OPEN LETTER: Opportunity costs of Parkinson Recreation Centre borrowing



To Mayor and Council,
Every city decision has implications for the future of our health, our natural environment, our climate, and our social fabric. Each decision can lead to wasteful misuse of finite resources, or prudent spending to ensure that we safeguard our natural environment for future generations.

The council agenda for July 24, 2023 represents the largest single decision point in this 2022-2026 council term. Monday’s meeting will show whether this council is prepared to make the type of transformative change that is necessary to protect the planet and prepare our city for a future without fossil fuels.

Transformative change is the opposite of the current strategy of slow, imperceptible and incremental change that has been pursued in Kelowna. The past decade could have been used to better prepare to become a near-zero emission city by 2050, but this precious time was wasted. Our planet and the eight billion humans living on it cannot afford to lose another decade, as every year of unchecked emissions means less viable farmland for future generations, larger areas that are uninhabitable by humans, more devastating and frequent extreme weather events, and more species lost forever.

Monday’s agenda items have large climate and social implications beyond the direct impacts of a capital spending decision. The opportunity cost of sinking a quarter of a billion dollars into recreation facilities bears further scrutiny, as this is a potentially transformative sum of money. Looking at the opportunity cost means asking where else we could instead be spending that much money, and the full set of impacts and benefits of these alternative options.

We hear on a regular basis that the city cannot afford to fund housing, cannot afford more buses, and cannot afford to accelerate buildout of our active transport network. We cannot afford high impact actions to cut pollution, or to take care of our most vulnerable citizens, but we can somehow throw away an operational swimming pool and replace it with another that is the same length? In a city that touts its entrepreneurial spirit, do we need to take on more public debt to better compete against private gyms? In a city which has hundreds of people freezing outside in tents each winter, is an indoor running track seriously the best use we can come up with for our limited tax dollars? Or are a few flimsy foam and tinfoil shelters really all we can do for our neighbours when the mercury dips below -10C?

It is a colossal waste to demolish major structures that are only fifty years old, and landfill the embodied emissions in the building materials instead of refurbishing the facility. In addition to demolishing Parkinson, the capital plan would also take wrecking balls to the Museum and the Community Theatre later this decade for a further $180 million.

In a worsening climate emergency and the hottest year ever recorded, why are we not undertaking low cost, deep energy retrofits of these existing buildings and improving the capacity of our local workforce at the same time? This region will need thousands of workers to upgrade all of our existing buildings to reduce energy consumption and eliminate fossil fuel from our heating systems, and Parkinson would be an ideal place to start.

For a quarter of a billion dollars, we could construct hundreds of units of basic, minimalist housing to help eliminate our homeless encampments. We could complete a deep energy retrofit on Parkinson and extend the building lifespan for another century or more. We could accelerate and enhance our active transport network with rapid-build projects to connect every school and every town centre in this community within this council term. We could buy 20 electric transit buses to improve service and reduce particulate emissions and carbon pollution. We could plant tens of thousands of trees within the right of way for existing roads, shading asphalt areas and cooling the city.

And we would still have money left over to do even more.

Failing to build that social housing, plant those trees, build capacity in our trades workforce, and expand our bus and active transport networks are just some of the opportunity costs that this city council and staff have failed to consider in such a major spending decision.

If this council chooses to go forward with this recreational project, it would be hypocritical to claim that we cannot afford to do more to care for our vulnerable neighbours, our climate and our natural environment. We could easily do those things if we chose to do so, but it requires transformative change instead of business as usual.

— Darren Schlamp, Kelowna, BC

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