GARDEN CITY -- At a Monday night city council meeting, two new sections of city code were added and repealed within 45 minutes. Voters in the November election previously approved the codes.
On November 6, 52% of voters decided to keep an existing bike ban that keeps cyclists off the "Garden City Nature Trail", a particular section of the Greenbelt. What's caused confusion and what was at issue Monday night is voters approved a related measure to demand public votes on Greenbelt-use restrictions.
The voter-approved additions to current city ordinance required the city to hold a public vote on any restrictions to non-motorized travel on the Greenbelt.
Because voters approved the changes, two code sections went into effect just after 6:00 p.m. Monday, but by 6:45 p.m., the city council turned around and repealed the laws.
"As elected officials, I believe that we simply have no choice but to repeal these codes to fulfill our duties under the Idaho Constitution," a city council member said.
The city's attorney explained his view of the language, saying it was too broad and improperly gives all regulatory control on this issue to the public. Council members discussed the issue, and all decided to repeal the codes.
"The council's opinion really was that it was just simply bad public policy. It placed restrictions on their statutory authority that made doing their job difficult," Mayor John Evans said.
Evans says the code compromised the council's regulatory authority, and says requiring a public election on any and all Greenbelt non-motorized travel restrictions was problematic.
"So people could be running up and down the Greenbelt on horseback tomorrow, and we wouldn't have any way to deal with it without waiting until May and take it to a vote. So this needed to be dealt with right away," Evans said.
Five citizens wrote letters of opinion to the council, and seven people commented during the meeting. Most of those who spoke during the meeting supported a repeal and thought the ballot initiatives were confusing. Council members also expressed concern that voters may have been confused about what they were voting for and the implications of the vote.
Those for the new codes including T.J. Angstman, the attorney who helped write them, says there's no way to know why voters voted the way they did, but that the votes should stand.
"Some voters did tell me they were confused by 'A' as well, and they would've voted yes, but they voted no," Angstman said. "Does that make the whole election invalidated because some people didn't understand one versus the other? I don't think so. I think we should assume that the voters are smart, and that they knew what they were doing, and if they didn't this can be fixed the next election."
Angstman says it is possible people who want bikes on the Greenbelt and public votes on path restrictions could ask for judicial review of the council's decision. He also says a lawsuit is a possibility.
"To me, I think it's kind of a sad day when the government would disregard the will of the voters so promptly," Angstman said.
Mayor Evans says the controversy likely isn't over, since there were voters who wanted bikes back on the nature trail, but he says once a bridge is completed, cyclists will have an easier time getting through.
"We really are doing our part, and I think we've gotten a bad rap on this whole bicycle issue," Evans said.
To see the language of the now-repealed code changes, click here.
On Monday, the council took up another proposed Greenbelt restriction ordinance that bans non-emergency motor vehicles. The mayor says kayakers have been driving on the path to get to the new Boise River water park, and that's causing safety concerns.
The council will likely vote on that in their next meeting.