WALLA WALLA — The Rose Street lane configuration proved to be the defining issue after an hourlong City Council candidates forum Monday night at Walla Walla Community College.
In their last response for the night, all six candidates had a chance to answer whether it was better to follow public opinion or valdited safety studies when it comes to deciding if three lanes are better than four.
“I consider Rose Street and operational decision. We have professions that we hired and paid a great deal of money,” Candidate Allen Pomraning answered. “Send the staff back to do their homework, but if they come back again with the same answer, they are the folks qualified to understand the subtleties of those issues in a professional way.”
Pomraning’s opponent, City member Conrado Cavazos, said he was listening to the community.
“Most everybody knows the first suggestion by our staff was to go with three lanes and a bicycle lane,” he said. The idea that all these accidents were taking place were not in the corridor that was being mentioned.
“... We listened to that community or most of it and we chose to go back to the four lanes. It was based on their observations. You say listen to the citizens and that is what we do.”
Candidate Robert Smith said he would rely on some form of comparison factor to make his decision.
“The key is you have to have some amount of money or some comparison of the of two things in order to have a meaningful discussion,” Smith said. “Well, if we are going to build bicycle lanes on Rose Street … you have to put it into terms of something, whether that is dollars or something else.”
Smith’s opponent, Richard Morgan, said he remembers when Rose Street was the two-lane Wallula Highway and went to four lanes.
“And from day one when it was four lanes I was uncomfortable with the narrowness of the lanes,” he said. “As a user of Rose Street, I would feel more comfortable occasionally slowing down for a truck that has to make a delivery rather than compete within a single narrow lane with a bicyclist.”
Candidate Paul Mobley, who is running against Mayor Jim Barrow, answered the question by referring to a case brought up by Smith, where administrators of a major West Side medical center paid employees to ride their bikes and reduce the need for a road expansion.
“As a City Council person, what I would like to see more of in Walla Walla is for people to have the opportunity to come to very approachable people like ourselves and approach us with these crazy ideas so that we can look at them, evaluate them and see if maybe they are viable and can work,” Mobley said.
“Do we listen to staff or do we just go off and do what a noisy group of people tell us to do?” Barrow said in his response. “The answer is you hope we do a little bit of both.
“We did listen to staff,” Barrow continued. “The logic of the staff was not to the point where we were ignoring good science or good information … It was a decision not terribly difficult to reach in that regard. I considered the people most directly affected to be those whose voice most counted and at least that is how my vote went.”
Other subjects brought up at the forum did little to distinguish the candidates in terms of how they differed on key topics.
About 50 people attended the forum, held by the American Association of University Women and Grandmother’s Roundtable.
Also featured at the forum were Walla Walla school board candidate Sam Wells, who is running unopposed, and local Washington State Court of Appeals judge candidate George Fearing, who is running against John Gary Metro. Metro was not at the forum.
The moderator for the event was local attorney Tom Scribner.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.
This article was modified on Oct. 16, 2013 at 7:26 a.m., to reflect the following correction:
Due to reporter's error, the original article misstated the day the forum took place. It occurred on Monday, not Wednesday.