I’ve been at the Council table for 10 years; this is my 11th budget, and it’s going to be the most difficult one yet. Budget 2022 is the City’s third pandemic budget. It’s also difficult because like other cities across Canada, Victoria is facing big challenges: pandemic recovery, housing affordability, climate change, public safety, equity diversity and inclusion.
The main source of revenue that cities have to address these challenges is property taxes – a municipal funding formula that dates back to 1867 and doesn’t grow as the economy grows. It would be great if cities got 1% of the PST generated in their jurisdiction on an annual basis to help address the issues facing us and meet demands from the public for action.
But as of now we don’t. And with parking and conference centre revenues still down from pre-pandemic levels, a key question becomes: how much do we raise property taxes this year to support recovery and invest in the future?
In 2020, we didn’t raise property taxes at all, yet continued to deliver all the services that Victorians rely on. In 2021, to support our struggling businesses, we reduced business taxes by 2%. This approach is not sustainable.
The City’s core budget for 2022 proposes a property tax increase of 3.25%. This includes key city services like parks operations, road paving, underground infrastructure, and a new firehall with affordable housing. Budget 2022 also proposes millions of dollars of spending on climate action; making these investments now provides substantial savings to taxpayers of the future. And almost a quarter of the core budget funds VicPD and bylaw.
Yet Council has heard over the past few years, from a wide range of people, that the proposed core budget doesn’t meet the needs of our growing and changing city. Here are some of the supplemental requests Council is considering:
1. Pandemic recovery. Everyone loved those pandemic patios; making them permanent comes with costs. Demand has grown at the City’s Business Hub with an uptick in new business licenses over the past two quarters; the City’s one Business Ambassador needs additional resources to continue to support start-ups and expansions.
Development applications keep pouring in; the planning department requires additional staff to process applications and get new housing built quickly. Arts and culture venues and artists hit hard by the pandemic need a boost in 2022. And the City’s new Arts and Innovation District needs rezoning to facilitate future development on under-utilized commercially zoned land.
2. Climate action. Earlier in the year, there was strong public opposition to expanding the Hartland Landfill. New zero waste staff are needed to implement policies to reduce single use items and construction waste, extending the life of the current landfill.
Victorians love trees, so Council recently strengthened the tree protection bylaw, making it more difficult to cut down trees for new development. Additional staff resources are now required to process permits and protect the urban forest for the future.
3. Affordable housing. We’ve received thousands of emails over the past few years asking the City to do more on homelessness and affordable housing. Even though these are primarily federal and provincial responsibilities, we’re responding in Budget 2022 by proposing to play a larger role including a new position at the City to work on homelessness, funding the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, funding Our Place to extend their hours, and an additional quarter million dollars to accelerate the implementation of the Victoria Housing Strategy.
4. Public safety. VicPD needs 10 new staff including six officers to help address the challenges police are taking on because of a downloading of mental health and substance use issues to local governments. And City bylaw requires more resources to keep up with increased resident demands on the bylaw department.
5. Equity Diversity and Inclusion. From George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020 to the discovery of hundreds of children’s bodies in graves at former residential school sites in the summer of 2021, Canada and Canadian cities have entered a new era. In this era, the voices, experiences and needs of those left too long on the margins must be addressed, to create inclusive, prosperous communities that benefit everyone.
This means: anti-racism and reconciliation training for city staff, better integration for newcomers in the City’s recreation programs, a cultural liaison officer at VicPD, an Indigenous Relations function at City Hall, and potentially, a Community Reconciliation Levy to transfer some of the wealth generated by new development to the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, on whose lands the city was built.
As you scroll through the supplementary items in the budget survey, a story starts to emerge of a city preparing for the future. There is a cost attached to this; we will have a higher tax increase than has been seen in recent years. But making these investments now will help to meet the demands Council has heard from the public over the past few years and will lay the ground for a continued strong and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To participate in the process, take the budget survey at www.engage.victoria.ca and join us November 17th at 6:30pm for a virtual budget town hall.
I wanted to started this email / post with the op-ed I wrote for the Times Colonist on Thursday, which marked one year of the global health pandemic. The crafty headline writers at the paper gave it the title, “Can-do spirit of past year will help position city for the future.” I’m sharing it with all of you as a tribute to what we’ve all been through. If you wrote specifically about Clover Point or about homelessness and concerns with respect to parks sheltering and the plans to move people indoors, feel free to skip the op-ed and go right down to those headings. If you’d like to receive weekly updates, you can sign up here (top right hand side).
Can Do Spirit of Past Year Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic. The flag at City Hall is flying at half-mast to recognize and mourn the lives that have been lost.
Today is also a moment for reflection: how we came together to fight COVID-19; how our lives have changed; what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. It’s also a time to look forward, towards recovery and to what kind of economy we build for the future.
Each of us probably remembers where we were the moment life changed. I was at the Victoria airport on March 11, 2020. I’d checked in and was waiting for my flight to Ottawa for a conference and minister meetings. My phone rang and it was staff at City Hall suggesting I reconsider travelling.
I remember telling the woman at the Air Canada boarding gate that I wouldn’t be on the flight. “You and almost everyone else,” she said. Recognizing me as the mayor she said, “Good luck to you … good luck to all of us,” with a real sense of foreboding.
It’s much more than luck that has carried us through the last year. It’s the skill, courage and sheer fortitude of those working in our health care system. They risked their lives to keep us all safe. They showed up for shifts in the early days of the pandemic when so much about the disease was unknown. They tended to the sick and the dying. They are COVID-19 heroes.
So too the bus drivers who kept transit running so people could get to work. The grocery store cashiers and clerks. The teachers who got kids back to school in uncertain conditions. The City workers who kept providing the services we depend on like garbage pick-up, street cleaning, running water.
When the world shut down and we were told to stay at home, to work from home, those who couldn’t and didn’t – for the benefit of us all – deserve our deepest thanks.
We did thank them early on, banging pots at 7 p.m. On front porches and in backyards throughout the region, every evening the loud clanging clatter of thanks. That simple act brought us together, lifted our spirits. But then it stopped, our spirits fizzled, and COVID-19 fatigue began to set in.
Our bubbles started to feel small. We couldn’t go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Many have lost jobs or had their work hours cut. The pandemic widened existing cracks in the social safety net, leaving our most vulnerable neighbours in desperate need of housing and support. Our kids’ mental health worries us, and maybe our own mental health does too. Our small businesses are struggling.
There have been some silver linings. The region’s generosity was evident in the early months of the pandemic when the Times Colonist, Victoria Foundation and Jawl Family Foundation launched the Rapid Relief Fund with the aim of raising $1 million. In less than two months, contributions small and large totalled $6 million, all of which went directly to non-profits providing services to people hit hard by the pandemic.
The Build Back Victoria initiative last summer showed how quickly Council can act and how agile City Hall can be. Within weeks, dozens of patios and retail “flex spaces” sprung up across the city to create more space for businesses to serve customers. I’ve had a number of business owners tell me that Build Back Victoria is the reason they’re still open. And I’ve had residents say to me that they’ve never spent as much time or money on Government Street as they did last summer.
In all sectors, women, youth, Indigenous people, people of colour, and low-wage service workers have been disproportionately impacted. According to the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Rebootrecovery vision, “we must collectively take bold steps to nurture a more inclusive and diversified economy.”
This has been one of the most difficult years in Victoria’s history. And we’ve made it through. In the coming months, let’s continue to use what we’ve learned during the pandemic – agility, deep collaboration, a can-do spirit – to position our city and our region for the future.
Clover Point Decision Recap Please see blog posts from February 28th and March 7th (head to Clover Point section in each post) for a more comprehensive explanation of the approach we’ve taken to Clover Point. In response to further emails this week, I’m sharing some information on the precise decision for those who may not have these details, and a link to the February 25th staff report. At the February 25 Committee of the Whole meeting, staff presented three options for the interim design of Clover Point Park. Council approved the below motion and we ratified it at our daytime Council meeting on March 4.
Interim Design Options for Parking and Pedestrian Space in Clover Point Park That Council direct staff to proceed with Option 2 for Clover Point Park:
Complete modifications to increase the pedestrian priority space in Clover Point Park, as illustrated in Attachment B, with an allocation of up to $275,000 in the 2021 Financial Plan, to be funded from the Buildings and Infrastructure Reserve.
That the painting budget be restricted to delineating pedestrian trails and bike trails versus passive space.
That a location be found downtown for the “follow the pod” public art feature.
That staff be in consultation with immigrants and immigrant associations, ethno-cultural groups and the seniors’ advisory committee, youth council and City of Victoria youth council, Fairfield Gonzales Community Association, Accessibility Advisory Committee, Active Transportation Advisory Committee, and that their views are considered.
That food trucks must use sustainable practices and must submit these practices to staff.
That the budget for furniture be reduced to $50,000.
You can find the staff report and Council’s discussion from February 25 here.
Update on Parks Sheltering and Moves Indoors(and what the City spends money on) Some of you who have written this week have asked us to ends parks sheltering immediately. Others have asked us to extend it indefinitely, or to the end of the pandemic. My hope is that Council sticks to our commitment, which is the middle ground between these two positions.
In November, Council passed a motion indicating that we would change the parks bylaw to end 24/7 sheltering once everyone currently living in parks has been offered an indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. We had set a goal of March 31st. The Province and BC Housing accepted this goal and everyone has been working towards it. Parks are not homes. And Beacon Hill Park is not a campground. Parks have been used as emergency shelters in an emergency situation. A huge shout out to our parks staff who are working so hard to maintain Beacon Hill Park even in these very difficult circumstances. Please thank them when you see them.
As of this week the Province announced that it has secured a sufficient number of indoor spaces to support moving people inside. Because two of the sites secured this month require significant additional retrofitting to prepare them for use as emergency shelters, the process will continue until the end of April 2021, rather than the end of March as originally planned. Announcement of the final site list will be done in partnership with the city in the coming weeks once all of the agreements between BC Housing and the property owners have closed.
Following through on its commitment, at our evening Council meeting last Thursday, Council gave three readings to a parks bylaw amendment that would see the end of 24/7 sheltering as of May 1st. Council will consider adoption of the bylaw this Thursday.
All the indoor sheltering locations will be fully operational, with non-profit service providers identified, by April 30, 2021. At these locations, staff will be on site 24/7 to provide wraparound supports, including meal programs, life skills training, and health and wellness support services.
Fifty-seven people have moved inside since the beginning of March and moves will continue this coming week. People have moved inside from Ellis Street in Rock Bay, Cecelia Ravine Park, and 940 Caledonia. This site will be closed as of March 19th to make way for a Tiny Home development, subject to the outcome of an opportunity for the public to comment on the project at Council Thursday evening.
We expect a minimum of 52 moves this coming week into Capital City Centre and other sites. BC Housing is prioritizing people over 50 (down from 55), those at risk of COVID-19, those who are long-time homeless, and Indigenous people.
Here are four questions that one person has asked; they reflect questions from others of you as well. I have answered them a number of times – in some form – since August when I began weekly updates. Please read previous posts if you require further or more detailed information. You can find them here.
1. Why did you allow 24/7 camping in parks in the first place, given that this was not a requirement of the BC Ministry of Health? A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. The City allowed people who had nowhere to go when everyone was told to stay at home to shelter in place. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos. That’s why we’ve been working hard with the Province to secure safe indoor spaces so that we can move people inside and end encampments.
2. Why didn’t you admit the mistake and reverse course when it quickly became clear that 24/7 camping was a disastrous decision? While there have been many difficulties with this situation for everyone involved, I don’t believe it is a mistake. I think there would have been a greater risk of the spread of COVID-19 had 200 to 400 people had to take down their tents every morning and move throughout the city. Plus, there was literally nowhere for people to go. Even Our Place and the library closed, two places where people without homes can spend time during the day.
3. Why are you intending to allow 7pm – 7am camping in parks after all campers have been offered accommodation? The BC Supreme Court decision does not require cities to allow camping in urban parks except when there is no sheltering alternative. I agree. The goal is to have no camping in city parks and to have adequate indoor sheltering space for everyone who needs it. The goal is to achieve what is called “functional zero” when it comes to homelessness. What this means is that if someone becomes homeless, there is room in the emergency shelter and housing system to catch them immediately and to meet their needs, however complex, before their situation becomes chronic.
The 2009 BC Supreme Court decision ruled that people who have no homes have the right to erect shelters overnight. The decision uses words like “adequate sheltering alternative” or something like this. So it’s not just as simple as the number of shelter beds that may be available on a given night. If for example, someone is in recovery from drug or alcohol use and the only shelter beds available are ones where drug use and/or alcohol consumption is permitted, that may not be considered an “adequate” shelter for that person. The Supreme Court decision is not a simple numbers game.
4. Why do you refuse to acknowledge the extent to which the homeless population in Victoria consists of people from outside the region? We will never get ahead of the problem of housing so many people when there is a large and steady influx from other provinces. What the bi-annual Point In Time Count shows is that the majority of people who are homeless in Victoria are from British Columbia. And, Council unanimously voted last August to ask the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) table to prioritize people for housing who have lived in the CRD for at least a year. Council does not make decisions about who gets housed. You can read the August 6th recommendation to Council from myself and Councillors Thornton-Joe, Loveday and Alto here. (See item J3.)
There seems to be a narrative emerging in some of the emails we’ve received, and probably also on social media, that instead of “wasting” money on bike lanes and Clover Point, the City should be spending money instead on housing, mental health and addictions. At then there is also a narrative that Council focuses on issues that are beyond our scope and that we should stay focused on what is properly within a municipal mandate.
Health care and housing are clearly – and constitutionally – the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments. The City can and does partner with both levels of government; we sometimes provide land for housing. And we have a housing reserve fund in which we deposit $650,000 per year to help fund the creation of non-market housing by non-profit housing providers. But we are not responsible for housing, health care, mental health and addictions supports and we don’t have the revenue raising capacity or tools to fund these important services.
But cities are supposed to spend money on parks and improvements to transportation infrastructure. And, contrary to what seems like popular belief, most of the bike infrastructure in Victoria is not funded through property taxes. It is funded through gas tax funding which is remitted to local governments from the federal government each year and can only be used to fund sustainable projects. The City of Victoria is not alone in developing a high-quality bike network. This article, “Europe doubles down on cycling in post-COVID recovery plans,” celebrates the explosion of cycling infrastructure across Europe.
And just one more thing in this regard, because it gets raised so often: we spend millions every year paving roads and filling potholes. At the same time as we are building bike lanes and improving parks – to deliver on the City’s 20-year paving and road maintenance plan – we are increasing the paving budget up to a steady state of $7.9 million per year by 2023.
Road Paving – Major and Local Streets
Year Budget 2018 $2.8 million 2019 $2.6 million 2020 $5.5 million 2021 $5.2 million 2022 (proposed) $6.3 million 2023 (proposed) $7.9 million
“So, as the proud mother of a son who is both chronically disabled and homeless due to serious mental illness and has managed to survive on the streets of Victoria for many years: may I say that just LOOKING at the ‘Shelter Referral Card’ does some kind of deep healing to my heart. I don’t even know that my son is ever going to receive one of these, but just knowing that people like him are is deeply, deeply encouraging to me.
I know that you and certain other concerned councillors are receiving a LOT of flack for these efforts from people who have no personal interest in really trying to understand the complex issue of homelessness. Please know that there are MANY more mothers and brothers and sisters and grandparents out there who are BLESSING YOUR SOUL for this work, every single day.”
She shared this article with me from The Capital Daily, where parents of homeless Victorians speak. To all the parents, grandparents and siblings of people who are homeless out there in our city or across the province or country, we know it’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault either. The health and housing system fails those with the most chronic needs, over and over again. This is why we are working together with the Province and the federal government to make sure that the housing and health care systems work better together, and work for everyone.
Thanks so much for your emails this past week. In keeping with my Sunday tradition, I’m writing back to all of you at once so that everyone’s emails get answered in a timely way and so that everyone has as much information as possible about sheltering, housing and other related matters. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here. If you’re interested in reading back through the Sunday emails to get caught up on the issues, you can also do so here.
Tiny Homes Before I dive in specifically to address your concerns from this week, I did want to share an exciting project which was inspired in part by the many emails I’ve received over the past few months suggesting that we build tiny homes for people who are currently homeless. This week, Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness launched the Hey Neighbour tiny home campaign. They are raising $500,000 to build 30 temporary tiny homes to get people out of the weather as soon as possible. A site has yet to be confirmed; there are a number of options being explored.
Thanks for the good idea over the past few months! And to those of you who have written this week with suggestions for how the Tiny Home village could work, thank you. I’ll pass them along.
In just the first five days of the campaign they’ve raised $122,000. Charitable tax receipts are available through the Coalition. If you’re interested in learning more or donating you can head here.
Your Questions and Concerns Addressed I’ve received emails this week from people who live near Central Park, Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, Gonzales Park, Vic West Park and Cecilia Ravine and from people who use Beacon Hill Park on a regular basis. You all sound like you’re at a breaking point – your frustration and anger come through loud and clear. You want things fixed. You want your parks back. You want to know what we are going to do. In some cases you are fearful, in others you say you’re just tired of the hassle of people camping in our parks. You want to know why it seems that bylaws aren’t being enforced. And why there is so much garbage everywhere. You also want to know why we can’t just have everyone in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park congregate at the gravel field.
I’m afraid that I don’t have many good answers to your questions, which I’m sure is not what you want to hear. We are in the middle of global health pandemic. It’s been over 280 days since the pandemic was declared; living like this is clearly weighing on all of us. We can’t see our friends or loved ones. Life is totally upside down. And on top of that, our much loved parks are full of people who have nowhere to go. And they really do have nowhere to go.
Our bylaw, public works and parks staff are out in the parks on a daily basis cleaning up and working to bring people into compliance with the bylaws. It is not easy work and they are doing their best. There are over 170 people camping in seven or eight parks so that’s a lot of people to connect with on a daily basis.
As for Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and concentrating everyone on the gravel field: We know from past experience that large, concentrated encampments don’t work for the people living in them or for the nearby neighbours. But also, as I’ve noted in previous emails / posts, even if we wanted to organize a camping service in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, the Beacon Hill Trust, dating back to the 1880s prevents any organized service provision in the park. Again, probably not what you want to hear.
I jogged through Meegan/Beacon Hill Park this morning and I did see quite a few tents, and some sites in disarray with some belongings strewn everywhere. And I heard one person yelling and swearing. And honestly – and you might not like this either – what I thought to myself re: the belongings strewn everywhere is, “Well, I’ve got lots of extra belongings too and thankfully I have a basement to store them in.” And when I heard the person yelling, I thought how terrible it would be to have your yelling heard by everyone like that, whereas when most of us yell, it’s in the privacy of the four walls of our homes.
I’m not saying these things to say that everyone should think like me; I am just really wanting to illustrate that there are a variety of perspectives possible about the same situation. And that listening to and understanding these various perspectives is what creates a healthy community and democracy.
I do hear your perspectives and your concerns. That’s why we’ve set a realistic deadline of March 31 2021 to work with the Province and support them in offering people indoor spaces and ending 24/7 camping in all of our parks. Each week small progress is made moving people from outside to inside. But the progress is slow. All 60 units renting at $375 per month in the new buildings in Langford and View Royal have been filled, mostly by people living in supportive housing. This means that there are now – or will soon be – vacancies available for people living in shelters or parks to move into.
BC Housing has used 15 of the 60 rent supplements they have available, which means there are still 45 subsides left. Island Health has about the same number remaining. As I’ve said in past emails, with $375 income assisance shelter rate plus $450 for a rent supplement, the total available is well below market rent in the region. We’re still working creatively to fill that funding gap.
There are still spaces available at the New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal; a few people are moving in there each week. And there’s a space for about 30 youth that will be opening soon. And there are the 30 tiny homes. We will need the Province to open some more spaces, or top up the rent supplements further, or both, to achieve the goal of moving people inside by March 31st. But please know that there is a plan and everyone I know who works in the housing and outreach field and provincial ministers and staff are working hard to make it happen. Almost all of the people living in the parks have filled out housing applications or indicated their desire to move inside.
It is clear, as I’ve said before – and with this I think you would agree – that having people living in parks isn’t good for anyone, not the people living there or the people living nearby.
A few of you have written this week with concern for the youth who are gathering under the Johnson Street Bridge. You’re concerned about their health and well-being but also about the fact that they’re gathering at all when we’ve all been told to stay home. To be honest, I don’t know whether many of these kids have homes. But in response to your emails, I will ensure that the youth homelessness team at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness connects with these kids, if they haven’t already, to see what kind of supports might be needed.
And finally, there have been some questions over the past few weeks about why there are no people camping in parks near where I live. Camping is allowed in Stevenson Park behind the Fernwood Commuity Centre. But unlike the parks where we’ve directed people for camping* it does not have a washroom. In early September, a motion was made at the Council table to prohibit camping within 100m of schools (instead of the 50m that was proposed). Even though the parents at South Park School wanted a buffer of 100m from their school, if I had voted for this 100m buffer, that would have also meant banning parking in Stevenson Park, so I voted against it, which kept Stevenson Park on the list and available for camping.
When schools closed earlier in the pandemic, I also suggested using Vic High (I live two doors down) as a shelter. This didn’t pan out because of the impending construction. I also suggested that the vacant land behind Vic High might be good for sheltering, but this too will soon be under construction. What is proposed to be built there is 154 units of affordable housing, including 20% of units that will rent at $375 per month and are for people coming out of homelessness or out of supportive housing. I look forward to welcoming my new neighbours, should Council approve the development to go forward.
By-Election Results and City Budget I wanted to also share the by-elections results with all of you, in case you hadn’t heard. Last night Stephen Andrew was elected to fill the ninth seat on Victoria Council which has been vacant since August 2019 when Laurel Collins left to run for MP. I spoke with Stephen last night to congratulate him and to let him know I’m looking forward to working with him. It will be good to have nine of us at the table again. Being shorthanded for this long has meant extra work for the rest of us. It has also meant a few tie votes on key items, and motions fail on a tie.
In addition to helping our new colleague settle in, a key decision on the horizon is the 2021 budget. Council reviewed the draft budget in great detail in November and asked many questions of staff through motion that we’ll get a report back on in January. Now, it’s time for you to weigh in! Staff have created a really great budget survey this year – more direct and user friendly than in past years. The survey results will help to guide Council’s decision on the final budget in the new year.
All of you who have written to me – and those who read these weekly posts – obviously care deeply about our city. The budget is the most important decision Council makes each year. So a final piece of holiday homework from me is a request that you take the time to fill out the budget survey. With my thanks in advance.
Happy Holidays This will be my last Sunday email / blog post of 2020. I’m going to take the next few Sundays and hopefully a few more days than that of quiet time and rest. Your emails will be gathered up and I’ll respond to them on Sunday January 3rd.
It’s been quite the year for all of us in Victoria, BC, Canada, and the world. As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away and few could have anticipated the toll it would take this year on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, governments, and on each and every one of us. No one is exempt, everyone has been impacted, although not everyone has been impacted equally.
Seniors in care homes have been most vulnerable, with the majority of deaths in BC taking place in those settings. Women, youth, people of colour and Indigenous people working in low-paying service jobs that were the first to be cut have suffered economically. Our beloved small businesses were hit disproportionately hard. And of course, as oft discussed here in Victoria and in cities across the country and around the world, when everyone was told to “stay at home”, those who didn’t have homes really stood out, as they were left outside.
2021 will be year of hard work and recovery. And as we implement both the regional Reboot Strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 our job – as a whole community, province and country – is to leave no one behind.
I wish you and your loved ones a safe, socially distanced, but close-in-heart holiday season.
With love, Lisa / Mayor Helps
*With the exception of Central Park – in that instance people showed up there and we had to adapt to the circumstances and provide washrooms and running water.
Facebook live update August 7 2020. We’ll be back on Friday September 4th at 1pm to update on City’s continued COVID-19 initiatives and Council decisions more generally.
I opened my remarks on Friday with gratitude to front line city staff. Over the past months of the ongoing global health pandemic, our bylaw team, our public works team, our parks staff and many more have been on the front lines doing their jobs in extremely challenging circumstances. On behalf of myself and Council, I want our staff to know how much we appreciate them. If you see a city worker out there, please stop and give them your thanks. It really makes a big difference.
On Thursday, Council revisited the 2020 budget items postponed in April due to decreased revenue and the economic uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. Because of COVID-19, revenues are down most notably in parking, the Victoria Conference Centre and revenue from the City’s commercial tenants.
After a long day and night of debate and discussion, Council made some important decisions:
We agreed to use the approximately $3 million in COVID-19 related savings from 2020 towards the expected operating budget revenue shortfall and additional pandemic related costs.
With a few exceptions, we postponed a significant number of capital projects, strategic plan action items and a number of proposed new staff positions.
The Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood has been eagerly anticipating improvements to Topaz Park. I’m happy to report that Council will be making a $3.7 million investment in the long-awaited bike skills and skate park. Design will begin in 2020 with construction anticipated in 2021. We know that infrastructure investments are key for governments to make during a recession. These investments support the private sector to keep local people working and support local supply chains through procurement of goods and services.
Council also allocated funding to install a new public washroom downtown at the south end of Douglas Street.
And finally, the City will be establishing an Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, which will be staffed by an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer and an Accessibility Coordinator. This will provide resources to carry out a number of Council’s strategic plan projects and priorities.
What this all means is that Council has eliminated the projected deficit for 2020 and we’re leaving an additional $17.6 million in reserves. This will keep our reserves healthy as we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. Like other governments and private sector businesses, we are making tough budget decisions right now. I believe we’ve landed on a smart, prudent way forward.
Council also held three public hearings on Thursday night on land use for new developments in Victoria. Public hearings look a little different these days – everything’s done online or via phone. I’m so happy we’ve been able to forge ahead with important projects while still allowing residents the chance to participate in land use decisions.
Thursday night Council approved 151 new rental units and the heritage revitalization of the Scott Building at Douglas and Hillside. This will give a much-needed boost to the rental stock in the city and it’s also a key project that will enhance the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood.
The City is continuing to see strong uptake on our Build Back Victoria program that allows for free expanded patio and flex space for businesses. We have received 97 applications and 72 permits have been issued. Staff are working fast on the others.
Another weekend is here, and I hope that everyone is out visiting some of those patios, exploring the city and supporting our local businesses. Without many of the three million tourists we see each year, our visitor economy is hurting. We can all do our part to help.
In addition to staying local and shopping local, myself and the mayors across the region have written a joint letter to Minister Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, in Ottawa this week asking for more support for the tourism industry in Victoria. Conferences, sports tourism, cruise, the Clipper, and Coho are all on hold and shut down this year. The closures are for good reason, but they do come with consequences. Our visitor economy will recover once medical advances to combat COVID-19 are available, but it needs help to survive to get through the winter and into next spring. It was great to work with all the regional Mayors on this to show support for our local industry.
It was also great to see tourism in our downtown featured on the front page of the Times Colonist on Tuesday. It’s wonderful to see people visiting Victoria from across Canada and enjoying everything that our city and region have to offer. I want everyone to know that they are welcome here.
I closed my Facebook live on Friday with a thank you to Mary who has been signing for us for the past few months. Friday was Mary’s last day with us as she is now retiring. She has been a sign language interpreter since 1985 working in both Ottawa and for the past 26 years here on the island. She’s been a respected colleague and mentor to many interpreters in the field and has provided interpreting services to ensure inclusive and accessible communication with hundreds of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals over the years. We have so appreciated Mary’s work with us over the last several months, and I’d like to wish Mary a very happy retirement.
On behalf of myself and Council, I hope that everyone is having a safe summer, keeping those safe distances and keeping circles and gatherings small. We’re hopefully through the worst of the pandemic at this point, and on a solid pathway towards economic and social recovery. To make this so and to stay on this pathway takes all of us, working together.
Council will be taking a break until September 3rd and I’ll be taking a short holiday, of sorts. With so much to do, including ongoing support needed for our businesses to recover and continuing to work hard with the Province to find indoor sheltering solutions for people camping in parks throughout the city, it won’t be a regular summer holiday this year. I do intend to do some writing and reflection as well, which I will post here on this blog. Please feel free to share this site with others and encourage them to follow if interested in receiving regular updates.
For those who want to stay right up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. We’re getting lots of emails with lots of questions and we’ll do our best to answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Thursday. We’ll be back Friday at 2:30pm.
News from the federal government
A few weeks back, myself and other community and business leaders wrote this piece in the Times Colonist asking for rent relief for businesses. Many businesses were directed to close to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to reduce the burden on our health-care system. Many others have done so voluntarily. We acknowledged their sacrifice.
This morning the Prime Minister announced a plan to help businesses pay rents for April, May and June. He said that plan will be worked out with the Premiers across the country, as rent issues fall under provincial jurisdiction. This is fantastic news. It is heartening to hear our call answered and our businesses supported.
Today, the federal government also announced that their business loan program, which offers businesses a loan of up to $40,000, will now be available to businesses with payrolls worth between $20,000 and $1.5 million. We know this will help Victoria businesses because we’ve had emails from businesses who didn’t previously qualify that now do. More good news!
News from the provincial government
Today the Province announced significant measures to support both businesses and local governments. For commercial and industrial properties, the Province further reduced the school tax rate and delayed the penalty date for payment of property taxes until October 1st, which means that most commercial property owners won’t pay their taxes until October 1st.
For municipalities, changing the due date for school taxes until the end of the year is welcome. For Victoria the extension of the commercial property tax extension is a little more complicated. Almost 50% of our tax base is commercial. Deferring the penalty date to October means we’ll need to manage our cash flow a little bit differently. But we are all in this together and because this is a positive announcement for businesses, we are okay to do whatever is necessary to make this work.
We remain hopeful that further announcements will be made to reinstate the Province’s financial hardship deferment program for residential taxpayers Such a program would provide significant relief to those in our community who are suffering hardship as a result of the pandemic.
News from the City
Today Council passed two motions to further address support for vulnerable communities in the midst of COVID-19. First, Council has asked me to write to the Province requesting they use their emergency powers under the Emergency Program Act to requisition hotel and motel rooms in the Capital Region for all unhoused people and to provide the health, mental health and addictions support for people moving in.
I have said many times that we all need to be able to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice around physical distancing, hand washing, and staying at home if we are able. If you don’t have a home, this becomes impossible.
Council also passed a motion to allocate a grant of up to $50,000, from previously approved COVID19 response funds, toward emergency outreach services for vulnerable populations, to be allocated among organizations currently providing mobile outreach services in Victoria.
Starting tomorrow the City is implementing additional measures to ensure residents can still enjoy parks and open spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. The parking area off Foul Bay Road and Crescent Road, serving Gonzales Beach Park, will be open to service and emergency vehicles only. The public washroom next the parking area remains open. People have been gathering on Gonzales beach need to limit this for now.
Physical distancing measures in Beacon Hill Park will continue on weekends only. Additionally, in response to requests from residents, we’ll put new signage in narrow pathway areas to remind residents to allow others the space they need to remain safe and follow health advice. And we’ll work with the Township of Esquimalt staff to ensure a coordinated approach in border areas.
We’ve received great feedback about our Recreation ambassadors, who are out in parks to engage with residents about recreation facility closures and to remind people about physical distancing. We continue to examine other opportunities to improve physical distancing while allowing our residents to still get outside and enjoy the nice weather we’ve been having.
News from the community
We’ve been talking a lot over the past many weeks about programs and resources for adults, but this is also a really difficult time for a lot of young people who are coping with having their routines turned upside down and anxieties and fears around this challenging time.
I want to share a resource put together by Victoria’s Stigma Free Society – A COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit. This is an amazing, comprehensive resource. There’s a Youth Corner for grades 4-6 and a Teens Corner, for grades 7-12. There are videos, stories, activities, and also resources for parents. A huge thanks to the Stigma Free Society for putting this together. You can check it out here.
I also want to let you know that Foundry services continue online. The Foundry Victoria, which offers young people 12-24 access to mental health and substance use support, primary care, peer support and social services, is now offering virtual drop-in counselling for young people ages 12-24 and their families. To access this service, call 1-833-FØUNDRY (yes, that’s FØUNDRY with a zero! or 1-833-308-6379) to book an appointment. Sessions are available through chat, voice-only calls or video calls.
I’m grateful to both of these programs for providing support to youth through this pandemic so that they know that they are not alone.
For those who want to stay right up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. We’re getting lots of emails with lots of questions and we’ll do our best to answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Thursday. We’ll be back Tuesday at 2:30pm.
News from the provincial government
Today the province announced an expansion of virtual mental health supports. Working with partners, this will include online counselling supports, including for youth and immigrant and refugee populations. There will be a lot of resources available, check them out on the province’s COVID 19 website. This is a really important resource. We know there are people who are struggling right now. Please reach out if you need help.
News from the City
Today, at our Council meeting we made amendments to the 2020 Budget to deliver a financial relief package to help those in the community who may be experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic:
There will be no property tax increase this year for residential or commercial ratepayers
The deadline to pay property taxes has been extended to August 4 and a reduced penalty has been put in place for late payment
The deadline for utility bill payments has been extended to 90 days
Council has shown leadership in making these important decisions. We’re making these significant changes, while continuing to provide the services our residents depend on and leaving a little bit more money in people’s pockets. We understand the challenges out there. These decisions will help in some small way to reduce the financial hardship many of our residents and businesses are currently experiencing due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Council will also advocate to the provincial government to reinstate the property tax deferment program and extend the program to commercial properties, as well as amend the homeowner grant program to increase amounts and create a new category of grant for those who have suffered financial hardship.
Most of the City’s capital projects will still go ahead as planned as they preserve existing infrastructure, are safety related or are already in progress. To take advantage of lower traffic levels, the City will accelerate some of its major capital projects slated for the downtown core.
While the City is reducing work in some areas, it has more than $80 million in capital projects moving forward supporting the local economy. The $21.8 million in capital project spending that Council has deferred as of today will serve as a stimulus during economic recovery.
To make it easier for those who need to come downtown and park, rates in City parkades will be reduced to a maximum of $5 per day and on-street parking rates will be $1 per hour with no time limits except for 30-minute zones. These rates will be in effect for as long as the provincial state of emergency is in place.
Starting tomorrow and for future weekends, Beacon Hill Park will be closed to public vehicle traffic. This will free up space so local residents can stay active while also maintaining safe physical distances. City staff will be out in parks to engage with residents about playground and recreation facility closures and remind park users about physical distancing.
In addition, parking along Dallas Road will be realigned from angle parking to parallel parking in order to maintain physical distances. Parking along Douglas Street and on Nursery Road will remain open with an increased number of accessible stalls.
Beacon Hill Park and Dallas Road are magnets for visitors from all over the region, however, it’s important right now that we stay close to our homes and not travel to parks outside our local neighbourhoods. The Provincial Health Officer has encouraged us all to stay home as much as possible, and when we do go out for exercise and fresh air, staying close to home is the best option.
News from the community
Today I gave a big shoutout to VIATEC. VIATEC is the umbrella body for the tech community in Victoria. It owns Fort Tectoria, which houses office space for local companies and an event and gathering space.
VIATEC let us know that they have waived rent for all Fort Tectoria tenants for April. They’ve also offered membership deferrals, provided their job board at no charge to ViaTec members, and donated $10,000 to the Victoria Rapid Relief Fund. Thank you VIATEC for being such an important part of our city, for supporting your tenants and for helping out the wider community at this challenging time.
I also want to let you know that the Dandelion Society is hiring Shelter Support Staff immediately to support people who are experiencing homelessness. A background in Social Work, Mental Heath, Custodial, Security or Customer Service desperately needed. Experience working with this population is an asset. This posting can be found on The Chamber of Commerce job board, and you can also e-mail expressions of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a wonderful long weekend everyone. I’m going to try to take a bit of downtime and begin to reflect on what recovery looks like and how we’ll all need to pull together on the other side of this pandemic to ensure a prosperous, inclusive, resilient and low-carbon future.
For those who want to stay right up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. We’re getting lots of emails with lots of questions and we’ll do our best to answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Tuesday. We’ll be back Wednesday at 3:30pm. Note the new time for Wednesday.
News from the federal government
A reminder that if you need to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and your birthday is in April, May, or June, today is your day to apply. The application days have been staggered to make it easier for people to apply. Yesterday we detailed who is eligible, but you can also learn more and apply here.
News from the provincial government
Today Dr, Bonnie Henry wrote an op-ed which I encourage you all to check out, called, “No Boundaries with COVID-19″. In it, she addresses how much information she discloses about the location of confirmed cases and why specific locations – neighbourhoods or cities – aren’t disclosed.
I want to share this important point from her article with you: “While I understand the desire to know and understand what the COVID-19 situation is in your community, I need to emphasize that knowing where the positive cases are does not protect you, your family or your community. The actions you take will do that. No one is immune from this disease, but everyone can make a difference. Every British Columbian has a part to play to flatten the curve.”
It is a good reminder for all of us who have not had the virus that we are not immune. We ALL need to commit and re-commit to the measures that will keep our community safe and healthy.
News from the City
This Thursday at Council we’ll be re-opening the City’s budget in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Just like many businesses and households that have less revenue than usual and less cash on hand, the City’s revenue is also down, which means we have difficult decisions to make.
What some people might not know is that legally, municipalities have to balance our budgets. We can’t spend more in a year than we bring in. We are not permitted to run a deficit. This makes our work even more difficult.
But, we do have some ways we can help residents and businesses financially through the City’s 2020 budget. We are looking at potentially delaying significant capital projects and other new city initiatives in order to reduce the city’s 2020 budget.
If we reallocate over $11 million from those projects, as staff are recommending, then we can extend utility bill due dates by 90 days, and extend the property tax deadline to August 1st. Additionally, staff are recommending we create a larger operating contingency budget by deferring city projects and initiatives because we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. This will put us in better shape to provide stability for city services that we all depend on – like garbage collection and clean water – even if the crisis continues for some time.
We will also need to have a difficult conversation about the property tax increase. As of now, 2020 taxes are proposed to go up by 3.35% We could put less money in our reserves this year and lower the property tax rate. This will be another difficult conversation that Council has on Thursday.
In short – I hope we can make the most of our resources to help residents and business owners in this time, without reducing the services you all depend on. These will be extremely tough decisions, and we will be making these decisions publicly in our Committee of the Whole and Council meetings Thursday.
As I said yesterday, we don’t have the same tools as the province and the federal government to be able to provide big financial relief packages. That’s why staff are recommending that we ask the Province to:
Increase amounts for Homeowner Grants, and create a new category of grant applicable to people who have lost income due to the pandemic
Reinstate the financial hardship Deferment Program and extend the program to commercial properties
Change the date that we have to pay taxes to other agencies
You can read the full staff report here, which includes the lists of projects we are considering deferring. And you can, as always, watch our webcast as we hold our budget debate.
News from the community
The Rapid Relief Fund, started by the Times Colonist, the Victoria Foundation, and the Jawl Family Foundation have now set a target of $4 million in donations, and Victoria is really coming through. They are almost there! So many people have been helped already through this fund – every dollar raised goes to COVID relief in Greater Victoria. If you’re in a position to help them get to $4 million, you can do so here.
Earlier this week at the Union of BC Municipalities conference, the City held a press conference attended by local elected officials from across the province. We announced our intention to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the City’s appeal with respect to plastic bags and the authority of local governments to regulate businesses in line with the values of the community.
In July, the BC Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling and set aside the City’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw, which regulated businesses providing checkout bags to customers and included restrictions on the use of plastic checkout bags. The Court of Appeal ruled that the purpose of the bylaw was the protection of the natural environment and that it required approval from the Province of BC prior to being enacted.
After careful review, the City has decided to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to review the Court of Appeal decision to clarify a municipal government’s power to regulate unsustainable business practices that negatively impact the community.
The BC Court of Appeal decision goes far beyond the issue of plastic bags. It strikes at the heart of the power of local governments to regulate business practices in line with 21st century community values. If the decision is allowed to stand it can potentially be interpreted to severely limit the power of local governments. This is why the City of Victoria is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Court of Appeal decision – that the bylaw required provincial approval – runs contrary to a principle previously mentioned by the Supreme Court of Canada that law-making and implementation are often best achieved at a level of government that is closest to the citizens affected and therefore most responsive to their needs and to local distinctiveness.
At the press conference, two of my colleagues – who are also leading by creating business bylaws that reflect the values of their communities – shared their thoughts
“Large and small local governments across British Columbia are enacting bylaws that regulate the use of single-use plastics, in response to the strong wishes of their citizens and businesses. These local governments are not wavering in their commitment, but a review of the BC Court of Appeal decision is critical,” said District of Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne. “Most municipalities simply don’t have the resources to respond to legal challenges or take issues like these all the way through the court system, so I welcome the City of Victoria’s decision and deeply appreciate their leadership.”
“As Squamish works to develop a bylaw towards eliminating single use items, I wish to recognize the City of Victoria for taking continued leadership with the development of its original bylaw, and now as the City seeks leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Local governments of all sizes across Canada are grappling with complex issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, housing affordability, economic disruption, policing, and the list goes on,” said Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott.
“We engage with our citizens, businesses and others to find local solutions that work in our particular circumstances, and that can potentially inspire other communities to act. As the government closest to the citizens, it is critical that our power to implement bylaws and regulations, in line with a community’s values and long-term goals, is protected to the fullest extent possible.”
The City believes that the Court of Appeal applied a very restrictive interpretation of municipal power to regulate business, which could potentially affect other municipal bylaws not only in Victoria but across B.C. and in other provinces that have similar municipal legislation. Therefore, this case raises issues of general importance and warrants consideration by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The City of Victoria’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw came into effect on July 1, 2018 and regulated the types of checkout bags that could be offered by businesses to customers. The bylaw was developed with extensive input from local businesses, industry and the community during a two-year engagement period. The implementation of the City’s checkout bag bylaw in 2018 was enthusiastically embraced by both businesses and customers and was used as a model by a number of other B.C. municipalities.
The bylaw was challenged by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, an industry lobbying group, that alleged the bylaw was not a valid business regulation but rather an environmental regulation that required provincial approval prior to adoption by the City.
The Association’s challenge was dismissed by the BC Supreme Court in June 2018 when the judge found that the bylaw was, in fact, a business regulation and that any environmental effect of the bylaw was merely incidental and secondary to its main purpose to regulate business checkout transactions. In July 2019, the BC Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s finding when it concluded that the bylaw was an environmental regulation.
Victoria has made sustainable business practices the new norm. Since the bylaw’s introduction, the community eliminated 17 million plastic bags from the waste stream which will result in both short-term and long-term cost savings for waste management. Although the Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw has been set aside and has not been in effect since the Court of Appeal decision on July 11, most businesses in Victoria continue to operate as if the bylaw was still in effect – a testament to the wide community support of the bylaw.
Under the Supreme Court of Canada rules, the court decides whether or not it will hear the appeal. The City’s deadline to apply is September 30. It normally takes between four and six months for the decision on whether or not the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case.
It was my pleasure to welcome the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to Victoria recently where he toured the City’s Public Works yard as well as a BC Transit “smart bus”, and gave an update on Budget 2019, in particular what’s in it for cities.
Since Confederation in 1867, the funding formula for cities has changed very little. For every tax dollar that Canadians pay, approximately $0.92 goes to the provincial and federal governments and only $0.08 goes to local governments. This despite the fact that about 70% of public infrastructure in Canada is within the jurisdiction of cities. And cities are responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gases generated in the country. In addition, cities are faced with poverty, mental health, addictions and homelessness with little to no resources to deal with these pressing economic and social issues.
While this federal budget does not address all of these challenges, it gives an important nod – and some significant resources – to the ability of local governments to solve local problems locally.
Federal commitments in Budget 2019 on affordable housing, transitioning to a green economy, and skills training align closely with Victoria City Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and with the Capital Regional District’s recently adopted Strategic Plan as well.
Municipal leaders know, as do our federal counterparts, that taking action on those issues is crucial to ensuring that Canada’s cities are liveable, healthy, and competitive in the global economy.
I’m proud that the Capital Regional District’s Regional Housing First Program was profiled in Federal Budget 2019 (see page 31). I note this because the program is a quintessential example of local innovation and leadership supported by – but not dictated by – federal and provincial funding.
The Regional Housing First Program was designed by and for our communities here in the region. Thankfully, the federal funding for the program is helping us to make transformative progress on eliminating homelessness and providing safe, affordable, and supported housing.
The federal commitment of $30 million was made in May 2018 (to match provincial and regional commitments of $30 million each) and already we have opened Millstream Ridge in Langford. It’s a 132 unit building run by the Capital Regional Housing Corporation and it includes 30 units which rent at $375 per month.
This kind of thinking – federal support for local innovation – is why I was pleased to see the Federal government use Budget 2019 to transfer $2.2 billion in Federal Gas Tax funding to municipalities and First Nations. It charts a path toward a modernized federal-municipal relationship that gets more done for Canadians. Permanently growing this core funding stream would directly empower municipalities to deliver on national objectives.
This gas tax measure, which will see an additional $3.5 million flow to the City of Victoria – and $21 million flow to the region – is a great way of allocating federal funds directly to local governments where they are coupled with local expertise to address short-term infrastructure priorities in communities across Canada. This funding allows projects to get underway now without grant applications and federal or provincial approvals.
In recent years, the City of Victoria used Gas Tax funds in several crucial ways. We’re building a 32km bike network for people of all ages and abilities and we’re also working to complete a harbour pathway. We updated our storm drain system. And we installed LED street lights throughout the city. This last investment is saving us approximately $200,000 per year in hydro costs which we are reinvesting to fund other essential energy and GHG reduction initiatives in the city.
These gas tax investments have also made Victoria a more dynamic and enjoyable place to live by increasing infrastructure for health and well-being. And, since addressing climate change is a shared priority of the City of Victoria and the federal government, it is no coincidence that our Gas Tax-funded projects all improved Victoria’s resilience to climate change and reduced carbon pollution.
In addition to being good for health and well-being and good for the climate, local investments in capital infrastructure are good for the economy. For example, last week the CRD adopted its 2019 budget. Included in the budget are $382 million dollars worth of capital improvements – sewer, water, housing, parks, trails and more. This investment is expected to generate 814 new jobs in the region and 1121 new jobs across British Columbia.
Cities are creative, innovative places that hold some of the solutions to the challenges faced by federal and provincial governments, most notably climate change. Investments like the ones announced in Budget 2019 will help the federal government to deliver on its climate mandate by enabling cities to have a strong voice and to take strong action in shaping our own infrastructure priorities. Cities and metro regions are key to the federal government meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement; they are behind and we can help. Cities are here as allies and partners.
I look forward to inviting Minister Duclos and other federal ministers back to Victoria in the future. And I look forward to showing them how we’re continuing to take local action and improve our communities by using the funds announced for local governments in Budget 2019.
During the election campaign last fall when I was at community meetings, in living rooms, in small businesses and on doorsteps I heard loud and clear that quality of life and well-being are important to Victorians. I heard this from the very young, the very old and everyone in between.
That’s why in Council’s recently adopted 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and in this year’s budget we are making meaningful investments in livable neighbourhoods, affordable housing, senior’s and community centres and safer, more human-scale streets. I know from speaking with members of our business community that quality of life is key to them thriving as well – business owners and employees like all the amenities that come with living in a place where people’s health and well-being matter.
Over the past four years Victoria has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. We are re-investing the benefits of a strong economy to improve life for people. The actions in our four-year Strategic Plan are focused on what our residents want and asked us to do, to make Victoria more affordable, create welcoming neighbourhoods, and to act now on climate change.
In addition to continuing to invest in better City services for people, Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan puts a priority on things that will make a real difference in people’s daily lives.
To make Victoria more affordable for families, the City is putting $1 million into the Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and implementing a new suite of housing initiatives to increase the number of affordable homes for people in all stages and phases of life’s journey and to support renters.
To create infrastructure that will keep us all healthy, the City is investing in active transportation, street improvements and traffic calming, with more than $31.6 million over the next four years going to keep people moving around the city safely and efficiently.
To help them deliver high-quality services, Victoria’s eight community centres and three seniors centres are receiving a $234,000 boost to their annual base funding. Neighbourhood Associations will receive a total of $100,000 to support neighbourhood planning.
The City will also convene a Seniors Task Force to learn more about seniors’ needs and desires and to develop the City’s first Seniors Strategy. This will support seniors in remaining independent, healthy, active and socially-connected in the community.
A new investment of $858,000 annually will expedite implementation of the Urban Forest Master Plan, to maintain the trees we have and to plant new trees. In 2019, a total of nearly $3 million will go to maintain and enhance the urban forest, with the long-term goal to increase tree canopy coverage to 40 per cent.
The Strategic Plan and Budget were developed with broad public input. More than 1,500 people provided their ideas and feedback to Council in the budget survey and town hall meeting, and another 150 people participated in the Strategic Plan Engagement Summit to share their knowledge and experience to help Council shape the plans.
The Goal of the strategic plan was also developed by the public: “By 2022, Victoria will be a bold, thriving, inclusive, and happy city that people love. We will be known globally for our climate leadership practices, multi-modal transportation options, innovative approaches to affordable housing, and for meaningful reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on whose homelands our city was built.” Working together, side by side – council, staff and the community – we will achieve this.
The 2019-2022 Strategic Plan includes more than 170 actions in eight strategic Objectives.
Good Governance and Civic Engagement
Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations
Prosperity and Economic Inclusion
Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City
Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship
Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods
In addition, Council has set the following Operational Priorities, reflecting the shared values of Council and City staff, residents and the business community:
Heritage conservation and heritage designation
Nurturing and supporting arts, culture and creativity
Creating and maintaining a high-quality public realm
Continuous improvement with regard to open government
Meaningful and inclusive public engagement
Sound fiscal management
Accessible information, facilities and services
Objective #1 – Good Governance and Civic Engagement
Working with Saanich Council to develop and implement a Citizens Assembly process to explore amalgamation.
Offering free childcare at City Hall during public hearings.
Releasing closed meeting decisions and Council member expenses quarterly.
Working to regionalize police services and consider the possibility of a single, amalgamated police service for the region
Objective #2 – Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations
Working with First Nations and the community to create the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues.
Reinstating the City’s Indigenous Artist in Residence program, providing the opportunity for a local Indigenous artist to develop artistic works and engage the community in dialogue and events.
Establishing an Indigenous Relations function and appointing Indigenous Elders in Residence to provide advice on City programs and operations will be considered in 2020 with guidance and support from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
Exploring co-governance of Meegan (Beacon Hill Park) and shoreline areas with the Lekwungen speaking people.
Objective #3 – Affordable Housing
Investing $1 million in the City’s Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and to acquire lands and partner with other agencies to end chronic homelessness.
Investing an additional $545,000 in 2019 on a suite of initiatives to encourage and incentivize more affordable homes for people, especially families, as well as look for further opportunities to speed up and simplify the development process for affordable rental homes.
Assigning a Tenant Housing Ambassador at City Hall to make it easier for renters to navigate the Tenant Assistance Policy, Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and other programs to support renters, being considered in 2020.
Considering grant programs for secondary suites and affordable garden suites, including those that are accessible and serve an aging population.
Objective #4 – Prosperity and Economic Inclusion
Convening the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity 2.0 to hit 2041 job targets.
Allocating more than $1 million in the City’s Festival Investment Grants over the next four year years ($270,000 annually) to create a vibrant city, strengthen downtown and enhance liveability.
Investing $1.5 million to support public art, festivals and events, including the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, Indigenous Artist in Residence, Artist in Residence, and Poet/Youth Laureate programs.
Providing nearly $4.3 million each year to support economic development initiatives and make it easier to do business in Victoria, including the Business Hub at City Hall, the South Island Prosperity Project, the Victoria Film Commission and operating the Victoria Conference Centre.
Exploring ways for businesses in Victoria to become living wage employers.
Objective #5 – Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City
Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to promote inclusivity, understanding and collaboration
Striking a Peer-Informed Task Force to identify priority actions to inform a Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, actionable at the municipal level.
Creating a city-wide Childcare Strategy and Action Plan.
Developing and implementing an Accessibility Framework to make City policies, services, infrastructure and facilities more accessible for all.
Increasing local food security with urban agriculture initiatives to foster food production on private land, support farmers markets and community gardens, food storage and distribution systems.
Objective #6 – Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship
Taking serious climate action to reduce carbon pollution by 80 per cent and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
Working with the community to develop and implement a Zero Waste Strategy that will chart the course to a local economy where nothing is wasted.
Allocating $13.7 million in upgrades to the drinking water, stormwater and sewer system.
Implementing the BC Step Code and mandating electric vehicle charging capacity in all new developments.
Objective #7 – Sustainable Transportation
Providing a $975,000 increase in capital investment for street improvements, for a total of $3.6 million in 2019.
Investing $450,000 in traffic calming initiatives to make local streets safer, and reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h on neighbourhood streets by 2021.
Investing $2.5 million in crosswalk upgrades or new installations at 18 locations to improve safety and encourage walking.
Fast-tracking completion by 2022 of the City’s 32-kilometre, AAA cycling network through
Providing free BC Transit passes for all Victoria youth, funded through new revenue raised by charging for Sunday on-street metered parking beginning May 1, 2019.
Objective #8 – Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods
Investing $35 million in 2019 in the City’s parks, recreation and facilities, which includes 137 parks, 207 hectares of parkland, 90 hectares of natural landscape, 40 playgrounds, 23 tennis courts, 12 dog off-leash areas, 45 sports fields and 104 City facilities.
Expanding the LIFE program to provide low-income families with free year-round use of the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre and ice skating at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Exploring partnerships to create meeting space and a home base for neighbourhood associations that currently do not have their own community centre.
Providing $60,000 for the City’s Participatory Budgeting program to empower the community to direct investment in neighbourhoods, with youth-themed projects the focus for 2019, newcomers in 2020 and neighbourhood placemaking in 2021.