Most of you from outside this area likely have a picture of what our community looks like and what it is. I suspect you think of this being a beautiful warm oasis, great wine, expensive homes and beaches.
You would be partially right. We have a ton of millionaires here, developers by the score, and some of the most beautiful countryside there is.
We also have traffic nightmares, second rate transit, growing homeless numbers and housing that is pricing many who live here out of the hope of ever owning their own home.
The average home is about $300,000. What with Kelowna's commerce delivering jobs at $10.00 per hour, the sunshine tax (Many employers here feel that the bonus is living here so don't expect overtime), how is a young family to own a home. It won't be happening in our city unless we get the city council to start finding ways to develop housing that is affordable, in the $100,000 range.
We have two big problems with respect to housing in our city. One the growing number of homeless, some of whom are holding down one or two jobs, but can not afford a place, those unemployed and those dealing with drug addictions, many of whom have mental health issues as well.
Concurrent disorders (usually drug addiction with one or more mental health problems) present themselves with no solutions. The City has all but ignored social issues for years now. They have no effective means in place to address the issues nor do they seem to want to address these problems. The current Mayor in the past has been known to say the social issues are the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments and Kelowna city council should stick to the issues like water, sewer and allowing development.
The Kelowna Gospel Mission serves many of the homeless downtown. Their facility is old, outdated and too small for the needs they have to address. Just prior to the provincial election, the Province announced $5 million for a new facility. Now months after the election we are hearing that it could be up to two or more years before that money is spent on a facility. The City has no idea where it should be constructed, the Mission has no idea what should be built and the homeless continue to grow.
Aside from the major drug and homeless situation, we have traffic and transit nightmares created by the lack of planning. Highway 97 runs right through the centre of Kelowna. All traffic is funneled over the old three lane floating bridge into our city.
The plans for a new bridge will not really improve things. The new bridge will have five lanes. These lanes will simply bring more cars into the centre of the city again. It does nothing to alleviate the traffic snarls downtown. It slows down those people just wanting to make their way through and ticks off those of us that have to deal with "rush hour".
The bridge should have become part of a bypass route, bring the traffic from the westside across the lake to the north of the city. This would have allowed those that want to come to our city easy access and and those just going through to go on by. It seems this option was not available due to the leaders in commerce belief that if we don't corral those on highway 97 into our city they won't come here.
If you ride a bicycle in this city you can count on several near accidents in the course of your journey. The current bicycle lanes are incomplete, fail to meet up with others and often ignored by motorists. To add an insult to this the new bridge will have only one lane for bicycles, which will have two way cycle traffic and pedestrians, and the odd service vehicle. Another example of poor planning and the creation of further aggravation and accidents.
Finally there is one more serious concern. Transit. We have not bad transit in some areas of the city and others it is a down right disgrace. Imagine allowing developers to build then we don't provide or plan for transit to service the area. Kelowna is looking more and more like the urban sprawl we associate with California. You need a car to get around in this city.
More soon on the City of Kelowna's Official Community plan in a future post. It may surprise people to know we have one, what won't surprise many is that developers get variances for nothing. (note: Not all developers are bad, after all they have the blessing of our City Council)
There will be an election this fall for city council. We need a council with a vision and people to work at the job. In 21 years we have only seen on incumbent defeated. This year we have three and maybe four vacancies to fill.
The chance to elect some people that have an ability to see into the future, that will address sustainable growth, address transportation with a long term planning, and find a way to house some 5000 homeless and underhoused families. I hope we some good people come forward of any political stripe, lets just get some reasonable folks that care about our city and are not held by the development business.