Vision 2 is now in the hands of City Council—specifically, the second proposition, on quality of life. The Council is seeking input from citizens on the initiatives to which they’d like to see money allocated, should it pass in November. Those discussions should prove contentious.
The Tulsa Metro Chamber and Tulsa Young Professionals, among others, have thrown their support behind both the airport economic development and quality of life improvement prongs of Vision 2. Meanwhile, Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commissioner Bill Leighty is among those opposed to the entire package. I sat down with him to talk about it and asked first, what he didn’t like about part one, to make improvements at the airport.
Bill Leighty:There’s no doubt that there’s some need for some improvements on the facilities out there. But I believe that the Proposition 1 is premature at this point. I don’t believe that there is any great urgency for us to do something right now, and as a matter of fact I think it’s irresponsible for us to consider, when we know so little about how things are going to shake out after this bankruptcy process is finally resolved.
Catherine Roberts:Why do you say you don’t feel that it’s urgent?
BL:It’s highly unlikely with the investment that American has made here that they’re just going to pull out in the next 24 months. There is a pretty big movement with all of the airlines to outsource this work overseas, and through the bankruptcy process, American is going to be gaining the right to a certain percentage of that, and that’s only going to continue, as I see it, in the future. The idea about maintaining jobs, or retaining jobs, or getting new jobs—people have to weigh the importance of propping up an industry by basically subsidizing them. I think we should be looking to a more strategic approach, a longer term approach, about improving the lifestyle and the quality of life for citizens in our region, and particularly in the City of Tulsa.
That brought us to part two: quality of life. Leighty says the city of Tulsa has a wish list of capital improvements it would like to make, which amounts to almost $7 billion. The total allocated to the quality of life prong of Vision 2? About $150 million in Tulsa. He worries that the projects that will be granted Vision 2 money and the true priorities out of that $7 billion wish list won’t match up.
BL:Does everybody want to see a better, improved library? Yes. Does most everybody want to see water in the river? Yes we do. But I think we need to be able to go to the citizens and say, okay, here’s the big picture, here are all the needs that we have. Can I just say—people aren’t stupid. If people are given enough information, they can really make a difference in how we manage and how we analyze these expenditures. Our tax dollars are so precious and we so little of them to try to address the massive need, that we really need to make sure that the projects withstand the highest scrutiny in terms of the kind of return that we’re going to get for it.
CR:Vision 2025 is up in four years. Would you then advocate taking that time to be looking at this instead of doing it in a couple of months as this has happened?
BL:I think that would be a good idea—to have maybe a two-year planning effort to really analyze and evaluate not just individual projects, there’s a lot of worthy individual projects, but we need a smart-growth strategy, whether we are just maintaining infrastructure or whether we’re going to consider building some new things, some new facilities, for the citizens.
Click above to listen to this morning’s story, plus more of our interview.
CR:Was there a moment that you had when you kind of came to this realization that you weren’t going to support this, or was it kind of from the beginning? Tell me about your process looking at this.
BL:Yes, I was skeptical from teh very beginning because I thought it was an overreaction to a problem that, it’s unclear how that problem is going to play out. Even the people who are supporting it—I don’t think they even planned on this quality of life aspect of this thing in the very beginning. But the mayors and some of the leadership of some of these suburban communities said, hey, if we’re going to support this economic development thing, we want a piece of the pie. It just kind of morphed into a $750 million proposal. People have been trying to advocate for what they think is important, but on these town hall meetings that they had, people have two minutes to come and tell what they think is important. That’s hardly a way to try to determine how you want to spend $750 million. The real, good process would be to have workshops and sit down with people and to challenge them on all the different needs that we have with the limited resources that we have to meet those needs, and then let them try to figure it out. In other words, if your pet project doesn’t get top billing or funding, then what is your second choice, and what is your third choice, and if you only get half the money, how would you like to spend that?
CR:It sounds like what happened with PLANiTULSA, right?
BL:Exactly … A lot of people have asked me, because they have been aware of some of the comments that I have made, should they go and advocate for their projects, and I encourage people to do that. But they have to keep in mind that supporting this thing to get their little piece of the pie is something that they really need to think about. Even if we look at Vision 2025, it was the third time is a charm. The first two initiatives that we had for the biggest part of that, which was funding of an arena and downtown improvements, failed. And if this fails, it’s not going to be the end of the world. We will have an opportunity to come back and, I think, do a much more thorough planning process to try to determine where we want to spend our dollars. And so I think that, while I don’t blame people for wanting to advocate for what they think is important, they need to really consider whether or not they want to go vote for a $750 million package that has some things that may or may not really stand the test of time.