Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Johson Street Bridge Petition

Well it seems like there were more than enough signatures were collected in the Alternative Approval Process to stop the $42 million borrowing by the City for the new Johnson Street Bridge. The City needs to decide now if they want to put the borrowing to a referendum or if they want to try and develop a better process for making a decision on what to do with the bridge.

Not only did the people at JohnsonStreetBridge.org collect the needed 6343 signatures, they delivered more than 10,000 to city hall. It is not clear how many petitions were sent directly to the City and it is also not clear how many of the signatures will not be valid ones, but it seems more than obvious that the volunteers collected more than enough signatures. Collecting this number of signatures is astounding given the time when the counter petition process was running. Christmas and New Years hardly make it easy to get signatures.

It is also astounding when one considers how many people signed when compared to how many people voted in 2008. The total number of votes in 2008 was only 17,080. Compare that to 10,000 to 11,000 people signing the petition forms. The petition got more support than anyone elected to the current City council. That fact alone should be a very sobering fact for the sitting councilors.

The council has a decision to make now. Going to a referendum is not a smart idea as I am almost 100% certain that it will fail. The council should listen to the counsel of Geoff Young and go back a number of steps in the process and develop a much more detailed analysis of the options.

My big concern remains the lack of detail in City plans. The council was willing to go ahead and borrow $42 million to build the bridge without having a budget. They were also willing to go ahead without a competitive tendering process for the construction of the bridge, a recipe for large cost increases. There was a complete lack of any fiscal prudence. As a council they have a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of the people of Victoria. I have not seen that in the process with the bridge.

Personally I would be happy with a new bridge though what I want for a bridge is unlikely to happen. I really would like to see architectural landmark for the bridge, one that would be an international image of Canada. I know that is not going to happen.

The other aspect I remain concerned about is the ongoing talk of a rail aspect to the bridge. The use of the rail line is extremely low and there is no indication that in the next generation the use will be any higher. Building now for rail is a waste of money and resources. Should there be some sort of rail transit in this region, which is highly unlikely to ever happen, the Johnson Street Bridge is in the wrong location for rail line.

I know many people will disagree with me, but I do not see the heritage value is this bridge at this location. If it fit with the look and feel of the old town that would be something different, but the bridge is about thirty to forty years newer than the buildings in the old town.

The success of the petition is not good news for the sitting council. The council members could suffer an electoral backlash in 2011 when we next vote. Lynn Hunter will have trouble getting re-elected with the YouTube videos out there saying she opposes referendums. No matter how much her view makes sense from a political science point of view, it is political suicide to say it publicly.

Mayor Dean Fortin is danger of only being remembered for the bridge issue and being seen as intransigent. His image has been badly tarnished in this process. He will be hard pressed to win another term unless he finds something new to mark his term as mayor.

Another implication for the next election is that there is a group of volunteers out there that have worked together and had success. They figured out how to mobilize enough people to win an election. If this group holds together to some extent, it is not unrealistic to see a number of the core people elected to council in 2011. Ross Crockford is the obvious choice as a candidate for mayor from this group and is at this time the front runner for mayor in 2011 if he chooses to run.
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