Public Opinion

I realize that public opinion doesn’t really matter.

I run a Web site called wickenburg-az.com. Its primary purpose is to provide information about Wickenburg, including things to do and see and businesses that operate here in town. I built the Web site because there was no non-commercial Web site about the town. Basically, if you wanted your business on the Web, you had to cough up big bucks to get it on one of the commercial sites in town — sites that weren’t even updated on a regular basis. I didn’t think that was fair. I also didn’t think any of those sites provided useful information for residents or visitors.

Over the years, the site has become quite a forum for voicing opinions about the way things are going here in town. I admit that I started it. Then John started adding his two cents and since what he submitted was well-written and well-reasoned out, I couldn’t help but publish it online. Along the way, a handful of other people submitted articles and I published them. I felt that these opinion pieces helped round out the site.

Recently, I’ve gotten quite a few opinion pieces from people I’ve never heard from before. I’ve been publishing most of them. Others are a bit over the top, even for me. What amazes me, however, is how many people have written to say they agree with much of what appears on the site — even though these opinions aren’t what’s reflected in the local newspaper or among local politicians.

In other words, the town’s government is pushing one way on many issues and the newspaper is rubber-stamping their decisions. In the meantime, many people don’t agree with or even like what’s going on.

This has me a bit baffled. My understanding is that in a democracy, when the people vote, they are choosing the elected officials that stand the same way they do on most issues. When they vote on a proposition, they’re telling their elected officials that they either want it to pass or they don’t. It seems to make sense that the elected officials would do the things that their constituents expect them to, based on popular opinion. It also seems to make sense that if a proposition fails, it would simply fade away into obscurity — not be put up for another vote when a different collection of people were around to vote on it.

Sadly, that’s not the way democracy works in Wickenburg. Majority public opinion seems to have little or no bearing on what actually happens in town. Elected officials do whatever they want to, for whatever reasons strike their fancy. I still haven’t decided if they’re motivated by greed — money under the table and other reward promises — or stupidity — being led around by the nose by smooth-talking developers.

The bypass issue is a perfect example. This has been going on for years. The route 93 and 60 corridor has become a major thoroughfare for traffic between Phoenix and Las Vegas and will be part of the Canamex highway that will link NAFTA members Canada and Mexico. As a result, there is a huge amount of truck traffic going right through town.

ADOT brought consultants into town on a regular basis to meet with the public and gain their opinions on the dozen or so options. The public clearly favored an out-of-town bypass that would keep all those trucks south and west of town. Yet the local government and chamber of commerce favored a route that would put the traffic right through town. (I guess it was important to them for McDonald’s and Circle-K to keep selling burgers, coffee, and gas to the drive-through crowd.)

As a result, the “interim bypass” was developed. This monstrosity would put four lanes of traffic along the riverbed near the existing bridge — it isn’t clear yet whether they’ll build another bridge, too — and route that traffic right past the Community Center and Coffinger Park, through a neighborhood and a ranch (thus displacing dozens of people and destroying the values of the remaining homes), and deposit it back on 93 right where a local developer is attempting to build a high-priced housing development. (It will be interesting to see how many people will pay $800K+ for a house overlooking 4 lanes of truck traffic.) Along the way, this crazy plan calls for two “roundabouts” — the old-style traffic circles that are being dismantled throughout the east — so that our “winter visitors” (most of whom are in the 65+ age bracket) can merge with the trucks on their way to and from Wal-Mart in Surprise. (It might be a good idea to move the ambulance base to that intersection, since that’s where it’ll be spending a lot of time.)

All this is completely against the majority public opinion. People who live in Wickenburg year-round care about the town and its atmosphere. We don’t want highways in the riverbed where exhaust fumes will settle and noise will destroy the quality of life and whatever downtown ambiance we still have.

We also don’t want high-density housing, especially when there aren’t enough high-paying jobs to fill those homes with year-round residents. We don’t want an economy that centers around winter visitors who don’t even like to spend their money in town. We don’t want two Dollar Stores or two check cashing places or a pawn shop. We want businesses that will provide good jobs and the goods and services we need.

But in Wickenburg, public opinion doesn’t matter.

What do you think?