Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ahhh, Referenda Heaven!

In the category of "I told you so," a couple of interesting developments in the Sandy City referendum issue.

First, Jeff Milchen, the director of Reclaim-Democracy.org in Bozemen, Montana writes about the Sandy City case, saying that the citizens there are getting their shot to express their desires, but how can big corporations be allowed to spend all that money to influence the outcome of the vote? It distorts the process, he says, and makes it difficult to get a real expression of "the people's will."

No kidding, Jeff. That's one of the things I have a problem with in putting such matters up for referenda votes, and what has happened in many places that have done so. Who gets their message out to the electorate the most effectively? Often, he with the most cash. Is that "good planning?" Pandora's box has been opened, and it's hard to shut it again once you see what starts coming out of it.

Next, there's a story in today's Trib that says members of the Save Our Community group (the successful plaintiffs in the Utah Supreme Court ruling) are considering taking the city to court again because they don't like the way the ballot title is being written. A member of SOC says, "You should be able to read [the 80-word ballot statement] and come to a wise decision. It is so ambiguous. It does not allow for a fair vote of the people."

Hence another of my objections to the referendum process for planning and land use decisions -- these issues are often so complex and nuanced, how do you do it justice in putting in on a ballot and asking people to make an up-or-down vote on it?

Many of the issues that we deal with in planning and land use regulation are better decided by discussion and give-and-take negotiation. This usually takes time and effort. Can such complex issues be summarized in 80-word statements for people to read on a ballot, many of whom will have spent very little or no time becoming familiar with the issues -- beyond what they may have read in the newspaper or heard in a TV or radio ad (paid for by one side or the other)?

Ahhh, welcome to referendum heaven. This is only the beginning, folks.

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