In the last election question posed to candidates running for council in Kelowna, we ask about issues they would like to have seen dealt with differently over the last four years. For the full response go online.
Question: Looking back over the last four years, what do you feel city council should have done, or done differently, and what will you do to have that issue addressed if you are elected?
Candidates for mayor:
In my humble opinion, looking back does not help with what we need to do today or how we must plan for the future. It is important to learn from our experiences and carry these learnings forward to make better decisions but we cannot turn back the clock. It’s best to focus on our needs today while planning for tomorrow. In this election, I’ve focused on running my campaign looking at what we can do right now to make Kelowna the best it can be. I’ve taken what I’ve learned through my experiences over the past seven years sitting on council and serving as mayor to create a positive, forward-thinking vision for Kelowna. Regrettably, I’ve noticed that there are some candidates that are stuck dwelling on the past and fixated on complaining about what we have or have not yet done. That’s fine, hindsight is 20/20 but you must be able to come to the table with concrete, realistic, researched, plans that can be acted on in a fiscally responsible way. I’m excited about what council and I have accomplished over the past four years and even more excited about what we can accomplish together as we continue building a progressive, inclusive Kelowna for all residents.
This is what we have received for our hard-earned dollars over the last four years:
• Excessive tax increases (16 per cent over four years)
• Fourth highest crime rate in all of Canada
• 100 per cent increase in homelessness
• Broken promises to residents of Rutland, Glenmore and the Mission
• Broken promises to downtown business owners and the Water Boards
• Excessive development without building the infrastructure to support it
• Transportation bottlenecks almost everywhere
• Increasingly more unaffordable housing.
The current mayor and council over the last four years have repeatedly ignored the concerns and wishes of the public on major expenditures and developments. Compounding that is the allowing of plan specification changes after development approval, again contrary to residents wishes and concerns. If elected, I would maintain an open door/approachable policy to the general public and respect the wishes and concerns of our residents and businesses first. Many people have advised me they agree the city is growing too fast. The coming out last Friday, of the UDI video showing the proposed future dramatic change to our downtown skyline, is once again another example of mayor and council pressing ahead against community wishes. So many of us have moved here in recent times, others having lived here most of or all of their lives. All of us recognizing the paradise lost with the proposed high (densification) of the downtown and waterfront, into a concrete jungle of highrises. Why are we rushing to become another big city — coming with all the big city problems and costs? I am not against development, but it has to be moderate, smart, cost effective and in the interests of all our existing residents and businesses first. Not just in the interests of a few. If we continue on for another four years of the same, you can bet your taxes will again rise excessively—that is not a recipe for affordability, liveability or safety of Kelowna.
Candidates for councillor
Just like any decision or activity undertaken, hindsight is 20/20. When I look back I feel the right decision “at the time” was made on the proposals and initiatives that came forward to me at council. I will always make my decisions for the residents of Kelowna as a whole.
I like what we did. I wouldn’t have done anything differently. It wasn’t always what I wanted, but it was the collective will of all those on council—a balance of nine unique perspectives. I am proud of our action on:
• Housing the homeless. But more needs to be done
• Adding 3,000 rentals. More needs to be done in order to get to a three per cent vacancy level so our rental rates start coming down
• Adding 16 RCMP officers and 12 firefighters. Again, more needs to be done
• Buying beachfront parkland. Next there is a need to focus on developing our parks
• Advocating for arts and culture. I can’t wait to work on the new cultural plan.
Generally, I am happy with most of the decisions council made in the last four years. The one area I would liked to move more quickly on is addressing a new funding formula to advance the construction of parks. The city has about 30 unfunded parks, including the Glenmore sports fields. The city owns the land, but does not have the resources to complete the construction of the parks. Council and staff began exploring how we could collect new funds, or redirect current DCC funds to help pay for the construction of these parks, but we never reached a decision point. If elected, I will push to develop a plan to fund the construction of some of these parks.
I believe the table has been set in the last four years for some policies and bylaws to change this term. We need to be innovative and challenge the status quo. I’m excited to work the next four years to cultivate the seeds that have been sown.
• Development Cost Charges: Restricted to parkland acquisition. Early in the council term, upon reviewing the 2030 Capital Plan, I noticed approximately $104 million of the plan was from DCCs for parkland acquisition. Approximately $63 million was allocated to parkland development via taxation. We had already discussed that many parks (Cedar Avenue, Lost Creek, Dehart Park, etc.) were unfunded and the timeline for completion was unknown. I suggested we alter our DCC regime and allow them to also be allocated for parkland development. After having a consultant review and provide a report, I believe staff will recoomend changes for the new council to endorse or consider. I wish this would have happened sooner and we would have had this change in place by the end of the current council’s term. The potential to reallocate potentially millions of dollars for more parks to be built and become accessible verses sitting empty is important. term.
First I would like to say that our councillors and mayor will never be able to please everyone, and regarding some of the issues facing Kelowna, our present council has done a good job. The Journey Home strategy is a great start, as well as investing in our new RCMP detachment. However, we can do better. Where they have failed is the increase in cost of living, the tax base for small business, rising costs for seniors and renters and most of all, the increase of the homeless and in drug use in public places. We can find solutions to our homeless problems by breaking down the type of homelessness and working to get the most vulnerable people the help they need. We can help small business by capping business tax and reduce the rates of property tax increases to allow homeowners to keep rents affordable. We can look at new options for rapid transit during peak hours and possible ride sharing for commuters to reduce traffic, pollution and commute time. These are only a few of the things we can do to make Kelowna a safe, affordable and sustainable community.
The current city council has done nothing positive for Kelowna in the past four years. (Its members) have wasted away taxpayers hard earned dollars. They have contributed to both the homelessness crisis as well as the drug crisis. They are a council that tries band aid fixes for a city that needs surgery. They should have sought out professional help instead of bending over backwards to appease big business and the one per cent. If elected, transparency will be at the forefront . I will lobby for immediate action on both the homeless situation and the drug crisis. I will also lobby for free parking at the hospital for everyone, which means staff included. And I will always make it a priority to make downtown Kelowna safe again.
Aside from not listening to the average citizen, the biggest issue would be the problems downtown with crime and homelessness. Having the management team and staff in place for Journey Home should have been a priority by having them in place when the report was released. Knowing that they were using the Medicine Hat model, figuring out the qualifications for those positions should have been easy. Just having a plan and then putting it on the shelf is not how it is done. Finding suitable accommodations and support services is a must, winter is fast approaching.
While I have not supported every decision made by our current council, I fully trust the process and value the collective wisdom of the nine-member council. Hindsight is 20/20. The luxury of looking back provides you with the benefit of both new information and seeing the result of the decision. If I’d had a crystal ball at the beginning of my term, I would have supported starting the Journey Home process earlier. Perhaps we would have been further down the path of success, or perhaps we were not yet ready. What is critical for the next council is that it fully support the actions within the Journey Home strategy—no second guessing, no rewriting, no tinkering with this thorough, well-researched, community driven road map. It is a community plan that deserves the respect and support of council.
In attending more than 20 council meetings this year and having more than 100 one-on-one meetings with residents, business stakeholders and non-profit organizations, it’s clear we need to focus on three key actions:
• Collaboration and consultation: Ensuring all sides are heard and considered via broad engagement points, and the development of volunteer advisory committees (ie. students, indigenous community, people living with disabilities)
• Transparency: Sharing the decision-making process as publicly as possible through varying medias, including city-owned broadcast.
• Action: We are well-equipped with substantiated strategies and plans. It’s time to use this data and let the “rubber meet the road.”
Residents want to see action. We have the statistics, it’s time to see positive results.
If I am elected, one of my main goals is to increase community involvement. I was surprised to hear our seniors did not have a committee with a council member acting as liaison. I will create such committees with differing groups throughout the city. The voices of the citizens will be heard in City Hall. Collaboration and communication is the key. I want to give the City of Kelowna back to its citizens.
Amarjit Singh Lalli
Council should have addressed the homeless issue sooner instead of letting it get out of control. More patrols, more cameras, more frequent street cleaning and more police presence was needed when the Cornerstone (homeless) shelter (on Leon Avenue) was opened. There should have been rules (ie. expectations) laid out for the operation of that facility. Council’s hesitation on transportation flow was another concern. We were seeing growth in people travelling in and out of (Kelowna’s airport) YLW, growth in enrolment at our educational institutions and people generally moving here, but very little was done to identify ways of increasing traffic flows. We need to plan for the growth now so when it happens we are not taking drastic actions, which usually means wasting taxpayer money.
Among other things, there has been a total lack of knowledge about financial management. If all members manage their money the same way they do ours, they would all be facing a bankruptcy court. The key is to have the knowledge and ability to question, even challenge, proposals by fat cat bureaucrats for any project involving taxpayers’ money. I had my driveway asphalted three years ago. When I looked at the price it cost me for paving about 600-square-feet, I cannot imagine the millions of dollars spent paving roads that are quite satisfactory, and certainly no potholes. On one occasion, I observed a city engineer measuring the road on Highway 33. I asked him what he was doing. He explained he was measuring angles, slopes, etc., before paving. Since I am on that road at least a couple of times a week, I decided to drive up and down Highway 33, from Costco to Rutland Road, and I could not see any need. Civil servants at city hall are, in fact, city bosses. The (current) mayor and councillors are “yes” people Using the same approach with roads, I would seriously read and evaluate every proposed expenditure with a fine tooth comb. And, I am mad that, over the last four years, my property taxes have gone up by 16 per cent. Being human, it is possible that on occasion I may miss the boat and screw up. If I do, I will accept unhesitatingly full responsibility.
Critical societal and economic indicators for our city are all trending badly. Over the past four years (and longer), the current and past councils have failed to reverse out-of-control urban sprawl which greatly increases the cost of infrastructure. Since 2014 we have seen our capital expenditure deficit balloon to half a billion dollars. Our city has the third least affordable housing market of the 293 surveyed per an international housing affordability survey. The solution by experts is aggressive sustainable densification of city hubs to provide housing supply at an economical cost to infrastructure sooner rather than later, providing the catalyst for efficient mass transit. Last month council chose a watered-down version of the future development program proposed by city staff and desired by the city-wide residents’ survey. The recommended OCP growth scenario to adjust housing requirements to 80 per cent condo and townhouse development from 50per cent was reduced to 67 per cent to retain existing programs for diversification of housing from urban cores. The Central Okanagan comes in second in Canada for the number of crimes reported, up 10 per cent from 2014, despite a 15 per cent increase in our taxes over the past four years that in part is paying for more police. It appears we certainly can’t afford to allow the incumbent Councillors to continue their failed attempts at solving our critical issues. Clearly its time for a new team with an innovative and viable proven approach. Its time for sustainable engineered solutions.
As an incumbent, I am proud of the achievements of this council. It hasn’t been easy but we have certainly made changes that are positive and address the needs of the city. What would I do differently: I think variances requested by developers need to be scrutinized better, and a better thought must be given to the impact to the neighbourhood when making a decision. Additionally, I think council needs to press developers harder to build better looking projects, and not get away with just the basic minimum requirements.
My research found a lack of connection between public input and the plans that council has been approving, such as unsupported changes to key strategies, including:
• Greenhouse gas reduction (relaxed)
• Growth management boundaries (relaxed)
• Transportation priorities (no longer ‘moving away’ from car-centric planning)
• STEP Code implementation date (delayed),
• Capri-Landmark neighborhood (sub-standard transport plans)
It has been frustrating to witness council wilt in the face of last-minute minority opposition, especially so close to an election. Seeking balance and maintaining investor confidence are not mutually exclusive. Our city needs political champions who engage and execute plans to sustain our future quality of life, based on sound evidence-based expertise and experience, not unfounded fears over short-term business impacts. Good models that work to provide more direct community connection include:
I feel during the past four years council should have listened more closely to what the public actually wanted and acted accordingly. If elected I will give more than lip service to public input and start putting the taxpayers and businesses of Kelowna first so that council’s decisions more closely reflect the will of the residents of Kelowna. Current council has not addressed the transportation issue and resulting traffic congestion. While I fully support alternate modes of transportation and the expansion of public transit we cannot deny the fact that the population is projected to increase by 38 per cent or 45,000 people in the next 20 years. Even if only 50 per cent of new residents bring one car that translates to an extra 22,500 cars on our roads.
I think our current council spent too much money with little to no results. We need people who genuinely care about this city and the people in it; whether rich or poor. I look forward to bringing a new perspective to this beautiful city and being a team player.
What I failed to do personally is win more debates at the table so as to convince the other seven (councillors and the mayor) to see the world of Kelowna through my eyes, or those of the public I was trying to represent. I must be more persuasive. I feel a couple of decisions we, as a council, made were wrong, including allowing the tourist information building where it is (on the downtown lakeshore) and adding height to the high-rise (hotel) planned for the old Willow Inn site, both of which I opposed. Also, in hindsight, allowing the extension of the Cornerstone (homeless shelter) on Leon Avenue was not wise. As tied as our hands were, we should have stuck with the original agreement (to limit the duration of its operation).
(No response was received from Dustin Sargent, Wayne Carson or Stef Van Meeteren)