Silver bullet?

Re yesterday’s “Setting OUR record straight” post, a reader emailed with a thought-provoking response:

The “more honest” referendum question  is stated as “Should the Garden City Lands remain green in the Agricultural Land Reserve for agricultural, ecological, and open-land park uses for community wellness, rather than be used largely for dense development?” That is quite complex, and the words “rather than” are the most biasing.

Just throwing out these questions in case there is a referendum:

1. Should the Garden City Lands remain in the Agricultural Land Reserve?
     (a) Yes
     (b) No

2. What should the land usage for the Garden City Lands be?”
     (a) Agricultural, ecological and park use
     (b) High-density residential/commercial development

I agree with the reader that my original phrasing works a little against the “rather than” option, so it could be considered a bit biased. However, that question is vastly less biased than many of the  questions that the City and its partners put into their Richmond Community survey and the Garden City Lands Open Houses feedback survey. (At this point, I’m wrestling myself to the ground to stop myself from going off on a tangent with examples.)

I also agree that everything beyond “Agricultural Land Reserve” in my “more honest” referendum question could be considered redundant. However, the problem with leaving “Agricultural Land Reserve” by itself, as the reader has done in question 1, is that “Agricultural Land Reserve” or  “ALR” is a concept that people don’t quickly grasp. And it’s harder to grasp after the misinformation that gets spread. For example, Coun. Greg Halsey-Brandt gave the impression in a national newspaper that the Garden City Lands (in the ALR) would be used mainly for growing cranberries.

The difficulty with question 2 is that option b should also mention that there would be some city-purchased green space for the residential developments, though not nearly enough to meet Richmond’s city-wide standard for green space.

This bring us back to a point that Mary Phillips made in a letter to the Richmond News: “A referendum is a simplistic approach to addressing complex issues.” The Garden City Lands is an unusually complex one, and therefore (if one accepts Mary Phillips’ wisdom) it is unusually badly suited to a referendum.

So the referendum idea is no silver bullet after all. Does that leave the City of Richmond hobbled by a complex issue? Will no one ride to the rescue?

Isn’t that what we choose eight councillors and a mayor to do?


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