OCP Review Citizens Committee

A Citizens Committee of approximately two dozen Area F residents has been created to help guide the OCP review process (recall the January call for applications).  The role of the committee is 

[...] as a community sounding board and as communication agents to talk to their neighbours and friends, etc.  We don’t expect them to go through policy by policy but to advise on the larger picture goals.

Members of the committee were selected to represent a cross-section of Area F residents in terms of:

  1. geographic location within the electoral area
  2. demographics (age, gender, etc.)

 

In addition, a serious effort was made by RDOS planning staff to appoint members with different outlooks and who represent different sub-constituencies in Area F.  For example, some members are known to be pro-development while others are known to be interested in conservation.

The kick-off meeting for the Citizens Committee is 24 May, 2017 at 6 PM at the RDOS.  Although all meetings are public, the first meeting will be more of an orientation and onboarding for committee members.  Policy discussions, open houses, debates, and so on are a ways off yet.

Comments

As you may or may not be aware, there is a brewing battle on the West Bench between what I call West Bench traditionalists and West Bench industrialists.  This has led to a question via email:

Are the existing selected applicants for the citizens committe in the 'light industrial category' or supporters of that activity?  If that is the case I recommend you seek more applicants for the 'citizens' committee. This emphasis on the committee would lead to the perception of a biased committee.  

At some point the names of the committee members will be made public (we have to meet first and see who actually shows up!)  I think you will see that a views across the spectrum are well represented.

I have received some flak about not making better/more extensive use of the Citizen's Committee in the OCP review. Most of this came from members of the committee, who felt underutilized and underheard.  I apologize for this, but this issue has a long history.

Initially, I did not want to have a committee at all.  It is fairly obvious to anyone who pays attention that such committees are invariably biased (in a purely statistical sense).  Indeed, Richard Florida recently tweeted on this issue.  The 30 or so people who show up at community meetings and volunteer their time for these things are not a representative sample of Area F.  There is no question that these attendees/volunteers are more dedicated to the community, more informed about the issues, and perhaps better than the average along every conceivable dimension.  But an OCP review is meant to be a grassroots democratic processes.  It is meant to be inclusive.

Rather than having a clubby "star chamber" approach to the OCP, I decided that we should make better use of technology and try to reach the vast majority who do not come to open houses, do not volunteer for committees, do not read the letters to the editor, and so on.  In short, we attempted to use web-based surveys to de-bias the sample to the greatest extent possible.  Did we succeed?  Of course, it is impossible to know how close the sample matches the population without having the population fill out a survey!  We are lucky if we get a 10%-15% turnout for these things (including municipal elections).  But we did get a diversity of views, which is a good sign.

An implication of this broad-based inclusive approach is that the survey instrument needs to be about preferences, rather than policy.  The average Area F resident has little interest in local government, or bylaws, or specific land use policies.  I lived on the West Bench most of my life and did not even know where the RDOS was until it was time to pull a building permit.  Instead of asking: "What should the OCP say?" we asked "What should your neighborhood look like?"   

Of course, we heard early on that what people wanted from their neighborhood was, well, everything.  They want low taxes, low density, modern infrastructure, responsive public services....  It does not work this way.  So we focused on a few key tradeoffs and asked a very large sample which combinations were preferable.

Again, some people were disappointed that they did not have more opportunity to participate in the OCP process once all three rounds of surveys were complete.  Here is the thing: in this OCP review, the division of labor was as follows:

  1. Participants in the process expressed preferences: they are, after all, experts on their own neighborhoods and lifestyles.
  2. Professional planners translated preferences into policy:  they are experts on land use bylaws.

 

So no committee was convened to wordsmith the final document  That decision was based on theory and past experience.  The document was open to multiple rounds of vetting and consultation prior to being enacted.  But the result of that final round of consultation was relatively minor--changing a few words here and there.  For example, the word "Penticton" was expunged from the final draft due to concerns from some that we were getting too close to Penticton.  Such a change is easy enough to make, but I still view it as mere tokenism: uncesssary and unrealistic. [Aside: The City of Penticton provides West Bench water, library, and fire protection.  It begrudgingly provides much of our recreation needs and underwrites part of the overhead of the RDOS.  Our RCMP contract is served out of the Penticton detachment and all our garbage on the West Bench goes to Campbell Mountain landfill, which is owned by the City.  Penticton will almost certainly be involved in any infrastructure upgrades in Area F including sewer and Sage Mesa water.]  

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