Hundreds of people jammed the street outside Penticton City Hall on Monday at twin rallies for and against water slides in Skaha Lake Park, an issue the mayor said council will now “revisit” later this week.
Besides a few shouting matches in the crowd and the groups occasionally trying to sing or chant over one another, the rallies were peaceful.
Penticton RCMP spokesman Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth, who watched from the sidelines with another uniformed officer, estimated the crowd at upwards of 600 people.
Just a handful of them actually addressed the rallies, including former Penticton mayor Jake Kimberley, who spoke on behalf of the No side, which is calling on city council to hold a binding referendum to let residents decide if Trio Marine Group should be allowed to go ahead with its water park.
“I’m not opposed to development – I think my record will show that. But I am opposed to what has taken eight councils over the years to create, and that is Skaha Park,” said Kimberley, who went on to explain the legislative process required to scuttle the deal with Trio.
“You’re not the mayor anymore,” one woman shouted.
“I’m not the mayor anymore, thank you very much, but I do know the legislation,” Kimberley replied. “I worked for 12 years with the legislation I’m going to refer to.”
He estimated it would cost $30,000 to hold a referendum that “would let the people decide (so) we would not have a divided community over this issue.”
Nobody from the Yes side spoke, although the group, which turned out to support council and its decision to cut a deal with Trio, appeared equal in number and volume to the No supporters.
“I want to see Penticton thriving again. I’m 24 years old and I want to be able to start a family here. All of my friends have left for Alberta. They’ve all left the Broke-anagan because there’s nothing here,” said Cory Nelmes, who was among those carrying signs and balloons in support of the water slides.
“This entire community is going to disappear if every time there’s a change – it doesn’t matter whether the change is positive or negative – people are going to push against it,” she said. “It’s just wrong.”
On the No side, Gwen Sander said she was sticking up for the public good.
“I want to save our park. I don’t believe there should be a commercial development on public land. It’s a beautiful park and it’s for everybody right now and it’s free,” she said.
“And I think if we put a water slide there, it will take away from that.”
Despite calls to address the crowd, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit and his council mates stayed on the periphery and spoke to some demonstrators and the media.
“It was a big turnout. We didn’t know what was going to happen, that’s why we came out to see what was happening,” said Jakubeit, who promised council would discuss public sentiment before deciding whether or not to reopen debate on the water slides.
“There’s a lot of emotions flying high right now, that’s fair to say, and, again, we’ll take some time to absorb what’s happening and figure out how we want to proceed,” he said.
Jakubeit wouldn’t commit to a timeframe or a referendum, but said council would “let the dust settle for a day or two and then revisit this.”
Both rallies got underway at 5 p.m. and broke up about 45 minutes later, when some of the demonstrators moved inside City Hall, where council was due to meet at 6 p.m.
Protesters sang This Land Is Your Land as the politicians walked in to council chambers and then began heckling the mayor after he told them there would be no discussion of Skaha Lake Park because the matter wasn’t on the agenda.
When the crowd refused to quiet down, Jakubeit called a recess. Cpl. Wrigglesworth arrived later and asked the group to let council get on with its business, and the meeting resumed at 25 minutes later after most of the demonstrators left.
Trio Marine Group, which didn’t have a visible presence at the rallies, expects to have the water slides in operation by 2017. That will require relocating the existing children’s splash park at the company’s expense and result in the loss of some green space.
In the meantime, Trio also plans to upgrade the Skaha Lake Marina with new boat slips, a restaurant and other amenities.
Its deal with the city guarantees taxpayers a cut of its revenue, which council has committed to using to fund the purchase of park land elsewhere.