People vs city hall

The people versus city hall – Part 1

By Dianne Varga

Since the city decided to green light Tourism Kelowna’s takeover of public parkland, disappointment and anger have erupted.    

Letters published in Kelowna’s media have observed how the Queensway Jetty location in Kerry Park was the only one considered after council earlier rejected City Park as the site for a new tourist office.  

No one has explained to the public why a Bernard Street location such as the Paramount Theatre building, right across from Kerry Park and currently under renovation, could not have worked. 

The amount of foot traffic is surely greater on Bernard than on the Jetty, and visitors already have their wallets pulled out, eager to spend.

Other letters have lamented the City’s failure to come clean on the public costs arising from its arrangement with Tourism Kelowna. They say there’s been no full and complete cost and benefit disclosure for this project.

Some members of the public have complained the fix was in. 

They’ve pointed to potential conflict-of-interest on the part of council members who’ve sat on Tourism Kelowna’s board in the past and continue to do so in the present. 

They’ve said council’s interests have from the start of this project been indivisible from corporate interests, and that members of council have failed to meet their legal responsibility to give fair consideration to the public interest.

Such failure is clear in relation to the letters council received within the official notification period. Some 70 per cent were against the new tourist office being built at the proposed site. Up to 90 per cent of the letters to Kelowna’s editors were also opposed.

Although only 50 per cent of speakers at the public hearing spoke against the project, many opponents said they could not make their way into the overcrowded council chamber where speakers queued for an opportunity to speak. 

If members of the community can’t get to a microphone to express their interests, it’s a sure thing council could not have taken them into account.  

I made a presentation at the public hearing. I analyzed the city’s applications to rezone the Queensway parkland and re-designate it in the Official Community Plan, and concluded their decisions were “illegal.”  

Public hearings are unlike council meetings in that councillors must by law listen to all points of view and be willing to accept a persuasive presentation. 

At the end of my presentation, Kelowna’s councillors did not care so much as to even question me. 

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the zoning and OCP re-designations one by one.

Dianne Varga is an Okanagan activist and writer.

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