Opinion » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor for the week of November 28th

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It's time for highway barriers

I would respectfully ask that (the Ministry of Transportation) investigate the incidents that have occurred on the Deeks Creek/Logger's Creek section of Highway 99/Sea to Sky this past year.

The two recent incidents are the motorcycle incident that occurred September 9 and the most recent on November 23. Both involved vehicles crossing the centre line. In the case of the September 9 incident, the most seriously injured person was in the lane that a motorcyclist veered into.

We all appreciate the sections that were upgraded with extra lanes and physical barriers between the different directions of traffic; however, there are still areas that require this physical separation.

The price paid is too great for mistakes that could have been mitigated by a separated highway.

This section of highway had an acknowledgement of higher risk prior to the highway upgrade. The posted speed limit was 60 km/h for the few hundred metres it took to traverse these tight corners.

While some of the most ambitious work to the highway was done just north and south of this section, the problem solving stopped just short and stranded the undivided and curvy Deeks Creek/Logger's Creek section.

Road Safety in Canada (2011) cites lane separation (Road Infrastructure and Traffic Engineering) as one of the biggest contributors to the reduction of head on collisions. In 2008 Canada ranked 10th out of 13 OECD countries in traffic fatalities.

How do the fatality and injury statistics on the Sea to Sky Highway compare pre-2010 upgrades and post upgrades? How many fatalities occurred on the separated sections after the upgrades?

Ontario highways have barriers that do not require the road width that concrete barriers do, have good sight lines and do not impede snow clearing. The MOT made public presentations in Whistler prior to the Sea to Sky Highway upgrades that portrayed lane separation in a very unrealistic manner. Clearly there was not the appetite to create a consistent division between the north and southbound lanes. It is time to review areas that have higher occurrences of traffic accidents.

Given the sub-zero temperatures in this area for the evenings previous to this incident, and the proximity of the highway to moist marine air, was "black ice" a factor? Were salt and or gravel applied that morning?

We can only speculate what caused the car to cross the centre line November 23.

Whistler is an international resort and we have many people driving Highway 99 for the first time with little or no mountain and winter driving experience. Furthermore, car rental companies do not supply winter tires and many Lower Mainland drivers do not use winter tires.  

Also, while we sympathize with the people involved, their families and the first responders, having this vital link closed for 10 hours wreaks havoc in thousands of lives. On the highway people are trapped in their cars, unable to turn around. Infants to elders potentially without food, water, bathrooms and if their fuel runs out, no heat.

My heart goes out to the family and friends that lost these lovely young ladies. As the mother of two students attending UBC who travel the highway as passengers and drivers with their friends, I feel that I should speak up.

This tragedy is too sad to repeat for any family. Isn't it time "The Killer Highway" lost its title?

Cathy Jewett

Whistler

Illegal nightly rentals a nightmare

As the owner of a legally zoned tourist accommodation property in the resort of Whistler, I, like many other homeowners who have this zoning privilege continue to be frustrated that there are many Whistler homeowners who still consider themselves above the local bylaws and rent out their homes on a nightly basis without the appropriate zoning.

This has been a source of contention within the resort for over 15 years and still the municipality is dragging its feet. Why?

Hotels, pensions, B&Bs and rental property management companies are losing out on potential bookings and second homeowners, particularly of condos/townhomes in the resort, are finding it difficult to cover their overheads. As a result, these investment properties are now less attractive for a buyer and, as a result, have seen huge declines in property values.

Like me, all these establishments pay for the privilege of having nightly zoning and contribute to both Tourism Whistler and the municipality. Whilst guests of these illegal rental homes are bringing income to the resort, the owners are not contributing and sucking the system dry. It is wrong and unfair and makes a mockery of why the zoning is even in place if the municipality doesn't choose to enforce it.

Sadly the events over last weekend at Tyndall Stone Lodge also reinforces the fact that fire and safety should be of utmost priority of visiting guests to the municipality. Some of these illegal rentals are original old cabins with perhaps no safety precautions in place, not to mention old wiring.

The sites of Airbnb.com, Homeaway/VRBO, Ownerdirect and Alluradirect all have illegal properties featured on their sites.

To cover themselves, these companies have now made it a pre-requisite that all applicant listings are required to sign a confirmation that they comply with the local bylaws allowing nightly rental accommodation. This means, that all of these homeowners have (allegedly) provided false declarations.

Through extensive research over the last couple of months, a lot of driving around and then checking on zonings, I have compiled 40 offenders (and there are more) whose addresses and information have now been submitted to the bylaw department. The homework has been done for free, so take this and use it!

As a side note, most of these places appear not to even charge GST and it raises the question whether the CRA and BC Assessment might be interested to receive this information too?

Enough is enough and I am told that both the municipality and Tourism Whistler, the powers of Whistler, appear to have a lack of interest or willingness to put an end to this. I have received support from the Hotel Association of Whistler and the B&B Association, along with a number of other second homeowners who would like to see this situation rectified. Not next month, in a year or after the winter season but now!

If you are one of the many second homeowners, property managers or in general, want to support this initiative, I encourage you to go online to the petition I have placed on change.org.

The link is https://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/stop-illegal-nightly-rentals-in-whistler

Let's finally see a resolution to this and I thank you all for your support!

Maddy Hamilton

Whistler

Answer to WIC may be land swap?

In a very short time (council) will be coming to a decision about post-secondary education in Whistler. (It has) the conclusions of advisory commissions, and data that looks, on the face of it, convincing, that there is much to be gained.  What has always been missing, however, is any separation of the concept and rationalization of a post-secondary institution here, from the rezoning and development of a particular piece of sensitive land.

The Whistler community would be best served if you moved to trade the Zen lands, including the rights for the four houses, for a large enough parcel of land to develop a campus on less sensitive (above valley bottom) land.

As the proponents of Whistler International Campus support their project with data on the number of students, faculty and collegiate partners they have, one result of such a motion could be that they would jump in and carry on, as this would change nothing in the support numbers they have provided.

A different possible outcome might be to show this to be the real estate development scheme many claim it to be.

The fruitful outcome of such a motion is that (council) will have protected our last piece of low-valley wetlands and vertical bog, (as recommended by members of both FWAC and AWARE) and will have separated two now entwined complex issues so that each can be judged on its real merits.

Alan G. Whitney

Whistler

Project doomed?

Sometimes the most obvious oversights are the hardest to recognize. I believe this is the case in the Whistler International Campus proposal coming before council.

There are two questions before council: 1) Does Whistler want a facility such as Whistler International Campus complete with challenges and opportunities? 2) Does Whistler wish to change the zoning on the Millar Creek lands to allow higher density than allowed by current zoning?

To my mind, the unwavering position of the applicant not to address these two questions independent of one another and to keep those two discussions welded together has doomed the project.

Eckhard Zeidler

Texas Creek Ranch

Upzoning should be denied

On Dec. 3 the proponents of the Whistler International Campus will bring forward their request to mayor and council for upzoning the Zen Lands — better known as the Millar Creek Wetlands — for the seventh time.

Said then-Pique reporter Andrew Mitchell July 8, 2011:"It was noted last year by Mayor Ken Melamed that the Zen family has brought forward six different development applications for the land since the 1990s, and that the developers have rejected offers for land swaps that would have preserved the forest and wetland complex. 'We've always been clear that we're going to develop the land,' said Doug Player, (spokesman for the proponents' upzoning application). 'We're just hoping that it will be something more economically beneficial to the community.'"

...And certainly something far more economically beneficial to the proponents. Squamish's Quest University 2013 tuition rates for a Canadian student — $40,735. Upzoning purchased land with fixed development rights is a dream for any would-be developer, despite the known limitations that came with their decision to purchase that property.

Previous mayor, councillors, and RMOW staff have been open to the opportunity of a post secondary facility in Whistler. Despite some possible options in the past for brown-field land swaps, the proponents are only willing to develop an intact temperate rainforest adjacent to a sensitive wetland complex for a massive 1,400 student facility and all of the infrastructure required to house/feed/educate/support/staff them.

These intricate ecosystems only function when the mammals, amphibians, reptiles etc. have both the required healthy uplands and a wetland complex below. Bears hibernate/forage there, and it is zoned PAN1 through the RMOW's Protected Areas Network analysis. PAN1 is the rating for the most sensitive lands, and is meant to designate lands that should not be developed.

Development of an institution of higher learning is not a bad idea per se. Yet upzoning the Millar Creek Wetlands is a bad idea — as it always has been.

We have finite wetlands left in Whistler and they are stressed already by uphill development that surrounds them. The proponent's rejection of trading development rights for brown zones that are already disturbed is a red flag.

This is the act of a developer that is not in touch with the needs of this community. They are not the kind of resort partners Whistler wants, or needs. Hopefully it will end here with their seventh and final attempt.

AWARE Past Presidents B. Max Gotz, Brad Kasselman, Ken Melamed, Mitchell Rhodes and Wendy Horan

Horse policy needed

In Mount Currie, last weekend 60 horses came close to getting culled and shipped off to the dog food factory.

Mount Currie residents stopped it from happening. It is still painful to think what happened to the Whistler Sled Dogs a couple years ago, this shouldn't have to happen to these horses.

The SPCA doesn't have jurisdiction on reserve land — it needs to be invited. This needs to happen. This story needs nation-wide attention to put pressure on the local chief and mayor to support a program to adopt these horses out.

Please help.

Kristin Nuttall

Pemberton

Ending hunger in Whistler

I am the Whistler Community Services Society Food Bank Coordinator, and written right into my job description is the task to End Hunger in Whistler. I know this is impossible, but when I started at the Food Bank I knew it had to be part of my job description.

There will always be people in every community that struggle at times to put food on their table. In Canada's past people were able to seek help from family and friends in the community, but many went without and their health was compromised because of it. There was little to no government help and thus, food banks stepped in to fill the need. Until communities, politicians, businesses and individuals step up to the challenge of helping people address their needs and get the long-term help they require, there will be a need for food banks.

After the 2008 recession in Whistler, the number of people needing the food bank in Whistler skyrocketed. We struggled to keep our shelves stocked and continue feeding the hundreds of people coming through our doors.

Now at the end of 2013 we are starting to see the number of people at the food bank go down. It may be some time until we get back down to pre-recession numbers, but we are finally moving in the right direction.

It goes to show, when Whistler is hurting economically numbers rise at the food bank as jobs are cut, and when Whistler business picks up, the snow is flying or the sun is shining there are more jobs and less people at the food bank.

So I could pat myself on the back and say "good job," numbers are going down, Whistler is doing OK.

But that doesn't make any of the people I see each open day looking for food feel any better about their situation. They don't want to hear that Whistler is doing better, that there are more jobs to be had, and that the numbers at the food bank are down. They are hurting, they can't put enough food on their table, and they are either unable to find work, aren't getting enough work to cover costs, or are unable to work for other reasons. How do we meet their needs?

During the recession the majority of people needing the food bank were seasonal workers. This makes sense. Since most of them are young adults they have less financial resources to fall back on, they fill the lowest paying jobs, and are first to be let go when Whistler enters its shoulder seasons or when businesses find they have over-hired for the season.

With the number of seasonal workers using our services down — many of our clients are now long-term Whistler citizens. In October of 2013, 17 per cent of food bank users had lived in Whistler for one to three years, 13 per cent had lived in Whistler three to10 years, and 25 per cent had lived in Whistler for over 10 years! Of course, October is not the best month to use as a lot of the transients don't arrive until November, but the number of clients using the food bank that have lived in Whistler over a year has been fairly high even through last winter and we have seen a lot more families accessing WCSS services in the last two years.

As we enter the winter season, housing continues to be a problem in Whistler. 12 per cent of food bank users when asked about their housing said they were currently couch-surfing (staying with a friend rent free temporarily), six per cent said they were camping or living in a vehicle, and four per cent were living in a hostel and the high cost of rent often comes up in conversations about why someone is accessing the food bank.

Whistler has done a lot to address housing, particularly for the middle-income earners through WHA own and rental units but there is still a need for social housing and more short-term emergency housing. When compared to other places in the world food is cheap in Canada, but housing costs are high. So to help end hunger, we have to address housing.

So why do people use the food bank? Underemployment continues to be the number one reason cited whether it is the slow season or mid winter. Behind underemployment is unemployment, this can be people new to town and looking for work and it taking longer than they thought, or it can be people who have been laid off recently or returning to the work force after a leave of absence.

Not being able to work due to illness or injury is also high on the list of reasons for using the food bank. This could be a short-term injury that has affected ones ability to work, or a long-term one that may mean the person will never be able to return to the same level of employment they may have had in the past.

Now back to my goal of ending hunger in Whistler. What can we do to help those that are still seeking help at the food bank? Each person accessing the WCSS Food Bank receives information about Work BC, the employment resource centre and its services, and many of them seek help there and end up finding employment. For families and individuals that may have more complex or ongoing needs, they are referred to our WCSS outreach workers where they learn about additional services that may assist them. However, some of the programs are over-subscribed, yet sorely needed. Programs like counselling assistance, addictions programs, and social housing.

Employers too have to keep in mind that their hiring practices directly impact the community. Many businesses in the community do a great job at looking after their employees, but there are often steps that can be taken to help a little more.

Individuals can continue to help by caring for your friends and neighbours that you know are struggling, give them some food, lend them a friendly ear to confide in, and let them know about the services in the community that could help. We can all do our part.

Hunger will never be eradicated in Whistler, but we can sure try our best! In the meantime, please help us fill our shelves with food to help those in Whistler that continue to struggle. Donate funds or food, run a food/fund drive, host a Christmas party food drive, or consider donating to other programs in Whistler that can help people change their present situation and depend on emergency services like food banks less.

If you are a business owner, a community group organizer, or a teacher and want to learn more about how you can help end hunger in Whistler I am free to come speak to your group about hunger issues in Whistler and ideas to help. Please get in touch with me at foodbank@mywcss.org or call 604-935-7717.

Sara Jennings

Whistler Community Services Society