Opponents of leasing land in Skaha Park to a private developer aren’t backing down, any more than city council is from their decision to proceed.
A second rally was held at city hall on Tuesday, in advance of council’s regular Aug. 4 meeting, and again drew hundreds of protesters. Just after 5 p.m. RCMP Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth estimated the crowd at 450, with more coming in. A multitude of signs with messages ranging from “We love Skaha Park” to “No corporate waterpark on public land” and “Referendum or bust” made the crowds sentiment clear.
This rally was sparked by Mayor Andrew Jakubeit and council’s decision to continue with the deal to lease the land to Trio Marine Group at a special council meeting on July 29, just prior to the mayor’s 30-day deadline to return the issue to council’s agenda. On June 29, council gave the go ahead to an agreement with Trio Marine Group for a 30-year lease on the Skaha marina and a portion of the park, where they plan to build a restaurant and other amenities, including a waterslide complex.
Former city councillor John Vassilaki attended the rally, as he did the first one. Vassilaki said he approved of the waterslides, but didn’t think the corner of Skaha Lake Park was an appropriate spot. But Vassilaki had another worry.
“I am concerned council isn’t listening to the people,” he said.
Doug Maxwell was out gathering signatures for both a recall council petition and one requesting a referendum on the park issue, which organizers say has over 3,000 signatures. Maxwell said the possible loss of parkland at Munson Mountain, the community centre and Skaha Lake park spurred him to take part.
“Once it is gone, it’s gone. It’s been too many years that we have tried to assemble parkland,” said Maxwell, adding that the length of the lease is an issue.
“It won’t go back to parkland. Never. They will find some other business to put in there,” said Maxwell. “I am talking all parkland, no matter what it is.”
In another repeat of the July 20 rally, former Mayor Jake Kimberley was one of the feature speakers. He talked about how through many past councils, the drive has been to increase parkland. In the case of Skaha Lake Park, Kimberley said it has taken 50 years to build the park through purchases, donations and expropriations.
“This lease is almost as long as that 50 years because they have 30 years plus two five year extensions,” Kimberley said.
The process council followed getting to the lease also needs to be examined, according to Kimberley, who suspects council may have been in discussion with the developers prior to the project being presented at the June public hearing.
“I went to the public hearing on June 29 to hear 3.5 hours of presentation by the public … and to hear the decision made in 30 minutes, without debate,” said Kimberley.
Kimberley also questioned the length of the lease, saying that it’s length should qualify it for needing public input via a referendum, just as the Municipal Charter requires for disposition of parkland.
“If the land is leased for 30 years, there is an argument to say that the land has been disposed of for public use,” said Kimberley. “The courts in Ontario heard that argument and said no, a lease means that public access is being denied to land purchased by the public.”
“Waterslides are for young people with families that can afford them. Public parks are for old, young, families, for free,” said Kimberley.