One year after forming the Save Skaha Park Society is not ready to back down against what former Mayor of Penticton Jake Kimberley said is the biggest issue for the community in the 50 years he has been here.
“We cannot let this council destroy what has taken many past councils over 100 years as a city to create,” said Kimberley to open the Save Skaha Park Society press conference held on Friday.
Last September, the society filed a civil claim against the City of Penticton and Trio Marine aimed at preventing the 29-year lease on nearly six acres of Skaha Park, including the Skaha Marina.
Their main point of contention being the proposal to build a commercial waterslide in an area of the park now occupied by a children’s splash pad. Trio has a deadline with the city to come back with information about their plans for the marina and restaurant plans, the waterslide development does not have to be back before council until 2017.
On Friday, the society again stated they are not against a waterslide, rather this is not the appropriate site for it.
The society clarified their mandate as advocates for the preservation of Skaha Park, that it is freely accessible to all and to oppose commercial development in the park without the approval of the electors.
Kimberley, who was chairing the meeting on behalf of board chair Gary Denton, read out a timeline of events from the past year including the rallies that occurred in front of City Hall and in Skaha Park. Since then, he said the membership of SSPS has grown to 4,651.
“It has been a long and frustrating year in which SSPS has held off pursuing its lawsuit as the City of Penticton and Trio try to negotiate a resolution. The hope was that they would find a resolution that would meet our mandate without having to go to court and save Save Skaha Park Society members and taxpayers, which we all are, potentially over $100,000 in legal fees for SSPS and the city — each,” said Kimberley.
Duane Martin, a member of Save Skaha Park, said they have spent $17,000 to date on the lawsuit.
“We have been advised the next phase could be up to in excess of $30,000, that being the discovery phase. If it goes to court we have been advised it would be a five-day trial and that in itself could run in the neighbourhood of $50-60,000 and that is just the society,” said Martin.
While SSPS said they hoped a resolution would come before they have to go to court, they do have an estimated timeline of the end of 2017 for a five-day trial if they continue to move forward. They are quite certain they can secure the funds to pay the legal fees with people already offering “substantial” money to back it.
The society said they expect the City of Penticton will respond to the civil claim sometime next week. Mayor Andrew Jakubeit previously told the Penticton Western News he hoped the public will hear new information on Trio’s plans before the summer is over. (Read more: New information possibly coming on Skaha Park development)
“There are still hoops they have to go through in the process,” said Jakubeit. “It is 2017 where they have to provide a detailed design we have to approve and they have to provide their proof of financing.
Jakubeit said on Tuesday that the ultimate goal is to find a solution that avoids going to court.
“The missing element here is Trio updating the city with their intentions in respect to their original plans — are they going to leave it as is, modify, abandon or walk away. All of that will shape how we will proceed next,” he said.
Jakubeit said he can understand the frustration of the society and the public that there is no definitive answer right now and he hopes the intentions with the proposed greenspace will be addressed at Trio’s deadline with city hall at the end of September.
Had there been a referendum when the discussion about a commercial development in the park started, SSPS said they wouldn’t be still fighting today.
“The thing is we fought very hard to have a referendum, the figures show (the public) wanted a referendum. Had we had a referendum and lost we would have said that’s democracy,” said Carolae Donoghue, SSPS member. “We didn’t think we would lose, we hope that we wouldn’t lose, but if we lose and the waterslide goes ahead well that is democracy. We would have accepted that, but here we are a year later.”
Kimberley added the protests outside of City Hall were the biggest he had ever seen for an issue in Penticton.
“Had that protest been in my jurisdiction as a mayor, I would have taken that issue back to council and said referendum, referendum. We do not sign an agreement until we get consensus and support or non-support of the residents. This mayor made a big error,” he said.
Jakubeit told the Western News he called a straw poll of council in July 2015 to see if anyone on council wanted to revisit the issue of leasing the park. Only councillor Campbell Watt raised his hand. (Read more: City council not back down on Skaha Park decision)
The SSPS said they are planning for an annual general meeting (at a to be determined date in November). If everything is resolved by then, they will put it to the members on what to do with the funds they currently have in the bank.
“One of them was the hospital fund another that we have discussed with the city is some potential improvements to the park itself, but again we would want to put it to our members and to a vote of what they feel is the best approach,” said Martin.