advance funding for local capital improvements. City and county capital improvements should be built on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • We oppose any renewal of the Vision 2025 sales tax at any level of government.

On April 5, 2016, the Cities of Tulsa, Glenpool, Jenks, and Owasso and Tulsa County will vote on sales taxes to replace the 0.6% Vision 2025 county sales tax that expires at the end of this year. The following are the ballot resolutions approved by the respective City Councils and County Commission and submitted to the Tulsa County Election Board.

In addition to the ballot resolutions, the Tulsa City Council approved three additional ordinances, known as "Brown Ordinances" in honor of former City Attorney Darven Brown, setting out the policy for spending the money to be raised if the taxes are approved, establishing a sales-tax overview committee, and establishing a process for modifying the projects and amounts if necessary.

Adventures in "water in the river," from this week's Dallas Observer:

This has to do with one of the stupidest, zaniest, least necessary and most mentally challenged projects the city has ever undertaken -- and that's saying something -- a so-called "white water feature," or fake rapids, in the Trinity River downstream from downtown. Opened to recreational paddlers on May 7, 2011, the white water feature was closed to navigation the same day when the first few paddlers complained they had almost been killed.

City attorneys told the council in an emergency executive session Wednesday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was only hours away from shutting down almost the entire drinking water system for Dallas if the council didn't immediately cough up $3 to $5 million to fix or (better idea) demolish the stupid white water feature. Some on the council didn't believe the lawyers, so thank goodness they balked at signing the check.

Council members Philip Kingston and Scott Griggs say now that some element of the threat was a bluff and that the most the Corps probably would have shut down was any additional goofy construction projects in the river bottom. "That would have been doing us a favor," Kingston said....

Some years ago the park portion of the Trinity River project, an ambitious plan to rebuild the entire riverfront through downtown Dallas, was turned over to Dallas socialites. Apparently the socialites glimpsed a man-made whitewater park over the rims of their martini glasses while semi-reclined on a canopied deck somewhere in Colorado and decided they wanted to bring one home. But they thought it would be better for the taxpayers to pay for it, because ... money.

The article goes on to note that the "fake rapids" cost $5 million, more than triple the original estimate, and that the supposedly family-friendly, gentle side of the rapids was so turbulent "under certain conditions that it acts more like an in-sink DisposAll in your kitchen," sending boats and people to the bottom and not letting them up. The water feature also created an obstacle to existing recreational uses -- canoeing and fishing.

Why would a botched set of fake rapids endanger Dallas's water supply? It may be because the of an upstream Corps of Engineers dam that desperately needs repair. River guide and Corps-watcher Charles Allen thinks that the Corps is concerned about the water feature interfering with conveyance, because it "is piling up tons of silt on its upriver side." That would limit how much water the Corps can release from upstream lakes to repair their dams without jeopardizing the levees downstream.

What does all this have to do with the water supply? It's the Corps leverage over the city, as the water feature was covered under a broad "recreational permit," which did not require any sort of environmental study.

The big permits that the Corps does hold over the city's head, called 404 permits, could theoretically be construed to govern virtually the entire water supply of the city. And that's the type of saber they are rattling. They don't have a pea-shooter to aim at the white water feature alone, so they are bringing out bigger guns by threatening to yank the 404 permits, or so the lawyers told the council last Wednesday.

Maybe cities are smarter when they let the river alone to act like a river.

We all liked the Gathering Place when it was a private institution pursuing a project on private property, but maybe it isn't so likable now when it's damaging public right-of-way for walkers, runners, and cyclists:

Most of the Midland Valley Trail will remain open, but its connection to the river will be severed as A Gathering Place for Tulsa construction gets underway.

The trail will be blocked off south of 26th Street to Riverside Drive until the first phase of construction is completed in 2017, planning officials said. It is portion of the trail that runs beside the former Blair Mansion property....

The Gathering Place property straddles the trail, and Stave [sic] didn't see how ongoing construction could keep it open to the public.

According to county assessor records, the trail is owned by the State of Oklahoma Department of Highways. The trail replaced the tracks of the Midland Valley Railroad. The state bought the rail line and right-of-way for construction of the Riverside Expressway, which would have left the Riverside corridor at that point, following the MVRR right-of-way to connect to the southeast interchange of the Inner Dispersal Loop. The Riverside Expressway plan was dropped in the 1970s in response to protests and lawsuits from Maple Ridge homeowners.

Although the closing of the trail will happen this week, the trail along Riverside Drive that connects to the walking bridge will remain open until the middle of 2015.

Stava said Riverside Drive construction will then shut down the affected portions of the River Parks East Trail along Riverside Drive.

The pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River will also be shutdown in mid-2015 because pedestrians will have no place to go when crossing it from the west side, he said.

It's not said explicitly in the article, but the implication is that the bridge and east bank trail will also be closed until the end of the first phase of construction in 2017. That will create three dead-ends for our trail system -- the east bank trail approaching from the south, the east bank trail approaching from the north, and the Midland Valley trail -- and eliminate one of the easy loops around the river.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some Tulsans use the east bank and Midland Valley trails to commute to work.

During highway construction, contractors do their best to allow traffic to continue, with at least one lane in each direction. Shouldn't cyclists and joggers get the same courtesy?

As a private institution, the George Kaiser Family Foundation can't shut down public roads or rights-of-way on its own initiative. So who in city or state government granted permission?

UPDATE: A reader who commutes by bicycle writes:

You mentioned that you "wouldn't be surprised" that some Tulsans use it to commute to work. That's me.

For the last two years, I have ridden my bike from our house at 37th and Riverside down to the River trail, across Riverside on the Pedestrian Bridge, and into downtown on the Midland Valley trail. Lately I have added a stop at the Forge gym at 3rd and Peoria to my route before work, as I can make it to within a block or two using the north end of that trail. It is safe and keeps me off of the rush hour streets.

There are several other bikers I see every morning with backpacks like mine, clearly headed to work. It is our commuter street, and it's being completely shut down for 3 years. I can route around the closed portion, but for me it means I will have to cross Riverside at street level at 31st, cut to Boston Place, go north through Maple Ridge to 26th, then west to get back to the trail. If they close 31st at Riverside for the construction office, it will make it even more challenging. I would otherwise cut through the apartment complexes on Cincinnati (the only through street to get to 31st besides going up Peoria), but when they start demolition of the complexes in January they will undoubtedly close off some of that.

So who gave them permission? Good question.

Good point about the apartment complexes. Cincinnati Ave. is the only place to cross Crow Creek between Riverside and Peoria, the only connection between Maple Ridge and the northern residential part of Brookside to the Brookside commercial district that is safe and comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists. The Legacy at Riverview (formerly Place One) sits on both sides of Cincinnati just south of the Crow Creek bridge. The city ought to insist that this public street be kept open during demolition and construction, but given their apparent readiness to close public rights-of-way for three years for the benefit of a private project, I have a feeling the city won't press the issue with GKFF.

Tomorrow morning (Friday, September 19, 2014) at 8:05 am, I'll be on 1170 KFAQ with Pat Campbell to discuss "improvements" to the Arkansas River, the broad prairie stream that flows through the western and southwestern parts of the city of Tulsa. The "improvements" would involve renovating the Zink Lake dam, built in 1980, and building three new dams to fill the river to its banks, for a total cost estimated at $240 million. (UPDATE: Here's the audio of my KFAQ interview with Pat Campbell.)

Earlier this month, friends and fans paid their final respects to comedian Joan Rivers. She was a groundbreaker for women in stand-up comedy, Johnny Carson's long-time backup host on the Tonight Show and then his competitor, a survivor of personal and financial tragedy who made an impressive comeback, and a staunch supporter of Israel's right to exist.

But Joan Rivers may be best known, particularly among the younger generation, for her frequent trips to the plastic surgeon. Rivers demolished her natural beauty in pursuit of an elusive ideal and spent a fortune only to end up looking harsh, alien, and artificial.

What drives an attractive woman to undergo one expensive and risky elective surgery after another? The obvious cause is insecurity, low self-esteem. She must have been convinced that she could only be attractive if she drastically altered her appearance, and evidently no one could convince her otherwise.


You could ask the same question about cities. Why would a beautiful city pursue risky and expensive plastic surgery in pursuit of artificial enhancements that ultimately fail to increase the city's charm and appeal?

Whether Hollywood star or Midwestern city, the drive for extreme surgical makeovers betrays a lack of self-confidence and a break with reality. Many a city tore down charming Victorian or Craftsman homes for brutalist public housing towers. After World War II, owners of Art Deco and Romanesque Revival commercial buildings were persuaded to cover their facades with metal cladding, in order to look "modern" and "up-to-date." Decades later, building owners are tearing off the cladding to put the unique elements of each building on view once again.

Our consumption-driven economy thrives on insecurity and discontent. An unscrupulous plastic surgeon could boost his bottom line by persuading potential patients that they're hideous without his help. Heavy construction companies, civil engineering firms, and bond advisors and attorneys can benefit financially by persuading voters that their city is too ugly to attract residents and visitors, but paying them hundreds of millions of dollars will make the city presentable -- at least until it's time for the next nine-figure tax package.

Conventional wisdom is conventional, and the conventional wisdom about the Arkansas River is that it's ugly and no one wants to be around it because it isn't filled with water from bank to bank. If we want to have development along the river, the conventional wisdom goes, we need to ensure that there's water in the river by building new low-water dams and fixing the one we already have. And we have to have development along the river if we want to attract the kinds of young hipsters that pick where they want to live and then look for a job.

We have water in the river. What seems to annoy people is that we also have sandbars and shelves of shale that are visible when the water level is low. If only we would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build dams, we could raise the water level by a few feet and spare visitors the hideous sight of our sandbars. They they will like us and spend money here -- or so the deluded, insecure thinking goes.

But some of Tulsa's visitors really like our sandbars.

Wildlife in the river bed more interesting than a river full of water

On a frosty morning twenty-five years ago this January 21, I took my girlfriend to the Audubon Society's bald eagle watch. (Later that day I proposed to her.) At the time, we were amazed to realize that just 20 miles from downtown Tulsa you could watch our once-endangered national symbol in the wild. Earlier this year, in commemoration of that auspicious day, I took my family to the Audubon Society's bald eagle watch.

In 1989, the Audubon Society set up their eagle watch just below Keystone Dam. The eagles seemed to prefer the shallow waters below the dam to the deep and broad expanse of the lake above the dam.

In 2014, the Audubon Society set up their eagle watch in Helmerich Park, on the east bank of the river south of the 71st Street bridge. Over the years the eagles had extended their range downriver and into the City of Tulsa itself. We watched bald eagles come and go from a nest across the river on the west bank, notwithstanding the proximity of Jones Riverside Airport.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Bald eagle nest on the west bank of the Arkansas River near 81st Street in Tulsa, January 2014

We saw bald eagles, both white-headed adults and black-headed juveniles, soar above the river and dive down in search of a meal. And we saw hundreds of white pelicans.

White pelicans on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

As you can see from the photos, the pelicans preferred to roost in the shallows where the sandbars met the river or in shallow places where the sandbars were barely submerged.

Hundreds of white pelicans on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

The bald eagles liked the sandbars as well. We watched one mature bald eagle eating a fish on a sandbar, not far from a rivulet that crossed the sandbar to connect two branches of the main stream.

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A gull tried to snatch the eagle's catch.

A gull approaches a bald eagle perched on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

But the eagle waved him away.

Wings flapping, a bald eagle perched on a sandbar defends his catch from a gull, in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A little while later, the adult was replaced by a juvenile, working on the same fish on the same sandbar.

Immature bald eagle perches on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, with a fish caught by an adult eagle, January 2014

This was the view of the Arkansas River from Helmerich Park on January 25, 2014, looking northwest toward the 71st Street bridge and Turkey Mountain. This is boring? This is ugly?

Immature bald eagle and hundreds of white pelicans perch on a sandbar and in the shallows of the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014. Looking northwest from Helmerich Park toward the 71st Street Bridge and Turkey Mountain.

But instead of the shifting patterns of water and sand and the variety of wildlife, some Tulsans are adamant that we need a flat, monotonous expanse of water from shore to shore so that we can feel pretty.

What do we think "water in the river" will do for us?

When Tulsans enthuse about the impact of water in the river on tourism and economic development, they inevitably mention San Antonio's River Walk. The San Antonio River, as it bends through downtown, is about 40 feet wide -- about the width of a two-lane street. You can easily cross from one side to the other. You can easily spot someone you know on the other side and call out and wave. The Arkansas River through Tulsa ranges about 1000 to 1600 feet wide -- twenty-five to forty times wider.

In 2006, Canadian architect Bing Thom, hired by Tulsa's Warren family, proposed a way to create the River Walk feel: Excavate much of the west bank between 11th and 21st Streets, build an island with shopping and high-rise housing near to the east bank, with a little channel about the width of the San Antonio River separating it from the east bank. Price tag to the taxpayers would have been at least $600 million. Building housing in the river's floodway was unlikely to get Corps of Engineers approval. Excavating the west bank, once the site of oil refineries, might mean dredging up toxic materials now buried and settled.

If you want a street's-width River Walk, a better bet might be to follow OKC's lead and actually replace a street with a canal. Or tame one of our larger creeks and put development alongside. Combining the two ideas, the Elm Creek Master Drainage Plan includes a canal running down the middle of 6th Street east of Peoria. Many years ago, an architect proposed exposing the lower reach of buried Elm Creek, near 18th and Boston, for a creekside promenade.

Perhaps the water-in-the-river fanatics are thinking about the pleasures of watching the sun drop into the Pacific at nightfall. You really need at least 20 miles of open water to get that effect. That would mean excavating a lot more than the River West Festival Park. We'd have to flood Red Fork and turn Lookout Mountain into an island.

Maybe it's a reflecting pool that they want, so that motorists crossing the river on I-44 can spend some of their 15 seconds on the bridge looking north to see the skyline reflected in the river, just like that Ken Johnston painting. But even in that painting the water is rippled by the wind, as tends to happen with a broad, open expanse of water.

Do they think more dams on the river will bring about more recreation on the river? It's doubtful. Zink Lake has been around for over 30 years. The ferry boats and sailboats in mid-'70s "artist's conceptions" never materialized. Silt and sand don't let the water get too deep. We haven't even seen paddle boats on Zink Lake. Some number, probably not more than 100, participate in rowing on the river. I suspect more Tulsans had been on the river during the 1970s heyday of the Great Raft Race, prior to the completion of Zink Dam, than in the years since.

For a few years, Steve Smith ran airboat tours and then occasional guided canoe trips on the Arkansas River between Zink Dam and Keystone Dam. If I recall correctly, he tended to attract more out-of-town visitors who saw his brochure in the rack in the hotel lobby than locals. His descriptions of his tours, which you can find various places around the web, emphasize the variety you can see from the river -- wildlife, shoreline, little islands. But as far as I can find, he's no longer in that business.

Oklahoma City, Austin, and Wichita all have dammed, brimful rivers, but none of them have attracted vibrant riverfront development. The excitement in those cities is to be found in walkable neighborhoods of historic buildings away from the river.

We have a beautiful river. It needs some cleanup in places. The levees may need repair -- but that's a public safety and stormwater control matter, and we shouldn't let city leaders logroll elective cosmetic surgery in the same tax issue as a necessity. Let's stop listening to the hack plastic surgeons who want us to feel insecure enough to pay them hundreds of millions of dollars to "make us pretty." Let's appreciate the God-given beauty we already possess and the wildlife that enjoys it, in its changing variety.


The BatesLine archive of stories about the Arkansas River.

David Schuttler has some beautiful wintertime video of pelicans and herons from the stretch of the river west of Sand Springs:

John Eagleton writes to inform me that, after my appearance on KFAQ, all the "tax-and-spend hooligans" are angry with me. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saeculi saeculorum. Amen.

Charles Hardt, former City of Tulsa Director of Public Works, opposes building dams and encouraging development along the river. He says the 100-year-flood standard isn't stringent enough when it comes to the damage a river flood can do. Hardt's training is as a hydrologist, and he led the city's massive stormwater mitigation efforts following major floods in 1984 and 1986.

"We are talking about adding more things to the river banks — and potentially in the river — that could make the flooding worse and create the potential for a lot more loss of life and more property damages," he said.

Hardt said development in and along the river can act as a "plug" that impedes the natural flow of the river —-- a flow that in times of heavy rainfall scours the river's bottom and banks to increase the river's capacity.

"You're encouraging development that is not compatible with the river's function, and that is to carry the water from upstream to downstream," he said....

Hardt's not just worried about the dams that might be built in the river. He's concerned about one that already exists --— Keystone Dam, and he would like to see a major push to study and repair Corps infrastructure projects.

"Its effectiveness and the maintenance of it and what its capabilities are needs to be well understood before we put other things downstream from it —-- other things meaning low-water dams, development along the river," Hardt said.

BatesLine photo, October 15, 2011, All Rights Reserved

For over a half-century, motorists driving north on Riverside Drive in Tulsa, after navigating the tricky Midland Valley underpass, were rewarded with the sight of an elegant white mansion across a vast expanse of manicured lawn.

Tomorrow, all that will end. The site with its lawn and woods was sold by owner Dan Buford to the George Kaiser Family Foundation to be used for its "Gathering Place for Tulsa." GKFF did not include the Blair Mansion in its plans for the new park, although it might have been home to a restaurant, galleries, meeting space -- any number of functions complementary to the park. A lodge is shown on the plans for the park not far from the current site of the mansion. Judging by the outraged reactions on social media, it seems everyone assumed that the Blair Mansion would be the centerpiece of this new public space.

Kylie Earls McFerrin wrote on Facebook: "This is ridiculous!!!! I love driving by there. It makes me feel like a small part of Tulsa is still intact." Monica Hughes called the property "iconic. It was reassuring to drive by it on visits up. Slowly the Tulsa of my memory is disappearing."

Buford had the right to have the mansion moved to another location, but that proved to be impractical. The house was too large, the neighborhood streets too narrow, the surrounding overpasses too low:

Buford said he spent more than a year looking into relocating the house and even hired a local company to study the logistics of such a move.

They spent about four months in that process and they finally came back to me with a written report," Buford said. "They wouldn't say that it couldn't be moved, but they didn't see how that it was worthy or feasible."

So tomorrow morning the Blair Mansion will be demolished.

Our family has had a couple of opportunities to visit, when our homeschooling group had activities in the woods south of the house, although I never had the chance to see the interior. The Blair Mansion was designed by John Duncan Forsyth and built in 1958. Oilman B. B. Blair had owned and farmed the property since 1939. According to reports, Dan Buford bought the property in 1995 after the death of Blair's widow.

I speculated a couple of days ago about the possibility that the Muscogee Creek Nation owns the Arkansas River bed and could build a dam there if they pleased (with Corps of Engineers permission).

On Facebook, attorney Greg Bledsoe called my attention to additional information that clarifies the status of the river. These issues had surfaced in 2006 in connection with The Channels proposal to build islands in the river between 11th and 21st Street.

Bledsoe wrote in 2006, on the Tulsa Now forum (links added):

The Muscogee Creek Nation has announced that it claims to own the bed of the Arkansas River between 11th and 21st Streets in Tulsa....

[September 6, 2006, story in the Tulsa World: "Tribe's claim of river disputed"]

However, this contention appears to rely on cases regarding the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations--not the Creek Nation. The main difference between the Creek Nation and the other tribes is that an earlier U.S. Supreme Court case involving the Osage Nation determined that the Arkansas River above the Grand River (at Three-Forks-Ft. Gibson) was non-navigable. The land below the Grand was determined to be navigable and these tribes were determined to own the river bed. I think they were paid large sums of money by Congress as part of a settlement.

See Brewer Oil Co. v. United States, 260 (1922).

This concept is important because under the common law (made applicable to Indian Terr. by Congress) water rights (riparian) law says that the abutting land owner to a non-navigable river also owns to the middle of the river.

Unless there is a reservation by the parties or some other clear intention expressed by the parties at the time the land is transferred--in this case from the Creek Nation to its individual members (allottees)-then the person(s) who now own that land next to such a river also own to the middle of the river.

This was decided in an important series of cases in 1927.

In United States v. Hayes, et al, 20 F.2d 873 (8th Cir. 1927), cert den 275 U.S. 552 and 275 U.S. 555 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals made the following ruling:

"From all the above considerations, we conclude that in was the intention of all of the parties that the title of these riparian allottees conveyed by meander lines should extend to the thread of the stream and that no interest or title was reserved in or retained by the Creek Nation."

The parties appealed this to the United States Supreme Court which declined to take the case. This would appear to close the door on this issue.

I would be interested in others commenting on why the Hayes case has not conclusively decided the issue of who owns the Arkansas River in this area of Tulsa County. Perhaps there is a legal theory I am missing.

Who owns the Arkansas River in Tulsa County could also have important implications for the South Tulsa bridge issue.

Here is the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in INDIAN COUNTRY, U.S.A., INC., and Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. STATE OF OKLAHOMA ex rel. the OKLAHOMA TAX COMMISSION.

There is an Arkansas Riverbed Authority, "created jointly by the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee Nations to administer the tribally owned stretch of the Arkansas River between Muskogee, Oklahoma, and Ft. Smith, Arkansas." As Bledsoe notes, this is a different situation because of the navigability of the river once it passes the mouth of the Verdigris. Here is the what the authority says about its origins.

After years of negotiation following the Supreme Court ruling, the tribes were able to reach a settlement agreement with the United States government over the use of the riverbed. Late in 2002 the Congress passed the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Nations Claims Settlement Act whereby the Tribes received payment for past damages and for the value of dry-bed claim areas in the lower reach of the river in exchange for a relinquishment of all claims to their dry bed claim areas that were occupied by third parties. The three tribes gave up those lands to private citizens, including some members of the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, who occupy approximately 7,750 acres of tribal dry bed riverbed land. This settlement keeps the federal government from having to pursue court action to remove those Oklahoma citizens from that land. Those court proceedings would be very costly to the government as well as the individuals involved, and would take many years to resolve.

The Supreme Court ruling was in 1970, Choctaw Nation v. Oklahoma, 397 U.S. 620 (1970). You can read more about the history of ownership for the navigable section of the Arkansas River in Oklahoma here.

Today Bledsoe writes:

A review of the above authority [appeals court ruling] would seem to settle the matter for most of the riverbed, but it appears to me that the Creek Nation may have a credible claim to ownership of the riverbed to the "thread of the stream" or the middle of the river abutting the Mackey site land [site of the Creek Nation casino]. Half a dam does not a dam make as the other side of the river was certainly owned by others and is not "Indian Country" even if some of it is now owned by the tribe.

Here we go again. Officials, led by an alleged fiscal conservative, are pumping us up to raise our taxes to pour concrete in the river.

[Tom] Dittus is the managing partner of the Blue Rose Café at 19th and Riverside, and wishes he had some neighbors.

"Hopefully people will see what we've done down here. We would really welcome some company down here and like to see some more development," he said.

Dittus isn't likely to get neighbors, as the section of River Parks around him is unlikely to be opened for development.

City Councilor GT Bynum said Blue Rose isn't the only sign of private investment.

"There are hundreds of millions of dollars being invested along the Arkansas River right now," said Bynum.

A lot of that money is going to the new Margaritaville hotel the Creek Nation is building at the River Spirit Casino.

If the Creeks and the George Kaiser Family Foundation are investing hundreds of millions of dollars along the river with the river in its current condition, why should the public divert money away from public safety and street repair to change the river's condition. Is the real reason to attract new investment or to satisfy the desires of politically powerful organizations that are already heavily invested?

The new task force will look at how to attract more development.

Some previous suggestions include repairing and even adding dams to keep water in the river, adding parking along Riverside, making Riverside easier to drive and creating more public-private partnerships on land development.

I seem to recall that we had an Arkansas River task force in 2004 and 2005, led by our regional planning agency, INCOG. Do we really need a new task force, or do these people just not like the results of the last one?

"It's not gonna be a river walk like in San Antonio. There'll be different types of developments in different areas, and part of it will be left natural like it is now," said Vic Vreeland, consultant for the Muscogee Creek Nation.

Veeland thinks now is the time to make it all happen.

"There's a small percentage of people that don't want to see anything done on the river. But for the most part, I think 85, 90 percent of the people want to see the river developed. The naysayer people are just the ones that they don't want to agree on how it's paid for," said Vreeland.

Ol' Vic is absolutely right that it won't be like San Antonio. The San Antonio River is about as wide as a neighborhood street and is surrounded by historic buildings and overhung with live oaks. You can see and be seen, hear and be heard on both sides of the Paseo del Rio.

A wide expanse of water isn't very interesting unless you can sail on it or watch the sunset over it. (Personal trivia: I planned my marriage proposal for the nearest spot to Tulsa where the sun would set over the water in January -- Walnut Creek State Park on the north shore of Keystone Reservoir.) Although OKC dammed the North Canadian River, the interesting waterfront development is on the artificial Bricktown Canal (about as wide as the San Antonio River). The dammed North Canadian is just a big rectangle of water bounded by a treeless shore. Not much to look at.

Water is most interesting as it interacts with the land -- waterfalls, river bends, shorelines, breaking waves, piers and boardwalks. The Arkansas River, as the water rises and falls, twisting and turning around sandbars, attracting herons and bald eagles and other wildlife, is far more fascinating than a flat monotonous expanse of water.

And a flat monotonous expanse of water is not guaranteed, even if more dams are built. The Southwestern Power Administration and the Corps of Engineers control the gates at Keystone Dam for power generation, flood control, and recreation on Keystone Reservoir. And even they are at the mercy of the weather.

What water makes it downstream from Keystone is laden with silt, which precipitates out as the river bends and broadens and as the water slows. If a dam is built, its impoundment will have to be dredged on a regular basis. Who will pay for that?

I suspect that former Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland's new client has the wherewithal, thanks to a tax on the mathematically challenged, to build a low-water dam to benefit its new resort. A case could be made that it owns the site of the proposed dam as well and would only need permission of the Corps of Engineers to proceed. In the 1980s, when the State of Oklahoma sought to tax Creek Nation Bingo at 81st and Riverside (now the site of the Creek Nation's River Spirit Casino), a U. S. District Court found and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the land had never been allotted and had never passed out of Muscogee Creek Nation ownership. (The U. S. Supreme Court denied the Oklahoma Tax Commission's petition for certiorari in the case, 87-1068.)

From a June 28, 1988, story in the Daily Oklahoman:

The Muscogee Creek bingo games are conducted in Tulsa on 100 acres along the Arkansas River . The 10th Circuit court said the land is Indian territory in the same way any reservation belongs to native Americans.

The bingo hall was located on land that had never been owned by anyone other than the tribe. It was vacant until 1984, when the tribe trucked in enough fill dirt to raise the hall above the level of the river .

The Creeks own land on both sides of that stretch of the river, with their purchase of the Riverwalk Crossing development in Jenks. If they find it advantageous to their business interests to build a dam to hold whatever water in the river trickles down from Keystone Dam and Zink Dam, then let them do the cost/benefit analysis and build it if it makes good business sense. It's hard to see how it benefits the non-Creek residents of Tulsa to spend their tax dollars to enhance the appeal of tribal-owned businesses, where sales taxes are not collected, which compete with private and city-owned entertainment venues, where sales taxes are collected.

An ordinance to amend the "Bartlett Amendment," which requires Riverside Drive improvements to be a separate item on the ballot at capital improvements elections, is on the agenda for tonight's (August 8, 2013) Tulsa City Council agenda. The amendment would exclude Riverside Drive improvements between 2300 and 3400 Riverside Drive connected with the George Kaiser Family Foundation's "A Gathering Place."

The Bartlett Amendment was promoted by then-District 9 City Councilor Dewey Bartlett, Jr., at a time when developers were seeking to turn Riverside Drive into a six-lane parkway all the way from south Tulsa to downtown. The proposed parkway would have turned north on Houston Avenue to connect to the western part of downtown. Nearby neighborhoods objected to the widening of the road. The amendment made it unlikely that such a widening would be approved, as it would have to be unbundled from other capital improvements and considered separately.

The Bartlett Amendment already excludes certain improvements detailed in the 1993 Conceptual Plan for Riverside Drive and Houston Avenue, including side street tie-off and cul-de-sac construction, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, and the realignment and redesign of the dangerous and flood-prone Midland Valley Railroad viaduct just north of 31st and Riverside.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife is opposed to new dams on the Arkansas River, according to a Public Radio Tulsa news story on the impact of low-water dams on the river's water and wild animals. The Tulsa City Council has included $71 million for modifying the Zink Lake dam and for construction of a new dam near Jenks in their tentative list of projects to be funded by the Tulsa County Vision2 sales tax scheme.

Chris Whisenhunt, fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, says the Department is opposed to any new dams on the river.

He says that sediment buildup in Zink Lake has created water quality that's too poor for some of the river's most important species fish. He says Zink Dam should be improved if possible, because it's a safety concern, and because updates might improve water quality.

He also says the Department would welcome better dam designs, but that it's skeptical whether that would actually happen.

"Currently our only example of what will happen to the Arkansas River is what Zink Lake is right now," he said, "and that is a very poor habitat for most of our sport fish."

The only unequivocally positive comment in the story about new dams comes from Gaylon Pinc, who works for PMg, the company hired sole-source by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to provide program management services for Vision 2025 and other Tulsa County tax packages and which would likely be hired for the same purpose should Vision2 be approved by the voters.

Pinc reportedly attempts to perpetuate the revisionist myth that voters were only voting for studies of building dams in the 2003 Vision 2025 vote.

2025 didn't include enough money to construct any additional low water dams on the Arkansas, just to study their possible environmental effects.

The "vote yes" bunch tried to make this claim back in 2007, when the county river tax was on the ballot, but a look at the Vision 2025 ballot propositions and the way the tax was sold to the voters makes it clear that voters were led to expect dams to be built if Vision 2025 passed. See my blog entry, "Randi's river revisionism", and my column from the same week Dams, not studies, promised in Vision 2025, for a thorough rebuttal.)

The Public Radio Tulsa story also cites concerns from the head of the Tulsa Audubon Society about the impact of new dams on wildlife habitat:

Fifteenth and Riverside, looking out over the Arkansas River, doesn't exactly feel like the kind of exotic locale where you'd expect to find an endangered species.

As it turns out, however, there is a threatened bird that makes its home right here on the river, at least for part of the year.

John Kennington, president of the Tulsa Audubon Society, points out Zink Island, "which is a sand island in the middle of the Arkansas River."

"This is an area that the least terns use to nest on," he said.

That's interior least terns he's talking about, Tulsa's very own endangered bird. The tern is a small species of bird that's currently flown South for the winter.

But Kennington says, when they're here, "they like to nest on a sandy gravelly open area, so the Zink Island gives them some really good habitat for their nests."

You won't find that kind of habitat on a river like the Mississippi. That's because the Arkansas River, in our area at least, is a special kind of waterway, known as a "braided prairie stream."

While I can understand the feelings of those who would like to see a lake in place of the river that we have, I have to wonder whether it makes enough of a difference to make it worth the investment. The changes of the river over the year have a certain fascination. When the water level is low enough, you can see the shelf of shale, right at the bend of the river, that was once a natural ford.

Of course, it's silly for the "vote yes" bunch to claim that Vision2 will "put water in the river." The best we can hope for is to detain water that comes to us from upstream.

Will water in the river really attract the Creative Class to Tulsa, as some claim? Austin has dammed up the Colorado River to form a narrow lake, but it isn't the major draw for young creatives. On my visits to Austin, I observed a small number of joggers and cyclists, but no large gatherings drawn by water in the river. What keeps Austin weird is to be found away from the river on South Congress, Sixth Street, and especially on and near the University of Texas campus.

Wichita has water in their river, but no significant development alongside it. The big draws for young adults are Old Town and East Douglas, not the river.

Old buildings seem to be a stronger draw than water features for young people. Back in 2007, I wrote about a visit to downtown Orlando, Florida, on a Saturday night:

Downtown Orlando has shiny new skyscrapers, a basketball arena, and a beautiful 23-acre lake with a fountain. But I didn't find the crowds around any of those. There were only a few people walking the path around Lake Eola, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.

Instead, the throng of twentysomethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old commercial buildings in use as bars, cafes, and pizza joints. The same kind of development stretched for a block or two down each side street. There were hot dog stands on every corner. Pedicabs ferried people to and fro. The numbers of partiers only grew larger as the little hand swept past 12.

Let me spell it out for you. In the heart of this modern, sprawling tourist mecca, in the midst of sparkling office towers, a sports arena, and a palm-lined lake, crowds of young people were drawn to 100-year-old buildings which had managed to escape the wrecking ball. The popularity of these buildings did not seem to suffer from being nowhere near the water.

These buildings were the exactly the sort of you find in Tulsa's Blue Dome, Brady, Brookside, South Boston, and Cherry Street districts, the sort that were demolished by urban renewal in Greenwood and where the Williams Center now stands.

The same dynamic, one documented by Jane Jacobs in her 1960 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is at work in Orlando, Tulsa, and cities from coast-to-coast: Old buildings provide a place for new businesses to take root. They provide an opportunity for people with dreams and ideas but not much capital to get something started and improve it over time.

"I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it." -- then Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick, July 2003

I had been looking at these items in isolation, but I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge. There are several instances with Vision 2025 and with Four to Fix the County Part 2 where the county allocated a small amount of money -- not enough to complete the project, but enough to use the project as a selling point to pass the tax. They're doing the same thing in Vision2. It's bait-and-switch.

American Indian Cultural Center: Vision 2025 included $2 million for this project, which was to be built north of 71st Street along the west bank of the Arkansas River. But according to this 2007 story in Indian Country News, a non-profit group called the National Indian Monument and Institute (NIMI) would have to raise $22 million in private funds to qualify for $2 million in county funds for infrastructure. A further $35 million would be needed for the final phase. It hasn't happened, and it looks like it never will. IRS Form 990 filings for NIMI show only $1,209,279 raised from 2004 to 2010, most of that between 2004 and 2007. NIMI is headed by Monetta Trepp, a Perryman family descendant who owns the Perryman Ranch south of Bixby. Their major annual project seems to be the Tulsa Indian Art Festival, which is listed as DBA on NIMI's 990 forms.

The Vision 2025 county contribution was about 8% of the cost of the first phase, not enough to bootstrap the project toward completion. Had the Tulsa County allocated enough funds to build the facility, they would have had to eliminate or shortchange other vote-getting projects. (The Vision 2025 surplus allocated to complete the BOK Center in high style would have been enough to build the Phase 1 of the AICC and make a good start on Phase 2.)

Tulsa County juvenile justice facility: As documented on BatesLine last week, 4 to Fix the County II included $2,446,625 that was sold to the voters as sufficient to renovate the existing juvenile justice facility and build a four-story addition. But instead of carrying out the promised work, the money was repurposed (six years after the tax was approved by the voters) to buy land on which a more expensive facility would be built. The new facility, with a price tag of $38 million, is on Tulsa County's Vision2 wish list.

Arkansas River low-water dams: Vision 2025 was sold to the public as putting water in the river, with promises that federal money would provide the rest of what was needed to build two new dams and fix the Zink Dam. That never happened. Instead the 2007 Tulsa County river tax was proposed to pay for the dams, and it was claimed (falsely) that Vision 2025 was only intended as seed money. Here's the actual language in the Vision 2025 Proposition 4 ballot resolution:

Construct two low water dams on Arkansas River the locations of which will be determined in the Arkansas River Corridor Plan -- $5.6 million

Zink Lake Shoreline Beautification -- $1.8 million

Design and construct Zink Lake Upstream Catch Basin and silt removal -- $2.1 million

Not planning funds, not engineering funds, not seed money -- "construct two low water dams."

This blog entry from 2007 has a timeline of claims made by Tulsa County officials about the dams and the proposal to use surplus Vision 2025 receipts to complete the dams if other funds are unavailable. My July 25, 2007, UTW column specifically rebuts claims made by county officials that the dams were never promised in Vision 2025. As with the other projects mentioned above, surplus Vision 2025 surplus funds likely would have been sufficient to complete this project, but we used $45.5 million of the surplus to pay for a fancier arena, which committed a similar amount for unspecified suburban projects so the 'burbs would go along with extra money for the arena. (Tulsa County Commissioner John Smaligo acknowledged that these commitments had been made in a May 2012 interview with KFAQ's Pat Campbell.)

This pattern continues with the Vision2 plan. The City of Tulsa's allocation includes $5 million toward the completion of the western legof the Gilcrease Expressway and its crossing of the Arkansas River, a project that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority estimated would cost $857 million to build. The feasibility study itself cost just shy of $1 million. But putting a token amount toward the project allows the Vote Yes people to claim the Gilcrease Expressway on the list of projects and to claim the endorsements and votes of the expressway plan's biggest fans. Although the amount is a drop in the bucket of what will be required to build the project, it seems to have been enough to win Councilor Jack Henderson's support for Vision2.

The only way to break the county of the bait-and-switch habit is to tell them no.

MORE: A post on Yes to Vision2's Facebook page links a video about KRMG's Great Raft Race, a popular Labor Day weekend event in the '70s and '80s, using it to suggest that Vision2 would make such events possible again. ("I think we can all agree that making some river improvements would help support recreation events!") I replied with a comment that the construction of Zink Dam was the beginning of the end of the Great Raft Race. You need flowing water, not dammed-up water, to have a raft race. The offloading point had been on the east side of the river, just south of the pedestrian bridge, an area now below the dam. The race adjusted after the dam was completed, but it never worked as well after the dam was built, and within a few years they stopped entirely.

In recent years, a local foundation has purchased two significant properties along the east side of Tulsa's Riverside Drive: The Blair Mansion and grounds, just north of the Midland Valley trail, and two apartment complexes just south of 31st Street on either side of Crow Creek -- Sundance and Legacy (known for many years as Place One).


The Blair Mansion is a Tulsa landmark, its expansive lawn stretching along a quarter-mile of Riverside Drive. It was built as a replica of Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis's house in Biloxi, Mississippi. Tens of thousands of Tulsans pass it daily, heading to and from work.

Not as visible from the road, to the south of the house, there's a wooded area that comprises a third of the site. Back in October, my family was there for a special event with our homeschool group.

Place One apartments was my first (and last) home on my own. I liked living within walking distance of River Parks and Brookside.

Together, the two sites could create a stronger connection between the river, the residential neighborhoods to the east and north, and the Brookside commercial district.


The foundation's desire is to turn these properties into public spaces that the entire community can enjoy and to do so in a way that respects the history and ecology of the sites and connects well with the surrounding neighborhoods and parks. A website called A Gathering Place for Tulsa explains the foundation's aims for the sites.

  • Create a public gathering space that is a recreational, civic and cultural destination for Tulsans from all walks of life to enjoy.
  • Incorporate the community's input regarding creative concepts and park activities for the property.
  • Enhance the River Parks system while preserving the area's natural ambience and integrate the new space into the greater River Parks area.

After an extensive selection process, the foundation hired Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, a landscape architectural firm with extensive experience in turning urban properties into public spaces, dealing creatively with physical and regulatory barriers to create places where people feel at ease.

I've been impressed by what I've read about MVVA's work. In the forward to MVVA's portfolio, Paul Goldberger wrote:

You couldn't imagine Van Valkenburgh designing a plaza solely to set off a modernist building....

No Van Valkenburgh design begins with a clean slate. Every one of them starts iwth a series of givens: the natural history of a site, the built history of a site, the surrounding urban context.


The foundation is not seeking any taxpayer funding, but it is seeking public input. Last night, and again tonight, March 7, 2012, the foundation is holding a public meeting to talk about their plans and to find out what Tulsans want to see in these places.

What: A Gathering Place for Tulsa, public input session
When: Tonight, March 7, 2012, 6 p.m.
Where: TCC Center for Creativity, northwest of 10th and Boston downtown


Two things I'd like to see: Some sort of kiddie park -- a carousel, train, and other gentle amusement rides aimed at younger children, like the one they have in Bartlesville -- and a monument to Betsy Horowitz. The persistence of Betsy and her Maple Ridge neighbors blocked the Riverside Expressway; had it gone through as planned, the beauty of these areas would be greatly diminished.

For what it's worth, the local foundation is the George Kaiser Family Foundation. While I have had and no doubt will have disagreements with their initiatives, their acquisition and preservation of these sites is a good thing, and I like the approach that they are taking so far.

Riverwalk Crossing in Jenks faces foreclosure:

Court records show the American National Bank of Texas has started foreclosure proceedings against Colburn Electric, Jerry Gordon, and RWC Management.

I'm skeptical that any riverfront development can duplicate the success of San Antonio's Paseo del Rio, with its combination of a natural bend in a narrow river, historic buildings and tourist draws, all in the heart of a city with a distinctive cultural history where the weather is almost always sunny and warm.

Jenks's Riverwalk Crossing has a nice view of the river. It has (or has had) some good restaurants. But in all the time it's been open, I've only been there a handful of times, although I've enjoyed it when I've visited. It's off by itself, across the levee from Jenks. It's not on the way to anything, and even when we're in Jenks, even when we're at the Aquarium, you've got to make a special trip. You can't just casually drive by to see if its bustling or quiet, to see what shops or restaurants might be open. You've got to deliberately drive into their parking lot, and, since the lot is on the backside of the development, you've got to get out of the car to see what's up. Visiting Riverwalk Crossing is not an impulse decision. And there aren't any "everyday" businesses that would give you a reason to go other than entertainment.

I was impressed that Jerry Gordon was about to get this built without taxpayer funds, and although I'm sad to see it run into hard times, I'm pleased that taxpayer dollars didn't fund what has proved to be an unsuccessful venture.

Here are some links, briefly introduced, to blog entries of interest around Oklahoma. A few may be a month or two old, which is a reflection on how far behind I am.

First, some blogs that are not necessarily new, but they're new to me and are worth a visit:

Joy Franklin is a Stephens County-based photographer, and her blog Expedition Oklahoma is filled with beautiful photographs of our great state. A few recent entries: the Glancy Motel on Route 66 in Clinton, an old abandoned family farm, Monument Hill, on the Chisholm Trail near Addington.

If you're on Facebook, you should go and "like" Expedition Oklahoma. As of yesterday, I was the fifth "like-er" and Joy's work deserves far more recognition than that. You can also follow @ExpeditionOK on Twitter. Although I'm only a rank amateur photographer, I can identify with a couple of her tweets from earlier today:

I think I enjoy photography because it takes away the need to have a friend to go places with you. #sadbuttrue

I can be a loner without looking like a loser. #photography #cameraismyfriend

Random Dafydd grew up in Tulsa is based in Bartlesville. In addition to his main blog he has blogs devoted to Tulsa Architectural History, medieval art and medievalism, his work as a surgical technologist, and Celtic and British folk music. I liked his latest entry on "The Weekend Scrub":

The surgeon gave me the specimen, said it was ileum. A bit later the circulator asked me what we calling the specimen. I told her ileum, or Troy, her choice. She said "Oh".

Nobody gets my jokes.

An entry from May explains why our legislature should encourage the widespread deployment of defibrillators by providing unqualified immunity to owners of the devices, notwithstanding the self-serving objections of the trial lawyers:

If you have a heart attack in public, what is your chance of survival? It depends. If there is not a defibrillator near by, 6%. If there is one, 50%. Modern defribillators are marvels. It takes five minutes of training to learn how to use one. Actually, since they are designed to talk the uninitiated though the process it doesn't even take that....

Many states offer some form of immunity to owners of defibrillators. If a local convenience store owner buys one, and has to use it, and the patient dies, then the store owner can't be sued, even if the store owner used the device incorrectly. California offers qualified immunity. The store owner only has immunity if they jump through several hoops, including training employees in the use of the devices and monthly checks of the equipment for good working order, and developing a written plan for their use. Failure to jump through every hoop loses the store owner immunity and exposes them to liability. Of course, standing there and watching the customer die exposes the store owner to no liability at all. Given his legal environment, many business owners rationally choose to not buy defibrillators.

Now for some quick links:

Natasha Ball reviews a kid- and parent-friendly cafe recently opened in Owasso.

Tulsa Food Blog suggests you pick up a cup of coffee from a locally owned coffeehouse on your way to see the spectacular Christmas light display at the Rhema campus in Broken Arrow. In the comments, I pointed out that Stonewood Coffee and Tea Company is just a mile or so from Rhema, on the east side of 161st East Ave (Elm Pl), just north of the Broken Arrow Expressway.

Steven Roemerman says that the T in Bartlett stands for Totally Inept (twice), particularly when it comes to river development in Tulsa, referring to the December 3 open letter from Jerry Gordon, who developed the Jenks Riverwalk and apparently was working on a similar plan for city-owned land in Tulsa. You can see a sketch of Gordon's concept (named "Belt Street River District) at the bottom of his website's Projects page. (The sketch is via Nick Roberts, who was unimpressed.)

Man of the West has an extended quote from Bones of Contention about Rudolf Virchow, a renowned late 19th c. German anthropologist and the father of the science of pathology, and his diagnosis that the first Neanderthal skeleton was that of a victim of rickets.

Preserve Midtown believes that timely code enforcement with meaningful penalties would prevent wasteful demolition of neglected older homes. When an irresponsible owner allows a house to fall to pieces, the city winds up condemning and demolishing it at taxpayer expense and the basis for ad valorem tax drops to the value of the bare ground. If demolition is unavoidable, Preserve Midtown suggests giving an opportunity to salvage architectural elements and materials (e.g. hardwood flooring, bathroom fixtures) that would otherwise go to the landfill. I'm reminded of a suggestion Recycle Michael Patton made some years ago -- charge those seeking a demolition permit for the full cost of disposing of the debris.

Mike McCarville is keeping up with developments as Oklahoma's newly elected officials and new legislative leaders name their teams. A recent entry lists the members of the Senate Redistricting Committee named by Senate President Pro Tempore-designate Brian Bingman. Sen. Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) will be the point man for northeast Oklahoma, freshman Sen. Kim David (R-Wagoner) will head up the congressional redistricting committee, and Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre (D-Tulsa) will be one of the co-vice chairmen representing the Democrat minority.

Stan Geiger came across his mother's 1952 tax return and crunches some numbers that illustrate the huge rise in the Social Security tax rate. He says there his mom has more documents from that period that he may analyze; I hope he will. I can't think of anything better than original documents from the past to put the present in proper perspective.

Nick Roberts has posted his wishlist for central Oklahoma City development in the coming year. The blog entry packs some great urban analysis. It's sad to read how OKC is squandering the Core2Shore opportunity with superblocks (which never work) and poor placement of the convention center. He's also worried about development stalling in Bricktown and the city's failure to follow through on plans to promote downtown housing growth. (I don't appreciate his frequent call for OKCers with bad urban planning ideas to be sent to Tulsa. We don't need them here either!)

On GetRightOK, Jason Carini reports on a bill from Sapulpa State Sen. Brian Bingman to authorize a toll road connecting I-44 near 49th West Ave to the L. L. Tisdale Expressway. The bill is SB 1764, and it adds the incomplete Gilcrease Expressway route, first sketched in 1956 (and then known as the Sequoyah Loop), to the list, in Title 69, Section 1705, of 34 routes and exits which the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is authorized to build. The OTA is required to fund any new routes or exits from its own funds, generated by the tolls it charges.

Of those 34 projects, most have already been built, some are duplicates, and others are unlikely to be feasible anytime soon. OTA wouldn't exercise its authority to build a new turnpike unless sufficient revenues would be generated to pay back the bonds and maintain its bond rating.

I suspect the main purpose of this bill it to permit the use of tolls to finance the most expensive part of completing the Gilcrease route, the bridge over the Arkansas River. Most of the Gilcrease route west of the airport has been funded by Tulsa citizens through the 3rd Penny sales tax.

The route is designated Oklahoma Highway 11 from I-244 near Memorial west to US 75, where it joins 75 north to 36th St. North, then jogs west to Peoria Ave. on its way to Sperry and Skiatook. (Long term, I think the intention was to route Highway 11 on the Gilcrease to the L. L. Tisdale (née;e Osage) Expressway, and then north on that route to Skiatook. I'm not aware of plans to give the unfinished western segment of the loop a highway number. I suspect the city would create a sign for the road similar to that used for the L. L. Tisdale Expressway. (But if the OTA funds it, they'd probably follow the pattern of the barely-legible-at-highway-speeds signs used on the Creek, Muskogee, and Kirkpatrick Turnpikes.)

Several videos of the mishap at Tulsa's July 4, 2009, fireworks show have been uploaded to YouTube; I've posted three of them after the jump. Here's KOTV's story on what happened:

"What happened was a mortar that went off - exploded either really close to its container, or inside its container, and caused a fire on the trailer, burning over into another trailer nearby," said Captain Michael Baker of the Tulsa Fire Department.

The blaze melted the electronics needed to control the fireworks show. No one was injured as a result of the explosion.

An entire trailer devoted to the grand finale, filled with 1,000 shells, had to be dismantled.

(Here's a link to Irritated Tulsan's incisive analysis of the fiasco and his "mommy-blog quality" photos of the sunset earlier that evening.)

Click through to see those videos.

There's an exciting lakeside community planned for Oklahoma, unlike anything in the state, but hopefully a model for many more to come. New urbanist city planner Andres Duany has been hired by former Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphries to plan Carlton Landing on 1600 acres beside Lake Eufaula. The result of a design charrette -- a kind of brainstorming session -- was presented earlier this week in Oklahoma City.

Duany planned the Gulf Coast town of Seaside, Fla., turning that tiny piece of the Redneck Riviera into a popular resort town and generating similar developments all along that stretch of the Florida Panhandle's shore.

As Seaside was, Carlton Landing is family-owned land that has never been developed.

Instead of the usual resort community pattern of only residences along winding roads, Carlton Landing will have a heart, right on the shore, with shops, dining, recreation facilities, and even a chapel. The 1600 acres will be home to about 2500 people -- not high density, but more dense than a typical lakeside development. Duany has almost complete freedom to set design and development standards -- there are no existing land use rules to work around.

From a fleeting glimpse of a map in this slideshow from the charrette (about 2:14 into the video), it appears the Carlton Landing property is centered around the marker on this map:

View Larger Map

I've had my differences with Kirk Humphries, but I admire him for doing something different and daring with this land. Instead of, say, asking taxpayers to spend $600 million create a vibrant community out of the middle of a river, he's making it happen with his own money and land. A couple of years ago I suggested that the folks behind the Channels could do the same thing right here in Tulsa:

Tulsa Stakeholders, Inc., (TSI), the group led by John-Kelly Warren of the Warren Foundation which is proposing The Channels development, has a commendable desire to create a thriving, pedestrian-friendly urban place in Tulsa. So instead of asking the taxpayers to spend $600 million to build three tiny islands on which a walkable community can be built, why doesn't TSI create or restore a walkable community on land that already exists, and thus encourage the creation of this kind of neighborhood all over Tulsa?

(It may be cheeky for me to tell TSI what to do with their money, but since they're telling us taxpayers what we should do with ours, turnabout is fair play.)

TSI could demonstrate that traditional neighborhood development will succeed, even in car-bound Tulsa. They could use their deep pockets and risk tolerance to blaze a trail for more risk-averse conventional developers.

Building a traditional mixed-use neighborhood on taxpayer-subsidized islands would send the message that such developments are too fragile to survive in the free market.

Building or restoring the same kind of neighborhood with private money on private land would set an example that other developers could follow with confidence.

There are many opportunities for TSI to do pioneering work in this area. They could build a New Urbanist community on undeveloped land somewhere in the metro area. They could incorporate walkability and mixed use into the Warren Foundation's own developments (e.g. the Montereau retirement community).

TSI could do some of the exciting infill development recommended by the East Tulsa Community Plan (, helping to knit together a lively international district and creating a walkable center for a vast swath of car-bound suburbia.

Perhaps the most strategic investment TSI could make would be in the Pearl District (aka the 6th Street Corridor); on the charitable side, its assistance could fund implementation of the stormwater project for the three-square-mile Elm Creek basin.

This would take land out of the floodplain, making restoration and infill practical. Full public funding for the plan--about $35 million to create stormwater detention ponds and to link one of them to Centennial Park by a canal--is at least a decade away.

Fixing Elm Creek not only helps 6th Street, but it would improve drainage in the Gunboat Park and 18th and Boston areas. (Elm Creek flows underground through both neighborhoods, emptying into the Arkansas River at 21st Street.)

On the private side, it could set an example for other developers by doing some quality infill development and restoration in accordance with the Pearl District Infill Plan ( No need to use condemnation to assemble vast tracts of land--restore some existing buildings to their former glory, or build new brownstones on already vacant lots.

TSI's leadership would make it safe, maybe even fashionable, for other investors to get involved in the district and to create walkable places in other parts of the metro area.

The revival of the Pearl District would strategically patch a hole in Tulsa's original urban fabric, reconnecting centers of activity--downtown, Cherry Street, Kendall-Whittier, TU, and the Utica medical corridor--which are quite close to each other but which now seem miles apart. And it would make it possible for more Tulsans to make walking a part of daily life, not a specially scheduled activity.

Through private action to create or restore a walkable neighborhood, TSI would send the message, "Come on in, the water's fine," to Tulsa's developers. It might not be as splashy as islands in the river, but such a project would create ripples that would spread far beyond the riverbank, making all parts of our metro area healthier, livelier, and more attractive as a place to live, work, and play.

"There's no Plan B. River development is over." -- County Commissioner Randi Miller, October 10, 2007

"Six Companies vie for Arkansas River Projects"
-- Tulsa World, March 13, 2008, p. A-8

Thursday's story notes that $9.5 million from the Vision 2025 sales tax and $650,000 from Four to Fix the County 2006 are available for dam work and reports a cost estimate of $30 million per dam. (That number keeps getting bigger. It was $27.5 million during the river tax campaign.) The bids are for pre-construction work; presumably the pre-construction work will lead to a more concrete, itemized estimate of costs for the actual dam construction.

The Whirled's slant on this issue is evident in the second paragraph of the story:

In December, county commissioner chose to move forward with the permitting, design and engineering work despite an October vote in which county residents rejected a $282 million plan to build the dams, which are proposed for Jenks and Sand Springs, and to modify Zink Dam.

First of all, it wasn't a plan on the ballot. It was a county sales tax increase, and the voters rejected that tax increase. Second, it would be more accurate to say, "a $282 million tax, $68 million of which would have paid for the two new dams and improvements to Zink Dam"

Also in yesterday's paper, on p. A-11, we learn that the least tern nesting islands are being rebuilt, the kayaking run near the PSO plant is being improved, and junk and debris are being removed from the river. All these improvements are happening without the passage of a new sales tax. Some of the funds are coming from private companies, some from a fine paid by the Sinclair refinery. County crews are doing the work on the island -- presumably the workers were already drawing a county paycheck -- it appears its being handled within existing budgets.

It's amazing how the constraint of a budget can inspire creative ways to get things done.

During the late campaign for a Tulsa County sales tax increase to pay for river projects, we were often told by the tax increase's proponents about the low-water dams that Oklahoma City funded with its MAPS tax, and how this investment had brought jobs in the form of a Dell Computers call center. I've read about plans to run a water taxi service from the hotel cluster at Meridian Ave. to near downtown along the river.

I was in OKC this past Saturday morning for the Oklahoma Republican Party executive committee meeting and afterwards decided to have a closer look at their river, the North Canadian, aka the Oklahoma River.

The Oklahoma River, looking east from Exchange Ave. in Oklahoma City,100_5959This picture was taken from beneath the south end of the Exchange Ave. bridge looking east. Clicking the photo will take you to a set of seven pictures, all taken from the south bank of the river between Penn and Exchange.

Despite the fact that it was in the 70s and sunny and about 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday, I encountered only about eight other people using the trails. I read that there was a boat parade that evening, but I can't imagine where they had enough water to float a boat.

Anyone have an explanation for this?

Last week I wrote a primer on tax increment financing (TIF) districts. My column in this week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is the advanced course: TIF districts as applied to Jenks' proposed billion-dollar River District development and a Branson Landing-type development on Tulsa's west bank. You can read all about the speed with which Jenks officials have moved forward with its latest TIF district, the complaints from the Jenks school district, how the City of Jenks has designed the River District TIF plan to put the financial risk on the developer, the lengthy process for TIF review established by Mayor Taylor's administration, and how the City Council can bypass it, if they choose.

Also in this issue, Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry responds to my October 25-31 column outlining a way to move forward on river development following the defeat of the Perry-endorsed county sales tax increase, and praising the Tulsa City Council for taking the first steps in that direction. Perry objects to my final paragraph:

There is a positive, constructive path for making our river happen without raising taxes. Here's hoping the Mayor and County Commissioners follow the City Council down that path.

Perry's op-ed begins:

In a recent edition of the Urban Tulsa Weekly, after the Tulsa City Council passed a resolution supporting river development, (OpEd writer) Michael Bates stated that the County Commission and Tulsa Mayor should follow the lead of the City Council as it relates to working to put a similar high quality development in Tulsa. ( ) This is amusing when one knows the facts.

I've responded to Perry in detail in my column in the issue that will be out on Thursday, but I did post a comment to his op-ed noting that he seems to have overlooked a key point:

There's plenty to rebut here, but I'll just point out Commissioner Perry missed a key phrase in the column about which he complains. I said (emphasis added), "There is a positive, constructive path for making our river happen WITHOUT RAISING TAXES. Here's hoping the Mayor and County Commissioners follow the City Council down that path." With its resolution, the City Council moved publicly in that direction. I haven't seen any public action on the river by the County Commission since the election, much less anything that would suggest they are proceeding with engineering on the dams or getting a handle on their Vision 2025 finances, as I suggested in my column. Regarding the surplus Vision 2025 funds, Commissioner Perry might want to check back in with his bond adviser for some updated numbers.

WRDA veto overridden

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The U. S. Senate voted 79-14 this morning to override President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (HR 1495). The bill becomes law; the House voted Tuesday to override, 361-54.

The fourteen brave souls who voted against the override comprise 12 Republicans and 2 Democrats, including our own Tom Coburn: Allard (R-CO), Brownback (R-KS), Burr (R-NC), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Feingold (D-WI), Gregg (R-NH), Kyl (R-AZ), McCaskill (D-MO), McConnell (R-KY), Sessions (R-AL), Sununu (R-NH).

Of the seven Senators not voting, five are presidential candidates: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden, and Republican John McCain. (Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Jim Bunning of Kentucky were the other two.)

The bill includes a $50 million authorization for Arkansas River corridor projects related to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan:


(a) In General- The Secretary is authorized to participate in the ecosystem restoration, recreation, and flood damage reduction components of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan dated October 2005. The Secretary shall coordinate with appropriate representatives in the vicinity of Tulsa, Oklahoma, including representatives of Tulsa County and surrounding communities and the Indian Nations Council of Governments.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated $50,000,000 to carry out this section.

Club for Growth wanted to see the veto sustained and will make this vote part of its congressional scorecard. The bill came out of conference committee 60% bigger than either of the original House or Senate versions, and the Heritage Foundation called the bill "a prime example of legislation run amok."

RELATED: Andrew Roth of the Club for Growth, writing at National Review Online, debunks the top lame congressional excuses for pork barrel spending:

  • "I know my district better than some unelected bureaucrat!"
  • "Earmarks don't increase spending."
  • "It's for the children!"
  • "I'm fighting to get our fair share!"

TIF 101

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My latest Urban Tulsa Weekly column, in the November 1-7 issue (the adoption issue), is a primer on tax increment financing (TIF) districts. There's a lot of debate about the topic in Jenks and talk about using a TIF district in Tulsa to enable west bank commercial development, and people seem to confuse TIF districts with tax abatements and other economic development tools. It's a bit dry, but I had fun writing the opening. For the rest of it, I tried to stick to a simple explanation of the facts -- answering questions like where Tulsa's TIF districts are and when they expire, and what state law governs the creation and operation of TIF districts. (The next issue, out Wednesday, will have a follow-up column dealing specifically with the controversy over the proposed River District TIF district in Jenks and how a Tulsa west bank TIF district might work.)

Also in the current issue, Brian Ervin has several great articles, including one about the owner of Mexico Lindo restaurants, who says he's an unwilling plaintiff in the lawsuit against H. B. 1804, Oklahoma's new immigration enforcement law. Brian was interviewed last Wednesday on KFAQ Mornings. (You can download the MP3 of Brian Ervin's interview here.)

This struck me as strange. Maybe this was unintentional, maybe not. You be the judge.

There's a shift in the way the Tulsa World refers to the potential commercial development on the west bank of the Arkansas River at 21st Street.

Prior to the October 9 Tulsa County sales tax election, the paper consistently connected the proposed west bank development to Branson Landing, the retail development on the shores of Lake Taneycomo in downtown Branson, Missouri, and mentioned developer Rick Huffman by name. After the election, the development has been mentioned a few times, but without any reference to Huffman and only one to Branson Landing. After the jump, you'll find examples of what I'm talking about.

An edited version of this column appeared in the October 17, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is not available online. Posted online October 6, 2017.

Why no

By Michael D. Bates

Every aeronautical engineering student is taught that given enough thrust, you can make a brick fly. You need a lot less thrust, of course, to power an airframe that's tapered and streamlined, designed for moving efficiently through the air, designed to make the best use of the forces acting upon it.

The proponents of the Tulsa County sales tax for river projects had an opportunity this summer to develop an approach to Arkansas River development, using existing revenues and resources, that could have glided easily on the prevailing winds of public opinion.

Instead, they engineered a brick and tried to shove it aloft with a $1.3 million campaign budget and plenty of free exposure in the daily paper and on local television. As much financial thrust as they had at their disposal, it wasn't enough to put this clunker of a plan in the air and keep it there.

With a 6,286-vote, five-percentage-point margin, it would be tempting for the vote yes folks to second-guess all their decisions and imagine that they could have won a narrow victory if only they had handled some aspect of the media campaign differently.

$1.3 million is record-setting for a local sales tax vote, and the Our River Yes campaign out-raised No River Tax by better than 100 to one.

And who can put a value on page after page of news stories and editorials touting the tax increase in the daily paper?

The yes campaign used the financial advantage exactly the way they should have. They took polls and convened focus groups to shape their message in the most appealing way possible. The information gleaned from voter research went into slickly produced TV ads featuring cute kids and senior citizens and countless four-color postcards and magazines mailed out to Tulsa County voters. They used phone surveys to identify their supporters and made sure their supporters got to the polls.

To prevent the opposition from getting an earned-media boost, the Our River Yes people successfully avoided having even one televised debate. Public meetings were referred to as "informational meetings" at which rebuttals were not permitted.

For all the money they spent trying to manipulate our emotions, the Our River Yes campaign did almost nothing to explain to voters exactly what we were voting on. They have only themselves to blame if some voters believed the plan included high-rises on islands in the river.

Here's what $1.3 million bought:

Before the campaign began, a poll showed that 52.2% opposed a sales tax increase for river projects.

On election day, 52.5% voted against the tax increase.

Evidently, a lot of voters made their decision as soon as they heard the words "sales tax increase for river projects." The same July poll shows river development as a low priority - desirable, sure, but not worth a tax increase, not when crime and streets need so much attention.

Not to say I told you so, but back in the August 2-9 issue, I wrote,

"The commissioners will almost certainly vote Thursday to schedule an October 9 election. Supporters of the new tax will pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into a slick PR campaign, confident that they can get the majority of votes they need, even at the cost of feeding public cynicism by brazenly asking citizens to tax themselves twice for the same projects. Those who prefer an alternative funding approach for river improvements will be dismissed as anti-river, anti-progress, anti-Tulsa.

"The same old playbook may work again, but the antagonism of officials and residents in the county's second largest city and the booming northern suburbs changes the political calculus. We will go through a contentious 60 days, tax promoters will spend a fortune, political capital will be squandered, and in the end the county commissioners may find themselves back at square one, finding a way to finance river projects without a new sales tax."

In saying that this tax proposal was fatally flawed, I don't want to minimize the importance of the formal opposition. The presence of credible opposition voices provided affirmation to voters that their gut instincts against the tax were reasonable.

We should particularly acknowledge the courage of the elected officials who stood against the tax increase, aware that their opposition could draw well-financed retribution at their next re-election bid.

Four years ago, only two elected officials in the entire county were willing to identify themselves publicly as opponents of Vision 2025 - State Sen. Randy Brogdon and Glenpool Councilor Keith Robinson. A combination of political pressure and pork barrel promises kept everyone else in line.

This time around Brogdon was joined by Tulsa city councilors Jack Henderson, Roscoe Turner, and John Eagleton, and the entire political establishment of Broken Arrow - the mayor, city council, chamber of commerce, and school board - standing up for the basic needs of their constituents. County Assessor Ken Yazel showed true grit, braving the disapproval of his county courthouse colleagues by speaking his mind against a new county sales tax.

New to politics, Ted and Andrea Darr provided an internet home base for the opposition, shattering the myth of young professional unanimity in support of the tax.

Even the oft-derided yard signs mattered, assuring skeptical voters that many of their neighbors shared their doubts.

The vote yes campaign handed the opposition several gifts.

The first was the stubborn refusal of County Commissioner Randi Miller and other officials to acknowledge two indisputable facts, obvious to anyone who bothered to look up the relevant documents: That the two new low-water dams and modifications to Zink Dam were included in Vision 2025, and that most of the project money in this package was going to projects not included in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.

What if, instead, proponents had said up front, "We guessed wrong about how much new dams would cost, we were wrong about the prospects for federal funds, no one was minding the store when the cost of the arena spiraled out of control and we spent the overage money we had planned to use on the dams on the arena instead, and it's easier to ask you for more tax money than it is to reorganize our priorities to get the dams built as promised"? What if they'd admitted that the proposal included several major items that hadn't been vetted through the master plan review process?

Such an admission would have raised other uncomfortable issues, but it might have reduced the impact of the trust issue. At least it would have been honest.

It didn't help the vote yes campaign that Tulsa County voters had a dramatic reminder of poor judgment on the part of Miller and other county officials: Despite beautiful weather nearly every day, the Tulsa State Fair dropped in attendance and midway receipts, due in large part to Miller's push to evict Bell's Amusement Park the previous fall.

With Bell's gone, those who came to the fair had less reason to stick around and spend money, and less reason to come back for a second visit. If fairgoers hadn't planned to boycott the Murphy Bros. midway already, several injuries on Murphy rides persuaded many to stay away.

(Why would Miller et al. grant a 10 year midway lease to a company that has all its rides on wheels, while putting a family-owned local business with millions invested in permanent structures, a 51-year-tenant of the fairgrounds, on the equivalent of a month-to-month lease?)

The vote yes campaign got caught in a couple of other fibs. There was the TV ad featuring the old fellow with the Walter Cronkite mustache, who told us, "Streets to the river will be improved, the first step in a street improvement program." That assertion was easy pickings for a Fox 23 News "Truth Test" feature that aired two nights before the election, labeling the claim false.

Perhaps the biggest gift the over-funded proponents gave to the opposition was the misleading postcard sent to Broken Arrow voters, featuring an artist's conception labeled "Broken Arrow Riverfront," a project for which no funds were included in the package on the October 9 ballot. Broken Arrow leaders held a press conference the day before the election denouncing the deception. KOTV viewers heard Randi Miller say that the picture wasn't misleading "because it not once says that this is what is going to happen."

OK... next tax election, expect to see flying cars in the campaign sketches.

The next day motivated Broken Arrow voters turned out in droves to vote down the tax by a two-to-one margin.

We're told that that mail piece was the work of AH Strategies, run by Republican consultants Fount Holland and Karl Ahlgren. (Remember those names. You'll likely hear them again as the state ethics commission probes Republican campaign fund transfers.) AH Strategies was responsible for the misleading mail pieces smearing District Attorney Tim Harris in his contentious 2006 Republican primary race against attorney Brett Swab.

There was collateral damage: INCOG burned a good deal of the credibility the regional planning agency had earned from the careful way it developed the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and the thorough approach it took last year to reviewing "The Channels" proposal for inclusion in the ARCMP. Instead of remaining an honest broker, its leaders were coopted to blur the distinction between the ARCMP and the proposal on the ballot.

TYpros, the Astroturf young professionals organization controlled by the Tulsa Metro Chamber, threw itself under the vote yes bus, alienating many of its members and projecting an image of young professionals as whiny, bored children demanding that daddy and mommy give them a pretty new plaything. (We've met enough entrepreneurial YPs who are busy "making their own cool" - to borrow a phrase from Jamie Pierson - that we know the TYpros' attitude isn't typical of the demographic.)

Bruce Plante, the daily paper's brand new editorial cartoonist, must be wondering what the heck he's gotten himself into. In two of his first four cartoons he was directed to depict no voters as brainless troglodytes, insulting what turns out to be a majority of his potential readers.

I was hopeful that new leadership at the Chamber plus George Kaiser's involvement would mean a different tone to this campaign, but that hope was disappointed.

The most damaging effect of this campaign is that, in the process of trying to persuade voters that the county's sales tax increase was the only way to make something good happen on our riverfront, many of our elected leaders drank deeply of their own Kool-Aid.

Miller said after the election, "There is no plan B. River development is over." Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor said that Tulsans didn't want river development, and she was moving on to other priorities.

Happily, after a few days of cooling off, there seems to be some willingness by the tax proponents to work with tax opponents to do what could have been done two months and $1.3 million ago: Move ahead with a City of Tulsa TIF to acquire land for west bank development and with engineering and permitting on the low-water dams and Zink Dam improvements approved in Vision 2025.

I'm hoping that the City Council will act either this week or next to pass a resolution requesting that the Taylor administration start the process for establishing a west bank TIF district, giving Tulsa the same tool that Jenks and Bixby are using to assist riverfront development.

Next week, a look at what went right during the river tax campaign, and how we move forward from here.

You may have missed this, as did I when it first aired last Wednesday: A KOTV story which looked at polling data from a week before the election to explain why the Tulsa County river sales tax increase failed at the polls. There's a snapshot showing the reasons given by people who said they oppose the tax:

29% no more taxes
23% other priorities / fix streets
34% private donors should pay for all of it
10% no confidence vote

The story quotes Oklahoma City-based pollster Bill Shapard:

But the way that got spun by the no side was, if he's going to put up all that money, George Kaiser, why doesn't he just pay for all of it. And so while I think George Kaiser and his generosity was the greatest asset for the yes campaign, it also became their greatest liability.

I don't know of anyone on the no side who "spun" that, much less spent much time talking about the pledges by Kaiser and others. I may be wrong, but I don't recall seeing anything on the No River Tax website along those lines. My take on the pledges was that $282 million was a lot to spend for a free gift. The donors have a right to decide to whom, for what, and under what conditions they spend their money, but the voters needed to focus on the tax they were being asked to pay and the projects it would pay for.

It did surprise me how many people volunteered to me an opinion similar to that poll result. Most often it took the form, "If they're going to give that money, why not use the money to pay for the dams instead of these 'gathering places'?" Almost always the idea was "the dams instead of the parks" rather than "the dams and the parks."

I'd be curious to know exactly how the question was asked and how the results were tabulated, as that can make all the difference. Were voters allowed to give more than one reason for voting no, or were they asked to give the most important reason? Were voters given a list of reasons to pick from, or was it an open question, and if it was an open question, how were the responses categorized? Would "donors should pay for the dams instead of the parks" be classified as essentially the same answer as "donors should pay for the dams and the parks"?

Because of a job-related day trip, I'm postponing my weekly visit with Gwen and Chris on 1170 KFAQ until Wednesday morning.

A couple of different young professionals sent me this e-mail, which they received late last week from TYpros, the Astroturf YP group created by and for the Tulsa Metro Chamber. One wrote, "Honestly, this letter (and its leadership team's public homogenization of the TYPros membership into a monolith of river tax supporters) has me considering leaving TYPros." Another wrote, "I had lent my support to TYPROS in the early days, but ever since their support of the River tax I've lost my faith in them as an agent of change."

At first, I didn't see what bothered them so much about this e-mail. It's encouraging people who might have been disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday's election not to be hyperdramatic about it, but to stay involved.

But there is an undertone which undercuts that sensible message -- "The 4,000+ members in Tulsa's Young Professionals bear a heavy burden." Please.

It's easy to understand why older generations become so cynical.

After Tuesday's vote, it's easy to become disenchanted, disheartened, and frankly, disgusted. It's easy to trash-talk the opposition or vow to learn how someone voted before having lunch with him or her. It's easy to spout off promises to flee the community for more progressive and yp-friendly cities and regions.

It's easy to quit.

It's much, much harder to shake it off and decide where we go from here.

To survive and thrive in the future, developing our community to attract and retain young, talented workers and new college graduates must become everyone's business. The 4,000+ members in Tulsa's Young Professionals bear a heavy burden and the result of Tuesday's vote makes our job even more difficult. My company, your company, North Tulsa, South Tulsa, East or West, suburbs or downtown, all depends on us to be here in the future.

Young people are the future growth of our region. High school students today are deciding where they want to live tomorrow. College graduates decide where they want to live before they find a job.

Some people get it. Some people don't.

George Kaiser gets it. We applaud his courage, conviction and generosity.

So, our message is this. From young professionals to one slightly more seasoned professional: Mr. Kaiser...we won't give up if you don't give up on us.


Tulsa's Young Professionals

UPDATE: There are some good comments posted below, but two in particular worth spotlighting:

From Jeff Shaw:

That reads like an email from 14 year old girl. :)

And from Jason Kearney:

TYPROS. Please. A bunch of morons if they still don't understand. Many of them are single, making more money than they know what to do with. They don't care how much money they pay in taxes, because they don't have enough to spend their money on now. They are too immature to realize that people can have differences of opinion. It has to be about who "gets it" and who doesn't. Give me a break.

I hope they are watching the local news, and seeing that they were duped by the chamber, the mayor, and the county commission. River development continues, but the right way, with private investments, not taxpayer money.

Too tired and too busy with family stuff tonight to do anything more than point you to some articles about Tuesday's defeat of the Tulsa County sales tax proposal.

Justin Juozapavicius, the Associated Press correspondent for Tulsa and a former Tulsa World reporter, filed a report on the tax defeat that had an air of hopelessness about it.

For supporters, Tuesday's "no" vote meant another missed development opportunity for Tulsa, while other cities such as Memphis, Tenn., San Antonio and Kansas City, Mo., continue to profit from their waterfront projects.

Oklahoma City voters also recognized the potential years ago, approving an initiative that turned an aging warehouse district into Bricktown, the city's nightlife and entertainment hub, complete with a mile-long pedestrian canal.

While the reporter did speak to two opposition leaders, Tulsa City Council Chairman Roscoe Turner and Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb, the story overlooks the opportunities to move forward on river development. It also incorrectly summarizes what was on the ballot:

Both were contingent on the passage of the 0.4-cent tax increase that would have paid for low-water dams, land acquisition, pedestrian bridges and habitat improvements along 42 miles of the river from Keystone Dam to the city of Jenks.

While the improvements would have indeed stopped at Jenks, the 42 miles includes Bixby and Broken Arrow, neither of which would have seen any of the listed improvements had the tax passed.

At first I was upset with Mr. Juozapavicius for filing a story that preached doom and gloom about Tulsa, but a large share of the blame belongs to the officials he quoted in the story. What do you think?

Meanwhile in Jenks, Jerry Gordon, who used his own money to build RiverWalk Crossing, is proposing that he and other developers who would benefit from a low-water dam to pony up and pay for it themselves.

But in south Tulsa, where an estimated $100 million in riverfront development has risen up over the last four years, much of it without public support, a small group of Tulsa-area investors may attempt what Tuesday's election failed to accomplish - fund a south Tulsa dam across the Arkansas River.

Such efforts could face huge permitting hurdles beyond the projected $25 million-plus cost, especially if the private forces tried to proceed without governmental support. But Gordon, the maverick entrepreneur who opened RiverWalk Crossing in 2005, believes other business and civic leaders like himself, with vested interests in growing south Tulsa commerce, could and should cough up the funds necessary for building the dam so vital to maintaining water in the river.

In fact, he's already started quiet discussions with a few key associates to accomplish just that.

"We're going to float our own boat," the 25-year industry veteran said Wednesday, even with the start of primary construction on RiverWalk's second phase just three weeks away....

Gordon would not discuss who may be involved in his efforts. But he used for his inspiration the $117 million that private donors had promised to spend on river trails and parks projects if the vote had passed.

"We'll find a way to do it if you keep the politics out of it," the 48-year-old said. "This really is a city deal, not a county deal. We've thought all along this should be the way it's done."

His initiative would follow Indian Nations Council of Governments' proposal for a south Tulsa dam to maximize the potential of King's Landing, RiverWalk and other commercial developments that have already sprung up. Under his idealistic plan, the dam would be paid for by those who would profit by it.

Jerry Gordon deserves three cheers for clear thinking and initiative.

The story also notes that the Branson Landing folks are still interested in moving forward with their development if they can get the assistance they say they need for land acquisition and site preparation. Perhaps they should speak to Jerry Gordon to see how things can get done.

There's an interesting detail in the beginning of the story which illustrates a suggestion I've made several times:

"Many people told me I was crazy to use such expensive stonework on this, but I didn't care," he said, explaining how, as a private homebuilder, developer and contractor with no partners, using his own funds, he didn't need to worry about targeted returns on investment. "It's the project that's most important to me. If I know I'm going to make a profit, and I know what I'm going to do, that's fine."

That willingness to accept and embrace lower profit margins may explain much about how he hopes to succeed where Tulsa's river tax supporters fell short.

Because he was using his own money and wasn't dependent on partners, he could decide to spend more money on the quality of the materials, and he could step out with an idea like RiverWalk Crossing and just get it done when everyone else said it couldn't be done without public subsidy.

Someone like George Kaiser or John Kelly Warren has the ability to tolerate financial risk. That risk tolerance makes it possible for someone like that to build a commercial development along the river that is innovative, daring, and unusual. Or they could fund redevelopment in the Pearl District or downtown. They could build projects that a conventional lender would never finance.

Tulsa County citizens win

| | Comments (21)

Thanks to Tulsa County voters for turning down the problematic Tulsa County river sales tax, there's now an opportunity, if elected officials are willing to take it, to put together an approach to river development that avoids the pitfalls of the proposal that the voters rejected.

It's likely, though, that after trying to convince voters that the false dilemma set up by the County Commissioners was a true dilemma, that their way was the only way to make our river happen, that they've convinced themselves as well. They're probably going to need some time to detoxify and deprogram themselves from their own propaganda.

The Tulsa City Council should start the process of establishing a west bank Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district. We can do private riverfront development in Tulsa the same way they're doing it in Jenks and Bixby.

The County Commission should announce their resolve to move ahead with engineering work and permitting on the two new low-water dams and Zink Dam modifications.

The story linked above quotes PMg environmental manager Gaylon Pinc:

"This is a turning point for Tulsa," said Pinc. "I've heard nothing but criticism from Tulsa residents about why we've done nothing with the river for 40 years. And now they say they don't want to do anything."

That's not true, Gaylon, and I think after a few days to come down from the intensity of the campaign, you'll come to recognize that this wasn't a rejection of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, but of the tax increase and the extraneous projects in this tax package.

The issue now becomes how to proceed, since securing Army Corp of Engineers permits will require completion of engineering work. But just designing the two-low water dams and the Zink dam modifications could cost $4 million, he said - almost half the funds available through Vision 2025. Doing design work on the estimated $90 million in river channel modifications would more than consume the rest.

"Do you spend it, or hold on to that money or wait until you have enough money to build it?" he said, raising the question that county and Vision 2025 leaders now face. "Do you spend all the money you have to design something you can't afford to build?"

Yes, you do, because the County Commission asked the voters four years ago if they wanted two low-water dams and improvements to Zink Lake, and they said yes. So you pursue permitting on the dams. Once the permits are granted, we'll know how much the dams will really cost, and we'll know where we stand financially -- whether Federal dollars will be available and whether Vision 2025 revenues outstrip John Piercey's projections. If it looks like we don't have enough for those three projects, that's the time for the County to come back to voters and ask for enough to finish the job, just like Oklahoma City asked for a MAPS tax extension to finish the MAPS projects.

As for the $90 million for channel modification, if Pinc and others feel that it is worthy of incorporating in the ARCMP, that concept needs to be put through a process for consideration as an amendment to the ARCMP, a matter that would be decided by the planning commission, County Commission, and City Council.

The people who were at the No River Tax watch party tonight at Sadie's aren't against river development. I feel certain that everyone there would be willing to work with the elected officials and civic leaders who supported the tax to develop a plan that moves river development forward without forcing a tax rate increase.

MORE: Ted Streuli writes in the Journal Record that Jenks will bypass Tulsa, and we're all short-sighted, just like when we rejected the aquarium. What he doesn't tell you is that the City of Tulsa park board and Mayor Susan Savage put the kibosh on a Tulsa Aquarium on the river, not the voters of Tulsa. He also doesn't seem to be aware that this was a county-wide vote.

And Bobby of Tulsa Topics cheers the victory and hands out laurels to the victors: "Tonight, I actually have a glimmer of hope for Tulsa. Instead of taking the flim flam spin of the PR Meisters hook, line, and sinker, you actually decided giving a blank check to our wondrous County Commissioners may be a less than optimal use of your tax dollars. Tulsa County voters..... I salute you!"

UPDATE: Steve Roemerman has pictures from the No River Tax watch party (raise the roof!) and explains why it's time to stick a fork in Randi Miller's political career.

UPDATE 2007/10/10, 8:00 p.m.:

Jeff Shaw draws from a personal anecdote to think about the gap between the yesses and noes yesterday:

Tonight in Tulsa, there are people living in and around the neighborhoods where the Honorable Mayor resides and other affluent areas, scratching their heads and wondering: "Exactly how did this wonderful idea of improving the river get away from us?"

I'll share with you a couple of my thoughts....

If you've ever had to send your child to Cleveland Middle School, or Gilcrease, or Monroe, or McClain, or any of their really crappy feeder schools, you might not worry too much about whether some YP will be able to kayak through the man-made fjords of the new and improved Arkansas River, built, by the way, especially for YP's.

Stan Geiger thinks this is a bigger victory than the point spread indicates:

The yes camp had to have spent over a million bucks on TV ads. The no camp ran none. The yes camp virtually owned the free airspace, too. No local station held any bilateral forums on the matter. For George Kaiser to show up in front of a camera was akin to a vampire walking in the noonday sun. Nonetheless, KOTV gave him an uncontested platform from which he preached his sermon. Hanson was allowed a solo as well. The list of public endorsers read like a who's who. And the big, daily newspaper gave itself in total to the pro-tax crowd.

In spite of all that, the measure failed. The mouse vanquished the elephant. Substance defeated style.

This is the first contested tax election I can remember where there was not even one televised debate, and even the joint appearances at community forums were billed not as debates but "informational meetings," designed to prevent one side from directly challenging the assertions of the other side.

David Schuttler has a photo essay of some of our existing river parks, pointing out that we're not doing a very good job of taking care of the "gathering places" we already have. But you can still see plenty of wildlife -- he spotted a bald eagle rather early in the season.

(And you remember correctly, David: There was a time when you could take steps up to a deck on top of the pedestrian bridge, when the bridge walkway stopped halfway across the river.)

Mad Okie has some kind words for me and (more deservedly) for the courageous elected officials who stood against the tax "for not bowing to the county and standing up and speaking up FOR their constituents."

Here's the precinct-by-precinct tally of the result from the Tulsa World. The World also has a precinct map showing where the tax passed and where it failed. It would be interesting to see a "heat map" -- indicating by depth of color the margin of support or opposition in each precinct. (I'd love to have the tools to make that kind of map myself.)

Here are some basic facts and figures and links to more information about today's election. Be sure to tune into KFAQ 1170. I'll be in studio from 6 a.m. on to talk about what the proposed Tulsa County river sales tax is and what it isn't.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The proposal is for a county-wide sales tax rate increase of 0.4 cents on the dollar, increasing the county's share of sales tax from 61/60ths (1.016666...) of a cent on each dollar to 85/60ths (1.416666...) of a cent on each dollar. The proceeds of the sales tax would be designated for river projects.

Here is a link to the text of the ballot resolution for the Tulsa County river sales tax, the signed and notarized commitment by the county to the voters regarding how the tax proceeds will be spent. As a backup, you can find the same text on the KJRH website.

The proponents of the tax have a website called
The opponents of the tax have a website called

The Arkansas River category in the BatesLine archives has what I've written about the current proposal as well as last fall's The Channels proposal.

If you have specific questions, post a comment here or e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com, and I'll add the answers to this entry.

If I don't collapse at the keyboard, I've got maybe two River-related posts left. First, this roundup of news stories and comments and then, for the late deciders, a summary of the issue and links to key pieces that I've written.

The vote yes side has dodged all televised debates on the issue. KJRH canceled the planned League of Women Voters debate. Too embarrassed to show up, I guess.

KOTV had the story tonight about Monday's press conference by Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb and other Broken Arrow leaders, denouncing the misleading postcard that the vote yes campaign sent to voters in that city. As I write this, it's still the number one story on the KOTV website. You'll recall that the vote yes postcard featured a concept drawing with the words "Broken Arrow Riverfront." The story featured what may be Randi Miller's unintentionally funniest moment:

"Do you see how that is misleading?" News On 6 reporter Emory Bryan asked Commissioner Miller.

"No, because it not once says this is what is going to happen," Miller responded.

In addition to video of the story, KOTV has web extra video -- an extended clip of their visit with Miller on this issue, and comments by Charles Buxton, head of the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce.

(From down the Turner Turnpike, Charles G. Hill had a pithy response to the bogus Broken Arrow postcard.)

Fox 23 has brief interviews with two representatives from each side, responding to questions from the TV audience. The yes side is represented by County Commissioner Randi Miller and her deputy Terry Simonson. The no side is represented by State Sen. Randy Brogdon and Dr. Warren Blakney. The last video in the series of three is a critique of one of the vote yes commercials, debunking their claim that the tax will improve the roads that lead to the river.

(While I have the chance, I plan to download all the TV spots and other video content on the "Our River Yes / Rock the River" YouTube account. You might want to do the same, using a tool like KeepVid. That'll be useful no matter which side wins tomorrow. Campaign videos have a tendency to disappear quickly.)

You can watch the two hour Tulsa Now forum on the river tax featuring financial adviser John Piercey and PMg environmental manager Gaylon Pinc on the yes side, and City Councilor John Eagleton and Colin Tawney on the no side.

While is the official opposition website, someone anonymous has set up a well-organized site called Enough Is Enough. I hesitated to link to it, because the webmaster wouldn't identify him/herself, which can sometime mean unpleasant surprises later, but it's turned out to be an attractive and colorful site explaining why this tax should be voted down.

Now, some blog comments from hither and yon:

Steve Roemerman sets forth his reasons for voting no... does Notes from Polecat Creek:

Typically, Notes From Polecat Creek is positive in its' endorsements of public works projects and the taxes needed to pay for them. However, this one is a little too grand, smacks of making a few developers and contractors very rich and doesn't seem to recognize the fact that Tulsa has a backlog of road, sewer and other less glorious projects whose last price tag was estimated to be in the near one billion dollar range in total.

Dan Paden hasn't changed his mind:

I know little of how the proposed low-water dams would work. I know little of what the Corps of Engineers has to say about the proposed river development. What I do know is that history gives me precious little reason to believe that these "investments" will pay off as promised, or that the taxes funding them will ever actually be allowed to expire.

Dan also takes issue with the claim that our improving economy can be credited to Vision 2025:

I'm not at all certain that it is so simple to sort out just why Tulsa's economy has improved. It seems to me that there are other factors involved--like an economy that is improving nationwide--improving nationwide, ironically, in large part due to tax cuts. I also seem to recall our economy improving statewide--in large part due to rising oil prices. There are other things, like certain legislative developments statewide since 2003, that make me think attributing Tulsa's improved economy to Vision 2025 isn't quite the slam-dunk [so-and-so] seems to think it is.

Anyway, Dan, John Benjamin says we're drifting and in need of a transformative event, so Vision 2025 must not be all that after all.

This is from a while back, but worth mentioning: Randi Miller's claims that the City of Tulsa has a $200 million pile of money for streets just sitting there but there aren't enough contractors to spend the money. Ken Neal had a conflicting version of that at the All Souls event, saying the problem was that the city wouldn't raise the millage soon enough to be able to sell all of the bonds that have been approved.

Mad Okie has his top 10 reasons for voting no including:

County gov't has no business collecting sales tax. As the cities grow, [counties] have less to take care of, they shouldnt be growing!

David Schuttler has restarted his blog, using WordPress, and in a photo-illustrated entry wonders whether Branson Landing is really the sort of thing we want on our riverfront because of its "disconnection with the water":

Last night I decided to take some pictures from the water side of the Landing and a few others. When you really think about it, Branson Landing would probably get the same result if it had been built in a different part of Branson.

I wondered about the same thing last December:

It was odd, though, that here was this waterfront development, and yet the water was mostly hidden from view. Only seven retail spaces--all restaurants--face the lake. The boardwalk which runs alongside the lake mainly faces the backs of shops and a service road. While having shops facing each other across a narrow street is good urban form--pedestrians feel enclosed rather than exposed--I would hope that a riverfront retail development would have more frequent vistas to the water, at least one every hundred yards (the width of a downtown Tulsa block), and that there would be retail spaces on the waterfront.

There's an Our River Yes blog, but it's perhaps more accurately described as "our river, yes, but this sales tax increase, no."

Jason Kearney explains the reasons for his no vote, reacts to the Hanson brothers' endorsement of the tax increase, and relays a bit of wisdom from (wait for it) Randi Miller:

"Under no circumstances should sales tax exceed current levels."

Asks Jason: "Ms. Miller, what happened that you changed your mind?"

Michelle predicts that if we say no, this won't be the last attempt at passing a river tax. And her husband Mark, a newly-minted blogger, has had quite a bit of his own to say about the river tax and our local government officials. Two I liked in particular:

There is Good In Our City, and
If You Really Loved Me You'd Say Yes -- will the County Commissioners respect us in the morning?

This ploy reminded me of a high school kid trying to score with his girl friend. I could've sworn I saw a football jock with his cheerleader honey in the back seat of his car..."But Honey, if you love me you'll say yes" Anybody with an ounce of life experience knows what the jock really wants. It's the same with our city; the leaders won't respect us any more than the cheerleader's "boyfriend."

Finally, Jeff Shaw provides us with our "moment of zen" in the form of a photo with an interesting juxtaposition of sign and skyline. And Jeff asks:

Which side wins? Will it be platitudes, silly unmeasurable promises, threats of drying up money and cute pictures? Or will it be facts and figures?

Here's the audio from Sunday's forum at All Souls Unitarian Church on the Tulsa County river sales tax. The panelists were, from your left, Michael Bates of Urban Tulsa Weekly, Ken Neal of the Tulsa World, Kevin Stubbs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland. Former KOTV moderator Clayton Vaughn was the moderator. The MP3 file is about 50 minutes long, about 5 MB in size.


I'll try to summarize it later. The audience, estimated at around 100, asked good questions, and the debate was substantive. A friend in the audience judged the crowd's reaction as indicative of a 50-50 split, which, if true, is amazing considering All Souls' location (in Maple Ridge near the river). I received some nice compliments afterwards from some of the members, including one lady who said I swayed her vote, had a constructive conversation about TIF districts, and was urged by a psychologist to modulate my self-assurance -- being too confident about the answers could make people push back. I agreed with him that I was a bit too aggressive at the beginning, but managed to tone it down, I think.

(Any suggestions for a way to embed an MP3 so that you could listen without downloading the whole thing first?)

John Benjamin, the former Tulsa City Councilor who left town for Bixby, the prototypical member of the Cockroach Caucus, on the wrong side of nearly every local issue (most recently pushing for the recall of Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock), has spoken out on the river tax. No surprise here; he's voting yes, evidently because all the money we spent on Vision 2025 didn't do the trick.

Fellow Tulsa County voters, greater Tulsa is drifting and needs a transformative event to trigger our resurgence. We need economic stimulus, infrastructure improvement and restoration of our sense of community and pride in our physical appearance.

I can't find where Benjamin made this argument four years ago, but plenty of other spokespeople did, and I don't recall Benjamin speaking up at the time to say that Vision 2025 wouldn't be sufficiently transformative.

Reminds me of something Randi Miller said at a Republican club meeting last month, as reported by Steve Roemerman:

One of the things I've heard her say on this and other occasions is "I wanted to do the river during Vision 2025, but we did not have a plan in place." She is admitting that she knew, in 2003, that development of the river is what was needed to spur Tulsa's growth. She knew that our real vision for Tulsa was the river, but she decided to support 2025 anyway. It was said that something had to be done, and that this was our opportunity to help Tulsa grow, and this was the tax package to do it. But now she is trying to sell us on the idea that 2025 was some how deficient and the river is the real opportunity for growth? I now hear the same rhetoric as before: something has to be done..this is our one opportunity and if we don't pass this tax Tulsa wont grow. Well excuse me if I don't buy it. If Randi knew this needed to be done in 2003, she should have shown real leadership and fought Vision 2025. I have to say it would be a much easier sell if we were not already over-burdened with the 2025 sales tax.

Benjamin gets a bit off-message in trying to minimize the cost to a typical household:

As voters we can make great strides in our river development by approving a limited seven year, 0.4 percent tax increase that each month amounts to about the price of a movie ticket for a family of four.

I think he meant to say that a family of four would sacrifice the price of a single movie ticket each month, but it comes across as, "You're going to have to cancel your monthly family movie night so you can pay for this tax." It's not as bad as that -- the family can still go, but dad will have to stay home.

I wasn't familiar with this idiom with which he starts a paragraph:

Least I mention Oklahoma City?

Anyone want to parse that for me?

Roscoe Turner, Tulsa's most believable city councilor, drills for the truth, in an open letter to bored Tulsa hipsters:

Those who believe the Tulsa metropolitan area has nothing to offer and must spend tax dollars developing the river to keep our young professionals entertained must be socially challenged. There are so many things to do in the Tulsa area that some have to plan and schedule weeks and months ahead of time to make sure they don't miss those activities in which they are most interested. But, for those nay-sayers who think there is nothing to do around here, I've pulled together the following list of great things to do in the Tulsa area:

1. Catch a TU football game at Chapman Stadium (formerly known as Skelly Stadium)

2. Check out a 66ers basketball game at the historic Fairgrounds Pavilion

3. The Tulsa Opera is going into its 60th year in Tulsa

4. The Tulsa Ballet has been declared one of the best in the world

5. The Old Lady On Brady is a great place to find a concert

6. Tulsa's floating amphitheatre usually has a movie night

7. Octoberfest

8. Mayfest

9. When was the last time you were at the Tulsa Zoo?

10. The Oklahoma Aquarium

11. Enjoy a play at Tulsa's Little Theatre

12. Don't forget Discoveryland

13. Eat fresh and buy local at the many community Farmer's Markets

14. Visit one of the area Herb Festivals

15. Shop the antique markets

16. Play a round of golf at one of the many area courses

17. Watch the Golden Hurricane play basketball at the Reynolds Center

18. Hike a trail at the Oxley Nature Center

19. Stay in shape walking or riding your bike on one of the many area trails

20. See what's happening at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

21. Try your luck at Cherokee, Creek or Osage Casinos

22. Grab a concert at the Osage event center

23. Take a trip down Route 66

24. Walk through one of the many shows at the Quik Trip Center (formerly known as the Expo building)

25. Dine, shop, or see a movie at the Riverwalk

26. There's always something to see at the Bass Pro Shop

27. Tulsa Drillers

28. Tulsa Talons

29. Tulsa Oilers

30. Gilcrease Museum

31. Philbrook Museum

32. Tulsa Air & Space Museum

33. The American Theatre Company always puts on a great production

34. What's going on at the Tulsa Convention Center?

35. And soon, very soon-or so we're told, you can see SOMETHING at the new BOK Arena

Once you've made your way through this list you can start at the top and work your way back through it. This by no means is an exhaustive list of the wonderful things there are to do in the area, but it's a great start for those who have decided that they are bored and want the rest of us to foot the bill for their entertainment. There are many hard-working people who live paycheck to paycheck; many elderly who worked their whole lives to retire on a very limited income, these people cannot afford to pay more taxes for your entertainment - especially those who live in areas of Tulsa where the city has made promises and reneged on them time and time again.

So, get out and spend some of your young professional money and generate some tax revenue, and before long we will have the money to fix the streets, open swimming pools and recreation centers at our community parks, mow the grass in all areas of the city, fix broken water lines and provide public safety by hiring more police. Then maybe, just maybe, we can take a look at doing something with YOUR RIVER.

Roscoe H. Turner

I'll add three things to Councilor Turner's excellent list -- make a point to visit the following websites, on a regular basis, to learn about even more interesting things to do and places to go around Tulsa:

Last Thursday night, I was invited to a forum for the University of Tulsa's Earth Matters group. Steve Smith, who used to run an airboat on the Arkansas River, and attorney Rania Nasreddine spoke in support of the Tulsa County river sales tax, and I spoke against, as did Dan Weber, a student and member of the group.

Dan read out several passages on the nature and ecosystem of the Arkansas River from the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arkansas River Coalition. Here are links to Dan's references, for your further reading on the issue of the proposed river projects and their impact on the creatures who live in and along the river:

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Federally Listed Threatened and Endangered Species in Oklahoma

(Threatened and endangered species that may be affected by changes to the Arkansas River include the bald eagle, the interior least tern, the piping plover, and the American burying beetle.)

The Arkansas River Coalition, which has among its goals to "[p]romote clean water and a healthy natural habitat along the river and its tributaries and [p]romote improved natural areas with a good mix of recreational space."

The Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan includes a habitat assessment in chapters 4 and 5 of the Phase II plan (note: this is a 38 MB PDF).

I've never been that interested in ecology, and have been as prone as any good right-winger to pooh-pooh the "environmentalist wackos" who hold up public works projects out of concern for some seemingly insignificant species, but I found the following quote in one of the Fish and Wildlife Service documents from Aldo Leopold. It contains a sentiment that resonates with me as a conservative and an engineer.

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

As a social conservative and an amateur student of cities, I'd say the same is true of social conventions and the urban fabric.

UPDATE: Be sure not to miss the op-ed in Saturday's Tulsa World by Jerry Brabander, field supervisor for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who writes:

The Sept. 30 Tulsa World Opinion page contained several opinion pieces and reader responses related to the proposed plan. Questions and answers presented by World staff included information related to potential impacts to river habitat, wildlife in general, least terns, eagles and river flows.

In our view, some of the answers were inaccurate. We support an organized plan for the Arkansas River that minimizes impacts to fish and wildlife resources, but the proposed plan is largely conceptual and does not include details about how impacts would be addressed, minimized and mitigated.

For example, the potential impact on the river's habitat and wildlife has not been studied extensively. The only existing fisheries study, conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, indicates that the effects of low water dams (LWD) on fish could be substantial. Building new tern nesting islands (to replace the four to six tern nesting areas that would be flooded or affected) in the created lakes would not be effective, if the terns don't have adequate forage fish to eat. Similar questions exist concerning effects on nesting and foraging bald eagles.

The proponents of the Tulsa County river sales tax are claiming that billions in private development hang upon the outcome of Tuesday's vote. Specifically, they're claiming that the $1,000 million "River District" project in Jenks, the $500 million "Tulsa Landing" project proposed for the west bank at 21st Street, and the $50 million South Village development in Bixby are all dependent on passage of the tax.

South Village is on a part of the river that won't be modified by any of the projects in this tax. The project will be the beneficiary of a $5 million rebate of sales taxes from the City of Bixby. The linked World story doesn't say, but I would assume that this is being done by means of a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district. The developer spends money for site preparation up front, then is reimbursed for those expenses by the increase in sales taxes generated within the TIF district. The linked story quotes developer Tim Remy saying that his project is not dependent on the proposed Tulsa County river sales tax.

River District in Jenks would have some frontage along the lake created by a low-water dam south of the Creek Turnpike bridge, but developer Lynn Mitchell has said that the project will go forward regardless of the outcome of the sales tax vote. The 330 acres has already been purchased. The Jenks City Council has given preliminary approval to a TIF District, and the Jenks school district, one of the key taxing bodies which must approve a TIF, has expressed its support.

Under the TIF plan, some of the increased tax revenues generated from developments within the River District would be transferred to the developer to cover approved expenses....

City Attorney Stephen Oakley said expenses qualifying for reimbursement would include floodplain and riverbank stabilization, roads, utilities and gas lines....

"I think it's the way a TIF district should be done -- it's entirely performance-based," Mitchell said. "We go in and pay for all the infrastructure out of our own pocket and then we come in and build the value up on the property by putting up buildings." ...

How will it work?: The proposed TIF district now generates about $13,000 a year in property taxes, which will continue to be collected and distributed, Oakley said.

The developer would be reimbursed from city sales tax revenues generated in the district and from increased property taxes as the development becomes more established, Oakley said. Jenks has a 3 percent city sales tax; the developer would receive one-third of that money, or one cent on every dollar of sales.

"They'll have certain items that qualify for reimbursement," Oakley said. "It's pay as you go. We're not bonding or advancing funds for any of it. It's all dependable on what the development generates out there."

That leaves the west bank development proposed by the developer that built Branson Landing, but that project isn't dependent on any of the "water in the river" projects or specifically on Tuesday's sales tax package, but on the availability of a large enough piece of contiguous land. As we've discussed, a TIF district can be used to fund land acquisition and other site preparation that would be needed for that development.

Since none of the big commercial development projects require passage of Tuesday's Tulsa County river sales tax to move forward, and in fact two of them are already moving forward, it's disingenuous for tax supporters to count any of those amounts as private investment that would be "generated" by this $282 million public "investment." Those who are including these amounts in their "private-to-public" ratio calculations in order to justify their support for a tax increase are standing on thin ice.

But what I'm really wondering about tonight is how they figure the value of these commercial projects. Riverwalk Crossing Phase I was described by leasing agent Doug Walman as a $26 million project. The proposed Tulsa Landing site, for example, is about 6 or 7 times bigger than Riverwalk Crossing, so how does that development manage to be 20 times as pricey? That's not a rhetorical question; I'd really like to know.

From a January 11 press release from then newly installed County Commissioner Fred Perry, regarding a county river authority and riverfront commercial development (emphasis added):

Perry said that he believed that public money should only be spent on infrastructure that "cleans up the river and the river bank and/or puts more water in the river and possibly other structural improvements to the river itself. If that is done, private developers and philanthropic individuals and foundations will facilitate the development as they would in any private sector endeavor."

In a related area, Commissioner Perry said, "At the suggestion of Skiatook developer Ron Howell, I visited Branson Landing last October. Shortly thereafter I met with Rick Huffman, along with Commissioner Miller and Mr. Howell, and encouraged him to seriously consider Tulsa. Subsequently he came to Tulsa, toured the river and began talks with the City of Tulsa regarding a site within the City of Tulsa. The Branson project is extremely impressive and something similar would be great for Tulsa whether or not more comprehensive river infrastructure work takes place. I stand ready to help as it relates to any potential development in Tulsa County," Perry said.

Of the funding package that Fred Perry voted to put on next Tuesday's ballot, more than $100,000,000 would going to projects that don't fit the criteria he set out in January for the appropriate use of public money: The $57.4 million site acquisition / bridge improvements / river studies / whatever fund, the two pedestrian only bridges, and the downtown connector.

The main topic of that press release was Perry's objection to the creation of a Tulsa County authority to oversee river development. Such an authority would be created if next Tuesday's vote is approved.

I made reference in this week's UTW column to the review process to which "The Channels" proposal (12-mile-long lake, islands in the river, removal of the west bank between 11th and 21st) was subjected last fall, a process that was skipped for the many projects in next Tuesday's sales tax vote that are not in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP).

Last fall when The Channels were proposed, officials set up a three-month-long process to study the proposal and consider whether it should be incorporated into the ARCMP. It was described as "an expeditious but rigid technical review."

There were several technical committees examining the impact of The Channels proposal on the ecosystem, including stormwater drainage and endangered species. In the course of the process, many new concerns came to light, issues that might have been lost in a rush to the ballot.

A fifty-member advisory committee would have decided whether to recommend The Channels for incorporation into the ARCMP. Then the matter would have been considered by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa County Commission, and the Tulsa City Council, as an amendment to the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan.

All of these steps had to be completed before the County Commission would submit a tax package for The Channels for voter approval.

INCOG had had a timeline for the review process on its website, but it's long since disappeared. I had transcribed the Channels timeline into an entry, however, so that people could look at the timeline without having to download and open a PDF.

It transpired that the timeline wasn't adequate. Advisory committees wanted questions answered, and the process of answering them took too long to meet the planned November 1 date for a TMAPC public hearing on the project.

Still, it's noteworthy and praiseworthy that there was a formal review process, and the parties involved took it seriously enough to give the process the time it required. I still don't understand why this process was skipped this time around.

At Thursday night's TU Earth Matters forum on the river tax, Kirby Crowe of PMg said I was incorrect in placing the "downtown connector" in the category of projects on next Tuesday's ballot that are not found in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP). He's right: I had overlooked this brief mention on p. 117 in section 8.4.4 (Area/Site Plan), part of section 8.4 (Zink Lake Riverfront).

Connections to Downtown: As discussed earlier in this study, the Zink Lake area has excellent proximity to downtown Tulsa. There are tremendous opportunities for natural benefits between the central business district and this key section of the riverfront. Boulder Avenue and Denver Avenue provide strong linkages between the Arkansas River and downtown Tulsa. There is also potential for a trolley that will link key downtown and riverfront attractions. Another important connection between the Zink Lake riverfront district and downtown is planned near the proposed Route 66 Center and Plaza. As illustrated in Figure 8.4-2, the planned Centennial Walk will provide a pedestrian linkage to the southwest corner of downtown Tulsa. To futher enhance the appearance of downtown at its prominent southwest corner, the Master Plan proposes the replacement of the unattractive sloped concrete wall that is adjacent to the Tulsa Regional Medical Center. By creating terraced landscape planters in this highly visible area, a much more attractive gateway to downtown Tulsa and Zink Lake is achieved.

Here's theTulsa County river sales tax ballot resolution language that refers to "connectors from downtown":

Bridging East and West Arkansas River Banks and Downtown, including but not limited to pedestrian River crossings at 41st Street and 61st Street ($30 million), and connectors from downtown Tulsa to the Arkansas River and transportation corridor studies ($15 million).

It might be most accurate to put this $15 million into the "it depends" category, like the $57.4 million for "Arkansas River corridor land acquisition, infrastructure, bridge improvements and site development, and Arkansas river studies for Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sand Springs and Bixby." "Including but not limited to" opens the door for spending the money on items that aren't in the ARCMP, and it's hard to believe that the cost of modifying the TRMC retaining wall and putting in Centennial Walk sidewalk pavers is going to approach $15 million.

Still, in the interests of accuracy, there is a brief discussion of connectors between the riverfront and downtown in the ARCMP.

We've won the argument. They're reduced to saying, "Voting yes is positive, voting no is negative. And you wouldn't want to be negative, right?"

At the TU Earth Matters forum, the vote yes side didn't bother refuting the factual points I've raised, but they dismissed them as poking holes. Anyone can poke holes in anything, they said. They even dragged out the old "N" word -- "naysayer". When you use the word "naysayer," you've given up on winning the argument, and you're treating the audience as a mindless mob that you hope to sway.

The latest TV ad -- stark black lettering on a white background -- says that Tulsa County wasn't built on "no," and that young adults prefer cities who say yes.

I don't know about that, but I know that young adult males prefer young adult females who say yes. (But only up to a point; a "girl who cain't say no" tends to be used and discarded by the men in who flit in and out of her life. Consult this book for details. And plenty of "cities who say yes" have found themselves treated in a similar way by the big companies and sports teams they've said yes to. Find 'em, fleece 'em, and forget 'em.)

Casinos prefer gamblers who say yes. Vacation timeshare salesmen prefer people who say yes to buying a week's worth of condo. Saying no cuts into their bottom line.

You have to say no to the wrong things in order to have the opportunity to say yes to the right things.

A lot of "no" went into building Tulsa County. Building a successful business, building a stable family, building institutions like churches and schools and political parties and civic clubs all require saying "no" to one's own tendencies to slothfulness and selfishness.

George Kaiser, I suspect, is a man of self-discipline and self-denial. He built his life, his family, and his business on saying "no": No to blowing off homework. No to getting drunk and sleeping through his Harvard classes. No to abandoning his wife and children for a trophy wife. No to ruinous extravagance. No to too-good-to-be true business deals. No to bad bank loans. Those are all good noes. I'd bet he's said a lot more noes (implicit or explicit) than yesses in his life. Every yes to the right thing required at least one no or maybe many noes to the wrong thing.

Tulsa County voters have very limited options on Tuesday. The County Commissioners are only allowing us to say yes to their river proposal. If we want to say yes to a different approach to financing and developing the river, we must first say no to the one on Tuesday's ballot.

Wouldn't it have been nice if they'd offered us a multiple choice?

1. TULSA COUNTY VOTE: The low-water dams -- two new, one old. (I'll take their word that the three dams work as a system.)

(A) Use the Vision 2025 money you already have to fix Zink Lake and to proceed with engineering and the permitting application on the other two dams. Once you get the permits (if you get them), you can come back and ask us for more money (assuming we don't have enough in Vision 2025 and haven't received that Federal $50 million).

(B) Raise our county sales taxes now by four-tenths of a cent for 18 months to fund the dams.

(C) Raise our county sales taxes now by that annoying 1/12th of a cent for seven years to fund the dams.

2. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: The living river and the kayaking area. (The kayaking area seems to have been lumped in with the Zink Dam modifications. It's not entirely clear.)

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to pay for these projects.

(B) Not now.

3. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: West bank land acquisition and preparation.

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to buy and prep the land.

(B) Use a TIF district (no tax rate increase) to fund buying and preparing the land.

(C) Don't do either.

4. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: 41st St bridge.

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $15 million "Cadillac" pedestrian bridge

(B) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $5 million "Chevy"
pedestrian bridge

(C) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $20 million traffic and pedestrian bridge at 41st St. (ARMCP chapter 10 estimate from 2005 was about $13 million for this kind of bridge.)

(D) None of the above.

5. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: 61st St bridge.

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $15 million "Cadillac" pedestrian bridge

(B) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $5 million "Chevy"
pedestrian bridge

(C) None of the above.

6. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: Downtown connector

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) for $15 million to explore and maybe build or maybe just study a "downtown connector," whatever the heck that is.

(B) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) for $2 million to explore and maybe build or maybe just study a "downtown connector," whatever the heck that is.

(C) None of the above.

The private donors could have then decided which of the outcomes were necessary conditions for their donations. The proponents and opponents could have presented voters with the pros and cons for each proposition.

The choices above would allow voters to say yes to some choices and no to others. I count about 78 different ways to say yes to river development, and one way to say no to everything.

The County Commissioners have once again set up a false dilemma: We can't get what we want unless they get what they want.

You want funding for research centers at our state college campuses? You want to update the convention center? You can't have either of those things, we were told four years ago, unless you vote to build an arena.

There are other ways to create the kind of places we all seem to want on the river. There are ways to "make our river happen" that don't hinder the ability of cities to finance basic public services. There are ways to "make our river happen" that don't raise tax rates.

The reason we weren't offered those alternatives is because they don't give County Commission what they want -- control of that four-tenths of a cent that Tulsa County voters approved for the Boeing 7E7 final assembly plant, a tax that never went into effect because Boeing stayed in Washington state. The county wants to tie up that money before the municipalities get hold of it.

Meanwhile, the construction companies want a plan that includes as much excavation and concrete pouring and heavy construction work as possible. A plan that just finishes the promised low-water dams doesn't accomplish that.

I can't read his mind or his heart, but I suspect Mr. Kaiser was after a plan that would build the concept developed by Bing Thom and the other consultants that were paid by his foundation, with the pedestrian bridges and the channelization of the river. A plan that only has what Tulsans seem to want most -- the low-water dams and a commercial promenade on the west bank -- doesn't accomplish his vision.

If saying no makes you a naysayer, the real naysayers in the current situation are the County Commissioners who said no to viable alternatives that were brought to their attention before they scheduled Tuesday's tax increase election. They chose to say no, not just to the alternative approaches, but no to the people who brought them forward. They chose to trust completely those people who said there's no way to make the river happen without raising county sales tax. They chose to dismiss alternatives out of hand and to turn their backs on the erstwhile supporters who offered them.

If saying no makes you a naysayer, George Kaiser is a naysayer, too. In person and through representatives, he was informed of the problems with his proposal and was offered alternative approaches that avoided those problems. He was evidently satisfied with the bargains he had struck with various officials and interest groups, so he said no to exploring the alternatives.

Credible alternatives are inconvenient to the proponents, because the existence of a credible alternative demolishes their carefully crafted false dilemma -- the illusion that the only choices are their way or not at all.

Jay Cronley asked in his column yesterday, "How will a No vote help the community or anybody in it?"

A no vote gives Tulsa County a chance to craft a river development plan that balances the desire to do something on the river with other civic needs.

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. -- Acts 17:11, NASB

The verse above describes the people of Berea, in Greece. After Paul the Apostle and his companions had been chased out of Thessalonica, they came to Berea and began preaching in the synagogue there. Rather than persecute Paul, they heard him out, and they did their own investigation to see whether the things Paul said were in the Hebrew scriptures concerning the Messiah really were there.

I saw the spirit of the Bereans at work Thursday morning in Rich Fisher, host of KWGS's Studio Tulsa.

Former street commissioner Jim Hewgley and I were in the KWGS studio yesterday morning to record a show that is airing today at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., regarding our opposition to the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects. I always enjoy being on the program. Rich is a capable interviewer, saying just enough to elicit interesting information from his guests and asking the kinds of questions an intelligent listener would ask.

Early in the program, about four minutes in, I was pointing out that most of the money in the package on next Tuesday's ballot is not in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, and that the "living river" and the 41st and 61st Street pedestrian bridges came from the work Bing Thom did for the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

Rich felt certain he had seen the pedestrian bridges in the master plan on INCOG's website. So he actually reached over and stopped the computer program that was recording us. He didn't want to put my statements on the air if he wasn't certain that they were true.

So he went to the INCOG website, went to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan page, and opened the file containing section 8 of the Phase II plan (warning -- very large PDF), which contains the nitty-gritty details. He acknowledged that I was correct, and we went on with the show.

Here's the audio from the show. You will hear the break about four minutes in, just before Rich Fisher, chuckling, says, "You've made your point." I only regret not pointing out on air what had just transpired, because listeners might think he was just getting me to move on to something else rather than conceding my point about the ARCMP.

Download StudioTulsa-20071004-16kbps.mp3

Weekend events

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Early voting ("absentee in-person") begins today. You can cast an absentee ballot Friday and Monday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver, just north of I-244. (It's in an old Safeway supermarket.) If there's any chance you might not be able to get to the polls on Tuesday, take advantage of the opportunity to cast your vote early. (See the Oklahoma State Election Board website to learn more about absentee voting in Oklahoma.

(In case you were wondering, as I was, Saturday early voting is only available for Federal elections.)

For bloggers, the Okie Blogger Roundup is Saturday, 4-6 at Hideaway Pizza on 15th Street.

Sunday morning at 10 a.m., I'll be speaking at All Souls Unitarian Church, 29th & Peoria. Other panel members will be Ken Neal, senior editor at the Tulsa World, Vic Vreeland, Mayor of Jenks, and Kevin Stubbs of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Former KOTV anchor Clayton Vaughn will be the moderator. Strictly speaking this is a church event, not a public meeting, but I suppose it would be as open to visitors as any church service would be.

Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., Johnny Rivers will be at the Tulsa State Fair singing "Secret Agent Man," "Memphis, Tennessee," and "The Poor Side of Town" among other hits.

Meanwhile on the north side of town, there will be a river tax debate and rally at Rudisill Library, just north of Pine on Hartford Ave (which is halfway between Cincinnati and Peoria).

According to the press release, City Councilors Jack Henderson and Roscoe Turner, State Sen. Randy Brogdon, Warren Blakely, and others will be speaking in opposition to the river tax. State Sen. Judy Eason-McEntyre and State Rep. Jabar Shumate will be speaking in support. The release says that Mayor Kathy Taylor and County Commissioner Randi Miller were invited to speak, but Taylor declined the honor.

There will be a vote no rally Monday at 5 p.m. at the vacant Albertson's at Pine and Peoria.

NOTE: Thursday morning, former Tulsa street commissioner Jim Hewgley and I will be on Studio Tulsa on KWGS 89.5. The show will air at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., and a podcast will be available, which I will link here.

Did you know that next week's Tulsa County sales tax vote includes money to excavate bedrock beneath a four mile stretch of the Arkansas River? That's according to a statement made by Jean Letcher, campaign manager for the pro-tax campaign.

It was on a Studio Tulsa program that aired on October 24, 2006, an interview with Canadian architect Bing Thom, that we heard the first inklings of the plan that we will be voting on next week. Thom was talking about his work for the George Kaiser Family Foundation and mentioned pedestrian bridges at 41st and 61st and "theming" the river, ideas that aren't in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, but will require most of the $282 million in the proposed Tulsa County sales tax.

When the "living river" notion was mentioned at the end of June, when the Kaiser / Thom plan was unveiled, and lobbying began to get the plan funded through county sales tax, I assumed that the $90 million "living river" -- narrowing the flow of water south of 31st Street to create a more constant stream -- would be implemented using wing dams. Steve Smith, who used to run airboat tours on the river, introduced me to the idea last September:

The river's flow can be directed and improved to create recreational opportunities--wing dams, for instance, which extend only part of the way into the river, can be used to direct the flow of the river to scour out a central channel, which is also less prone to sediment build-up because of the faster current.

Sand would build up behind the wing dams, which would create areas that could be used like many of our stormwater detention areas--a recreation space during normal conditions, but open to carry flood waters when needed.

This kind of dam, used to create a very narrow waterway near the PSO plant at 31st St. on the west bank of the river, for instance, is responsible for the existence of the Tulsa Wave, considered to be the best kayaking spot between the Rockies and the Appalachians. A wider gap between wing dams in other parts of the river would provide a tamer current for the rest of us to enjoy.

Smith's idea was to use wing dams all up and down the river, to allow navigation along its full length through Tulsa County, rather than the low-water dams that are being proposed.

At Tuesday night's Council District 2 forum on the sales tax, someone asked about the "living river" and I began to explain and describe wing dams (although I couldn't remember the term). But Jean Letcher stopped me and said I was incorrect: Wing dams would not be used for the living river.

Letcher said that a channel would be excavated into the bedrock, beneath the sand, with the idea that the water would flow into this deeper channel.

That would explain why this "living river" is the most expensive item on the ballot. I asked Letcher if core samples had been done to check the underlying geology. She said no.

I have been told that the bedrock under the river is checkerboard limestone. It's visible near the surface at the 11th Street bridge and about 1/2 mile south near the spring on the McBirney grounds. These outcrops served as natural fords for cattle and horses and, at low water, people on foot. It's buried under sand elsewhere along the river.

I've also been told, by Bill O'Brien, who has researched the history of the Arkansas River in this area, that in 1907, a chasm opened up beneath the riverbed near 61st Street. There was a noticeable drop in the river's level at Muskogee, and it was eventually discovered that some of the river was draining into this subterranean void. I assume the void eventually filled to capacity, or perhaps collapsed in on itself, and the river returned to normal.

I know that limestone is susceptible to cave formation; I don't know if this particular kind is more or less vulnerable.

Digging into bedrock opens up questions of trapped contaminants (oil seepage from decades past), breaching or modifying the water table, and changing the local ecosystem drastically. I'd have thought wing dams would have been a much less intrusive, more gradual way to accomplish the same goals.

(A 1999 study on groundwater vulnerability by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board ranked the Arkansas River river bed as an area of "very high" vulnerability to groundwater pollution.)

That I'm just hearing about this a week before the election again points to how this plan has been rushed forward. If the same process was being used that was used last year for evaluating The Channels, there would have been time to make the public aware of these details and for committees of experts to evaluate the details for environmental and hydrological impact.

The developer of Branson Landing has announced plans for a $500,000,000 retail and entertainment complex on the west bank of the Arkansas River at 21st Street. The plans would include a 20,000 to 22,000 seat ballpark intended for a Class AAA baseball team. The deal is being described as contingent on passage of next Tuesday's Tulsa County sales tax increase. A few thoughts:

(1) The real contingency is the acquisition of the concrete plant just north of 23rd Street. The rest of the land is already owned by the City of Tulsa. Until March of this year, as part of the groundwork they laid for The Channels, the Warren Foundation held an option to purchase that property for $37 million. With the concrete plant, the City could offer potential developers nearly three-quarters of a mile of riverfront, roughly a quarter of a mile deep -- roughly 100 acres. What the City already has is two non-contiguous parcels, each with about a quarter of a mile or riverfront.

(2) We don't need to raise the Tulsa County sales tax rate in order for the City to acquire the concrete plant. Tax increment financing, authorized by Oklahoma's Local Development Act (62 O. S. 850 - 869), would provide a sufficient revenue stream to pay for acquisition of the land. A city can establish a TIF district to capture incremental property and sales tax revenues to be used within that district for a number of purposes. Those purposes are listed in 62 O. S. 854, and the list includes land acquisition. A TIF provides financing for redevelopment of an area without increasing the tax burden.

(3) A west bank TIF should generate sufficient revenue to fund land acquisition. The TIF for the proposed $1,000 million River District development in Jenks involves capturing the full ad valorem increment and one cent of the sales tax increment. (The other two cents would go into Jenks' general fund.) The Jenks River District TIF is expected to capture $220 million. Tulsa's west bank needs less than 25% of that amount.

Tulsa Hills, an $80 million retail center at 71st and U. S. 75, is expected to generate an extra $1.1 million a year in property tax and an extra $5 million in city sales tax, which should quickly repay the $13.5 million in bonds for projects in the Tulsa Hills TIF.

A west bank TIF would be aided by the fact that most of the land is City-owned and therefore does not produce ad valorem taxes, so the baseline for the ad valorem increment would be the current taxes paid by the concrete plant. There are no retail outlets currently in the TIF, so the baseline for the sales tax increment would also be low.

(4) If we do vote to give Tulsa County $282 million in additional sales tax money, there's no guarantee they'll use it for west bank land acquisition. There are no specific promises for west bank land acquisition in the ballot resolution, the signed and notarized commitment by the County Commissioners for how the tax will be used. Here is the Tulsa County river tax ballot resolution language concerning the money that may be used for land acquisition:

Arkansas River corridor land acquisition, infrastructure, bridge improvements and site development, and Arkansas river studies for Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sand Springs and Bixby.

There's no guarantee that any of the $57.4 million will be spent in Tulsa, much less on the west bank.

(5) 20,000 to 22,000 seats is an unlikely size for a minor league ballpark. The only AAA ballparks with that kind of capacity are Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo (opened in 1988, 20,050), Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha (opened in 1948, 22,000), and PGE Park in Portland (opened in 1956, 19,800). Buffalo built their stadium with expansion potential, in hopes of attracting a major league expansion club or relocation. Omaha's park is home to the College World Series. Portland's park was built in the '20s and served as a football stadium and greyhound track before being adapted for baseball in the '50s.

The newest AAA parks range in capacity from 10,000 to 15,000. At 10,995 seats, Tulsa's Drillers Stadium has more seating than 13 of the 30 AAA parks. All the talk of a new park for the Drillers has emphasized that a smaller capacity is desirable.

I suppose a 20,000 seat stadium could be used as an outdoor concert venue, but with that seating capacity, wouldn't it compete with the BOk Center for concerts?

(6) Getting a AAA team to Tulsa would be exceedingly difficult. Each major league club has exactly one AAA affiliate. In 1991, Tulsa was one of five finalist cities for a new AAA club to coincide with the expansion of the National League. The winners were Ottawa and Charlotte, and the Denver team, displaced by the Rockies, moved to New Orleans. In 1998, Memphis and Durham were selected for new AAA franchises.

It's not clear whether the intention is to have Drillers owner Chuck Lamson acquire a AAA franchise and move it here. If owners of another AAA franchise wanted to move to Tulsa, there are territorial issues that would have to be resolved.

(7) Has the City analyzed the possibility of a west bank TIF, and if so, where are the numbers? If they haven't, why not? This west bank concept has been on the table for almost a year. Shouldn't the TIF possibility have been fully explored before asking the voters to increase tax rates?

Say no to plutocracy

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An edited version of this column appeared in the October 3, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is no longer available online. My contemporaneous blog entry linking the column is here. Posted online October 6, 2017.

Say no to plutocracy

By Michael D. Bates

"Does that disturb you?"

My lunch companion asked the question after a lengthy lull in an otherwise lively conversation. I can only guess at what my countenance must have conveyed.

He had just been explaining to me how we wouldn't need to worry about elected officials acting imprudently with the new river tax money. The $100 million or so in private donations would give the donors leverage over the elected officials, and the donors intended to use it.

I thought back to a Step-Up Tulsa meeting I had attended last year. This group also talked about using the billions that Tulsa's large charitable foundations have accumulated, not simply to spend it directly for useful projects, but as a lever to shift government priorities, to reorient the spending of taxpayer dollars to fit the priorities of the private foundations.

Even if I assume that the foundations' goals are laudable, there's something deeply wrong with that approach.

I struggled to explain why the notion troubled me to the point of speechlessness. Finally I said, "Instead of using this money leverage to get elected officials to do what you think they should, why not help intelligent, creative, and discerning critical thinkers get elected to office?"

In the realm of politics, it's still possible for the will of the majority to trump the will of the wealthy. Sure, more money means their message gets more exposure, means they can hire focus groups to craft their image and message to resonate with the voters, means they can identify their supporters and badger them with phone calls on election day until they go vote.

But for all that money, they can still lose. If you don't believe me, ask President John Connally, California Sen. Michael Huffington, and Oklahoma Governor Gary Richardson.

You can knock on enough doors, marshal passionate supporters, give expression to the voters' deep-seated concerns, and, when the votes are counted, you can beat someone even if the other side has millions to spend and you have only thousands.

There ought to be at least one realm of society which is not subject to the rule of the marketplace. Politics and governance shouldn't be up for sale to the highest bidder.

(By the same token, not every realm of society should be subject to the tyranny of the majority, either.)

To millionaires and billionaires seeking to use their wealth as leverage to mould public policy to their will, the most valued qualities in a public official would not be intelligence, critical thinking skills, or curiosity, but pliability and credulity.

They'd be best served by the kind of elected official who will nod his head vigorously and salivate when presented with wildly optimistic economic impact numbers. An official who asks for the rationale and basis for the numbers would be seen as an obstacle, not a public asset.

I don't often describe myself as horrified, appalled, nauseated, or outraged by some political development. Those words ought to be reserved for a truly visceral reaction - something that really makes one's hair stand on end, face go pale, stomach turn, or blood pressure rise, respectively.

The idea of the wealthy using their private charitable contributions as leverage to shift public priorities gives me the creeps.

As of September 24, the vote yes campaign has raised $1.1 million and spent nearly $700,000. That doesn't count money spent on charitable donations, campaign contributions, or threats of campaign contributions to a potential opponent in order to leverage key endorsements.

Even if they weren't persuaded by the problems with the specifics of the river sales tax proposal, I'd hope that Tulsa County residents would rebel against the sheer amount of money being expended to get this thing passed. Public priorities shouldn't be for sale to the highest bidder.


Here's a thought experiment regarding priorities:

You own a small café that has seen better days. The carpet is stained and torn, the booth seats are ripped, and the chairs wobble. The lights in the parking lot are broken, and customers occasionally get mugged. The food is good, but your sign (hidden by high weeds) advertises the least popular dish on the menu.

You have $2,000 available to try to rebuild your customer base. Should you:

(A) Use the $2,000 to fix the carpet, booths, chairs, and lights, pull the weeds, and improve your advertising?

(B) Use the $2,000 to build a beautiful koi pond in the lobby in hopes that it will attract enough new customers to bring in as much as $400 that you can then afford to fix the carpet, booths, chairs, and lights, pull the weeds, and improve your advertising?

Which answer do you think you'd get from the company that sells koi pond supplies?


So what should we do after next Tuesday, after we've voted down (I hope) the proposed county sales tax increase?

Use the Vision 2025 dollars that are already allocated for two new low water dams and the modifications for the existing Zink Lake dam at 31st Street to finish the engineering work for those projects. Develop and submit the application to the Corps of Engineers for a construction permit, a process likely to take at least two years.

In the meantime, county officials should lay out a clear month-by-month spending plan for Vision 2025 - what money is already committed for debt service and for remaining projects - and see if there's any room to move the funding of the promised construction of the dams higher up the priority list.

At the same time, county officials should keep an eye on sales tax receipts; if growth continues at its current pace, another $16 million could be available over and above the county's revenue estimates by the time the permits are granted.

Once the Corps has given its blessing, combine available Vision 2025 funds and Federal dollars. If there's still not enough to do the dam work, then and only then county officials should go to the voters for just enough extra tax dollars to finish those promised Vision 2025 projects. Any other river projects should go on a separate ballot item.

As for west bank land acquisition, Oklahoma's Local Development Act, specifically 68 O. S. 854, authorizes local governments to use revenues from a Tax Increment Finance district to acquire land. The City of The Village, an inner suburb of Oklahoma City, is using such an approach to redevelop its town center. Given that the TIF for Jenks' River District is projected to raise $220 million for that project, it's not hard to imagine that a City of Tulsa west bank development TIF could bring in enough money to acquire the concrete plant north of 23rd Street, which was valued last year at $37 million.

We can make our river happen without raising taxes.


The composition of the proposed Tulsa County sales tax package is a perfect example of the use of private leverage to override the plans and priorities of public officials.

Instead of allocating the full $282 million to implement projects in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, more than half of the project money ($135 million) and all of the private donations will be used to implement a plan for the river developed by Canadian architect Bing Thom under commission from the George Kaiser Family Foundation. You'll remember Bing Thom as the guy behind last fall's proposal called "The Channels."

The Kaiser/Thom plan is not The Channels, but like The Channels, the projects in the Kaiser/Thom plan are not part of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP). But a glance back through last fall's news coverage reveals that the two outside plans have been treated very differently.

Last fall when The Channels were proposed, officials set up a three-month-long process to study the proposal and consider whether it should be incorporated into the ARCMP. It was described as "an expeditious but rigid technical review."

There were several technical committees examining the impact of The Channels proposal on the ecosystem, including stormwater drainage and endangered species. In the course of the process, many new concerns came to light, issues that might have been lost in a rush to the ballot.

A fifty-member advisory committee would have decided whether to recommend The Channels for incorporation into the ARCMP. Then the matter would have been considered by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa County Commission, and the Tulsa City Council, as an amendment to the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan.

All of these steps had to be completed before the County Commission would submit a tax package for The Channels for voter approval.

A year later, barely a month passed between the public announcement of the Kaiser/Thom proposal until the County Commission scheduled a vote. None of the process that was used for The Channels has been followed this year. The Kaiser/Thom proposal hasn't been brought forward as an amendment to the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan. Instead, the vote yes campaign is using sleight of hand to make voters believe that the proposed sales tax package is consistent with the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan.

A precedent was set with the process used to evaluate The Channels as an amendment to the ARCMP. That precedent wasn't followed with the Kaiser/Thom proposal currently before us. Why not?


As I file this story, there are rumblings that Sen. Jim Inhofe will announce his support for the tax increase. If tax backers expect this to sway conservative Republicans to vote yes, they're likely to be disappointed.

Tulsa County's grassroots conservatives aren't the sort to jump on bandwagons. Their loyalty to a politician is tied to his loyalty to the principles and issues that motivate their involvement in politics. When a Republican official deviates from those principles - for example, President Bush's support for amnesty for illegal immigrants - he alienates himself from his base of supporters and his approval ratings plummet.

The grassroots sentiment of the Tulsa County Republican Party was made plain in the platform that was adopted at February's county convention: "We oppose increasing taxes to fund river development projects. We support the use of TIF districts to facilitate river development. We urge Tulsa County Commissioners not to propose any increase in county sales tax."

Republican candidates and officials are free to deviate from the platform, but that deviation can come at a political cost.

If Inhofe backs the tax increase, will local conservatives still vote for his re-election to the Senate in 2008? Most likely. Will they volunteer, donate, and urge their friends to support him? That remains to be seen, but it will further damage the bond of trust with the grassroots that has carried Inhofe to one victory after another.


This is my last column before the October 9th election. Keep an eye on my blog,, for in-depth analysis of last-minute developments.

Voyage to plutocracy

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is a collection of short pieces about next week's vote on the Tulsa County sales tax for river projects, but the overarching theme is government priorities and who should set them. I explain my qualms about private foundations using their massive wealth to shift priorities for public spending, offer a thought experiment involving a café and a koi pond, point out the contrast between the rigorous review process that The Channels underwent compared to the Kaiser/Bing Thom plan that we vote on next Tuesday, and wrap up with some thoughts on speculation about a last-minute Jim Inhofe tax hike endorsement.

I made a typo in the piece, incorrectly citing the section of the Oklahoma Local Development Act that authorizes the use of TIF proceeds for land acquisition. The correct citation is 62 O.S. 854. (For you non-lawyers, that's pronounced "Oklahoma Statutes, Title 62, Section 854.") The Local Development Act starts in section 850 of Title 62 and concludes with section 869.

Also in this issue, Brian Ervin has an election preview that ties together some of his earlier stories on the proposed county sales tax's claimed economic impact, environmental impact, and fiscal impact on municipalities.

The cover story this week, for the special restaurant issue, is about pizza, all kinds of pizza all over Tulsa.

And Jessica Naudziunas has a story on the Preserve Midtown effort and their upcoming October 16 public meeting on the issues of neighborhood conservation, teardowns, McMansions, and compatibility.

I got lazy back in September and neglected to link several of my Urban Tulsa Weekly columns. The column that came out on September 12, 2007, called "Show Your Work," dealt with the economic impact estimates that were developed for the Tulsa County river sales tax by the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

Click this link to view the economic impact spreadsheet developed by the Tulsa Metro Chamber's Bob Ball. It's PDF format. (Because of the way I scanned it, you'll need to either tell Adobe Reader to rotate it 90 degrees clockwise, or roll your head 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Or you could print it out and hold it right way up.

Please note that Ball did not provide UTW with an Excel spreadsheet file, which would have revealed a great deal about how the calculations were done. Instead, he provided a printout, which showed the resulting numbers without the formulae behind them.

Back at the end of August, UTW reporter Brian Ervin interviewed Ball about the assumptions in his economic numbers. A salient quote:

Since the $2.8 billion return is the top selling point for the river tax, UTW later contacted Ball for that "simple explanation" of how he arrived at that impressive number.

The initial capital investment figure is foundational to everything else, so Ball was asked how he came up with the $450 million in private investment that he added to the public funding and private donations.

"Through conversations with some developers," he answered.

He said he couldn't divulge exactly which developers, but that none had committed any specific amount of money for any particular development projects along the river.

"They were somewhat casual conversations," Ball explained.

"But, why wouldn't they want to develop? We've already got Riverwalk Crossing," he added.

During the City Council presentation, Neal had emphasized that the $450 million is "an extremely, extremely, extremely conservative number."

Ball told UTW that he utilized the IMPLAN economic analysis model, created by the Stillwater, Minn.-based IMPLAN Group, to calculate the economic impact of that estimated $786 million investment.

This is a good place to mention that two of the three large proposed riverfront private developments that have been claimed by proponents as dependent on this plan are already committed to moving forward regardless of next Tuesday's outcome, having already obtained tax incentives from their respective municipalities. It isn't right to include them in comparing public investment in this tax vs. private investment on the river.

Remy Cos. $50 million South Village lifestyle center, planned for the south bank of the Arkansas River in Bixby is moving forward with a $5 million tax increment finance (TIF) based incentive from the City of Bixby. That will be generated by a one-cent sales tax rebate to the developer for the first 10 years of operation. None of the dams, bridges, or river modifications in the Tulsa County sales tax package on next week's ballot will affect his development.

The $1,000 million River District in Jenks is also moving forward regardless. Jenks has approved a TIF district that is expected to bring in $220 million for project and development costs. Like Bixby's TIF, this one will also capture one cent of sales tax, as well as the ad valorem (property) tax.

A City of Tulsa TIF could be used for development on Tulsa's west bank at 21st Street. This should bring in enough money for land acquisition and site preparation to make way for a developer. Since we already have water in the river at 21st Street, any private investment at that location should not be counted as dependent on passage of the Tulsa County sales tax.

River tax forums

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I've been invited to speak to a few river tax forums which are open to the public.

Tonight (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. at Webster High School, 40th & Yukon (a couple of blocks west of Union and a block north of 41st Street, west of the river) I'll be speaking at a forum hosted by District 2 Councilor Rick Westcott.

Thursday night at 7 p.m., I'll be speaking at a River Vote Forum sponsored by TU Earth Matters. It will be held at the University of Tulsa, Keplinger Hall (6th & Gary), Room M8. They're advertising the event with the tagline, "Hear a panel of local advocates and opponents separate the facts from the propaganda before you vote.

Sunday morning at 10 a.m., I'll be speaking at All Souls Unitarian Church, 29th & Peoria. Other panel members will be Ken Neal, senior editor at the Tulsa World, Vic Vreeland, Mayor of Jenks, and Kevin Stubbs of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Former KOTV anchor Clayton Vaughn will be the moderator. Strictly speaking this is a church event, not a public meeting, but I suppose it would be as open to visitors as any church service would be.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the pro-river tax campaign just told a thousand-word lie.

Below is a thumbnail of a mailer that was sent to Broken Arrow voters. Click the image to see the full-size (700 KB).


Notice the drawing in the photo, labeled "Broken Arrow Riverfront." That's a conceptual sketch from the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP), the long-term wish list for riverfront development that was developed from 2003 to 2005.

NOT ONE CENT of the money in this plan will build what you see depicted in that drawing, but the image and text of the piece is designed to give Broken Arrow voters the impression that voting yes will give them that riverfront. It takes a voter familiar with the list of projects in the ballot resolution for next Tuesday's tax election to see how the ad parses words in a deliberate effort to mislead.

By the way, Don Mullican, the Broken Arrow citizen quoted in the piece, is the Chief Financial Officer of Kaiser-Francis Oil Company. George Kaiser, the President and CEO of Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, is Don's boss.

Although I have my political differences with George Kaiser, I believed him to be an honorable man, and I believed that he would use his influence over the vote yes campaign to insist that it be conducted honorably and honestly. It's hard for me to believe that he would want his name associated with this flyer or the overall effort to confuse the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and Tuesday's tax package in the minds of the voters.

If the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee is as diligent and vigilant a watchdog as we're being told they are, how did they miss noticing that the arena was going to go way over budget when there was time to prevent the crisis?

If Hurricane Katrina caused the arena to go more than $50 million over budget, how come it didn't have a similar effect on the cost of any other project?

The Tulsa County Vision Trust decided to allocate extra funding to the arena, because the estimated cost was wrong. Couldn't they have done the same thing for the low-water dams and Zink Dam work promised in Vision 2025? And couldn't they have decided to allocate less of the surplus receipts for the arena and hold some surplus back for the dams?

Some of my fellow Tulsa bloggers are wondering about the river tax, too. First, let's hear from some bloggers that are new to me

Jason Kearney writes that "[n]o one was a bigger supporter of Vision 2025" than he was, but he's voting no on the October 9th sales tax increase. Among some of his many reasons:

For example, developers do not REQUIRE tax dollars to move forward with these projects, they just WANT them. Who wouldn't? I can understand the county giving them a tax break for a few years, but they do not need tax dollars. County Commissioner Randi Miller has proven by her actions that she has much to gain with all of her maneuvering in this. She screwed the Bell family out of their fifty-year family business, and now she wants to stick it to the tax payers.

Jason's entry also recounts the history of Jerry Gordon and the development of Jenks' Riverwalk Crossing. And in his most recent entry, he demolishes the PR spin from the Tulsa Metro Chamber on their economic impact numbers:

My first question was this: "Is it true that the current river development in Jenks, which is wildly popular and financially successful, was built with no tax increase at all?" Her answer: "Yes."

My second question: "Is it true that the majority of the 10,000 jobs she is speaking about are low paying construction jobs, which will only last until the low water dams are complete?" Her answer: "Yes."

My third question: "If Tulsa votes down this sales tax increase, is it true that the commercial developers will still be allowed to build shops, restaurants, and condos along the river?" Her answer: "Yes."

My fourth question: "Isn't it true that the George Kaiser Foundation has already donated $20 million to enhance trails in the Riverparks area, and that work has already begun on these developments?" Her answer: "Yes."

And then there's Jason's take on the media blitz in support of the tax:

Anytime the county and the news media have to engage in a smoke and mirrors game to make the public believe that this tax has the full support of the public, anytime a PR firm has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to use children to make you feel guilty if you vote against it, there is something wrong.

Cindy Downes, a 57-year-old empty nest mom who is going to college, attended the "debate" last week at TCC, and she had to write a paper on the event as a class assignment. It's a well-written, detailed report, and you should read the whole thing. Cindy says it wasn't really a fair fight:

They had four speakers: Winn Estrada, who was against the River project; Robert Nichols, who was supposedly impartial; and Victor Muse and Randi Miller who were for the project. Winn Estrada had 10-15 minutes. The rest of the time was taken by the other three, with the majority of the time used by Randi Miller.

Victor Muse, the student debater in favor of the tax cited the Three Gorges Dam project in China as a positive example of river development. In fact, Three Gorges is a classic example of totalitarian environmental overreach, damaging the environment, archaeological sites, matchless scenery, and ancient cities, displacing two million people and a way of live dependent on the ability to navigate the Yangtze River. It's an example of the damage a totalitarian government can cause because there is no place for opposition groups that might challenge the government's plans.

Cindy went on to report some classic Randi Miller moments:

I asked about the eagles and she stated that the project would not affect this eagle habitat. I then asked to hear from Winn exactly why he thought it would. She said she did not come to debate her "constituents;" however, note that her whole speech up to this point was a "debate" against her constituent. She did give him the microphone briefly, but she kept talking about not debating her constituent and he was not able to get the "floor" back to adequately answer the question.

Someone then asked about the condition of the roads and why we should not fix them first. Her answer was that there is already $200M set aside for roads in Tulsa. There is some kind of "Bottleneck" that they are trying to figure out why this money is not getting used. They "think" it is because there are not enough companies in Oklahoma to do road repair and she encouraged the students to start a business in road repair as there is a definite need.

She ended with the statement that if this doesn't pass, it will be 20 years before it can come to the table again.

20 years? And has Mayor Taylor investigated this $200 million that Miller says is set aside for roads but isn't being spent?

You might think a blogger called CycleDog would be all for this tax plan, but no:

Some of the arguments in favor of the proposition have been downright silly. The latest was in today's newspaper, arguing that building a new park will attract droves of young people to area businesses, and these new folks will contribute so much money to the economy that the city will be able to rebuild our crumbling roads and road infrastructure. These people must have attended that same voodoo economic course as the Reagan administration.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not opposed to paying taxes when the money goes to something that provides real, tangible benefits. But when faced with a stark choice - a local school or a distant park - the right choice is very clear.

And commenter Ryan responded:

I have friends that have transplanted from San Diego, for the sole reason of being able to afford a new home, and even they never had to pay such a high sales tax to live in a city with sports stadiums and one of the nicest parks I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. I won't lie, I'm not an expert in city planning or budget, but I do know there's something wrong when this city can't develop without raising our sales tax to something that even ex-California residents scoff at.

Debb at Okie Mom Confessions confesses her reasons for a no vote on October 9th. She asks some great questions:

Vision 2025 addressed some of this already, the 2 low water dams & the shoreline beautification was to be addressed from funds from Vision 2025. Why are we, essentially paying for it yet again? Where did the money go?...

How successful will Glenpool, Skiatook, Collinsville, Broken Arrow, and Owasso be in financing their cities if the county has already pushed the taxpayers to the limit?

If we cannot already support what we have, how will we maintain an even larger expanse of parks & bridges, dams, etc., that will need a lot of costly spending for upkeep?...

MySpacer Ferdinandy gives his top 10 reasons for voting no, including:

6. CORPS of ENGINEERS APPROVAL: We don't even have approval to alter the river from the Corps yet. What happens if we vote to tax ourselves and the Corps of Engineers says "NO!" Do we get our money back?

8. COUNTY GOVERNMENTS SHOULDN'T BE IN SALES TAX BUSINESS: Sales tax is (in most responsible budgeting plans) used by cities to take care of city issues. When counties get in the sales tax business....well...there's just not enough to go around.

Some LiveJournal-ists are talking about tax. dividedjoy writes:

i don't even think they know what they want to do, all the ads and info just keep saying how badly we need this tax...but no good reasons of why besides it being for "Tulsa's future yay!!!"

part of it is that they want to build a series of low water dams - which have not been approved by the corp of engineers AND which the us fish and wildlife service says would very badly screw up the ecosystem in and around the river not just in tulsa, but up and downstream as well...they also want to build a pedestrian bridge down by 61st know, by the stinky water treatment plant...

And lbangs has launched a river tax comment thread on the Tulsa Time LiveJournal community:

I'm all for smart city development, but gee, most of the studies commissioned to study this proposal will not even be finished by the time the vote comes to the public.

I'm sorry, but that is plain idiotic.

Is it too much to ask for some intelligence in our planning? I'm seeing a lot of hype and hoopla, plenty of smoke and mirrors, and precious little facts or truth.

And just who exactly is paying for all these moronic television ads trying to make you feel like you hate cute little children if you vote against this potential city-wide folly?

Somebody with deep pockets has a lot to gain from this project.

But don't look now; it ain't you or me.

And now let's turn to some of our long-time blogpals:

Jeff Shaw is pondering the magic formula:

Underestimated costs + Overestimated benefits = Project approval

And he finds this nugget of wisdom in a report called How Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation Undermine Implementation:

Lawmakers, investors, and the public cannot trust information about costs, benefits, and risks of large infrastructure projects produced by promoters and planners of such projects.

More recently, Jeff is wondering about the latest wild claim of 10,000 new jobs if the river tax passes, and he puts that big number into perspective.

Steve Roemerman is wondering how a fiscally conservative congressman can endorse a tax increase, and he wonders whether the congressman had certain facts in front of him when he made his decision. Steve's readers have been pondering the same question, as have some of Jeff Shaw's readers.

"Mad Okie" uses Google Maps to illustrate the differences between the waterside developments in Indianapolis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City and what's being proposed in Tulsa. Hint: Note the width of the relevant body of water. And he takes issue with an unnamed state rep, quoted in a KOTV story saying that the river plan "would bring more entertainment options for everyone."

The people of the North Side, West Side, East Side, and South side dont care about "entertainment options", especially when the people pushing these "entertainment options" are the same people that evicted BELLS, a real entertainment option!

Bobby at Tulsa Topics (back to blogging again!) has a similar concern:

Thanks to the same people who want you to give them more money via the upcoming River Tax vote.... you will not be seeing the Zingo or the rest of Bells at the state fair this year.

I find it ironic, the flagrant use of kids on all the hack ads that the vote yes camp has been running on the tube lately, when the same group killed a long standing family tradition here in Tulsa.

MeeCiteeWurkor has ideas on protecting your "No River Tax" sign from getting stolen, and a guest contributor has been following developments in Sand Springs, including the Sand Springs City Council's vote to endorse the tax hike.

I was looking through the archives of the daily paper for stories about The Channels and about the long process of public scrutiny required for that plan for the Arkansas River before it could be put to a public vote. In the process, I came across some cost estimates for other river projects. (Emphasis added in all cases.)

The price of west bank land

From November 2, 2006:

The William K. Warren Medical Research Center has signed purchase options totaling $65 million to acquire the sites of the Westport on the River apartments and the Mid-Continent Concrete Co. for a proposed $788 million river development, it was revealed Wednesday....

The $28 million purchase option for the 23.7-acre apartment site includes only the land on the west bank. During a transfer of land for the apartments when Sen Jim Inhofe was Tulsa's mayor, the river abutting the site remained in the ownership of the city.

The Tulsa Stakeholders had to pay to get the confidentiality agreement lifted, but that amount, which was not disclosed, is not included in the purchase price, Ducato said.

The $37 million purchase option for the concrete plant site covers 26.7 acres of land on the west bank plus acreage to the middle of the river.

The cost of bridges and dams

From Janet Pearson's column on October 8, 2006:

Other observers note that the amount eyed by Tulsa Stakeholders would pay for most of the major improvements called for in the master plan, including: several new low-water dams at about $22 million apiece; several new pedestrian bridges, about $3.4 million each; a Gilcrease Expressway bridge, $27 million; a 41st Street [vehicular] bridge, $13 million; a Yale Avenue bridge, $33 million; a 193rd East Avenue bridge, $20 million; a new Riverside Drive West from 71st Street to the 11th Street bridge, $29.3 million; and improvements to the existing Riverside Drive from 21st Street to Interstate 44, $11.6 million.

Not to depend too heavily on a Tulsa Whirled editorial writer, but I'd bet someone, maybe at INCOG, supplied Pearson with those numbers.

Let's compare these estimates from a year ago to what we're being told about the cost of projects in the October 9th river tax. (The number for the low-water dams includes Vision 2025 dollars. The number for acquiring the concrete plant is from news stories; there's nothing in the official ballot resolution that allocates money specifically for land acquisition on the west bank at 21st or anywhere else in Tulsa.)

Project Fall 2006 estimate River Sales Tax estimate*
Low water dam (each) $ 22,000,000
$ 27,500,000
Pedestrian bridge (each) $ 3,400,000 $ 15,000,000
Concrete plant acquisition
$ 37,000,000
$ 52,000,000
Cost of two low-water dams,
two pedestrian bridges,
and concrete plant
$ 87,800,000
$ 127,000,000

The most striking thing is the difference in the cost of the pedestrian bridges: $3.4 million each last year vs. $15 million this year. What accounts for that dramatic a difference? Inflation doesn't come close to accounting for the huge jump in costs.

Notice that last year's estimate of the cost of a vehicular/pedestrian bridge at 41st Street -- $13 million -- is less than what they're telling us this year is the cost of a pedestrian-only bridge at that same location -- $15 million, even though the cost of materials, engineering, and construction ought to be far higher for a bridge designed to carry cars.

A reader points to some other information that indicates someone did a cost estimate for the dams. A version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 approved by the Senate back in May (H.R. 1495, Engrossed Amendment as Agreed to by Senate) contained the following language:


(a) Navigation Channel- The Secretary shall continue construction of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, Arkansas and Oklahoma, to operate and maintain the navigation channel to the authorized depth of the channel, in accordance with section 136 of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2004 (Public Law 108-137; 117 Stat. 1842).

(b) Mitigation-

(1) IN GENERAL- As mitigation for any incidental taking relating to the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, the Secretary shall determine the need for, and construct modifications in, the structures and operations of the Arkansas River in the area of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, including the construction of low water dams and islands to provide nesting and foraging habitat for the interior least tern, in accordance with the study entitled `Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Planning Assistance to States'.

(2) COST SHARING- The non-Federal share of the cost of a project under this subsection shall be 35 percent.

(3) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this subsection $12,000,000.

Doing the math, $12,000,000 is about 65% of $18,500,000. That suggests a cost of about $9 million each for the low-water dams, or possibly less, depending on how much was figured in for non-dam projects.

The version that came out of conference committee (House Report 110-280) included more funds for the Arkansas River, but used different language to describe the project:


(a) In General- The Secretary is authorized to participate in the ecosystem restoration, recreation, and flood damage reduction components of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan dated October 2005. The Secretary shall coordinate with appropriate representatives in the vicinity of Tulsa, Oklahoma, including representatives of Tulsa County and surrounding communities and the Indian Nations Council of Governments.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated $50,000,000 to carry out this section.

The bottom line question is: What is the basis for estimate for each of the items in the October 9th ballot resolution? Recent comparable construction in other cities? Rough order of magnitude quotes from potential suppliers? Given the wide range of numbers, the tax proponents need to show their work, in detail.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is part 1 of a two-parter leading up to the October 9th river sales tax election. I listed four reasons for voting against the tax; the two I dealt with this week pertain to promises and plans.

The distinction between the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP) and the package on the October 9th ballot was a central theme in a presentation I made earlier this week.

On Monday night, at the kind invitation of Tulsa District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes, I spoke at a forum she convened at the Central Community Center on the topic of the October 9 river tax vote. Speaking in support of the tax were Jerry Lasker, executive director of the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), and Ken Levit, head of the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF).

At the insistence of Jean Letcher, the campaign manager for the pro-tax side, I went first with my 15 minute presentation. Also at her insistence, there was to be no opportunity for rebuttal during the Q&A period, because she didn't agree to a debate, only to an informational meeting.

In the event, moderator Ken Busby let the discussion flow freely. I think all of the panelists and the audience members who asked questions and offered comments all felt they had ample opportunity to make their points. I didn't take a count, but I imagine there were about 40 people in the room for the 90 minute meeting.

Here's what I said regarding plans:

What everyone calls the "INCOG plan" is officially known as the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan The ARCMP has been under development for the last four years, with a tremendous amount of public input from experts and laypeople alike, consultation with the Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority, and public hearings, culminating in the ARCMP's incorporation into the Comprehensive Plan by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa County Commission, and the Tulsa City Council. The ARCMP includes both near-term projects like low-water dams and long-term aspirations like a boulevard following the west bank. It's a wish list, but a well-defined wish list.

In order to be very precise about the plan under discussion, I'm going to refer to it by the initials of its official name -- ARCMP. The pro-tax campaign seems to be determined to mislead the voters into thinking that the hastily thrown-together package on the October 9th ballot is one and the same with the ARCMP that has been four years in the making.

Of the projects that are defined in the ballot resolution for the October 9th Tulsa County sales tax election, only $64.85 million is being spent on projects in the ARCMP. At least $135 million is being spent on projects that are not in the ARCMP. Here's a breakdown:

In the ARCMP
Not in the ARCMP
Sand Springs Dam
$24.7 million
"Living River"
$90 million
Jenks Dam
$24.7 million
41st St Ped-Only Bridge
$15 million
Zink Dam improvements
$15.45 million
61st St Ped-Only Bridge
$15 million

"Downtown Connector"
$15 million
$64.85 million
$135 million

Another $57.4 million is designated for "Arkansas River corridor land acquisition, infrastructure, bridge improvements and site development, and Arkansas river studies for Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sand Springs and Bixby." Some of that might be spent on ARCMP projects; some of it might not. It depends

The remaining $25 million is a contingency allowance covering all projects.

Here's a table summarizing the differences between the ARCMP and the tax package regarding how they were developed and their legal status:

Arkansas River Corridor
Master Plan
Tulsa County Oct. 9th
sales tax package
Developed over four years
in full public view
Put together in about two months
(within public view)
Many opportunities
for public input
No public input before plan
was set in stone
Driven by the desires of
Tulsa County citizens
Driven by the concepts of
Canadian architect Bing Thom,
consultant to GKFF
Future plan for 41st St
car and pedestrian bridge
to link west Tulsa and midtown
41st St park and
pedestrian-only bridge concept
rules out 41st St car bridge
Approved by TMAPC, County Commission, Tulsa City Council Never reviewed by TMAPC or Tulsa City Council

You can hear the October 22, 2006, StudioTulsa interview with Bing Thom, which I mentioned in my column this week. In the interview, the Canadian architect mainly discusses "The Channels," his concept for a large dam at 21st Street and high rises on islands in the Arkansas River, a plan he developed for Tulsa Stakeholders, Inc., but he also discusses his other commission, for the George Kaiser Family Foundation. You'll hear references to the 41st and 61st St pedestrian-only bridges and to the "living river" concept, albeit not by that exact name. Thom also discusses the "gathering places" along the east bank, which in the current proposal would be funded by private contributions. (There's a transcript there, too, obviously done with an automated speech-to-text system, but it does make it easier to go to key points in the recording.) The items in the October 9th county sales tax package which are not in the ARCMP seem very strongly to have come from Thom's drawing board.

Speaking of "The Channels," do you remember how closely the plan was scrutinized, and how much time was spent on it? The concept made its debut a little over a year ago, in early September 2006. Over the next three months, there was considerable public comment.

Even though County Commissioner Randi Miller endorsed the plan and raising taxes to pay for it shortly after it was announced, she insisted that the ARCMP would have to be amended to incorporate The Channels before it could be funded with tax money. So why hasn't the same requirement been levied on the "Living River," the pedestrian-only bridges, and the downtown connector?

Because the ARCMP is a part of the Comprehensive Plan for the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County, amending the plan would require public hearings and approval by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa City Council, and the County Commission.

Last fall, we heard about the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan advisory committee, which established a process for reviewing The Channels, a process that was described as "an expeditious yet rigid technical review" to be conducted in the course of about 10 weeks. In her October 8, 2006, opinion column, Janet Pearson says there are 50 members on this advisory committee.

Has this 50-member committee been convened to evaluate the package on this year's October 9th ballot?

Then there's this quote from PMg's Gaylon Pinc regarding the process of evaluating The Channels for inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan:

Pinc said the gist of the INCOG board's resolution "would be whether The Channels should be incorporated as a component of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan" and the city's comprehensive plan.

Should the resolution gain the approval of the Planning Commission, it would go before the City Council, and then on to the County Commission.

The County Commission had hoped to decide Dec. 11 on whether to call for a Feb. 13 election on the public funding issue.

In other words, in order to do everything according to Hoyle, this process would have had to have been completed prior to any vote by the County Commission to put a tax on the ballot.

That process wasn't followed with the Kaiser plan. Why not?

Here we go again. Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry in this morning's Whirled:

Q: How will additional costs be covered if the projected $282 million price tag for the public projects goes up?

A: As one of nine future "river trustees," if the Oct. 9th river plan/tax vote passes, I have been asked to answer this question. The short answer is that there won't be any additional costs to cover. For one thing, we're told that the engineers factored in some projected inflationary costs. Also, there is a contingency amount of $25 million in the plan. It is doubtful that costs would rise enough to consume that contingency.

Also, the commissioners, prior to passing the resolution, were committed to not exceeding the $282.25, which is in the resolution and on the ballot. There are also protections in the resolution regarding the limit.

In my opinion, and I think the other future trustees will agree, if the costs exceed the estimate and the contingency, something would be dropped off the plan or projects would be scaled down.

Let's compare that with what Perry's predecessor said a month or so before the Vision 2025 sales tax vote. Bob Dick, promised voters that every project would get built:

Dick said the Vision 2025 package also was designed to ensure no project gets left behind due to a lack of funding.

"I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it," Dick said.

Vision proponents concede room for error is built into some project cost estimates.

"I don't know specifically what it is really going to cost to build a low-water dam," Dick said.

It looks to me like this plan is set up, just like the low-water dams in promised Vision 2025, to overpromise and underdeliver.

We've been told that the rule of thumb these days is that a county-wide one cent sales tax will raise $100 million per year. A 0.4 cent tax over seven years would raise $40 million x 7 = $280 million -- not quite enough to cover the $282.25 million in total estimated project costs, and no provision whatsoever for fees and interest costs for debt.

I get about the same number -- $280.6 million -- if I take actual county receipts for FY 2007, adjust for the tax rate, assume a growth rate of 2.5%, and figure the numbers out over calendar years 2008 through 2014.

That's right: No provision for finance costs. Since they're telling us the need for pedestrian bridges and low-water dams is too urgent to pay for them on a pay-as-you-go basis, the Tulsa County Commission will once again hire a bond adviser and sell revenue bonds to get the money up front. That means we're borrowing against future sales tax revenues so we can spend the money right away. The designated amount for each project represents the amount of cash needed to build each piece and doesn't include the project's share of fees and interest.

This is why projected sales tax receipts of about $750 million over the life of the Vision 2025 sales tax will be barely enough to pay for $580.5 million worth of projects. According to county financial adviser John Piercey's numbers, combined with PMg's Vision 2025 project report, that $580.5 million will have cost us $674,387,714.81 in sales tax revenues. That's $93.9 million in finance costs.

In Vision 2025, finance costs were not included in the announced project amounts. This is apparent in the way the funds have been managed. If a project's cost was listed as, say, $1 million, the project's sponsor (city, town, university, or non-profit) has $1 million to spend on construction, with no deduction for the project's share of finance costs.

If somehow we got the same effective interest rate, the $25 million contingency amount would be entirely consumed by finance costs, leaving no margin for error should costs increase, and making it quite likely that a few years from now, county commissioners will be telling us once again, "Sorry, but if you want us to finish this project we promised, you'll have to vote for another tax increase."

Monday night, September 24, at 7 p.m., Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel will host a forum about the problems he sees with the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects. It's being held at the Hardesty Library, 8316 E. 93rd Street (on 93rd East of Memorial). State Sen. Randy Brogdon, Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb, and Tulsa City Councilors Roscoe Turner and John Eagleton will also be in attendance, and yard signs and flyers will be available.

Those are two questions about two major thrusts of the campaign for the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river-related projects. In this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I ask whether this river tax plan is what we need to do for the sake of Tulsa's children and young adults.

In response to the first question, I deal in passing with one river tax cheerleader's active involvement in destroying a place of fun and happy memories for Tulsa's children, and pass along a suggestion, made by my wife, for how you could protest Bell's eviction from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, should you decide not to boycott this year's Tulsa State Fair entirely:

In addition to the obvious -- don't spend money on the Murphy Brothers midway -- here's a homemade idea for those who go to the fair but wish to protest Bell's eviction: Wear bells to the fair. You can buy a big bag of jingles at a craft store for a few dollars. Thread a bunch on a ribbon to wear around your neck. Bring extras to give to friends or fellow fairgoers.

And if you want to make the point explicit, stick a nametag on your shirt with the slogan that's been spotted around town: "No Bell's. No fair."

Bells3-web.pngAccompanying that suggestion on page 7 of this week's UTW is the first published work by a budding young cartoonist named Joe Bates, depicting a weeping Bell. He's got some more political cartoons in the work. The demolition of Bell's is something my two older kids saw happening on an almost daily basis, and it saddened them both greatly. I'm proud to see my son express his sentiments so eloquently in art. He's already working on some more cartoons.

I mentioned in the column that skipping the fair entirely is hard for a lot of people from Tulsa and the northeastern Oklahoma. Going back to the '40s my great-grandmother and grandmother would enter the craft competitions, and in recent years my two older children have had fun submitting their own creations. Joe has won two blue ribbons, one in 2004 for an acrylic painting and one last year for a convertible built with Legos. Both he and his little sister plan to enter some items again this year. To us, and to a lot of families, the Tulsa State Fair was here before Randi Miller and Clark Brewster and Rick Bjorklund, and it'll be here when they've all moved on to other things. But I can certainly understand those who plan to abandon the fair altogether.

Regarding young professionals, in my column I mention a recent visit to Orlando and a Saturday evening spent on lively Orange Avenue, between Church Street and Washington Street in that city's downtown:

Downtown Orlando has shiny new skyscrapers, a basketball arena, and a beautiful 23-acre lake with a fountain. But I didn't find the crowds around any of those. There were only a few people walking the path around the lake, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.

Instead, the throng of twenty-somethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old one-, two-, and three-story commercial buildings. The storefronts of those buildings were in use as bars, cafes, and pizza joints. The same kind of development stretched for a block or two down each side street. There were hot dog stands on every corner. Pedicabs ferried people to and fro. The numbers of partiers only grew larger as the little hand swept past 12.

An observation from that visit that I didn't include in the column: The block of Orange between Pine and Church Streets has these old commercial buildings crowding the sidewalk on the west side and a spacious plaza framed by two modern, round, glass and steel buildings on the east side. Where do you suppose people chose to walk? 90% of the foot traffic stayed next to the old storefronts and avoided the big modern plaza.

I didn't hear any complaints until six days after I added an update to my entry about the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County and their decision to exclude opponents of the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects from a luncheon at which that was the topic of discussion. That update was added the afternoon of September 7, following a phone call from County Commissioner Fred Perry, the person the head of the RWCTC had chosen to present the arguments for and against the tax. The update consisted of my summary of what Perry had told me about the rationale behind the format chosen by club president Nancy Rothman, followed by my reaction.

I was surprised that the one person who complained not only didn't agree that the RWCTC's decision to exclude the opposition was unfair but told me that my comments about that decision were "unfair and inappropriate." There were a few e-mails back and forth, and it became clear that we weren't going to see eye to eye on this.

The specific complaint was that my comparison of Nancy Rothman's decision to exclude the tax opponents for the sake of party harmony to the harmonious political discourse in the ruling party of North Korea was over the top. I meant to be over the top. In the words of Rush Limbaugh, I was trying to illustrate absurdity (promoting harmony by suppressing one side of the debate) by being absurd.

But I did wonder if perhaps I went too far. Nancy Rothman made a bad decision, but perhaps the decision was made from noble, if misguided, intentions.

Nancy Rothman sent out a press release today responding to what I wrote 13 days ago. Here it is in its entirety.

A Response to Michael Bates of
Press Release


On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Republican Women of Tulsa County (RWCTC) presented a program on the Proposed River Plan/Tax at its monthly luncheon.

The purpose of this meeting was neither to provide an exclusive forum for either side of this issue nor to conduct a debate, but to put forth as much information as possible on the plan itself, since few have had the opportunity to read the proposal in its entirety. The presentation on the corridor plan was provided by a professional engineer who was involved from the inception of the project.

As a club, we have remained neutral on the issue; we are aware that our membership is divided, even if the party has already stated its position. The group also wanted to address some of the issues that have been brought forth by both the proponents and the opponents of the issue. This program was merely meant to educate our membership and guests, not to sway anyone one way or the other.

The RWCTC asked Commissioner Fred Perry to make the presentation, since he had not come forward in support or opposition of the issue, and because we believe him to be an honorable man who would, in fact, present all of the information in an educational rather than an editorial format - as he was asked to do.

Again, the intent of this meeting was not to make an argument either for or against the proposal, but to provide our membership and guests with as much complete and unbiased information on the details of the plan and on the arguments - both for and against - as possible. It is my belief that we succeeded in that endeavor.

In his online personal commentary (blog), posted Sept. 5, Michael Bates stated, "...Regarding the RWCTC event, Perry told me that Ms. Rothman is a professional mediator who feels that the Republican Party is too divided and contentious, so she didn't want to have a debate. I would think that, as a mediator, she would understand the importance of each side feeling that their concerns were fully aired and given a fair hearing. Perhaps her mediation sessions consist of her picking one side to argue both sides of a dispute.

"To be fair to Ms. Rothman," he continued, "there are political parties that do a much better job than Republicans of maintaining unity and harmony. For example, the Workers' Party of Korea presents a united front on every issue. You never hear a dissenting voice on any issue; if you do, you never hear from it again. Perhaps she has the WPK in mind as a model of the Republican Party's future."

Unfortunately, this attack by Mr. Bates is a perfect example of a few within the party who employ bullying tactics in an attempt to shut down open dialogue and instill fear in those who don't agree with them. Sadly, this is only one example of this type of conduct that has been occurring within the Tulsa County Republican Party for the past several years.

Mr. Bates is correct in that I am a mediator. I believe that mediation is a proven process that is beneficial in many areas where there is dispute. Mediation is not, however, beneficial when one side uses bullying tactics to instill fear, attempting to beat people into submission if those people do not conform to the bully's whims. The real message he is sending is, "Conform to me and my way of doing things, or I'll demonize you and destroy your life."

If the purpose of this intimidation is to put a chilling effect on future speakers, it will not work. As for myself and the Republican Women of Tulsa County, we will not bow down to this type of threat, intimidation or harassment.

It is interesting to note that at no time did Mr. Bates ever attempt to contact me to inquire about the program, nor did he attend the program.

The spirit of intimidation within this party in Tulsa County is a seed that is tearing the party apart. Its aim is to pit people against each other, and to destroy anyone who advocates for open and honest communication and dialogue. It not only promotes infighting within the party but drives good people away and fosters a lack of respect within the community. How can anyone expect to lead and govern in this manner? Furthermore, how can a city expect to thrive and grow when high reader ratings (such as the example displayed here) are built up by tearing people down?

This response is not intended to cause further division. The Tulsa County Republican Party is made up of a diverse group of people and there will always be differences within the party. These differences, however, are not so deep that we cannot find common ground to work and move forward together in unity.

Nancy Rothman,
Tulsa County Republican Women's Club

I started to write a point-by-point reply, and I will probably do that at some point, but for now, I think I'll just let Nancy's comments stand without comment from me and instead open the floor for your comments.

UPDATE (9/22/2007): B. J. Benbow, a Republican woman who received Rothman's press release, sent a reply to Rothman, and copied me on it. Here's Benbow's specific response to Rothman's accusations:

After reading your account of Mr. Bates' article I agree with him. You do not claim that he was not factual and that you really did want a DEBATE. You simply attacked him (might I say bully).

As I mentioned in last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly, a few weeks ago I began my search for the source of the numbers being cited in defense of the need to raise taxes to build the two low-water dams and the Zink Lake modifications promised in Proposition No. 4 of the Vision 2025 sales tax.

The debate over this issue has two prongs:

(1) Did Tulsa County officials promise to build the dams during the Vision 2025 campaign? And did they promise that they'd have the money to build them even if Federal matching dollars weren't available? Despite word-parsing efforts by Commissioner Randi Miller and others, the clear answer to that question is yes, as I've demonstrated from the official ballot resolution, the official project map used during the campaign, and quotes from Commissioner Bob Dick and others during the campaign, and even after the campaign, when Federal funding was once again in doubt.

(2) Is there enough money in projected Vision 2025 revenues to cover the cost of the new dams and the Zink Lake modifications? County officials, citing numbers developed by John Piercey, the county's bond adviser, say that the answer is no. Based on revenue projections, remaining projects to be funded, and debt service, there isn't enough money, they say to fund the low water dams beyond the specific amounts listed in the resolution, much less fund any other project on this October's ballot.

That second point set me off on a search to find out for myself. I combed through the five big binders of monthly Vision 2025 reports in the fourth floor Government Documents department of the Central Library. (The most recent three binders are in the work room, so you need to ask at the reference desk if you want to see them.)

Having looked at the sales tax summaries and project summaries in the monthly reports, I had a simple mental model of how it all fit together. You had two pots of money: A pot of sales tax revenue and a pot of bond proceeds.

Sales tax receipts come into the sales tax revenue pot, and from that pot comes bond repayment (debt service: principal and interest) and cash expenditures (e.g., money to pay down the Oklahoma Aquarium debt, fees to PMg and attorneys).

The bond proceeds pot is fed by proceeds from revenue bond sales, and that money is spent on expenditures for most of the projects.

So what I wanted to know was this:

(1) How much money was in each pot as of, say, the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2007?

(2) How much money was likely to be added to the sales tax pot between now and the last sales tax check in February 2017? (There's about a month and a half delay between collection and the resulting check from the Oklahoma Tax Commission back to the cities and counties.)

(3) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is committed to debt service, and what is the repayment schedule?

(4) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and for overall program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

(5) Of the money in the bond pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

I figured that, with all the talk about how we wouldn't have enough money to build the promised dams, that somebody must have all this worked out, at least on a year by year basis. If you had the answers to those five questions, you could make decisions about borrowing against future revenues or the likelihood of additional money that could be spent on a pay-as-you-go basis or possibly even reprioritizing the sequence in which the remaining projects (including the dam and Zink Lake projects) would be funded.

I wrote about my quest a few weeks ago:

I asked Kirby Crowe by phone if he had a copy of this plan. I'm not sure if I made my meaning clear, but I came away from the conversation with the impression that he did not have a copy of Piercey's financial plan.

I called Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer, and asked if he had a copy of the financial plan. I thought he might, since his name is on the monthly memo in the Vision 2025 report listing tax receipts, the monthly wire transfer from the sales tax fund to the trustee, and the interest earnings on the sales tax trust account.

Smith said he didn't have the financial plan, but suggested I call John Piercey. Mr. Smith could tell me what the payment to the trustee would be for the next six months, at which point it would be recalculated, but couldn't tell me anything more about future expenses.

I called Capital West, and they gave me John Piercey's number. I called John, and he was very gracious. He said he'd e-mail it to me that evening or the following morning. He said something about recalculating based on more recent tax receipts. I'd really be happy seeing the most recent version, whatever he's been using as the basis for his statements about Vision 2025 surpluses.

That was a week ago Monday, the 20th. I gave him a reminder call on the 28th -- got his voicemail and left a message. Haven't heard back yet. I'm sure he's quite busy.

Can anyone suggest somewhere else I could find this information?

That was on August 30. Eight days later, on September 7, I left another message for Mr. Piercey. I also, on a whim, called County Commissioner Fred Perry's office to see if they have a copy of this rumored financial plan. The administrative assistant didn't know, but she took my message, and about an hour later, Commissioner Perry called me. (Part of that conversation found its way into the update to this entry about the Republican Women's Club's exclusion of the opposition from a discussion of the county river tax.)

Perry told me he would ask Piercey to get me the information, and not long after I heard from Piercey. The following Tuesday afternoon, September 11, he dropped the three-page Excel printout, entitled "Vision 2025 Financial Summary" by UTW's offices. (Clicking that link will open a PDF file, about 300 KB.)

Off and on over the following week, I crunched through Piercey's numbers covering the next nine and a half years and tried to fit them together with the numbers in the Vision 2025 reports covering the past three and a half years, trying to meld them together into a consistent set of answers to my questions.

Finally, I sent Piercey an e-mail, attaching a snapshot of the financial spreadsheet from the June 2007 Vision 2025 report:


Thanks again for providing me with that spreadsheet printout last Tuesday. I'm still looking at it and trying to understand how your numbers line up with the ones I observed in the Vision 2025 monthly reports from PMg.

The most puzzling thing is the gap between previous years debt service numbers and the numbers in your projections. Attached is a photo of the Vision 2025 sales tax report from PMg's June 2007 Vision 2025 report, which includes all receipts and expenditures through the end of FY07. It shows the following amounts transferred to the bond trustee:

Transferred to Bond Trustee

I take those numbers to represent what has been paid to debt service to date. So it's puzzling that for FY 2008 that the debt service jumps up to $46,977,024 plus $396,500 for Series 2006 B. Did the debt service payments just jump up at the end of FY 2007, or is something else on that PMg spreadsheet that should be included in debt service to date?

Put another way, what are your numbers for debt service through FY 2007?

(I'm also surprised that the debt service number doesn't tail off in 2017, since there are only eight months of revenue from the tax in FY 2017.)

Another apparent difference between PMg's numbers and yours: PMg shows, after May 2007, $45,362,099.18 in the sales tax trust fund, and in June all of it is transferred to a new cash projects trust account, in addition to about $2 million transferred to this cash projects trust account back in February. You show $39,093,695 as sales tax revenues held by County. I don't understand how those two numbers line up.

Another question has to do with when various expenses and funds might be realized. You show a balance to be funded of $104.5 million and about $69.3 million of cashflow from bond fund reserves ($39.4 million), net earnings on bond funds ($13.7 million), and net earnings on cash flow ($16.2 million). Has anyone mapped out, to the fiscal year, when these expenses and earnings will be realized?

Thanks again for your assistance,

Michael D. Bates

Here is Piercey's reply in full, clarifying the nature of his report and his role with Vision 2025 and Tulsa County:

Capital West Securities, Inc. official involvement with raising additional funds for Vision 2025 ended in the third quarter of 2006 with the completion of the funding of $31 million in parity and subordinate bonds which partially funded the $45.5 million approved by the County for the Arena and Convention Center. The balance of the funds for the projects increased budget will come from cash flow through the end of calendar year 2008.

My current involvement is as an unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program. The day to day management of the Program is performed by PMG and the funds administration is performed by the Bond Trustee in cooperation with Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer. The summary that was given to you is the most current semi annual Update that I have done and is not a "financial plan".

The monthly PMG report provided to the elected officials and the Sales Tax Overview committee will differ from my evaluation simply because they are looking primarily at projects implementation and monthly cash flows provided to them by the Trustee and PMG. They will also differ as a result of the time frame that I used and the in and out of money that occurs weekly.

As I pointed out to John Eagleton in a prior correspondence, the debt service payments that are shown in the PMG reports are what the Trustee requires from sales tax receipts on a monthly basis. The difference between the receipts and the payment goes into sales tax trust fund. The sales tax trust fund is being used to fund Vision projects not funded by bond proceeds. It builds up over time as a results of primarily the City of Tulsa budget process which requires all funds to be in place and appropriated before project contracts can be signed.

The Trustee's debt service requirements given to the County differ from the debt service requirements on the bonds are a results of interest earnings on the construction funds held by the Trustee as well as interest earnings on the Bond Fund Reserve account of $39.09 million. Given the amount of proceeds raised early in the program those earnings were substantial in the early years of the program and decline as projects are completed. This will also be the case with the County's sales tax trust fund as the Arena and Convention Center is completed between now and the end of fiscal year 2008.

As for specific answers to your questions:

1. Debt service has risen annually since 2003 as a results of additional bond issues being done as projects became ready for implementation. Debt service has also risen as the amount of investment earnings have declined as moneys are spent.

2. The PMG debt service numbers are net of investment earnings.

3. All the bond issues, except series 2006B, are rated AAA. In order to get a AAA rating, a cash reserve of $39 plus million was funded early in the program and is held by the Trustee. The purpose of the reserve is have sufficient funds on hand to pay debt service in the event that sales tax receipts at any one time or length of time is insufficient to pay the debt service. The Reserve is released in the final year (2017) to pay most of the final year's debt service. This final payment assumes that no short fall has occurred.

4. The Series 2006 B bonds of $10 million are subordinate bonds and are unrated. The reason being that the requirements to issue more bonds on a parity basis could not be met. The $14.5 million in cash flow for the Arena and Convention Center was also the results of not being able to issue more debt without increasing the costs of the debt and the risk that other projects would have to be postponed or possibly eliminated if sales tax receipts declined.

5. The Vision 2025 program included $575 million in specific projects with specific dollar allocations. Of that total 83% were funded by bond proceeds or in the case the Aquarium annual payments were contracted for. The balance of approximately $100 million (excluding the rebate) are being funded by sales taxes and investment earnings remaining after debt service is paid monthly. With the exception of the River Projects which were matching funds, cash flow schedules have been reviewed and PMG schedules those projects as they become ready and/or funds are available.

6. As I have noted in the past, I see no excess funds being available for new projects or increases for approved projects until after 2012-13. I hope that my forecast is too low. The bulk of any future surplus will occur in 2017 as the $39.1 million in bond fund reserve is released.

John Piercey

There's a lot to digest here. I'm putting it all here for anyone who cares to analyze it and comment on it.

One of the discoveries in all this is that there are actually four pots of money. In addition to the bond proceeds and the sales tax receipts, there is a bond repayment trust fund held by the bond trustee (the Bank of Oklahoma). When Jim Smith tried to explain to me how it worked, I compared it to an escrow account for paying taxes and insurance on a mortgaged house, which Smith thought was a good analogy. The bond trustee then repays the bondholders from this trust fund. Every six months, the bond trustee recalculates the payments they need from Tulsa County's sales tax receipts to enable them to pay the bondholders.

Here's my paraphrase of Piercey's explanation of the difference between the payments to the bond trustee (found in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) and his schedule for repayment to the bondholders: The county began paying money into the bond fund as soon as the tax began to be collected, but well before they had to begin to repay the bonds. Those early funds earned interest, which reduced the amount the county had to pay to the bond trustee in order to keep the bond trustee's fund at the required level.

Without the details of the ins and outs of the fund being managed by the bond trustee, there doesn't seem to be any way to correlate the sales tax payments to the bond trustee (in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) with the payments to the bondholders (in Piercey's financial summary). The Vision 2025 monthly reports don't cover the balances and transactions in the bond repayment trust account or in the bond proceeds pot of money. (It just now occurs to me that those two pots may actually be a single pot of money.) There are individual monthly project expenditures in the report, which you can infer are payments from the bond proceeds, but it isn't explicit, and transactions like interest earnings are either not reported or perhaps just not obvious to me. It would be good to have a spreadsheet for the bond proceeds fund that spells things out as clearly as the sales tax spreadsheet does for that fund -- the balance at the beginning of each month, all the income and the outgo, and the balance at the end.

I mentioned that there's a fourth pot of money. The June 2007 Vision 2025 monthly report shows that in February, $2,093,676.40 was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account, and in June, $45,961,778.85 -- pretty much the entire sales tax reserve being held in the county's accounts -- was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account. A memo included in one of the monthly reports says that this account is also being managed by BOk.

I still don't see a way to answer my five questions from the information available. If I were a County Commissioner or a member of the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee, I would insist on putting that information together and updating it on a monthly basis to serve as Tulsa County's financial plan for the Vision 2025 program.

It looks to me that John Piercey, PMg, and BOk each possess different pieces of the puzzle, but that no one has actually put all of it together into a complete picture, a complete plan that would permit exploring different scenarios that would allow the use of Vision 2025 funds to complete the dams that were promised as a part of that package.

There's another aspect of this that needs to be explored, but it's late and I'm tired. I'll just point you in the general direction. On the front page of Piercey's summary are three columns: "Pre-Request," "Arena Increase," "Revised Totals." The difference between the first and third columns tell quite a story.

Tulsa Community College's Forensic Team will debate the Tulsa County river tax today at noon at the Northeast Campus, Apache and Harvard, in the Room 1470 auditorium. Here are the details in a press release I received:

What: Debate over River Development - Local and Global impacts
When: Wednesday, September 19
Where: NE Campus- Large Auditorium (1470) at 12:00p.m.- 1:00p.m.
Who: TCC Forensics, Global Education, and Student Activities
Who is invited: Anyone interested in the Arkansas River debate. Please join us!
Light snacks provided

Tonight at 6:30 at the OSU-Tulsa auditorium, TulsaNow will hold a forum on the October 9th election regarding the proposed Tulsa County sales tax for river projects. Both sides will be well represented: Jean Letcher, campaign manager for the vote yes campaign, and Gaylon Pinc of PMg will speak in support of the tax; City Councilor John Eagleton and Tulsa resident Colin Tawney will speak in opposition. The forum format will give each side an equal chance to speak (unlike many other "informational" river tax events which have excluded the opposition). Some questions will be provided to the two sides in advance of the event, others will be drawn at random from audience submissions.

This should be an interesting event. Eagleton and Tawney are both very knowledgeable and well-spoken, and should do a fine job of representing the reasons for opposing this tax increase. It's interesting, too, that you have two people with a professional/financial interest arguing for passing the tax and two people who with no financial stake in the game arguing against.

For work reasons, I can't be there, but I hope you will.

UPDATE: Steve Roemerman live-blogged the event (until his laptop battery ran out of juice). He advises that TulsaNow will post video and that David Schuttler was there gathering video as well. I was surprised to learn that Jean Letcher was replaced at the last minute by John Piercey, bond adviser to Tulsa County.

UPDATE (2): David Schuttler has a blog entry with photos and his synopsis of the forum. He has posted some of the video, broken up by question, on his YouTube account, with more to come.

Meeciteewurkor has a guest post from someone who attended a river tax informational forum today, sponsored by the Sand Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. Ken Neal, former editorial page editor of the Tulsa Whirled, and Ken Levit, director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, were the main speakers.

It was billed as an informational meeting, but turned out to be more of a pep rally. No opponents of the tax were invited to speak. The post has audio, photos, and a summary of the gathering.

Neal said, "People accuse us of having pretty pictures. That's true, but you have to have a concept. At this point, nobody can develop detailed specification. I might just say, that if this happens, if we approve this tax, then we will have the money to start the specifications for each dam.... This is a concept."

Now, weren't we told that there was at least enough money in Vision 2025 to pay for engineering for these dams? In fact that's what Terry Simonson tried to claim all the Vision 2025 money was spent on (before he disappeared). And we can't even start the lengthy Corps of Engineers approval process until the engineering is complete.

I think it's interesting that Neal completely glosses over the $90 million for the "living river" and downplays the "downtown connector" ($15 million) and the pedestrian bridges at 41st and 61st Streets ($30 million), none of which is in the INCOG plan. Nevertheless, he ascribes the large amount of public input in the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan development to this hastily thrown together county river tax plan.

Neal also claims that fishing will improve "a hell of a lot" because of the new dams.

In his remarks, Ken Levit said that "this is a plan that INCOG built with years of community input." He needs not to say that, because it isn't true. The Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan was built by INCOG with years of community input. But close to half of the cost in the plan on the ballot October 9 is for items that were not in the ARMCP -- the items I listed above.

(I don't know this for sure, but since GKFF hired Bing Thom to do a river study for the area south of 21st Street, I wonder if it was Thom -- the man behind the islands in the middle of the Arkansas River, that came up with the "living river," the pedestrian bridges, and the "gathering places.")

There was also an interesting answer to a question about the charitable money and whether any of it might end up in Sand Springs. Levit emphasized that none of it was earmarked. That's funny because almost all the talk about gathering places and improvements funded by these charitable contributions has focused on the east bank of the river south of 31st Street in Tulsa.

They only answered two questions, and Neal tried to finesse a question about this morning's Whirled story about the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's concerns about the proposal. Again he tried to wrap the county river tax plan in the mantle of the ARMCP, going even further and claiming the Corps of Engineers imprimatur. "Do you suppose the Corps is going to approve its own plan? Whatta you think?" While the Corps has been heavily involved in the development of the ARMCP, half of the plan on the October 9th ballot is not found in the ARMCP.

Aaron Griffith gives his reasons for voting against the proposed $282 million river sales tax increase. Aaron comes from a left-wing populist perspective, but much of his argument will resonate across the political spectrum, and I like the way he has annotated each of his points with a relevant link.

Tulsa County River Tax: A Question of Style or Substance

It seems like an age old question: What should our priorities be in life? To create well-maintained, vibrant, safe, diverse, green, clean communities? Should our collective vision focus on substance and sustainability or should style and self-indulgent luxuries dictate our priorities? On October 9, Tulsa County Voters arrive at an ozone-polluted, pothole-riddled crossroads to face the decision of which way to go.

The proposed County river tax is not a transformation, but a mutation of the geographic inequity, institutionalized neglect, economic segregation, and false promises of progress as promised as usual in Tulsa County. We will not become a progressive community by continuing to neglect the maintenance of our failing roads and infrastructure or ignoring the environmental elephants in the room in regards to river development.

It will not happen by disregarding alternative sources of funding for river development, which do not increase regressive County sales taxes that steal primary revenue streams away from struggling municipalities or by infrastructure privatization.

It will not happen by perverting the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan to include a 41st St. pedestrian bridge or wasting precious resources on unwanted, unnecessary, special elections.

It will not happen by gambling on exaggerated economic impact projections or empty promises of good-paying construction jobs that won't have any prevailing wage protections and nothing to protect against 1099 worker misclassification abuse, that places honest contractors who play by the rules at a competitive disadvantage.

It will not happen by misguided, last minute, half-hearted attempts to address the hardship this tax increase causes to our at-risk, low income, and fixed income families living paycheck to paycheck by offering a year end tax rebate to those who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit that will do nothing to affect the immediate impact this new tax increase on the basic necessities of life will have on their budgets.

It will not happen by giving private special interest controlled Mayors, County Commissioners, and their politically appointed new bureaucratic unrepresentative river authority the final say on development along the river within the sovereignty of municipalities by voting to give them a giant blank check, a new regressive tax, for continued failure to deliver the progress as promised.

At the polls during the October 9 special election, I urge you to please vote NO, so we can begin a real dialogue on how to provide sustainable solutions to the critical long-term infrastructure, environmental, socioeconomic, transportation, planning challenges we face in Tulsa County in order to promote, preserve, and protect real progressive values.

Sign suppression

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Would you buy a used car from this dealer at 9404 E. 31st St.?


If memory serves, this same dealer has posted messages accusing those who believe in the enforcement of America's immigration laws of being hateful racists.

Since the signs cost a lot less than $5, maybe people should turn in their signs, then donate the proceeds to buy more signs. :) (I think I saw a variation of that idea on an episode of "The Lucy Show" -- Lucy exploited the double-your-money back guarantee of a brand of canned beans.)

If you'd like a "NO RIVER TAX" sign for your yard, Tulsa Machine (a sign printing shop) at 1503 E. Admiral Pl. has them for sale for a nominal price.

Both sides now

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From an email about the upcoming Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County's luncheon (Tuesday, September 11, 11:30 p.m., Holiday Inn Select, I-44 and Yale -- the old Hilton) (emphasis added:

Commissioner Perry will present the Proposed River Plan/Tax in an educational format. He will be aided by an engineer who played a key role in the development of the 42 mile River Corridor plan from which the proposed plan was derived.

Commissioner Perry will present arguments which have been made both for and against the Proposed River Plan and the associated county sales tax to fund it. The matter is scheduled for a county wide vote on October 9th.

If you're a Republican woman and think it's egregiously unfair for a proponent of higher taxes to represent both sides of this debate (a debate where the county Republican party platform comes down solidly in opposition), you might politely encourage the RWC president, Nancy Rothman, to allow an actual opponent to argue the case for the opposition. (I won't reproduce her contact info here; if you're a club member, you have her phone number and email address in the meeting notice.)

UPDATE: I just spoke to Commissioner Perry, who wanted to emphasize that it was Ms. Rothman's choice, not his, to have him present both sides of the argument. He says he's going to have to walk quite a tight rope and that neither side is likely to be satisfied that their argument was fully presented. He also took issue to my characterization of him as a proponent of higher taxes, that there are things that make him uneasy about the river tax plan (the tax increase, Broken Arrow's opposition) and he's not cheerleading for it, but on balance he thinks it's good thing, and he is a proponent of letting the voters decide. He also pointed out that in the legislature he sometimes opposed sending an issue to a vote of the people: the lottery, casino gambling, certain tax increases.

Regarding the RWCTC event, Perry told me that Ms. Rothman is a professional mediator who feels that the Republican Party is too divided and contentious, so she didn't want to have a debate. I would think that, as a mediator, she would understand the importance of each side feeling that their concerns were fully aired and given a fair hearing. Perhaps her mediation sessions consist of her picking one side to argue both sides of a dispute.

To be fair to Ms. Rothman, there are political parties that do a much better job than Republicans of maintaining unity and harmony. For example, the Workers' Party of Korea presents a united front on every issue. You never hear a dissenting voice on any issue, or if you do, you never hear from it again. Perhaps she has the WPK in mind as a model for the Republican Party's future.

In 1980, Congressman Tom Steed was interviewed at Rose State College and had something very sensible to say about the way decreasing voter participation empowers pressure groups. (Found on the Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum.)

Well, you really struck a nerve with me there because my pet-peeve is the fact that people won't vote. And I have studied it. I've talked to a lot of authorities and there's a lot of people concerned about it all over the nation. And so I've actually come to the conclusion that there's no more insidious enemy my country has than a person who will not vote.

Now, as the vote went down and down over these years, the pressure groups in Washington went up and up and up. Where there used to be a page of them in the telephone book in Washington, now there's many pages. Everybody has a pressure group.

Well, finally the Congressman who votes for what's right and antagonizes one or more of these pressure groups comes home and finds that most of the people that he represents and that he did that for won't even bother to vote. He has no protection. And off goes his head. Well Joe Doaks sees Bill Spivey get it in the neck, so the next time, he gets cautious. And it's a growing sickness.

I don't know how to make people vote. Now in the bicentennial year, we got together, we raised money, we put on a special drive. We had the help of all the media and everybody else. No one was against it. We finally got 55 percent of the eligible voters in Oklahoma to register and we got 94 percent of the 55 percent to vote. And we led the nation - in our bicentennial year. Number one in the nation - in citizenship! Did you hear anything about it? Any hats go up in the air? Have you seen any chamber of commerce slogans or anything? If we were number one in football, maybe we'd a heard a lot, but not on citizenship.

Now after that, I said, well, I don't know, I give up. If that won't set the state on fire, I don't know what you could do. But it's a sad thing and I never pass up an opportunity to scold people because they won't go vote.

When ordinary people don't pay attention and don't support officials who put their interests first, voters are swayed by the ads purchased by various pressure groups. Elected officials learn to fear the pressure groups rather than their own voters.

I think that goes a long way toward explaining how the current ill-conceived river tax increase found its way to the ballot.

I've commented on the pointlessness of the 41st Street and 61st Street pedestrian-only bridges, which are part of the sales tax package Tulsa County residents will be voting on October 9, but which are not part of the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan. The 41st Street pedestrian-only bridge would in fact obstruct something that is in the ARMCP: A combination vehicle and pedestrian bridge linking Red Fork to Brookside.

The two pedestrian-only bridges will connect on the west side of the river to an industrial area and a railroad track, respectively. Cyclists and joggers may appreciate having more ways to make a circuit around the river, but few Tulsans will make use of these bridges, which are priced at $15 million a piece.

Up in Amsterdam, N. Y., Robert N. Going wonders about the value of a pedestrian bridge proposed to span the Mohawk River. Like our 61st Street bridge, this one would dead-end at a railroad track and would fall well short of connecting the two sides of the town.

In Amsterdam's case, the bridge is being financed by a statewide bond issue that passed a couple of years ago. The local assemblyman (equivalent to Oklahoma's state representative) included money for the bridge in the bond. Just as Tulsa County officials didn't consult with City of Tulsa officials about the City's priorities for the river, the assemblyman didn't speak to Amsterdam city officials about whether there were better ways to use the $17 million that he had finagled for the pedestrian bridge.

Robert presents an alternative and less expensive idea that would improve the city's waterfront and usefully connect one place to another. His idea won't get anywhere, because it doesn't cost enough and involve enough money for construction contracts, so there won't be anyone with a financial motivation to lobby for its approval.

It took me a while to figure this out, but to the people who make the decisions, a plan for civic improvement isn't a real plan unless it involves higher taxes, the issuance of revenue bonds, and lots and lots of concrete and steel. There has to be a sufficiently concentrated benefit for some group of businesses and institutions to make it worth their while to lobby and campaign for something.

I've been outspoken in opposition to several of these big tax projects, but each time I've offered an alternative approach to civic improvement. When The Channels concept surfaced last fall, I used my UTW column to set out what I think Tulsans really want when they say they want river development and the best way to make that happen.

My approach to civic improvements usually involves a series of incremental improvements, none of them wildly expensive. Roberta Brandes Gratz's concept of "urban husbandry," as opposed to "project planning," guides me in this regard. Some of my ideas involve redeploying existing resources or eliminating regulatory barriers (e.g., allowing entrepreneurs to operate private bus services, aka jitneys).

I've always marveled at how quick the Vote Yes folks are to scoff at my alternatives to their plans for civic improvement. They don't want to know my alternative plan for making Tulsa a better place. They want to know my alternative plan for raising taxes and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new construction. The idea that we don't need to raise and spend all that money is unacceptable. I can't find it right now, but there was even a letter to the editor mocking the fact that I always offer a less expensive way to do something.

One more thought connected to this: Vision 2025 included $15 million for the Route 66 corridor. That kind of money could have been used to amazing effect, supplementing the positive impact of the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The money could have funded facade improvements, rehabilitation of neon, and other efforts to preserve and restore commercial buildings along Route 66 in Tulsa County. It's the roadside businesses, and the memories they stir of pre-Interstate Highway travel, that draw people to Route 66. (The federal program has $10,000,000 to spend over 2,000 miles of road. Tulsa County has $15,000,000 for 26 miles of road.)

Instead, much of the money is being used to build a new museum, which means a big general construction contract and lots of money flowing down to subcontractors. No one thought of using the money for restoration and preservation of existing buildings because no one could figure out how to make a buck off of it. (Which is silly, because there is money in restoration and preservation. The notion just hasn't caught on here yet.)

RELATED: An excellent post by Jeff Shaw which fed into my thoughts on this issue as well. He asks some questions of the economic impact numbers the Chamber Pots are touting for the river tax plan. I have a copy of that spreadsheet, which I intend to post soon, and at first glance it looks like their economic impact estimate is predicated on how much tax money is spent on construction. No account is made of the impact of withdrawing the money for construction from the uses to which it would have been put otherwise. The model behind it seems to predict that if you taxed every penny and devoted it to construction of new public facilities, the city would become a wealthy paradise.

Via KJRH's website, here's the complete text of the resolution approved this last Thursday by the Tulsa County Commission, calling for an October 9th election for a 4/10% sales tax for river projects:



WHEREAS, it is deemed necessary and advisable by the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, to improve the general economic conditions and quality of life of the people of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, by development of the Arkansas River corridor within the County; and

WHEREAS, there are no funds in the treasury for such purpose and power is granted said County by Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 1370, as amended, to levy and collect a sales tax to provide funds for such purpose providing the same be authorized by a majority of the registered voters thereof voting at an election duly held for such purpose; and

WHEREAS, the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, adopted a comprehensive resolution on August 2, 2007 (the “Original Resolution”), calling an election for the foregoing purpose; and

WHEREAS, it has been determined to amend and restate the Original Resolution in its entirety as hereinafter provided in order to clarify certain aspects of the projects to be funded from such sales tax and the composition and duties of the public trust created in connection therewith.


Section 1.The Original Resolution is hereby amended in its entirety to read as follows:



WHEREAS, it is deemed necessary and advisable by the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, to improve the general economic conditions and quality of life of the people of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, by development of the Arkansas River corridor within the County; and

WHEREAS, there are no funds in the treasury for such purpose and power is granted said County by Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 1370, as amended, to levy and collect a sales tax to provide funds for such purpose providing the same be authorized by a majority of the registered voters thereof voting at an election duly held for such purpose.

Section 1. There is hereby called a special election in Tulsa County to be held on the 9th day of October, 2007, for the purpose of submitting to the registered voters thereof the following proposition:



Section 2. The ballot setting forth the above proposition shall also contain in connection with the said proposition the following words:


The Above Proposition


The Above Proposition

Only the registered, qualified voters of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, may vote upon the proposition as above set forth.

The polls shall be opened at 7:00 o'clock A.M. and shall remain open continuously until and be closed at 7:00 o'clock P.M.

The number and location of the polling places for said election shall be the same or the regular precinct polling places as designated for statewide and county elections by the Tulsa County Election Board. Such election shall be conducted by those officers designated by the Tulsa County Election Board, which officers shall also act as counters and certify the election results as required by law.

Section 3. The County Clerk of Tulsa County is hereby directed to transmit a copy of this Resolution to the Secretary of the Tulsa County Election Board immediately upon approval hereof by the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma.

Section 4. Subject to approval of a majority of the registered voters of Tulsa County voting thereon as herein provided, there is hereby levied in addition to all other taxes in effect in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, a sales tax of four-tenths of one percent (4/10%) upon the gross proceeds or gross receipts derived from all sales or services in Tulsa County upon which a consumers sales tax is levied by the State of Oklahoma for the purpose set forth in Section 7 hereof.

Section 5. The tax herein levied shall be and remain in effect for a period commencing on January 1, 2008, and continuing thereafter to December 31, 2014.

Section 6.

A. For the purpose of this Section only, the following words and terms shall be defined as follows:

1.“County” shall mean Tulsa County, Oklahoma.

2.“County Treasurer” shall mean the Treasurer of Tulsa County, Oklahoma.

3.“Dependent” shall mean every person who is a member of the household of the applicant and for whom applicant is entitled to claim a personal exemption under and pursuant to the Federal income tax laws.

4.“Family” shall mean one or more persons living in the same household who pool their various sources of income into one budget to achieve the effect of sharing the cost of providing for support of the group.

5.“Household” includes all persons who occupy a group of rooms or single room which is regarded as a housing unit when it is occupied as separate living quarters, and when there is either:

i. Direct access from the outside of the building or through a common hall; or

ii. Complete kitchen facilities for the exclusive use of the occupants.

6.“Income” includes all money received during the year and available to be used to provide support for the family or household.

7.“Person” shall mean an individual, but shall not include a company, partnership, joint venture, joint agreement, association (mutual or otherwise), corporation, estate, trust, business trust, receiver, or trustee appointed by state or federal court or otherwise, syndicate, the State of Oklahoma, any court, city, municipality, school district, or any other political subdivision of the State of Oklahoma or group or combination acting as a unit, in the plural or singular number.

8.“Resident” shall mean any person who has resided in the corporate limits of the County for the entire calendar year for which the refund is applied.

B. Every person desiring to make a claim for a tax rebate must submit to the County a written application therefore, on forms to be provided by the County, between January 1 and March 31 of the year following the year for which the rebate is being sought, beginning with the year 2009.

C.The qualifications for senior rebate include the following:

1.The person must be a resident of the County.

2.The person must be sixty-five (65) years of age or older during a portion of the year for which the rebate is being sought.

3.The person can claim a rebate only as a family member who contributed the greatest share of the family income and for members of the household who are residents of the County and who are dependent upon the said applicant.

4.No person who may be claimed as a member of the household on another resident’s application shall be entitled to a rebate. If a rebate is claimed on more than one application for the same person, the County Treasurer shall determine the person entitled to claim the rebate provided in this Section.

D. The qualifications for low-income rebate include the following:

1. The person must meet the eligibility criteria for the Oklahoma Sales Tax Relief Act pursuant to Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 5011, as amended, OR the Oklahoma Earned Income Tax Credit pursuant to Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 2357.43, as amended, and must timely file for such with the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

2. The person must be a resident of the County.

3. The person can claim a rebate only as a family member who contributed the greatest share of the family income and for members of the household who are residents of the County and who are dependent upon the said applicant.

4. No person may be claimed as a member of the household on another resident’s application shall be entitled to a rebate. If a rebate is claimed on more than one application for the same person, the County Treasurer shall determine the person entitled to claim the rebate provided in this Section.

E. If the applicant meets the requirements to qualify for a senior rebate, the County shall rebate the sum of $25.00. If the applicant meets the requirements to qualify for a low-income rebate, the County shall rebate the sum of $25.00. A person may claim and shall be entitled to only one rebate, either the senior rebate or the low- income rebate, but not both rebates.

F. The County Treasurer is to administer the rebate program established in this Section. He is authorized to prepare a form for application for rebate and adopt rules and regulations as long as the same are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Section, and shall audit and check the applications. The amount of rebate above set forth shall apply to each year of the seven-year program.

G. The burden is on the applicant to establish that he is entitled to a rebate. The County Treasurer is authorized to require reasonable supporting information which shall be uniformly required of all applicants. Upon an audit of the application, the County Treasurer can require all reasonable written and other information necessary to satisfy him that the application is valid.

Should any application be denied, the County Treasurer shall state the reasons therefore in writing to the applicant and indicate all or the portion of the application being denied. Such determination shall be final unless the applicant, within thirty (30) days after such notice of determination, shall apply in writing to the Board of County Commissioners of the County for a hearing. After such hearing the Board of County Commissioners of the County shall give written notice of the determination to the applicant.

An applicant shall not be entitled to a rebate when he has been denied by the Board of County Commissioners of the County or when he has had an opportunity for a hearing as provided in this Section and has failed to avail himself of the remedies herein provided.

Section 7. All valid and subsisting permits to do business issued by the Oklahoma Tax Commission pursuant to the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code are, for the purpose of this Resolution, hereby ratified, confirmed and adopted in lieu of any requirement for an additional County permit for the same purpose.

Section 8. It is hereby declared to be the purpose of this Resolution to provide revenue for the purpose of Arkansas River corridor development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County for such purpose, including the following projects:


Arkansas River improvements including but not limited to Sand Springs low water dam, pedestrian bridge and lake ($24.70 million), Zink Dam modifications ($15.45 million), modification of river channel from Zink Lake to South Tulsa/Jenks Lake ($90 million), South Tulsa/Jenks low water dam, pedestrian bridge and lake, and low water dam, lake and river studies ($24.70 million).


Arkansas River corridor land acquisition, infrastructure, bridge improvements and site development, and Arkansas river studies for Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sand Springs and Bixby.


Bridging East and West Arkansas River Banks and Downtown, including but not limited to pedestrian River crossings at 41st Street and 61st Street ($30 million), and connectors from downtown Tulsa to the Arkansas River and transportation corridor studies ($15 million).


Projects Contingency


While the cost estimates shown above are believed to be accurate, it must be recognized that the exact cost of each project may vary from the estimate shown. It is the intention of the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County , Oklahoma, that all projects shall be completed as funds are made available. The nature and scope of all projects shall be determined by a public trust having Tulsa County, Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and any other municipality having its mayor as a trustee of such trust as its beneficiaries. Such public trust shall have nine trustees consisting of, ex- officio, the three members of the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, the Mayor of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a member of the River Parks Authority designated by the Chairman of the River Parks Authority, two members appointed by the Mayor of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and two members appointed by the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, one of which shall be, ex officio, the Mayor of either Bixby, Jenks, Broken Arrow or Sand Springs, Oklahoma, and the other of which shall be, ex officio, the Mayor of either Owasso, Glenpool, Collinsville, Skiatook or Sperry, Oklahoma. In the expenditure of all funds hereunder, preference shall be given to local vendors and contractors to the extent permitted by law. In addition, such public trust shall approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope of any such project following a public hearing by such trust. The Indian Nations Council of Governments shall provide consulting services to such public trust upon request.

Section 9. There is hereby specifically exempted from the sales tax levied by this Resolution all items that are exempt from the State sales tax under the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code.

Section 10. The tax levied hereunder shall be due and payable at the time and in the manner and form prescribed for payment of the State sales tax under the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code.

Section 11. Such sales taxes due hereunder shall at all times constitute a prior, superior and paramount claim as against the claims of unsecured creditors, and may be collected by suit as any other debt.

Section 12. The definitions of words, terms and phrases contained in the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code, Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 1352, as amended, are hereby adopted by reference and made a part of this Resolution.

Section 13. The term "Tax Collector" as used herein means the department of the County government or the official agency of the State duly designated according to law or contract authorized by law to administer the collection of the tax herein levied.

Section 14. For the purpose of this Resolution the classification of taxpayers hereunder shall be as prescribed by state law for purposes of the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code.

Section 15. (a) The tax herein levied shall be paid to the Tax Collector at the time in form and manner provided for payment of State sales tax under the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code. (b) The bracket system for the collection of the sales tax provided for herein by the Tax Collector shall be as the same is hereafter adopted by the agreement of the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and the Tax Collector, in the collection of both the sales tax provided for herein and the State sales tax.

Section 16. (a) The tax levied hereunder shall be paid by the consumer or user to the vendor, and it shall be the duty of each and every vendor in this County to collect from the consumer or user, the full amount of the tax levied by this Resolution, or any amount equal as nearly as possible or practicable to the average equivalent thereof.

(b) Vendors shall add the tax imposed hereunder, or the average equivalent thereof, to the sales price, charge, consideration, gross receipts or gross proceeds of the sale of tangible personal property or services taxed by this Resolution, and when added such tax shall constitute a part of such price or charges, shall be debt from the consumer or user to vendor until paid, and shall be recoverable at law in the same manner as other debts.

(c) A vendor who willfully or intentionally fails, neglects or refuses to collect the full amount of the tax levied by this Resolution, or willfully or intentionally fails, neglects or refuses to comply with the provisions hereof or remits or rebates to a consumer or user, either directly or indirectly, and by whatsoever means, all or any part of the tax herein levied, or makes in any form of advertising, verbally or otherwise, any statement which infers that he is absorbing the tax, or paying the tax for the consumer or user by an adjustment of prices or at a price including the tax, or in any manner whatsoever, shall be deemed guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof shall be fined not more than One Hundred Dollars ($100.00), plus costs, and upon conviction for a second or other subsequent offense shall be fined not more than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), plus costs, or incarcerated for not more than sixty (60) days, or both. Provided, sales by vending machines may be made at a stated price which includes state and any municipal sales tax.

(d) Any sum or sums collected or required to be collected hereunder shall be deemed to be held in trust for Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and, as trustee, the collecting vendor shall have a fiduciary duty to Tulsa County, Oklahoma in regards to such sums and shall be subject to the trust laws of this state. Any vendor who willfully or intentionally fails to remit the tax, after the tax levied by this article was collected from the consumer or user, and appropriates the tax held in trust to his own use, or to the use of any person not entitled thereto, without authority of law, shall be guilty of embezzlement.

Section 17. Returns and remittances of the tax herein levied and collected shall be made to the Tax Collector at the time and in the manner, form and amount as prescribed for returns and remittances required by the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code; and remittances of tax collected hereunder shall be subject to the same discount as may be allowed by the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code for collection of State sales tax.

Section 18. The provisions of Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 217, as amended, and of Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Sections 1350 et seq., as amended, are hereby adopted by reference and made a part of this Resolution, and interest and penalties at the rates and in amounts as therein specified are hereby levied and shall be applicable in cases of delinquency in reporting and paying the tax levied by this Resolution. Provided, that the failure or refusal of any taxpayer to make and transmit the reports and remittances of tax in the time and manner required by this Resolution shall cause such tax to be delinquent. In addition, if such delinquency continues for a period of five (5) days the taxpayer shall forfeit his claim to any discount allowed under this Resolution.

Section 19. The interest or penalty or any portion thereof accruing by reason of a taxpayer's failure to pay the sales tax herein levied may be waived or remitted in the same manner as provided for such waiver or remittance as applied in administration of the State sales tax provided in Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 220, as amended; and to accomplish the purposes of this section the applicable provisions of such Section 220 are hereby adopted by reference and made a part of this Resolution.

Section 20. Refund of erroneous payment of the sales tax herein levied may be made to any taxpayer making such erroneous payment in the same manner and procedure, and under the same limitations of time, as provided for administration of the State sales tax as set forth in Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 227, as amended, and to accomplish the purposes of this Section, the applicable provisions of such Section 227 are hereby adopted by reference and made a part of this Resolution.

Section 21. In addition to all civil penalties provided by this Resolution, the willful failure or refusal of any taxpayer to make reports and remittances herein required, or the making of any false and fraudulent report for the purpose for avoiding or escaping payment for any tax or portion thereof rightfully due under this Resolution shall be an offense, and upon conviction thereof the offending taxpayer shall be subject to such fines as set out under Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 241, as amended.

Section 22. The confidential and privileged nature of the records and files concerning the administration of this sales tax is legislatively recognized and declared, and to protect the same the provisions of Title 68, Oklahoma Statutes 2001, Section 205, as amended, of the Oklahoma Sales Tax Code, and each subsection thereof is hereby adopted by reference and made fully effective and applicable to administration of this sales tax as if here set forth in full.

Section 23. The people of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, by their approval of the proposition set forth in Section 1 of this Resolution at the election hereinabove provided, hereby authorize the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, by Resolutions duly enacted to make such administrative and technical changes or additions in the method and manner of administration and enforcing this Resolution as may be necessary or proper for efficiency and fairness except that neither the rate of the tax herein provided, nor the term, nor the purpose of the tax herein provided, shall be changed without approval of the qualified electors of the County as provided by law.

Section 24. The Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, hereby declares for the benefit of the taxpayers of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, its solemn intent that the sales tax levied pursuant to this Resolution be ended at the earliest possible time upon payment of all indebtedness secured by such sales tax, or adequate provision for such payment having been made, and sufficient funds collected for all projects contemplated hereunder.

Section 25. The provisions hereof shall be cumulative, and in addition to any and all other taxing provisions of County Resolutions.

Section 26. The provisions hereof are hereby declared to be severable, and if any section, subsection, paragraph, sentence or clause of this Resolution is for any reason held invalid or inoperative by any Court of competent jurisdiction such decision shall not affect any other section, subsection, paragraph, sentence or clause hereof.”

PASSED AND APPROVED this 9th day of August, 2007.



Randi Miller, Chairman

Board of County Commissioners



Earlene Wilson, County Clerk


There's been an interesting discussion over at the TulsaNow forum, looking ahead to the river tax vote in October, and looking back to the Vision 2025 tax vote back in 2003. There were persistent rumors that certain major companies blasted e-mails to their employees, urging them to vote yes, and that one company in particular, the Bank of Oklahoma, pressured employees to allow the vote yes campaign to put signs in their yards. BOk was one of the largest donors to the vote yes campaign, and a subsidiary of BOk Financial Corp., Leo Oppenheim, got half of the Vision 2025 revenue bond business.

In the course of the discussion, a user identifying himself with the handle "bokworker" was denying that there had been any sort of pressure on BOk employees to support Vision 2025, but he finally acknowledged this much (emphasis added; "Oil Capital" and "FB" are other participants in the discussion):

Oil Capital, as I recall the "incident" in question, there was an article posted on the banks' internal intranet informing employess about the Vision 2025 initiative and that the bank, as an entity, supported the initiative. The article stated that those employees that also supported the intitiative could ( note, it said COULD not WOULD) have a sign placed in their front yard to indicate their support. Those that did not want a sign or were not in support of the issue could "opt-out" by clicking the attached link and it was done. There was no effort in opting out besides a finger click. I will agree that I am not good at reading the minds of thousands of BOk employees any more than FB is. I can relate however that the so called "implicite coersion" was not felt by me or any of my co-workers. Is it possible that one or more employees felt uncomfortable in opting out? I suppose, but I did not.

Could the bank have worded the intranet article in a manner that you had to "opt-in" to get a sign put in your yard? I suppose but since I didn't feel like the bank was doing something that put my future with the organization at risk by "opting-out" I didn't give it a second thought. My angst with FB was that the banks actions were some sort of a conspiracy on the part of management to force the actions of its' employees to follow the company line. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's 2003, and Tulsa has lost over 25,000 high tech jobs in the last two years. You go to work, sit down at your desk, log into the network, and you see an article telling you the company supports the Vision 2025 tax increase, and if you don't support it or don't want a "vote yes" sign in your yard, you can click a link and opt out. Would you click that link, knowing that there will be a record made of your decision?

Or would you suddenly remember your friend at that oil company who opposed the Tulsa Project and was fired after the election? Would you decide that it's not worth it to rock the boat?

There may be an honorable situation for forcing employees or subscribers or customers to "opt out" instead of allowing them to "opt in" but I can't think of one. At the very least Mr. Opt Out is hoping you'll forget to uncheck the box. Or maybe he'll set it up so that opting out requires checking a box, with the hope that you won't read closely enough or will just overlook it.

What BOk did, if this employee's story is accurate, is far worse. If you disagreed with your company's position on the tax, you had to conspicuously identify yourself as an opponent. Making the signs opt-in would have allowed opponents of the tax to blend in with those who just didn't get around to requesting a sign.

While I haven't heard this kind of story yet in this campaign, I am already hearing about pressure being applied by supporters of the new tax to shut down opposition. I've already heard of a neighborhood leader is being pressured not to allow an opponent of the tax to share the stage with a representative from the county at their neighborhood meeting. This is a sign of insecurity on the part of the proponents. If they believe their spin won't stand up to cross-examination, they'll refuse to debate someone who is able to use facts and reason to rebut their claims.

You tax supporters: If this is such a good deal, let it stand on its own merits. You shouldn't need to use threats, either explicit or implicit, to win support.

Just got word: To no one's surprise, the Tulsa County Commission voted unanimously to schedule an October 9 vote for a new seven year, 0.4% sales tax to fund river projects.

More commentary later.

Why the hurry?

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A number of people have asked why the county commissioners seem to be in such a rush to put a sales tax hike on the ballot to pay for their proposed Arkansas River projects. The official answer from County Commissioner Randi Miller is that they're not in a rush at all, because the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP) has been in the works for four years.

This is an instance of misdirection, deliberately confusing the ARCMP with the river tax propsal: The ARCMP is a plan for capital improvements and development along the length of the river through Tulsa County over the course of the next several decades. The proposed river tax plan, implements a few projects in the ARCMP, but also includes projects (like a pedestrian-only 41st Street bridge) at odds with the ARCMP, and except for a few million for "studies" it excludes the sections of the river south of Jenks, and between Sand Springs and downtown Tulsa.

The river tax plan wasn't announced until June 20, 2007, and the details of the plan still have not been made public. We don't yet know how much each project line item is estimated to cost. The ballot resolution, the legally binding document that spells out how the tax revenues will be spent and how it will be governed, hasn't been made public yet, but the commissioners will be voting on it today (Thursday). One of the key issues is the composition of the board that will decide how to divvy up the $57.4 million for "River Corridor Land Acquisition." Will the City of Tulsa be well-represented on this board? What is the real likelihood that Tulsa will get any of the money for encouraging private riverfront development within the City of Tulsa's limits. On KFAQ Wednesday morning, Commissioner Fred Perry was unsure of the details of how the land acquisition would be handled and whether the city or the county or a nine-member trust would own the land.

There's a scheduled statewide election, a presidential primary, on February 5 -- we'd avoid the extra $170,000 cost of a special election. There are also two other dates before the end of the year, in November and December, on which an election could be held. There's time to air all the details publicly, receive public comment, and adjust the proposal.

So what's the real hurry? Commissioner Perry gave a very straightforward answer Wednesday morning. (It's about 22 minutes into this podcast.)

I think that to a great extent that is being driven by the philanthropists who have brought forth the private money, who -- basically, the way George Kaiser, I heard him put it, where his $50 million is concerned, is that normally he gives money to educational uses and human needs uses and so on -- his foundation does -- and that obviously there's probably some tax implications coming up on the end of the year, and if the public was not, you know, going to pass this then he wanted to be able to put his money elsewhere. And I've heard, you know, similar comments from some of the other people that are giving money.

Interesting that someone else's tax issues appear to be the reason for rushing ahead with a tax increase vote. There's more to this story, having to do with foundations and required annual payouts, but it'll have to wait.

Michelle sees something amiss with all the getting ready for company in advance of the PGA:

Okay, let me get this straight - we don't have the money to fix our streets or hire enough police officers, but we have the money to take police away from their main job (fighting crime) to direct traffic around Southern Hills for the PGA? Does anyone else believe that our mayor is all image and no substance? We want to look good for Tiger, Phil and their crowd, but who cares about the people that live here day in and day out? I guess we don't matter.

Steve Roemerman has posted some photos that his great-grandmother sent to his grandfather while he was in the South Pacific as a Seabee during WW II. They're pictures of Roemerman Feed & Implement in Blakesburg, Iowa. He also has photos of the remodeling of old Eastland Mall.

Mad Okie's front end is out of whack:

and I can't afford to fix it because of all the taxes I'm having to pay... but at least we have water in the river!

That's the reality of the situation. our "leaders" have thrown so much money around trying to find a "quick fix" that they have neglected the basic needs of the city. Roads and Cops. So what is their plan? Throw money into the river... literally.

Will Tulsa approve of it? Probably, for some reason we have either given up, or we have bought their lies... hook, line and sinker.

The truth is we have already approved a tax for the river in Vision 2025. If we don't hold them to what we voted for, then they will be emboldened to do whatever they please with the money we entrust to them.

Jeff Shaw has his own take on the new "I Am... Tulsa" ad campaign. And he's set up a website for his portrait photography business.

Roemerman and meeciteewurkor have been having fun with Photoshop and Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor, but the first photo in this entry is no fake -- there really was a FSBO sign on the reception desk at the Mayor's office. Mee has Kathy as Borg queen with her new Borg cube City Hall, and the Mayor keeping the Council in line.

Tulsa Chiggers is hosting a Blog Reader Survey for his readers.

(The BatesLine blog reader survey is still open for a few more days too. I'll be giving away at least two $10 Amazon gift certificates selected at random from those who have participated. Thanks to all who have done so already.)

This comment on an earlier entry by S. Lee was so well-made that I thought it deserved spotlighting here:

Rather than be accused of a being a "nay sayer" (which, as we all know, is almost as bad as being a fan of Ann Coulter), I would suggest using Cleveland, OH as an example of how buying stuff does not constitute economic development. Cleveland is a great example of a city population that was sucked into to voting for tax increase after tax increase to pay for stuff that would magically transform the city into greatness. Instead, all they got was rapid population loss, high taxes, and a crime rate even higher than Tulsa's.

Much of what is being hustled to Tulsa voters and the method of hustling looks like Cleveland deja vu all over again. Take a look at Cleveland's web site. If stuff was what made a city, then Cleveland ought to be solid gold. But it ain't. People are moving out of Cuyahoga county over to Lorain county ... where the taxes are lower (probably crime too). Brothers and sisters, can I have a Homer Simpson "Doh!"

Note a web page about living downtown; and (egad!) a waterfront project.

I've read comments about how full the Arkansas river has been lately, and wouldn't it be nice if it were always like that. I wouldn't know since you can only see the river from a very, very small part of Tulsa where I've not taken the time to go so I can see a river. Wow! A river! I'm sure I missed out on the thrill of my life -- but I sure have seen a lot of bad roads. I'll trade some better roads and lower crime for a sandy river (that I don't often see) any day, any time.

It might be interesting, at one of the county meetings, to get a show of hands of how many people know what kind of convention center and city offices Charlotte, NC has. How many people at the meeting care about what other stuff Charlotte has bought lately? If they got a job offer in Charlotte, would they be asking what kind of stuff has Charlotte bought lately; or would they be more interested in mundane things such as transportation, crime rate, and schools?

Some folks are just so stinkin' boring.

It's been a while since I've been to Cleveland, but I attended two weddings in Cleveland and a third in Canton back in the early '90s. I remember going with some friends down to the Flats and eating at (ho hum) TGI Fridays on a Friday night. (It was May 1992 and the night of Johnny Carson's last tonight show.) The Flats is a former industrial / warehousing area on the banks of the Cuyahoga River which was converted into an entertainment district, much like Bricktown in Oklahoma City or Laclede's Landing in St. Louis. I was surprised to read not long ago that the Flats are now under re-re-development.

County Commissioner Randi Miller has scheduled her one and only public meeting on the $282.25 million river tax plan for tomorrow -- Sunday, July 29, at 2 p.m., in the at the east end of the QuikTrip Center (formerly known as the IPE Building and as the Expo Center). That probably means it's in the cafeteria building, a smaller brick building attached to the east end of the bigger structure.

The information was in Saturday morning's Whirled, buried on page A17, in the least read edition of the paper. That's a good way to make sure that, say, county employees know to show up, but citizens with questions and concerns don't get the word.

There will be three other meetings on the topic, all hosted by County Commissioner Fred Perry. Here is the complete list from the Whirled:

Sunday: 2-4 p.m. at the east end of the QuikTrip Center (formally known as the Exposition Center) at Expo Square; Commissioner Randi Miller will give a PowerPoint presentation.

Monday: 7 p.m. at Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E. 93rd St; discussion hosted by Commissioner Fred Perry.

Tuesday: 7 p.m. at the CityPlex Towers, 81st Street and Lewis Avenue, on the second floor of the atrium building; discussion hosted by Perry.

Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Central on Main, 210 N. Main St. in Broken Arrow; discussion hosted by Perry.

Come and make your voice heard. Word is they'll vote on putting the tax on the ballot on Thursday.

If I'm able to go, I have two three things to tell the county commissioners:

(1) They promised to construct two low-water dams and to improve Zink Lake as part of Vision 2025, and they promised that the projects on the ballot would be fully funded before any new projects are considered. They need to keep that promise and fund the construction of low-water dams and Zink Lake improvements from Vision 2025 money. It's wrong for the County Commissioners to make us tax ourselves twice to get what we've already paid for.

(2) It is irresponsible for the County Commissioners to send a tax hike to a public vote when they haven't given due consideration to funding these projects without a tax increase.

(3) If the County Commissioners say they can't find a way to fund the low-water dams with Vision 2025 money, they are saying that there isn't enough money in Vision 2025 to complete all the promised projects.

MORE: Ken Neal's Sunday Whirled column is already on the web. Neal praises Commissioners Fred Perry and John Smaligo for having become more open-minded about tax increases and accuses City Councilor John Eagleton of trying to delay river development for many years. And Ken's notion that borrowing against future revenues would be like a second mortgage is just plain wrong. Tulsa County has been borrowing against future Vision 2025 revenues all along, with the intention of completing all projects in the first half of the 13 year period of the tax.

STILL MORE: TulTellitarian, writing at, has been crunching numbers, too. He makes some different assumptions but comes to the same conclusion: There's enough money in Vision 2025 to pay for the low-water dams and Zink Lake work that was promised, enough even for all the essential pieces of the new proposal. (By the way, he used Google Documents to embed spreadsheets in the blog entry. For that reason alone, if you're interested in web technology, it's worth clicking through to see how that works.)

Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller held a press conference today to explain why she absolutely has to have a higher sales tax rate in order to build the low-water dams that she promised would be built by the existing Vision 2025 tax.

Miller was responding to a proposal by Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton, who called for paying for river plan implementation from the existing Vision 2025 sales tax, asking voters to extend that tax if its necessary to complete the projects, rather than increasing the tax rate.

I made a similar proposal in this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. Tulsa County voters were promised three river related projects as part of Proposition 4:

Construct two low water dams on Arkansas River the locations of which will be determined in the Arkansas River Corridor Plan -- $5.6 million

Zink Lake Shoreline Beautification -- $1.8 million

Design and construct Zink Lake Upstream Catch Basin and silt removal -- $2.1 million

Last week on KFAQ, Vision 2025 project manager Kirby Crowe said of these funds, only $275,000 has been spent, to cover the cost of environmental paperwork that must be completed prior to constructing the dams. The rest, he said, is "unspent and protected."

In my column, I point out that these dams were promised as a part of Vision 2025, and that County Commissioners committed to completing all the projects as promised, and as quickly as possible. (I do find it interesting that neither of the two Whirled stories, about Eagleton's idea and Miller's response, mentions that construction of the dams were promised as part of Vision 2025.)

Matching funds or not, County officials made a commitment to complete the projects that were promised. In a July 23, 2003, story in the daily paper about the potential for revenues to exceed expected project costs, County Commissioner Bob Dick said that the Vision 2025 package was structured to be sure that no project would be left incomplete. Commissioner Dick was quoted as saying, “I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it.” So any surplus was intended first to be used to finish the promised projects.

Miller claims that we can't predict if there would be enough surplus, and if there is any, it's already been promised to the suburbs for unspecified projects.

But I'm told that no such projects have been approved by the Tulsa County Vision Authority and no such commitment was made. Mayor Taylor denies that any such promise was made. Such a promise would directly contradict something Miller was quoted as saying later in the interview:

The commissioners' primary responsibility is to ensure that the Vision 2025 projects promised voters are delivered, she said.

And that means building the low water dams and refurbishing the Zink Lake dams has to come before any new projects are undertaken.

In fact, the ballot resolution makes a formal commitment to that effect:

While the cost estimates shown above are believed to be accurate, it must be recognized that the exact cost of each project may vary from the estimate shown. It is the intention of the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, that all projects shall be completed as funds are made available. If the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, determines that all of the projects listed above will be completed with existing and projected funds and that excess funds will be available for additional projects, such excess funds shall be expended for caputal improvements for community enrichment (which does not include appropriation of any such funds to any other entity for such purpose), as determined by a public trust having Tulsa County, Oklahoma, [and all Tulsa County municipalities], as its beneficiaries.

Emphasis added. No new projects until all the listed projects are fully funded to completion.

Miller also claims that we can't get to any of the surplus money until near the end of the tax period, around 2015 or so. But as she knows, Vision 2025 is not a pay as you go project. She and her fellow commissioners have issued revenue bonds, borrowing money against future revenues so that the projects could be completed early, long before we raise the revenue.

I don't know how much has been borrowed all ready, how much has been spent, and how much is committed in the near term, but if the river is a priority, I'm sure some projects can be delayed to so that money already in hand could be used to start work on the dams. I'm sure more could be borrowed against anticipated Vision 2025 revenues. If John Piercey doesn't think he can do it, perhaps we could put the financing out for competitive bidding and find someone who can make it happen without charging us an arm and a leg.

Interesting: According to this, the river projects and all other Vision 2025 projects should have been funded in the second bond issue. The first bond issue was for $242,150,000:

Program manager Kirby Crowe said officials plan to have just one more bond issue to fund the rest of the Vision 2025 projects.

The Arkansas River projects, Broken Arrow's funding for downtown and neighborhood beautification, construction costs for the downtown Tulsa arena and renovation of the Maxwell Convention Center -- as well as the rest of the funding for projects that were only partially funded in the first bond issue -- are anticipated to be funded in the second.

Here's Randi Miller from June 2005:

While they aren't ready to act on projections for what the 13-year, sixth-tenths of a penny sales tax will bring in, Commissioners Bob Dick and Randi Miller both believe the Arkansas River is a likely candidate to see additional funding.

"It's too soon to start spending money above those things that have already been identified," Dick said. "But there's one real easy one, to say if we do have that, I think a high priority would be on the river."

The $5.6 million allocated in Vision 2025 for river projects only pays for a portion of two low-water dams. It is supposed to be used along with federal funds, but Miller said officials may need the extra money to make sure the dams get built.

"If there's any money that's available, in my opinion because we do not have enough for the dams, then I'm going to go with river development," she said.

From the same article, John Piercey provides an early estimate of a surplus and is game to try to make it available early:

Vision 2025 financial adviser John Piercey, a senior investment banker with Capital West Securities, said that virtually all of of the $65 million surplus will be collected in 2016 and 2017.

"The question becomes: Is there a way to have those funds early? We're working on that," he said.

And as recently as this January, Piercey said:

"It looks like they'll (local officials) be able to deliver everything they promised to voters, and then some."

Make it so.

TAKE ACTION: If you want County Commissioners to keep their promise and fund the low-water dams from the Vision 2025 tax, you need to let them know. The vote to put a new tax on the ballot could come as early as next Thursday. Here are phone and e-mail contacts for each:

District 1, John Smaligo:, 596-5020

District 2, Randi Miller:, 596-5015

District 3, Fred Perry:, 596-5010

An edited version of this piece was published in the July 25, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online, but badly formatted. Posted on the web November 3, 2012.

Out of Whole Terry Cloth
Simonson says, but it ain't necessarily so

What would you think of a merchant who sold you something, then told you you'd have to pay for it again to get what you've already paid for?

When Tulsa County voters approved Proposition No. 4 of the Vision 2025 sales tax, they approved $9.5 million to pay for the following items, spelled out very specifically in the ballot resolution passed by the Tulsa County Commission:

Construct two low water dams on Arkansas River the locations of which will be determined in the Arkansas River Corridor Plan -- $5.6 million

Zink Lake Shoreline Beautification -- $1.8 million

Design and construct Zink Lake Upstream Catch Basin and silt removal -- $2.1 million

Now Terry Simonson, the chief deputy and mouthpiece for Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller, is trying to convince Tulsans that we need to raise our taxes again to get what we thought we had already paid for. County Commissioners are likely to vote August 2 to put a $282 million sales tax increase on an October special election ballot.

Last week in UTW, Simonson tried to persuade readers that the line items you see above (and which you can see for yourself by following the Proposition #4 link at weren't really there.

Simonson wrote, "Though some may believe that Vision 2025 included funding to build a series of low water dams on the Arkansas River, this is not the case."

Simonson went on to claim that the $5.6 million was spent on "the study and environmental analysis by the Corp [sic] of Engineers." He correctly notes the amounts for the two improvements to Zink Lake, and claims that, "All of these are completed or, substantially engaged."

Simonson repeated these assertions last Wednesday morning, July 18, on 1170 KFAQ. Morning co-host Chris Medlock, who was on the City Council when Vision 2025 was put to a vote, called Simonson on his erroneous information, pointing to the official ballot resolution and promotional articles published in the daily paper at the time.

For example, on August 24, 2003, the daily paper published a column by editorial writer Julie DelCour, intended to deflect criticism that Vision 2025 neglected the public's interest in Arkansas River development. Taking up most of the front page of the Sunday opinion section, DelCour's piece was accompanied by full color illustrations showing a river full of water and mixed-use development on its banks. The caption on one drawing read, "Passage of Proposition 4 would provide funds to 'prep' the river for future, expanded uses."

Official campaign literature and other stories at the time hammered home the idea that a "yes" vote on Vision 2025 would put water in the river and make it suitable for the riverfront development that Tulsans were demanding.

Kirby Crowe, the project manager whose job is to track Vision 2025 funds and to make sure they are spent as promised, called KFAQ during Simonson's interview and told listeners that of the $9.5 million designated for dams and lake improvements, only $275,000 has been spent. That's a far cry from Simonson's claim that the projects were "completed or substantially engaged."

According to Crowe, none of the money for shoreline beautification and silt removal has been spent, in part because the master plan came up with a better approach to silt removal involving modifications to the Zink Lake Dam.

Crowe said that Phase 1 and 2 of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan was funded by municipalities and private contributions, not by the Vision 2025 sales tax. The $275,000 was to fund the Phase 3 work on environmental paperwork for the low-water dams, a necessary prerequisite for construction.

The remaining $9,225,000 for those three line items, Crowe said, is "unspent and protected."

Simonson claims that Hurricane Katrina siphoned off the hoped-for federal matching funds that would have paid for the dams. But Katrina didn't hit until September 2005, almost two full years after the Vision 2025 vote.

The real reason we didn't get the matching funds was reported by KOTV before the Vision 2025 vote even took place. The cleanup of the environmental disaster at Tar Creek, in the Tri-State mining area north of Miami, Okla., was using all Corps of Engineers funds available for Oklahoma.

Had our congressmen put river improvements ahead of Tar Creek remediation, it would have been like buying yourself a boob job and a tummy tuck when your kid needs chemotherapy.

Matching funds or not, County officials made a commitment to complete the projects that were promised. In a July 23, 2003, story in the daily paper about the potential for revenues to exceed expected project costs, County Commissioner Bob Dick said that the Vision 2025 package was structured to be sure that no project would be left incomplete.
Commissioner Dick was quoted as saying, "I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it."

So any surplus was intended first to be used to finish the promised projects. Already, the Tulsa County Vision Authority, a seven-member body made up of the three County Commissioners, the Mayor of Tulsa, and three suburban mayors, has authorized $45.5 million in additional funds for the BOk Center and improvements to the Maxwell Convention Center.

Vision 2025 revenues are running well ahead of projections. If you were to take the roughly $54 million in actual revenue over the last 12 months, project it out over the remaining nine-and-a-half years, assuming a modest 2.5% annual growth rate, and add it to what has already been collected, the Vision 2025 tax would raise a total of $768 million, a surplus of $233 million.

Subtract out the extra money for the arena and convention center, and there is still a surplus of nearly $188 million, far more than we need to fund the two low water dams and the improvements to Zink Lake that were promised to Tulsa County residents if they approved the Vision 2025 tax.

While I'd like to see the Vision 2025 tax ended as soon as possible, the Tulsa County Commissioners have a moral obligation to complete promised projects. It would be far preferable to use an existing tax to complete those projects than to force voters to approve a new tax increase - one likely to be renewed ad infinitum - in order to get what they thought they had already paid for.

The rest of the projects in the proposed $282 million tax package, such as the downtown-to-river connection and the pedestrian bridges at 41st and 61st, are city-specific. Each city along the river could choose to fund those improvements - or not - based on their priorities. Tulsa's city leaders might decide that our appalling violent crime rate or the atrocious condition of our streets deserve more direct attention.

It's essential that the land acquisition for riverfront development be left to the cities. There is a real danger that City of Tulsa residents could vote for this package expecting that money to be spent toward riverside commercial development in Tulsa, only to have it designated instead for a suburban project.

Between the items already promised in Vision 2025 and the items that are specific to individual cities, there's nothing left that needs to be funded through the County. The only reason for the County Commissioners to put a tax on the ballot this fall is if they are intent on expanding their burgeoning empire.

I shouldn't be too hard on Terry. He's just saying what he's been paid to say. During his appearance on KFAQ he frequently reminded us that he wasn't around when the decisions regarding Vision 2025 were made, and he urged us to let go of the past and look to the future instead.

But Commissioner Randi Miller, whose water he is carrying, was around then, voted to send Vision 2025 to the voters, and campaigned for its passage. She of all people has a personal obligation to ensure that the projects that she and her colleagues promised, the projects that were approved by the voters, are delivered without burdening her constituents with higher taxes.

And Miller needs to make sure her spokesman has his facts straight before sending him out to flack for her tax hike.

It's always fascinating when you get civic and business leaders speaking more candidly than they normally would in public. Back in February, the Journal Record published a transcript of a panel discussion concerning Arkansas River development in Tulsa.

It was the Square Feet Real Estate Roundtable, and the discussion involved Steve Walman of Walman Commercial Real Estate Services, Gaylon Pinc, an engineer formerly with INCOG and now with PMg, William B. Smith, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Floodplain Managers Association and president of Hydropower International Services International Consultancy, Susan Neal, from Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor's staff. The roundtable was moderated by Bob Parker, vice president of retail leasing and marketing with GBR Properties.

Walman has been involved in two riverfront developments: Riverwalk Crossing on the Jenks side and King's Landing on the Tulsa side. He expressed a sense of betrayal about Vision 2025:

I think the problem I have right now, and for a lot of Tulsans is, in Vision 2025 I voted for a river and I got an arena. I sat three years ago with a city hydrologist when we were doing Riverwalk and considering King's Landing and I said, 'Listen, with $27 million of private money going on this river, it's imperative to know when this low-water dam's going in that was the No. 1 priority of Vision 2025 and is so critical to the catalyst that's going to come.' And we were never sold the reality of the process. As simplistic as my mind works, I think a lot of people thought that 2025 was going to get a low-water dam. What that did was pay for a plan to get a low-water dam and for the last three years we've been told all the reasons why it's not happening.

I don't care for the reasons why we don't get it done. I voted for it. I won't vote for another thing before that low-water dam gets built. And I don't think any Tulsan will. Remember how long it took to get 2025 passed? Nobody had faith that somebody can pull that off. Until we pull that off, I don't think anybody's going to have faith that we're going to do anything else.

Maybe that's cynical business, but every week I've got $27 million worth of shopping centers on a sandbar. And I was told three years. This is a Tulsa problem, not a personal agenda issue. If in 2025 you'd said this is a 10-year process and you don't have the money, it's going to require a lot of these things and there's federal mandates, I'd put a dollar down 2025 wouldn't have passed.

Steve, some of us tried to point out that Vision 2025 was all about the arena, and there wasn't much river funding in the package, and the river funding that was there was contingent on federal funds that were unlikely to materialize. That last point was the subject of a report on KOTV. Not many people listened.

According to Gaylon Pinc, the arena is still getting in the way of river development (emphasis added):

There were two low-water dams envisioned in 2025, but a third of the money that was budgeted, if you will, was hoping that the feds would provide the other two-thirds, with our congressional delegation as powerful as they were. The election has turned that upside down. We will no longer have as much power and influence as we would have, and Congress did not act in time to pass the legislation that would have benefited us.

And then, when the overage went to the arena, that was very disappointing, because early on the overage (referring to Vision 2025 tax revenue rising beyond projections) was really talked about going to the river. And that would have made up the gap. And it's a severe gap. We don't have enough money in Vision, if we used all the money to build even that one south low-water dam. So we need more money from the public to do that, and if we don't get that, it will be much longer than that three-year process that it would take to get it permitted, designed and then start construction.

I am very hopeful, and I will remain optimistic that we will get that money because the public wants river development. I would hope they would understand enough to know the money was short to begin with and we will need more. And all the things that caused the multimillion-dollar overage on the arena - concrete, steel, electrical, manpower - will plague us on the low-water dam costs, too. But we have a couple of years to get to that point.

But Pinc says the money is already there to fix an immediate problem -- the Zink Lake Dam (emphasis added):

The Tennessee Valley Authority is working with the Corps in finding ways to improve dam safety. Zink Dam is a killer dam; firemen, policemen, rescue folks hate it because it is so inviting. So we have Vision money to improve Zink dam and add safety, actually reface the weir downstream. Along with that we have the opportunity to do a whitewater park launching from Zink Lake, and the plume that would also double as a fish passage.

Pinc also talked about the environmental obstacles to a 71st or 81st Street dam and to many possible development sites:

The corridor master plan really only has eight potential dam sites, all of which could be feasible. Some have more challenges than others, such as the ones downstream of I-44 and 71st Street and 81st Street have a Tulsa wastewater plant upstream. No way can you build a dam where it's dominated by wastewater. So, at some point Tulsa might want to think about moving that plant that's past its day.

You know, there are major projects that could hinder riverfront development in certain corridors and that 71st corridor is one of those areas. With Helmerich Park (just south of 71st) the public owns a lot of land, there's a lot of land for development, but the bio-solvents facility across river takes away a lot of developable land for a public use that's probably no longer appropriate for that type of urban setting. But it takes a couple hundred million dollars though to move those facilities to a less visible public location. So who's going to put up that money? It's going to take higher water rates, sewer rates, to do that, but that is going to be an obstacle.

Here's Susan Neal on how Riverwalk Crossing falls short of the ideal of riverfront development (emphasis added):

But it's interesting to me how the community defines riverfront development. If they define it by Riverwalk, which is a wonderful project, acceptable to most people - well, that's different from what many of us around Tulsa County view as real riverfront development, which actually lets you interact and recreate with the river. And that's what makes it costly. If you are dining, you are dining on the river. It's not just a restaurant that you look out and you can see the river. And I think that if it were easy, it would have already been done. But until we can play on it and interact with it, walk alongside it, have a dinner beside it, navigate it on a boat and fish on it, I think we are missing the boat on riverfront development.

This little detail in the piece's introduction of Gaylon Pinc raises all sorts of questions:

When Tulsa County took over that guidance role from INCOG last year, Pinc moved to PMg to continue his participation in the next phases of river studies.

This is no reflection on Pinc, who simply moved where he needed to move in order to stay involved with a project he cares about. But who decided that INCOG would be relieved of its involvement in the plan? Did City of Tulsa officials agree to the change? And when was there a competition to decide who would provide engineering services to the County for the river plan?

My new UTW column is up, despite the holiday, and it's a first look at the new river tax proposal. A closer look at details will come in a later column; this is a big-picture analysis of the concepts and the politics of the situation.

I want to remind readers that I do not write the headlines or taglines for my columns, and I do not agree with the harsh, sarcastic tone of the tagline written for this column. I am grateful for the willingness of George Kaiser and other Tulsa philanthropists to contribute to the well-being of this city, and my suggestion that direct investment, rather than matching contributions, may be the best way to make the river the kind of place Tulsans want to enjoy is a suggestion made in earnest.

MORE: Last issue OSU political science professor J. S. Maloy wrote a response to my column about Greenwood, its post-riot recovery and its destruction by urban renewal. In this issue, my reply appears, in which I set out the sources on which I relied, should he want to verify what I wrote.

My reply was edited somewhat. Specifically, a different first paragraph was substituted for what I wrote, setting a more pompous and pugnacious tone than I intended. Here is my original first paragraph:

I'm always pleased to know that someone has given one of my columns a close and critical reading, as OSU Political Science Professor J. S. Maloy has done with my column on the rise and fall of the Greenwood district. This aspect of Tulsa history is important but overlooked, so I welcome his interest. I empathize with his disappointment that so little of Greenwood remains. My column was an attempt to use available evidence to explain why things are the way they are.

The rest of the piece appears unchanged, except for a mention of St. Monica's Catholic Church in a list of things that are still standing in "upper Greenwood" -- the few blocks of Greenwood just south of Pine.

Steve Roemerman has a report on Tuesday night's meeting of the South Tulsa Citizens' Coalition. Steve also sent an e-mail to Mayor Taylor about her position on the bridge and has posted her reply, in which she says, "I am asking the experts for recommendations on the best way to finance the bridge and for the best recommendation as to its placement." So which experts is she asking?

HB 1648, a bill sponsored by Tulsa Rep. Pam Peterson, passed the House today. The bill requires competitive bidding even if a construction project is initiated as a public/private partnership. From Mike McCarville's report:

"This bill protects taxpayers from the 'good ol' boy' deals that have plagued our highway and road construction projects for decades," said Peterson, R-Tulsa. "The only people disadvantaged by this bill are those who want to gouge taxpayers."

Due to a loophole in the Oklahoma Competitive Bidding Act, government entities are currently allowed to award construction projects to a single vendor if the private company "partners" with the state by loaning start-up money for the project. The state usually agrees to repay the private entity at very high interest rates.

The proposal was vigorously opposed by the construction industry, including Manhattan Construction, a large and politically influential firm. Rep. Peterson deserves a great deal of praise for her courage in taking on this issue.

Now we'll see if it can survive the Senate.

UPDATE: I misread the information I was given. The bill still must get scheduled for a full vote in the State House, and that is not yet assured. You can figure that the interests opposed to the bill will fight to prevent a vote, because a vote against it would be a vote against basic fiscal responsibility. Ultimately, the decision as to whether to schedule a vote is in the hands of Speaker Lance Cargill. This will give Oklahoma taxpayers an early indication if "pay to play" will be in effect during his time in the speaker's chair.

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor wants to focus on design regulations for development in the river corridor, not on creation of a new river authority:

"We have this wonderful asset and right now anyone can develop anything on it," she said. "If I want to put a mini-storage warehouse on it, I can."

Taylor has directed the city's Planning Commission to establish a study committee that could recommend the zoning guidelines.

Taylor said the goal of river corridor zoning is to provide compatibility guidelines that enhance commercial development.

"We don't need an authority for private development to occur," she said.

(I assume they mean the city's Planning Division, not Commission. The city doesn't have its own planning commission. That role is filled by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, and Mayor Taylor doesn't have the power to direct the TMAPC to do anything. Anyway, the city's planners are better suited to developing good design requirements, having already handled the same task on several small-area infill development plans. UPDATE: I've learned that the request was indeed sent to the TMAPC.)

There's a graphic with the story that shows that the City of Tulsa has 17 miles of river frontage out of the 26-mile length of the river in Tulsa County. That's one good reason why the City of Tulsa shouldn't cede authority over commercial development to a County Commission-controlled authority.

Taylor seems support design regulations for the river corridor, but then she doesn't seem to want to fully embrace the idea.

In Tulsa, she said, the process for developing guidelines would include public input on whether the city should have zoning restrictions on the river.

"The citizens have to decide whether we want gas stations on the river," she said.

In late 2005, plans for a Kum & Go convenience store on Riverside Parkway prompted the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission to look at its options as it considers future Arkansas River development cases.

The store's location, with its back facing the riverfront, drew some criticism from elected officials, but there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, control its design or its position in relation to the river.

With this statement she almost seems to be giving herself an out, in case there's some backlash from developers. Wouldn't it be nice if the Mayor actually took the lead and expended some political capital in arguing for the importance of special regulations for development along the river?

You can read my column from last August about the importance of design guidelines for the river and other strategic areas here.

It's not often I find myself in agreement with Bobby Lorton, publisher of the Tulsa Whirled, but in this case, he is absolutely right: We don't need a new river development authority, because we already have one with a 32-year-history -- the River Parks Authority. All of the roles being suggested for the new authority are already under the RPA's purview.

While there might need to be changes to the board or staff to enable it to serve an expanded role, there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

After the jump is a letter that Lorton, as chairman of the RPA, sent to Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller, leading proponent of a new authority. Be sure to notice the contrast he draws between riverfront development in Jenks and development across the river in Tulsa. I think the suggestion for expanding the RPA board could be tweaked a bit -- there ought to be someone on the board representing near-river neighborhood associations -- but it's a pretty good letter all told.

River revue

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The big story I've been working on is finally in print. This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly cover story is the epic tale of a century -- yes, a century -- of Tulsa's plans to do something interesting with the Arkansas River.

This story was a blast to research. UTW's Holly Wall and Siara Jacobs rounded up copies of articles and documents from the 1968 and 1976 plans from the very helpful folks at the River Parks Authority. I spent hours paging through Central Library's "vertical files" and repository of old planning documents. I had far more material than I could use. I was helped immensely by a conversation with architect Rex Ball, whose firm developed the 1968 River Lakes Park plan, and by my long acquaintance with Jim Hewgley III, who was Streets Commissioner when the Zink Lake low-water dam was built by Mayor Jim Inhofe.


It's my intention to scan and upload much of the research material and to provide some sort of bibliography to help anyone else who might want to do further research.

In the story I mention a river concept presented very briefly in a 1959 document called A Plan for Central Tulsa:

A page of that study was devoted to "The Marina," a concept for the river between 11th and 21st Streets. The accompanying illustration showed an artificial lagoon for boats near 15th and Riverside, a floating restaurant and boat club just to the south, a "picnic island" accessible by pedestrian bridge just to the north, and a larger island, accessible only by boat, where the west bank used to be.

Yes, used to be. The drawing showed the river almost twice as wide as its existing width at the 21st Street bridge, backed up by a dam at some unspecified location downstream, with the new shoreline just below the west bank levee. The resemblance to last year's "The Channels" plan is uncanny.

I took a photograph of the illustration so you can see for yourself. It's not as sharp as I'd like, but I think you can make it out. Click on the image to see it in its original size.

(Notice that in 1959, the location of the Inner Dispersal Loop, seen along the top of the diagram, has already been determined, although it wouldn't be completed until nearly 25 years later.)

My column this week is also about Tulsa history:

Oklahoma's centennial year ought to be a year when all Oklahomans -- natives and newcomers alike -- encounter our state's history in a way that engages our imaginations. While every year is a good year to study Oklahoma history, this is a year that ought to be hallowed to that purpose, a year for remembering where we came from and how we got to where we are today.

The June unearthing of the buried Belvedere fulfills that purpose quite well. I propose extending that glimpse back 50 years with the Tulsa 1957 project, which I launched here a while back and explain in detail in the column. I also mention a couple of websites which are helping to capture everyday life in Tulsa as it was. (But I neglected to mention Jack Frank's wonderful Tulsa Films series, which uses TV footage and home movies to bring decades past back to life.)

Also this week UTW gives a rave review to the source of the coffee and quesadillas that helped fuel my 6,000-word feature story. Katharine Kelly gives the Coffee House on Cherry Street five stars each for food, atmosphere, and service.

RELATED: A pretty thorough outline history of the Arkansas River in the Tulsa area.

This is the originally submitted version of a story that was published on January 31, 2007 as the cover story of the February 1-7, 2007, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly, under the headline "The River Review: Planning Tulsa's Riverfront: A Brief History." The story as published can be found on the Internet Archive. Posted on BatesLine on March 23, 2016.

Planning Tulsa's Riverfront: A Brief History
By Michael D. Bates

The 12-year-old boy with a map fixation was entranced by the two-page-spread in the January 1976, edition of Tulsa magazine.

A stretched oval of water, held back by something called a "low water sill" was fringed top and bottom by belts of green. There were bicycle paths, ferry docks, an amphitheatre, a museum, restaurants. Best of all, there was a planetarium.

The article began with an imaginary conversation between a dad and his son, talking about their family's plans for a day on the river: Fishing, canoeing, archery, shopping, dinner at the floating restaurant - a fun-filled day capped by a concert at the amphitheatre, with a 150-foot-high lighted fountain providing a picture-perfect backdrop.

"If things go as planned," the article promised, "similar conversations will take place in and about Tulsa beginning as early as 1978.

The boy (the real one, not the imaginary one in the magazine story) flipped through the pages of the article. He scanned over words like "silt," "planning workshop," "contaminants," and "Urban Renewal funds" to get to the rest of the illustrations. There was the plan for the 21st Street Bridge, with nearby overlook and ferry landing. There were sailboats moored at a marina, down the bank from a gallery of shops. There was a cross-section of the museum and planetarium building:

"Portraying the natural and economic history of Tulsa, a museum will highlight the petroleum and transportation industries. A moderately priced restaurant will be incorporated in the upper floor to take maximum advantage of the river view. The planetarium will offer programs of the astronomical sciences, with emphasis on the aerospace industry."

It was already fun to ride bikes on the trails that were especially for bikes - he had thought that was a cool idea ever since he cajoled his parents into taking him to the Gilcrease Hills grand opening six or seven years before. Already you could even ride your bike halfway over the river on an old railroad bridge. But this plan - the "River Parks plan" - was going to be amazing when it was all finished in just a few years.

31 years later, that boy has a boy of his own, about the same age, and the 1976 River Parks plan, focusing on a two-mile long lake, has been superseded by an Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, taking in the entire 42-mile length of the river through Tulsa County. And for a brief time last year, it seemed that a good third of that brand new plan would be wiped away by an even newer plan - The Channels - for a 12-mile-long lake and three high-rise-encrusted islands in the middle of the river.

The River Parks plan wasn't the first plan, and The Channels certainly won't be the last. For almost as long as there has been some sort of settlement near this bend of the Arkansas, there have been dreams of making the river more than the shallow, salty stream that it naturally is.

In 1962, Tulsa World Sunday editor Russell Gideon wrote, "The plus-and-minus values of the Arkansas River, so far as Tulsans are concerned, probably have added up to a whacking big minus figure over the 80 years of the town's existence."

Gideon enumerated the minuses of the river in the early days of Tulsa: It was an obstacle to travel, its water was unfit for drinking or even bathing, it flooded, it smelled from being used as a sewer, it attracted "shanty-boat dwellers" (Tent City on the water, evidently), it was "a source of worry to mothers of venturesome boys." Even when dry it was a nuisance: "During the dust bowl days the river bed contributed its share to the 'black blizzards' of the era."

Accordingly, Tulsa turned its back on the river, aligning itself instead with the railroad that was its lifeline to the outside world. Tulsa abandoned it as a source of water, built bridges across it, and piped sewage into it, but otherwise left it to its own devices.

Factories and refineries found it useful as a source of water for cooling equipment and a handy place to dump industrial waste. Views of the river were desirable, but not close-up views or the accompanying close-up smells. Oil barons like Josh Cosden and Harry Sinclair built mansions well up the hill from the river's bank.

Early hopes for improving the river were all about transportation, not recreation.
There had been a few successful attempts to navigate the river by steamboat in the 19th century . In 1834, the steamboat William Parsons made it all the way to the mouth of the Cimarron River (now in Keystone Lake) with supplies for Camp Arbuckle, a new Army post. In June 1878, the steamer Aunt Sally made her way from Little Rock to Arkansas City, Kansas. In July 1886 the Kansas Millers towed two barges of flour from Arkansas City to Fort Smith, Ark., but the pilot house had to be removed from the boat in order to clear the Frisco railroad bridge at Tulsa.

In 1909 , the Tulsa Democrat reported a plan to make the Arkansas River navigable from the Mississippi to the mouth of the Cimarron River (now part of Keystone Lake). It would have required a dam, a lock, and a harbor for loading at four points on the river: Little Rock, Fort Smith, Muskogee, and Tulsa. Each dam and lock was projected to cost $300,000.

The plan died a quiet death, but the idea lived on. In the 1920s , civic leaders from Oklahoma and Arkansas began to talk up the idea of Arkansas River navigation. It wasn't until 1946 that the Federal government authorized the project. Even then the two states' congressional delegations had to fight for funding a year at a time, one lock-and-dam at a time, fending off those, like Life magazine and President Eisenhower, who attacked the plan as a massive pork barrel scheme.

At long last, in 1971, the first barges arrived at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. President Nixon arrived a few months later to formally dedicate the Kerr-McClellan Navigation System (and to mispronounce a few Indian place names - oo-LOG-uh? - in the process).

But the new barge canal bypassed the City of Tulsa, and while the port is certainly an important contributor to the local economy, there hasn't been the kind of development along its shores - New port towns! Industrial development to rival the Ohio Valley! Population growth in the millions! - that its boosters expected.

For the navigation system to work, they had to be able to control the flow of the river from upstream. That also meant the ability to prevent a catastrophic flood on the Arkansas River in Tulsa. In 1945, levees were built to protect industries and refineries in Sand Springs, west Tulsa, and along the Sand Springs Line. In 1950 Congress authorized the construction of Keystone Dam, which, it was hoped, would make the levees redundant.

Also in the late '40s, Tulsa's leaders began making plans for a US 66 bypass that would cross the Arkansas at 51st Street. Someone had the idea to build the bridge strong enough to buttress a dam big enough to create a five-mile-long lake which would reach all the way to the bend in the river near downtown. Perhaps the idea was inspired by Lake Austin in Texas, but wherever it came from, it seems to be the first appearance of the notion of using Tulsa's stretch of the Arkansas River for recreational purposes.
But the Federal government wasn't keen on providing the extra funds needed to make the bridge that sturdy, and the idea was dropped. (In 1964, the idea would re-emerge, this time using the Red Fork Expressway bridge as the buttress of a dam that would back the water up to Sand Springs.)

According to Tulsa architect Rex Ball, a mid-'60s feasibility study, prepared by his firm, retrospectively revealed some major flaws in the single-lake concept. A dam big enough to create that kind of lake would have endangered neighborhoods along Crow Creek (the brook for which Brookside is named, which enters the river near 32nd Street) and would have interfered with PSO's use of river water for their generating plant on the west bank at 36th Street. The larger dam might have raised the water table, something that wasn't found to be a problem for a series of smaller, low-water dams.

Meanwhile, the idea of a riverfront park began to take hold. In 1951, the city acquired land for a Riverside Park extending from 11th south to 51st Street, and the following year, city prisoners were working to clear underbrush, trash, and driftwood.

But the river was still not seen as an attraction or an amenity. In 1957, the chamber of commerce published Tulsa, I.T., a glossy 44-page tourism magazine aimed at visitors to Oklahoma's 1957, semi-centennial celebration. It included a driving tour ("The Tulsa Tour") of the city, and lengthy descriptions of the city's recreational attractions. The Arkansas River doesn't rate a mention. Water gets a page to itself, but only to make the point that Tulsa had plenty of it for residents and industry and had plans to get more.

If anything, the river was still a threat to life and property. The Arkansas flooded over three dozen times between 1907 and 1951. In May 1957, after a six-year respite, heavy rains upstream caused a near-record flood and forced the evacuation of part of Brookside. A flood of similar magnitude hit the city in October 1959.

Nevertheless, the idea of the river as a place for recreation continued to simmer. A September 1957 study by the Mayor's Committee on Recreation urged development of the east bank from Newblock Park to 51st Street for park use, recommending that the anticipated Riverside Expressway be built to preserve views and access to parking areas and picnic spots along the river.

The near-downtown riverfront was included in the 1959 A Plan for Central Tulsa, a document written by California architects and packed with daring new concepts in urban design. (Tulsa implemented those concepts decades later, waiting until other cities had had a chance to discover that they didn't work. How did downtown get so bollixed up? Read this book and you will understand.)

A page of that study was devoted to "The Marina," a concept for the river between 11th and 21st Streets. The accompanying illustration showed an artificial lagoon for boats near 15th and Riverside, a floating restaurant and boat club just to the south, a "picnic island" accessible by pedestrian bridge just to the north, and a larger island, accessible only by boat, where the west bank used to be.

Yes, used to be. The drawing showed the river almost twice as wide as its existing width at the 21st Street bridge, backed up by a dam at some unspecified location downstream, with the new shoreline just below the west bank levee. The resemblance to last year's "The Channels" plan is uncanny.

The plan evidently had some research behind it. Excluding the dam, construction costs were estimated at $117,300, and they projected annual revenues of $24,700, which could cover operating expenses ($8,000) and debt service ($9,300) with $7,400 left over.

The lake would accommodate boating, fishing, and water skiing. "The Marina would make living in central Tulsa the envy of every western city dweller."

In 1961, the City of Tulsa's engineering department began looking into the idea of low-water dams. Core drilling was done to test possible dam sites. A trip was made to Pennsylvania to see an inflatable "fabridam" in operation. Soon thereafter civic leaders began pitching the idea of "riverfront beautification" at meetings all over Tulsa.

By the end of 1963, a Chamber of Commerce subcommittee had designated low-water dams on the river as a priority project and set out to find funding for a detailed plan and to whip up public support for the idea.

In May 1964, things began to happen. The County and City jointly hired Hudgins, Thompson, Ball and Associates (HTB) to do a feasibility study and master plan for low-water dams. The Chamber sent a nine-member Tulsa delegation, including Street Commissioner (and future Mayor) Bob LaFortune and County Attorney (and future Governor) David Hall, to tour the Riverwalk in San Antonio, the world's largest inflatable dam in Bay City, Texas, and Town Lake in Austin, completed just four years earlier.

Austin's seven-mile lake, with its dam built into a road bridge, was described by news stories at the time as close to what Tulsa's leaders were wanting. The Tulsa Tribune recommended following Austin's lead in another important respect - establishing a plan for the kind of development desired for the waterfront and putting a commission in place to evaluate all construction permits for compliance with the plan.

The May 19, 1964, lead editorial in the Tribune enthused that the proposal would mean "a whole new pattern of commercial and civic stimulus for the very heart of Tulsa. If the pollution and planning studies make the concept feasible, there is no doubt that our turgid, smelly, desert-like waste of a river will become one of the beauty spots of the nation. And we shall find, as Texas has found, that beautification is very good business."

The "if" was a big one. A 1964 study identified 14 major sources of pollution upstream of Tulsa, including animal wastes from a packing plant, chemical effluents from refineries, oil storage facilities, and a fertilizer plant, sewage from Sand Springs. Completion of the Keystone Dam ended the heavy river flows which diluted the filth and washed it down the river. Low-water dams would only make matters worse. An April 2, 1967, Tulsa World, story on river pollution carried the subhead "Park Plans Moot."

But the planners pressed on. On April 11, 1968, the development plan for "River Lakes Park" was presented to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC), and in August it was officially added to the region's master plan.

The HTB plan called for three low-water dams to be built - near Newblock Park, just upstream from the 11th Street bridge; near 36th Street; and at the mouth of Joe Creek north of 81st Street.

(A fourth dam, to be built by the Corps of Engineers upstream of the Sand Springs bridge, was mentioned in the plan. Its purpose was re-regulation, ensuring a consistent flow of water to carry pollutants downstream, regardless of the operating schedule of Keystone Dam. This dam was actually built in 1968, but was removed in the mid '80s as a hazard and no longer needed for pollution control.)

Shadow Bluff Lake would stretch upstream from near downtown Tulsa to the Sand Springs bridge. Adams Road would be transformed into the South River Parkway, tying together an expanded Chandler Park and the south shore, which would have baseball and football fields, tennis courts, a marina and boat ramps. The shore opposite, across the levee from downtown Sand Springs, would cater to hunters, with ranges for field archery, skeet and trap shooting, and "stalking."

Further east, across the river from Chandler Park, a "Marina Market" would be located on the natural harbor formed by a creek inlet, along with a community center and tennis courts. A large sandbar near 49th West Avenue, would be transformed into an island park with an amphitheatre - and even more tennis courts. An access road would run the full six-mile length of the north shore.

Four-mile long Southside Lake would have bike trails on both shores. On the east bank, near present-day Helmerich Park, there would be an amphitheatre and tennis courts, and a small community building. Peoria would be extended north from Jenks along the west bank to a new 71st Street bridge, providing access to campsites near the dam. Turkey Mountain would be incorporated into the park system, with hiking and horse trails and a trailer campground atop the hill, with a road along the east side of the hill providing easier access to the park from north and south.

Because the planned Riverside Expressway would run right up to the edge of the river bank, the east side facilities would sit on islands built out of sand banks - mainly open space with a few small buildings for community use.

Just north of the I-44 on the west bank, the plan showed an amusement park, and an inland marina along Cherry Creek west of Elwood Ave.

The centerpiece of the plan was Tulcenter Lake. (The name originated in the aforementioned Plan for Central Tulsa.) The lake would be dammed near 36th Street. Crow Creek's outlet to the Arkansas would be the site of a canoe center and an expressway underpass linking the riverfront to Brookside. An 18-hole golf course would straddle 23rd Street on the west side, stretching from 17th Street south to the Texaco Refinery.

The east bank between 11th and 21st would include a lagoon, an oil museum and museum of natural history, more tennis courts and playgrounds, and frequent pedestrian overpasses spanning Riverside Drive.

In comparison to our most recent river plan, the 1968 plan is remarkable for its lack of commercial development. River Lakes Park was all about open space and outdoor recreation, with one notable exception.

Linking the two shores would be Pier 15, a pedestrian bridge lined with specialty shops, sidewalk cafes, theatres, and restaurants, with a view of a spectacular water display in the middle of the river. Pier 15 would connect 15th & Houston to the west bank at 17th, near the west Tulsa urban renewal area, which was originally planned for high-density residential and commercial redevelopment.

The development plan predicted that "Pier 15 could become for Tulsa what the Farmers' Market in Los Angeles or the Vieux Carre District in New Orleans have become for those cities; nationally known areas which not only serve local residents but are major features that continue to attract tourists and provide the cities with distinctive identifications."
It's a commonplace claim nowadays - "This development plan is what we need to put Tulsa on the map" - but this seems to be the first time that river development was promoted as a potential tourist magnet, not just a local amenity.

The cost estimate for full implementation of the plan, including all the amenities, was $65 million. The basic cost to get started included $8 million for dam construction, and $7.5 million for land acquisition along the lakefront.

Once the plan was presented, it was heavily promoted with speeches to civic groups, models on display at banks and libraries, and a 30-minute TV special. $16.3 million for construction of the lakes, to be funded by a property tax increase, was included in a set of 15 city bond issues on the September 9, 1969, ballot. A record turnout - described as a taxpayer's revolt - defeated 13 of the 15 propositions; the River Lakes Park bond received only 29% of the vote.

River promoters began looking for ways to get federal grants to pay for part of the plan. Some minor improvements were begun - a bike trail was started on the east shore between 31st and 51st. But for the next few years, major river development was on hold.

In September 1969, Tulsa's voters forcefully rebuffed an ambitious set of bond issues for civic improvements. They said no to the controversial plan for a Riverside Expressway and its destructive path through the Brookside and Maple Ridge neighborhoods. They said no to a new municipal auditorium at the Civic Center.

And, by a 30% to 70% margin, they said no to $16.3 million to fund the beginning of a dramatic plan for three lakes on the Arkansas River - River Lakes Park - lined with marinas, amphitheatres, tennis courts, ball fields, a golf course, campgrounds, trails, and open space. Its centerpiece would have been a 100-foot-wide shopping and entertainment center spanning the river which would become a nationally-known icon, putting Tulsa on the map.

But the idea of riverfront recreation wasn't dead. There was an ongoing effort to find federal funds to implement part of the plan. And as the city's 1973 diamond jubilee approached, there was a renewed push by Mayor Bob LaFortune to make a river project the focus of the celebration.

1973 came and went, but in April 1974, the City Commission and County Commission created the River Parks Authority (RPA), tasked in its trust indenture with "development, redevelopment, preservation and/or renewal of the ... natural resources and community resources known... as the Arkansas River Lakes Park."

At the same time, the Tulsa Urban Renewal Authority (TURA) expanded its west-bank urban renewal area to include both banks of the river between the 11th Street and the Midland Valley railroad bridges, allowing it to supply $2.8 million from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the RPA for riverfront park development. Work began to extend the east bank bike trail north to 11th Street.

In July 1974, the city received title to the Midland Valley bridge and began plans to convert it to bicycle and pedestrian use. The same month, Jackie Bubenik, a city planner from Lubbock, Texas, was hired as the RPA's director, and the RPA began sifting through development proposals.

Unlike the 1968 plan, this development effort would be narrowly focused on the two-mile stretch between 11th and 31st Streets. Working quickly, in August 1974 RPA selected a group headed by Memphis architect Roy Harrover, whose firm planned the development of that city's Mud Island. The hope was to have a plan in place and construction underway in a year's time. Late that year the design team hosted public workshops to find out what Tulsans wanted along the river.

The resulting plan, unveiled in the fall of 1975, called for a low-water dam south of the new pedestrian bridge to create water depth of about 6', enough to support boating and a six-stop route for passenger ferries. Near Houston Avenue, there would be a lighted mid-river fountain, shooting water 150 feet in the air. The east bank would largely remain green space, with bike paths and playgrounds. A restaurant would extend out over the river, beneath the east end of the 21st Street bridge. A wide pedestrian overpass spanning Riverside between Houston and Indian Avenues would serve as the gateway to the park, connecting to a landscaped path to downtown.

Commercial and entertainment facilities would be located on the west bank between the 11th Street bridge and the McMichael Concrete plant, anchored at the south end by an amphitheatre. (In the original plan the stage was onshore, not floating.) North of the amphitheatre along the shore would be a small marina. Above the shore would be a row of specialty shops, and a three-story museum building with a planetarium and a restaurant on the top floor. The northern end of the development area, next to the 11th Street bridge, would be reserved for a hotel.

$30.3 million was the total estimated cost for park development and all the proposed amenities. The low-water dam, thought to be the key to the whole project, would cost $3.1 million. The initial $2.8 million in federal money would be used for west bank improvements, completion of the Midland Valley pedestrian bridge all the way to the west bank of the river, and, at Denver and Riverside on the east bank, a "model park" to give Tulsans a taste of what to expect when the plan was fully implemented.

While the plans were still being planned, Tulsans actually began recreating on the river, jogging and biking on the trails and attending festivals and special events. KRMG held the first Great Raft Race on Labor Day 1973, starting a tradition that would last 19 years. The Tulsa parks department started an annual sandcastle competition. The first Oktoberfest was held on the east bank in 1979 and moved to the west side in 1981.
Before the new plan ever got off the drawing board, it began to change.

In 1979, a parks survey of county residents revealed a lack of interest in large-scale commercial and entertainment development on the river:

"Tulsans view River Parks as a place to enjoy outdoor or somewhat unstructured facilities and atmosphere, and the possibility of formal entertainment or facilities through an Amphitheater or museum is not consistent with what they view for the River Parks area."

The low-water dam was still on the table. Funding for it was included in a 1979 one-cent city sales tax for capital improvements which went down to defeat. The following year, the sales tax was re-presented to the voters, with a five-year time limit, an ordinance that firmly committed the city to spending the money on a specific set of projects, and an oversight committee. It became the first in Tulsa's long-running series of "third-penny" packages, but it was stripped down to essentials and didn't include any funds for the river.

As soon as the 1979 proposal was defeated, Mayor Jim Inhofe began looking for another way to fund the dam. He found enough city money to pay for the engineering work, which kept the environmental permit active.

In November 1980, Lincoln Property Company proposed to purchase land from the city on the west bank - the planned site for the unwanted museum and retail development - and at 61st and Riverside to develop as mid-range apartment complexes. The city would use the $3.5 million raised by the land sale, plus private donations, to pay for construction of the dam.

By the mid '80s, the dam was completed, along with the adjacent Blair Fountain, the west bank festival park, and the amphitheater. At that point, the mid-'70s plan was as complete as it would ever be.

The River Parks Authority (RPA) continued to acquire more land, including Turkey Mountain, added playgrounds along the river, and improved and extended the trails, which became the starting point for a network of trails encompassing the entire metro area. But there was no grand plan in place and little interest in creating one.

Two developments in the mid '90s changed that attitude.

In December 1993, Oklahoma City passed a one-cent sales tax for MAPS - Metropolitan Area Projects - which included funding for a canal through the Bricktown entertainment district as well as money for low-water dams and shoreline improvements on the North Canadian River.

Oklahoma City's low-intensity riverfront plans didn't grab the imagination of Tulsans, but the Bricktown Canal did. We already had a river, but Oklahoma City built river and made it the centerpiece of a lively entertainment district. Dreams of replicating the success of San Antonio's Riverwalk seemed to be coming true just 100 miles down the turnpike.

The success of Baltimore's Inner Harbor development was in the national spotlight at about the same time with the 1992 opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the first neo-traditional major league ballpark. The public notion of riverfront development began to shift away from passive recreation and toward intense mixed-use development. The Bricktown plan contained strong echoes of Baltimore.

The second wake-up call for Tulsa was the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks.
In September 1984 , a group led by Doug Kemper, former director of the Seattle Aquarium, approached RPA with a concept for an aquarium and an adjoining wharf-like retail development, modeled after the Seattle facility. They only asked for the opportunity to lease land from the city for the development.

After six years of discussions and hearings, slowed by influential zoo supporters who wanted any aquarium to be built at Mohawk Park, in February 1990 the City of Tulsa gave the Tulsa Aquarium Foundation an option on 11 acres north of 71st Street and gave the group three years to raise the funds to build the aquarium. Wrangling over the aquarium's business plan, a lack of support (or, some say, outright hostility) from Mayor Susan Savage, fundraising difficulties, and concerns about the impact on the endangered least tern went on for four years. RPA finally rejected the plan, by a 4-3 vote, in November 1994.

Three months later, the City of Jenks reached an agreement with the aquarium group to provide land along the river between 96th Street and the Creek Turnpike and to have the city's industrial authority float revenue bonds to finance construction. Ground was finally broken in 2000.

In July 2002, just as the aquarium was nearing completion and talk of nearby riverfront commercial development began, Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune convened a regional "Vision Summit." 1100 Tulsans attended and contributed their ideas toward a Tulsa vision, defined by keynote speaker Glenn Heimstra as "a compelling description of your preferred future."

River development was a frequently recurring theme in the long list of ideas supplied by the summiteers, and while there was still support for the river as a greenbelt and a place for passive recreation, it was San Antonio Riverwalk-style, Oklahoma City Bricktown Canal-style retail and entertainment that received the most interest and support.

In September 2002, the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), the planning agency for the Tulsa area, kicked off the development of a master plan for the entire length of the Arkansas River in Tulsa County. But selection of a planning consultant was delayed for a full year, yielding to the promotion and passage of Vision 2025, a downtown-centric tax package containing a token amount of funding for river development infrastructure. The selection of Texas firm Carter Burgess was announced two days after the passage of Vision 2025.

Phase I centered around a massive effort to gather public input. INCOG and Carter Burgess held a series of open house meetings, conducted a public survey, and held a design workshop with nightly opportunities for public review. For their work, Carter Burgess received an award from the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The resulting plan, released in August 2004, reflected the desire of Tulsans for a balance between new commercial development and new on-the-water recreation opportunities on the one hand and retaining the environmental protection and outdoor recreation purposes that River Parks had been serving for over a quarter of a century. The plan also included, for the first time, concepts for riverfront developments in Broken Arrow and Bixby.

Another distinctive of the new plan: Rather than focusing on public developments, the plan designated some type of use for every inch of the river. And rather than planning a narrow belt along the river banks, this plan covered a swath extending in places as much as a mile from the banks, in order to plan for connections with surrounding neighborhoods and centers of activity.

That desire for better connections to the river is a kind of rebuff to the cherished dream of the Tulsa World, south Tulsa developers, and some city officials to turn Riverside Drive and Houston Avenue into a 100-foot wide high-speed parkway. That plan, added to the Comprehensive Plan in 1993, generated a huge public outcry from those who opposed encroachment on neighborhoods and park land. An ordinance sponsored by Councilor Dewey Bartlett, Jr., and named in his honor, stymied implementation by requiring a standalone vote on public funding for widening Riverside.

With the approval of the new master plan, it could be argued that the plan for a wide Riverside has been officially superseded.

Phase II of the INCOG plan got into the nitty-gritty of engineering, environmental impact, and funding sources, with detailed plans for major development areas along the river.

The Phase II plan was officially adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan last year, not long before a challenger, The Channels, emerged in the fall of '06.

Phase III kicked off last September. According to the Corps of Engineers' website, this phase involves gathering data on animal habitat in and along the river, creating an inventory of existing cultural resources, and modeling different low-water dam designs.

The Corps says, "The objective of this effort is to achieve optimum water quality, fish passage, and other environmental parameters while optimizing public safety" - particularly by preventing the "drowning machine" effect that can capsize boaters and trap them at the base of a low-water dam.

As we wait for the study's completion, ideas for the river keep coming. In Jenks, Riverwalk Crossing developer Jerry Gordon showed that you didn't need to wait on massive public investment to create riverside development that attracts the crowds.

So far, Tulsa's side of the river has only attracted a convenience store, a strip shopping center, and a few restaurants, all of which turn their back on the river, which ought to be a clue that Tulsa needs an Austin-like ordinance setting development guidelines for our limited miles of shoreline.

The developers of Branson Landing in Missouri have proposed building a similar open-air retail and mixed-use center on the west bank of the river between 11th and 21st, suggesting creation of a tax-increment finance (TIF) district as a funding source.

The Channels, the $788 million big-dam-and-island plan which made a huge splash last fall, appears to have run aground - too expensive and too much doubt about the wisdom and feasibility of the idea.

But don't be surprised to find, in whatever is ultimately built along the river, elements of The Channels, alongside bits and pieces of the 1975 plan, the 1968 design, the 1959 concept, and every other river-related plan that's been proposed over the last century.

The Arkansas River could not be reached for comment on this story. It must know something, but doesn't say anything. It just keeps rolling along.

A postscript, added on March 23, 2016: In the online comments for the article, Steve Smith, known on online forums as "Waterboy" and "Aquaman" was aggrieved by my failure to mention him in my history of the river:

What does a man have to do to be included in a history of the river? I enjoyed your history. It paralleled the research I did before starting my boat business on the river in 2002. I spent 3 years of my life, over $100,000 investment and bankrupted myself in the effort. I carried over a 1000 riders upstream to the Keystone Dam and hundreds of locals on my ferry. I helped to renew an interest in developing the river through many interviews, and even merited a segment on Discover Oklahoma. Yet, no mention of my effort in your history? Who did I anger over there?

Smith ran airboat tours for several years. I regret overlooking his contribution and am happy to note it here for the record. I did devote an entire column, published in Urban Tulsa Weekly on September 20, 2006, to Steve Smith and his ideas about improving the river using wing dams to modify the flow without blocking the river entirely.

Encouraging news from new Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry, in a January 11 press release:

Due to numerous requests from the media and others, newly sworn in County Commissioner Fred Perry today announced his position on a river authority. “I do not support an additional river authority. The taxpayers and voters elected us, and other elected officials in Tulsa County, to make the hard decisions and I am confident, from comments by many citizens, that they don’t want us to relinquish any of that decision making to non-elected, appointed members of an authority no matter how competent the individuals might be. At a minimum an authority puts an additional layer in place which can slow up the decision making process,” Perry said.

The Tulsa County Commission has, by statute, the responsibility of calling for an election if the county sales tax is to be raised for river development (or any other project such as the 2003 Vision 2025 vote).

“Having taken a stand against a river authority, I want to make it clear that I welcome good advice from any quarter whether that be INCOG, the River Parks Authority and/or Chambers of Commerce. In fact, I look to INCOG for technical advice and evaluation, just as they have been doing with the proposed Channels River Plan. I have met at length with River Parks Authority Executive Director Matt Meyer and have a high regard for his opinion. I have also met with INCOG Executive Director Jerry Lasker and have worked with him during my time in the legislature, and I also have a high regard for his opinion.”

“It has been said that the County Commissioners and the Mayor need help in evaluating any proposed plans. I agree with that but I don’t agree that there needs to be a new authority. I welcome help from any group in evaluating river plans that have been proposed and are expected to be proposed. These could be City Councils, a group of Mayors located in Tulsa County, engineering associations, civic or other groups but I don’t see the need for an authority. And before a plan is put to a vote by the people, I would want public hearings and suggestions for improvement on any proposed plan.”

Perry said that he believed that public money should only be spent on infrastructure that “cleans up the river and the river bank and/or puts more water in the river and possibly other structural improvements to the river itself. If that is done, private developers and philanthropic individuals and foundations will facilitate the development as they would in any private sector endeavor.”

In a related area, Commissioner Perry said, “At the suggestion of Skiatook developer Ron Howell, I visited Branson Landing last October. Shortly thereafter I met with Rick Huffman, along with Commissioner Miller and Mr. Howell, and encouraged him to seriously consider Tulsa. Subsequently he came to Tulsa, toured the river and began talks with the City of Tulsa regarding a site within the City of Tulsa. The Branson project is extremely impressive and something similar would be great for Tulsa whether or not more comprehensive river infrastructure work takes place. I stand ready to help as it relates to any potential development in Tulsa County,” Perry said.

Perry said that he expects to see more river plan ideas come forward soon. He credited INCOG for their previous work in developing a river master plan and the Stakeholders for their time and effort in the Channels and for “re-energizing talk about comprehensive river development.”

Note that next to last paragraph -- a Branson Landing type project on the west bank would be possible without any changes to the river itself.

I was especially pleased to see that Commissioner Perry appreciates the importance of keeping decisions in the hands of those who are directly accountable to the voters. Recall that when the Vision 2025 proposal came before the County Commissioners in 2003, they (Dick, Miller, and Collins) treated the recommendations of the "leadership team" as immutable, even though as the elected authority responsible for putting the propositions on the ballot, they could have put the arena on a separate ballot to stand or fall on its own merits.

Bridge congratulations

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Belated congratulations to the South Tulsa Citizens' Coalition -- on Wednesday District Judge David Peterson ruled against the motion for summary judgment brought by Infrastructure Ventures Inc., which would have dismissed STCC's lawsuit against the latest deal to build a toll bridge across the Arkansas River at Yale Avenue.

The story in Thursday's Whirled brings up several issues that really ought to be addressed by the State Legislature, issues where there are gaps or ambiguities which will otherwise be left to a judge to sort out:

  • Should an authority formed by multiple municipalities be allowed to condemn property outside the bounds of the beneficiary municipalities?
  • Should such an authority be able to condemn property belonging to a non-beneficiary government?
  • Should a franchise agreement like the Arkansas River Bridge Authority has signed with IVI be subject to a vote of the people, in the same way that municipal franchises are, for a maximum term of 25 years?

I'd also like to wish Judge Peterson a happy retirement. He was someone you could count on to rise above political pressure, and he will be missed.

Landing craft

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The developer of the Branson Landing riverfront mixed-use development has expressed interest in developing the west bank of the Arkansas River between 11th & 21st Street, and that's the topic of my latest column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. I reflect on a recent visit to Branson Landing and to a startlingly similar (but non-waterfront) development in the Florida panhandle called Destin Commons and consider how well that sort of thing might fit on our west bank.

Also of note in this week's UTW:

  • Holly Wall reports on plans to build an 85-room boutique hotel on the grounds of the historic McBirney Mansion at Riverside and Galveston. It's an interesting approach that seems to try to be sensitive to the historical context, but the neighborhood impact has to be considered, rezoning would be required, and there are preservation easements, donated by the owners to the City of Tulsa and the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office, that prohibit the kind of development being proposed.
  • Jarrod Gollihare has a feature story on the Tulsa Violin Shop, on Main north of Brady downtown. There's more to getting a violin or cello ready to play and keeping it playable than you might think.

Detachable islands

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A blog called Brand Avenue has an item about The Channels and at the end of it, they link to a webpage about proposed islands in another stream, the Mississippi River at St. Louis:

When the Great Rivers Greenway District called upon Balmori Associates to provide a proposal for the St. Louis riverfront master plan in October 2005, the firm initially developed four schemes for the underutilized three-quarter mile riverfront. Traditional plans of a pedestrian promenade in a landscaped park were discarded, however, for a more bold and atypical concept: a riverfront of floating islands....

The current proposal includes a series of islands suspended on catamaran-like supports and linked by floating walkways. The original proposal included detachable landforms, which would be flexible enough to change the shape and size of the islands. A major benefit of the proposal is not only this flexibility in landform configuration but also in the potential to change the riverfront’s seasonal activities. As [project manager Javier] Gonzalez explained, “You could detach one of the connecting pieces to attach a new one with a new function. In one you may have a kiosk in the summer, then you could take it to the shipyard and come back with another island with something for the winter.”

When I read the word "landforms" I keep thinking about Colorforms.

By the way, the reason the St. Louis riverfront is "underutilized" is because it was cleaned out by urban renewal.

In today's Whirled, John Kennington, president of the Tulsa Audubon Society, writes, in a letter to the editor, that there are studies that have not yet been done, but ought to be done before putting funding for The Channels to a vote of the people:

The Tulsa Audubon Society is concerned about the impact of The Channels on wildlife and river habitats, especially least terns and bald eagles. TAS serves on the Arkansas River Advisory Committee, which has received answers to its environmental concerns.

Because of those answers we cannot endorse this project. There are too many unknowns, assumptions and guesses about specific design elements and costs....

The studies and modeling needed to develop detailed plans and cost estimates are all scheduled after the design phase, after the proposed election. The detailed groundwater model will take nine months, so a February vote will be based on optimistic guesses. It has been stated that "researching flow volume and cost to validate our order of magnitude costs" are still being studied.

Emphasis added -- when Kennington quotes The Channels' backers as saying they need to validate their "order of magnitude costs," they aren't talking about the difference between $788 million and $888 million, they're talking about the difference between $788 million and $1.6 billion or more. At the public hearing at OSU-Tulsa last month, it was argued that the Tulsa Stakeholders had done their homework, they had the best experts in the world studying this, and we should stop complaining and trust them. It's apparent now that the concerns raised at that hearing hadn't been considered at all -- e.g., the impact of rising river levels on groundwater levels in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Last week, the Brookside Neighborhood Association and the Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods hosted a forum about The Channels that focused on dialogue rather than slick presentations. According to the Whirled's story, the group identified four things they liked about the islands-in-the-stream proposal and two pages' worth of things they didn't like.

I hope that the Tulsa Stakeholders are beginning to realize that their plan isn't going to move forward for a long time, if ever. Perhaps they can begin looking at alternative ways to spend that $100 million, where strategic, positive things can be accomplished without the public expense and logistical problems involved in The Channels' proposal.

Just got this in e-mail:

SpiritBank Business Resource Center

You are invited to join us for a very important
Reaching Tulsa's Full Potential
Maximizing the Momentum of Our City

Co-facilitated by
Don Himelfarb, Economic Development Director, City of Tulsa
Thursday, November 16, 2006
4:30 - 6:00 p.m.
Penthouse Reception 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
SpiritTower - Community Room
1800 South Baltimore Avenue, Tulsa

In May 2005, Kathy Taylor, then Oklahoma's Secretary of Commerce, co-facilitated a BRC Think-A-Torium designed to illuminate the many efforts underway that are supporting Tulsa in reaching her full potential.

Please join us as we gain a better understanding of all the public and private projects being launched or are underway in Tulsa and the surrounding region.

This interactive strategic brainstorming session will be graphically facilitated by Sean Griffin. Outcomes include the following:

  • Increased understanding of the many projects currently in process

  • How to plug into existing projects

  • The value of "coopetition"

  • Creating a collaborative and diverse community

  • Meeting the challenges of the global war for talent

  • Gain new perspectives on our changing city

  • Interacting with Tulsa business leaders

RSVP to Christy Gehrki at 918-295-7236 or e-mail cgehrki at spiritbank dot com.
Seating is limited so sign up early!

Sponsored by James Shirley Management Consultants, Inc., HR Business Links and Triad Interactive Marketing & Software.

To give you a flavor of this sort of event, here is a link to a summary of the May 2005 Think-A-Torium. Based on the description above, I think it would be important for anyone involved with a project for improving Tulsa to show up and share information about it, so it doesn't get left out of the big picture. If nothing else, this is a chance to educate Mr. Himelfarb, new to the job as the City's economic development director, about aspects of Tulsa's economy of which he may not yet be aware.


See Dubya suggests a tongue-in-cheek tag line for Think-A-Torium: "Where rational thought goes to be incinerated!" He also says he knows someone who once went to a similar event with the name "Visioneering."

It is an interesting choice of suffix. I can't think of any really positive words that end in "torium." There's crematorium, moratorium, vomitorium, sanitorium.


So we've been told that the Arkansas River is far too wide to make for an intimate river walk setting. Anyone who has been to the San Antonio River Walk knows there's something to this. (On the other hand, Riverwalk Crossing in Jenks seems to be doing fine with development on one side of the river only. Ditto for your typical seaside boardwalk.) Bing Thom says you need to build the $600 million islands in the river so it'll be close enough to wave at someone on the opposite shore.

Is there another way to create a narrower water feature? Perhaps using tributaries of the Arkansas?

About a month ago (I've been meaning to get this posted), John Neas was kind enough to send me a concept drawing from 1991. I had heard about this, but had never seen it. There's a creek that was long ago buried and routed through storm sewers. It's called Elm Creek, and it flows, mostly underground, from Kendall-Whittier, through Central Park (6th & Peoria), south through Gunboat Park (11th to 13th, Elgin to Frankfort), to 15th & Boston, along Baltimore Ave, along the western edge of Veterans' Park, emptying into the river under the 21st Street bridge. The stretch from Central Park to Veterans' Park consists of an 84" arch tunnel.

This plan, shown in the picture above (click on it to download a higher res version in PDF format), would have brought the creek back to the surface from about 16th & Baltimore to Riverside Drive. Disregard the buildings and the street closings, and just focus on where the creek is relative to the park, the 18th & Boston district (considerably more active now than it was in 1991), and the river. It would make for an interesting connection between 18th & Boston and River Parks, providing a back door to businesses along Boston and opening the possibility for new businesses in place of the parking lot on the west side of Baltimore. Obviously the idea can be tweaked to fit the positive things that are already happening in the neighborhood.

The idea of bringing a creek to the surface as a promenade and neighborhood focal point is an important part of the Pearl District plan, which would open Elm Creek up as a canal along 7th Street to connect the new lake at Central Park with a proposed stormwater detention facility further east.

River development proposal delays actual funded river development :

[River Parks director Matt] Meyer said all of the third-penny sales tax that goes toward river improvements in the area between 11th and 21st streets will be on hold until a decision is made on The Channels.

New Urban Tulsaism

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Urban Tulsa Weekly has a bright and shiny new website!

All the links in my archive category are now broken! But it's worth it! (And they'll be easy enough to fix -- it will just take time.)

(There's a really simple forwarding trick they could do to fix all the broken links on the server side.)

Here's this week's column, part 6 in the series dealing with The Channels proposal, this week asking about the best way to create a more pedestrian-friendly city, learning a lesson from the success of a waterfront development in Florida.

Damp dialogue

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is a report and commentary on the public comment session of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Advisory Committee regarding The Channels, held a week ago Tuesday, October 3, at OSU-Tulsa.

The copy editor is evidently bored with the topic, as my column was given the headline Poltergeist X. (It's actually the fifth column in a row that has had something to do with the islands-in-the-Arkansas plan.)

I, on the other hand, feel like I've found my muse again. It's not that I'm smitten by The Channels (which should be obvious), but the proposal has given me a jumping-off point to talk about many other important issues: How do we create interesting and lively urban places? What makes for walkable communities? What should we be doing to compete for population with other cities and with our own suburbs? What do we mean when we say we want river development?

I've uploaded several audio files and will be uploading more over the course of the evening, along with comments. This first group were mentioned in this week's column, so that you can hear for yourself what was said. These are all MP3 files, each less than 1 MB in size.

Also, don't miss my colleague Jamie Pierson's column, which covers the history of the relationship between Tulsa and the Arkansas, up to and including the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan.

Tomorrow's Tuesday, so I'll be on the radio as usual at 6:10 on 1170 KFAQ with Michael DelGiorno, and I'm sure one of the topics will be the editorial and front page story in Sunday's Whirled.

I don't have them ready yet, but by late Tuesday night I plan to post a number of clips from last Tuesday's public hearing of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Advisory Committee regarding The Channels, which is also the subject of my UTW column coming out this Wednesday.

One of the fascinating things about Tuesday night's public comment session regarding The Channels is how few of the people speaking were "the usual suspects" -- the sort of people who have turned out frequently in the past to comment either for or against a major tax initiative. Only a half-dozen or so of the speakers were familiar to me as people who are engaged in civic matters.

Two of the new faces belonged to Erin Johnson and Debi Sanditen, who have set up a group called Change the Channels. According to their website, the group's "goal is to examine and research questions about The Channels project, then responsibly bring forth our findings." They have a list of concerns, and they have links to related resources, including a letter from the Oklahoma Floodplain Management Association opposing The Channels

On the INCOG website, there is this PDF document laying out a timeline which would get The Channels ready for the Tulsa County Commissioners to put a sales tax on the ballot in December. The reason for targeting December is that Bob Dick will no longer be on the County Commission after January 1, and it's possible that Wilbert Collins will be defeated by John Smaligo in his re-election effort. They want this put on the ballot while the current commissioners, who have never met a sales tax increase they didn't like, are all still in office.

September 14, 2006 Tulsa County Commission Chairman requests Channels Plan Review by INCOG
September 22, 2006 Steering Committee briefing on Channels Project INCOG Conference Center, 201 W. 5th St.; 2:00 p.m.
no date listed Advisory Committee briefing on Channels Project Aaronson Auditorium, Tulsa Central Library
September 25, 2006 - October 13, 2006 Working Groups conduct technical review of proposed Channels project by functional area TBD
October 3, 2006 Advisory Committee public hearing on Channels project OSU Tulsa , Auditorium, North Hall Conference Center; 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
October 12, 2006 INCOG Board briefing on Channels project Lecture Room, Tulsa Central Library
October 17, 2006 (week of) Advisory Committee reviews Working Groups functional reports and formulates comments on proposed Channels project TBD
no date listed Steering Committee reviews Advisory Committee comments and formulates recommendation to INCOG Board and Tulsa County Commission TBD
October 18, 2006 Planning Commission (TMAPC) briefing on Channels project Francis Campbell Meeting Room
November 1, 2006 TMAPC Public Hearing on proposed Channels project and possible Comprehensive Plan amendment Francis Campbell Meeting Room
November 9, 2006 INCOG Board considers approval of possible River Corridor Plan amendment to include Channels project and implementation strategies including other River projects Aaronson Auditorium, Tulsa Central Library
November 15, 2006 TMAPC considers possible resolution recognizing Channels project as a part of amended Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and Comprehensive Plan Francis Campbell Meeting Room; 1:30 p.m.
November 21, 2006 Tulsa Stormwater Advisory Board briefing on Channels project Tulsa City Hall; 11th floor: 3:00 p.m.;
November 29, 2006 TMAPC approves minutes of November 15, 2006 meeting and transmits possible resolution to Tulsa City Council for approval Francis Campbell Meeting Room; 1:30 p.m.
December 5, 2006 Tulsa City Council (committee) presentation of Channels project and possible TMAPC resolution Tulsa City Council Meeting Room
December 7, 2006 Tulsa City Council considers approval of possible TMAPC resolution recognizing an amended River Corridor Plan including the Channels as a part of the Comprehensive Plan Francis Campbell Meeting Room
December 11, 2006 Tulsa County Board of County Commissioners considers approval of possible TMAPC resolution recognizing an amended River Corridor Plan including the Channels as a part of the Comprehensive Plan Tulsa County Commission Meeting Room

Except for the no date listed notations, the table above is as it appears in the linked PDF document.

It's unclear how much of the current phase of the process is going to be accessible to the public. Evidently Tuesday night was our chance to speak up for the benefit of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Advisory Committee, although I haven't seen a list of members of that committee, and I don't know how many of them were in attendance Tuesday, other than Don Walker of Arvest Bank and mayoral aide Susan Neal, who each recognized as leaders of the committee. Then there is some sort of steering committee. If this process is to have the transparency which has been promised, the public needs to know who sits on these committees, and where and when they will meet.

In the previous issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I wrote that when Tulsans say they want river development, they are really seeking a lively promenade, a place to see people and to be seen. This week, I propose a way to make that kind of bustling promenade happen along the banks of the river between 11th and 21st Street, working within the existing river master plan.

I'd be very interested in your comments on this concept, and to that end I've started this thread over at The Voice of Tulsa forum.

Bali Hai price

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The Fijian island of Vatu Vara is being offered for sale by Coldwell Banker Morrisons Private Islands. Also known as “Hat Island” after the 1,000-foot-high round mesa that dominates the center of the island, it’s described as “The Most Beautiful and Expensive Private Island in the World.” It’s about 2 miles across – about 4,000 acres in size, a hundred times bigger than the proposed archipelago in the Arkansas River.

The price tag: A mere $75,000,000, a tenth of The Channels’ $788 million cost. In fact, for the price of The Channels, you could buy the 100 most expensive islands offered for sale on and still have about $58,000,000 in change.

(Sandy Cay, in the Bahamas, the private island owned by the owners of Tulsa’s monopoly daily newspaper, is a bargain at a mere $2,675,000.)

This is the originally submitted version of a story that was published on October 4, 2006, in the October 5-11, 2006, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The story as published can be found at the Internet Archive. Posted on BatesLine on March 23, 2016.

A promenade on the river
By Michael D. Bates

Last week we asked the question, "What are Tulsans really after when they say they want river development?" The answer is a lively public place, the sort of thing we've seen along the river in San Antonio or along the canal in Oklahoma City's Bricktown. We can see it closer to home, at Riverwalk Crossing in Jenks, where the chance to be in a place bustling with people is a draw regardless of the amount of water in the river.

We want a place where a short stroll takes you past a variety of activities and a variety of people. This kind of place has a name: A promenade.

The book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, provides this description:

"The promenade, 'paseo,' 'passegiata,' evening stroll, is common in the small towns of Italy, Spain, Mexico, Greece, Yugoslavia, Sicily, and South America. People go there to walk up and down, to meet their friends, to stare at strangers, and to let strangers stare at them.

"Throughout history there have been places in the city where people who shared a set of values could go to get in touch with each other. These places have always been like street theaters: They invite people to watch others, to stroll and browse, and to loiter...."

The human impulse still manifests itself, even in Oklahoma's car-dependent culture. Small-town teens cruise Main Street on a Friday night, while suburban teens gather at the mall not just to shop, but to connect with friends. Elements of the promenade pattern can be found in Tulsa's older neighborhood commercial areas, places like Cherry Street and Brookside and 18th and Boston, where it's possible to walk from your house to a neighborhood coffee shop or pub or restaurant.

I believe we can create this sort of place along the banks of the river. We can do it in accordance with the existing Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan. We can do it without sacrificing the natural qualities of the river. We can do it without raising taxes by $600 million.

The east bank between the 11th and 21st Street bridges may provide the best opportunity for creating that kind of place along Tulsa's stretch of the river.

One of the elements of a successful promenade is a concentration of people within a 10 or 15 minute walk -- close enough to be a realistic destination for an evening stroll. The neighboring area is one of the more densely settled parts of Tulsa: a historic neighborhood of single-family homes, several high-rise apartment and condominium buildings, and a number of low-rise apartment and condo complexes. It's within walking distance of the convention center and could be an amenity for out-of-town visitors as well.

It's also a convenient drive-to destination. The major commuter route along Riverside and Denver passes right by, making it an easy place to stop before heading home to south Tulsa. It's close to the hub of Tulsa's expressway network. At the same time, the two-lane continuation of Riverside north of Denver means that the park isn't cut off from the neighborhood.

(It also isn't cut off from the rest of the city by a 300-foot-wide moat, which means that people won't feel compelled to drive to get there.)

But convenience isn't sufficient to make a place work as a promenade. A Pattern Language observes that it must provide people with some sort of destination, "for example, clusters of eating places and small shops," and the centers of activity must be close enough together - they reckon no more than 150 feet apart - to prevent desolate and dead spots on the path. There needs to be a series of interesting places, each close enough to the next one to entice you a little further down the path. Finally, a promenade needs significant points of attraction at both ends to act as anchors.

The Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan calls for building a "promenade" - a kind of boardwalk - along the east bank between 11th and 21st. An expanded café near Riverside and Denver would act as the south anchor and the planned Route 66 museum and restaurant will provide an anchor for the north end of the site. There's already public money committed for improvements in this area - $5.25 million in the 2006 third-penny sales tax plan for the park, plus Vision 2025 money for the Route 66 facility.

What's missing is the in-between stuff. The space needs to be more commercial than it is, but not so developed that the natural beauty of the river is obscured or that joggers, dog walkers, and cyclists feel unwelcome.

Bryant Park in Manhattan is a good example of balancing the natural and the man-made in an outdoor public space. Although the context is different, many of the same amenities would work well here.

Like Bryant Park, this park should have free WiFi (to allow some people to do their work in the park), several food kiosks (at least one serving good coffee), and well-maintained restrooms. There ought to be chairs you can move, so you can choose to sit in the sun or the shade. It ought to be a place you could comfortably spend the whole day.

In Bryant Park, the public library has a small reading "room" - really an outdoor area - with novels and magazines and newspapers available to read. Another part of the park has tables for playing games - you can rent chess and backgammon sets. We could do something similar here.

There ought to be a couple of places to rent bicycles and rollerblades, and some place where you can buy sunscreen and bug spray in case you forgot yours at home. A carousel would be a summer-evening attraction, perhaps along with one or two other small, relatively quiet kiddie rides.

The actual mix of activities and amenities could change over time as we observe what attracts people and what doesn't. The kiosks and other permanent facilities should be flexible in their design. But they should be spread along the length of the park, with a major cluster of activity about halfway along, perhaps near Riverside and Galveston.

The area would be further enhanced by neighborhood-friendly mixed-use redevelopment along the east side of Riverside Drive between Galveston and Denver.

We shouldn't force it, but we should allow those aging apartment complexes, built in the '60s and '70s, to be replaced with well-built three- and four-story buildings which front the sidewalk with retail space on the ground floor, office space and apartments above, and maybe restaurants with roof gardens on the top floor, to take advantage of the view.

In the process of redeveloping that stretch, we should improve the connections between the neighborhood and the park, adding public stairways from Riverside up to streets like Elwood and Frisco that dead-end on top of the hill. Perhaps there could be a grand staircase connecting the Sophian Plaza building, done in the same majestic style as that landmark structure, leading to a major focal point of the park, like a sculpture fountain or the carousel.

This park isn't going to be the blockbuster destination that makes the world stand up and notice Tulsa. Indeed, no single project in one place, no matter how extravagant, will fix what ails our city.

Instead, we need to repair and enhance the urban fabric and the quality of life throughout the city. This park would be a model as we create pleasant and safe gathering places throughout the city, even the farthest reaches of north, east, south, and west Tulsa. At the same time, we need to take care of the basics - preventing crime, maintaining our streets, providing good schools.

That kind of steady and comprehensive strategy, not a desperate billion-dollar gamble, will make our city more beautiful and more attractive as a place to live, work, and visit.

If you'd like to talk more about this approach to river development, I invite you to visit, my favorite online discussion forum about local issues.

You'll have a chance tonight to voice your opinions about "The Channels" to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Advisory Committee. Here's the press release:


Public Hearing for Arkansas River Channels Project to be held Oct. 3

The Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Advisory Committee will host a public hearing to receive comments on the Arkansas River “Channels” project proposed by the Tulsa Stakeholders Inc (TSI).

The hearing will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., on Tuesday, Oct. 3, in the Auditorium in the North Hall Conference Center at the OSU Tulsa campus.

TSI will make a brief presentation on the “Channels” project at the beginning of the hearing. The primary purpose of the hearing is to elicit input from the public regarding the proposed Channels projects.

The Tulsa County Commissioners have asked the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Advisory Committee to review the “Channels” project.

The Advisory Committee guided development of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, which has been recognized as part of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Comprehensive Plan and was adopted by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa City Council, and the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners.


And here's a link to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.

Last week's Jenks Journal has an interview with Brent Gordon, an Oklahoma Wildlife Department biologist based in Jenks, about the tremendous amount of rubbish and debris in the Arkansas River:

Gordon says he would like to see someone get concerned about other things in the river - junk - everything from Wal-Mart shopping carts to remnants of yesteryear's visionaries....

Gordon says he has not seen any thing in the paper work nor has he heard any discussion about what is to become of the huge pieces of metal, mounds of steel cable, overall trash, shopping carts and steel pipes so prevalent in the river.

"Are we just going to flood the river over this stuff," he questions.

A call to Wal-Mart about the carts only brings a shrug. Who can prevent people from pushing the carts off the side of the nearby drainage ditch where the next downpour will deposit them into the river. The Wal-Mart logos on the handles are still visible on some of the carts. Others, as many as two dozen are all but buried in the sand.

Less likely to disappear, except by raising the water level are huge amounts of what looks like old oilfield and construction equipment. Pipes are everywhere, some protruding vertical from the river bed and bubbling.

A huge, broken barge or perhaps the remnants of Jenks old ferry system rests near bank erosion and other junk at the bank at the north side of the RiverWalk development. Except where old concrete, brick and building parts have been dumped, high dollar real estate is gully washing into the river.

On the TulsaNow forum, Steve Smith, who used to run airboat tours on the Arkansas, comments:

I have made note to anyone who cares to listen of the debris scattered along the river. No one has really cared. Since the river has been invisible to passing traffic it suffers from "out of sight-out of mind". It is particularly bad under the bridges where old bridge structures were just pushed into the river making for future difficulty in navagation. That is a state responsibility.

Some may find it hard to believe, but it gets worse the farther downstream you go. Jenks debris is much more visible because of the lower water levels and increased populations in that area. Lighting their pedestrian bridge really shows off the trash. Much of it is oilfield equipment but equally to blame are sand dredging companies. Oil company cleanups that are advertised on TV restoring Blue Bird camps need to spend some of that money reclaiming the pipelines and driiling equipment they left in the river. Sand dredging companies need to follow suit and the state needs to hold contractors liable.

...several million years ago.

Charles G. Hill reports on a bold, visionary plan to transform Oklahoma into a major tourist destination.

Now we just need some mountains, and we'll be all set.

Wanted: A Promenade

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This is the originally submitted version of a story that was published on September 27, 2006, in the September 28 - October 4, 2006, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The story is not available in the Internet Archive but was previously online at Posted on BatesLine on March 23, 2016.

Wanted: A Promenade
By Michael D. Bates

For years, Tulsans have been saying that they want "river development." That exact phrase occurred dozens of times in the responses collected at the 2002 City of Tulsa Vision Summit. There's a widespread sense that this "river development" thing is something that Tulsa sorely lacks.

A smart aleck would point out that we already have development along Tulsa's stretch of the river. We have two aging oil refineries, a vintage mid-'80s apartment complex at 11th Street, a vintage mid-'90s complex south of 71st, a concrete batch plant, a power station and a sewage treatment plant. And a windowless casino. And a couple of chain restaurants that turn their backs to the river.

That, of course, is not at all what Tulsans mean by river development. They visit waterfronts in other cities and come back with tales of lively places bustling with locals and tourists, enjoying shopping, restaurants, and nightclubs. San Antonio's Riverwalk is frequently mentioned, as is Oklahoma City's Bricktown Canal. OKC had to build a waterway, but we already have one, and yet we can't seem to do anything interesting with it.

Adding to the frustration, we can look across the river and see that a private developer has used private dollars to create a place, Jenks' Riverwalk Crossing, that draws huge crowds on weekend evenings.

Tulsa has a need for a great public space, a thriving place where you would be almost always guaranteed to find a crowd.

Tulsa Stakeholders Inc, the group promoting The Channels - the $788 million notion to dam the Arkansas at 21st Street and build a sixteenth of a square mile worth of islands in it - have made it clear that a great public space is what they are seeking. They say that we need a place where a newcomer to Tulsa can get a great first impression of the city, a place where there's guaranteed to be something fun going on, no matter what the weather. Given six months, anyone would fall in love with Tulsa, but, they say, when competing with other cities for a skilled professional, Tulsa may only have day or two to make a good impression.

Tulsa has tried to create this kind of public space before -- Oakley Plaza (aka the Civic Center Plaza), the Main Mall and Bartlett Square (RIP), the Williams Center Forum, the Williams Center Green. In each case, there were the requisite conceptual sketches showing throngs of people happily milling about. The problem is that those sketches don't come with a money-back guarantee when the people don't throng as expected.
Humans are finicky about the places they choose to frequent, and if the right qualities aren't present in a place, it won't attract people. There's an organization called the Project for Public Spaces which studies what factors make for a successful public space and how to turn an underperforming place into something exciting. Their website ( shows dozens of examples of great public places - like Bryant Park in New York and the squares of Savannah, Georgia - and explains what makes them tick.
Tulsans have the sense that, like many other cities, we could create a great public place along the banks of the river, but that it won't happen without allowing a certain amount of commercial development.

If you're not a cyclist or a runner, River Parks can be a boring place. For several miles, the view of the river is obscured by trees - great for wildlife habitat, not so great for people.

We want to be near natural beauty, but we want to have civilization close at hand. If you're at the park and get hungry or thirsty, you'd better hope that you're close to the little café in the park at Denver and Riverside and hope that it's open. Otherwise, you'll have to cross a busy parkway and walk at least half a mile to find any sort of restaurant or convenience store.

There are occasional festivals and concerts on the west bank, an occasional music act plays the café on the east bank, but for the most part River Parks is BYOE - Bring Your Own Entertainment.

I lived on the east side of Riverside Drive for five years, and during that time my wife and I often went for evening walks, but we almost never crossed Riverside to use the park.

We were far more likely to walk a half-mile east and stroll along Peoria, enjoying the variety of homes and businesses that Brookside had to offer. If we wanted to get a bite to eat, we had many choices along Peoria. We could even walk to the grocery store or the hardware store and back. We might even run into someone we knew who was out enjoying the same kind of walk.

If, on the other hand, we dodged the cars to get across Riverside to the park, there were no points of interest within practical walking distance. We'd just pick some arbitrary park bench as a place to turn around and walk home.

And there are plenty of benches in River Parks, but without a place that acts as a magnet for park visitors, the individual bench is a lonely place, and one feels odd and exposed sitting there for any length of time. It is not a place where one feels comfortable lingering.

What kind of public place along the river would invite us to linger, would be attractive enough to pull us away from the TV and out of our houses?

We want a place where we know we can find other people, a place where we can have lunch or dinner, where we can buy a cup of coffee or something stronger, or a place where we can bring our own picnic and not spend a dime. We want a place where we can read, write, and people-watch, a place where we might bump into someone we know, a place where we can be alone in a crowd or where we could make a new acquaintance.

The kind of place we have in mind is linear, a place that connects two or more hubs of activity, a place that provides different levels of activity along its length, but with no dead spots anywhere along the path. It invites you to walk the full length of the path, or to sample a few blocks, or just to sit in one place and watch the passing parade.

Back in the '70s, architect Christopher Alexander and his colleagues at the University of California identified this sort of place as a recurring pattern found in healthy urban places. They cataloged the successful patterns they observed in the book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. This pattern they called a promenade, "a place where you can go to see people, and to be seen."

In an ideal city, you should be able to find a promenade within walking distance of every home. You find elements of a promenade in Cherry Street, Brookside, Brady Village, the Blue Dome District, and at 18th & Boston. Even The Promenade (the shopping mall) is something of a promenade, although the effect is blunted by the fact that it's limited to certain hours and is isolated from its surrounding neighborhoods. (Also, national chain mall stores aren't the public draw that they once were.)

The Channels backers assert that their plan is the only way to give Tulsa the kind of great public space we need. They say we can't create it downtown or along the river bank. We need the dam and the islands and the microclimate and the $788 million to make it all happen.

I believe that we can create that kind of place along the banks of the river, and that it can be done in accordance with the existing plan for the Arkansas River. It can be done in a way that doesn't require us to gamble hundreds of millions on one roll of the dice. We can test ideas and make adjustments as we go along, and still have enough money to enhance and repair public places in other parts of the city. Next week I'll give you the details.

The other river plan

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For your reference and mine, here is a link to the website for the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, developed in 2004 and 2005 by the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG). Not only have they posted the plan itself, but you can separately download presentation graphics, attendance lists for the public meetings, and the public comments. It was a lengthy process, involving a great deal of public input.

If you want to begin with a good overview of the plan, start here, at the page honoring the plan for having won a landscape architecture award from the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. It's a good summary of the goals and values, expressed by the public, which were used to frame the design.

With all the hype about The Channels, it's important to remember that that isn't the only river plan out there, and the INCOG plan has had a good deal more deliberation and public input.

By the way, during the Okie Blogger Round-Up, Don Danz pulled up the video of The Channels presentation to show to some Oklahoma City bloggers who thought we were pulling their leg about this $788 million plan to build islands in the Arkansas. One of them, a normally mild-mannered Christian gentleman, loudly exclaimed "Holy $#!+!!!" not in delighted surprise, but in shocked incredulity that Tulsa officials were actually taking the Channels plan seriously.

This is the originally submitted version of a story that was published on September 20, 2006, as my column in the September 21-27, 2006, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The story as published can be found on the Internet Archive. Posted on BatesLine on March 23, 2016.

River reality
By Michael D. Bates

"We're trying to beat nature on this river, and we're going to lose."

For three years, Steve Smith ran airboat tours up and down the Arkansas River, from the 21st Street bridge to the Keystone Dam - the part of the river that would be most affected if The Channels plan for damming the river gets the green light. I recently spoke with him to get his perspective on the proposal.

To most Tulsans, the river is an abstraction, a half-mile wide strip of water and/or sand dividing West Tulsa from the rest of the city - the details don't matter. Most of us seem to think it would be a better river if it were a simple, homogenous body of water, more like a canal. To many Tulsans a sandbar on the river is as attractive and welcome as a zit on your nose on prom night.

During his three years on the river, Smith came to know every nook and cranny, every island, sandbar, and creek mouth. He discovered the variety of wildlife that makes a home in and near the river. Even when the flow is down to a trickle, the river is a lively place. Few Tulsans ever get close enough to see it.

The river bed provides habitat for the endangered least tern and many other types of waterfowl, along with small mammals, and the fish that make this stretch of the river an attractive wintering area for the bald eagle.

Smith says that the backers of The Channels ought to get in a canoe and see what will be covered up by their plan for a 12-mile-long lake, a lake where the natural banks would be replaced by a kind of seawall. Smith is unaware of any groups or individuals that use the river and know it - the rowing club, for example - that were consulted by Tulsa Stakeholders, Inc., before their big unveiling.

As it flows through Tulsa, the Arkansas is an old river. While young rivers are still cutting rock in the mountains, old rivers have finished their work of shaping the land, but they still have a contribution to make. The salt and silt that make the river murky are there to replenish the farmland along its banks by flooding it from time to time. That's how Bixby came to be such a fertile place for growing vegetables and sod. But our tendency is to hem the river in, to keep it from doing that work, so that the river is no longer a distributor of nutrients, but a receptacle for pollutants.

Smith says that there are ways to improve the river as a recreational resource while working with, not against, the river's natural tendencies. We need to work with the Corps of Engineers to reorient their upstream flow policies so that we see a more constant flow through Tulsa. Recreational use below the dam isn't currently a consideration in the Corps' management of Keystone Reservoir, but that can be changed. Similar accommodations have been made on similar stretches of Corps-regulated rivers elsewhere.

The river's flow can be directed and improved to create recreational opportunities. Wing dams, which extend only part of the way into the river, can be used to direct the flow of the river to scour out a central channel, which is also less prone to sediment build-up because of the faster current. Sand would build up behind the wing dams, which creating areas that could be used like many of our stormwater detention areas - recreation space during normal conditions, but open to carry flood waters when needed.

This kind of dam, used to create a very narrow waterway near the PSO plant at 31st Street on the west bank of the river, is responsible for the existence of the Tulsa Wave, considered to be the best kayaking spot between the Rockies and the Appalachians. A wider gap between wing dams in other parts of the river would provide a tamer current for the rest of us to enjoy.

But supposing The Channels dam is built and a lake created. Smith says there are public safety issues that our public officials don't seem to have considered. In cities along the ocean or the Intercoastal Waterway, they understand that you have to have equipment and trained personnel to deal with crimes, fires, and rescue situations on water. Tulsa's leaders have yet to count the cost.

If a high-rise apartment building on one of the islands catches fire, we'll need specially equipped fire rescue boats to put it out. If there's a problem at the Keystone Dam - think of the 1986 flood, where the dam was nearly overtopped - how quickly can the islands be evacuated?

Once we've got boaters on the river, we'll need law enforcement there, too. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol would have jurisdiction; is the OHP prepared to commit the resources of its Lake Patrol troop to this new lake?

The recent rescue of two teenagers from a sandbar near the Jenks Riverwalk demonstrates how unprepared we are to deal with the interaction between people and the river. As much as Jenks has touted its riverfront, the city doesn't have a boat that can handle rescues on the river. Jenks had to call the Tulsa Fire Department, and the TFD first sent a boat that wouldn't work in that depth of water. An hour later a second boat was able to complete the rescue.

Steve Smith has plenty of ideas for how to make the most of this river while respecting the Arkansas for what it is. Over the years he has taken local leaders on boat rides to try to help them see the possibilities that he sees. But it's hard for one ordinary person to get a hearing.

When he first started his airboat tours, Smith would hear one comment over and over again: "This is a brilliant idea, but who are you, and why are they letting you do this?"

That comment may capture one of Tulsa's besetting weaknesses. The ideas of ordinary Tulsans - homeowners, small business owners, students, young adults - ideas that have been sorted, sifted, filtered, and organized in the form of plans for improving our neighborhoods, our downtown, and our river - these ideas are in danger of being set aside because someone with a lot of money, a famous name, and a PR firm has come along with his own plan.

We're told that these islands will give Tulsa the kind of excitement that will "leapfrog" us past competing cities. But Tulsa will never be a hospitable place for risk-takers and entrepreneurs, and thus won't draw the talented, creative people that will make Tulsa a place of energy and excitement, as long as who you are matters more than what you have to offer.

A Bryant Park for Tulsa?

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I enthused about New York City's Bryant Park during my trip to the Republican National Convention. It sits between 42nd Street and 40th Street, east of 6th Avenue, occupying the west half of the superblock that also is home to the New York Public Library. It's about eight acres in size.

It's a nice mix of green space and human activity. Here is a list of amenities you'll find in Bryant Park:

  • An upscale grill (open year-round) and a seasonal outdoor cafe on the east end of the park
  • Four food kiosks on the west end of the park: coffee and breakfast items, ice cream (plus hot chocolate and cider in the winter), sandwiches, and soups and salads
  • A flower kiosk
  • A carousel
  • A reading room -- connected with the library system, an assortment of books, magazines, and newspapers for reading there, not for checking out
  • An area where you can rent chess and backgammon sets and find an opponent
  • A court for bocce-like game called pétanque
  • Free wireless internet throughout the park
  • Chairs you can move around the lawn and terraces as you please
  • Clean, safe, frequently monitored restrooms

The park was considered a lost cause in the late '70s, but an effort began to reclaim and restore the park. A non-profit organization is responsible for maintaining the park and maintaining order. Revenue from the restaurants and kiosks helps to fund the personnel to keep the park in good shape, but volunteers play a role as well.

This kind of collection of amenities might be a good fit for the eastern shore of the river between the 11th and 21st Street bridges, extending the existing node of activity around the River's Edge Cafe at Riverside and Denver. The INCOG river plan puts more intensive commercial uses on the west bank, but there is supposed to be a promenade along this stretch of the east bank. A sprinkling of commercial kiosks here would not overwhelm the park or the adjacent neighborhood.

And the adjacent neighborhood is what makes this section of River Parks the best choice for this kind of place. There is a high concentration of people within a 10- to 15-minute walk, thanks to the presence of several high-rise apartment buildings, many other condo and apartment complexes, and many single-family homes. The area is on the upswing.

Unlike Bryant Park, this area isn't in the heart of a busy commercial district, and 20,000 visitors a day is probably too much to hope for, so the mix of amenities should be somewhat different. Like Bryant Park, this park should have free WiFi, some food kiosks, well-maintained restrooms, movable chairs, a reading room, and tables for playing games. There ought to be a couple of places to rent bicycles and rollerblades, and some place where you can buy sunscreen and bug spray in case you forgot yours at home. A carousel would be a summer-evening attraction, perhaps along with one or two other small, relatively quiet kiddie rides. One of the kiosks ought to be a coffee house -- preferably one that's independent and locally-owned.

I think it could be a very successful public space. What do you think?

A version of this column was published on August 2, 2006, in the August 3-10, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly under the headline, "Intelligent Design." Below is the column as originally submitted. The as-published version of the story is available on the Internet Archive. Submitted version posted on BatesLine on March 29, 2016.

Making the most of Tulsa's unique places
By Michael D. Bates

So I was changing my baby boy's diaper in the men's room of the Johnny Carino's at 98th and Riverside - they have those nice changing surfaces that pull down from the wall - and I was thinking: "If they just had a window here in the men's room, I'd have a lovely view of the Arkansas River and the Oklahoma Aquarium."

The diners at Johnny Carino's don't have that lovely view. The building is a franchise-standard, cookie-cutter design, oriented toward the street, and what windows there are face the parking lot and Riverside Drive.

For all the talk of development along the river and in light of the standard that has been set by Riverwalk Crossing in Jenks, it's hard to understand why all the development to date on the Tulsa side turns its back to the river. Here we are, poised to spend millions on low-water dams, and for what? So that the Kum-n-Go dumpster and the Red Robin grease pit can have spectacular views of the water?

Even the greatly anticipated Kings Landing is oriented away from the river. Just a couple of the spaces appear to have windows (and small ones at that) facing the Arkansas.

I had hoped that private developers would have the imagination to see and exploit the unique opportunities presented by riverfront property. My guess is that the financing and construction process, with the focus on reducing risk to the investors, is enough to quench anything imaginative.

As much as possible, we ought to leave it to the free market to decide the best use for a piece of land. But there are certain places which, by virtue of some natural feature (e.g., a river) or publicly-funded facility (e.g., a freeway, an arena), offer unique opportunities for a city's growth, quality of life, tourist appeal, and economic development.

Many cities have concluded that the only way to make the most of their unique places is to establish special design requirements and a design review process for nearby developments.

Oklahoma City has done this for its river, establishing a "scenic river overlay" zone that follows the path of the Oklahoma River (nee North Canadian) through the city. New developments are scrutinized for compliance with the city's String of Pearls Master Plan, helping to ensure that OKC taxpayers get what the kind of riverfront experience they hoped for when they approved funding for low-water dams.

The river isn't the only special place that Oklahoma City protects through special regulation. In Bricktown, new construction and exterior modifications must be approved by the Bricktown Urban Design Committee, using guidelines designed to maintain consistency with the historic brick warehouses that give the district its name. The design review process protects both the massive public investment in the area.

They aren't making any more Main Streets, so a similar design review process is in place for Oklahoma City's pedestrian-oriented shopping streets, in recognition of the way places like NW 23rd and Capitol Hill add to the appeal of city living.

Southwest of downtown, Stockyards City is an authentic remnant of Oklahoma City's history as a cowtown, and there are special zoning regulations that apply to the commercial district and its main approaches.

Oklahoma City has also made it a priority to protect one of its front doors. I-44 & I-35 funnel traffic in from Wichita, Kansas City and points north, and Tulsa, St. Louis, Chicago, the Great Lakes region, and the northeastern U. S., heading to Texas or Southern California.

The area just south and west of where the two roads divide has a high concentration of tourist attractions - the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Omniplex, Remington Park, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the National Softball Hall of Fame, and the National Firefighters Hall of Fame.

In 1981 - 25 years ago - Oklahoma City recognized the importance of this area by designating it the Northeast Gateway Urban Conservation District. The purpose of the district, as designated by ordinance, is "to ensure continued conservation of aesthetic appeal within a unique area; to encourage quality development; and to recognize the unique quality and character of the Northeast Gateway."

In the Northeast Gateway district, building facades must be of stone, masonry, glass or wood. Metal buildings aren't allowed to front onto public streets. There are special requirements for landscaping, screening, street setback, building height, and noise. Heavy equipment repair, truckstops, outdoor swap meets, and sewage treatment plants are prohibited. These extra requirements are designed to help the city make a good first impression.

Tulsa's leaders haven't been as foresighted in protecting our special places.

Here's one example: We've allowed our own northeast gateway, the heavily-traveled stretch where I-44, US 412, and State Highway 66 join together, to develop in an ugly way. Instead being lined with places for tourists to spend money and generate sales tax, this corridor is filling up with industrial uses, auto auctions, and truck storage.

The area has developed in this way partly because, 40 years after Tulsa annexed the area, the city still hasn't provided the infrastructure needed for more profitable uses. The lack of city sewer is a particular hindrance.

To the south of this corridor are some of the largest blocks of undeveloped land remaining within the city limits. Historic Route 66 is just a mile to the south.

Tulsa needs to be smart about how this region develops. And while we can't do anything about what's already there, city officials can make planning decisions that will begin to turn the area around.

Last Thursday the City Council approved a zoning change that is a step in the wrong direction. Some property in this corridor, near 145th East Ave and Admiral, was rezoned industrial. I'm told that the rezoning will make it harder for neighboring property owners to develop their land as anything but industrial.

Some of those nearby parcels were potential sites for residential development. Just within the last month, a sewer line was completed to the area which would make residential development feasible, but it is unlikely to happen if industrial development springs up nearby. The industrial rezoning could also hinder retail development at 129th East Ave and I-44, a site identified as a prime retail location.

Tulsa needs a comprehensive plan that reflects the importance of this and other strategic areas, and we need ordinances that help us put the plan into action.

Oklahoma City's zoning overlays may not be the best approach - they're really an attempt to superimpose the form-based planning approach onto an outdated use-based system - but OKC's example gives Tulsa a place to start.

Tulsa only has so much highway frontage, so much open space, so much riverfront. They aren't making any more of the stuff (to paraphrase Will Rogers), so we need to make the most of what we have.

No federal money for river


KOTV reported recently that the much heralded river component of "Forfeit 4 Greater Taxes" can't happen because the expected Federal funding won't be available, because of more pressing needs. According to reporter Emory Bryan:

The $10 million in the Vision package depends on federal financing, which is not only uncertain - I'm told it's an absolute impossibility for the foreseeable future. The river was one of the early points of consensus for the vision plan, after many of the ideas - and much of the public support focused on items in and along the Arkansas.

The final package contains $10 million of projects to directly improve the river, primarily with two new low water dams that would make the river appear to have more water in it.

The federal funding problem comes down to this - Oklahoma's congressional delegation determines where the money goes for projects handled by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They are not going to even ask for the money until the cleanup of Tar Creek is funded.

A source told me that literally - cosmetic work on the Arkansas wouldn't happen until Tar Creek is cleaned up.

It's hard to argue with those priorities. Tar Creek is a hazard to Ottawa County residents, and potentially to Grand Lake. Our river is already lovely, even without new low water dams.

I have also heard that the "leadership team" that drew up the final package did not bother to consult with our congressional delegation to see whether their assumptions about Federal funding were well grounded.

Commissioner Bob Dick has admitted that due diligence hasn't been done on these projects. That is certainly the case here. And of course, we won't get the results of a professional study on developing the river until sometime next year. What other surprises are lurking?

High praise to KOTV for digging out this information and making it available to the voters.

Updated March 19, 2016 to add link to KOTV story as captured by the Internet Archive on August 1, 2003. Here is the complete story:

The Vision for the Arkansas River

The Vision 2025 plan for the Arkansas River. One of the key assumptions about the financing of the plan - is most likely impossible.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan has been covering all the aspects of the Vision 2025 plan and says there's a new wrinkle in the plan to improve the Arkansas.

The $10 million in the Vision package depends on federal financing, which is not only uncertain - I'm told it's an absolute impossibility for the foreseeable future. The river was one of the early points of consensus for the vision plan, after many of the ideas - and much of the public support focused on items in and along the Arkansas.

The final package contains $10 million of projects to directly improve the river, primarily with two new low water dams that would make the river appear to have more water in it.

The federal funding problem comes down to this - Oklahoma's congressional delegation determines where the money goes for projects handled by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They are not going to even ask for the money until the cleanup of Tar Creek is funded.

A source told me that literally - cosmetic work on the Arkansas wouldn't happen until Tar Creek is cleaned up.

Here is the Internet Archive link to KOTV's collection of stories about the Vision 2025 vote.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Arkansas River category.

Great Plains Airlines is the previous category.

Re-Vision is the next category.

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