Re-Vision: April 2016 Archives

Most of the projects in Vision Tulsa Prop 3 amount to "Here, have a pile of money." Instead of building a specific facility that will belong to the City of Tulsa or updating existing city-owned facilities, the City will write a check to some other institution to do with as they see fit. It makes accountability a challenge to say the least.

Since the first Third Penny tax was approved in 1980, there has been a City of Tulsa Sales Tax Overview Committee (STOC) to oversee spending of the current Third Penny program. STOC has members from each of the nine council districts and meets monthly determine that the money is only being spent on authorized projects, which are itemized in an ordinance.

For example, here's a project from that 1980 Third Penny, specified in Title 43-A, Tulsa Revised Ordinances:

4-Lane 31st from Memorial to Mingo, with modification of the Intersection of 31st and Memorial: $8,255,000.00

Compare that to this line from Title 43-K, which sets out the spending policy for the newly passed Vision Tulsa tax hike:

Tulsa Fairgrounds: $30,000,000.00

How do you ensure that money is spent as intended when so little intent is indicated?

The good news: There are members of the STOC who want to be sure that our tax dollars are spent in accordance with promises made before the election.

More good news: STOC members have concerns about certain (as yet unnamed) projects.

The bad news: STOC members have no control over the contracting process. Their suggestions of contract terms to require reporting and transparency before receiving funds are just that -- suggestions.

(Also, the STOC doesn't even have oversight on the permanent taxes approved by Props 1 and 2.)

Some more bad news: Rather than raising these concerns in a timely manner, when the information might have influenced voters to reject the package and demand specific terms and conditions be written into the ordinance, they waited until the voters had no leverage to influence how the contracts will be written.

Here is the email that Ashley Webb, chairman of the STOC, sent on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, the day after the Vision Tulsa sales tax election, discussing concerns about oversight and accountability with these projects. (Emphasis added. )

Hello All:

Congratulations on the successful passage of the three Vision extension proposals. Now that the issue is finally ripe, I wanted to reach out and update the Council on the STOC's efforts to date and our concerns going forward regarding, specifically, oversight of the proposals in the Economic Development portion of the package (which are the only ones that will fall under the oversight purview of the STOC).

First, STOC members Karen O'Brien and Brad Colvard met with Mike Kier, Gary Hamer, and myself on February 11, 2016, to address preliminary issues relative to the Economic Development projects. Primarily, the STOC and Mr. Kier addressed/discussed one principal issue at that meeting: mandatory reporting requirements (and contractual language requiring the same) for all non-City of Tulsa controlled entities receiving funds under the Vision 2025 Economic Development package.

To that end, we discussed the insertion of contractual language into the contracts with those entities requiring at least quarterly in-person reporting to the main STOC monthly meetings and monthly written reports to our STOC VISION subcommittee. Additionally, we discussed the necessity of tying those reporting requirements to those entities' ability to receive disbursements; otherwise, there would be no mechanism through which their compliance could be enforced. By far, this is the most important issue that we believe must be addressed up front before these projects move forward.

Secondly, we discussed the logistics of the STOC's oversight and how we might incorporate these new projects into our existing oversight structure, etc. From that, we created an additional STOC VISION subcommittee, our first meeting of which was held last Tuesday on March 29, 2016. Our next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday April 19. 2016 at 4:00 p.m. at the First Baptist Café at 4th and Cincinatti (nice chairs, complementary beverages - thank you to FBT!). I have copied on this communication those STOC members who were in attendance at that meeting last week.

Finally, I know that Mr. Kier and others had an informal meeting last Tuesday evening to discuss, I'm sure, a multitude of issues that might need to be addressed should the VISION proposals pass. Now that we know those proposals have been approved, though, the STOC would like to ensure that the necessary language requiring the mandatory reporting be included in all relevant contracts, and we (the STOC) are willing to provide a liaison for any such meetings in the future to guarantee the oversight requirements needed will not be overlooked. As currently constructed, the STOC has several licensed attorneys and experienced professionals that are willing to be available so that we have boots on the ground, so to speak, making sure the issue is addressed. Obviously, through our STOC VISION subcommittee, the STOC will continue to streamline our approach so that we can accommodate the oversight of this panoply of projects that will soon be coming down the pike.

As I know we still have some time to line all of these issues out, I will not at this time provide a list of the Economic Development projects that we are most concerned about; however, I would expect we will address those issues with the Council following our April 19th subcommittee meeting. In the meantime, if we can be of service to those identifying and addressing, in particular, issues relative to the oversight of these projects, please do not hesitate to let us know. As stated, we will gladly provide an STOC representative to be present at any such meetings, be them formal or not.

Thank you all for your continued investment in Tulsa's future.

Sincerely,

Ashley Webb
Chair, COT STOC

I've observed this over and over again for years, but it's still disheartening to see how easily many Tulsans yield what little political leverage they possess in exchange for empty promises of future influence. They have been brainwashed to think that if they play nice and don't say anything that makes the powers-that-be look bad, at some point in the future the powers-that-be may actually take their concerns seriously. This passivity is especially distressing when the passive Tulsans hold positions that grant them more than the typical share of visibility and political power.

(I heard the same passivity even among voters, many of whom told me that they didn't want to build the dams, but they felt they had to vote yes in order to get their favorite thing funded. They seemed mystified at the thought that they could say no and thus force the Council to rework the package, excluding the dams.)

To the STOCers: I wish you well in your quest for transparency and oversight. It's really rather sweet that you think city officials will care about your opinion, now that they have what they want. Your mistake here is to believe that it matters how the money transferred to non-City entities is spent. That money, typically not enough to do anything useful, has already served its purpose, which was to purchase the support of certain constituencies for the low-water dams. Now that the dams have been funded, the non-City entities could hold a bonfire to burn all their Vision Tulsa cash and the Mayor and City Council would not care.

UPDATE: STOC member Steven Roemerman points out that he raised these concerns via Twitter back in January:

It isn't clear to me how the #Tulsa STOC is supposed to effectively oversee money given to Tulsa County in the new #vision tax #visiontulsa 11:07 AM - 27 Jan 2016

What mechanism will we have to force the County to be transparent? Asking nicely? Harsh language? Wishful thinking? #visiontulsa #vision
11:09 AM - 27 Jan 2016

Will they promise to send representatives to STOC sub committee meetings? How will #Tulsa handle County cost overages and deadline slippage?
11:11 AM - 27 Jan 2016

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.

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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.

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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:

CityPropositionTerms
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.

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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

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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.


One of the joys of this campaign has been getting to know some valiant community leaders that I had not previously met. Tracie Chandler, a leader in the North Star neighborhood, was instrumental in getting the city to do a small area plan covering the 36th Street North corridor between the Osage County line and Lewis Ave. This area was once prosperous but long ago fell on hard times. The small-area plan process brought homeowners, business owners, and city planners together to determine a path forward. Unfortunately, Tulsa civic leaders have a bad habit of either ignoring northside activists or treating them with dismissive condescension, and the modest capital improvements that these small area plans request -- small investments that can make a huge difference to an area's potential -- are typically ignored in favor of bigger, splashier projects closer to Tulsa's Money Belt.

Tracie Chandler has written several items of commentary on Vision Tulsa, and with her permission, we're happy to publish them here at BatesLine. First, here is a list of concerns about the package, which Ms. Chandler read at our news conference on Tuesday and a related graphic.

We want to thank the Councilors and the Mayor for their work on the Vision Package. However, we have some concerns. Councilor Ewing said, people without representation were being left off the list to the detriment (harm) of the neighborhoods. Another councilor responded with. "They have their Councilor." Ewing replied, "You know what I Mean!" We instantly understood. People with money, power, or influence got their proposals on the list.

Example: The Gilcrease Museum gets sixty-five million ($65,000,000) of our hard earned dollars; a donor will give them fifty million dollars ($50,000,000). Example of influence?: Had Councilor Henderson supported the 36th St. N. Corridor Small Area Plan Implementation Proposal, coupled with the Mohawk Business Park, we would have had two straight miles prepped for economic development down 36th St. N. between N. Lewis and MLK. The Peoria Connection, which has the least impact of the two and cost five million dollars ($5,000.000) more, made the list. Is it because of Henderson's close ties to NTEDi, the organization submitting the proposal?

Public Safety:

Everyone cares about public safety, however, here are our concerns: The tax is permanent instead of for 15 years.

Fire Department:

The fire department will get seventy million dollars ($70,000,000), even though it didn't complete an analysis of needed funds. A fireman was overheard telling one of the Councilors that there was not a need for the trucks she was seeking. Many of the "fire runs" are for EMS purposes instead of fighting fires.

Police Department:

Do we need 160 more police to the tune of two hundred two million dollars ($202,000,000)? Even with the layoff of about 120 police in 2010, major crimes decreased. Minorities, especially Blacks, are harassed/arrested more than others. These arrests destroy families. More police, more minorities going to jail. The recreation centers are gone, kids, with their parent(s) in jail, are often without supervision. They act out, doing unwise things leading to their arrests (a continuous cycle of family destruction)! Keeping people locked up, is costly; It is cheaper to keep them out of prison.

We like the Gilcrease Museum, however, let's examine another use for the sixty-five million ($65,000,000) that would directly benefit North Tulsa. Five point five million dollars ($5,500,000) is about what it would have taken to renovate recreation centers at Ben Hill, B. C. Franklin, and Springdale parks. After utilities, the remaining fifty-nine million, two hundred eighty-nine thousand, twenty-five dollars ($59,289,025) could be invested in an endowment; at 3.5%, two million, seventy-five thousand, one hundred sixteen dollars ($2,075,116) to run the centers.

Zoo: "Do we need to pay $25,000,000 (twenty-five million dollars) to build a "Pachyderm Palace" as a new home for elephants?"

Lot in the Package for North Tulsa???????????????

You will hear that there is a lot in the package for North Tulsa, the same story we heard before and for the most part, North Tulsa looks the same. How will this be any different? Three of the items referred to are the Gilcrease Museum, The Zoo, and the Airport. Who will benefit the most, North Tulsa residents or the city?

Education:

Tulsans will pay taxes for Jenks schools, because Tulsa students attend those schools. Is Osage County paying for students that attend Central and Academy Central? We do need to retain teachers, however, North Tulsa Schools get more of the inexperienced teachers than South Tulsa Schools. What assurance do we have that this will change?
OSU: Why are we giving OSU 3.6 million dollars ($3,600,000) when they are receiving $1,000,000 (one million dollars) a year from Langston for rent? They could have saved that amount.

Street Maintenance and Traffic:

Everyone, especially North Tulsans, want their streets repaired. The City continuously maintain NEW streets, because it is cheaper, as opposed to older streets. Where does that leave older neighborhoods?

River Project: How will the River Project benefit North Tulsans? Will the money brought in by the project help North Tulsa? What part of the city gets most of the tax dollars?

Whose Vision is this?

This package does not represent the wishes/desires of the citizens. Where is the vision?

What Now?

We understand your concerns about Langston! However, would you keep an apple that is 93.4% rotten; North Tulsa only got 6.6% of the package? That makes the package for North Tulsans 93.4% rotten. Citizens of Tulsa, since this package does not represent our vision for Tulsa, should we accept it? If we accept this package, what message will we send? Won't it be that, it doesn't matter if our voices are not heard? Won't it be, walk all over us although, these are OUR tax dollars? Are we men or are we mice content with crumbs?

Presented by a Coalition of Concerned Citizens

Vision_Tulsa-Will.jpg

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This page is a archive of entries in the Re-Vision category from April 2016.

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