Wednesday the City Council and a standing-room-only crowd heard MAPS 4 proposals for public transit improvements, affordable housing, arena improvements, and a criminal justice diversion hub.
The third special meeting of the Council to hear MAPS 4 proposals lasted a whopping eight hours. The gallery was full for each of the four presentations, and each proposal was followed with feedback from members of the public.
While the gallery was full, the horseshoe was not. Ward 1 Councilman Greiner was absent for the duration of the meeting and Ward 5 Councilman Greenwell arrived two hours into the session. Unfortunately, special meetings can’t always accommodate each council member’s schedule.
The first proposal was presented by Jason Ferbrache, Administrator of the Central Oklahoma Parking and Transit Authority and Director of EMBARK. While the presentation was dry, it was data driven and made some big promises.
The proposal was composed of three components. First was “Advanced Transit Options,” including Bus Rapid Transit, enhanced Park & Ride locations, and something Ferbrache referred to as “micro-transit,” which Ferbrache described as an app-based transit supplement akin to popular ride-share apps. Each of these three would increase the reach of EMBARK’s service area.
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The second component was Enhanced Bus Service. This would include increasing the bus fleet, adding traffic signal prioritization technology, and improving bus stops by creating shelters at half of all stops and lighting the remaining stops.
The third component was for planned growth, including updating the existing Transit Plan and acquiring land for expansion of EMBARK facilities. As services grow, so will the amount of staff and equipment which will require more facility space.
The total proposed investment is $87.2 million.
The presenters for the housing proposal were Dan Straughan, Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance; Ian Colgan, Assistant Executive Director of Oklahoma City Housing Authority; and Cathy O’Connor, CEO of Alliance for Economic Development.
The proposal indicated that, while Housing First has proven to be an effective approach to ending homelessness, our community also needs to stem the influx of new homelessness. The plan to address both sides of this includes new permanent supportive housing, preservation of public housing units, and new “affordable housing” units. The proposed investment is $40-80 million that could be leveraged for additional funding up to $400-600 million through the magic of private/public partnership, the popular capitalist chimera that solves all social ills.
Notably, the messages of the presenters seemed mixed. Straughan corrected Colgan after Colgan stated that homelessness could never be solved. O’Connor gave her portion of the presentation but never returned to the podium, even after all three were asked for successful examples by Councilman Greenwell.
One message that was uniform was that without slowing eviction, homelessness will continue to loom large.
Special Projects Manager Tom Anderson gave a presentation on the monster truck and wrestling arena the city owns named Chesapeake Arena. He said that it has been very well used and desperately needs repairs and modernization.
The presentation included a lot of financial statistics that were foggy, and the dubious quote, “A great view, watch the streetcar go by.”
Eventually we heard numbers as such: $55-60 million for improving amenities, $30-33 million for building investments on the arena and $12-15 million for the practice facility, and $23-26m for arena maintenance. Also basketball came up during this presentation.
Sue Ann Arnall led the presentation of a proposal for a criminal justice Diversion Hub.
She invited several people to share their stories of how a Diversion Hub could have changed things in their involvement in the criminal justice system.
The council and attendees heard some challenging and inspiring stories about the challenges of navigating a system that seems unnavigable.
After these personal stories, Judge Ken Stoner, presiding judge over Oklahoma County’s Drug Court and DUI Court, came to the podium to give details of the proposed Hub.
The Diversion Hub would have a multi-disciplinary team of service providers to serve as a “one-stop-shop” for people who are involved in the criminal justice system. Stoner said that there are already similar models enjoying success in Oklahoma City.
Stoner said the key service areas identified are Housing, Education, Employment, Family Services, Mental Health Services, Navigating Civil Concerns, and Substance Use Disorder Services.
The investment proposed is $15-18 million for construction and land. Stoner said a private funder has promised a $20 million dollar endowment for operation cost.
A common refrain during public comments referred to the Mayor’s theme for this round of MAPS proposals. When the Mayor asked the people of OKC to “dream big,” the people and organizations who submitted ideas responded in kind.
Wednesday, organizations and members of the public repeatedly encouraged the council to dream even bigger.
In contrast, more than once the Mayor or other council members suggested that dreaming a bit smaller might be a better idea.
The Mayor said once that to double transit would mean to cut away from something else. Councilman McAtee asked Straughan if instead of addressing homelessness we might not better just focus on veteran homelessness. Greenwell suggested to Arnall and Stoner that the Diversion Hub could share a workspace with Palomar’s Family Justice Center.
Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon asked if it should be the responsibility of working families to enhance the practice facilities of millionaire athletes. There are bound to be a lot of compromises, one supposes. (Disclosure: Hamon is the spouse of this reporter.)
Each of the day’s proposals brought on a not insignificant number of public comments, demonstrated by the incredible length of the meeting.
Tony Carfang, cycling and transit activist, commented on several of the proposals. He quoted former Vice President Joe Biden who said, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” Each of Carfang’s comments on the proposals tied back into the need for a reliable and expanded transit system.
Joy Reardon, accessibility activist, spoke on each of the proposals as well, and was especially insightful on the topic of transit.
Michael Washington made a typically colorful series of comments on the proposals. Commenting on updates to the arena and Thunder practice facility Mr. Washington said, “No, sir, no, ma’am! Not when Clay Bennet has zillions of dollars!”
Several members of VOICE were present throughout the day to lend their support to improved transit, truly affordable housing, and compassionate criminal justice. The members who spoke on the arena proposal were universally against spending public money on the project.
Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper took several opportunities to tie together the proposals being heard with proposals from the two previous MAPS meetings. He said that the city has a great opportunity to address the many social and practical issues we’re facing in a holistic way. He said that we have a chance to transform this community with this MAPS package.
Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone was typically quiet throughout most of the presentations, asking few questions, but did speak up to thank the people who shared their personal stories during the presentation on the Diversion Hub, and praised them for their courage and resilience.
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell represented his usual conservative stance, repeatedly invoking “return on investment.”
Councilwoman Hamon spent much of the day playing devil’s advocate by asking questions such as, “What would you say to someone who asked why we would ‘just give away’ housing?” Hamon also spent time trying to clarify terms and economic impact numbers during the somewhat vague presentation on arena improvements.
Ward 7 Councilwoman Nice, who had to leave for part of the afternoon but returned before the session was over, pushed Ferbrache to spend more time figuring out how to expand transit to the east and to the west.
Ward 8 Councilman Stonecipher dedicated most of his questions to technical points, requesting pro forma figures for land acquisition and equipment and the like.
Tuesday, August 6 at 9:00am will be the final Special Meeting to hear MAPS 4 presentations.
On that day the Council will hear proposals on the topics of mental health, a multipurpose stadium, and the Innovation District. Luckily those are only three proposals.
The Council (and yes certain members of the Press) have done yeoman’s work sitting through and listening to all of the proposals and commentary so far. After Tuesday the Council,
Mayor, and City Manager will begin the even more arduous task of trying to put together a manageable-and electable-package of these ideas to present to the public.
Good luck on that.