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Writer-s-Bloc

Life on city council

Ryan Donn

 

Monday council meetings

By Ryan Donn

A few years ago, I had a chat with Castanet about writing a few columns about life on city council. It's taken a couple years to get around to it, but it offers a glimpse into council life.

For this first column, I wanted to keep it simple and focus on some of the basics. We meet almost every Monday for the full day and then we meet every other Tuesday for public hearings.

By the end of this column, you'll know where we meet on Monday mornings and afternoons, where to find an agenda, and which file you should look at for the quickest and best summary of an agenda item.

On Mondays, we have two distinct meetings. The morning meeting is held in the Knox Mountain room (fourth floor of City Hall). It's often a more of a workshop, discussion, council vision, or staff's expert advice. The example I mention in the video is the agricultural plan.

We had a couple in-depth Monday a.m. workshops on various aspects of agriculture in Kelowna.

One may offer history and context as to how we got here, while the others offer a chance for staff to share their expected next steps and council to share their vision, opinions or concerns about where we are going.

Then, after public consultation and feedback, it comes to the main council chambers in the Monday afternoon meeting. It also went to a Tuesday public hearing, but I'll focus on public hearings in another article. 

So quick summary – Monday a.m. meetings deal with workshops, discussions, staff recommendations, councils initial feedback, etc.

I should note that on Monday mornings there is also an in-camera portion. The name is deceiving as it essentially means private. During these meetings topics would include “land, legal, personnel."

Here is the link to the agenda: https://www.kelowna.ca/city-hall/council/council-meetings-public-hearings

When you get there, click on the AM agenda. For Oct 30 item 3.1 is Feedback on the Legalization of marijuana.

If you click on that item and then look for the one called presentation, you will find a 10-page powerpoint that offers the most concise summary of this topic and what is being suggested, asked, etc. 

Most items on Mondays eventually end up on the news. For that item it was the day the agenda went live. The agenda is added online between noon and 3 p.m. on the Thursday afternoon before the council meeting. 

Most folks are aware of the afternoon council meeting location and can catch that on live video here on Castanet.

I'll be doing at least five or six of these columns over the coming months. If there are questions you would like to see answered from my perspective let me know.

Fire me an email with any suggested columns ideas to rdonn@kelowna.ca.

Next, I'll cover Tuesday evening meetings and public hearings.  

Ryan Donn is a singer/songwriter, event producer, digital creative, and Kelowna city councillor.



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Rental furore: Part 3

The tourism impact of short-term rentals (STRs)

By Mark Ameerali

In 2016, tourism Kelowna commissioned a survey of the visitors to Kelowna and compared the results from 2011.

Here are the highlights:

  • 1.9 million total visitors to Kelowna
  • 8,350 direct jobs linked to tourism
  • $240 million in earnings from those jobs
  • $810 million in total economic output
  • $142 million in tax revenue

At the same time, Tourism Kelowna conducted an intercept survey of visitors and found that 9.7 per cent of visitors used STR and 6.1 per cent listed bed and breakfasts (which were likely listed on STR sites) as their primary accommodation while in Kelowna.

This means that nearly 16 per cent of the figures above are driven by STRs.

When a visitor stays with an STR host, the money spent by that visitor goes directly into the community.

Any accommodation fee is paid directly to a member of the community and the dollars spent by the host are spent back into the community, multiplying the effect of the spending many times over.

Compare this model to the corporate or franchise model hotels follow. The profits from hotel chains in Kelowna are siphoned out of the city and re-distributed to hotel executives, shareholders, and/or a very small group of franchisees.

I’m not suggesting this shouldn’t happen; I’m simply suggesting the sharing economy introduces another more egalitarian option to the mix and this is a good thing.

How are STRs impacting hotels

Since 2011, the number of people staying in hotels has increased 11.4 per cent from 42.8 per cent of visitors to 47.7 per cent of visitors. Hotel revenue per available room has increased over the period from 2011–16, yet according to the Tourism Kelowna study, the average visitor has spent less money on accommodation.

This strongly indicates that the STR market is bringing new types of visitors to the city by creating a new more affordable accommodation category.

This is supported by a study conducted jointly between Boston University and fUSC, which showed that a one per cent increase in Airbnb bookings only resulted in a .05 per cent decrease in hotel revenues.

That would indicate that for every 100 Airbnb listings created, five fewer hotel rooms are booked. (The rise of the sharing economy: Estimating the impact of airbnb on the hotel industry. Boston University and University of Southern California, Nov 2016)

While this data was U.S. based, the same findings are reflected here in our local data. It suggests that Airbnb seems to be more of a complement than a competitor.

When the hotels seem to reach a healthy occupancy rate is where STR become sort of a secondary market.

With a local economic impact between $80-$128 million, STR is the fastest growing slice of the accommodation pie and the only slice growing besides the hotel industry.

So who really are the victims of STR?

  • Is it the host who has more money to support their own living costs and rent it back to the community?
  • Is it the vacationers who can better afford to visit Kelowna and spend more of their dollars on enjoying their vacation instead of on accommodation?
  • Is it the tourism industry or the local restaurants and shops that are seeing more visitors than ever before?
  • Is it the students, who have more options when trying desperately to find a place they can live for eight months of the year?
  • Is it the government that sees an increase in tax revenue from all of the above?
  • Is it the evacuee that has thankfully been setup with free accommodation through Airbnb emergency services?

All these groups benefit greatly from the increase in economic activity driven by STR.

The unfortunate fact is we simply don’t have enough long-term rental stock at this point in time, so vacancy is down, rents have increased and it’s bad press for the city.

But let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face.

Let’s recognize the blessing we have in the STR opportunity and be thankful for it. 



Rental furore: Part 2

By Mark Ameerali

City council’s role in short term vacation rentals

Kelowna is facing a desperate rental shortage, with vacancy rates at 0.5 per cent and rents last year jumping considerably.

City council is well aware of the shortage of low-income and rental housing in the city and they are finally taking meaningful action to resolve this desperate situation.

In 2015, 329 rental units were built. In 2016, about 1,000 rental units were complete or underway and another 1,000 are expected in 2017.

As Kelowna made the top 10 list of most expensive rental markets in the country Coun. Ryan Donn addressed the issue in a recent article saying:

“It’s going to have an effect in a year or two; we truly do hope that it balances out the housing market and also makes it more affordable to live in Kelowna."

By comparison, in its 2016 report, the city recognized the presence of 500 STR homes in the city, which represented just about four per cent of the 12,736 total rental units.

Keep in mind that many of these units would “shared space” accommodation, where the property owner rents out a room or even a couch to travellers.

I don’t think anyone would vilify an STR host sharing a spare room in their home to low-budget vacationers who could otherwise not afford the vacation. I also don’t believe anyone would think poorly of a family renting out their home as a means to help pay for their own vacation.

However, both of these types of hosts are included in the total STR number. This creates an artificially high number of rentals on the market.

Even if you assumed that 60 per cent of the STR options are of the “entire house, non-owner occupied” variety, I don’t believe that the 300 units that are repurposed to allow tourists and students an affordable option to visit our city are the primary culprit behind rising rents.

Rather, I would point back to the severe lag in building permits issued dating back to 2002.

The city had suggested back in 2015 that they might propose a licensing system for STR. We expect to see this in the fall of 2017. This means the city is potentially pre-determining a base number of licences to start and increasing the number of licenses as the vacancy rate increases above 3 per cent.

I’m not sure anyone knows the last time the vacancy rent in Kelowna was above three per cent but I do wonder if we are willing to forego the economic benefits from the tourism we would lose by limiting the number STR licences.

Every STR listing that would be prevented by a licensing cap would represent lost economic benefit to our city.

I don’t see the need to place an artificial cap on the number of STRs when the atypical rental market (less than 12 month rental) would naturally perform that function much more accurately by diminishing profit margin for STR.



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What your car really costs

By Mark Ameerali

For many drivers, the number they see on the windshield is their biggest consideration when it comes to buying a new car. But the sticker price doesn’t tell the full story when it comes to how much your new vehicle will cost. Far from it, in fact.

To help you work out exactly how much your new car will set you back, we’ve put together a list of four factors to look out for the next time you’re on the hunt, alongside a few reasons why choosing a hybrid for your next car purchase might help save you in the long term. 

Overall Price

The price tag is important, but what you’re getting for it is what really counts. From future-proofing technology such as Bluetooth connectivity and rearview cameras to advanced safety features, it’s important to go beyond the bottom line to make sure that the car you are getting will be able to handle everything you might throw at it in the future. You may eventually find that by spending a few extra bucks now, you could save yourself a small fortune further down the road. 

Retained Value

The majority of Canadians will trade or sell their vehicle within nine years, and so it’s important to consider depreciation as part of the total cost of any purchase. Some vehicles, such as hybrids, are far better when it comes to retaining of their value. In fact, the Toyota Prius c was recently awarded Best Retained Value for a Sub-compact Car by Canadian Black Book, the definitive guide to car depreciation in the country.

Maintenance and Repair 

From oil changes to tire replacement, the cost of car maintenance and repair can add up to a lot of extra expense over a vehicle’s lifetime. However, drivers choosing hybrids can expect significantly lower maintenance costs than they might be used to. 

The very nature of hybrid vehicles means that they do not experience as much wear-and-tear as a traditional gasoline engine. For example, the electric motor means that the secondary gas-engine is put under much less stress; it also means that owners will be able to go twice as long between oil changes.

Fuel 

Given that the average Canadian spends more than 2.5% of their annual salary on gas, working out what you’re going to be paying at the pump can have a huge impact on the cost of a car over its lifetime. Of course, we can’t control the price of gas, but we can control how much of it our vehicles guzzle. 

While people traditionally associate hybrid vehicles with the eco-conscious, the truth is that many Canadians are turning to electric motors to save money as well as the environment. And with hybrid vehicles using almost 50% less gas than their non-hybrid alternatives, it’s easy to see why.   

Make sure you look beyond the bottom line before buying your next vehicle, because a few smart choices could save you thousands of dollars in the long run.



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About the Author

Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

Do you have something to say that is timely? of local interest? controversial? inspiring? foodie? entertaining? educational?

Drop a line. columnists@castanet.net

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Castanet. They are not news stories reported by our staff.



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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