Save Skaha Park Society expects city’s response to lawsuit soon

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2016 5:39 pm

Opponents of a planned commercial development in Skaha Lake Park say they’re expecting the City of Penticton to finally respond to their lawsuit by the end of the month.

The Save Skaha Park Society filed papers with the B.C. Supreme Court in September 2015 in a bid to squash a 29-year lease agreement between the city and Trio Marine Group, which intends to build waterslides on a corner of the site.

Society spokesman Gerry Karr said Thursday the city’s lawyer promised a reply by the end of February that he fully expects will reject the claims of his group, which nonetheless remains undeterred.

“We’ve been so encouraged by the many thousands that have supported us. In fact, we feel a sense of duty to pursue this as far as necessary,” he said.

Karr is still holding out hope the city will find a way to scrap the Trio deal and avoid the need for an expensive court battle for which taxpayers will be on the hook.

But the final analysis is there’s a democratic principle at stake here that has aroused the anger of 5,000 residents and thousands of tourists,” he added.

“We know that’s not trivial. That concern among our citizenry has to be respected.”

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said collecting all of the information required to respond to the lawsuit has taken longer than expected, but confirmed a response to the lawsuit is expected soon.

While the project is still a go from the city’s standpoint, he’s hoping all sides will sit down together to see if there’s a way to avoid going to court.

“I think the next step really is for Trio in particular, since they are the developer, to meet with the society to discuss some concerns and if there are any opportunities for resolution or common points to help them determine how to move forward,” said Jakubeit.

“I don’t think anyone wants to go through another summer of protests and tension. It would be nice if we can get some understanding of how we’re progressing and to what degree.”

The lawsuit outlines 10 ways in which the City of Penticton allegedly ran afoul of various provincial laws when it inked the 29-year deal with Trio.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has also stepped into the fray, penning a letter to Jakubeit claiming it was unfair to cite the lawsuit as a reason to block a society member’s bid to sit on a committee that’s been tasked with drawing up a new parks master plan.

“In a democracy, it is vital that citizens feel able to express critical or dissenting views (through lawsuits or other means) without fear of being shut out of the democratic process in the future, or of reprisals of other kinds,” policy director Michael Vonn wrote in the letter, which the society released Thursday.

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Political winners and losers from 2015 in the South Okanagan

Thursday, January 7, 2016 5:16 pm

Borrowing an idea from CBC’s The National, here are my picks for the winners and losers in South Okanagan politics over the past 12 months.

WINNERS: Summerland Council for addressing humanitarian issues. Elected in 2014 primarily on an agricultural issue, this council was the first to take the lead on issues including Syrian refugees (thank you, Coun. Doug Holmes) and the LGBTQ community (thank you, Coun. Erin Trainer).

LOSERS: Penticton City Council. I can’t think of a more unpopular group of elected municipal officials in my 30 years as a journalist.

WINNERS: Dan Ashton. The Penticton MLA has brought millions into the riding, has lived up to his promise to deliver the Penticton Regional Hospital expansion and was rewarded by the premier with a key appointment — Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance (that’s a biggie) and this summer he will serve as president of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region which includes Canadian provinces and U.S. states.

LOSERS: Boundary Similkameen MLA Linda Larson. Her secret committee on the national park where nobody was allowed to know who was on the committee was dumb. Her contempt for park proponents with her follow-up statements about “crazy people” was demeaning. No apology made.

WINNERS: Penticton Indian Band. The band will be receiving 10 per cent of host city revenues from the casino for as long as the casino is in Penticton. Yet it’s Penticton residents who will have to deal with the issues that come with the facility (traffic, parking, extra policing, difficulties making a left-hand turn, etc.).

LOSERS: The school board. In their very first meeting as a new board, they gave the superintendent a hefty pay raise at a time when principals and vice-principals had their wages frozen. (The same request was made to the old board during their final meeting.) The pay raise was discussed in camera. Most offensive was that four trustees — Julie Planiden, Barb Sheppard, Ginny Manning and Shelley Clarke have declined comment as to how they voted or why they voted a certain way. Remember those names. Should you forget, don’t worry, I’ll remind everyone during the 2018 campaign. This is not democracy.

WINNERS: The Herald. Joe Fries, by far the best investigative reporter in the region, joined our newsroom full-time in February.

WINNERS: Richard Cannings. Everyone’s favourite bird watcher not only won a riding with a traditional Conservative base (Penticton), he overcame Trudeaumania II plus a last-minute challenge from a Green party candidate, to be elected Member of Parliament for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding.

LOSERS: Marshall Neufeld’s campaign team. Neufeld was certainly winnable at the start of the campaign and had by far the most money behind him. Limiting the number of  appearances at all-candidates forums and then not going to Pen-Hi to speak to the kids was political suicide — at least in this riding where voters are engaged. Whether it was the Tory campaign machine in Ottawa or his local advisors, it was a move which ultimately cost him the election.

WINNERS: Area D (Kaleden/ Okanagan Falls) of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. The RDOS decided to purchase parkland but only did so after taking it to referendum.

LOSERS: Area G (Hedley/Olalla) of the RDOS. How does the board approve an upgrade project to the Hedley Multi-Purpose Sports Facility which includes a $1,900 managing fee to director Elef Christensen plus an additional $755 for his own labour?

WINNERS: Jake Kimberley. The outspoken former mayor has never been as popular since he became an unofficial watchdog of City Council, in particular on the Save Skaha Park issue.

WINNERS: Osoyoos, named the eighth kinkiest city in all of Canada in an online poll.


The year’s top stories: #1 – Community divides over waterslides in Skaha Park

Judging by the flood of angry letters to the editor and continued coverage, there’s no doubt the proposal to lease a portion of Skaha Lake Park to developers to build waterslides was the top news story of the year in Penticton.

Since the summer, The Herald has published a total of 427 letters against, and 31 for, the waterslides, easily topping previous highs set by the layoff of announcer Dennis Walker from Giant FM in 2012, and the installation and subsequent removal of the Frank, the Baggage Handler nude statue in 2005.

In addition, 5,135 Penticton residents and 3,175 non-residents have signed a petition calling for a referendum on the waterslide issue, which landed on the public’s radar at the height of summer.

At a special meeting in July, city council gave preliminary approval to a 29-year deal with Trio Marine Group to hand over a portion of the park for development in exchange for annual lease payments and a cut of revenues.

That triggered a public backlash unlike any seen in Penticton in recent memory, as opponents turned out in droves to multiple rallies to voice their concerns.

Six of eight living former mayors – Dan Ashton and Al Kenyon declined comment – also came out against the project.

“It’s gone right out of control. This is crazy,” one of the former mayors, Garry Litke, said at an August rally outside City Hall.

“It just shows there is a disconnect between the council and the population. There’s no communication going on, council is not listening to the people. And the number of people is only going to get bigger until somebody pays attention.”

Opponents later formed the Save Skaha Park society to take on the city, filing a lawsuit in September that alleged the local government ran afoul of provincial laws in 10 different ways when it inked the long-term lease with Trio, which already had a separate deal in place to upgrade and operate the nearby marina.

Members of the society also in September attracted 1,000 people to a rally at the park where they linked arms around the area proposed for water slides.

“This has exceeded my expectations,” said co-organizer Lisa Martin.

“We were hoping for 400 people and didn’t really know what to expect. It shows momentum hasn’t died. People are passionate about saving their park.”

Supporters held their own rallies, but their numbers paled in comparison when just 100 people showed up for an event in the park on a cold, wet day in November.

“I think it was a pretty decent turnout. I think people coming out in this kind of weather shows that they are passionate about it,” said organizer Miranda Tumbach.

Tom Dias, one of the principals of Trio Marine Group, said it was heartening to see a diverse crowd there that included young families and seniors.

“I think that there is lots of support (for the project) in this town,” said Dias, who noted his company was not involved in organizing the event.

Trio also got votes of support from Tourism Penticton and the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber is not out there saying that this is going to solve all the employment issues in Penticton or going to be the crown jewel that attracts thousands more tourists to the area,” said president Jason Cox, “but it is one more piece of attractive inventory that will be here for visitors and residents to enjoy and make this a more liveable city.”

But in acknowledgement of public concerns, city council has since ordered Trio to complete environmental and archeological assessments requested by the Penticton Indian Band, and also begun work on a new parks master plan.

“It’s time we look ahead, and while we’re moving forward with the Skaha Marina waterslide project, now is the time to initiate a community dialogue about parks,” Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said when he introduced the idea in August.

“I think if nothing else, this last few months has really brought out the passion in people for parks, and the need for us to really look at putting some more clarity around what happens in and around parks and what’s permitted or allowable and, moving forward, how we should view parks.”


Parks committee doesn’t include Save Skaha Park Society

Despite not being represented on Penticton’s new Parks and Recreation Master Plan Steering committee, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said members of the Save Skaha Park Society will have chances for input.

But having one of their members sit on the committee was not in the cards, he explained.

“I would say that if you sue the city, you sort of negate your right to sit on one of their committees,” said Jakubeit. “It makes it sort of an awkward situation.”

Their members, he continued, will have their chance to participate when elements of the parks master plan are brought out to the public for input.

“We are disappointed that they are not willing to hear from a reasoned voice of opposition to the process they have followed and the decision they have made,” said Gerry Karr, one of the organizers of the society.

Since July, the deal to lease part of Skaha Park to Trio Marine to develop a waterslide has been one of the most controversial topics in Penticton, bringing focus to the future of parks in the community, especially through the awareness raising work of the Save Skaha Park Society.

If the new committee is going to make the best use of information and make the best decisions, the society should have been represented, according to Karr.

“We would have thought our point of view, which represents the feelings of over 5,000 citizens, would be something they would be eager to have,” he said. “It is a loss for the people of Penticton not to have the reasoned input of a large group of citizens who feel very strongly about the role of parkland in our city.”

Earlier this month, Penticton City Council announced who was going to be sitting on the committee tasked with developing a new parks master plan for the city. However, the committee doesn’t include any members of the group that arguably was one of the factors in council deciding to set up the committee.

The current committee includes Doug Gorcek, representing School District 67, Kevin Gabriel, representing the Penticton Indian Band, Ezra Cremers and Roland Curnow for organized field sports; Barb Hoolaeff for special events; Adolf Steffen representing developers along with James Palanio, Peter Dooling, Ron Ramsay and Sharon Devlin as general public representatives. Jakubeit and Coun. Judy Sentes will represent the city.

“The parks committee is bigger than the one issue we had this year. It is global or community-wide parks and recreation master plan we are striving for,” said Jakubeit, adding the committee does include people not in favour of the Skaha Park deal.

“If you were to ask them independently what side of the Skaha Park issue they were on, I think you would find it somewhat balanced on that committee,” said Jakubeit. “I know there are some others on that committee who like it as a nature park. I feel that there is strong balance on the committee.”

Karr said there is no conflict of interest including one of their members on the committee.

“It is simply an opportunity to get the best possible input about what kind of parks we need and that is why we were surprised and very disappointed,” said Karr. “I think it is fair to say our credibility is fairly high in the community.”


Letter to city shows Penticton Indian Band deeply concerned about Skaha Park development

JOE FRIES | Penticton Herald

As public opposition built this summer against the city’s decision to lease a portion of Skaha Lake Park for a waterslide development, the Penticton Indian Band complained privately about being left out of the loop.

“After carefully considering all of the information PIB has acquired, we write to inform you that a respectful government to government process has not been followed and therefore we do not approve, consent or in any manner agree to the proposed expanded development,” Chief Jonathan Kruger said in an Aug. 28 letter to city officials.

The letter, obtained by The Herald through a freedom of information request, goes on to explain the need for archeological and environmental impact assessments in consultation with the PIB before any projects in Skaha Park go ahead.

City council cited the PIB’s concerns when it voted Sept. 28 to give developer Trio Marine Group a one-year extension to complete those studies before finalizing its plans for the waterslides and a separate marina expansion.

Both projects have the potential to impact the PIB’s title and rights to the land, and pose cultural and environmental concerns, said Kruger.

“The development site is located within a region that has been identified as having very high PIB archeological potential. This means that any ground disturbance (including pile driving in the lake if required) has a high likelihood to impact PIB cultural heritage resources,” he wrote.

And large marina projects, the chief continued, can “have negative environmental consequences,” so the potential impact on water quality and fish needs to be studied.

“As you are aware, the Penticton Indian Band and Syilx Nation have invested an enormous amount of time, effort and finances to reintroduce Okanagan sockeye into Skaha Lake,” Kruger noted.

The letter goes on to claim a 2004 protocol agreement between the city and band intended to establish a working relationship was ignored when council “voted to proceed with the marina expansion and Skaha Park redevelopment without following due process and directly engaging PIB.”

A second letter, dated Sept. 25, recaps a meeting a week earlier during which the two sides apparently resolved their differences and committed to work together on the assessments.

 “We must point out that the Penticton Indian Band is not opposed to economic development, but as acknowledged, these developments must be carefully considered to ensure that they do not have a substantive impact on cultural heritage or the environment,” Kruger wrote.

“Once further information is acquired regarding the proposed developments, the Penticton Indian band and City of Penticton will be in a better position to determine if modifications to the original plans need to be considered. Once these determinations have been made we can then proceed to further discuss the economic components of these developments.”

In an interview, Kruger declined to elaborate on the reference to “economic components,” but said he’s pleased the band and city are now working together through the assessment processes.

“We’re putting the protocol to work, and I think council is respectfully working with us,” he said.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said in an interview the city was in touch with the band early regarding the planned first phase of development – the expanded marina and new restaurant – originally set to open in 2016, and planned to consult on the second phase – the water park – as the anticipated 2017 groundbreaking drew nearer.

“I think the (Aug. 28) letter was more about ensuring as the process unfolds that they’re part of the mix and any environmental or archeological concerns get addressed,” said Jakubeit.

He noted those concerns were expected to be addressed anyway as Trio sought necessary approvals from the federal and provincial governments.

Trio now has until Oct. 1, 2016, to complete negotiations with the B.C. government on a tenure agreement for the marina, finish the environmental and archeological assessments and present the city with a financial plan for its projects.

It has not announced updated timelines since the one-year extension was granted.


Kelowna Council to spend $12 million for new public beach

A major new waterfront park is on the horizon for Kelowna following the city’s $12-million purchase of 2.9 acres of lakeside land.

A sandy beach, shallow waters and easy access off Lakeshore Road are among the top attractions of the newly purchased property, located in the Lower Mission immediately south of the existing Bluebird Road beach access.

“With our city growing, our beaches and our waterfront becoming busier and busier all the time, this was an absolutely incredible opportunity that we just couldn’t refuse,” Mayor Colin Basran said Wednesday.

“I think it speaks for itself in terms of where it’s located, the amazing beach that it provides and the recreational opportunities and potential amenity space,” he said. “It’s going to be a legacy for our community for a really long time.”

But it could be several years before the beach opens to the public, as funding for its development will be considered within the context of an infrastructure plan that stretches out to 2030.

“It’ll be up to staff and council, and of course the budget, as to when this park may be developed,” Basran said. There are three old rental homes on the property that will eventually be demolished.

The 2.9-acre acquisition complements existing city-owned waterfront properties in the area. In total, the new park will be 3.6 acres with just over 700 feet of beachfront.

Acquisition of the site was hailed by city officials as a coup for the public as the land was up for sale to anyone and might have been purchased by developers.

“This wasn’t something where the vendors came to the city and said ‘we’d like you to buy it,’” Basran said. “This was an open bid process … Instead of it having a park and amenities in the future, this could have become a condo building with no access for the public to the lake.”

The asking price was $12.5 million, so the city got it at a somewhat reduced rate. “I’m proud of our staff because they got it under asking price,” said Basran, a former realtor.

Funding for the purchase came from the city’s land reserve and a fund built up by fees paid be developers, so there is no direct impact on taxation.

Annual city surveys show more access to the waterfront is one of the public’s highest priorities. In 2009, the city spent $5.6 million to buy a 3,500-square-metre property to expand Rotary park. The cost was equivalent to $1,600 per square metre.

Although the total dollar value of the latest acquisition of waterfront land is double the 2009 purchase, the cost per square metre is actually less, at $1,022.

The difference is accounted for mainly by the fact there was a significant home on the site of the 2009 purchase, which increased the price, whereas the latest purchase has only three older homes with virtually no value.

If the property had had a modern home, the asking price would likely have been too great for the City of Kelowna to consider, Basran said.


City close to filing park legal response

The legal challenge filed by the Save Skaha Park Society is still in the works, but progress is slow as they await a response from the City of Penticton.

According to the society, the city and Trio Marine Group have not responded to the Notice of Civil Claim the society filed on Sept. 25 in B.C. Supreme Court. Under normal processes, defendants are given three weeks to file a response.

According to a release issued by the society this week, their lawyer said Trio’s lack of response is not a concern.

“He stresses that what is important is that Trio has been given an opportunity to participate; whether they do so or not is of no material concern to SSPS,” reads the release.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said they were granted an extension and are close to being ready to file their response.

“There were several unsubstantiated allegations or assertions made in those claims, and several bullets to those claims, that staff and legal counsel needed time to respond to or refute,” said Jakubeit.

According to the Save Skaha Park release, the city’s legal counsel has been in communication with their lawyer and the society is not objecting to the extension.

“A delayed response by the defendants will not negatively impact the strength of our case, nor will it add to our costs,” reads the release, adding that the society’s advisory group continues research to identify additional evidence to support their claim.


Editor’s Notebook

I recently attended a luncheon presented by the City of Penticton’s economic development office about virtual workers, people who move to Penticton then work out of their home or in communal space at Cowork Penticton.

It was like group therapy where about 10 individuals shared personal stories of what brought them to Penticton.

Every person at the meeting praised what Penticton has to offer ranging from cycling trails to hikes to beaches to wineries to excellent mountain biking to Skaha Bluffs to our great selection of bars and restaurants.  The mothers in the room raved about the wide range of activities available to children ranging from our minor hockey system to everything that’s going on at the community center.

Yet the City of Penticton is hell-bent of bringing in waterslides… because the tourists and local kids need something to do.

I’m really confused now.

 

James Miller

Penticton Herald

 

 


Kids comment on waterslide issue

It seems just about everyone is talking about the Skaha Lake Park waterslide I spoke recently with a Grade 8 class at a nameless Penticton school. I never turn down speaking engagements and mine are far from the norm because I prefer to introduce myself and then open the floor to questions. Eight times out of 10 it ends up being reasonably successful, the other two times a dud.

All of the questions were extremely well-thought out but one especially caught my attention late in the session.

“What do you think the end result of the Skaha waterslide is going to be?” a male pupil, age 12 or 13, asked.

I answered him as best I could.

I then asked the teacher’s permission to do a straw poll on how the young people feel about the issue, telling them they were welcome to abstain if they either didn’t have an opinion or didn’t want to share it.

Of the 13 kids who offered an opinion, nine were against and four were in favour. Of those four in favour, one admitted he’d go, but said he feels it’s not the right location.

Isn’t the target audience of the waterslide park teenagers?

 

JAMES MILLER

 


Council should not have gone head-to-head with Election Night

JAMES MILLER

At the time of this writing the final result of the federal election was unknown, as was the end result of last night’s Penticton City Council meeting. (See coverage in Wednesday’s Herald or online later today.)

We were somewhat taken aback that three months ago, when the writ was dropped and Canada’s longest election campaign in recent history began, that someone at City Hall didn’t say, “Oct. 19 — hey, that’s the night of the election,” and reschedule the meeting.

Council drastically altered its September schedule for the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention (can’t miss that) but not for one of the closest elections in modern history.

A letter sent from The Herald’s newsroom suggesting the meeting be postponed 24 hours was unanswered.

While it may appear self-serving to try to influence a meeting date that’s incovenient for local media, it’s also contradictory for council to force the same citizens they’ve urged to get and out and vote to decide between local and federal politics.

Municipal politicians want citizens to be involved in the process, provided they agree with the mandate.

Most citizens who attend a Penticton City Council meeting are interested in the democratic process. These same people likely skipped last night’s meeting because they were home watching the election results on TV, or, more likely, helping with one of the local candidates.

While the City does a good job at posting meetings online, it’s not guaranteed. Video for a public hearing on a hotel at 325 Power Street was never properly recorded and now remains just a memory. Being there in person is the only guarantee. With cameras, you’re also at the mercy of the editing as to seeing everyone’s reaction.

It would seem OK if Monday was a quick, 45-minute meeting with nothing compelling on the agenda. That wasn’t the case. There were several contentious issues on the agenda.

How many people were affected by this?

Likely no more than 15 — but that’s not the point. One form of democratically elected government shouldn’t be going head-to-head with another.