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The Process of Deciding About St. Clair Avenue
20/10/2005

The City has asked for the St. Clair streetcar ruling to be set aside due to an appearance of bias on the part of one of the judges. Unlike James Bow, I have no reason to object to this turn of events. One man's "legal technicality" is another man's due process. And, in this case, I'm of the opinion that the potential for bias is real.

What's strange here is that the court has not yet released the reasons for its ruling last week, and if the City's motion is successful, we may never know what they were. I would assume that, if the ruling is set aside, the City will again be in a legal position to begin construction and the project's opponents would have to begin their legal challenge all over again.

Anyway, last week's ruling was not likely to amount to anything more than a delay unless St. Clair DROW opponents were able to muster up the political pressure necessary to stop the project. A violation in the planning process only means that the procedure needs to be corrected. Only a very serious flaw would have been enough to permanently block the plan.

Perhaps it is a failure of imagination on my part, but I can't imagine a significantly better system. In the end, our elected officials have to make decisions and stand by them. Processes like the environmental assessment can help improve a plan, can inform the public and ensure openness, and can give opponents time to mobilize. But it is a fantasy to think than an EA can somehow create a consensus that unites the entire community around a plan that everybody loves.

It comes down to our elected city council making a decision about what they think is best, weighing the advice of experts and the opinions of constituents.

If the openness of the environmental assessment and the opportunity for delays through the legal system allow opposed citizens to build a movement that has the power to sway council, then so be it. If not, the decision will be made and politicians will be judged at the voting booth and by history.


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