Tulsa Zoning: May 2006 Archives

An edited version of this piece was published on May 31, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web, with hyperlinks to related articles, on August 18, 2010.

"No man's property is safe while the legislature is in session." So goes the old saying, and it very nearly held true this year, as two bills at the State Capitol, SB 1324 and HB 2559, threatened property values by trying to undermine local control of zoning and historic preservation.

But HB 2559 died in conference committee, and SB 1324 emerged last Tuesday only to be blown out of the water by a humiliating vote of 42 to 3 in the full State Senate.

We've been following these bills for about six weeks, ever since historic preservation groups sounded the alarm. We've learned several lessons in the process.

The first lesson is that if you care about your city, the State Legislature deserves every bit as much scrutiny as City Hall. In Oklahoma, municipalities are creatures of the state, limited to the authority granted them by the Oklahoma Constitution and Statutes. A lot of good work locally could be undone at the state level.

Lesson two: It's very hard to get a clear idea of where a bill stands. Striking the title, shell bills, committee substitutes, riders -- there are so many different ways to derail or completely change a piece of legislation. We've only begun to get an education in the legislative process as it is practiced in Oklahoma City. Don't assume that you get it just because you watch C-SPAN as your daily soap opera; Oklahoma's procedures and traditions are very different from those of Congress.

Lesson three: Legislators are forced to consider an incredible amount of legislation each year - thousands of bills and resolutions are introduced, and hundreds make it to the floor for debate and a vote. They can't possibly give each bill the attention it deserves.

Consequently, they put a lot of trust in their colleagues and in lobbyists to decide whether a bill deserves scrutiny. In the case of HB 2559 and SB 1324, the bill's sponsors - Sen. Brian Crain and Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, all from Tulsa - told their colleagues that the provisions weren't controversial at all.

The same message was carried by lobbyists Karl Ahlgren and Russ Roach, representing the interests of "Utica Partners". Roach used to live in Swan Lake, a zoned historic preservation neighborhood in midtown Tulsa. Nowadays Roach lives south of Southern Hills Country Club, living large and milking his connections to his former colleagues for all their worth. He seems to have forgotten the challenges faced by homeowners in older parts of Tulsa.

Until preservationists got wind of the bill, and word spread to neighborhood associations, city councilors, and others concerned about urban planning and zoning policy, legislators weren't hearing any message to the contrary. SB 1324 passed unanimously the first time through in both houses.

How did ordinary Oklahomans turn a unanimous vote in favor to a nearly unanimous vote against? We became aware of the legislation and understood its implications, and then we expressed our concerns to our representatives. Once we educated the members of the House and Senate about the problems with the bill, that tipped the balance in the right direction.

While I'd hope that our legislators would be inclined to vote against any measure they haven't had time to study, it's our job to keep an eye on the bills that are introduced and to lobby just as hard as hired guns like Russ Roach.

One more lesson to learn: There are elected officials that desperately need to be replaced, but it's likely that most of them will get free rides to re-election when the filing period closes on June 7.

Ron Peters, who represents House District 70 in midtown, is one of those who need to go. Off the record, his Republican colleagues will tell you that he is one of the least cooperative, least trustworthy, least principled members of their caucus. They'd be happy to see him go.

Peters was one of a half-dozen Republicans who broke with the party to support the lottery and the introduction of full-fledged casino gambling, with all their accompanying social ills.

SB 1324 and HB 2559 are not his first assaults on homeowners' rights and local control of land use issues. In 2005, Peters and Crain co-authored HB 1911.

In addition to the Board of Adjustment provisions that made their way into SB 1324, the earlier bill would have removed notice requirements for property owners within a redevelopment (i.e., urban renewal) district. Owners would not have had to be notified about public hearings regarding redevelopment plans affecting their property. It also would have removed a requirement for redevelopment plans to be approved by the City Council.

Peters hasn't had a challenger since he first won the seat in the 2000 Republican primary. A conservative Republican challenger could unseat him, if only one would step forward.

It must have surprised some of her constituents that Jeannie McDaniel, a Democrat who represents House District 78 in the northern part of midtown, would have supported a bill undermining historic preservation zoning. After all, she was head of the Mayor's Office for Neighborhoods under Mayor Susan Savage, and she did a great deal to help neighborhood associations organize and help them deal with City Hall bureaucracy.

But residents of central Maple Ridge will remember how, in 1999 and 2000, McDaniel and the Savage administration worked to undermine their efforts to get historic preservation zoning for their neighborhood, which is arguably Tulsa's most historic neighborhood without that protection.

McDaniel was not only out of step with this land use bill, she was one of only five state reps to oppose SB 1742, the pro-life legislation which makes crucial information available to women in crisis pregnancies. The bill takes concrete actions toward the stated goal of making abortion rare (as in Bill Clinton's phrase "safe, legal, and rare"), by giving women solid alternatives to killing their unborn children.

McDaniel represents quite a turn to the left from her predecessor, pro-life Democrat Mary Easley, who voted for SB 1742 in the State Senate.

McDaniel won by only 24 votes over Republican David Schaffer, and she faces a tough challenger in Tulsa police officer and Republican Jesse Guardiola. Guardiola has been campaigning hard for over six months.
The only other Tulsa state representative to oppose this year's landmark pro-life legislation was Democrat Darrell Gilbert, who represents District 72 in north-central Tulsa. Gilbert, a former Republican, hasn't had a general election opponent since his first race in 1996, and hasn't had a primary election opponent since 1998.

Our list of elected officials who deserve a strong challenge would not be complete without mentioning Tulsa County Commissioners Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, both up for re-election this year. In previous columns, we've documented their aversion to competitive bidding and their disdain for the concerns of Tulsa homeowners.

Collins has a challenger, Owasso State Rep. John Smaligo. Both of Democrat Collins's previous wins have been very narrow, and his district, which includes north Tulsa County and east Tulsa, is becoming increasingly Republican.

Bob Dick got a free ride four years ago, and so far he has not drawn a challenger. City Councilor Bill Christiansen has been rumored as a candidate, but it hasn't been clear whether he would oppose Dick or whether Dick would retire and anoint him as his successor. Christiansen would be better on the south Tulsa bridge issue, but otherwise he wouldn't be much of an improvement.

Christiansen may be waiting to see how much damage there is from the FAA investigation into allegations of anti-competitive practices at Jones Riverside Airport, practices that are alleged to have helped his Christiansen Aviation at the expense of competing fixed-base operator Roadhouse Aviation. The FAA report was due out at press time.

Whatever Christiansen decides to do, Tulsa County needs someone to run for Commission District 3 who will work to make county government more open and efficient, someone who will give deference to city government, rather than engaging in empire-building at the County Courthouse.

You may be used to waiting until Election Day to pay attention to these races. But if you want a real choice to available to you on the ballot, you need to do some homework between now and June 7.

If you're reading this, you're obviously intelligent and concerned about good government. Take a close look at your elected representatives, and consider whether you should step forward and challenge them. Or perhaps someone you know would be the perfect candidate.

Competition is a good thing. It gives us a chance to replace those officials who need replacing and helps those who survive a challenge to get back on the straight and narrow.

Someone needs to provide that competition. That someone could be you.

MORE ON SB 1324 and HB 2559:

This just in: This afternoon the Oklahoma Senate voted down SB 1324, 3 votes to 42. Only three senators voted yes: Brian Crain (R-Tulsa; the bill's author), Patrick Anderson (R-Enid), and Ted Fisher (D-Sapulpa). Glenn Coffee (R), Judy Eason-McIntyre (D), and Mike Morgan (D) were absent. Everyone else voted against.

Thanks to all who called, e-mailed, and faxed to express your opposition. And thanks to the legislators who responded to our concerns, took a closer look at the bill, and rejected it.

TRACKBACK: Charles G. Hill comments on the bill and its defeat: "Tulsa's historic zoning is a plastic latch: it's there, and it makes a satisfying click sound, but sooner or later you know it's going to break."

This morning, SB 1324, a controversial bill that would interfere with local control of zoning and land use, has been signed out of conference committee and is on its way to a final vote in both houses. Because developers no longer control Tulsa's City Council, they are now using this bill to bypass the City Council and to have state legislators from Slapout and Bugtussle determine our local zoning policy.

It is time to get on the phone to your State Representative and State Senator and urge them to vote against this bill. Legislators have been misled to believe that this bill isn't controversial. If they're to be convinced otherwise, they need to hear from you right away.

It's worth noting that Gov. Henry vetoed a bill last year (HB 1911) that had almost identical language.

To find your State Representative and State Senator and their e-mail addresses and phone and fax numbers, click this link and enter your address in the form.

You can also reach any State Representative through a toll-free number, 1-800-522-8502. The main switchboard at the State Senate is 1-405-524-0126.

Previous BatesLine coverage of this bill and HB 2559, which contained similar language:

HB 2559: Attacking local control of zoning
Legislature interferes in local control of land use -- HB 2559 and SB 1324
Call your State Senators today -- kill SB 1324
SB 1324, HB 2559, Susan Neal, and non-partisan elections
SB 1324 is still lurking

In Urban Tulsa Weekly:

April 27, 2006
May 11, 2006
May 18, 2006


Homeowners for Fair Zoning letter in opposition to SB 1324
Chris Medlock's letter in opposition to SB 1324 to State Senators

SB 1324, the controversial bill that would interfere with local control of land use issues, is going to conference committee. Here is the list of conferees:

Senate (from Thursday's Senate Journal:

Brian Crain (R-Tulsa)
Earl Garrison (D-Muskogee)
Charlie Laster (D-Shawnee)

House (from Friday's House Journal):

Ron Peters (R-Tulsa)
Bill Case (R-Midwest City)
Guy Liebmann (R-Oklahoma City)
Mark Liotta (R-Tulsa)
John Carey (D-Durant)
Wes Hilliard (D-Sulphur)

Contact these legislators and let them know that you want this bill killed. It's an unwarranted intrusion into local control of local issues, and the legislature needs to let city governments work out matters of zoning, historical preservation, and urban conservation for themselves.

The charter review commission that Bill LaFortune put in place last December following the failure of Tulsans for Better Government's supercouncilor initiative petition is nearing its scheduled conclusion. I spoke at last Friday's meeting at the invitation of Co-Chairman Ken Levit. This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly has my report on the meeting and the kind of recommendations the Citizens' Commission on City Government is likely to make. (For a complete picture, don't miss Bobby's entry at Tulsa Topics, which contains audio of my presentation and TU Professor Gary Allison's remarks.)

My column also includes an update on SB 1324, the bill that would interfere with local government control of Board of Adjustment appeals and enforcement of design rules in historic preservation and neighborhood conservation districts.

(By the way, on Wednesday the State Senate officially rejected House amendments to SB 1324 and requested a conference committee. Conferees have yet to be named.)

This issue also includes a Ginger Shepherd profile of new District 7 Councilor John Eagleton. (Previous issues featured District 2 Councilor Rick Westcott and District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes.)

Eagleton tells how he came up with the idea that would use a south Tulsa toll bridge and a nearby TIF district to fund improvements to the roads leading to the bridge and to cover the shortfall in the BOk Center arena, while giving BOk the financing for the bridge in exchange for dropping their lawsuit for the $7.5 million owed by Great Plains Airlines and guaranteed by the Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust:

He said he came up with the idea while sitting in a Creek County Court for a docket call. The docket that day was six to seven pages long, and he was bored while he waited to be called. He counted the ceiling tiles, his mind was wondering and then he "was hit like a bolt of lighting" with the idea.

Whatever the merits of Eagleton's idea, that's certainly a more constructive and acceptable way to beat boredom in a Creek County courtroom than other methods that have made the news.

This issue also includes coverage of Mayfest (also here), a continuation of the summer events guide, and a ballot for the 2006 Absolute Best of Tulsa awards.

UPDATED on October 26, 2017, to replace dead links with Internet Archive Wayback Machine links and to add direct links to audio of my remarks and Gary Allison's remarks. Here is audio of a comment by Greg Jennings with further comments from me about giving the voters a meaningful choice, the possibility of party endorsements, the 1991 Louisiana election, and the reality of local factions that don't line up with national parties. Here is a direct link to former Councilor Chris Medlock's remarks. And here is a direct link to the Urban Tulsa Weekly 2006 Absolute Best of Tulsa paper ballot. A tip of the hat to Bobby Holt for recording the hearing, posting the audio files, and doing so in such a way that the Internet Archive could grab them.

An edited version of this column appeared in the May 17, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is no longer available online. Here's my blog entry linking to the article. Posted online October 26, 2017.

Charter change commission winding down

The blue-ribbon panel assembled to consider radical changes to Tulsa's form of government is winding down its work and appears ready instead to make a set of more modest but constructive recommendations.

Last Friday, May 12, I spoke at the invitation of the Citizens' Commission on City Government about my idea of multi-partisan elections (described in my April 6 column) and the related concept of instant runoff voting (described in my March 9 column).

I have been skeptical of this commission, which was established by Mayor Bill LaFortune last December after the petition drive in support of at-large councilors failed to gain traction. LaFortune handpicked the commission members and set the ground rules without consulting with his fellow elected officials. It seemed to be another means to advance the notion of at-large councilors.

That notion, you'll be pleased to know, is all but dead. In a straw poll taken at the end of the meeting, only two commissioners, realtor Joe McGraw and zoning attorney Stephen Schuller, supported any form of at-large membership on the Council.

McGraw said that he wants someone on the Council representing all of Tulsa, not just special interests. Reuben Gant, head of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, replied that no one will have the best interests of all Tulsa at heart. Victory Christian Center pastor Sharon Daugherty pointed out that Mayor is there to represent the whole city.

Commission co-chairman Ken Levit said that a move to a mixed district and at-large Council might have been workable when the current City Charter was written, but having gone to a district-only Council, any addition of at-large members would be "wrenching" and would dilute the "representativeness" of the Council.

Nor is there any sentiment for switching to Oklahoma City's form of government, where the Mayor is just an at-large member of the Council and the city would be run by a professional manager. Chris Medlock's view seems to have prevailed: The problem wasn't with the organizational chart, and if we want someone with city manager credentials to oversee city operations, the Mayor has the power to make that happen.

One of the commissioners raised the idea of giving the Mayor a vote on the City Council, so that someone with a whole-city perspective would have a voice in their decisions, but it didn't gain any support. Anyway, doesn't the Mayor have more power to represent the interests of the whole city with a veto over the Council's decisions than with one voice and vote out of 10 as a Council member?

The commission's thinking hasn't gelled on the issue of partisanship in city elections, beyond a general agreement that something needs to change.

Some commissioners seem to like the idea of a blanket primary, with all candidates on the ballot, labeled by party. National party labels may not tell the whole story, but, as Daugherty said, they give some insight to the voter.

Others, like Gant, say there's no room for partisan politics in local government.

Commission member Sandra Alexander spoke of her frustration as a Republican living in heavily Democratic Council District 1. She said that in five of the eight elections under the 1989 City Charter, she has not had a say in who would become her city councilor because the race was decided in the Democratic primary.

Someone proposed that we keep the current system, but if all the candidates who file are from one party, move the contest to the general election and let everyone vote. But that doesn't solve the problem for Alexander. What if, as often happens, all the viable candidates are from one party and someone from the other party files on a whim? In that situation, the real contest would still take place in the primary, and voters from the other party would still be left out.

I presented my multi-partisan solution - all candidates on the same ballot, each bearing a ballot label indicating endorsement by party or local PACs, and using Instant Runoff Voting to ensure that the winner is the candidate backed by the majority of voters - at the beginning of the meeting, long before the commission's discussion took place.

The more I listened to their concerns, the more convinced I was that the multi-partisan, instant-runoff approach solves all the problems they're trying to solve. I hope they'll give it a closer look.

There are three other issues that are likely to appear in the Commission's final report: whether the City Auditor should be appointed, civil service management, and the election calendar.

This last issue, which I raised in this space last week, came up during a meeting between Levit, his fellow co-chairman Hans Helmerich, and Mayor Kathy Taylor. Taylor had less than a month after her swearing-in to submit a budget to the Council. Because the budget cycle can't move, moving the election cycle would be the only way to relieve the pressure on newly-elected officials.

Former Councilor Chris Medlock spoke in support of elections in the fall of odd-numbered years. A fall election would provide better weather and longer daylight hours for door-to-door campaigning and might boost turnout, because the election would come at a time of year when people are accustomed to vote. Levit thought this might offset the drop in turnout likely with non-partisan elections.

The entire commission will meet with Taylor in the near future, then will meet in executive session to draft a final report, with an aim to finish work as planned in June.

SB 1324 in conference committee

An update on the zoning legislation we've been following:

Last Tuesday, May 9, I spoke to State Sen. Brian Crain, the author of SB 1324 (see last issue), the bill that would restrict the freedom of municipal governments with regard to Board of Adjustment appeals and enforcement of design guidelines (the sort found in historic preservation districts and neighborhood conservation districts).

Crain told me that the bill was headed to conference committee. (As of Friday, there was no reference to the bill going to conference or any conferees being named in either the House or Senate journal.) Crain said that the companion bill, HB 2559, was dead.

The Mid-City Advocate, a weekly serving central Oklahoma City, an area with many historic preservation and neighborhood conservation districts, featured the two bills on their front page. The paper gave Crain's rationale for SB 1324:

"What we're concerned about is providing flexibility to cities and towns with zoning codes. What we have now is an inability to redevelop some existing areas because the zoning codes are so inflexible. They don't allow city councils to make any variances. So the first part of the bill allows communities more flexibility in zoning, and the second part just clarifies that if you have to appeal from the board of adjustment, you go to district court."

Crain's explanation is at odds with the actual language of SB 1324, which appears to take enforcement of design guidelines away from design review committees, such as the Tulsa Preservation Commission, whose decisions can be appealed to the City Council, and to give that power to the Board of Adjustment, whose decisions could only be appealed to District Court, under the other provisions of Crain's bill.

Given Crain's rationale, one might think that elected officials from cities across Oklahoma were begging for this bill. I asked Crain if he had sought input from any members of Tulsa's City Council about his bill. He told me that he had not.

If you don't live in a historic preservation district, you may not feel threatened by this bill, but it sets a dangerous precedent. Someday the legislature may decide to nullify a part of the zoning code you depend upon to protect your property value. Do you really want legislators from Bugtussle and Slapout to decide Tulsa's zoning policies, or do you want decisions about local policy to be made locally?

Call the State Capitol and let your state senator and state representative know what you think about this bill.

Please join me in urging our State Representatives and State Senators to kill SB 1324, which would infringe upon local control of zoning and land-use decisions. The bill is still alive. Its author, Sen. Brian Crain, tells me that it is headed for conference committee, although I find nothing in the House or Senate Journals online to indicate that this step has officially been taken, and the conferees from each chamber have yet to be named.

This bill has its roots in the frustration of one developer, John Bumgarner, who didn't get everything he wanted as quickly as he wanted when he built a bank and parking lot that encroached upon a historic preservation overlay district and resulted in the demolition of three contributing homes to that district. He knew what the rules were when he bought the land, and he could have chosen to develop within those rules. By seeking a zoning amendment, he should have been open to the possibility that his request would be denied or accepted only on certain conditions. Had he been willing to compromise with the concerns of homeowners, who have their own investments to protect, he would have been able to start building much sooner.

But rather than work in a spirit of cooperation, he has sought to have the rules changed, not by our local legislature, who is in the best position to strike the balance between competing interests in the overall best interests of Tulsa, but by state legislators from Oklahoma City, Altus, Slapout, and Bugtussle. I was disturbed to learn that no Tulsa city councilors were consulted about this bill at any point in the process.

The threat is twofold. First, that other provisions of our zoning code would effectively be voided by legislative action -- possibly the provisions that you rely upon to protect the value of your home or business. Second, there is a continuing threat to historic preservation districts and urban conservation districts (OKC has the latter; Tulsa doesn't), because it appears to take design review out of the hands of the committees established for that purpose and gives it to the Board of Adjustment, then requires that all appeals of those decisions must involve expensive attorney's fees.

Please call your state legislators today and urge them to kill SB 1324. There is nothing in the bill worth salvaging.

To repeat from an earlier entry:

To find your State Senator and his e-mail address and phone and fax numbers, click this link and enter your address in the form.

I'd also encourage you to contact Sen. Brian Crain, the Senate sponsor of the bill, and respectfully register your concerns with him. Sen. Crain is a Republican representing near-eastern Tulsa. He has been a champion of homeowners' rights with regard to eminent domain, and I think he'll come down the right way on this if he understands our concerns.

To see the status of this bill and find links to the text of the bill, visit this page and enter "SB 1324" (without the quotes) in the "Measure Number(s)" box. Here is a Rich-Text Format file with the House-amended version of the SB 1324. If the Senate accepts it, it goes to the Governor.

This week's column covers three topics: (1) An update on the status of HB 2559 and SB 1324, the bills in the Oklahoma legislature which would dictate local zoning and land use policy from Oklahoma City; (2) Mayor Taylor's hiring of former City Councilor Susan Neal; (3) the topics under serious consideration by the Citizens' Commission on City Government, including non-partisan city elections.

Since the story was filed, I've learned that HB 2559 is dead, but SB 1324 has gone to conference committee and is still very much alive. I spoke yesterday to State Sen. Brian Crain, the Senate author of the bill, who believes that the provision requiring Board of Adjustment appeals to go directly to District Court is merely a clarification of existing law. He directed me to 11 O. S. 44-110. I mentioned that Tulsa's City Attorney office had said that Tulsa could change its zoning ordinance to allow certain BoA decisions to be appealed to the City Council, and that such a change was discussed by the previous City Council.

The other part of the bill amends 11 O. S. 44-104, and it appears to put design guidelines (such as those in use in historic preservation and neighborhood conservation districts) in the control of the Board of Adjustment, rather than special design review boards:

[The Board of Adjustment shall have power to] Hear and decide proposals for accessory elements associated with an allowed building use, where appropriate general performance and design standards have been established which promote greater economic value and provide a harmonious relationship with adjoining land uses by ordinance or by administrative rule or regulation. Such proposals and performance or design standards may include, but are not limited to, such accessory elements as sound, building material, runoff, lighting, visual screening, landscaping and vehicular considerations;

I understood Crain to say that that language was intended to give cities the flexibility to enable infill development, and that it was crafted with the help of INCOG staff. Crain said he was open to suggestions for clearer language.

While I am sure of Sen. Crain's good intentions, I don't see an urgent need for either provision. Unless cities are complaining that they are unable under present law to add flexibility to the zoning code, leave well enough alone. While Tulsa does need infill development, local government is best suited to design rules that will balance competing concerns and ensure that the investments of homeowners and developers alike are respected.

Your calls to state representatives and state senators are still needed to stop this bill, which I believe would set a precedent for further legislative interference in local zoning.

On the matter of the City Charter, I'll be speaking Friday afternoon at the invitation of the Citizens' Commission, mainly to address the issue of partisanship. Here's my column on the idea of multi-partisan elections, an alternative to the non-partisan concept. I hope also to get in a plug for Instant Runoff Voting, which we need already, but we'll need it more if we move toward any system in which primaries are eliminated.

An edited version of this piece was published on May 10, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web, with hyperlinks to related articles, on August 18, 2010.

We're now a month past the city election, and it's time to follow up on a few stories that we've been watching.

* * *

First, let's look to the State Legislature, where Tulsa's development lobby has taken its battle to regain total control of zoning and land use planning. HB 2559 has been sent to conference committee. The bill, sponsored by three Tulsa legislators (State Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, and State Sen. Brian Crain), would interfere with local control of the zoning process, requiring appeals to Board of Adjustment (BoA) decisions to go directly to District Court and making it easier to remove lots from historic preservation districts (and ensuring the eventual erosion of these districts to non-existence).

The companion Senate bill, SB 1324, is awaiting the Senate's consideration of House amendments, but it appears to be on hold while HB 2559 is in conference. SB 1324 includes a section that would give the BoA oversight of design guidelines, which would affect historic preservation districts and Oklahoma City's neighborhood conservation districts. Combined with the BoA appeal requirement, it would make it tougher to enforce these zoning provisions which aim to preserve the character of a neighborhood. It's likely that this provision will be included in the conference negotiations over HB 2559.

Legislators have gotten an earful about these bills from neighborhood association leaders and historic preservation activists over the last two weeks. We'll see if the voice of the people is enough to overcome the loud voice of campaign contributions from builders' PACs and individual developers. One encouraging sign: State Sen. Randy Brogdon, a former Mayor of Owasso, and one of the most principled members of the State Legislature, has come out in opposition to the bill.

The local monopoly daily weighed in with an editorial on the bill, predictably siding against local control of land use decisions. The editorial set forth a false alternative: Do you want zoning decisions made by professionals or by politicians?

In fact, the BoA is not made up of professionals. It consists of five private citizens, nominated to the board by the Mayor for three-year terms and confirmed by the City Council.

And although much of what the Board does is cut-and-dried, there is a strong subjective element to the approval of special exceptions, where the Board's role is more legislative, rather than "quasi-judicial." Neighborhood compatibility is involved in special exceptions, and it would be reasonable to provide a level of review that doesn't require the expense of hiring an attorney.

Whatever the merits of changing the BoA appeals process or changing historic preservation rules, the issue should be debated and decided locally - a point the World's editorial avoids. The bottom line is that the World and the development lobby don't want land-use decisions made by a body that they don't control.
Keep calling the State Capitol. Our legislators need to get the message - keep local issues under local control.

* * *

Mayor Kathy Taylor is being lauded for reaching across partisan lines to hire former City Councilor Susan Neal, a Republican, to serve on her staff as a legislative and education liaison. Neal and former Council colleague Tom Baker were Taylor's first two permanent hires.

The reality is that, when it comes to local political factions, Neal's hiring doesn't cross any ideological boundaries at all. Neal is very much a part of the Midtown Money Belt faction that crosses national party lines and includes Taylor, Baker, and former Mayor Susan Savage. She and Baker were the Tulsa World editorial board's favorite councilors. The pair was nicknamed Bakerneal by their colleagues for voting in lockstep.

Although she worked for a Republican congressman a decade and a half ago, Neal is considered a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by most local activists. As a councilor, she would show up at the annual Tulsa County Republican Convention just long enough to wave when the elected officials were introduced.

I'm only aware of one occasion where Neal took a discernibly Republican position on an issue: She voted twice against allowing more city employees to unionize. Then again, that's a position many Money Belt Democrats share, including Mayor Taylor and former Mayor Savage.

Her appointment as a legislative liaison is ironic. In choosing a liaison, you want someone who has the respect of those you're going to be lobbying.

Neal's ties to Tulsa's mostly-Republican legislative delegation are rather tenuous. When Republican elected officials gathered in late 2004 to announce their opposition to the recall of two Republican city councilors, Neal was nowhere in sight. Of the local delegation, she's known to have a good rapport with only Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, both of whom sponsored the aforementioned HB 2559, working to keep a reform-minded City Council from exercising local control over zoning.

Neal isn't Taylor's worst choice for a liaison to the City Council - that would have been Baker - but she comes close. She wasn't highly regarded by the reformers on the Council, a perspective that now holds a solid majority on that body. During Council debates, Neal would try her colleagues' patience with her lengthy soliloquies on the agony of decision-making, complete with sighs and anguished facial expressions. Her wilderness wanderings invariably led her to whatever position the Tulsa World editorial board favored.

I received a good deal of flack for endorsing Bill LaFortune against Taylor in the general, after working for his defeat in the Republican primary. I was accused (ironically, by someone married to a member of Taylor's campaign staff and transition team) of selling out for a chance at an unpaid appointment to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC); others said I was acting out of pure Republican partisanship.

I wrote at the time that a chastened LaFortune was Tulsa's best chance for City Hall reform. The primary result opened LaFortune's eyes. The voices he had dismissed as a fringe group turned out to represent a broad, bipartisan, and geographically diverse coalition that prevailed in most of the contested council seats and, if it hadn't been for Randi Miller's spoiler role, would have taken him out in the primary.

Taylor obviously hasn't had that wake-up call yet. Taylor's choice of Baker and Neal confirms my suspicion that she will do nothing to challenge the City Hall status quo. If you were a Medlock or McCorkell voter, if you're from north, east, or west Tulsa, she won't be listening to you. She appears to be encasing herself in a Money Belt bubble, where she can remain uncontaminated by the concerns and opinions of the rest of Tulsa.

I'd be happy to be proven wrong. Taylor's appointments to expired terms on the TMAPC, the BoA, and Tulsa Airport Authority will be very telling.

* * *

Speaking of partisanship and city government, this Friday I will be speaking about non-partisan municipal elections to the Citizens' Commission on City Government, a body appointed by former Mayor LaFortune to study changing the City Charter. I'll be presenting the alternative of multi-partisan elections, which I described in this space back in April, and advocating for instant runoff voting, which I wrote about in March.

The Commission is meeting at the TCC West Campus (a strange venue - it's not within Tulsa's City Limits) on Friday at 1:30pm.

I've been hearing that the two recommendations most likely to emerge from the commission are non-partisan elections and appointment of the City Auditor. The commission has been told in no uncertain terms that the addition of any number of at-large or supercouncilor seats would provoke a Federal Voting Rights Act case because of the diluting effect such a move would have on minority representation. (Attorney Greg Bledsoe, representing the group opposing at-large councilors, set out the legal issues in great detail. You can read his testimony in detail at tulsansdefendingdemocracy.com.)

Non-partisan elections would deprive voters of useful information in the voting booth. My alternative, spelled out in full in my April 6th column, would put all candidates on a single ballot, giving every voter a choice of every candidate. But rather than concealing the reality of factions and interest groups by stripping the ballot of any partisan labels, my idea would allow both national party labels and the names of locally-based political action committees to appear on the ballot, so that voters would know how the candidates line up on local issues.

Instead of pretending that these divisions don't exist, let's make them apparent.

One issue the commission should examine, but hasn't: Moving city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years. It would give candidates more daylight hours and better campaigning weather, and it would give new officials a full six months to find their way around City Hall before the next budget cycle begins.

The City Auditor's post has worked well for decades as an elected post. If it must be changed to an appointed position, let the Council make the appointment, not the Mayor. Above all, the Auditor should act as a check and a watchdog over the executive branch of government, which the Mayor heads. Many Tulsans were uneasy enough with the idea of a mayoral staffer running for City Auditor this year; imagine if Bill LaFortune had been able to appoint Michael Willis directly to the post.

The commission will wrap up work and issue their recommendations in June. I doubt the new Council will do anything with them right away, given the other issues on their plate. At the earliest, the commission's ideas may be given a hearing as part of the usual charter review cycle which will begin in the summer of 2007.

An island in the jet stream


I was invited to speak tonight to the monthly meeting of the Layman-Van Acres Neighborhood Association. Layman Acres and Van Acres subdivisions make up the quarter-section just southwest of Pine and Mingo, just east of Spartan School of Aeronautics' Pine Street campus, and not far from the flight path of Tulsa International Airport's main runway. "Pressed on all sides" is a good phrase to describe the neighborhood's situation. Although you'd think they'd be in the airport noise abatement area, the neighborhood is like an island, with the noise contours just missing the area.

Spartan's expansion is a concern, as noisier activities involving engine maintenance and testing may be moving from the original Spartan campus west of the airport terminal to the Pine Street campus just west of the neighborhood. This is despite deed restrictions (covenants) on Spartan's property which should prohibit the noise. The problem with a covenant is that the only way to enforce it is to hire a lawyer and go to court; it's a private contractual matter, not a matter of public regulation.

Three other Tulsa bloggers were there as well: David Schuttler, who lives a half-mile or so to the west and has documented his neighborhood's problems with the airport noise abatement program; Paul Romine, who owns a home in the neighborhood; and Bobby Holt, who is (among other hats) president of Lewis Crest Neighborhood Association. Local media was one of the topics that came up during questions and answers, and it was a reminder to me of the thorough work the three of them and the other Tulsa bloggers did covering the recent city election campaign.

Tomorrow morning at 8, the neighborhood's situation is one of only two items on the City Council's Public Works committee agenda. Here's hoping the neighborhood's residents get the attention and relief they need.

UPDATE, Tuesday, May 2, 2006: SB 1324 is on the Senate calendar again today, so evidently they didn't get to it in yesterday's session. If you haven't yet, call, fax, or e-mail your State Senator about this bill. In the comments to this entry, you'll find a message from Preservation Oklahoma about the damage this bill would do to historic preservation and neighborhood conservation zoning.

UPDATE, Tuesday afternoon: No action on SB 1324 today. It is still on the calendar, but it is not on tomorrow's agenda. I spoke with someone in the clerk's office, who confirmed what is shown on the calendar and agenda correctly. If you haven't contacted your State Senator, please do so.

The details are here, but this post is just a reminder to call your Oklahoma State Senator today and ask him or her not to agree to the House amendments on SB 1324. SB 1324 is one of a pair of bills (HB 2559 is the other) which constitute an unwarranted interference in local control of zoning and land-use planning.

HB 2559 is likely to die, but SB 1324 is one step away from the Governor's desk, and that step is likely to be taken this week, possibly this afternoon. The last hope is to convince the Senate not to agree to the amendments to the bill that were approved by the House. The bill is on the calendar for the Monday, May 1, session of the Senate, which begins at 1:30 p.m.

SB 1324 passed unanimously in both houses. The legislators I've spoken with say they green-lighted it because they were told by the bill's sponsors that no one objected to it. Legislators have an incredible number of bills to consider, and in the absence of visible, vocal opposition, they're likely to believe a colleague who says that a bill isn't controversial.

That's why it's important for your State Senator to hear from you this morning that you do have a problem with SB 1324.

To find your State Senator and his e-mail address and phone and fax numbers, click this link and enter your address in the form.

I'd also encourage you to contact Sen. Brian Crain, the Senate sponsor of the bill, and respectfully register your concerns with him. Sen. Crain is a Republican representing near-eastern Tulsa. He has been a champion of homeowners' rights with regard to eminent domain, and I think he'll come down the right way on this if he understands our concerns.

To see the status of this bill and find links to the text of the bill, visit this page and enter "SB 1324" (without the quotes) in the "Measure Number(s)" box. Here is a Rich-Text Format file with the House-amended version of the SB 1324. If the Senate accepts it, it goes to the Governor.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Zoning category from May 2006.

Tulsa Zoning: April 2006 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: June 2006 is the next archive.

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