March 30, 2020

Sidewalks Charter Election Postponed to Nov. 3

As you’ve probably heard by now, the sidewalks charter election previously called for May 2 has been postponed to the next uniform election date, November 3, on account of the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency.  In Council’s deliberations during its telephonic Special Session last week, a unanimous vote to postpone the election was never in doubt.

Instead, the discussion centered on a proposed “moratorium on any further sidewalk construction on residential blocks until after the election.”  Following constructive debate, by a narrow 4-3 vote Council decided against the moratorium, in favor of maintaining the status quo for the time being.  I have since received a few questions suggesting there may be some confusion—and outright misinformation—out there, about what the status quo actually is, and so I take this opportunity to clear things up.

First, as was confirmed in the discussion, there aren’t any new residential sidewalks scheduled for construction between now and November anyway.  There are certainly no plans whatsoever for standalone sidewalks (that is, sidewalks not coupled with new street and drainage infrastructure), and there haven’t been for nearly a year and a half.  At most, what could potentially happen before November, although the timing is even more in doubt with COVID-19 hanging over, is consideration of construction contracts for the Group C Phase 3 street and drainage improvements to be funded by federal CDBG-DR grants.  There are only five blocks involved:  Cedar (4600 block), Chelsea, Cynthia (4300), Larch Lane and Mimosa (4500).

Second, for any sidewalks potentially associated with these street and drainage improvements that might potentially be considered prior to the election in November, we already have a long-standing process in place for the residents on those five blocks to opt out.  Under what I’ve previously described as a compromise policy, which has worked well for us going back about 15 years now, sidewalks are included on at least one side of each reconstructed street, subject always to petitions by the residents on those streets that don’t want sidewalks installed.  If the voters amend the City Charter in November it will represent a clean departure from existing policy at that time, but until then our process continues to provide a mechanism for residents on the affected blocks to have their say.

Which also points to a practical consideration.  If the charter election is about giving residents the choice whether sidewalks are installed on their blocks, and if the intent of the proposed moratorium was to honor that choice, in reality it would have had the opposite effect.  By preemptively assuming that the residents on those five blocks—if they even come up for consideration between now and November—would say no to a sidewalk, the proposed moratorium would have taken that decision away from them.  And by the same token, to have voted against the proposed moratorium is not the same as having voted to proceed with any sidewalks; no one is assuming they’d say yes to one, either.

Evident throughout the discussion was that every member of Council, whether in support of the proposed moratorium or against, understands the implications of the pending charter election and is committed to a process that preserves and respects resident choice as we await the outcome.  The complete audio recording of last week’s telephonic Special Session is available on demand, here.  I hope you’ll take a listen and hear for yourself what was actually decided.