Santa Rosa pressed forward with plans for a bicycle bridge over Highway 101 Tuesday after the outgoing council majority used a parliamentary technique to prevent the incoming majority from delaying the project.
In essence, the old council blocked the new council from blocking further study of bridge.
"It is time to move this project forward," Mayor Susan Gorin said.
On a night normally reserved for non-controversial items and praise for departing council members, dozens of residents — many wearing bicycle helmets and holding signs like "Bridge = Jobs" and "Bridge to the Future" — filled the council chamber to support a long-promised project they believed was in peril.
Councilmember John Sawyer last week voted in favor of studying the bridge further, but said he was doing so only to preserve his right to reconsider his vote this week, when a new council majority more favorable to his view took over.
Sawyer said he appreciated certain elements of the bridge and supported it in theory. But he said the timing was wrong to spend another $100,000 studying it, given the city's finances and the uncertainty about the location of a future commuter rail station.
"I stand by my original words of last week regarding my positive attitude toward the project, its design, the concept, how it might bring us into the future. I also stand by my concerns," Sawyer said last night. "We just disagree."
Last week, fearing that Sawyer was trying to derail the project, Gorin vowed to fill the council chamber with bicyclists and businesspeople supportive of the bridge. The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition made sure of that, and its members turned out in force.
"Please build bridges," Barbara Moulton urged the council, speaking not just about the project but about the divisiveness that has plagued the council. "This overcrossing is something that will promote the greater good of our city."
Christine Culver, executive director of the bicycle coalition, performed a bit of political theater. Admitting she felt a little "silly" wearing her bicycle helmet, she urged everyone in the audience who supported the project and the jobs it would bring to stand up. A good majority of the room rose.
"We're here because we want this," Culver said.
Speakers stressed the health benefits of bicycling, the improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and the environmental benefits of getting people out of their cars. They also stressed the jobs the project would create, and how the majority of the cost of the potentially $20 million project would be borne by state and federal dollars, not local funds.
One of the few only public detractors of the project to speak was Barbara Behnke, a senior citizen who said she lived through the Great Depression. She said the city has "overspent and overcommitted to large projects" and instead needed to focus on preserving vital city services like fire protection.
"Unfortunately the timing for this is bad, and in my view it goes to the bottom of the list," Behnke said.
She suggested supporters of the bridge hold fund-raisers to support the project.
But ultimately it wasn't political pressure that kept the project moving forward, but a bit of shrewd parliamentary maneuvering.
Gorin and her council allies realized they could prevent Sawyer from revisiting his vote if they beat him to the punch.