Opinion » Maxed Out

Where is the local's voice in decision making?



A number of years ago, way back when the word "overtourism" had never been uttered on these shores and Tiny Town yearned for more and more visitors, back when there were shoulder seasons and many businesses more or less shut down to renovate or give their owners and workers a chance to escape to somewhere they could holiday, a time before Festivals, Events and Animation—in other words a long, long time ago—someone proposed a trolley service in Whistler.

This wasn't a trolley designed to alleviate congestion on the highway, for there was no congestion to speak of except for Saturday and, particularly, Sunday afternoon during the winter when skiers from Vancouver—yes, this was a time we actually encouraged semi-local and regional skiers to come here, egged on by relatively low prices and flexible lift products—all headed south at the same time, happy and exhausted but dreading the fact they had to go back to work the next day.

It wasn't a trolley that would make it easier for worker bees with no car of their own to get to work. Whistler Transit did that job reasonably well ... as long as you worked in the village.

It was a trolley tourists could ride. An amusement.

What, I hear you ask, would the tourists see when they rode the trolley? Well, if you'd have lived here then, they may have seen you. Yes, you! The trolley was going to give tourists a glimpse of what it was like to be a local in Whistler. "Oh, look; see the locals in their colourful fleece garb going into ... is that the famous Nesters? I wonder what they're going to buy? What do you suppose locals eat?"

This was, of course, before Jim Pattison bought Nesters and they started sprouting up like mushrooms in the fall around the Lower Mainland. As well as Nesters, the trolley was going to make the rounds. Meadow Park ("Oh look, they play hockey too!"), the local neighbourhoods no one believed actually existed, the Mushroom House, Citta's; all the hot, local spots.

While many locals found this highly amusing, in a sort of, "Wow, that's really lame," kind of way, others were just a bit peeved at the idea. "We live here!" they exclaimed. "We are not tourist attractions. Our houses and neighbourhoods are not tourist attractions. We are a community."

More vocal locals even went further. "Keep the tourists in the village," they cried. After all, that's what the village was built for ... a tourist compound. "Our homes are our sanctuaries," some said.

It all was for naught. The See-The-Locals trolley barely made it off the ground. It was, after all, a dumb idea.

In a tangentially related episode in the ongoing saga of Tiny Town, there was a contentious debate among locals over the issue of tourist accommodation. Again, there were those who believed, "Hey, we built the village for tourists to stay in. Let's keep them there." Though no one went so far as to suggest fencing the village to keep them from escaping.

Others wanted to have tourists come to their homes and stay there and pay them the money they would have paid some hotel or condo in the village. Historical aside: This was a time before Airbnb; it wasn't that easy for tourists to find places in neighbourhoods where people wanted to cash in on their wistful desire to stay somewhere other than the village.

After a lot of cantankerous debate, council of the day, showing uncharacteristic, Solomonic wisdom, zoned areas in town—Nicklaus North, for example—for tourist accommodation. People who own homes in areas so zoned could, legally, have people come and stay for a price. People who own homes in areas without tourist accommodation zoning couldn't. Thus was created the notion that some parts of town were strictly residential while some were more touristy.

People who didn't want lost tourists knocking on their doors asking where they could park while they stayed in someone's house were relieved. It wasn't that they didn't like tourists, they just preferred tourists didn't stay in their neighbourhoods.

That was then. This is now.

Whistler still has that zoning. Many people wish it didn't. They want to cash in on tourists, especially now that Airbnb makes it so easy. Heck, some who own Whistler Housing Authority homes even want to cash in. They have no shame.

But this isn't about tourist accommodation. This is about tourist attractions. This is about the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and certain groups in town who seem not to appreciate there are still locals who aren't that keen on having their quiet neighbourhoods turned into tourist attractions, that there are people who won't sell their souls for another busload of tourists, who just want to live in relative peace and quiet.

Like the folks who live up near the end of Mountainview Drive. Last year, their neighbourhood—which ends at a cul-de-sac—became a tourist attraction. More particularly, it became the well-publicized trailhead for the Skywalk trail.

Suddenly, where only snowplows and lost souls turned around, where there had been no parking allowed, their cul-de-sac became a de facto parking lot. Like most parking lots, it also became a magnet for trash, both inanimate and human. Some hikers parked there overnight. A few even camped there. Quite a few relieved themselves there, if you know what I mean.

You see, the people who conceived of and created the Skywalk trail never asked the people who live there whether they wanted a well-publicized trailhead at the end of their street. Heck, they never even seemed to take them into consideration. They were hell-bent on creating another tourist attraction.

Earlier this year, some RMOW workers where scouting the cul-de-sac for a good place to put a porta potty. Ever wonder where in your neighbourhood would be a good place for one? I didn't think so. When confronted by a homeowner, the RMOW person said, "People who drive up to hike here need a place to relieve themselves." How's that for clueless?

When the homeowners confronted the mayor, among others, he asked them if they'd lost sight of the fact they live in a resort. They were too kind to ask the mayor where in his neighbourhood he'd like a porta potty.

And so now, the RMOW's Trails Planning Working Group want to create a group of stakeholders to plot out the future growth of the muni's Alpine Trails Network. Guess which stakeholders aren't included? That's right, you, me, the people kinda like those on Mountainview whose neighbourhood may be the home of future porta potties for coffee-bloated tourists. Cool, eh?

But then, it's the model for working groups in this town. Ignore local representation and leave it to the RMOW, business groups, Tourism Whistler and others. Locals? Yer kidding.

Not this time.