Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Measure F, the Main Street Bridge Preservation Act, won easily Tuesday.
The citizens of Half Moon Bay overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to force the City Council’s hand by preventing it from demolishing the 103-year-old Main Street Bridge.
Measure F, the Main Street Bridge Preservation Act, was initiated by the citizens and received 1,388 votes or 64.4 percent. Measure E, the Main Street Bridge Safety and Accessibility Act, was developed by the City Council and sank after receiving just 786 votes or 38.2 percent. Whichever measure received the most votes passed.
The measures landed on the ballot after a contentious debate sparked when the council voted last September to replace the bridge. The council was prompted to act in what it believed was the public’s best interest when Caltrans gave the bridge a 24 out of 100 sufficiency rating.
Proponents of preserving the bridge sought to have it repaired because it was one of the first structures reinforced with concrete steel, which made it historic, and believe prolonged construction would deter visitors from downtown and consequentially hurt businesses.
Measure F now prevents the council from doing anything to alter the bridge’s historical, visual and physical integrity by demolishing it or expanding its width without first being approved by the voters at a subsequent election.
Charles Nelson, a Main Street business owner who advocated to preserve the bridge, said he hopes the council gets the message.
“It makes me feel great. I’m so disappointed that the City Council chose to pick this fight with the public,” Nelson said. “I think the Main Street merchants will be happy that the City Council will no longer be able to demolish the bridge. That’s the main artery to our commerce here in downtown.”
Councilman Rick Kowalczyk said the results saddened him and he will fully embrace and respect the intent of the voters while continuing to advocate for safety.
One of the most discerning issues some councilmembers expressed with Measure F was that it doesn’t account for a catastrophic event. If the bridge collapsed or was deemed unfit to traverse on, it could remain closed until an election is held.
Mayor John Mueller said the council’s hands are now tied and fears most of the voters didn’t understand the environmental review process, which would have inherently forced the city to consider alternatives.
But the city will proceed with the course of law, Mueller said.
“The city is moving forward on a positive direction on many fronts and the bridge right now, we’ll have to analyze what the next steps are for us to make a decision on the bridge and hope nothing happens to it,” Mueller said. “We can’t let the bridge tear our community apart.”
Former mayor Deborah Ruddock, who supported Measure F, said the bridge has withstood earthquakes and were something to happen, the council could always hold a special election.
Ruddock said the vote confirmed the public’s mistrust of the council’s ability to spend public funds wisely and the competing measures were examples of how a democracy should function.
“Our system of government is based on checks and balances. … The public is perfectly happy to delegate authority to the City Council on its behalf. But it also reserves the right to intervene if it feels like the public trustees are not doing the job they’re elected to do,” Ruddock said.
Measure F proponents campaigned on the belief that repairing the bridge would be less costly and Ruddock said the city will now have to seek grants that help fund retrofitting historical infrastructures.
Half Moon Bay earned a Federal Highway Administration grant that hinged on bringing the bridge up to federal safety standards, which the city will now have to forfeit.
Kowalczyk said Half Moon Bay is a small city and tight-knit community so he reached out to Measure F proponents last week.
“Hopefully we’ll proceed to grow in our mutual respect and there’s no reason for there to be any tension,” Kowalczyk said. “We need to unite after the election and we are certainly going to do that. And there will be some healing, but we’ll move forward and the city will be fine. I’m sure of that.”
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