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Dave Obee: Clover Point redesign 'fixes' what wasn't broken

Victoria city councillors have made many controversial decisions in recent years, but one stands out: Their choice to restrict your access to Clover Point. It is a classic example of trying to fix what isn’t broken.
At Clover Point, where cars could once park, there are now picnic tables and benches. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria city councillors have made many controversial decisions in recent years, but one stands out: Their choice to restrict your access to Clover Point.

It is a classic example of trying to fix what isn’t broken. It is also a classic example of political doublespeak, given that council reduced accessibility while claiming to increase it.

For decades, Clover Point was a perfect spot to park and admire the sunset or the weather.

It was closed for a couple of years while the sewage treatment system was being built, and when it came time to reopen it, councillors considered the matter carefully and declared the spot should be for people, not cars — neatly ignoring the fact that cars are simply tools that help people get there, and provide protection from the relentless wind.

It never was a parking lot for empty vehicles, despite what councillors told themselves.

There was an outcry when their plans were announced, but the councillors were not deterred. They were warned that the wind often makes Clover Point an unpleasant place to sit outside and makes picnics next to impossible. But, as so often is the case with this council, they thought they knew better. They carried on.

Council approved the idea — only Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Stephen Andrew were against it — and the work went ahead. The city blocked most of the parking spots, and put benches and picnic tables on the pavement where vehicles used to park. The end result might be worse than anyone could have imagined.

There are now only nine regular parking spots at the end of the point, and they look to the east, not the more scenic west. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one of those spots, but there is a chance you will find your view blocked by a garbage can.

Getting a spot is a roll of the dice, and most people lose. Watch the steady stream of drivers going down to the point, turning around in the too-tight loop, and returning to Dallas Road. Or parking on the grass, or wherever they think they can get away with it.

The city has added “no parking” signs to discourage off-road parking — signs that would not be needed if adequate parking had not been taken away.

Those who brave the elements and sit at one of the picnic tables will find that they are barely suitable for anyone with mobility issues. As with Beacon Hill Park, this council seems to have no regard for those who do not meet their able-bodied ideal.

It seems that councillors would rather see fewer people at Clover Point than admit that those evil cars might actually serve a purpose. They would rather see unoccupied benches than occupied cars.

But let’s give Clover Point the benefit of the doubt, one last time. Perhaps this long weekend will be what it takes to get people back into the Clover Point habit. If you have not been there since the changes were made, give it a try in the next few days.

After all, this is likely to be the best weekend in the best season. It will be easy to measure the success or failure of the grand vision this weekend, when the point will be far busier than during the fall, winter or spring.

Remember that councillors were warned — warned by people with real-life experience of accessibility challenges, and of Clover Point — yet they still pushed ahead with their plan.

I am not suggesting that Clover Point is the greatest concern for council; far from it. But the decision made there does reflect a troubling tendency among councillors to ignore reality when drawing their castles in the air. It may not be their intention, but the message they continue to send is that some Victorians count more than others, and that the old and infirm don’t fit in the city as the politicians want it to be.

Ours is a community with a high proportion of seniors — one in five Victorians is over age 65 — and people with disabilities, yet when they raise their voices their legitimate concerns are greeted with a dismissive paternalism.

The results are on full display at Clover Point.

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