Camping in Parks Update, Mourning, For Now not Forever – Mayor’s Sunday email – September 13

Two new Regional Housing First buildings opening in Langford and View Royal this fall, with rents starting at $375 per month. This is part of the “positive flow” process that will help move people out of parks and inside to safe, secure affordable housing. More below.

Good morning everyone,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write to me over this past week, and the past few weeks. I’ve read all of your emails and I’ve received a lot! So as I have on previous Sundays, I’m taking the opportunity to write back to all of you together. As I’ve said in earlier emails, what follows is meant to be an honest and open-hearted approach. Just me, Lisa, reflecting and sharing with you on a Sunday morning. No “key messages” or talking points etc. For those of you who haven’t read my emails from the past two weeks, you can find them here.

I so appreciate the thoughtful and constructive tone of so many of the emails I’ve received. Many of you are sharing your stories about the impacts you’re feeling from having people living in our parks – from feelings of fear, to having things stolen from your yards, to seeing the kinds of behaviours that frighten you and/or your children, to the impacts on your businesses. Some of you have shared stories about conversations you’ve had with your unhoused neighbours over the past few weeks and have contacted me to share what some individuals need. Thank you; this allows us to help direct the organizations providing outreach to the right places.

Many of you are also expressing compassion for people who find themselves homeless and living in a park in an unprecedented global health pandemic; you realize the complexity of the situation and that there are no easy solutions. Many of you have also made suggestions such as better access to treatment – noting that some of the people you’ve encountered need more than just housing but support for their mental health and addictions challenges. Or building tiny homes. Or moving people out of town into one large area and providing the supports they need there. All of you have said that there are no good places in the city for people to live outside. Some of you think that the City of Victoria, or me personally has created this situation and should just clean it up. And a few of you thought that the language I used in my email last Sunday was stigmatizing and creating more ill will towards people who are living in our community without homes.

While I may not speak to your individual concerns precisely in this email, I do want to give an update on some of the things that we’re working on. I agree wholeheartedly that there are no good places for people to be living outside in a country as prosperous as Canada. It’s wrong, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s having negative impacts on everyone, housed and unhoused.

Before I get into the steps we’re taking to move people inside over the next four to six months, I want to address another theme that came through in many of your emails. A sense of loss and mourning. And a sense that the situation we find ourselves in is somehow permanent, that this is the new Victoria rather than a moment of crisis.

I share your sense of mourning. I feel terrible that some people feel afraid to use the parks. And I feel terrible that some people have nowhere to live inside and nowhere to go during the day and that they are living in parks. It is a source of grief and heartbreak. The other thing that feels so difficult for me is to watch our community divided over this issue. I know compassion is so very difficult to muster when you’ve had your window smashed, or your golf clubs stolen, or when your kids feel afraid. It’s really hard. And it’s not my place to tell people to be more compassionate. That always backfires and creates a sense of defensiveness. So what I will say, to quote our beloved provincial public health officer Dr. Henry, is that this is for now, it is not forever. We are in a crisis situation, we are still living under a Provincial State of Emergency. We are not “back to normal” whatever that means. People will get housed. People will have their parks back for more recreational uses. The Provincial State of Emergency will be lifted at some point.

This is for now, it’s not forever. The current moment we find ourselves in is not indicative of Victoria’s future; Victoria has a bright future. And one of the reasons I’m a wee bit weary these days is that I’m working so hard to address the crisis of homelessness on our doorsteps and in our parks (with completely inadequate resources), at the same time as working just as hard on the City’s future through the implementation of Victoria 3.0 to make sure that Victorians in the coming decades have a strong inclusive economy, good jobs and a bright future. Here’s a good recent article from Douglas Magazine that shares some of that work. We will get through this. And we’ll come out stronger if, and this is a big if, we can work hard together to change the tone of the conversations we’re having about our beloved city right now, and if we can find a way to have our shared fears, our shared vulnerabilities – housed and unhoused people alike – bring us closer together rather than drive us further apart.

Community Wellness Alliance and Coordinated Assessment and Access
As I’ve said in the past two Sunday emails, I co-chair a Community Wellness Alliance with Island Health. This group existed pre-COVID but has pivoted now to help address the camping in parks issue. We’ve formed a Decampment Working Group that meets weekly to move people from outside to inside. Over the next four months there are a substantial number of indoor spaces that will be available, not enough to take care of everyone living outside at this point, but a significant number.

There are 60 units opening in November in Langford and View Royal as part of the Regional Housing First Program (RHFP.) These units rent at $375 per month. Our thinking is that people currently living in motels, shelters or supportive housing can move into these units and then 60 people can move from outside into the spaces vacated. There are also 24 units for treatment available at Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal. These are for men who are ready to access treatment. It is their home and community for up to two years. In addition, BC Housing and Island Health are providing some “rent supplements”. This is a top-up provided to the income assistance rate which makes it possible for people to move from supportive housing into market rental units. And then, as with the Regional Housing First units, people can move from parks into the supportive housing units that are vacated. The announcement about the number of rent supplements available is not mine to make, but I will say that it’s not an insignificant number.

This whole “positive flow” process – from supportive housing to RHFP or market unit and then from parks to supportive housing – is coordinated by the BC Housing, Island Health and the CRD. As vacancies become available, the CAA placement table meets and decides who is moving where based on the needs that they have identified in their housing application. Part of the key work of the Decampment Working Group in the next couple of weeks is ensuring that everyone living outside has a housing application filled out; many currently do and are in line for housing.

The CAA policy group (a separate group from the placement table) sets the priorities on an annual basis for who gets housed. There has been a lot of debate about whether people who are living in our parks are from here or not. While we respect the freedom of movement of people in Canada, Council passed a motion that I brought forward asking the CAA policy group to prioritize housing people who have lived in the region for a year or more. The CAA policy table will make this decision on September 23rd.

I  know this is a lot of detail. But many of you have written to me asking me to do something! And I just wanted to assure you all that we are; the Community Wellness Alliance and the CAA process and all the amazing folks out there on the front lines in the parks, connecting with people and doing outreach, are aiming to move as many of the 275 people who are currently living outside as possible into safe, secure indoor places over the next four months. It is slow, hard work.

Parks Bylaw Changes, Centennial Square and Policing
On Thursday, Council finalized changes to the parks bylaw that will help us to better manage the current situation. The changes include a limit to the amount of space each sheltering area can occupy (3m x 3m), a 4m space between shelters, an 8m requirement between shelters and playgrounds and 50m from shelters to school grounds. The portion of the bylaw that allows daytime camping will expire 30 days after the Province lifts the State of Emergency. The effect of these changes is that it will limit the number of people camping in any one park. This does mean that unless help comes soon from the federal or provincial governments, we will see people moving from some parks (eg Central Park has over 80 tents; the new rules mean there is room for about 20 tents there) to other parks around the city. The Coalition to End Homelessness is working to coordinate outreach and to ensure that there is outreach available to where people will be moving to. Many of you have of said in your emails that moving people around from one park to another does not solve the problem. I agree.

Council also decided this past week to continue to allow camping in Centennial Square. Camping is not currently possible there as staff are remediating the grounds from the encampment that just left. When and if people choose to return there, the new bylaws and spacing requirements will restrict the number of tents to somewhere between 4 and 6.  I respect Council’s decision, but I disagree with it. As I said, moving people from park to park doesn’t make sense. And there are no good outdoor spaces for camping in the city for people who are vulnerable and need to be inside. But I think that Centennial Square and the downtown need to be treated as a special case.

Downtown is the economic engine of the region. Our downtown businesses are already struggling as a result of COVID-19. I think that as a city government we need to do everything in our power to support them right now. Some of the people who work in these businesses are relatively low-wage service workers who may themselves be teetering precariously on the brink of homelessness if they lose their jobs because of a business closure, and can’t pay their rent. I realize that advocating for no camping downtown puts pressure on neighbourhood parks. But as mayor I need think about all angles and considerations. The economic health of our downtown benefits all of us. Businesses pay more than three times the amount of taxes as residential property owners do; these business taxes help pay for the amenities and quality of life that we all enjoy as Victorians. Council did decide to ask staff to come back in a month’s time with some sort of analysis on the impacts of not allowing camping in the downtown. So that conversation will continue.

Council also decided on Thursday to allocate close to an additional $100,000 for policing for the remainder of 2020 to help ensure safety and security around the areas where people are camping. Police aren’t the answer to solving or even managing homelessness. But between approving funding for the Coalition to End Homelessness to work with people in encampments, to changes to the parks bylaws, to additional policing, we are taking as comprehensive and systemic an approach possible to manage what is a very difficult situation for everyone.

The Federal Government
Last week I asked people to write to the federal government to request that they support the Province to acquire more housing for people who are currently living outside. I hope that many of you did. One resident shared their email with me, and I wanted to say thanks and to share this email with all of you for inspiration in case you also wish to write.

Subject: Homeless crisis solution for Victoria requires federal support asap.
To: adam.vaughan@parl.gc.ca <adam.vaughan@parl.gc.ca>, ahmed.hussen@parl.gc.ca <ahmed.hussen@parl.gc.ca>, laurel.collins@parl.gc.ca <laurel.collins@parl.gc.ca>

Dear MPs: I write regarding the ongoing social and health crisis here in Victoria due to a severe lack of supportive housing for several hundred homeless citizens currently encamped in parks throughout the city. As you may be aware, both the civic administration and the provincial government have deployed millions of dollars to acquire and repurpose hotel and motel facilities in the city  but have still fallen short of the target, leaving approximately 254 homeless without any option other than continued tenting in public parks, where criminal activities and vandalism have provoked a serious backlash from residents and business owners. 

With a concurrent opioid crisis, mental health crisis and the likelihood of a second wave of Covid19 this fall, it is absolutely vital that this problem be solved asap. But it is clear this will not happen unless the federal government agrees to join the battle and shoulder its share of the load. I needn’t remind you that Ottawa created a $46billion fund in 2018 to support affordable housing projects across the country, but to date has approved less than one percent, or $7.3 million for two projects in BC while Ontario has received $1.39 billion for 12 projects. Surely it is obvious that Victoria’s problem, while significant, could be resolved for far less than that, especially when the province’s contribution is added. I urge you to consider this issue and press the government to respond soon. I look forward to your response. 

Regards,

There are some glimmers of hope coming out of Ottawa in terms of a substantial housing acquisition fund. We’ll keep working with our colleagues at the federal government to ensure that once this fund is announced that the money gets out as quickly as possible.

I know this has been a lot of information to share all at once. I’ve been sitting here typing for the last hour and a half and it’s probably time to get up, refill my coffee and then tackle all of the other non-homelessness related “action items” coming out of various meetings this past week.

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 a More-Than-Human-Politics 

Council balances 2020 budget and leaves additional $17.6 million in reserve funds

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mayor Helps – New Podcast Created by Victoria Business Owner

It was the middle of pandemic, and Dave Hatt, owner of the WetCleaner – Victoria’s only non-toxic dry cleaner – saw a steady drop in business. As people began to work from home, they were more likely to be wearing sweats than suits. He saw his fellow small business owners also struggling. Rather than just sit around waiting for customers (who are thankfully now starting to return), he started a new venture, the Tunderin Podcast Network @TunderinMedia

He’s go a series of podcasts focused on small business, including TheMayorHelps. At first I wasn’t sure why he’d want to create a podcast featuring a mayor. But I said yes anyway! And I’m so glad I did. Each week we bring on local business people who pop into zoom, tell us a little bit about their businesses and then ask me a question. We also have a longer segment featuring change makers from across the country. And a state of the city where Dave grills me on current events in Victoria.

The flexibility of the show, and the fact that it happens weekly allows us to invite guests on to address issues of emerging concern in our community and across the country.

I’ve featured two episodes here. Just below, a great conversation with Ruth Mojeed in Victoria with the Inclusion Project. And above, a recent conversation with Brent Toderian, 21st century urbanist and former Head Planner at the City of Vancouver. You can find all the episodes here. Watch. Enjoy. Subscribe. And share!

Taking a Break from Twitter: The Stories We Tell About Our City Matter

Screenshot 2020-07-19 10.00.27

On Friday we announced the first step in the creation of the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. This is one of the first actions in Victoria’s new economic plan, Victoria 3.0. The City is working together with the South Island Prosperity Partnership, the Association of British Columbia Marine Industries, Ocean Networks Canada, and companies large and small to create a future focused innovation hub in the downtown.

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. IMG_6863.jpeg

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.

For those who need me, there are still lots of ways to say in touch! You can email mayor@victoria.ca, phone or text at 250-661-2708, speak with Council directly, or come to one of my Community Drop Ins, which have gone virtual during the pandemic.

 

 

 

Participatory Budgeting and Everyday Creativity Grants Help Residents #buildbackbetter

Update on City’s COVID-19 response and recovery. Video from Friday, June 26 2020.

The Province has announced Phase 3 of its ReStart Plan, which allows for “safe and smart travel” within BC and the re-opening of more hotels and resorts. Destination Greater Victoria is also promoting wide open spaces and places in Victoria, and ideas for what visitors from other parts of the province can do when visiting the Capital City. For more information, visit them here.

This is really good news for Victoria as tourism is a key element of our economy, particularly during the summer months. Destination Greater Victoria is doing some amazing work in re-thinking what tourism looks like in Victoria and I encourage everyone to be a tourist in our own home town – to check out some of the things you haven’t yet checked out and explore places you haven’t yet explored.

The federal and provincial governments recently committed $20 million to match the Capital Regional District’s contribution of $10 million for the Regional Housing First Program which is on track to have more than 1,800 affordable housing units completed or under construction in Greater Victoria by the end of 2022. The units will be a mixture of shelter-rate, affordable rental, and near-market rental – all of which are needed in the region.

We’re grateful to the provincial and federal governments and the Capital Regional District for their investments in the Regional Housing First program. This unprecedented program was made possible by all municipalities participating and is exactly the kind of cooperation we need to address housing affordability and homelessness across the region.

At last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, based on public health advice, Council voted to allow people without homes to keep their tents up in permitted sheltering areas in the city until further advice is received by Dr. Bonnie Henry.

This is a temporary measure due to COVID-19. Services and shelters have been severely reduced and people without homes literally have nowhere to go during the day. I’d like to ask for patience and understanding, recognizing that we are still in the middle of a global health pandemic. Victoria is not alone. We need to work together and advocate to the provincial and particularly the federal government for more housing solutions.

Last Thursday, Council approved the Everyday Creativity Grant, a new, one-time grant aimed at increasing access for everyone to be creative through the arts and improve mental and physical health. Non-profit organizations or people partnering with non-profits are invited to submit ideas for engaging people to be creative and participate in the arts. Projects with an emphasis on learning, creative expression and broad public participation are eligible and grants range from $500 to $5,000. Information on how to apply will be available next week.

The City’s Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee is seeking proposals for the 2020 Participatory Budgeting initiative, which will see $50,000 invested in projects benefiting new immigrants and refugees in Victoria. Anyone with an idea for a project or activity that will enhance or enrich the lives of newcomers in the  community is invited to apply online at here by 4 p.m. on July 31, 2020.

If you have an idea or are curious about the participatory budgeting process and want to know more, two virtual open houses will be held on July 7 and 11 where you can learn all about it.  I’m curious to see which projects our residents think are important.

To date, under the Build Back Victoria initiative, the City has received 55 applications for new patios or flex spaces, 28 of which have been approved and 16 are in progress. Build Back Victoria initiatives support local businesses during their re-opening and recovery from the pandemic by providing public spaces for private use. Spaces on sidewalks, on streets, in parking spaces, and in plazas and parks are temporarily being made available for businesses to expand their footprint to safely conduct commercial activities.

These applications are coming from all over the city – downtown, James Bay, Fernwood, Hillside-Quadra. It’s great to see more space being created for businesses. We really need to do what we can to help businesses through this very challenging time. And it’s great for us, their loyal customers.

The community is invited to watch Victoria’s Canada Day, a virtual celebration on July 1 at 7 p.m. on CHEK for an impressive line-up of diverse, multicultural performances and community content. The one-hour, commercial free broadcast will also be streamed on canadadayvictoria.ca and the City’s YouTube channel.

Hosted by CHEK’s Joe Perkins and Stacy Ross, Victoria’s Canada Day will feature musical performances from an exciting local line-up, with a special performance by the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers.

What it means to live in Canada very much depends on your personal experience, whether you’re Indigenous, a newcomer, or have lived here for much or all of your life. We need to respect that for many, Canada Day is not an occasion for celebration. We need to acknowledge together our past wrongs and continue to work together with respect, cooperation and in partnership towards reconciliation.

Even though we can’t physically be together on the Legislature Lawn as we usually do, we can still come together virtually to mark Canada’s strengths and its diversity.

 

 

 

Build Back Victoria Off to a Great Start!

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.

Recreation

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.

Creative spotlight

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.

Canada Day

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Build Back Victoria: A Path to Re-Opening and Recovery

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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 engage@victoria.ca to have it read aloud, 2) Email engage@victoria.ca 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.

 

 

TELUS Commits to Victoria, Plans “TELUS Ocean” – Office and Innovation Centre in Downtown

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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.

 

 

 

 

City of Victoria Supports Businesses in Restart and Reopening

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.”

To download the new business toolkit visit the City’s COVID-19 Business Resource page.

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 igday2020@gmail.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.

City of Victoria Takes Steps Towards Recovery

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 federal government also opened applications for the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit. Students impacted by COVID-19 can apply online here.

News from the provincial government

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Finally, it’s Victoria Day on Monday. There won’t be the annual Victoria Day Parade but the Victoria Festivals Society is broadcasting a virtual Victoria day event. You can catch it on CHEK TV starting at 9am on Monday.