Provincial Budget Puts People and Strong Economy First, Tackles Reconciliation and Climate Change

Blog post families picture.jpg

Yesterday the Province released its budget which puts people and a strong economy first, and makes significant investments in climate action and reconciliation. Affordability, economic prosperity and inclusion, and bold action on climate change and reconciliation are key priorities for Victorians. I’m grateful that the Province’s budget reflects our values as a community.

The investments announced will help to make life more affordable for families in Victoria. And they are also key investments to help keep Victoria’s economy sustainable and make it more inclusive. Affordability is a critical issue for our residents and business community, particularly the most vulnerable and working families who are struggling to make ends meet.

The new BC Child Opportunity Benefit will provide important and unrestricted funding for families with children until the age of 18. This will help to strengthen the social fabric of our communities. Parents won’t have to make hard choices between sports equipment, or ballet lessons and putting food on the table; children will have opportunities for more enriching experiences.

New funding for people living in poverty and for mental health and addictions will ensure that our most vulnerable residents finally get the help they need. And the elimination of interest from all BC student loans will set young people on a more affordable life path.

The Province’s historic $902 million investment in the CleanBC plan will help British Columbians to take serious climate action and reduce carbon pollution. In order to reduce carbon pollution in Victoria by 16%, we need to retrofit buildings at a rate of 2% per year. Whether the $41 million energy retrofit incentives in the budget will be enough to push people to action or whether bolder action still required is yet to be seen. But the budget offers a good first step.

Reconciliation is also a key element in the Province’s budget in two important ways. The most obvious is a new revenue sharing agreement between the government and BC First Nations which will see $3 billion in gaming revenue transferred to First Nations over the next 25 years, including $300 million in the next three years. This will create more autonomy for First Nations communities to invest in their communities as they see fit. There is still more work to do to have true economic reconciliation, but this gesture in the budget is a good next step.

The less obvious but equally important focus on reconciliation in the budget is that for the first time ever, relatives who are caring for children will receive the same funding as foster parents. This will help to keep Indigenous children with their families where they belong, and out of foster care.

For those interested in the details, you can read the full budget here. This chart is a good summary of  how the Provincial government raises revenue and how it spends it.

graphic-b-c-budget-revenues-and-expenses.jpg

And for those wanting a deeper analysis, Wednesday’s printed version of the Times Colonist has great and detailed coverage of the budget. Some of their online coverage can be found here and here.

 

Elderly Artist Couple, One With MS, Lose Affordable Housing After 38 Years

GONZALES BAY REVISITED EM painting by Barbara Weaver-Bosson.jpg
Gonzales Bay Revisited
Original painting by Barbara Weaver-Bosson. Copyright 1995 to 2019. All rights reserved.

City Council is in the process of developing the City’s 2019 budget. This year we’re putting $1 million into our Affordable Housing Trust Fund, up from $250,000 in previous years. And we’re hiring new housing planners. And we’ve asked staff to re-organize the Planning Department to have a section of the department specifically focused on the creation of affordable rental housing.

And we’re in the process of developing an inclusionary housing policy so we can get new housing units or cash-in-lieu when new condos are being built. And there’s more money than ever before flowing from the Provincial government for housing – earlier this year the Province announced funding for 588 units of affordable housing in the City of Victoria alone.

All of these new programs and initiatives are great. But it’s going to take time to get all the housing built. In the meantime, there are so many people in our community struggling with housing insecurity, homelessness, and rents that take up far too much of their paycheques.

Too often the realities of housing are shared as statistics, vacancy rates, or average rents. In a talk she gave at a Bridges for Women event in Victoria, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell said, “The story is the unit of human understanding.” I offer this space for Barbara and Victor to share their story.

Barbara and Victor’s Story, In Their Own Words

Just a short time ago Victor Bosson and I were served notice to vacate our Fairfield home and art studio of 38 years. Our dear friend Alan, who was our landlord, unexpectedly died. Alan loved the arts and for over 35 years kept our rent affordable.

We cannot thank him enough for his contribution which made it possible for us to continue to strive as artists. When Victor’s health and MS challenges progressed through the years, Alan wholeheartedly accommodated Victor’s accessibility needs in our home.

Unfortunately for Victor and I, the family member who inherited Alan’s property does not understand our crisis and that wheelchair accessible, affordable homes are not available to us at our income level.

Vic and I are now actively searching for an affordable two-bedroom wheelchair accessible home with a workspace/storage space and parking.

We have just started to look into subsidized B.C. Housing and were told on the phone that the waiting list is up two to three years for a wheelchair accessible one-bedroom apartment.

About Us

If you have not been aware of us in the Victoria art community, among the many artistic awards and accomplishments, Victor notably in 1998 was nominated for Canada’s highest honour, the Governor General’s Award for his illustrations for The Fox’s Kettle children’s book by Laura Langston.

I am well known for my Victoria Neighbourhood Series. For over 35 years my expansive Victoria painting series have detailed and documented the architectural character and rooftop views of many seaside neighbourhoods and harbour areas.

Many of our art works are in private and public collections worldwide. As Victor and I have gained a significant profile in Victoria’s Arts Community, we hope to continue to live in this fine city.

Our Specific Housing Requirements

As Vic has MS, we will need a wheelchair accessible home with parking. We are looking for a bright and very private two-bedroom home that is wheelchair accessible. The living space should be rated as sound proof. If there happens to be a few stairs leading into the house, we are willing to look at putting in a lift or ramp for easy access into or around the home. We also require a heated garage, workshop or an extra room for our studio or storage space.

Affordable Monthly Rent

Affordable living and work space for artists is scarce.

Our maximum budget for before utilities are factored in is $ 950 per month. Our maximum budget with all utilities included is $1200 per month.

Victor and I are quiet, non smokers and are proven long term tenants. The property owner who accepts our application, will be assured we will love and care for our new home like it is our very own.

Word of Mouth

Vic and I thank you for sharing our letter and our very specific housing requirements with your friends and colleagues. We are optimistic that Victoria can find a solution for us and many others who are searching for affordable homes.

Many thanks,
Barbara Weaver-Bosson and Victor Bosson

Portrait of Barbara Weaver-Bosson and Victor Bosson 2015

Please contact Barbara Weaver-Bosson
weaverbosson@shaw.ca
250-385-3761

Anyone Can be the Mayor … On Facebook

Screenshot 2019-02-11 21.48.08

Sunday evening, while I was celebrating Chinese New Year at a banquet hosted by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, I was also, apparently, getting back on Facebook. A page called “Lisa Helps – Victoria Mayor” with my photograph and an initial post that sounded eerily like me appeared.

“Hello Victoria! I have decided to start using social media again to engage with this city better, and look forward to many productive and positive discussions in the future!”

Except that it wasn’t me. More worrisome were the posts that followed. Meant to be satire but tinged with homophobia and racism, they were close enough to reality to be read as reality by the careless reader. And who reads social media carefully anyway?

The worrisome thing about these fake posts – spending $21 million on rainbow crosswalks and turning churches into mosques – is how many times they were shared and commented on. And, according to Head of Engagement at the City, Bill Eisenhauer, who read through some of the comments, “it certainly looked like some people did believe that it was an actual site from the mayor.”

Screenshot 2019-02-11 21.46.18Screenshot 2019-02-11 21.47.34Screenshot 2019-02-11 21.46.35

City staff contacted Facebook to ask them to take the page down, which they did within a couple of hours.

I work really hard to communicate as directly as possible with residents in a number of ways. Through my bi-weekly Community Drop In, on Twitter, through my blog and in face-to-face conversations whenever I have the opportunity. Some people even text me with ideas!

It’s really troubling that somebody would create a fake page to spread false information when it’s difficult enough to get the facts out about the work we’re doing and the decisions we’re making at City Hall. I’m grateful that Facebook has shut the page down, but it doesn’t prevent another one from popping up tomorrow. This is the second time in the same number of months that someone has created a fake page, pretending to be me.

I shut down my Facebook page last year after outlining the reasons why in this blog post. Facebook is a toxic echo chamber that is unhelpful to politics and community building. And, it even affects the way we think and how we relate to one another. The fake page reminds me of why I left. The fact that on Facebook, somebody can actually become me, look like me, sound like me with no repercussions until we tell Facebook ‘Hey, that’s not really me,’ says there’s a problem with that social platform.

 

Natural Assets and Infrastructure Services: Why Trees Matter

With and Without Trees
Source unknown.

In a heat wave in Montreal in the summer of 2018, more than 50 people died. Most of the people who died were isolated, vulnerable and living alone. But there was another key link among some of the deaths. According to Global News, “Public health also found most of the victims also lived in ‘heat islands,’ which are spots in a city that are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas because of human activity and development.”

As clearly depicted in the image above, trees and other natural assets provide key services to cities. They cool heat islands and the people who live there. And, according to Jeff Speck in Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, they also take in car exhaust before it hits the stratosphere and they absorb heavy rainfall, taking pressure off stormwater systems.1

The small town of Gibsons, British Columbia, was the first local government in Canada to start to measure and account for the value of their natural assets and the infrastructure services they provide. Their pioneering Eco-Asset Strategy is well worth a read. As provincial government expectations and Public Sector Accounting Board reporting requirements pushed all local governments towards asset management, Gibsons took it one step further.

Here’s what they say in their groundbreaking report, Advancing Municipal Natural Asset Management:

“Our foreshore area provides protection from storm surges and sea level rise. Our creeks, ditches and wetlands help us effectively manage stormwater. A naturally occurring aquifer located beneath Gibsons stores and filters drinking water so pure it meets health standards without chemical treatment.

“The value of these natural assets is clear to us now, but before the Town recognized their economic significance we were – in hindsight – at risk of making decisions without all the facts … Our planning, investment and reporting decisions and practices were narrower and more limited than was desirable.

“Today, for example, we have the numbers and evidence to show that it is smarter and cheaper, by orders of magnitude, to invest in maintaining and expanding green infrastructure, such as forests, urban parks and stormwater ponds, than to design, build and manage engineered stormwater infrastructure.”

As noted in the video below, which celebrates Gibsons Real Estate Foundation of BC award, “by actively working with nature’s power, local governments can save money, reduce risk and increase resilience to climate change.”

Please watch this two minute video on the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative.

We have some work to do in Victoria. And we need to start with trees, which are the most significant natural assets in Victoria (within municipal jurisdiction). According to a recent staff report to City Council, Victoria has made limited progress over the last four years to implement the 2013 Urban Forest Master Plan. The City currently cares for over 40,000 trees on public property. Staff told us that:

“Despite the efforts of staff required to make that progress, it is important to recognize the challenges presented by the recent increase in pressure on staff capacity. In the past few years, operational demands associated with supporting Victoria’s unprecedented growth have resulted in reduced capacity to plan and process the recommended actions in the pro-active manner necessary. The total annual City investment in tree care and management is approximately $1.7 million.

“Staff acknowledge Council’s sense of urgency regarding climate action. With increased investment and focus, the City can more effectively address the challenges highlighted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its special report on the impacts of global warming. In regards to the role of the urban forest, Victoria has the necessary strategic direction; however, to respond to this call for action staff recommend an updated approach, as envisioned in the Urban Forest Masterplan, in pursuit of the goals identified for the long-term benefit of citizens.” (Read the full staff report and detailed deliverables here pgs 42-44)

The new approach is going to require bold action and it’s going to cost money. But because of the work of Gibsons and elsewhere, we know this is money well spent. As Jeff Speck, Walkable Cities author cited above, points out, “Because they have such a powerful impact on walkability, street trees have been associated with significant improvements in both property values and retail viability. Since this enhancement translates directly into increased local tax revenue, it could be considered financially irresponsible to not invest heavily in trees.”.2

Staff recommend restructuring the Parks division to establish a dedicated team focused on the management and enhancement of the urban forest. This will enable staff to take better care of trees on public land, plant more trees, plan for the future, and also turn more attention to retaining trees on private land, which account for two thirds of the urban forest canopy.

How will we fund the roughly $1.8 million per year to do this? In 2013, Council determined it needed to make more immediate investments in capital infrastructure than had been previously anticipated. We instituted a time-limited 1.25% tax increase per year for three years to invest in infrastructure. That ended in 2015.

Now we need to do the same with trees. A 1.25% “Urban Forest Levy” tax increase each year for five years, will enable staff to accelerate the implementation of the Urban Forest Masterplan. This will meet the demands of our passionate and forward-looking residents who have been coming to Council, meeting after meeting, to ask for bold action on the urban forest. And, it will allow the city to continue to make efforts on climate change, the greatest crisis facing us.

Care passionately about trees and want to get involved? Check out the Trees Matter Network.

 

Victoria: One Pedestrian Hit, By Car, Per Week

Very informative presentation to Victoria City Council on Go Victoria: Our Mobility Future

In a recent Times Colonist opinion piece, “I walk my daughter and her friend to school; I don’t want you to kill them” a mom addressed the “the typical driver. I’m sure you’re a very nice person,” she writes, “but if you’re like most people, you probably drive too fast most of the time – on residential side streets, in school zones, in parking lots.”

She is not alone. Last term, I visited Parent Advisory Councils at almost all the schools in Victoria. The number one concern from all parents at all schools in all neighbourhoods? Traffic, traffic, traffic. Parents are worried about people speeding through school zones, not stopping at stop signs, not stopping at crosswalks, not aware of how vulnerable their children are just by walking to school.

The parents have a point. Last week the City of Victoria launched Go Victoria: Our Mobility Future. Council learned in a presentation (video above) on Go Victoria launch day that a pedestrian is struck by a car every week in Victoria. In his presentation, consultant Jeff Tumlin told us that one of the fundamental questions his team has about Victoria is, “Where do you fall on the balance between motorist convenience and pedestrian safety?”

He goes on to say that, “Every pedestrian or traffic fatality is 100% preventable. We know how to prevent all traffic fatalities through design and management of the street. But we also know we desire speed. Speed is the enemy of safety.” He tells us that we’re going to need to balance these two principles because they’re in tension with each other.

We also learned that mobility has a bigger impact on public health outcomes than the medical profession does. If we expect our citizens to have to drive to a gym to walk on a treadmill, we are condemning our population to poor health outcomes. Tumlin asked us, “How are we designing Victoria in order to optimize the health of everyone?”

Tumlin left Council with a firm message: We need to be clear about our values as a community. What matters to Victorians when it comes to moving around the City and the region? Safety? Convenience? Affordability? Sustainability? Over the next few months the team of consultants, alongside City staff, are going to be asking Council and the public to clarify our values and to identify where our values are in tension with one another. And then we will set priorities. How do we differentiate wants from needs? We have limited public space in a built out city; how do we allocate it so the greatest public good can be achieved?

What we know at this point is that the balance is off. According to the 2016 census, 52% of people in Victoria walk, bike or take transit as their main modes of getting around (up from 47% in 2011). Yet not even close to 52% of the public right of way is dedicated to transit, walking or cycling.

We need to make a shift as a community. The Go Victoria Strategy will help us to guide this shift in a values-based way. Get involved! Look for the Go Victoria team out in the community. Tell us what matters to you. Together we can build a city and a culture where children can once again walk safely to school.

 

Mobility Future_1
Residents share their mobility values at Go Victoria Launch January 24, 2019.

 

Just for fun. Shared at the Go Victoria Launch – a video from downtown Victoria in the early 1900s. The background noise is people at the event watching the video and trying to figure out where in the city this was shot.

 

 

2030 is the New 2050 – Climate Emergency Declaration, and How Hard it is to Lead

Tomorrow, along with two colleagues, I’m bringing a report to the Capital Regional District Parks and Environment Committee to ask the CRD board to follow Vancouver and other cities around the world and declare a climate emergency. We’d like the CRD to take a leadership role in achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Making climate emergency declarations is easy. Taking climate action is hard.

Two examples are top of mind from the past week. Here’s the first: As part of Council’s Climate Leadership Plan, the City is building an all ages and abilities bike network and associated pedestrian improvements to give people an easy, safe and convenient alternative to the car. This will help reduce the city’s GHG emissions by 18% over the next two decades.

The city has engaged in detailed consultation on the design of the next corridor, a two way separated cycle track coming off of the Johnson Street bridge, running along Wharf St and through to Humboldt St. Part of the design work – to increase safety for people walking and biking – requires the removal of a tree that was planted in the middle of the road at the Humboldt and Government intersection.

I love that tree! A few years ago, the City along with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Viatec and a local company, Limbic Media, adorned the tree with lights that moved to the sounds of the city. We called it the innovation tree. We closed down the street, had a party, hired a band and danced in the street while the lights in the tree danced to the music

As part of the design consideration of the intersection at Humboldt and Government,  our staff team considered the following issues: vehicle turning movements, traffic impacts, pedestrian safety and amenity, parking considerations, cost of design and impacts to rebuilding curbs and sidewalks, right of way and property constraints, underground infrastructure location, safety and sight lines, public realm, aesthetics, bike lane design requirements, tourism impacts, public requests, business concerns, bus and logistic vehicle requirements, emergency vehicle requirements, planning and downtown design standards.

Screenshot 2019-01-23 21.50.56
Intersection re-design at Humboldt and Government Streets.

Staff presented the design to Council, and discussed tree impacts and trade offs when they sought Council’s approval. Here is the public staff report to Council from May 2018. It was always clear that this tree would be difficult to avoid due to the limited right of way at this location, and the volume of foot and motor vehicle traffic. In May, Council made the difficult decision of approving the design and removing the tree.

The trade off is the removal of the tree, for improved pedestrian and cycling safety, a new public plaza in the inner harbour, and two new trees planted in the plaza. But the real trade of is increased safety and connectivity for people of all ages and abilities who will now be able to get safely from the Johnson Street bridge all the way to Vancouver Street. This means that more people will have the option of traveling safely without a car.

A maple tree sequesters 400 pounds of CO2 over 25 years. A typical passenger car emits 4.6 metric tonnes (10,141 pounds) of CO2 per year. Taking one car off the road is 635 times more effective in reducing green house gases than saving a single tree.

This decision is what courageous climate action looks like. And it’s especially difficult when our long-term decisions seem counter-intuitive to our residents in the present. But it’s necessary if we are serious about significantly reducing our green house gas emissions. We also are making significant commitments in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan to protect and enhance the urban forest (blog post to come!)

The second example: Last Thursday night at a Council meeting, a proposal came forward for an existing two-story building at Belmont and Haultain to have a story added to it and an increase in the number of rental units from two to five, all of which were to be two and three bedroom units. Because there is retail on the ground floor and the addition of new residential units, the City’s policy required 14 parking spots. It is impossible to get 14 spots on the site at the same time as retaining the building. The applicant was applying to vary the parking requirement from 14 spots to three.

To make up for the shortage of parking, she offered to purchase a car-share car to be parked at the building, buy all the tenants life-time car-share memberships, give a $100 car share gift certificate to each of the units, and give each of the tenants $400 towards the purchase of a bicycle. Yes, really!

Fifteen neighbours came and spoke against the project. While some had concerns about the design and massing of the building, most of the concerns related to the parking variance and how it would impact their parking on their street and in the village centre. It was clear in listening to them how much they love their neighbourhood. This made it extra difficult for me to move the motion to support the proposal and to speak in favour.

When it comes to climate action, this is an ideal project. It is a project for the future. It preserves an existing building. It’s rental housing with the significant provision of sustainable transportation amenities so tenants won’t have to have a car. The building is also right on a future corridor of the all ages and abilities cycling network. And on a bus route. It doesn’t need 14 parking spots.

Council didn’t support the project and referred it back to the developer to work with the applicant and staff. What kind of signal are we sending about how serious we are about taking climate action?

Our job as municipal leaders is so very difficult when it comes to climate change. We need to listen sincerely and we need to explain ourselves clearly. And then we need to have the courage to make decisions that may not be understood today, in the interests of ensuring that our community has a safe, resilient and sustainable tomorrow.

Read the full Emergency Climate Declaration report here.

 

Smart Mobility Manifesto and Our Transportation Future

smart mobility manifesto.png

Last week I posted a story to Twitter about Oslo becoming a car-free city centre this year. There were some typical social media responses: “I think you should move to Oslo. You would like it there. I have a car not a bike.”

But there were also many thoughtful comments:

We need better public transportation systems for this to happen. More bus routes, timely buses, and it needs to be much more affordable.

“Lisa, what about providing access for EV vehicles? What about advocating for a Light Rail transit system that gives easy access to the downtown core for people who live in communities further afield?

Ok, but let’s improve bus service so I or my daughter or other women or men don’t have to walk in the dark 90 minutes before a 7 am shift to get to essential services at Vic General Hospital via bus. Does Oslo have rapid transit in place? For those of us raising or who’ve raised children (myself 4), I couldn’t just hop on a bike and drive in 4 directions then head to work. Let’s have some common sense solutions for all!

Yes, let’s!

Right now, in our region, there is an unprecedented opportunity to solve the transportation issues now and for the future. It’s an exciting time, with the Capital Regional District, the Province, local governments and the private sector all coming together to address transportation in the region in a meaningful and comprehensive way.

The South Island Prosperity Project, on behalf of its 10 municipal members, has been short listed for a $10 million Smart Cities Challenge prize from the federal government. This is a big deal. There were 200 applications and our region is among the 20 shortlisted. The focus of the Smart South Island Plan is to use data, technology and innovative approaches to improve transportation convenience, affordability and sustainability for residents of the region. We’re committed to this whether we win or not. And we need your help.

Do you believe in affordable, easy and convenient transportation? Do you believe in transportation options for the entire region? Do you believe in creating a better world for future generations? Please sign the Smart Mobility Manifesto. And please don’t stop there. Please take this short survey (less than five minutes!) and share your transportation needs and priorities.

It is transformation that is required in our transportation system in the region, not tinkering. I am often accused of waging a “war on the car;” and certainly those sentiments were shared in response to my Oslo post. I generally reject military metaphors, but if we’re doing anything, it’s waging a war for the future where all modes of transportation can work, together.

We need to act as if it’s wartime and mobilize extraordinary willpower and resources to combat climate change, the greatest challenge of our time. And with transportation accounting for 50% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, a smart mobility future is one we need to create. What’s best of all, is that study after study shows that changing the way we move to a multi-modal transportation network, is more affordable, convenient and makes us happier and healthier at the same time.

For people interested in the City of Victoria’s transportation future specifically, please join us for the launch of “Go Victoria, Our Mobility Future.” It’s a free and exciting event at the Victoria Conference Centre on Thursday January 24th doors at 6pm, event at 7pm. Space is limited; please RSVP here.

 

 

Do we really love our children well? #climatestrike

Anyone concerned about the climate and looking for hope and inspiration has probably already seen this video. It’s Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl speaking to the UN at the most recent Climate Conference in Poland. Since September, she has been walking out of class each Friday to draw attention to the climate crisis and the fact that adults, who should know better, are not taking the kind of action that a crisis demands. She has inspired other children around the world to strike with her.

She tells those gathered at the UN, “You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their eyes … Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope … We have come to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not.”

When people tell her that she should be in school, studying to be a climate scientist to develop solutions she says, “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.”

Her call to action has resonated around the world including here on Vancouver Island. A group of local students, organized by 12-year-old Rebecca Wolf Gage, spent the first Friday of December on a climate strike on the steps of the BC Legislature. They will strike the first Friday of every month to get us adults to pay attention and take action.

They have my attention. On Friday January 4th – not even a school day! – they organized a day-long education session for themselves to learn more about climate change and the actions they can take. Their program included guests from UVic Earth and Ocean Sciences, MLAs, and community organizers. I was lucky enough to join them.

ClimateStrikers1

I was so inspired to spend time with such a motivated, knowledgeable, and organized group of  young people from all over southern Vancouver Island. I brought them each a copy of the City’s Climate Leadership Plan and walked them through it. We spent the most time on page 17 (pictured below) where we went through the impact of each climate action.

They were enthusiastic to know that the biggest impact comes from reducing car use and converting to walking, cycling and transit. Fully 18% of emissions will be reduced if we make half our trips by walking and cycling and a quarter of our trips by transit. Why did they like this? Because they can take direct action! They will leave removing oil tanks and insulating their homes (also big emissions reduction impacts) to their parents.

Climate Leadership Plan Wedge

To help us bring our Climate Leadership Plan to life and to harness their energy, I invited them – for the first hour of their strike each month – to come to City Hall and meet with me. They said yes! We’ll work together to determine which actions they’d like to focus on in the coming month and how I can support them. I’ll be sure to report out what they come up with. We laughed together as I said to them, “I can see the headlines now, ‘Mayor encourages kids to skip school.'”

I hope the headlines will read, “Mayor encourages adults to listen to these kids.” “Mayor encourages all of us to take bold action.” Because that’s what’s necessary to ensure that when these kids are our age they look back at us, adults worldwide, and say, “They really did mean it when they said, ‘I love you.'”

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do we build the city we all want?

Home Together_Sacks

NB If you want to skip the theory and go right to the call to action, join us Saturday January 19th to ‘Give a Day to Your City!’ and help shape the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan.

In the past few years, there’s been a growing body of literature published that outlines the degraded state of civil society and what we can do about it. I’m reading as many of these books and articles as I can in order to understand my role as mayor and the role of local government in addressing some of the problems facing us today. I’m also reading them because it’s a pleasure and an inspiring journey!

In a magnificently argued book, The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society, drawing on a political reading of the Hebrew bible, British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes a strong case for the reinvigoration of civil society. He talks about the need for a “covenant” among people with different religions, ethnicities, sexualities, points of view, etc. This will allow us to create a shared understanding and work across difference recognizing each difference as a gift that can be contributed to the common good.

“Liberal democracy,” he writes, “has tended to concentrate on the individual and one particular power, the power to choose. Courtesy of the market, I can choose what to buy. Thanks to the liberal state, I can choose how to live. Surely everyone gains in such a situation. True, but only up to a point. We gain as individuals; we lose as a society. There are, we feel, things so important to human dignity that they should be available to all, not just those with wealth or power. That is when the concept of covenant comes into play: the idea that all of us must come together to ensure the dignity of each of us. Covenant is the politics of the common good.” 1

The main argument of the book is that the common good can best be stewarded through civil society. In other words, we have a profound responsibility as human beings to take care of each other and not only to rely on the government and the market to do so.

Since last January in my 2018 New Year’s blog post, and throughout the year, I’ve been talking about, calling for, and striving to demonstrate with my own actions the importance of a more civil public dialogue. Sacks suggests that it’s more complex than this; listening deeply even when we disagree is important, but just talking and listening is not enough for us to rebuild society together.

Citing research from 1954, in a strong and moving revelation, he asserts that the key to remaking civil society and a strong social fabric is not dialogue; it is doing or building things together. It “is a paradigm-shifting insight,” he says. “Side by side works better than face to face.” 2

This is key wisdom for all of us involved and invested in building cities, neighbourhoods and public spaces together. While not abandoning a more civil way of speaking with each other, and working through issues – particularly as different perspectives and strong differences of opinion arise – we need to do much more. As individuals and as a community we must make a renewed commitment to the common good and work – side by side – to build it.

And we can start right now with the next four years. On Saturday January 19th we’re asking people to give a day to their city and to work, side by side, with fellow Victorians, Council and staff on the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. From 10:00am – 3:30pm at the Victoria Conference Centre we’re hosting an interactive workshop on the draft strategic plan. You can roll up your sleeves and dive deeply into the proposed objectives and actions. Our plan is ambitious and far-reaching. It takes seriously the multiple issues facing Victoria and many other cities across the globe: climate change, affordability, economic prosperity and inclusion, and reconciliation. You can sign up here.

Beyond creating a strategic plan together, there’s wisdom in Sack’s approach more generally. As mayor I’ll be looking for opportunities over the next four years, as we bring the strategic plan to life, to build the city together whether it’s neighbourhood plans, improving a public space, or developing housing policy. We have a huge opportunity to address the significant challenges ahead by working together in this new way.

Who should pay for climate adaptation? Victoria’s Climate Accountability Letters

Screenshot 2018-12-27 11.41.49

In July 2018, the City of Victoria adopted a Climate Leadership Plan to guide us to 100% renewable energy by 2050 and to reduce carbon emissions 80% over 2007 levels by 2050 as well. Arguably, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in October 2018, Victoria and other cities and regions are going to need to move much faster.

But in the meantime, even as we work to mitigate climate change, there are real costs to cities now because of a changing climate and there will be increasing costs to cities in the future as the impacts of climate change accelerate. That is why the City of Victoria joined other cities in British Columbia to write to fossil fuel producers around the world to ask them to contribute a tiny fraction of their profits to offset the costs our residents our residents will have to bear through property taxes. Much has been written in the media about this approach, and it’s a much milder approach than others are taking, launching lawsuits to secure damages.

To my knowledge, the full text of the letter sent by the City of Victoria has not been released. I share here a sample letter that the City sent to a number of fossil fuel companies around the world. Each letter is specific in that it calculates what share of global emissions each company has generated and asks for that share of the City’s climate adaptation costs to be paid by that company.

A full list of companies the city wrote to is below.

November 28, 2017

Attn. CEO of Conoco Phillips

Dear Sirs/Mesdames:

As Mayor and Council of the City of Victoria, in British Columbia, we are writing to secure your commitment to pay your fair share of the costs of climate change that face our community. Climate change is the direct result of pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels, including from your products.

We are beginning to see the impacts of climate change directly affect our region and the infrastructure and services that we provide as a local government to our residents (detailed below). It would be financially irresponsible of us to assume that our taxpayers will bear the full costs of these impacts of fossil fuel pollution, while your shareholders continue to benefit financially from the sale of fossil fuels.

We know that individual consumers, and our community members, use fossil fuels.  However, your industry has played a large role in creating the risks and costs that we now face as a community. Your company has made many billions of dollars from products that you presumably knew would harm our communities.[1] You have had the power to move your company towards a more sustainable business model since you first became aware of the impacts of climate change, decades ago, but have not done so. You cannot make billions of dollars selling your product, knowing that it is causing significant financial harm to communities around the world, and not expect to pay for at least some of that harm.

When James Douglas of the Hudson’s Bay Company selected the southern tip of Vancouver Island as the site of Fort Victoria, the region’s Garry Oak meadows reminded him of the cultivated fields of England. He didn’t realize at the time that this unique ecosystem had been managed for thousands of years by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, who harvested Camas bulbs from the meadows as an important food source.

The Garry Oak Meadow ecosystem – although unfortunately much diminished and one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world – remains a central feature of the City of Victoria, and we take seriously our responsibility to pass it on to future residents. Numerous studies have shown that that climate change will put that goal at risk[2] – and that our work to ensure that the ecosystem can survive shifts in our regional climate is urgent.[3]

Of course, climate change brings with it other, direct impacts on our infrastructure and services, and on our residents.  We offer the example of the Garry Oak Meadow ecosystem to illustrate an important climate impact, and associated costs, that are unique to our region.

In addition, like other coastal communities in BC and around the world, sea-level rise is a serious concern.  Our Inner Harbour, a central feature of our downtown, is the point of arrival for many tourists and a source of pride for our residents. For this business and tourism district, higher sea-levels, especially when combined with storm-surge events, will mean huge economic cost.  It has been estimated that 1 metre of sea level rise in combination with a storm surge would result potential business disruption losses of Cdn $415,557 per day (based on annual averages).[4]

Outside of the downtown, much of our coastline is characterized by cliffs, much of it soft and vulnerable to increased coastal erosion. The needed protection efforts will likely result in significant costs to our community.

Drought and increased winter storms associated with climate change are also predicted for our region.

Planning, building and maintaining local infrastructure is made more costly by climate change. Victoria is in the process of developing a Climate Leadership Plan to do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and waste.  The City is also investing in our own infrastructure to ensure we are able to maintain resilience and adapt to the changing climate and the impacts to our operations, utilities and services.  At present we are only beginning to understand the potential magnitude of increased local costs for both climate change mitigation and adaptation. We know that cities didn’t cause the climate problem on their own and we can’t solve it on our own. And we know that costs will increase as climate change impacts worsen.

As a community Victoria has committed to work towards 100% renewable energy by 2050.  We recognize that everyone is going to need to do their part to address climate change. We are asking you to take responsibility for the harm caused by your products and to take action to move to a more sustainable business model.

The peer-reviewed research of Richard Heede reveals that 1.12% of the greenhouse gas emissions already in the global atmosphere originate from your company’s operations and products.[5]  In our view, this represents your fair share of the costs facing Victoria.  Will you confirm that you are willing to pay 1.12% of Victoria’s climate-related costs going forward?

Sincerely,
Lisa Helps
Victoria Mayor

Notes
[1]       https://www.smokeandfumes.org/fumes, last accessed 23 September 2016.

[2]       Pellatt MG, Goring SJ, Bodtker KM, Cannon AJ (2012) Using a Down-Scaled Bioclimate Envelope Model to Determine Long-Term Temporal Connectivity of Garry oak (Quercus garryana) Habitat in Western North America: Implications for Protected Area Planning. Environ Manage 49:802–815; Bachelet D, Johnson BR, Bridgham SD, Dunn PV, Anderson HE, Rogers BM (2011) Climate Change Impacts on Western Pacific Northwest Prairies and Savannas. Northwest Sci 85:411–429.

[3]       Pellatt, M.G. & Gedalof, Z. Biodivers Conserv (2014) 23: 2053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0703-9.

[4]       AECOM. Capital Regional District: Coastal Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment (Victoria, BC: Capital Regional District, 2015), p. 36.

[5]       Heede, R. Climatic Change (2014) 122: 229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y; See also http://climateaccountability.org/carbon_majors_update.html.

Here is a full list of companies that the City wrote to:

  • BHP Billiton Limited
  • BP p.l.c
  • Chevron
  • Coal India Limited
  • Conoco Philips
  • CONSOL Energy Inc
  • Exxon Mobil
  • Gazprom
  • Iraq National Oil Company
  • Kuwait Petroleum Corp
  • Murray Engery Corporation
  • National Iranian Oil Company
  • Peabody Energy
  • PEMEX
  • PetroChina (CNPC)
  • Petroelos de Venezuala
  • Royal Dutch Shell plc
  • Saudi Aramco
  • Sonatrach
  • Total SA