Off the Record: Buckle up for 2018

New Year’s Eve is all about new beginnings.

It’s the optimist’s reset button, the pessimist’s rally point. It’s the time of year where, after indulging ourselves for weeks, we appraise our slightly flabbier selves in the mirror and see both the need for change and the long way forward.

This is a defining moment for Whistler as well. With an election this fall to pick a slate of candidates for the following four years, this is the time when we finally get to decide what we want to be. The stakes are incredibly high and any decisions made will be both difficult and permanent.

We are under huge pressure to continue growing: more employee housing for more employees, more commercial space for more businesses, more requests for subdivisions and density, more proposals that would exchange amenities we want/need for bed units, and likely more projects and partnerships put forward by First Nations that will be impossible to turn down on either legal or moral grounds.

Our strategy has been to try to manage this growth and try to guide it in the right direction, balancing the very real needs of the resort — e.g. employees — with the idea that we’re still a little mountain “town” at heart instead of what we’re actually becoming: a city that used to be a pretty good resort.

It’s a tough conversation to have. Putting the brakes on growth — including employee housing — has ramifications. It hurts the growth industry for one thing, and could impact hundreds, if not thousands, of labourers and trades workers that have benefitted from a boom that goes back decades. I have friends and neighbours that could be affected by that decision.

Capping growth could also create more friction with local First Nations, who have an established legal right to develop economic opportunities on their traditional lands. I’d personally prefer making First Nations a bona fide partner in maintaining what we already have by giving them a guaranteed share of revenues earned on their lands (such as giving them a permanent 1 per cent of hotel and resort taxes) than see them develop any more real estate, but that’s a bigger idea I’ll save for a future column.
Ending the boom would also affect some local businesses as well — many of which are already struggling to find workers, and with issues like the high cost of doing business and pay parking.

Failing to cap growth, however, also has ramifications that everyone can see for themselves. Everybody knows the highway and parking are major problems already, and growth almost always means more cars. Let’s face it, if transit was a realistic alternative then the streets of Vancouver and Toronto would be empty except for buses and streetcars — and we know that’s not the case.

There’s also the quality of the Whistler experience to consider. If all people remember about their trip to Whistler is the heavy traffic coming and going, long lines for lifts, the fight for seats at local apres spots, and the now standard two-hour wait for a dinner reservation on the weekends, they may eventually stop coming. No amount of economic diversification could make up for all of the jobs and revenues that would be impacted by a decline in tourism.

All of this growth also has an impact on the local environment — air quality, the rate of erosion on our trails, the pressure on parks and amenities and our collective enjoyment of all of those things.

At some point in the next year these conflicting interests and pressures will come to a head, culminating with the election of a slate of councillors that lean one way or another. Voters will have to pick a side and deal with the consequences either way.
Local politics aren’t the only reason that 2018 will be interesting.

The Olympic Winter Games will always have a special meaning for us in Whistler and can be a little stressful in a country where podiums mean continued federal funding for our favourite sports and athletes, and poor results mean cuts.
Marijuana will also be legalized next year, starting on July 1. It’s a safe bet that there will be some spirited local discussions around that as well—and how weed shops on every corner fit in with our family-friendly ambitions.

Whistler Blackcomb is set to redevelop lifts and change the skiing/riding experience — without adding any new terrain or night skiing, as some locals have pointed out. If lift capacity increases as expected we will all get more runs in a day, but fewer of them will be in powder.

There’s no question that 2018 will be a big year for us in a lot of ways. And if you make any New Year’s Resolutions for yourself, think small and many — little victories are not only easier to achieve, they can also add up to something big.

Happy New Year!

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