Letter: City planning decisions lack public input

To the editor:

Meaningful public consultation starts from the bottom up where residents and taxpayers are invited to shape the scope and framework for public policies and projects during all planning stages — not after planning is completed.

In Kelowna, planning is a top-down process where city staff and council confer only with select private and senior government sector stakeholders and ignore very real concerns of residents about neighbourhood impacts and taxation issues.

Real public involvement involves residents and taxpayers at all stages of planning.

Here, the public is not involved until long after project scope and options have been selected and massaged by city hall planning, policy and communications staff to ensure a desired outcome for select stakeholders.

Kelowna’s public surveys at open houses and on city web sites are not meaningful. Survey questions and results are highly manipulated to direct public comment in a direction and format that guarantees support.

Survey results are rarely tested statistically for their accuracy and reliability.

Ignoring public concerns results in bad public policy and projects that create social, economic and environmental impacts on the community.

Three examples of this fallout include city decisions on supportive housing, short-term rental regulations and waterfront development.

The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce wants the homeless moved from downtown to protect tourist businesses.

The province offered a big bag of money to fund supportive housing and the city approved land uses to enable this social shift.

Ignored were over 14,000 residents concerned about neighbourhood public safety.

Short-term rentals impact far more residents than they benefit.

Private landlords benefit but all residents suffer from increased land, tax and rental costs.

Importantly, short-term rentals reduce the supply of long-term rental housing as landlords convert to more profitable short-term use.

A 2016 CORD study showed that 600 meters of Kelowna’s critical lakeshore aquatic habitat was lost over a 10-year period.

Despite public policies that protect this habitat, council approved waterfront projects that impact Crown land, fish habitat and drinking water quality without any public consultation.

These projects were planned from the top down – not from the ground up.

Kelowna residents and taxpayers had no say at the stakeholder’s planning table. Their only entry was at open houses or public hearings where their concerns were subsequently ignored. It may take longer, but meaningful public consultation works.

It creates better outcomes, streamlines planning, identifies critical issues, saves money and protects taxpayers and neighbourhoods from long-term surprises.

Richard Drinnan

Kelowna

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