Don’t let few speak for the majority
Several months ago the Board of Supervisors and city staff began efforts to keep the citizenry better advised on issues that could affect them. They also stepped up efforts to find out what people think about projects (primarily streets) before getting so far along that it would be difficult to react to public wishes. Most of the input received by the Board of Supervisors, Regional Transportation Committee and other decision making entities comes from small special interest groups or individuals lobbying for their particular desire.
A better way to gage the wishes of a larger segment of the population needs to be found. Most citizens are too busy making a living, trying to raise their children and with other day to day concerns to become involved in what’s going on until it actually happens, and even then they often feel that their voice won’t be given much attention.
Activists have no such reservations. They are vocal and determined. Several activist groups, GROW, Muscle Powered and some individuals are lobbying mightily to add anywhere up to $7,500,000 to the cost of the freeway bypass to include landscaping, bicycle and pedestrian paths.
When the Transportation Master plan was completed last year, the projected cost for needed road improvements until the year 2012 was calculated to be $13,128,000. This was based on a thorough study of then current traffic volume and a sophisticated computer projection of future traffic increases.
These street improvements are absolutely necessary or traffic will come to a near standstill long before the bypass can provide any relief in 2012, if indeed, it is completed by that date.
At same time, the recommended expenditure for bicycle paths and lanes was put at $10,933,000 based on little more than the guesses of some Parks and Recreation personnel and the wishes of activists wanting premium facilities for themselves. To my knowledge, no accurate counts of then current bicyclists or pedestrians were made and no reasonable estimates of future users were projected to justify the expenditures.
There were workshops held in November of 1997 and May of 1998, each attended by about 40 people to determine the need for bicycle paths. Forty people is nowhere near representative of the 50,000 population of Carson City. While increased bicycle paths may well be desirable, they are not essential; roads are. Just as landscaping and paths along the freeway may well be desirable, they are not essential; the freeway is.
Small activist groups and individuals are exerting far more influence on officials than their number warrants. On Jan. 29, during an RTC meeting, Deputy City Manager Dan St. John listened for four hours to 12 members of the public discussing their wishes and said “You are empowering us to bring you a proposal based on public testimony.” Twelve people is hardly representative of Carson City’s 50,000 population and 12 people should not empower the city to do anything.
In a Feb.19t Appeal article, Supervisor Robin Williamson was reported as receiving about 135 postcards generated by the activist group GROW and indicated another 150 signatures were collected on a petition collected by GROW. I suspect the same names are on both collections.
Supervisor Williamson said, “It’s encouraging that there are Carson City residents overwhelmingly saying we want this included in the freeway”. 135 to 150 people hardly overwhelmingly represent the wishes of the other 50,000.
A Feb. 4 Appeal article quoted activist Sue Newberry as saying: “This is a demonstration by Carson City and NDOT in response to what ‘citizens want’ “, when referring to news that the two agencies would work together to see what should be done about the project. Again, Ms. Newberry is taking the liberty of deciding what the people want. There are entirely too many people proclaiming what the people want without knowing what the people want.
I have no particular affection for activists, and I have few strong feelings about the landscaping, bike, pedestrian question and don’t intend to become an activist by trying to tell people whether or not it should be done. My only desire is to awaken the sleeping giant that is the majority of the public, and urge them to think about it and then make their wishes known to the decision makers. If unlimited funds were available for these things, I’d heartily support them, but with more firefighters needed, a new 911 emergency system needed, teachers clambering for more funds (even advocating a new tax on businesses) and other needs, we must prioritize and differentiate between needs and desires. We may be assured that other urgent needs will surface soon, and we do not have unlimited funds.
We need a much better method of determining the wishes of the public as a whole than that provided by meetings attended by 40 or so people or relying on the opinions of a few activists.
If our leaders don’t come up with a method to find out the true wishes of the public, the sleeping giant that is the public can and will make its desires known at election time, and there will be no activists in the booth to say what the people want.