Opponents of Kelowna's Parkinson Recreation Centre battling 'loophole' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Opponents of Kelowna's Parkinson Recreation Centre battling 'loophole'

Opponents object to the alternative approval process for a new Parkinson Recreation Centre.
Image Credit: Submitted/City of Kelowna

A $241 million loan to rebuild a major recreation facility in Kelowna is too much money and the process to approve it is unfair, say a small but determined group fighting the project.

The city is using the alternative approval process to borrow $241.3 million towards the replacement of the Parkinson Recreation Centre along with upgrades to three other recreation facilities for a total cost of $287.5 million.

“When a municipality is borrowing that much money, they really require public approval and to me, the alternative approval process is not a way of getting public approval,” Susan Ames, who heads Concerned Kelowna Residents for Financial Accountability, told iNFOnews.ca. “You’ve got a negative vote.”

She also thinks locating it on the north side of the property is adding unnecessarily to the cost. Since a rebuild was first studied in 2015 it was always planned to be next to the existing building but that changed last year.

Renee Del Colle is another activist who is out every day campaigning. While she’s opposed to the project itself, her main goal is to just let people know this is happening.

“What I want to do is inform people and not pressure them into doing anything,” she told iNFOnews.ca. “I want them to have the opportunity to take a look at what’s going on and then come to a decision for themselves.

Rather than go to referendum on the borrowing, city council opted in May for the alternative approval process.

That requires 10% of voters to sign petitions opposing the borrowing in order to stop it. That’s 12,160 signatures on a specific form available on the city’s website and in other locations.

The process is allowed under provincial legislation but there are some cautions listed on the provincial website.

“It may not be appropriate for every situation, even where it is authorized by legislation,” the website says. “For example, if an issue is controversial, requires a significant financial contribution by taxpayers, or is significant in scale or impact on the community, local governments may decide that it is more appropriate and cost-effective to proceed directly to assent voting (referendum).

“However, if the public has been actively engaged and there are reasonable indications that citizens are in favour, the proposal may lend itself better to an alternative approval process.”

When the decision was made by Kelowna city council in May to go the alternative approval process route, there was very little discussion.

“A referendum is very important if the community is really speaking loudly about wanting to have a say on the issue,” Coun. Luke Stack, the city’s longest serving councillor, said at the time. “My experience, in the years I’ve been here, is there is a very strong component of our community that wants this to go ahead.

“Since this was published last week I have not received a single email for someone saying: ‘Don’t do this.’ Mostly what I hear is: ‘Please move forward with this. We wish you had moved forward with this a couple of years ago.’

“If there is a component that I’m not hearing, and possibly there is, we will have an opportunity to hear it through the alternative approval process and they can mount a campaign or a petition to stop us.”

While he may not have received any emails during that week, Ames said she’s several 70 emails to him in the last year opposing the project.

At that same meeting, Coun. Charlie Hodge explained that, when he campaigned in the 2022 election, he was vocal in his support of the replacement.

“I believe the people are quite confident that they want this built,” he said. “They expect us as elected officials, who were elected to do what we said we would do, (that we) will do what we said we would do.”

Both women campaigning against the alternative approval process also argue the public has not been “actively engaged” in the process, as suggested by the provincial government as a justification for not going to referendum.

Instead, residents have until Oct. 13 to get their petitions in. That was extended from the original Sept. 15 deadline because of wildfires in August.

READ MORE: Kelowna residents have 8 weeks to decide on borrowing millions for Parkinson Rec rebuild

“To me an alternative approval process is a loophole,” Ames said. "They did it in the summer when people are away and the three information workshops were all during working hours.

“The first one we went to, it was 39 degrees. We were out there trying to piggy-back on their event and, of course, hardly anybody turned out to their event because they weren’t well publicized. So, there are a lot of things wrong with it.”

She spent an hour in a Glenmore park one day this past week talking to people about the project.

“Every single person that came by signed it,” Ames said. “They said: ‘Oh my goodness. We don’t need this. This is too much money.’ The only one who knew about it was because we had run into her at an earlier event.”

While everyone signed, that was only 15 people, although some took away copies of the petition - which has room for five signatures on each.

Del Colle, who is a medal-winning para-athlete, is out every day campaigning.

“I feel I have to do this,” she said. “I can’t wake up on Oct 14 and know I didn’t give it everything I had. I’m not out kayaking like I want to be. I’m not out cycling like I want to be. I’m not playing table tennis like I want to be or playing my ukulele with my ukulele group like I want to be. I want to be out doing all of these things but I’ve seen so many people that are not informed so, somebody has to do it. One person can make a difference.”

The advantage of the alternative approval process is that people really have to be motivated to petition against it. Referendums can take longer, trigger campaigns for either side and, especially if held outside a municipal election, can be expensive.

Historically, they have resulted in mixed results.

In 2017, Nanaimo held a referendum to borrow $80 million for an events centre and 80% of voters said no.

On one of its webpages, it lists 11 alternative approval processes run by the city between 2008 and 2023.

Half of those were for things like removing park dedications from land or leasing out its museums.

A $17 million fire station and $22.5 million water treatment plant did get support through the alternative approval process.

But, the process is not a guaranteed win.

In 2008, a Nanaimo boundary extension was defeated when 7,908 people petitioned against it when only 5,815 petitions were needed.

On the plus side, on Oct. 15, 2022 – in conjunction with the municipal election – 61% of Greater Vernon Residents voted in favour of a new active living centre.

On the same day, voters in Golden approved an $18 million aquatic centre.

But, in June of this year, 60% of Quesnel residents voted against a $35 million pool upgrade to its recreation centre.

Summerland council is not afraid of going to its electorate.

On Nov. 4 it’s holding a referendum on a $50 million recreation and aquatic centre.

Just because Kelowna's efforts to replace Parkinson Recreation Centre hasn't generated much publicity during the alternative approval process, that doesn't mean it’s without emotion.

“They’re shocked,” Del Colle said when asked how people responded to her. “I literally get physical reactions from people where they shake their heads and they’re like: ‘Are you kidding?’ The other reaction is: ‘Well, of course the city is going to do this in this way.’

“The people that are informed about it and are in favour of it – I’m happy they’re informed but, man, they get mad at me for providing ballots to people. I get yelled at on a daily basis for just going out and trying to inform people about what’s going on.”

The new Parkinson Recreation Centre will include things line three gymnasiums, a 10-lane, 25-metre pool, kitchen, meeting rooms, possibly affordable housing and more in a 148,673 square foot building.

READ MORE: Kelowna wants to spend nearly $300M on recreation facilities including Parkinson rebuild

The borrowing will trigger an average annual tax increase of $20 per month from 2024 through 2029. That means taxes in 2029 will be $100 per year more for the average house just for these recreation upgrades.

If approved, this will be the largest project in the City of Kelowna's history.

Go here for the Concerned Kelowna Residents for Financial Accountability website.

The related Kelowna Concerned Residents Facebook page is here.

The City of Kelowna's perspective can be seen here.

Copies of the petition can be obtained here.

 — This story was corrected at 11:03 a.m., Sept. 19, 2023, to clarify the number of emails sent to Kelowna city councillor Luke Stack.

— This story was corrected at 4:11 p.m., Sept. 20, 2023, to replace a photo incorrectly identified as the Parkinson Rec Centre.

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