Let's get this straight. First St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster persuaded the City Council to demolish the Pier and pursued an innovative design for a new one with plenty of public input. Now he complains about misinformation spread by those who want to keep the current Pier. But he supports the voter referendum they want. But he wants it soon. But he wants to help write the question. And he wants the referendum to fail. That's not leadership; that's ducking for cover.
In the absence of city rules about when petitions must be submitted for consideration for an advisory referendum, Foster has taken a curious step by directing the city clerk to set a deadline for VoteOnThePier.com. She warned that unless 16,000 petitions were submitted by June 11 to City Hall, there would not be enough time for the City Council to undergo the normal procedures to place it on the November ballot. The mayor says he wants a resolution on this ill-informed campaign. Predictably, the petition leader is ignoring an artificial deadline that has no legal standing.
There is no need to make up rules for a referendum that would not be binding for a plan that would not work. Foster and the City Council have embarked on a visionary plan with a reasonable budget, and the process has been open and fair. But now the mayor is undermining one of his most significant accomplishments because he fears the council will schedule a referendum regardless of his position. No other elected official is more responsible for forcing resolution on the Pier's future — from seeking City Council approval to demolish the inverted pyramid to initiating the international design competition that resulted in a fiscally defensible, architecturally exciting replacement that will serve the city well in the 21st century. Yet Foster is his own worst enemy.
If VoteOnThePier.com submits 16,000 valid petitions and the City Council votes to put it on the ballot, Foster said he will recommend the ballot language include the cost if voters want the pyramid saved. Since 2004, city studies have warned that just replacing the pier's approach and surfaces around the building's base — which rest on deteriorating concrete in its ninth decade — would consume the $50 million set aside for the project. Such a scheme also would require demolition of the first floor retail area. Rebuilding that space and doing other required upgrades would require at least $20 million more that the city won't have without increasing property taxes.
Foster and the City Council have not arrived at their decisions on the Pier capriciously. They have required thorough research and significant public input. More public suggestions on finalizing the Lens design will be solicited in coming months. Leadership means following through, not pandering to an ill-informed petition drive that is unworkable without a hefty tax increase.
St. Petersburg voters still will have opportunities to express their views. They are called elections, and the elections for mayor and City Council are in November 2013.