Mayor's statement about COVID-19 phased re-opening

May 21, 2020
Public service announcement

I acknowledge that we are meeting today on the traditional, unceded territory of the Okanagan/syilx people.

With more business and organizations reopening this week under the BC Restart Plan, I have more information today about how this phase of the plan will affect City services to our residents and businesses.

Like other organizations, we are preparing to re-open some facilities to the public, under strict protocols and careful protections, and bring more people back to their workplaces.

More outdoor recreation spaces will open as of today… basketball courts at various parks, volleyball courts at City Park and Gyro Beach and the extra nets at double tennis courts and quad pickleball courts. Staff are busy getting nets up and backboards up now… If the net is up, courts are open for play.

We are also planning to open playgrounds in the weeks ahead, assuming things continue to progress in a positive direction.

Indoor recreation facilities will remain closed during this phase of re-opening, along with the Community Policing Offices at KLO and in Rutland.

All other City facilities, including the RCMP detachment, will be open during regular business hours for payments, permits and services starting Monday.

However, the public is asked not to make non-essential visits to City facilities and are encouraged to do business online or by phone whenever possible… if you need to come to a City facility, it would be appreciated if you can book an appointment to take care of your needs and to practice appropriate hygienic and distancing measures.

Except for recreation services, all City services were maintained since the provincial state of emergency was put in place, and we will continue to offer online and by-appointment services as we emerge from the pandemic. We’ve had 220 staff working remotely and our return to work plan will start with some of those staff returning to their workstations over the next few weeks.

Depending on how things are going after that, additional staff will return to their work environment later in June, and then staff will assess as we go to the next phases.

City Hall doors will re-open Monday to provide in-person services with added protection for staff and the public, including physical distancing measures such as directional signs and the floor markings we’ve become accustomed to seeing in businesses that have remained open during the past two months.

Council meetings are available for viewing online by following the link at kelowna.ca, as you members of the media know… and I’d encourage you to share that link with your readers, listeners and viewers so that we continue to have great engagement and transparency in our decisions during this very different time.

We know some residents prefer to pay their property taxes in person, but we hope at this time people take the opportunity to learn about online options to pay taxes and avoid what we expect to be a slower process due to physical distancing inside City Hall. There’s information on kelowna.ca about how to do that and how to connect for appointments in a number of areas.

Starting this year, you can do everything property-tax related online. You can claim your homeowner grant, defer your taxes of you are eligible and, of course, pay.  There really is no reason to come to City Hall to pay your taxes, it is easier for you to do it online, and safer for everyone to do it from the comfort of their home.

Also, later today when the Council meeting agenda is posted, you will see a proposal to provide businesses with an option to expand their operations onto public property.

With substantial reductions to normal capacity inside businesses to comply with health orders, making additional public space available, like streets and parking spaces, will help businesses maintain viability and encourage re-employment of staff.

Taking over parking spaces is a trade-off for the city financially, but it’s something we can do to help our independent business community. Part of the proposal coming to Council Monday is to close a portion of Bernard Avenue to vehicles, so that business operators, their customers and suppliers can all properly maintain a safe distance from each other.

Bernard was chosen for this because we have experience closing it down periodically, and the Downtown Kelowna Association has endorsed the idea.

Council will also consider a proposed return to pay parking in urban commercial centres as part of the same report.

We think a more pedestrianized downtown will be an inviting and safe way for us all to re-engage with our favourite restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, retail shops and professional services again. So, for the sake of our business community, I hope residents and visitors will do what they can to help them through this economic crisis.

The City is committed to supporting businesses across the City, not just downtown, with creatively leveraged municipal resources to meet the needs of our community.

The added space idea applies to all urban commercial centres and a multi-disciplinary task force, including the City’s Real Estate, Parks, Transportation and Parking departments will review and approve requests for the temporary use of public space in all areas of our community.

We are a city of small business with approximately 95 per cent employing fewer than 20 employees… I encourage everyone, now that things are re-opening, to please get out there if you can to support our local business community. Kelowna’s economic strength is in its business diversity.

Also, this afternoon, the Regional Mayors’ and Westbank First Nation Chief’s Economic Recovery Task Force will receive our first update from staff on our plans and progress on positioning our region to come out of the gates ready for opportunities as soon as those are available.

But everything we’re doing depends on how well we all adhere to the public health orders and recommendations of Dr. Bonnie Henry. We’re not done yet and we have a way to go. Keep a safe physical distance, isolate yourself if you’re sick and wash your hands often.

I want to give another shout-out to everyone working hard to keep us healthy and safe… our medical community, our care home workers, daycare workers, our first responders, those keeping essential services running, like grocery stores, the landfill, waterworks, trucking, warehouses, and everyone else who has worked through this very disrupted time.

This next phase of re-opening is encouraging, but we cannot let our guard down. How well we perform in this phase will determine if other phases go ahead as planned.

Stay safe, take it slow, and let’s move on to the next phase of re-opening together.  Even in these difficult times Kelowna remains one of the most desirable places to call home and will continue to be destination of choice for people all over Canada and the rest of the world.