Plowing through the paperwork

"We’ve got some great documents..."

The person who showed considerable enthusiasm in making this statement was: a) A character in a John le Carré novel; b) A 14-year-old male after buying some girlie magazines without having to show I.D.; c) A Whistler councillor?

If you answered c) you were at Monday night’s council meeting.

If you were at Monday night’s council meeting you are either a) One of the members of the Mature Action Committee who sat through the entire council meeting waiting for council to endorse the concept that seniors’ housing should be considered resident housing (they did); b) Work for the municipality; c) Are a member of the local media; d) Have no life.

There are no wrong answers in this little quiz – and the opening statement isn’t "wrong" either. But it encapsulates, in a small way, why some people are frustrated with Whistler.

The councillor’s statement was in response to a presentation on the new Village Enhancement Strategy, a 58-page document intended to guide decisions on signs, clothing racks, store fronts and general aesthetics about the village. A Village Enhancement Committee and a consultant worked with municipal staff to develop the strategy.

There is certainly nothing wrong with developing comprehensive policies and frameworks for the myriad issues that need to be addressed in Whistler. The Village Enhancement Strategy works with other municipal policies, incorporating the Natural Step program of moving toward sustainability. The municipality’s Transportation Strategy is also consistent with the Natural Step and in turn dovetails with the Vision 2002 document. The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, which will be produced in the next year, will presumably also mesh with these earlier strategies and policies.

By the time voters go to the polls next November to choose a municipal council there will be little doubt about the policies and directions established by the incumbents; it will all be laid out in a series of documents available to anyone interested in reading them. And that might be this council’s great undoing.

Of course it’s better to address issues with an overall policy in place, but the time it takes for committees to define and review issues, to gather input and then develop policies, can drive people nuts. Two weeks ago a consultant presented a strategic plan to council on behalf of the Healthy Communities Committee. When the consultant was done one councillor said he didn’t disagree with anything that had been said, but he had a hard time understanding what it was the committee was trying to do. Some councillors weren’t aware that the Healthy Communities Committee even existed.

As the Healthy Communities consultant said, Whistler is a complex place. There are few simple answers to issues. But people are looking for direct responses. The Olympics are a case in point. People want to know if hosting the Games will affect their taxes or impact the character of the town. Important, complex questions; there are committees working on answers.

The Olympics aren’t the only thing that will affect or shape Whistler’s future. They may not even be the most important thing. But the Olympics are something that people can relate to. People can’t relate to the Municipal Charter, for example – a document that hasn’t even been written yet.

And it takes more than a comprehensive strategy document for people to understand an issue. Village North is a case in point. There was a document detailing how Village North would develop, including the projected pace of development, but few people read or understood it. As a consequence, many people were shocked and appalled at the pace at which the village doubled in size.

It’s not that Whistler has developed or operates behind closed doors, it’s that it happens behind a wall of documents. It was not intended as a wall to keep people out, but it has caused people’s eyes to glaze over.

We’ve got some great documents. We’ve also got some great people in this town. We need to make sure those people are engaged and remain engaged. Maybe we could have some Coles Notes to go with the documents.

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