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Re: Municipality to borrow $100 Million for Athlete Village construction

I am very concerned that the RMOW has approved taking a loan to finance the Olympic Athlete Village project from the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA). Whistler 2020 Development Corp was formed specifically to finance, design and build the athletes’ village. The whole idea was to contain the risks of financing and building the project and not allow any risks to impact the municipality and its taxpayers.

VANOC’s equity contribution of $37.5 million, plus free Crown land and a market-priced sale component, easily allows for conventional and safe project financing with no municipal guarantees. Then, if there are delays, increased construction costs or a shortfall in sales to resident buyers, the lender can look to only the project itself for repayment…not the municipality and its taxpayers.

By borrowing the $100 million directly, Council puts all the risks directly onto the backs of Whistler property taxpayers.

Council notes that the MFA direct loan has a lower interest rate than standalone project financing. That is true, because interest rates are lower when there is less risk. The MFA will have all Whistler property taxpayers on the hook, because we are way surer than a housing project. MFA need not review the Athlete Village project because, as the MFA manager pointed out, Whistler has $50 million in revenues every year.

The trouble is that to get a couple of percentage points in lower interest the municipality has become a real estate speculator. And, of course, that makes every Whistler taxpayer a real estate speculator, too.

So what? Well, if the U.S. has a recession deeper and longer than planned and resort business is affected, maybe the Whistler Housing Authority’s pre-approved list shrinks way faster than expected. And maybe there’s a $25 million shortfall when the loan comes due. So we just send the MFA the extra money?

The tough answer is provided by Council, which has approved a six per cent tax increase. All Whistler revenues are already earmarked for other purposes. There is no extra money to wager on a very large real estate venture. In fact it would be extremely inappropriate to use any property tax money for such a purpose.

I’m not aware of any Whistler Housing Authority projects to date that have relied on property taxpayer money. The municipality should not start now.

Council should reconsider this loan and do standalone financing as was always planned.

Ted Milner

Whistler

That’s “save” Garibaldi

For those who are interested in knowing more about the developers trying to build two golf courses, 25 ski lifts, 98 km of new road, a retail centre on Highway 99, and over 5,700 housing units for a projected population increase in Squamish of 22,000 — all on provincial Crown land around Cat and Brohm lakes and bordering Garibaldi Provincial Park just north of Squamish — take a look at www.savegaribaldi.org.

That's the website established by an independent, not-for-profit group of Squamish-based residents who are working to inform people about the development proposal Garibaldi at Squamish, and to ensure that the views and concerns of the people are heard by the developers and decision makers.

This past week, you had to make sure that you typed in the suffix .org though, because if you accidentally typed in the suffix .com or .ca (as I did), your web browser would have automatically redirected you to the proponents' Garibaldi at Squamish development website. This practice is commonly referred to as cybersquatting, which is defined as "the abusive registration of trademarks as domain names." It appears that after the owner of www.savegaribaldi.com and www.savegaribaldi.ca became aware that I submitted a letter to the editor revealing this cybersquatting, he immediately de-linked these website addresses. An Internet domain name search reveals that www.savegaribaldi.com and www.savegaribaldi.ca are websites registered to Squamish resident Gord Addison (this is a matter of public record), and were registered on Dec. 3, 2007, subsequently to www.savegaribaldi.org being posted on the Web. Mr. Addison is well known for doing consulting work for a variety of developers working on Squamish projects. At this point, Garibaldi at Squamish can do little more than ask to buy these website addresses from Mr. Addison.

Illegal action? Perhaps. Unethical practice? You decide.

Ron Enns

Squamish

The wheels of the bus…..

Do the wheels of the bus go round and round? As a regular transit user for the past five years I have to say the system is broken. This year alone you can ride the bus for 30 days for a 10 ride pass. Or free most times due to the broken down equipment on every bus.

The last straw for me was when guests to Whistler had to put money into a bucket taped to the side of the cash box onboard a bus. While the regular riders got on for free because nothing works.

This is just the tip of the problem as the busses are filthy and over crowed and a lot have no heat or are too hot in the summer. As Whistler strives for all to ride transit the group responsible for the system has failed us. Lack of concern, safety, and overall good business standards are simply not met.

Russell Peters

Whistler

Scoop your poop

My family just returned home, having spent two fantastic weeks vacationing in Whistler over Christmas and New Year’s. We enjoyed both the spectacular skiing conditions, in addition to the very festive and winter-like atmosphere of the village and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, while walking the valley trails, the winter wonderland was spoiled by the unsightly and unhygienic display of dog excrement scattered on the path every few feet.

As we have noted while visiting during the summer, most of the dog-owning residents of Whistler prefer to allow their pets to "do their thing" in the forest a few feet off of the trail, and are therefore not accustomed to abiding by the poop-scoop bylaw which I know exists there.

Unfortunately, this does not work in the winter when snow is piled two feet high on either side of the trail, making it impossible for dogs to defecate anywhere but right on the walking path where it in turn degrades that much slower due to the freezing temperatures.

As 2010 approaches, your council has to start now to educate dog owners and to enforce the bylaw both in the winter and summer to avoid an embarrassment to your community when the world visits for the Olympics.

Dr. Ron De Marchi

Burnaby

No taxation without representation

I was appalled to read the comments of Councillors Tim Wake and Eckhard Zeidler quoted in Pique regarding the six per cent property tax increase.

To pretend that they represent the whole community and that there is any form of democracy involved is incredible. According to statistics I found on the Tourism Whistler website, Whistler has 9,248 permanent residents and 9,100 second home owners. This would seem to indicate that well over half of all property tax is paid by second home owners.

The proportion is likely to be substantially higher given that many of the larger homes (with higher tax bills) are owned as second homes. As only B.C. residents can vote in elections for council, this disenfranchises the many second home owners from the U.S., Asia and Europe.

I would suggest that this group still represents a large percentage of the tax base. Perhaps Council could enlighten us as to just what percentage of the tax base is paid by property owners who are not entitled to vote.

It is surprising then how little effort the Council makes to reach out to these taxpayers, presumably because they cannot vote. I had several dialogues with the previous mayor on this matter and had hoped that things might have improved. However the only communication that I have received since the election is an e-mail (yes, Council does have my e-mail address) sent on Christmas Eve about the preparation of a five-year financial plan and the existence of an online discussion forum to which the link did not work (hence the small number of comments posted), and about the opening of the library (with no mention of the delays and massive budget overruns). I know of no other initiative to involve the “expat” section of the community in any budget dialogue. Taxation without representation? I feel a Tea Party coming on…

John Fildes

Hong Kong

Skate update at Creekside

We want to take this opportunity to provide the community with an update as to the status of the Creekside Underground Skatepark. After a tremendous amount of vandalism and disrespect his past fall, we were able to meet and work with Whistler-Blackcomb, who graciously provide the space for us, and make a plan as to how to ensure the skatepark remains open but also does not cause more work or troubles for the good individuals in charge of the underground structure.

At that meeting several key things were decided. The first is that in order for us to continue to be given the space to use, we must really stay on top of keeping the area clean, that means garbage, bottles and graffiti outside the designated room. Luckily, for the most part, everyone has been happy to pitch in and the area has been quite a bit cleaner on average but we want to remind everyone to pack out any garbage and not to be afraid to spend 10 minutes cleaning up, it goes a really long way.

Something else that was decided, and this is something everyone must be aware of, is that the park will now be closed nightly at 10 p.m. The lights will be turned off and anyone skating will be asked to leave. We want to stress that this was a mutual decision by both parties and this is something we felt would help eliminate many problems which were occurring at the later hours. We ask that all skaters please respect this and if asked to leave, do so in a proper way.

Just this past week there was an incident where some skaters were politely asked to leave at 10 p.m. and they ended up physically and verbally threatening the security guard who was just doing his job. We were lucky that these yahoos wisely decided to leave without further incident because you can be sure had the situation escalated we would have lost the park right then and there. (If anyone knows the parties involved, please contact the WSA, we would love to talk to them and find out why what happened happened.)

Again, we would like to remind the skateboard community that this space has been provided to us as a gift and we must respect it and the people in charge of the space. One more incident like the one mentioned above and there will simply be no more discussions, the park will be closed.

Finally, we always knew the space in the underground was just a temporary solution, the parking spaces are desperately needed now, especially as the Olympics approach. We have come to the decision that the Creekside Underground Skatepark will remain open until the late fall of 2008. From now until then, we will be discussing various locations where we could (re)build a new and improved indoor skatepark and there are some really exciting possibilities on the table right now. We would like to invite anyone, young or old, to make suggestions and work with us to ensure the future of skateboarding in Whistler will be great.

Lenny Rubenovitch

Brian Hockenstein

Founding memebers of the Whistler Skateboard Association

Boys will be boys

I was lucky enough to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Whistler with my fiancé and my family. It was a wonderful holiday, everyone was so friendly!

However there was one incident that I witnessed on New Year’s Eve that was totally appalling. After a wonderful evening in The Keg, we left to walk home. Just outside The Keg were two young boys (around 17 years old) wrestling with each other. They were not throwing punches.

Six RCMP officers came at them, tackling one of the boys hard and smashing his head down onto the pavement. The boys were very polite to the officers despite being humiliated in front of so many people and told the officers that they were brothers and were just playing. Instead of letting the boys go, they were marched off in cuffs... the one boy I am sure had a concussion from how hard he was hit by the officers.

They appeared completely sober and their friends all confirmed that they were brothers playing together. This whole scene really upset me. Have the RCMP learned nothing from the incident in the Vancouver airport? Are they so convinced that they must be right they cannot admit to an honest mistake and let the boys go? Things need to change!

In closing I wanted to let the boys mother know that they were not behaving badly, and did not deserve a night in the drunk tank. I hope your family presses charges against these officers.

Kate Laird

Ottawa

Pay to play

This letter is in regards to Grouse Mountain sending the rescue bill to the backcountry venturers — (clap, clap, clap!). Good job. Maybe it will teach people that they are playing with something much bigger than they are and they will think twice before going for that fresh line.

People need to realize that search and rescue costs money and other peoples’ time. And with the recent popularity of getting lost, maybe this will deter the people that shouldn’t be out there in the first place. Perhaps locally Whistler-Blackcomb could install transceiver gates at access points to the local backcountry to prevent unprepared (and most importantly) unknowing people from entering the backcountry. Just my two cents.

Ryan McKeem

Pemberton

Composting at home

First off, I'd like to say that it is great that you included in this week’s paper the article about Green Resolutions for 2008. Yet one thing disturbed me. How vague can you be about composting household/kitchen waste? People in this town only know that you cannot compost, and they tend to not think outside the box. Why not offer them alternative ideas so they don't just pass the notion by? I have a few worm bins in my house, which require very little maintenance, yet provide an abundance of soil for me, and a significant decrease in my household waste. They are odour-free, hassle-free, and fun to observe! Why have you failed to provide people with such a simple idea on how to compost for themselves? All I ask is that you provide ideas for those who don't tend to seek them out on their own. Otherwise the article was great as well as extremely necessary.

Jennifer Lintner

Whistler

Cars and buses

I've been reading all the information on global warming, overcrowding, cost of gas and finally transportation problems. Don't they seem to be all the same problem? In our quest for a sustainable Olympics we've spent huge money on a useless highway that is just going to increase the above mentioned problems.

Raise the price of gas, and make it really difficult to drive private vehicles (with or without snow tires). With the infrastructure money from all the parking spaces and snow removal and other services we can set up a proper public transportation service throughout Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor. Spend that money on grants to make the buses and taxis more fuel efficient and there will be more room for the buses and other forms of transport to get where they are going.

Joe Filler

Whistler

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