Whistle-free zone has big price tag

By Observer editorial February 16, 2011 03:17 pm
Most La Grande City Council and city manager goals and priorities set during the council’s January retreat are lofty, laudable, and if not do-able, at least worth shooting for. But one listed goal leaves the avid council-watcher scratching his head in  wonderment. It’s about train whistles. Yes, the city council will continue, as a goal and priority, its relentless pursuit of a railroad quiet zone.

Please understand: we’re not saying a whistle-free zone is a bad idea, and we’re not saying it’s a good one, either. Some locals go all sentimental at the sound of a train whistle, others cover their ears and grit their teeth. We do neither. We’ve lived here so long we simply don’t notice.

We’re ever aware, though, of the constant raucous din over the city budget. We hear regularly from officials there isn’t enough money to pay firefighters, police and dispatchers, buy ambulances or rescue tools, or run the city library and pool at capacity. Just as regularly, we hear citizens howl bloody murder over proposed tax increases.

We are both duty-bound and pleased to report fiscal crisis solutions are high on the council’s to-do list. They’re right up there with worthy goals like economic development strategy and business retention and expansion.
What’s hard to understand is the inclusion of the quiet zone on the list, given the zone’s $1 million price. The city simply does not have, nor will have any time soon, the necessary funds.

 Even if it did, the money would be better spent elsewhere. So, we scratch our heads and wonder: Why is this on the A-list?

We don’t want to believe it, but at least on paper it appears councilors were short of ideas at retreat’s end, and threw this one in for luck. Or, maybe they did it out of habit. Maybe whistle-free has been a goal and priority so long, it’s hard to let it go. Surely there are more deserving goals and priorities. We’re armchair quarterbacking, but why not make it a priority instead to implement a program to train more citizens in CPR?
This makes sense, since ambulance response times get longer as the fire department’s budget gets smaller. (To make it a smashing success, the CPR program could have a slogan: “The life you save may be your grandma’s.”) Or why, for another thing, didn’t the council pledge vigorous support for the La Grande Police Department’s new citizens volunteer program?

The volunteers of course can’t take part in armed standoffs, high speed chases and other risky business, but at the least they can keep the coffee going for those poor overworked souls who do.

We’re chock-full of other such ideas and could go on, but readers by now have the picture. Times like these, there’s no end to things more important than a million dollar pipe dream.