EDITORIAL: Want change? Get off sidelines

To those who believe that public policy is set behind closed doors and cannot be impacted by a group of “ordinary” people, residents and businesses in Parksville have provided a couple of compelling examples of what can be accomplished with the proper leverage and access to process.

After consultants from Vancouver Island University unveiled their draft Parksville Community Park Master Plan to city council — and the public — on Oct. 4, local residents came out in force at an open house later in the month to share their reactions to the draft. That open house drew 130 people, who submitted 240 written responses to the plan.

“Sometimes that’s because people really like something,” she told council. “But sometimes it’s because they don’t.”

When the VIU team returned to council Dec. 4 to roll out the final Community Park Master Plan, there were changes. The idea that eight of the plan’s 60 recommendations should receive priority status was scrapped, as was the suggestion that the city consider renaming the park.

Other changes clarified language. A proposed concert/gathering facility, ideally located at or near the current boardwalk gazebo does not need to be a substantial structure, VIU’s Pamela Shaw said, but rather a designated “space” for music, theatre, art exhibits and the like. And Shaw said a recommendation that the arena housing the Parksville Curling Club be removed was meant to be a long-term aspect of the 20-year master plan, not a short-term priority.

To be fair, the VIU students did not create their draft recommendations from thin air. But the surveys, meetings and information-gathering sessions they hosted throughout the year leaned as much on input from tourists as from locals to arrive at the recommendations in the draft plan. In essence, city residents at October’s open house trumped what might have been outside-driven facets of the plan.

Owners and operators of businesses in the Corfield Plaza shopping centre, on the other hand, put those seasonal visitors front and centre when they earned their own meeting with the city in March, as council prepared to announce the start of construction on the Corfield Street upgrade project.

Citing the critical importance of July and August sales — driven in large part by our seasonal guests — the unified businesses were able not only to extract some concessions from the city and contractor on access to the centre, but essentially delay the start of construction until late fall.

No city government can make everybody happy all the time. But these examples show that, by working together, groups of citizens can impact policy direction by being involved, providing realistic input and being prepared to compromise.

These examples also show Parksville has a city council and staff that are willing to listen.

— Parksville Qualicum Beach News

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