Rest Haven will live to see another day — even if it doesn’t want to.
And a referendum on Gwinnett County joining MARTA isn’t in the cards yet either.
That’s because two pieces of Gwinnett-centric legislation, one dealing with the city’s existence and another calling on Gwinnett commissioners to hold a public conversation on joining MARTA as well as a referendum on the issue, failed to make it out of the General Assembly before the 2016 legislative session ended last week.
In at least the MARTA bill’s case, its sponsor, state Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, was prepared long ago for the possibility that his bill might not pass, admitting in a meeting with reporters last month that the bill — at that time — could be considered “Dead on Arrival.”
“If nothing happens this year, then I’ll bring it again next year,” Marin told reporters during a gathering in Atlanta last month. “I think what I want, and what my colleagues want, is for us to continue the conversation, for them to see there is really an outcry.”
In the end, it didn’t make it out of the House Transportation committee. Meanwhile, the Rest Haven bill made it out of the Senate, where it was introduced by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, but it was still in the House Intragovernmental Coordination Committee when the 2015-16 legislative term ended in the wee hours of the morning last Friday.
Rest Haven an
The fact that a bill that would have ended Rest Haven’s existence failed to make it out of the General Assembly this year is just the latest chapter in the city’s long and unsuccessful pursuit of its own death.
There have been votes to disband, lawsuits and even inactivity by the city over the last 15 years or so, but the city has sort of become the town that can’t quite seem to get death right. It’s let Buford annex its land one parcel at a time, but that was time-consuming, and efforts toward a legislative solution picked up over the last couple of years.
Senate Bill 427, the bill Unterman filed on March 7 to transfer what little is left of Rest Haven to Buford’s control, was identical to legislation she got passed in 2015 that transferred half of the city’s land to its larger neighbor. The 2015 bill took care of land on one side of Buford Highway. The bill filed this year was intended to take care of the other side.
Unterman previously told the Daily Post that a key reason why a legislative approach was being taken to end the city was the cluttered appearance of Buford Highway in Rest Haven’s 1-mile stretch, which is lined with used car lots and collapsing buildings.
“It just doesn’t look like the rest of Gwinnett County,” she said in December. “Since that’s an entry way to Lake Lanier Islands, and a lot of Lake Lanier traffic (goes through there), they just want to clean it up.”
The move has the blessing of Rest Haven’s mayor as well as Buford officials.
“I think we’ll all be happier as a part of Buford,” Rest Haven Mayor Kenneth Waycaster told the Daily Post last month. “We’ve always worked with them pretty well.”
The bill got filed late in the session, however, getting its first read in the Senate on the 32nd day of the 40-day session. That meant time was of the essence to get it through both chambers and on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal’s before the session ended.
It was passed by the Senate on March 16, the 38th day of the session, and got assigned to its House committee on the 39th day. However, in the end, time just ran out.
Though bill dead,
MARTA debate continues
Marin’s legislation — which dealt with a topic that has been the subject of much debate in Gwinnett County — faced an uphill battle.
It had the support of other Democrats in Gwinnett’s legislative delegation, but no Republican in the delegation had signed on as a co-sponsor — and Republicans run both chambers of the General Assembly.
The county does have a bus system that offers service to southwestern Gwinnett and Lawrenceville, but several residents have said it’s not enough. Part of Marin’s bill called for a referendum on whether the county should join MARTA to be held as soon as this November.
“I’m ambitious, but you have to be in this business,” the representative told reporters last month.
A Gwinnett Chamber survey from last year showed a majority of residents would likely be in favor of joining MARTA, but Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash has been cool to the idea. Nash has repeatedly said she does not think a referendum would pass.
“I’ve heard it said that there’s been no scientific poll; well alright then, let’s do one,” Marin told reporters in February. “Let’s do a scientific poll, by the commissioners, and let’s get the ball rolling on making sure that we are at the table for the future of rapid transit in Gwinnett County.”
But getting Gwinnett to join MARTA has been a focal point for Democrats in the county, and will likely be the major issue in this year’s race for county commission chairman. It’s also caught up in debates on the future of transit going on at public input meetings for the county’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan update.
Transit was a key issue for one Democrat who nearly ran against Nash this year. Meanwhile, Gwinnett County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Shealey, who did qualify earlier this month to run against the chairwoman, has been critical of her for not calling for a referendum.