Waters: Kelowna city council responding to residents concerns

Council now dealing with perception and reality when it comes to social issues

As they say on the TV game show Family Feud, “survey says…”

Kelowna’s annual Citizen’s Survey is in and the numbers show the majority of respondents feel quality of life in the city is good, they like how the city is run, they like the services they get, they feel they get value for money for the taxes they pay and Kelowna is, overall, a safe place.

But there are concerns—poverty, homelessness, housing affordability, traffic congestion and drugs are all issues of worry for some respondents. And while the happiness levels appear to be generally high in most areas, the drops this year are more telling than the final figures for some.

It’s often said perception is reality and in Kelowna these days, the growing perceptions are crime is on the rise (especially downtown), drug use is rampant and traffic has ground to a standstill.

While that may not be correct, Kelowna’s mayor recognizes the perceptions need to be addressed just as much as the actual problems.

After the survey results were presented to his council Monday, Colin Basran said they weren’t a surprise to him—both the good and the bad. He said he heard the same comments on the campaign trail during last fall’s civic election.

The survey of just under 600 people was conducted by phone in November and considered accurate plus or minus 5.7 per cent 19 times out of 20. It showed 94 per cent of those who responded feel quality of life in the city is either good or very good. But 36 per cent say it’s worse than it was three years ago. And traffic congestion, increased poverty and homelessness, safety and the rising cost of living are the four top reasons for the drop.

The city has embarked on a number of efforts to tackle problems identified in the latest survey—the Journey Home initiative to address homelessness, the McKinnon report to improve safety, teaming up with other groups like B.C. Housing and non-profits to provide more social and supportive housing and approving more purpose-built rental housing projects.

But none of those alone is the silver bullet for what ails Kelowna. As the city grows, so too will the problems it will face. Dealing with social issues has become, and will continue to be, the new norm for city hall.

The annual Citizen’s Survey lets city officials know what the public thinks about the job they are doing, but it also provides ongoing tracking of improvements being made—or not—as the case may be.

This year the survey results came out just as council is hunkering down to set its priorities for the upcoming four-year term. So you can be sure some of those priorities will reflect council heard from the public in the survey.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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