I have delayed publishing this because I really wanted to support the MAPS 3 proposals. I have been hoping that more and better information would be made available, but the City’s campaign seems to be all sizzle and no steak.
Below are my concerns about the MAPS 3 proposal, as it is presented at this time. Advocates of sustainability, social justice, and good governance must weigh the pros and cons of the various projects to determine if, all things considered, a “yes” vote for MAPS 3 is warranted. At this point, with the information we have, I am voting against the MAPS 3 proposals, and I encourage others to do the same. We can do much better than the MAPS 3 proposal.
1. No Assurance of Project Completion.
There is no assurance that the announced MAPS 3 projects will actually be completed. The specific projects will not appear on the ballot, instead, we will vote on a generic grant of authority to the City Council to keep the sales tax where it is and spend the money on unspecified projects.
The resolution concerning the projects is non-binding and could be changed at any time by this or a future City Council. Some or all of these projects could be cancelled or replaced with other “priorities”.
The City is doing this to avoid having to list each project as a separate ballot issue, which would allow voters to pick and choose among the projects. Giving the City a blank check for hundreds of millions of dollars is not a good idea.
2. The City is being stingy with info.
The vote is rapidly approaching, yet there is almost nothing other than fluff at the City’s website, The Oklahoman’s editors are firmly in favor of MAPS 3. The Gazette seems to have the best reporting I’ve seen, it’s one of the few places where questions are being asked about “operating costs”, for example.
The only local source collecting “all the MAPS 3 news” is the Doug Dawgz blog, who is doing a fantastic job collecting the meager info about the MAPS 3 vote, at http://dougdawg.blogspot.com/2009/10/all-news-about-maps-3.html .
Among the most important unanswered questions are –
+ How will the projects be staged? Which will be first? Last?
The only clue thus far is a statement by the Mayor at a Nov 16 Chamber of Commerce luncheon that the park would be “first priority”. http://dougdawg.blogspot.com/2009/10/all-news-about-maps-3.html (Scroll down to the Nov 16th report.)
+ If revenue estimates fall short due to continued economic instability, which projects get cut? Although the question has been asked at the City council, no clear answer was forthcoming.
+ Regarding revenue estimates . . . the city’s website notes that previous revenue estimates came very close to the actual receipts, but the website does not disclose the methodology to produce the MAPS 3 revenue estimates. “Showing their work”, as our math teachers used to demand, would help build confidence in their revenue estimates.
+ What about operating revenues for the convention center, river amenities, transit, park, senior citizens centers, etc? Will other city expenses have to be cut to pay for these new unfunded operating expenses?
The designer for the park says some city revenues will be needed for park operations, but apparently no projected budget presently exists nor are the future fiscal demands on the city known at this time. http://dougdawg.blogspot.com/2009/10/all-news-about-maps-3.html .Scroll down to the report of the Oct 29 Chamber of Commerce luncheon and the remarks of Mary Margaret Jones of Hargreaves Associates.
A Nov 4th article in the Gazette says that the city manager has agreed to absorb $2 million/year in operational costs for the downtown streetcar system into the regular city budget. If there is an estimate on the entire operations budget, nobody is saying anything about it thus far.
Regarding operations costs of the senior wellness/aquatic centers, an article in the Nov. 11th Oklahoma City Gazette says that no budget presently exists for the centers. http://tinyurl.com/yhkr937
This lack of attention to the details of operating costs seems extremely irresponsible. These days, no one in the private sector would be able to get funding for capital projects without an operations budget and a plan for financing the operations. No bank would loan a business money on the vague promise that “we will have a budget” and “we will get the money”.
+ Is there a map of the proposed trail system? Is it configured so that it could facilitate bicycle commuting or is it strictly a recreational program?
3. Equity Issues.
MAPS 3 has some very real social justice and equity issues. Will MAPS 3 accelerate the process of gentrifying/improving the city’s central areas – at the cost of driving the de-gentrification of suburban areas? MAPS 3 programs $600 million in downtown spending, and only $160 million elsewhere in the city. No transit dollars are programmed for the suburbs. Dollars spent gentrifying the central city areas can’t be used to support low income and middle class areas elsewhere in the city. Oklahoma City’s MAPS 3 may therefore increase the risk of de-gentrifying areas of the city that are not served by transit and are not conveniently located for access to the “new and improved” downtown area. This should be of particular concern to voters and property owners in the city’s suburban areas.
It is evident that transportation decisions have enormous impacts on city development. The extension of early trolley car lines jump-started the growth of the City’s first suburbs – neighborhoods we know today as Gatewood, Mesta Park, etc. In the 60s and 70s, the construction of freeways and Northwest Expressway enabled a new generation of suburbs far away from downtown. This reflected the cheap energy and automobile orientation of the late 20th century. But nothing stays the same. The 21st century is an era of higher energy prices bringing new interest in public transportation options.
In the 21st century, neighborhoods served by public transportation have significant advantages over neighborhoods without access to public transit. The concentration of MAPS 3 transportation dollars in the City’s central core will drive housing decisions. More people buying downtown and in the central city mean fewer people interested in houses in the suburban areas. It also displaces lower income people from the areas close to downtown. That is a process that can drive de-gentrification in suburban areas. Look at the rest of the world – the slums are in the suburbs, not the central city areas.
The decision to go for a central city trolley system, without any improvements elsewhere in the city, means that it will likely be ten years before a significant upgrade in the rest of the city’s transit systems will be considered. Given the volatility of oil prices, ten years is too long to wait,.
4. Convention Center.
The proposed new convention center is a great 20th century idea. Unfortunately, this is the 21st century and we need 21st century ideas, not old, tired, “everybody’s doing it so we have to” ideas from the 20th century. Many questions remain unanswered. Do the Ford and Cox buildings have operating deficits? Will the new convention center make a profit or will it need an annual subsidy? If so, where will that subsidy come from?
The City brags about tourism jobs, but the fact of that matter is that tourism jobs are hospitality industry jobs and that means “low-paid jobs with few or no benefits.” Do we really want to give such a major subsidy to an industry characterized by low paid and part-time work? According to Roy Williams of the OKC Chamber of Commerce, the new convention center will create 1100 jobs. At $280 million for the convention center, this is a cost of $254,000 per low-wage job. Will the contractors at the new convention center obey the law and collect and pay taxes on the incomes of their workers? Or will they, as is sometimes the case with contractors for events at our existing facilities, pay workers cash and thus cheat them and the government of taxes and Social Security/Medicare contributions? (NB: I spoke with a low-income worker last week who confirmed that when he works temp jobs at city facilities, taxes are not withheld from his paycheck and his employer does not pay social security taxes on his wages.)
Instead of investing in a new convention center, we would be ahead financially if that money was instead invested in a comprehensive area transit system that would allow families to save thousands of dollars in commuting costs and reduce pollution and damage to our city’s streets.
5. Police and Fire-fighter concerns.
The police and fire-fighter unions have expressed concerns about public safety being under-funded at the cost of expanding economic development (a/k/a socialism for the politically well-connected). There can be no doubt that in recent years the city has neglected its infrastructure responsibilities. Projects from previous bond issues remain uncompleted, public safety personnel positions are being cut even as the City’s area and popuation increases, and the City’s transit system is exceptionally poor. Of the MAPS 3 moneys, well over half the funds are “economic development”. This comes on the heels of our recent $120 million welfare check to help 3 of the richest families in the state steal the Sonics from Seattle, and the decision to invest all of the property taxes for the next 20 years from the new Devon Energy tower downtown rather than using them to fund the regular budgets of our schools, libraries, health departments, and general government operations.
6. Sustainability Issues.
Advocates of sustainability should be concerned about the continued mis-allocation of increasingly scarce resources that the MAPS 3 proposal represents. The convention center and the piece-meal approach to area transit are major sustainability issues.
As noted above, the convention center is an investment in social injustice (using tax money to create low-wage/low-benefit jobs for companies that typically treat their employees with injustrice e.g. not paying social security taxes on their payrolls). Social injustice is never good for sustainability.
The convention center is an investment in the travel industry, and the travel promoted by conventions is mostly air travel, the most unsustainable and polluting of all the methods of travel. Moreover, given the on-going economic crisis, and the possibility of permanently changed economic codnitions, the future of the convention industry is problematic at best.
The sustainability problem with the transit component is that the City has adopted a piece-meal approach to regional transit. This is inefficient and will greatly increase costs, both fiscal capital costs and opportunity costs to transit patrons. For example, MAPS 1 built a downtown terminal for the City’s bus system MAPS 3 now proposes a downtown trolley system — with a terminal not conveniently locatedat the same place as the bus terminal. This builds major inefficiencies into the system for patrons. It decreases the value of the downtown trolley system by increasing its inconvenience to patrons of the bus system. City leaders promise eventually to build a regional transit system, whose terminal may be in a third location! More inefficiency.
The MAPS 3 proposal accepts the destruction of the rail center of Union Station, and does not conceptualize its replacement with a multi-modal transportation center. So we reject our heritage transportation assets, without a clear plan for their replacement. This uncoordinated approach to transit adopted by the City will make the eventual creation of a multi-modal, regional transportation center much more expensive.
While there are some good pro-sustainability projects in the proposal (trails and sidewalks) there is no absolute assurance that those projects will be built, due to the way the City Council chose to structure the ballot. As presently configured, MAPS 3 is an investment in unsustainability. And going into the 20th century, cities that consistently invest in unsustainability will find themselves left behind.
If we continue the City Council’s path of taking from the general public and giving to the politically well-connected, Oklahoma City will continue to look more and more like a Victor Hugo novel. We need a better MAPS 3 proposal that meets essential city needs, not another give-away subsidy for downtown special interests. I urge everyone to join with their neighbors to send a message to City Hall – “Not This MAPS!”. We can do better!