Sidewalk panel's future uncertain
JANESVILLE Can this committee be saved?
“I think there’s still a little bit of hope, but there’s no question some folks are getting frustrated,” said Bob Yeomans, a member of a Janesville City Council-appointed sidewalk committee that has been meeting since May.
Two meetings and four hours of deliberation recently resulted in positive recommendations on two proposed segments of sidewalk. That leaves about 200 more to go by the Sept. 18 deadline.
The committee was formed when residents affected by the 2012 sidewalk program formed a political group opposing the plan. The city was entering the second of a seven-year plan that was approved in 2008 but delayed until 2011.
By then the council had changed, and new members supported sidewalks to varying degrees. The sidewalk committee was formed to study the remainder of the plan and make recommendations about how to proceed.
The committee did recommend that about 3½ miles of sidewalk on the 2012 plan be installed, mostly on busy arterial streets. However, it missed its deadline to finish the 2012 plan and the council ended construction for this year.
Several committee members believe the committee is doomed because members must reach consensus.
Manager Eric Levitt suggested members reach consensus, meaning all members understand and support the recommendations even though they might not be the most desired by everyone.
The committee’s value is that it includes people with opposing views, “and when you get that, you’re going to have points in time where you’re going to have to work through issues a little bit longer,” Levitt said.
Committee member Tom McDonald has little hope for the committee because it is not based on majority rule like other committees in the city.
“I think people are entrenched on both sides of the issue and won’t budge from certain positions,” he said.
Yeomans disagreed. Consensus is a good model when people of all interests are in the room, he said.
“I’m always an optimist,” he added.
Some committee members worried early on that applying objective criteria to sidewalks would prove problematic. Those fears were realized.
In determining its rankings, the committee negotiated criteria to use in determining a composite scale to measure need for sidewalks. From there, a cut-off score was determined.
But members had trouble agreeing even after that. For example, five committee members wanted to recommend sidewalk along Wuthering Hills Drive, where the rankings of some sections ranked above the cut-off score and some ranked below.
That was where committee members Dan Warden and Scott Bever disagreed.
Bever’s father-in-law, Don Marklein, developed many of the properties in the Wuthering Hills area. Marklein had testified at a public hearing in May that property owners there never expected to have sidewalk.
Bever also is employed at Marklein Builders.
The committee eventually forwarded the Wuthering Hills section of the project to the council without a recommendation.
Warden, who owns a home along a contested stretch of Woodhall Drive, tried to lower the rankings of streets near his home by picking apart the criteria.
McDonald suggested that because the committee could not agree to put sidewalks on streets with high rankings, perhaps it could start with streets that ranked lower on the scale. That, too, proved problematic because sidewalk already had been built in some of the low-ranked areas, and some of the sidewalk on the 2012 plan was meant to close gaps in low-ranked areas.
Yeomans suggested people rip out those sidewalks to eliminate the gaps.
The main sticking point is “owner preference,” which Warden and Bever believe should be taken into consideration.
“When people have lived in neighborhoods for 30 to 40 years, and there’s no safety fact that comes into play, we should really take a long, hard look at compelling people to have endloaders peel up their front yard and pour sidewalk,” he said.
Others disagreed, saying public safety can be an issue even if accidents have not been reported. Areas can change in a 40-year span, and drivers are more distracted today, they said.
“There are issues that are overhanging us, that seem to be escaping resolution,” Worden said in a phone interview.
He said he does not favor sidewalk on any residential street, arterial or not, unless the owners agree.
That said, reaching consensus might be difficult.
Committee member Ed Madere said people seem a bit frustrated.
“I think we’re going to have to solve it as a group or make a decision that we’ve gone as far as we can,” he said. “I didn’t get the sense that anybody else is ready to give up.
“This is group dynamics. It’s a controversial subject.”
Committee facilitator Carol Tidwell said everyone in the group is working hard.
“I don’t know where things will end up, but I believe the committee wants to find a solution that everyone can live with it,” she said.
The committee’s next meeting is set for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. At least two committee members said they wondered if it would be the last.