Driving home from the West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting last night, I pondered the weirdly wonderful discussion of how the City Council killed the Third Bridge on February 11, and what to do next about downtown-area traffic congestion.
Troy Brynelson of the Salem Reporter wrote a good story about the meeting, "After splitting on third bridge, councilors seek common ground in West Salem." Excerpt:
Salem City Councilors Cara Kaser and Jim Lewis bridged some political differences Monday night, pledging to work together to solve the city’s congestion woes after staking opposing views last week about the Salem River Crossing.
The two are the only councilors whose wards fan over West Salem, home to some of the most vocal supporters of the third bridge.
Kaser joined five other councilors in voting against the project and found herself the subject of social media murmurs of a recall. But she shrugged it off, saying she heard more kudos than condemnation.
“Of course there were people who were negative toward me, but the thank yous outweighed the people who were upset,” said Kaser, elected in 2016.
Being a blogger, I'm going to take a more personal approach in describing the meeting -- which struck me as being somewhat akin to a three-act play with different plot lines in each portion of the production.
Act 1: Salem Bridge Solutions fails to read the crowd.
After dealing with some other business, Jim Allhiser, the chair of the neighborhood association, opened up discussion of the City Council decision to kill the Salem River Crossing, or Third Bridge, project on a 6-3 vote. His initial remarks were warm and fuzzy, saying "We're all neighbors. We all want to do what's best for the community."
But things went downhill from there. Way downhill.
His first mistake was to fail to mention that a propaganda PowerPoint presentation was going to be shown.
After silently fumbling at his computer in an attempt to get it going, eventually it started to play, with an eerily disembodied voice singing the praises of the Third Bridge and insulting the six councilors who dared to bring this Billion Dollar Boondoggle to a well-deserved end.
As false statements about the bridge project began to multiply, the audience grew restless. Many people were there to support Councilor Kaser and her five progressive colleagues on the City Council who voted against proceeding with a Third Bridge.
Apparently Mike Evans, co-leader of Salem Bridge Solutions, who created the presentation, assumed that most of those attending the neighborhood association meeting would have their (metaphorical) pitchforks out, prepared to skewer Kaser and the other bridge-denying councilors.
This is the problem with a canned presentation.
If Evans or another Third Bridge supporter had been standing at the podium and speaking live, they would have seen and sensed that a large proportion of the crowd wasn't there to praise them. This screenshot of a recording of the meeting shows only two people wearing the iconic green Salem Bridge Solutions t-shirts -- the Evans brothers.
Quite a change from the February 11 City Council meeting, which featured a sea of green.
So last night got off to a shaky start from the perspective of Salem Bridge Solutions. Act 1 ended with Third Bridge supporters having to deal with the aftermath of a recorded slide show presentation that got bad reviews from about half of the audience.
Act 2: Mostly polite dialogue replaces one-sided propaganda.
With the Salem Bridge Solutions slide show debacle out of the way, Allhiser did a good job introducing people who had signed up to speak for a maximum of three minutes about how they felt about the City Council decision to kill the bridge.
I didn't count the number for and against that decision. My impression is that more were for the Third Bridge, but not dramatically more.
Opponents of the Salem River Crossing made good points, as did supporters of the project. This was a welcome change from the Salem Bridge Solutions approach of talking loudly with no serious attempts at finding common ground with those opposed to the Third Bridge.
Mike Evans did speak for three minutes in his typically annoying manner.
He referred to the six councilors as "a few misguided people who call themselves progressives." Evans also said his group was ready to recall all or some of the councilors, along with engaging in an effort to make West Salem its own city.
Here's some of the things people said that elicited a right-on inside my head when I heard them:
-- The City of Salem should put a halt to further housing developments in West Salem until infrastructure catches up to population growth in that area.
-- Dreams of getting a lot of money from the state legislature for a new bridge need to be tempered by the fact that a Columbia River Crossing project to replace the I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver will be a higher priority.
-- Making the Center Street bridge earthquake-safe needs to occur as soon as possible now that the Salem River Crossing project is dead.
-- The recommendations of the City of Salem's Congestion Relief Task Force will help traffic flow more smoothly across the two current bridges at a relatively low cost.
-- Marine Drive needs to be constructed now that it no longer can be viewed as part of the Third Bridge project.
Act 3: Elected officials show that a disagreement doesn't equal discord.
There were quite a few elected officials at the meeting: Salem city councilors Jim Lewis and Cara Kaser; Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett; State representative Paul Evans; and a Polk County commissioner whose name I didn't get. (May have forgotten some others.)
Lewis and Bennett spoke about how disappointed they were with the decision to kill the Third Bridge.
However, they weren't bitter or insulting like Mike Evans of Salem Bridge Solutions was. Pleasingly, they expressed a willingness to work with opponents of the Third Bridge to find common ground on moving forward with a different sort of new bridge project.
The Salem Reporter story says:
The two councilors and Mayor Chuck Bennett joined more than 100 people in attending the West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night at the West Salem Roth’s conference center, eager to debate the city’s congestion problems and solutions old and new.
After listening to citizens speak, all three officials took the chance to say they hoped to work together on new ideas.
“I’m willing to work with anyone — anyone — who is committed to help address our mobility and congestion issues via an additional bridge across the Willamette River,” Lewis said.
“I really am encouraged. I think you can count on Lewis and Kaser and the other councilors to move forward on this,” said Bennett. “We’ve got a ways to go but I hope we can keep talking about it. I really hope you stay engaged.”
Kudos to Jim Lewis and Chuck Bennett for being so positive, given the pain they felt at seeing the demise of a project they strongly believed in. I found their remarks to be honest, forthright, and inspiring.
Which I guess isn't all that surprising, because elected officials are different from the rest of us in these politically polarized times. Meaning, they have to sit in a room and work closely with individuals they disagree with -- while others interested in politics can sit in their corner of the political spectrum with like-minded people.
Bottom line: I walked away from the neighborhood association meeting feeling way more positive than when I walked in.
I was expecting more discord than actually transpired. Once Act 1 was over, the rest of the meeting featured people with a wide variety of views about a new bridge across the Willamette who generally spoke politely without demonizing the other side.
It's too early to say whether Paul Evans' proposal for a regional Special Bridge District will turn out to be a viable way to move forward with planning for a wiser approach to a new bridge. But it may be. I agreed with what I recall Cara Kaser saying: we need another bridge, but it should be outside of Salem.
Meaning, a regional bridge funded by people in several counties. A major problem with the Salem River Crossing was that it was intended to be a regional bridge, yet with Salem residents being expected to foot most of the cost to build it.
Before last night's meeting I thought it would be a losing proposition for Salem Bridge Solutions to attempt a recall of one, some, or all of the six city councilors who voted to kill the Third Bridge.
Now I'm even more convinced of this. There's considerable enthusiasm for exploring a different sort of new bridge across the Willamette. Embarking on recalls would be a major distraction from this effort, with little chance of success.
Lastly, I recall someone expressing surprise that suddenly progressive members of the City Council are sounding all positive about another bridge across the Willamette, after being so opposed to the Salem River Crossing project.
But that sentiment was on display at the February 11 council meeting, where "I'm in favor of a bridge, just not this bridge" was heard fairly frequently.
Which reminds me of my divorce from my first wife, Susan, in 1989. After we split up, I got married again -- and soon. After all, I was in favor of being married (as was Susan), just not to this person.