Issues and opportunities: the time is now

Fearless prediction: a couple of months from now some people are going to be shocked to find that they have to pay to park in day-skier lots 1, 2 and 3. Some businesses will also complain that the new pay parking is hurting their numbers. This, they will say, is another example of the municipality's ever-growing need for more revenue. It's also driving up the cost of living or vacating in Whistler.

Few issues seem to ignite the fury of suddenly vigilante voters quite like pay parking. To many, it's still outrageous that they have to take money out of their pockets to park in the underground lot next to the conference centre. They point to the many empty parking stalls as proof that people are not accepting pay parking.

And there is merit in these arguments. But there's a little more to the issue than just the fact we now have to pay the municipality in order to park our cars.

In the case of the day-skier lots, the municipality acquired the lots from the province in exchange for building a debris catcher on Fitzsimmons Creek. That cost money. And if the municipality hadn't acquired title to the lots they may have gone to Whistler Blackcomb or some other private company that would have charged for parking. With the municipality acquiring the lots, the argument goes, at least the parking revenue will be going into the public purse. Specifically, it is supposed to go towards public transit, which is in keeping with the municipality's long-held philosophy that people should be encouraged to get out of their cars and take the bus.

Moreover, the argument continues, parking is never "free." Someone has to pay for it, either directly or indirectly.

It's also believed that pay parking keeps cars, and customers, rotating through parking stalls. Rather than one vehicle parked all day in a prime "free" stall, pay parking limits the time that car will occupy the prime spot, making it available to more customers, which should be good for businesses.

That's a lot of background to absorb. To most people, all they see is that it suddenly costs them a few dollars to park when previously they didn't have to open their wallets. It's a change they don't believe in.

This long-winded explanation is not to suggest that anyone has to accept the municipality's arguments for pay parking. What is suggested is that there is a time, an opportunity for people to shape and influence issues, whether it's pay parking or something else. But when you roll into a parking lot and discover you have to feed a meter, that time has probably passed.

And there are issues bigger than pay parking facing Whistler. More importantly, there have never been more opportunities for individuals to shape the response to these issues.

"Where do we go from here?" is a theme running through many minds in Whistler following years of focus on the Olympics. Preparing for the Games consumed the attention of municipal hall. Over the last seven years the chamber of commerce organized numerous workshops and speakers in an attempt to prepare Whistler businesses for the Games. Tourism Whistler spent countless hours preparing for the media onslaught that came with the Olympics.

And now they are all looking for input on Whistler's next steps.

This week the municipality launched the first wholesale review of its official community plan in 17 years. While generally related to land-use issues, the OCP review will nonetheless include many opportunities for public input. The final document will also work with other municipal policies, such as transportation (and pay parking), so it is an opportunity for people to voice their concerns over those issues.

The chamber, as mentioned here last week, is asking - pleading - with businesses to do their survey, either online or in person. The chamber is looking for input as it develops a vision for the Whistler business community for the next five years.

One Whistler is going through a similar exercise.

Tourism Whistler is increasing its marketing budget as it seeks to capitalize on the Olympic afterglow. More details will be available at Tourism Whistler's annual general meeting next month.

The Whistler Arts Council and Millennium Place are slowly merging and learning to do more with less in the post-Olympic landscape.

These are the public bodies that set policy and direction in Whistler. Those policies and the rationales for them are often complex, but they don't drop out of the sky. They are shaped and formed with input from many people. The opportunity for input in each of them is now.



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