Improving communications between citizens and the city.

I walk a lot: sidewalks, neighbourhood trails, greenbelt trails and trails in different parts of the city. Some of this input comes from watching the two trail task force processes, some from participating in the two motorized vehicle by-law updates and sitting on the ATV Task Force; other ideas come from participating in numerous other city processes such as Trail Plan, OCP, Zoning, Tank Farm, Hamilton Blvd, Airport planning, generally with a view to bettering our walking experiences; and yet others from sitting on the Board of the Hillcrest Community Association and on the above-the-airport trails and greenspaces committee. It's my perception that consultations could work better.

Background to consultation

Looking at how the city could improve our walking experiences gets around to looking at how the city consults with its citizens. The excerpts in the right-hand column shows the city appreciates working with the community at large, both groups and individuals.

Are things actually working as well as they could? Are consultations fair? Let me first look beyond problems that only affect walkers and look at city consultations in general. In the past few years we've seen many ways citizens lobby during city processes: plebiscites, petitions, advocacy groups, writing letters, speaking before council .... Issues can be straightforward and easily dealt with or they can be complicated, expensive, controversial, unpopular, inconvenient, ... As in the photo, a balancing act!

The fall 2012 election brought new opportunities to work with the city with a new Mayor and Council. We also have the recent city reorganization that, in addition to making a number of larger changes in city structure, talks about: Office of the City Manager having a Strategic Communications & Customer Service with a Citizens First Work Team (continuously improve the citizen experience (customer service) across all departments); Parks and Recreation with Outreach & Events and its Community Outreach Work Team (City needs to improve its interaction with the community and citizens). Obviously the city is aware there could be problems and wishes to address them.

Community consultations: It's a tough task. There is almost always a city study, plan, process underway. For instance, of current interest to me. This page is in part a response to some of the following items:

Neighbourhood community associations: These are obvious places to funnel one's effort during city consultations. But their role is not always clear, nor is their voice always listened to.

Are community associations supposed to take a stand on issues, or just try to ensure issues get openly presented to members and the rest of the neighbourhood? What is the best way of doing this? They can try to schedule community meetings and get speakers. They can put out newsletters or fact sheets. They can post info on a website.

Inevitably they end up speaking for their neighbourhood, sometimes to the chagrin of some residents; in fairness, people need to work with their neighbours and the tradition is a community association.

Community associations can be limited in what they can accomplish: they can be dependent on the efforts of a few; have directors who wish to mostly pursue an interest in a particular issue; are run by volunteers and only able to pursue one or two bigger issues; can be dominated by a couple of members; may not care about walking points of view; can be overwhelmed by concurrent city processes. Many neighbourhoods don't even have community associations.

In reality, individuals are often faced with the situation that they must comment on a process as an individual. This should be respected, yet I've been told at times that I'm only one person, or we don't hear that from others. No reference is made to the issue, just that it's only from one person.

Specific improvements the city could implement

Time allowances for consultations

Changes often happen with little time for meaningful consultation. It takes time for those following a process to understand it and present it in an understandable way to others. Many people don't have the time to work through each stage in a process and while they might be able to attend a small meeting, generally there's no time allowed for this. Only later do people 'wake-up' and ask why some particular thing was allowed to happen.

Example: there's two trail task force consultation processes happening, starting mid December and ending January 4th. This was not fair. (2 days before the deadline it was extended by 3 weeks but still not enough time to book a room/advertise a meeting. Extensions help but don't give a fair clear length of time to respond for groups).

Website

Today's on-line environment makes it much easier for us to look at the city's website for understanding. City IT professionals should be working to allow easy access to historical documentation. Resource are not only used by citizens but by city staff, and will be for years to come.

Some city departments are quite open, publishing public feedback as their process moves along. This allows a public record of why changes were made; it also allows public a way to educate other members of the public to aspects of issues. Other departments leave no published trail to follow to understand what drove the steps, who said what.

Example: One can go back through the Planning department's last OCP update and read various submissions, meeting presentations, maps, letters; likewise the motorized vehicle By-law updates.

Example: Early 2012, major changes took place around the 2007 Trail Plan; 3 new committees were eventually created each with background, Terms of Reference. By not posting on the publications part of the website for trails it makes it difficult to understand the process.

Example: A summary of the minutes (issues, actions and recommendations) of the committee's (The neighbourhood trail task force) regular meetings and outcomes of recommendations shall be made available by the Projects & Community Development Coordinator within two weeks on the City's Website.

Example: We see this problem at city council meetings. It often takes about a month for minutes to be posted. Draft minutes should be posted and amended with final when accepted. Also, city meetings generally have handouts at the door for those who come to observe council meetings. Evening handout package should to be posted as a PDF, at the same time as it's available for the meeting, at a minimum by the next morning. It would cut photocopy costs as wireless is extended into city facilities and many people can look at documents electronically even as they attend the meeting.

Example: The city website was revised last year but many items were not brought forward such as past Zoning By-laws and the 2002 Fuel Management Plan. A great summer student job would be to update the city website so searches would return all material.

Example: On the public consultation page and any page linked from it, there should be an email, phone #, and deadline.

Mapping

With Google Earth maps being fairly easy to use, there's no reason maps can't be presented in usable, creative ways (Google reported today "A billion people have installed Google Earth on their computer.") In the past few years, some of the mapping we are to given to assess options have been poor, hard to use in a meaningful way.

Example: During the 2010 OCP process, maps Hillcrest were given for their community meeting didn't show the greenspaces we use for recreation. However other neighbourhoods such as Copper Ridge McIntyre, McLean Lake covered our area.

Example: The main Riverdale map in the Task Force were too complex and with poor mapping colour choices. Telling all the story with one map is fine for experienced map users or for talking and showing ideas in a group, but for many users, maps need to be simple.

Respect

Volunteering to participate in a city process can take a lot of time, whether it's creating a report, reading hundreds of pages of background documents or donating many evenings sitting in committees or task forces. There can easily be the perception that our time is wasted.

Sometimes it feels submissions aren't even looked at. Obviously input is not always acceptable, but it should be acknowledged. We see submissions being given to a process and when Administrative Reports are presented to council, such as after a first or second reading, points of view that were presented are not mentioned. Was the point made not understood? Was it just ignored? So we feel we need to duplicate submissions to Mayor and Council to get around staff winnowing out unfavorable ideas. And this leads council to be deluged in paper that must tax their time commitments.

Likewise, committees are acknowledged to be advisory. Yet at times, decisions from committees made up of the key interest groups are ignored, almost as if there were other discussions happening between people not sitting on the committee. Or a public process seems overwhelmingly in one point of view, yet a different decision is made. If there are backroom advisors, this should be public so it's obvious who is influencing the process.

Example: The city has insisted that a few motorized representative are on each neighbourhood trail task force. The By-law Task Forces and the two Trail Task forces have had 3 motorized groups on each one. Snowmobile and ATV dealers were even on the By-law task forces.

Example: Zoning amendment, Fish Lake Road where the proponent wanted to build his road through land zoned PG and designated as a park in the OCP. The Administrative report never reported this in spite of it being pointed out as missing.

Example: The Trail Plan and the Parks and Recreation Master Plan were accepted by Council in 2007, The OCP in 2010, the Snowmobile By-law in 2011 and the ATV By-law in 2012 as well as three new trail committees for the Trail Plan. Each emphasized of the difficulties residents had with motorized recreational vehicles. The ATV and Snowmobile By-law re-writes were in part to deal with the problems between user groups.

The Parks and trails department's neighbourhood trail task forces seem to be reversing this. The Yukon River east side one was 100% focused on making motorized trails. Why aren't we following the community input of these plans and recognizing the trail conflict inherit in making more trails motorized around the inner city neighbourhoods? This issue is further addressed below.

Example: Task Forces have a set of meetings at the end a survey. Were the city to involve the experts (task force members) in the design of the survey, these surveys could be radically improved. Often they seem to take a point of view and allow no way to dissent. For instance one might quite like all proposals except one or two, but get no option that reflects this. There's skills involved in designing a survey that need to be applied.

Change without due process

Changes can suddenly appear without warning in documentation for other processes.

Example: The above-the-airport's Proposed Trail Network Overview Map refers to 'proposed' Paddy's Pond/Ice Lake park boundaries. Is there a plan afoot to remove Park status for this Park? The OCP says "These park areas are intended to be preserved for all future residents of Whitehorse. Prioritization of Trail Plan implementation measures shall be considered for these Park areas."

Terminology around motorized recreational vehicles

The decades-old Protected Areas By-law set in motion considerable confusion with its declaration that snowmobiles are not motor vehicles. So we have situations of snowmobiles legally ignoring signs saying "no motorized vehicles." By not fixing this, the city continues to ensure that community understanding of motorized use of trails is almost impossible.

When asked, By-law responded that it's common to use different terminology for different legal processes. So to understand something simple like, "Am I going to meet a motor vehicle on this trail?" we need to develop our legal understanding, rather than use plain language, common sense terminology — if it has a motor, it's motorized.

By-law is now under Parks and Recreation which is especially important with user group conflicts in greenspaces; rules, enforcement and education are under By-law.

The confusion on terminology makes reading by-laws and plans difficult. As part of the update to the Snowmobile By-law, Trail Plan maps show winter motorized trails that snowmobiles are 'Recommended' to use, but only if they wish. We have active transportation paved trails that are 'non-motorized'; are snowmobiles allowed to use them? In the current above-the-airport trail task force we see non-motorized trails; is this 'no snowmobiles' or just 'no ATVs'?

It would seem that pride in process would not be creating a map of non-motorized trails that motor vehicles are allowed to use. It's almost a deliberate underhandeded way of tricking people's understanding.

Parks and trails and its committees

Parks and trails is a newly created department formed from parts of the previous of Parks and Recreation. It has an enormous set of tasks if it's to be effective in our trails and greenspace needs. Will it be overworked? Will it need to refocus its energies?

In 2012, the Trail Plan was modified by Parks and Recreation. Now we have a situation where the head of the City's new Parks and Trails unit and the chairs of its three subordinate committees: Whitehorse Trails Committee, Neighbourhood Trails Task Forces and City Trails and Greenways Committee are all the same person.

Whitehorse Trails Committee (WTC)

Trail issues quickly run into road issues. Membership should include Engineering Department. The above-the-airport neighbourhood trail task force was told "the Task Force did not focus on the commuter connection between Hillcrest and the paved trail along the northern perimeter of the airport as this is an ongoing initiative of the Engineering Department".

Whitehorse Trail and Greenways Committee (WTGC)

This new city committee has a requirement to balance motorized and non-motorized groups. How can the committee have the resources to carefully think of parks and greenspace issues when there will be members who are there primarily to ensure motorized vehicle trails meet their needs? Is it possible that the concepts of parks and greenways could be overwhelmed by a focus on trails, especially motorized trails. What about non-trail-related work? Will walking even be a topic for trails?

Whitehorse Neighbourhood Trails Task Force (WNTTF)

The two current trail Task Forces have missed their mandates. The eastern side of the river especially was specifically to focus on designating motorized trails.

Many of the task force members were the same for both task forces (7 seats at the table were for the same organizations: KSA, Cross-country motorcycles, off-road Riders, Mountain bike, Runners, non-motorized, and city as chair). Most time was spent on ground rules for discussion, what was on and off the table, needs of trails users, goals of trails and trail users (sustainability, diversity, inclusiveness, accessibility) and creating a grid to assess the concept of trail use. Actual trails and their needs got less focus. So out of six meetings, four were on philosophical content. This hardly allowed addressing neighbourhood issues like broken walking trails!

Because the Trail Task Forces were limited on what to look at, many issues got pushed away. In effect, they were addressing Parks and trails needs, not what the neighbourhoods need.

"Biggest thing that came up Peter is that we can't do anything without city support to our trails. No log bridges, no docks, nothing. We need trails to be designated so we can then work with the city to upgrade them. Liability was a big topic and without their support we can't do anything." Note from Hillcrest rep on Trail Task force.

In the Riverdale survey, only Riverdale residents are to answer questions around trails close to the neighbourhood. In the above-the-airport survey, people throughout the city are asked to comment on giving the snowmobiles a trail right through Paddy's Pond area. And, KSA are even offered a wetland trail as a city trail while the neighbourhoods are not allowed to repair this wetland border trail which has been trashed by motor vehicles.

In discussions with participants it seems that the meetings didn't allow enough time. Some material seemed to be inserted without discussion or voting. At the end, there was no allowance for discussion about some parts of what was actually in the surveys.

The meetings should have public minutes. This shouldn't be a secret process.

A big item left unaddressed by the task forces was 'what's next?' The terminology of the trail and greenways committees make it seem that the neighbourhood task forces is an on-going item. We're to address trail needs to the neighbourhood task force for instance. So what is actually the situation?

Committees or Charettes

Would a charette not be a better way of looking at trails and greenspaces? The present format of the city consulting with advisors such as the their motorized trail stewards behind the scenes, Task Forces with disproportionate motor vehicle representation, and a coming city trails and greenspaces committee with the same problem seem to ensure that neighbourhood walking needs will seldom be addressed.