Black Press Pay parking meters have been installed at the new Comox Valley Hospital, as well as Campbell River Hospital, despite city councils banning parking at the facilities.

Parking meters installed at new Campbell River Hospital despite pay parking ban

Island Health not saying whether or not parking meters will be put into use

Parking meters have been installed at the new Campbell River Hospital despite city council banning pay parking at the facility once it opens in September.

The move was a shock to members of the Campbell River North Citizens for Quality Health Care.

“It is appalling and disrespectful,” wrote Ed and Lois Jarvis in a statement. “As soon as the election was over they quietly went in and started installing meters.”

That, in spite of the fact that in February, city council adopted a bylaw amendment that effectively prohibits parking fees on any land zoned Public Areas One – a designation that is applied to the land on which the new hospital sits.

The idea was brought to the council table by Coun. Larry Samson who wanted Campbell River to follow in the footsteps of the municipality of Delta which had stopped the implementation of hospital parking through its own zoning bylaw.

Campbell River council subsequently adopted its own version, as did Courtenay council to protect free parking at the new hospital in the Comox Valley.

Which is why when the parking meters appeared at both hospital sites, the Quality Health Care group was dismayed and vowed to stand behind both Campbell River and Courtenay councils should Island Health proceed with pay parking.

“We hope the government and Island Health will respect the bylaws of Campbell River and Courtenay and not force them to take the matter further, spending taxpayers’ money on an unnecessary court case.”

Coun. Samson said at this point, he’s not overly concerned that Island Health will ignore or fight the city’s bylaw.

“The North Island Hospitals Project is under contract to build to certain specifications, or a blueprint,” Samson said. “Part of that contract would be parking meters and it would be part of the contract to deliver those. I haven’t heard anything from Island Health or other agencies that they wouldn’t respect our bylaw so we are hopeful they will respect our bylaw.”

Island Health, for its part, confirmed that the meters were installed as part of the original contract drawn up prior to city council banning pay parking.

“Parking infrastructure installation, including electrical wiring, communications conduit, concrete support structures, parking enforcement offices and the purchase of parking meters was part of the North Island Hospital Project plan and construction contracts, and predates both municipalities’ recently passed pay parking bylaws,” according to a statement from the health authority. “Once Island Health has clarity on the full impact of the recently-passed local bylaws, we will determine a path forward.”

The city, in its own statement, said it is aware the meters have been installed and that it’s “understood from Island Health that they are not set to operate at this point, so no action anticipated related to the zoning bylaw.”

But should the city have to put up a fight, it appears prepared. The city received legal advice in drawing up the bylaw and Kevin Brooks, the city’s development services supervisor, told council the city was leaving itself open to a challenge from Island Health.

“Enforcement of the zoning bylaw parking provisions may result in a legal challenge,” Brooks said back in February. “It is estimated that this could cost the city $20,000 or greater in legal fees.”

The Jarvises hope it won’t come to that but they’re prepared if it does.

“We, and the people of the North Island will stand strong to support our Campbell River city council for showing compassion, empathy and leadership in doing the right thing,” they wrote.

The health care group has been fighting pay parking since 2015 when Island Health announced it would implement such a program in order to help pay for parking maintenance and administration rather than divert funding from patient care.

But members of the Quality Health Care group claim that parking fees are a financial barrier to access to health care and are an unfair burden on hospital staff.

“If one is lucky and only pays for parking a couple of times a year, pay parking is not a big deal,” they wrote, but “a lot of people do fall in the frequent flyer category and they get to pay lots and lots. We should be focusing on what is right and just not just squeezing every buck possible from the sick and staff.

“We very much value all our fine hospital staff. They deal with whatever humanity tosses at them every day and they do it with professionalism and empathy. They have tough jobs. We cannot demean them by making them pay for parking to go to work which would result in a cut in their pay.”