at city hall: archive
Thanks for checking out my blog. These are some of my thoughts on what's happening around the city, including issues and solutions.
Here's an index to recent posts:
- » Coffee, Conversation and Connection (Jan. 13, 2012)
- » Open Budgeting (Dec. 27, 2011)
- » Thank You (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)
Lisa Helps -- my take on the issues
- » 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.