The future of the downtown core dominated the first gathering of Vernon’s councillor hopefuls.
Thirteen candidates (Colt Wilson was unable to attend) took to the stage during the Sustainable Environment Network Society forum Thursday, and downtown Vernon was a common theme as the economy, development and planning were discussed.
“Maybe we change downtown into a Gastown or Yaletown — something that attracts youth,” said Kari Gares of the need to create a vibrancy that encourages people to visit and invest in the area.
Dalvir Nahal challenged the current parking rates structure by saying there are no meters in Penticton.
“Let’s get the hustle-bustle downtown and we don’t need to be charging what we’re charging.”
Scott Anderson told the crowd of about 150 people at the Schubert Centre that the city needs to get out of the way of business.
“I’m against a regulatory framework that strangles business,” he said of parking rates.
Mark Olsen called for more people downtown.
“We need more community events and that’s how the city can participate, by authorizing them,” he said.
Brian Quiring defended current council’s goals of increasing the number of people downtown.
“We put the tourism booth downtown and that was a good decision and the farmers market downtown was a good decision,” he said.
For Art Gourley, 30th Avenue needs to be turned into a one-way road with angle parking.
“There would be more parking and we can be like Kelowna where there is free parking for the handicapped,” he said.
Candidates were also asked about the city centre plan which calls for residential housing.
“We should stick to the plan. We have to work with developers to move downtown,” said Jack Gilroy.
James Todd made the pitch for enhanced safety.
“I want to centre on cleanliness and crime downtown. Petty crime is keeping people away,” he said.
Shawn Lee insists there needs to be more emphasis on the economy and job creation.
“I drive by buildings with 30,000-square-feet and they’re empty. We need to have a regional economy plan because when one prospers, we all prosper,” he said.
Other issues during the debate included rental housing for seniors.
“The city is looking at providing grants for developers who build rental housing. There is a serious shortage of that,” said Juliette Cunningham.
Transportation was also discussed by candidates.
“I’d like to see some reference for the long-term in the transportation plan that we have a bypass. If we don’t have it in the plan, the provincial government will ignore us,” said Bob Spiers.
Candidates were also asked about the possibility of expanding transit.
“It’s time we recognized the community is 20 per cent seniors and we’re facing more baby boomers. We need to get going now with transit or we will be in trouble in 20 years,” said Janet Green.
There was also focus on recreation and specifically lake access.
“We are looking at accessibility for a lot more people to the lakes,” said Catherine Lord of the city developing a parks plan.
The next forum for Vernon mayoralty and councillor candidates is Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Performing Arts Centre.