Quality of Life Focus for City’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and Budget 2019

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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.

Read the whole plan here.

Highlights of the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan

The 2019-2022 Strategic Plan includes more than 170 actions in eight strategic Objectives.

  1. Good Governance and Civic Engagement
  2. Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations
  3. Affordable Housing
  4. Prosperity and Economic Inclusion
  5. Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City
  6. Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship
  7. Sustainable Transportation
  8. 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.

 

Cherry Trees, Urban Forest Management and Climate Change: The Facts

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It is both dangerous to public dialogue and frustrating for everyone when one city councillor’s explosive opinion is taken as fact. The fact is that there is no plan to systematically remove cherry trees, never to plant another in the city. The cherry blossom trees are part of our charm as a city and are a welcome and delightful sign of spring to locals and visitors alike. In addition, they are a key part of our cultural heritage, a symbol of our strong connection with the Japanese community as well as with Victoria’s Twin City, Morioka Japan. Next year is the 35th anniversary of our twinning. I had been planning to propose the first annual Victoria Hanami Festival to mark the occasion.

Cherry trees have long been a high-profile part of the local urban forest and City Parks Staff believe they may continue to thrive in locations with appropriate conditions. Ornamental flowering cherry trees require a moderate to high available water requirement during the growing season. With climate change modelling showing drier, warmer summers, staff expect that they will not be a good species for all of the locations where they presently are growing. Staff continue to plant some cherry varieties where they may do well. These areas typically have good soils and more available water during the summer.  In 2017, the City planted 20 ornamental flowering cherries and 20 ornamental flowering plums as part of our tree planting program.

In response to the recent inquiries and media attention relating to the City’s management of the urban forest, it is important to share the wider context in which staff make decisions about which trees to plant where in light of the changing climate.

The effects of climate change over the past several years are being seen in many areas of the city.  Our staff have observed this, and in particular the professionals who oversee the urban forest have raised concerns about the impact of hotter, drier summers, strong winter storms, introduced insects, and the resilience of urban trees.

Over the past four years, staff have conveyed to Council necessary updates in operational practices intended to mitigate against risks and effectively steward the living assets under our care. Last week, Council asked our Director of Parks, Thomas Soulliere some specific questions about the additional investment in urban forest management and potential outcomes, including loss of ornamental trees.

During this exchange, Soulliere attempted to convey the staff experiences to-date regarding the importance of tree inspections, which are key to monitoring tree vitality and also to protecting the public (individuals and property) from trees in declining health. While the focus of his responses was the overall approach to implementing the approved City Plan, it seems as though some of his comments may have been interpreted to suggest that an entirely new direction was being contemplated. It is not.

To be clear, the City only removes trees on public property if:

  1. There is evidence the tree is causing significant damage or is endangering the
  2. The tree is dead or dying
  3. The tree is required to be removed to accommodate another approved initiative (ie. land-use change, infrastructure upgrade)

When trees must be removed, the approach to replanting always considers finding the most appropriate tree for a given location. For at least the past 15 years, staff have had to look at alternative species when planting or replacing trees. Gone are the days when a tree is replaced automatically with the same species that was removed.

Tree planting is a big investment and selecting a species that will establish and grow with good vitality in the location is an important, and at times challenging decision. Staff consider all of the restrictions of the site: physical space, soil volumes, overhead or underground services, soil quality, site exposure, expected available water, site levels of wind and sun, and aesthetics play a part in tree selection for a given location. Staff typically first consider the existing tree varieties on the boulevards, however, the street tree varieties have been changing and evolving on many streets for years.

If staff reached a point where their professional recommendation included an option to phase-out any of the iconic species of trees in the municipality, Council would certainly be engaged in a dialogue in advance.

What Council is doing is finally making a significant annual investment – $850,000 per year starting this year – in the Urban Forest Masterplan. The plan was adopted by Council in 2013 and never properly resourced. As as result of the investments, this year and in the coming years, staff will be able 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. This is a legacy we will leave for future generations.

Anyone Can be the Mayor … On Facebook

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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.”

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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.

 

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.

Inaugural Address 2018

It was an honour to be re-elected by the residents of Victoria. Today I was sworn in alongside my new council. Here is my inaugural address where I outline what we will do, why we will do what we do, and most importantly, how we will do this. Please pour yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine, and have a listen. Please feel free to share!

 

I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered this morning on the homelands of the Songhees and the Esquimalt Nations and I want to thank Councillor Gary Sam for the Blessing. And I want to thank the Lekwungen singers and dancers for drumming us and singing us into the chambers this morning. This blessing by the Councillor and the dancing and drumming and singing is evidence of the work of reconciliation that we’ve been doing over the past four years, and that we’ll continue to do for the next four years. Reconciliation is hard work, and it’s real work and it manifests in welcoming our friends from the Songhees into the Chambers this morning because we are always already on their land.

I’d also like to thank the outgoing Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer for taking my challenge and writing a poem for us for today; I appreciate that. And Dean Ansley Tucker thank you also for very very inspiring words about the importance of hope, faith and love, and indeed in my remarks this morning some of that will actually be reflected.

On the first day of orientation – so we’ve all been together informally for the last three days, learning about what it means to run a city, what it means to govern – and on the first day of orientation I had some time alone with Council, which I requested, and the first time we sat together I asked the Council, Councillors, each of them, what do you love about the City of Victoria? And we all love what you all love about the City of Victoria.

We love the people who live here, and how the people here are dedicated to making the community better. We love the natural environment. We love our great little neighbourhood streets, and we want to keep them that way. We love our small town becoming a small city. We love our small businesses. We love that our city is human scale, and that it’s easy to get around. We love downtown and we love Chinatown. We love that this is a place where so many people want to call home. And we love the potential. Our job, as a Council, working alongside all of you here today, and alongside those who have never set foot into City Hall, and everyone in between, is to nurture and steward all of these things that we love, at the same time as the city grows and changes.

So that was the introduction, the reminder of my address will be in three parts. The first part is what we will do, the second part is why we will do what we do, and the third part, and really what is most important to me, is how we will do what we do.

There are four key things that we need to do and we all heard this very loud and clear when we were out knocking on doors and listening in the community. The first is to tackle affordability in a meaningful way. We are, as we all heard and we all know, in the midst of an affordability crisis which means this is an opportunity, and indeed a mandate, to act. There are three main approaches to affordability that we’ll take.

The first is housing on all fronts. You will see bold ideas rolling out from this fine group of people behind me and I’d encourage you to question these ideas to make them better and stronger. Ideas like buying land for housing, larger garden suits, movable tiny homes, inclusionary housing policy, creative partnerships with other levels of government and other entities, doing more with the land we already have, co-ops, community land trusts and more.

But secondly, affordability is more than just housing. Affordability means things like affordable childcare for workers and families and that’s something you’re going to see us working on. And affordability also means making transportation more affordable. And the thing that I love, and I think most of Council, or probably all of Council, would agree with is that transit, walking, and cycling are not only low cost, they are also low carbon.

The third approach to affordability is making sure that taxes and fees are affordable so that we’re not asking our residents and our businesses to live beyond their means.

The second big challenge that we have as city, province, country and indeed as a globe, is climate change. Probably many of you in this room read the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – report when it came out midway through the election campaign, and it was a very stark warning to all of us and hopefully a motivational document, not just a warning, that we basically have twelve years as a human society to keep the temperature of the planet from not rising more than 1.5 degrees.

And this, as I said, is a serious warning and a wakeup call. So what does this have to do with Victoria? Cities around the world have a key role to play in terms of addressing climate change and cities contribute fully seventy percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. Cities around the world are leading and Victoria must lead too. In our city, fifty percent of carbon emissions come from buildings, forty percent comes from transportation, and ten percent comes from waste. So like affordability, we must act boldly.

One of the things I’d encourage you to do is to read the City’s Climate Leadership Plan. Please read it and please join us. One percent of emissions in the city comes from the City’s operations. Ninety-nine percent come from the community. And so in order for us to truly succeed we need your leadership. One of the things I would like to roll out in the new year is a Climate Ambassador Program, where we, you, select one child, one youth, one adult, and one elder from each neighbourhood and they become the neighbourhood Climate Ambassadors, to lead and inspire change on their own streets, schools, and workplaces.

And there’s a real opportunity globally – we’re working with the City of Heidelberg in Germany – to potentially co-create a conference in Heidelberg in May 2019 on climate neighbourhoods. And again, we love our neighbourhoods, our neighbourhoods are the structure of this city and I think if we come together as neighbourhoods with this Climate Ambassador program we are really poised to lead. And with our human scale, compact city with people who care profoundly about the climate and climate justice, we know that now is the time to act.

The number three challenge and opportunity for us here and all of you is to ensure continued prosperity, inclusion, and wellbeing. We are so lucky in Victoria to have such a strong small business community, it is amazing. And the thing about businesses in Victoria that I love is business and community are two sides of the same coin. There’s nothing that divides us. And so we need to build on our current economic strength on our current prosperity, and at the same time as making sure that there is room in the economy for everyone.

And this is why in the past term, and hopefully in this term, the City will continue to play a leadership role in the creation of the Vancouver Island Community Benefit Hub, which really focuses on economic inclusion for marginalized people, as well as why the City will continue to play a role in the South Island Prosperity Project which we were a founding member of in 2016.

And it’s a key reason why the city needs a long-term jobs plan. When we got the five year report on the Official Community Plan from 2012 – 2017 we saw only a 2% increase in jobs, about 1100 jobs. Whereas by 2041 we need to create 10,000 new jobs that will be household sustaining jobs and so that’s one of the things we will be working on in this term. We have also heard from the business community that transportation and affordable housing are their key issues. So if we take care of the first two that I listed, we are also serving the business community and serving the community.

The fourth thing that we need to work on because we have a mandate from you, is a Citizen’s Assembly. People in Victoria and Saanich voted yes to exploring the potential – lots of exploring, lots of potential –  of the amalgamation of the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria and that’s going to be the interesting process for all of us. The Citizen’s Assembly will be a randomly selected group of citizens who will work independently and come together to make a recommendation to their councils.

So very broadly, that is part of the what that we will be doing in the next four years.

But why? Why will we do these things?  Interestingly, because this is the very purpose of local government. Our City Solicitor Tom Zworski read a section of the Community Charter to us, as solicitors do, in our orientation session. He read Section 7 and I’m just going to quote from one portion of it: “The purposes of a municipality include,” and there are four – I’m just going to read one, “Fostering the economic social and environmental wellbeing of its community.”

So our very purpose is to ensure that through everything we do, we’re enhancing community well being. That’s our job. And so, one of the key commitments this term is not only working to enhance wellbeing but also measuring. How are we doing? Are the actions that we are taking actually increasing individual and collective wellbeing?

Now, thankfully we don’t have to invent any measuring tools. The economists and others have been putting their minds to this; for a long time, the only way to measure progress was through measuring the economy. If the economy is doing well, everybody must be doing well. Well, we know that this is not true and so our commitment this term is to measuring wellbeing and ensuring we are making investments through the city’s budget that are actually going to increase peoples wellbeing and connections with each other and with this place.

So that’s the what, and that’s the why but most importantly is how, and the how is most important because if we get this wrong we are going to fail miserably at all of the important work that I already outlined that we need to do.

So how are we going to do this work? There are four things, four ways.

The first is to develop with you and the wider you, who are at work or school or not here today, a four year strategic plan just as we did last time that will clearly outline what you can expect from your Council in the next four years and what we’ll do this term. What I think we probably learned from last term, what we could have done last term (that’s why we have more terms so we can do more things) is to outline very clearly in the plan from its inception, what kind of engagement we’re going to be doing on which topic and how and when and why. And so Council already on Tuesday will be digging into the creation of our four year strategic plan, we’ll roll up our sleeves, we’ll work very hard to see if we can get it right and then in December and January there’s an opportunity for all of you to weigh in to share with us your thoughts and ideas because it’s really important that we get this plan right.

So that’s the first how and there’s an invitation there for you to join us.

Second important how, is really cultivating a sense that we are all in this together. That City Hall and the community have the same interest: to make life better for all of us in the community. And the we – who is this we all in this together? Council, staff residents, business owners, immigrants, refugees, visitors, all of us. And from our point of view here at City Hall, what we need to do, and again this is a lesson learned from last term – we need to look first from the perspective of the community and then from the perspective from City Hall. And we need to value the expertise of our staff – and we have fantastic staff here; I was reminded of this as they all made their presentations to the new council, we have fantastic staff here with a wealth of expertise. We need to value the expertise of staff alongside the expertise that people have from living on Linden street or living in Burnside Gorge or running a business on Wharf Street. When we co-value this expertise, it allows us to co-develop and co-create the city based on shared expertise.

The third how and I think probably you’ll all agree, this is one of the most important ones, is that we really need to restore civility and decorum to public dialogue. And I don’t just mean in election campaigns I mean always. I mean every day. I mean when Council comes out with what might seem like a wacky idea or one of your neighbours says something that you think, “Really?”, that we first always respond with curiosity and generosity. That we give each other, that we give Council, that we give new ideas the benefit of the doubt. That we assume the best of intention and that we show up to a consultation or an engagement session without our minds made up.  And that means all of us [gesturing to Council], as well not only all of you. Because if we cannot do this as a society – and this is not just Victoria, this is around the world – if we cannot do this as a society, we are not going to be able to solve the biggest problems that we have.

Now thankfully you elected an amazing Council and we are already working in this way together. I have to admit I was surprised and delighted that in three short sessions together, we have come up with a Declaration of Principles and Values about how we’re going to work with each other and how we’re going to work with you and even though it hasn’t been officially approved because we haven’t been official until just a few minutes ago, Council has given me permission to share this with you this morning. And I’d like to just stress to you that this document was arrived at through dialogue, deliberation and indeed by consensus.

So the Victoria City Council 2018 – 2022 Declaration of Principles and Values

“In order to create a culture of deep respect, to build the relationships we need to do the work, and to aspire to be our highest selves even when it feels hard and when difficult decisions could stand to divide us, we are committed to:

 

  1. Governing with integrity, transparency and an unwavering dedication to public service.
  2. Welcoming diversity and fostering a spirit of inclusion and equity in everything we do.
  3. Leading with creativity and
  4. Deep listening and critical thinking.
  5. Assuming that everyone is here with good intention to make the community better.
  6. Nurturing a culture of continuous learning with each other, staff and the public.
  7. Working collaboratively and cooperatively with each other, staff and the public while welcoming a diversity of opinion and thought.
  8. Practicing generosity, curiosity and compassion.
  9. Being patient, kind and caring.
  10. Bringing a spirit of open-mindedness and open-heartedness to all of our work.
  11. Keeping a sense of humour and light-heartedness with each other.
  12. Reviewing these principles once a quarter with the same humility, honesty and candour with which we govern.”

So that’s our commitment to each other and that’s our commitment to you and I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to stand in front of a group of people who in a very short time has agreed to this way of working together.

In closing, what do we require from you? We require the benefit of the doubt. We require powerful questions and generous challenges to the ideas we bring forward.  But most of all we require that you continue to be the people of Victoria that we identified at the outset that we love so much: passionate, committed and dedicated to making this place on earth that we all love, better … together … every day.

Thank you so much.

 

Two Key Platform Commitments

Since January Lisa’s been working with a diversity of community members to develop a detailed, future-focussed, community-based, four-year plan. Today, we’re releasing the first two of many platform commitments that will help to make Victoria safe, affordable, and prosperous.

Two Key Platform Commitments

Working with the community and Council, Mayor Helps will:

  1. Lower the default speed limit on all local neighbourhood streets from 50km/h to 30km/h and tactically enforce the new rules.
  2. Expand the city’s garden suite program to allow for larger, family-sized units on any of the 5,600 eligible plus-size lots.

Lowering Default Speed Limit on Residential Neighbourhood Side Streets

For the last two months, Lisa has been meeting with small groups of Victoria residents in their homes in neighbourhoods across the city. These “Kitchen Table Talks,” are hosted by local residents. Neighbours, friends, family, and from around the community are invited to attend and participate in a casual Q & A with Lisa. This direct engagement with the people of Victoria generated many insightful and collaborative solutions to make life in Victoria even better. One key recommendation that came up at almost every gathering was: make our local neighbourhood streets safe for our children!

Currently, the default speed limit on all city streets is 50 km/h unless otherwise listed. This is far too fast. Residential streets are on average far narrower than throughways, often have limited visibility due to street-parked cars and tree cover, and are frequently the site of play for school-aged children.

For these reasons, Mayor Lisa Helps will work collaboratively with City Council, School District SD61, the Provincial Government, the Greater Victoria Integrated Road Safety Unit, and community stakeholders to implement a default speed limit of 30km/h on all local neighbourhood streets. This change would be facilitated by a comprehensive education campaign and tactical enforcement.

This commitment of Lisa’s, like many others, is citizen-led. Many families with whom we spoke were already in the process of working with the city for a lower speed limit on their residential street. Many were already in the process of applying to the City’s “My Great Neighbourhood” grant program to fund “children playing” signs, new speed bumps, and other measures to keep their children safe.

To be clear, this new speed limit would only apply to local neighbourhood side streets, those classified as “local streets” in the City’s road classification system. For more information on the distinction between urban street designations and how they apply to roads safety, please hear here.

This commitment represents a core theme of Lisa’s platform: the actions we take now not only benefit the people currently living in Victoria but they also plan ahead to build a safe, sustainable city for the future — for our children and our children’s children.

Making decisions with the next 10, 20, or 50 years in mind does not mean we need to forego quality of life and well-being now. Rather, the present and the future work in tandem. Victoria’s residents have asked for this now and we will implement it as soon as possible. At the same time, this action will make Victoria’s streets safer for children for generations to come.

Allowing Family-Sized Garden Suites on Victoria’s 5,600 Plus-Size Lots

When Lisa was first elected Mayor of Victoria in 2014, she immediately recognized the great need for new homes in our city. With a rapidly retiring workforce and quickly expanding job market, the city’s previous inaction left the city’s housing market in a precarious position. Families and workers need homes, and housing costs have continued to rise while demand outpaces supply.

At the same time – as we heard loud and clear at kitchen tables around the city – protecting the character of Victoria’s neighbourhoods is of the utmost importance. It’s important to maintain what’s special and unique about Victoria’s neighbourhoods as the city grows.

After Council cut significant red tape from the City’s garden suite process making the approval process significantly quicker (4 weeks instead of one year) and cheaper ($200 instead of $4000), the number of garden suites under development increased rapidly. 22 garden suite units were approved last year alone, compared to only 18 units approved in the last 12 years combined.

Lisa has recognized the effectiveness of this low-impact, citizen-initiated development. There is room for significant growth in this program to accommodate the growing number of young families in Victoria. There are roughly 5600 plus size lots in Victoria that are eligible for garden suite development. Currently, garden suites are restricted to one-bedroom designation, but with Lisa’s proposed changes to the zoning process, plus-size lots would be eligible for multi-bedroom garden suites for families.

Wesley MacInnis
Communications Director
Lisa Helps for Victoria Mayor 2018
wesley@lisahelpsvictoria.ca

“I’m Right and You’re an Idiot” – April 9 Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall

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Are you discouraged about the state of public dialogue? Do you want to be inspired and learn about how to move past this way of relating? Join us for the April 9th Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall as James Hoggan talks about his book and the process of writing it.

Just as we pollute the natural environment we pollute the public square, not with chemical toxins but with our warlike approach to public conversations.

Passionate public argument is healthy, but unyielding one-sidedness undermines the pluralistic, reasoned debate at the core of healthy democracy. The middle ground disappears, problems seem unsolvable and people turn away from public discourse.

Best-selling author and communication expert James Hoggan interviewed thought leaders around the world to learn how to transform this social pathology and engage in higher-quality public conversations.

The series is free and open to the public. Hoggan’s lecture is Monday April 9th from 12-1pm in the City Hall Council Chambers. Bring your lunch and join us! And please share with your friends and neighbours who might be interested too.

Bridge to the future

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For more photos of the bridge opening celebration, see the end of this post.

It began early Friday morning. A small group gathered with Esquimalt elder Mary Anne Thomas and Songhees elder Elmer George on the new bridge at dawn. The elders called on the ancestors as they blessed the bridge and asked for protection for all who pass over it. As they did, I thought about all the other public infrastructure in the City, here on Lekwungen territory, that hasn’t been blessed. The City is in a process of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt nations; honouring their ancient tradition was the right way to prepare to open our new bridge.

When I arrived at the bridge site before the opening ceremony, I hadn’t expected to see such a crowd. It had taken us a long time to get to opening day, the road had many bumps, and the project had been controversial. But there were Victorians, some 10,000 strong, ready to mark the day together.

I learned something important about our community yesterday. The community scrutinizes (keeping a close eye and criticizing as the project budget increased and the timeline extended) but when the time comes, we are able to look to the future and to move forward together. This is a remarkable quality that will serve us well as we grow and change over the next hundred years.

As a community we collectively persevered to ensure that we have a safe, functional and extraordinary piece of infrastructure that I felt proud to present to the public. The bridge is a manifestation of the dedication and hard work of the people in both China and Victoria who built it. It’s an emblem of pride of workmanship. It’s a testimony to years of local work on site and especially local work in the last eight months since the bridge arrived, getting it ready for opening day. There were a number of local apprentices who trained on the job; they are the workforce of the future. And, they’ll be able to visit the bridge with their kids and grandkids and to say, “I built this.”

There was another key reason to celebrate: through the lessons learned on the bridge project, City Hall has turned a corner on project management and now has the capacity to deliver large scale infrastructure projects; both the Fire Hall Project and the Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre Replacement Project will demonstrate this. This new way of doing business is what the public expects and deserves.

An afternoon long, 10,000 person community picnic, festival and celebration might have been enough.  But the old bridge had been decked out with a disco ball and lights. As dusk fell, it became a festival of light. I joined in with the hundreds of people that had started an impromptu dance party, music blaring from speakers left behind from the day’s events.

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I felt like I was in a different city for a moment, but then I realized, this is the new Victoria emerging. It’s a Victoria that believes in spontaneity, light, laughter, well-being,  and connection. This is Victoria in the 21st century.

 

Bridge Opening Day Photo Gallery

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Thousands of people cross the bridge together as a community for
the first time after the ribbon is cut.

 

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The Island Chef’s Collaborative providing fresh snacks.

 

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Celebrating with a picnic lunch on the deck of Old Blue.

 

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The Greater Victoria Placemaking Network in action, gathering people’s favourite memories of Old Blue.

 

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A blue bridge mask-making table saw hundreds of kids go home
with a homemade momento of Old Blue.

 

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Two adorable kids who had just been to the mask-making table.

 

 

Why I’m Quitting Facebook

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Disclaimer: Tech is the number one industry in Victoria with amazing, innovative and entrepreneurial people working in that space. This post is not a rant against technology; it’s about putting social media in its place. 

I’m quitting Facebook. Before the cry begins about how will the mayor be in touch with her constituents, let me count the ways: email me mayor@victoria.ca, call or text me at 250-661-2708, send me a note on Messenger, follow my blog, call my office 250-361-0200, call CFAX any Friday between 3pm and 4pm where I’m on air taking your questions, attend a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall, or come to a Community Drop In .

It’s this last venue, the Community Drop In, that’s my favourite. I hold it in my office every two weeks. We put the kettle on, get great coffee from 2% Jazz and the community drops in to share ideas, concerns, and solutions. There’s always a diversity of people that show up. And it’s a place where we listen to each other, hear about amazing events and programs being led by citizens, and we solve problems together. Sometimes it’s hard and people come in really angry. And through conversation and connection that anger fades to understanding.

And this points directly to the first reason I’m quitting Facebook. When I became mayor, Facebook was still a civil place. It was a place where I could share ideas and get good feedback, where dialogue happened. I remember getting off Facebook and saying to a friend, “That was a really good conversation.” But all of this has changed.

In an article in the Guardian, Paul Lewis interviews former Facebook, Twitter and Google workers. Lewis writes that according to James Williams, an ex-Google strategist, social media manipulation “is not only distorting the way we view politics but, over time, may be changing the way we think, making us less rational and more impulsive.” As Williams says, “We’ve habituated ourselves into a perpetual cognitive style of outrage.” The site Time Well Spent, founded by Williams and others and focused on how to make tech more humane, puts it this way: “Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities.”

Facebook peddles in outrage. According to Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, “Algorithms that maximize attention give an advantage to negative messages. People tend to react more to inputs that land low on the brainstem. Fear and anger produce a lot more engagement and sharing than joy.” 

I have felt this evolution online over the past four years. Facebook has become a toxic, echo chamber where people who have anything positive to say are often in defense mode against negativity and anger. And, as McNamee notes, “The use of algorithms … leads to an unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs. On Facebook, it’s your news feed … the result is that everyone sees a different version of the internet tailored to create the illusion that everyone else agrees with them. Continuous reinforcement of existing beliefs tends to entrench those beliefs more deeply, while also making them more extreme and resistant to contrary facts.”

I think we need to take this really seriously as a community. And I’m quitting Facebook so I stop contributing in any way to this cycle of psychological violence where fear and anger get more air time than joy, where opinions become hardened in the absence of facts or dialogue and where division rather than much-needed connection is the norm.

What is worse is that the effects and impacts don’t seem to be remaining on the screen. We are experiencing a Facebookization of public discourse in community meetings, in engagement processes. People sometimes show up angry and outraged before they’ve even received any information. The community is unnecessarily divided. Facebook is of course, not entirely to blame. But I wonder what would happen if we did a grand social experiment where people put down their phones, or at least took a Facebook break for a month, and engaged in more face to face conversations.

Except that we can’t put down our phones. And this is the second big reason I’m quitting Facebook. I’m worried about our individual (read my!) and collective ability to focus. And focus is exactly what is needed to fix the big issues that face us in 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, and climate change.

Dscout, a web-based research platform, did a study where they put an app on the phones of a diverse sample of 100,000 people and tracked their every interaction for five days, 24 hours per day. By every interaction, they mean “every tap, type, swipe and click.” They called them “touches”. The authors reported that what they discovered was “simultaneously expected and astonishing – and a little bit sad.” The average user touched their phone 2617 times per day. As noted by Justin Rosenstein, inventor of the Facebook “Like” button, “Everyone is distracted. All of the time.”

It’s not a question of us a humans being ‘weak’ or something being ‘wrong with us’. Social media is designed to suck us in, to keep us distracted. It’s called the “attention economy”. Social media companies are competing for scarce minutes turned hours of our time. This is contributing to fragmenting our attention spans so that we no longer have the ability to focus individually or collectively on the big issues that desperately need our attention. This isn’t good for the state of our democracy in Victoria where what we need is to be able to talk with each other and listen to each other about the challenges we face as a community.

Finally, though and most worrying, and my third reason for quitting Facebook, is that social media use and cell-phone distraction is actually shriveling our brains.

According to Dr. Paul Mohapel at Royal Roads University, citing a study from Sussex, device-driven multitasking can shrivel the prefrontal cortex specifically the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of the brain used in executive function, cognitive processes, emotional regulation and evaluative processes.  Our brains are shriveling in the place we need them most – to reason, to have empathy and most importantly to have the emotional intelligence to connect with others.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been weaning myself off Facebook slowly, just like when I quit coffee. I first deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Then from my iPad. And finally, I changed my web browser home page. The final step is to close down my Facebook account … It makes me nervous just typing this.

I wonder how quitting Facebook will impact my relationship with my phone? My time? My sense of self worth? I look forward to more face to face conversations, less distractions, and keeping my noodle intact.

 

 

 

 

 

2018: Here’s to Civil Public Dialogue, and a Posture of Hope

Think Before You Speak
Poster by Julian Gibbs-Pearce, Grade 5

I’ve decided to run for Mayor for one more term. In the past three years we’ve accomplished almost everything in my 2014 platform. In addition to lots of doing, we’ve created detailed, forward-looking plans that I’d like to see through to implementation. These include:

But in the meantime, long before beginning a campaign for re-election sometime in the summer, I need your help with a more pressing issue: I need your help in restoring civility to public dialogue – especially about big changes, new ideas, experimental pilot projects, and bold innovations.

When asked in a year-end interview by a Times Colonist reporter what I thought was the biggest issue facing Victoria, I didn’t say affordable housing, lack of high-speed transit from downtown to the west shore, or preparing as a coastal city for a rapidly changing climate. There’s a bigger challenge that threatens us: we’ve forgotten how to have hard conversations, to really listen to each other, to allow each other the space to speak, without quickly deteriorating into name-calling, accusations, and dividing our community into “us” and “them.” This is hurting us all.

In order to meet some of the big challenges facing Victoria and all other 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, climate change – we need to be able to talk about solutions with clear minds and open hearts. We need to engage in what Michel Foucault calls “ethical dialogue” which means we need to listen to and understand other perspectives and to be willing to be changed by what we hear.

I feel that what’s happened in the last few years, in particular on social media – but also increasingly in the real world – is that we vehemently agree or disagree with something before looking at the whole picture, seeing a wider perspective. And because we’ve staked a public claim in a Facebook post or a Tweet, we feel that we can’t back down from our positions, we become rooted in our conclusions – which we may have jumped to with only a fragment of information.

This posturing paralyzes us as a civil society, it impoverishes our public dialogue and it ultimately tears us apart from each other as members of a shared community. It also keeps us further away from addressing the challenges I outlined above.

In The Well-Tempered City, Jonathan F.P. Rose makes a compelling case for diversity. “For an ecosystem to thrive,” he writes, “it must be sufficiently diverse, providing opportunities for multiple connections … If the elements of a system are too similar, something ecologists call ‘limiting similarity’, the variety of its interconnections is reduced, and it becomes more vulnerable to stress and volatility. Just as a healthy ecosystem integrates diversity into coherence, so too must a healthy urban metabolism.”

Affordable housing, bike lanes, downtown development, parking, transit, public art – there is a diversity of thought in our community on these important issues.

The coherence part is easy, we all ultimately want the same thing – to be happy and healthy, to be prosperous, to feel safe, to breathe clean air, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves, to know that our children will have good futures, to have a general sense of well-being. And as humans, we’re hard-wired to want the same things for others. No one wakes up and says, “I want to do everything I can to make my life and my community worse today.”

It’s how we communicate our different perspectives that seems so hard sometimes. But what if we were to take a deep breath before pressing “Post”, or getting up to speak at a public hearing at City Hall, or making comments at the Council table or to the media. What if we were to take a deep breath during political conversations around the dinner table or at the pub.

And what if during that breath we were to ask: Is what I’m going to say True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind? This wisdom comes from the son of a friend of mine, “THINK before you speak”, his poster for school (pictured above) said. My pledge for 2018 is to try to practice this. I’d like to invite you to do the same.

Why? Because it will make us stronger and more resilient as a community that shares this 20 square km slice of paradise here in Lewkwungen Territory on southern Vancouver Island. Because it will make room for complexity and wholeness. But most of all because it’s necessary if we want to build a prosperous, sustainable, affordable and smart city – our future literally depends on our ability to listen to each other better. We must move beyond cynicism and division in order to meet the many challenges we face.

In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, “Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

Here’s to a hope-filled 2018 and to public dialogue that enriches us as individuals and as a community.