Clover Point 2.0, Accessibility, Confronting Reality, and The Future We Need

Dave Obee’s Times Colonist editorial on Friday, “Clover Point redesign ‘fixes’ what wasn’t broken,” really got under my skin. So I thought I’d go down to Clover Point on Saturday afternoon, watch the world go by for a little while, and start this blog post.

What I saw were people of all ages and abilities using the space freed up by closing half the loop to cars. There were seniors strolling. Really little kids on bikes. A couple – one in a chair, one on foot – rolling and walking down to the waters’ edge together. And best of all, behind the table I was sitting at, a large family was having a picnic at one of the many accessible picnic tables; when I turned around and got up to leave, one of the kids was rolling freely in her motorized wheelchair in the space previously reserved for cars, with her sister chasing after her. Where else in the city does she have such a big space to roll so freely?

There are two problems with the Clover Point redesign. One is the COVID-19 supply chain issues that are holding up delivery of some of the new furniture meant to spruce up the old road. The second is that Council compromised on staff’s original bold vision for the space, which proposed play features and place-making elements and closing the entire loop to cars. Instead, we tried to make everyone happy by reserving some spaces for people to park and the rest for people to walk, roll, and sit.

The result – at least at this interim point – does feel very much like a used-to-be parking lot with picnic tables and benches where people used to park their cars.

But what really troubles me are two bigger issues. First, Obee says that Council has “no regard for those who do not meet their able bodied ideal” and that  “the old and the infirm don’t fit with the city as the politicians want it to be.” Missing from his assessment is that fact that the City of Victoria recently adopted both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s Action Plan. These key policy documents were created with guidance from the Accessibility Working Group and the Senior’s Task Force, respectively – people with lived experience.

Council developed these policies precisely because cities in the 20th century were built for able bodied people. Think about the hydro poles in the middle of sidewalks, the lack of curb cuts in appropriate places, missing sidewalks on some neighbourhood streets, not enough accessible parking spots or even policies to ensure these, few benches along greenways or key pedestrian routes for seniors to stop and rest. The Accessibility Framework and the Senior’s strategy combined are meant to make the city more accessible, and inclusive of everyone.

That’s one of the reasons why at Clover Point all the new picnic tables are accessible – people who use wheelchairs can roll right up. And it’s why we’ve reserved so many parking spots for people with accessibility challenges, at the same time as making one whole side of the point accessible and safer for a wider range of people. Obee’s piece puts Council’s Clover Point decision in a vacuum and doesn’t recognize that Victoria is one of the few mid-sized cities in the country with both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s strategy and that we’re working hard to address these important issues.

But what troubles me most is Obee’s assertion that, “The decision made there does reflect a troubling tendency among councillors to ignore reality when drawing their castles in the air.”

Ignoring reality.

The province is burning all around us. In one week alone during the June heat dome, 815 people in this province died suddenly. This is just under half the number of people in B.C. who have died of COVID-19 so far during the 17 months of the pandemic. In one week.

Ignoring reality.

The reality is, that in addition to overhauling cities to make them more inclusive of seniors, young kids, and people with accessibility challenges, we need to overhaul cities to address climate change. That is the reality that Council has been tackling head on since 2014, controversial decision after controversial decision – from the now-very-popular bike network to the now widely-heralded plastic bag ban, and more.

Climate change means that we need to create less carbon intensive ways to live in cities. Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan shows that we need to retrofit our homes and offices (buildings = 50% of Victoria’s emissions), rethink how we deal with our waste (10% of Victoria’s emissions), and how we move around cities (transportation = 40% of our community’s emissions).

Obee laments that Clover Point is no longer “a perfect spot to park and admire the sunset or the weather.” According to recent research in the United States, most building codes prioritize cars. For every car in a city, there are approximately eight parking spots. Parking requirements mean that our doctor’s offices, our grocery stores, our homes, our banks, etc. all must have a certain number of parking spots. Eight parking spaces on average for each car in a city. That is a lot of asphalt, creating heat-island effects on hot days. It’s a lot of storm water runoff. It’s also a lot of wasted urban space. Which is odd, because the research also shows that, on average, cars are parked in one place for 95% of the day.

Cars aren’t going anywhere in the near future. And people with accessibility challenges and others will still need to own their own cars. But if we want our children and their grandchildren to survive and to thrive, the rest of us are going to have to learn to share. In the future, if we do it well, Modo and Evo and other car-sharing cars will line our neighbourhood streets. Few people will own their own cars, yet everyone will have whatever kind of vehicle they need, whenever then need it.

This will mean that much of the space in our cities, like driveways and parking lots, currently reserved for cars can turn into green spaces, or housing, or gardens, or whatever else our children and their grandchildren need to thrive while tackling the changing climate.

Obee is right, Clover Point was never a parking lot in the truest sense. But it was yet another place in the city reserved exclusively for cars. The changes that Council made at Clover Point are fixing what’s broken. The changes signal that we can’t live as we have for the last few decades if we’re going to have a future as a species.

Perhaps like Obee, I’m putting too narrow a focus on Clover Point. But the point is that the asphalt space there – reserved for cars for decades – and other spaces like it in the city, have to be put to work differently in order to help us all mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. We cannot ignore reality. We must look what’s broken – excessive carbon emissions from buildings, waste and transportation – squarely in the eye. And we must and throw all the energy we can muster into fixing it.

Housing Supply in Victoria is Tipping in the Wrong Direction, and How Giving Away Council’s Power Can Help

These 22 town homes by Aryze, in Fairfield are currently under construction. They took close to three years to get through the approvals process and a total of five and half years from when the land was purchased to when the families will move in.

As she sanitized the knob of my office door, one of the City’s newest employees, who keeps our offices COVID clean said to me when we met recently, “Nice to meet you; thanks for building the city for the future.”

I was so struck by this because this is exactly what we’ve been doing for the last six and a half years. From the bike network, to the Climate Leadership Plan, to Zero Waste Victoria, to the Accessibility Framework, to Victoria 3.0, to the Witness Reconciliation Program and the Reconciliation Dialogues, and more. We’ve moved Victoria from 20th-century approaches to city building and oriented our city towards the 22nd century.

The one exception is housing and land use. There we’re still very much stuck in the 20th century. And we are very close to a tipping point, in the wrong direction. Unless the City and the Province make some bold moves soon, we will be responsible for creating a low-affordability future where the next generations of families and working people will be priced out of the city. We’ll lose artists, creatives, daycare workers, young professionals. We’ll lose our arts and culture scene. All of Victoria’s cherished strengths will be steadily eroded and undermined.

Whether you’re for or against townhouses being allowed in every neighbourhood, or for or against taller buildings downtown and in Harris Green, I imagine no one would willingly work create to this kind of future. So what can we do?

Single Family Dwellings: So few can afford them, so why are they so easy to build?
Currently, the City’s land use policies and procedures make it easier to build a single family home than any other type of dwelling, even though this is the most expensive form of housing that few people can afford.

Want to knock down a single family home and build a bigger one? No problem. This only needs staff – not Council – approval. And it doesn’t take too long to get the permits needed. Want to build a triplex, or houseplex or townhouses – what’s known as “missing middle housing” – on lots that are currently zoned for single family homes?

  1. Start by holding a Community Association Land Use Committee (CALUC) meeting.
  2. Incorporate the feedback you receive at the CALUC meeting into your plans.
  3. Submit your rezoning application and development permit application to the City.
  4. Staff will then review your application, including an interdepartmental review that usually involves both the Parks and Engineering departments.
  5. Then your application will be sent to a Committee of the Whole meeting for review by Council. If you’re lucky, Council accepts the staff recommendation to move the project forward. But Council always has the prerogative to refer the application back to staff to work with the applicant to make changes. If this happens, go back to step 3; if there are substantive changes, go back to step 1 for another CALUC meeting.
  6. If you get past Committee of the Whole, two weeks later the application is voted on at Council. It could get turned back or turned down here.
  7. If it passes at Council, months are usually needed to prepare all the legal agreements required before proceeding to a public hearing.
  8. Once all the legal agreements are prepared, one more trip to Council before heading to public hearing; that’s at a Council meeting where first and second reading of the bylaws are considered. Council could turn down or turn back the proposal at this point too.
  9. After first and second reading of the bylaws, a public hearing date is scheduled and advertised to the public in the newspaper, as is required by provincial legislation.
  10. At the public hearing, the public gets to share their thoughts and concerns about the project. And then, that night, Council makes a decision.

    This whole process can take often take a year, or more.

Unless there are efforts by the developer to rally support for the proposed new housing – which is often seen as suspect by Council and some members of the public – public hearings are usually mostly attended by people who live in single family dwellings nearby the proposed duplex, houseplex or townhouse who are opposed to the new housing. As the Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply and Affordability put it in their recently released report, “Rezoning can be difficult and amplifies the voices of a few rather than the needs of the community at large.”

Figure 10, Opening Doors: Unlocking housing supply for affordability, Expert Panel Report. Mean MLS price by dwelling type – annualized growth rate 2000-2020.

So we’re making it easiest to build the most expensive form of housing, and we’re pricing people out of our city.

Later this month, City staff will be bringing a report on missing middle housing to Council. They will recommend changes that make it much easier to build the kind of housing that people in Victoria need and can afford. I hope staff recommend taking away Council’s ability to vet these proposals, and delegating the entire process to staff. In short, I hope we start to treat duplexes, houseplexes and town houses just as we currently treat single family homes. I can’t think of a logical reason why we wouldn’t at least try this given that so few working people can afford a million dollar home.

Beyond Single Family Homes: What about housing supply in Victoria more generally?
While the Canada-BC Expert Panel was hard at work, so too were City staff. The recently released, “Victoria’s Housing Future,” report looks at current and future housing needs in our city. When staff presented their report to Council and the public a few weeks ago, one of the City’s housing staff and report authors reminded us that, “We’re planning for people, not just to accommodate growth.”

There is a narrative out there in the public that goes something like: “There’s so much construction and building already changing our city. Why should we welcome more people to Victoria and change our city so much that we don’t recognize it, just to accommodate people who don’t live here yet?”

Starkly, what “Victoria’s Housing Future” reveals is that as of 2016 (the most recent census data and five years out of date), we are between 4500 and 6300 homes short for the people who are already living here. Where are all these people now?

This estimated housing gap of between 4500 and 6300 homes for existing residents is based on these factors. It’s likely a conservative estimate of how much catching up is needed. According to “Victoria’s Housing Future”, “Even if 7000 units were added to the market today, we’d likely still feel some of the same pressures we’re already facing.”

To help out our residents who are already living here in overcrowded, or unaffordable housing, and to help employers who can’t keep workers because they can’t afford to live here, Council should not be allowed to turn down any proposal for new homes that fits within the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP), until we close the 7000 unit gap.

Here’s what the OCP says about Land Management and Development:

“Victoria’s Housing Future” also reveals that even if the OCP is built out to meet the housing need anticipated by 2041, we will still be 20-30% under the number of homes projected to be needed. What this means is that we need to revise the OCP to create more “urban residential” land and less “traditional residential.”

OCP Map 2 from Chapter 6 Land Management and Development.

Traditional residential means:

  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two storeys
  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two and one-half storeys may be considered for certain infill housing types
  • Multi-unit buildings up to three storeys, including attached residential and apartments on arterial and secondary arterial roads
  • Houses with front and rear yards oriented to face the street
  • Variable landscaping and street tree planting
  • Small apartments and local retail stores along arterial and secondary arterial roads and at intersections
  • On-street parking and individual driveways

Urban residential means:

  • Attached and detached buildings up to three storeys
  • Low-rise and mid-rise multi-unit buildings up to approximately six storeys
  • Primary doorways facing the street
  • Front yard landscaping, boulevard and street tree planting
  • On-street parking and collective driveway access to rear yard or underground parking

Shifting more of the city’s limited land base from traditional residential to urban residential doesn’t mean drastically changing the character of our neighbourhoods. It means doing more with our limited land base. And, it means doing this in order to meet not only our housing targets but also our climate goals. If we don’t make more room for housing in the city, what will happen is what is happening – more forests will be destroyed to build housing in the suburbs.

What can we do to make sure there is enough room in Victoria for artists, innovators, families, seniors, the next seven generations?
The Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply makes some good recommendations that the Province should implement immediately. Low hanging fruit includes mandating no public hearings for any buildings that fit within a City’s OCP. The panel also recommends that cities update zoning to match their OCPs and delegate development permits to staff. This means that there will be no political decisions and no public input for new housing on a development by development basis, as long as proposed new homes fit with what the OCP envisions.

While it may feel to some that these changes will cut the public out of the process, what they’re meant to do is a open up a more robust and vision-oriented public dialogue that happens as OCPs and design guidelines are developed and as City-initiated rezonings come forward. This kind of big-picture dialogue isn’t happening through the current public hearing process which pits existing neighbours against future neighbours against Council against developers.

Instead, we could ask questions that require us all to think bigger than whether we are for or against a certain proposal, questions like:

  • How might we enhance Victoria’s character and the neighbourhoods we all love at the same time as making room for current and future residents to have the housing they need at every phase and stage of their lives?
  • How might we protect existing older rental buildings and the affordability that comes with them, at the same time as making the most of the limited land base we have in the city?
  • How might we ensure that as our city grows and has more tall buildings as envisioned in the OCP, we also create more public spaces, green spaces, and enhance biodiversity?

It’s in answering these questions together that we’re going to build a more inclusive, resilient city, a city for everyone, and for the future.

“Community Making” Requires Housing of All Sorts – Three Big Ideas

Last Thursday, at a public hearing for a proposed new condo building on Rockland Ave near Cook Street, a neighbour spoke to Council in favour of the new housing. He listed all the types of housing in the area: he lives in a townhouse; this new condo building is proposed on the lot next door; Council recently approved a five story rental building nearby on Cook Street; and just this past week the Province announced a new supportive housing building nearby on Meares Street. The neighbour said he supports all of these housing types in his neighbourhood because a diversity of housing is key to good “community making.”

Council voted in favour of the proposal. And, earlier in the evening, Council also supported 34 new townhouses in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood on Washington Street. The townhouses are two, three and four bedroom and are designed to provide homes for families. The past week also saw the Province announce close to 300 new supportive housing units in the region, including 192 in the City of Victoria.

It was a good week for housing in the city – from much-needed missing middle housing like townhouses, to small condos that enable young people to enter the housing market, to housing for people exiting homelessness. But is it enough? And what about the process?

New provincial legislation adopted in 2018 requires that each local government undertake a “Housing Needs Survey” every five years to identify gaps in the housing ecosystem. Victoria’s assessment completed in late 2020 reveals a stark housing shortage and great housing need.

In 2019, the average price for a single family home was $939,066. For a townhouse, $686,849. And for a condo, $501,352. Based on these prices, the average single-detached home and townhouse is unaffordable to any household in Victoria earning the median income. Only condos are affordable for couples with children and other families earning the median income. A household requires an annual income of approximately $105,000 for a condo to be affordable (e.g. spending less than 30% of before-tax household income), and $145,000 annual income for a townhouse.

The median rent in 2019 was $1,150, which would require an annual income of approximately $50,520 to be affordable. Renter households relying on a single income are likely struggle to find affordable and suitable housing in Victoria. Renter households led by lone parents or households with at least one senior are the households most likely to be in core housing need. Being in core housing need means that people are living in housing that is inadequate, unsuitable, and/or currently unaffordable, and that they are unable to afford the median rent of alternative local housing.

The number of units the City’s needs assessment said were needed to meet demand between 2016 and 2020 was 2116. The actual number of building permits issued between 2015 and 2019 was 4516. Ninety-four point six per cent of these were for apartments and condos, 2.9% single family dwellings, 1.5% townhouses and 0.9% duplexes.

So … we doubled the number of units that were projected to be needed, yet here we are in 2021 with a rental vacancy rate hovering around 2 per cent, the cost of rent still increasing, house prices continuing to rise, and three bedroom units – from rentals, to condos to townhouses – suitable for families, almost impossible to come by.

We have a housing supply problem. If we don’t radically increase housing supply in the city in the near term, the results are going to be catastrophic. Some of the people at the public hearing Thursday who spoke in favour of the Washington Street townhouses said they wanted to stay in Victoria, not move out to Langford, but would never be able to afford a single family home here.

When people flee cities for suburban sprawl, the negative side effects include more time stuck in traffic and less time with family, a decrease in overall health outcomes, higher transportation costs, an increase in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss, as forests are cleared for new housing.

And, we also have a process problem. I’ve sat at the Council table for close to ten years and have become increasingly frustrated with how much time it takes to get a development through the process, and by the length of public hearings. The 20-unit Rhodo townhouse project on Fairfield Road took two and a half years to get approved and then a lawsuit to follow challenging the process. Thursday night, we sat in over four hours of public hearings to approve a mere 56 new homes. Our meeting ended at 1:11am. A few weeks ago, it took a three hour public hearing to approve one new small lot home. This is unnecessary process when we have a massive housing shortage on our hands.

Here are three big ideas to avoid catastrophe and make sure that there are enough homes in Victoria for people who want to live and work in Victoria.

  1. Amend the City’s Official Community Plan and rezone the whole city so that any currently-zoned-single-family lot can have up to four units as of right (without a rezoning) and six units as of right if two are below market in perpetuity. The fourplexes and sixplexes would need to adhere to design guidelines that fit with existing neighbourhood contexts. Kelowna has done something similar on a pilot basis through their Infill Challenge and RU7 Zoning.
  2. Get rid of parking minimums so that there are no parking requirements tied to the building of homes. As it stands right now, most city planning polices in North America require a certain number of parking spots to accompany most new residential buildings. Requiring parking adds expense to projects, locks in an unsustainable mode of transportation as the norm, and mandates the use of valuable city land for the storage of cars rather than for the housing of people. Last summer, Edmonton became the first major city in Canada to do this. Victoria should follow.
  3. Change provincial legislation so that any project that fits within a community’s Official Community Plan and respective design guidelines does not require a public hearing. What this means is that there will be an opportunity for public input on Official Community Plan amendments but not on anything that fits within the Official Community Plan. At the same time the Province should create a mechanism to ensure that local governments are still able to receive public amenities in exchange for extra density. I hope that our bright, exceedingly competent, and keen Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Housing will put their heads together and work with local governments to make this necessary legislative change as soon as possible.

These three ideas taken together will drastically increase the supply of housing in our city, help to make housing more affordable by increasing supply (although supply alone will not solve the affordability crisis for those living in poverty), and help to avoid the high costs of suburban sprawl. Implementing these ideas will also lead to better community making as the young man who spoke at the public hearing so eloquently put it.

Zero Waste Victoria: A City Where Nothing Is Wasted

Download and read Zero Waste Victoria to learn what you can do you in your own life to reduce waste, create or seize economic opportunities and be a steward of the products you buy and use.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Discussions about garbage have taken up a lot of space in the Times Colonist Comments section in the past months. Trevor Hancock and Jon O’Riordan outlined the importance of reducing consumption and taking a zero-waste approach. CRD General Manager of Environmental Services, Larisa Hutchinson, laid out some of the very real challenges and limitations the CRD is up against in managing the region’s waste.

While we’re debating waste reduction in our daily paper, our landfill continues to fill up. Despite a 2015 regional ban on food scraps going to landfill, we’re still not adequately sorting compostable food waste from garbage. More than 25,000 tonnes of food waste from around the region still ends up there each year.

And in Victoria alone, pre-pandemic, city workers collected 25,000 single use items like coffee cups and take out containers from public trash cans, every day. And, each year, city workers dump 5.4 million single use items from our home garbage bins. I shudder to think about how this number has increased during COVID-19.

One of the mantras of pandemic recovery is that we have to “build back better.” This also holds true for how we manage our waste. That’s why Victoria Council recently adopted Zero Waste Victoria, a plan written by City staff in consultation with 57 industry and community organizations.

The goal of Zero Waste Victoria is to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill by 50% by 2040 and to put the city on a trajectory to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050.

And the plan sets a clear path to get us there – with 40 actions to tackle single use materials, construction waste, food waste, and durables like our old cellphones or mattresses.

But Zero Waste Victoria – the first municipal plan of its kind in the region – is about much more than garbage. It’s an inspiring vision for a new approach to our economy, our life as a community, and our role as stewards of the products that we buy and use.

We’re all familiar with the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” waste reduction hierarchy. Zero Waste Victoria refines this to “Avoid, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Recycle, Recover, Dispose.”

Zero Waste Victoria is a clear path to creating a city where nothing is wasted. Where reducing, reusing and repurposing materials is the norm and helps our community thrive. Where a circular economy allows innovators to succeed and businesses to flourish. Our community’s culture of sharing and repairing helps us connect with our neighbours. Our homes and places of work are constructed using salvaged and recycled materials, putting less pressure on our valuable natural resources.

In Zero Waste Victoria, no food goes to waste and any scraps are converted into energy and nutrient rich soil. The convenience of take-out doesn’t require disposable single-use products. And celebrations and gifts include meaningful experiences that support local businesses.

If this sounds aspirational, it’s because it is. But at the same time, it’s also possible, practical and fiscally prudent. Adam Corneil is the CEO of Unbuilders, a Vancouver-based business that deconstructs houses and resells the materials. He says that, “There is a huge loss of invaluable old growth lumber, building materials and history when we demolish buildings and treat these materials as waste instead of resources.”

Love Food Hate Waste Canada reports that an average Canadian household throws away $1,100 of edible food each year. That adds up to almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food wasted each year in Canada, at a cost of more than $17 billion, while also contributing to Canada’s GHG emissions. We are literally throwing money in the garbage.

Think making these changes is impossible? It’s not. We just need to bring our habits in line with the values of our community. Until the late-1950s we put all our garbage on a barge and dumped it into the ocean. But then the garbage started to wash up on local beaches and the community noticed. So we don’t do that anymore.

Now if we all don’t change our ways, we’ll need to clear 73 more acres of forest land at Hartland to store our garbage. No one wants this, and the good news is that Zero Waste Victoria outlines a new path forward.

What’s in a name, Housing Update, Impacts of sheltering, your suggestions, and everything else – Mayor’s Sunday Email – December 6 2020

Thanks to the resident who sent this to me this week about what the name Victoria means. Love it! Together, Victoria, we’ve got this.

Thanks, as always, to everyone who took the time to write to me this week. I appreciate hearing your ideas, insights, complaints and frustrations. As usual, I’m responding to everyone together – on the one hand, for efficiency, but on the other, to ensure that as many people as possible have answers to the questions and concerns that people are raising.

If you’d like to stay in touch on a weekly basis, you can sign up to receive the weekly email here. If you’d like to look back over the past few months on information I’ve shared with respect to parks sheltering, housing and related matters, you can do so here. The posts are categorized by topic.

Housing Update
As noted in today’s Times Colonist article, Hotel Fire Delays Efforts to House People Without Homes in Victoria, we are not going to meet our original goal of helping 200 people move inside by the end of the year. Since August, the Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group, comprised of BC Housing, Island Health, the City, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and Our Place, has been working hard to identify transitional and supportive housing units and to move people in. The Times Colonist article lays out the challenges really well and I’d love if you take the time to read it.

The good news is, that this week I spoke to both the new Housing Minister as well as to Victoria’s new MLA Grace Lore and both expressed a commitment to help meet Victoria’s goal of moving people inside by the end of March 2021. This is going to be an enormous challenge and it’s going to take all of us, working together to make it happen. And we will!

Impacts of Sheltering in Parks
A few of you have written to me this week concerned about the impacts of people sheltering in parks. One extremely thoughtful email from a North Park resident outlined challenges facing both housed and unhoused neighbourhood residents in North Park. I want to share some of the thoughtful and detailed analysis from that email here:

“According to 2016 Census statistics for North Park:

  • 57% of residents live in 5+ storey apartment buildings, 
  • 28% are considered low income, 
  • 21% are racialized, 
  • 4% are recent immigrants, 
  • 28% of children (0-17) live in poverty, and
  • 36% of seniors (65+) live in poverty.
  • North Park is ranked the most financially vulnerable of 78 neighbourhoods in the CRD

“Since May, when the City of Victoria relaxed bylaws to allow continuous sheltering in light of public health recommendations, Central Park, located in the heart of North Park, has experienced the highest concentration of outdoor sheltering in the city. North Park has been working collaboratively and compassionately for months to advocate for the needs of those sheltering while also balancing the needs of housed community members: primarily, access to Central Park – a well loved, and much needed community amenity. 

“North Park is considered a ‘park deficient’ neighbourhood with only 1.23 hectares/1000 residents compared to the City average of 3.16 hectares/1000 residents. However, the actual amount of green space is much, much lower when taking into account sheltering taking place in Central Park, as well as the fact that Royal Athletic Park – which makes up about half of North Park’s greenspace – is a fenced, regional facility.”

The writer had also copied many provincial officials and requested that the Province work with the City to house people by March 31st with the supports they need so that they are taken care of and so that the neighbourhood can have its much-needed and much loved park back.

Another North Park resident wrote thanking me for these weekly emails (you’re welcome) but frustrated by the fencing that had gone up in the park without notice, that created confusion and had the effect of moving people sheltering closer to the playground. We hear you. Bylaw staff were in the Central Park all week working with people there to relocate to other parks in the short term until we can find places for them inside. There are so many needs to balance and nothing about the situation is straightforward.

I’ve also received emails from Fairfield residents this week who live near parks where a small number of people are sheltering, likely having moved recently from Central Park. They have written noting the impact that one or two tents are having in their neighbourhood with respect to feelings of safety, not feeling like they can open the blinds etc. We hear you too.

All of these emails reveal how challenging homelessness is for everyone. A writer asked why Council cares more about people who are living without homes than tax paying residents. What I know from the volume of emails received each week concerning parks sheltering, is that if people who are currently sheltering outside move inside and out of parks, everyone benefits. That’s why we’re working so hard on the issue.

Downtown
From some of the emails I’ve received over the past few months, from a daily morning show diatribe against pretty much everything the City does, and from reports I’ve been given about some local social media echo chambers, I have to admit, I was getting pretty worried about downtown. I’ve been spending most of my time at City Hall buried in Zoom and Teams meetings, working on the future of the city and recovery from the pandemic and haven’t looked up in awhile.

But Saturday, I went downtown for pleasure. And it was a pleasure! There were people everywhere – most masked and physically distant. Our amazing local businesses were bustling. A couple of retail vacancies I’d noticed a few months ago were now full with new businesses. We’re not through this pandemic yet, and our local businesses need us more than ever. One of the best ways we can help them is to, collectively, tell a more positive, more realistic story about downtown Victoria.

This letter that was printed in the Times Colonist yesterday that I will quote in its entirety puts it better than I can:

“What Victoria are you living in?

“I read two letters in the Times Colonist. The first was an uplifting account of walking through Beacon Hill Park. As a neighbour to the park myself, I agree with the writer completely!

“My life has ‘not been ruined’ with proximity to the park. It is a fantastic space, for walking, admiring the trees and nature. The tents that we all see do not frighten me. I feel only sadness for those forced to live this way.

“The other letter was about a Victoria I don’t know. The writer claimed that ‘our parks system has been largely ruined, the downtown is dying and the whole city is a more unsafe and sinister place.’

“Wow. This is a description I don’t recognize. I work downtown and am there at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. The City is hosing down and washing the streets. It is not dirty. I walk past all the amazing and vibrant restaurants and businesses. I talk to the street people and they talk to me. It is not sinister or unsafe.

“These are our fellow human beings. That person was a little boy or girl once too. Listen to their stories and what they will tell you. When you really look and listen I believe your thoughts might change.

Anne Grimes”

Your Suggestions
Each week I get emails with creative suggestions for addressing homelessness. This week someone wrote and suggested using empty schools for this purpose. Victoria’s population of young families is growing, and any schools that are currently vacant are under redevelopment or refurbishment to get them ready to receive students. Someone else suggested building a tiny home village like this one in Seattle for women. Stay tuned; there will be more coming on this idea soon!

About Everything Else
A few weeks ago I started to share some of the projects the City is working on in addition to sheltering and housing, so that you’d know we’re working hard on lots of fronts. I’ll be brief here this week because I feel like I’ve already written a lot – which means you’ve read a lot!

In a paper called, “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” the authors point out that:

“The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system
resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions
are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer,
cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”

In the long-term, the impacts of climate on our economy and community well-being may dwarf those currently being felt as a result of COVID-19.

In 2018 the City adopted a Climate Leadership Plan to take action on climate change mitigation (actions to stop climate change) and adaptation (actions to adapt to a changing climate). We did this because we know that climate change will negatively impact our community’s well-being and our local economy. I know between my post last week and this week, I’m loading you up with lots of holiday reading. In addition to Victoria 3.0, I’d love if you’d take the holidays to read the Climate Leadership Plan.

The reason for my reading request, is that we just got our first Climate Progress Report. And while we’re doing well corporately and are on track with city operations to meet our 2025, 2030 and 2050 goals, as a community we’re falling behind. The City’s corporate greenhouse gas emissions are only 1% of the total. The other 99% are generated in the community through buildings, transportation and waste.

Just as Minister Dix and Dr. Henry remind us on a regular basis that beating COVID-19 takes every single one of us, so too with climate change. It would be great if you could have a read through the Climate Leadership Plan and the Progress Report and find just one action in there – large or small that you can take at home, in your workplace, school, community group etc.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Convert Your Oil Heating to Heat Pump – Big Subsidy Now Available

Daily address Thursday April 23rd. We’ll be back Friday at 2:30pm.

It’s been another long day and it’s too late to still be working. Instead of transcribing my speaking notes here as I’ve been doing each evening, I’m taking an easier path and sharing the text of the City’s daily media release. Apologies to those who like the regular format! There are some great links at the end of the video in the News from the Community section. Please skip ahead in the video if you’re interested.

For those of the Muslim faith, Ramadan will look different this year due to the pandemic. I know I will very much miss the annual Ramadan iftar, fast-breaking dinner we host here at City Hall with the Muslim community. To all those celebrating, Ramadan Mubarak!

Today the Prime Minister announced a $1.1 billion medical research strategy to fight COVID-19. It will include money for vaccine and treatment research, clinical trials and an expansion of national testing and modelling.

The provincial government announced today its Emergency Benefit for Workers (BCEBW), a one-time, tax-free $1,000 payment to help British Columbians whose ability to work has been affected by COVID-19. Starting May 1, those eligible to receive the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit can apply for the BCEBW. For more information, visit gov.bc.ca/workerbenefit.

On behalf of City Council, I want to thank the federal government for this significant investment in the health of all Canadians. Also, it’s so good to see the collaboration between the Province and the federal government in providing the new Emergency Benefit for Workers as a means to top up the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Today, Council allocated up to $52,500 to the Victoria Police to increase public safety in the area around Topaz Park, and up to $100,000 for City staff to continue to support vulnerable populations.

Since declaring a climate emergency in March 2019, the City has made progress in its work to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Victoria. The new Oil to Heat Pump Rebate that is part of the Climate Friendly Homes Program, became available as of April 1. Homeowners can receive up to $6,850 in rebates to switch from fossil fuel heating (oil and natural gas) to an air-source heat pump. This financial incentive is a combination of rebates offered by the City of Victoria, the Capital Regional District and the provincial CleanBC Better Homes program. For more information, visit: betterhomesbc.ca.

Now is as good a time as any to tackle climate change. The new Oil to Heat Pump Rebate is a significant investment that benefits homeowners, is good for the environment, and will provide an energy-efficient heating and cooling system for your home year-round.

To meet its climate targets, the City is also expanding the placement of electric vehicle chargers in Victoria and introducing charging fees and requirements for EV-readiness in all new residential and commercial buildings. A comprehensive EV Infrastructure Strategy will be developed later this year to guide the City’s investment in public and private EV charging stations.

For information on the City’s response to COVID-19 visit victoria.ca/covid19response.

 

 

Government House Collaborates with City, Launches Victory Over COVID Gardens Project

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 Wednesday. We’ll be back Thursday at 2:30pm.

We have learned today that during the COVID-19 pandemic, four people living on Victoria’s streets and in parks have died of overdoses. It is tragic that two public health emergencies have converged and these lives have been tragically lost. We offer our deep condolences to the friends, family and communities of the four people who have died. And we mourn with you.

News from the federal government

Today the Federal government announced the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, which will help students whose education and employment plans have been disrupted due to COVID. For those post secondary students who are eligible, there will be a $1250 monthly payment, available until the end of August, to make up for lost work. There will also be grants for students who will be spending the summer in volunteer roles.

Finally, the Prime Minister is allocating 76,000 additional summer jobs in essential services for students on top of Canada summer jobs program. This is really good news for all the students in our region who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

News from the City – Focusing on Earth Day

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day and there’s a lot going on right now, even in the middle of this pandemic that residents can participate in that’s good for quality of life and well being, and good for the planet.

Get Growing Victoria!

Earlier this month, Council directed staff to use the existing municipal nursery and greenhouses in Beacon Hill Park to grow vegetable plant starts for distribution in the community. Since then, the City, in partnership with the Urban Food Table, has procured 100,000 local seeds from Southern Vancouver Island farms and through the BC Eco Seed Co-op.

The City is partnering with community organizations and non-profits to distribute the starts later this spring to those who need them most, and we’ll have more information up on our website soon about how that will work.

The program has garnered a lot of interest from right here in BC and across the country. One of the first people to reach out to us following our announcement was the Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin. Her Honour and her staff were keen to learn more about what we were up to as they, too, were looking at ways to put their large gardens and volunteer gardeners to work to help those in need.

This conversation has blossomed into a productive collaboration between the City and Government House. The Lieutenant-Governor is offering the resources of Government House to provide practical support to those in need through, what they are calling, the Victory Over COVID Gardens Project.

They will promote food security and engage students and local volunteers in growing fresh vegetables for distribution to food banks and non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations in Victoria. This initiative builds on the long-standing history of community gardening at Government House and expands on the current vegetable garden that has been operational for more than a decade.

I look forward to our continued collaboration on this unique opportunity to support Victorians during these challenging times.

 Trees In Cities

It’s wonderful to see how so many people have been inspired to work outside and grow all sort of things during this pandemic. The United Nations Trees in Cities Challenge is another way to do that. Victoria has pledged to plant 5,000 trees on public and private property in 2020, and you can be part of this meaningful global effort by taking the pledge on our website, planting a tree sometime this year, and entering it into the tree tracker.

You can plant a tree now or later, but take the pledge today, on Earth Day! City staff have checked in with local garden centres and nurseries, and most have trees available. I encourage you to phone ahead to see what local suppliers can offer. As part of the Trees in Cities total, today and tomorrow Parks staff are planting 33 trees in Banfield Park in Vic West.

I encourage you to check out the online Tree Tracker map to see where trees have been planted so far. Together, city staff and residents have only planted 274 trees. We have a long way to go! Join us; you can get involved here.

Feedback on vulnerable populations

I want to also address some concerns we’ve been hearing from community about temporary outdoor sheltering for people without homes. First, I want to assure everyoe that myself and council hear and understand the concerns of people living around the areas where people are camping, and also the concerns of people who are living outside. No one benefits from the current situation of people living outside in a public health pandemic

That’s why, City staff and council have been working with our partners, tirelessly, to put in place ways that people can follow guidelines around social distancing and staying at home when they don’t have a home to go to. This problem got worse – early on in the pandemic, five weeks ago now – when some shelters closed, and others reduced their capacity to meet social distancing requirements.

This meant that there were people literally put out on the streets, with nowhere to go, joining those who were already there, as the shelters were already full. Early on, we engaged Dr. Stanwick, who is the Chief Medical Officer for Island Health. He was worried about the lack of social distancing on Pandora and the health concerns of those living outdoors.

That’s why we worked with BC Housing and the Coalition to End Homelessness to open Topaz park as a temporary sheltering area until indoor solutions can be procured by the Provincial government. It is an impossible situation for everyone involved. I completely understand the concerns of the community. This has been a difficult process and there are certainly challenges and no easy answers. These are unprecedented times, and we have all had to think differently and think and act quickly in the face of a public health emergency.

Thankfully, I know that BC Housing and partners are doing everything they can to secure more indoor options which will eliminate this temporary arrangement at Topaz. It’s really important to me that we all work together. There are no sides here, no us and them. We all want a healthy, safe community, for everyone.

 News from the community

We learned recently about and wanted to share a community initiative for seniors. It’s a website put together by seniors in Victoria called Well and Truly Grey. I have to share the website header here because I just love it!

Screenshot 2020-04-22 22.49.24

We know that a lot of seniors are feeling isolated. For these residents, Well and Truly Grey is a source for links to information about COVID-19 and government and community resources. The community members – all volunteers, all seniors – who created this website are aiming to provide free trusted information specifically designed for seniors in a kind of one stop shop.

There are also interactive bulletin boards to help people stay connected to one another. Do check it out and share it with seniors who you think might be interested and need the resource.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Government Provides Further Funding to Charitable Sector, Clarifies Wage Subsidy

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 later time than usual.

News from the federal government

Today there were two more important announcements from the federal government. This morning the Prime Minister announced the Emergency Community Support Fund. $350 million will be allocated to community non-profits working with vulnerable populations, to be disbursed through large organizations like the United Way, Community Foundations of Canada and the Red Cross. These organizations fund established programs in communities across the country, including in Victoria, and can get money quickly into the hands of those who need it.

Today the Prime Minister and Minster Duclos shared more details on the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy. Businesses will be able to apply next Monday, April 27th. In the meantime, business owners can open a business profile on the CRA website so they’ll be ready to go when the application opens. There is also a calculator to help employers determine if they are eligible for the CEWS, who their eligible employees are, and what their overall payroll subsidy will be. This will help businesses plan for the coming weeks and months until the federal payroll subsidy arrives in bank accounts.

News from the City

On Saturday Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that there would be no large gatherings this summer. This means that the City’s usual Canada Day celebrations will not be held. Yet we know that this year is an important year for all Canadians as we struggle through these challenging times together. It’s more important now than ever to come together in new and creative ways.

We’re looking at what we might be able to do in Victoria. The federal government said that they are going to hold national virtual Canada Day celebrations. We partnered with the federal government and the Minister of Canadian Heritage in a national celebration called First Night when Canada turned 150. I’ve written to Minister Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage to see what Ottawa might be planing and how Victoria as a capital city can participate and support this effort.

News from the community

We know that our businesses are facing so many challenges right now due to the impacts of COVID-19. There is also a lot of information out there on programs and benefits from the federal and provincial governments.  There is a lot to navigate, and tough decisions to make.

That’s why next week, Community Micro Lending, with the support of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, is holding two free online COVID-19 “Ask an Expert Sessions” with lawyers, accountants, and human resource professionals. The sessions will be held on Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon of next week. All the information, times, dates and an invite is here. Please share widely with all small business owners you know who might benefit from this great, free service.

I also want to share another exciting and creative way that community members are coming together to mark important events. Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Earth Day. Creatively United for the Planet has organized a free online community webinar series EarthFest – Creative Solutions for a New World, from 11am to 12:30 pm daily, all week. Visit Creatively United for the Planet for a full lineup of amazing speakers. Check it out and you can also access any past webinars you may have missed.

City Scales Up Growing in the City Urban Agriculture Initiative in Response to Community Demand During COVID-19

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 City

In response to many people in our community involved in food growing and urban agriculture, today Council passed a motion brought forward by Councillors Isitt and Loveday to temporarily reallocate some of our resources in the Parks Department to enable staff to contribute to food programs in our region.

By simply scaling up our already existing Growing in the City program, City parks staff will grow between 50,000 and 75,000 food plant starts and work with partners such as the Urban Food Table to distribute them in the community. This is one small thing the City can do to help people in our community with food security during the COVID-19 crisis, without adding any additional costs to our current operations.

We have also directed staff to examine all of the City’s fiscal, legislative and legal powers to support small businesses and jobs, the non-profit sector, arts and culture and the tourism sector. Next Thursday we’ll be re-opening our 2020 budget and looking at what projects and new hires can be deferred to 2021. The City’s revenues are down substantially, primarily at this point because of a significant downward trend in parking revenue.

We are looking at every option to sustain the local economy during the pandemic and recover stronger and more resilient than before.

News from the Province

We know that this crisis has hit students hard, many who have been left in uncertain circumstances mid-term. Today the Province announced a $3.5 million emergency fund for post-secondary students. This supplements existing student emergency financial assistance. This funding will support domestic B.C. students who are experiencing an unexpected financial emergency that may affect their ability to finish their studies and handle expenses. Students in need of this help should speak to their institution’s financial aid office.

Today Minister Simpson, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction announced of a $300 a month COVID-19 supplement for those on disability and income assistance, and BC seniors supplement. This benefit will start on April cheques. There will also be a temporary exemption on claw-backs for those receiving the $2000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Additionally, those who qualify for bus passes will have the amount of the bus pass added to their cheques for the duration of free transit.

News from the community

I want to talk for a minute about grocery shopping, and say a massive thank you to another group of front line workers – grocery store employees. Country Grocer recently made a post on Facebook which I think sums it all up well. They write: “Try to lessen your shop to once a week. If possible, send only one member of your household to shop. Wash your hands prior to shopping and after. And please, be kind.”

We’ve heard some stories of impatience at the grocery store check out. Even simple things like grocery shopping are stressful for many people right now. Those of us shopping get to get in and then get out. The cashiers who ring our groceries through are there for hours, risking their own health so we can get food. Please show them courtesy and kindness. This just makes it nicer for everyone.

Grocery stores are doing an amazing job of keeping shelves as stocked as they can, keeping stores clean, and providing social distancing guidelines. Please respect the distancing measures stores have put in place. And please don’t stockpile goods.

Feedback from Councillor Thornton-Joe

Many members of council watch the daily feeds and have been sending input and ideas to share. We know that many of you who are able to are working from home, or at home caring for children. You may have seen a post going around social media that was written by a psychologist, ‘Wellness Tips for Quarantine’. Councillor Thornton-Joe wanted me to share this with all of you. It is really valuable, detailed thoughtful  advice. Please read it and share with those who you think need it too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria 3.0 – Pivoting to a Higher Value Economy – 2020-2041

Close-up View
Expedition leader Adrian Round (left) and ocean operations staff member Jonathan Miller carefully monitor remotely operated vehicle operations on the seafloor more than 2 km below the vessel. Photo by Ed McNichol. Ocean Networks Canada

Today the City of Victoria released Victoria 3.0, an economic action plan that accompanies the City’s Official Community Plan to 2041. It’s a long-term plan and vision for a sustainable, growing city that will create high-value jobs now and for the future. The vision of Victoria 3.0 is that as the Capital City, Victoria is future-ready and globally-fluent. We use our status as a small powerhouse to build a high-value economy that meets our needs now and anticipates the future.

This action plan was developed based on the input of residents and business owners who participated in the fall economic roundtable sessions hosted by myself and city staff. And it has been shaped by the latest research and thinking in 21st century city building and economics.

We are making this plan now in order to:

  •       Stimulate and support innovation
  •       Build on the economic stability offered by our  public sector employment base
  •       Diversify our economy
  •       Respond to the big changes that will have an impact on sustainable economic
    growth, including automation and climate change

What if we told, and sold, a compelling story of Victoria’s high-tech sector nationally and globally? What if we had a large area of our downtown dedicated to innovation and we were solving some of the world’s greatest challenges, creating high-value jobs at the same time? What if we were globally recognized for pioneering solutions in the ocean and marine sector? What if we turned the Victoria Conference Centre into a facility that can hold more and larger conferences and also developed its international reputation?

And what if by 2030 everyone working in Victoria were making a living wage, not because this was mandated by any level of government, but because of an increase in high-value jobs and a strong, inclusive high-value economy.

Victoria 3.0 answers these questions with a resounding, “Yes!” and with a series of clear actions that the City and its partners will undertake over the next two decades to achieve these objectives.

A high-value economy has a diversity of household sustaining jobs available in a range of sectors, and the skills and training available for those jobs to be filled. It’s an innovative economy that develops solutions to pressing local and global challenges, sells these solutions globally, and brings the money back to Victoria. Developing this kind of economy will enable Victoria companies to attract talent from around the world to fill the high-value jobs being created, drawing a wealth of experience and diversity to the city.

Victoria 3.0 also takes seriously the reality of our existing small businesses. We heard from roundtable participants that some of our small retail businesses and restaurants have begun to struggle. In response, a whole section of the plan is dedicated to addressing their needs – from mitigating the impacts of city construction projects on business operations, to creating a Downtown Ambassador program to increase a sense of safety and welcoming in the downtown for all. Small businesses are key to providing the amenity-rich lifestyle that will help Victoria to attract and retain the workforce of the future.  

In addition to actions that the City can take to continue to support small business, Victoria 3.0 lays out a few big moves.

One is to establish an Innovation District in the north end of downtown. An Innovation District is a hub of cross-sector collaboration, a place where ideas are commercialized (turned into products and services), and where new high-value jobs are created. The vision of the Innovation District is to honour the current industrial land uses and to build for the 22nd century.

A second is to create an Ocean Futures Cluster. A significant and under-realized opportunity for Victoria is our location as a coastal and island community on the Pacific Ocean. Victoria is close to the shipping gateway to Asia-Pacific markets and a critical transit point to the Arctic Ocean.

The Ocean Futures Cluster and Marine Innovation Hub takes advantage of our geographic location and combines the region’s significant and emerging strengths in marine and maritime industries, ocean science, technology and environmental innovation. This will enhance the competitiveness of our region and of British Columbia in the global marketplace.

Taken together these big moves and others lay the groundwork for a strong, future-focussed economy in the city and in the region. If you’d like to learn more and provide input on the plan by January 30, please head here.

Victoria 3.0 is the work of many hands. And it will take many more hands, working together, to bring this plan to life over the next two decades.