Wednesday, February 09, 2011

MAPS 3: On the Importance of Being Earnest Worthy of the Public's Trust

Original article: January 31, 2011; updated February 9, 2011, to add 2 appendices from the Oklahoman

Oklahoma City Council, December 21, 2010

On December 21, 2010, and out of the blue during a presentation by Rick Cain, director of the Central Oklahoma Transportation & Parking Authority (COTPA), on the progress of Alternative Analysis, mild-mannered Rick Cain's presentation was hijacked by council member Pete White to turn the agenda item into a discussion as to whether the downtown streetcar element of MAPS 3 should have been a part of MAPS 3 in the first place and to argue and advocate that it should be changed now, before it is too late. Among many other things, he said that he regretted his earlier vote which moved forward downtown streetcars as a part of MAPS 3.

In a second stormy discussion on January 4, 2011, councilman White reiterated the same views and said that the downtown streetcar represented a poor prioritization of the city's public transportation needs. A listener could fairly conclude that he was a bit of a bully in his banter with streetcar advocate Jeff Bezdek who was present and spoke at the council meeting because of White's December 21 comments. Listen and judge for yourself.
By the council's January 18, 2011, meeting, less than a month after his December 21 remarks, White implicitly backtracked and begrudgingly said, "I too think that we will come to a solution that will make us all satisfied, under the circumstances, that we have the best that we can get. Again, I say, under the circumstances." Pete's predilection to be redundant only served to emphasize that he wasn't pleased to have made his more general statement. He didn't identify the "circumstances" that were in his mind to say.

By January 27, judging by Councilman Larry McAtee's remarks at a meeting of the MAPS3 Oversight/Advisory Board, it sounded as though the firestorm that Pete started (in at least some quarters) had been put out. He said, "But the commitment is, cause there were some questions, people say, 'Are we committed to a modern streetcar with tracks in the ground,' and I think the answer to that is emphatically, would you agree, Eric, 'Yes.' [Eric:] "Yes."
"So if you're approached by people about that you need to give them that assurance. Cause in the past couple of weeks there've been some comments made that might confuse some people."

That's all good. But lids are not always so easily put back on Pandora's Boxes.

Preliminary Comments
A Few Words About Oklahoma City Before & After MAPS
MAPS 3 Passed Because of the Public's Trust
A council divided by the Tea Party could mark the end of an era
The Tea Partiers' Common Bond
The End of an Era?
Partial transcript of December 21 remarks
Partial transcript of January 4 remarks
Partial transcript of January 18 remarks
Partial transcript of January 27 remarks
Partial transcript of interview of Adrian Van Manen
Partial transcript of interview of Clifford Hearron
Oklahoman Editorial on January 13, 2011, regarding rail
Oklahoman Editorial on February 7, 2011, regarding Tea Party

PRELIMINARY COMMENTS. Two groups of things need to be said before going further.

        PERSONAL. It gives me distress and no pleasure at all to write this article. I've deliberately gone slowly with this as a possible project for several reasons: I've not wanted to knee-jerk; I've been uncertain about whether to even do such an article since Pete is a friend and a fellow Oklahoma City history buff; and I've been uncertain about the need for the article, thinking maybe that the problem might just go away.

My personal knowledge of Pete is altogether positive. He is a tell-it-like-it-is type of guy, is genuinely concerned about our city, and he tends to the needs of his constituents. He is a seasoned lawyer and is the senior council member when it comes to longevity. He is smart, is deliberate, and understands and knows his environment, and he is not one known to be so foolish as to make knee-jerk outbursts which he might later want to take back. He is also politically savvy and understands who is audience is when he is speaking, and he speaks to that audience. At one point on December 21, he looked at Rick Cain and said,
I'm not talking to you, Rick, I'm talking to whoever's looking at me out there.
I guess that that means you, me, and the rest of the citizens. Like many others, I was listening.

Having given my personal opinion of Pete White, I must nonetheless conclude that his remarks were wrong, they were foolish, and they were seeds which, if root is taken, could well mark the end of the public's trust in city government to make good on its promises, and, hence, the end of the MAPS process as we have known it for more than 17 years.

        They were wrong because to time to debate the projects to be included in MAPS 3 was BEFORE the MAPS 3 vote, not after.

        They were foolish because the remarks represent the first step of a possible breaking of the high degree of public trust in our city's government to keep its capital improvements promises.

        Seeds sown. Pete's remarks were the first made by a sitting council member which suggested that MAPS 3 ought to be re-thought and were the first which suggested that the promises made in 2009 need not be kept. If 17-years of the public's trust comes to and end, it is not conceivable the public would trust the city again to fulfill later promises in a part 4 version of MAPS 6-7 years from now when a later capital improvement plan may come by city leadership to be put to a vote of the people.
This saying is not original but it nonetheless a has an enduring ring of truth — fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Pete White is deserving of a legacy much better than that, and I hope that he acts and speaks swiftly to mitigate against the harm already done. I have invited him to comment here if he likes, an offer thus far declined. If he does, his unedited words will appear here.

In the end of considering whether to write this article, I concluded that if a council member as solid as Pete is willing to publicly flirt with revision by council of the MAPS 3 promises made, it could certainly happen that others serving on the council or their replacements might be willing to do the same. In the end, I reached the conclusion that the article ought to be done.

        THE MERITS OR DEMERITS OF DOWNTOWN RAIL. Pete's comments on December 21 and January 4 challenged the merits of including downtown streetcars in MAPS 3 — that is what HE set as the topic to be debated. With respect, he was absolutely mistaken to attempt to revisit what has already been decided by the voters. This article will not engage the points which he redundantly attempted to make, even though the various, "And that's my point's" which he made are not at all difficult to challenge and quite successfully. Nor will I challenge his credibility in saying that the opinions he expressed were lately formed "as the process has gone forward" though that would not be difficult, either — nothing that he expressed on December 21 and January 4 was not obvious in September 2009 when he voted to send downtown rail forward to MAPS to the people for vote. The only thing "new" when he made his comments were the graphics presented by Rick Cain during his preliminary Alternatives Analysis report which contained possibilities of where track might be laid. But, even then, Pete knew that the routes shown by Rick were speculative and that another committee was charged with actually coming up with the recommended routes. All of Pete's arguments would have been fair game BEFORE THE MAPS 3 VOTE OCCURRED, the proper time for such matters to be debated.

But, his proffered debate topic comes too late. The promises were made in 2009 and the voters voted in 2009, and they voted, "Yes," even though Pete said on January 4, 2011, that he wasn't so sure that the voters knew what they were voting about. What a crock.

This article is about keeping promises and being worthy of the public's trust, not the merits or demerits of a fixed downtown streetcar system costing $20 million a mile — I'll avoid saying that three times before I say, "And that's my point."

A BRIEF SUMMARY OF DOWNTOWN BEFORE & AFTER MAPS. Without duplicating what was already said in the above initial video, before the original MAPS, a bond of trust did not exist between city leadership and citizens — at least, not to the extent that it did beginning with the successful completion of the original Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) approved by city voters in December 1993. Depending on how far one wants to go back in time, it wasn't city leadership that inspired the formation of Oklahoma City, particularly its downtown. Individual entrepreneurs did that, and they did that in times that "downtown" was the presumed locus of primary importance and identity. You won't find any "MAPS" type things back in the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s. In the 1980s, Mayor Andy Coats made a stab at it with his "Six To Fix" proposal. It consisted of six separate ballots submitted to the people, most of which failed to pass.

By the mid-1950s through the 1970s, it had become evident that private investors were clearly not nearly as interested in downtown for their investments as they once were — easier money was to be made in developing suburban shopping and entertainment areas. It became clear that if downtown was going to be "saved," that would happen as the result of city public leadership.

During the city's 1960s-1980s Urban Renewal phase, city leadership tried to recapture the importance of downtown, all being done by vote of the City Council and/or the Urban Renewal Authority of the city. No public vote was involved in anything that occurred during the "Pei Plan" era. None — city leadership simply presumed to know what was best and then endeavored to do it. Without elaboration, as far as the general objectives were concerned, Urban Renewal was a failure. It was a failure without a single vote by the citizens as to what was going on.

The Oil Bust and Penn Square Bank failure in 1982 marked the end of any significant progress with the Pei Plan and Urban Renewal, as originally contemplated, was dead. While there were a few new shiny new buildings downtown and the Myriad Gardens got built, there were many more gaping holes — blocks upon blocks of empty space where buildings once stood, including virtually all of the pre-existing downtown retail and all of the grand old movie theaters. All were gone.

Citizen pride in the city may well have reached its all time low. There was no thought about Oklahoma City becoming a "Tier 2 City" or the host of a major professional athletic team. For all but office workers, downtown was dead. By October 1984, the city's population had declined for the first time in decades — more people were leaving the city than were moving to it.

But in 1992 or 1993 at a Chamber of Commerce retreat, an idea was born. WHAT IF the part of the the North Canadian River could turn into an actual water area instead of a place to dump an unwanted television set? WHAT IF the long-hoped-for new public library could get built? WHAT IF a canal could get built in the then budding Bricktown? WHAT IF a fine AAA baseball stadium could be built in Bricktown? WHAT IF the music hall could get overhauled to turn it in to a classy place for the arts for which all would be proud? WHAT IF a sports arena could be constructed which — hope against hope — might lure a major league hockey or basketball franchise? WHAT IF?

With a handful of such WHAT IF's in mind, under the leadership of Mayor Ron Norick and the business community and citizen interest groups, working hand in hand, downtown would become forever changed.

No need should exist to detail further what occurred after the original MAPS vote on December 14, 1993. Even though tax revenues weren't sufficient under the original 5-year sales tax period to raise sufficient funds to build the sports arena, under the leadership of Mayor Kirk Humphreys we, the citizens, were sufficiently pumped up in our city once again to readily vote to extend the tax by another six months to get that done. And then Mayor Humphreys put forward his MAPS For Kids (MAPS 2) campaign, a 7-year $512 million program to provide much needed capital improvement to the city's public schools, it passing by 60.6% of the vote. Although not a part of MAPS, city voters approved a December 2007 $500 million bond election to improve our city's streets, parks, and bridges, a process which is ongoing as this is written. And, then, in December 2007 when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity appeared to be on the horizon for the city to host an NBA franchise if improvements were made to the Ford Center and a practice facility were constructed, voters readily voted (by 62%) to extend the penny tax to get that done. And who among us is not proud of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel? That project, too, must be attributed to the progressive city leadership that, in the main, we have enjoyed during this same period of time.

MAPS 3 PASSED BECAUSE OF THE PUBLIC'S TRUST. And then came MAPS 3, Mayor Mick Cornett providing the leadership. This offering was the boldest MAPS offering made thus far, and the longest. 7¾ years, $777 million.

This time, though, the ballot was different. City leadership said that legal changes prohibited the projects from being listed in the ballot. Instead, the projects were identified in an accompanying resolution adopted by city council in which those projects were identified. Consequently, much more of a leap of faith was required this time for the vote to pass — the reason being that city council resolutions can be changed by the majority vote of the council and such changes do not involve a vote of the people. If a capital improvement sales tax identifies a particular project, voters have recourse to the courts to enforce that the funds be used for the identified purpose. Not so with a city council resolution.

The public was only given an oral, not a written, promise — if the tax vote passes, the projects will get done. Call it what you like — foolhardiness, an unenforceable handshake promise, whatever, citizens voted to trust city leadership and MAPS 3 passed. That passage would not have occurred had the promises since 1993 not been kept — any arguments from any of you about that?

A COUNCIL DIVIDED BY THE TEA PARTY COULD MARK THE END OF AN ERA. Against this background, Pete White announced his opposition to the streetcar element of MAPS 3 on December 21, 2010. He restated his opposition again on January 18, 2011. He appeared to implicitly back off from his opposition on January 18, 2011, even though not very enthusiastically. "I too think that we will come to a solution that will make us all satisfied, under the circumstances, that we have the best that we can get. Again, I say, under the circumstances." (Note to Pete: I heard you the 1st time. Enough already — you're hurting my ears.)

By making his earlier comments, though, it is reasonable to say that he inadvertently played into the hands of those who were, and are, opposed to MAPS 3, or at least the particular parts of it for which they might not have much fondness — or to use Pete's word, "enchantment" — or all of it in principle. I will be amazed if Pete's December 21 and January 4 remarks don't get repeated numerous times during the present council election process. When he spoke, he may have been unaware that MAPS as we have known it might face its greatest threat — partisan politics under the umbrella of the group known as the Tea Party.

Oklahoma City is in the midst of an election campaign for 4 of its 8 city council seats. The primary election will occur on March 1 and, if needed, a general election will occur on April 5. In Ward 2, incumbent Sam Bowman chose not to run for re-election and six are vying for that post. In Ward 5, incumbent Brian Walters, the only present council member to be unsupportive of MAPS 3, is considered by many to be of the Tea Party persuasion and he has its support. He is opposed by accountant David Greenwell. In Ward 6, incumbent Meg Salyer is opposed by Tea Party candidate Adrian Van Manen. In Ward 8, incumbent Patrick Ryan is opposed by Tea Party candidate Clifford Hearron. The Oklahoma City 2009 ward and precinct map is shown below ... changes may have occurred since 2009 but the map should be substantially the same today. Click the image for a larger view.

See this Oklahoman article for more about the candidates. Among other things, the article reports,
“I can't think of a better way to shake up the politicians than to wrest control of the biggest city in the state from the progressives and liberal's hands,” wrote Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart in the January newsletter posted on the group's website.
Is it even within the realm of Twilight Zone conceivability that Tea Party leadership would have provided the leadership that Ron Norick did in MAPS 1? Can one reasonably envision that the city would have purchased the empty and decrepit Skirvin Hotel and worked in a public-private partnership with Marcus Hotels which led to the hotel's reopening as the Skirvin Hilton in 2007? Right. Dream on, teenage queen. These guys show no interest in the city's core and with them at the helm the accomplishments under MAPS 1 would be nothing but empty dreams. The Skirvin would either be demolished or standing and continuing to decay.

Gwin Faulconer Lippert interviewed Van Manen and Hearron on January 28 for her KTOK show which aired on January 30, 2011. Only the MAPS 3 Q&A parts are shown in this brief audio clip from those interviews.
Both candidates favored spending money on police, fire, and streets, and tended to disfavor tax money being spent on the city's core. Streetcars weren't favored by either and public downtown investment appears to be off of their radar.
During his interview, Hearron was asked, "So if we have new council members do you think that, then, there is no promise?", and he replied, "Well, I don't even look at it like that. Here's how I look at it. The people need to direct the way they want it to go regardless of any promises or otherwise from the council."

Funny thing ... didn't we already do that when we voted "YES" on December 8, 2009?

Earlier in the interview, he said that he and other council members should "re-evaluate it over the next year – because I really believe we are going to change the complexion of the council quite a bit." Van Manen said, "I would rather spend money like I've said for police and fire protection and for streets and roads than I would for what's taking place in city center," and about the downtown streetcar he said, "I just think that it's [money to be spent] misplaced, very much so."

With such comments, it is evident that the candidates feel little if any obligation to fulfill the promises contained in the council resolution which accompanied the ballot and the statements made during the campaign that the projects we were voting on would get done.

For the full interviews, click here and locate Gwin Faulconer Lippert's podcasts for January 30, 2011. Unofficial returns in these wards for the MAPS 3 December 8, 2009, vote were as follows:
Ward 62,512 (51%)2,455 (49%)
Ward 88,628 (66%)4,469 (34%)
So, contrary to Hearron's observation that his ward 8 didn't/doesn't favor MAPS 3, in his ward 66% of them did when the ballots were cast on December 8, 2009.

        The Challengers' Common Bond. The common bond for both Tea Party challengers is their active membership in the Windsor Hills Baptist Church located at 5517 Northwest 23rd Street, slightly east of MacArthur. The church is located in Ward 3 which ward is represented on the city council by Larry McAtee whose term doesn't end until 2013. The church describes itself with these words: "Windsor Hills Baptist Church is an independent, fundamental Baptist church located on NW 23rd Street in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma." It operates the Oklahoma Baptist College & Institute at the same general location and the church is active in world-wide missionary work. Both Cliff Hearron and Adrian Van Manen are shown as college faculty members.

Evidently, missionary work is no longer limited to saving souls and preaching the Gospel. "Adrian has been known to bring a dozen friends from his church, Windsor Hills Baptist Church, to the precinct walks," said the Sooner Tea Party's January newsletter. Reaching out from their Ward 3 church and college location, Van Manen and Hearron bring their Tea Party political message into Wards 6 and 8. The city's 2009 ward and precinct map, together with the location of Windsor Hills Baptist Church, the epicenter of the Tea Party candidates' hoped for council-quake, is shown below. Click on the map for a larger view.

Compare the websites of Tea Partiers Adrian Van Manen and Cliff Hearron and you will observe that slate and/or party politics is revisiting Oklahoma City after an absence of many years. In Oklahoma City, the mayoral and council members are elected on a non-partisan ballot, a process that has worked well for Oklahoma City for many years. With the Tea Partiers, though, it is different.

The Sooner Tea Party has its aim on Oklahoma City government, according to its January newsletter. The following comments were made there on January 1, 2011:
* * * we have stayed out of local politics for the most part. That is about to change radically! The infrastucture and experienced we gained over the last year are about to be put to good use.
        We have two Tea Party candidates for OKC City Council, Cliff Hearron for Ward 8 and Adrian Van Manen for Ward 6.
        Cliff is a retired military officer, an avid Tea Party member, and wants to put the brakes on out of control spending and taxes at the city level. Cliff believes that the core purposes of the city are being neglected while millions are spent developing downtown that profit a few wealthy property developers. Police and fire assets have withered, and our roads have suffered while perfectly good downtown roads were ripped up. Privatization of some city services and stopping Agenda 21 here in the city are two of Cliff’s issues he will be championing.
        Adrian is a long time Sooner Tea Party Meetup group member. The Meetup group is the hard charging group of activists that are the core of the Sooner Tea Party. Adrian has been known to bring a dozen friends from his church, Windsor Hills Baptist Church, to the precinct walks. Both he and Cliff are strong supporters of our Constitution and want to see Oklahoma City draw down social and welfare costs so the city can focus on what government is supposed to do.
        The OKC City Council is composed of 8 members. Only one, Brian Walters, is conservative. These races are very low turnout; literally a couple thousand voters will choose who gets the seat, so we stand an excellent chance of winning these two seats if we put money and effort into the races. No doubt other conservative candidates will be found before the filing deadline, so the Tea Party could simply take control of OKC city government if we can rally the Tea Party members.
Its February 1, 2011, article said,
We have three candidates that we support at this time: Adrian Van Manen, Ward 6, Cliff Hearron, Ward 8, Brian Walters, Ward 5.
END OF THE MAPS ERA? I would be amazed if this is the kind of city leadership that councilman Pete White would want to see for our city in his worst nightmare. He would probably not take pleasure in giving aid and comfort to this development, even if done unintentionally. His words already were already injected into the January 28 interview by Gwin Faulconer Lippert of Cliff Hearron.

Our 17-year history of MAPS has been led by civic leaders who had civic vision well beyond streets, fire, and police, and Pete White has been one of those leaders. But the 17-year accumulation of public trust didn't come easily. It was built and earned, year by year, project by project, as citizens witnessed their leaders keeping their promises. The products of that leadership has caused us to see ourselves, as a city, differently and caused us to become proud of our city once again. Since the citizens voted "Yes" and paid for those projects, they, too, deserve the credit, and the pride. Yes, that means you and me. WE did it, although we wouldn't have done so without the public leaders that we have been blessed with since 1993.

That magnificent citizen-public leader trust could be dashed in a flash if we are all not very careful, and that includes the impromptu or planned speech of council members in a public setting. Keeping promises is what makes the 17-years of city council leadership worthy and deserving of trust. This is no time to start breaking them — and, actually, no such time will ever occur in the future. But, with certainty, it is the time to take the city council races seriously.

If the public's trust in city leadership keeping its promises comes to be broken in 2011, many years from now local historians may well be able to look back and identify 2011 as the end of the city's MAPS period. Even if that sad event comes to pass, chances are good, though, that those historians will call the MAPS period one of the most glorious in the city's history.

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Appendix 1
Excerpts From Pete White's Statements On December 21, 2010
          I .. I ... I ... was one that was never really, uh ... wholeheartedly supportive of the drowntown streetcar system to begin with. Only when the hub was made a part of it did it become attractive enough to get my vote to send it forward to MAPS.
          And as the process has gone forward, I've become less enchanted with it today than I was when I was barely able to vote for it to send it forward.
          The cost of it and the fixed nature of it to me, is just, uh, one of those ideas that I think we're gonna regret as time goes forward.
* * *
          As I see it going forward and as I see what the cost of it is gonna be and how few people its going to serve and how much better that money could be spent on overall transportation things ... I ... I ... I'm just becoming ... I'm much less enchanted with it today than I was.
* * *
          I ... I ... just ... uh, it ... it ... uh ...I think we're going to regret this project. I don't think we're going to regret the hub study. I don't think we're going to regret making a transpor ... if we put a transportation system in downtown that would work. But I think we're going to regret spending $120 million dollars on something that's fixed that only serves 5 or6 miles downtown ***
* * *
          At the risk of having to agree with Ernest Istook the rubber tired system to me is a better answer over the long pull than a permanent $120 million dollar in the ground system that we don't have any idea what the ridership's going to be, we don't know what the maintenance costs are going to be ... I ... I'm more disenchanted with it today, not based on what you've told me, but based on the process of what's gone on, the more I find out about it, about where it's going to be, the cost of putting it in the ground, the permanence of it when it's put into the ground, the difficulty and the cost to expand it ... I feel we're going to live to regret this and I want to be on record now after the fact after I already voted for it once in saying that I'm ... I regret doing that.
* * *
          I think we can do better.
* * *
          Before it's too late we oughta all rethink ... I think we can still be consistent with what we promised the voters ... in terms of a rail system and make it one that has a possibility of working.
* * *
          We ... we ... talk about being conservative. We ... everybody wants to talk about how conservative they are. Yet here we are talking about getting money from the federal government to pay for something here that we then have to finance the operation of that we are not sure is gonna pay for itself. I mean, where's the conservatism in that?
          We need to be intellectually consistent when we talking about what we're doing here. If we're talking about going to get money because it's there, we've got a really great example. COTPA has a really great example of going to get federal money and then taking money out of operations to fund it for something that doesn't pay for itself. We got a huge one. It's in our budget every year, we pay for it. I just don't think that makes sense.
          I think the idea of chasing these federal dollars, because we can get 'em, if we can't finance it on our own later, I don't think that's conservative, I think that's being foolish. I think that's being financially foolish, to do that.
          I'm not talking to you, Rick, I'm talking to whoever's looking at me out there.
          But I, but I, I think that's a mistake, and I hear that all the time here. Well, the federal government is going to do this, and the federal gov ... what is that about? Where's the intellectual consistency in doing that? I mean, we're the one ... our taxpayers here have to pay for the financing of this. If it's not ... if it doesn't make financial sense, then that to me that ought to be the first question, not the last question.
* * *
          Jim, I don't want anybody to misunderstand. I understand that transit is subsidized. I vote for it every year. And I've not regretted that ... except ... I regret being put in position to subsidize transit when it doesn't provide transportation for regular people that want to get from point A to point B. That's the problem and I'm afraid that's what we're doing here.
          I mean, if I need a street car to take me from here to the First National Building, we sure as hell don't need to be spending all this money on walkability. I mean, you can call me a cab and get me to the First National Building for less money than this is going to cost. Every time I wan to go, just get me a cab. Because there's not enough people need to go from here to the First National on a street car to make it make sense. And that's my point.
          Since you're talking to me, I'd like to comment. You misunderstand. I'm not against transportation downtown. I'm against $20 million dollars a mile for transportation that can't be changed. That's what I'm against. I'm not against transportation downtown. There are other busses besides these unwieldy-looking trolleys that we've got that never have worked. There are other ways to do it besides that. But not at the cost of $20 million dollars a mile. That's what I'm opposed to. We have people in this town that can't get to work because they can't afford it because we don't have an extensive enough bus route to get 'em yet. And yet we're willing to sink $20 million dollars a mile to get you from Robinson to Walker. I mean, that's what I'm opposed to.
          Don't misunderstand me. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not opposed to downtown transportation. I have consistently voted to subsidize all the transportation and advocated for more of it. What I'm opposed to is what I consider a wasteful expenditure of 20 million dollars a mile to do a fixed system. That's what I'm opposed to. Not getting you from Robinson to Walker, I'm all for that. But I think we can do it for less than 20 million dollars a mile.

Appendix 2
Comments by Pete White & Jeff Bezdek on January 4, 2011
[The springboard for Pete White's comments were citizen presentations by Nick Roberts and Jeff Bezdek. The trailing part of Jeff Bezdek's comments which lead to Pete White's remarks appears below.]
Jeff Bezdek: What we did in MAPS was, we said, what can we start with in the 2006 Guideway Study. What can we afford to build. And we looked at * * * Do you have any questions? And, I just want to say it's just important that you get involved in the process. We don't want to show up and recommend things that are going to be debated.
* * *
Pete White: I think perhaps Jeff and the other speaker missed the point of what I said last time. And I'm going to say it one more time, or two more times, or three more times as I generally do. This really is not about whether we have a good transit system downtown. This is really about what is long term best for the people that live in Oklahoma City. A year ago, two years ago, we had to fight for like $40,000 to get enough money to put people on buses that need those buses that need those buses to get back and forth to work and it was like pulling teeth to get it done. And yet we're willing to drop $120,000,000 on a system that will make it easy for people to get from point A to point B, point A being a block from point B or two blocks from point B, we'll spend $120,000,000 on that and we'll leave people standing at bus stops that need that need the job, that it's important to them, we'll just totally ignore that. I drive by a bus stop every day that's not sheltered, there must be 7, 8 people there almost all the time, we don't have a conscience about that. We just let that go. Nobody around here's talking about that. And yet we're willing to talk about to spending $100,000,000 getting this young guy who could walk the block that he's going to have to walk to go from point A to point B, we're willing to spend $120,000,000 moving him. That's my point. That's my point. My point is I think we ought to move people around downtown. I think that'd be a great deal. I think that'd be a great deal. I just wonder whether or not our priorities are not misplaced. Every study I've seen, Jeff you've seen four million studies for every one I've seen, but every one that I've seen says, before you start the system, before you start really investing in a transit system, you ought to have a good metropolitan bus system.. And despite Rick's best efforts, and I think he's done a great job, and anything ... except the comment I made about his tie last week ... everything else, uh, I think you couldn't ask for anybody to do a better job than he's done. With the money he has, he's ... but he doesn't have enough money to make it work. And yet we're just, we're just, we're just going to run down this like this like lemmings off the cliff and dump this money into a system that's 5 or 6 miles long and it's to provide a service for people that aren't even here yet, when I've got people freezing their tush off at 74th and Santa Fe that use the bus system to get back and forth to work. And we can't ... there's nobody ... when we did the bus system, there were several people down here, poor people. Poor people that needed the bus system to get back and forth to work on. And we were able to scrounge up $40,000 and improve the system. Nobody speaks for those people. Who speaks for them now. We're speaking for a system that costs, as you said, an average of $20,000,000 a mile, and the idea that it's going to get cheaper in the future, I want to know what you're smoking. I don't know what, I don't know what gets cheaper in the future. I haven't seen that yet.
Jeff Bezdek: Mr. White, that's not very kind ...
Pete White: It's not very kind from my standpoint for you to advocate for a system that serves a select group of people that are not here yet in deference to people that need a bus system to get back and forth to work. That's where I'm coming from.
* * *
[Jeff Bezdek attempted a reply but was interrupted by Pete White.]
* * * Mr. White, I am going finish. Look. We can build bus shelters with MAPS money. That's permanent. And there's very little operating costs associated with that. But, in terms of running more buses with MAPS money that is not possible without some other funding mechanism or you taking funds away from some other needed city program to fund ongoing operations. It's that simple. The supporters that supported MAPS wanted transit involved. The polling reflected that. And then the polling continued to reflect ... *** The public was educated on what they voted on. They did not go into this ... [Pete speaks inaudibly in the background] ... no, wait a minute, I saw the numbers, and they did not go into this knowing that, expecting to have class A bus service around the city or commuter rail to Edmond or Norman. This was portrayed as the start to a regional system. It is the last mile of that system. It connects to the hub and it distributes and picks up people for that future system. Now, we would love to stretch it as far out as we can go but it costs a lot of money to do that. And, again, the difference between the buses and street cars is its permanency. Now, we have ... [Pete speaks inaudibly in the background] ... I'm not telling you, I'm not telling you stupid, that you're stupid, I'm telling that we have a philosophical argument going on here when I would rather have a technical argument, and the technical argument is that the voters voted for this, they supported it, they knew what they were voting for, and now we need to build it.
Pete White: Jeff, we're on two different wavelinks about that, also. I'm not sure the voters did understand what they were voting for.

Appendix 3
Comments by Larry McAtee & Pete White on January 18, 2011
Larry McAtee: Thank you, your honor. As you all know, I'm the [council's] representative on the MAPS oversight committee and as that representative I attend the oversight meetings once a month. This past week, I've stepped outside of that role a little bit and I sat in on the subcommittee dealing with the modern streetcar. And it was a very informative meeting to sit in on and the committee is very enthusiastic and very diligent in trying to bring back to us in some point in time a recommendation to the process to build out the modern streetcar. And one of the things that came up, and I don't know whether Eric has had a chance to talk to you or not, Jim, but one of the things that came up in our conversation, Eric and mine afterwards was, maybe we as a council on a monthly basis with all these different subcommittees going at different speeds in looking at their particular areas, might benefit from having Eric come in on a monthly basis and just give us an overview of where the different subcommittees are in their thinking and what the progress is. But progress is being made on that. They are well aware of the issues that have been discussed here at the horseshoe and I think we can look forward in the future from some good recommendations coming from that particular subcommittee. Thank you your honor.

Pete White: * * * Secondly, I agree with what Larry said because I've had some very very good contacts with people involved in the modern streetcar program about some of the issues that I've raised and I, too, think that we will come to a solution that will make us all satisfied under the circumstances that we have the best we can get. Again, I say under the circumstances.

Appendix 4
Excerpt of Comments by Larry McAtee on January 27, 2011,
At MAPS 3 Oversight Committee Meeting
Larry McAtee (referencing his attendance the day before at a Modern Streetcar subcommittee meeting): In that discussion at the end of the [modern streetcar subcommittee] meeting they asked for council perspective. And, I was very very encouraged, and I've been asked by several people, "What's the modern streetcar system going to be?" And I tell them this, "I'm committed, I think your council is committed, and I hope you are all committed, to having roughly a 6-mile transportation system, that will have rails that are in the ground, that will be up to date in its design and stay tune for particulars later on. But the commitment is, cause there were some questions, people say, "Are we committed to a modern streetcar with tracks in the ground," and I think the answer to that is emphatically, would you agree, Eric, "Yes." [Eric:] Yes. [Larry:] So if you're approached by people about that you need to give them that assurance. Cause in the past couple of weeks there've been some comments made that might confuse some people. * * *

Appendix 5
Excerpts from Gwin Faulconer Lippert's January 28 Interview With Adrian Van Manen, Candidate for Ward 6 vs. Incumbent Meg Salyer
        GFL: Let me ask you then specifically about MASPS 3. The reason I'm interested in this that ... as you know, it passed ... but it passed on a kind of a Yes No vote. There was no specifications, really, I mean it was $777 million dollars, but the council can actually change the plan. How would you interface with MAPS if you were on the council?
        AVM: Well, first of all, having arrived late in the game after it's been passed, I would have to follow the law that's been passed and try to work with that. I don't know what situations that will come up. I would rather spend money like I've said for police and fire protection and for streets and roads than I would for what's taking place in city center. I just think that our priorities are misplaced. But I wouldn't know how to answer that question until I sat, you know, in the council meetings and heard things as they came up.
        GFL: Sure. Do you think since you are throwing your interest and support more toward police and fire and streets, which I would call infrastructure if you will, that that would make some people deliberately campaign against you or vote against you ala the Chamber of Commerce and those kind of groups?
        AVM: I'm fully expecting it. But, that's why I put my hat in my right for that very reason, uh, to change our priorities — move toward every citizen benefitting from sales tax money.
        GFL: And, uh, do you have an opinion at this point about the streetcar and the transit system here in Oklahoma City?
        AVM: Well, the thing that I, uh, the response that is have to that is, you're spending $125 or so million dollars on a fixed mile fixed track and people will still have to get in their cars to drive down there to be able to appreciate and to ride on it. I just think that it's misplaced, very much so.
        GFL: Let me ask you about the convention center because that would be also part of that.
        AVM: Uh, I don't have a strong opinion on that, other than the fact that the MAPS 3 got passed, and, you know, as time goes by, with like you said, it's not a fixed law that they have to abide by so they're going to adjust as time goes on.. I really don't have a strong opinion on that at this time.

Appendix 6
Excerpts from Gwin Faulconer Lippert's January 28 Interview With Clifford Hearron, Candidate for Ward 8 vs. Incumbent Patrick Ryan
        GFL: One of the things that I love to ask everybody is about MAPS 3. And this is why. MAPS 3 was a Yes No vote. Yes we want the sales tax. No we don't. And most people think, "Oh, no, MAPS 3 was a plan." No, it wasn't. It was a Yes No vote. And the council, really, can change what that money goes to. Now I don't know if you heard councilman White a few weeks ago say, "I think the transit is way too expensive and I feel sorry for my people that they can't get a bus to wherever they need to go." So, if, on the council, would you change part of MAPS, or how would you approach MAPS 3?
        CH: Well, first of all, my voters in Ward 8 don't want it. They didn't want it. I voted against it. The vote was 54 to 46 or thereabout, it was about half and half. But we have it. We have MAPS 3. What I would think we should do with it now that we have it is re-evaluate it over the next year – because I really believe we are going to change the complexion of the council quite a bit – and I would like to hear in the meantime more from Ward 8 voters because I represent them regarding the future of MAPS. Some parts of it are probably quite good. Other parts of it I disagree with and, uh, but I wouldn't want to go it here on the air. I would just say that I side with most of the Ward 8 voters that I've talked to – and I'm still up around 90% right there – that MAPS 3 was not the way to go.
        GFL: Uh, I know that the council feels very strongly that they made a promise to the people. So if we have new council members do you think that, then, there is no promise?
        CH: Well, I don't even look at it like that. Here's how I look at it. The people need to direct they way they want it to go regardless of any promises or otherwise from the council. The council is there to do the people's business, not to do the council's business. And I expect to do the people's business when I am on the council.
        GFL: Now, do you think that possibly there will be those that will come after you and your campaign – because certainly the Chamber of Commerce wants MAPS 3 to be like what the plan was supposed to be – do you feel at risk for coming out and being so candid with me?
        CH: Absolutely not. As I said before, the truth always prevails.
        GFL: And, so, uh, if elected, how would you approach MAPS 3?
        CH: Well, I would evaluate it, along with the rest of the members of the council, re-evaluate it, and find out where we stand right now and see what needs to be done.
        GFL: Do you have a thought about the transit budget and the transit situation, I mean, you know, as councilman White said, he does not think that six miles pays enough – or is enough return on investment.
        CH: Yeah. Look, again, I don't look at it from return on investment. What I look at it is, do the people want it, do the people need it, will the people ride it, and then get the best service for them.

Appendix 7
OklahomanEditorial on January 13, 2011
Oklahoma City voters made their streetcar desires clear
        Voters were promised a streetcar system when they approved MAPS 3. It's a promise that must be kept on track.
        Building it will be expensive — $20 million a mile or more — and it will be confined to downtown/Bricktown. It would primarily be used by tourists and downtown workers and residents.
        Yes, the city's bus system that serves many residents who don't live downtown needs improvement. But the streetcar system and the bus system are separate issues. Ward 4 City Councilman Pete White and others want to scrap the fixed-track system for a cheaper alternative and shift spending to the bus system.
        Nothing would turn off voters more in future initiatives such as MAPS than to have an unkept promise lingering from the previous vote. Nothing would give opponents of a future vote more ammunition.
        We believe MAPS 3's passage was aided by voters excited by the streetcar system even if they weren't enthusiastic about other projects in the $777 million initiative. Since MAPS 3's passage in December 2009, the city has sought citizen input on the streetcar system; the response has been enthusiastic. No such ardor exists for shifting MAPS funds to a system using rubber-tired vehicles.
        The streetcar system may never match its predecessor, scrapped in 1947 in favor of buses, but it's the start of an exciting new phase in Oklahoma City's progress.
        More importantly, the system would be a promise kept to voters.

Appendix 8
OklahomanEditorial on February 8, 2011

Tea party's focus on Oklahoma City Council troubling
        We have written occasionally about partisanship creeping into what are supposed to be elections for nonpartisan offices. This unfortunate trend is occurring with a vengeance in two Oklahoma City Council races.
        Ward 6 councilor Meg Salyer and Ward 8 councilor Patrick Ryan, two of the shining lights on the panel, each face opposition backed by the tea party in Oklahoma.
        The challengers, Adrian Van Manen in Ward 6 and Clifford Hearron in Ward 8, say they know the races are nonpartisan but that they're not about to separate themselves from those who feel the same way they do about government.
        Hearron challenged The Oklahoman's Michael Baker to show him someone who is “a true nonpartisan.” He continued: “Given what we've got, I'd rather see the tea party take it over.”
        This is disconcerting, not only because partisan politics has no place on the city council, but also because Salyer and Ryan have done an excellent job working for their wards and for the benefit of the entire city. Oklahoma City's growth and standing today are the envy of many cities around the nation. This is due in no small part to the willingness of council members to put politics aside and work together.
        The co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party said he would delight in being able to “wrest control of the biggest city in the state from the progressives' and liberals' hands.” That sort of rhetoric is troubling, and city residents should remember it when they vote March 1.

Also, see these related articles

Tuesday, March 1 - Get Off Your Tush & Vote
A Fractured City Council - Is That Really What We Want

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Anonymous said...

I am a realist and agree with Pete. We do not need streetcars and they will be very poorly utilized. That money could be well spend on other projects. Who is actually going to ride a streetcar that only goes a few miles?

JChadwick said...

From the info. section of the Memphis streetcar system - which is very popular and widely utilized:

The initial line began service in 1993. It was 2.5 miles long, mostly double-tracked. The streetcars served the Downtown pedestrian shopping mall, on Main Street, but also ran beyond it on both ends to serve areas that needed economic development. Outside the mall, the streetcars ran on the street, sharing a lane with automobile traffic. In 1997, the initial line was converted into a loop by adding a parallel line two blocks west of Main Street; the extension runs along the river and uses the right-of-way of an old railroad track. The addition brought the total system up to a length of five miles.

In 2004, service was further extended with the opening of a line on Madison Street running from Main Street east to the Medical District area. This extension adds two miles, double-tracked, to the Memphis system.

David said...

The public did not vote on any specific project, read the ballot, they voted for a tax for a specific time for capital improvement projects. The council may put that money anywhere they want as long as it meets the requirements of the ballot.

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks for the education, David. I'm well aware of the ballot's content and the discussion had during the campaign about the reason that the projects were not identified in the ballot, like they were in MAPS 1. I'm also aware that the city said that the individual projects could not be identified in the ballot because of a change in the law, but that they would nonetheless be identified in the city council's accompanying resolution. We knew (or should have known) that the resolution could be changed by the council by majority vote. Some, including me, were concerned about the "handshake deal," but decided to trust the city to keep its promise to complete the projects identified in the resolution and that the public was assured, repeatedly, that MAPS 3 tax receipts would be utilized to fund and construct the projects identified identified in the council's accompanying resolution and that all such projects would be completed.

David, if you're not familiar with that resolution, as you said to me, "read it."

It begins like this: "Resolution setting forth the present intent and resolve of the City Council of the City of Oklahoma City regarding the "MAPS 3 Program" to be funded with the "Oklahoma City Capital Improvements Sales Tax" levied pursuant to section 52-23.4 of article II of chapter 52 of the Oklahoma City Municipal Code, 2007; stating the council's intent and resolve regarding the city capital improvement projects to be included in the MAPS 3 program; and directing the city manager to take all necessary administrative actions to implement the MAPS 3 program upon approval of the Oklahoma City capital improvements sales tax levy by city voters on December 8, 2009."

It continues, "NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City Council of The City of Oklahoma City does hereby express its present intent and resolve to use the revenues generated by the Oklahoma City Capital Improvements Sales Tax to fund the MAPS 3 Program, with the City capital improvement projects to be included in the MAPS 3 Program listed on Exhibit A attached to this Resolution."

Exhibit A reads, "EXHIBIT A – THE MAPS 3 PROGRAM

The intended MAPS 3 projects include the following — 1. A new large, downtown public park linking the core of downtown with the Oklahoma River, with the park to be generally in accordance with the Core To Shore framework plan. 2. A new rail-based streetcar system to service the inner city and/or to service other areas within The City of Oklahoma City, plus funding for other transit infrastructure as appropriate, such as connections to other rail-based systems and/or a transit hub. 3. A new downtown convention center, to include exhibit halls, meeting rooms, ballrooms, mixed uses, and parking. 4. A series of strategically-placed sidewalks on arterial streets and near public use facilities within The City of Oklahoma City. 5. Improvements and/or enhancements to the Oklahoma City public trails system. 6. Additional facilities, equipment, improvements, and/or enhancements related to the recreational use of the Oklahoma River, including but not necessarily limited to the following items: 1) New public whitewater kayaking facilities and equipment; and 2) New grandstands and other rowing venue enhancements. 7. New health, wellness, and aquatic centers designed for senior citizens. 8. Improvements and/or enhancements to the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds." ... continued ...

Doug Dawg said...

... response to David, continued ...

Now, David, if you didn't know this and were present during the MAPS 3 campaign, like Pete White said to Jeff Bezdek on January 4, 2010, "I want to know what you're smoking."