The referendum on borrowing for the new Johnson Street Bridge is more than just a vote on how to finance the project, it is a proxy for a new bridge versus some form of refurbishment of the existing bridge.
Legally the City can go ahead paying for the new bridge with property tax increases if they lose the referendum, but to do so would be an arrogant action by the council. A rejection of the borrowing is also a defacto rejection of a new bridge, to go forward with the new bridge after the vote is not respectful of the wishes of the public. The defeat is also a public vote of non confidence in the actions of the council.
If the borrowing is defeated, the council should defer a decision on what to do with the bridge until there is a newly elected council in 2011. If the current council members are re-elected, this does give them a mandate to forward, but if instead a new council is elected they need to be given the chance to go forward with the mandate they have.
The City of Victoria has still not understood that in 2010 there is an expectation by the public of serious consultation about major projects. The whole way the bridge project has been handled from the start has made a lot more problems in this process than there needed to be. Over and over again the sense I get is that the City staff have decided what needs to happen and that the public is an obstacle to overcome.
We are supposed to have a a City interested in better engagement with the public, but I have seen very little evidence of this in a meaningful way around this project or in fact around much from the City in the last several years. I could pillory several council members as not being interested in public engagement, but I do not think that is where the problem lies. My sense is there is a culture among the staff that is not enamored with the idea of public input.
Can the staff stomach the results of a referendum loss? How will they advice council to move forward in the case of defeat? If is this question that should be made clear to the public before the vote and the reasons for why as well.