Highlights from the Okanagan

Sharon and I usually take a vacation toward the end of September and this year was no different. We decided to stay in Canada this time however, and spent nine days in the Okanagan. Aside from a quick trip to Kamloops and Kelowna a few years ago, neither of us had been to the Okanagan since we were kids. I keep joking that it’s nice to want to go to the wineries instead of being dragged along!

We flew into Kelowna and spent a couple of days there before moving on to Penticton and then Osoyoos. It was an interesting time of year to visit as we found ourselves right between high season and the winter season when many things close until the spring. We were also able to enjoy the beautiful fall colors and relatively warm weather (it snowed here a day after we returned home). Along the way we met a surprising number of Albertans including a few fellow Edmontonians!

Our guide for the trip was Jennifer Cockrall-King’s book Food Artisans of the Okanagan. Combined with a bit of TripAdvisor, which I finally started adding reviews to, we had no shortage of things to see and do. You can see my full collection of photos on Flickr, but here are some highlights from our trip!

We of course spent some time in downtown Kelowna, walking along the marina and through Stuart Park. It’s a beautiful part of the city an well worth a visit. You can even see Ogopogo!

Stuart Park Kelowna

We saw dozens and dozens of fruit stands throughout the Okanagan but decided to visit one in Kelowna very early on in our trip. Paynter’s Fruit Market is located in West Kelowna (which we learned separated from Kelowna in 2007 and was designated a city in 2015). There wasn’t much left, but picked some delicious pears and apples! The Red Delicious looked purple on the tree and were very tasty indeed.

Paynter's Fruit Market

The number one Kelowna attraction in TripAdvisor is Myra Canyon Park, known for its historic trestle bridges. There are sixteen wooden bridges and two steel bridges that were once part of the Kettle Valley Railway that have been saved (and reconstructed after a devastating fire in 2003) and incorporated into an amazing pedestrian and cycling trail. It was not particularly easy to find or get to, but was totally worth it once we did.

Myra Canyon Trestles

We decided to spring for the bike rentals and completed the entire 24 km circuit in about three and a half hours. The well-maintained trail was easy to navigate and the views along the way were spectacular. If you’re in the Kelowna area, don’t miss this!

Myra Canyon Trestles

On our way out of the city we stopped at Hardy Falls, near Peachland. It’s a relatively short trail and the falls are not very big but we really enjoyed our visit. We were lucky to witness the annual Kokanee salmon run which meant the creek was full of bright orange fish!

Hardy Falls

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting much from Penticton and was pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed the city. This is the view from Munson Mountain which is on the east side of the city.

Munson Mountain

Penticton is bounded by Okanagan Lake to the north and Skaha Lake to the south. It was a bit too cold to go into the water while we were there, but we did manage to catch some amazing sunsets over the lake.

Sunset over Skaha Lake

A short drive from Penticton in Summerland is the Kettle Valley Steam Railway. Knowing how much I love trains, Sharon made sure we didn’t miss it!

Kettle Valley Steam Railway

On our way back to Penticton we came across this orchard with apples covering the ground and I just had to stop to take a photo. This wasn’t the only fruit we saw on the ground during our trip, and it was suggested to us that the Okanagan Valley is simply over-producing.

Excess Fruit

We realized that the Festival of the Grape was on in Oliver so purchased tickets and made a stop there on our way to Osoyoos. This was the 20th year of the festival which attracts more than 3,000 people each year. We enjoyed the wine tasting, Grape Stomp, and some food trucks too.

Festival of the Grape

Just south of Oliver is where we found Steve and Dan’s Fresh BC Fruit farm. We buy from them every week at the City Market Downtown so we had to stop for a photo!

Steve & Dan's

We spent a few days in Osoyoos staying at the Watermark Beach Resort, which had been recommended to us by a few people. I can see how it would be packed in the hot summer months but at this time of year it felt like we basically had the place to ourselves! It was a good homebase for our stay in the desert.

Watermark Osoyoos

Osoyoos is pretty close to the Similkameen Valley so we took a trip there one day. The highlight for me was visiting The Grist Mill, a historic water-powered mill that has been painstakingly restored to its original 1881 operating layout and actually grinds flour for sale once again. We spent about an hour with Cuyler Page, the man behind the project. His passion was clear and we learned a lot, including that the site is basically the reason (along with the work of Page and Sharon Rempel) we have Red Fife wheat again today.

The Grist Mill

We stopped in Keremeos on the way home at Benja Thai, a restaurant that you simply wouldn’t expect to find in such a small place. It was great, and it was very busy too! Just before getting back into Osoyoos we stopped for a photo at Spotted Lake, which is a “saline endorheic alkali lake”. It’s also a sacred site thought by First Nations peoples to provide therapeutic waters.

Spotted Lake

Before leaving Osoyoos we went on a tour of Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Aboriginal-owned winery in North America. Owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band, the winery is a small part of the 32,000 acres that make up the Osoyoos Indian Reserve.

NK'MIP Winery

I was really happy that we made it to the final day of the season for Hammer’s House of Hog, a food truck in Oliver. We ate a delicious pulled pork sandwich and enjoyed the beautiful scenery in the nearby park.

Fall Colours

It was the fuel we needed to tackle the four hour hike up to McIntyre Bluff. It’s a well-known landmark with an elevation at the highest point of 673 m (2,208 feet). It’s also known to be home to bears and rattlesnakes, neither of which we ran into.

Covert Farms

We’re fairly inexperienced hikers so it was quite the trek for us! I’m glad we did it though. It was really windy at the top but the views were great.

Hiking to McIntyre Bluff

On our last morning we toured Covert Farms, an organic farm and winery. It was really interesting to hear how they stay grow more than 40 different crops organically, not to mention grapes.

Covert Farms

Like all vacations, it came and went too quickly, but we had a great time and learned a lot along the way!

Covert Farms

You can see my full collection of photos on Flickr. Stay tuned for more detailed posts from Sharon if you’re thinking of a trip to the Okanagan yourself!

Coming up at City Council: October 17-21, 2016

Busy week coming up at Council next week with some really interesting topics on the agenda!

Cold City Hall
Cold City Hall, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 17400 Update

Edmonton’s new Vehicle for Hire Bylaw came into force on March 1, 2016 and this report proposed some amendments to address “several issues that have emerged since the Bylaw was passed.”

One issue is markings on vehicles for hire. Currently, taxis and accessible taxis are required to have an operating top light, meter, valid meter accuracy certificate, and colors and markings to identify the vehicle. Passengers must have access to the dispatcher’s name and contact information. Private transportation provider (PTP) vehicles, like Uber or TappCar, do not have any such requirements nor any prohibitions. The City did a lot of consultation on this and heard clearly that PTP vehicles should not look like taxis. The result is a rcommendation that PTPs be prohibited from having markings like taxis do, but that they be required to have a small decal in the front and rear windshield to identify them.

TappCar

Another issue is related to street hails. Under the current bylaw only taxis and accessible taxis are permitted to pickup passengers that hail them from the street. PTP services must be prearranged, but the bylaw doesn’t prescribe how those pre-arrangements should be made. The fine for picking up passengers from the street is currently $250. The consultation on this was more split, but the resulting recommendation is to increase the fine to $1,000.

The report also discusses the use of exclusive parking areas, and looks at the impact of recent amendments to the Traffic Safety Act. Finally, it includes some enforcement statistics:

  • “Since March 1, 2016, approximately 200 violation tickets have been issued for Vehicle for Hire Bylaw or applicable Traffic Safety Act offences.”
  • “Community Standards Peace Officers have completed approximately 350 vehicle for hire traffic stops, and performed approximately 2,350 licence checks.”
  • Of those 200 tickets, around 130 were related to the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw: 40 were for operating without the proper City license, about 45 were for failing to produce a required document, and about 40 were for failing to display or provide required information to passengers.

If Council agrees with the proposed amendments, Administration will prepare them to be brought to a future City Council meeting.

State of the Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Technology

This is an annual report that Council has asked for, discussing the state of self-driving vehicle technology. The report notes that the Society of Automative Engineers describes six levels of vehicle automation, from 0 to 5. Level 4 vehicles “are able to drive themselves in complex environments without human supervision” and the report suggests Level 5 is required for self-driving taxis. It is not bullish on timelines:

“There are several reasons to anticipate that full automation will emerge further in the future than the most optimistic estimates suggest. Challenges remain in developing automation technology. There are also legal, liability and ethical issues related to the technology. After the technology becomes available it must also be adopted broadly by fleet and vehicle owners. Rates of adoption have been estimated based on local data and the expected adoption time ranges from 18 to 30 years after the technology becomes available.”

On the plus side, the report does highlight the opportunity that self-driving vehicles present for public transportation:

“The interface between automated vehicle technology and the transit system presents a significant opportunity for positively shifting the way Edmontonians travel. Driverless taxis and public transit service can be complementary: driverless taxis could serve less dense suburban and rural areas and higher capacity transit would continue to serve high-demand corridors in urban areas.”

In the next year or so, the City plans to develop communication materials on automated vehicles and to form an internal working group. Over the next 2-5 years, the City could “test the impacts of automated vehicle technology” and “develop a comprehensive strategy to prepare…for the emergence of automated vehicles.”

You can read the full 146 page report, Planning for Automated Vehicles in Edmonton, here.

Changing in School Zone Speed Limits to 30 km/h

This report summarizes the results of an evaluation of Edmonton’s 30 km/h school zone speed limits, which came into effect for all elementary schools in September 2014:

” The results show a positive trend with a reduction in collisions and speeds after the new speed limits were introduced. A survey sent to Public and Separate schools in the City indicated that the schools were satisfied with the new speed limit and the majority felt that there was a reduction in speeding following the implementation of school zones. Based on these promising results, Administration recommends expanding the 30 km/h school zones to junior high schools.”

Why stop there? As Conrad tweeted: “Only defensible end game is 30 km/h on all residential streets.” Especially if we’re serious about Vision Zero.

Some highlights from the report:

  • “There were 50 injury collisions in the three-year time period prior to implementing school zones (an average of 17 per year), and there were 10 injury collisions in the year following implementation. Accounting for the different time periods, injury collisions were reduced by approximately 41 percent, a statistically significant result.”
  • “Under ideal conditions, drivers traveling at 50 km/h need at least 11 more metres in order to stop compared to those traveling at 30 km/h; this distance increases when roads are wet or icy.”
  • “Before introducing the reduced speed limits the average speed in school zones was 46 km/h. The results of the assessment indicated an overall reduction of 12 km/h in the mean speed down to 34 km/h after the introduction of the new speed limits.”

The recommended expansion to junior high schools is estimated to cost $75,000, plus another $100,000 for an awareness campaign.

Changing the Ward Boundaries for the 2017 Municipal Election

Bylaw 17700 will update the ward boundaries in prepration for the 2017 Municipal Election. First reading was held at the September 20, 2016 City Council Meeting, and second and third readings will be held on December 8, 2016. At Tuesday’s meeting, Council is holding a Non-Statutory Public Hearing on the proposed amendments.

proposed ward boundaries
(click for detailed maps)

The Returning Officer recommends the following alignments with affected populations:

  • Eight neighbourhoods – Allard, Blackburne, Blackmud Creek, Callaghan, Cashman, Cavanagh, Richford, and Twin Brooks – move from Ward 9 to Ward 10.
  • Two neighbourhoods – Jackson Heights and Kiniski Gardens – move from Ward 12 to Ward 11.

These changes are recommended to bring Wards 9 and 12 closer to the optimum poplulation ranges. “Data from the 2016 Edmonton Census indicates an optimum population range per ward of 56,215 to 93,692.” Both wards had a population of more than 100,000 in the 2016 Municipal Census.

Other interesting items

  • There are two reports that clarify the process for reports and memos and the FOIP process. So far this year the City has handled 353 FOIP requests and 606 routine discloure requests. In 2015 and 2016, “half of the fee waiver requests received by the City were accepted or fees were reduced.”
  • The Current Planning Reserve Fund is supposed to have a minimum balance of 30% of the Development Services Branch operating budget expenditures, but it has fallen to just 17%, which means Administration must implement a strategy to manage the balance. The City plans to reduce costs by “minimizing externally contracted services”, “reducing discretionary spending”, and “managing staff vacancies”.
  • There’s a recommendation that $20,000 be granted to the Petrolia Mall in addition to the Development Incentive and Facade Improvement Program grants already being applied to a building on the same lot (this requires Council to approve an exception).
  • Councillor Gibbons inquired about traffic control at Victoria Trail and 153 Avenue. The response includes some interesting facts, such as: a typical estimated cost for a T-intersection traffic signal is $250,000.
  • The response to Councillor McKeen’s inquiry on pedways isn’t particularly surprising. It says the Capital City Downtown Plan contains policies that direct pedway development and that they are approved as part of the Development Permit application process. While the WinterCity Strategy doesn’t explicitly reference pedways, Administration says it is “arguably unsupportive of pedway network expansion.”
  • A report on the Revolving Industrial Servicing Fund, a $26 million incentive program, says its future is uncertain as a new program as part of the Industrial Investment Action Plan was proposed earlier this year and will be considered by Council in 2017.
  • The 2015 Annual Report and Audited Financial Statements are now available for the NW Industrial Business Association and for the Stony Plain Road and Area Business Association.
  • There’s a recommendation that Council approve the Environmental Impact Assessment and Site Location Study for the Snow Valley Summer Adventure Activity Area.
  • The next steps required to implement the District Energy Sharing System for Blatchford are outlined in a new report. The estimated cost for the first stage of the system is $19.4 million and development is expected to start in 2017.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Who’s responsible for the Edmonton Metro Region?

Last week the Metro Mayors Alliance signed a Memorandum of Understanding “outlining a commitment to plan, decide, and act as one Edmonton Metro Region on regionally significant issues.” The MOU was the first recommendation of the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton’s Future, which delivered its report in early June. The next step is to negotiate a legally binding Master Agreement.

Mayors at MOU signing
Photo courtesy of the Metro Mayors Alliance

Today the Capital Region Board approved its updated Edmonton Metropolitan Region Growth Plan with a 22-2 vote. The plan “sets a path for more compact and efficient growth within the region’s 24 municipalities” over the next 30 years. The next step for the CRB Growth Plan is to send it to the Government of Alberta for review.

CRB Growth Plan

If you’re thinking there might be some overlap here, you’re right.

The Metro Mayors Alliance is made up of the mayors of nine municipalities: Mayor Roxanne Carr (Strathcona County), Mayor Stuart Houston (City of Spruce Grove), Mayor Don Iveson (City of Edmonton), Mayor Gale Katchur (City of Fort Saskatchewan), Mayor Rodney Shaigec (Mayor of Parkland County), Mayor Greg Krischke (City of Leduc), Mayor John Whaley (Leduc County), Mayor Tom Flynn (Sturgeon County), and Mayor Nolan Crouse (City of St. Albert). The latter two are not pictured above and were not at the ceremony, but they did sign the MOU. All nine municipalities are of course members of the Capital Region Board, and together they represent 95% of the region’s population, 96% of its assessment base, and about 80% of its land base.

The Metro Mayors Alliance MOU declares the municipalities’ intent to work in three key areas: economic development, public transit, and land use and infrastructure. The idea is that by acting together on opportunities related to these three areas the region will be better able to compete globally. The CRB’s Growth Plan also aims to “advance the Region’s global economic competitiveness” in a way that balances the region’s diversity and rural and urban contexts. It too discusses economic development, transportation, and land use and infrastructure.

There are some key differences to note between the Metro Mayors Alliance (MMA) and the Capital Region Board (CRB). First, as mentioned above, the MMA is much smaller than the CRB which has in the past been criticized for moving too slowly due to infighting (the new Growth Plan took 30 months to develop). Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur spoke about this to the Fort Saskatchewan Record:

“Quite often, it takes us a long time to make decisions (at the CRB) and a lot of the projects can take years before we see any advancement on them. The Metro Mayors came together to say we would be the willing who want to move things forward and to see how we can advance the items out of the recommended report. We can show that working together corroboratively with the biggest population and the biggest land mass, we can be more effective and more efficient than the CRB.”

In theory getting just nine municipalities to approve something is easier than getting a majority of the twenty-four at the CRB.

Another key difference is that while the CRB was mandated by the Province in 2008, the MMA is merely a partnership between the nine municipalities (formed in 2015). It’s a “coalition of the willing” as opposed to a group of cities forced to play in the same sandbox. That means that until a legally binding agreement is in place, there’s really nothing forcing the members of the MMA to do the things they say they’re going to do, unlike with the CRB. At the same time, the members of the MMA are the ones with all the resources (and the bulk of the challenges) needed to make things happen.

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse is the chair of the CRB and this week suggested the two groups have too much overlap. “The report that was issued by the panel is basically the same mandate that the capital region board is already working on,” he told the St. Albert Gazette. He signed the MOU, but only because there was no cost and nothing binding, and said he’d be skeptical of next steps. “I’m being critical because we’ve got a good amount of work going forward with the capital region board.”

Note that two CRB members voted against the new growth plan. Leduc County voted against it because they felt it didn’t value the agricultural land south of Edmonton highly enough (the new plan includes an Agriculture policy area). Parkland County voted against it because they felt the CRB was expanding its mandate by considering agriculture and economic development. The rest supported the new plan however, which CRB CEO Malcom Bruce has said will save the region $5 billion in land and infrastructure costs and will save 250 quarter sections (160 sq km) of land.

It does seem redundant to have two groups focused on the same goals. And it’s confusing when there are potentially two different visions for the future of the region, especially if they overlap significantly. Some are already trying to use this confusion to their advantage. On top of this there’s the Municipal Government Act review and the City Charter discussions, both of which could have an impact on how things get done in the region. Especially if the City of Edmonton is granted new powers that the other municipalities lack. And of course there are annexation proposals that add to the tension. Does our regional governance need to evolve to clean all this up? It’s a suggestion that has come up many times over the last few decades.

At least there seems to be some consensus that we’re calling it the Edmonton Metro Region.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #223

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Northeast Anthony Henday Drive opening ceremony 16094
Minister of Transportation Brian Mason interviewed at the opening ceremony for the Northeast Anthony Henday Drive, photo by Premier of Alberta

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for October 9, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! I am back in Edmonton after a nice vacation to the Okanagan with Sharon. I’ll write something about that once I upload all of our photos. And once I warm up, as it was a bit of a shock to come back home and immediately have non-stop snow and below-zero temperatures!

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Snowy City Market

Upcoming Events

Premier reads to students at McKee School 17929
Premier Notley reads to students at McKee School during READ IN Week, photo by Premier of Alberta

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #222

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Ryan Jespersen at Rogers Place
Ryan Jespersen at Rogers Place

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for September 25, 2016

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Shedding Yellow
Shedding Yellow, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Upcoming Events

Alberta’s Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Day 15070
Alberta’s Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, photo by Premier of Alberta

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #221

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Sept 17-Celebrity Showcase-Kevin Fuhr-20160918-031021-D1D_7626
Western Canada Fashion Week’s Celebrity Showcase

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for September 18, 2016

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Harvest Moon, Edmonton, Alberta [Explored]
Harvest Moon, photo by Jeff Wallace

Upcoming Events

FISE World Series - Edmonton
FISE World Series Edmonton, photo by IQRemix

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #220

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

I am thrilled with our first story at Taproot Edmonton! Written by Mel Priestley, it’s all about the herd of deer that live near the Edmonton Ethane Extraction Plant along 23 Avenue.

Deer off 23 Avenue

Please check it out, and consider becoming a member to help us put more great stories like this into the world.

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.