Council candidate: Ken Melamed
Ken Melamed came to Whistler in 1976 to be a ski bum. He’s worked on Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol for 22 years, been a stonemason for almost as long, and in the late 1980s, settled down with his wife Uschi, started a family, and got very serious about the world around him. As president of AWARE for six years, he led the fight against rapacious growth and after an unsuccessful attempt in 1993, was elected to council in 1996 with the second highest vote total of that election.
Pique: Why do you want to be on council again?
Ken: First of all, I love it. I find it challenging and stimulating and engaging. I love it when people come up to me on the street and engage me in political conversations.
Also, I want to be on council because there’s work left to be done. I’ve been very gratified with the amount of influence I’ve had on council. I campaigned to give the environment a high focus; I wanted to give the community a high focus, and I’ve been able to do that. As an example, I’m not sure the environmental strategy could have happened if the community hadn’t elected me to council and if I hadn’t had a strong voice.
Pique: What are the key issues facing this next council?
Ken: Implementing the environmental strategy is key. At the root of the Emerald Forest deal is the recognition that certain things are irretrievable. Once our natural heritage and natural resources are developed, they’re gone. We had to trade saving those against adding bed units, which arguably can be mitigated. Once developed, that environmentally sensitive area is gone.
Beginning to implement some of the objectives in the environmental strategy — such as protected areas strategy — is important to do now, so we can be proactive in acquiring key pieces of land that will give us long-term protection and not cost what it cost us in the Emerald Forest. It isn’t going to get any cheaper to protect land as the years go by.
Affordability, and working towards issues that are important to the healthy social structure of the community, is another. We’ve talked a lot about it. It’s part of the Vision document. It was one of the key lessons learned from the resort tour.
Employee housing is one element this council was able to achieve some real, concrete, tangible successes on. We need to complete that. And then, we need to look at ways to develop continued funding sources to manage affordability. That (housing fund) was a one-time fund and it’s not being replenished because development is ending.
And that ties into the next issue: financial planning in this transition from construction boom economy to one of post-buildout. There are a number of financial challenges that have to be dealt with.
Pique: What do you see as this council’s notable failures?
Ken: The easy, noticeable failure is nightly rentals. We tried to deal with it and aborted half way through. During the process, we were told that temporary accommodation permits were not allowed under the Municipal Act, so we went with rezoning, which was a critical mistake. Rezoning is too permanent and that’s why it failed. Halfway through the process, the Municipal Act changed and legalized temporary accommodation, but we were so far down the road of rezoning, it took that public hearing to change it.
The other failing on council was the lack of resolve to complete its commitment to community issues. Even though I think the Emerald Forest deal ended up where I wanted it to, it was a split council all the way through. Nancy and I advocated buying the property outright, before the price had increased to where it ended up. But we were a minority vote. Council split the other way. Once the price jumped from three or four million to ten million, buying it wasn’t an option.
Pique: How do you strike a balance between local interests and community interests?
Ken: That’s where the development of these planning tools — the Vision document, the TAG report, the environmental strategy — come into play. Council has those to refer to. I have tried to be consistent with what they say. It was very unsettling, for instance, with 19 Mile Creek, that I took so much heat personally for completing a commitment I made running in 1996. I was going to work to provide employee housing. The 19 Mile Creek decision was totally consistent with those beliefs.
The word that best defines Whistler is change. There’s been a backlash; I think that’s why this council got elected last time. We have to recognize and accept change and embrace it and look at it as an opportunity, without compromising the quality of life we enjoy. If that means a cost to one local neighbourhood, in the interests of the health of the community overall, that’s a tough choice we have to make.
Pique: Why should people vote for you?
Ken: There are a few things I think distinguish me from a lot of the other people running. First of all, I’ve proved a certain amount of integrity. I like to think I’m the antithetical politician. Even though I’m enjoying the political realm, and can be seen to be a political animal in the way I behave, I don’t make false promises. I am consistent. I take on this job less with the goal of how I’m going to get re-elected than how I’m going to make a lasting difference to this community.
Another is an ability to be a lateral thinker; I come up with ideas that are maybe not popular, but force us to consider options outside traditional solutions. The best example would be the protection of the spruce forest (proposed driving range). Nobody thought that could be achieved. This piece of land was zoned; it was mandated the developer provide this. But I came to council and said "No, this is wrong. We need to find a way to change it." It took awhile but ultimately, bringing it up time and again, being persistent and having the courage to stand up to the status quo, it was changed.
I have a continuing commitment to the betterment of our community. I represent a balance to those people who find it easy to support things purely on the pro-development side. It’s easy for some to say we can’t turn away significant investments in our community, but you have to test that against whether the community, on balance, is getting value out of that investment.