When Keith Fielding was elected in 2008, he brought with him the idea of creating a community vision and seeking input from residents on important issues.
In the run-up to the election just over three years ago, Fielding said, “I’m very concerned that the future of Peachland is being determined by the ambitions of developers rather than by any sense of community vision. I want to help ensure we create the future we want.”
Key to Fielding’s election platform was the desire for a council process that is open, welcoming and respectful, and which seeks out and values community input.
Creating a common vision is difficult at best. As in most small towns, Peachland is polarized. Some want growth, some don’t. Some want to attract more tourists, some don’t.
It is not possible to please everyone, but elected officials can at least listen to opposite sides before making a decision. That’s what community input is all about — not necessarily agreeing with everyone, but giving everyone the opportunity to be heard.
Fielding’s goal was laudable, understandable and doable, but apparently there were exceptions that would come up that no one knew about prior to his first election. It seems public consultation is a wonderful thing, except when such input could lead to a result contrary to the goal one has in mind.
The classic example is the seniors’ housing project. Fielding was in charge of that project prior to being elected and he brought that pet project with him to the mayor’s office.
The goal is to build a senior’s housing complex on district owned land between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The concept is the town would pitch in the land, BC Housing would contribute funds to build the building(s) and another group would operate the facility.
A senior’s housing complex has always been treated by Fielding and council as a done deal. It’s going to happen, so contrary to the stated desire of seeking community input, no community input is required or wanted.
Little information has been made available as to how the project would work. Citizens don’t know if Peachland would give the land away, sell it at a reduced price or get some kind of benefit from it in later years. Realistically, citizens know almost nothing about the project and certainly they’ve never been asked to give input as to whether it should be done at all.
Recently, a second instance of ‘no input required’ has surfaced. Council has announced that it has set aside $225,000 to build a skateboard park and the park will be built in Lambly Park. No input required.
Obviously, councils would not function if they had to seek input on every decision. They are elected to make decisions on behalf of residents. If a vote was taken among the electorate on every decision, we wouldn’t need councils and little would ever get done. Councils are needed to make decisions and even controversial decisions.
However, if you’re going to try and build a community vision and claim that you value community input, then the input seeking should apply to controversial topics and especially those topics that could be considered near and dear to your heart.
The building of a skate park came out of the blue. No mention was made of it prior to last fall’s election. It is known that the decision to do so was made behind closed doors. The decision was made before anyone knew a decision was going to be made.
It is clear the majority of council wants to avoid the curling rink syndrome and the Cousins Park skateboard park fiasco. Input was sought from the electorate on the curling rink (a referendum had to be held because there was borrowing involved) and the public said no. Cousins Park was chosen years ago for a skate park and that led to significant public outcry.
The skate park project has been handed over to Cheryl Wiebe at the community centre. In fairness, there will be public consultation coming up about design — what the park should include. That will mostly involve designers and the skaters, the way it should be.
The Lambly Park location, just as it was for Cousins Park, will be the controversial aspect of the skate park project. While having a skateboard park for youth in Peachland is a wonderful idea, not discussing it with the public could lead to a backlash that will make the Cousins Park project seem mild in comparison.
Editor’s note: This is the first of two editorials on the subject of the skateboard park. See Is Lambly the right location for a skate park?