When people lose a battle with Kelowna City Hall, they often tell councillors, “I’ll remember this decision at election time!”
But the truth is that four years is a long time. Grievances fade, memories dim.
Matters that seemed of burning importance a few years ago might seem, well, so 2015 now.
Nevertheless, with the civic election set for next Saturday, many people do want to exercise judgment at the ballot box with at least some reference to how councillors voted on hot topics during the past four years.
Between late August and early October, The Daily Courier presented an election-related series recapping some of the most galvanizing issues that grabbed the attention of city hall, and citizens, since 2014. We are now re-publishing the series in its entirety on our website.
We hope readers use the series as a bit of a refresher course, to remind themselves how their elected representatives voted on issues that mattered to them. Think of it as something like a scorecard, to see how often individual councillors made a decision that either pleased or infuriated you.
We also hope the series stokes a bit more interest in the upcoming civic election. When voter turnout is reliably less than 30 per cent, it’s either because people don’t care about local democracy or they don’t know anything about the candidates running for office.
But the nine City of Kelowna council incumbents do have a track record. And here is part of it.
One way to use this feature is simply to get a piece of paper and write down the names of all city councillors - Mohini Singh, Luke Stack, Charlie Hodge, Brad Sieben, Maxine De Hart, Ryan Donn, Tracy Gray and Gail Given - across the top, along with that of Mayor Colin Basran.
After reading each of the 11 news items below and seeing how the councillors and mayor voted, make a check-mark below the names of the incumbents who voted the way you would have. You might consider giving more than one check mark to a councillor if any of the 11 items were of particular interest to you.
After the last item, see how many check marks you've given each incumbent. The maximum number of check marks for any one of them, of course, is 11 unless you gave extra check marks for issues you felt strongly about.
While it's possible one or more councillors might have received all 11 of your check marks, it's more likely the numbers will range between zero and 11.
You might want to consider voting next Saturday only for those councillors who scored, say, five or more of your checkmarks. You might then reliably conclude that, on these issues anyway, those councillors best reflected your views and might be more likely to do so on other topics that come up in the next four-year term.
Remember, next Saturday you do not have to vote for eight councillors. In fact, doing so could reduce the chance of those you really would like to see elected of winning office. That's because votes you spread around on other candidates, who you may or may not really know anything about, effectively count against your preferred choices.
So read, consider, and tally. And then, most importantly of course, vote wisely next Saturday.
1. ADDICT HOUSING COMPLEX IN RUTLAND
Nothing outraged Rutland resident during the life of this city council like plans for a four-storey, 51-suite housing complex for recovering addicts at the corner of Rutland Road and McCurdy Road.
Proposed by Freedom’s Door, a faith-based charity long operating in Kelowna, the housing complex was said to be too big and out of keeping with the character of the neighbourhood. Concerns about the safety of area residents were raised.
Mostly, the issue seemed to touch a nerve in Rutland because of the widespread belief the community always seems to get the kind of social services and low-cost housing projects not often found in other Kelowna neighbourhoods, such as Glenmore and the Mission.
At the public hearing in September 2017 where the matter was considered, a petition signed by 700 people was presented. Thirty-five people also directly addressed council, raising their objections.
But a roughly equal number of people told council they were supportive of the Freedom’s Door proposal. They decried what they said was scaremongering about the complex, and praised the faith-based organization as dedicated and successful in helping people beat their addictions.
Here’s how council voted:
In support were Mayor Colin Basran, Maxine DeHart, Luke Stack, Ryan Donn, Tracy Gray and Gail Given.
Opposed were Brad Sieben, Charlie Hodge and Mohini Singh.
2. TOURISM KELOWNA'S NEW VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
Tourism Kelowna probably never dreamed its dream of a new home would turn into such a public relations nightmare.
After a failed bid to get a new building in City Park, an endeavour that sparked a considerable public backlash, the organization likely thought it had found a perfect alternative.
It chose a small, little-used, city-owned parking lot at the end of Queensway, ideally situated to serve the considerable number of tourists ambling along the downtown waterfront between City Park and Waterfront Park.
But the ensuing public brouhaha was intense. Critics said it was a poor use of scarce publicly owned waterfront. They said it would block the view of the lake. They wondered about the lack of parking.
And they even wondered about the relevance of a visitor information centre in a digital age when tourists can find out all they want or need to know about a community with a few taps on a phone or tablet.
In its defence, Tourism Kelowna said similar organizations that had moved into areas with high pedestrian traffic had flourished, attracting many more visitors than they had at highway locations.
Serving the public that way, Tourism Kelowna said, was a vital way of directing additional commerce to the many city businesses that depend to one extent or another on dollars from visitors.
Here’s how council voted:
In support was Mayor Colin Basran, Luke Stack, Gail Given, Ryan Donn, Tracy Gray, Mohini Singh and Brad Sieben.
Opposed was Charlie Hodge.
Coun. Maxine DeHart declared a conflict because she works at a hotel and did not vote.
3. ELDORADO BOATHOUSE
Few things excite Kelowna residents like the perceived tinkering with the beauty of Okanagan Lake, or public access to it.
A local citizens group has been campaigning for more than a year now for all levels of government to do more to ensure public access to the foreshore between the lake's high- and low-water mark.
The city's plan to build a new visitor information centre on the downtown lakefront was assailed by people who thought it a poor use of scarce public land. And in Lake Country, town council ran into an avalanche of criticism when it considered selling some public waterfront lands to nearby property owners.
Another example of a water-related issue that generated some controversy came before city council in March 2017. The owners of the Eldorado Hotel wanted permission to build a 1,500 square foot, two-storey marina building at the end of a 200 metre long dock.
The long dock, about twice the length of the previous one, was approved by the provincial government nearly a decade ago without the opportunity for the city to review or even comment on the project.
That fact alone highlighted the city's limited powers to affect the nature of the waterfront. But the new building at the end of the dock did require a city development permit, giving councillors the chance to vote on the matter.
Designed to replace an older, smaller structure, the building was to be used for gas sales, boat and personal watercraft rentals, washrooms, and a staff lunchroom.
Councillors who supported issuing the necessary development permit said it wasn't that much larger than the previous building had been, and they said it would provide necessary services to boaters.
"The lake has become much more popular and it's important to provide services to the boating public," Coun. Mohini Singh said.
But Coun. Luke Stack countered the building was simply too big: "It'll look like a barn in the middle of the lake."
Voting to approve the two-storey marina building were: Singh, and councillors Tracy Gray, Charlie Hodge, Maxine DeHart, Ryan Donn, and Gail Given.
Opposed were Stack and Mayor Colin Basran.
Coun. Brad Sieben was absent.
4. SAY YOUR PRAYERS, COUNCIL.
Praying at Kelowna city council meetings came to a court-ordered end three years ago.
For more than half a century, the Tuesday night meeting had begun with a councillor offering a prayer.
In April 2015, however, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled the reading of prayers at a Quebec town council meeting infringed on freedoms of conscience and religion.
Canadian society has evolved and given rise to “a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs,” the court ruled. “The state must instead remain neutral in this regard.”
Some cities had already scrapped the practice, but Kelowna had continued with a tradition established in January 1956. Prayers were not said, however, between 1994 and 2000. From the mid-1980s on, it was convention that prayers were offered by councillors, but not by the sitting mayor.
It was never a controversial practice locally, former mayor Walter Gray recalled in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
“Through all my years on council, there were always one or two councillors each term who just didn’t want to say a prayer, and that was fine. Nobody ever made a big deal out of it,” Gray said.
The clerk’s office maintained a list of about 20 possible prayers, all of them supplied by the Kelowna Ministerial Association. Examples included: “We acknowledge our need for wisdom today, Father God,” and “Give us moral uprightness instead of moral decay,” and “Gracious God, like a Father you guard and guide us, like a Mother you nurture and care for us.”
After they were elected in 2014, current council members were asked by the city clerk’s office if they would like to be on the rotation to say prayers at the Tuesday night meeting.
Here’s what they said:
Willing to offer prayers were councillors Maxine DeHart, Mohini Singh, Gail Given, Charlie Hodge, Luke Stack and Ryan Donn.
Not willing to offer prayers were Mayor Colin Basran and councillors Brad Sieben, and Tracy Gray.
Since prayers ended, council members begin the Tuesday night session by reciting the oath of office they first took on being elected.
5. AQUA'S BIG WATERFRONT PROJECT
The public was divided, but less so Kelowna city council.
A major waterfront development known as Aqua, with towers up to 16 storeys, was approved in January for properties immediately south of the Eldorado Hotel on Lakeshore Road.
Kelowna-based Mission Group has plans for 350 homes, as well as a new commercial area. The company says the project’s benefits will include a new and wider public beach than currently exists in the area.
Originally, Aqua was supposed to include highrises of 19, 16 and 13 storeys. But the plans were downsized a bit, to towers of 16, 14 and 12 storeys.
“Particularly since the public hearing last May, we’ve made a lot of design improvements,” Luke Turri of Mission Group said on Jan. 24, the day after council approved the massive project.
“The goal is to create a new standard of excellence in development for Kelowna,” Turri said.
There was considerable public skepticism about the wisdom of council approving Aqua, however. The city received 61 pieces of correspondence, evenly split between those who favoured the development and those who opposed it.
While supporters said it would be an appealing and significant new recreation centre with year-round living, critics derided it as a massive overbuilding of the site.
The city also received two petitions with 185 names of people who were against Aqua.
Council voted to approve Aqua. Here’s how members voted:
In favour of Aqua were councillors Maxine DeHart, Gail Given, Charlie Hodge, Luke Stack, Brad Sieben, Ryan Donn, Tracy Gray and Mohini Singh.
Opposed to Aqua was Mayor Colin Basran.
6. CENTRAL GREEN'S VANISHED DREAM
One part of the dream for Central Green was of high-rises along the highway that opened up a lot of public space at ground level.
But the reality is a collection of low-rises located less than a stone's throw from one another.
"Just because you want a tower doesn't mean you can build a tower, reasonably," Bob Daigenais of Al Stober Construction told council in January.
The company bought the prime development land from the city in 2014 for $6 million after it had sat vacant for many years.
Central Green, the former site of Kelowna Secondary, was conceived by the city through a long public consultation process as a showpiece project that would incorporate affordable housing, eco-friendly building techniques, and 500 new homes arrayed around a large new public park.
Central Green was to help boost the number of people living downtown, enhancing the area's economic vitality. Original plans suggested towers of up to 20 storeys along Harvey Avenue, southwest of the intersection with Richter Street.
But as the build-out occurred, one low rise after another was presented for council's approval. Council seemed to believe there was still the potential for a high-rise, but Daigenais' comments all but ended that hope.
"I pretty much heard we're not going to see the kind of height we wanted to see on that site," said Coun. Gail Given. "It isn't going to be what we thought we were getting."
It then emerged the city had only specified the number of units that should be built, not mandated construction of one or more high-rises to create more open space at ground level.
"We've done our job in terms of providing the maximum amount of density on this site," Daigenais told council on Jan. 8.
After a month's delay, council voted 7-2 to approve the latest five storey, 108-suite building on Central Green.
Those in favour noted the city still achieved other important objectives associated with Central Green, but the minority said the resulting development was unimpressive and too great a departure from the original plan.
Here's how they voted:
In support: Mayor Colin Basran and councillors Luke Stack, Maxine DeHart, Gail Given, Brad Sieben, Mohini Singh, and Tracy Gray.
Against: Councillors Ryan Donn and Charlie Hodge.
7. WESTCORP'S LONG-TOUTED TOWER
Kelowna's tallest building - if it ever gets constructed - will highlight the skyline, revitalize Bernard Avenue, and transform the downtown waterfront.
That was the kind of praise lavished on Westcorp's plan for a 430-foot tower at the base of Queensway overlooking Okanagan Lake.
Council voted 5-2 in February of this year to greenlight the project, which has been around in one form or another for several years. The latest revisions were an increase in height, to 33 storeys from 22 storeys, and the addition of luxury condos as well as hotel rooms.
There was relatively little public opposition to the project, as evidenced by the fact that of the 120 individually-written letters received by the City Clerk's office, 114 were from people who supported the $200 million development.
Plans also show a public restaurant on the 17th floor, a convention centre, and ground floor commercial premises.
Ironically, however, on the same day council approved the Westcorp tower, the NDP government brought down its 2018 budget that included the controversial speculation tax.
Aimed mainly at people who own second homes that are left vacant for more than six months a year, the tax is intended to bring more properties onto the rental market and cool the overall real estate market.
But critics say the tax will reduce investment, slow construction, trigger job losses, and deprive municipalities of new tax revenue.
For its part, Westcorp has acknowledged the tax may affect its proposal, but the company is still moving forward with design work. A construction start date, however, has not been announced.
Here's how council voted on Westcorp's plans for a 33-storey hotel and condo tower:
In support: Mayor Colin Basran, and councillors Luke Stack, Mohini Singh, Brad Sieben, and Gail Given.
Opposed: Councillors Ryan Donn and Charlie Hodge.
Absent was Councillor Tracy Gray. Councillor Maxine DeHart declared a conflict because she works at a hotel.
8. MINSTREL CAFE'S SUCCESSOR SHOT DOWN
It's unusual for Kelowna city council not to advance a development proposal that's made it through the initial planning process to a public hearing.
Even if they really, really don't like something, councillors will often see the merit in at least listening to what neighbours say about a project before turning their own thumbs up or down.
Not so on May 7th of this year.
For many years, the Minstrel Cafe in the Lower Mission, at the corner of Lakeshore Road and Collett Road, was a popular gathering place.
This past spring, a major re-development of the site was proposed. Plans called for nine homes and 10,000 square feet of commercial space, in a four-storey building. The current height limit for the location is 2 1/2 storeys.
Council was divided on the wisdom of the proposal, which the developer called modest in scale.
"It's a maximum-scaled proposal," Coun. Luke Stack responded. "It's triple the density that should be permitted on this site."
But other councillors noted the site's current zoning would allow for a gasbar, which they said would probably draw even more traffic and be even less well-received by neighbours.
Mayor Colin Basran said the housing and commercial proposal was a "really great concept".
Council voted 5-4 not to even send the development plan to a public hearing, essentially closing the file for at least six months. Here's how they voted:
Against sending it to a public hearing: Luke Stack, Mohini Singh, Brad Sieben, Maxine DeHart, and Charlie Hodge.
In favour of a public hearing: Basran, and councillors Tracy Gray, Ryan Donn, and Gail Given.
9. FLAP OVER INNOVATION CENTRE'S ROOFTOP
The unauthorized construction of a rooftop restaurant called Perch atop the Innovation Centre ruffled a few feathers on Kelowna city council in 2016.
Work on the facility began without the necessary city approvals in what was described as a misunderstanding between municipal staff and building representatives.
“There was never any intent to work behind the scenes or without people’s knowledge,” Innovation Centre representative Jeff Keen assured council on Oct. 24, 2016.
The original plan was for a liquor-primary licence for the rooftop venue, meaning it could function essentially as a nightclub, remaining open till 2 a.m. The prospect of late-night noise was alarming to some Innovation Centre neighbours, particularly residents of the Madison highrise, immediately east of the high-tech centre.
“We’re going to lose a lot of sleep if this goes ahead,” Madison resident Florrie McCallum said.
“We’re talking about seeing a nightclub or a pub developed less than 100 feet from people’s patios, basically right in their faces,” said Lloyd Pederson, president of the Madison’s strata council.
In the face of such criticism, Innovation Centre representatives switched the licence application from liquor primary to food primary. That limited the potential of late-night noise from the rooftop’s open deck to bother nearby residents.
But council members still expressed strong objections to work on the rooftop restaurant, with an indoor seating capacity of 45 and outdoor capacity of 253, getting underway without the necessary city building permit.
“I’m really, really not happy with the way this whole thing was done,” Coun. Maxine DeHart said.
Coun. Luke Stack said the rooftop project was a “significant departure” from the kind of open-to-the-public amenity he said was specified in the original agreement between the city and builders of the Innovation Centre.
“In my opinion, this represents the commercialization of the rooftop,” Stack said. “I don’t think this is in the spirit of the initial deal we made.”
But Mayor Colin Basran countered a theatre inside the Innovation Centre constituted the public amenity the city has sought for the building.
One option open to council was to require all the non-permitted rooftop structures to be removed at the developer’s cost. A majority, however, decided this was unreasonable.
“I’m not in favour of tearing down what’s already there,” Coun. Gail Given said. “I think that would be a sad way to go.”
The specific issue before council at the Oct. 24, 2016, meeting was whether to belatedly issue a development permit for the 500-square-foot rooftop structure that had already been built on the Innovation Centre rooftop.
Here’s how they voted:
Against issuing the permit was Coun. Luke Stack.
In favour of issuing the permit were Mayor Colin Basran, and councillors Mohini Singh, Maxine DeHart, Gail Given, Ryan Donn, Charlie Hodge, Brad Sieben and Tracy Gray.
10. SCI-FI PUBLIC ART RANKLES
Any discussion of public art usually gets a lively conversation going at Kelowna city council.
Since 1997, the city has budgeted about $150,000 annually for public art projects, with supporters saying the resulting sculptures help to make Kelowna a more visually interesting and culturally dynamic city.
The program, however, has often been one of the first places council looked when trying to trim the city budget. They've reasoned cutting back on art is more politically palatable than trimming expenses for, say, snow removal or road paving.
On June 22, 2015, the current council had an hour's long wrangle about a public art project proposed by the Kelowna Art Gallery.
The proposed budget was relatively small, at just $15,000, but the debate touched on big issues like city branding, the potential for public ridicule, and the appropriate use of public money.
The fanciful idea, from artist Johann Wessels, was to depict objects transported back to Kelowna from some point in the future. They were to be encased in rocket-shaped glass and metal tubes and left around downtown for people to discover and discuss.
"I don't see how that will animate a public space . . . I don't get it," said Coun. Tracy Gray.
Coun. Brad Sieben noted one of the objects from the future was described a twig from the last known tree, and said the artwork was a political statement that might not be well received by some taxpayers.
If the artwork was widely disparaged, Sieben warned, council would "have egg on our faces".
A majority of councillors, however, said the appeal of any artwork was in the eye of the beholder, and defended public art as a sometimes risky but usually worthwhile expense of public money.
"Supporting public art is supporting hits and misses," said Coun. Ryan Donn.
After lengthy discussion on the $15,000 item, here's how council voted on the so-called Fossils From the Future project:
Against: Councillors Tracy Gray and Brad Sieben
In Favor: Mayor Colin Basran, and councillors Gail Given, Luke Stack, Maxine De Hart, Ryan Donn, Charlie Hodge, and Mohini Singh.
11. ARE YOU REALLY, REALLY HAPPY?
Buried in the depths of a $120 million spending plan in the City of Kelowna's 2016 budget was a relatively small item that drew some councillors' interest.
The proposal was to spend $70,000 of taxpayers' money to find out if city employees were happy.
The so-called 'Employee Engagement Study' aimed to find out if municipal employees were content in their jobs and, if not, what could be done to put smiles on their faces.
Measured against the overall budget, the item was the proverbial hill of beans. But it's often precisely these small spending initiatives that generate the most debate around council chambers.
Perhaps that's because the amounts involved are almost relatable, in personal finance terms, and the stated purposes are relatively straightforward.
Councillors may not feel themselves able to fairly judge the necessity of spending, say, $2.3 million on a sewer project. But they can probably feel on solid ground discussing the merits of a $70,000 study aimed at finding out if city workers were a happy bunch or a bunch of malcontents.
As ever during budget deliberations, councillors on Dec. 17, 2015 whizzed through page after page of spending projects with little or no discussion. But things halted, briefly, when they got to page L12, the one with reference to the 'Employee Engagement Study'.
A similar study had been done just two years earlier. It found 71 per cent of nearly 900 civic employees were satisfied with their jobs, and about 30 per cent were not.
At the December 2015 meeting, Coun. Charlie Hodge referenced the 2013 employee satisfaction survey, and wondered about the need to undertake another one so soon. "I can't see a whole lot having changed in that short a time period," Hodge said.
But Coun. Gail Given said such employee surveys are a "best practice" among large organizations. And Mayor Colin Basran said the survey was important as it reflected what he said was the city's determination to hire and retain the best employees.
After the day's deliberations were done, city councillors had added items to the budget, and increased the municipal tax increase from 4.11 per cent to 4.12 per cent.
Voting to discuss dropping the $70,000 employee satisfaction survey from the budget were councillors Charlie Hodge, Tracy Gray, and Brad Sieben.
Voting to keep the $70,000 expense in the budget and not even discuss dropping it were Mayor Colin Basran, and councillors Gail Given, Luke Stack, Maxine DeHart, Mohini Singh, and Ryan Donn.