The bloody election battle over The Marketplace has ended (for now). Thousands of dollars were spent, a million mailers mailed, and 14,000 citizens voted. The Marketplace went down in a narrow defeat with only a little more than half the voters opposed.
That's the headline.
Of course we're still sorting through the wreckage to find winners and losers in this mess. Mayor Dave Romero and the pro-Marketplace voices on the City Council are certainly feeling the loss. They put a huge amount of political capital into both the development deal and the campaign to sell it.
That capital is gone and they have nothing to show for it. No Prado Road overpass, no Target, no Old Navy, and no millions in additional tax dollars. It turns out that the downtown has more pull than the southern part of the city. I foresee a whole series of rough council meetings ahead, especially when the next commercial project comes to town. And it will.
The pro-Marketplace politicians such as Mayor Dave Romero and Paul Brown get the advantage of having this Marketplace "blow up" at the start of their new terms. They now have four long years to make nice with outraged downtown merchants who feel like their mayor and City Council tried to screw them over just to get an overpass built.
The anti-Marketplace forces are taking their victory lap now. But the party won't last long because the developer and landowners did just what they said what they would and are heading to the county to try again. YIPPEEE! We can watch this whole process unfold again. History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Is anybody out there looking forward to a countywide special election on The Marketplace?
The highlights of this campaign included imaginary Wal-Marts, evil Texas land developers, and new mailers calling the last mailers bullshit. Literally. They sent a picture of a cow just to make sure you got the point.
I cannot think of a worse debate than the one we just had. The highlights of this campaign included imaginary Wal-Marts, evil Texas land developers, and new mailers calling the last mailers bullshit. Literally. They sent a picture of a cow just to make sure you got the point. Not to mention the fact that the Marketplace not being pedestrian-oriented was offered as a reason to vote for it. Is this really how we want to decide the future of our community? With these back-and-forth lies?
How did we get here? Does anybody remember a massive outcry for more shopping opportunities? Does anybody consider buying stuff a real problem in this town? It's housing, not jobs that San Luis Obispo has a shortage of. Could we have a debate about the real problem? I know it's a little late to suggest this when the cows are already dragged into the fight, but maybe the two sides to the Marketplace debacle could sit down and work a few things out to spare the community another bruising fight.
The closeness of the vote should give each side pause. The Marketplace is just as likely to win by 51 percent the next time around as it is to lose. Do both sides want to go for broke with another five-year development cycle? If everybody comes down off the pulpits we might end up with something better than an empty field or a soulless mass of blacktop featuring a few stores.
Everybody in this town loves to brag about its "small town feel." Well here's your chance to prove it. The Marketplace has split the community straight down the middle. We tried to settle with a full-blown political shoot-out complete with mass media, distortions, spin doctoring, and cows. Sounds pretty big-city to me.
But thanks to the wonderful complexity of local government, SLO gets a second chance to handle this. There ought to be a better way. If negotiations and diplomacy are good enough for countries, it can't be beyond the leading citizens of our town. Discussing this with people willing to give up something so we can all come out ahead sounds much more like the small-town solution.
At this point I'm just looking for a way to avoid more cow mailers. I sure the rest of the county is with me on this. Â³
Craig Baracco is a second year master's student at Cal Poly, whose political musings can be found at www.craigorianchant.blogspot.com