A number of people in the business community have asked me to spell out both my values and my intentions for business and the economy, should I be elected Mayor of Victoria.
Three foundational convictions
The following three statements summarize my beliefs and convictions, based on my local experiences with small business start-ups at Community Micro Lending, and as a councilor over three years:
- Successful enterprise is critical to overall city success and it is the defining condition of a prosperous downtown. As your mayor I will demonstrate an understanding of business fundamentals including risk, timing, and responsiveness. I will work to meet your needs and opportunities with “Yes, City Hall can help make that happen.” Attitude is key, and this kind of responsiveness is essential.
- A positive climate for new business creation is integral to keeping the city dynamic, making it a magnet for talent and investment, and creating job opportunities and high employment. This is a dire necessity as 50% of Victorians earn $27,000 or less per year.
- Business health and local wealth generation are key components of Victoria’s social well-being, physical beauty and rich cultural life.
A sleeves-rolled-up approach
I have carefully studied the City’s decision-making culture over the years. I am convinced that there is a lot more room for a sleeves-rolled-up approach, where process doesn’t serve as an excuse for inaction. In Victoria, it’s not only business that is frustrated with City Hall’s lack of responsiveness and jungle of red tape, community groups are equally frustrated and these are often small organizations run largely by volunteers. The following is what I will accomplish in terms of making City Hall dynamic, inviting and truly ‘open for business’ in my first term as mayor:
Downtown: We will create a thriving, prosperous and attractive downtown. How? By creating a “Downtown Prosperity Project” with a budget, four year-timeline and clear deliverables. By investing in downtown public spaces. By working in strong partnership with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, downtown property owners and downtown residents. The most successful projects I have led are ones that have been collaborative. It is only in working together that we will succeed.
Downtown residential: City living will become a priority. The CRD estimates that City of Victoria (whole city) population increased by only 300 persons between 2012 and 2013, and that this meagre growth level will continue for more than the next decade. The absence of a ‘home-grown’ downtown residential population increases challenge and risk for our businesses and for the entire property sector. We need downtown to be red hot. We need a dramatic and rapid expansion in the downtown and shoulder residential population to provide local, in-built support for all of our downtown businesses. I propose to modify the bonus density program, make it more straightforward and create exemptions. We’re looking for beautifully scaled and detailed developments, not density caps. Historically, Victoria has acted as if it had all the time in the world. Suburban competition—retail and service—shows how foolish that attitude has been. My view is: if you snooze, you lose. The above program needs to happen now, now, now.
Local economy: Let’s free up some resources to create an Economic Development Office at City Hall. Appoint a mayor’s Economic Development Cabinet to provide ongoing advice to the Economic Development Office (detailed blog post to come). Staff the office with the people who understand both the city’s processes and the private sector. Set clear timelines and deliverables. And measure our success.
City projects: Let’s create a stronger culture of project management at City Hall. We spend large amounts of public money on capital projects like the Johnson Street Bridge. And coming in the next four years are sewage treatment, a new firehall and a refurbished Bay Street Bridge. As the capital City of British Columbia, I’d like to change the city’s reputation as a place that can’t tie its own shoelaces. In February we hired a new City Manager who is already beginning to take strides in the right direction. I would like to work alongside him and to make the City a model of excellence in project management.
Development: Approvals/licensing/permitting processes will be simplified and sped-up. The new business message from the City will be “How can we help you get to yes?” Implement predictable approvals processes that happen in the minimum amount of time possible by managing the city like a system where there are no silos. Everyone is working together towards the aim of effective, efficient, quality service.
Partnerships: We have the opportunity to make the city a champion of partnerships. New pocket parks, green spaces and public art, a new public library and crystal pool. In the 21st century, collaboration is key. I don’t even want to think of these things as taxpayer burdens, they are business opportunities offering room for collaboration between the City, its people, and enterprise. This doesn’t mean we can’t have a publicly owned and operated library or swimming pool. It just means that the path we take to get there is not simply to raise taxes and build. Cities across North America are engaged in a Metropolitan Revolution. I know Victoria can be on the leading edge.
Fees: Review all current fees to business: are they fair and necessary, or just a cash grab? If they don’t pass the test, dump ‘em.
Comparative cities: Have the City’s Economic Development Office look to what other enterprising cities have done to foster and support sustainable economic development, create prosperity and get a handle on property tax increases. West Vancouver and other cities that have successfully frozen property taxes. That’s right: zero. This doesn’t mean cutting and slashing at City Hall. It means working more collaboratively, adaptively and responsively. The research is clear – organizations that have adaptive, responsive and collaborative work environments use their resources more prudently, generate more revenue, more creatively and are also great places to work. This is my goal for City Hall.
My Pledge to You
I pledge to spend my first six months in office setting City Hall up to do all these things. And I pledge to make City Hall into a place that is dynamic and that works hard and works for everyone.
And, finally, if you’ve got innovative ideas that you want to share, my ears are open. E-mail me or call me at 250-661-2708.