At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Gen. Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said, “You’re in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President.”
President Kennedy made him repeat it; then he said, “You’re in there with me.”
That is something like where we are with City Council and the proposal to build a $4.1 million, 70-foot-high pedestrian bridge by 32nd Street. It has divided council, which voted 3-2 to support it. That was before anyone saw the first set of renderings of the project, which unleashed a tide of criticism of the city; for wanting to build that in particular, and for wanting to spend so much money on something many think is ugly, excessive and unneeded.
A second set of renderings were released last week and we have yet to hear anyone say it looks much better. So the criticism likely will not abate. This has been a bitter pill for the bridge’s advocates, no doubt, but we are all in this together.
We buy, for example, Mayor Melissa Youssef’s contention that connecting the parts of the Animas River Trail has been a long-standing priority of city government and should continue into the future. The trail is, as she says, a great investment. We are less convinced that this bridge in this place is the best or necessary way to further it, but things could be worse.
The community seems to be having its say, even if it is nay-saying. Had the project moved ahead without people seeing the renderings, which easily could have happened, imagine what could have happened next, when the bridge was half-built and people decided they did not want it looming on the skyline.
So the timing here actually is good. And it was encouraging to see the large turnout – about 100 people – last Wednesday for a hearing about the bridge before the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, although we are not sure any minds have been changed so far.
We noted that a bridge defender said the subject had become controversial but that was of no account since “There’s controversy all the time.”
This is a mistake. People do not typically have as much stake in opposing what government proposes to do. Ignoring them on the rare occasions when they do and come out en masse is the antithesis of good government. One way or another, their views must be taken into account, unless and until Durango has a dictator.
We noted that another bridge defender said the construction of the bridge is being derailed by public fervor. That is correct. What is missing is that this is also how government is supposed to work: The alternative is to tell people nothing and hope they will not notice, which is risky and authoritarian.
A bridge advocate also said the city could afford to spend $4.1 million dollars on something many people so far do not want, and not at that price, since it was in the budget.
It does seem to be true that too often government works this way, seeking to spend whatever has been put in a budget and then asking for more next year, just because it is in a budget – but that is not at all the same thing as saying the city has the money to spend on anything, no matter the wishes of the people whose money one wants to spend.
In the weeks ahead, we look forward to hearing how 32nd Street could be made safer more simply and how the city might better prioritize its spending.