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61st & Peoria: Savanna Landing could be a lesson in how to begin reclaiming community from crime, according to grant researcher

The clock is ticking on a federal grant program to improve the 61st and Peoria area through a holistic approach to crime and community. But positive gains have inspired optimism that successes in the recently christened “Hope Valley” are sustainable.

The city of Tulsa provided an update Tuesday on the status of a $503,000 Innovations on Community-Based Crime Reduction Program grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Justice in late 2016. The grant paid for a full-time police community resource officer for two years, a position the city said will continue with local funds. The grant expires Sept. 30, though the city has requested an extension until Jan. 31.

The policing focus in Hope Valley has been to bolster relationships, encourage the reporting of crimes and deter criminal behavior. Increasing availability to social services is another target for improvement in the area.

MIKE SIMONS 

Savanna Landing manager Carmel Steward (left) gives Tulsa City Councilor Jeannie Cue a tour of an apartment at the complex on Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

As part of the update, two research consultants presented information at the South Tulsa Community House, 5780 S. Peoria Ave., and heard feedback on initiatives and how best to carry triumphs into the future.

The Savanna Landing apartment complex — formerly called Fairmont Terrace — has consistently popped as a hotspot in crime statistics and is infamous for an execution-style quadruple homicide in 2013. The complex’s latest management now enforces a zero-tolerance policy on fights, which initially led to approximately 10 tenant evictions a month, a property representative said. The complex is also evicting residents who were involved in illegal activities, the city said.

Assaults there are down 20% to 25%, and burglaries at Savanna Landing have declined about 15%, according to statistics released in the update. In Hope Valley — the larger area from 56th to 65th streets between Utica Avenue and Riverside Drive — burglaries dropped nearly 30% and robberies about 20% — both percentages greater than the city as a whole, according to Tulsa Police Department statistics.

MIKE SIMONS 

Hannah Barnes pushes her 2-month-old son, Cassius, through a Savanna Landing apartment complex parking lot on her way to a store Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Recent Savanna Landing resident surveys found that nearly 70% feel safe at night, compared to about 40% in 2018 and about 30% in 2017.

“The city of Tulsa overall, and other apartments across the country, could really learn a lesson in the way Savanna Landing’s handling it,” said Nicholas Corsaro, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati who consulted on the research.

Carmel Steward, the complex’s property manager, said the zero-tolerance policy discourages problem tenants. They don’t want to be seen or heard, she said, and personnel have begun to notice a renewed vibe with neighbors helping each other out.

Occupancy is at 88%. She wishes it were 100% but said she would rather kick out a problem resident than boost occupancy at the expense of the rising quality of life.

Millennia Housing Management renovated all 336 apartment units at Savanna Landing using $14 million in low-income tax credits. The complex now features 24-hour security and new fencing, along with more recreational and social activities.

MIKE SIMONS 

Yaseph Thang pushes a gate open at the Savanna Landing apartment complex. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

“It shows that Millennia (Housing) Management cares and wants to accept you as who you are and hopefully make a change in the community,” Steward said.

Savanna Landing residents formed the city’s first tenant association to work toward a more positive environment.

Kimberly Owen, the association’s vice president, said she’s lived at the complex for almost 10 years. She refused to let her children play in the park adjacent to her building and didn’t befriend neighbors out of fear.

“Now my kids can go outside and ride their bicycles,” Owen said.

There’s a community garden from which residents can pick fruits and vegetables as they ripen next to the complex’s pool.

Seven large wooden planters feature strawberries, cucumbers, okra, zucchini, bell peppers and other healthy options, which children help care for under the guidance of Jodie Bucher.

“We discuss gardening tactics,” she said.

The nearby Kwick Stop on 61st Street is the second grant target for improvement. Security also is in place there now, with perimeter fencing and enhanced lighting.

MIKE SIMONS 

James Stark (left) with Local Initiatives Support Corp. and Nicolas Corsaro of the University of Cincinnati talk during a tour of the Savanna Landing apartments on Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Brant Pitchford, supervisor with the city’s Working in Neighborhoods Department, called the Kwick Stop previously a “poster child” for how to test the city’s Chronic Nuisance Abatement Property ordinance.

The ordinance, passed in July 2018, gives the city the authority to close businesses for noncompliance. Pitchford said the city has monitored the Kwick Stop, with the most significant required change being the presence of a security officer when the store is open.

“We’re now getting feedback from the proprietor, the guy who runs the place, that the security has increased his sales,” Pitchford said. “People are coming in more because there’s security on site.”

Crime incidents reported at Kwick Stop were about 1.5 per month in 2015-2016, climbing to 2.5 a month in 2017-18. Corsaro credited that to area residents feeling able to report crime, whereas previously they wouldn’t do so.

The rate has dropped back down to about 1.5 per month this year.

But the University of Cincinnati researcher did point out that not all is sunshine and rainbows.

For example, assaults are down at Savanna Landing, but within Hope Valley they remain stable and consistent.

MIKE SIMONS 

A man leaves the Kwick Stop convenience store on 61st Street just west of Peoria Avenue on Tuesday. A city official said area residents are going to the store more now that it has on-site security. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

So the question remains: Why are so many people fighting outside the gates of Savanna Landing?

“It’s not disproportionate, but it’s still not commensurate,” Corsaro said. “It’s still above the overall city average.”

Deranda Kenmore recalls watching a scuffle spill down a staircase at Savanna Landing some years ago, with one man denting her car’s fender with the other guy’s head.

Those episodes don’t seem to play out anymore, or at least as much, Kenmore said. Savanna Landing is “tons better,” she said.

Besides fewer fights, the complex now has a weight room and an upgraded laundry facility.

And “I love the garden,” Kenmore said. “I picked my first tomato the other day.”

But she said the two playgrounds need to be upgraded and that maintenance workers appear to be “running wild” trying to fix problems. The water was mixed up in a renovated apartment, with the hot flowing into the toilet and not the shower, she said.

“They still have a long ways to go, but it’s a work in progress,” Kenmore said.


National
What to look for when Mueller testifies about Russia probe

WASHINGTON — The Democrats want incriminating, hidden-till-now details about Donald Trump and Russia. The Republicans want Robert Mueller to concede it was all a waste of time and money, if not an outright hoax.

Neither side is likely to get just what it wants Wednesday, but the former special counsel’s first open testimony on his investigation has Washington and the rest of the political world in a high state of anticipation just the same.

Here are some things to look for when Mueller appears before the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees to answer questions about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible cooperation with the Trump presidential campaign.

Obstruction, obstruction

Much of Mueller’s report focuses on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice, and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee say that’s where their attention will be, too. And for good reason: His report examines in blow-by-blow detail nearly a dozen episodes in which the new president sought to control the Russia probe, narrow its scope or even have investigators fired.

Democrats say they expect to draw Mueller out in several of these areas. They include Trump’s demands that then-White House Counsel Don McGahn press for Mueller’s firing and his push to have former Attorney General Jeff Sessions limit the investigation to future election interference rather than past conduct.

The session before the Intelligence Committee is likely to dwell more on Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to sway the outcome. Mueller found insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy there but did leave open the question of whether Trump illegally stymied the investigation.

Mueller the Marine

Expecting Mueller to stray outside his report and drop scintillating details you’ve never heard before? Well, don’t.

Mueller, an ex-Marine with a famously taciturn style, never relished his congressional appearances in his 12 years as FBI director — and this will be no exception.

He cautioned lawmakers in May that he would not go beyond the pages of his report if called upon to testify. The Justice Department expects him to fulfill that commitment and to also steer clear of discussing the redacted portions of the report or the behavior of people who were investigated but not charged.

That means he’s unlikely to answer certain critical questions, including whether he would have recommended indicting Trump himself if Trump had not been president of the United States. That question matters since Mueller cited Justice Department legal opinions that say a sitting president cannot be charged in explaining his decision not to reach a conclusion on whether Trump had broken the law.

Mueller’s not one for hypotheticals, though, so it’s fair to assume he won’t engage Democrats on that one.

The “snitty” letter

Mueller will almost certainly be pressed about tensions with Attorney General William Barr over the way his report was handled and how the Justice Department communicated its findings to the public, including the attorney general’s decision to exonerate the president even when the special counsel pointedly did not do so.

Mueller complained privately to Barr in March that the attorney general’s four-page letter summarizing the main findings of his report “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.” Barr, in turn, has called Mueller’s note “a bit snitty.”

Mueller has made clear he didn’t think it was appropriate to make a determination one way or the other about whether the president had committed a crime. He has rejected Barr’s assessment that the evidence couldn’t satisfy an obstruction of justice allegation, noting both in his report — and, again, in a public statement from the Justice Department podium — that if he had confidence the president had not committed a crime, he would have said so.

Barr had no such hesitation and has said Mueller shouldn’t have started investigating the president if he wasn’t prepared to reach a conclusion.

Mueller probably doesn’t want to extend a public war of words with Barr, a longtime friend and his former boss. But he’ll very likely be asked about the dispute, and he may have a hard time getting around it.

The dossier

Republicans aren’t likely to directly attack Mueller himself. The former special counsel is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who steered the FBI through the Sept. 11 attacks and was appointed by a Republican president to run the storied law enforcement agency.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t have areas to mine.

They’re likely to seize on the origins of the investigation and press Mueller on the extent to which the FBI, in the early weeks and months of its Russia probe, relied on information from a dossier of anti-Trump research paid for by Democrats. The Justice Department has acknowledged that the dossier helped form the basis of a secret surveillance warrant it obtained to monitor the communications of a Trump campaign aide, though the investigation had actually begun months earlier and was based on entirely separate allegations.

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, foreshadowed that line of attack Monday with a tweet that said: “We have to do more than just question Mueller. We have to expose his biased investigation.”

Impeachment opinions

More than 85 House Democrats — around a third of the caucus — have declared their support for opening an impeachment inquiry, and those who are pushing for impeachment are hoping there will be a flood of additional Democrats who side with them after Mueller’s hearing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she doesn’t favor starting an impeachment process, for now, and would need a public groundswell to change her mind.

The House is scheduled to head out on a five-week recess next week, and reaction from constituents back home after the Mueller hearing will be crucial as Democrats decide how to proceed with their investigations of the president.


Local
Indian gaming official says tribes united in opposition to compact renegotiation

Oklahoma’s Indian tribes are unified in their opposition to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s attempt to renegotiate their gaming compacts, one of the state’s top tribal gaming officials said Tuesday.

“We intend to uphold our part of the compact, and we hope he will, as well,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matt Morgan said Tuesday afternoon to about 50 gaming executives and tribal officials. “Every tribe has different interests. … To see everyone come together as one was pretty powerful.

“If we stand together, we have a good chance at being in the position we want to be in.”

Speaking at a launch party for United Women of Tribal Gaming, Morgan said the OIGA hosted a closed-door meeting of leaders from 23 of the state’s 38 federally recognized tribes. He said the group will be sending a unified letter to Stitt reiterating its opposition to increasing the exclusivity fees paid by the tribes to the state.

Earlier in the day, Morgan told many of the 2,200 registered for this week’s OIGA conference at the Cox Business Center that he is willing to give Stitt “the benefit of the doubt” regarding the governor’s position that the gaming compacts will terminate if not renegotiated by Jan. 1.

“We believe Gov. Stitt has been misinformed about how these compacts work,” Morgan said. “We believe this is a correct fee structure. Either it’s the same deal, or he wants to offer a better deal to the tribes.”

A few minutes later, speaking to a reporter, Morgan said that instead of raising the exclusivity fees the state might consider expanding the kinds of gaming available. That could include sports betting, more sophisticated electronic games or true casino table games.

Exclusivity fees are essentially the cut of gaming revenue tribes pay to the state. In exchange, the state promises not to legalize nontribal gaming in Oklahoma.

The tribes maintain that an “evergreen” provision that causes the compacts to roll over automatically every 15 years has already been triggered, Morgan said.

“I can’t speak toward how an outside industry association feels,” said Stitt spokeswoman Donelle Harder. “I can say with assurance … the governor is meeting with and reaching out to our tribal partners. Conversations are ongoing, and the governor is confident we can come to an agreement that enhances opportunity for the tribes as business partners in the state and continues to move Oklahoma forward.”


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News
Contract awarded for Gilcrease Expressway west loop; work to start by year's end

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority on Tuesday awarded a nearly $261 million contract for construction and financing on the west leg of the Gilcrease Expressway.

The contract went to a partnership involving AECOM, an engineering and construction firm based in Los Angeles, and Duit Construction Co., based in Edmond.

The other proposal came from a partnership between Manhattan Construction and Sherwood Construction at a cost of nearly $273 million.

Work is expected to start by the end of the year, said Jack Damrill, an OTA spokesman.

It is expected to be finished in February 2022, said Tim Gatz, OTA director and transportation secretary.

The toll road will include a bridge over the Arkansas River. The toll schedule has not been determined, Damrill said.

The project consists of construction of 5 miles of new, four-lane highway beginning where the existing Gilcrease Expressway connects to Interstate 44 just south of West 51st Street and ends just north of U.S. 412 at Edison Street.

It is part of the Driving Forward program, an expansion and improvement initiative for six turnpikes.

The need for the corridor in west Tulsa was identified more than five decades ago, Gatz said.

“It was part of the original Tulsa Expressway Master Plan that was done in 1961,” Gatz said.

In 2010, lawmakers added the Gilcrease Expressway extension to the list of authorized turnpikes.

“I look forward to getting the project under construction,” Gatz said.

The project is a public-private partnership involving the Indian Nations Council of Governments, the city of Tulsa, Tulsa County, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Private partner AECOM-Duit will be providing nearly $125 million in short-term financing while it conducts the construction project, according to OTA.

Another part of the Gilcrease Expressway extends north to the Tisdale Parkway, Gatz said. Work is progressing on making that stretch four lanes, he said.

Right-of-way has been acquired, and engineering has been done, he said.

“It is a very, very important segment of the Gilcrease loop,” Gatz said. “It was just more than we can handle right now. We will continue to stay focused on that because it needs to be completed, also. We just don’t know how to do it right now.”


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