On March 15, the Blaine City Council voted 5-2 against a design, bid and build project to build sidewalks on 91st Avenue and Jackson Street near Westwood Middle School in Blaine. The project would have been paid for 100% by a Safe Routes to School grant previously discussed.
The application was the third application made by city staff to obtain SRTS funding for sidewalks in the neighborhood. Once awarded, the city council became involved. As expected, in the open meeting hijinks were abundant:
- While an open house to explain the project was held October 10, 2011, that meeting was sparsely attended. More than 30 residents attended the city council meeting. One councilmember has suggested that city staff hold public hearings before applying for any future grants.
- The principal of Westwood Intermediate School spoke in favor of the project, as did one neighbor whose property would be impacted. The principal of the school pointed out that a number of students/parents are dropped off because of the road, and that with 200 staff members and 36 buses coming in every morning and leaving every evening, the sidewalk would enable at least 200 more students to walk or bike to school.
- Another resident said that when his daughters attended the school, they walked. They didn’t need a sidewalk! He also pointed out that “We don’t see that many kids walking back and forth to school.” Which… yeah. Maybe because there’s not a sidewalk?
- Additional residents were concerned about sidewalk maintenance, as predicted by Reuben. One resident suggested that other areas in Blaine would be better choices to use the federal grant money — which is actually impossible, as SRTS grants are earmarked to specific projects.
The residents presented a 19-name petition of opposition to the project. An enterprising Westwood sixth grader presented a petition of 84 names in favor. And at the end of the vote, only 2 councilmembers voted for the project to 5 against.
I have to hope that these kind of shenanigans are held against future applications for Safe Routes grants from municipalities, because while I don’t want to sound vindictive, requests are made for more than 3 times the money than is available for grants. If a municipality exhibits this kind of process in response to scoring a coveted grant, I don’t know that they should be coddled and given additional funds.