If Kelowna’s new mayor has his way, the city’s public committee that vets development proposals before they go to council will cease to exist.
Walter Gray, in his inaugural address following the swearing-in of the new city council Monday night, said he believes there are considerable cost savings and valuable staff time efficiencies to be realized through the elimination of the Advisory Planning Commission.
The commission is made up of members of the public appointed by council to review development proposals and hear from the public, as well as make recommendations to council before the proposals are officially presented to council by city staff. The committee, typical in many municipalities, has been in existence here for decades.
“If (the elimination of the APC is) implemented, this will make for a faster approval process in getting applications to council and to pubic hearing,” said Gray, who during the election campaign said he wanted to send a clear message to developers that Kelowna is, in his word, open for business.
He justified his call for an end of the APC, saying “time is money,” and that the public is often confused about the role of the APC.
“While the APC has served the development review process and city council well in the past, I believe it’s time to do things differently.”
As a replacement for the APC, Gray is proposing what he calls a design panel, to be made up of volunteer professionals who would look at some applications from a design perspective, but only where deemed appropriate by the city.
In addition to his desire to see an end to the APC, Gray has also asked city staff to review all city committees from a cost perspective, to see if they are necessary, of value to the public and how much staff time they take up.
“Change is inevitable and constant as our community changes,” Gray told a packed house at the Mary Irwin Theatre Monday night. “To move forward, that likely means shedding some committees or taking the time to consider what form of public input is needed by this council today and in the future.”
Gray, who served as mayor from 1996 to 2005, campaigned on a vow to show developers and investors that Kelowna wants their business, will also ask his new council to consider the establishment of a business liaison officer for the city to work with the regional economic development commission. The city already funds 78 per cent of cost of the regional EDC but Gray feels it needs its own lisaion officer to work with businesspeople.
He said while the position would not require any new staffing, it would mean having a city employee designated as the “go to” person assigned to deal with business related inquiries and solutions.
The new mayor said it was clear from the election results — in which he replaced two-term incumbent Sharon Shepherd and five of the eight sitting councillors were not re-elected — that the public wants change at city hall.
And that is what it will get.
In addition to the proposals he plans to put before council for approval, Gray said city manager Ron Mattiussi has already engaged a consultant to determine policing resources needed to meet the community’s expectations for a safe and protected city. The consultant is also expected to determine if Kelowna’s share of the regional cost of policing is “fair and equitable.” The report is due by the end of January.
Policing currently costs Kelowna $19 million per year, the largest amount of any single item in the city’s annual budget.
In his speech, Gray also focussed the needs of young adults in the city.
A 71-year-old grandfather himself, Gray said Kelowna is one of the oldest cities in the country in terms of the average age of its residents and while much has been done for seniors, the needs of young people cannot be forgotten.
“Young adults want to remain in Kelowna, but they must be able to find meaningful employment and see their interests reflected in the recreational and cultural life of our community,” he said. “They also want Kelowna to be more fun for them.
“Those young adults lament that there is a lack of activities and festivals for them to participate in. They point out that it’s not just a selfish wish on their part but that there is a positive economic impact in catering to their needs. We must take their concerns seriously so that we can attract and retain more of those young adults.”
And Gray, who was dogged during the election campaign by references to his decision as mayor in the late 1990s to drop the word “pride” from a requested Gay Pride Day proclamation and, as a result, ran foul of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, said Kelowna must continue to be a tolerant community, one that celebrates diversity, cares for its residents and helps those who are struggling.
“We must retain and build on a strong sense of community,” he said.
He praised his new council, made up of newcomers Gerry Zimmermann, Gail Given, Colin Basran, Maxine Deart and Mohini Singh and re-elected veterans Robert Hobson, Andre Blanleil and Like Stack, saying voters delivered a “good balance” in choosing them.
He also thanked the previous council for its work, a council he characterized during the campaign as unable to make decisions.
Despite that, on Monday he expressed praise for the woman he narrowly defeated in the mayoral election. Gray thanked Shepherd for 15 years of council service — nine as a councillor on three councils he lead and and six as mayor—saying she left her mark on the city.
“Your commitment and passion for Kelowna can be seen throughout the community,” he told Shepherd before hugging her as she walked onto the stage to accept a parting gift from the city.
Shepherd was accompanied by former councillors Kevin Craig and Angela Reid-Nagy, who also failed in their re-election bid,. They were presented small replicas of the Sails sculpture. The three other defeated councillors, Michele Rule, Charlie Hodge and Graeme James were not in attendance but they will also be receive thank-you gifts for their public service.