EDITORIAL: Communication is the best fix

Time to re-evaluate the public process at the municipal level

It seems the West Shore’s two largest municipal councils and city staff gained some insight into what makes effective public process over the past week.

Between the public hearing for a project at Metchosin and Painter roads in Colwood, and public hearings at Langford council for several development proposals, numerous residents voiced concern and frustrations at how change might be coming to their neighbourhoods.

In Colwood, residents near the proposed site for a multi-residence project continue to disagree with the city’s vision for the busy area and are frustrated by what they say is council’s lack of listening to residents as the proposal has moved through the process.

In Langford, frustration voiced at council this week appeared equally fuelled by unfamiliarity with the public hearing process and the city’s batching of multiple properties together for one discussion, a common practice by Langford.

Confusion over several issues had to be clarified by Mayor Stew Young, leaving some residents speaking on issues not directly related to the public hearing being discussed. It left some residents wanting to ask council members broader questions, which were directed to City staff members for future discussion.

People get upset when they don’t get the chance to ask questions of their elected officials. The phrase, “Why do we bother coming if they’re not going to listen to us?” is whispered far too many times at these meetings.

With development and growth continuing on the West Shore, more residents will likely exercise their right to be heard. It may be time for council to re-evaluate how they distribute information to the public, or at least make that system more transparent. At the same time, more residents need to familiarize themselves with the process of local government and do a little research before complaining.

Conflicts involving residents, municipalities and developers can only be expected to increase as more agenda items  strike a chord with residents. If the three groups wish to avoid some of that friction in future, they all need to work more closely together. Councils are supposed to follow the wishes of residents in overseeing their community’s growth and as such, both have key roles to play in the process.

Frustration comes when people feel they don’t have all the information, or don’t fully understand where someone else is coming from. More frequent and open communication by developers and councils is the best way to get their message across and truly hear residents.

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