Business, Coastal Stuff, Politics

A Bridge Too Far

09.18.13 | 4 Comments

Main Street Bridge over Pilarcitos Creek, Half Moon Bay, California
Photo Credit: Charles Russo

A small concrete bridge was built to span Pilarcitos Creek in Half Moon Bay, California in 1900. The bridge is narrow, old, and in need of some attention. In 2010, a study recommended replacing the bridge and a Federal grant was sought to help finance the replacement. The grant was awarded to the city, pledging to cover 88% of construction cost provided certain requirements of the replacement structure were met (CEQA, ADA, etc.)

Over the past year, the City of Half Moon Bay staff have been engaging with the community with numerous outreach meetings, second opinions, and public reactions. Universally, the feedback from the community has been “wait a minute, why don’t we just repair the bridge?” This reaction seems to have been unanticipated and unwelcome to City Staff and bridge consultants who had only prepared replacement options rather than repair options.

In the past few months, 2 repair options were introduced to be considered but were doomed to fail given the rating system criteria and the fact that the repair options were being ranked by the same people who believed bridge replacement was the best option.

The community, fearing a railroad job, has become ever more active on making its voice heard on this topic organizing a “Save our Bridge” campaign and collecting 1,400 signatures in the past week to deliver to City Council at last night’s meeting.

Last night, after receiving the signatures, hearing from over 20 people in the public comment section of the meeting to repair, rather than replace the bridge, voted 4-1 to demolish and replace the structure with a complete closure for a minimum of 3 months during the summer (aka Option 2.)

The 250+ words above are facts. The words below are my interpretation of what this means.

The City Council majority (Kowalczyk, Fraser, Patridge, and Muller) have demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that they do not understand the basic economics of their City. About $4M of the City’s budget is provided by sales tax revenue and a large portion of that comes from the collection of small, independently owned businesses on Main Street. A majority of customers for the Main Street corridor are visitors to the San Mateo coast who are looking for a fun time with a minimum of hassle; any barrier to this outcome reduces foot traffic, which reduces sales, which reduces jobs, which reduces sales tax revenue.

Fundamentally, City Council has aimed a loaded gun at the City’s head and pulled the trigger with this decision. If you like large, soulless chain stores, then you’re happy with this result because the little guys, the ones who operate businesses on Main Street, can’t go for the year or so it will require to replace the bridge without getting paid. The City is only now recovering from the 2009 meltdown which saw about 1/3 of businesses close on Main Street. Now the City is voluntarily starting the next downturn. It’s crazy.

Does something need to be done with the bridge? Yes. But repair, even if the City has to bear 100% of the cost, is by far the least expensive and destructive option and that option isn’t being considered seriously.

In the recent past another elected body ignored the voice of the community, the Coastside Fire Protection Board. As a result of their lack of responsiveness to the community voice it saw a majority of its members recalled with 2/3 majority vote. I’m not a proponent of recalls personally, but when the elected officials don’t listen to their constituents, recall becomes the only remaining tool to use.

City Council has sent a message to the business community on Main Street: Screw You. I wouldn’t be surprised, given that this is a business life/death situation, if the Main Street business community doesn’t dig in and send a reciprocal message to Mayor Kowalczyk and Council Members Muller, Fraser, and Patridge.

Watch this space, things are about to get interesting.