To learn what the public truly believes is not why elections are called; rather, those calling for one do so only because they feel they’ll win.
Call this Scarp’s Fourth Law of Scottsdale Politics, applying to the City Council’s agreeing Tuesday with petitioners seeking a nonbinding election on light rail.
It’s unnecessary and council members know it. But when 250 petitioners show up, you have to give the issue those people raise careful consideration, even when, as is true here, there is no need for an election — at least for now.
Why? For starters, your last name doesn’t need to be “Gallup” to know that light rail is generally not liked in Scottsdale.
Those who asked for an advisory election — no date’s been set — certainly don’t want light rail, and know most everyone else doesn’t, either.
Yet even if light rail had public support, a real election over whether to commit city funds to pay for most of it would have had to be called anyway. That would be putting light rail on a ballot that was for keepsies instead of just for funsies, but it would actually had given people who support light rail a chance to campaign for it.
That’s not what light-rail foes who filed the petition want. They’d probably like it very much if the ballot question read, “You don’t really want light rail, do you?”
As it is, consultants the city has hired to research Scottsdale’s transportation solutions aren’t supposed to report until later this year, when it’s unlikely light rail will be among their transit proposals.
It would have taken some backbone to have told petitioners that eliminating unpopular options by plebiscite is not how to base this decision.
The question itself is less about politics than it is about a problem that mostly involves how to best move growing numbers of people around.
It would have taken even more backbone to say that if getting reliable evidence of public opinion is so important, then rather than hold an expensive stand-alone advisory election in which a tiny percentage of voters will show up, the city should hire a respected firm to conduct a scientific public opinion poll.
Such a poll’s results would reflect what all Scottsdale residents think of light rail in bankable numbers, not merely the thoughts of the few casting nonbinding ballots.
A 20-mile light-rail line from Phoenix to Mesa will open late next year.
Examining how well it works, from ridership to redevelopment, would provide better clues about whether it’s right for Scottsdale than asking for a show of hands.
By the way, for those inexplicably keeping track, Scarp’s First Law is, “All political roads lead to Los Arcos.” The Second Law: “All political campaigns lead to Nan Nesvig.” The Third Law: “The better the economy, the more the City Council concerns itself with trifles.”