When the MAPS 3 projects were first proposed, my initial reaction was negative. They seemed like the wrong projects at the wrong time, plus they ran contrary to the public survey which was done. A bad PR move if ever I saw one. Most people I talked to initially were also confused or opposed.
As more came out about the plan, I paid attention. The Oklahoma Gazette had a lot of very good coverage of the various projects. The more I heard about the trails and river improvements, the more interested I was.
I also had a lot of conversations with various people from different walks of life and different perspectives. I have had strong supporters of the plan explain to me the reasons they are voting yes. I have countered with various arguments against that I had heard (even ones that weren't my own) and listened to what they had to say. Some of what they have said has been persuasive and has moved my position or affected how I think about the proposal. I have also talked with many opposed, and was even contacted by one of the anti-campaigns wanting to discuss their opposition with me.
About two weeks ago I was seriously considering changing my position and voting yes, but I have, after much consideration decided to vote No.
Some Basic Principles
I am not against this proposal for some of the reasons stated publicly by others. I am not anti-tax in this regard. I am not against spending on civic projects. I am not against a proposal like this during a recession. I am not against having some sort of MAPS 3.
Though, as an aside, I must say that I do resonate with one statement I read. We have a tax looking for projects. With the first proposal we had projects and developed a funding mechanism. Now we have a funding mechanism that went looking for projects. The fiscal conservative in me doesn't really like that. But it is not itself a determinative factor.
I do believe that right now, even in the midst of a recession, we need to raise taxes to increase public spending on a variety of things, even major capital improvments that could be economically transformative and/or contribute to community well-being for a broad sector of the community.
But I do not think that this proposal is the right one at this time.
- I believe it will not be transformative economically or otherwise; in fact it is probably no where near big or radical enough to achieve those goals.
- Nor does it meet what I think should be the priorities at this point in the city's development.
- It, in fact, will draw funds away from the projects that we ought to pursue and may hurt the city's overall development.
- I also think MAPS itself may be the wrong funding mechanism for the sorts of transformative priorities that we should be pursuing.
- Further, the proposal is not part of the sort of comprehensive, city-wide, long-term development plan that I would like to see.
- Finally, I am not comfortable with the fact that this proposal is not specific as to projects, timetables, etc. The open-ended, flexible, and vague nature of it (MAPS 1 was not like this) is problematic for me.
The Convention Center is simply not persuasive to me. I do not see it as a priority for this city in this decade.
I am told that our current facilities are inadequate and uncompetitive. That may be so. But I haven't heard a good argument for why this investment in attempting to attract more conventions is the number one priority for Oklahoma City in 2010 and ahead.
My own sense is that we will never, no matter how large, state-of-the-art, or whatever our convention center will or could be, be a major convention-drawing city. There is simply too much competition. Making this our number one priority, when we are behind in SO many other areas as well, seems a losing venture to me of huge magnitude.
And Danny Hites, fortunately, linked to this Brookings Institute Report on why convention center construction and development is currently a bad idea and a waste of a city's resources. There are some excerpts from this study that I might include in a separate post (to keep this one from being monumentally long). Perusing this report is very worth your time before you vote next week.
The public transportation involved is not necessarily a bad idea, but it is deceitfully being sold as something it is not, which contributes to distrust of the entire plan. It is not public transit but is a way to move convention-goers, tourists, and downtown business people around downtown. That is itself not a bad thing, but it is not really being sold as that. I do not see this proposal as step one in the comprehensive public transit that we need.
I am very in favor of the river improvements and think that a proposal just for this would get overwhelming support.
The park is something I favor, though I don't like aspects of this actual plan which I have seen. And I do worry about maintenance, since the city has a poor to failing record for maintenance of existing parks (this was hopefully helped by the 2007 bond issue).
I also feel like we were misinformed about the Devon TIF. At the time I understood that the improvements it was to bring to the Myriad Gardens was to be the beginning investment in the park. Now in the plan the park and the gardens are separated by a block of retail. Maybe I misunderstood, but I know I am not the only one who thought that the park was not going to be a MAPS project but was to be supported initially by the Devon TIF.
Of course I really like the trails proposal. The other projects I'm ambivalent about.
I wish that instead of this MAPS 3 proposal, the city had proposed a Healthy City Initiative (not using the MAPS brand) and included the river improvements, trails, maybe the senior centers, maybe the park, and improvements to other parks and social services throughout the city. Something more in line with the successful 2007 bond issue. I think that would have easily passed and left time to put together a truly radical and transformative mega-project.
And we do need to put together a mega-project. The one that the citizenry asked for was public transportation (and moving people around downtown does not suffice). I do not believe this should be handled by the MAPS brand, but should be a permanent addition to the tax system in the city and the region. For, it must truly be regional and worked out in conjunction with outlying cities and the possibilities for increased rail (and other transport) on a state and national level.
When I read in the NYTimes about cities (some roughly our size) that are making almost $5 billion investments in transportation infrastructure and that even projects of this size are considered only necessary infrastructure investments and not the sort of mega-projects that bring economic transformation, then I realize that we are not thinking anywhere near big or radical enough.
We are being true to something Danny Goble wrote in his history of the state, "few states do less with what they have." He wrote that this problem was worse because we were starting out with less to begin with (as one of the ten poorest states in the Union).
Tulsa has put together a wonderful, comprehensive, long-range plan for the city. You can look at it here. It makes for a more sustainable, healthy city, that develops city-wide in neighborhood centers with emphasis on walking and public transportation. They will use various projects and funding mechanisms to implement the plan.
I would like to see something similar for OKC and how something like MAPS would contribute to it.
It is not just that the plan is lacking, but the city-wide focus.
Development in other areas
I am concerned about turning our focus south of downtown at this moment. The development to the east and north are not complete. In fact, many are stalled. Driving down the highway there are new eyesores of incomplete development projects.
There is new effort being put into the development of the blocks west of downtown now as well. Should we be expending great amounts of capital in a southern direction until we have completed these development initiatives?
And aren't there other areas of the city lagging far behind in economic development? We've spent money on downtown in order to catch up from our far behind position. Isn't it fair to spend some more in other areas as well?
Another point I heard made this morning merits discussion.
Rev. Dr. Kathy McCallie said this morning that her concern is for the unions. Labor has been losing power in this country, and two of the city's employees unions are opposed to the effort. A vote against does strengthen the power of labor and reminds the city that in the future that the working class ought to be brought to the table and not just the rich real estate developers who will benefit most from this transfer of wealth from the middle class.
So, for all these reasons, I am voting NO. I have heard no arguments FOR the proposal that overcome my objections. In fact, many arguments of the YES folk are things I can agree with (the need for major spending on public works at this time, etc.), I just don't think that this actual proposal achieves those goals or the priorities that the city should be pursuing at this time.