at city hall: archive
Thanks for caring about what's happening at City Hall. See an issue you'd like to share your thoughts with me about? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's an index to all my posts:
- » City Manager Contract - An In Depth Response (Jul. 14, 2012)
- » Open Data - The City's Budget (Jun. 2, 2012)
- » City of Victoria - Open for Business (May 22, 2012)
- » Point Hope Shipyard (May 1, 2012)
- » My Three Priorities for the City (Apr. 15, 2012)
- » Thank you taxpayers for sending me to a conference (Apr. 1, 2012)
- » Campaign expenses in a new economy (Mar. 21, 2012)
- » Change Making (Mar. 18, 2012)
- » The Johnson Street Bridge (Mar. 18, 2012)
- » How much are you willing to pay for this bridge? (Mar. 14, 2012)
- » Our City Budget (Mar. 5, 2012)
- » Annual Housing Strategy and Proposed Civic Investment Strategy (Mar. 4, 2012)
- » Big Picture Long Term (Feb. 19, 2012)
- » Of Gulls, Garbage Woes and Rail Bridges (Feb. 19, 2012)
- » Baseball or a Park for All (Feb. 12, 2012)
- » Garbage, Work and Garden Suites (Feb. 5, 2012)
- » Rise and Report, Again (Jan. 30, 2012)
- » Rise and Report (Jan 21, 2012)
- » Coffee, Conversation and Connection (Jan. 13, 2012)
- » Open Budgeting (Dec. 27, 2011)
- » Thank You Victoria! (Nov. 19, 2011)
- » A New Generation of Municipal Politicians (Nov. 13, 2011)
- » Economic Strategy - Priorities (Oct. 26, 2011)
- » An Infrastructure Priority Plan (Oct. 19, 2011)
- » Community Economic Development (Oct. 15, 2011)
- July 14 2012 -- City Manager Contract - An In Depth Response -- I've had lots of response to this post because it's striking a chord. As always, the responses are varied. I'm motivated to give more details. See backgrounder below for the wider context.
City Council recently passed a motion to extend the City Manager's current contract to 2017. I made a motion to rise and report so that this decision could be brought into the public realm as soon as possible. Council renewed the City Manger's contract on its current terms and conditions. I voted in favour of renewing this contract.
This is why. It's a pragmatic decision. Job searches and hiring cost a lot of money and time. And then there's the transition time and learning curve for whoever would be hired. If we do what we say we're going to do - get the City's (read citizens) financial house in better order, we need to be fully focused on that, not on a job search. Having the same City Manager throughout this process who is empowered by Council and responsible to Council to carry out our decisions is extremely important.
In his article on the contract renewal, Bill Cleverly noted that Council didn't have a copy of the contract in front of us. It's ridiculous to think that we had no information in front of us as we made a decision. Council had all the pertinent information: The general terms of the contract are a salary of $231,452 per year plus up to $1000 per month for expenses. The City Manager's manager's salary - like those of all other people who aren't in the union - is set at a base rate. There is an annual rate of increase based on a formula that includes consideration of the raises given to CUPE, Fire and Police.
It's not pragmatic to consider possible short-term savings. The long-term solution is for Council to work at a policy level and to change the salary formula and to bring what City of Victoria employees are paid in line with with other municipalities. I recognize that it's residents and businesses through their property taxes that pay these salaries.
As noted in the post below, Council's number one priority for the 2013-2015 budget - as we've determined thus far - is "Reduce operating budget". When Council unanimously passed the motion that I brought to the table in April to freeze property tax increases to no more than 3.25% per year, we mandated a decrease in spending of at least $6 million over the next three years. The 2011 Public Bodies Report released last month reveals that there are 224 City employees who make more than $75,000 many of these are management, not union employees. Clearly council must turn its attention to the City's administrative costs, including staff salaries and benefits.
- June 20 2012 -- Open Data - The City's Budget -- On Monday City Council met for the day in open session to discuss the City's priorities for the next three years. On April 26, Council unanimously passed a motion I brought forward, limiting tax increases to no more than 3.25% per year over the next three years. This translates into a cut to the City's budget of $6 million. This is the point from which our discussions began on Monday. We're limiting tax increases because we realize that residents and businesses are already paying what they can. In the interests of fiscal prudence and building a sustainable city for the long term, we're getting our house in order now.
I asked staff for a quick turn around on our priority ranking because Gregor Cragie invited me to come On the Island this morning to speak about the session; I wanted to have the actual results, not just my memory of them. So here, for your consideration, is the raw data from our session on Monday. This document, Preliminary Priorities Ranking is where we ended up. And this document and Preliminary Priorities Scoring System is how we got there.
At the beginning of the day we had almost 100 items before us to rank. Each Councillor was given enough sticky notes to distribute across the priorities. We were asked to rank each initiative by whether we thought it was 'an immediate priority' (5 points) 'within our three year term' (4 points) 'when resources are available' (3 points) 'defer to next council term' (2 points) and 'not to be considered at this time' (1 point). The scores were then totaled, and the priorities ranked by total score.
Next steps are for City staff to cost out the priorities and bring them back for consideration by Council and the public. What are you willing to pay for? What are you willing to let go? What is your long term vision for the City and how do we act prudently and wisely now in order to steer the ship in the right direction and get the City there? Share your thoughts by emailing email@example.com and all councillors at firstname.lastname@example.org
- May 22 2012 -- City of Victoria - Open for Business -- Today the City of Victoria releases its Customer Service Action Plan. A long time in the making, this plan will open up city hall and make it a user-friendly place for residents to do renos, small business to open smoothly, and for small and large-scale developers to get timely assistance.
I've been meeting with developers and small business owners since being elected last November and I've heard an endless string of frustration about how hard it sometimes is to open a business or build a building in the City. I'm optimistic that the implementation of the Customer Service Action Plan will change this. And I'm hopeful that Victoria - in particular our village centres and our downtown - will once again become thriving bustling and welcoming places. I'm willing and wanting to do what I can to make this so.
- May 1 2012 -- Point Hope Shipyard -- The City lands on which Point Hope Shipyard operates are not sold. And the negotiations are not being conducted secretly. I voted with the majority to rise and report on Council's willingness to consider an offer from Ralmax so that we could discuss this potential land sale with residents in advance of any decision.
Here's where I stand. To say the City should never sell public lands, ever, under any circumstance is too simplistic. The issue is far more complicated; each situation in which the City considers the sale of public lands is unique and needs to be treated as such, weighing the benefits and the costs. In this case, there are many questions to be answered, which I'll outline in a moment.
I voted in favour of entertaining an offer from Ralmax to buy the lands at Harbour Road that have been used for ship building for the last 100 years or so. I didn't vote to sell the lands. As a responsible steward of the City's assets I want to gather as much information as possible to make a good decision. To me a good decision is one that considers the best long-term benefit to the City and its residents.
These are some things I'm considering:
- » I want to know what the anchor tenant, who has made significant ($17 million) leasehold improvements, is willing to pay for the land.
- » I want to assess whether it's of long-term financial benefit to the City to lease the land or to sell it now and re-invest money from the sale into other much-needed capital improvements such as a new swimming pool, a new library or any other of the $193,000,000 in unfunded capital projects.
- » I want to know what the environmental remediation costs to the City would be in 2045 when the current lease with Ralmax expires after the lands had been used for shipbuilding for some 150 years.
- » I want to assess whether the staff time and resources that the City, as landlord, puts into the lands at Harbour Road are worth the benefits of retaining a long-term lease.
- » I want citizens to have a say and give input before I decide anything. Please email me at email@example.com with your thoughts.
I'll be at the event Councillors Gudgeon and Isitt are hosting on Wednesday May 9 from 7-9pm at the Fairfield Community Centre. And I'll come with an open mind, keeping in mind the complexities of the issue and wanting to consider the best possible way to use the City's assets to create the greatest, long-term public good.
- April 15 2012, VICTORIA, B.C. -- My Top Three Priorities for the City -- On April 24 from 1-4:30, City Council will finally sit down to set its priorities.
My top three include: City Finances - getting the City's financial house in order; Economic Development - building a strong, resilient, thriving local economy; Food - creating a local food scene that contributes to vibrancy in the public realm and supports local food producers and processors. The key priorities of the past council - affordable housing, harm reduction, sustainability - are important. In order to do these and other things well, the City must also be equally concerned with economic sustainability.
City Finances -- Like municipalities across the country, Victoria faces a massive infrastructure deficit. This means that the amount of money it will cost to perform needed repairs and maintenance on sewer pipes, storm drains, roads, and municipally-owned buildings far exceeds the amount the City has on hand for these purposes. At the same time the City's operating budget has ballooned over the past 10 years (still waiting for exact data). This increase in operating costs is a result of the City taking on the provision of services previously handled by the Federal and Provincial governments (like affordable housing) and expanding its role in response to emerging issues like climate change. Since 2001 business property taxes have increased 49% and residential by 61% to finance this expanded mandate. This is not sustainable and needs Council's attention.
The first thing to do is move to a three-year budgeting cycle. This will allow Council to link the budget to its priorities and enable staff to do a three-year budget once, freeing up large amounts of staff time in the latter two years to attend to other priorities. I've proposed a three-year budgeting motion that will come to Governance an Priorities Committee this Thursday April 19th. Stay tuned to at city hall for details. The second thing to do is ask what businesses is the City in and how are we doing at being in those businesses? Some things will need to be cut. The third thing to do is to have the courage to make the hard choices that will be necessary.
Economic Development -- The City passed an Economic Development Strategy in October 2011. At the same time, a group of citizens that I was part of, drafted A Consensus Statement on Victoria's Economic Development Strategy. The key tenet of the City's Economic Development strategy is to attract business and development with the aim of increasing the commercial tax base. The key points in the Consensus Statement on Victoria's Economic Development Strategy are to aim for community economic development, not just business development and to prioritize locally-owned businesses and local resilience. These two documents, in tandem, should guide the City's economic development with the aim of creating a vibrant, thriving local economy.
Food -- This may seem like a 'light' priority compared to the other two. But its not unrelated. Over the past 10 years local and regional food production, urban agriculture, and local sourcing of food products has gained momentum in the City and in the region. So much so that Victoria's new Official Community Plan has an entire chapter on Food Systems. At the same time, micro-enterprises like food carts featured in the CTV news story above create employment, contribute to the vibrancy of the public realm and give small scale farmers or small urban producers outlets for selling their produce. The City will need to create enabling policies to foster local food initiatives.
No matter what happens, Victorians will need to eat. Part of building a resilient thriving local economy is creating a resilient food system. Toronto just became the first city to mandate green roofs; greenhouses on a rooftop in Brooklyn New York will produce a million pounds of produce a year. What will we do here?
- April 1, 2012 -- Thank you, taxpayers, for sending me to a conference
I'm freshly back from the Centre for Civic Governance conference, The Future is Local, where I spent Friday and Saturday with municipal politicians from across the province sharing ideas and practices about building a future that is local. I'll tell you how much taxpayer money I spent and what on, then I'll tell you what we got for your money.
The conference fee including meals and accommodation was $365. I rented a car for $93 because I don't own one. The ferry each way cost $64.55 for a total of $129.10. And gas was $35.99. The grand total? $623.09.
The cost benefit analysis? It's inspiring being among other municipal leaders who share a passion for the local who - in the spirit of the conference theme - believe that the future is local and that citizens living in a place and local governments as governors of that place have the ability to do some really powerful things together to enhance those places. But more than inspiration, it's really useful sitting together sharing ideas and practices that will make our local places ready for the future. And its really valuable to meet people who are willing to share practices, materials and lessons learned from their cities which will benefit Victoria.
Here's one example. I've been Googling and reading about participatory budgeting for some time now. It's something I ran on in my campaign. And I have already brought a motion on participatory budgeting to the table, which council passed to go forward to the Union of BC Municipalities. That is all great in theory. At the conference there was a panel on participatory budgeting and it was packed! There were two presenters Nora Angeles from the University of British Columbia who has studied and practiced participatory budgeting internationally. And Leanne Piper, a City Councillor from Guelph, where they've been doing participatory budgeting since 1999.
Leanne's presentation showed compellingly how citizens can be and are empowered to make budgetary decisions. She talked about lessons learned, the training necessary, the great importance of having a skilled facilitator. She talked about how those who participated in the process become leaders in the community. She talked about how it builds understanding across the city. And best thing is, during the lunch which we shared together afterwards, she said she'd be happy to share everything Guelph does with us here in Victoria. This means we don't need to invent it (or pay for it!) ourselves.
- Mar 21 2012 -- Campaign expenses in a new economy -- While returning from a three-day vacation today, I saw my head on the front page of the Times Colonist newspaper at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal with the headline: New councillors' campaigns in city surpass $26,000. Concerns raised over political spending levels.
I read with great interest that I had spent $26,819. However, the actual cash that exchanged hands was $11,169. The rest was in-kind donations; my friends and neighbours spent a lot of time working on my campaign because they wanted me to win.
And it got me thinking about how value is accorded in election campaigns. The City of Victoria does require that candidates list in-kind contributions made during campaigns. But the public disclosure form requires that these in-kind donations be listed as a monetary amount. Is money the only way to accord value? What about the value of time?
I was required to list only the time donations that produced something (a website, a video, a poster etc). There was no line for the volunteer time of my campaign manager, my door-knocking captain, or the amazing team of volunteers who knocked on 11,000 doors through even rain and snow. There was no line for the time of the people who distributed two hundred lawn signs, or put up posters, or handed out flyers. Or for all the people who organized 'Lisa Helps Victoria' work parties or the efforts of their friends and neighbours. I couldn't account for all the time of the people who tweeted, retweeted, 'liked' and 'shared' my vision for the city.
How do we measure the value of an election campaign in a new economy? Certainly it includes valuing time not just money. And then there's the value of building connections between people. There's the woman who read about our outdoor bookshelf building workshop on Twitter and came out to make a book box. She didn't know anyone when she arrived; she left with a bookbox, having gotten to know her neighbours. She not only got involved in the campaign, but also invited a friend to come out and doorknock. Her friend brought her 14-year-old daughter who was interested in municipal politics along to doorknock. The four of us spent a rainy Saturday knocking our way through the doors of Fernwood. There's no place on the form for this kind of donation, yet look at how rich it is.
- March 18 2012, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Change making -- Here's a break from bridges and property tax analyses. This video depicts my talk from Denise Savoie's International Women's Day Celebration at the Belfry Theatre in Fernwood Sunday March 11. Denise invited six 'change-makers' to come and speak about what it takes to create change in our communities and in the world.
I talked about three key things that, in my experience, lead to lasting change. The first is to have 'ruthless clarity of vision'. The second is to work across difference and beyond your comfort zone. This takes courage and strength in your own voice and generosity. The third component from my experience of creating lasting change is to be willing to be moved by what you hear. This doesn't mean changing the vision of a group, organization or project once it's set. But it does mean there are lots of ways to get to any given vision. True change comes not only when there is room for everyone to share ideas but also when people are willing to be moved from their own position by what another says. To share your own change-making stories email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- March 18 2012, VICTORIA, B.C. -- The Johnson Street Bridge -- The big news around town this past week - at least for those concerned with Victoria's climbing infrastructure costs in the midst of budgeting season - was the $15.7 million increase in the estimate for the Johnson Street Bridge replacement.
At Governance and Priorities Committee on Thursday, Council voted to move forward with a bridge procurement process that would seek three qualified teams to compete in a process to build the bridge that reflects the current design and to bring the project in on time and on budget. It was further resolved that staff report to Council in June 2012 as to whether there are significant cost or design deviations. This last bit of the motion was my attempt to ensure that council keeps control over the project. This motion passed 7-1 with Councillor Young voting against.
The next motion was to cap the bridge spending at $92,800,000 and to put this into the City's 20 year capital budget. This passed 5-3 with councillors Young, Isitt and myself voting against. I like the process we agreed to and that I helped to craft, especially the part about retaining Council's control. But I don't like embedding a $92,800,000 expense in the 20-year capital plan when there are so many other unfunded capital projects. My hope is that the bids come back under estimate (though my worry goes the other way!) and that we revise the capital budget to reflect this. Stay tuned here an on my Facebook page for updates and discussions about the bridge project as it unfolds and potential revenue generating opportunities on the horizon.
- » Mar 14 2012 -- How Much Are You Willing to Pay for this Bridge? --
The original replacement cost for the Johnson Street Bridge was estimated at $77 million. A report released yesterday shows the new estimate at $92.8 million. We have a cost overrun already and the build hasn't even begun. And there is a question that no one is asking.
In today's Times Colonist Bill Cleverly lays out the three options presented in the staff report. Option 1 is to 'stay the course' stick with the existing plan and 'design-assist' process (see report for definition) and hope for the best. This is the option that city staff and the City's consultants are recommending. Option 2 is to build a bridge with the same functionality as the current bridge but through a 'design-build' process. Option 3 is also to do a 'design-build' process but with a simpler bridge and a cost cap of $77 million. There are risks associated with all three options. They are outlined in the report.
The question that no one is asking is what happens and who pays if the project goes over budget? Here is a report out of Denmark that details the first statistically significant study of the causes of cost escalation in transport infrastructure projects. The report reveals that the average cost escalation for bridges is 34%. So I've done some analysis (with help from members of my 'citizens think tank') about the property tax implications of a cost overrun for options 1 and 2.
Scenario A - 15% Cost Overrun A 15% overrun puts the total cost at $107 million. This means $14 million to be absorbed by taxpayers. This translates into a 4.5% property tax increase each year for three years. I am using a three-year property tax calculation because this is the build time for the bridge and (other than short term borrowing) we will have already maxed our borrowing capacity of $49.2 million with both options 1 and 2.
Scenario B - 30% Cost Overrun A 30% overrun puts the total build cost at $121 million. This means $28 million to be absorbed by taxpayers. This translates into an 8.9% property tax increase each year for 3 years.
Scenario C - 50% Cost Overrun A 50% overrun puts the total at $139.5 million. This means $46.5 million to be absorbed by taxpayers. This translates into a 14.9% tax increase each year for 3 years.
- » March 5, 2012, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Our City Budget -- It's municipal budgeting time again. Last summer Council gave direction to staff to prepare a budget with a 3.5% tax increase and to departments to submit core operating budgets "inclusive of changes to collective agreements, no increase in FTEs (full time positions), no new services or service levels, 0% non-salary inflationary increases." I'm new, so I've never been through this before. I'm new, so I have some ideas about how the City could do things a little bit differently than they've been done in the past with great benefit to the City and its citizens.
Here are some principles for City budgeting that I'd like to see implemented in the next budgeting cycle. Thanks to my 'citizen think tank on budgeting' for helping me develop these:
- 1. Move to a three year budgeting cycle, 2013-2015. There are three key advantages to budgeting in three-year cycles. First, and most importantly, staff time and resources can be allocated to other important projects including developing/investigating new sources of revenue, partnerships and grants rather than doing the 'budget dance' every year. Second, the budget can be a realistic reflection of Council's priorities rather than a 'add-inflation-and-hope-for-the-best' approach. Third, the three-year cycle I propose would cover the last two years of our Council's tenure and the first year of the next Council's thus allowing the new Council to get to its priority setting session sooner than we've been able to.
- 2. Create a variety of budget options and gather input about which budget citizens want. This is a big one. I propose that Council direct staff to prepare three budget options for 2013-2015: a budget with a 3.5% tax decrease, a budget with a 0% tax increase, a budget with a 3.5% tax increase. We explain very clearly that a 3.5% decrease in property taxes will mean ABC, a 0% increase will mean DEF, a 3.5% increase will mean GHI. Then we ask residents and businesses which option they want. And, we don't ask what factors people are making their decision based on - that last bit of the garbage survey distracted from the main question. And we use citizen input to significantly inform our decision.
- 3. Ask 'What business is the City in and is the City doing a good job at being in that business?' I learned last week, for example, that the City pays and helps to coordinate the performance schedule at Centennial Square in the summer months. There are local businesses and musicians that do just this for a living - why don't we hand it over to them. These are the kind of conscious forward-looking choices that we need to make about what we want to use citizens' money to do and what can better be delivered through partnerships, non-profits, or local businesses. Concert scheduling is just one example. There are many, many others. This principle should inform our budget decisions.
- 4. Develop a 'results-based' budget. What Council directs staff to spend citizens' money on should be much more closely tied to the way we want our community to look, the kinds of services we want to provide, the quality of life we want to live, the infrastructure we want to maintain and enhance. To ensure that this happens, we need to create indicators of success so we can say at the end of each three-year cycle: How have we done? Has the way we spent money created the kind of results we want? Has it improved the quality of life for our citizens? Has it created a city with a grand future?
- » Mar 4 2012 -- Annual Housing Report and Victoria's New Civic Investment Strategy -- After being away at the Local Government Leadership Academy last week, it felt good to be back at the Council table, making big-picture long-term decisions for the city.
Thursday's Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) began with a presentation of the City's Annual Housing Report for 2011. The news? Not good at all. In order to buy a home in the city you need an annual household income of $120,000 and a $30,000 downpayment. That's out of reach for many Victorians, with the average annual income in the City sitting around $38,000 (the lowest in the region).
But unaffordable home ownership is just part of the problem. The second part is the very low rate of rental housing construction. According to the City's report, in 1997 there were 1071 new units of rental housing built. In 2011, 173. The vacancy rate was 1.8% in 2011, below the national average of 2.2%. It's not a 'good investment' to build rental housing, according to Roy Brooke (Director of Sustainability), because you don't see the return on your investment until at least five years out - not nearly as lucrative as the condo market.
So, people living on limited incomes in Victoria (which is lots of us!) can't afford to buy homes and can't find apartments to rent. Thank goodness for citizen innovation! The Community Social Planning Council and others are working to create a Community Investment Fund which can be used to address community needs, including the building of rental housing. Community Investment Funds are community controlled pools of capital which will offer investors a mid- to long-term return. Patient capital it's called, slow capital, community capital!
Next up and occupying a great deal of our time was the Sustainability Department's proposed Civic Investment Strategy. In short, the strategy is an overhaul of the City's grants program. The City currently administers 19 grants programs through five different City departments. The purpose of the grants is to fund delivery of services on behalf of the City, complement or extend the reach of City services, and met evolving corporate and community priorities. Some grants are awarded through a competitive process, others are handed out to organizations simply because, well, they always have been.
The courageous Civic Investment Strategy proposed by the Sustainability Department substantially disrupts the status quo. I strongly support this. The Strategy proposes that all grants - including those to Community and Seniors' centres - go through a competitive process. That may be going a bit too far. But the point is that if the City is going to be granting taxpayers dollars, we need to be sure that we are getting the best value for those grants. We need to move towards 'results-based granting' where we measure the impact that grantee organizations have on the community. How are the grant dollars leveraged? What innovation and lasting legacies do they help to create in our community?
The Strategy proposes streamlining the 19 grant categories into four: Project Grants, Operating Grants, Fee for Service, Capital Grants. I suggested adding a fifth category (but not more money!) 'Shape Your Future Victoria' Citizen's Grants. After an hour of discussion Council passed a motion supporting the Civic Investment Strategy in principle and directing staff to refine the document based on our discussion. It will take courage to move this document forward and move this policy into practice. Courage is necessary for creating much needed and lasting change.
- » February 19, 2012, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Big Picture Long Term -- Last week at City Hall, Council passed a motion with regard to garbage pickup. Forty-eight per cent of those surveyed on garbage wanted the cheapest option, curbside pickup at $161 per year. Yet if you combine the results from the other two options on the survey, more expensive in both cases, 48% wanted backyard pickup. Council landed in the middle choosing Option B: biweekly backyard collection of garbage and kitchen scraps, a high reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at $183 per year. The bottom line is a cost difference of $22 per year per household.
$22 per year per household is not nothing. Sandra Richardson from the Victoria Foundation came to Council to present on Victoria's Vital Signs a few weeks back. And she told us that cost of living was the most important concern for residents of Greater Victoria.
Some have said that the garbage decision was an opportunity to cut operating costs. My response to that is garbage collection is a user pay utility and doesn't significantly impact the City's operating budget. I realize that the same people who pay for garbage pickup pay property taxes and fund the City's operations. And I'm not suggesting that the City administration can keep expecting the City's citizens to pay more and more and more for services. What I am saying is that I need to cast my gaze to the big picture long term decisions and opportunities for saving citizens money.
At the capital budget meeting last week we learned that there are $143,000,000 in unfunded capital projects including Crystal Pool and Fire Hall #1. There are sewers and storm drains to be replaced, some of which were built at the turn of the twentieth century. The sewer and storm drain replacement alone is projected to cost about $160,000,000 over the next 20 years. We have an intricate and complicated bridge building project underway that needs care, attention and good governance.
I was elected, in part, to create an infrastructure priority plan to steward the City's assets within the City's means. I am keeping my eyes, my efforts, and my energies on the City's big-picture, long-term needs. I am looking for big-picture, long-term cost savings through innovation, partnerships, and new streams of revenue particularly when it comes to the City's infrastructure. As the capital budget presentation emphasized, our municipal infrastructure is vital in sustaining the economic, environmental, social and cultural life of the community.
- » February 19 2012 -- Of Gulls, Garbage Woes and Rail Bridges -- The Governance and Priorities Committee meeting of Thursday February 16 began at 10am and ended at 6pm. Here's my take on some of what we covered in those eight hours.
Animal Control Bylaw Amendments occupied the first bit our our time. 'The deer problem' as it's come to be known seemed like the key motivating factor for a recommended bylaw change that would see a $350 fine for feeding deer, squirrels, racoons, feral rabbits, pigeons, crows or gulls. The feeding of ducks (perhaps because this is a tourist activity?) remained legal.
Recognizing the 'pleasure factor' of feeding gulls pieces of leftover sandwiches during a picnic at Dallas Rd for example, but also the nuisance that gulls and other birds cause to downtown businesses, I suggested that the feeding of birds be illegal downtown but not otherwise. The whole discussion left me with a sour taste in my mouth because while I understand the importance of wildlife control within city limits, I wonder at the thought of bylaw officers roaming around fining and ticketing people for an age-old pass time of feeding the birds.
An angry voter called me soon after to say how could I be so out of it and did I not know the salt content and bad ingredients in the bread people feed to pigeons and seagulls and that there is enough good food in nature for them to eat. The caller claimed that my stand on this was way 'off track.' I appreciate the feedback and input. At the same time, my aim is to make sure that taxpayers dollars are well spent. I think we need a balance between the perhaps necessary policing of citizen interaction with wildlife on one hand, especially in the case of deer, and the best possible allocation of the city's limited bylaw enforcement personnel.
The Department of Engineering and CUPE 50, respectively, both presented once again to GPC to try and resolve the garbage stalemate. Councillor Gudgeon - previously advocating a compromise - came to the table with one in hand: That Council direct staff and the union to come to a solution that would entail weekly garbage and kitchen scraps collection and sideyard pickup. Sideyard pickup was not included as as an option in any of the choices in the City's December 2011 survey. Councillor Gudgeon's motion was replaced with Councillor Alto's "Option B" motion which includes backyard biweekly kitchen scraps and garbage pickup with a savings to users of $41 per year from the current status quo. The motion passed with Councillors Coleman, Young and the mayor opposed.
The garbage debate revolved around whether we were bound by choosing the top option that survey respondents chose Option C - curbside pick up (48%) - or some combination of Option B - backyard pick up biweekly (35%) - and option A - backyard pickup weekly (13%). Councillors at the table at the time of the survey felt they'd promised to implement whatever survey respondents choose. Councillor Gudgeon pointed out that councillors are elected because of our ability to see shades of grey. We are elected to make complex decisions. In this case, what to do when 48% say they want curbside pick up and 48% say they want backyard pick up. See my recent blog post 'Big Picture Long Term' for more.
And finally, to rail on the Johnson Street Bridge. Councillor Isitt put forward a motion that he and other councillors including myself had helped craft. The motion was, in essence, to ask for a simpler more cost effective, 'bridge for the future', that would be built to engineering standards to accommodate rail. The motion was defeated with Councillors Alto, Coleman, Young, Thornton-Joe, Madoff and the Mayor opposing it. Councillors Gudgeon, Isitt and myself voted in favour.
In the interest of keeping the bridge project on time and on budget as it proceeds, I made the following motion, which was also crafted with a number of councillors and which passed unanimously:
Be it resolved that staff present to Council a status report on the Project Charter timeline, indicating the progress of each item on the timeline by March 15th, in a format similar to the Corporate Strategic Plan reports that are given quarterly;
Be it further resolved that staff present to Council information with regard to the 'Unit Price for Steel' as outlined in the Project Charter to be completed as of Fall 2011 by March 15th;
Be it further resolved that staff present to Council a total detailed project budget including details regarding the cost of building the bascule portion of the bridge at the March 15th meeting;
Be it further resolved that staff present to Council a risk matrix and risk management plan which takes into consideration the External Dependencies and Assumptions outlined in the Project Charter, specific plans made to manage them, and an assessment of the 'residual' risks that can't be managed away.
- » February 12 2012 -- Baseball or a Park for All -- Two key items at City Hall last Thursday night. I'll start with the one that took us to 11pm then backtrack to talk about garbage collection.
At Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) on January 26th council passed a motion - in closed session - "That Council authorize the Director of Parks and Recreation to enter into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the summer use of the Royal Athletic Park in a form satisfactory to the City Solicitor." I voted in favour of this motion. And, I made a motion to rise and report so we could bring this into the public realm.
But, when Council had this motion before it for ratification on Thursday night (in open session) there was something no longer sitting well with me. So I raised it. I don't think it's a good decision to hand over the keys to the Royal Athletic Park for 10 weeks in the summer to an outside entity. Even if the MOU that the Department of Parks head negotiated left room for other uses in addition to a semi-professional baseball team, the team owner not the city would likely determine the timing of other uses. And this would all revolve around the baseball schedule.
Councillor Young said we need a baseball team because we are the capital city and it will help retain our function as such. The mayor said something similar and he also said that the baseball team is part of an economic development strategy. I said that I don't think a team coming here and generating economic activity for 10 weeks out of the year is a sustainable mode of economic development. Especially if it means giving over the use of a public facility for a private interest.
When I spoke against the motion, I said for me this is not about whether I like baseball or not. I agreed with Councillor Thornton-Joe's comments that it is good for young people to have role models and inspiration and that semi-professional baseball players can certainly be part of this. And it's not about ideology. It's about considering the best possible use for the city's only stadium over the summer months. And that best possible use is, in my opinion, a diversity of festivals, sports activities and other innovative uses Victorians will come up with ... if we hold onto the keys.
Although the initial vote at GPC had been 8-1 with only Councillor Isitt opposing, we ended up not voting on Thursday evening because councillors needed 'more information' to make a decision and referred the issue back to GPC.
Garbage collection also came to us for decision on Thursday evening. CUPE president John Burrows and other citizens made compelling presentations that called into question some of the surveys findings. Mr. Burrows claimed that although the City said 56% of people had responded that cost was the most important factor he had counted only 30.3%. We received a memo Friday morning noting that he likely only had a portion of the survey results. City staff are doing a recount.
Councillor Gudgeon asked Mr. Burrows if the union was willing to compromise - to come to a garbage collection agreement that would benefit Victorians who still want backyard pickup, those who want to save money, and the union, which wants to preserve jobs. I am hopeful that a compromise is possible. Council referred this decision back to GPC as well. The mayor said that we have surveyed people and asked a particular question and they had answered it. He also said that there is a difference between advocacy and governance and that we were elected to govern. I want to think more about this last statement.
- » February 5, 2012 -- Garbage, Work and Garden Suites -- The agenda item that consumed most of council's open session time on Thursday was the future of garbage and kitchen scraps pick up. What to do and how to proceed when survey results can be interpreted in a number of ways?
Another key though short discussion (for now!) was the idea which I put on the table to extend the Secondary Suite Incentive Program to cover building garden suites. I gave 'notice of motion' to add Garden Suites to this program. Stay tuned for the February 16 Governance and Priorities Committee.
In the last term, Council decided to survey residents to ask about garbage and kitchen scraps pick up. Citizens were give three options and maintaining the status quo (once a week garbage pick up from the backyard) was not one of them. The results are in. 48% (2073) voted for bi-weekly curbside collection of garbage and kitchen scraps, 35.3% (1523) for bi-weekly backyard collection of garbage and kitchen scraps and 13.3% (574) voted for alternate weeks kitchen scraps/garbage, backyard collection. City staff recommended - based on Council's promise to citizens - that we go with the most popular option.
But up next was John Burrows, president of CUPE 50, representing the workers who would lose jobs/hours if we go with the most popular option. He interpreted the survey results differently. More people, he argued (1523 + 574) voted to keep backyard collection. Additionally, if you look at all the comments (which he had done) even some of those who voted for the biweekly collection or who chose no option but commented said they'd like to keep backyard collection. What to do?
City staff said that the survey results also indicated that the most important factor for citizens was cost. And thus, most chose the cheapest option. Balance this against the workers who will be displaced at the lower end of the 'spareboard' as those currently involved in garbage pick up lose regular hours and move back to the top of the spareboard based on seniority.
Council decided (8-1) to keep its promise to citizens and go with the option they chose. I voted in favour of this. We will still need to vote on this at the Council meeting this Thursday Feb 9. We also directed staff to look into the possibility of taking over Blue Box pickup from the CRD when that contract expires in 2014. Finally, we asked to know more about the impact on the CUPE workers before making a final decision. I will wait to make my final decision until all the information is in.
This is one of those challenging situations where the City is both the employer, responsible to its employees, and the service provider, responsible to its customers. This is one of those situations where - in my mind - the good of the many must be considered over the good for the few. These are hard and important choices.
- » January 30, 2012 -- Rise and Report -- Last Thursday was a very long day at City Hall. In part because we're still finding our way as a working group - balancing the nine strong voices at the table, ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard. In part because there were three items that took a lot of time to get through - two in open session, one in closed. Because I now know 'rise and report', I can discuss all three here and would love your input on the third. Read on.
Shannon Craig (Corporate Policy Analyst) and Rob Woodland (Director of Legislative Services) presented a detailed report requesting changes to the "Vehicles for Hire Bylaw". On the table was everything from how many pedicab licenses they City should issue to how much weight should horses be allowed to pull. Councillor Isitt aimed to amend motions to include the public in discussion. Councillors Madoff and Colemen also pointed to the need for a more complete understanding of how the proposed changes affect not only the businesses in question, but also the public and the public realm. I agree. Because these are bylaw changes, they will require a public hearing and likely some consultation before that. This is a good thing.
My intervention was to make a motion to increase the number of pedicab licenses from 28 to 75. I put this forward on the basis that pedicabs provide an opportunity for small-scale entrepreneurship, they are human-powered and create zero emissions, they increase the vibrancy of the public realm, and with more licenses approved than are necessary (we were told there are no more than 50 people right now wanting licenses) there is no drain on staff resources to administer a bidding or lottery process needed for allocating limited licenses. The motion carried.
The next item of significant business was a decision to move the Reliance Properties proposal for the Northern Junk site forward to Heritage Advisory Committee, Advisory Design panel and a third party economic analysis. The Times Colonist reported that Northern Junk plan divides city council. However, what was clear at the table was not 'division' but that rather that there's room for a diversity of opinion. And once the motion had passed, even those councillors opposed chimed in to give direction to Deb Day (Director of Planning) and her staff about the kinds of issues they'd like considered.
In the Northern Junk discussion, Councillor Isitt introduced a motion to delay approval of the staff recommendation until we receive an update on the possibility of rail crossing the new Johnson Street bridge. A decision was made by the last council that there would be no rail bridge. There are a number of us who want to know what the load rating of the new bridge is, in case sometime in the next 100 years or so street cars might once again become a critical piece of the city's transportation infrastructure. This motion was defeated. I voted against it because while I believe the potential for rail on the bridge is imperative, I don't think it is fair to tie it to whether this development moves forward or not. Councillor Isitt introduced a subsequent notice of motion asking for a report on rail on the bridge. This is a good thing!
In the afternoon, we moved into closed session - for the reasons outlined in the agenda thanks to a process that I helped to institute last week, stating the reasons for going in camera. The Vic News found this simple innovation newsworthy! Victoria city council to publish reason for closing meeting. In closed session, I made a motion to rise and report on a motion we passed: "That Council authorize the Director of Parks and Recreation to enter into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the summer use of the Royal Athletic Park in a form satisfactory to the City Solicitor." And now my question to you: What are your priorities for summer use of the Royal Athletic Park? Should any group have exclusive use of the park or should any agreement include a commitment to mixed use? Email me your thoughts at email@example.com
- » January 21, 2012 -- Rise and Report -- I learned a new tool at city hall this week called 'rise and report'. This is the mechanism to bring decisions that were made in closed session into the public realm. I used it. Please read on; this is important even if you're not concerned about the Northern Junk lands per se.
Many people are aware of the proposed development by Reliance Properties of the Northern Junk buildings at Pandora and Wharf. People have written to me both in support of and opposed to the development. This proposed development is far from the public hearing stage - that's the time and place for the developer to present the project to the public and for the public to speak. On December 15th, the Governance and Priorities Committee of Council asked for more information before deciding whether to move the project along to the next phase - an analysis of economic benefits to the city, and to Advisory Design Panel and Heritage Advisory Committee. This information will be provided on January 26th.
Here's the kicker. Many of the folks opposed to the project are opposed on the basis that public lands will be sold to the developer. Some claim that public lands should not be sold without going on the open market. Others claim that the boulevard in question is valuable public green space and shouldn't be removed at any cost. It is too late. In closed session on January 14, 2010, Councillor Lucas moved and Councillor Luton seconded that Council:
1. Grant permission for the developer to submit a rezoning application for the City-owned land as shown on Map 1, attached to the report dated December 17, 2009, recognizing that this would not fetter their discretion on considering the rezoning and that Council's expectation is that any rezoning proposal would:
a.) Be consistent with the height regulations contained in the CA-3C Zone (Old Town District)
b.) Be consistent with the Old Town Design Guidelines.
c.) Include a pathway connecting the bridge and Wharf St, the design of which acknowledges the public importance of this space and link.
2. Enter into an agreement of purchase and sale for the above noted property, at fair market value, once (my emphasis) any Official Community Plan and zoning amendments are complete and necessary development controls have been established.
Council passed this motion and committed public lands for sale to the developer, two years ago. I thought it important to 'rise and report' on this issue because it provides the full context in which we must all consider the proposed development.
- » December 16, 2011 -- Busy day at City Hall yesterday. Running off to meetings this morning then away overnight but will give brief update about what happened, how I voted, and why.
Significant items included the Northern Junk building proposal at Wharf. Reliance Properties proposes to restore two heritage buildings, build another building and create public amenities. Staff recommended moving this forward to Heritage, Design and undertaking a third party economic analysis as to whether the amenities provided were adequate for the zoning and changes required.
There was significant discussion at the table as to whether this is the best use of waterfront lands and how this fits into the plans for the new Johnson Street Bridge. Ultimately, the proposal is moving along with staff to come back to Governance and Priorities Committee (that's council meeting as a whole every second Thursday morning - important policy decisions made here, meetings begin at 10:00am) with drawings of the new Johnson Street Bridge incorporated into the plans. I supported moving the proposal along and getting more information about how it will benefit the city and the public realm.
Other matters discussed include: re-opening the Chander-Gonzales Pathway - I'm in support. And approving Festival Grants for 2012 ($156,000) - I'm in support and was astounded to find that these grants combined with the operating budgets of festival organizers provide over 8 million dollars in local economic spinoffs. I like this principle of small investments by the city, combined with the efforts of citizens, creating great benefits to all. There was a budget update and request to transfer monies from contingency to operating.
- » January 13, 2011, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Coffee, Conversation and Connection -- I held the first of my bi-weekly community coffee hours at Habit Coffee in The Atrium Building this morning. Before I even had my coat off there were people there, wanting to talk. I was reminded again this morning of why I applied for this job in the first place: people inspire me and conversation is how I learn.
The two first arrivals had walked from Moss Street; one neighbour called the other and said, "My daughter told me Lisa's having a coffee meeting this morning. Let's go." The first idea I heard, after taking the first sip of my delicious-as-usual Habit decaf Americano, was about a desire to start a group called, Green Grandparents: Alternate Energy Now. "We haven't got 40 more years," said one grandmother. She encouraged me to look at the city's building codes and possibilities of finding incentives for green energy.
Soon the centre table at Habit was full. The conversation meandered from the Northern Junk Buildings to light rapid transit to how to create a downtown that felt like other neighbourhoods in the city. "What makes your neigbourhood special?" someone asked, "and how can we create that downtown?" A fellow showed up who had been instrumental in establishing Granville Market in Vancouver, bringing together business, artists, and community. I connected him and his wife (who believes its the grassroots where the most action happens) with the Victoria Downtown Public Market Society because a public market would help to create a more vibrant downtown.
There was one tense moment when a downtown business owner called the park beside the Northern Junk buildings "pot park" and said she didn't want to go sit there and eat her lunch because she didn't like smelling pot. Someone else who uses the park took offence and said, "Well, I don't like having to breathe in exhaust all the time and I don't have a choice about that." "Exactly," I intervened. "Exactly, we need to build a city for both of you, for all of us." No one stormed off. The conversation continued. Tension and disagreement are terrific.
Someone stopped in from the Dandeolion Society to invite me to walk the streets early in the morning with Al Tysick as he greets people when they awake, makes sure everyone made it through the night, finds out about those who may not have. Friday Feb 10th at 5am I'll meet up with Al. Earlier someone had dropped by to report with distress that Rock Bay shelter had been turning away 40 people per night and that in the 14 months they'd been open there was only a vacant bed on one night. "It's a crisis," said the young woman. "Housing is great, but in the meantime, we need more shelters, overflow shelters." I'll connect her with Al and Dandelion.
The best part moment of the morning was when I stood up to see someone out then looked down the long narrow table: there were people who didn't know each other - most of whom I'd never met - sitting talking with each other. I saw people jotting down each others' contact information, handing each other business cards. I overheard a young unemployed man speaking with an older fellow who runs a one-man company that provides transportation for cruise ship passengers; they were talking about string theory! There is so much to say, and there are endless possibilities for connection.
Join me and others Friday January 27 10am-12pm at Solstice Cafe on Pandora.
- » December 27 2011, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Open Budgeting -- I ran for City Council in part on a platform of participatory budgeting. Watch this youtube video for a short explanation.
While we won't get a full participatory budgeting process until 2013 (council majority willing) you can still help now. First head here and read 'Public Budget Presentation'. Pay special attention to pages 17 and 23 - these are the five year budgets for operating and capital, respectively. We can make a change now by budgeting sustainably for the longer term. If you want, read the more detailed reports the Council and Mayor's budget presentation they're at the same link.
Then do some thinking and send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org on how the city should spend and save over the next five years. What are your priorities? How do we pay for them? And then, get involved. The 2012 budget AND the budget for 2012-2017 need to be settled by the end of March.
There'll be time to find out what's going on in Governance and Priorities Committee and Council meetings. And I'll keep you up to date here. As I say in the video in participatory budgeting: 'the budget is the city's most powerful tool.' I look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you'd like to join the conversation rather than sharing your thoughts one-on-one, friend me on Facebook and stay tuned to my wall.
- » November 19 2011, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Thank You -- A very sincere thank you to all who have helped me on my journey to the City of Victoria's Council table. From the voters who took the time today to cast their ballots, to the residents who shared their ideas with me on doorsteps and sidewalks, to the other candidates that I met and worked beside, and to the many great people who volunteered their time and resources for my campaign: I feel tremendous gratitude to you all. I also feel what it means to have the wealth that is community.
I look forward to listening, speaking, working and growing with you more in the months and years ahead. Thank you again for this opportunity to help shape our just, sustainable and vibrant City.
- » November 13 2011, VICTORIA, B.C. -- A New Generation of Municipal Politicians -- Here we are almost at the end of the campaign trail. There's less than a week to go until Victorians head to the polls to cast their ballots.
In late 2010, I decided to make a run for City Council this November. What inspired me to run initially was a key lesson I learned as we were creating Community Micro Lending.
In founding this organization, I brought together a diversity of people: young people and old people, people from the so-called right and the so-called left, from small business, from the university, from prison, from transition houses, lawyers and accountants and more. And I learned that if you have all of these people sitting at the same table, working towards a shared vision, differences matter less than the experience of creating something innovative and inspiring together.
Now, I am not naive; it's not that differences in political leanings, in past experience, in world-view or outlook disappear, and we have one big happy easy-to-reach consensus. Initially one board member and I (a retired CFO of a Trust Company in his early 70s) went head to head, a lot. Terse words and raised voices and everything! But eventually we both settled down, convinced that we were there for the same purpose.
Edwin taught me about lending. And I taught him about compassion for borrowers who were very different from those he lent money to through the trust company. And together we worked to reduce poverty, help start small businesses, and empower people.
I tell this story about Community Micro Lending because this is what I think the next generation of municipal politics should look like. Difference, diversity, strong voices, and fervent discussion must be welcomed and celebrated. Innovation and the courage that necessarily accompanies it must be enabled and fostered.
Those sitting at the council table after November 19th--and I sincerely hope you will help me become one of them--must develop a shared vision of what we are all doing at the table together. And, we must come to share and collectively foster a vision for the city we are elected to govern.
- » October 26 2011, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Economic Strategy - Priorities
The City's Economic Development Strategy, as I understand it, aims to increase commercial activity in the city.
At the end of the document, both short- and long-term actions are laid out. And the City has budgeted $1.5 million over the next three years to help make this plan happen. Yet even with the actions laid out and money allocated, one person posted on my Facebook page that she had "just reviewed another City wish list which is officially published as a strategy. Perhaps all future city strategies could include a section costing and prioritizing each action. This may result in a two-page strategy rather than a 30-page strategy, which should help the City focus its limited resources on things it can actually achieve."
What can the City actually achieve? And where should we start?
My hope is that this costing out and prioritizing of the plan will happen this January when City Council sets its priorities for the year and that - as the Facebook respondent requested - each action that the City plans to take towards creating a diverse, resilient, sustainable economy has a price tag beside it.
The authors of the Strategy tell us that "to be resilient, Victoria should not depend solely on shares of 'external' growth; it needs to bolster its existing economic base and it needs to think about ways to foster local economic opportunity using local capacity." This is the most important sentence in the document. And this is where we start.
Put simply, the question is how we can we use what Victoria has to create more of what Victorians want? And, what are the priorities?
First, build on the idea behind the Heritage Tax Incentive and create a Small Local Business Tax Incentive to provide tax credits to developers who build and/or lease commercial spaces to small locally owned and operated businesses. This will encourage more developments like the Atrium building, which was intentionally filled up with local businesses (and avoid situations like the Burger King that is set to open at the corner of Johnson and Douglas!). It will also allow lower rents for small businesses for the 10 year tax holiday which will enable small start-ups to thrive.
Second, pay attention to affordability - the cost of doing business, the cost of doing development, and the cost of living and housing. I will support the allocation of part of the $1.5 million beside priorities that make it easier and cheaper to build desirable, appropriate buildings that fit with the Official Community Plan and Local Area Plans. And I will support priorities that encourage what the Strategy calls "household sustaining wages" and affordable housing for workers and families.
Finally Victoria needs to learn to tell a new story about itself. This is free! And it's critical in order for the City's economy to thrive over the next 30 years. Victoria is no longer a city that can (or should) rely on Butchart Gardens, hanging baskets or high tea as key to its identity. Victoria is a city of innovation. It's a city in a region with a leading-edge technology sector; it's a city of neighbourhoods and neighbourhood-based innovation; it could be a city with a more vibrant downtown, nary a vacant store-front in sight, populated with residents living in seismically sound heritage buildings, a vibrant outdoor food-cart scene, and more; it's a city with a perfect climate and land use pattern for cycling, walking, and other low-cost transportation options.
Telling this new story requires an attitude shift on the part of both City Hall and citizens. The authors of the Economic Strategy get the final word here: "work on improving the community's attitude toward urban change and development."
- » October 19 2011, VICTORIA, B.C. -- An Infrastructure Priority Plan
There is an infrastructure problem. It's been apparent for sometime. And it's a concern that I'm hearing from voters on doorsteps and at kitchen table conversations. I don't much like the problems and solutions model - I prefer to look at the gifts and assets that people and communities have and to work with these.
Let's take Crystal Pool. Crystal Pool is in need of repair, but the City is running an almost $500 million infrastructure deficit and spending $10 million per year to maintain its $1.7 billion in infrastructure. A report released yesterday outlines the problem very clearly.
In part, it's a historical problem: The building was constructed in 1971. The report tells us that "the normal lifespan of an aquatic and fitness facility is approximately 20 years." In 1991, City Council should have taken a look at the building's mechanical and electrical systems, usage patterns, the needs of the community, how much it was costing to run the facility (currently at a loss of $1.2 million per year) and made a decision about what to do about the then-aging asset. Of course hindsight is 20/20.
But, and this is important, the report also tells us that "we anticipate that, for the greatest portion of the building's life, maintenance requirements have been deferred or completed only on an 'as failed' basis." It's this that really gets me. One of our cherished assets - like a community pool - only gets attention and repair when it has failed.
Rather than having made either long-term or short-term decisions about Crystal Pool, the City has let it decay over the past 40 years to the point that "if the facility is to continue operating in its present condition and/or extend its lifespan, the City of Victoria is assuming risk."
What to do? First, stop pointing fingers. Second, set priorities and plan carefully. With the new Johnson Street Bridge being built, proposed sewage treatment, proposed LRT, and Fire Station #1 in need of seismic upgrading, Victoria needs an Infrastructure Priority Plan. Developing this plan will be a high priority for me at City Council's Strategic Priority Setting Session in January 2012 if I'm at the table. Finally, get the right people at the table; an Infrastructure Priority Plan requires a balance of citizen input and oversight and professional input and oversight. With this, we will be in a very good position to create a shared vision and long term plan to preserve and enhance Victoria's assets.
- » October 15 2011, VICTORIA, B.C. -- Community Economic Development Yesterday I attended a community conversation as part of Project Connect hosted at Our Place. I sat in a circle and listened to the stories of folks who are living in the city's shelters and on the city's streets. They spoke of being thrown out of shelters for speaking up, of their belongings being thrown in the garbage, of short six hour sleeps on gym mats. When one of the organizers asked if she could take pictures a gentleman said, "Please, no. I don't want my family to see me like this."
I learned that the Ministry of Housing and Social Development provides work boots. But only if you're going back to work full time. And if you're on disability benefits, you can't make more than $500 per month in addition to your cheque. So you can't work full time. So you can't get work boots. As one gentleman left the conversation he said, "Don't give into frustration and rage; try to remain hopeful."
On Thursday morning at an action learning event hosted by the Community Council, I had heard a story of hope. It was the story of Winnipeg. Brendan Reimer, from the Canadian CED Network shared Winnipeg's success from the mid-1990s in creating a resilient local economy, building affordable housing, empowering people and building capacity. He talked about LITE and SEED and Winnipeg's Social Purchasing Portal, the Jubilee Fund, and the Winnipeg Citizen's Coalition.
There are two key ingredients to Winnipeg's success. What gives me hope, is that there's nothing stopping us from putting these to work in Victoria.
First, don't worry about a structure; focus on the vision. Brendan said that when umbrella organizations are put in place to bring people together who are already working towards a similar vision, the focus shifts from the vision to the umbrella organization. Stay connected, share resources, skills and staff among organizations. Discuss and understand how food security, housing, meaningful work, childcare, and neighbourhood revitalization all lead to thriving citizens and a thriving city. But don't create unnecessary structures.
Second, build capacity in every action you take and every policy you create. This is where we come back to Victoria, to the circle of people sitting at Our Place on Friday morning. Brendan told the inspiring story of The Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, a First Nation's organization in Winnipeg. For years they assigned clients a number and opened a case file on each person who walked through the door. Over time, they could see that this wasn't working. The people they were trying to help, as cases, didn't have a voice in their own destiny. One day, they threw out all the case files and now, as Brendan tells it, "they don't have case files anymore; they have relationships."
According to the people sitting in the Project Connect community conversation, the social service model is broken and it is not helping them. It is time for a new way. And there's nothing stopping us from forging it together, right here in Victoria.