Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back from the City Council meeting

I made it one of my key objectives this week to attend the City Council meeting this week, since I would not have that opportunity much longer, obviously. The first thing I noticed was how surprisingly easy it was to fill out a Request to be Heard for the last few moments of the meeting. For those who don't know, there is a Citizens to be Heard period at the end of every meeting, where anyone can go up for 3 minutes and speak their mind about a city issue..all you have to do is fill out a formal request, which is super easy (asks your name, address, phone number, and briefly describe your issue..I just put 'discuss downtown issues'), and when they call your name don't make too big a fool of yourself.

I was at first amazed at how packed the Council chambers were. Seems like half of the people there were relatives and close friends of the new Youth Council members who were being introduced at that council meeting, and the other half were there to make sure an item of interest passed. The only two real issues that came up and got much debate was the rezoning of land that still won't be developed until it's sold that had strong opposition from a community of 7 townhomes at S. 89th and Santa Fe, and a proposal to put the boot on cars with $250+ in unpaid parking tickets. Seems like common sense, although Councilman Skip Kelly brought up some great concerns that the unpaid parking tickets would be overseen by a Kangaroo court of police officers.

I was there to speak on the merits of a proposed streetcar system, and show some citizen support for Jeff Bezdek's efforts in stirring the pot for rail transit. Surprisingly, out of the 4 people who were heard at the end of the meeting, 3 of them were arguing for rail, including myself. 1 guy was talking about aliens visiting his house and time capsules that needed to be dug up or something, I had no idea I was just trying not to laugh too hard.. and then much to my surprise, Tom Elmore was called to speak right before I was. You see, I'm not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Of course I have a lot of respect for Tom, and I don't think he's nuts, like everyone else seems to. I agree with him that we could utilize our existing rail network brilliantly.

But I have my questions as to whether anyone on the City Council actually listens to him, and I don't know if I would pay too much attention either if I had a city of 550,000 people to run. But it was interesting that Elmore was the act I had to follow, but for the most part, I think speaking to the Council went off without a hitch..I feel good about the points I made, everything came out sounding decently articulate I guess, and Sam Bowman wanted to shake my hand as I walked out. So all in all, I guess it was a success. Hopefully it did some good going before the City Council, arguing my perspective on the issue..that of being a college student, about to graduate, with no allegiance to OKC..so why should I move to OKC instead of settling down in Calgary, or Portland, or Austin, or so on. Is it a cool, urban, hip place for me to be? Hardly. But it could be. My main point is that it is what OKC has to do in order to be in contention for the recent college graduates. Hopefully the City Council gets it.

I got home and wrote the following email, which I sent to Brian Walters:

Mr. Brian Walters,

My name is xxxxxxxxx, and I spoke to the City Council earlier this morning on downtown transit priorities. I'm the former OU student, currently studying at the University of Calgary (in Calgary, AB)..my permanent address is in your district however, as I grew up here in Oklahoma City. After looking into your otherwise stellar record on the City Council, I noticed Mr. Walters that you don't seem very optimistic about the prospect of downtown streetcar in Oklahoma City, which is fine, I just wanted to talk to you about it. I feel this should be a high priority for the city, not just for its merit as a transit tool, but for what it can do better than any other proposed Maps 3 project: Foster a cool, hip environment in Downtown OKC. I feel like there isn't enough value placed on the "cool & hip" factor anymore, whereas from a pragmatic standpoint, it's severely lacking with my home town--a leading reason why OKC isn't exactly a top choice for recent college graduates to move to. Until we realize the value in building a city that isn't just for families, our college graduates will continue to go away to New York, Chicago, LA, and Houston by the droves. Is it really good for the family when there is nothing here for people who just haven't started one yet? I don't mean to speak so negatively of my home town, I just care about it, and would like to give it a chance for myself..but I can't if OKC makes the decision to not even compete for recent college grads who won't want to live in a world of suburban sprawl.

Hoping the best for Oklahoma City,

13612 xxxxxxxxx Rd
Oklahoma City, OK 73170


Gene said...

Thank you for doing this. I work with OnTrac and some other community groups, and we've been able to find a lot of people in Norman to speak to the city council about rail transit and other issues, but it's been much harder in Oklahoma City. They hear from so few people that it doesn't take much to make a big impact.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

No problem Gene, it's my pleasure to do what I can to bring urban issues to the forefront.