Citizens shouldn’t vote on planning, says city

The Official Community Plan is too complex to be amended through referendum, say city officials who have taken a woman to court over her crusade to…

The Official Community Plan is too complex to be amended through referendum, say city officials who have taken a woman to court over her crusade to put planning directly in voter’s hands.

“To me, they were basically saying that the Official Community Plan is too important and complex for people to vote on it — that it shouldn’t be subject to a public vote,” said petitioner Marianne Darragh.

Darragh’s petition asks city officials to amend the Official Community Plan by creating a park on McLean Lake with a 500-metre boundary.

The Official Community Plan already has a public input process, which includes reviews by city planners, said director of administrative services Robert Fendrick. The plan guides city planning and zoning bylaws.

“(The referendum) is for major project things, not where there is an already previously established process,” said Fendrick.

A review of the Official Community Plan is about to begin. That’s where amendments should be suggested, he said.

But Darragh smells a bigger fight.

“(City officials) see a referendum as chaos, but it’s only the second referendum they’ve had in the last 10 years,” said Darragh, whose 2,654 name petition represents roughly one quarter of all eligible Whitehorse voters.

“They’re philosophically opposed to referendums, and they are trying to get the courts to agree with them,” she said.

A referendum does not replace the usual Official Community Plan consultation provisions, say Darragh’s court documents. The only difference is that the process began with residents, not council, states her submission, presented on September 26.

Justice Ron Veale is reviewing the matter. His judgement is expected within a month.

Seventeen amendments have been made to the Official Community Plan by council since 2002, many dealing with land use.

Darragh is hoping Veale confirms the double-standard in the city’s arguments.

“They say (amending the plan is) complex, but in private they say it’s simple,” she said.

The city’s view of referendums hasn’t always been this confrontational.

Planning, land use and development all fall within the city’s jurisdiction, said Fendrick in a November 2005 e-mail to planning advocate Carole Bookless, who was petitioning for greenspace in every subdivision.

Her petition did require an Official Community Plan amendment, and Fendrick agreed the petition questions were appropriate.

The correspondence shifted in May 2006, when Fendrick e-mailed Bookless to say that, despite the fact municipalities around the world use referendums, the “delegated authority” of voters belongs to council or any given municipality in the Yukon.

Governance by referendum is akin to abdicating the delegated authority conferred upon council by voters, wrote Fendrick.

While council is vitally interested in public input, council “cannot foster the notion or perception that, in the city of Whitehorse, we are moving to governance by referendum,” he wrote.

The e-mails are being used by Darragh’s lawyer as evidence in the current court case.

The rigour and scope of the 10-year-old referendum legislation is at the heart of the court battle.

The city doubts the ability of residents to make a wise decision about land use, says Darragh’s court submission.

The city has gone too technical with the Official Community Plan public input provisions in order to squash the referendum attempt.

“It was obvious to me that the city was saying voters shouldn’t be trusted with everything,” said Darragh.