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Meeting elicits a debate

DURING an interview with West Vancouver Coun. Trish Panz I learned some interesting and alarming facts about city parks and natural spaces in West Vancouver.

DURING an interview with West Vancouver Coun. Trish Panz I learned some interesting and alarming facts about city parks and natural spaces in West Vancouver.

Panz, a second-term councillor, holds a bachelor of science in rehabilitative medicine and a certificate in ecological landscape design. She also has two sons.

This was not my first meeting with Panz; we initially met over lunch at a friend's house where I proceeded to grill her on the status of parks and council spending. To her credit she did not back down and frustrated my attempts to debate her on the facts.

Panz does her homework. She reads widely from many sources, and she is passionate about her mission that she says compelled her to run for office: to "Protect parks and the natural capital of West Vancouver."

After meeting Panz this time, I was amazed to learn that she considers herself a shy person. I asked Panz why she got into medicine.

"Because I have an interest in science, helping people and I believe in prevention over cure."

Although she is too busy as a city councillor to practice medicine, I wanted to know how her medical training impacts her current job.

"Public health costs are always rising and prevention is the best cure," she said. "So when I became councillor I realized that public health goals could be well served by promoting the use of parks and nature. To do that we must take the long-term view of our natural capital and protect, restore and defend it."

Panz directed me to a comment from a report titled Healthy Parks, Healthy People, published by Deakin University in Australia which stated, "A growing body of evidence shows that access to, and interaction with, nature is essential to human health and wellbeing."

Panz is passionate about her mission, but she is quick to point out that even though she is the chairperson of the Parks Master Plan working group, much of the heavy lifting is done by dedicated citizens and city staff who are essential to the process. It was interesting to learn that West Vancouver has not developed a new parks master plan since 1977, so this plan will be a major accomplishment if the recommendations are approved by council.

The purpose of this plan is to set policy and planning outcomes specifically for parks and open spaces over the next 10 years. During our conversation, I found out the startling fact that many West Vancouver parks currently do not have legal protection, and that West Vancouver currently has no park zoning designation in its official community plan.

For example, Gleneagles golf course is currently zoned residential, and Whytecliff, Memorial and Klootchman parks are not legally protected as parks or open space, and there are many other unprotected parks on the list.

The list of unprotected parks is a first priority for protection under the Parks Master Plan recommendations.

Proposed legal protection will be accomplished by a park dedication bylaw, which affords the strongest form of protection allowed under the Provincial Community Charter that governs municipal operation. I pressed Panz to find out why it has taken so long to develop a new parks plan and who was responsible for not doing the important work of legally protecting parks.

"Todd, that's your cynical side talking, and it's a waste of time trying to lay blame," she answered. "We must move ahead and work with what we have now."

Didn't she say she was shy? But with ever-increasing municipal taxation and hefty salaries for bureaucrats, the reporter in me wanted to allocate responsibility to someone, but not today.

Another interesting revelation was the omission from the current parks plan of any park planning in the Upper Lands area, due to the massive size of the Upper Lands, with the exception of the Whyte Lake area that is proposed for protection. The Upper Lands cover 6,265 acres bounded by the Upper Levels Highway, the Capilano Watershed, the Sea to Sky Highway and Cypress Provincial Park.

Much of the area is above the unserviceable 1,200-foot elevation, and is designated for community recreational use. Those lands are largely owned by the District of West Vancouver. However, 1,600 acres are below the 1,200-foot elevation and are designated for residential and commercial development, and those lands are owned by British Pacific Properties. Panz was clear in her belief that "We must not spend our natural capital thoughtlessly or without the full input of the community." So if you want to help protect your parks, you can provide input at a parks planning open house at Gleneagles Community Centre on Feb.

29. For maps and details visit and search "Parks and Open Space Plan."

Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, writer, consultant and organic advocate. For advice contact him at [email protected].