Mayor Colin Basran sees housing as one of Kelowna’s biggest challenges - InfoNews

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Mayor Colin Basran sees housing as one of Kelowna’s biggest challenges

Mayor Colin Basran delivers his State of the City address to Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Wednesday, April 3, 2019.
April 03, 2019 - 3:17 PM

KELOWNA - In his annual State of the City address to Kelowna Chamber of Commerce today, Mayor Colin Basran focused on six priorities for city council as it embarks on a new four-year mandate.

Following half an hour of prepared comments, Basran was asked about a dozen questions from the audience at the Chamber lunch today, April 3, at the Delta Grand Hotel.

A key question from the audience was one about the biggest roadblocks facing business in the city.

“I’ll have to go with housing,” Basran answered, explaining that he tries to visit with some of Kelowna’s largest businesses once a month.

“The thing we hear most often is housing affordability and availability,” he said. “We hear time and time again from business that they can’t find housing.”

Basran outlined six priorities for council this year:

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Basran said the Emergency Operations Centre had its earliest opening of recent years on March 23, 2017 and its longest time open at 131 days last year dealing with floods and fire, which did millions of dollars worth of damage, much of it due to man-made climate change.

“The strongest environmental protection tool is land use policies,” Basran said, explaining how concentrating growth in urban centres reduces the reliance and cars that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gases in the city.

ECONOMIC RESILIENCE

Basran talked about digitizing government functions so things like business licences can be bought online, and the need to increase internet speeds.

He pointed out that there are now more jobs for young people in Kelowna, with 40 per cent of UBC Okanagan grads still working in the city two years after graduation.

TRANSPORTATION AND MOBILITY

Basran praised Kelowna Airport for moving more than two million passengers in 2018, a 31 per cent increase over three years, and the $240 million airport expansion.

While promoting better transit between urban centres, he also stressed that city council is “pragmatic” in recognizing projects like the South End Connector and extension of Highway 33 are important road links.

VIBRANT NEIGHBOURHOODS

The city is developing a new cultural plan this year and encouraging neighbours to get together through various grants programs, Basran said.

When asked about a new performing arts centre, he said he would love to build one but there is no money available to do so.

“I suspect, maybe down the line, you may see a campaign in the community to see if this is something the community wants to rally around and potentially help fund as well.”

SOCIAL ADVOCACY AND INCLUSIVENESS

Basran said all cities are playing bigger roles when it comes to social issues, and pointed to the Journey Home strategy to effectively end homelessness in Kelowna. In just over a year, 130 people have been moved off the streets and into supportive housing, with another 100 expected to be housed by early next year, he said.

To deal with the underlying causes of homelessness – things like drug addiction, mental illness and women and children fleeing violence – more needs to be done.

“They require a broader support system working together to intervene before things devolve into a crisis,” he said.

He pointed out last year's Point in Time count to determine how many people were homeless found that 45 per cent either couldn't find a place to live or couldn't afford to pay rent.

COMMUNITY SAFETY AND WELL BEING

Basran pointed to the study conducted by former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon that went to council last fall and called for better coordination of efforts to deal with crime, some of which have already started.

City council also approved a new study this week to review the RCMP staffing needs over the next five years.

In the end, it was the final question about what has surprised him most about being mayor that stumped Basran.

“I’ll have to get back to you on that one,” he chuckled.


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