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City updating its downtown, near-downtown housing study with an eye toward accelerated residential growth

For all of the talk about the resurgence of downtown Tulsa, city officials know the area won’t truly flourish until more people choose to live there.

The same holds true for the neighborhoods that surround it.

Toward that end, the city this week is joining forces with a private consulting firm to update its downtown and near-downtown housing study. Consultants with Development Strategies were in Tulsa on Monday to meet with local stakeholders and neighborhood leaders to begin the six-month project.

Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy, said the project is about more than tallying the number of housing units in the study area.

“This is going to be a very community-driven process that intentionally speaks to what the residents who are here currently are hoping for and what they view as success when it comes to their neighborhood,” Doctor said.

The city’s first downtown housing study, completed in 2010, focused on whether there was a demand for downtown living space. There was, as evidenced by the long list of residential developments that have opened since then, or are about to open

But Kian Kamas, the city’s chief of economic development, believes even better times are ahead.

“I think Tulsa is generally more conservative in development,” Kamas said. “When you look at a city like Oklahoma City, you’ve seen a lot more speculative housing development. I think Tulsa is starting to pick up.”

The housing study will help the city develop policies and allocate resources as it works with the development community and other local stakeholders to accelerate residential growth downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods such as Crutchfield, Pearl and Crosbie Heights.

It will also explore what amenities potential downtown residents would like to see in new developments, whether they be single-family homes or multi-unit apartments, as well as what services and attractions would draw people to live in a downtown neighborhood.

“I think this study will also be focused on, how do we make sure that we have just the right mix downtown?” Doctor said. “How are we thinking about making sure downtown is accessible for all residents who want to live downtown? And how are we developing our incentives and our programs to ensure that happens?”

Matt Wetli, a consultant with Development Strategies, said the study would also look into what Tulsa can do to ensure that residents living downtown or near downtown aren’t hurt by the very development the city is trying to encourage.

“How do we harness some of this growth and ensure that the folks that are living here today, that this place continues to work for (those) people?” Wetli said.

The housing update is being conducted at an opportune time for the city: In 2019-2020, about $11 million will become available as part of the city’s revolving-fund program. Approved by voters as part of Vision 2025, the loans have historically been issued with a 0% interest rate with the intent of spurring downtown development.

The updated housing study, Kamas said, will be used to assess new applications for loans.

“We are not doing a study just for the fun of studying things, but to really, at the conclusion of this, take a look at the results of the study and figure out where we should redeploy those dollars,” she said.

Kamas said she’s especially pleased with the group of local stakeholders, including everyone from developers to bankers to city councilors, who have agreed to help guide the process as part of a steering committee.

“It is just great to have such a fresh group of people representing a variety of stakeholders,” she said.

In addition to holding meetings with stakeholders and the neighborhoods’ residents, the city also plans to create an online survey to gather input and take comments.

The study will cost the city approximately $100,000.

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Commissioners get an earful on 287g; sheriff laments lack of 'peaceful conversation' as crowds gather in opposition and support

From the fairness of U.S. immigration laws to whether “a Tet Offensive” is being organized in backwoods immigrant camps, Tulsa County Commissioners heard more than two dozen arguments Monday morning for and against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287g programs.

The public comment session during the commission’s regular weekly meeting was originally set at the request of those opposed to the county’s continued involvement in 287g.

Some conservative groups rallied their forces over the weekend, however, so that Monday’s overflow crowd was divided on the issue.

In practice, the decision to extend the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in the program was decided and the contract signed weeks ago. Opponents, though, said they were misled on that point and wanted commissioners to reverse Sheriff Vic Regalado’s decision.

There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that happening.

The 287g programs, named for the section of federal law authorizing them, essentially deputizes specially trained local law officers for duties normally performed by ICE agents.

Regalado and some speaking Monday in favor of Tulsa County’s continued involvement say the program is intended only to identify undocumented residents who have committed serious crimes.

“I want to be absolutely clear,” Regalado said at the end of the public comments. “This is about the criminal element.”

Opponents, though, say the program is counterproductive because it causes immigrants — legal and illegal — to be less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement.

They say the program has also been used to deport individuals for minor traffic violations, and costs local taxpayers money better spent elsewhere.

Monday’s comments tended to wander into broader issues than just 287g.

Supporters often sounded more concerned about illegal immigration in general than serious offenders, or seemed not to draw much if any distinction between the two. Randall Barnett, a former legislative candidate, warned of a brewing “Tet Offensive” — a series of surprise attacks by the Viet Cong on South Vietnamese cities during the Vietnam War.

“It’s easy to discover a systematic plan of conquest” in Latin American migration, Barnett said.

“Communication potentials are expanding with every single Central American, African and Arab arriving here,” he continued. “Once they arrive here, how many are directed to education centers run by the far left or camps in the woods for a Tet Offensive? It is coming. I’ve been talking to plenty of military vets who are watching this go on. ... Don’t California my USA, don’t California my Oklahoma.”

Barnett was given a standing ovation by the pro-287g contingent.

Opponents, on the other hand, attacked the fairness of the nation’s immigration laws in general as well as the effectiveness of the 287g program.

“I’ve seen a lot of rhetoric here today about laws and how we shouldn’t be trampling these laws,” said Daniela Rosales, who said she benefited from deferred action for childhood arrivals, or DACA.

“Were we trampling the laws when we emancipated (slaves)?” Rosales asked “Were we trampling laws when we gave women the right to vote? We amend these things because we understand them to be unjust. These laws that we have right now are unjust. You will find yourselves on the wrong side of history.”

Regalado said most of the people speaking seemed to miss something important.

“There have been points made on both sides,” he said. “What scares me is that only a very few have mentioned the lack of conversation. Peaceful conversation. So I’d ask you to remember that. Everybody is entitled to their opinions.

“(But) let’s have a dialogue. There needs to be a dialogue to be had but it concerns immigration on the national level.”

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Pardon and Parole Board discusses implementing new criminal justice reform law

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday discussed implementation of a recently passed criminal justice reform measure.

Lawmakers passed and Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1269, which takes effect Nov. 1.

The measure would make the provisions of State Question 780 retroactive.

Passed by voters in 2016, SQ 780 downgraded several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and reduced the associated sentences.

It also increased the property amount to $1,000 from $500 for a felony.

The new law would immediately affect 623 offenders, said Justin Wolf, Pardon and Parole Board general counsel.

“There is no reason for those 623 to wait any longer than November or December to be released,” said John Estus, chief of staff for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, which worked to pass SQ 780. “Plenty of work can be done ahead of the Nov. 1 effective date to make sure those people are swiftly released.

“Every day they stay in, there is a cost to taxpayers.”

Estus’ remarks were made after the meeting.

The new law would affect another 338 offenders who had a simple drug possession charge plus another crime by shortening the length of the overall sentence, Wolf said.

A third category of offender has a simple possession crime but another conviction that would not affect when they are released, he said. The third category involves 1,171 offenders, Wolf said.

Another challenge is determining which offenders will be affected by increasing the felony property crime threshold to $1,000 from $500, Wolf said.

The board will have to pass emergency administrative rules to implement the measure, Wolf said.

In other action, the Pardon and Parole Board was told that a second commutation docket was in the works.

Backed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and its partners, the board can expect to see another round of applications focusing on drug sentences, veterans, the aging population and those convicted of failure to protect a child from abuse or neglect.

Estus said there are cases where a person is serving a longer sentence for failure to protect than the individual who actually was convicted of the abuse.

Tulsa County Public Defender Corbin Brewster said the veterans’ community has a lot of resources to assist with re-entry.

His office, the University of Tulsa College of Law, and Family & Children’s Services, a Tulsa-based nonprofit, are working on the project with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

“Every person we bring you will have a re-entry plan,” said Stephanie Horten, a women’s justice advocate for Family & Children’s Services.

It will also focus on those incarcerated for supervision violations, but not new crimes and crimes tied to poverty, Estus said.

The coalition last year secured the commutation of 30 offenders from former Gov. Mary Fallin.

This year the coalition will be filing hundreds of applications, but no more than 500, Estus said.

Pardon and Parole Board member C. Allen McCall called it a good program worth the board’s time.

“We want to send good cases to the governor,” McCall said.

Oklahoma for years has led the nation in incarceration rates.

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Public meeting for 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves investigation rescheduled

The first public meeting to discuss plans to begin the investigative process into the search for mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre has been rescheduled to late June.

Severe weather pushed the original May date back, the city of Tulsa announced Monday.

Mayor G.T. Bynum and the Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee will hold the meeting at 5:30 p.m. June 27 at the 36th Street Event Center, 1125 E. 36th St. North.

“The only way to move forward in our work to bring about reconciliation in Tulsa is by seeking the truth honestly,” Bynum said in the release. “As we open this investigation 98 years later, there are both unknowns and truths to uncover. But we are committed to exploring what happened in 1921 through a collective and transparent process — filling gaps in our city’s history, and providing healing and justice to our community.”

The city of Tulsa announced last year it would reexamine possible mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, formerly Booker T. Washington Cemetery.

The Oklahoma Archaeological Survey plans to search the sites using ground-penetrating radar, according to the release. Once the radar process is complete, the team will present their findings to the city of Tulsa and Public Oversight Committee following their investigation, and the city and committee will determine whether the second phase of the investigation will move forward.

The second phase could include excavation and bringing in the state Medical Examiner’s Office to determine cause of death.

If mass graves are present and can be directly associated with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the city and committee will determine the next steps as it relates to storing remains, DNA testing and genealogical research, and commemorating the grave sites and honoring the remains, the release states.

Featured video

Actor Jason Lee talks about his new photo exhibit that is being shown at the same time as photos from Larry Clark's iconic photo book "Tulsa."

Read the story: Larry Clark, Jason Lee exhibits show Oklahoma from inside, outside