August always seems like a slow news time, what with Parliament, legislatures, schools and in some countries many businesses shut down for summer vacations. But quietly, behind the scenes, much goes on in August.
In Whistler, for instance, the Paralympic arena project on Lots 1 and 9 in the village is being discussed by a small group of people who don’t want to share the information. This is a project that for years has been propped up in the 2010 storefront window but when you go inside to find out more there’s never much solid information.
Undoubtedly the rationale for the current information blackout has to do with negotiations, with someone, for something. But the people of Whistler can be forgiven if they are suspicious of the silence, given the history of this project.
Let’s recap the last 14 months:
• In June 2005 a proposed deal to move the arena to Squamish surfaced at a Squamish-Lillooet Regional District meeting. It was an SLRD board member from the Pemberton area that brought the information forward. The response from Whistler representatives was, "trust us."
• Toward the end of August last year the public finally heard the RMOW’s rationale for trying to make the deal to move the Paralympic arena to Squamish. It was done with the best of intentions – to save Whistler from something it couldn’t afford – but it had to be done secretly.
• This explanation came out after Whistlerites learned that their mayor had quietly been taking real estate courses for the previous eight months in preparation for his move to Hawaii.
• At the end of August Whistlerites were finally asked for their input on the Paralympic arena and Lots 1 and 9.
• After a second open house in late September, and under intense public pressure, the council of the day made the decision to accept $20 million from VANOC and try to build some sort of multi-use facility on Lots 1 and 9 that could host the Paralympic sledge hockey.
• A process was started last winter to gather public input on what should be built on Lots 1 and 9. On May 1 this year council endorsed the further development and detailed design of the preferred concept for the Lot 1 and 9 master plan. Detailed development of the master plan was to take place over the next two months.
• The report to council in May included a timeline. By June council was either to go ahead with the Paralympic arena on Lots 1 and 9 (Plan A) or go to Plan B. There are two parts to Plan B: produce development concepts for a non-Paralympic facility at Meadow Park; and include public consultation, preliminary costing and funding models.
• When municipal tax notices went out in May they included an announcement that there would be a public meeting to update people on Lots 1 and 9 in early June.
• There has been silence ever since.
The rumours, of course, have been flying thick and fast. An arena would bankrupt Whistler. Vancouver would be a better, and cheaper, location for the sledge hockey. Whistler has other needs that could be fulfilled on Lots 1 and 9. Talks are being held with funding partners. The whole site will be turned over to a private developer.
No doubt there are sensitive negotiations going on, but Whistlerites deserve more than silence. They have been shut out of discussions on too many occasions, and not just on Lots 1 and 9.
By choosing to go with the alternative approval process on the P3 sewage treatment plant upgrade council ensured there was no dialogue on the merits of the P3, as there would have been if a referendum had been held.
Council can’t comment on the Rainbow project because it’s been sitting in that half-dead, half-alive purgatory between third and fourth reading longer than Keith Richards. That may not be council’s fault, but it’s a situation they are stuck with.
Last fall, following the secret negotiations to move the arena to Squamish and the subsequent public outcry, there was a lot of talk prior to the municipal election about engagement and public participation. It appears now it was all talk, because all Whistler is getting is silence.
If there’s a change in priorities for Lots 1 and 9, let us know. If the arena is prohibitively expensive, tell us – but come with better evidence than last year’s report on comparative costs.
Municipal hall shouldn’t be avoiding dialogue with its own people. But from the evidence before us now one could draw the conclusion that municipal hall respects the money and power brokers more than the people of Whistler.