Typically, a decision to replace a bridge in a city would be straightforward. But Half Moon Bay is no typical city.
The City Council received a report that it’s Main Street Bridge needed to be replaced and also received a federal grant to pay for nearly all the construction. The council voted to proceed in September 2013. Full speed ahead right?
Not so fast. Concerns were immediately raised about the historic structure of the bridge, the size of the replacement and just how merchants on Main Street would survive during construction when the primary road from State Route 92 would be unavailable. These are all valid concerns.
However, these valid concerns would also be addressed in the environmental impact report necessitated by the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Both are stringent acts that outline a fairly extensive procedure in which a particular project is analyzed in a scope of ways and alternatives are identified that would mitigate whatever impact the initial project may have. Some of those impacts would be noise, the habitat below the bridge, the construction impact and the size of the structure.
So essentially, the City Council would embark on this process and ultimately identify a project alternative that would ameliorate the concerns brought up by the engaged populace. The issue at hand, however, is that there has been a fractured trust in the process that began once the council voted the way it did and paraded renderings that seemed entirely too large for those who depend on the type of access to which they have been accustomed. Thus this ballot tandem that will essentially either allow the city to move ahead with its plans that will receive the full scrutiny of those directly affected and concerned about the impact or require a public vote before any change is made to the 103-year-old bridge.
Immersed in the language in each measure is the primary tenet of an elected body, which is to make decisions it feels is best for its citizenry. Voting yes on F will remove that ability for this particular bridge and forever tie the council’s hands when it comes to making decisions about it. That means if the boarded sidewalk were to be damaged and need repair or if the structure were to be damaged somehow, it would take a vote of the people to make any repairs or changes. Limiting the ability of a council to oversee a piece of infrastructure is a dangerous proposition when it serves such a utilitarian role in a community. It is not a building, it is a piece of a road that is critical for the city’s downtown.
Opponents of the city’s plans for the bridge bring up significant and revealing points and it is likely that the community concern and this ballot fight has forever changed the direction of this project. The City Council should listen to the community concerns and forge ahead with the CEQA and NEPA process in a deliberate and thorough way. During that process, the City Council should ensure that whatever historical properties of this bridge be maintained as well as they can, while also ensuring that the size is right and the closure period is minimized. Ultimately, it is the council’s responsibility to ensure the bridge is safe.
The only way this can happen, of course, is for more voters to say yes to Measure E, which would allow the city to proceed with its process in determining which project is best suited for its community. That is its charge and ultimate responsibility and it is the citizens’ responsibility to hold it to account during the process required by law to find the best project for all.