As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away. Our economy was one of the strongest in the country; our downtown was thriving. Few of us could have anticipated the toll the pandemic would take on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, people without homes, governments, on each and every one of us. Most of us have been looking forward to turning the calendar and leaving 2020 behind, hoping for the best in 2021.
Hope is important. But it is not enough to dig us out of the challenging circumstances we’re in. Hope will not get our small businesses through January to March which are likely going to be the most difficult months yet. Hope is not going to create new jobs for those who lost theirs, nor the skills needed to find work in what is quickly becoming a digital and knowledge-based economy. Hope is not going to keep our greenhouse gas emissions in check to mitigate a warming planet. And hope is certainly not going to get everyone who is sheltering in parks inside by the end of March.
Hope is not enough. Hard work is required. And I know that we can work hard as a community because I witnessed it all through 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, I did a Facebook live every day. At the end of each broadcast we reported on some amazing community initiatives. We did over 50 episodes and never ran out of examples.
Early in the pandemic, members of our community created the Rapid Relief Fund and raised $6 million to support those most hard hit. Tech sector businesses quickly offered support to retail and restaurant businesses to digitize as fast as possible. Arts organizations created online content so people had access to arts and culture for their mental health and wellbeing. And many more people leapt into action in big and often small ways, supporting their neighbours, pulling together as a community.
City staff made sure that there was no interruption to essential services like garbage pickup and running water. They also worked at a rapid pace to create Build Back Victoria so local businesses could have patios and more outdoor space for retailing. And they installed electric charging stations, new zero waste bins, more space for pedestrians near village centres and a lot of other small projects to make life better.
Nurses and doctors, transit drivers, grocery store clerks, people working on the front lines in parks and shelters all worked hard, went above and beyond. And they still are.
2020 showed us that we’ve got what it takes to pull through as a community. And that’s a good thing because there’s much work to do in 2021. We need to implement the regional Reboot strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 so those hardest hit economically have an opportunity for a better future and so that our economy is more diverse and resilient to withstand future shocks.
The pandemic has also revealed some of the weaknesses in our social fabric. Another thing that’s going to take hard work and purposeful effort in 2021 is to ensure that as we recover as a community we leave no one behind.
This piece was originally published in the VicNews here.
Thanks so much for your emails this past week. In keeping with my Sunday tradition, I’m writing back to all of you at once so that everyone’s emails get answered in a timely way and so that everyone has as much information as possible about sheltering, housing and other related matters. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here. If you’re interested in reading back through the Sunday emails to get caught up on the issues, you can also do so here.
Tiny Homes Before I dive in specifically to address your concerns from this week, I did want to share an exciting project which was inspired in part by the many emails I’ve received over the past few months suggesting that we build tiny homes for people who are currently homeless. This week, Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness launched the Hey Neighbour tiny home campaign. They are raising $500,000 to build 30 temporary tiny homes to get people out of the weather as soon as possible. A site has yet to be confirmed; there are a number of options being explored.
Thanks for the good idea over the past few months! And to those of you who have written this week with suggestions for how the Tiny Home village could work, thank you. I’ll pass them along.
In just the first five days of the campaign they’ve raised $122,000. Charitable tax receipts are available through the Coalition. If you’re interested in learning more or donating you can head here.
Your Questions and Concerns Addressed I’ve received emails this week from people who live near Central Park, Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, Gonzales Park, Vic West Park and Cecilia Ravine and from people who use Beacon Hill Park on a regular basis. You all sound like you’re at a breaking point – your frustration and anger come through loud and clear. You want things fixed. You want your parks back. You want to know what we are going to do. In some cases you are fearful, in others you say you’re just tired of the hassle of people camping in our parks. You want to know why it seems that bylaws aren’t being enforced. And why there is so much garbage everywhere. You also want to know why we can’t just have everyone in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park congregate at the gravel field.
I’m afraid that I don’t have many good answers to your questions, which I’m sure is not what you want to hear. We are in the middle of global health pandemic. It’s been over 280 days since the pandemic was declared; living like this is clearly weighing on all of us. We can’t see our friends or loved ones. Life is totally upside down. And on top of that, our much loved parks are full of people who have nowhere to go. And they really do have nowhere to go.
Our bylaw, public works and parks staff are out in the parks on a daily basis cleaning up and working to bring people into compliance with the bylaws. It is not easy work and they are doing their best. There are over 170 people camping in seven or eight parks so that’s a lot of people to connect with on a daily basis.
As for Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and concentrating everyone on the gravel field: We know from past experience that large, concentrated encampments don’t work for the people living in them or for the nearby neighbours. But also, as I’ve noted in previous emails / posts, even if we wanted to organize a camping service in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, the Beacon Hill Trust, dating back to the 1880s prevents any organized service provision in the park. Again, probably not what you want to hear.
I jogged through Meegan/Beacon Hill Park this morning and I did see quite a few tents, and some sites in disarray with some belongings strewn everywhere. And I heard one person yelling and swearing. And honestly – and you might not like this either – what I thought to myself re: the belongings strewn everywhere is, “Well, I’ve got lots of extra belongings too and thankfully I have a basement to store them in.” And when I heard the person yelling, I thought how terrible it would be to have your yelling heard by everyone like that, whereas when most of us yell, it’s in the privacy of the four walls of our homes.
I’m not saying these things to say that everyone should think like me; I am just really wanting to illustrate that there are a variety of perspectives possible about the same situation. And that listening to and understanding these various perspectives is what creates a healthy community and democracy.
I do hear your perspectives and your concerns. That’s why we’ve set a realistic deadline of March 31 2021 to work with the Province and support them in offering people indoor spaces and ending 24/7 camping in all of our parks. Each week small progress is made moving people from outside to inside. But the progress is slow. All 60 units renting at $375 per month in the new buildings in Langford and View Royal have been filled, mostly by people living in supportive housing. This means that there are now – or will soon be – vacancies available for people living in shelters or parks to move into.
BC Housing has used 15 of the 60 rent supplements they have available, which means there are still 45 subsides left. Island Health has about the same number remaining. As I’ve said in past emails, with $375 income assisance shelter rate plus $450 for a rent supplement, the total available is well below market rent in the region. We’re still working creatively to fill that funding gap.
There are still spaces available at the New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal; a few people are moving in there each week. And there’s a space for about 30 youth that will be opening soon. And there are the 30 tiny homes. We will need the Province to open some more spaces, or top up the rent supplements further, or both, to achieve the goal of moving people inside by March 31st. But please know that there is a plan and everyone I know who works in the housing and outreach field and provincial ministers and staff are working hard to make it happen. Almost all of the people living in the parks have filled out housing applications or indicated their desire to move inside.
It is clear, as I’ve said before – and with this I think you would agree – that having people living in parks isn’t good for anyone, not the people living there or the people living nearby.
A few of you have written this week with concern for the youth who are gathering under the Johnson Street Bridge. You’re concerned about their health and well-being but also about the fact that they’re gathering at all when we’ve all been told to stay home. To be honest, I don’t know whether many of these kids have homes. But in response to your emails, I will ensure that the youth homelessness team at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness connects with these kids, if they haven’t already, to see what kind of supports might be needed.
And finally, there have been some questions over the past few weeks about why there are no people camping in parks near where I live. Camping is allowed in Stevenson Park behind the Fernwood Commuity Centre. But unlike the parks where we’ve directed people for camping* it does not have a washroom. In early September, a motion was made at the Council table to prohibit camping within 100m of schools (instead of the 50m that was proposed). Even though the parents at South Park School wanted a buffer of 100m from their school, if I had voted for this 100m buffer, that would have also meant banning parking in Stevenson Park, so I voted against it, which kept Stevenson Park on the list and available for camping.
When schools closed earlier in the pandemic, I also suggested using Vic High (I live two doors down) as a shelter. This didn’t pan out because of the impending construction. I also suggested that the vacant land behind Vic High might be good for sheltering, but this too will soon be under construction. What is proposed to be built there is 154 units of affordable housing, including 20% of units that will rent at $375 per month and are for people coming out of homelessness or out of supportive housing. I look forward to welcoming my new neighbours, should Council approve the development to go forward.
By-Election Results and City Budget I wanted to also share the by-elections results with all of you, in case you hadn’t heard. Last night Stephen Andrew was elected to fill the ninth seat on Victoria Council which has been vacant since August 2019 when Laurel Collins left to run for MP. I spoke with Stephen last night to congratulate him and to let him know I’m looking forward to working with him. It will be good to have nine of us at the table again. Being shorthanded for this long has meant extra work for the rest of us. It has also meant a few tie votes on key items, and motions fail on a tie.
In addition to helping our new colleague settle in, a key decision on the horizon is the 2021 budget. Council reviewed the draft budget in great detail in November and asked many questions of staff through motion that we’ll get a report back on in January. Now, it’s time for you to weigh in! Staff have created a really great budget survey this year – more direct and user friendly than in past years. The survey results will help to guide Council’s decision on the final budget in the new year.
All of you who have written to me – and those who read these weekly posts – obviously care deeply about our city. The budget is the most important decision Council makes each year. So a final piece of holiday homework from me is a request that you take the time to fill out the budget survey. With my thanks in advance.
Happy Holidays This will be my last Sunday email / blog post of 2020. I’m going to take the next few Sundays and hopefully a few more days than that of quiet time and rest. Your emails will be gathered up and I’ll respond to them on Sunday January 3rd.
It’s been quite the year for all of us in Victoria, BC, Canada, and the world. As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away and few could have anticipated the toll it would take this year on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, governments, and on each and every one of us. No one is exempt, everyone has been impacted, although not everyone has been impacted equally.
Seniors in care homes have been most vulnerable, with the majority of deaths in BC taking place in those settings. Women, youth, people of colour and Indigenous people working in low-paying service jobs that were the first to be cut have suffered economically. Our beloved small businesses were hit disproportionately hard. And of course, as oft discussed here in Victoria and in cities across the country and around the world, when everyone was told to “stay at home”, those who didn’t have homes really stood out, as they were left outside.
2021 will be year of hard work and recovery. And as we implement both the regional Reboot Strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 our job – as a whole community, province and country – is to leave no one behind.
I wish you and your loved ones a safe, socially distanced, but close-in-heart holiday season.
With love, Lisa / Mayor Helps
*With the exception of Central Park – in that instance people showed up there and we had to adapt to the circumstances and provide washrooms and running water.
For the past many months I’ve been spending my Sunday mornings responding one at a time to emails I receive from residents during the week. Because I’m receiving many emails on the same topic with shared concerns and a variety of perspectives, I’ve decided to write back to all of you at once. I’ve read all of your emails and hopefully you will see some of your concerns reflected and responded to here.
This email is long, but I do encourage you to read all the way through! It’s also going to be human and honest, not bureaucratic or communications-speak. This is a really difficult situation we’re in right now, all of us, and it’s going to take our shared humanity and a great deal of honesty, as well as courage to get through it. It’s also going to require ongoing open-hearted conversations.
So as not to repeat myself from August 30th, but to be sure that everyone has as much information as possible, I’ve pasted the email from last week at the bottom. Also, if reading long emails is not your thing, I do a weekly Facebook Live on Friday afternoons. This week’s video is here and above. If you’re only interested in discussions of sheltering in parks, you can skip to 4:15. If you want comprehensive information, please watch the video AND read this email.
First I’d like to say that I so appreciate all of you taking the time to write. I’m heartened that most of the emails are thoughtful and respectful, with good questions, concerns and suggestions. It’s only through thoughtful dialogue that we are going to find our way through this. I thought about excluding those from this response who were swearing or yelling eg. ALL CAPS with LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! 🙂 in their emails, but my job is to be as open as possible with everyone, regardless of what kind of response I might get back.
The thing that is heartbreaking for me, which many of your emails point to, is the tension between two really important things. One the one hand, we need safe spaces for kids (and of course adults too, but many of the emails this week focused on kids) to play and recreate. This is so important for all sorts of reasons from a sense of connection to their place and their neighbourhood, to the obvious benefits of outdoor activity and exercise, to the special need for outdoor play during the pandemic where transmission of infection is much lower. On the other hand, there is the need for people who have nowhere else to go to take shelter. And so the City’s parks have become somewhat of a battle ground between these two important social and human needs.
Many of you have written really heartfelt emails – from neighbourhoods all across the city – about why the park in your neighbourhood isn’t a good place to camp. It’s got a playground, a sports field, it’s close to a residential area. The city has a terrific parks system with great parks in every neighbourhood. None of them are good places for people to be sheltering outdoors.
But we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. Some of you have said that you are concerned that people are coming here from elsewhere because Victoria is taking two light of an approach with respect to homelessness. There likely are people who have come here from across the country, there’s no denying that and it tends to happen every summer, anecdotally anyway.
But the bigger reason we’re seeing an increase of people in our parks is because of COVID. In March, all the shelters in the city had to cut their numbers by almost half because of physical distancing. Not one of them have increased back to their regular numbers since then. Additionally, when we were all told to get into our bubbles and stay there, anyone precariously housed (couch surfing, or staying with relatives, etc) was sent outside. The Province worked very hard and moved about 500 people indoors in April and May. Yet still about 275 people remain outside.
And in terms of during the day and where people will go, pre-COVID, Our Place on Pandora could accommodate hundreds of people indoors, for meals and programming, etc. Now they can have a maximum of 40 people inside. So both at night and during the day, there is literally nowhere for people to go. This is the case across the country. Victoria is not unique (I said this last Sunday too! Sorry for the repeat but it feels really important.) In Toronto, for example, the policy is to allow people to shelter in parks until indoor solutions can be found. Once people are offered indoor alternatives, then the camps are cleared.
So what are we going to do? The first thing we have to do, as a community is to confront reality. I’ll explain what I mean by this in a moment. The second thing we need to do is to manage the situation better. Council made some decisions this week that will help us to do that. Third, we need earnest advocacy to the federal government to help us (some of you suggested this in your emails, thank you, I’ll put some addresses below). Fourth, we need immediate creative solutions and hard work. Fifth, we need to try to put each ourselves in each other’s shoes.
First – Confront Reality When I was the Executive Director of Community Micro Lending, we had a mentor come in and meet with the entrepreneurs on a regular basis as a group. The mentors were successful business people. One evening, one of the mentors shared his story when he was talking about how to build trust with customers. He was running a tech company in Vancouver and had a very big project to deliver to a client in Seattle. Like really big – millions of dollars. And he ran into a snag. His employees came into his office and said that the project was behind, they didn’t know when they were going to be able to get it back on track, there were massive issues with it.
So he immediately got into his car, drove to Seattle and met in person with the CEO of the company he was supposed to deliver the product to. The CEO of course was surprised to see him, but invited him into his office. He sat down and said, “We are going to be late on the project. I can’t tell you how late or when we’ll be able to deliver it. But I needed to come here in person to be totally honest and to confront this reality with you.” The CEO appreciated his honestly and forthrightness. The project was eventually delivered and because of that one interaction, the sheer honesty of the company owner and his ability to confront reality, he got many more contracts in the future with the Seattle company, even though he had really screwed that big one up.
We have to confront reality as a community. I can’t tell you when the issue of camping in parks is going to be resolved because there is no easy resolution. We’re going to need to continue to live in this difficult situation, to find our way through until help comes, because the City can’t solve the problem alone. There were some glimmers of hope this week from the Premier but we don’t know when the situation we’re in will end and when people will get the housing and supports that many of them need and want. The no camping during the day will be enforced again when the Provincial State of Emergency ends, but we don’t know when this will be.
Second – Manage the Situation Better Here is a staff report that was presented to and adopted by Council last Thursday. It is meant to address some of the issues that you’ve been writing to us about. There will be a 10ft x 10ft site for each person sheltering and a buffer of 4m between tents and between tents and sports courts and playgrounds. And a 50m buffer between encampments and schools. This means, for example that in Central Park where there are currently over 70 tents, there will be room for 21 tents. Each park will essentially have a limit to the number of tents based on these spacing guidelines. We will also be hiring 5 additional bylaw officers to help address the issues in parks. Council also gave some funding to the Coalition to End Homelessness to do some work with people living in parks so that they can help to better manage the situation themselves. This might seem to some of you like a strange thing to do, but what we’ve heard through staff and other advocacy groups and from some of the people living outdoors themselves is that they want to be good neighbours and that sometimes it’s just a few people who make it difficult for others. The people living in parks want some agency in determining their own living circumstances so that they can help address the issues.
Third – Advocate to the Federal Government During the pandemic the Provincial government has spent tens of millions of dollars in our region attempting to address pandemic-related homelessness. The federal government has committed $1.3 million to address homelessness during the pandemic. Just like the City, the Provincial government needs help.
It would be great if people could write to the Minister Families, Children and Social Development, Ahmed Hussen (Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca) and his Parliamentary Secretary Adam Vaughan (Adam.Vaughan@parl.gc.ca) and talk about the need for federal support to address pandemic-related homelessness in Victoria and across the country. Please stress the urgency of the situation and share some of the stories that you’ve shared with me, with them.
Fourth – Immediate Creative Solutions and Hard Work While it’s true that the City didn’t create homeless and can’t end it, we have a role to play. We’ve created the Community Wellness Alliance that I co-chair with Island Health. This group includes Island Health, BC Housing, the Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness as well as city staff in bylaw and the mayor and city manager’s office and representatives from various provincial ministries. We’ve formed a Decampment Working Group and we’ve identified a significant number of indoor spaces that will be available over the next six months. The Decampment Working Group, which I chair is meeting weekly, vacancy by vacancy, person by person, to work on getting people matched with appropriate housing and corresponding supports. There’s a committed and hard working group of people at that table. But it’s very slow work. The good news from the past week is that we moved seven people from outdoors to indoors.
During my Community Drop In this past week, one resident asked what she could to. I shared this in the chat as it had been recently sent to me by another Victoria resident – it’s called the Block Project and it’s a good idea that residents in Seattle have implemented. I’m sharing this in case it’s of interest of anyone to follow up with the folks in Seattle.
Fifth – Put Ourselves in Each Other’s Shoes One set of shoes: What would it be like to be a young family, or a senior citizen who relies on neighbourhood parks for recreation, exercise well-being, who now feels that their park has been taken away, it feels unsafe. There are strangers living there who they don’t know and who they feel scared of. You feel vulnerable.
The other set of shoes: What would it be like to be living in a neighbourhood park. You don’t have anywhere else to go. You are truly homeless. You’re scared that winter is coming and you’ll still be outside. You don’t have anywhere safe to be, ever, because you have no home to retreat to. You feel vulnerable.
Thank you for taking the time to wade through this very long email and for your open-hearted generosity as we continue to find our way through this very challenging situation, together.
Lisa / Mayor Helps
Email from Sunday August 30 2020
Good morning everyone,
I usually spend my Sunday mornings responding one at a time to emails I receive from residents during the week. I did this last Sunday and only made it through a fraction of the emails that had come in over the past few weeks. So this weekend, because many of you have written on similar topics, and so I can be sure to respond in more of a timely way, I thought I’d reply to you all at once. I’ve read all your emails and will make sure that there’s enough information in here to address the concerns you’ve raised.
This email may be a bit lengthy, but I do encourage you to read all the way through! It’s also going to be human and honest, not bureaucratic or communications-speak. This is a really difficult situation we’re in right now, all of us, and it’s going to take our shared humanity and a great deal of honesty, as well as courage to get through it. It’s also going to require ongoing open-hearted conversations.
I accept responsibility for allowing people to camp in Beacon Hill Park and in parks across the city. We did so based on the guidance of Dr. Henry who sent guidelines to mayors across the Province in June 8th. In case you haven’t seen these, I’m attaching them for you here.
I acknowledge that this is a really difficult situation for everyone. I know this from the experiences you have shared with me as residents living near parks, or who have kids going to schools near parks where people are camping, or as people who work downtown, or have kids who work downtown. I also know it’s difficult for people living in parks – they have become the objects of frustration, hatred in some cases, anger and derision. A large majority of people living in the parks have filled out housing applications and are on BC Housing’s waitlist; they want to move inside. And it’s not easy for our staff working in the parks – they love their work, they take pride in maintaining the parks for public use and enjoyment; the current situation and all the tension is really hard for them. And it’s not easy for me either, I feel despair that we can’t do more to fix the situation, we can only manage the crisis that has landed on our doorsteps as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
I also acknowledge that there are no easy answers. At this point there is nowhere to move people to, there are no more indoor or outdoor spaces I can think of to try as temporary indoor solutions after Oak Bay Lodge, UVIC, CFB Esquimalt, and Ogden Point, all of which are unavailable for various reasons. Victoria is not alone. I was talking to a colleague in the City of Toronto recently – there are eight encampments in his riding alone. I also met with the head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness last week; he tells me there are encampments in cities all across the country.
So what are we going to do? It’s not working having people living outside in the downtown core. This is putting tremendous pressure on our small businesses many of which are already struggling to survive through the pandemic. In addition, due to the reports released by the police late last week on the concentration of drug trafficking at that encampment and the violence that went along with that trafficking, our Director of Parks has used his authority under the parks bylaw to temporarily close a section of a park, in this case, the areas where people are currently camped. This is effective as of Tuesday September 1st.
It’s also not working to have people camping close to schools (South Park as well as the Montessori in Selkirk) or near playgrounds. Children are our collective future. They are also vulnerable residents who need safe places to be and especially safe places to be given the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of being outside.
Our staff have been looking into what other cities are doing to manage pandemic-related homelessness and they will be bringing a report to Council for our meeting this Thursday that has some new approaches to managing encampments for the duration of the Provincial State of Emergency. This likely includes things like wider buffer zones between tents and playing fields and playgrounds, more space between tents – which will have the effect of limiting the number of tents in a given park, and a prohibition on camping near schools. You can read the report here when it is published – which should be sometime on Monday afternoon. From what I understand, staff will be recommending that these changes are in place as long as the Provincial State of Emergency is in place and that 30 days after the Province lifts the State of Emergency, the regular bylaw will come back into effect, which allows people to shelter overnight from 7pm – 7am.
I know some of you would like to see an immediate end to tents set up in parks during the day. As I see it, as this point, that’s not practical. Here’s why I think that: Enforcing the 7 to 7 bylaw, would mean that every day, 250 people or so would need to pack up all their things and leave the parks. Where would they go? Our Place still has limited capacity and so does the library – two places where people experiencing homelessness are welcomed. And what if it rains and everything they have gets wet? How do you fall asleep that night on a soggy wet blanket?
We are in the middle of a global health pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Great Depression lately, and what our city looked like then. The “symbols”, if we can call it that, of the Great Depression were people in bread lines and living in “hobo jungles” and riding the rails looking for work. As a result of the Depression, the Canadian welfare state was built to ensure that there was a safety net created for those who fell through the cracks at that time. The “symbol” of this economic crisis is people with mental health and addictions challenges, living in parks. They have fallen through the cracks. All we can hope and continue to advocate for, is that a new safety net will be created.
As many of you have said in your thoughtful emails to me, this isn’t primarily about homelessness. We need to distinguish between those that need housing and those that need structured therapeutic help for mental health and addiction issues. There are currently no treatment beds in the city for those with addictions issues. See the front page story in Times Colonist. Addressing this dire situation requires provincial leadership and courage across the board.
But in the meantime, as mayor, I’m doing the small part that I can on this complex issue. We’ve created the Community Wellness Alliance that I co-chair with Island Health. This group includes Island Health, BC Housing, the Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness as well as city staff in bylaw and the mayor and city manager’s office and representatives from various provincial ministries. We’ve formed a Decampment Working Group and we’ve identified a number of indoor spaces that may be available over the next six months, starting with a few that are available immediately including 24 new spaces at the Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal. The Decampment Working Group, which I chair is meeting weekly, vacancy by vacancy, person by person, to work on getting people matched with appropriate housing and corresponding supports. There’s a committed and hard working group of people at that table. But it’s very slow work.
At the risk of over-sharing, or getting too personal, I did want to leave you with a book that I’ve been reading and re-reading throughout the uncertain times that the pandemic has brought. And in particular I’d like to share a passage that I’ve been reading before bed every single night for months now. If this is of use or help to you, that’s wonderful. If not, that’s okay too! If any of you have similar resources to share, please write me to let me know.
The book is by Pema Chodron and it’s called, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. This passage is from teaching #40 “Thinking Bigger” and it’s helping me to remain soft:
“It’s easy to continue, even after years of practice, to harden into a position of anger and indignation. However, if we can contact the vulnerability and rawness of resentment or rage or whatever it is, a bigger perspective can emerge. In the moment we choose to abide with the energy instead of acting it out or repressing it, we are training in equanimity, in thinking bigger than right and wrong. This is how all the four limitless qualities – love, compassion, joy, and equanimity – evolve from limited to limitless: we practice catching our mind hardening into fixed views and do our best to soften. Through softening, the barriers come down.”
With gratitude for you taking the time to read this email and for your ongoing shared love of our city and our community.
Lisa / Mayor Helps
“It may be the end of the world as we know it, but other worlds are possible.” – Anab Jain, Calling for More-Than-Human Politics
Facebook live update August 7 2020. We’ll be back on Friday September 4th at 1pm to update on City’s continued COVID-19 initiatives and Council decisions more generally.
I opened my remarks on Friday with gratitude to front line city staff. Over the past months of the ongoing global health pandemic, our bylaw team, our public works team, our parks staff and many more have been on the front lines doing their jobs in extremely challenging circumstances. On behalf of myself and Council, I want our staff to know how much we appreciate them. If you see a city worker out there, please stop and give them your thanks. It really makes a big difference.
On Thursday, Council revisited the 2020 budget items postponed in April due to decreased revenue and the economic uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. Because of COVID-19, revenues are down most notably in parking, the Victoria Conference Centre and revenue from the City’s commercial tenants.
After a long day and night of debate and discussion, Council made some important decisions:
We agreed to use the approximately $3 million in COVID-19 related savings from 2020 towards the expected operating budget revenue shortfall and additional pandemic related costs.
With a few exceptions, we postponed a significant number of capital projects, strategic plan action items and a number of proposed new staff positions.
The Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood has been eagerly anticipating improvements to Topaz Park. I’m happy to report that Council will be making a $3.7 million investment in the long-awaited bike skills and skate park. Design will begin in 2020 with construction anticipated in 2021. We know that infrastructure investments are key for governments to make during a recession. These investments support the private sector to keep local people working and support local supply chains through procurement of goods and services.
Council also allocated funding to install a new public washroom downtown at the south end of Douglas Street.
And finally, the City will be establishing an Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, which will be staffed by an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer and an Accessibility Coordinator. This will provide resources to carry out a number of Council’s strategic plan projects and priorities.
What this all means is that Council has eliminated the projected deficit for 2020 and we’re leaving an additional $17.6 million in reserves. This will keep our reserves healthy as we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. Like other governments and private sector businesses, we are making tough budget decisions right now. I believe we’ve landed on a smart, prudent way forward.
Council also held three public hearings on Thursday night on land use for new developments in Victoria. Public hearings look a little different these days – everything’s done online or via phone. I’m so happy we’ve been able to forge ahead with important projects while still allowing residents the chance to participate in land use decisions.
Thursday night Council approved 151 new rental units and the heritage revitalization of the Scott Building at Douglas and Hillside. This will give a much-needed boost to the rental stock in the city and it’s also a key project that will enhance the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood.
The City is continuing to see strong uptake on our Build Back Victoria program that allows for free expanded patio and flex space for businesses. We have received 97 applications and 72 permits have been issued. Staff are working fast on the others.
Another weekend is here, and I hope that everyone is out visiting some of those patios, exploring the city and supporting our local businesses. Without many of the three million tourists we see each year, our visitor economy is hurting. We can all do our part to help.
In addition to staying local and shopping local, myself and the mayors across the region have written a joint letter to Minister Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, in Ottawa this week asking for more support for the tourism industry in Victoria. Conferences, sports tourism, cruise, the Clipper, and Coho are all on hold and shut down this year. The closures are for good reason, but they do come with consequences. Our visitor economy will recover once medical advances to combat COVID-19 are available, but it needs help to survive to get through the winter and into next spring. It was great to work with all the regional Mayors on this to show support for our local industry.
It was also great to see tourism in our downtown featured on the front page of the Times Colonist on Tuesday. It’s wonderful to see people visiting Victoria from across Canada and enjoying everything that our city and region have to offer. I want everyone to know that they are welcome here.
I closed my Facebook live on Friday with a thank you to Mary who has been signing for us for the past few months. Friday was Mary’s last day with us as she is now retiring. She has been a sign language interpreter since 1985 working in both Ottawa and for the past 26 years here on the island. She’s been a respected colleague and mentor to many interpreters in the field and has provided interpreting services to ensure inclusive and accessible communication with hundreds of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals over the years. We have so appreciated Mary’s work with us over the last several months, and I’d like to wish Mary a very happy retirement.
On behalf of myself and Council, I hope that everyone is having a safe summer, keeping those safe distances and keeping circles and gatherings small. We’re hopefully through the worst of the pandemic at this point, and on a solid pathway towards economic and social recovery. To make this so and to stay on this pathway takes all of us, working together.
Council will be taking a break until September 3rd and I’ll be taking a short holiday, of sorts. With so much to do, including ongoing support needed for our businesses to recover and continuing to work hard with the Province to find indoor sheltering solutions for people camping in parks throughout the city, it won’t be a regular summer holiday this year. I do intend to do some writing and reflection as well, which I will post here on this blog. Please feel free to share this site with others and encourage them to follow if interested in receiving regular updates.
This is an exciting project! It will create jobs and a more resilient diverse economy coming out of the pandemic. It’s industry led and City supported. It’s a really good news story for our city and our region.
And, we got pretty good media coverage from a wide variety of media outlets in the region after we sent out the press release on Friday. Happy to see the results of our collective efforts so well received and positively profiled, I pinned one of the news stories to my Twitter profile.
As soon as I had posted, a whole bunch of comments about homelessness and tenting came into the feed. And comments on my performance as mayor.
On Saturday morning, I posted this picture to Twitter with thanks to the folks at Aryze who – using a tactical urbanism and placemaking approach – created this beautiful and functional piece of installation art in the Gorge Waterway. They installed it near the much-loved community swimming hole off of Banfield Park in Victoria West.
And again, the same response. People jumping into the Twitter feed with comments that were negative and focused on homelessness and tenting and me, and not at all related to the great community effort underway.
I can take criticism. You don’t sign up for a job like this if you can’t. But the reason I’ve deactivated my Twitter account, is that the stories we tell about our city matter. And the mayor’s Twitter feed tells a story.
I use Twitter to support business-led efforts to recover from the pandemic and look to the future, like the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. I post to support citizen-led efforts to spruce up the harbour and create a sense of joy and place. I post to support Destination Greater Victoria and the Downtown Victoria Business Association whose member businesses are working so hard right now, some just to survive. And to profile all the amazing arts and culture events that are happening, despite the pandemic. And to support our local non-profit sector which is working so hard to support members of our community who may be struggling right now.
And when I post these things and people immediately pile on with negativity and comments that are irrelevant to the matter in the post, it does a real disservice to these business-led and citizen-led efforts. It creates an ongoing negative story about our city. And this shouldn’t be the only story, when so many people are working so hard every day to stay positive and to create positivity during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
There is a homelessness crisis right now, in the city and across the province and country, and its made worse by the pandemic. It’s having a negative effect on so many people, those who are homeless and those who are housed. We’re working hard every day to manage the crisis and we’re working with the wonderful ministers and staff at the Province to resolve it, to get people housed with the supports they need.
But there is more to Victoria’s story. A recent article in Western Investor highlighted Victoria 3.0, which they called “an ambitious blueprint for sustained post-pandemic recovery.” The vision is that “Victoria is a future-ready, globally fluent influencer and innovator. We will use our status as a small powerhouse to create a strong and resilient economy that meets our needs now and anticipates the future.” After quoting our vision they wrote, “We are betting this is more than posturing: Victoria is for real and should be a leading light out of the pandemic darkness.”
And there’s Build Back Victoria, a program that has seen a surge in patios in the downtown and in village centres. It’s made-in-Victoria vibrancy that is business-led and City supported and is helping businesses to recover and hire back staff.
And there’s all the amazing stuff happening in the local arts and culture sector – another key element of Victoria’s story. Throughout the pandemic our Arts, Culture and Events team at the City have been working hard with the arts and culture community so they can continue to do the great work they do. We need arts, culture and everyday creativity more than ever. There’s an inspiring array of events and activities here.
So I’m taking a break from Twitter to give all these community efforts the opportunity to shine, without detraction on my Twitter feed. I’ll be back at some point when the time feels right. To those who are still on social media, I’d like to encourage you to use it to make someone’s day, to share joy and kindness because goodness knows, this is what the world needs right now.
Video of weekly Facebook live address. Friday June 19, 2020. Tune in Fridays at 1pm on the City’s Facebook page.
Saturday June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day to mark the challenges faced by refugees world wide. It’s also an opportunity to reassert that Victoria is a welcoming city and a place that has room in it for everyone. We’ve been welcoming refugees for decades and will continue to do so, working even harder through a new Welcoming Cities Task Force to make sure that Victoria is a place where everyone feels safe, welcomed and a sense of belonging. Each year we gather as a community to raise a flag for World Refugee Day. We can’t do this this year, so we’ve recorded a video that will be shown tomorrow.
Sunday, June 21st is National Indigenous People’s Day. In non-COVID times, today would have marked the beginning of the Aboriginal Cultural Festival in downtown Victoria. Again, because we can’t gather together this year, we’ve created a video that will be released on Sunday acknowledging the struggles and racism Indigenous people in Canada continue to face and also the ongoing resilience and generosity of the Lekwungen people on whose lands the city is built.
News from the Province
This week the Province announced that they will begin engagement on BC’s economic recovery plan. I encourage residents to submit their ideas to the Province about how we can build a strong and resilient economy now and for the future as we recover from this unprecedented event. They will also be hosting virtual town halls to gather information. All the information is here.
The Province also recently announced that the Temporary Rental Supplement that offers up to $500 per month to help renters and landlord shas been extended to the end of August. The extension maintains the rent freeze and ban on evictions for non-payment of rent. Living in a place like Victoria where we know rent costs are high, it’s great to see the provincial government extend their rental support and eviction freeze program that is helping the three out of five residents in Victoria that are currently renters. For more information on the rent supplement and to apply, you can head here.
Build Back Victoria
I’ve got an exciting update on our Build Back Victoria initiatives! We have received over 40 applications from restaurant owners and retailers both large and small for extended patio space and flex space all around the city. Staff are turning these requests around in days. Council saw the need, staff developed the tools, and businesses are using them. I’ve seen some of these new outdoor spaces full! This is exactly what we envisioned to help businesses to flourish again. And it seems to be working. CHEK news did a great piece tonight on the Build Back Victoria patio program.
I’m excited that Royal Athletic Park is shaping up to be the hub for recreation this summer. We have summer day camps available for registration, as well as outdoor fitness programs, such as yoga, bootcamps and even personal training. This is all happening outdoors with proper COVID-19 protocols in place. There will be open community drop-in time for residents to come in and enjoy large grass field in the stadium. Our recreation page has all the information.
Our summer camps program will take up to 80 kids per week in groups of 10-12. You can learn more here and register here. These are great low-cost options for kids ages 5-14 years old.
There’s also an online survey so you can let our staff know what types of programs you’re most interested in.
Our Arts, Culture and Events team are in their third week of the Creative Spotlight campaign teaming up with local artists and makers to put a spotlight on creativity in our community.
This week’s feature is performer, song writer and educator Eden Oliver. You can read all about Eden’s favourite things to do in North Park including boulevard gardening, getting Cold Comfort ice cream and preparing for a performance from their porch that will live stream on Saturday afternoon. You can read more at Creative Spotlight.
And tonight Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate invited the community to check out Youth Verses, a virtual showcase of visual and performing art created by local youth artists and streamed live on Facebook. Over the past three weeks, 12 youth aged 14 – 19 have connected online to participate in workshops facilitated by Neko Smart and guest facilitators, with the overarching intent to facilitate conversations on ways to harness creativity while navigating mental health. You can learn more and find a link to the performance here.
Last week we announced this year’s plans for a virtual Canada Day here in Victoria. A reminder that we are taking your video submissions about what living in Canada means to you. Head to Canada Day Victoria for more info and to submit.
We know that Canada’s history is complicated, and we are working hard to understand this complicated and painful history through the City Family and the City’s Witness Reconciliation Program, led by the Lekwungen speaking peoples. As always the Canada Day events will begin with a welcome from the Lekwungen Dancers.
The City has implemented a number of initiatives to support local businesses and the community to re-open and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, including $575,000 in economic stimulus grants.
The new initiatives will give restaurants and businesses the opportunity to expand their patios, and services on sidewalks, streets and neighbourhood squares and plazas. Parks will also be opened up for approved business use, such as outdoor yoga and fitness classes. Applications opened today. And there are no fees to apply or to use public space. To apply, visit victoria.ca/bizresouces
We are also unleashing the creativity of our community to build back by opening up space for businesses to expand while meeting social distancing requirements. These sweeping new programs are informed by what we have heard from businesses, artists and community groups for what’s needed for recovery right now.
In addition to the temporary flex space for businesses, the City has created 14 mobile vending stalls throughout neighbourhoods to allow food trucks and other mobile businesses to operate. Businesses can also apply for special customer pickup and delivery zones in front of or near their locations.
Those businesses already serving alcohol in their day-to-day operations were given additional freedom by Council to open patios with alcohol service. The Province remains responsible for certain aspects of enforcement in regard to food and liquor inspections. And today, Government Street was transformed into a pedestrian priority zone from Humboldt Street to Yates Street.
Council has approved a new Everyday Creativity Grant Program to increase access for everyone to be creative and enjoy the arts. A total of $125,000 is available and grants would encourage applicants to provide new creative programs to engage citizens in the arts and encourage broad participation and learning opportunities. Criteria and availability will be determined at a upcoming Council meeting.
Council also allocated an additional $100,000 to the current round of Strategic Plan Grants, as well as a $250,000 second round of Strategic Plan Grants to unleash the creativity of the community by encouraging them to bring forward project proposals for how the community can continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Council will review the proposals that have a specific focus on recovery and the deadline for submissions is July 15, 2020. An additional $100,000 was added to the My Great Neighbourhood COVID-19 grant stream that’s focused on community recovery and resiliency.
COVID-19 Recovery Virtual Town Hall
The community is invited to learn more about what’s planned and ask questions at the COVID-19 Recovery Virtual Town Hall on Tuesday, June 9 from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m., which will be webcast live and live streamed on the City’s Facebook page.
We’re really proud of the work staff have done to be bold and ambitious to Build Back Victoria. We’re excited to share it with the community, so we ‘re hoping people join us and ask questions.
There are three ways to participate: 1) ask your question by emailing it in advance to email@example.com to have it read aloud, 2) Email firstname.lastname@example.org to pre-register to participate by phone, or 3) watch the Virtual Town Hall on the City’s Facebook page and ask your question live. The deadline to email the City is noon on Monday, June 8. All questions will be limited to one minute in length to enable the maximum number of people to participate. For more information, visit: www.victoria.ca/townhall.
Press conference announcing TELUS Ocean Innovation Centre in downtown Victoria.
Today we announced that TELUS Communications Inc. intends to bring the TELUS Ocean project to Victoria, as part of an acquisition of the “Apex” site, a parcel of City-owned land at 749‑767 Douglas Street, on the corner of Douglas and Humboldt Streets.
This marks the end of a long road and the beginning of a new journey. In early 2017, the City launched a competitive process for the Apex site. Of the six submissions received, the TELUS Ocean proposal scored highest. And now, as we turn our minds and efforts towards recovery and coming out of the quiet shutdown period, I am so thrilled to know that we can look forward to seeing a vibrant downtown well into the future.
The City’s main goal for this site was a major commercial development that would anchor the southern end of Douglas Street and advance one or more of the City’s key economic engines, such as technology and innovation, creating high-value jobs and diversifying the economy.
In addition to enhancing and animating the adjoining public plaza by Crystal Garden, the development is anticipated to create new opportunities for the Victoria Conference Centre and surrounding downtown businesses.
The fact that TELUS – B.C.’s largest private sector employer – is making such a big investment in downtown Victoria is a strong sign of our recovery and is terrific news. It will help ensure that downtown will remain the economic and commercial heart of the region.
TELUS Ocean helps immediately deliver on Victoria 3.0, recently adopted by Council. This is our City’s recovery, reinvention and resilience plan that will bring high value jobs, a future focus, and a highlight on Victoria’s ocean economy to our downtown core.
TELUS has agreed to purchase the property from the City of Victoria for a price of $8.1 million, plus up to an additional $1.1 million purchase price adjustment depending on the final proposal submitted and approved as part of the rezoning process. TELUS and the City of Victoria will share in the environmental and geotechnical costs to remediate the site, with the City contributing $2.37 million towards its portion of these costs. In exchange for the City’s contribution, TELUS will assume all liability and responsibility for the environmental remediation of the site.
The proceeds from the sale will go into a reserve fund that can be used to advance some of the City’s other priorities including acquiring land for affordable housing, like the site we recently purchased on Pandora. The significant and ongoing annual property tax revenue from the new development can be used to fund amenities and public space improvements in the downtown, which downtown residents have been requesting for some time.
So in addition to the obvious economic benefits in terms of job creation and new space for innovation, the ongoing property tax revenue is a key part of the value proposition that Council considered when deciding to sell this piece of land.
The proposed commercial office and retail building will become TELUS’s regional headquarters for approximately 250 employees and home to an innovation hub that will showcase advanced communications and information technology. As a leading international employer, the ability to secure TELUS’s regional headquarters and innovation centre in the downtown core will also help support the growth of family sustaining jobs in Victoria.
TELUS’s operations will occupy a significant portion of the building, with the remainder of the space proposed for commercial office, retail and restaurants, as well as programmed events and gatherings.
TELUS is working with Victoria-based Aryze Developments as a community development partner. The Aryze project team will lead the project architect and consultant teams, and ensure the initiative progresses in alignment with the shared goals of the community and TELUS, as well as the City of Victoria’s goals reflected in its competitive proposal process.
Together, TELUS and Aryze are seeking to bring forward an architecturally-significant project; one that will create an opportunity for Victoria to be at the forefront of new technology and contribute to the social and entrepreneurial fabric of the city. To ensure this, the TELUS/Aryze project team is proposing to employ a multi-channel consultation approach to communications and engagement to reach a broad range of participants, including surrounding businesses, residents, potential future occupants and other key stakeholders. It is anticipated that this community engagement process will begin in late June 2020.
We’re happy to be working with TELUS and thrilled that they believe so strongly – as I do – in the future of downtown Victoria.
The media release with further details can be found here.
Facebook live address, Friday May 22nd. We’ll be back Friday May 29th at 1pm.
This week, the Province initiated Phase Two of their recovery plan and coffee shops, boutique retailers, and shopping centres around Victoria have started the process of reopening to the public. The City has been collaborating with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Think Local Victoria, Community Micro-Lending and other business leaders to create a toolkit to support businesses reopen safely.
The toolkit helps highlight businesses that are practicing physical distancing, taking hygienic measures, and exercising the necessary precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The toolkit includes:
Occupancy signage to communicate the number of customers businesses are allowing inside at one time
A checklist of COVID-related measures expected of customers and being followed by employees
Design files – that can be taken to many local printers for easy production and use – for poster or floor stickers that businesses can use to mark out places for people to stand with appropriate social distancing
We know businesses have a lot to worry about without thinking about the little things. We’re taking care of the little things so businesses can stay focused on getting their operations up and running smoothly.
“The items in this new toolkit will help provide some certainty for customers visiting businesses that have reopened downtown,” said DVBA Executive Director Jeff Bray. “The occupancy signage, COVID checklist and floor stickers will give people confidence the businesses they’re visiting are committed to providing a safe shopping experience.”
In another move to support local business owners, Council recently brought forward several creative motions aimed at reopening businesses safely, including the use of public spaces for restaurants and retailers. These proposed measures and interventions are being reviewed by staff and will be presented to Council as concrete actions on June 4 for consideration and adoption.
In addition to these initiatives, over the past four weeks, the City has been promoting campaigns focused on how local businesses can receive support from generous groups within our community, as well as encouraging residents to shop local whenever possible. The #yyjBizSupport campaign connects local business owners with resources to obtain a loan or get help building a website and the #ShopYYJ campaign encourages Victoria residents to support their favourite restaurants and retailers.
All of these initiatives – from the new toolkit, to laying the groundwork for businesses to use public spaces, to campaigns aimed at supporting our local businesses – are important steps the City is taking towards reopening and recovering in a way that gets us all back to work safely.
In other City news this week, Victoria is partnering with BC Hydro to install an electric vehicle (EV) DC fast charger station with two chargers at the south end of Store Street, between Johnson and Pandora, near the Johnson Street Bridge. DC fast chargers can rapidly charge most EVs to 80 per cent capacity within 30 minutes. The charger is expected to be ready for public use by the end of 2020 and will be the first DC fast charger in Victoria.
By making charging faster and easier, we hope more residents will choose EVs over combustion engines. This charger supports the City’s Climate Leadership Plan target of renewable energy powering 30 percent of passenger vehicles registered in Victoria by 2030 and 100 per cent of passenger vehicles are renewably powered by 2050.
News from the community
June 1 is Intergenerational Day – a celebration of the mutual benefits of building relationships across generations, and 2020 marks the 10th Anniversary of Intergenerational Day in Canada! Now more than ever, we need ways to connect. We need to celebrate. Just because we can’t be physically together in the same way doesn’t mean we can’t be connected.
The Intergenerational Society let us know that they are building a virtual national quilt! They want to know: “What do intergenerational friendships mean to you?” They would like you to send in an an email high resolution drawings, photos, and inspirational notes to email@example.com by Sunday, May 24th. I’m late in posting this so hopefully they’ll let a few last photos slip in after the deadline!
The IG Day Quilt will be showcased and celebrated across Canada on Intergenerational Day, Monday, June 1st 2020. Find out more at here.
And much further afield, the Victoria Athletic Football Club, located in Belfast, wrote to me this week to let me know about a virtual journey they are undertaking from their Victoria to our Victoria. The journey might be virtual, but the hard work isn’t. Victoria FC members are collectively running, walking, and cycling 4444 miles – the distance from Belfast to Victoria – all to raise money for PIPS charity, which provides support to individuals who are considering, or who have at some point considered, ending their own lives. PIPS also provide support to those families and friends who have been touched by suicide.
Victoria FC, we are cheering you on all the way, and maybe one day you can visit – the first pint is on me.
Facebook Live address. Friday May 15. We’ll be back next Friday, May 22 at 2pm on the City’s Facebook page, here.
I’d like to recognize that Sunday, May 17 marks International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the discrimination, harassment, and violence members of the LGBTQ2+ community still face to this day. The City of Victoria is committed to supporting community projects and programs that benefit the health, wellbeing, and inclusivity of the LGBTQ2+ community, and will continue to work with the members of this community to ensure that their feedback and perspective are represented in City policies, events, and programs.
Update: This evening as I was walking to the Fernwood Inn to pick up take out, someone yelled, “Dyke!” And they didn’t mean it as a compliment! It was a not so subtle reminder than even in our progressive city, there is work to do on discrimination.
News from the federal government
Today the federal government announced that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended to the end of August. This program is for employers whose business has been affected by COVID-19. The subsidy enables employers to re-hire workers previously laid off as a result of COVID-19, help prevent further job losses, and better position companies to resume normal operations following the crisis. With recovery on the horizon here in Victoria, this is really good news for our businesses.
Today the provincial government announced that on June 1st students will have the option to return to classroom instruction part-time. For kindergarten to Grade 5, this means most students will go to school half time (such as alternating days), while grades 6 to 12 will go to school about one day a week. There will be strict provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC health and safety measures put in place. Schools and school districts will be in touch with parents and students, but all of the provincial guidelines can be found at here.
News from the City
Youth bus passes
Transit has been free during the COVID-19 pandemic; with driver safety measures in place, fares are returning as of June 1st. This is why City of Victoria staff have created an online option for youth in Victoria to get their free monthly bus passes. Starting today, youth 18 and under living in the City of Victoria can apply online to receive their free monthly transit pass. The platform allows youth or their parents to provide the necessary information online, without having to visit City Hall. Transit passes for June, July and August will then be mailed directly to homes.
The goal of our Free Youth Transit program, the first of its kind in the province, is to encourage low-carbon, affordable transportation. But more importantly it’s to create lifelong transit riders which will lead to fewer vehicles on our roads and less traffic congestion.
I’m excited to see this valuable program moving forward in a way that keeps residents and staff safe. This is one COVID-19 innovation that will likely stick. It means no more long lines ups at City Hall even in the future when City Hall re-opens. And it means more youth may take us up on the free transit pass. It’s easy, fast a few clicks – and boom – you’ve got your passes.
So whether you’re a new or returning young transit rider, Victoria youth, their parents and/or guardians can visit head here to register online. If for some reason, internet doesn’t work for you, there’s a phone number to call.
Roll-up of recovery motions passed
Yesterday Council took bold action to assist residents and businesses through the recovery period. Really cheap parking downtown will remain in place for now, to make it inviting for people who drive to come back downtown to support our great local businesses. Staff will start working right away on options for restaurants and retailers to operate in public space – there are some really creative ideas coming forward! The arts and culture sector, which has been really hard hit, will benefit from a new grant stream as well as getting Create Victoria, our fantastic and award winning arts and culture plan, back on track as a key recovery strategy.
Neighbours will be able to apply for My Great Neighbourhood grants starting in June with a key focus on recovery and resilience. There’s also funding for other events and placemaking activities that can bring people together … but not too close.
Space for pedestrians and Beacon Hill Park
There was a lot of buzz around some of these motions, and I wanted to talk about one in particular, a motion brought by myself and Councillor Loveday to Increase Physical Distancing for Pedestrians in Public Space. Here’s the full text of the motion that passed. I’m sharing it here so that it’s very clear what it intended.
That Council direct staff to keep the physical distancing measures in place in village centres and other locations and report back to council with to further opportunities to allocate additional spaces for people to walk and roll safely in village centres and downtown in order to proactively prepare for increased pedestrian traffic as people begin to leave their homes.
Direct staff to pedestrianize Beacon Hill Park while opening parking lots at Heywood Rd, Circle Drive, and Nursery Rd. and the roads that serve as their closest access points for the duration of summer. Further that Council direct staff to seek input from accessibility organizations including the AWG if that body is available, and report back with that advice, and all other input received so council can consider whether to further extend the pedestrianized approach to the park.
What this means is that people who need to drive can still park in Beacon Hill Park, but that there will also be more space for everyone to enjoy the park in this new world of physical distancing. We’ll also be evaluating this program at the end of the summer to see how it’s working.
News from the community
Usually in May many of us look forward to and participate in Bike to Work Week. Well, this year of course looks different, with many people working at home, and large gatherings not possible. This year, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and the Bike to Work Society are partnering to put on a series of Neighbourhood Scavenger Hunts from May to August. These scavenger hunts are designed for all ages – you’ll be asked to take a bike ride to explore clues and then submit a story, photo, or video.
With every submission, participants will be entered into a draw for a chance to win a gift card for take-out food from a local restaurant or bike shop. There are still a couple of days to participate in the Fernwood challenge. It closes on May 18th, and another neighbourhood will then follow. This is such a fun, creative way of doing things differently. Thanks to the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and the Bike to Work Society for coming up with this.
Plus, we all heard yesterday from Dr. Bonnie Henry about importance of safe active transportation – she said, walk, bike or run to work, so for those still working and able to do so, please Dr. Henry’s advice.