City hall rally fails to sway mayor and council

Andrew Jakubeit won’t be using his mayor’s privilege to put the Skaha Marina development project back on Penticton city council’s agenda for reconsideration.

Jakubeit’s decision comes after a rally that drew hundreds of people to city hall steps on July 20 to oppose, or show their support, for a deal leasing a portion of Skaha Lake park to Trio Marine Group, who plan to build a water slide complex and restaurant as well as expand the marina.

Council gave their approval to the project on June 29 at a special meeting, and Jakubeit said council remains committed to the deal.

“I did canvass council today, just to see if there was any interest in revisiting the Skaha water park initiative. Council was united in their support to move forward with the Trio Marine Group.”

Jakubeit admits his decision is unlikely to sit well with opponents of a deal, who were in the majority at the rally, though there were a significant number supporting Trio Marine’s development plans. The mayor said the majority of feedback he has gotten, through email, is in support.

“We have to make some tough decisions and no matter what decision we make, someone is going to be unhappy,” said Jakubeit. “It’s not just who shows up at the front door, who has the biggest signs or who screamed the loudest that gets council’s ear. We have to look at what the benefit is to the entire community.”

Jakubeit also noted that he hasn’t yet signed, on behalf of the city, the deal with Trio Marine.

“It hasn’t come back to the city, but it is in process,” he said.

Former mayor Jake Kimberly was a key speaker at the rally, informing the crowd not only of the mayor’s ability to return a decision to council for reconsideration, but also of a clause in the municipal charter requiring a referendum for disposition of public park land.

Disposition, in this case, means selling, Kimberly said it had to be considered whether that applied to the 30-year lease granted to Trio Marine.

“I personally believe it is, because the public will no longer have the absolute use of that land. The water park development will take that away for the next 30 years,” said Kimberly. “Access that visitors and residents have had for over 30 years will be gone.

“A $30,000 referendum would let the people decide and we would not have a divided community.”

Others, like Hilma LaBelle, said the Skaha Park deal was a part of a bigger picture. She was distributing signs protesting any move to develop city-owned lands near Munson Mountain.

“It’s been a movement towards disrespecting any kind of green spaces. I think we really need to stand up against that,” said LaBelle. “There is an agenda to turn our parks into income for the city and that is not what they are there for. They are there for the public.”

Garry Hooleaff came to the rally to show his support for the Trio Marine deal.

“I feel that it would be good to enhance that side of Skaha, and it is going to do a lot of good for Penticton,” said Hooleaff. “Everyone has their voice. There is a lot of things the city does that I am not for, but they have to do their job.”

Leanne Lamoureux was part of a group distributing blue balloons to people supporting the project. She said her friends were concerned about the misinformation being spread about the development project.

“We just want people to go on the development site and actually read through everything. Read through it all and then have an opinion,” said Lamoureux.

After rallying outside for 45 minutes, many of the crowd took seats in council chambers and an overflow room. As council took their own seats, protestors treated them to a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land.

The mood darkened when Jakubeit informed the crowd the project would not be discussed. That was met with cries of protest from the audience followed by Jakubeit banging his gavel telling the audience to “listen up.”

“We saw what happened out there. If this meeting continues to be disrupted, then we can’t have our meeting and will adjourn,” said Jakubeit. “This council is not going to make a decision based on emotion. Let’s take a day, take a breather, and decide what we are going to do.”

The audience began shouting demands to know when council would discuss the issue, prompting Jakubeit to recess the meeting. Protesters stayed, with the faction opposing the leasing of park land milling about council chambers until RCMP Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth entered and asked them to clear the gallery.

As council reconvened at 6:30 p.m., Wrigglesworth stayed on scene, informing remaining protesters that if anyone disturbed the peace, he would escort them from city hall.

Jakubeit said it was disappointing that the gallery got unruly.

“We certainly took notice of citizens wanting to engage. I think we were a little disheartened that passion from some took a turn for the worse and it impacted our formal procedures,” said Jakubeit. “I think last night democracy took a back seat.”

Though he is firm in his decision not to put the Skaha Park deal up for reconsideration, Jakubeit said a better job could have been done getting information out to the public.

“We also have a community that has a propensity to oppose change. Some people just can’t picture what it is going to look like,” said Jakubeit. “A bit longer community engagement, I think that would have helped. Communication is always the biggest issue.”