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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The City Council of Oklahoma City approved a mural project for the new Willa Johnson Recreation Center to be built at Douglass Park, as well as approving allotment of Emergency Service Grants to several agencies addressing homelessness in Oklahoma City. 

The Council also approved a temporary billing adjustment for water usage during the recent winter storm.

Mural Project

A ceramic and mixed media mural has been approved for the natatorium (indoor pool) at the future site of the Willa D. Johnson Recreation Center at Douglass Park. 

The mural, titled Freedom to Dream, will cost $117,000, and will be coordinated by Ebony Iman Dallas, Quiquia Calhoun, and Jarica Walsh who are doing business together as Nomad Mystique, LLC.

The artists will work with students at nearby Douglass High School to create the ceramic tiles for the colorful mural. Those students will be paid for their work.

The mural depicts Willa Johnson surrounded by children who she is encouraging to “step out and follow their dreams.”

A legacy of the mural’s creation will be a new ceramics program at Douglass High. They have purchased materials and a kiln already, and the school will begin teaching ceramics curriculum in the near future.

Homelessness Grants

Jerrod Shadid, Homeless Programs Planner for Oklahoma City, gave a brief presentation to the Council about the latest round of Emergency Service Grant (ESG) funds. ESG money is given to the City by the federal government for rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention services.

The City was granted ESG funding last year specifically for the purpose of eviction prevention and mitigation. The latest round is for broader services. Shadid said that the eviction moratorium has freed up some of this money to be used more specifically for rapid re-housing.

The grants will be overseen by the city, but will be divided up between several service organizations:

Homeless Alliance will receive $1,057,800 for homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing, emergency shelter, and outreach activities.

Neighborhood Services Organization will receive $100,000 for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

SISU Youth will receive $150,000 for their new shelter that will hold up to 350 individuals between 15 and 24 years of age.

Finally, CARES Act ESG funds were allocated to City Rescue Mission ($741,960), Pivot, Inc. ($262,200), and Positive Tomorrows ($150,500).

Shadid pointed out that the Willard School emergency shelter will be closing at the end of this month, but with COVID precautions being loosened, hopefully shelters will start accepting more of our neighbors who live outside.

Water Bills

Chris Browning, Utilities Director, came before the Council to ask for a temporary adjustment to billing for water usage.

During the severe winter storm in February, many utility customers across the city had to keep water running in sinks to prevent the freezing and potential rupturing of pipes in their homes, as well as their supply lines. Additionally, many meters were inaccessible due to ice and other conditions. 

This resulted in what customers will notice is a spike in their water bills. Since the meters weren’t readable in February, most customers have probably received higher bills for the March cycle.

Browning explained that running water from a sink in a stream about the thickness of a pencil lead would consume over 100 gallons a day. Multiply that by the number of sinks that customers might have been running, and it adds up to quite a surge in usage. Browning pointed out, however, that ruptured pipes and supply lines would have created a far greater surge in usage.

The emergency measure that Browning suggested was to bill at a lower “tier” for customers. This will ultimately result in a discount for April bills.

The measure passed unanimously among the Council, along with an emergency clause to put it into effect immediately.

Economic Development Questions

During the portion of the meeting reserved for comments from council, Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice called for Cathy O’Connor to answer questions. O’Connor is the Surrogate General Manager of the Economic Development Trust and Executive Director of Urban Renewal Authority.

Nice stated that she has received comments and letters from residents in Northeast Oklahoma City who applied for a micro-enterprise program administered by the Trust. She said businesses that this program was designed for have been allowed to slip through the cracks.

O’Connor countered that those businesses didn’t have the proper documentation when they applied. She said she has connected them with Community Action to assist them in getting their documentation corrected.

Nice said that people have been receiving contradictory information from O’Connor’s staff and requested that O’Connor attend a community meeting so neighbors can get a straight line from her organization about what is required in order to participate in the Trust’s programming.

Nice also brought up the case of an entrepreneur who wants to open a “mini market” in part of a food desert in Ward 7. According to the entrepreneur, her conversation with O’Connor led her to believe O’Connor was steering her away from the idea.

O’Connor did not offer a counterpoint on that issue.

The Council will meet again on Tuesday, March 30, at 8:30 a.m.

Last Updated March 16, 2021, 5:46 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor