It was born with a razor-thin, divisive vote that split the community virtually. It changed its name a few years later after another close, but equally divisive, vote. One of its first councillors was forced to step down over a conflict and it has seen its share of success and failure when trying to get things done.
Nothing, it seems, comes easy in West Kelowna.
But a decade after it incorporated—originally as the District of Westside—the City of West Kelowna, is doing alright for itself.
It has money in the bank—more than predicted when plans for what was then known as “Westside governance” were drawn up in the early 2000s—its amenities are growing, its infrastructure is improving and successive city councils have managed to keep taxes fairly low. With the exception of year one, the annual municipal property tax increase has hovered around three per cent.
But the city has also had its share of disappointments. Voters twice rejected city plans to build a new city hall and civic plaza in Westbank, plans for what was once described as a medical centre for the Westside were shelved by Interior Health and despite several attempts, the city’s “downtown core” in Westbank continues to languish, eclipsed by flashier commercial development on nearby Westbank First Nation land.
Despite that, it can be argued West Kelowna is still punching above its weight with a growing population and influence extending beyond its borders, especially in the region. As Kelowna’s smaller cousin across the lake, it seems, the city has carved a niche for itself.
From the start, the new municipality made it clear it may be small—about 32,000 compared to Kelowna’s 130,000—but its voice was going to be loud.
It elected the polarizing Rosalind Neis, a vocal supporter of the amalgamate-with-Kelowna option in the governance referendum which created the municipality, as its first mayor.
The decision to incorporate rather than join Kelowna was a close one. That option beat out amalgamation by just 42 votes.
After taking office, Neis, publicly mused about revisiting the decision to incorporate as a stand-alone municipality but nothing ever came of that.
Doug Findlater, who chaired the Westside Governance Committee prior to the municipality’s creation, and was elected one of the first city councillors, became mayor in 2008. He has held the job ever since. Neis currently sits as a councillor.
In the last 10 years, West Kelowna has moved part-ways from it days as a rural area, and become more urbanized in areas. But that has not been done without the growing pains you would expect in a new municipality.
Through it all, the city has has handled the pressures associated with growth, civic and regional emergencies, the constant struggle for government funding and, most importantly, the expectations of its residents.
After its first decade of existence, West Kelowna appears to have weathered the storm. Now, as it enters its adolescence, it’s no longer the new kid on the block.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.