Pole of contention

The curious placement of a power pole in the middle of a public beach bothered some residents of communities at the far northwest corner of Okanagan Lake a few years ago. Today, the regional district embraced a new strategy aimed at improving communication with people who live in the remote area.

Alienated residents of a remote corner of the Central Okanagan regional district will be the focus of a new communications strategy.

A key aim of the strategy, approved today, is to ensure people living at the northwest side of Okanagan Lake receive "clear, correct, and truthful information" from the regional district.

But the plan to hold more face-to-face meetings, in hopes of rebuilding trust between regional district officials and residents, won't proceed immediately because of COVID-19 restrictions against public gatherings.

"Of course, we're not doing those kinds of meetings right now," regional district staffer Jodi Foster told directors. "But we're going to do some of that as soon as the health orders allow for it."

Other goals of the strategy include more advertising by the regional district in publications and on webpages that cater to the North Westside area, distribution of a citizen survey focused on the community, and launch of a more user-friendly regional district website later this year.

Another example of the regional district's renewed commitment to openness and transparency, Foster said, was the way in which today's meeting itself is being conducted. For the first time, board proceedings are being live-streamed.

There are about 1,200 people living in the North Westside area, in the communities of Fintry, Killiney Beach, Valley of the Sun, and Westshore Estates.

The area is more than an hour's drive from the regional district's head office on KLO Road in Kelowna. Given the distance, area residents have felt for some time that their interests and concerns are not well addressed by the board, and some have even touted the idea of creating their own municipality.

Wayne Carson, the elected official who represents North Westside on the regional board, welcomed the new communications strategy.

"I think we're off to a good start with this," he said. "I'm happy to support it and see it move forward, so we can fix some of the problems that exist."

A 2017 consultant's report commissioned by the regional district found an "erosion of trust" had occurred between North Westsiders and their local government.

There was also a lack of understanding, the consultant said, among residents about what services the regional district actually delivers, and concern about value for taxdollars.

In 2016, North Westsiders were particularly bothered about the regional district's curious placement of a power pole in the middle of a  public beach, suggesting that symbolized the way the community gets short-shrift.

Initially, residents were even denied the opportunity to complain about the power pole directly to the regional board, further aggrieving them.

Other residents, Carson said, don't even realize which local government area they are part of.  "A few years ago, everywhere you looked, dogs had a licence out of Vernon, instead of Kelowna," Carson said.