Save Skaha Park group retains lawyer

Rather than fading away, opponents of leasing out part of Skaha Lake Park are getting more organized as time goes on.

According to Lisa Martin of Save Skaha Park, the group has now retained a lawyer specializing in municipal law to examine whether there is a case to be made over the city’s actions in leasing the eastern end of the park to Trio Marine Group.

“What he is doing is examining all the information we have taken to him. We will know basically where we go within the next month or so,” said Martin, who also said the lawyer had asked them not to speak about any details.

One aspect of the case the lawyer is sure to be looking into is former mayor Jake Kimberley’s allegation that the 29-year lease agreement with Trio Marine was equivalent to selling the land, and so, should have triggered a referendum.

“The public will no longer have the absolute use of the land,” said Kimberly, adding that the development will take away access that visitors and residents have had for over 30 years.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said the city retains ownership of the parkland, community assent is not required. They have also, he added, gotten legal advice.

“We had two legal representations,” said Jakubeit, at the Aug. 17 regular council meeting.

The lawyer is being paid for out of a donations account set up by the Save Skaha Park group at the end of August. Martin wouldn’t say how much they have collected so far.

“I can’t tell you the amount. It is both humbling and heartening. The range of donations we’ve had has been everywhere from $10 up to over $1,000,” said Martin. “Every day that account is growing. That and the petitions are the most tangible evidence we have  of the support we have in the city and its increasing.”

Martin said the petition now includes signatures from 4,000 local residents and over 1,600 non-residents. Save Skaha Park has also set up a weekend event for people to come and enjoy the park.

“It’s not going to be a political event,” said Martin. “We have some great local entertainers lined up and we have a comic coming in from Vancouver, who is going to be emceeing it.

“We want it to be a fun and upbeat afternoon, just an afternoon of music under the trees and celebrate Skaha Park.”

Four sets of musicians are performing at the event, including Destiny, a local husband and wife team of musicians, Allan “Dr. Eclectic” Markin, Gord McLaren and Nola York, who hails from London. Comedian Brett Martin will be the emcee.

“Nobody has charged anything, everybody is donating their time,” said Martin. “And of course, there is no admission to this. We are asking people to bring a chair or bring a blanket and just sit down  and enjoy a couple of hours of entertainment.”

The event will take place on Sept. 6 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Rotary Centennial Pavilion. More information about the group’s efforts can be found on Facebook at Save-Skaha-Park. The City of Penticton has set up an FAQ about the Trio Marine project at http://tinyurl.com/skahaparkfaq.


Boycotting business not the way to go

EDITORIAL

Boycotts can be an effective tool for groups to force recalcitrant businesses and governments to get with the program, but a boycott suggested by some in the Save Skaha Park camp is the wrong way to go.

Since June 29, when Penticton city council gave the green light to leasing a section of Skaha Lake Park to Trio Marine Group so they could build a waterside complex on it, along with a restaurant and upgrades to Skaha Marina, the community has been divided, with a large group opposing the deal.

No doubt city hall hoped the controversy would die down after council refused to back away from their decision and went ahead with signing the contract. But opponents of the plan also refused to go away. They’ve continued collecting signatures on their petitions and are now moving toward legal action, with donations to pay the fees.

But some are also calling for a boycott of any businesses associated with or supporting the development, prompted in part by the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce’s support for Trio Marine’s plans.

It would be hard to come up with a worse plan. Such a boycott would accomplish nothing except to divide the community further — quite an accomplishment, considering how deep the rift in community already is over the park land lease.

Boycotts have been effective tools to show a company or government the error of its ways. The 1955 Montgomery Bus boycott is a good example, and an important event in the early civil rights movements.

But the issue in this case is not about a deep societal problem like racism — it is, at its root, just a difference of opinion, and Penticton has suffered enough damage from the division.

Boycott is defined as a “punitive ban.” Are you really looking to punish friends and neighbours who run businesses for disagreeing with you?


Save Skaha Park to present show Sunday afternoon

55e671fc72425.imageSave Skaha Park is presenting a musical event Sunday at the Skaha Park pavilion from 2 to 4 p.m.

Music director Carolae Donoghue said the event will include a performance by Nola York from London, England, who will do a handful of Beatles and Elton John covers. Also on the program is folk/rock singer Gord McLaren, blues artist Allan (Dr. Electric) Markin and Destiny, the Dance Band. Brett Martin will serve as MC.

The event is free, but donations will be accepted. People are asked to bring a blanket or lawn chair. T-shirts are on sale for $20 with the majority of proceeds going to the committee.

Save Skaha Park is a newly formed organization that objects to a proposed waterslide at the park.

“The artists are donating their time pro bono, and if we collect any money, fine, but the most important thing is that everyone enjoy themselves,” Donoghue said. “If the weather holds, it will be a great afternoon.”

Meanwhile, spokesperson Lisa Martin announced Tuesday the committee has obtained legal counsel from a Vancouver firm that specializes in municipal law.

“In the interim, we will continue to demonstrate our opposition to this project in every possible legal way to put pressure on city council to stop this travesty,” Martin said.

Martin said the group’s petition, which began in July, now has more than 4,000 residents’ names plus an additional 1,600 non-residents calling for a referendum on a 29-year lease for a large portion of the park.

“While we are dismayed that residents of this city are having to use their own money for this legal battle, it is both humbling and heartening that so many people are supportive in the fight against commercializing our beloved park,” Martin said. “Legal counsel does not come cheap, so we encourage everyone who abhors this plan to contribute according to their means.”


City says Trio Marine deal not a secret

A non-disclosure agreement signed with the City of Penticton may have been at the root of Trio Marine Group’s refusal to be forthcoming about their plans for Skaha Park.

In a November interview with the Western News, Trio Marine spokesman Rob Campbell said their silence came at the request of the city.

We had to sign an agreement with the city and they just want to make sure that when this rolls out it is done the right way, with the least amount of backlash,” said Campbell, who also noted that Trio had hoped to go to the public after news broke of their obtaining the marina lease, accompanied by rumours of a waterslide or hotel project.

We were planning to be able to go to the public, have public meetings and open houses. But it was purely a timing thing,” said Campbell. “It has created all sorts of speculation and rumours, which was unfortunate, but we didn’t have any choice.”

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said he didn’t remember any such agreement coming before council.

I am pretty sure I don’t remember that element of Skaha Marina park development proposals ever being discussed. We didn’t formally have a strategy how this was going to roll out,” said Jakubeit. Such an agreement, he added would have had to be requested by council.

If staff inferred or put that as one of the conditions, it really should have come from direction from council,” said Jakubeit, who spoke with director of operations Mitch Moroziuk to confirm no “gag order” had been signed.

To his knowledge, he doesn’t remember anything about not engaging the media,” said Jakubeit. “Staff did give us a heads up when this first started, saying they are planning on doing something on park land. It’s park land, so some people might have issue with that.”

The city has been negotiating with Trio Marine since Nov. 2013, when they were selected from four responses to the city’s May 2013 expression of interest request.

Documents attached to that request note “special consideration may be given to (proposals that include) intensive redevelopment of the site as a restaurant/hotel complex.”

According to a written statement from Roger Hulstein, Trio’s marketing co-ordinator, the company signed a non-disclosure agreement with the city during the request for proposal process.

The document said we would work with City of Penticton and develop a plan for Skaha Lake Marina as well as the surrounding area. The NDA was in effect until there was factual information on the project and all details of the proposal were completed,” wrote Hulstein. “We agreed we would not inform the public of speculative information until all the agreements were in place.”

Hulstein wrote that once all of the legal, accounting and initial design work were completed, they started the public engagement process in May.

Jakubeit said that was where the city could have done a better job.

We should have been more diligent with providing, or demanding, a more robust engagement plan, maybe 60 days instead of 30,” said Jakubeit. “We are looking into strategies for public engagement and how that should roll out. What mediums can we use to engage a broad cross-section of the community.”

Jakubeit said that council and staff are working to build a better team atmosphere and ensure more clarity of communication.

It is not council’s job to micromanage what staff does,” said Jakubeit. “What they do full time is looking after the best interests of the community and the city and the corporation of the city. But at the end of the day, they take direction from council.

It is very easy to sort of take liberties from time to time. The more we can ensure council is being engaged with management and the running of the city, I think the better outcome for all of us.”


Lakeside manager offers comment on Skaha waterslide

Herald file photo
David Prystay
in a 2014 file photo.

Penticton Lakeside Resort general manager David Prystay has become the latest resident to offer his opinion on the waterslide development for Skaha Lake Park.

He believes a water park would be better suited for property at the Penticton Golf and Country Club which the city leases to the club’s members. The course, he says, could be reduced by six holes.

“I think the golf club could be reduced to 12 holes as many leading experts in the field such as Jack Nicklaus are recommending. Have 12 holes for recreational golfers, keep 18 holes for the pros,” Prystay said in an interview with The Herald.

“The City could allocate six acres on the property for the use of a waterslide and build a hotel and casino… an entire complex. I think Trio would jump at that opportunity.”

Prystay believes the location near the north side of the golf course would be ideally located as it would be across the street from the Ramada Inn and a five-minute walk to Loco Landing, the skateboard park, S.S. Sicamous, bike rentals and Coyotes Cruises. It’s also directly across the street from the South Okanagan Events Centre.

“Imagine, an entertainment district right at the heart of the north entrance to Penticton,” he said.

 


Penticton and Wine Country Chamber wants divisions ‘healed’

The author of an inflammatory email sent to a waterslide protester says he wishes he had thought it over before hitting send.

“I definitely regret what I said in it because it wasn’t fair,” said Chris Marte, a local realtor and a director with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce.

Marte was responding to a letter sent to all the chamber directors from a citizen voicing his concerns about the chamber’s support for Trio Marine Group’s project to build a waterslide in Skaha Lake Park, along with a restaurant and upgrades to the existing marina.

In the letter, Marte commented on his own status as a young father “in what feels to be a town of suppressive residents against change,” and suggested opponents of the project “don’t really know the wants and needs of Penticton.”

Chamber president Jason Cox said Marte’s email didn’t represent the opinion of the chamber.

“That was one director speaking from his own opinion and out of turn actually,” said Cox. “I addressed it with him and reminded the board that only the president and the executive director speak on behalf of the organization, even when you are approached individually.”

“I understand the desire to respond back from your own individual point of view, but this is the kind of fallout that can come from that.”

Marte has since sent an apology to Larry French, the author of the original email. He said he should have considered French’s position before responding in the heat of the moment.

“It was one of those ones where you should have thought about why they were saying it. They care. That is what it ultimately comes down to, is everybody cares so strongly about it,” said Marte. “Everybody has their own opinions on it, and they are entitled to them. They should voice it if they feel strongly. That  is what he was doing when he wrote that email.”

Cox spoke strongly in support of the project during the question period of the Aug. 17 council meeting, reaffirming the chamber’s support for council’s decision.

“The deal is signed, the project is proceeding,” Cox said. “Even though I don’t want to fuel the conversation further, I didn’t want council to walk away from that meeting feeling like they had been shamed, and the whole community is against them.”

Cox said the Save Skaha Park supporters may misunderstand the chamber’s position.

“No one is suggesting this is going to be the solution to all of the economic or tourism needs of the community,” he said. “We  are just saying it is one more piece of inventory in the community that will make this a more livable city and a more attractive place to visit.”

Cox also said the chamber would like to see the divisions in the community healed.

“That is something the Chamber believes is a priority,” said Cox, adding that he had met with two potential investors wanting to do projects in Penticton, but were concerned they would meet opposition.

“We’ve had differences of opinions about developments, including a prison that didn’t raise this kind of backlash,” said Cox.

For their part, the Save Skaha Park group says they are not giving up the fight. With more than 3,400 signatures on their petition, the group has moved on to considering legal options, and have set up a community organization account with Valley First Credit Union to collect funds.

“What we are doing is asking for funds from the community because we have had a tremendous amount of support and interest. The fund is being set aside to seek a legal opinion to see if there is an issue we can take forward,” said Lisa Martin, one of the organizers.

The Valley First account is under the name Save Skaha Park, account # 2765832.

“Our mantra is ‘it’s not over.’ We are getting increasing support,” said Martin, adding that they are still collecting signatures in Skaha Park, daily from 5 to 8 p.m. at the splash pad area.


Now that Trio deal is done, Penticton mayor wants to draw up new parks plan

55d3cd99bf929.image

Future home of water slides?

In response to concerns about the city’s deal with Trio Marine Group to develop water slides in Skaha Lake Park, Penticton’s mayor is hoping to revive a parks master plan to provide guidance on future projects.

“It’s time we look ahead, and while we’re moving forward with the Skaha Marina water slide project, now is the time to initiate a community dialogue about parks,” Andrew Jakubeit said at Monday’s council meeting after filing a notice of motion to discuss the plan fully at the next session Sept. 8.

The need for such a master plan was made clear by months of loud public opposition to planned development within Skaha Lake Park, he continued.

“I think if nothing else, this last few months has really bought 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,” Jakubeit explained.

He said the last parks master plan was completed in 1993 and revisited again about 10 years ago, but it “sort of just stayed in limbo” after the city staffer responsible for it was laid off.

If council agrees to restart work on the plan, the mayor hopes to appoint a committee drawn from the public to run a “transparent and respectful process” that’s built “on a solid foundation of broad-based community consultation.”

During question period, Jakubeit said it’s unlikely the new plan will derail the city’s deal with Trio, since whatever proposal the committee comes up with has to be acceptable to council.

Coun. Helena Konanz added that it would be problematic if the committee recommended against commercial activities in all parks.

“That would be major. Not just talking about Trio and what’s happening there, we’re talking about what’s happening all over the city,” she said.


Penticton community still divided

Prior to the Aug. 17 council meeting, Hannah Hyland and Doug Maxwell prepared to gther more signatures on petitions opposing the leasing of land in Skaha Lake Park and asking for a recall of Penticton City Council.

Prior to the Aug. 17 council meeting, Hannah Hyland and Doug Maxwell prepared to gther more signatures on petitions opposing the leasing of land in Skaha Lake Park and asking for a recall of Penticton City Council.

After hearing from petitioners opposed to leasing a portion of Skaha Lake Park, Penticton’s Mayor Jakubeit held out an olive branch.

Near the end of the Aug. 17 council meeting, Jakubeit introduced a notice of motion, that he plans to call for a new parks master plan at council’s next regular meeting on Sept. 8.

“While we are moving forward with the Skaha Marina waterslide project, now is the time to initiate a community dialogue about parks,” said Jakubeit. Based on that dialogue, he continued, a new parks master plan would be developed to outline community needs and desires, appropriate uses and potential parkland acquisition.

Jakubeit said the document would take over a year to develop, including putting together a parks master plan select committee and doing extensive community consultation. The result, he said, would provide more clarity for future council decisions.

The last parks master plan was developed in 1993, but was never adopted as part of the Official Community Plan. Jakubeit wouldn’t guarantee the same thing might not happen to this plan.

“There are a lot of variables. Through community consultation we will get to something that is palatable for the vast majority of the community and this council, I think, would be happy to endorse and that staff would create our policies around that,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, council heard from a delegation opposed to leasing of a portion of Skaha Lake park to Trio Marine group, who are planning to develop the existing marina, and build a waterslide complex in what is presently greenspace.

The seven councillors listened without comment or question as the delegation castigated them for their handling of the proposal.

Dr. Gerry Carr, a health activist who helped found the Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Coalition, spoke about how parks and green spaces contributed to community health, pointing out that Penticton is well above provincial averages when it comes to diabetes, depression and anxiety. The remedy, he explained, is not drugs and doctors, but the promotion of a healthy lifestyle.

“Natural, green parkspace is a powerful tool for the promotion of mental health,” he said. “When you chose to turn Skaha Lake Park into an amusement park, you got it all wrong from a health perspective. This park is the perfect model of a natural park. It doesn’t need enhancement.”

Karr’s comments that the process followed by council in approving the project was an embarrassment to the city was echoed by former Mayor Jake Kimberley, who questioned the process in detail in his remarks.

“Parkland should be free to everyone who lives in this community and pays taxes,” said Kimberly. “This decision is going to haunt the rest of you for the rest of your term. I have never seen a division in this community like I have seen in these last few weeks.”

The third member of the delegation, Carolae Donoghue, presented council with petitions representing close to 4,000 signatures.

“Each day we gather more,” she said. “This public park will not be public. We will never see it again as it stands today.”

The delegation, however, was very nearly not on the agenda, and was only added at the last minute after the delegation with Jakubeit privately earlier in the day.

“Last week, their application was very vague, it was just ‘we want to talk about Skaha Park, democracy, process and park usage,’” said Jakubeit. He explained that since the agreement with Trio has been signed, there wasn’t reason to keep discussing Skaha Lake Park.

He had hoped the delegation would focus more on moving forward and what they wanted council to do in the future with greenspaces and parks.

“I thought 80 per cent of the conversation would be about moving forward and 20 per cent would be rehashing their points of view from before,” said Jakubeit.

Jason Cox, president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, came forward during the question period at the end of the meeting to voice his support for council, that there was a segment of population in support of the project in Skaha Lake Park.


Walking down a dangerous path

EDITORIAL

One of the easiest, and probably most common, ways to dismiss an argument you don’t agree with is to say the other person “doesn’t understand.”

It’s an argument that Penticton city hall has been using for a while to dismiss the concerns being brought forward by those opposed to leasing public land in Skaha Lake Park to a private company.

The fallacy to this line of reasoning, of course, is that your opponent might understand quite well, and maybe even understands more than you. For it to be otherwise in all cases, you would need godlike omniscience, which doesn’t usually come with being elected to public office. At least, the last time we checked, our city councillors were as human and fallible as the rest of us.

Granted, there has been some misinformation spread about Trio Marine’s proposal for Skaha Lake Park. Some of it may have even been spread willfully to create more opposition.

But the opponent’s core argument, that they don’t want to lose green spaces to a private interest, is not one that could or should have been dismissed.

But it was, and since the contract with Trio Marine has been signed, the debate is really over. Mayor Andrew Jakubeit and other councillors have acknowledged that public consultation was not well done on this proposal, so we can hope that they will ensure future proposals go to the public before, not after, council makes up its collective mind.

City council has walked down a dangerous path by categorically dismissing the concerns brought to them about the marina/waterslide project. Let’s hope they have learned something from this debacle and will be less willing, in future debates, to rush to a position they can’t back down from.


Chamber boss gives Penticton council a pep talks

55bac9a04ae8c.image

Chamber president Jason Cox

City councillors received a pep talk Monday from the head of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce.

President Jason Cox stuck around until the public comment portion of a three-hour council meeting and offered a counterbalance to criticisms levelled earlier by a three-person delegation opposed to water slides in Skaha Lake Park.

“I think enhancing public park land is what we’re talking about,” said Cox.

“Know that that park will be used much more, regardless of how they may try to shame you or threaten exploding gas lines that will blow up parks and presumably water-sliding children at the same time,” he continued, referencing an earlier comment by ex-mayor Jake Kimberley about a sensitive gas line under the park.

“Don’t be dissuaded, carry on forward, and thank you for your leadership in this.”

Cox also noted the six former mayors who have spoken out publicly against the city’s deal with Trio Marine Group all likely signed or renewed leases of some type on park lands during their terms in office.

He allowed that the uproar against giving up part of Skaha Park for water slides “has shown a real passion for parks in the community, but blades of grass and trees are not always the only use of parks.”

“We have many examples in the community of public parks space that’s been leased long term for private enterprise,” Cox said.

Later in question period, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said the criticism from his predecessors in office didn’t bother him.

“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” said Jakubeit. “Council went through a process, and we’re moving forward with our process.”

Tourism Penticton has also publicly supported the city’s deal with Trio Marine Group.