Saturday, July 28, 2012

Issue #3: Economic Development

Learning about and trying to make sense of current and future plans for the Economic development of the Princeton area has been a challenge. It would take years to become fully aware of all the nuances, and I've just begun this quest. Add to that the gaps that seem to have developed through the incomplete transitions that have taken place over the past year and trying to make sense of it all is daunting, to say the least.

To start my research, I went to Town Hall to ask about Princeton's latest OCP (Official Community Plan). The staff here have been very helpful in identifying where I can access the information I think I want. In this case, however, I made the mistake of asking for an "Economic Development Plan" instead of an "Official Community Plan" and this led me somewhat astray. Much of my earlier information on Princeton's needs, current problems, and plans for the future was based on personal interviews with individuals around town.

Thank goodness for the Internet. It's all there, between the Town of Princeton site and  the rdos site. From here there are links to dozens of regional district overview plans, along with specific plans for individual communities within the rdos. The "Welcome to Princeton" homepage has a Quicklink to the latest OCP (2008) , along with several other very helpful QuickLinks.  Check it out yourself. Thank you again to the staff in Town Hall for the proactive work to keep the public informed!

Princeton's Official Community Plan is a masterful document. It shows that thorough consideration has been given in recent years to the economic, cultural and social future of the town. It is a 58 page tome, chock-full of official Policies on every imaginable topic related to Princeton's future. The table of Contents is a virtual laundry-list of topics on which there are specific directional recommendations.

There's a link to a 10 year feasibility study for the Princeton Airport. There is reference to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town, the Upper Similkameent Indian Band and the RDOS to, among other things, "work towards a vibrant, diverse and sustainable local economy."There's even a five page section on Environmental issues, including a nine-point Climate Action Plan. My hat's off to the people who worked on this project.  The OCP is now 4 years out of date (although the Climate Action Plan is only a year and a half old), and clearly needs review, but it's a wonderful starting point for the next steps in determining Princeton's future.

One small note here. The version of the OCP that I have been able to access at the Town of Princeton site ends at page 58 with an "Appendix A"which lists the Official Community Plan maps. I was, however, unable to see the maps themselves. Luckily, there is a complete version of the Princeton OCP on the RDOS site.

So what's wrong with this picture? Well, it's all about perception. For example;
  • With all this good work, why do we not seem to be on track to achieve the "Vision" outlined in the OCP, Section 2.1, a vision that sees Princeton as a "energized, vibrant and thriving" five to ten years from now (2008)
  • Why have many of the Policies embedded in the 2008 OCP apparently not been implemented?  (Princeton Airport initiatives (with the exception of the fuelling facility), Parks and Recreation Master Plan, Solid Waste Management Plan) (to date, I have no confirmation of substantive followup on these. I would be pleased to be informed that the weakness has been in my research and not in lack of action)
  • Why does it seem that few of the Climate Action Plan policies been implemented  (include GHG reduction targets, and policies and actions to address the targets (33% reduction from 2007 levels by 2020) in OCP  by May 31, 2010 (Sec. 9.8), achieve carbon neutral local government operations beginning in 2012 (Sec.9.8) (note: the Climate Action plan does include an Audit (Section 9.6.2), a "Corporate Energy and GHG Inventory" (Section 2) but the above action steps SEEM not to have been carried out.)
  • Why do people on the street seem so pessimistic about the direction we're headed? 
  • Why is there a perception that the populace is folding up their tents and leaving town?
Much of this perception may be just that. I'm new to local politics, and the deeper I dig, the more layers I find. There is a glut of  information out there, and digging it up then sifting through it has been an exercise in urban archeology. I came into this project knowing that I was naive about local affairs, but the more I learn, the more of a babe in the woods I realize I am. Clearly, a lot of very smart people have been thinking about Princeton's future for a very long time.

A second reason for the current situation is likely to be the number of transitions the town has gone through in the past two years. Beginning perhaps with the lobby against one or more potential (but perceived environmentally unfriendly) development ventures here, then with the debate about the Aquatic Center and the failed referendum, Princeton seems to have entered a "no-go" mentality. Then the civic election and the untimely passing of the newly elected mayor introduced a prolonged period of relative inaction on "non-urgent" issues. The fact is, Princeton has been, it seems, somewhat rudderless for the past while.

There are also many external factors at play here right now. The economic meltdown of 2008 came immediately following the release of this OCP. The global recession we've been in for the past four years has obviously impacted on the potential for moving ahead on issues requiring venture capital or entreprenerial spirit. We're currently in a bunker mentality which focusses on circling the wagons rather than striking out in new directions. And as I've stated in other venues, I believe that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

So what to do?
  • First of all, I need to spend a LOT more time with the 2008 OCP to get my head around the many ideas and recommendations there. 
  • Then I need to sort out where I think our economic development priorities should lie for the immediate future (within the context of the four priorities I have already laid out: healthcare, resident seniors, economic development and disaster prepareedness).
  • I need to determine if economic development ideas that have occurred to me but don't seem to be reflected in the OCP (developing industrial uses for the Granby tailings, promoting the Similkameen hydro proposal, expanding our Sister City program to include foreign (ie overseas) exchanges) have been considered and found wanting, or if I'm on to something new. 
  • And finally, I need to become much more informed about the background, the current realities and the potential for the future regarding any actions I will champion should I be elected to Town Council.
  • I need to talk to more Princeton residents, planners and present and past council members about their experiences, their understanding of the issues, and their hopes and plans for the future.

And should I be elected to Town Council, my pledge is to do exactly that.

With my Regards to the People of Princeton.
Rob Rubis, Candidate for Town Council