POSTED ON MARCH 27, 2013:
Gravity Is Bringing Us Down
On the mayoral race and the city's direction
More cops, more money for streets, and a looser, more builder/developer "friendly" review process -- yeah that's the ticket -- right? If we listen to at least two of the candidates currently running for Tulsa mayor -- this is the path ahead for accelerated growth, a higher quality of life and a better era for Tulsa.
Is this really true?
All of the candidates who have announced have talked about the making The Glass Cube more transparent, more fully responsive to citizen demands and expectations. How this would happen -- how citizens would be more fully included in decision-making, and how city services could be more responsive, apart from public hearings and citizens surveys, all of which have become insipid -- is not evident. But it's a critically important topic.
The mayoral campaign heats up big time with formal candidate declarations due in April and the what could actually be the "election" in June if a candidate secures more than 50 percent.
The three candidates who've already announced are also the three who have a real likelihood of winning: incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett, a Republican, former city counselor Bill Christiansen, a Republican and former Mayor Kathy Taylor, a Democrat. There may be other candidates, but it's hard to imagine anyone emerging at the tail end of the soon-to-end sign up cycle -- no one who might be competitive anyway.
Here we have what looks like a stale, even bankrupt discussion: violence and murder rates are down from what they were some years ago in Tulsa, but we've experienced a set of high visibility murders, including the 61st and Peoria killings and last year's Good Friday killings that captured lots of media and public attention. The killing fields in North Tulsa, West Tulsa and along the 61st St. and Peoria corridor, though calmed recently, need to be addressed.
Christiansen has talked about public safety as a prime issue and has said that Mayor Bartlett's "downfall" and the prime rationale for his own candidacy is Mayor Bartlett's police layoffs in the midst of our 2009 revenue shortfall at City Hall -- a time profoundly shaped by our great national recession.
He has pledged to never lay off cops if elected. The big question that isn't being discussed: what is the real connection between cop count and public safety? Rand Corporation did a rigorous examination of this issue a couple of years back and found, not surprisingly, some connection between cops on the ground and violent crime. But their analytics suggested that crime rises only as a consequence of cutbacks in excess of the numbers featured during the 2009 Tulsa layoffs.
The Rand work goes on to say that other circumstances in a town, including density, demographics, income, educational levels and economic dynamics condition their conclusions. The whole thing is a little like the endless discussions we Americans have on the number of troops, the number of airplanes, the number of ships etc. needed to prevail over foreign threats.
In the national army size/troop/ship discussion, it looks as though smart thinking has begun to prevail over dinosaur notions that posit a simple link between the number of troops/assets we have at the ready and the threats that we face.
How does this translate locally?
How we employ humans and other assets to do public safety is far and away more important than the absolute number of cops and supporting staff in play. There's no way around having a pretty intensive discussion about what we do with law enforcement folks, how we deploy them, how they interact with citizens and with predators and what manpower requirements are essential.
And Tulsa's mayoral candidates and our coming campaign should be a crucible for these discussions. This high level cop/predator talk is where we look at community policing, predictive patrol and other notions that already play limited roles in our current police chief's management strategy. The question is: do these alternatives to adding more cops play a big enough of a role in our budget allocations at City Hall for policing -- are we serious about doing something other than brute force augments?
Growth & Development & Our Permitting Process
There's been talk in Tulsa's mayoral campaigns about the supposed connection between growth, job creation and "bureaucratic bottlenecks" in the city's permitting, development review and subdivision approval processes. Only a fool would claim that there are problems sometimes -- the old City Hall/Aloft fire and street access controversy is a notable example of a challenge that might've been handled by the city and development review in a better way,
But that project is atypical -- it's important to remember that a wholesale review of Tulsa's zoning and subdivision codes is well underway and that new software and other procedural reviews are afoot as well. It's really important to remember that a lot of hot growth areas from San Francisco to New York have experienced a resurgent technology and advanced service sector. This is accompanied by lots of job growth and accelerated start ups. And to note: these are places that have extremely stringent development review and project approval processes.
They are spots that have torrid employment dynamics in spite of their "cumbersomely" built environment review atmospherics. In light of these realities, what can we really, with confidence, say about the connection between development reviews/building approval regimes and the city's growth and development rate? It bears noting that development reviews, building inspections and material/design rules are also about securing safety and compliance with reasonable state and federal standards. Not to mention informal covenants that the City has long had with neighborhoods that don't want gonzo, sometimes dangerous development projects in their backyards.
How seriously should we take Bill Christiansen and others when they say that Tulsa's development review regime is some kind of monster barrier, when we've had about $700 million in new investments in our Central Business District over the course the last three years?
And then the whole issue of who should take the lead in doing economic development in the city proper. As readers may know, the Tulsa Regional Chamber has had a signature shaping role in recent years on this front. Last year's disastrous Vision2 propositions, in particular the aviation/airport initiative and the "Finishing Fund", were the face of hegemony. Many of us believe it's way past time the city's elected leaders play a much leaner, much more inclusive leadership role in crafting economic and big community development initiatives -- particularly ones that require voter approval.
The bottom line here is very simple: we need a fresh reconsideration of how economic development and big community initiatives get done, who's involved, how they get sequenced and how they're communicated to the public at large.
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