Managing two businesses, her son’s technology company and her husband’s medical practice, Shepherd chases her old job as mayor
Sharon Shepherd has an unusual quality as a politician. She has developed an impregnable persona of honesty, diligence, effort and enthusiasm that leaves her detractors to compliment her, even as they assail her approach to politics, particularly on development.
“While Sharon is a very, very pleasant lady and very, very nice, my perspective, and I believe a consistent perspective through the business community, was that she did not facilitate an effective decision-making process on council and it left a lot of projects in limbo, a lot of decisions in limbo. There was far too much committee-on-committee review,” said Jason Richards, founder of Vineyard Networks, when asked why he has publicly aligned himself with Colin Basran.
Vineyard Networks was acquired by California-based Procera Networks for $28 million in January of 2013, making it one of Kelowna’s bigger technology success stories. He was not impressed by Shepherd’s councils.
“A perfect example was the whole CD-21. The downtown revitalization was a total disaster,” said Richards.
Companies like his look to city council to develop the vibrant downtown waterfront to attract educated young people to hire. In one of her last decisions as mayor, Shepherd voted against the Comprehensive Development Plan 21, a guideline to rezone a segment of the downtown core, shaping future development around a preplanned layout of parks and pedestrian-focused streetscapes with 27-storey towers and a waterfront hotel.
Though Shepherd did not support the plan, she decided to advocate for the hotel it proposed and the waterfront pier, which subsequently went in under Mayor Walter Gray’s council. Through the process, she heard the need to redevelop the Bernard Avenue street-front and put the wheels in motion, completing the planning in her tenure. She also started advocacy to take a second look at the one-way direction of Lawrence and Leon Avenues.
“I really felt we could advocate for enhanced development in our downtown core by working on some of those key issues,” she said.
She was never opposed to developing the area, but wanted it done properly and in a manner the community, as a whole, could accept. When the CD-21 rezoning was scuttled, she was effectively branded anti-development, a label she finds patently unfair.
“I’ve approved far, far more developments than I’ve ever turned down,” she said, noting there’s really only a handful of times she can remember voting ‘no’ on an application. Nevertheless, the label has dogged her subsequent campaigns and is, in no small part, responsible for her 2011 loss in the mayoral race to Walter Gray.
She believes this anti-development refrain really has its roots in the fact she does not accept campaign donations from the development community in order to protect her integrity come decision time. Her coffers are, thus, always substantially smaller than her opponent’s—$16,000 for this election—and, as always, she has turned money down this year. (Walter Gray brought in $56,920 last time around with many of the same supporters as Colin Basran.)
Knowing she is facing criticism, Shepherd has made a list of facts versus fiction.
It highlights the $2.6 billion in development dollars spent during her two terms on council—numbers taken from the City of Kelowna’s annual reports. Some of the projects built under her councils included the H20 Aquatic Centre, the Stuart Park ice rink and bear, the new four-lane section of Gordon Drive over Mission Creek, and her council was responsible for the agreements for the yacht club relocation and 296 new moorage slips.
The new police station property was purchased under her tenure and Kelowna was named one of the top-10 cities in Canada to adopt sustainable transportation practices.
At the provincial level, Shepherd got Kelowna recognized as a model solar city, with guidelines to have developers build with solar infrastructure in mind, ensuring panels could be added when the technology becomes more mainstream. Her council secured the funding for three social housing projects and built four, money Kelowna was only awarded because she was invited to be part of a provincial task force on homelessness.
“I was at a meeting and the premier at the time said ‘you have to be at the table or don’t expect to get anything in return’, and that’s when we presented the province with three properties. It was city-owned land and we were one of the few communities that came away with social housing projects,” she said, referring to deal the city worked with province to build the Now Canada building on Pandosy, New Gate Apartments on Rutland Road, and Willowbridge Transitional Housing on Boyce Crescent near Harvey Avenue. City land met federal and provincial funding.
She secured support from the Attorney General, and mayors of the valley, to continue funding for the provincial organized crime task force, and helped create the first municipal agreement in the province for multiple communities—West Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton and Kelowna—to work on major issues together.
As for the stance she put too much emphasis on committees, Shepherd points out she only added two: The Women’s and Community Advisory Committee and an Accessibility Committee, to look at development and the needs of the disabled.
Andrew Bruce, current president of the Urban Development Institute, the development industry’s non-partisan lobbying body, says the issue was more their waffling.
“Whenever we put forward an application that needs council approval, there’s an element of risk… This council (Mayor Walter Gray’s) just seemed a lot clearer on what they were looking for…so that risk was minimized.”
The previous councils, under Shepherd, would offer up issues out of left field on decision day, Bruce said.
In his inaugural address, Mayor Walter Gray also eliminated the Advisory Planning Council, a body of volunteers from the community who gave non-binding recommendations on proposals. Leanne Spanza, APC chairwoman at the time, says she frequently heard “it was less intimidating” for community members and brought more information to light than council would necessarily elicit.
All the same, Shepherd says she too was talking about streamlining the process before she left office.
There has been some ugly in this campaign. Right out of the gate, Shepherd’s website was hacked and an anonymous tipster has implied she is in the pocket of controversial developer Mark Consiglio, owner of Kelowna Mountain.
Kelowna Mountain was very quick to clear up the confusion. She is not an investor. She has never indicated any form of support for the project. While she has attended events on the property—two concerts and a wedding—she is in no way affiliated. Shepherd confirmed the same.
She is hoping the voting public takes the time to investigate claims themselves before casting a vote.