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Opinion: No control

"We were never going to be cool with this project. And I feel that anybody who cares about the people in this town as much as its visitors and its key stakeholders would know that.'
An artist’s rendering of planned upgrades to Rainbow Park.

In January, I was perusing Facebook when I came across a post from the municipality—Rainbow Park was going to be closed for the summer, and large swaths of grass where people like to lie around and get hit by the occasional frisbee were to be paved in the name of accessibility, a Valley Trail realignment and food trucks.

My initial reaction was to get mad at myself, because this was a major story for this town and somehow I missed it. I figured that I must have been asleep at the switch and gapped on a public meeting, or council vote, or newspaper story, or something that would have let me know this was being considered. But it seems I wasn’t the only one taken by surprise. Nobody knew because those paving plans were buried in another plan from five years ago.

The reaction of locals was predictably swift and hostile, culminating with a petition that was signed by more than 3,000 people within a few weeks. The petition worked, sort of, as plans were scaled back, but there will still be closures, changes to the Valley Trail, and less grass and more pavement. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

It was kind of like the decision to add pay parking to our popular lakeside parks last year. The idea at the time was that this would somehow reduce day visitors coming to use the parks, but I would argue that the opposite has happened, and that cash-strapped locals with SUPs, dogs, kids toys and other things that don’t bus easily were the ones who stopped going to the park, while day visitors just shrugged and paid up. (When you’re already committed to spending $40 to $50 in gas for a round trip to Whistler for the day, what’s another $12 for convenient, almost guaranteed parking?)

We could have kept parking free during the week, confined pay parking to mid-summer, or ended it earlier enough in the afternoon so locals could come by for a swim or paddle, but no—it’s pay-to-play from spring to fall, morning to night. Locals lose again.

It’s decisions like this that are making us grumpy. When all is said and done, we have almost no control over our town.

Think about it.

Whistler has been asking for help with its traffic issues for years—another temporary lane on busy days, traffic circles to keep vehicles moving and allow people to merge with the highway, reduced speed from 80 kilometres an hour to 60 km/h from Alta Lake Road to Function to calm traffic—but those decisions are made by the provincial Ministry of Transportation, which doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about what we need. They care more about moving visitors in and out of the resort quickly than managing local traffic in a way that helps people who live here get around.

All decisions about the mountains are being made by Vail Resorts from its Colorado headquarters. Cheaper passes have been a boon to locals, but a lot of other decisions are being made without consulting the people who know the resort best and have experienced four different owners and management teams in the last 20 years.

Decisions on how the resort is marketed, and to whom, are made by Tourism Whistler. Presumably they have the blessing of our business leaders, but they are also encouraging day visitors to ride and hike trails built and funded by locals, and to enjoy our local parks without making a direct contribution back to those amenities.

Our resort is also far from locally owned and operated. Hotels are generally owned by foreign conglomerates. Decisions affecting our backcountry are provincial. Decisions affecting development in the region is made by the regional district and province. There are rights of way for CN Rail and BC Hydro. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations and the Cheakamus Community Forest decide what trees get harvested and where. Second homeowners that have different priorities also have an equal stake in electing councillors, and can influence our decision-makers in all kinds of ways that don’t necessarily benefit the people who live here.

I was trying to figure out why people are so cynical and hostile these days, but it was obvious—having no meaningful input into changes that affect your life will send anyone over the edge.

We can answer surveys, go to open house planning meetings, share our opinions on social media, write letters to the editor, and generally be rabble-rousers when we need to be—and sometimes those things pay off.

But I would argue that we shouldn’t have to go nuclear to defend our interests all the time. We exist. Our stakeholders know we exist. Maybe decision-makers should ask themselves how their decisions will affect locals and consider our feelings BEFORE making changes like paving a local park.

We were never going to be cool with this project. And I feel that anybody who cares about the people in this town as much as its visitors and its key stakeholders would know that.