Civil lawsuits in Penticton over Skaha Park sliding forward

The Save Skaha Park Society is taking issue with Mayor Andrew Jakubeit’s comments about finding a negotiated solution.

Protesters shout down council after being informed that the Skaha Lake park lease would not be considered at all during a council meeting in 2015.

Protesters shout down council after being informed that the Skaha Lake park lease would not be considered at all during a council meeting in 2015.

The Save Skaha Park Society is taking issue with Mayor Andrew Jakubeit’s comments about finding a negotiated solution to the ongoing dispute about leasing a portion of the public park.

“He is implying that we have been part of a negotiation, and the SSPS has never been,” said SSPS spokesperson Lisa Martin. “He keeps talking about bringing all parties to the table, but this has been going on for a year, and nothing has happened.”

With the city filing responses to the claim, the lawsuits can move on to the discovery phase, but Jakubeit said he hopes a solution can be found outside of the court.

“I think all parties are best served by coming to the table for a rational conversation, free from sensationalism and lawyers – this is still the aim and we will still work to resolve this through all channels” said Jakubeit in a release. “Our defence helps us get closer to resolution and an outcome we can all embrace.”

On Wednesday, the city’s legal council, Robert Macquisten of the Victoria firm Stewart McDannold Stuart, filed responses to the society’s civil claim, filed on Sept. 25, 2015, and Nelson Meikle’s similar claim, filed on July 28, opposing an agreement signed between the city and Trio Marine Group, who plan to build a commercial water slide in the southeastern corner of the park.

Normally, a response is required within a month of the original claim being filed, but the SSPS chose to put their claim on hold last January, to give the city time to negotiate a deal.

According to the city’s press release, over the past 10 months the city has sought a resolution to the SSPS concerns outside of court procedures. The release said the city is still optimistic that a negotiated resolution is possible but understands as conversations are progressing, so must the legislative requirement to file a statement of defence.

Jakubeit said his hope comes from a meeting between SSPS and Trio, where the possibility of building on the existing marina was raised.

“I think that was sort of the middle ground,” he said. “I think that if greenspace wasn’t being taken away and the size or scope of the project was changed, I think they would be receptive to having those conversations.”

Martin said Jakubeit is referring to a single meeting the society had with Tom Hedquist, one of the principals of Trio. He showed them a diagram showing an enhanced marina development.

“What we said was that anything they did within the current marina footprint was beyond our mandate. Whether we think this little diagram of theirs was a great idea or bad idea, it had no bearing,” said Martin, noting that their mandate is to protect the greenspace in Skaha Lake Park. Any change like that, she added, should be brought to the public.

“The city’s response denies the challenges we raised in our civil suit,” said Martin, highlighting the city’s claims they were acting within their power, and were not required to have the approval of the electorate. “Of course, we disagree with that.”

Approval of electors is only applicable under specific circumstances of acquisition in the Community Charter and does not apply to these agreements, the city claims in it’s release. Approval of the electors is only applicable, the city response claims, if the city were to remove the dedication of parkland, which has never been the intention.

The SSPS has always maintained that the length of the lease, 29 years with the possibility of two five-year extensions, amounts to disposing of the parkland, and should have triggered a referendum.

Martin pointed out that if their civil claim and Meikle’s do go to court, the city is going to be using taxpayer’s money to fight a legal battle against a group of taxpayers, who are using their own money to support the suit.