Urban Tulsa Weekly Category

NOTE: The Kickstarter campaign to bring the Urban Tulsa Weekly archive back online has just three more days to run. We need $875 more in pledges to move forward. If you'd like to see this irreplaceable archive of a period of Tulsa history accessible online again, please make a pledge.

UPDATE: 2014/09/17: Raised a bunch yesterday. Now only $560 more in pledges needed to make this happen. Please make a pledge today.

UPDATE: 2014/09/19: We got close, but didn't quite make it -- $535 in pledges out of $1,000 needed. I waited too long to promote it and didn't set the pledge period long enough -- and you can't change it once the Kickstarter has been launched. We may try again, and I'm open to suggestions for how to do it better next time.

urban_tulsa_archive.jpg

Urban Tulsa Weekly ceased publication in November 2013 after over 20 years as Tulsa's alternative newspaper. A few months later its web presence, UrbanTulsa.com, went offline, and with it went seven years of Tulsa's history. In its final incarnation, the site held the newspaper's stories from 2006 to 2013.

Urban Tulsa Weekly's writers covered indie music, art, and theater, local eateries and nightspots, sports, business, urban development, and local politics. The paper was often the first to report on new stars, new bands, and new trends. Without the stories and perspectives found in UTW, Tulsa's historical record is incomplete.

Since the website has gone offline, we've gone to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine looking for UTW stories that have become timely again, but we've found to our dismay that many of them were missed by the Internet Archive's webcrawlers. A group of former UTW writers is banding together to restore this piece of Tulsa history to the internet, and we need your help.

While I have all of the columns and stories that I submitted for publication (and retained the rights to republish them -- eventually I'll get them all online here), the same is not true of many other great writers and editors who contributed valuable insights on the state of Tulsa, Oklahoma -- its politics, sports, music, arts, and entertainment.

The good news is that, with the publisher's permission (which we have), the hosting provider can quickly put the UrbanTulsa.com archive back online and keep it online in a frozen, archive-only, ad-free state -- but there's a price. This Kickstarter will cover the initial cost of restoring the archive and keeping it online for three months.

During that initial period, we hope to get a complete scan from the Internet Archive, and we will be working on affordable ways to maintain the UrbanTulsa.com archive online in the long run. Funds above our initial goal will pay for additional months of hosting. With sufficient funding, access, and permission, we'd like to get the entire run of the paper online in some form.

Because we are not permitted to sell ads to support the site, we need your financial support to make this happen. Help restore and preserve this significant record of Tulsa's recent history with your pledge today.

It's a sad day. Urban Tulsa Weekly editorial cartoonist Dave Simpson has resigned (or, reportedly, was fired) and has announced an end to his career amidst revelations that some of his recent submissions were ripoffs of the work of the late nationally syndicated cartoonist Jeff MacNelly. Indications are that the admitted ripoffs are just scratching the surface.

On October 25, the Daily Cartoonist revealed that, in the October 20-26, 2011, issue of UTW Simpson had repurposed a MacNelly cartoon from the Carter Administration, down to bits of junk and blades of grass, making minor alterations and relabeling it as some sort of indecipherable commentary on the Supreme Court's rejection of the Great Plains Airlines / Bank of Oklahoma settlement.

This Land news editor Holly Wall (former managing editor and arts columnist for UTW) brought the plagiarism accusation to Tulsa's attention this past Monday, and shortly thereafter the Daily Cartoonist had learned that the then-current issue of UTW, October 27 - November 2, 2011, contained yet another Simpson re-draw of MacNelly -- a cartoon about US involvement in Bosnia recycled to make some obscure point about Oklahoma selling water rights to Texas.

Before long, This Land had uncovered more examples of Simpson's cribbing from other cartoonists and invited its readers to look for still more.

On Wednesday, the Daily Cartoonist ran Simpson's apology to MacNelly's widow ("I accidentally stole the cartoon 25 years ago") and her reaction:

Mike Peters so accurately described David Simpson as a cartoon kleptomaniac. Tulsa must be in a black hole with different journalistic ethics because neither Simpson nor his editor/publisher seem repentant. His editor wanted me to write the retraction....I declined. Mr. Simpson's next gig should be matriculating at a state run giggling academy.

This was not the first time Simpson had been caught copying. His June 7, 2005, cartoon for the Tulsa World was a near-exact copy -- words and pictures both -- of a 1981 cartoon by Bob Englehart of the Hartford Courant. In November 2005, the World fired him, months after earlier attempts by Englehart and the Courant to seek redress.

Englehart said at the time, "Having not learned his lesson in the late 1970s when he was busted for stealing Jeff MacNelly's cartoons, he has recently stolen one of mine." This week Englehart elaborated for the Washington Post: "In the '70s, Simpson lost his syndication gig but not his newspaper job."

Cartoonist Mike Peters was a victim as well:

"I think it was sometime in the '80s, maybe earlier, I was syndicated with United [Feature] Syndicate and someone sent me a bunch of Simpson's cartoons traced from large parts of my cartoons, with just the caption changed," Peters, who is now syndicated by King Features, tells Comic Riffs. "I was mad but was not going to do anything about it until I realized that we were syndicated by the same syndicate.

"That meant that he was picking up papers using my cartoons with different captions on them [for] the same syndicate. So I sent my cartoons with the Simpson copies to my syndicate and he got fired the next day."

I don't imagine too many UTW readers will lament Simpson's departure. It's wonderful that an alt-weekly would have a cartoonist to poke fun at local politicos, but Simpson's work for the weekly rarely elicited a laugh, rarely seemed to have a coherent point, rarely seemed to be tuned in what was happening in Tulsa. It was as if 13 years at the World, drawing their favorites in iconographic style and toeing the editorial line, had drained all the creativity and edginess out of him.

You see, I am old enough to remember when Dave Simpson was funny. (That's pretty darned old.)

To confirm that my recollection of Simpson's past glories wasn't just a reflection of my immaturity when I first encountered him, I went to my shelf of comic and cartoon paperbacks and pulled out a 1980 collection of over a hundred cartoons he did for the late, lamented Tulsa Tribune.

Simpson-Cover-1500px.png

As I paged through the collection, I found myself laughing out loud. Sure, they're topical, but Simpson was so on target most of the time, that the cartoons refreshed my recollection of the news stories that inspired them.

As you can see from the cover (above -- click to enlarge), Simpson was quite a good caricaturist. These 1970s newsmakers are exaggerated but recognizable to those of us who lived through the decade (and were paying attention).

I love this one. He used no labels, and at the time this cartoon needed none.

Simpson-DavidHall-Mugshot-500px.png

The man with the brilliant smile and the pompadour? Former Oklahoma Governor David Hall, on his way to federal prison on bribery and racketeering charges for steering state pension funds to a favored banker.

The collection includes national and global topics and covers locals that made national news: the prison escape and recapture of Rex Brinlee (apprehended at last by the ferocious Oklahoma chigger); Oral Roberts, his university, and his hospital; Anita Bryant. Sadly, the editors of the book left local politics out entirely, perhaps thinking it would limit the book's appeal, so it doesn't include caricatures of Mayors Jim Inhofe or Robert LaFortune or gadfly Betsy Horowitz or takes on the local controversies of the day.

The book includes several gently satirical pokes at Oral Roberts: A divine hand giving the big thumbs up as doctors give the thumbs down to his planned City of Faith hospital (the licensing board claimed it would create too many hospital beds for Tulsa); God as depicted on the Sistine Chapel, wearing a referee's shirt, blowing the whistle on an ORU basketball player (NCAA sanctions), a junior demon on the phone to HQ, asking for a transfer, complaining that Oral just got him to contribute $777, and this one, poking fun at ORU's strict physical fitness and appearance policies:

Simpson-OralRoberts-Twinkies-500px.png

Paging through this collection and the recent work posted by This Land, it's apparent that Simpson has been recycling his own material (or material he'd recycled long ago from other cartoonists) for some time. The cartoon at the top of the page is a recaptioning of a cartoon from that 1980 book. I immediately recognized image 15:

Image 15 Gurgle Nawah UTW

as a recaption of this cartoon from the 1970s:

Simpson-GurgleNawah-1970s-500px.png

which we now know appropriated its central figure from a Gahan Wilson cartoon:

Gahan Wilson prescription boo-boo

The lady in curlers and bathrobe appears a few pages away in the same collection, this time with a human toaster that is clearly the work of Mad magazine cartoonist Don Martin. (Haven't scanned this one yet.) Any nerdy teenage boy in the 1970s could have spotted that; it's amazing that Tribune editors didn't. And while he acknowledges Charles Schulz and Walt Disney in comics that spoof their style, he didn't acknowledge Don Martin or Gahan Wilson.

When the Tulsa World bought and shut down the Tulsa Tribune in 1992, Simpson sold off some of his originals at the Tulsa Press Club. Pickings were slim by the time I got there -- perhaps local pols had long since bought up his spoofs of them -- but I found one featuring Henry Bellmon and House Speaker Jim Barker for me and another featuring Michael Dukakis for the friend who kept me supplied with Howie Carr columns during the 1988 presidential campaign.

A month after the Tribune's death, Simpson debuted in the World, the paper's first cartoonist, as far as I'm aware, since Clarence Allen decades before. Over time, the constraints of the World's editorial position seemed to squeeze all the playfulness out of his work. I don't know that he ever poked fun at Mayor Susan Savage.

When he wound up at UTW shortly after I began writing for them, I thought he might loosen up, but it never happened. Only rarely did his work elicit even a chuckle.

For whatever reason, at some point, he stopped doing what made him successful in the first place and started phoning it in. To some extent there was clearly some phoning-it-in happening in his '70s heyday, but you might write that off to the pressure of five original cartoons a week. Did he stop paying attention to the news? Did he fail to set aside enough time to create something new and fresh? What was he doing instead?

It's sad to see talent left to atrophy. Tulsa could use the kind of editorial cartoonist that Dave Simpson was in the '70s.

Jennie Lloyd makes her debut this week as the new city reporter for Urban Tulsa Weekly with two interesting stories about downtown Tulsa, past, present, and future.

The first is about the mysterious goings-on involving the massive portfolio of downtown buildings owned by Maurice Kanbar, for example:

In December 2010, Clay Clark, the marketing director for Fears & Clark Realty Group (at the time, responsible for leasing and public relations for Kanbar Properties), announced that a "wedding mall" inside the Executive Center at Fifth and Cheyenne would open soon. Clark said six vendors had signed on and two others were in negotiations.

As part of Kanbar's plan for redeveloping downtown, the new permanent bridal fair would be a place where Tulsa florists, DJs, limo services and photographers can converge to offer one-stop wedding shopping.

When the mall debuted in January, Clark showed KOTV News on 6 around what appeared to be fresh renovations, paint and signage on the third floor of the Executive Center.

Now, only six months after its grand opening in the Executive Center, the collective of wedding vendors has moved to a new location. Al Hornung at Omni Lighting cited "problems with the landlord" as the reason the mall had to find a new home. Clay Clark, media director for Fears & Clark Realty Group, said the location was awkward and parking was difficult.

Epic Photography, Cherished Traditions and DJ Connection now office at 1609 S. Boston Ave., while Omni Lighting, Icing on the Top and Galaxy Limousines remain involved but without permanent offices, Clark said.

Lloyd's story makes reference to a BatesLine story about Maurice Kanbar and Kanbar Properties, particularly about forcing Barthelmes Conservatory to vacate its location in Kanbar's Avanti Building.

In a story on downtown Tulsa's social clubs, Lloyd dives into the history files to depict the glamour that once was the Tulsa Club and the soon-to-be-defunct Petroleum Club and the ongoing success of the Summit Club and the Tulsa Press Club.

The 11-story Tulsa Club Building offered six floors to its members (the first five were home to the Chamber of Commerce) of leisurely and luxe offerings, including an athletic department, separate men's and ladies' lounges, a barber shop, rooftop "sky terrace," and private dining rooms....

The athletic department was one of the first and most complete gymnasiums in Tulsa. Only for men, the gym offered "handball and squash racquet courts, golf practice court, Turkish bath, steam room, dry hot room, electric cabinets, Swedish body massage, diathermy, whirlpool bath, ultra-violet treatment, infra-red treatment, physical therapy, informal dining room and slumber room."

Holland Hall's Dutchman Weekend prom was held at the Tulsa Club in 1979, when it was still an elegant facility. The next time I saw it was shortly after the club closed when they were selling the remaining fixtures, after the place was nearly stripped bare but before the vandals arrived.

Finally, what may be outgoing reporter Mike Easterling's final story for UTW on the beginning of the beginning of the first piece of the Pearl District / Elm Creek basin stormwater mitigation plan. The city has applied for funding for one of two retention ponds planned for the area.

Happy trails to Mike. Good luck and congratulations on a great start to Jennie.

Urban Tulsa Weekly reporter Mike Easterling has accepted a position as managing editor of the Montrose (Colo.) Daily Press.

Week after week, for over two years, Mike has provided thorough, perceptive, in-depth coverage of local government for UTW. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to work with him, both as a colleague and as a source. It's always a pleasure to talk with Mike. He asks insightful questions, grasps the key issues, and conveys that understanding to the reader.

Easterling served as editor of the Oklahoma Gazette, OKC's alt-weekly, through the 1990s. (In April 2010, he wrote a piece for the New York Times to mark the 15th anniversary of the Murrah Building bombing.) Prior to his stint with UTW, he was a reporter and city editor for the Albuquerque Journal's Santa Fe bureau.

Mike Easterling's departure, back to the mountains he loves, is a great loss for Tulsa. I wish him all the best in his new endeavor and wish UTW all the best in finding someone to carry on his work here.

Thanks to Urban Tulsa Weekly staff for their kind words in naming me once again to the paper's annual "Hot 100" list. I'm pleased, too, to see great Tulsans like restaurant entrepreneur Blake Ewing, developer/urbanist Jamie Jamieson, and architect Shelby Navarro on the list. Tulsa city planner Theron Warlick is the second name on the list, a well-deserved honor for his hard work and leadership with PLANiTULSA (which has its own spot on the list). Theron would make a great city planning director, don't you think?

Speaking of the city planning director position and the development of a new zoning code consistent with the PLANiTULSA comprehensive land use plan, UTW's Mike Easterling has a story about the disagreement at City Hall over how to fund these needs.The mayor wants to use one-time money, the Council wants a stable funding source to pay for a permanent position.

Also in the current issue, soon-to-be-former planning commissioner Elizabeth Wright talked to Mike Easterling about her term on the TMAPC, possibilities for the future and why she thinks she rubbed some people the wrong way:

As for the perception that she had become a bit of a lightning rod for controversy as a planning commissioner -- a job not generally regarded as a high-profile position in local political circles -- Wright acknowledged that her style may have ruffled some feathers.

"If anything, I'm more blunt than anything else ... I think there are times that we come across as being rude, and we're not trying to be rude," she said, recalling a Planning Commission case in which a developer appearing before that body became upset with her because of her questions over the project's lighting. Wright said she regards asking such questions as part of her job and said many developers simply aren't used to having to go into such detail.

"There were some developers that were accustomed to doing business the way it had always been done," she said. "They were used to not having someone question what they were doing or saying, and not putting together the pieces to what they were doing....

"Things don't have to be done the same old way every time," she said, explaining that storm water runoff on development projects -- and its impact on surrounding properties -- is one such issue that has been ignored or neglected by the TMAPC for far too long.

"The Planning Commission should stand up and be responsible and quit passing the buck," she said.

Wright's willingness to speak up on such issues is a big part of what has earned her the resentment of some members of the development community. To an extent, she regards that as a natural product of the changing atmosphere in Tulsa.

"We're in a shift, so, yes, it's going to be abrasive," she said. "When you're going through times of change, some people want it, some people don't, and there are going to be clashes."

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I once again was named to Urban Tulsa Weekly's Hot 100 for 2010. The annual feature story lists Tulsa movers and shakers from all walks of life. I was even more pleased to see a number of friends and colleagues on the list (as well as great people that I haven't yet met): To name just a few, there's blogger Natasha Ball, urban-friendly developer Jamie Jamieson, City Councilors Roscoe Turner, Maria Barnes, and Jim Mautino, former Councilor Chris Medlock, planning commissioner Liz Wright, neighborhood activist Herb Beattie. I'm also tickled that my entry is nestled between Dawn Welch of the Rock Cafe and the Round-Up Boys -- both favorites of the Bates family. I don't want to exceed fair use -- read the article for the whole list, and don't miss the cover take-off on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Thanks to UTW staff for the kind words. I will work hard in 2010 to make BatesLine hot enough to be worthy of the honor.

A different kind of candidate forum will take place tomorrow night on the eastern edge of downtown Tulsa.

KRMG, Urban Tulsa Weekly, Marshall Brewing Company, and TYpros are sponsoring a "Beer Summit & Political Mixer" from 5:30 to 7:30 on Tuesday, August 18, 2009, at the Fly Trap Music Hall, 2nd and Greenwood (514 E. 2nd St.). From the story in this week's UTW:

"I think it's an event for people of all ages to come out and learn about the candidates," said Drew Anderssen, KRMG's operations manager and program director.

Anderssen acknowledged the difficulty his own station has had in providing enough air time to adequately present the views of so many candidates, and he said an event of this nature would provide concerned voters with the chance to hear from candidates on a one-to-one basis.

"I think that's really the goal," he said. "When you have only so many pieces of the pie, it's tough. That's what this event is all about. And we're counting on Tulsans of all ages to come out and support it."

Anderssen said KRMG's morning news team of Joe Kelley, Rick Couri and Dan Potter will introduce the candidates at the event, but he anticipates an informal arrangement from that point on, with audience members quizzing the candidates.

"It's an informal way for people to come out after work and enjoy happy hour and meet the people who are vying for votes," he said.

While I don't think this can substitute for, say, a real debate between the leading candidates in the Republican mayoral primary, it should be an informative and fun evening. It will be interesting to see which candidates risk having a couple of beers (and how they react to those beers) and which stick to Diet Coke.

A nice note in the current edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

Dear Editor:

Sorry to see Michael Bates no longer has a column. He was the main reason I picked up a copy of your paper. I hope you will have him back soon.

-Lawrence Williams, Owasso

It's now been seven weeks since my last column, but I continue to hear from people who tell me they miss my weekly column. After that last column hit the streets, I explained here on BatesLine why I would not be writing for UTW, at least for now. If you missed that, click that link to get up to speed. The ball's in their court.


This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I've covered a variety of topics: First Presbyterian Church's exciting plans to replace a surface parking lot with a beautiful new addition to their downtown complex, whether the BOK Center should charge a per-ticket fee to cover Tulsa Police Department overtime relating to event nights, and a few parting thoughts on the PLANiTULSA process.

That's right: parting thoughts. This issue contains my last column for UTW, at least for now.

I had written a brief farewell at the end of the column, but it was edited out, presumably for space reasons, so I'll post it here:

And with that I'll say goodbye for now. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the UTW team for almost four years. Many thanks to the UTW readers who took time to read my words, who wrote in with praise and with criticism, and who voted my blog, batesline.com, Absolute Best of Tulsa two years in a row. Best wishes for continued success to the staff, management, and advertisers of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

I'm sad to be leaving but pleased to have made a significant contribution to UTW and, I hope, to the public debate. By my count, starting with the September 15-21, 2005, issue, I produced 194 weekly columns -- without a break -- plus several extra op-eds, cover stories on Tulsa bloggers, the 2006 city election, the history of our plans for the Arkansas River, and PLANiTULSA, and a few other feature stories and news items, and even a handful of photographs.

In the process, I've had the pleasure of working with some very creative and talented people, attended a dozen or so editorial meetings, met a lot of interesting Tulsans in many walks of life, spent a lot of time at the Coffee House on Cherry Street and Shades of Brown, and even handed out candy in the Boo-Ha-Ha parade. It's been fun, and there's a lot I'll miss about it.

It's no small feat to start an independent weekly paper and to keep it going for 18 years, and Keith Skrzypczak and his wife Julie (who oversees the paper's operations) are to be admired for their achievement. I'm thankful, too, that Tulsa's alt-weekly truly is an editorial alternative to the daily paper, publishing free-market and pro-life voices alongside the left-wing columnists and cartoonists more typical of the alternative press.

So why will I no longer be writing for UTW?

Recently UTW established a "freelancer's agreement," a standard contract for all freelance contributors, including writers and photographers. The agreement includes a "work made for hire" provision, which means that UTW would own all rights, including the copyright, to anything I submit for publication during the term of the agreement.

For many freelancers, that won't be a cause for concern, but to borrow a phrase from Roscoe Turner, "I've got a problem with that." By giving up all my rights, I could be setting up problems down the road should I want to incorporate into future projects any of the material I would write under the agreement.

In my weekly column, I've researched and analyzed current local issues and tried to put them into historical and political perspective. I've discussed urban design and planning concepts used elsewhere and applied them to Tulsa's circumstances. Beyond the immediate value of a column to the public conversation in the week it's published, I think there's some long-term value as well.

That value might take any number of forms, such as a book or a documentary on the history of Tulsa in the early 21st century or on Tulsa's post-World War II transformation. Such a project is many years in the future, I suspect, which is all the more reason for me to avoid agreeing to something now that creates obstacles for me in a decade or two. What if UTW is sold to a chain of weeklies or goes out of business? (God forbid on both hypotheticals.) Those possibilities seem very remote today, but a lot can happen in 10 or 20 years, and if they happened, who would own the rights to my work under the agreement? Would I be able to get permission to use my own work? Who knows?

At the very least, I would want to continue to retain enough rights for anything I write to be able to keep it accessible on the web.

There are no hard feelings here. UTW is doing what it deems prudent in requiring a standard agreement from all freelancers. I'm doing what I deem prudent by choosing not to submit work under those terms.

I will continue to post news and vent my opinions here at BatesLine on a fairly regular basis, along with interesting links (on the left side of the homepage) and the occasional tweet on Twitter. (My latest 10 tweets can be found on the right side of the BatesLine homepage.)

As for long-form commentary, I'm exploring some possibilities, but for the immediate future I will be using my now-free Sunday afternoons and evenings to catch up on chores around the house. I've been thinking about doing a podcast. (If that's of interest to you, let me know. I'm not much of a podcast listener myself, but I know many people prefer it to reading articles online.)

I wish the staff, management, and ownership of Urban Tulsa Weekly all the best for the future.

The deadline is 5 pm today, May 21, to submit nominations for Urban Tulsa Weekly's 2009 Absolute Best of Tulsa poll. Based on readers' input, a runoff ballot will appear in the June 5 and 12 issues. The winners will be announced in the July 16 edition.

There are a lot of new and improved categories in this year's edition, including an expanded music section. (ABoT is filling the void left by the end of another newspaper's annual music awards.) As in previous years, there's a place you can nominate Tulsa's best city councilor, best radio stations for music, news, and talk, most genuine public servant, best website, and best blogger (hint, hint). You can even nominate Tulsa's Absolute Best Botox provider. I'll be interested in seeing the responses to categories like Biggest Public Eyesore, Most Annoying Public Person, and Scandal of the Year.

Go vote!


Tonight at Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main, from 6 to 8, the PLANiTULSA "Which Way Tulsa?" survey will be unveiled tonight. Four different scenarios for future growth and development will be on display, and Tulsans will have the opportunity, online or on paper, to rank the scenarios according to preference. The results of the survey will guide Fregonese Associates in the preparation of a new comprehensive plan for the city, which will ultimately go before the City Council for final approval.

You can read more about the scenarios and the survey in my column in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

The Tulsa metropolitan area is projected to grow by 164,000 people and to add 53,000 jobs over the next two decades. The scenarios provide different answers to the questions that are at the heart of a comprehensive plan: How much of that growth do we want the City of Tulsa to capture? What do we want that growth to look like? Where in the city would we like it to go?

There's a related question Tulsans need to answer: How much of the roughly $2 billion that will be spent on new transportation infrastructure during the next 20 years should go to street and highway widening and how much toward various forms of mass transit?

How we answer those questions and the development policies we adopt as a result will influence the kind of city our children and grandchildren will experience.

Today's Tulsans are living with the impact of planning decisions made more than 50 years ago, when our expressway network was mapped out and a development pattern for new neighborhoods was established. That pattern of single-use development, segregating where we live from where we work, shop, worship, study and play, was enshrined in our vintage 1970 zoning code.

MORE: Also in the current week of UTW, nominations have begun for this year's Absolute Best of Tulsa awards, which has an expanded music section for 2009.

Keep Michael Slankard

| | TrackBacks (0)

UPDATE 2:00 p.m.: Mayor's office has delayed Rodolf nomination to next week.

UPDATE 5/1/2009: Council declined to approve postponement, then turned down the Rodolf nomination, 3-6 -- Patrick, Troyer, Bynum voting yes; Henderson, Westcott, Gomez, Martinson, Eagleton, Christiansen voting no.

Tonight (April 30, 2009) at the Tulsa City Council's regular meeting, the Council will consider Mayor Kathy Taylor's nomination of a replacement for Michael Slankard on the City's Ethics Advisory Committee (EAC). The Council should vote against the replacement nominee, which will leave Slankard in place, continuing his honorable and independent service on that committee.

Despite the urging of the chairman of the EAC and the desire of a majority on the Council, Taylor refused to reappoint Slankard. As the Council's resistance to a replacement solidified, suddenly some anonymous person brought an ethics complaint against Slankard, claiming a conflict of interest because he suggested and then participated in the investigation (and dismissal) of ethical issues surrounding Taylor giving Councilor David Patrick a ride back from Colorado on her Lear 31A, just in time to vote on Taylor's financing plan for the downtown. Slankard voted with the rest of the committee, finding no ethical violation by either Patrick or Taylor.

The complaint against Slankard was passed through City Attorney Dierdre Dexter, who is an at-will employee of Taylor. The complaint was investigated and rejected by the other members of the EAC, despite their long-standing policy against hearing anonymous complaints at all.

You can read a more detailed account of the tug of war between Taylor and the Council over Michael Slankard's reappointment in my April 15, 2009, UTW column.

This apparent attempt to use the ethics process for leverage in a political battle between the executive and legislative branches ought to make Slankard's supporters on the City Council even more determined to keep him on the EAC.

Taylor's proposed replacement for Slankard, Sandra Rodolf, was back before the Council at the Tuesday, April 28, Urban and Economic Development committee meeting. According to a couple of independent reports, Jack Henderson, Rick Westcott, Bill Martinson, and John Eagleton all indicated that they support Slankard and would be voting against Rodolf's appointment; David Patrick, Dennis Troyer, and G. T. Bynum expressed support for Rodolf; Bill Christiansen and Eric Gomez didn't say either way, but have expressed support for keeping Slankard on the committee.

Here is the summary of the discussion from the April 28, 2009, Urban and Economic Development Committee meeting. The summary appears to have been truncated by the database software:

Sandra Rodolf present. Westcott felt her qualifications were stellar; however, he feels the Mayor is using her as an attempt to get back at Micahel Slankard, and for that, he apologizes. Councilor Westcott gave the background history of the case involving Michael Slankard. Councilor Troyer commented that all the Council does is approve or disapprove the Mayor's recommendations. Councilor Eagleton echoed Westcott's comments. Councilor Patrick commented that Mrs. Rodolf was not involved with Michael Slankard and should be approved based on her qualifications only. Councilor Bynum thanked Ms. Rodolf for going through this appointment process. The Charter states what the role of the Council is during the appointment process. We should vote on her qualifications only. Councilor Henderson expressed concerned of having 3 members from District 9 on one committee. Nancy Siegel - don't believe everything you think. She was recommended solely based her background and qualifications. Mr. Slankard is being replaced due to his tenure on the board. Ethics will be highly called upon due to PW issues. This is speculation only. Henderson does not understand why the appointees have to have a legal background. Also, the City's position has been to keep the experienced appointees on the board. Councilor Martinson

Henderson raised an important point about diversity on the committee. Taylor's change would be a step backwards in terms of geographic diversity. Replacing Slankard with Rodolf would swap a resident of north Tulsa's District 3, which has few members of city authorities, boards, and commissions (known as ABCs for short) with a resident of the Midtown Money Belt, which historically is where most mayoral appointees live -- this is a long-term trend, not specific to Taylor). As last summer's PLANiTULSA survey showed, midtowners and north Tulsans have very different views about how fair city government is. Loading the EAC up with Midtown Money Belt residents would send the wrong signal to the rest of the city. There needs to be a balance.

With due respect to Councilor Bynum, he's reading something into the City Charter that isn't there. Article III, Section 1.4, paragraph G says regarding mayoral appointments to ABCs:

Appoint, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council, the members of all boards, commissions, authorities, and agencies created by this amended Charter, ordinance, agreement, or pursuant to law, and exercise general control and supervision thereof, provided, all appointees shall, as a condition of their appointment and continued service, be qualified electors and maintain their principal residence within the city limits of the City of Tulsa

Nothing in the charter specifies the criteria a councilor must apply when voting on a mayoral ABC appointee. The councilors can apply whatever standards they deem prudent. The confirmation power is an important check on mayoral power. ABCs have significant power -- some more than others -- and in some cases, the vote on the appointment is the only input the councilors have into the way a given ABC sets policy.

When Mayor Bill LaFortune reappointed Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, a majority of the councilors objected, concerned about the TMUA's policies on water rates to the suburbs and whether the authority was putting the growth desires of the suburbs ahead of those of undeveloped parts of the City of Tulsa. I supported the "Gang of Five" in their effort to block the reappointment. (The effort failed when Sam Roop switched sides on the issue, shortly before LaFortune hired him to work in the Mayor's office.)

In August 2001, during the Susan Savage administration, the City Council voted against reappointing Kim Holland to the EMSA board. They were raked over the coals by the daily paper for doing so, but there was no question that they had the discretion and authority to say no to Savage's pick.

More recently, Taylor has quietly withdrawn the names of at least two of her appointees after it became clear that the Council would reject. There was speculation that the same thing would happen with the Rodolf nomination.

Once in a while the Council takes a vote that I regard as a key test of character, an indication of whether someone is willing to do the right thing in the face of pressure. These are the votes I remember and weigh when a city councilor seeks higher office. (If the persistent rumors that Taylor may be leaving for a position in the Obama administration are true, several of these councilors may be running for mayor sooner than they planned.)

The vote tonight on replacing Michael Slankard is such a test. The City Council should emphatically reject Kathy Taylor's efforts to kick an honorable, scrupulous man off of the Ethics Advisory Committee.

DOCUMENTS:

Last fall Novus Homes LLC, W3 Development LLC, and principals of the two companies filed suit against Tulsa Development Authority for breach of contract involving TDA's termination of the exclusive negotiating period with Novus Homes LLC for redevelopment of the vacant the half-block west of Elgin Avenue between Archer and Brady Streets. Novus Homes planned a lofts and retail development on the site, which is now part of the land the stadium donors plan to redevelop in connection with the new downtown stadium for the Tulsa Drillers. On Tuesday, the suit has been expanded to include the City of Tulsa as a defendant, citing actions by Mayor Kathy Taylor which, the plaintiffs allege, resulted in the early termination of the exclusive negotiating period for the land.

According to a story in today's Journal Record, "Through the discovery process, the developers said they learned of Taylor's alleged interference in TDA business and procedures, leading to termination of their exclusive deal in her quest to complete the ballpark deal."

Here's a link to the OSCN page on the suit, CJ-2008-5713. Here is the amended petition for the lawsuit (PDF). It includes the following allegation:

30. Beginning in late May, 2008, City of Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor began inserting herself into TDA operations related to this downtown Tulsa location, without TDA approval. The TDA viewed Mayor Taylor's interference as "irregular," and TDA Commissioners were "concerned" and "surprised" by her "irregular" interference in their operations. See, e.g., Transcript of Deposition of TDA Commissioner John Clayman, Tulsa County District Court Case No. CJ-2008-5713, at pp. 40-48 (November 11, 2008).

31. Mayor Taylor was, without consulting or obtaining approval from the TDA, personally renegotiating and amending existing TDA contracts, conveying TDA-owned properties in exchange for properties the City of Tulsa and the eventual Tulsa Stadium Trust desired, and influencing existing TDA relationships, all to enable the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Stadium Trust to procure the real property necessary for the proposed new downtown baseball stadium and surrounding development.

32. Mayor Taylor's actions were in violation of O.S. §11 38-107, whereby powers of the Urban Renewal Authority (TDA) "shall be exercised by the commissioners thereof."

Here's the press release from Novus Homes:

DOWNTOWN DEVELOPERS SUE CITY OF TULSA
FOR MAYOR'S OBSTRUCTION WITH PROJECT

Two Tulsa development companies and their principals have filed a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa alleging that the City, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, unlawfully interfered with their exclusive contractual rights to develop a downtown property. The developers allege that the City's interference was part of the Mayor's effort to relocate the Tulsa Drillers baseball stadium to the downtown Brady District.

On April 14, 2009, Novus Homes, LLC, W3 Development, LLC, Will Wilkins and Cecilia Wilkins added the City as a second defendant to their lawsuit originally brought against the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA). The developers sued the TDA on August 14, 2008, one week after the TDA prematurely terminated the developers' exclusive negotiating right on this property, situated on the half block west of Elgin between Archer and Brady, known as 120 Brady Village.

Since filing the original lawsuit, the developers learned through the discovery process that the City of Tulsa, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, had irregularly interfered with TDA business and procedures in violation of Oklahoma statutes, which led to the TDA's unlawful termination of its exclusive deal with the developers. The developers allege Mayor Taylor unlawfully inserted herself into TDA operations in her quest to relocate the Drillers stadium to a site directly across the street from the property on which the developers had an exclusive right to negotiate.

As part of the stadium relocation effort, Mayor Taylor recruited a group of private donors which included herself and her husband through the Lobeck Taylor Foundation. These donors funded a significant portion of the project, and in return, were awarded the construction and financing of the ballpark project and the surrounding properties, including the property for which the developers had an exclusive right, under a self described "master plan."

Mayor Taylor's decision to rush this project through during the summer of 2008, bypassing normal process and due diligence, has resulted in multiple lawsuits and threatens to tie the City up in litigation for years to come.

Previous BatesLine entries and Urban Tulsa Weekly columns on this topic:

An edited version of this column appeared in the April 1, 2009, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is no longer available online. Posted online June 15, 2016.

Election Day 2009 is a mere seven months away, and a credible opponent to Mayor Kathy Taylor's bid for re-election has yet to emerge.

It is usual to set out one's reasons for seeking office in some form. In the U. S. we call such a document a platform; in the U.K. it's known as an election manifesto.
In that spirit, here then, on the 1st day of April, 2009, is my mayoral manifesto.

Transparency and accountability

We begin by acknowledging the financial constraints our city is under. The ideas listed below represent my priorities for spending the funds that we have. We will not propose or promote any measure that would increase the tax burden on the citizens of Tulsa, particularly in this time of financial uncertainty.

We will make the best use of the money that has already been entrusted to city government to provide basic services - police and fire protection, streets, water, sewer, trash, and stormwater. We will find the funds to conduct a thorough performance and financial audit of city government. We will insist on implementation of the recommendations and replace any department head that drags his feet.

We must increase the size and budget of our underfunded City Auditor's department. A properly-funded fiscal watchdog should be able to find more than enough savings to offset the additional cost.

To encourage transparency and accountability, a Bates administration will make as much city government information available on the internet as the law allows. A TGOV website will offer access to both live and archived video of public meetings.

A geographical information system (GIS) will make it easy for city workers and citizens alike to find information on zoning, crime, and construction in an area of interest. Accessible information will make it easier for citizens and media (both old and new) to keep an eye on city government and to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse.

Partnerships for progress

I pledge to build a collaborative relationship with the City Council, to respect their standing as the elected representatives of the citizens of Tulsa, and to treat them as partners, not adversaries.

If a councilor wants my ear, he won't have to go through three layers of underlings to get to me. If I'm attending a meeting or planning a project in a councilor's district, the councilor will hear about it ahead of time from me. Instead of sending out a flak-catcher, you'll see me at council committee meetings and delivering the weekly mayor's report. I won't agree to expensive legal settlements without the knowledge and consent of the Council.

Surveys have revealed a disconnect between City Hall and the citizens, particularly citizens in our less affluent neighborhoods in north, west, and east Tulsa. We need a sound civic infrastructure to keep citizens informed and to help citizens make their voices heard by city leaders.

One possibility is the district council plan used in St. Paul, Minn. My administration will survey best practices across the country and will work with the Council and neighborhood leaders to identify the model best suited to Tulsa's circumstances.

Membership of the city's authorities, boards, and commissions has been dominated by Tulsa's most affluent neighborhoods in midtown and south Tulsa. I will broaden the pool of mayoral appointees, starting by reaching out to the thousands of PLANiTULSA workshop participants.

I will collaborate with my suburban counterparts whenever appropriate, but I will never lose sight of the fact that I was hired to serve the citizens of Tulsa.

Planning and zoning

The PLANiTULSA process has been a great success to date, with thousands of Tulsans participating in citywide and small-area planning workshops. We should see the adoption of a new comprehensive plan prior to the city general election.

But the plan's adoption is only the beginning. Full implementation will almost certainly require modifications to Tulsa's zoning code. It will also require the political will to stick to the plan as individual zoning and planning decisions are made.

Tulsa's land-use planning system should be characterized by transparency, inclusiveness, consistency, clarity, and adaptability. Our land-use laws should allow as much freedom as possible while protecting against genuine threats to safety, quality of life, and property values.

We must get away from a one-size-fits-all zoning code. Development suitable for 71st and Memorial may not be right for 15th and Utica. Tulsa should establish special districts - some cities call them conservation districts - where rules can be customized to the neighborhood's circumstances. Form-based rules should be available for neighborhoods that want them.

Tulsa should do what every other city in the metro area has already done and establish our own city planning commission, one with a balanced membership that is geographically representative and not dominated by the development industry. All Tulsans have a stake in how our city grows, not just those who stand to make a buck on new construction.

We'll bring land-planning services in house as well, ending our contract with INCOG. (We will continue to collaborate with INCOG on regional transportation planning.)

Economic development

The city's approach to economic development would change in a Bates administration. Some of Tulsa's biggest employers and biggest draws for new dollars started small and grew.

Instead of spending all our economic development funds luring large companies to relocate to Tulsa, we should emphasize removing any barriers to small business formation and expansion.

One of those barriers is the cost of a place to do business. We'll revisit rules that hinder operating a business out of your own home. While many neighborhoods will prefer to remain purely residential, others would welcome the live-work option, with a broader range of permitted home occupations. Here again, Tulsa can customize rules to fit the diversity of our neighborhoods.

We cannot afford to leave behind those Tulsans who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. We will partner with non-profits to help Tulsans develop basic financial life skills - the habits that enable someone to find and keep a job, spend his earnings wisely, and build assets over time.

Tulsa should become known as a city of educational choice from pre-K to college for families of all income levels, not just the well-to-do. I will work with the Oklahoma legislature to expand access to charter and private schools for Tulsans. My administration will seek a cooperative relationship with private schools, homeschooling families and support organizations, and all seven public school districts that overlap our city boundaries.

Under my administration, the city will hold a full and open competition to choose a contractor to promote our convention and tourism industry. The Tulsa Metro Chamber will be welcome to compete, but no longer will it enjoy sole-source status. Tulsa is home to many innovative marketing firms that could do a better job of communicating Tulsa's unique appeal.

The city center

There's been a great deal of focus and hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment in downtown over the last decade. The aim of that investment was to bring downtown back to life, not to turn more buildings into surface parking lots. I will push for adoption of the Tulsa Preservation Commission's "CORE Proposals," including an inventory of downtown buildings, a demolition review process, and standards for new development that reinforce downtown's walkable, urban character.

But Tulsa's urban core doesn't stop at the Inner Dispersal Loop. Downtown's long-term prosperity and revitalization depends on the vitality of the nearby neighborhoods.

Tulsa offers many choices for those who prefer a suburban lifestyle, but we also need to provide a viable urban living option for individuals, couples, and families who want to live close to work, shopping, school, church, healthcare, and entertainment.

There should be at least one part of our city where you can go everywhere you need to go without needing a car. Central Tulsa was built with the pedestrian in mind. New development should reinforce its walkable character.

The city's role would be to protect stable and historic single-family neighborhoods, improve regulations and raise awareness of tax incentives to encourage adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and encourage higher-density, urban infill development in neighborhoods that desire it.

Getting around town

In the future, it may make financial sense to build a light rail system. Right now, we can make better use of the transit system we already have by focusing on frequent, dependable bus service from early morning to late night within this pedestrian-friendly central zone.

Where it's impractical to provide frequent bus service, entrepreneurs should be allowed to fill in the gaps. It ought to be possible in Tulsa for someone with time and a vehicle to make money helping their neighbors get around town. We'll study what other cities have done to encourage privately-owned, publicly-accessible transportation like jitneys, taxis, and shuttles.

Preparing for the future

A Bates administration will not only focus on the near term but will plan for the future as well. Disaster preparedness is a part of that job. One area that deserves attention is the security of Tulsa's food supply. A food crisis could be triggered by financial collapse, soaring energy prices, or a terrorist attack on America's food supply system.
City Hall should study ways to help connect local farmers and growers with local consumers so that our region can attain a degree of self-sufficiency and insulation from an external crisis. We'll make sure that city regulations don't get in the way of community gardens and farmers' markets.

If elected, I will govern with the expectation that I will only serve a single term. I will reckon myself a political dead man, having stepped on so many toes that millions will be raised to prevent my re-election as mayor or my election to any other office.

Finally, my fellow Tulsans, as you find yourself elated or, more likely, outraged at the thought of a Michael Bates mayoral run, remember the old Roman motto: Caveat lector kalendas Apriles.

I hate to go so long without posting, but I'm worn out. Yesterday was a great day of family fun, but between carrying a three-year-old up a snowy hill a dozen times, shoveling the driveway to get the van up the hill and into the garage, making snowmen last night, repairing snowmen this morning (undoing the damage caused by unknown vandals), shoveling the driveway to get the sedan down the the hill -- I'm exhausted and achy and still have a column to finish and two big assignments at work. So you're not getting anything new from me tonight.

I would like to call your attention to the most recent issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. In addition to my column (about the need for legislation in Oklahoma to deter SLAPP lawsuits), you'll find the second installment of Natasha Ball's wonderful new weekly column on money-saving ideas. (You may know her as Tasha Does Tulsa. Here's a link to Natasha Ball's complete UTW archive.)

The cover this week -- done in the style of an old-west "wanted" poster, with a sepia-tone photo of 3rd Street between Kenosha and Lansing that looks a hundred years old -- is one of my favorites to date. The cover story by Mike Easterling will bring you up-to-date on the East Village or East End -- the downtown area east of Elgin and north of Home Depot. Despite many city-driven plans for the area -- including the 1997 Tulsa Project plan that would have wiped it all out for a soccer stadium -- progress so far has been the result of individual dreams and private funding:

And yet, as [Micha] Alexander noted earlier, the neighborhood he built mostly from scratch, and without any public assistance, has gone all but unrecognized. The irony of that isn't lost on him, but he doesn't dwell on that lack of attention.

"Everything we're planning on doing here, we're planning on doing with private funds," he said, noting that willingness to risk his own money without outside help isn't something a lot of developers share.

"A lot of people put their hands out, expecting something to be done for them," he said.

Alexander did apply for Vision 2025 funding several years ago, but his bid was rejected. "They said it was not in the right location, it was too modern and people wouldn't buy it," he said. Alexander now believes that's just as well, since the organic nature of his neighborhood's rebirth has allowed him to proceed according to his own vision, without any interference.

"If I was to go ask for this or ask for that, there are certain parameters I'd have to follow," he said. "The way we're doing it, our limit is nothing more than what we decide to do. I like that."

Last but far from least: You'll want to pick up this week's UTW to get a copy of the 2009 Spring Thing, an 80-page, full-color "essential guide to spring and summer" in Tulsa. I've got two new pieces in the book: A look at the city's political landscape and a guide to six great neighborhoods on Route 66: Red Fork, Riverview, Tracy Park, Kendall-Whittier, White City, and Tower Heights. (I could have easily written about a half-dozen more, but I had a word limit.) If you're e-inclined, you can download a PDF of Spring Thing 2009 here.

Some linkage related to my most recent Urban Tulsa Weekly column about the innovative, grassroots-driven approach to solving the Pearl District's stormwater problem:

The Pearl District Association website: Well organized website with plenty of information about the neighborhood's plans for the future.

Guy Engineering's page for the Elm Creek Master Drainage Plan, which includes sketches of the proposed 6th St. canal and the west and east ponds. The master plan report itself (linked at the top of that page) goes into great detail about the history of the Elm Creek basin and the evolution of the stormwater management plan over the last 20 years.

Here's the Wikipedia entry for woonerf.

A Brand Avenue blog entry on the history of woonerven, which includes a summary of a study of shared streets by the UK-based Transport Research Laboratory:

Last year, TRL published the results of a four-year study on the new traffic safety approach. In simulator trials, researchers replaced road signs and white lane dividers with a variety of urban design elements: red bricks were used to make the road narrower, and trees, shrubs and street furniture were placed directly in the right of way. According to Parkes, traffic speeds fell by up to 8 miles per hour, and the speeds of faster drivers by up to 12 mph. The reasons are both counterintuitive and compelling, he said. "What we've been trying to do is make the roadway seem more risky by taking out the stripe of paint ... and by making the distinction between space reserved for cars and space for pedestrians less explicit," said Parkes. "Then the driver makes his own choice to slow down, rather than just being instructed to slow down in what looks like a safe environment." Psychological traffic calming has the added advantage of being more aesthetically pleasing than a slew of road signs and traffic lights, Parkes noted.

A New York Observer story about the city's "woonerf deficit" and how shared streets can improve a neighborhood's quality of life and economy.

A New York Times story about woonerfs and other alternative approaches to streets, such as play streets, bicycle boulevards, and swale streets:

One such street is the woonerf. Pioneered in the Netherlands -- the word roughly translates as "living street" -- the woonerf erases the boundary between sidewalk and street to give pedestrians the same clout as cars. Elements like traffic lights, stop signs, lane markings and crossing signals are removed, while the level of the street is raised to the same height as the sidewalk.

A woonerf, which is surfaced with paving blocks to signal a pedestrian-priority zone, is, in effect, an outdoor living room, with furniture to encourage the social use of the street. Surprisingly, it results in drastically slower traffic, since the woonerf is a people-first zone and cars enter it more warily. "The idea is that people shall look each other in the eye and maneuver in respect of each other," Mr. Gehl said.

Nick Roberts from Oklahoma City explains why he likes the 6th St. canal concept better than Oklahoma City's Upper Bricktown Canal:

Here [in the 6th St. concept drawing] the water just compliments the pedestrian path and makes it interesting, provides nice views. Instead the Bricktown Canal has the freeway mentality: the path on the side is kind of like a feeder road while the canal is the main draw. It should be the other way around..in fact I wouldn't be opposed to not doing the water taxis anymore, especially if they should ever stop being profitable. But I am still totally in support of expanding the canal through the downtown area. That probably explains why a lot of the canal-front property has never been finished, despite all the potential.

A related link: A Tulsa TV Memories page about the Brewsters, a couple who owned a beloved toy store in the Pearl District neighborhood.

Steven Roemerman is not only a blogger, he's also a member of the City of Tulsa Sales Tax Overview Committee, which is charged with keeping tabs on how the city spends the "Third Penny" sales tax for capital improvement projects. In that role, he's had opportunity to hear representatives from the Finance Department and the Public Works Department speak about the federal indictments for fraud and bribery involving two now-former Public Works employees and several contractors that do business with the city.

Steven has collected his notes and reflections on the Tulsa Public Works indictments here.

One section raised several questions in my mind:

I sat in a meeting with Paul Zachary from Public Works and he said, "We do not award contracts over here, we advertise them from here." The awarding of contracts happens downtown at City Hall through the City Clerk's office with representatives from Finance, Legal, and the contract administrators.

In one allegation, there was money taken to influence the awarding of a contract, but the individual who took the money could not have influenced who won the contract. As previously stated, Public Works does not award construction contracts, they only advertise them.

The second allegation regarding bribes for contracts has to do with the professional services selection committee. In that committee, one of the decisions they make regards who will perform the inspection each project once it is complete. It is preferred that the firm that designs a project also performs the inspection. Money was given to influence the PSSC to award the designer of a particular project the inspection job. I asked what would have happened if no money had been exchanged? Would that firm still have gotten the inspection, would anything different have happened? The answer was no because in the preferred process, the designer does the inspection.

If this particular set of indictments did not make any sense to you that is probably because it does not make any sense. It was really pretty dumb for money to exchange hands because the person who took the money really did not have the power to make anything happen.

First, it surprises me that Public Works would have no involvement in the award decision. At the very least, wouldn't Public Works be involved in evaluating proposals for technical compliance? The City Clerk's office can tell who the low bidder is, but they wouldn't know whether the proposed low-bid solution will accomplish the task and whether the company has the competence to carry it out.

Second, even if a Public Works employee didn't have sole authority to award a contract or hire an inspector, it would be valuable for a contractor to "own" a trusted insider who would have influence over the selection. You wouldn't necessarily need to bribe the entire committee, just one person with a seat at the table where decisions are made and with the credibility to persuade the rest. If Public Works were involved in some way with evaluating proposals for compliance -- and I take it from Steven's report that this is not the case -- then it might be valuable to "own" a PW employee in a position to disqualify competing bids or to ensure that your bid wasn't disqualified.

Another possibility is that the bribes were offered based on a misunderstanding of the process by the bribers. Perhaps the contractors made assumptions on the City of Tulsa process based on the process in other cities. Or perhaps the recipient of the bribes depicted the process in a way that made himself seem more important and influential than he really was.

MORE: I wrote two columns related to the Public Works scandal: The February 4 column, about the value of an independent audit of Public Works, as advocated by former City Councilor Jim Mautino, and the February 11 column, about the role of and constraints on the City Auditor's office in acting as a fiscal watchdog.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about what we can learn about urban design from the commercial success of painter Thomas Kinkade:

Thomas Kinkade seems to understand that places--houses and shops, landscapes and streetscapes--have the ability to touch the heart. In his choice of subjects and his depiction of main streets, neighborhoods, country cottages, townhouses, and bungalows, he strikes a chord with the viewer.

His cinematic suggestions brought to mind what architect Christopher Alexander called the "Timeless Way of Building."

This timeless way expresses itself in patterns in the way we make a town or a building.

Every building, neighborhood, town, and city is constructed from a collection of patterns. Alexander observed that some patterns are living and some are dead. The ones that are living are those that connect in some way with human nature--they attract people, making them feel at home and alive.

Dead patterns repel people, making them feel ill at ease and restless. A place shaped by dead patterns becomes neglected and uncared for and attracts trash, decay, and crime.

In the book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, Alexander and his colleagues identified and gave names to 253 lively patterns that appear to be timeless, recurring across cultures and centuries. Kinkade's suggestions to his filmmakers echo many of these patterns: Pools of Light, Magic of the City, Four-Story Limit, Paths and Goals, Warm Colors, Street Windows, Shielded Parking.

Supplemental links:

In last week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I urged making cultural heritage tourism the focus of Tulsa's efforts to attract visitors. Rather than marketing Tulsa as an "ocean of sophistication in a cultural desert," Tulsa should embrace its place in Oklahoma as "the capital of a region where visitors can experience the untamed, exuberant spirit of the American West in all its variety."

For whatever reason, the people we pay to promote Tulsa to the world -- the Tulsa Metro Chamber's Convention and Visitors Bureau -- seem uncomfortable promoting the unique aspects of our region. They position Tulsa as superior to and separate from the rest of Oklahoma, an oasis of sophistication in a cultural desert.

It's a distinctly Midtown Money Belt point of view, and it makes Tulsans seem like a bunch of insecure, provincial rubes, putting on airs -- the urban equivalent of Hyacinth Bucket.

While we should be proud of the cultural amenities that make Tulsa a great place to live, our tourism marketing should focus on what sets our region apart from the rest of the world.

A Milanese woman who lives a few miles from La Scala and the salons of Versace and Prada isn't likely to visit Oklahoma for the opera or Utica Square shopping, but she might come here to eat a chicken fried steak on Route 66, experience Oklahoma! in an open-air theater, or attend a powwow.

A resident of Berlin wouldn't cross the pond to see a Tulsa production of the plays of Bertolt Brecht, but he might travel here to two-step across Cain's curly maple dance floor, search out Ponyboy Curtis's hangouts, or attend the annual Kenneth Hagin Campmeeting -- depending on his particular passions.

Tulsa should position itself not as an enclave of Eastern sophistication but as the capital of a region where visitors can experience the untamed, exuberant spirit of the American West in all its variety.

Read the whole thing, and read more about how other cities and regions have successfully used their history as a tourist draw at culturalheritagetourism.org.

Steve Roemerman has a detailed report from Tuesday night's debate between Tulsa County Commission District 2 candidates Sally Bell (R) and Karen Keith (D).

Steve reports that Keith claimed the sad state of Tulsa streets was because of "failed tax initiatives." I challenge Karen Keith to name one street-related tax initiative (general obligation bond issue or sales tax) that has failed in the last quarter-century in Tulsa.

My column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly further explores the contrasting political philosophies of Karen Keith and Sally Bell.

The County Commission race was also a topic of conversation in my debate with former Tulsa County Democratic Party chairman Elaine Dodd, the cover story in this week's UTW. We also chatted about the presidential, U. S. Senate, and U. S. House races, and the State Senate District 37 race between incumbent Republican-turned-Democrat Nancy Riley and Republican challenger Dan Newberry.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I return to the topic of the November 4 City of Tulsa street sales tax and bond issue vote, raising some questions I hope can be convincingly answered between now and election day.

In an extra op-ed, I explain why voters of all political orientations should choose the eminently qualified Dana Murphy for the two-year term seat on the Corporation Commission over appointed incumbent Jim Roth, whose personal connections and campaign finances indicate a far-too-cozy relationship with Chesapeake Energy, one of the businesses he regulates. For good measure, here's my editorial endorsing Dana Murphy in the Republican primary.

In addition to all the writing I did for BatesLine during the Republican National Convention, I managed to turn out three pieces for this week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

The cover story about the upcoming PLANiTULSA citywide planning workshops. The folks at the City of Tulsa Planning Department and Fregonese Associates were very helpful as I put this story together. I had a copy not only of the publicity materials but the instructions for the facilitators -- the volunteers at each table who answer questions and keep the mapping process on pace to finish within the alloted time. From those instructions, I tried to put together a vivid description of what workshop participants will experience. My feeling is that the more you know about what will happen, the better prepared you'll be to participate fully and advocate effectively for your ideas for Tulsa's future.

I spoke to Theron Warlick, one of the City of Tulsa planners assigned to PLANiTULSA, and he told me that about 500 people had already signed up, with about a week and a half to go. Mayor Bill LaFortune's 2002 Vision Summit drew about 1100.

If you haven't signed up yet, visit PLANiTULSA.org and register online.

Also this week, I have a story about the the Republican National Convention as seen through the eyes of Tulsans who attended the convention.

The week before, I spoke to Jackie Tomsovic, a first-time delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and covered the surprising political resurrection of former Gov. David Walters, co-chairman of the Democrats' convention rules committee.

My column this week relates both to St. Paul and to planning. During my visit, I tried to learn what I could about how the city handles planning and zoning, river development, downtown, and affordable housing. I wound up with far more material than I could use on all of the above topics. I chose to focus on the way St. Paul connects citizens and neighborhoods with city government, using 19 independent, non-profit "district planning councils."

MORE: Here's a video of planner John Fregonese's presentation at the TulsaNow forum on July 15. He speaks about planning concepts, demographic trends, and the results of the planning team's survey of a thousand Tulsans.

(The embedded video was making this page load slowly, so if you want to watch it, visit the PLANiTULSA channel on blip.tv.)

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is an expansion upon my blog entry from last weekend about the efforts by "not-in-my-back-yard" downtown interests to relocate the homeless and indigent away from downtown.

Coincidentally, in this same issue there's Brian Ervin's profile of Steve Whitaker, head of John 3:16 Mission. Here's how he describes the work of John 3:16 Mission.

"The people that I take care of live by the law of the streets, and the law of the streets is very much Darwinian in that it is the strongest that survive," said Whitaker. "But, the John 3:16 Mission is part of God's peaceful kingdom. We're here to love those people back to wellness--to create a loving, caring, nurturing environment for people that are addicted or mentally ill or homeless just by bad luck, to get back on their feet and find their life again."

John 3:16 Mission has had its own encounter with the downtown NIMBYs (emphasis added):

A pervasive attitude of "Not In My Back Yard" is behind efforts to derail his planned expansion of the 56-year-old Mission, he told UTW.

The city's Board of Adjustment granted permission for the expansion in February, but a group of downtown businesses and residents have appealed the decision in the courts.

Their position is that the Mission and other services in the area are attracting the homeless and drug-addicted and threatening the safety and success of ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.

But, Whitaker said it's downtown itself that's attracting them, and that without the Mission and other services to the needy, they would have nowhere else to go, and would be a much more visible problem than they are now (See "No Rest for the Weary" in our Jan. 24-30, 2008, issue at www.urbantulsa.com for some of the early details).

"There is an assumption that this clustering of services in downtown Tulsa is harmful, but people have forgotten history. They've forgotten what happened almost 20 years ago when there was a move afoot to put John 3:16 and the Day Center and the Salvation Army and the jail all in the same area," he said. Whitaker said downtown urban settings, and not services for the homeless, are what attract homeless people: the alleys provide places to sleep and hide and dumpsters to dig through for food or other salvageable items.

"A walkthrough of every city's downtown in America will prove that they are homes for homeless, and if this city's not proactive about treating its homeless population, then all of our dreams for an entertainment district are going to be spoiled, and homelessness will be a true blight then," he said.

(The profile is well worth reading -- covering Whitaker's background in North Tulsa, his martial arts training, how he came to be involved at John 3:16, and his thoughts on homelessness in Tulsa, racism, and the north/south divide.)

In my op-ed, I call attention to a New York City organization called Common Ground which helped reduce the homeless population in Times Square by 87% in two years, not by shipping them out to suburban subdivisions in Queens or Bergen County, but by providing "supportive housing" for them in a renovated hotel in the heart of the Theater District, where they have access to jobs and transportation:

Acquired by Common Ground in 1991, the Times Square is the largest permanent supportive housing project in the nation. A once-stately neighborhood fixture that had fallen into serious disrepair, Common Ground carefully preserved the building's historic character while redeveloping it into housing for 652 low-income and formerly homeless individuals and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

The Times Square combines permanent affordable housing with a range of on-site social services provided by Common Ground's social service partner, the Center for Urban Community Services. Individualized support services are designed to help tenants maintain their housing, address health issues, and pursue education and employment. On-site assistance with physical and mental health issues and substance abuse is available to all tenants, six days a week. Property management services, including 24-hour security, are provided by Common Ground's affiliated not-for-profit property management company, Common Ground Community.

Common Ground's Tenant Services staff offers programs and activities to enhance a sense of community, e.g., a six-week financial literacy workshop, a community health fair, and workshops covering topics such as portrait drawing and cooking. Common areas include a garden roof deck (available for rent to the public); a computer laboratory; a library; an art studio; a medical clinic; 24-hour laundry facilities; a rehearsal space featuring floor-to-ceiling dance mirrors and a piano; and an exercise room.

Richard L. Jones has posted a lengthy comment on my article from his perspective as a pastor who works with the homeless downtown. It's worth reading in its entirety. It includes this funny, pointed analogy:

And to the "powers that be" in Tulsa, when are you going to follow the lead of successful cities that have centralized services for the homeless, and begin to provide real solutions to the problem instead of trying to shuffle them around the city like spreading the peas out on your plate that you didn't want to eat so it that looks like you did?...

Instead of kicking the homeless when they are down, let's all work together to help bring them some dignity and assistance in getting the help they need to break free from the cycle of despair. Basic human services and health care in a more centralized environment would be a good place to start.

Tulsa's EKG

| | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (3)

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly concerns the survey of 1000 Tulsans for PLANiTULSA, the effort to develop Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in over 30 years.

Collective Strength conducted in-depth interviews with 90 civic leaders (including me) and then a lengthy survey by telephone with 1,000 Tulsans. Here is a link to the "pre-final" summary of the research, presented last month by Collective Strength's Robin Rather. That document includes summary crosstabs by region and by race for many of the questions. Full crosstabs are due to be posted later in August.

Here's one highlight from the column:

Despite the broad agreement over priorities, the survey revealed a widespread perception of a disconnect between leaders and citizens. These problems were felt most keenly in north, east, and west Tulsa.

"City leaders in Tulsa understand my community's needs." Fifty-two percent of Midtowners and 48 percent of south Tulsans agreed with that statement, but only 27 percent of Northsiders and Westsiders did. Citywide, the statement polled 39 percent agreement, a stunning statement of no confidence in city leadership.

"I do not feel included in the planning process. People like me are always left out." Majorities agreed in north (59 percent), east (52 percent), and west Tulsa (51 percent). Fewer than a third of Midtowners (32 percent) and Southies (31 percent) agreed. Sixty percent of non-whites agreed, versus 38 percent of whites. Forty-four percent was the overall total.

"I'm concerned the plan will be too influenced by those who have a lot of money." Seventy percent of Tulsans agreed with that statement, which received strongest support from Northsiders (80 percent), Westsiders (74 percent), and Eastsiders (71 percent). The statement received a lower level, but still a majority, of support in south Tulsa and Midtown--about 60 percent.

The gap between Midtown and south Tulsa on the one hand and north, west and east Tulsa is not surprising. Maps of election results showing support for various tax increases, of where appointees to city boards and commissions live, and of those selected to the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners reveal a common pattern.

I've labeled it the "Money Belt"--a band of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods running south-southeast from downtown through Maple Ridge, Utica Square, and Southern Hills then fanning out into the gated communities of south Tulsa.

It's unfortunate that survey responses were classified by zip code only. It would have been interesting to see responses by square mile or by precinct to see if the Money Belt pattern held up.

How to plug north, east, and west Tulsa into the city's collective decision-making process, how we create an infrastructure for civic dialogue is something that will need to be addressed as the planning process moves forward.

Rather called the skepticism about carrying out the plan "pervasive." It came up both in the in-depth interviews and in the broader survey polling. She said, "A lot of people feel like it doesn't matter how you plan. Folks that have a lot of money, or a lot of influence get to do what they want."

Rather characterized what she was hearing from Tulsans about the planning: "We engage in the public process, we go to these meetings, we do the hard work, but at the end of the day our expectations are not met." She urged action to ensure that this plan has a real chance to avoid that fate.

Maybe the most hopeful sign was that there was near-unanimous agreement with this statement: "Assuming people like me participate in the plan and the plan is carried out fairly by the city, I think Tulsa will change for the better as a result of it." Ninety-one percent of Tulsans concurred, with no significant variation across the city.

But there are two very big assumptions in that statement.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

By the way, the Urban Tulsa archives are offline for some reason and have been for about a week. Whatever it was that used to point from the new server back to the old server is broken. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon.

MORE: In the comments, S. Lee makes his point with a memorable metaphor:

The reason various parts of town feel left out is because they are (duh!). The problem with these "plans" is there isn't enough money to do spiffy projects all over the city. So, depending on who is in charge, their favorite part of the city gets the attention. A bundle of money gets dumped into a fraction of a percent of the city while the rest gets to put up with continued neglect of the fundamentals -- roads, crime, schools. The expensive projects are the equivalent of putting a truly lovely picnic table in the middle of a 40 acre pasture full of waist high weeds and cow manure. Most people would gladly forego the gorgeous picnic table if the pasture were kept mowed and reasonably free of manure. There's too much preoccupation with the latest "progressive" picnic table, and not enough mowing and scooping.

Thursday night the Tulsa City Council will consider a rezoning application for a block-sized, four-story apartment building at 39th and Rockford, in the area designated as residential in the Brookside Infill Plan, which has been incorporated into the City's Comprehensive Plan.

(This should be a link to the Council's "backup packet" for the Bomasada rezoning, but it's not. This is the second time a link from the Council's online agenda has led to the wrong material on this particular item -- it happened when the zoning request appeared before the Council Urban and Economic Development Committee. We need legislation that gives online public information the same importance as info posted on the bulletin board outside City Hall or in the legal notices in the paper. If the complete information isn't posted, the agenda item can't move ahead.. As it is, it's too easy to conveniently make a mistake and avoid making public info as available as it should be.)

My "op/ed extra" column this week in Urban Tulsa Weekly was about the proposed apartment superblock, which is a test of the Council's willingness to adhere to the Brookside plan and the credibility of all citizen participation in land-use planning, a salient question as we approach citywide planning workshops in September for our new Comprehensive Plan:

Whether you live in Brookside or not, all Tulsa property owners have a stake in the outcome, as it will show whether this City Council will stick with or set aside the development standards that were negotiated by homeowners, business owners, and developers and formally adopted by the city. Consistent application of the rules is the issue at hand....

In conducting in-depth interviews for Tulsa's new comprehensive planning effort, the public opinion research firm Collective Strength found a recurring theme: "Fatalism about lack of zoning and code enforcement and special favors for the wealthy." Approval of this development would only reinforce that well-founded cynicism and would undermine optimism that a new comprehensive plan would be fairly applied to all.

Brookside plan participants put in a great deal of time and effort. To set the product of that effort aside will chill enthusiasm for participating in future planning efforts. If all that negotiation and compromise comes to nothing, if the developer is always going to get his way, why bother?...

The ripples from their decision will extend far beyond Brookside. The new comprehensive planning effort, PLANiTULSA, will have its first public workshops in September.

If the council shows respect for the Brookside planning process by voting down the Bomasada development, it will signal to the public that they can have a positive and long-lasting impact by participating in PLANiTULSA.

If they set the Brookside plan aside for the developers, it will feed public cynicism about public land use planning and discourage participation from the very activists who have the most insight to contribute to the new plan.

Choose wisely, Councilors.

Brookside neighborhood advocate Laura Collins sets out the sound planning case against the Bomasada development. (I've added emphasis here and there.)

TO THE COUNCIL: The Village of Brookside Neighbors immediately surrounding 39th and Rockford, as well as Brooksiders in the area and other citizens of Tulsa who are friends of Brookside and have an interest in the precedent this proposal presents are in support of redevelopment as long as it is appropriate to the individual neighborhood. The Brookside Infill Task Force Redevelopment Restrictions specify the scale, rhythm, height and (width) open space requirements for redevelopment. We welcome Bomasada to present a design of dwelling which is compatible with these guidelines. Some would like to portray us as "anti-progress" or "against development". Nothing could be further from the truth. We have watched the subject property continue to decline under the ownership of Perry Properties and have wondered why the city, if feeling now that it is such a "blight" -- as was described by Roy Johnson and at least two of the TMAPC panelists during the May 21st hearing ----- which lasted nearly 10 hours!

POINTS OF CONCERN AND FACT:

  • The neighborhood infill restriction on height, for example is 35 feet. Bomasada asked for and recieved a variance on height of 48 feet, with a maximum of 49' 4" additional height in order to 'screen A/C units on roof". On the Rockford side, which they claim will be 35 feet, they were granted a setback variance of 16 feet (from the street) and an additional 3' 8" in height -- again for hiding the A/C units on roof. Why such a difference in additional height the two requests? Is the setback measured from the curb or the centerline? This would make the building way too close to the homes across the street. What is the city average or guideline for setbacks? How can a building this mammoth in scale look 'in scale' with the homes near it so close to the street?
  • Additionally, the Brookside Infill Plan clearly states that "monolithic forms that dominate area or disrupt vision should be avoided". This particular design chosen for Brookside is a clear example of everything the task force was attempting to prevent from being placed in Brookside . Again, how can this type of design look as though it is harmoniously 'in scale' with the one story homes across the street from it to the east?

1. Bomasada has numerous design models to choose from.... Our neighborhood association and petition group were not asked which design we felt fit our neighborhood. Bomasada V.P. chose it for us. It does not conform to the Infill Task Force Plan's restrictions on: Density, Scale, Open Space or Height. Most notably, it is a solid 'wall' of construction with very little if any visual break and negative space or green space as seen from the renderings provided us by the developer.

2. The infrastructure will not support this development without improvements. Will the city do this work now / during the development's construction or after the development has been in place? What is the cost to the city?

3. Are sidewalks planned around the perimeter of the property by the developer? Or are we really going to let them off the hook with a nominal waiver fee and make the city do it ten years from now? The neighbors do not want to wait 5-10 years for a sidewalk to be REPLACED.

4. Parking for the apartment -- for guests. At last hearing, they are providing 25-57 guest parking spaces for a 240 one and two bedroom apartments on three heavily traveled streets. Will parking be allowed on 39th or Rockford for guests? We hope not, as it will not be conducive to pedestrian safety.

5. Traffic study was not completed. How can we build without a plan for impact on neighboring streets and residential safety? Children walk to school (Eliot) and catch buses there -- while Rockford is already a busy street when school is open. What precautions will the city take to ensure the safety of neighborhood children? 4-way stops? Traffic signal at 41st and Rockford? Speed humps on Rockford? 39th? More police to catch speeders and stop sign runners?

6. Flood plain and environmental impact. Can we count on the city and the developer to avoid any increased stress on our storm water and sewer systems? Are they separate or combined systems?

7. Pedestrian-friendly access on and off the apartment property for the tenants into the Old Village Shopping Center? If not, why not? These are young professionals you are marketing to. Many of them will no doubt have bicycles and want this amenity.

8. We are generally disappointed with the lack of communication and respect shown us by the developer. Our inputwas really not sought out. There was never a specific meeting held for neighbors within 300 feet of the property by either the developer or the BNA. We therefore had to seek information, call for meetings, canvasse the area alone and in the end, we are portrayed by those in favor of this project (some members of the Brookside business community) as "anti-development" -- which couldn't be farther from the truth.

9. We look forward to redevelopment of this property. It obviously has not been properly maintained by the owner (Perry Properties) and the city was either unaware of the situation or never took any strong stand on enforcing the improvement of the property which the city now refers to as 'blight' at 39th and Rockford.

We have said all along ---- we look for a development from Bomasada that compliments our neighborhood design and is built within the zoning guidelines, taking into account safety and user-friendly priniciples and amenities for both the future enclave tenants and the surrounding homeowners and neighbors. All parties involved in the decision making process --- including our city leaders --- should feel a shared ownership of the neighborhood improvement project and forge a future partnership in goodwill, respect and teamwork ... embracing a shared vision for this amazing and very liveable section of the City of Tulsa.

We ask that our concerns for safety and the quality of life for our neighborhood residents already living in Brookside are remembered as you do the work of deciding to approve or disapprove, and work out the details of this new development positioned in one of Tulsa's most desirable and historic areas.

Many thanks to the readers of Urban Tulsa Weekly who have, for the second year in a row, voted for me as Tulsa's Favorite Blogger in the Absolute Best of Tulsa readers' poll:

Michael Bates, Urban Tulsa Weekly's own uber city news geek and pundit extraordinaire, is the man. With his encyclopedic knowledge of Tulsa's history and of the inner workings of city and county government and his piercing insight into the goings on of the city's elite, his weekly columns are often a source of both dread and delight to local leaders. The man is a machine, though, so a weekly column is hardly enough of an outlet for him to say all that he has to say, nor for readers to get their regular fix of his words and wisdom. So, there's always his blog at Batesline.com.

Congratulations to Tulsa World music writer Jennifer Chancellor for getting a "close call" in this category. Although many editors and writers at the daily have blogs, Jennifer is one of the few who is really taking advantage of the medium, updating on a near-daily basis. Most recently she's been posting lots of photos and video from Rocklahoma. I shall have to work much harder if I want a threepeat. (Or maybe lobby to have a separate category for music bloggers.)

I was also happy to see a win in the coffee house category for one of my favorite hangouts, the Coffee House on Cherry Street, with Shades of Brown, another favorite hangout, as a close runner-up. The two coffee houses set the standard not only for good coffee but for community gathering places.

(Note to PLANiTULSA team -- as part of your outreach to Tulsa's young people, hold some "bull sessions" at these coffee houses. Just plan to show up, hang out, and expect to have some great conversations about the city's future.)

I was also happy to see Callupsie win in the Local, Indie Produced Album for their recording debut:

No other established band in Tulsa is as hard-working as Callupsie. And their particular brand of indie jazz-punk is one of the most unique sounds to emerge from the city in quite some time. Produced by Stephen Egerton over just two sessions (the entire album took a total of several days to record), the debut is a ridiculously catchy collection of pop tunes (pop in the best sense) that is just waiting to be played on college stations across the country. To boot, they're four of the nicest musicians you'll ever meet. You all chose well on this one.

The ABoT issue includes some of the more interesting "fill-in-the-blank" responses to questions like, "If I were mayor," and "You are so Tulsa if you..."

My favorite: "If I were mayor... I'd build the Golden Driller a girlfriend." I know just the girl. She's somewhat older, but a lot better looking than the old roughneck. She's "The Goddess of Oil", a 1941 sculpture by Tulsa World staff artist Clarence Allen. The plan was to erect a 40-foot version of the sculpture at the next International Petroleum Exhibition, but the outbreak of World War II got in the way. The model was 19-year-old Marjorie Morrow. Although the full-sized version was never erected, the original sculpture stayed in Morrow's family, and her grandson, muralist William Franklin, hopes to see the original artistic vision realized. You can read all about it and donate to the project at goddessofoil.com.

In this week's UTW, I review the record of Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller and endorse Sally Bell as her replacement.

Since writing that piece, fired Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund has been pointing the finger at Miller regarding the decision to hold the Big Splash rent check.

According to the daily paper yesterday:

Rick Bjorklund, who was fired as president and CEO of Expo Square, said Thursday that he was instructed by County Commissioner Randi Miller to keep Big Splash Water Park's financial troubles "off the radar."

The fair board last week voted 4-0 to terminate Bjorklund after it was discovered that a check for half of the water park's 2006 rent had gone uncashed for a year and that it had yet to pay its 2007 rent. In addition, Big Splash's outstanding 2007 balance was never listed specifically on the financial reports presented to the fair board.

Bjorklund said Miller, who was fair board chairwoman in 2007, spoke to him about the Big Splash situation in about June of that year.

"The conversation (with Miller) was, 'Ease up on them and get it off the radar,'?" he said.

Bjorklund said he told fair board members about Miller's instructions during the executive session held to determine his fate.

"I turned to Randi and I said: 'You had given me instructions, Randi, to get it off the radar screen, and we did that.'?''

Miller denies Bjorklund's claim, but what he says makes sense. If Big Splash's financial troubles became public, it would show her to be inconsistent, making her look foolish or even evil for using Bell's business plan as a pretext for evicting them from the Fairgrounds. She had a vested interest in keeping Big Splash's financial problems "off the radar."

MORE: Responding to questions and comments from readers here and on the UTW story:

I was asked about my reference to "irregularities in [Miller's] personal life." In my column, I chose not to go into the specifics that the Tulsa World reported in a February 26, 2006, story headlined "Mayoral Mudfight," but you can read them at that link.

William Franklin posted a lengthy comment at UTW claiming that Bell's Amusement Park was in a state of terrible disrepair when it was evicted. His memory doesn't match with mine, and I think the Bell family did a fine job of keeping the park going when so many family-owned amusement parks in this region have closed, and despite the constraints of their location. They made do while continuing to be Expo Square's biggest rent-payer, and never asked for a taxpayer subsidy. (They were granted an extension in paying rent in the late '90s, but they made the payment with interest above prime rate.)

I took my kids to Bell's at least a couple of times each summer, and we steered them to spend their Tulsa State Fair ride tickets there, instead of on the midway. While the park was not up to Disney standards, it was at least as well-kept as Frontier City (which took my 10-year-old to in 2006), and I had no problem letting the kids on the rides or riding them myself.

Bell's had been making annual improvements to the property. The park introduced a new drop ride in (I think) 2005 and in 2006 had finally reached agreement with the neighborhood on adding a new roller coaster.

The possibility of a new coaster and a themed park first came up in 1998, not in the 1980s as Franklin asserts. Robby Bell and then Expo Square CEO Pat Lloyd made presentations to the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations that year about the future plans for the park and Expo Square as a whole.

The plan had Bell's expand all the way west to Louisville Ave., with parking for Bell's to the north, and a new main entrance on the north side of the park. The westernmost area was to be quieter uses (concession areas, souvenir stands, kiddie rides). We were shown sketches that had been done for Bell's by an amusement park consultant with a boomtown theme.

In December 2000, the Fair Board granted a lease for Bell's to expand to the west and add a roller coaster. The coaster's construction was held up by a lawsuit from the neighborhood challenging the County Board of Adjustment's decision to grant a special exception for the coaster.

It's true that the miniature golf course was no longer maintained. It was to be the site for the new coaster, once a compromise had been reached with the neighbors. There had been two courses when I was a kid. A single course was created out of the western part of both courses sometime in the late '80s or early '90s to make way for picnic pavilions for corporate events and group parties. I loved playing the course as a kid, but at some point, as mini-golf lost popularity in general (I can only think of one surviving course in Tulsa), I'm sure it became uneconomical to keep it open.

I suspect the reason Bell's didn't first think of building a coaster in that part of the property was because they intended to double the park's footprint and were granted a lease to build the coaster on land to the west, so there would have been no need to reuse existing park land.

The Fair Board could have solved the problem much sooner had it allowed Bell's to expand to the interior of Expo Square, rather than forcing any expansion to be toward the neighborhoods. Neighboring homeowner Scott Trizza proposed at the time that a new coaster could be placed north of the IPE Building, screened off by the building from the neighborhoods.

Attorney Frederic Dorwart sent an e-mail today to fellow downtown property owners defending the use of a downtown assessment district to fund a new downtown Driller stadium. (You may recognize Dorwart's name as he represented Tulsa Industrial Authority in its Great Plains Airlines-related lawsuit against the Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust. Dorwart is also the attorney for the Bank of Oklahoma.) I won't introduce him further because he does that himself in his opening paragraphs.

July 8, 2008
From: Fred Dorwart

As some of you know, I own Old City Hall located at 124 East Fourth Street. I have been providing legal services, without charge, to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor's Office to effect the exciting opportunity which the proposed Downtown Stadium and associated amenities in the Brady and Greenwood Districts presents.

Mr. Morlan's email contains five errors. I felt it important for you to know the facts when you decide whether the proposed Business Improvement District is in the best interests of all of us committed to a vibrant Downtown Tulsa. The five facts are as follows.

First, owners who have homestead exemptions will not be assessed. The Mayor and her advisors engaged in a careful weighing of the equities in establishing the manner in which the assessments would be levied. Many argued that to the contrary, but the Mayor determined it was important to all downtown property owners to encourage homestead ownership; consequently, the proposed Improvement District will not assess homestead owners. If you are a homestead owner and received a notice, the notice was in error. The adoption of the Improvement District includes a provision by which any erroneous notice may be corrected. Some confusion may exist because the existing Improvement District (which terminates June 30, 2009) does not exempt downtown residential property with a homestead exemption.

Second, property owners who are not homesteaders will pay only their proportionate share of the land square footage; the balance will be allocated to the homesteaders and exempt. For those property owners who are not homesteaders, the annual assessments Mr. Morlan states below would mean a studio unit has 1400+ square feet, a one bedroom unit 1,700+ square feet, a two bedroom 2,000+ square feet, and a townhouse 2,500+ square feet. I guess that's possible; you would know.

Third, only the downtown services assessment ($0.022 per square foot annually or only 34% of the total) will increase with inflation and that increase is capped at 4%. If services are to continue, the services should not be eroded by inflation. The assessments for the stadium and related facilities (66% of the assessment) will not increase with inflation. In fact, it is possible that the construction portion of the assessments may be paid off prior to the thirty year authorized period, depending upon how downtown Tulsa develops over the next several decades.

Fourth, the experience of many cities across the country demonstrates that an investment in downtown recreational facilities will dramatically increase your property values. The Downtown Stadium will be the third leg of Downtown success, leading the way with the BOK Center and the refurbished Convention Center.

Fifth, the construction of the Tulsa Downtown Stadium is authorized by Section 39-103 of Title 11 of the Oklahoma Statutes. The Business Improvement District has been carefully thought out. The Mayor has done a terrific job of balancing the equities to let Tulsa take this next big step forward. The Mayor and her advisors have spent substantial amount of time visiting with downtown property owners impacted with the new assessment and at this time the Mayor has support from over 50% of the downtown property owners on the proposed assessment.

Each of us must decide. Please decide based on the facts. Personally, I strongly support this initiative.

As I wrote in Urban Tulsa last week, I like the idea of the Drillers downtown, and the proposed location is an excellent choice. It helps connect activity centers downtown that are currently detached from one another. I like the idea of financing it using an assessment on direct beneficiaries rather than a tax on the general populace. I just wonder about the equity of the assessment on very distant property owners.

Just now getting around to linking this one: Last week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly was a summary of the first meeting of the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners, which featured presentations by lead planner John Fregonese and two members of his team, Robin Rather and Jon Roberts. (Here is a 4 MB PDF of the Fregonese and Roberts presentations.) PLANiTULSA is the City of Tulsa's first comprehensive planning effort in a generation.

In the column, I analyzed the composition of the 35-member Advisers group -- the inner circle of citizens who have been appointed by Mayor Kathy Taylor to oversee the work of the planners. Of that number, I identified 20 as registered Democrats, 10 as registered Republicans, and of the Republicans, they were all either connected with the development industry (6), leaders in TYPROS (2), or in academia (2). Of the 66 Partners (the "hoi polloi"), 22 are Republicans and 41 are Democrats. There are a few rabble-rousers amongst the Partners, but there is still a bias toward developers, the Mayor's political allies, and the non-profit sector.

Here is a map showing the residential locations of the Advisers (red "A") and Partners (blue dot) (click to enlarge):

PLANiTULSAPartners.gif

You'll notice that most of the red As (Advisers) and blue dots (Partners) fall along the Money Belt line. If you were to overlay the map on a map showing results from the 1997 Tulsa Project or 2000 "It's Tulsa's Time," you'd see that nearly all of the dots and As fall into the precincts that voted yes on both. This is the part of town that feels plugged in, that feels its voice is heard, that feels it runs city government. I'm concerned that the marginalized areas of our city aren't represented in any significant numbers on these oversight committees.

MORE: Here's the article by Brian Ervin which I mentioned in the story. And mark your calendars for July 15: TulsaNow is hosting a forum at which John Fregonese and members of his team will be explaining how the comprehensive plan process works and presenting the results of their research to date.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I wrote about a tour I was given a few weeks ago of Tulsa's BOk Center arena, scheduled to open this fall. Far from winning me over, the tour convinced me that by foregoing the "iconic" approach to architecture we could have had, for an amount closer to the original budget, an arena that would make a positive addition to downtown's urban fabric.

In the column, I mentioned another Cesar Pelli public facility with a curved, "iconic" glass wall. That's the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio. The Schuster Center opened in 2003; construction began in 2000. The Rike Building, a handsome seven-story Sullivanesque department store built in 1911, was demolished to make way for the Schuster Center. Before:

After, from about the same angle:

schusterpic.jpg

You can see the transformation from good urban form which works well at a distance and up-close at pedestrian scale to a building that is somewhat interesting at a distance but monotonous up close. You would have been able to peek in the display windows of Rike's; the reflective glass on the Schuster Center won't let you see inside.

If you want to take a virtual Google Street View stroll past the Schuster Center, as I suggest in my column, start here and head west on W 2nd St.

An edited version of this column appeared in the May 28, 2008, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is no longer available online. Posted online November 18, 2014.

Philip Larkin wrote, in a poem with an unforgettable and unprintable first line, that parents "fill you up with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you," and advised, "don't have any kids yourself."

As a father of three, the fear that Philip Larkin was right (Google his poem, "This Be the Verse," if you wonder what I'm on about) has me constantly second-guessing my parenting decisions.

Am I being too strict? Too lenient? Am I overprotective? Am I teaching them to choose what is good, beautiful, and just? Am I a good role model?

But halfway between Mother's Day and Father's Day, as I think about my parents, I see all the good they built into my life, not only by precept but by example.

My parents sacrificed financially so that I could attend a private school, back in the day when that was rare for a middle class family, sacrificed to help me through MIT.

They brought me up "in the fear and admonition of the Lord," instilling a genuine faith in Christ and modeling the importance of being part of a community of believers.

They continue to show their love to me and my sister by showering their love on our children - their grandchildren. The desire to have them a constant part of my children's lives is a big reason why I've never seriously considered moving away.

They also demonstrated by their example the importance of community involvement and activism.

If you like the fact that I'm not afraid to step on toes, not afraid to speak passionately in a public forum, willing to put my name on a ballot and my opinions and reputation on the line again and again, you have my dad and mom to thank. Or to blame, if you'd just as soon I sat down and shut up.

David and Sandy Bates grew up in small towns north of Tulsa - Dad in Nowata, Mom in Dewey.

For Dad, civic involvement was an extracurricular activity; his days were spent in accounting and, later, in data processing for Cities Service for 20 years, followed by another 15 in data processing with St. Francis. Mom's activism was part and parcel of, but not limited to, the hundreds of Catoosa kindergarten students she taught over the course of 28 years.

They were and are frequent voters, going to the polls every election day and taking us along with them.

Soon after Cities Service brought our family from Bartlesville to Tulsa, we joined the little Southern Baptist church down the street.

Within a few years, Dad was asked to serve as a deacon. Both Mom and Dad at various times taught Sunday School and sang in the choir. Mom worked in the nursery and later helped with the bus ministry.

Our Baptist church provided my earliest lessons in participatory democracy and parliamentary procedure. We had monthly business meetings, and everything had to be brought before the membership for a vote. We reviewed finances, voted on appointments to committees, hired pastors and staff members, and debated over whether to move the church to a more visible location. Every baptized member, even me at age 8, had the right to speak and vote.

As chairman of the deacons, Dad served as moderator for these meetings, and was often asked to fill that role even when he wasn't chairman. He chaired the meeting in accordance with Robert's Rules of Order, keeping the meetings moving while giving everyone a chance to be heard.

Leadership meant dealing with unpleasantness, too, like the time he had to tell the pastor, on behalf of the deacon board, that it was time to look for a new job.

Dad also served several years as director of Church Training. For the non-Baptists, that was the name of the classes that preceded the Sunday evening worship service.

When I was about 13, Dad insisted on naming me as his assistant director, which meant collecting and tabulating the attendance records for all the classes (Baptists love statistics) and then delivering the attendance report at the beginning of the evening service.

As a spotty and self-conscious teen, I hated speaking in front of the congregation, but in time, I got used to it, which was Dad's intention.

Dad was involved outside the church, too. I remember being with him in the Port of Catoosa Jaycees' concession stand when President Nixon came to dedicate the port in 1971. It was a small group, but it was about all Catoosa had in the way of civic organizations, and they sponsored basketball tournaments and other special events.

In 1976, I was with him at the Republican 1st District Convention, where he was the lone Wagoner County delegate and convention secretary, a Ford man in a Reagan year. He took me along to county and state party conventions that year and in 1980, and to forums held by Cities Service's employee PAC.

Nowadays, he volunteers in the video booth at First Baptist Church and in the St. Francis Hospital gift shop. He let his beard grow out when he retired, and he spends his Christmas seasons as a Real Bearded Santa. (See santatulsa.com for details.)

Dad exemplified servant leadership - long-term commitment to an organization, sometimes to a fault - doing jobs that no one else wanted to do, and staying with the job until it was done.

A year after we came to Tulsa, Mom went back into teaching, taking a job at Catoosa Elementary School.

The elementary school was housed in the district's oldest facilities, built by the WPA in the '30s. The high school had just moved into a new, air conditioned campus at the south end of town.

The school board was all about athletics; bond issues focused on building and improving the high school's sports facilities, while the elementary campus was left to rot. Young children sweltered through August school days - they didn't even have window units to cool off the rooms.

Teachers' pay was appalling, and there was no budget for anything more than basic materials. Mom spent her own funds to decorate the room and purchase educational toys and books.

Mom's fellow elementary teachers were not inclined to rock the boat. Their place, as they saw it, was to keep their noses to the grindstone and to submit unquestioningly to the leadership of the administration and school board.

Mom was willing to take a stand. She found some like-minded colleagues and organized a classroom teachers' association. She brought the administration to the negotiating table and won better conditions for students and teachers. When the board was uncooperative, she helped elect new board members who shared the goal of a better education for Catoosa's children.

For her efforts she was tagged as a troublemaker and a naysayer. One administrator referred to her as a battleaxe, a label she wore with pride.

Mom was willing to challenge those in power because of the powerless little ones she taught.

She retired about 10 years ago, but she hasn't slowed down. She teaches English as a second language, helps immigrants prepare for their citizenship tests, helps in First Baptist Church's clothing room, and has gone on church mission trips to Mexico and Peru. But she spends much of her time as a doting grandma to her five grandchildren.

My kids don't get their heritage of community initiative from just one side of the family. My mother-in-law, Marjorie Marugg-Wolfe, was honored in 2002 with a President's Community Volunteer Award for the single parent scholarship program she founded in Benton County, Ark.

To you Tulsa moms and dads reading this, you have a golden opportunity this year to model civic involvement and to lay the groundwork for a better Tulsa for your children's future.

Our city is updating its comprehensive plan for the first time in a generation, and we've hired a planning firm, Fregonese Associates, that will try to build a vision for Tulsa's future from our individual dreams and desires.

We'll have a chance to provide our input through citywide workshops this fall and community workshops after the first of the year, and the chance to monitor and comment upon the work in progress online through the planitulsa.com website. Plan now to be as involved as you can.

(To be notified of upcoming opportunities for public input, sign up at planitulsa.com.)

You can lecture all you like about good citizenship, but nothing substitutes for being a model. The way my parents used their time and passion demonstrated for me the importance of caring for the community.

From Dad and Mom, I learned to step forward and lead, when others would rather sit and watch from the sidelines. They never pushed themselves forward, but when duty called they answered. When no one else would take the lead, they stepped forward. When others got bored or discouraged or disgusted and quit, they remained faithful. They persisted.

Happy belated Mother's Day, Mom. Happy early Father's Day, Dad. I love you, I'm proud of you, and I can't thank you enough for all you've done for me, particularly for the wonderful example you set of persistent and passionate community involvement.

A rich legacy

| | TrackBacks (0)

Today is midway between Mother's Day and Father's Day, and my column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly is a salute to my mom and dad, David and Sandy Bates, for the example they set of community involvement:

If you like the fact that I'm not afraid to step on toes, not afraid to speak passionately in a public forum, willing to put my name on a ballot and my opinions and reputation on the line again and again, you have my dad and mom to thank. Or to blame, if you'd just as soon I sat down and shut up....

You can lecture all you like about good citizenship, but nothing substitutes for being a model. The way my parents used their time and passion demonstrated for me the importance of caring for the community.

From Dad and Mom, I learned to step forward and lead, when others would rather sit and watch from the sidelines. They never pushed themselves forward, but when duty called they answered. When no one else would take the lead, they stepped forward. When others got bored or discouraged or disgusted and quit, they remained faithful. They persisted.

Happy belated Mother's Day, Mom. Happy early Father's Day, Dad. I love you, I'm proud of you, and I can't thank you enough for all you've done for me, particularly for the wonderful example you set of persistent and passionate community involvement.

In the story, I mentioned my dad's retirement career as a Real Bearded Santa; you'll find him on the web at SantaTulsa.com.

I also mentioned my mother-in-law, Marjorie Marugg-Wolfe, who was honored at the White House in 2002 with a "Point of Light" award for her work with the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County (Ark.).

I also mentioned a poem by Philip Larkin that derides parenthood. Numerous poetic rebuttals have been written. This is my favorite, by John J. Swift:

They buck you up, your mum and dad,
They always meant to and they do.
They give you all the love they had,
And add some extra, just for you.

'Cos they were bucked up, in their turn,
By nans and grandads, all the way
From dawn to dusk, they had to learn
To love their neighbour every day.

Nan handed on her love to mam,
Who passed it on to me, her son.
Now every blessed thing I am
Will be in my kids, every one.

Lassiter & Shoemaker Photography, 3235 E 21 St., Tulsa

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I review the controversy over the digital billboard ordinance, approved last week by the Tulsa City Council and look ahead to next Wednesday's hearing before the TMAPC on plans for an expanded QuikTrip convenience store at 21st & Harvard.

Here is a link to the case report on the QuikTrip rezoning. Here is a description from the case report of the proposed screening along Gary Place:

An 8 foot high, brick screening wall will be constructed along the South Gary Place frontage, angled at the northwest corner of the property and extending east to the front set-back of the residence to the north. The screening wall will be constructed of brick to match the wall color of the brick on the west wall of the store. The wall will be set-back 13 feet from S. Gary Place right of way and approximately 25 feet from the east curb of the street. The height of the wall will drop from 8 feet to 3 feet, 41-feet north of the southwest corner of the property to permit acceptable visibility of traffic leaving the store on East 21 st Street and for traffic entering East 21 st Street from South Gary Place. The location of the screening wall is shown on Exhibit A, Site Plan and the design on Exhibit C, Landscape Details and is subject to detail site plan review.

The second element of the screening plan is a combination of 12 feet high at planting pyramidal Leland Cypress evergreen trees and 12 feet high semi-evergreen Wax Myrtle trees as shown on Exhibit C, Landscape Details.

Landscape features accent planting areas at the northwest angle of the 8-foot high wall and at the south end of the screening wall. Chinese Pistache trees 12 feet high and Crepe Myrtles will be planted on the interior of the wall to add to visual buffer as indicated on attached Exhibit C, Landscape Details. Additional shrubs will be installed as shown on Exhibit C, Landscape Details. The remainder of the landscaped area outside the tree and shrub areas will be Bermuda sod.

Beyond the screening wall would be a second parking lot for the new QuikTrip, so this would be a two-entrance store; it just wouldn't have the back entrance on Gary Pl., as I'd suggested in my column. The new QT would be larger than the existing building and just to its west, roughly where the Lassiter & Shoemaker Photography building and the backyards of the residences being removed.

Last month I took some photos of the 21st & Harvard intersection, since there are major changes proposed for the northwest and southwest corners.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I reflect upon last Thursday's "What about Rail?" public forum, which featured panelists involved with the Denver and Austin public transit systems and the National Transit Authority, the Federal agency that manages grants for things like light rail systems. Jack Crowley, the Mayor's special adviser on revitalizing downtown, presented some details of his concept to use existing track to connect the Evans Electric / Fintube site east of OSU-Tulsa to the soon-to-be-vacated Public Works facility southeast of 23rd and Jackson on the west bank of the river. Crowley believes that building a light-rail line will attract transit-oriented development (TOD), which will in turn generate the density required to make public transit practical. (Here's Brian Ervin's detailed UTW news coverage of the forum.)

In the column, I compare Tulsa's ridership with ridership in Austin and Denver, and I make the argument that frequency of service (short headways) and hours of service will do more to build confidence and ridership for a transit system, regardless of the type of vehicle being used, than the presence of tracks and overhead wires. The A streetcar branch of Boston's Green Line, the Sand Springs Railway, and the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway are all examples where the infrastructure remained in place long after the last passenger service was offered.

I was strongly denounced after my previous column about rail transit for Tulsa, with certain rail advocates all but calling me a rail-hating, car-hugging troglodyte. I expect this column will provoke the same sort of response.

When a regular contributor to TulsaNow's public forum, someone who uses the handle Chicken Little, pooh-poohed my post informing readers about the "What about Rail?" forum: "Oh, please. He's not encouraging anyone to go to the 'What about Rail?' event, he's simply using the notice as a springboard for yet another post that tells us we'd rather drive." This was my reply.

Chicken Little,

As I've said before, I like using rail. I didn't have a car in college, and I depended on the MBTA's network of streetcars, subways, and buses, our fraternity's informal jitney service between the house and campus two miles away, and my own two feet to get around.

I didn't have a car for the summer I spent in Manila, either. Although they had a single rail line connecting the airport to downtown, it didn't go near the house or the campus. Instead, I depended on a network of privately owned buses and jeepneys to get me around.

Back then, I was navigating the public transport network on my own. I could easily tolerate walking a mile in whatever kind of weather between the subway station or bus stop and where I needed to go. Walking the two or three miles between home and campus or work, at a 4 mph clip, was always an option if I had to wait too long for a streetcar or a bus.

Now, a quarter of a century later as a dad with three kids, I can't hit 4 mph walking speed very often, particularly if I have to lug a 30 lb. two-year-old whose legs are tired. If I were to try to manage getting a family around town without a car, it would be crucial that every place I needed to go were within at most a quarter-mile of public transport.

I don't see the advocates of rail in Tulsa, such as yourself, addressing the practical issues I encountered as a public transport user.

You and others seem to be saying that the presence of commuter rail will eventually result in nodes of high-density, pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented development that will make it possible for people to live most of their lives without a car. In the scenario you seem to propose, everything will be within easy walking distance of the stations, and you won't have to cross massive parking lots on foot to get between the street and the front door of a store.

What I don't hear from you is any attempt to explain how people, particularly families with small children, get from home to work to school to shopping to the doctor's office via public transport between now and when your glorious future is realized.

I want to know how you propose to make it convenient enough for people, particularly families with small children, to use public transport of any form to get where they need to go, convenient enough to forgo using their own cars.

I'd especially like to know, Chicken Little, whether you have any personal experience living without a car for more than a year.

I do not want to see Tulsa spend tens or hundreds of millions on a rail line with three trains a day before we explore more modest and practical ways of providing public transport to far more people.

Chicken Little has yet to answer my question.

I neglected to mention that as a 7th and 8th grader at Holland Hall's Birmingham campus, I rode the city bus every Wednesday afternoon from 26th St and Birmingham to downtown. I'd spend a couple of hours at Central Library then meet my dad at his office. When I lived in Brookside, I even tried using the bus system to get to Burtek on 15th St. east of Sheridan, but the transfer delays meant it wasn't worth the hassle.

Here are some supplemental links to information I used in writing the article:

Basketball boosters were quite happy to say that a relocated NBA franchise would belong to the whole state, when they were convincing credulous legislators to vote for $60 million in corporate welfare to the billionaire owners of the Seattle SuperSonics (the subject of last week's column in UTW).

Now that the deal is done, the City of Oklahoma City has announced that it will be a condition of the arena lease that the team will bear the name of the city, not the state. (Hat tip to Mad Okie.)

RELATED: Fellow "naysayer" Jim Hewgley sends along a link to a very detailed review of research on the economic impact (or lack thereof) of pro sports facilities and the history of public subsidy for them.

The article's author, Dennis Coates, is professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His own research studied yearly data for per capita personal income, employment, and wages in metro areas hosting a major league baseball, basketball, or football franchise, looking at the impact of new stadium construction or franchise relocation. He found a decrease in per capita personal income as a result of new sports facilities or teams in a metro area. Here are a couple of possible explanations for the observed decrease (emphasis added):

First, consumer spending on sports may simply substitute for spending on other types of entertainment--and on other goods and services generally--so there is very little new income or employment generated. Sports fans that attend a game may reduce their visits to the movies or to restaurants to free up finances for game tickets and concessions. Patrons of local restaurants and bars who come to watch the games on television also are likely to cut back on their other entertainment spending.

Second, compared to the alternative goods and services that sports fans may purchase, spending related to stadium attendance has a relatively small multiplier effect. This is because spending at the stadium translates into salaries for wealthy athletes, many of whom live outside the city where they play. High-income individuals generally spend a smaller fraction of their income than low- and middle-income people--and much of the spending professional athletes do occurs in a different community than where they earned it. So the money paid to players does not circulate as widely or abundantly as it would were it paid to people with less wealth and more attachment to the city.

Recall that the recently-passed expansion of the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program to sports teams includes salaries not taxable in Oklahoma in the calculation of the "rebate," thus ensuring that the team still gets a subsidy for non-resident players who are paid out of state and who therefore likely spend most of their money out of state.

Coates reviews research which uses other, more focused measures of economic activity related to projected impacts from the presence of major-league sports teams (e.g., hotel room nights and less sales tax data). He also considers when subsidizing a stadium might be justified, despite the lack of positive economic impact.

The beginning of the article looks back at the beginnings of public ownership of sports venues. The urge to build large memorials to fallen of the Great War and the need for make-work projects during the Great Depression were two contributing factors.

Coats also touches on the hidden costs of public stadium subsidy. Initial construction costs are just the tip of the iceberg.

It's worth reading the whole thing.

FOR MUCH, MUCH MORE: Here's the Heartland Institute PolicyBot's collection of links to studies on public subsidy of sports facilities and convention centers. (Thanks to Brandon Dutcher for calling it to my attention.)

My most recent Urban Tulsa Weekly column is about the correlation between urban vitality and the combination of good urban form and older buildings, factors that are actively protected in cities like Austin and San Antonio, cities that Tulsans frequently say they wish to emulate. Those factors seem to make the difference between a lively riverfront, like San Antonio's, and a commercially inactive riverfront like Austin's.

As I mentioned in the column, I visited Austin and San Antonio recently. You can find the photos I took in downtown San Antonio on Flickr. I've geocoded each picture and explained what I found interesting, particularly from an urban design perspective.

Here are some links where you can learn more about San Antonio and Austin's zoning and land use policies:

Twelve years ago, on a week-long business trip to Silicon Valley, I came up with the idea of doing a column for UTW that I would have called "Urban Elsewhere," describing the good and bad examples of urban design that I came across in my travels, describing vibrant districts and trying to explain why they work and how we might apply those examples to Tulsa. It took a few years, but through this blog and my column in UTW I've been able to do that from time to time, which gives me a lot of satisfaction. Perhaps some day our city leaders will draw lessons from other cities that don't involve massive tax increases for major public projects.

By the way, the Austin electronics store I mention at the beginning of the column is a branch of a store I first came across during that trip to Silicon Valley -- Fry's Electronics. It's Nerdvana -- like a Best Buy + CompUSA + Radio Shack on steroids. It's Bass Pro Shops for technogeeks. Every part or gadget you could imagine, you can find it at Fry's. Having a Fry's, or something like it, in Tulsa would do more than acorn lamps along the river to convince tech-heads that they want to live and work here.

The race for Tulsa City Council District 4 is one of the most hotly contested in this year's general election. First-term incumbent Maria Barnes, a Democrat, is being challenged by Eric Gomez, a Republican. My column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is an account of the District 4 candidate forum, held on March 11 and sponsored by the Pearl District Association. It was one of the most informative forums I've ever attended, focused on zoning, planning, and land use issues, particularly Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs).

Here's the audio for the event. (Flash plugin required):



(You do need to have the Shockwave Flash plugin installed in order for the player to work. If you'd prefer to download the 7 MB MP3 file, here's a direct link: Tulsa City Council District 4 candidate forum, Maria Barnes and Eric Gomez, sponsored by Pearl District Association.)

Here is the text of Maria Barnes's NCD "mythbusters" handout, which I mention in the story.

Also, in this issue of UTW: RELATED:

Charles G. Hill, who lives in an Urban Conservation District in Oklahoma City (very similar to Tulsa's proposed NCDs), explains the aims and impact of such a designation.

My column two weeks ago was about the specifics of the draft Neighborhood Conservation District ordinance for Tulsa.

The February column linked in this entry dealt with the theoretical rationale behind NCDs and the political aspects of the development industry's opposition.

Here is the draft Neighborhood Conservation District enabling ordinance (45 KB PDF) and here is the report on NCDs by Council policy administrator Jack Blair (1.5 MB PDF).

This entry links to my conversation about NCDs on Darryl Baskin's real estate radio show.

Here's an earlier blog entry that links to my November 2007 column on NCDs and has many links on the topics of teardowns, McMansions, and neighborhood conservation.

In case you haven't read the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly (for shame if you haven't), here's a link to my latest column about the recent electrical, political, and financial difficulties of our city's monopoly daily newspaper, the Tulsa World, affectionately known around here as the Whirled for the strange spin they put on local stories.

If I point out when the editor edits my story in a way not to my liking, I ought to point it out when he makes an especially constructive addition. That's how the connection between the termination of the Community World section and its employees and speculation that the Lortons might be readying the paper for sale came to be in my column. It's the first sensible explanation I've seen for the suddenness of the termination and the meanness of the severance package.

There's also Brian Ervin news story on the end of the Community World, with quotes from former CW editor Emily Priddy and World managing editor Susan Ellerbach.

This week is also UTW's green issue, with a focus on sustainable living.

Elsewhere in UTW, Brian Ervin has stories about the demise of a proposed five-story apartment complex project in Brookside (killed by Tulsa's fire codes), the anniversary of the death of Cintas laundry worker Eleazar Torres-Gomez and the results of OSHA's investigation, and the announcement that the Atlas Life building will be converted into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Past columns in Urban Tulsa Weekly have dealt with the concept of Neighborhood Conservation Districts -- a type of zoning to accommodate new building in established neighborhoods while protecting the character of the neighborhood that made new development attractive in the first place. While opponents of NCDs try to nip the idea in the bud by spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD, for short), there's now a concrete proposal that can be examined, critiqued, and compared to the alarums of the developers' lobby. In the current issue, I examine the draft Neighborhood Conservation District enabling ordinance and find it reasonable and modest in scope.

So you can read and decide for yourselves, here is the draft Neighborhood Conservation District enabling ordinance (45 KB PDF) and here is the report on NCDs by Council policy administrator Jack Blair (1.5 MB PDF).

Also in this issue, Brian Ervin has a fascinating and carefully written cover story profile of Steve Kitchell (who is associated in some vague way with but doesn't actually technically own nightclubs where bad things happen) which begins thus:

"If you libel or slander me, I'm warning you--there will be horrible consequences," said nightclub impresario Steve Kitchell during a recent telephone conversation.

His ominous warning came in response to an offer to interview him after 21-year-old Eric Bell was shot to death at Club UV late last year, once again bringing the name and notoriety of longtime nightclub impresario Steve Kitchell back into the forefront of the public's attention.

This week, Ervin also covers another midtown businessman with a mixed reputation, Dan Perry of Perry Properties, owner of apartments and rental houses:

When the Houston-based Bomasada Group announced its plans last week to build a high-end, 5-story apartment complex in Brookside, many residents celebrated the development as an eventual end to the "blight" currently resting on the site at 39th St. and Rockford Ave, otherwise known as the Brookside Annex and Brookside Courtyard apartments (for the latest on that, see accompanying sidebar).

A persistent attitude among many of the neighborhood residents is that the blight in question is the deliberate creation of the landlord, Dan Perry of Perry Properties.

And much, much more of interest in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, a preview of Tuesday's Tulsa City Council primary election and a look down the turnpike at Oklahoma City's vote on "MAPS for Millionaires" -- the 15-month, one-cent sales tax to upgrade the five-year-old Ford Center for an NBA team. There's also a brief tribute to the late, longtime District 2 City Councilor Darla Hall, and a plug for Saturday night's Bob Wills' Birthday celebration at Cain's Ballroom.

On the MAPSforMillionaires.org website, there's a scan of a "vote yes" mailer featuring a photo and a quote from former Mayor Kirk Humphreys. He's using religion to sell this NBA tax:

This vote on March 4th is about so much more than one building or one basketball team. It's about doing the right thing for our city -- creating the environment where we can grow together as families. But it's also about having a facility where we can come together as a community, for events like Women of Faith, Promise Keepers and others, and reach people in profound ways to promote our values as a city.

Of course, there's already a facility capable of hosting Women of Faith, Promise Keepers, and even Billy Graham -- the Ford Center. Those events have already been hosted there. It's hard to understand how new locker rooms, NBA team offices, and a separate NBA practice facility miles away will make the arena more conducive to mass Christian conferences and rallies. Shame on Kirk Humphreys.

While Oklahoma City prepares to dole out more corporate welfare, a Tulsa area legislator is trying to curb the practice. UTW's Brian Ervin reports that State Sen. Mike Mazzei, a Republican, wants to sunset the large number of special tax credits which are targeted to favored businesses. The bill, SB 2024, would ensure that the tax credits are scrutinized on a regular basis. Mazzei says combined they amount to $1 billion a year in lost revenue. The state's total budget is only $7 billion. Mazzei notes that all these tax incentives for economic development haven't amounted to much in the way of good jobs for Oklahomans.

The story also reports an example of unintended consequences in tax credits:

Investors managed to discover some loopholes in two tax credit programs, enabling them to fleece the state of Oklahoma for as much as $66 million in 2005, according to estimates by the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

State officials noticed a steep and sudden increase in requests for certain tax credits that year, prompting lawmakers to look into the matter to discover what Gov. Brad Henry later called "an accounting shell game."

The tax credits in question were designed to encourage investment in Oklahoma, but crafty investors discovered they could make instant profits of 100 to 500 percent by claiming the tax credits on borrowed money.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham outlined a scenario to illustrate the problem: investors could put up $10 million of their own money for a project, and then borrow another $115 million. They could then apply for a 30 percent tax credit (if the project is in a rural area, while urban projects' have a 20 percent tax credit) for the $125 million and get $37.5 million from the state: which is a 375 percent profit at taxpayers' expense.

It is and was illegal to use borrowed money to fund business ventures, but the investors were able to get around that law by creating layers of limited liability companies with the same board of directors, so no actual laws were broken, so no one was prosecuted.

Thank you, Sen. Mike Mazzei. Expect to see him take some arrows from those who have been on the corporate welfare dole from years.

My column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly is about two aspects of city planning: the planning failure that resulted in a jail and homeless services being located right between revitalizing older neighborhoods and an arts and entertainment district, and the need for a land-use planning tool like neighborhood conservation districts to permit infill while protecting the character of our older neighborhoods. You can read more about the idea on the Preserve Midtown website.

In my column, I mention the notion of using lawsuits instead of zoning to regulate land use. This idea was proposed in "Beyond Zoning: Land Use Controls in the Digital Economy," a 1998 paper by John A. Charles, Environmental Policy Director for Cascade Policy Institute. It sounds appealing in theory, but I think it would be a practical disaster, as I point out in the column.

Also in this week's UTW, Kent Morlan, who both resides and owns a business downtown, points out the waste in the way downtown streets have been rebuilt. I like the idea of reopening closed streets and turning one-way streets into two-way streets, but the massive use of concrete pavers and other streetscaping has overcomplicated what should have been a simple idea.

My column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is about the news that the Tulsa 66ers will be moving to Bixby and what that means for the prospects of luring the Tulsa Drillers to downtown Tulsa. The same factors that make Bixby, Regal Plaza, and the SpiritBank event center attractive to minor-league basketball will be present in Jenks's River District development. Global Development's East End project, with surrounding mixed-use development, would have come closer to the situation the 66ers will enjoy in Bixby (minus the demographic advantages). Can an isolated ballpark in downtown present as appealing a situation to Drillers owner Chuck Lamson as a Jenks stadium surrounded by restaurants and nightclubs? Can Tulsa offer a better downtown location? Is a Tulsa Landing, with a ballpark on the river, still an option? And how do we keep family entertainment in central Tulsa if we can't keep families here? Reader Joe Gaudet posted this comment on the article:

You hit the nail on the head. When me and my wife moved here in 2000 with our two (then) small children we were intent on living in town. We interviewed school principals and studied real estate for six months plus. Our desire was to enroll the kids in Monte Cassino and try to live close by because we wanted our kids to be able to walk or bike to school in safety. The beginning of the school year forced us to make a decision and we selected a home in South Tulsa because there was much more house to be had for the money plus the Jenks school district had a great reputation. Our kids are teens now. One is in college and the other graduates High School in two years. My wife and I are planning to move in town then, that is providing we can find affordable housing to downsize to and public safety still remains an issue for us, especially as we get older. We do not carry concealed weapons and do not choose to. We do enjoy walking to entertainment and right now Brookside or Cherry St. looks to be the best option, except as Bixby and Jenks evolve the idea of a condo nearby starts to become an alternative. I am only citing my personal example but I am sure there are others like myself that would live in town if the key items were not repetitive issues: A) Public Safety B) Affordable Housing and C) Quality K-12 ed. Swanky loft living is attractive for young singles but if the goal is to get residential to support downtown retail and entertainment one must consider the needs of young families.

Also in this week's issue, a column by Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller about what might be done with Drillers Stadium when the Drillers move away. After speculating on the use of the ballpark as an outdoor music venue and a soccer stadium, she concludes with this surprising idea:

If there are no feasible ideas for retaining the stadium as a sports/music venue and the stadium has to come down, we could look to the private sector to develop a state-of-the-art family entertainment facility. Along those lines, perhaps there will come a time when the Fair Meadows Race Track is not the best usage of all the real estate currently used for the track, given that there are less than 30 live racing days a year and the rest of the time the property sits largely unused. If a good portion of the Expo Square real estate from 15th Street to 21st Street along Yale was cleared and opened for private development, it could create the perfect economic development climate to compliment the already great improvements happening at Expo Square.

Sounds like she thinks Fair Meadows is already a waste of space. Beyond that, anyone struck by the irony that the commissioner who led the charge to demolish Bell's Amusement Park thinks an amusement park at the fairgrounds would be a good idea? And who do you suppose would build a such a facility between 15th & 21st on Yale? Could it be the people who already lease the southern end of that strip for Big Splash?

Pave review

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I review Councilor Bill Martinson's proposal for funding $1.6 billion in street repair, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, and show how it dovetails with former Streets Commissioner Jim Hewgley's proposal for funding an aggressive street repaving program.

Also, UTW has several new, young columnists: Arts writer Nathaniel McKnight made his debut last week. Josh Kline joins G. K. Hizer on the music beat. And Isaac Farley, from Chattanooga by way of Belize, is new to Tulsa and is out to help us see our own city through a newcomer's eyes. Welcome aboard to all three.

In last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column, I wrote about how school choice could be used, as it has been in Milwaukee, to attract and retain families with children in the older parts of Tulsa, specifically the area served by Tulsa Public Schools. (I also posted a blog entry earlier in the week about charter schools having the same impact in Cleveland.) I didn't specifically address the Tulsa school board election, except to say this:

The candidate who can credibly promise to support new and expanded charter schools, to oppose the district's suit against the charter school law, and to work against nonsense like the Tulsa Model for School Improvement will have my vote.

In this week's issue of UTW, I go into specifics about the two candidates for TPS Board District 5, the race between Radious Guess and Brian Hunt:

From their websites and their responses to various questionnaires, neither one appears to be driven to fix what's broken with TPS. Do they see the shortcomings of the system's curriculum and teaching methods? If they do, they aren't saying.

Do Guess and Hunt disagree with the school board's misguided effort to get the charter school law declared unconstitutional? They aren't saying anything about that either.

Since I wrote that, Hunt has made some public statements, at a forum and on his website, regarding charter schools and the TPS lawsuit to kill the law. Here is a statement from Hunt's Q&A page:

What is your position on Charter Schools?

From across the country charter schools have had mixed results but have provided some innovative ideas. TPS already sponsors three charter schools and I believe there is a valid place within the public school system for them, recognizing their role as a laboratory for new ideas that can be shared with all schools regarding what works and what does not. I have toured 2 charter schools because I wanted to see them first hand and the people I met with indicated that in the 2 years they had been at each of their schools no one from the board or service center had ever visited or inquired about lessons learned and or best practices in their deregulated environment.

I do not know all the specifics or motivations of why TPS decided to pursue a lawsuit, but as a business person I believe it is not the most productive use of resources to challenge a law that is being implemented by other Oklahoma school districts, like Oklahoma City.

If Ms. Guess has something further to say on the topic of charter schools and wishes to e-mail or phone me, I'll add that information to this entry.

James Lileks asks a reasonable question:

But what if we could move the same number of people for 25% of the cost? Would it be acceptable if the ride took 25% longer? I'm talking about buses. (Again.) Light rail is much nicer than buses, of course, and that's why people want the state to spend huge sums of money on the project. It's simply cool to see a light rail train sliding up to the new high-tech station; it's not cool to see a bus lumber up to the curb chuffing and sighing, disgorging passengers by a busted bench and a bent sign. Light rail makes people feel modern and urban and part of a smart, well-managed community, and that's why we're willing to spend billions on these lines, even at the expense of other transit options. It's all emotional.

Via Dustbury. You can read my recent UTW column about rail transit here.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I tackle the teardown trend, infill development, and the concept of Neighborhood Conservation Districts as a means of ensuring that new infill construction is compatible with existing development.

I have two photo credits in this issue: A photo from the statehood procession reenactment from the big statehood centennial celebration in Guthrie, which graces the table of contents, and a photo of the prime example of out-of-scale and out-of-character infill development which accompanies the column. A hat tip to tulsanow.net forum member "yayaya" for tipping everyone off to this monstrosity. You can see more pictures on my Flickr set page, Tulsa Midtown McMansions.

Here are some supplemental links on the topic of teardowns and neighborhood conservation districts (NCDs):

For any OKC readers who were offended by a recent entry about the Oklahoma River, let me say that neighborhood conservation is an area where Oklahoma City is decades ahead of Tulsa.

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.

Voyage to plutocracy

| | TrackBacks (0)

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.

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
TOTAL IN PLAN
$64.85 million
TOTAL NOT IN PLAN
$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?

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.

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: jsmaligo@tulsacounty.org, 596-5020

District 2, Randi Miller: rmiller@tulsacounty.org, 596-5015

District 3, Fred Perry: fperry@tulsacounty.org, 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 http://www.vision2025.info/newsletters.php) 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.

Still catching up from various travels and other family events, I noticed I hadn't gotten around to linking my current Urban Tulsa Weekly column or the one from last week.

Last week's column dealt with specifics of the proposed $277 million county sales tax increase to fund low-water dams and other enhancements along the Arkansas River, in particular, how the proposed plan deviates from the official Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.

But I had a couple of other matters to deal with before I jumped into the river. Faithful readers will recall that I was quick to distance myself from the text that was placed over my July 4 column. As soon as I could, I posted a comment on the article itself and here on this blog:

I want to remind readers that I do not write the headlines or [subheadlines] for my columns, and I do not agree with the harsh, sarcastic tone of the [subheadline] 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 may be the best way to make the river the kind of place Tulsans want to enjoy is a suggestion made in earnest.

That wasn't the only problem I had with how my writing in that issue was edited: The beginning of my response to a letter to the editor about an earlier column was changed, setting a more pompous and pugnacious tone than I had intended. Again, I noted the differences between what I wrote and what was published in a comment on the paper's website and here at BatesLine.

To make sure that those who only see the column in print were aware of all this, I addressed both concerns in the July 11 column. When the paper came out, I had to laugh when I saw the headline:

Headlines Are Attention-Getting Devices
Otherwise, scholarly, well-researched opinion pieces might go unnoticed

Touché. The anonymous copy editor who wrote that headline is absolutely right.

A reader here asked, "Is there some journalistic justification for having an editor put words in the mouth of the columnist? I'd think that columnists, over the years (decades) would have protested loudly enough to end such a practice."

I've known of writers flying off the handle, even quitting, over headlines or edits to their pieces. I can't say I was happy when I saw how my work was edited that week, but having had a friend who was a copy editor gave me some perspective.

I met blogger Dawn Eden during my trip to the 2004 Republican National Convention, when she was a copy editor for the New York Post. In fact, that was the week she learned of winning a state Associated Press award for the headline "HURT IN LINE OF DOODY," which graced a story about a city employee injured by an exploding toilet.

Meeting Dawn put a face and a personality behind the clever, punny headlines for which New York City tabloids are renowned. I learned that copy editing is more than fixing typos; it also involves framing a story so that the newspaper reader will notice it and read it. The ability to concoct an eye-catching headline on deadline is a gift that not many writers have.

I remember, too, the saga of the following January, just before her visit to Oklahoma, when an edit Dawn made to a story about in-vitro fertilization enraged the reporter, who, despite Dawn's apologies, set out to get Dawn fired, not so much for the edit as for the staunchly pro-life content of her personal blog.

While I think the writer's reaction and the Post publisher's handling of Dawn's situation exceeded reasonable disciplinary action and entered the realm of religious persecution, I can now better empathize with the writer. When words appear under my byline, they are identified with me, and they speak for me, whether I wrote them or not. I don't appreciate having my name associated with opinions or attitudes I don't share. An attention-getting headline or a punched-up lede may draw a reader in to see what I have to say, but if it goes too far, a reader may conclude immediately that I'm an arrogant jerk with nothing to say worth reading and turn the page.

(I am an arrogant jerk, but I'd prefer to let my own words convict me on that charge.)

One of the lovely things about a blog is that everything here (except for the comments) is mine -- my words, my opinions. Also, my factual errors (like calling a subheadline a "tagline"), my misspellings, my inconsistent application of style rules, my homely layout, and my boring headlines. For better or worse, there's no editor to get in the way.

But when you're assembling the work of multiple contributors into a single publication, someone has to layout the pages, put the ads in place, write headlines, subheadlines, pullquotes, and captions, and turn those diverse contributions into an attractive and cohesive package.

I appreciate what copy editors do. I'm grateful when they fix my typos, add transitional sentences when I lurch too quickly from one idea to another, and make me look smarter, Charlotte's Web style, by putting brilliant headlines over my words. And when they get carried away, I'll handle it as I did this time -- let the readers know of the discrepancy and mend fences with the individuals who might have been offended by what someone else wrote under my name.

Alas, I didn't have a sitter, so I had to miss out on Tuesday night's Absolute Best of Tulsa (ABoT) party at the Petroleum Club. I didn't find out until tonight, when I finally had a chance to pick up a copy of the latest issue, but I won an Urby this year. Urban Tulsa Weekly readers have named me Best Blogger in the 2007 Absolute Best of Tulsa awards. Thanks to everyone who voted for me.

For the record, I didn't vote for myself. I voted for Mee.

MORE: Here's a link to a PDF of the 2007 Absolute Best of Tulsa special section.

My UTW column this week was also about the proposal to move City Hall to One Technology Center at 100 S. Cincinnati. Most of the questions I posed were raised in one form or another, and most were answered, although I won't say that my fears were allayed. (Don Himelfarb couldn't answer my question about the true operating costs of the first year, operating in both old and new facilities.)

I had two related feature stories in the issue, a report on the unearthing and unveiling of the buried car, and a look back at the Tulsarama! celebration in 1957 -- it was a huge city-wide celebration, plagued by at least as much rain as we've seen so far this year. It was much more than burying a time capsule and a car.

I'm pleased with the way the Tulsarama! story came out, but it isn't the comprehensive Tulsa 1957 story I wanted to do. I just ran out of time and couldn't get my arms around it. I have gathered a ton of material, looking through old city directories and planning documents, and receiving the reminiscences of Tulsans who were around in 1957. The article I wrote just scratches the surface, and I intend to provide more here and hopefully in future feature stories. The story of the major comprehensive planning effort that began in 1957 is a story that we need to know as we begin assembling yet another comprehensive plan.

Also in the current issue, Brian Ervin has a story on the difference of opinion about how many police officers Tulsa needs, with the Mayor and her interim police chief on one side and the Fraternal Order of Police on the other side.

UPDATE: Regarding the Belvedere, reader Richard Randall offered this interesting (and frightening) perspective:

We wonder why all of the bridges in Tulsa (and Oklahoma) are falling apart. Most of them were designed and built around the same time as the vault (give or take some years) by some of the same engineers. It seems to show just how well they designed and built some things back then and today, when it is built by the cheapest bidder. Growing up my dad had always talked about how bad the car would look when it came out (He worked at his dads construction company at the time the vault was built). He knew that the vault would fill up with water, by the design they used. Had they looked to the oil industry, they would have learned that water will find a way into anything. The best thing to use would have been a 1 to 2-inch steel box welded shut and encased in concrete. This would have withstood the fifty years. They did seem to grasp that idea a little bit. The time capsule was steel, (not sure if it was welded shut). Everything in it was in great condition.

Not only that, but the same engineers were probably responsible for designing the Civic Center's leaky and crumbling subterranean garage. (Maybe not crumbling any more. I haven't heard a report of falling concrete in some time.) One of the interesting facts that emerged in today's Council meeting about the proposed City Hall move -- about $16 million of that $24 million in deferred maintenance is related to the underground parking garage.

Congratulations to the paper for which I write, Urban Tulsa Weekly, for winning membership in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. It was one of five papers admitted out of 19 applicants for membership. UTW is only the second paper in the state to be admitted to membership. (The Oklahoma Gazette is the other.)

On its third try (the first was in 1999, the second was last year), UTW had the support of a majority of the membership committee, but not two-thirds, so it came to the full membership with no recommendation. This will give you some insight into the association's mindset. First, here are the comments from the committee:

Urban Tulsa Weekly 6 yes; 4 no

This newspaper is obviously making great strides forward, and has come a long way since first applying for membership. "Smart commentary, good news section, good, engaging writing overall," one member said. However, there were elements of the paper that made some committee members uncomfortable. "Little or no reporting -- just rehashing other people's points of view." There was concern that one story in the news section was little more than a military recruitment ad disguised as news.

And here is the account of the voting before the membership at large:

Holly Wall, editorial manager of Urban Tulsa Weekly, took up the case for her paper, noting they had taken to heart the recommendations about improving the paper offered by the Membership Committee on the paper's two previous applications. The Santa Barbara Independent's Robby Robbins defended Urban Tulsa Weekly against the committee's less flattering comments, arguing that judgments about its editorial content should take into consideration the conservative nature of the Tulsa market. After Wall and Robbins spoke, the paper was admitted on the second ballot.

Last year UTW didn't get the support of a majority of committee members, but there were signs of hope. The committee report began with a comment about music editor G. K. Hizer's sartorial choices: "A music editor in a tie? Now that's a conservative market. We're rooting for Urban Tulsa Weekly -- and winning columnists Michael Bates and Barry Friedman -- but have concerns about the stories in the rest of the paper."

Barry has, of course, moved on, but the AAN's approval is a recognition of the improvements that UTW continues to make. I'm pleased to have played some small role in UTW reaching this milestone, and I'm pleased to be part of a paper that is both conservative and alternative, even if that combination flummoxes our alt-weekly colleagues.

I've been so busy creating content for this coming week's Urban Tulsa Weekly that I haven't had time to link the current issue's column. It's about what I call the Greenwood Gap Theory, the widely-held notion that nothing happened in Tulsa's one-time African-American commercial district between the 1921 Race Riot and the late '80s construction of the OSU-Tulsa campus.


greenwoodpolksample.JPGTo fill the gap, I look at the historical record provided by aerial photos, street directories, and oral histories, all of which reveal that Greenwood was rebuilt after the riot, better than before in the view of many, but it was government action -- in the form of urban renewal and freeway construction -- that produced the empty lots in the '70s which OSU-Tulsa replaced.

An annotated aerial view of Deep Greenwood (the part of the district extending a few blocks north of Greenwood and Archer) from 1951 accompanies the story. Here's a larger version of the graphic for your perusal (1 MB PDF). (The scan of the aerial photo was done by INCOG at a cost of $35. INCOG has aerial photos of the entire county taken at roughly 10 year intervals.) And this photoset contains the pages from the 1957 Polk City Directory for N. Greenwood Avenue, showing the businesses, churches, and residences in house number order. Specifically they are pages 357 through 360.

Zingo's dismantling is almost complete, and Bell's Amusement Park is about to vanish from their long-time location on the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Bell's paid the most rent of any Fairgrounds tenant, but despite that, the park's lease was not renewed and county officials claimed to have no plans for redeveloping the land.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I ask whether the U. S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show is the real reason that Bell's was given the boot and whether trading a 50 year Tulsa tradition for a lucrative but temporary event was a smart move for taxpayers.

By the way, I used a number in the story of $20 million, which I recalled hearing cited by Expo Square officials as the cost of improvements made to attract and accommodate the Arabian Horse Show. I called Expo Square to confirm that number, and the comptroller went down the list and came up with a number of $15 million. Unfortunately, his response came too late for UTW's deadline.

And here's a link to last week's column on the City Council's vote to authorize Tulsa police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone who is taken into custody on felony or misdemeanor charges.

The intervention by Congressman John Sullivan and Senators Coburn and Inhofe seems to have given the Council the backing they needed to take up this issue. Here you can read a letter from Sullivan to Mayor Kathy Taylor prior to the Council vote, and here is one from after the vote, urging her to implement the resolution.

Some further notes on local law enforcement and illegal immigration

In a letter to the head of ICE, Sullivan repeats his call for expediting the Sheriff's Office application for 287(g) status:

I believe that a 287(g) designation, which would allow for the cross deputization of Tulsa County Sherriff’s deputies and jail personnel, would help to mitigate these problems by ensuring that Oklahoma law enforcement personnel have the authority, training, and tools they need to report and detain criminal aliens in the course of their regular duty. If implemented in Tulsa, the 287(g) program would act as a force multiplier for ICE and help protect our communities from terrible incident like the one mentioned above.

Nashville police recently obtained 287(g) status. This case is one of the reasons they pursued it vigorously:

Garcia was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide while intoxicated and evading arrest. Court officials said he has reached a deal with prosecutors and will plead guilty today, the same day the trial was scheduled to begin. His lawyer, Assistant Metro Public Defender Glenn Dukes, did not return a call seeking comment.

Garcia is being held at the Metro Jail under an immigration hold, which means he'll be turned over to federal authorities after any criminal sentence he might serve.

But Garcia was well known to law enforcement before the fatal accident.

County records show that he had been booked into the Metro Jail on at least 14 different occasions since 1997.

Besides the DUI cases, he had been charged with domestic assault, leaving the scenes of accidents, driving on a revoked or suspended license, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, theft, failing to have insurance and driving with an open container.

On at least one occasion, local authorities said, Garcia was flagged by federal authorities and deported, only to return and resume his streak of arrests.

The other times, Garcia went to court, was jailed for some period and released. Sheriff's officials said they routinely sent notification to federal immigration authorities that they had booked a foreign-born inmate.

Nashville hopes to replicate the success of 287(g) in Charlotte, N.C.:

In the seven-month period following the implementation of its 287(g) immigration enforcement program, Charlotte, N.C. saw significant decreases in the number of Hispanics arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI), the total number of DUI-related arrests among Hispanic persons and the amount of Hispanic gang-related crime, law enforcement personnel there said.

In the program’s first nine months, Charlotte’s specially trained sheriffs identified 1,520 arrestees as having entered the country illegally.

All were marked for deportation back to one of the 31 different countries — mostly Central and South American — from which those 1,520 individuals came, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph told WFAE (Charlotte) talk radio last month.

And a full 20 percent of the foreign-born persons who were brought into the jail and subsequently identified though 287(g) had been arrested for drunken driving, Pendergraph said.

At the same time, a statistical analysis by the Sheriff’s Office shows that the number of Hispanic-related DUI incidents and arrests fell sharply in the months following the beginning of 287(g).

From 2005 – when sheriff’s deputies had to request an arrestee’s immigration information from a federal database in Vermont, as they still have to do in Nashville – to 2006, the number of Hispanic persons arrested for DUI decreased by 26 percent.

Additionally, the number of overall DUI-related arrests of Hispanic persons decreased by 63 percent – from 1,379 to 508 – during the same period.

This week in UTW, I'm writing about Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor's vanished campaign promises and her failure to deliver on one of them in particular: a more collaborative relationship with the City Council. Her refusal to keep them in the loop about the hiring of an interim and a permanent police chief, her use of private dollars for public actions (like the recruitment of a new chief) to try to circumvent the Open Records act, and her unilateral decisions to commit Tulsa to radical positions on gun control and anthropogenic global warming with which most Tulsans disagree.

Two weeks ago, Kathy Taylor became the 500th mayor to sign the U. S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, which you can read in PDF form here, and you can read more about the agreement's development on the website of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. And here is the Climate Protection page on the U. S. Conference of Mayors website. Taylor's action came without any consultation with the City Council.

And here's a belated link to the previous week's column about the last-minute agreement reached on Fairgrounds annexation, negotiated by Taylor behind the Council's back, and the need for the Council to defend its institutional prerogatives for the sake of checks and balances in local government. In the same column, I also covered an apology by a Tulsa Whirled reporter to the Tulsa Minuteman Project for underestimated their numbers at a Cinco de Mayo counter-rally, and I make my recommendations for Absolute Best of Tulsa Spiritual Leader and Best Family Fun Spot.

MORE: Here's an interesting thread on a national police and law enforcement forum about the Tulsa Police Department and Taylor's criteria for a new chief. The pseudonymous officer posting there claims Taylor is only looking at female candidates. If true, it would be another example of Taylor putting left-wing politics ahead of the public interest.

This week's UTW column topic: The Mayor's proposed FY 2008 budget has been released, and it includes some unpleasant surprises. As the old arena is converted to ballroom space and the new arena isn't open yet, convention and arena revenues will vanish for the year, while start-up administrative costs appear with a vengeance. The net result: A $1.7 million hole in the General Fund, which the Mayor proposes to plug by shutting down 27 holes of golf and cutting a police academy, resulting in a net loss of officers. (The suggestion that golf savings will be funding northside pools is a smokescreen. The Mayor didn't actually say that that would happen, and in fact one fewer pool will be open this year than last.)

There was a typo -- my fault -- in the section of the column about the pools. Last year nine pools were open -- four funded by the city and five by private sponsorships, not four.

Also this week, a few thoughts on the result of Oklahoma's vote for a state quarter design. How did we miss out on an American Indian theme?

One of the images I suggest might have been a better choice is Willard Stone's sculpture "Exodus". Follow that link to see a picture of it.

Elsewhere in the current issue, Brian Ervin has a story on the problem of sinkholes caused not by geology but by aging underground sewer and stormwater pipes. (Take a look at the downtown stormwater management master plan -- it's in the government documents section at Central Library -- and note the section on "subsurface voids." That's where there's a gap between the relatively thin layer of concrete and asphalt and the solid ground beneath.)

The second installment to UTW's guide to summer events and activities is in this week's issue. Here's a link to the first installment.

Also, nominations are in order for Urban Tulsa Weekly's Absolute Best of Tulsa awards. Click the link to enter your choices online, or pull a ballot out of a paper copy and mail it in.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly was a follow-on to Brian Ervin and Shannon O'Connell's story on the death of Eleazar Torres-Gomez in a dryer at Cintas's Tulsa laundry. My column explored the reasons why local media had downplayed this story and other local stories that received nationwide attention -- Jamal Miftah's expulsion from Tulsa's mosque, the OU suicide bomber, and the Tulsa Whirled's legal threats against this blog. Read the story, but here's a hint as to the answer: It's not a conspiracy, more a failure to see the forest for the trees.

Posted retrospectively on May 10, 2007, to complete the UTW archive category.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is a farewell salute to KFAQ's Michael DelGiorno, who wrapped up his 17 years in Tulsa media last Friday and is now holding court on Nashville's WWTN:

Many readers' brains may explode as they read the following sentence, but it's true nevertheless: Politics and public dialogue in Tulsa are better off for Michael DelGiorno's tenure here.

Here's a bit of newspaper trivia you may find interesting. Writers don't write the headlines or cutlines for their stories. Those tasks are performed by a copy editor. At times the copy editor also adds text to provide a smoother transition between paragraphs or to provide some explanation that he feels the reader may need. Deadlines being what they are, I don't get a chance to see those changes before I see them in the paper. Those kind of edits don't happen often, but there was one this week. Here's what I submitted:

There was a niche to be filled, and DelGiorno, a conservative Republican and Southern Baptist, persuaded Journal Broadcast Group to let him step in and fill it.

Here's what's in the paper:

Until DelGiorno began to exploit the obvious. Just like some transplanted Tulsans discover fertile, virgin soil in untapped treasures (much as coffee table book author Michael Wallis discovered as he began cultivating interest in Route 66 with his "Mother Road,") there was a niche to be filled, and DelGiorno, a conservative Republican and Southern Baptist, persuaded Journal Broadcast Group to let him step in and fill it.

The phrase "began to exploit the obvious" reminds me of Roger Clemens's record-breaking 20 strikeouts in a game against the Seattle Mariners. Some baseball fans dismissed the accomplishment because Clemens did it against the worst team in the American League. But every other pitcher on every other team had faced Seattle. If it was so easy, why hadn't anyone done it yet?

As for Michael Wallis, I'm a fan, and as someone who loves Route 66, I'm glad he traveled the road and gathered stories and photos when he did -- so many of the people and places are gone now.

MORE: Here are my earlier thoughts, and the comments of other bloggers, about the changes at KFAQ. And Tennessee political blogger Bill Hobbs has taken note of DelGiorno's arrival in Nashville. (Also, Hobbs is looking for center-right political bloggers in Oklahoma. Drop your recommendations in his comment box. I've already sent along my list.)

(Also, fixed the number of Clemens's strikeouts. 19 in a nine-inning game was the record he beat, held by Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan.)

FOR NOW at least, you can still download the podcasts of Michael's farewell show, which included replays of many of the best radio cartoons from the show:

Preshow, Hour 1, Hour 2, and Hour 3

The song with which he ended the final broadcast, "Build It Anyway," by Martina McBride, was an appropriate and touching ending.

One of my favorite state senators, Randy Brogdon of Owasso, is profiled in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. One of the many things I appreciate about him is that, unlike some Republicans, he believes that being pro-business means reducing government's burdens on all business, not providing special subsidies to politically favored businesses. When asked for examples of government waste, here's what he told UTW reporter Brian Ervin:

So, where is the government spending irresponsibly?

"Corporate welfare," answered Brogdon as an immediate example.

The governor's Opportunity Fund and EDGE Fund were specific examples he cited.

"It's not right for the state government to spend money to handpick which companies are going to prosper," he said. "If was governor and I was going to make that decision, I would set a level playing field and set up a free market."

Senator, are you announcing your candidacy for governor in 2010?

"Not today," answered Brogdon in mid-laugh.

I hope he will.

Elsewhere in the issue, sports columnist Dwayne Davis reviews a Tulsa and Muskogee-based sports talk station called the Sports Animal. This paragraph caught my eye:

[Host Geoff Haxton] is joined by local sports broadcasting legend Bob Carpenter and/or Channel 6's John Holcomb depending on the day of the week. It is refreshing to hear Tulsa talk from guys who understand the town.

Interesting note about Carpenter. For years he could be found on sports talk rival AM 1430 The Buzz. The 'Carpenter Call' was a staple of the afternoon show with Pop and Plank.

Dwayne is probably too young to remember this, but Bob Carpenter was a pioneer of local sports talk back in the late '70s, with his nightly hour of Sportsline on KRMG. (Sportsline was 6-7, Nightline with David Stanford was 7-8, then Johnny Martin came on with big band music until one o'clock in the morning.)

I missed this when it first ran two weeks ago, but Katharine Kelly gave a very good review to a Filipino restaurant called Phil-Asia, near 36th & Sheridan. We'll have to give it a try.

My Urban Tulsa Weekly column this week is on two very different events: last Saturday's Oklahoma Republican State Convention and last Friday's inaugural gala for the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. The convention story covers the race for state party chairman and a brief description of what delegates were saying about next year's presidential race. (More about the NFHOF gala in a separate entry.)

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I take a look back at the decision of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority last fall to evict Bell's Amusement Park from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Although it's not a new story, the way the eviction was handled sheds some light on the question of the City of Tulsa's annexation of the Fairgrounds (to be decided this Thursday night by the City Council), currently an unincorporated enclave surrounded by the City of Tulsa. Expo Square management and TCPFA members have made a number of claims about the effects of annexation, and those claims need to be weighed in light of the board's credibility and transparency -- particularly the credibility of the three TCPFA members who were on the board prior to 2007.

Here's another doubtful decision: Last year the Tulsa State Fair reached the one million attendance mark for the first time in four years. In December, the 2006 Fair won six awards for Marketing and Competitive Exhibits at the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) in Las Vegas. Amber Phillips, who was manager of the Tulsa State Fair in 2004, 2005, and 2006, overseeing increased attendance each year, didn't get to enjoy the fruits of her hard work and creativity, because Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund had fired Phillips a week earlier. (Officially, her position was eliminated in a "reorganization," but it's not as though they're going to stop having a Tulsa State Fair, and someone has to manage it.)

You can read more commentary and background about the Bell's eviction here (including an interesting look at Bjorklund's career trajectory). And this website has a number of articles on Bell's and other amusement parks in this region, including Frontier City and Joyland in Wichita. Here's his evaluation of what was done to Bell's.

Move City Hall?

| | TrackBacks (0)

I've gotten really sloppy about posting blog links to my Urban Tulsa Weekly column. In case I forget, you can always go directly to the urbantulsa.com home page and find a link under Columns. Articles from the new edition are posted on the website Wednesday morning. I will be adding retroactive links to previous articles so that you'll be able to find a complete archive listing here.

In any case, this week I consider the idea of moving City Hall to the Williams Communications Group building, aka the Borg Cube, aka One Technology Center. Our existing City Hall is inadequate and, to say the least, homely:

A couple of years ago, I was giving a tour of the city to a friend from New York. Despite her love of '60s pop music and fashion, the poorly-executed '60s architecture of City Hall left her cold. When I pointed out the place that occupies so much of my attention, she declared, "That is the ugliest city hall I have ever seen."

As you'll read, even Weird Al dissed our City Hall when he filmed a movie here. (In the service of researching this article, I had to watch UHF again. In the commentary track, Weird Al misidentifies the ersatz City Hall as the Christian Science church at 10th and Boulder -- it's the First Christian Church across the street at 9th and Boulder.)

The real City Hall entrance is gloomy and subterranean, beneath the Civic Center Plaza. In place of grand steps, there is a curb cut leading up a few inches from the main driveway through the parking lot. A set of automated sliding glass doors are framed by white-painted cinder blocks, on which is mounted the words "CITY HALL" in original-series Star Trek block lettering.

Also in this week's issue, Brian Ervin has a story on the anti-illegal-immigration proposal currently before the Oklahoma Legislature. Ervin does an excellent job of setting out the details of the bill, how it differs from last session's bill, what influences shaped the bill, and how changes in the balance of power have changed the prospects for passage. He spoke to proponents Rep. Randy Terrill and Sen. Jim Williamson and opponents Victor Orta and Ed Martinez and is very fair in representing both perspectives. (UTW has a real gem in Mr. Ervin.)

BobWillsBirthday2007-400.png

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is a salute to the late great western swing band leader Bob Wills. This weekend is the annual Bob Wills birthday celebration at Cain's Ballroom, so it seemed like an opportune time to explain, to Tulsans unfamiliar with his legacy, his importance to American music and Tulsa history, what make western swing music so much fun, and why everyone needs to get out to Cain's Friday and Saturday night to listen and dance to Bob Wills's Texas Playboys, led by vocalist Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup, both veterans of the Texas Playboys in the '50s and '60s.


The line-up this weekend includes many veterans of the Texas Playboys and Johnnie Lee Wills's band: steel guitarist Bobby Koefer, who blew us all away last year at the Playboys' performance at the Osage Casino, fiddlers Curly Lewis and Jimmy Young, and Curly Hollingsworth on piano -- not to slight the other great musicians who'll be on stage, including fiddler Bob Boatright, trumpeter Mike Bennett, and trombonist Steve Ham.

Something I didn't mention in the article: A new western swing band will be playing Saturday night's performance: Oklahoma Stomp, a collection of 12 to 16-year-old musicians organized by Tulsa fiddler Shelby Eicher, in connection with the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.

FURTHER READING:

If you'd like to read something a bit more in-depth, but not book length, here's a good article about Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys from the Journal of Texas Music History.

Here's a BlogCritics review of the Legends of Country Music box set issued by Sony.

Here's a page about Leon Rausch with some of his solo recordings and recordings with Tommy Allsup and Bob Wills's Texas Playboys. And here's a page with the Texas Playboys upcoming tour dates. They're playing Lincoln Center in New York in June, part of the "Midsummer Night Swing" series of outdoor concerts and dances.

You'll find more links and some videos in BatesLine's Western Swing category.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly wonders whatever happened to a couple of big plans for downtown: Global Development Partners' "East End" concept and Maurice Kanbar's plans to turn 20 downtown buildings into Soho on the Arkansas. (Hats off to the copy editor for the pithy headline.)

Also, on page 17 (you'll have to get the dead-tree edition or download the PDF from the website for this), UTW account exec Shannon O'Connell reveals -- among other things -- her pick for the best Arkansas River development ever.

Now, UTW is not just good for trenchant commentary and the annual swimsuit issue. I was looking for blog references to the paper, and I found this very nice testimonial to UTW's event listings, in which the blogger describes how they helped her break out of a routine and discover what Tulsa has to offer. I'm going to quote it at length, because it's so very good. There's even a plug for one of my favorite coffeehouses:

I have been scouring the internets for cheap or free things to do outside the house.

Actually, "scouring the internets" is not difficult, thanks to Urban Tulsa Weekly. Without this handy little publication, I would have no idea how much cool stuff I have been missing.

For instance. Thursday evenings, admission is free at the Philbrook Museum of Art. Tuesdays, I found TWO different places to play Scrabble. One is free, the other costs a whole dollar. This coming Sunday, Gilcrease Museum will be showing The Grapes of Wrath as part of their Centennial Film Series. Price? Free. How awesome is that?

The Tulsa Zoo is having Polar Bear Days, during which admission is halved on days when the forecasted temperature is below freezing. It is their way of boosting ticket sales while promoting their indoor (heated) exhibits.

I can learn to dance the tango at the Elks club. Waltzing and swing are taught at a local community center. Belly dancing is something I have been meaning to get back into for (cringe) years, and there are a couple of different options for that.

Dude, you can even take clogging lessons.

There is a silent film, The Black Pirate, being shown at the Tulsa Technology Center this Friday. Free.

There are at least SIX plays begging to be attended for less than ten bucks a pop.

Tulsa Spotlight Theatre has been running The Drunkard every Saturday night since 1953 or some such ridiculous thing. And I have never seen it! This needs to change.

Twice a month, the VFW hosts ballroom dancing.

I want to dance the tango with old men who can tell me war stories!

I want to play Scrabble with strangers! I do!

I want to go to museums and take beadwork classes and maybe learn a little conversational German.

I accept the fact that I am a nerdy, nerdy girl.

Aside: for Valentine's Day dessert, I picked up a slice of flourless torte yesterday at the Coffee House on Cherry Street. Less than three bucks for rich, chocolaty goodness. It went well with the Greek pizza we grabbed at the Pie Hole and washed down with a bottle of Rioja.

Right this minute, Tulsa is my favorite city ever. I just need to get out and explore it more.

So go check out those events listings and find something cheap, fun, and new to do this weekend!

Barre for board

| | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (0)

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column is about the race for a seat on the Tulsa school board. Incumbent Gary Percefull, a PR consultant, is being challenged by Brenda Barre, a retired teacher with nearly 30 years of service at Tulsa's Booker T. Washington High School. The election is next Tuesday, and every voter in Tulsa school board district 1 should make plans to turnout and vote for Brenda Barre.

Blogger Jeff Shaw adds his own testimonial as a comment on the column:

Ms. Barre would make an excellent school board member. I'm confessing, she was my homeroom teacher at BTW, so I am a bit biased. She was a tough as nails educator with a soft heart for what's best for the kids. Since she taught at BTW, she knows all about excellence, which is what TPS needs; not a pack of legal eagles.

(By the way, Jeff's got a lot of new and interesting items on his blog, including an update on the proposed "East End" development. Be sure to click that link. And here's his blog entry endorsing Barre.)

Also in this week's edition, a cover story about Clifton Taulbert, author of Once upon a Time When We Were Colored, The Last Train North, and Eight Habits of the Heart. He'll be speaking on those eight habits this coming Tuesday at Holy Family Cathedral School, 8th and Boulder downtown.

There's some in depth local news coverage as well: A story on the management mess at Gilcrease Museum, interim City Attorney Deirdre Dexter (also cleaning up a mess in that office), and Senator Jim Inhofe and his stance on global warming.

Interesting point from the story about Dexter:

While Dexter was asked to serve as the interim city attorney for up to six months, she's currently in the middle of a process that city officials hope will make the legal department more effective for the people they represent. The first step in the search process for a new city attorney is to have all city department chiefs and city councilmen participate in a client survey.

"We want to know how they think the city attorney's office is doing, what can be done better and their ideas to fix problems," Dexter said. "We also want to be sure that our clients, who are the council and any city department, understand their relationship with the city attorney's office."

Some of the surveys, which were due back in Dexter's office last Friday, have shown a disconnect between the legal department and other city offices, she said.

"We've received good information that confirms some areas where we can better serve our clients," she said. "This survey information will also be helpful for whoever is hired to fill this position and it allows me to take some steps that would make their transition even easier."

It's seemed to me that the City Attorney's office long ago forgot who its client was, so I'm encouraged that this process is underway. (There are some very good individual attorneys in that office, I hasten to add, but I don't want to shorten their careers by praising them.) I was surprised when Mayor Taylor named Deirdre Dexter to this position, but she's an excellent choice.

River revue

| | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (0)

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.

plan_for_central_tulsa-marina

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.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I've written about the historic preservation issues surrounding the proposed 85-room boutique hotel to be built on the grounds of the McBirney Mansion on Riverside Drive. The entire facility is under a special scenic, open space, and facade easement, a kind of conservation easement held by the City of Tulsa and the Oklahoma Historical Society. (Here is a PDF with the text of the easement.) The column explains what a preservation easement is, what restrictions this easement specifically places on the property, and who would be involved in any decision to change the terms of the easement.

Conservation easements can be used to protect a place's historical character, ecological qualities, or archeological artifacts. When a conservation easement is used specifically for historic preservation, it is usually called a preservation easement.

Donation of a preservation easement on a recognized historical property can qualify the donor for a tax benefit. You can read more about preservation easements on the websites of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service (which oversees certification of historic properties for the National Register of Historic Places.)

The state law governing easements generally is 60 O.S. 49. Among other things, you can own an easement entitling you to a seat in church.

In 1999, the Oklahoma legislature adopted the Uniform Conservation Easement Act, which is codified as 60 O. S. 49.1 through 49.8.

Our new County Commissioners, John Smaligo and Fred Perry, will be sworn in this morning at 9:30 at the Tulsa County Courthouse, in Room 119 of the Administration Building at 6th & Denver. It's a good time to show your support and appreciation for a change in direction for County government and an end to the empire-building that characterized the commissioners that are leaving office.

My Urban Tulsa Weekly column, out today, is a salute, of sorts, to outgoing Commissioners Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, a look at their legacy and at the kind of changes we hope the new commissioners will make.

One issue that the new County Commissioners will face, although the decision is ultimately out of their hands (the City can act unilaterally, under state law), is the possibility of the City annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, aka Expo Square.

Contrary to some statements that this land has ever been unincorporated territory, subject only to the jurisdiction of Tulsa County, in looking back at old maps as part of some other research, I've found confirmation of the fact that large parts of the Fairgrounds have been within the city limits of Tulsa at various times in the past.

The overview map for the 1932 Sanborn Fire Map of Tulsa (I can't link to it directly, but if you're a Tulsa Library card holder, you can access it over the Internet) shows the western two-thirds (160 acres more or less) of the Fairgrounds within the City of Tulsa. That area included all the developed parts of the fairgrounds, including the International Petroleum Exposition grounds (where the Expo building is now), the Pavilion, cattle barns, and other buildings.

(UPDATE: This link will take you right to the map, zoomed in to the Fairgrounds and its surroundings. If you're not already logged in to the library website, you'll first be taken to a screen to type in your last name and Tulsa Library card number. You can use the arrow icons to pan around to other parts of the map, including the bottom where you'll see the date of the map. And here's a link to a PDF version of the same map. Sheet 317, showing the detail of the fairgrounds, is here. Keep in mind that the racetrack and grandstand shown on the map was just east of where the half-demolished Exchange Building now is, an area which is now a parking lot for Fair Meadows.)

Then there was an article in the January 16, 1960, Tulsa Tribune, about the changes in the city limits over the previous decade. (You can find it in the annexation vertical file at Central Library, and it's also reproduced in a City Council report on annexation from a couple of years ago.) The map accompanying the story shows an area apparently west of New Haven Ave from 17th Street to 21st and west of Pittsburgh (the mid-section line) between 15th & 17th Street as within the City of Tulsa in 1950, but out of the city in 1960, except for a very small tract around the city water tower at 21st and Louisville. This would have been about 60 acres of land. The story says:

A section of the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (located at Yale Ave. and 21st St.) is the only area which was disannexed from the 1950 limits.

Owned by the county, the fairgrounds usually is not considered for annexation to the city, but special problems have caused it to come and go from the city limits.

Annexed to permit construction of Veterans' Village following the war, it was removed from the city after the buildings in the Village were removed.

City Engineer W. R. Wooten recalled the same area was taken in and then thrown out again some years earlier when horse racing was a debatable activity there.

"The city wouldn't permit the betting," Wooten recalls, "so the area was disannexed. Horse racing finally was ended by calling out of the National Guard."

The story doesn't say when the disannexation occurred, but a 1957 Rand McNally map shows the section I described above as still within the city limits.

Tulsa 1957

| | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (0)

I've had this idea of trying to capture life in Tulsa as it was in a particular year, before freeways, urban renewal, and the flight to the suburbs began to change it. It's hard to believe today, but Tulsa was once one of the twenty most densely populated large cities in the nation. It might help us reimagine what a revived, dense urban core for Tulsa would look like if we could get a vivid picture of what Tulsa's urban core looked like when it was dense and full of life. It seems a fitting project for our state's centennial year.

For this thought experiment, I picked 1957 as the target year. That was the year of the state's semi-centennial. The new County Courthouse had opened and the first massive redevelopment project -- the Civic Center, originally just four blocks between Denver and Frisco, 4th & 6th -- was just beginning to take shape. Early suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers, like my own Mayo Meadow, had been opened. The city's first freeway plan was drawn up -- it still isn't finished, and part of it never will be. A master parks plan called for a massive park along 71st Street from the river stretching through the hills to the east. In June 1957, a Reader's Digest article about Tulsa mentions that Tulsa had taken to calling itself "America's Most Beautiful City." 1957 is recent enough to be in living memory -- childhood for the early Baby Boomers, high school and young adulthood for my parents' generation -- but distant enough to be a very different world.

While I wanted to fix on a particular year for the sake of creating a snapshot in time, reminiscences from earlier and later years, like the memories of the early '60s at Riverview School, will help to make the picture vivid.

I'd like to flesh out this idea with maps -- big maps showing where the city limits were, little maps showing the stores, schools, and churches in a neighborhood -- photographs, news stories, and lots of personal reminiscences. The Sanborn Fire Maps, the city directory, the phone book, and newspaper ads can be used to help refresh and correct those reminiscences.

(It would be a big help if someone had software that could be used to create a base street map of Tulsa and environs in 1957.)

I'm not only interested in the memories of Tulsans, but also those of people who lived in surrounding towns, rural Tulsa County communities (like Alsuma, Lynn Lane, Union, Rentie Grove), and outlying Oklahoma towns like Nowata and Tahlequah who remember trips to the big city as a big deal.

This idea is inspired in part by a cartoon map that appeared in the very first issue of Urban Tulsa. The map showed the adventures of a group of boys, maybe 10-12 years old, who took the bus into downtown Tulsa on a Saturday morning in the early '60s -- they saw a movie, explored the seedier parts of downtown, had a Coke at a soda fountain, browsed through comic books. The map promised "To be continued" but it never was. Those are the sort of memories I'm hoping to capture.

I wasn't around in 1957, and I can't devote a lot of time to this, so I'm looking for help. Anyone interested?

L'essence de la Rue Cerise

| | TrackBacks (0)

What makes Cherry Street (15th between Peoria and Utica) the lovely place it is, maybe the nicest street in Tulsa? This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column tries to distill the essence of Cherry Street so that we can learn and apply the right lessons from its success.

Also in UTW this week:

Landing craft

| | TrackBacks (0)

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.

Mosque of peace?

| | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (0)

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about Jamal Miftah and his treatment by leaders of the Islamic Society of Tulsa's al-Salam ("Peace") mosque over his guest editorial in the October 29 Tulsa World. (Here's a link to the text of his op-ed.)

The same issue has another letter from Miftah, in which he makes the case from the Qu'ran that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews, and that means that Palestinian attacks on Israel cannot be justified as jihad. (It's on a page with the rest of the letters, so scroll down once you click to it.)

In the story I link to eteraz.org, a blog and web community for progressive Muslim activism. Ali Eteraz interviewed Jamal Miftah and has written several more articles about the situation. Another site of interest is the Free Muslims Coalition:

The Free Muslims Coalition is a nonprofit organization made up of American Muslims and Arabs of all backgrounds who feel that religious violence and terrorism have not been fully rejected by the Muslim community in the post 9-11 era.

The Free Muslims was created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts.

The Free Muslims promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs. The Free Muslims' efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously. Unfortunately most other Muslim leaders believe that in terrorist organizations, the end justifies the means.

Here's an interesting piece from their blog about the two faces of Saudi Arabia -- is it friend or foe to the West?

So is the Saudi Arabian government a friend of the United States or does Saudi Arabia propagate hate and intolerance among American Muslims and Muslims world wide? The answer to both of these questions is yes. The Saudi Arabian government is a great friend to the United States and at the same time many in Saudi Arabia, including some who receive government funding propagate hate and intolerance against anyone who does not share their Wahabi inspired ideology. The answers to both these questions may seem inconsistent and counter intuitive but these seemingly inconsistent answers reflect the complexity of modern day Saudi Arabia.

By now everyone has heard of the historic compact between the Saudi Royal Family and the fanatical Wahabi religious establishment. According to this agreement, the Saudi Royal family deals exclusively with matters of state while the Wahabi religious establishment deals with issues of morality which includes substantial control over the education system and the substantive interpretation of Islam. It is this division of power that produces the two faces of Saudi Arabia.

As long as my column is this week, I've got much more material that I didn't use, particularly from my interview with Jamal Miftah, and I have more research to do on Saudi funding of Islamic organizations in the West. I hope to get this material out here on BatesLine or in UTW.

New Urban Tulsaism

| | Comments (3)

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

| | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (2)

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.

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.

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 thevoiceoftulsa.com, my favorite online discussion forum about local issues.

Wanted: A Promenade

| | TrackBacks (1)

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 http://archives.urbantulsa.com/article.asp?id=3657. 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 (pps.org) 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.

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.

"Urban Husbandry" or island wizardry?

|

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about The Channels proposal to dam the Arkansas River and build three islands in the middle of it, at a cost to the taxpayers of $600 million. I suggest that the $100 million in private funds could be used more effectively using Roberta Brandes Gratz's "Urban Husbandry" strategy -- identifying positive signs of urban life and building on those, rather than trying to create something out of nothing with one big Project Plan.

And over on The Voice of Tulsa forum, I've posted another topic related to river development: When you say you want river development, what exactly are you after? You're invited to click the link and speak your mind.

An edited version of this piece was published in the August 23, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web September 17, 2013.

Property owners owe Tulsans downtown preservation

By Michael D. Bates

A memo from the not-too-distant future

Dear Delegate,

Welcome to Tulsa and the 2008 National Preservation Conference! We want to do everything we can to make your stay a pleasant and memorable one.

Tulsa is a young city, but one with a rich history. As you walk the streets of downtown, we invite you to imagine the bygone days of wildcatters and oil barons and to imagine the bygone buildings where they did their deals, dined, shopped, and were entertained.
For those of you staying at the Westin Adam's Mark Crowne Plaza whatever the heck it's called now, you're sure to enjoy the history of the walk between the Convention Center and your hotel.

Fourth Street was once Tulsa's Great White Way, home to vaudeville and cinematic spectaculars. Close your eyes and you can imagine the Ritz (southeast corner of 4th and Boulder, now a parking garage), the Majestic (southwest corner of 4th and Main, part of the same parking garage), and the Orpheum (east of Main, south of 4th, now part of one of downtown Tulsa's foremost attractions, the Heap Big Hole in the Ground).
Don't miss the site of the Skelly Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Boulder, designed by famed architect Bruce Goff, now an exclusive deluxe gated parking community owned by the Tulsa World.

As you head north on Main Street, you'll be awed by the Totalitarian-Moderne Tulsa World building, a design inspired by the pillbox gun emplacements built by longtime Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.

Main Street dead-ends at 3rd, cut off by your hotel's conference rooms, symbolically celebrating the irreparable division between north and south Tulsa.

We hope you'll take time to get some kicks on old Route 66. 11th Street, also known as the Mother Road, is today a lovely tree-lined boulevard, no longer cluttered with unsightly old motels and diners, which were cleared out to provide an attractive approach to the gateway to the portal to the grand entrance to the University of Tulsa.

We've got an "explosive" event planned for the final night of the conference - or should we say implosive! This town will rock! Promptly at sunset, every downtown building at least 50 years old will be simultaneously demolished in a symphony of light, sound, and debris. "Clean Slate 2008" is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Twenty-First Properties, the Tulsa World, Ark Wrecking, the Tulsa Parking Authority, and Downtown Tulsa Unlamented.

Enjoy your visit!

Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau

A bit farfetched? Perhaps, but the National Preservation Conference is coming to Tulsa in October 2008, and you have to wonder how many historic downtown buildings Tulsa will have left to show the visiting delegates.

The conference is put on each year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, bringing preservation and urban planning professionals and lay people from all over the world for five days to exchange ideas and to tour local preservation success stories. I have no idea why they agreed to come to Tulsa, except perhaps to learn what not to do.

In the last two years we've seen the demolition of the Skelly Building and the 3rd and Main Froug's, two small retail buildings on the east side of Main just south of the Heap Big Hole in the Ground, and the Tulsa Auto Hotel, a parking garage that was demolished for - naturally - a surface parking lot. An aerial view of downtown reveals the effects of fifty years of heedless demolition.

The NTHP's local affiliate, Preservation Oklahoma, has named downtown Tulsa one of Oklahoma's most endangered historic places. While many Tulsans are rightly embarrassed by this and are working on a practical plan for action, the big downtown property owners are whining about the prospect any effective downtown preservation initiative.

Last week, a group called CORE Tulsa issued a set of five modest recommendations to the Tulsa Preservation Commission:

  1. Review all downtown buildings.
  2. Be proactive in meeting parking demand with structured parking, and discourage surface parking.
  3. Make downtown preservation a key component of Tulsa's new comprehensive plan.
  4. Create and promote incentives for redevelopment.
  5. Create a demolition review panel, to be designated by the Preservation Commission, that could halt demolition of a significant building for up to four months.

These measures have been a long time coming. Most cities took similar steps many years ago. Even many of Oklahoma's small cities have been more proactive than Tulsa in protecting their historic business districts.

I would have hoped that downtown property owners would get behind this effort, but instead their loud complaints have pushed these recommendations back to the drawing board, where they will no doubt be watered down.

I would have hoped that Mayor Kathy Taylor, who during the mayoral campaign praised the "Main Street" preservation efforts that she observed as Secretary of Commerce, would show some leadership and bring these recommendations forward. Instead, she seems to be heeding the advice of her aide Susan Neal, a former vice president of Downtown Tulsa Unlamented, who applauded the decision to withhold the recommendations.

(I know - it's really "Unlimited" not "Unlamented" - but the organization deserves the name change for their longstanding lack of resistance to the paving of downtown.)

In her Sunday Tulsa World column, Janet Pearson writes that "developers and building owners saw [the CORE recommendations] as potential project-killers." I'd be more impressed by that concern if it looked like the complaining property owners were actually doing anything with the land they've been sitting on. Other than the slow-but-steady renovation of the Mayo Hotel, there's not much happening in the downtown core.

What was most ironic and outrageous about the response of the development industry was the assertion that these preservation measures trampled on property rights and the free market.

Donovan D. Rypkema, a self-described "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type," gave a speech called "Property Rights and Public Values," in which he makes the case, from the basis of free markets and limited government, for land use regulation.

(You can find Rypkema's speech on the web at http://www.law.georgetown.edu/gelpi/takings/rypkema.htm)

These sentences from the speech are particularly relevant to the topic at hand:
"Most of the value of an individual parcel of real estate comes from beyond the property lines from the investments others - usually taxpayers - have made. And land use controls are an appropriate recompense for having publicly created that value."

Think about public investment in downtown Tulsa. Tulsa County taxpayers are investing over a quarter-billion dollars in downtown through Vision 2025. City of Tulsa taxpayers have invested tens or maybe hundreds of millions through bond issues and the third-penny -- building Main Mall, removing it, providing incentives to downtown residential development, acquiring land for the Williams Center through eminent domain, streetscaping, changing streets from one-way to two-way, etc. Then there's the federal and state investment in the highway network that provides rapid access to downtown from every part of the metropolitan area.

We didn't pay all that money to accelerate the conversion of downtown to an enormous surface parking lot.

The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot.

Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

Oklahoma City has an Urban Design Commission with the power to block demolition.
That's how they saved the Gold Dome building at 23rd and Classen, now a multicultural center anchoring the city's Asian District.

In 2002, during a bus tour of Oklahoma City's downtown and Bricktown, I asked then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys how they convinced developers to go along with restrictions on what they could do with their property. Humphreys said that the City pointed out how many millions of dollars the City had invested in that area (the canal, the ballpark, the Ford Center, and more), and that it was reasonable for the City to take steps to protect its investment.

It's high time that our elected officials, the stewards of Tulsa's public investment in downtown, made that same case to our downtown property owners.

This week's UTW column begins with an imaginary letter from the Convention and Visitors Bureau to delegates to the 2008 National Preservation Conference, inviting delegates to admire the parking lots where historic buildings used to stand.

Don’t miss the site of the Skelly Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Boulder, designed by famed architect Bruce Goff, now an exclusive deluxe gated, 12-space parking community owned by the Tulsa World.

More specifically it's about the CORE Tulsa recommendations for historical preservation in downtown Tulsa (PDF document) and the hysterical response of certain downtown property owners, who don't recognize the obligation placed upon them by the enormous amount of public investment that has boosted their property values:

We didn’t pay all that money to accelerate the conversion of downtown to an enormous surface parking lot. The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot. Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

One of the organizations who complained about the CORE recommendations gets a new nickname: Downtown Tulsa Unlamented. (I couldn't find this in the Whirled archives, but I seem to recall reading an article about the demolition of the old Cadillac dealership in south Boston, in which a DTU official was quoted as saying that no one would miss that old building. Anyone else recall that?)

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

This week in UTW, my column is about the two Republican runoffs for Tulsa County Commission, between State Rep. John Smaligo and former Tulsa City Councilor Anna Falling in Commission District 1, and between State Rep. Fred Perry and City Councilor Bill Christiansen in Commission District 3.

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

TANSTAAFL

| | Comments (2)

The response of the downtown building owners and their lobbyists to proposals for downtown historic preservation is ironic, with their talk of capital and free markets. I didn't hear any of them suggest that it was a violation of capitalism to tax groceries to pay for a venue for privately-owned, for-profit sports teams and musical acts, or to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to boost their property values.

Up in my linkblog, I linked to a speech by Donovan D. Rypkema, who describes himself as a "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type." The speech is about the rationale and legitimacy of land-use regulation. In particular, he addresses the assertion that land use regulation constitutes a taking for which a property owner should be compensated.

One paragraph in the speech seemed especially relevant to the debate over downtown historic preservation:

Most of the value of an individual parcel of real estate comes from beyond the property lines from the investments others � usually taxpayers � have made. And land use controls are an appropriate recompense for having publicly created that value.

Think about public investment in downtown Tulsa. Tulsa County taxpayers are investing over a quarter-billion dollars in downtown through Vision 2025. City of Tulsa taxpayers have invested tens or maybe hundreds of millions through bond issues and the third-penny -- building Main Mall, removing it, providing incentives to downtown residential development, acquiring land for the Williams Center through eminent domain, streetscaping, changing streets from one-way to two-way, etc. Then there's the federal and state investment in the highway network that connects downtown with the rest of the metro area.

The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot.

Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

In my column in last week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I wrote about the many ways that Oklahoma City uses land-use regulation to protect strategic and historical parts of the city, such as the Northeast Gateway and Bricktown. Special districts have been established, with rules and processes specific to each. Bricktown and other older commercial districts, such as NW 23rd St., are under urban design review, which affects major exterior renovation, new construction, and demolition, to ensure consistency with the character of the neighborhood, protecting public investment and the investment of neighboring building owners.

A few years ago, the Urban Design Commission denied three applications to demolish the Gold Dome at 23rd and Classen, a geodesic dome originally built as a bank. The building is now being used for offices and a multicultural center to anchor the city's Asian District.

In 2002, I went on a Tulsa Now bus tour of Oklahoma City, and for part of the ride then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys was our tour guide. I asked him how they convinced developers to go along with restrictions on what they could do with their property. He said that the City pointed out how many millions of dollars the City had invested in that area (the canal, the ballpark, the Ford Center, and more), and that it was reasonable for the City to take steps to protect its investment.

Paul Wilson, one of the property owners who was quoted as complaining about the preservation recommendations in the Whirled's story, was a member of the Dialog/Visioning Leadership Team, the group that put together the Vision 2025 sales tax package. He and his business associates had been pushing for a new taxpayer-funded sports arena since the mid '90s. The last time I checked land records downtown, firms connected to Wilson owned a significant amount of land along Denver Avenue between Highway 51 and the arena site.

No one is proposing to take his land away from him, but now that the City has given him so much of what he asked for, and has significantly improved the value of his investments, it is reasonable for the city to insist that he act in a way that upholds the value of the taxpayers' investment.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Condemning TU

| | TrackBacks (0)

This week's UTW column is about the University of Tulsa's aggressive expansion policies, facilitated by the City of Tulsa's abuse of eminent domain on TU's behalf. Not only is it an immoral use of state coercion, it's a violation of the Oklahoma Constitution and bad urban design. I point to the Savannah College of Art and Design as a better example of how to build an urban campus that enhances both the city and the college experience, "the kind of imaginative win-win solution that never seems to occur to Tulsa’s leaders."

An edited version of this piece was published in the August 9, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web April 28, 2013.

Condemning TU
By Michael D. Bates

Usually it's the daily paper's editorial page that gets my dander up, but it was an article about the University of Tulsa's campus expansion in last week's edition of this paper that nearly had steam coming out of my ears.

It wasn't the way the story was reported, written or edited - Ginger Shepherd did a fine job - but the arrogance of TU's officials as this private institution uses the threat of government force to property owners to sell their land to TU.

2005's U. S. Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. City of New London case drew national attention to the government's power of eminent domain - the ability to condemn property, forcing someone to sell their land to the government. But that wrongly-decided case didn't open the door to the abuse of this public power for private benefit. The City of Tulsa has been blighting and then condemning property on TU's behalf for decades.

TU's latest blitzkrieg is to the south, to create a grand entrance on 11th Street. Never mind that TU is already very visible on 11th, thanks to Skelly Stadium and the Reynolds Center. Never mind that TU already has a grand entrance on Delaware at 6th Street, with a grassy mall providing a dramatic view of the tower of McFarlin Library.

TU even had a chance to create a grand entrance on land it already owned. TU VP Kevan Buck told UTW that they kicked around building a main entrance next to the Reynolds Center on Harvard, but they didn't follow up on it at the time. Later, evidently, they changed their mind.

Most organizations would decide that they had their chance and missed it. They would make do with what they had, maybe use some signage and landscaping along Harvard south of Keplinger Hall to lead visitors into the heart of campus.

But if you're TU, you don't have to make do. Like Jezebel telling Ahab that she wanted Naboth's vineyard (see I Kings 21 for the first recorded use of eminent domain in history), TU just has to clear its institutional throat and the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA, the city's urban renewal trust) will step and fetch the land TU wants.

The City's willingness to condemn property for TU has allowed TU to be thoughtless about how they use the property they own. They have a half-mile of arterial frontage along Harvard. They have a quarter-mile of frontage along 11th.

Rather than building up - taller classroom buildings, parking structures - TU has sprawled outward. They don't have to worry about persuading a property owner to sell; the city will make the owner an offer he can't refuse.

Now, this is not a new story. TU and the TDA have been doing this little dance for decades, and this particular expansion has been in progress for a year or more - Starship Records was forced to move last year.

What got to me last week is the realization that the purpose of this grand entrance is purely for the sake of marketing TU. It won't improve the quality of the education, but it will impress the parents of prospective students.

On what planet is marketing a private college a legitimate public purpose justifying the use of eminent domain?

Would we use condemnation to improve a retail store's visibility? If Wal-Mart said to the City, that Macaroni Grill makes it hard for drivers on Memorial to see our new store, should the city force the Macaroni Grill to sell to Wal-Mart?

You say that's an unfair comparison - TU is a non-profit, a private university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA. All right - my church (also Presbyterian, but PCA) is on 51st Street east of Lewis. I'll bet it could attract more congregants if it could be seen by passing traffic on I-44. Should the City condemn land so that our church can acquire and demolish the apartment complex that stands in our way?

Of course not, and city officials would never do such a thing for my church, even if we asked nicely. TU can make it happen because they have some very powerful people on their board of directors, including Robert E. Lorton, chairman of World Publishing Co., and his wife Roxana.

But city officials shouldn't be doing it for TU anyway. It's a violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.

It's too late for Starship Records and Tapes, but I hope the owners of Metro Diner will take note of this May's Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in Board of County Commissioners of Muskogee County v. Lowery. The Oklahoma court noted that the Oklahoma constitution has more stringent and specific requirements for the use of eminent domain than the U. S. Constitution.

According to the Institute for Justice, the Lowery case involved Muskogee County taking "an easement for water pipelines for a private electric generation plant." Surely there is even less constitutional warrant for taking a private business for the sake of an unobstructed view of a private institution.

TU apologists will argue that the university serves an important public role in Tulsa as an institution of higher learning. The City's assistance to TU may have been justified in the 1950s, when it was the only degree-granting institution in town, and many if not most TU students were Tulsa kids still living at home. Today Tulsa has a community college, four public colleges, a second private university, and extensions of a half-dozen other colleges which offer programs for non-traditional students.

And commuter students are no longer TU's target demographic. TU is trying to compete with other regional private colleges for affluent high school grads from other cities; they're not fighting with state schools over local yokels. Helping TU's marketing program isn't a valid use of government force.

No doubt someone will point to blight as a rationale for condemnation. But if anything, neighborhood blight has been created by TU's aggressive acquisitions and other public policies designed to aid TU. In the '60s, the area west of TU was blanket rezoned for multifamily dwellings, which encouraged developers to bulldoze craftsman-style homes and put up crummy little apartment buildings that could fit in a single house lot. Later, the constant threat of condemnation discouraged people from upgrading and maintaining their homes.

I remember, back in '79 or '80, walking to Roughnecks games through the neighborhood east of Skelly Stadium, where the Reynolds Center now stands. The homes there were attractive and well-maintained. The only way they could be considered blighted is under the overly broad definition of "blight" in our state statutes.

Because the Comprehensive Plan designated the area for TU expansion, the homes were "blighted" by virtue of not being in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan. No one's home or business is safe under that loophole, and the legislature needs to close it.

There is another, better way for a private university campus to co-exist with the surrounding city. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has been in existence for just shy of 30 years, but they already have twice the enrollment of TU. (And that's despite charging more for tuition, too.)

Rather than create an enclave, isolated from the city, SCAD has restored and repurposed dozens of buildings throughout the historic district of Savannah - everything from the old 19th century Armory (now the admin building), to a 1960s Quality Inn (a dorm), to a block-long department store (the library), to two historic movie theaters (the drama department and the school auditorium). The integration of school and city has made the school a more attractive place for students and has made the city a livelier place for residents and tourists.

It was an approach born out of the founders' values, but also out of necessity. SCAD didn't have the money for new construction or the political clout for eminent domain, but it did have sweat equity and students and faculty with the skills to make an old building new again.

SCAD's approach is the kind of imaginative win-win solution that never seems to occur to Tulsa's leaders. It's said that creativity loves constraints, and TU hasn't had any constraints on its territorial ambitions, allowing it to take a ham-handed brute force approach. Perhaps a court challenge to the unconstitutional and immoral abuse of eminent domain that has fueled TU's expansion will help the university to take a more creative approach to campus building in the future.

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.

If you're looking for more commentary on the election come back later tonight. I'm beat after hitting six watch parties last night (Anna Falling, John Sullivan, Jim Caputo, Tim Harris, J. Anthony Miller, Chris Medlock), then getting up to help with the primary post-mortem.

(Best watch party food award goes to District Judge candidate Jim Caputo, who had barbecue from Albert G.'s, one of the few places in town that offers sliced smoked pork.)

In the meantime, here's a link to this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. It's about a study, by Conventions, Sports, and Leisure, International, of the feasibility of a new downtown Tulsa convention hotel. The current issue also includes stories about the over-budget arena bailout, the City's process for parceling out Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money, and a feature story about the Tulsa Talons cheerleaders.

Primary election endorsements

|

I'll be on 1170 KFAQ with Michael DelGiorno and Gwen Freeman starting at 6:10 a.m. this morning for a special primary election preview.

For your voting convenience, here are the endorsements I've made in statewide and local Republican races and the non-partisan judicial races, starting with the top of the ballot:

Governor: State Sen. James Williamson is the most experienced and knowledgable candidate in the race, the best qualified to be Governor of Oklahoma -- incumbent Brad Henry included. Williamson has been a leader in the legislature for fiscal restraint, meaningful lawsuit reform, and the protection of the sanctity of human life.

Lt. Governor: Can't really go wrong in this primary -- all three candidates are good people, and it grieves me to see the mud flying back and forth. State Sen. Scott Pruitt has the biggest vision for the office, taking full advantage of the powers of the office to advance a conservative vision for Oklahoma.

State Treasurer: Dan Keating has already demonstrated that he'll be a watchdog for the taxpayers' interests by calling attention to the problems created by the Henry-Meacham tribal tobacco compacts. Howard Barnett's vocal support for the anti-democratic at-large city councilor proposal shows an appreciation for clubby insider politics, an attitude that we don't need in the office that invests our state's financial assets.

State Insurance Commissioner: I'm not bowled over by either candidate, but Tahl Willard seems to have more relevant experience, including a stint as the Insurance Department's Regional Director for Eastern Oklahoma and manager of the Tulsa office, along with an impressive set of insurance certifications. His opponent, Bill Case, is a term-limited State Rep. who was nominated for the Oklahoma Conservative PAC's RINO (Republican in Name Only) award every year for the last five, winning once.

U. S. Representative, District 1: On fiscal and social issues, on border security and national security, Congressman John Sullivan has been as consistent a conservative as you could want on the full range of congressional issues.

State Senate, District 36: There's more to Joe Lester than a catchy jingle. His newspaper articles reveal an intelligent, principled conservatism, and he would bring almost 40 years of law enforcement experience (U. S. Army MP, City of Tulsa, University of Oklahoma) to the Legislature.

State House, District 68: Incumbent Chris Benge is the best choice for another term.

State House, District 69: Former City Councilor Chris Medlock would bring a needed perspective to the Legislature. He's a conservative who understands the impact that state government has on Oklahoma's largest cities. As I wrote a couple of months ago: "I think Chris would make an excellent legislator. The Republican caucus needs more members who will keep it committed to conservative and free-market principles. Chris Medlock understands that being pro-business means providing an environment in which all businesses can thrive, not making special deals for special interests."

State House, District 76: John Wright is another incumbent with a strong conservative record who deserves re-election.

District Attorney, District No. 14 (Tulsa County): Despite declining arrests, eight-year incumbent Tim Harris has put away a record number of bad guys, focusing his department's resources on the cases that matter most. Challenger Brett Swab's campaign is grounded in misleading presentation of facts. One attorney asked me, rhetorically, if Swab will twist the facts to win his "case" against Harris, will he twist the facts to win in court?

Tulsa County Commission, District 1: Former City Councilor Anna Falling hasn't lost any of her enthusiasm and drive, but her leadership of a faith-based outreach to Tulsa's needy has smoothed off some of the rough edges. Tulsa County government needs someone willing to move beyond the way things have always been done and someone who will look out for the taxpayers' interests first.

Tulsa County Commission, District 3: State Rep. Fred Perry is the most consistent conservative in this race, and his rapport with grassroots Republicans and legislative leaders will serve Tulsa County well. Any of the other three candidates would likely mean a continuation of good ol' business as usual at the County Courthouse.

District Judge, District 14, Office 4:: Collinsville Municipal Judge Jim Caputo is my pick for this office, which is on the ballot only in northern and eastern Tulsa County.

District Judge, District 14, Office 10:: There are a number of good candidates in this race, but I've known J. Anthony Miller for over a decade as an elder in our church. I am confident that Miller has the experience, temperament, and prudence to be an excellent district judge.

Tulsa County Election Board has posted sample ballots for every precinct.

In addition to the above elections, Berryhill Fire Protection District has a vote on whether to expand its territory, and the Town of Skiatook is voting on a 10-year extension to a one-cent sales tax.

Here are links to my election preview columns from Urban Tulsa Weekly:

The Tulsa County judicial races
The statewide races
The Tulsa County legislative races
The Tulsa County DA and Commission races

Swab-bing the deck

| | TrackBacks (0)

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly puts the claims made by District Attorney challenger Brett Swab against incumbent DA Tim Harris under a forensic examiner's microscope. There's also a brief discussion of the two Tulsa County Commission races on the Republican primary ballot.

ABOT time

| | Comments (2)

My wife and I attended the Urban Tulsa Weekly Absolute Best of Tulsa party tonight at The Hive. It was too loud and too smoky, and nearly everyone was way younger than us, but it was fun to get to chat with other UTW writers and staffers, like publisher Keith Skrzypczak, music writer G. K. Hizer, arts writer Claudette Lancaster, reporter Ginger Shepherd, and our newest columnist, Jamie Pierson. We saw City Councilor Roscoe Turner (last year's most believable councilor), his wife Nancy, and Christie Breedlove (who took that wonderful inauguration day photo of the Bates family).

A number of restaurants were there with samples -- nachos, cuban sandwiches, sushi, baklava, pizza -- and there were free drinks galore. Since I already felt like I was teetering from heat and fatigue, I didn't have anything stronger than water.

We ran into Rick Boltinghouse -- he and I sang together in the Concert Chorus and Madrigal Singers in high school. Rick owns and operates the Daylight Donuts in the old Shaw's Drive-In at 31st and Yale. He estimates that he's made 14 million donuts in his career. He said they're in the process of upgrading the building, expanding the menu, and expanding the hours.

The Absolute Best of Tulsa issue hits the streets tomorrow morning, so tonight the winners of UTW's reader poll were unveiled. Categories include politicians and business people, restaurants, specialty shops, night clubs, and entertainers. This year's most believable councilor isn't on the council any more: Chris Medlock. Bill LaFortune got the most reader votes in the "Local Weasel" category, but Kathy Taylor finished second. I'll link to the ABOT story once it's online.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about Tulsa-area legislative primaries, particularly about the most hotly contested race, the Republican primary to replace Fred Perry in House District 69, which includes far south Tulsa, Jenks, a bit of Bixby, and the northern part of Glenpool.

One of the emerging issues in that race involves the proposed toll bridge across the Arkansas River that would connect south Tulsa near 121st Street to Jenks and Bixby. Although Fred Jordan got a tremendous headstart in the campaign, helped by $100,000 in contributions, largely from the development industry, Jordan is losing ground as south Tulsa voters learn that he is in favor of the toll bridge as proposed by Infrastructure Ventures Inc.

The South Tulsa Citizens' Coalition asked all five Republican candidates to sign a representation opposing the bridge. The representation states that the candidate will not support a bridge until certain intersections and streets connecting to the bridge have been widened, will oppose any heavy truck traffic on Yale between 121st and the Creek Turnpike, and won't support the north end of the bridge connecting to or near Yale Avenue. Chris Medlock, Lisa DeBolt, and Jeff Applekamp have all signed these letters, and Medlock was a leader while on the City Council in getting city officials on record in opposition to the bridge. (Here is a PDF of Medlock's representation letter.)

Fred Jordan and Darrell Gwartney have refused to sign the representation, which Jordan calls, "a highly restrictive and legalistic 'pledge' committing [his opponents] to oppose the bridge under any reasonable circumstances." (Here is a PDF of Fred Jordan's statement to the STCC.) I'm sure STCC members would object to the characterization of the preconditions, which I summarized above, as unreasonable.

Jordan, who has been vague on the issue until now, has started to lose supporters to Chris Medlock. (Although there are two other candidates who oppose the bridge, they are trailing far behind Jordan and Medlock. Neither DeBolt nor Applekamp are likely to make the runoff.) A couple of days ago I spoke to Kari Romoser, who lives near 111th and Yale, an area that would feel the traffic impact if the bridge is connected to Yale. She had Fred Jordan's sign in her yard, but she recently pulled it up and replaced it with a Chris Medlock sign.

Jordan's position on the bridge issue wasn't the only reason for Kari's change, but it was an important reason. Her family has invested a lot to be in this part of Tulsa so that they can send their children to Jenks Southeast Elementary School. Anything that would hurt the value of their home or affect safe access to the school is important to her.

Jordan's company, Caprock Resources, is developing three residential areas along Elm (Peoria) in south Jenks. Two of them, Wakefield Pond and Wakefield Village, are along 121st St., in an area that would benefit from the proposed bridge without bearing a significant traffic impact. (For he folks north of the bridge in south Tulsa along Yale, the traffic impact would far outweigh any convenience benefit.)

So far, the toll bridge has been a local issue, involving Tulsa County and the cities of Jenks and Tulsa, so why does it matter what a state representative thinks about the issue? In his statement, Jordan says that, "to my knowledge, there is no pending or proposed action in the legislature relating to the bridge."

In fact, there was a measure in the Legislature this session which passed the House but was killed in the Senate that would have had an effect on the toll bridge deal. The process has raised all kinds of issues that the Legislature may address at some point: Should counties and cities be able to enter into private toll bridge deals of this sort? Who has ownership and jurisdiction over the Arkansas River bed? Whose approval is needed to build a private toll bridge? Should private toll roads and toll bridges be legal? Should the jurisdiction responsible for connecting infrastructure have a say in whether a toll bridge is built? When a city and the county, or two adjacent cities, are at odds over a bridge, who makes the final decision?

As we learned with the Board of Adjustment legislation (SB 1324, HB 2559) this session, it won't be enough to have the Tulsa City Council on our side, because the Legislature could take away the City's say on this contentious issue. It will be important for south Tulsa residents to have someone in the Legislature who will represent their interests on this matter, someone with the savvy to detect and block any attempt to bypass Tulsa's city government.

The judicial races

|

In last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly I reviewed the two District Judge races on the July 25 ballot in Tulsa County, explaining why there is frustratingly little information available to ordinary voters in most judicial elections and making my recommendations in support of James Caputo for Office 4 and J. Anthony Miller for Office 10.

I have left comments open on an earlier entry about the judicial races, so feel free to click through that link and chime in there. And you may also want to review this entry on how district court elections work in Tulsa County.

This week's column takes a look at the four Republican primaries for statewide offices and the local 1st Congressional District race.

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

The final report from Tulsa's Citizens' Commission on City Government is the topic of this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The commission, appointed by then-Mayor Bill LaFortune last December, finished on schedule, made some constructive recommendations, including a recommendation against adding at-large seats to the City Council.

You can find the full text of the Citizens' Commission on City Government report on the Tulsans Defending Democracy website.

Also in this week's UTW, Ginger Shepherd covers the new Tulsa Public Schools superintendent, downtown revitalization in Muskogee, the recently passed City of Tulsa budget, and the sweet no-bid contract Murphy Bros. got to continue to run the Tulsa State Fair midway.

The story quotes Jerry Murphy, owner of Murphy Bros.:

Murphy added, why would you fire someone that is doing a good job? and been doing it for a long time?

In fact, the midway has been a disappointment for a long time, and Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA -- the fair board) members owed it to the public to see if another operator couldn't bring better, more reliable rides for better prices, but instead they continued the Tulsa County practice of awarding contracts to insiders without competition. Jerry Murphy's wife, Loretta Murphy, contributed $5,000 to the mayoral campaign of County Commissioner Randi Miller, who is also a member of the TCPFA and voted to approve the contract with Murphy Bros.

An edited version of this piece was published in the June 21, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web August 2, 2009.

At-large barge runs aground

By Michael D. Bates

Over the next four weeks, between now and the state primary election, this column will focus on the statewide, legislative, county, and judicial races that will be on the July 25th ballot.

Before we launch ourselves headlong into state politics, let's get caught up on a city issue that we've been following for over half a year: the Citizen's Commission's recommendations for changing the City Charter.

Back on June 9, the Citizens' Commission on City Government wrapped up its work and issued its final report. This was the panel which was established last December by then-Mayor Bill LaFortune just as an initiative petition seeking to replace three City Council districts with three at-large supercouncilor seats stalled for lack of popular support and was shelved.

It appeared to many opponents of at-large supercouncilors that this commission was another means to push the measure through: Get the idea endorsed by a blue-ribbon panel so as to pressure the Council to put the idea on the ballot.

It didn't turn out that way. The commission's final report makes it clear that most of its members oppose any change to the structure of the City Council. A few supported the idea of adding at-large or super-district seats to the Council, without reducing the existing number of districts. (At the meeting I attended, the only commissioners to express support for the idea were Realtor Joe McGraw and attorney Steve Schuller. Schuller replaced at-large Council advocate Howard Barnett when he stepped aside to begin his run for State Treasurer.)

The report cited three reasons for keeping the Council structure as it is: the numerical reality that at-large seats would dilute district representation; the "racial divides that still afflict" Tulsa (which was a major reason for moving to district representation in 1989); and the sense that the division that provided a rationale for at-large councilors wasn't really a structural problem, but a function of the people in office at the time.

In this Sunday's edition of the monopoly daily paper, Ken Neal, a vocal opponent of any degree of popular sovereignty and a leader in the call for at-large councilors, did his best to spin the report his way, claiming that the commission "put aside the contentious question of district versus at-large councilors," when in fact they dealt with it quite decisively.

You can read the report for yourself and draw your own conclusions - there's a copy posted at tulsansdefendingdemocracy.com.

The commission did recommend three charter changes: non-partisan elections, making the city auditor an appointive office, and moving elections to November in odd-numbered years.

Changing the election date, something proposed in this space last December, seems to be the most broadly supported and simplest change, one that would be worth putting on the ballot at the earliest opportunity, perhaps this November.

The move would give new elected officials nearly half a year to find their way around City Hall before the budget cycle begins. Under the current calendar, a draft budget is due within weeks of the inauguration. Had there been a longer lead time this year, it would have given Councilor John Eagleton, who ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism, more time to build support for keeping the growth of the city budget within the rate of inflation. Under the pressure of time, most councilors felt the need to swallow whatever was proposed.

Fall elections would also mean better weather and more daylight hours for face-to-face, door-to-door campaigning, and avoiding the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

The Council that sends this to the voters will have to sacrifice three months of their term, which would likely end in January instead of April. That might be the only thing that might prevent this proposal from moving forward right away.

The matter of non-partisan elections will take longer to sort out. The commission recommended the change, calling party politics a distraction and an impediment to unity, but they couldn't reach a consensus on how to implement the change, and there were even a few dissenters who prefer no change at all.

It was noted that a few members "embraced" my proposal for "multi-partisan" elections, outlined here in the April 5 edition, which would leave party labels in place, encourage the formation of locally-focused political groups, and make a candidate's local affiliations evident to the voter on the ballot. However much we desire unity, there will be factions - it's a function of human nature - and our system should acknowledge and accommodate that reality.

The strongest recommendation was to have the City Auditor appointed by and accountable to an audit committee whose five members would be appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council.
The report claims, "No longer subjecting the auditor to periodic elections, the task force believes, would safeguard the independence and integrity of the audit office." Quite the opposite: An elected auditor is accountable only to the voters, while an appointed auditor would be dependent on the goodwill of people handpicked by the Mayor, the head of the executive branch of government, the principal object of the auditor's investigations.

Overall, the report was thoughtful, deliberate, and didn't overreach. On two issues, civil service reform and city/county consolidation, the commission felt it was "ill-equipped to make major recommendations." Where there were conflicting views on a recommendation, the report makes that plain.

Why did things turn out so well, contrary to the expectations and fears of many? The members of the commission heard and heeded those concerns, and worked diligently to allay them.

While most commissioners didn't come in with years of city government dealings to shape their understanding of the issue, they weren't about to be led by the nose. It was apparent that most of these busy leaders were doing their own study and research, seeking out different perspectives, filling in the gaps in their own knowledge of Tulsa's governmental history and alternative ways to organize City Hall.

They sought out different perspectives for presentation at commission meetings.

It didn't hurt that, under re-election pressure, LaFortune nominated members of Tulsans Defending Democracy, the at-large opposition group, to the commission. One of those commissioners, Jane Malone, gave powerful personal testimony of the impact that diluting district representation would have on racial equality in Tulsa.

There was one significant shortcoming in the process: The commission's meetings were all held during normal working hours, making it difficult for citizens with full-time jobs to attend and participate during opportunities for public comment.

Co-chairmen Ken Levit and Hans Helmerich did a fine job of running the meetings and focusing the issues. Their innate intellectual honesty and appreciation of the gravity of the task deserves a good deal of credit for the positive outcome of the commission's work.

Congratulations to them and the commission members for a job well done.

Elsewhere at City Hall:

Last week we wrote about the controversy over Mayor Taylor's appointment of Jim Beach to the Board of Adjustment. The groundswell of opposition to the appointment from neighborhood leaders expressed itself in a letter to the City Council and the Mayor, calling on the Mayor to withdraw the appointment.

Beach's appointment was scheduled for a vote at last Thursday's City Council meeting, but Mayor Taylor, apparently aware that she lacked the five votes needed for approval, asked the Council for a delay.
The letter, sent by a bipartisan group of neighborhood association leaders and community activists, refers to Beach as an "insider in an insider's game." In addition to the concerns about conflict of interest on specific cases where Beach's employer, Sack and Associates, is a part of the development team, the letter mentions the possibility that Beach may have an inherent conflict of interest under the Oklahoma Constitution on every case, because his employer is a contractor to the City.

The letter urges the Council to research the conflict issues thoroughly before considering Beach's appointment, rather than dealing with them after Beach has been confirmed.

The neighborhood leaders aren't likely to back down. It will be interesting to see whether Taylor insists on pushing ahead, no matter how fierce the opposition.

Beach-ed appointment

| | Comments (5)

This week's column in UTW is about Mayor Kathy Taylor's first batch of appointments to city authorities, boards, and commissions (ABCs), particularly the appointment of Jim Beach to the Board of Adjustment, a move that has drawn opposition from neighborhood leaders and may provoke the end of Taylor's honeymoon. Taylor's appointment of Steve Berlin, a Great Plains Airlines board member, to the TARE board is also controversial.

Yesterday, long after I filed the story, I got word that the Taylor administration had pulled Beach's appointment off of this Thursday's Council agenda, and in fact it is missing from the online agenda, while the other appointments are still present.

Someone has said that any appointment to the Board of Adjustment is bound to be controversial, and that's true. You're almost certain to upset either the development lobby or the homeowners' groups. You have to choose which group you want to please and which group you want to anger, and Kathy Taylor has chosen to please the development lobby and anger neighborhood leaders with her first pick. That says a lot about the direction of her administration.

Also in this week's issue is Ginger Shepherd's story about the planned cleanup of Tent City, an unauthorized campground for the homeless between the north bank of the Arkansas River and the levee, west of downtown.

Shepherd also has a story about former Councilor and mayoral candidate Chris Medlock and his campaign for State House District 69.

Remembering Jane Jacobs

| | Comments (1)

Jane Jacobs, the urban observer who helped blow away the cobwebs of urban planning dogma so that we could see what really makes a city work, passed away in April. My Urban Tulsa Weekly column last week was a salute to Jane Jacobs, highlighting three lessons from her landmark 1960 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, one of my favorite books.

Also of note last week: Jamie Pierson's first column for UTW, in which she recalls a suburban Tulsa upbringing, gives thanks for her midtown-based young adulthood, and gives a tongue-in-cheek call for deannexing everything south of I-44.

An edited version of this piece was published in the June 7, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web September 17, 2013.

Remembering Jane Jacobs
By Michael D. Bates

"This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding. It is also, and mostly, an attempt to introduce new principles of city planning and rebuilding, different and even opposite from those now taught in everything from schools of architecture and planning to the Sunday supplements and women's magazines.... It is an attack... on the principles and aims that have shaped modern, orthodox city planning and rebuilding."

She was labeled a naysayer and an obstructionist, anti-growth and anti-progress. She had no training in city planning or architecture, but she challenged the professionals and the experts. In the mid-'50s, when her neighborhood was threatened with demolition by New York's orgy of expressway construction, she and her neighbors fought back and won. Their victory opened the door for the economic resurgence of the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan.

She transcended political boundaries. In the late '60s, she and her family left the United States for Toronto to keep her son out of the Vietnam War draft, and yet two of her books were listed among the hundred best non-fiction works of the 20th century by the conservative fortnightly National Review.

What Jane Jacobs had was a keen eye for detail, a gift for description, and a stubborn determination to see streets, neighborhoods, and cities as they really are, not distorted through the lens of academic theory. It is that quality that makes her landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, still fresh and relevant nearly half a century after its publication.

Her death on April 25, at the age of 89, brought to an end Jane Jacobs' long and productive life. She deserves to be remembered, and so do her observations about what makes a city a safe and pleasant place to live and work and, just as important, an incubator for new businesses and new ideas.

Here are just three of the lessons she taught, lessons that many of Tulsa's leaders have yet to learn:

1. Believe your eyes, not your theories:

Jacobs' ideas about cities ran counter to the accepted wisdom of city planning, which she considered a dangerous kind of quackery, as apt to kill the patient as heal it: "As in the pseudoscience of bloodletting, just so in the pseudoscience of city rebuilding and planning, years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma have arisen on a foundation of nonsense."

Planners clung to their dogma, regardless of its real-world effects: "The pseudoscience of planning seems almost neurotic in its determination to imitate empiric failure and ignore empiric success."

Jacobs wrote of a friend who was a city planner in Boston, who told her that the North End, the old Italian district with its chaotic tangle of narrow streets and untidy mixture of homes and businesses, was a dreadful, crowded, unhealthy slum that needed to be cleared. And although he concurred with her observation that the neighborhood was a lively, pleasant, and safe place, an observation backed up by low crime and mortality rates, he chose to believe the negative view of the neighborhood dictated by accepted planning theory.

Here in Tulsa there seems to be a reluctance to catalog and acknowledge the planning failures of the last fifty years. Perhaps it is because many of the responsible decision makers of the '60s, '70s, and '80s are still living and still influential. But until we are willing to admit that following the fads of the past - urban renewal, superblocks, pedestrian malls, urban expressway loops - caused more damage than good, we will remain susceptible to ignoring reality and uncritically embracing the next fashionable concept.

2. The safety of a city is a function of its design:

Jacobs saw, in the traditional urban neighborhoods that had escaped dismemberment by urban renewal and expressway construction, a complex organic system that planners tamper with at their peril.

The mixture of residences, jobs, and shopping gives people a reason to be on the sidewalks, coming into or through the neighborhood from early in the morning until late at night. That, combined with buildings that overlook those sidewalks, creates a kind of natural surveillance - a phenomenon she called "eyes on the street." She wrote, "No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down."

Contrast that with a typical 1970s Tulsa subdivision. The neighborhood has sidewalks, but they don't lead anywhere you would need to go. The houses turn a blind eye to the street; living rooms look out on the back yard, with no windows facing the street. It doesn't matter how many street lights you put up; if no one needs to be walking down the street, and no one can easily look out to observe the street, you have only managed to create a well-lit workplace for vandals and car thieves.

3. Old buildings matter:

"Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings... but also a good lot of plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings."

Think about the most lively and interesting places in Tulsa, the kind of places you'd take a visitor for a night on the town: Brookside, the Blue Dome District, Brady Village, Cherry Street, 18th and Boston. Each of those districts had an abundance of old buildings, buildings that are for the most part unremarkable. But those buildings provided an inexpensive place for someone with a dream to start a new business.

You might have seen the same kind of vitality develop in the south part of downtown, with business springing up to serve the tens of thousands who attend classes at TCC's Metro Campus or participate in activities at the downtown churches, but so many of the buildings have been taken for parking by the churches and by TCC that a prospective business owner would be hard-pressed to find a location.

"As for really new ideas of any kind - no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be - there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

Time and space allow us only to scratch the surface of Jacobs' wisdom here. You will have to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities for yourselves to see what she had to say about why some parks are lively and safe and others are dull and dangerous, why certain areas become magnets for used car lots and other unattractive uses, how to accommodate cars without killing an urban neighborhood, and how to keep a successful district from self-destructing.

The principles Jacobs drew from her observations are timeless because they are grounded in unchanging human nature, although the application of those principles will vary from one place to another. Would that every City Councilor and every planning commissioner would read and ponder Jacobs' works.

As Tulsa revisits its Comprehensive Plan for the first time in 30 years, as we consider moving from use-based to form-based planning, we have the opportunity to align our practices with those timeless principles, so that once again our urban core can become a lively and dynamic engine for the culture and prosperity of our city and our region.
Jane Jacobs showed us the way. Perhaps, a half-century later, Tulsa is ready to follow her path.

My column this week in Urban Tulsa Weekly looks back at the Oklahoma legislative session just ended and the state election filing period next Monday through Wednesday, June 5 through 7.

SB 1324, the bill that would have interfered with local control of zoning, was dealt a humiliating 42-3 defeat in the State Senate, while its sister bill HB 2559 died in conference committee. SB 1742, a landmark pro-life bill, won by overwhelming margins in both houses and was signed by the governor. The legislators on the wrong side of those issues deserve special scrutiny as they face re-election this year, but they won't get any scrutiny unless they have an opponent.

In particular, District 70 Representative Ron Peters and District 72 Darrell Gilbert haven't faced opposition in six years and eight years respectively, and I'm hoping someone will step forward to challenge each of them.

District 3 Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick has yet to announce his plans, and it's beginning to look like Dick is trying a J. C. Watts-style handoff to his handpicked successor. You'll recall that Watts announced at the last minute in 2002 that he wouldn't be seeking re-election to Congress. Candidates that might have run for that open seat were caught flat-footed, but Watts' political consultant and chosen heir, Tom Cole, had advance knowledge of Watts' plans and was ready to run right away.

Speculation is that Dick's chosen successor is either Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen or former State Sen. Jerry Smith. The district covers the southern part of midtown Tulsa, south Tulsa, Broken Arrow, and Bixby. (Click here to see a map of the Tulsa County Commission Districts.) The district is heavily Republican, and there has to be some man or woman of integrity and wisdom among the tens of thousands of registered Republicans in the district who would be willing to step forward and serve as a candidate.

Given the huge pot of money under the control of the Tulsa County Commissioners -- well over half a billion in Vision 2025 money, plus Four to Fix the County tax dollars, plus millions more money available to lend in their role as the Tulsa County Industrial Authority -- and the County Commission's propensity to avoid competitive bidding, we need to clean house at the County Commission. Having Bob Dick or his handpicked successor in office is not an acceptable result.

If you are considering a race for any of those seats, or would like more information about being a candidate, I'd be glad to talk with you. Drop me an e-mail at blog at batesline dot com.

UPDATE: The Whirled is reporting that Bob Dick is running for re-election and Bill Christiansen plans to challenge him. Not much of a choice. With the fans of insider deals splitting their votes between Christiansen and Dick, a conservative reformer could easily gain enough primary votes to make the runoff and then win the runoff. (That's more or less how Tim Harris came out of nowhere to win the DA's office back in 1998.)

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:

An edited version of this piece was published in the May 24, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web July 3, 2010.

Flunking the Yellow Pages Test

By Michael D. Bates

When he was Mayor of Indianapolis, Stephen Goldsmith had a simple test for whether city government ought to be performing a service or whether it should be left to the private sector:

"Look at the city's yellow pages. If the phone book lists three companies that provide a certain service, the city probably should not be in that business, at least not exclusively."

Using the Yellow Pages Test, Goldsmith cut hundreds of millions in city expenses, money that was then spent on city improvements. City government focused on the tasks that only it could provide. Dozens of functions were completely turned over to the private sector or contracted out. In order to keep a task in-house, a city department had to compete successfully on cost and quality with private providers.

Goldsmith's example is more often applauded than followed. Oklahoma politicians have been all too anxious to get into businesses like entertainment, resorts, and commercial aviation, providing public funds to help private enterprises that are in competition with other private businesses.

These interventions are always justified as essential to the public good, but instead they always seem to drain money away from the basic functions of government.

On Sunday, May 14, the Oklahoman reported that the $27 million in transferable state tax credits used to finance Great Plains Airlines was coming out of fuel taxes, money that would otherwise go to replace

Oklahoma's roads and bridges. Rather than fund the rehabilitation of 90 bridges or the resurfacing of 135 miles of highway, Oklahomans are paying for a failed airline that never got close to its stated purpose of providing air service between Oklahoma and the coasts.

(Don't go looking for that story in the Tulsa World, whose parent company was a major investor in the failed airline.)

With that lesson on the front page of the state's biggest paper, you'd think it would deter the Legislature from making the same mistake again.

Instead, there's a push to approve $30 million in state tax credits for redevelopment of Grand Lake's Shangri-La resort. Earlier this session, a bill containing the credits stalled in the House, but they may be inserted into the massive budget and tax cut bill.

There's no question that Shangri-La is not much of an attraction any more. My wife and I spent our fifth anniversary there 12 years ago and were so bored with the place we left early to visit Buffalo Ranch and the Precious Moments Chapel.

Backers of the plan claim we need a revived Shangri-La to compete with convention centers and resorts in other states. It seems more likely that it would compete for convention business with city-owned convention centers in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and with tribal and privately-owned facilities like the Cherokee Resort in Catoosa and Tulsa's Renaissance Hotel.

Left to its own devices, the free market would be unlikely to pick the southern end of Monkey Island for a major resort. Shangri-La is nearly as inaccessible as its literary namesake. It's over 80 miles away from the nearest commercial airport, and there's only one two-lane highway leading to it.

By now, GOP leadership in the House should have poured cold water on the plan, but they have remained silent. Perhaps they're concerned about protecting the bill's sponsor, Doug Cox, a freshman representative from Grove serving a traditionally Democratic district.

House Republicans should be more concerned about protecting a reputation for common sense and integrity. That will do more in the long run for maintaining their majority and building popular support for their platform than meddling in an area that should be left to the private sector.

Closer to home, there was much ado last week about the city's meddling in the competition for local entertainment dollars.

Last Thursday night, the City Council authorized payments to the Tulsa Oilers hockey team, the Tulsa Talons arena football team, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).

Former Mayor Bill LaFortune changed the formula for splitting concession revenues with the Oilers and Talons. As a result, each team will receive more money back in concession revenues than they paid in rent, about $20,000 more for the Talons and $50,000 more for the Oilers.

The PRCA and Professional Bull Riders (PBR) are each getting a $50,000 sponsorship payment from the city.

During Thursday's Council meeting, Council Chairman "Landslide" Bill Martinson called the payments corporate welfare and said they were offensive. That's ironic: The same Bill Martinson now fretting about $100,000 was just a few months ago pushing to have the city bail out Bank of Oklahoma to the tune of $7.5 million for the bad loan it made to Great Plains Airlines, a loan for which the city has no liability.

The Tulsa World's Friday front-page graphic painted a distorted picture of the payments to the teams by omitting the money the city received in concession revenues from the events. Between rent and concessions, the city made $187,952 from Oilers' games and $63,409 from Talons' games. That's after paying the teams their share of concession cash.

The real question, one the monopoly daily paper doesn't want to address, is whether the city makes enough money from these events to cover the expense of operating the facility. Conventions and major concerts might bring in a significant number of out-of-town visitors, so that theoretically, the increased sales tax revenue from those visitors would offset any operating loss.

But the Talons and Oilers draw mainly from the local area, so the revenues need to be enough by themselves to cover the expenses. Otherwise, we'd be better off keeping the place closed.

LaFortune was quoted in the World as defending the deals on the grounds of quality of life: "Professional teams in our city are absolutely critical to our city's economic well-being."

Minor league sports are really just one entertainment option among many in this city, competing with night clubs, restaurants, and movie theaters for the disposable income of Tulsa residents. There's no more justification for subsidizing them than there would be for a city-funded Western Swing band. (Actually, the latter would be far more likely to bring in outside tourist dollars.)

There's something else ironic about Martinson's fussing about corporate welfare. The amounts in question are three orders of magnitude smaller than what we're spending on the new arena - around 100 grand compared to $200 million. Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Ordinarily, a private business has to pay for a place to conduct business. You might buy or lease an existing building, or you might build something new, but the cost of a place is part of the cost of doing business. If you're leasing, your rent is paying for the landlord's cost of building and maintaining the place.

But in all the financial projections for the new arena, the cost of construction is left out of the picture. If we exceed all reasonable expectations, we may cover the costs of operation, but there's no expectation that taxpayers should recover the funds we spent to build a place for sports teams and musical acts to make money. If anything is corporate welfare, that surely is.

Taxpayers don't build movie theaters or dance halls, and there's no reason we should be funding a location for entertainment options that compete with those private businesses.

(Added retroactively on June 3, 2006, to complete the column archive.)

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column is about corporate welfare, connecting the dots between news that the Great Plains Airlines tax credits are being repaid with money that should be repairing roads and bridges, an effort to extend similar tax credits for the restoration of Shangri-La resort on Grand Lake, former Mayor Bill LaFortune's favorable concessions deals for the Tulsa Talons and Tulsa Oilers, and the biggest example of corporate welfare around -- the $200 million BOk Center.

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.

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.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about HB 2559, a bill in the Oklahoma legislature which represents an unwarranted state intrusion on local government control over zoning and land use regulation. (The column also covers the latest BOk Center bids, which put the arena at least $30 million over budget.)

HB 2559 would limit a city's options for handling appeals of decisions made by the city's Board of Adjustment (BoA), which considers variances and special exceptions to zoning requirements. The bill was amended in the State Senate to make it easier to remove historic preservation (HP) zoning from a parcel of land.

Since filing the story, I've learned about a parallel bill which originated in the State Senate called SB 1324. Like HB 2559, SB 1324 is sponsored by Sen. Brian Crain and Rep. Ron Peters. Like HB 2559, it would restrict a city's options for handling BoA appeals. Unlike HB 2558, SB 1324 also grants new powers to a Board of Adjustment:

[The board of adjustment shall have the 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....

Earlier today I spoke to someone in the Clerk's office of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. My understanding is that HB 2559 is headed for a conference committee, but the conferees have yet to be named. SB 1324, on the other hand, was passed unanimously by the State Senate on March 9 (44-0), and passed unanimously on April 17 by the State House (98-0), but with a very small amendment. If the Senate votes to accept the House amendment, SB 1324 goes to the Governor for his signature. (The House amendment adds the phrase "and subsequent appellate courts" to the section forcing BoA appeals to District Court.) The final vote on SB 1324 is likely to happen this week.

Whatever the merits of BoA appeals and HP regulations, these matters should be handled locally, not dictated from Oklahoma City. Both of these bills should be scrapped.

If you want to make a difference on this bill, you need to contact your State Senator as soon as possible. To find out who represents you in Oklahoma City and how to contact them, click here, input your address, and click "Submit." The result will show you who your representatives are, their district office phone number, and their Capitol office phone number, and e-mail address.

It is amazing that these bills would pass without much opposition. I have to assume that legislators voted for it because they weren't aware of anyone who was against it, not because they had actually studied the measure. The supporters of the bill did a fine job of keeping it quiet so that potential opponents wouldn't be alerted.

It didn't happen this time, but I would hope that in the future, seeing Title 11 (Cities and Towns) on a bill would move legislators to consult with municipal officials in their districts. I would also hope that the City Council would assign a staffer to keep an eye on legislation affecting Title 11. Bills affecting Title 26 (Elections) and Title 60 (Trusts) might also have an impact on City Hall.

With these bills, the Tulsa development lobby seems to have exported our local debate over land use policy to the State Capitol. Until now, Republicans who disagree on local issues have nevertheless been united on state matters like taxation and tort reform. By putting a divisive issue into play at the state level, it may depress grass-roots enthusiasm to help Republican legislators keep the State House and win the State Senate.

Scary bypass

| | TrackBacks (0)

An edited version of this piece was published on April 26, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web on August 18, 2010.

It appears that Tulsa's development lobby, discouraged by the results of the Tulsa City Council elections, has decided to take its fight to the next level. Three Tulsa legislators have sponsored a bill that would interfere with local control of Board of Adjustment (BoA) appeals.

The bill, HB 2559, would require all appeals of Board of Adjustment decisions, whether variances or special exceptions, to go to District Court, with the attendant expenses of attorneys and court costs. The BoA can grant a variance to zoning ordinances if a hardship exists. The BoA can grant a special exception to allow certain uses that aren't allowed by right by the zoning of a piece of property.

In the past, Councilor Roscoe Turner and then-Councilor Jim Mautino have argued that certain BoA decisions should be first appealed to the City Council. While the BoA acts as a quasi-judicial body in many cases, in special exception cases it has the discretion to consider subjective matters like neighborhood compatibility. A special exception can have the impact of a zoning change, and neighborhood advocates argue that the City Council should have the opportunity to review such decisions before the courts are involved.

Under current law, Tulsa's City Council could modify our ordinances to tailor the BoA appeals process to balance the concerns of developers and neighboring property owners. HB 2559, sponsored by State Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel and Sen. Brian Crain, would take away this local discretion over the process and would dictate a one-size-fits-all solution for the entire state.

HB 2559 passed the House on March 8 and passed the Senate on April 19. Because the House "struck the title," the bill must go back to the House for one more vote before it can go to the Governor's desk. All of Tulsa's state representatives and all but two of our state senators supported the measure. (Republican Senators Randy Brogdon and Scott Pruitt voted against.)

An amendment to the bill that would have interfered with local control over historic preservation (HP) overlay zoning was also considered by the State Senate on April 19, but it failed by a 21-24 vote. Of Tulsa's senators, only Judy Eason-McEntyre voted yes.

Five historic Tulsa neighborhoods (and the park around the Council Oak) have special protection under Tulsa's zoning code. Exterior modifications and new construction within an HP zoning district need a certificate of appropriateness from the Tulsa Preservation Commission (TPC) before proceeding, to ensure that the historic character of the neighborhood is maintained. Demolition permits can be delayed for up to 60 days.

HP protection serves the same value-protecting purpose that deed restrictions serve in newer subdivisions. If you buy a home in an HP neighborhood, you can invest in maintaining your home to historic standards with the assurance that your neighbors are subject to the same rules.

But the protection is undermined if someone can easily buy a property in an HP-zoned neighborhood and have it removed from the district. The failed amendment to HB 2559 would have cut the TPC and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) completely out of the process of removing lots from an HP district.

In contrast, the process of creating an HP district or expanding its boundaries requires a great deal of time, historical research, and public input. As a rule of thumb, HP districts need the support of 80% of property owners in the district to move forward through three separate levels of review. Removing a property from the district ought to require a similar high standard of review.

Tulsa's development lobby is used to getting its way 100%. Rather than sitting down with other Tulsans to develop a land-use system that will serve the needs of everyone, they have tried and failed to recall two councilors from office, tried and failed to dismember three City Council districts and replace them with citywide supercouncilor seats, and tried and failed to pack the Council with people they can control. In a move akin to plugging your ears with your fingers and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," they excluded then-Councilor Chris Medlock from their mayoral candidate forum.

I was hopeful when I learned of the departure earlier this year of Josh Fowler from his post as the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa's executive director. I was hopeful that the development lobby had finally recognized that the pit bull tactics he epitomized were no longer working. I was hopeful that the developers were ready to take a more conciliatory approach to public policy. This legislative end-around shows that my hopes weren't well-founded.

Frustrated by the fact that ordinary Tulsans are paying attention to City Hall, Tulsa's development lobby is now trying to dictate local land-use policy from Oklahoma City. Whatever the merits of BoA appeals or of moving parcels in and out of HP districts, those are local matters that should be settled locally.

We need to let our state legislators know that HB 2559 is unacceptable. Homeowners and other property owners should object to local decisions being made a hundred miles away, where it's harder to keep an eye on things. Our City Council and municipal officials across the state ought to object loudly to this infringement on their prerogatives.

In his 2000 campaign book, A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush wrote that he is a conservative because he believes that government closest to the people governs best. I expect to see my fellow Republicans at the State Capitol uphold this fundamental Republican principle, and I expect them to defeat HB 2559 when it comes back to the State House of Representatives for a final vote.

In other City Hall news:

Last Friday the latest round of bids on subcontracts for the construction of the BOk Center were opened.

This was after a two-week delay to give bidders "more preparation time," according a report to the Tulsa World. Despite reassurances that all was well, there was good reason to assume that the delay was because of concerns that bids were coming in way over budget.

As it turned out, the lowest bids on each item exceeded budget by $32 million, about a 50% overage. The total of all five bid packages, plus the cost of land acquisition, plus the amount paid for architectural, project management, and other professional services comes to just shy of $150 million. The remaining bid packages are budgeted at around $30 million, which would bring the total for the arena alone to $180 million.

Remember that the Vision 2025 package allocated $183 million of that sales tax to pay for both the construction of an arena and improvements to the Convention Center, including the conversion of the existing arena into ballroom space. It looks like we won't have anything left to fix the facility that, we have been told again and again, is crucial to bringing outside dollars into the local economy.

When Councilor Chris Medlock raised concerns last fall about money being shifted from the Convention Center to the arena, he was shouted down by the monopoly daily paper and even by members of the overview committee who are supposedly keeping an eye on project finances on behalf of us taxpayers.

Back during the mayoral campaign, Democratic candidate Don McCorkell said he would stop work on the arena in order to get a handle on how much the facility would cost to complete and how much it would cost to operate and maintain. If the cost is going to exceed the budget by a wide margin, Tulsa's voters ought to decide whether or not it's worth proceeding. McCorkell's idea looks better all the time.

The fact that we've already put tens of millions into the arena doesn't mean it makes sense to throw good money after bad. (See "sunk costs, fallacy of.")

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Randi Miller, who had been mum about potential overages, not wanting to jeopardize renewal of the County's 4-to-Fix-Tax, now seems to be trying to recast herself as a taxpayer watchdog.

Some of us can remember when she was asked by Republican leaders, back in 2003, to make the arena a separate item on the Vision 2025 ballot, to give the voters a clear opportunity to vote against the arena without having to vote against the higher education improvements that were tied with it.

Miller stood by and did nothing at the time. She continued to go along to get along, voting with the other commissioners to sole-source the Vision 2025 financial contracts to favored vendors. After Vision 2025 was approved, when Medlock raised concerns about oversight and governance, Miller was silent.

On the other hand, Miller was more than happy, back on March 20, to grant a Murphy Brothers a 10-year exclusive contract to operate the Tulsa State Fair midway, despite complaints about rising prices and declining quality of the Murphy Brothers operation. The midway contract was not put out for competitive bids. Miller's support for the sweetheart deal with Murphy Brothers came after her mayoral campaign received a $5,000 contribution from Loretta Murphy, wife of Murphy Brothers owner Jerry Murphy.

Medlock, a genuine taxpayer watchdog, is continuing to keep an eye on arena expenditures at his blog, medblogged.blogspot.com.

An edited version of this column was published in Urban Tulsa Weekly on April 19, 2006. Posted to BatesLine on March 10, 2010. The archived column is no longer available on the UTW website.

Zoning Czar
By Michael D. Bates

Toward the end of his late campaign for re-election as Mayor of Tulsa, Bill LaFortune was looking for a bold, concrete way to demonstrate that his pledge to change direction in a second term as mayor was in earnest.

One possibility was to withdraw two pending reappointments of longtime members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC). The idea was that, in their stead, LaFortune would submit nominees who would bring new perspectives to the TMAPC, which is dominated by members who are connected in some way to the development industry. Mine was one of three names that were discussed to fill one of these unpaid positions.

When the monopoly daily newspaper got wind of it, their editorial writers went ballistic. In a March 28 editorial, they wrote, "If [LaFortune] does place Bates on the planning commission, then the city might as well erect billboards at the edges of the city instructing developers to just keep on moving to the suburbs.

Developers already were leery of trying to develop in Tulsa because of the anti-development attitude that has taken root here in recent years -- including in some officials' offices."

It's funny: The last three times I've appeared before the Board of Adjustment (BOA), the TMAPC, or the City Council on a land use matter, it was in support of a development.

For example, last fall I spoke to the City Council in support of the Eastbrook townhouse/office development, going in on 35th Place east of Peoria. The development was opposed by a number of Brookside homeowners. I argued that the Council should strictly apply the Brookside Infill Plan, which had been developed jointly over several years by homeowners, business owners, and the City, and had been incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan. If the plan were set aside in this one case, it would leave both developers and homeowners uncertain about whether it would be honored in the future.

Even if I were named to the TMAPC, I'd only be one vote among eleven, so even assuming I were anti-development, as the World claims, my lone voice shouldn't be enough to deter builders and investors.

But even if I were named Zoning Czar of Tulsa and could redesign Tulsa's land-use planning and regulation policy single-handedly, developers would in time see me as a benevolent zoning despot. The system I'd design would Make Life Better™ for homeowners, developers, real estate investors, building managers, tenants - in short, for everyone who lives or does business in Tulsa, because it would decrease risk and uncertainty while improving quality of life.

What would my ideal land-use system look like?

1. The aim of an ideal system would be to protect the investments of all property owners. That means homeowners as well as investors and developers.

2. My ideal system would be predictable. Before you invest in a piece of property you should be able to know with a high degree of certainty what you can and cannot do with your property and what your neighbors can and cannot do with theirs. If permission is dependent on the whim of city officials or on hiring a sufficiently expensive zoning attorney, the system isn't working as it should.

3. My ideal system would regulate what matters and leave the rest alone. Too often, our zoning code "protects" us against situations that really aren't problems, getting in the way of creative ideas that would enhance a neighborhood, while blithely permitting situations that are harmful to the neighborhood and the city as a whole. A good system allows as much freedom as possible, while not losing sight of the fact that what I do with my property affects the value of my neighbor's property.

4. My ideal system would accommodate a variety of neighborhood and development types in order to meet the variety of needs and interests in a city as big as Tulsa. There needs to be a place in Tulsa for an urban, densely developed downtown, as well as for big-box retail. There needs to be a place for both mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods where car-free living is possible, and for auto-oriented development with big-box stores and residential-only neighborhoods.

5. My ideal system would be clear and straightforward. The fewer and simpler the rules the better. Extra points for expressing those rules visually, to make it apparent to developers and homeowners alike what is allowed and what is not.

The present use-based zoning system fails all those criteria. Our current system is based on the assumption that what goes on inside a building has more of an impact on the neighbors than what's true about the outside of the building -- how big the building is, where it sits on the lot, how big the parking lot is.

Our current system follows the post-World-War-II assumption that homes and shops and offices have to be segregated from each other, despite centuries of experience that in the right sizes and proportions they can work together to make a great neighborhood.

Our current system ignores our thirty-year-old Comprehensive Plan as often as it honors it. More often than not, the Comprehensive Plan is amended after a parcel has been rezoned in a way that is contrary to the plan. It is not a reliable guide to homeowners or developers.

Our current system is one-size-fits-all. The same rules apply to Cherry Street and to 71st and Mingo. There's no recognition that development that would fit an auto-oriented strip of new development would not be appropriate as infill in a pedestrian-oriented traditional neighborhood. Under our current code, commercial is commercial - a Wal-Mart Supercenter is no different than an independent coffee house.

To make the current system work, exception after exception and patch upon patch have been added to the zoning code. In choosing to grant or deny a development, much weight is given to "neighborhood compatibility," but what that phrase means is left to the whim of the TMAPC and the City Council. Infill plans like Brookside's are the first attempt to define what neighborhood compatibility means, but for now those plans are not binding, only advisory.

The first steps have been made toward a new and improved system. The previous mayor and council approved work on a new Comprehensive Plan. Mayor Taylor called on her campaign website for the development of a form-based land-use code, which puts the emphasis on the size, shape, and position of buildings, rather than on what happens inside.

Before the election, Mayor LaFortune did withdraw the reappointments of Mary Hill and Brandon Jackson but didn't name any replacements. Mayor Taylor has the chance to name two new planning commissioners who will be fair in their application of the existing system, but who also have the vision and wisdom to help the city through the transition to a new and better system.

The best choices would bring a homeowner's perspective to the table - developers and associated industries are already well-represented on the TMAPC - but would have significant experience and knowledge about zoning and planning. We need new planning commissioners who are aware of Tulsa's zoning practices, but are also students of best practices elsewhere.

The Tulsa World likes to fearmonger about NIMBYs, but the so-called neighborhood naysayers that I know want nothing more than a fair system consistently applied. The World seems to want a system where the most expensive development attorney always wins.

I don't expect I'll ever be named to the TMAPC, much less be named the Pope of Planning, but if it were to happen, the City of Tulsa should erect billboards at the city limits saying, "Tulsa offers a fair, transparent, and up-to-date land-use system that maximizes freedom while protecting the investments of all property owners and our city's quality of life. Tulsa welcomes developers who will work with us to build a better Tulsa."

Of course, signs that wordy would probably violate some ordinance or another.

If I ruled the world...

|

... or if I at least ruled the TMAPC, here's what land use regulation (aka zoning) in Tulsa would be like, as summarized in my column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The Tulsa Whirled editorial board wrote that if I ever was appointed to the TMAPC, "the city might as well erect billboards at the edges of the city instructing developers to just keep on moving to the suburbs." Here's what I wrote in response:

I don’t expect I’ll ever be named to the TMAPC, much less be named the Pope of Planning, but if it were to happen, the City of Tulsa should erect billboards at the city limits saying, “Tulsa offers a fair, transparent, and up-to-date land-use system that maximizes freedom while protecting the investments of all property owners and our city’s quality of life. Tulsa welcomes developers who will work with us to build a better Tulsa.”

Click the link above, and read the five characteristics that a Michael Bates-designed planning system would have.

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

LaFortune in Laodicea

| | Comments (4)

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column is an analysis of the result of the mayoral election, a defeat for Bill LaFortune that was four years in the making. How did he go from having broad and enthusiastic support in 2002 to having no significant base of support in 2006? Special attention is given to the role that the local Republican Party organization might have played in keeping LaFortune connected to the GOP grassroots.

(I don't normally write my own headlines, but I submitted this one, and it was used. I think it's pretty apt.)

The rest of the current issue has a whole bunch of articles by city reporter Ginger Shepherd: on the mayoral transition, the high-rise sprinkler requirement, home security, syphilis, and the PAC's new ticketing system. Pick up an issue today at fine establishments citywide.

UPDATE: If the term Laodicea isn't familiar to you, read this.

An edited version of this piece was published in the April 5, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web August 8, 2009.

For multi-partisan city elections

By Michael D. Bates

Once again, dear reader, you have me at a disadvantage. As you read this, you know who will be the next Mayor of Tulsa. As I write this, the election is still in the future. So let's look together at an issue that will be on the table no matter who wins Tuesday's election: the role of party politics in city elections.

A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from a prominent supporter of Kathy Taylor. He was expressing dismay that Republican leaders were trying to bring the other Republican candidates and their supporters behind Bill LaFortune, the Republican nominee.

I was amused by the tut-tutting about partisanship from the Taylor camp. Shut out as they are from both U. S. Senate seats and all but one congressional district, Democratic strategists are salivating at the prospect of once again having a Democrat as mayor of the state's second-largest city, someone who can attract donations to Democratic candidates for the State Legislature. According to Oologah Lake Leader editor John Wylie, State Rep. Jari Askins said at a recent Democratic fundraiser that "the election of Taylor would be a huge first step in taking back the [State] House and preserving the [State] Senate in 2006" for the Democratic Party.

Even if we strip partisan labels from the city election ballot, politics at all levels are too closely linked to keep the national parties from having an interest and an influence in local elections.

That said, I'm sympathetic to the idea of non-partisan city elections. Twice I proposed a charter amendment that would have eliminated party primaries and replaced them with an all-candidate election, preferably using Instant Runoff Voting (see my March 9th UTW column) or, failing that, a two-round system, with a separate runoff election between the top two if no candidate gets 50% in the first round.

Non-partisan elections are appealing because local political factions don't break neatly along national partisan lines. Chris Medlock says that there are really six "parties" in Tulsa politics, three factions which each have supporters in both national parties.

You have the Midtown old-money elites who are behind the paternalistic plan to replace three of the nine council districts with three citywide supercouncilors; in their view the hayseeds in North, West, and East Tulsa can't be trusted with self-government. Then there are the developers and the Chamber bureaucrats, who look at City government as a way to serve their institutional and business interests and don't want homeowners and small business to have even a seat at the table.

Finally, there are the populist grass-roots - the rest of us - who believe that city government should serve the interests of all Tulsans, not just a favored few, and that Tulsans from all classes and all parts of the city deserve a seat at the table.

There are Democrats and Republicans in all three factions, and they often find more kinship with those who share their outlook on city government than with their fellow Ds or Rs. That's how you wind up with a reform alliance on the city council made up of two Democrats and two Republican, opposed by a status quo caucus consisting of four Republicans and one Democrat.

Because our city primary system follows national party lines, the struggle between the three trans-partisan factions is often settled in the primary, and the general election doesn't offer much of a choice. Also, party labels on a general election ballot can be misleading. You'd think a Republican would oppose higher taxes or that a Democrat would oppose corporate welfare, but that ain't necessarily so. An R or a D doesn't tell the voter with which of the three city factions a candidate is aligned.

Would stripping party labels entirely be helpful to voters? In fact, it gives voters even less information to work with. Labels are helpful aids to memory. You may have trouble remembering the name of the candidates you plan to support, and knowing that you decided to vote with your party in the mayor's race and with the other party in the council race gives you an extra hook to recall your decision.

It's indisputable that non-partisan elections have lower turnout. You see this in judicial and school board elections here in Oklahoma, and it's borne out across the country. The theory is that voters, lacking even the little sliver of information that a party label provides, don't feel they know enough to make a choice and so they stay away.
On the same day that 60,000 Tulsans turned out to vote in our city primaries, only 14,000 Oklahoma City voters participated in their non-partisan mayor's race. That number was inflated above normal levels by the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman urging support for the re-election of Mayor Mick Cornett, a registered Republican. Just shy of 11,000 voted in the 2002 OKC mayor's race.

So how do we change Tulsa's system to expand both choice and information for voters?

Instead of non-partisan city elections, let's have multi-partisan elections. Put all candidates for a city office on the ballot, but instead of stripping away the party labels, let's let candidates apply the label or labels of their choosing. Maybe that would be a major party label, maybe that would be the name of a political action committee (PAC), or even both.

The actual mechanics would go something like this: Candidates would file their petitions for office. (With no primaries to filter candidates, everyone should have to collect 300 signatures in order to run.) Each PAC registered with the City Clerk's office would then have a week to submit to the election board the list of candidates they are endorsing. The county political parties would have the same opportunity if they choose to exercise it. Each candidate would then choose which party and PAC endorsements would appear next to his name on the ballot.

For example, this year the District 6 Council ballot might have looked like this:

  • James Mautino - Republican, Homeowners for Fair Zoning
  • Theresa Buchert - Grow Tulsa PAC, Bank of Oklahoma PAC
  • Dennis Troyer - Democrat, N. E. Oklahoma Labor Council

With at least three candidates likely in every race on the ballot, we'd have to have some form of runoff; Instant Runoff Voting would be the best way to ensure that the winner would be chosen by a majority of voters. (Again, see my March 9th UTW column or www.fairvote.org for details.)

Non-partisan municipal elections would give Tulsans fewer and murkier choices. A multi-partisan ballot with a sound runoff system is the best way to give Tulsa's voters clearer, better, and more plentiful options when we choose our representatives at City Hall.

My latest column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, which was filed on Monday, before the election, recommends switching city elections from the current primary/general structure to a multi-partisan instant-runoff election. Note that I said multi-partisan, not non-partisan. (I don't write the headlines or cutlines for my stories.) My column explains the distinction and how my proposal gives voters more choice and more information than either the current system or a non-partisan system.

Since these haven't yet been posted on the UTW website, I'll post them here:

Introduction

Below are the responses submitted by Bill LaFortune to the Urban Tulsa Weekly questionnaire. Democrat nominee Kathy Taylor and Independent candidate Benford L. Faulk did not submit replies.

Paul Tay submitted his reply prior to the primary, and did not respond to the opportunity to reply to the two additional questions (11 and 12) added to the general election questionnaire. You can read Tay's response, which includes his proposed cabinet, a couple of vulgarities, and a lengthy digression about the deflation of his erstwhile inflatable companion, on his blog.

The City Council website has details about the six charter amendments, including ballot language and the changes to the charter text for each. UTW endorses passage of all six.

For more information about the candidates, www.TulsaTopics.com has links to all the candidate websites, a printable "tournament bracket" for the city elections, and audio of the mayoral forum sponsored by TulsaNow and Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa. David Schuttler�s Our Tulsa World blog has video from many Mayoral and Council candidate forums.

Homeowners for Fair Zoning has posted their endorsements in the City Council races and on the charter amendments.

Here's the complete BatesLine archive of entries about Election 2006.

The Tulsa Whirled is making its archive of Election 2006 stories available outside their firewall. Sumite cum grano salis.

To look up your district and polling place and to see sample ballot images, visit the Tulsa County Election Board website.

Other UTW election resources:

Click the "continue reading" link to see LaFortune's questionnaire responses.

Our options for mayor

| | Comments (14)

My column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly is a look at our four choices in the mayoral race. There you'll find why I can't vote for Taylor, Faulk, or Tay, and why I'm voting for LaFortune. I'm not going to try to summarize or elaborate here -- click the link and read the whole thing.

Elsewhere in this week's issue, Ginger Shepherd has a story about the state of Eastland Mall and one about the projects being funded by the Vision 2025 neighborhood fund.

The Council choice

|

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column reviews the four Tulsa City Council races on the general election ballot: Incumbent Roscoe Turner vs. Gerald Rapson in District 3, Maria Barnes vs. Robert Bartlett for the open District 4 seat, incumbent Bill Martinson vs. Jon Kirby in District 5, incumbent James Mautino vs. Dennis Troyer in District 6, and Cason Carter vs. Phil Kates for the open District 9 seat.

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

Six more FOR

| | Comments (2)

My column this week is about the six Tulsa city charter amendments on the April 4 ballot, and why you should vote FOR all six.

I wrote a column about these amendments, and those that didn't make the cut, back in November, right after the amendments had been approved for the ballot. It's instructive to see which councilors supported and which opposed each one.

At TulsaNow's forum, there's a lively discussion about the need for Proposition 1, which would allow the Council to hire legal help independent of the City Attorney's office. Michelle Cantrell (posting as "pmcalk") makes some excellent points.

Also in this week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

Jarrod Gollihare has the first in a series of stories about charismatic universalist preacher Carlton Pearson.

UTW's new city reporter, Ginger Shepherd, has a story about the proposed sprinkler ordinance for residential high-rises and another story about a dispute between Community Care College and students over the school's veterinary program.

The cover features the poker craze, and Barry Friedman reports from an illegal private game and from the casinos.

Wonder whatever happened to KTUL sports director Mike Ziegenhorn? So did David Austin, who spoke to Zig and his old boss at KTUL.

When I filed this week's column Monday morning, I had no way of knowing the final result, but I felt certain that whoever won the Republican nomination for Mayor would win without a majority of the vote. I thought that was the optimum time to write about the advantages of instant runoff voting without drawing complaints that it was an exercise in sour grapes.

For what it's worth, I've proposed instant runoff voting at least twice during the City Council's charter review process held every two years.

You'll find more information about instant runoff voting at FairVote, which reports that Burlington, Vermont, used IRV to elect their mayor this last Tuesday.

And here's the Burlington Votes website, with a helpful and thorough set of answers to frequently-asked questions, the results of the two rounds of the mayoral election, a sample ballot, and, for election nerds, a text representation of each ballot and the open-source software used to count the ballots.

Also, this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly has a story by Ginger Shepherd about Maurice Kanbar and Henry Kaufman's plans for downtown Tulsa. And Gretchen Collins talks to the two Portland-based investors who hope to convert the Towerview Apartments into lofts.

That latter story is very encouraging, but the most discouraging note is that city officials and the head of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited tried to talk them out of doing anything with the building. It's a shame our local yokels don't seem to understand that good, urban downtowns are built, renovated, and redeveloped one lot, one building at a time. When you start talking about whole blocks or superblocks or (heaven forbid) acres devoted to a single use, you're not talking about an urban streetscape any more, but transplanted suburbia.

The Towerview is the building that city officials have targeted for condemnation to make way for a hotel across the street from the arena. There's no reason that a hotel can't coexist with a restored Towerview and other new buildings besides. The Crowne Plaza takes up about a half-block, the Mayo a quarter-block, the old Holiday Inn/Ramada about a third of a block. Even the Doubletree, able to sprawl a bit because it's built on urban renewal land, would fit in less than a full block.

Here are a couple TulsaNow forum topics about the Towerview:

Towerview photos

Discussion of LaFortune's plan to condemn the Towerview

An edited version of this piece was published in the March 8, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web July 1, 2010.

The case for Instant Runoff Voting
By Michael D. Bates

The polls haven't even opened as I write this, but by the time you read this, the votes will have been counted.

Let me make this one prediction: Whoever wins the Republican nomination for Mayor will win with less than a 50% of the vote. Whoever the winner will be wasn't the top choice of a majority of Republican voters.

As I write this, I don't know if my favorite candidate won or lost, so this isn't sour grapes. I believe in majority rule, and there's something wrong about a candidate winning when most of the voters preferred someone else. Instead of the office going to the candidate who could put together a majority coalition of voters, it goes to the candidate with the most motivated, cohesive minority bloc of voters.

For state offices, Oklahoma deals with this problem by holding a primary runoff election if the primary doesn't produce a candidate with at least 50% of the vote. Tulsa's city charter doesn't provide for a runoff, and in special elections, Tulsa doesn't even have party primaries.

When a primary has three or more viable candidates, and there is no runoff, the voter is faced with a difficult choice. He may have a favorite candidate, other candidates that might be marginally acceptable, and a candidate he doesn't want to win. Does his favorite have a chance to win? If not, it might be more strategic to vote for a marginally acceptable candidate with a chance of winning in order to defeat the utterly unacceptable candidate.

At that point, the problem is knowing who really has a chance to win. You could look to polls, but if the numbers between second and third place are close, that doesn't help your decision. You could try to measure candidate viability by the number of dollars raised and spent.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a system of voting that allowed you to vote your conscience, a system that didn't require you to guess how your neighbors are likely to vote?

Hold that thought.

Adding a runoff for city elections would be a good start. A single runoff works well when you have two candidates neck-and-neck in the 40% range, and a group of other candidates splitting the rest of the vote. The primary reveals who the two most popular candidates are; the runoff settles the question, for whom would you vote if these were the only candidates in the race.

But a single runoff breaks down when you have three or more candidates who are clustered around 30%, with other candidates splitting the remainder.

The legendary example of this situation was the 1991 Governor's race in Louisiana. Incumbent governor Buddy Roemer, a moderate and respectable political figure, finished a very close third, giving voters a runoff choice between "The Crook" (Edwin Edwards) and "The Klansman" (David Duke). The also-ran candidates had enough votes between them that, had they not been in the race, would have been enough to put Roemer in first or second place and into the runoff.

There are plenty of Oklahoma examples of close three-or-more-way primaries where the single runoff system broke down. In 1990 both parties had gubernatorial primaries with three closely bunched candidates and a lot of also-rans. Burns Hargis might well have placed second in the GOP primary had it been a three man race. For the Democrats, Steve Lewis easily could have finished ahead of David Walters and Wes Watkins, if a couple of minor candidates had not been in the race.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a system of voting where there is no such thing as a spoiler candidate or splitting the vote? Where the winner would have won even in a one-on-one race with each other candidate?

Of course it would.

In the ideal system, you'd have a series of runoffs, and in each round, you'd eliminate the lowest vote-getter and vote on the rest, until someone gets 50% of the vote in a round.

Some civic organizations handle their elections in this way, but that's because they can count their votes in a matter of minutes and hold another round of voting right away. It would be burdensome enough to add a runoff election date to the city election calendar, much less multiple runoffs.

There is a way to get the effect of multiple runoff rounds without having the expense of multiple elections. Historically it's been called the "alternative vote," but recently it's been given the more descriptive name of "instant runoff voting" (IRV).

I first encountered this voting technique in my college fraternity. When voting in an election with multiple candidates, you'd write the candidates' names on the ballot in order of preference. As a voter, you'd ask yourself, if my favorite candidate weren't in the race, for whom would I vote? And if my two favorites were out, who would be my choice? And so on through the list of candidates.

The vote counters would take all the ballots to the table in the chapter room, and for each candidate there'd be a stack of the ballots that had his name marked as first choice. If no candidate had a majority, they would take the smallest stack of ballots - eliminating the candidate with the fewest first choice votes - and sort them into the other stacks based on the second choice listed. The process would repeat until one candidate had a majority of the ballots in his stack.

Xi Chapter of Zeta Beta Tau, I later learned, isn't the only place that instant runoff voting is used. Ireland uses IRV to elect its president. Australia uses it to elect its House of Representatives. London uses it to elect a mayor.

In 2002, the Utah Republican Convention used IRV to pick the top two candidates to compete in their congressional primary election in two districts and to pick a nominee for the third district.

Right here in Tulsa, the 1st District Republican Convention used instant runoff voting to choose delegates and alternates to the 2000 and 2004 Republican National Conventions.

San Francisco has adopted IRV. San Diego is looking at it - their last mayor was elected with only 35% of the vote.

Although our fraternity hand-counted our IRV ballots, modern voting machine technology makes it possible to scan preferential ballots optically and then conduct the sorting, elimination, and resorting by computer.

Some sort of runoff will become even more important if Tulsa ever switches to non-partisan elections. As it is now, primaries present general election voters with two candidates with a credible chance to win, and most officials are elected with over 50% of the vote.

We don't have to guess about the dynamics of a non-partisan winner-take-all election, because our city special elections are structured that way.

Last May's District 5 special election had seven candidates, four of whom had a significant base of support. The winner, Bill Martinson, only managed 29% of the vote, just 11 votes ahead of second-place finisher Andy Phillips. Based on the results, you could make the case that Martinson would not have won head-to-head races against any of the other major candidates; the split vote gave him the election.

Without a runoff, non-partisan city elections would give us a set of elected officials who lack the mandate of the majority.

Adopting IRV would require some changes to the City Charter, but since we're already taking another look at the charter and at the role of partisanship in city elections, let's not overlook the voting system we use.

UPDATE 3/6/2006: It's almost election day! This entry has links to all my Urban Tulsa Weekly writings on the election, plus my endorsements, and phone numbers so you can call and offer your help to these good candidates. They will still need election day help, so if you have an hour or two, give them a call!

The latest Urban Tulsa Weekly is online and has the second installment of the primary election preview, with stories on the primaries in Districts 1, 2, and 5 through 9. The story on each race includes candidate names, addresses, websites, and phone numbers, so you can get in touch, ask tough questions, and offer your help. (Note that, due to a snafu -- I submitted them, but they were overlooked -- the District 1 and 2 stories didn't make it to print, but they've been added on to the end of the online version of this week's piece.)

Last week's issue had the first installment of the primary election preview, including an overview of what's at stake, the questionnaire we sent to city candidates, a preview of the charter amendment on the March 7th primary ballot (Independents can vote, too!), and stories on the District 3 Democrat primary, and the Democratic and Republican primaries in District 4.

UTW also published the full text of the questionnaire and the candidate responses online.

My op-ed this week was actually two pieces that were joined by the editor into a single story containing my analysis and endorsements in the Democrat and Republican primaries for Mayor. I detail how Bill LaFortune frittered away all the goodwill and political capital he enjoyed at the beginning of the term. I try to explain why Bill LaFortune needs to be fired, and why the Republicans need to do the job themselves. I go on to outline Chris Medlock's vision for Tulsa and take a look back at some of his legislative successes.

Terry Simonson issues a call to the undecideds, telling them that the first step is to realize we need a change at the top:

First of all, decide if you think things are going so well that you want more of what we have had. Are you one of the people who can't imagine that anyone else can do or would do a better job than the incumbent? That's wrong-headed thinking and you have to get over it.

If you have traveled at all, or read about other cities, you know that we are not anywhere near where great cities in this new century should be and its because of our leadership. If all cities face the same national and social problems, why are some cities doing so much better than Tulsa? The answer is leadership quality.

He goes on to identify a lack of mayoral leadership as the cause of City Hall strife. Simonson has endorsed Chris Medlock for Mayor.

Once again, my endorsements for their respective nominations (please note that this does not guarantee an endorsement in the general election):

Mayor Republican: Chris Medlock
Mayor Democrat: Don McCorkell
District 1 Democrat: Jack Henderson
District 2 Republican: Rick Westcott
District 3 Democrat: Roscoe Turner
District 4 Republican: Kent Morlan -- with an honorable mention to Rick Brinkley
District 4 Democrat: Maria Barnes
District 5 Republican: no endorsement; Greg Madden is worth a further look
District 5 Democrat: Al Nichols
District 6 Republican: Jim Mautino
District 7 Republican: John Eagleton
District 8 Republican: Cliff Magee
District 9 Republican: Cason Carter

Proposition 1 (zoning protest charter change): YES

See last week's column for the reasons why in each race.

Your call to action again this weekend is to volunteer for a candidate and offer your help. At the same time, call your friends and neighbors, tell them who you're voting for and why.

Here are some candidates who, in my humble opinion, need and deserve your help these last three days:

Chris Medlock for Mayor, 269 - 2822, or stop by HQ at 69th and Canton (north of 71st and Yale QuikTrip)

Rick Westcott, District 2 Republican, 639-8542, e-mail rick@rickwestcott.org. Rick is asking volunteers to gather 10 a.m. Saturday at his office at 1743 E. 71st Street.

Roscoe Turner, District 3 Democrat, 834-7580

Maria Barnes, District 4 Democrat, 510-5725

Al Nichols, District 5 Democrat, 663-9432

Jim Mautino, District 6 Republican, 437-2642

John Eagleton, District 7 Republican, 496-0706/584-2002, or meet at 62nd and Irvington at 9:00 a.m. Saturday

Cliff Magee, District 8 Republican, 747-1747

Click on that Tulsa Bloggers button on the right side of the home page near the top. My brother bloggers are providing a lot of excellent coverage of the elections, including video of candidate forums, commentary, and endorsement news. None of us can cover everything on our own, but as a group we're doing a pretty good job of filling in the details that the mainstream media pass by.

And don't forget to pick up an Urban Tulsa Weekly. This week features my endorsements in the two mayoral primaries, plus the rest of the stories on the city council primary races, and a Terry Simonson op-ed explaining why we need to fire Bill LaFortune. On KFAQ Thursday morning and earlier in the week on KCFO, Simonson announced his endorsement of Chris Medlock, which gives Medlock the endorsement of two of the last four Republican mayoral nominees. Frank Pitezel, former state rep, is the other former nominee who supports Medlock. The two that don't endorse Medlock? Bill LaFortune and Bob Dick, the ol' BillyBob team.

The latest Urban Tulsa Weekly is online and has the first installment of the primary election preview, including an overview of what's at stake, the questionnaire we sent to city candidates, a preview of the charter amendment on the March 7th primary ballot (Independents can vote, too!), and stories on the District 3 Democrat primary, and the Democratic and Republican primaries in District 4. The story on each race includes candidate names, addresses, websites, and phone numbers, so you can get in touch, ask tough questions, and offer your help.

Next week's issue should have my stories on the rest of the races. The full text of the candidate responses is not yet online, but I'll link it from here when it is.

My op-ed this week was inspired by a form letter we received from District 4 Democratic candidate John "Jack" Wing. I take apart the conventional wisdom on Council "bickering" (as expressed in Wing's letter) as a way to explain my endorsements in each Council primary, as well as the Republican primary for Mayor.

Primaries are important. As I wrote, "If you let others weed out candidates in the primaries, you may find that they've left you with a choice between two candidates with different party labels but equally unacceptable views on how to run City Hall." Since so many races will be won, or all but won, in the primary, I've made endorsements in each of the primary races. Even though I'm a Republican, it matters to me as a Tulsan whether good men like Roscoe Turner and Jack Henderson win their nominations.

My endorsements for their respective nominations (please note that this does not guarantee an endorsement in the general election):

Mayor Republican: Chris Medlock
Mayor Democrat: To be announced
District 1 Democrat: Jack Henderson
District 2 Republican: Rick Westcott
District 3 Democrat: Roscoe Turner
District 4 Republican: still undecided -- Rick Brinkley is a good man; I'm slightly leaning to Kent Morlan for his awareness of city issues
District 4 Democrat: Maria Barnes
District 5 Republican: no endorsement; Greg Madden is worth a further look
District 5 Democrat: Al Nichols
District 6 Republican: Jim Mautino
District 7 Republican: John Eagleton
District 8 Republican: Cliff Magee
District 9 Republican: Cason Carter

See the column for the reasons why in each race. These good folks could use your help during these last 12 days of the campaign. Call or e-mail and volunteer.

Terry Simonson, in a column that seems to have been written before the FOP announced their endorsement, and long before Bill LaFortune's bizarre action to place Police Chief Dave Been on administrative leave, wants the police rank and file to go beyond issuing an endorsement and to get active on behalf of their candidate.

I'd add only that the candidate the officers ought to be getting behind is not the one their leadership endorsed. When there was an opportunity to shift funding away from gilding the lily at the Fairgrounds and building a new golf cart barn at LaFortune Park, and toward beefing up Tulsa's police force, Chris Medlock took a political risk to propose a way to increase funding for the police department, while Randi Miller opted for protecting the County's sales-tax turf over protecting Tulsans against crime. When "4 to Fix" renewal was being considered by the County Commission, Randi Miller could have shown leadership, could have said the cities need this money more than the County does, but she didn't.

On the subject of bloggers in print: As proud as I am to write for UTW, another blogger's exciting achievement today puts that into perspective. Congratulations to Dawn Eden on her first-ever byline in the Wall Street Journal, a review of the book Fired!, by Annabelle Gurwitch.

(Now that I think about it, the blogger achievement mentioned in the previous entry really puts everything into proper perspective.)

If I had read this week's UTW when it first came out, I would have known about Dwight Twilley's free Friday night gig at Boston's and a series of lectures about the renowned British author and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. Friday night's sleet, snow, and extreme cold probably would have kept me home anyway, but at least I would have known and could have told you all about these opportunities.

(There was an odd juxtaposition in the print version. The notice about Ahlquist's lectures was nestled between a couple of large display ads for -- well, let's just say the spot on the page would have been better suited for a meeting notice for the American Chesty Morgan Society. Readers who avert their eyes from ads featuring scantily clad models might have missed it, but you can avoid that problem by reading the events calendar online.)

There's a lot going on around Tulsa, and you'll find nearly all of it -- lectures, plays, concerts, art exhibits, craft workshops, poetry slams -- announced each week in the events listings of Urban Tulsa Weekly. Don't wait until you've missed half the week -- pick it up on Wednesdays! It's free!

In the meantime, don't miss the current issue. My column this week is about the collective rump-smooching that took place at the Tulsa Real Estate Coalition (TREC) mayoral forum, an event from which Republican candidate Chris Medlock was excluded. (You'll find video of the forum and of many other candidate events over at David Schuttler's Our Tulsa World blog.) And Barry Friedman mentions the ORU campaign e-mail scandal at the end of this week's Double Take on the Sooner State.

By the way, UTW is to blame for my blog silence the last few days, as I've been preparing content for this week's city primary election preview issue. Candidates provided some thoughtful responses to a challenging questionnaire, and I think you'll find the results enlightening.

A vision is a "compelling description of your preferred future," not a collection of public construction projects. This week's column is about comprehensive planning and developing a real vision for Tulsa's future. Tulsa's comprehensive plan is about 30 years old, but the process to get a new one is underway. Kansas City redid theirs in the '90s, and they have an ongoing effort to implement it. Dallas has unveiled a draft comprehensive plan with a strong theme of making more of Dallas pedestrian-friendly. Tulsa could learn a lot from these cities, but the scorched-earth approach of the development lobby may stop Tulsa from having the kind of visionary leadership we need.

I first learned about the Dallas plan thanks to this topic on the TulsaNow forum.

Some supplemental links:

The report of Comprehensive Plan Process Task Force: transmittal letter, draft report, and draft process.

Tulsa City Council's resolution adopting the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan Process Task Force.

ForwardDallas, Dallas's comprehensive planning effort.

ForwardDallas's draft comprehensive plan documents.

The urban design element of ForwardDallas (14.5 MB PDF).

Dallas Morning News (free registration required) story on the plan: "Pedestrians, not cars, star in draft of plan, but code changes sought"

Dallas does moratoriums, too. One example: building permits and certificates of occupancy within 1000 feet of a section of Fort Worth Avenue were halted for four months, to allow time for a development study to be completed. This is much stricter, although shorter in duration, than the eminent domain moratorium being proposed for Tulsa.

The big infill development battle in Dallas has been over McMansions -- tearing down smaller homes in older neighborhoods and building houses that fill their lots and dwarf neighboring homes. Here's a blog devoted to the fight against McMansions. (In Tulsa, it's been more typical to replace a sprawling ranch home on a multiple-acre lot with several multi-story houses.)

DallasBlog.com is an interesting community blogging effort at creating an alternative news presence online. I intend to explore it further.

Here's the home page for FOCUS Kansas City.

The latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is online, and for the first time, I've written the cover story, a feature story about Tulsa's news bloggers, with sidebars about what blogs are, the history of news blogging, a sampling of other local blogs, and how you can start your own blog -- it's free and easy. I'm grateful to my fellow Tulsa news bloggers for providing such interesting responses to my questions -- sorry I couldn't include more detail.

There's one correction I need to make: Bobby Holt wrote to remind me that it was Paul Romine who set up the Tulsa bloggers e-mail group, not Bobby. I regret the error.

My op-ed this week revists the question of public investment in downtown. With private investment in downtown growing, conditions have changed, and we need to rethink our decade-old approach.

Over at the TulsaNow forum, there's a lively discussion about the current state of Urban Tulsa Weekly, led off by someone who says it's turned into a "right-wing rag." Agree or disagree, you might enjoy jumping into the discussion. I've posted a few comments there myself.

TRACKBACKS: My friend Scott Sala, whom I mentioned in the story, blogged about it at Urban Elephants NYC. And the Blogging Journalist, who covers the relationship between blogs and mainstream media, linked to the cover story.

My column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is my review of last Friday's GOP mayoral candidate forum, sponsored by the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club.

This issue is chock full of good stuff. Barry Friedman takes us to the fallout shelter that now serves as the jury pool waiting room at the Tulsa County Courthouse. In the print issue (I can't find a link on the web) is a story about Boone Pickens' massive donation to the OSU athletic program, and the use of eminent domain to clear Stillwater neighborhoods to make way for Pickens-funded facilities.

Gary Hizer takes us up Main Street for a visit to the renovated Cain's Ballroom. It's the house that Bob Wills built, and it's the place where Sid Vicious punched a hole in the wall at the Sex Pistols' last US concert. In 2005 it was number 38 in Pollstar's list of top US live music venues, based on ticket sales. The story delves into the Cain's storied past, its recent renovation, and scheduled acts for 2006.

On the Cain's calendar for this year: George Clinton and the P. Funk All-Stars, rap acts, metal acts, tribute acts (Beatles, Grateful Dead, and Sex Pistols), and string bands. Personally, I'm looking forward to Asleep at the Wheel's return on May 13, and the Round-Up Boys playing a dance on Sunday afternoon, February 12.

UTW seeks reporter

| | Comments (2)

Urban Tulsa Weekly, Tulsa's alternative weekly newspaper has been running a help-wanted ad for a reporter. Now that G. W. Schulz has gone on to greener pastures on the Left Coast, they need to find someone to fill his Birkenstocks here in Tulsa. Here's the text of the ad:

Are You Serious About News?

REPORTER WANTED.

At least three years' experience at weekly or daily paper required.
Advancement opportunities.
Contact Emily. Resumes with samples.
No phone calls. Confidentiality assured.

Urban Tulsa Weekly
710 S. Kenosha, Tulsa OK 74120
eberman@urbantulsa.com


There's a real opportunity for a reporter to make a name for himself or herself at UTW by digging into stories that the daily monopoly newspaper won't touch.

In the meantime, I'm still writing my weekly op-ed column, although I've fallen behind on updating the links to my columns here at BatesLine.

Two issues ago, I wrote about the Mayor's proposal for a six-plus year renewal of the Third Penny sales tax, explaining why a 14-month extension of the existing tax, to pay for the projects we approved in 2001, would be better for downtown and inner city neighborhoods.

Last issue, my column was about the last-minute, back-room maneuvering that shook up the list of candidates to be Tulsa's next Mayor.

The new issue is out tomorrow at finer coffee houses and restaurants across our fair city. I promise to post a link a bit sooner this week.

For some reason, I am only now getting around to linking to this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, which is a collection of a dozen-plus reasons I'm optimistic about Tulsa's future. (The column sparked this thread at the TulsaNow forum.)

There's one more reason that I would have included, but can't now because this reason is leaving Tulsa: UTW reporter G. W. Schulz is moving back to San Francisco as a reporter for the Bay Guardian. It's a great opportunity for him.

I have enjoyed getting to know G. W. over the last year or so. Although he grew up here, he spent several years in Austin, Lawrence, and San Francisco, and he brought a fresh perspective to the coverage of Tulsa politics and people. I was really looking forward to his coverage of this spring's city election.

You can read G. W. Schulz's final pieces for UTW in the current issue. The cover story this week is about the sad realities of child custody battles. He shows us a day in Family Court, and interviews a judge, a custody evaluator, a divorce and custody expert at Family and Children's Services, and a couple of attorneys who handle divorce and custody cases, including John Eagleton. G. W. writes of his day at the courthouse:

Its difficult to imagine anyone ever experiencing intimacy in here, save for a couple of divorce attorneys who might find their own brand of love amidst the sadism and animosity. But a room like this, with its sterile walls, steel furniture and mustard yellow paneling, could certainly accommodate a splintered relationship with kids tumbling in the wake.

Divorce court could be the greatest untapped reservoir of birth control Planned Parenthood never considered. It made me want to experience head trauma so severe that I would lose any sense of carnal knowledge.

G. W. also takes a humorous rearview mirror look at his hometown as he heads off to the Left Coast, in which he dares to suggest that my Oxford shirts are neatly pressed. Nope -- this household is strictly 60-40 blend, machine wash warm, tumble dry low, remove promptly when dryer stops.

One of the delights of walking into Shades of Brown Coffee these last few months was seeing G. W. sitting at the counter, typing away on his laptop, and interrupting him for a wide-ranging chat. I'll miss that. All the best, G. W.

An urban design reading list

| | Comments (1)

Late getting 'round to this, but here's a link to my column in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, with some recommended reading on urban design. As I wrote in the column:

Urban design and architecture are too important to be left to the professionals.

You and I may not have diplomas hanging on the wall, but we're experts in those fields, because we live, work, play, drive, and walk in the results of the design decisions made by others. We may not have the vocabulary to explain what we're experiencing, but we know what we like. We remember being in urban places that feel alive and exciting, places that feel comfortable, places that seem dead, places that seem foreboding. Some places invite you to linger, others make you feel like hurrying along to get some place else as quickly as possible.

Architects and urban planners can help the layman put words to his gut feelings about good and bad urban design, but some of the best books on urban design have been written by journalists, and I recommend three that I've found especially insightful and useful, plus a couple of books by an architect. (At the bottom of this entry, I've provided some links to supplemental reading.) The ideas in these books can help to equip you to participate more effectively in the public debate over urban design, zoning, and land use policy.

The current issue of UTW includes Barry Friedman's end-of-year Double Take on the Sooner State and the city's most comprehensive listing of New Year's Eve entertainment. Music writer G. K. Hizer provides his recommended list of places to ring in the New Year. (Here are links to the regular weekly listing of live music and events, which include some New Year's Events. There's a Western Swing dance and covered dish supper in Bixby that looks like fun, but I don't think my wife is up to two-stepping right now.) You'll need the dead-tree edition to get the full listing and all the ads.

Gretchen Collins has a story about the 6th Street Task Force and the exciting plans for remaking that area, particularly the creative ways they propose for dealing with the flooding problem in what is, after 20 years of stormwater improvements, still one of the city's last unimproved drainage basins.

Also, in the web edition this week (although I think it was in last week's print edition) is Barry Friedman's review of an uneventful City Council meeting.

Now for some supplemental links that go with this week's column:

Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language -- a summary of each of the patterns described in the book, and the connections between them.

The introduction to Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown

Jim Kunstler interviews Jane Jacobs -- two of the authors I list in my column.

The website of Jim Kunstler: If you can look beyond the use of foul words for emphasis, there's a lot of food for thought here. His "Eyesore of the Month" is a photo and commentary on an example of bad architecture or urban design, and the feature is coming up on its eighth anniversary. (This month, in the spirit of the holidays, he gives us a break and presents some positive examples.)

Not mentioned in the column is the website for the Project for Public Spaces, which is full of examples of parks, squares, plazas, and streetscapes that work well, with explanations of why they succeed at attracting people. (New York City's Bryant Park is a great example of a once-failed public space that is now thriving.) There are also examples of failed public spaces, like Boston's hideous City Hall Plaza, which replaced lively, unruly Scollay Square.

Hypnotic Vision

| | Comments (1)

This week I managed to lead off my Urban Tulsa Weekly column, about the urban design characteristics of the new downtown Tulsa arena, with a Monty Python reference.

UPDATE: Charles G. Hill comments: "Oklahoma City's Ford Center isn't particularly iconic either, but it's intended to fit into an existing urban environment, not to anchor a new one." Precisely. If the building works well as urban design, it doesn't matter if it's iconic.

I thought of another TV reference, as I was writing about iconic structures, like the Eiffel Tower and the U. S. Capitol, which serve as widely-recognized symbols of their cities. There was a Green Acres episode in which Oliver and Lisa were going to Washington, and everyone in Hooterville told them to be sure to see the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Oliver would scoff in reply: "Those aren't in Washington!" At the end of the episode, Oliver and Lisa are in their Washington hotel room and Lisa flings open the curtains to reveal... the Eiffel Tower. Just one of those surreal moments that made Green Acres a classic.

Elsewhere in the latest issue of UTW:

Katharine Kelly doesn't care for Qdoba. I tried it the other night and didn't care for it much myself. The food was OK, but the decor was very barren, the lights were so bright you couldn't see out the window to Cherry Street, and (worst of all) the free Wi-Fi didn't work.

Gretchen Collins reviews Philbrook's special exhibit of the works of Thomas Moran, the great landscape painter of the American west. It only runs through New Year's Day, so don't delay.

Blue ribbon jeer

| | Comments (2)

This week's column is about the demise of the late, unlamented petition pushing for at-large members of the Tulsa City Council, and Bill LaFortune's new "Citizens' Commission," which appears to be intended to push the same agenda by other means.

Elsewhere in the current Urban Tulsa Weekly:

Have you wondered about the huge clouds of birds that swirl around and roost at sunset this time of year? The birds that are incredibly noisy and seem to love Bradford ornamental pear trees? Emily Berman has the scoop.

G. W. Schulz has a story about city employee unionization, with extensive quotes from City Councilors Martinson, Mautino, and Medlock on their reasons for their votes on the issue (Mautino voted yes, Medlock and Martinson voted no), from national and local representatives of AFSCME, the public sector employee union, and from one of the other Michael Bateses in town, Michael S. Bates, the city human resources director.

Apparently, I've been "allowed to hijack" the UTW op/ed page, or so says a letter writer named Joe Gaudet. Sir, if I could hijack an op/ed page, I'd have it fly me some place warm.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, an up-close look at next Tuesday's Tulsa County sales tax election. (You can find an earlier column about this tax proposal here, and here's a column about Tulsa County Commissioners' aversion to competitive bidding.

G. W. Schulz has a lengthy profile of Ray and Robin Siegfried, the company they built, their lavish lifestyles, and the legal dispute that divides the two brothers even after Ray's death earlier this year. And he's got a story about Oklahoma's TABOR initiative.

All that and much more, in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

My column in the current Urban Tulsa Weekly is a review of the City Charter amendment proposals Tulsans will vote on next spring, as well as a few that didn't make the cut, along with a look at the politics behind what passed and what didn't.

There were a couple of new developments tonight. Illegitimate Councilor Randy Sullivan tried to move the zoning protest petition amendment from the March primary election ballot to the April general election ballot. He tried to make the case that voters would be disenfranchised by having the vote on the primary ballot, when turnout would be lighter.

Councilor Chris Medlock pointed out that homeowners were promised back in 2004, when the courts ruled that the protest petition ordinance was in conflict with the charter, that the amendment to restore that protection would be on the next citywide election ballot. That would have been the December 2004 library bond issue, but the Council held off at the request of library officials. The next opportunity was the city bond issue in April 2005. The Council called the election, but something happened -- the dog ate Bill LaFortune's homework -- and the required public notices weren't placed in the Tulsa Legal News. The March 2006 is the next available citywide date to vote, and because there will be a mayoral primary, every precinct will be open anyway.

The other councilors were apparently persuaded by Medlock's argument -- Sullivan's motion died for lack of a second.

Councilor Roscoe Turner brought the recall amendment up for reconsideration, as I was hoping he would. The original proposal was modified by two complementary amendments proposed by Councilor Tom Baker. The requirement for signature comparison for the recall petitions was dropped (by a unanimous vote). Added in its place was a requirement for each signer to provide a valid contact phone number. That passed by a 5-4 vote (Baker, Henderson, Mautino, Medlock, Turner in favor; Christiansen, Martinson, Neal, Sullivan against). The amended amendment was sent to the voters by a 7-2 vote -- Martinson and Sullivan voted against. Although it isn't my ideal, the proposed amendment would require that recall be for cause, provides a consistent standard for number of signatures across all offices, and requires that signature gatherers be residents of the district. If we pass it in April, it will help ensure that a recall only happens when genuine constituents have a genuine and grave complaint against an elected official.

Finally, a District 7 resident (and a friend of mine), John Eagleton, protests that he did raise the issue of Randy Sullivan's non-residency with members of the City Council when it was publicly acknowledged in February 2005. Eagleton asked the Councilors to seek the City Attorney's opinion on the effect of filing a bogus declaration of candidacy; he believes it would render the election null and void and cause the office to become vacant. That was never done, apparently, perhaps because everyone was distracted by the recall effort underway at the time.

I remember, too, that there were District 7 residents who wanted to recall Randy Sullivan, but they restrained themselves at the request of Councilors Medlock and Mautino, who were themselves under threat of recall at the time.

Here's a link to all the articles in the current issue. Don't forget -- just a few more days to donate gifts for children in the DHS foster care system. Pick up a copy of the dead-tree version of UTW for a list of kids, ages, and the gifts they'd like for Christmas.

Betcha didn't think I could work the word "rhinotillexomania" into an Urban Tulsa Weekly column about how much the downtown sports arena is going to cost us, did ya?

Also in the new issue of UTW:

G. W. Schulz has a very funny take on local news and the November ratings sweepstakes. He challenges TV station problem-solvers with a really hard math question. And he names names: What TV newsreaders are speeding through your neighborhood and endangering your children? Tune in at 10!

Barry Friedman has some meditations on cartoon plagiarism, cow tipping, and whether Bill LaFortune thinks the doctrine of the deity of Christ is a petty matter.

For the Thanksgiving Day cover story, Katharine Kelly asks, "Why aren't we happier?" Possibly because we're having turkey instead of Billy Sims Barbecue, which she also reviews in this issue.

Finally, UTW wants to provide Christmas gifts for 100 of the 1,200 kids in foster care in our area. Click here to find out how you can help between now and December 5. Of course, the best gift of all would be to adopt a child in permanent foster care, and each issue of UTW spotlights children waiting for a home.

Pick up a copy today!

UPDATE: Bobby has a helpful set of footnotes for my column.

In this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I review what happened with Bill LaFortune's plan to have the city pay off the $7.5 million owed by Great Plains Airlines to the Bank of Oklahoma, and ask some questions that need answering.

The cover boy this week is my friend Jamie Jamieson, developer of the Village at Central Park. Jamie was interviewed by Gretchen Collins about exciting developments in the 6th and Peoria area (soon to become known as the Pearl District).

All that and much more in the November 17 issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

The real GOP

| | Comments (6)

I've been remiss in linking to this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. It's a look at what makes the Republican Party tick at the local level -- really just scratching the surface, with more to come in future columns.

This week's cover story by G. W. Schulz is fascinating, a real page-turner -- the story of Freddy Salazar, a man of many hats, an inventor who challenged Proctor and Gamble on a patent and won, while he was in prison doing time for drug trafficking.

All that, plus coverage of theater, live music, movies, restaurants, sports -- in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

The latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is out, and my column this week is a response to some comments objecting to my reference in last week's column to the Christian faith of the four reform-minded city councilors. An excerpt:

I think I understand the root of their objections. If you think of faith as just professing agreement with certain doctrines, then what I wrote would be irrelevant to the discussion. If you confuse faith with religion, then you might well wonder what a Councilors position on the propriety of infant baptism, which foot to lead with when genuflecting, or whether musical instruments have a place in worship has to do with his performance in office.

But faith is more than reciting a creed or performing certain rituals. Faith involves confidence and trust. During a worship service you profess certain things to be true about Gods nature and character. During the rest of the week, your true faith--what you really believe about God and his dealings with you and the rest of the humanity--becomes apparent in the way you live your life, and particularly in the way you deal with adversity.

For that reason, what an elected official really believes about Gods nature and character affects how he conducts himself in office. Someone who has genuine confidence and trust in God as He is revealed in the Bible will have courage and persistence in the face of discouragement, danger, hostility, oppression, and injustice.

That's the gist of it; go read the whole thing, and feel free to post a comment.

Earlier in the week, Steve Denney of HFFZ posted some worthwhile thoughts on the matter:

To challenge a vested, powerful and ruthless political/financial machine is tough, thankless and risky work. A brief review of the personal attacks, including a lawsuit, that the Reform Councilors have had to endure should quickly disabuse anyone of the notion that they have been basking in power and glory at Tulsa City Hall. It is something beyond ourselves, religious faith, belief in the rule of law, a sense of fairness, or perhaps all three together that draw an individual to the cause of balanced representative government.

UPDATE: I've posted some responses from the blogosphere in this entry, and I'll add to it as more come in.

The new issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is now online, and my column this week is about "Tulsans for Better Government" and the initiative petition this group has launched to reduce the number of City Council districts by three and add three at-large seats.

By the way, the link at the top of the homepage labeled "This week's column" -- http://www.batesline.com/utw/utcolumn.html -- will always redirect you to the latest column. Feel free to bookmark it or add it to your blogroll.

At-large councilors

| | TrackBacks (1)

An edited version of this piece was published in the October 26, 2005, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web October 27, 2009.

It's been a tough couple of years for Tulsa's traditional political establishment. The bunch that for years has had control over city government - a group I call the Cockroach Caucus, after their aversion to the light of public scrutiny - saw their grip on public opinion beginning to slip.

Despairing of their long-term chances to regain full control of city government under the current rules, they've got a scheme to change the rules so that money will count for more than grass-roots support. The plan is to dilute geographic diversity on the Council and guarantee that big money will control at least a third of the city's legislative body.

Last Thursday, a group calling themselves "Tulsans for Better Government" filed an initiative petition to reduce the number of Tulsa City Council districts to 6 and to create three at-large "supercouncilor" seats.

The group is headed by Arthur H. "Chip" McElroy II, whose company played host to Bill LaFortune's re-election announcement. The three supercouncilors would be elected citywide to four-year terms, beginning in 2008, while the six district councilors would continue to serve two years at a time.

The idea has been pushed enthusiastically by the Tulsa World editorial board, distraught by their fading influence over city politics. (The World routinely waits three weeks before publishing a letter to the editor, so it's telling that the paper fast-tracked a Sunday "Readers' Forum" guest opinion in support of the campaign just two days after it was launched.)

After the 2004 elections, the Council had, for the first time ever, a majority of members that were elected contrary to the endorsements of the Tulsa World and the money of the developers' lobby. In four contested primaries and four contested general elections, reform-minded candidates received 59% of the vote to 41% for the World's endorsees.*

The empire struck back in May of this year, with Bill Martinson replacing Sam Roop in a special election. But Martinson won with only 29% of the vote, aided by the unusual structure of a special election. The result gave the anti-reform bunch an apparent majority in the short term, but they can't have been encouraged about the long-term prospects of maintaining control.

The results of July 12 had to have been a shock to the Cockroach Caucus. Despite a year-long barrage of criticism from the Tulsa World and now-retired radio host John Erling and a well-financed and relentlessly dirty campaign against Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock, the two survived a recall election by overwhelming percentages.

What has become apparent is that, in a district race, feet on the ground - enthusiastic volunteers willing to go door-to-door on behalf of a candidate - can beat money and a monopoly daily newspaper. With passionate grass-roots support, a candidate can get a message out to counter direct mail, robo-calls, and the potshots taken on the news and editorial pages of the World. Tulsa's Council districts each have a population of 43,000, still small enough to be reachable by grass-roots methods.

It really seems to frighten the Cockroach Caucus that there are four councilors who don't feel the need to grovel before them for campaign money. In the past, the occasional maverick would rise up and challenge business as usual at City Hall, but the old guard was always successful in isolating them and either defeating them or wearing them down into submission. Councilors Medlock, Mautino, Turner, and Henderson are all men of devout Christian faith. They are willing to risk their political careers to do what they believe is best for the city, and they are confident that in seeking what is right, they will have the support of their constituents. And they've stood by each other through thick and thin, thwarting the old divide-and-conquer strategy.

By making three of the council seats citywide, money comes back into the picture. TV and radio advertising come into play, and for that you need plenty of campaign cash. Grass-roots campaigns can succeed at that level - Tom Coburn and John Sullivan beat elite-supported candidates at the congressional district and state levels - but are much harder to pull off.

Not only would big money have the best shot at winning the three at-large seats, but the process of consolidating nine districts into six would allow the Cockroach Caucus to eliminate the incumbents they hate the most by throwing them into the same districts as other incumbents.

North Tulsa would go from two councilors to one, putting reform Councilors Roscoe Turner and Jack Henderson into the same district. West Tulsa's concerns would be drowned out under the plan - its population currently makes up half of District 2; under the new plan it would only be a third of a district.

Bigger districts are also easier to gerrymander, and with all the support for this effort coming from the Midtown "Money Belt" - that band of affluence stretching from Utica Square to Southern Hills - don't be surprised to see the new lines drawn so that nearly every district includes a Money Belt precinct. That's a time-honored technique used at the state legislative level to allow the affluent to represent working class citizens without having to actually (ick!) live among them. Diversity of representation, the reason we went to districts with the new charter in 1989, would disappear.

Supporters of at-large councilors make the bogus claim that "ward politics" are damaging the city. They say that district councilors are focused on the parochial concerns of their constituents at the expense of the best interests of the city as a whole. But if you look back at the most controversial issues of the last two years, they've been citywide issues. Great Plains Airlines and airport operations, creation of a city-focused economic development policy, oversight for funding to the Chamber of Commerce, fairness in the zoning process, north Tulsa County annexation, the water line to Owasso and the reappointment of two suburbs-focused members of the city's water board, the IVI toll bridge - in each case the councilors under attack by the World-led establishment have been seeking the City of Tulsa's best interests, in many cases where they conflicted with the interests of the suburbs.

Councilors Henderson, Mautino, Medlock, and Turner are each devoted to the needs of their own constituents, but they've also worked together to ensure that the citizens of the historically neglected east, west, and north sections of our city receive the city services they are owed.

And that seems to be what really bugs the bunch behind the at-large council proposal. It's the Money Belt denizens backing this plan that tend to take a parochial view, seeing Tulsa as a small, close-knit, fabulously wealthy town centered on Utica Square. Neighborhoods like West Highlands and Garden City, Rose Dew and Wagon Wheel, Sequoyah and Suburban Acres may as well be foreign countries to them.

We finally have a critical mass of councilors who believe that city government should serve all Tulsans, not just a favored few, and it is shaking up the cozy worldview of the old elite. The forces behind at-large council seats used their years in power to lead Tulsa to its current state of declining population, rising crime, and an economy still dangerously dependent on a few key industries.

The Cockroach Caucus has run this town for years, but it is out of ideas, out of energy, and very nearly out of power. The "Tulsans for Better Government" is the elite's final desperate attempt to keep city government in their grasp.

I feel certain that the people of Tulsa will tell them, "No thanks, the city belongs to all of us now, and we intend to keep it that way."

* NOTE: I've only counted elections where a Whirled endorsee faced a reformist opponent. The Democrat primary in District 3 and Republican primaries in District 7 and 8 decided the winners of those seats. Jack Henderson won a contested Democrat primary in District 1 and handily defeated token opposition in the general election. Districts 2, 4, 5, and 6 had seriously contested general elections. I've left out District 9 entirely - the general election pitted incumbent Republican Susan Neal against incarcerated Independent Paul Tay.

An edited version of this piece was published in the October 19, 2005, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online.

How Good An Ol' Boy Are You?
Tulsa County's aversion to competitive bidding might very well be shortchanging taxpayers
by Michael Bates

Smokey Robinson's mama told him, "You better shop around," and that's good advice, especially when a big commitment is involved. Tulsa County's Commissioners seem to avoid shopping around as much as possible, and their reluctance to put contracts up for competitive bid is one of the central issues in the controversy over the proposed toll bridge in south Tulsa County.

Tulsa County's long-range street and highway master plan shows a bridge crossing the Arkansas River from 121st and Yale in Tulsa south to the undeveloped western fringes of Bixby. Transportation planners say the bridge won't be needed for another 10 years, but a private company, Infrastructure Ventures, Inc. (IVI), has made a deal with Tulsa County to build it as a toll bridge now and give it to Tulsa County.

In return, IVI would receive 100% of tolls for the first 10 years and 85% for the next 65 years. IVI would operate and maintain the bridge, but Tulsa County would handle law enforcement, ice removal, and traffic signals. Although it's been described as a private toll bridge, IVI needs Tulsa County to use its power of eminent domain to acquire the land, and the bridge will be owned by Tulsa County.

That may sound like a good deal, but the Tulsa City Council passed a resolution expressing their opposition, and more than 5,000 citizens--including Mayor Bill LaFortune and every councilor except Tom Baker and Susan Neal--have signed a petition against the bridge deal. Last Thursday, the executive committee of the Tulsa County Republican Party took the unusual step of passing a resolution opposing the bridge deal.

Over the years, far south Tulsa voters have provided a reliable base of support for tax renewals and bond issues, but there are rumblings that they'll oppose the County's attempt to renew its '4 to Fix the County' sales tax in December because of the County/IVI bridge deal. Concern about the traffic impact of the bridge on two-lane Yale Ave. initially mobilized opposition among south Tulsa residents, who proposed realigning the bridge to connect to Riverside Drive--thus the name of the opposition website, movethatbridge.com.

What ought to concern all Tulsa County taxpayers is that the IVI bridge deal is the latest in a long series of high-dollar county contracts that were negotiated with a sole source, rather than put out for competitive bid. Here are just a few examples:

In 1997, the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA) made a deal allowing Ralph W. Jones to build a hotel on the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, and giving him exclusive rights there for 25 years. The TCPFA board is made up of the three County Commissioners plus two appointees, Jim Orbison and Bob Parmele. Jones had been campaign manager and a major contributor for County Commissioner Bob Dick's 1994 campaign for Mayor of Tulsa. The opportunity was not put out for competitive bids, and no other proposals were considered.

In August 2000, the TCPFA entered into a three-year, $540,000 contract with Public Affairs Group LLC to lobby for state funding for the Fairgrounds. Public Affairs Group LLC was a partnership between Claudia Tarrington, Bill LaFortune, and John Nicks. The opportunity was not put out for competitive bids, and no other proposals were considered.

From 2002 through 2005, Cinnabar Service Co. was the sole source for appraisals and other services for the County's expansion of O'Brien Park. Cinnabar's owners are Bob Parmele and Bill Bacon, who, along with builder Howard Kelsey, are also the principals in IVI.

In October 2003, following the passage of Vision 2025, the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) took steps to borrow money against future Vision 2025 sales tax revenues so that projects could be built faster than a pay-as-you-go approach would allow.

The TCIA, whose board consists of the three County Commissioners, voted to enter into negotiations with Leo Oppenheim and Co. and Wells Nelson and Associates to handle bond underwriting for the half-billion in revenue bonds that would be issued, and with the law firm of Hilborne and Weidman to serve as bond counsel and with Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison, and Lewis to serve as special contracts counsel. Fees for the entire investment team on the initial bond issue of around $250 million were estimated to be between $687,500 and $3.4 million.

Leo Oppenheim and Co. was affiliated with Bank of Oklahoma, and their lead bond advisor was John Piercey, who has been the sole source on many county bond issues over the last 20 years. County Commissioner Dick described Piercey to the Tulsa World as a "dear friend."

Orbison is Jim Orbison, mentioned above as a member of the TCPFA. Wells Nelson and Associates is affiliated with F & M Bank and Trust Co. Although school districts and local governments routinely use competitive bidding for bond underwriting contracts, advertising opportunities nationwide via publications like The Bond Buyer, Tulsa County and its related authorities rarely put bond services up for competitive bids.

The TCPFA is currently in the process of negotiating a five-year extension of their contract with Murphy Brothers for the Tulsa State Fair midway. Murphy Brothers has had the contract since 1971; it has never been competitively bid.

The proposed IVI bridge is the latest example of Tulsa County's aversion to competitive bidding. After 2 1/2 years of private discussions between individual County Commissioners and IVI principals, the Commission discussed the bridge deal for the first time at a public meeting in February 2005. On June 14, the Commission unanimously approved the contract. Two of the commissioners, Randi Miller and Wilbert Collins, have testified that they reviewed no documents other than the executed agreement prior to voting to approve the contract.

Effectively the deal provides that IVI will receive $658 million, according to an independent financial analysis, as compensation for building and operating a publicly-owned bridge over the life of the contract. The same financial analysis, conducted by George K. Baum and Co., shows that the County or the City could build the bridge itself, financing the bridge with revenue bonds. Under that scenario, the toll could be lifted after 30 years or the excess revenue could be used to fund other public infrastructure.

To cite this list of sole-source contracts is not to say that any laws were broken (although that has been alleged in the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition lawsuit against the County Commissioners), or that the people who were awarded the contracts were incapable of doing the work. But sole-source contracts rarely serve the best interests of the public. Competitive bidding opens opportunities up to all businesses, not just to those with political connections. Competitive bidding means the public gets better services, better rates, or a better return on their investment in public facilities.

Take the midway, for example. The Tulsa State Fair attracts nearly a million people each year, and there are dozens of companies in the outdoor amusements business who would be interested in reaching that market. Competitive bidding could mean more rides, a better variety of rides, better reliability, and a lower price per ride, all of which would serve the fair-going public. It could also mean a better share of the revenues for the TCPFA, money that could be used instead of sales tax funds to pay for Expo Square improvements, and that would serve every Tulsa County taxpayer.

In the past, Commissioner Bob Dick has defended sole-source contracts on two grounds. Regarding the Vision 2025 bonds, Dick told the Tulsa World that there was a "great deal of value with having a team that understands the government they are serving." On the exclusive deal for the fairgrounds motel, Dick said that because a businessman came to them with the idea, it would have been unfair to solicit bids from other businesses, "to use entrepreneurs' ideas against them." The same rationale has been used for not soliciting other proposals for a south Tulsa bridge.

If a contractor approached me with a proposal to add a room to my home, would I have a moral obligation to use that contractor? Of course not. Any reasonable person would see if there were other contractors who could provide better value. Even if Commissioner Dick feels obliged to the company who came forward with the idea, he and his fellow commissioners should feel a greater obligation to the taxpayers who elected them, who have entrusted to them hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues and public assets.

The County Commissioners are asking the voters to renew the "4 to Fix the County" sales tax in December to generate $62 million. Why should we, when the County Commissioners have blithely left 10 times that much money on the table in this controversial toll bridge deal?

Retrieved from the Internet Archive.

Better shop around

| | Comments (6)

The new Urban Tulsa Weekly is out. My column this week is about the proclivity of Tulsa County Commissioners (as commissioners, and as board members of various trusts) to grant sole-source contracts, a practice which doesn't serve the best interests of Tulsa County's taxpayers. The IVI bridge is just the latest example of the County Commissioners choosing not to shop around for the best deal.

G. W. Schulz covers the controversy over the airport noise abatement program, which happens to involve Cinnabar, a company headed by some of the same folks who head up IVI. David Schuttler was interviewed for the story -- he's chronicled the shoddy, but expensive, work done by Cinnabar's subcontractors on his home.

If you have ideas you'd like to see me cover in future columns, please post them here as a comment, or e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com. Thanks.

My latest Urban Tulsa Weekly column is up -- Far From the Madding Crowd. It's about a walk downtown along the reopened Main Mall, through the Great Wall of Williams, by the first downtown pocket park, and into the so-called East Village.

Elsewhere in this week's UTW, G. W. Schulz has a story about Tulsa convention center economics, a follow-up to his story from March.

Pick up a copy at fine establishments all over Tulsa.

UPDATE: Jamie Pierson, my favorite blue-haired Brookside barista, has a couple of thoughts on downtown Tulsa history prompted by the article, which she's posted on her new blog. One of the thoughts has to do with her grandfather, Jimmy Saied, who opened his music store downtown in the '40s, then moved to 33rd and Yale in the '60s.

My latest column for Urban Tulsa Weekly is online, and in honor of National Newspaper Week, I've written about our city's monopoly daily newspaper, the Tulsa Whirled.

The column is about the investigation into Great Plains Airlines, and why the Tulsa Whirled seems so intent on halting that investigation before we know how the airline spent over $30 million in public investment. If you've been trying to understand what the Great Plains fuss is all about, this column is a good place to start, if I do say so myself.

Also in this issue, G. W. Schulz delves into the politics of distributing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars and other federal funds to local non-profits. G. W. provides the background to the recent controversy over the city repaying grant money to the Feds. And Barry Friedman has some doubts about those estimates of the New Orleans Hornets' economic impact on Oklahoma City.

You can find Urban Tulsa Weekly at finer dining establishments and smart cafés all over Tulsa.

By the way, I've added a blog category to collect each week's announcement of my latest column and thus serve as a sort of column archive.

Assimilated nuns?

| | Comments (4)

I'm down at Shades of Brown, working on my Urban Tulsa Weekly column, and from the next table I'm hearing a lot about nuns assimilating, but by the context they're not talking about the acculturation of immigrant Catholic religious women. It's a couple of ORU grad students trying to get their brains around Hebrew orthography.

Shades has a full house tonight, and it's gratifying to see a lot of the patrons perusing the latest issue of UTW as they sip their coffee.

In that new UTW issue, you'll find my latest column, on infill development in Brookside, and some encouraging steps toward accommodating new development without sacrificing the neighborhood's character. G. W. Schulz has the cover story -- it's about the challenges faced by EMSA, Tulsa's ambulance service. As a former Austin resident, G. W.'s also a part of a symposium on the OU-Texas rivalry. The discussion goes beyond football to the differences in attitude between north and south of the Red River. Way down Texas way, they don't mind rowdy politicians:

When Tulsa City Councilors Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino began raising hell at City Hall, the city recoiled with shame and horror as if someone had farted at a funeral. We're generally timid and quiet; we don't like anyone making too much noise.

But Mautino and Medlock's antics hardly would have made the pages of the Austin American-Statesman. The only time Texans blink is when someone isn't screaming and yelling at the capitol building.

Pick up a copy and read the whole thing.

The latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is online, and my column this week is about Tulsa County's push to pass an extension to the "4 to Fix the County" sales tax:

Tulsa Countys three commissioners are scrambling to put together a list of projects to be funded with a new 1/6th cent sales tax. Although theres a year to go until the 4 to Fix the County (4FC) tax expires, county officials are eager to get Tulsa voters to commit at the earliest possible opportunity to pay the tax for five more years.

The reason has little to do with funding critical County government functions, and everything to do with mayoral politics and the balance of power between City and County. While the County has accomplished a lot of good with 4FC, the question Tulsa voters should be asking is, Who needs the money most?

Read the whole thing, as they say.

I'm pleased to announce that I'm writing a weekly column for Urban Tulsa Weekly. My first column is in the current issue, and it's on urban design, walkability, and what that means for Tulsans who, by reason of disability or age, cannot drive:

For tens of thousands of our fellow Tulsans, walkability isnt about rows of trendy cafes and quirky consignment shops, or about sidewalks to nowhere; its about independence. For them, driving simply isnt an option. Im not talking just about those who cant afford to operate a car. There are those who are physically unable to drive.

Many senior citizens, troubled by glare at night or uncertain of their reflexes, prefer to drive only during daylight or not at all. Teenagers are old enough to get around on their own, but either cant drive yet or shouldnt. For those who cant drive, urban design makes the difference between freedom and frustrating dependence.

The focus of my column will be city issues and city politics. Many thanks to UTW publisher Keith Skrzypczak for the opportunity to write a column, and to UTW reporter G.W. Schulz, whose very kind profile of me in July started the ball rolling on this.

Walkability and Disability

| | TrackBacks (0)

An edited version of this piece was published in the September 14, 2005, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web April 3, 2012.

Walkability and Disability
by Michael D. Bates

Urban design can be a dry topic, and the details of urban design - scale, setbacks, screening - can make your eyes glaze over, but it's all about the shape of our city and how it shapes our everyday lives.

A few weeks ago, my wife spotted a man making his way down our street, sweeping a white cane in front of him. Like most Tulsa neighborhoods built since the 1920s, when the automobile came into common use, our mid-'50s neighborhood doesn't have sidewalks, so this gentleman was in the street itself, close to the curb.

This blind gentleman told my wife that he was out "having a look" (his words) around the neighborhood where he grew up. He was happy to learn from her that our neighborhood would once again have a supermarket. He had heard that his neighborhood supermarket was closing. In the future, going to the store would mean walking an extra mile and a half - entirely without sidewalks - and making his way across one of the city's busiest intersections.

Urban planners talk about the importance of "walkable" neighborhoods, with homes, shops, and workplaces in close proximity. Walkability is more than sidewalks; the sidewalks have to lead somewhere useful.

Tulsa doesn't have many walkable neighborhoods, and the few that exist were built mainly in the 1910s and 1920s, before most people had their own cars and before Tulsa adopted a zoning code designed to strictly segregate homes from shops and offices from factories. Many walkable neighborhoods were destroyed by urban renewal or dismembered by freeway construction, and our biggest and oldest walkable neighborhood - downtown - has been reduced to little more than a suburban office park.

For tens of thousands of our fellow Tulsans, walkability isn't about rows of trendy cafes and quirky consignment shops, or about sidewalks to nowhere; it's about independence. For them, driving simply isn't an option. I'm not talking just about those who can't afford to operate a car.

There are those who are physically unable to drive. Many senior citizens, troubled by glare at night or uncertain of their reflexes, prefer to drive only during daylight or not at all. Teenagers are old enough to get around on their own, but either can't drive yet or shouldn't. For those who can't drive, urban design makes the difference between freedom and frustrating dependence.

Danny, a friend from church, has cerebral palsy and suffers from seizures. He can't drive, and he can only walk short distances with a cane, but he can get around with his electric scooter. Unfortunately, he lives on South Lewis, and he's been pulled over by the police more than once trying to go to the supermarket on his scooter. There aren't any sidewalks, and the only way to get to the store is on the street. Using Tulsa Transit's LIFT paratransit service requires booking a day in advance, waiting outside up to an hour for a ride, and leaving early enough to pick up and drop off other passengers on the way to his destination. LIFT isn't available on Sundays. If the next errand isn't reachable from the first by foot or scooter, it means another bus ride and another long wait. Because of the shape of our city, Danny doesn't have the freedom to go where he wants to go when he wants to go, and it makes Tulsa a frustrating place to live.

Compare Danny's situation to that of Nick, whom I met earlier this year at a pub trivia night in
New York City. Nick, a walking encyclopedia of pop music who led our team to victory, is blind, but that doesn't seem to limit his ability to get where he wants to go. Nick arrived at the pub on his own and left on his own, aided only by his cane. Was it the shape of New York City that made his independence possible? He told me that the grid of streets and avenues made most of Manhattan easy to navigate; public transit covers most of the city and runs frequently and all night; you can get a cab just about anywhere, anytime; wide sidewalks make it safer to get from the public transit stop to his destination; and there are usually people on the street to give directions and warn of hazards. Notice that last point: Because getting around on foot is convenient for people who could be driving, the streets are that much safer for someone for whom driving is not an option.

Notice, too, that more frequent and longer-running public transit service isn't a solution by itself. It still has to be safe and convenient to get from the transit stop to the store or the doctor's office by foot. In Tulsa, after you get off the bus, you still have to dodge cars and endure the weather on your quarter-mile trek across the parking lot to the store's entrance.

Most of Tulsa is designed for the private automobile, but there ought to be at least a part of our city where those who can't drive, those who'd rather not drive, and those who'd like to get by with just one car can still lead an independent existence. At least one section of our city ought to be truly urban.

Making that happen involves urban design. It means rethinking the way we build neighborhoods, thinking beyond the isolated building or subdivision, and thinking about how the parts come together to create the whole. It involves elected officials, the planning commission, property owners, developers, and neighborhood leaders. It means dealing with scale, setback, density, and a good mixture of uses. It requires learning from other cities, and applying those lessons to the details of Tulsa's land use regulations.

Some of that urban design work is already underway, and in the weeks to come we'll look at how good urban design can make Tulsa a more livable city.

G. W. Schulz's 4,000-word profile of yours truly is the cover story of this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly.

It was a pleasure to get to meet and talk with G. W. over the last few weeks. I've enjoyed his work in UTW, and it's an honor to be the subject of a profile by him. His hiring is a part of UTW's increased coverage of local news, and it's an important step in that paper's evolution from a collection of entertainment reviews and ads to a full-fledged alternative weekly.

I may issue a few clarifications or corrections later to compensate for my failure to answer as clearly as I might have, but for now, I'll just encourage you to read it. I'm very pleased.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category.

Tulsa::Zoning is the previous category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Contact

Feeds

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
Atom
RSS
[What is this?]