The World is Coming Apart at the Seams, and What We Can Do About It – A Dose of Inspiration

This might be a bit of a heavy read, and it’s a bit rambly about all the challenges we’re facing. But there is some practical inspiration and hope at the end of the post. Feel free to skip right to that section if you don’t want a re-hash of everything that is wrong with the world right now.

It feels as if the world came apart at the seams this summer. I read CBC news every day, both BC and national. I also scan the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. I read for information, but also for the metanarrative – what’s going on in the really big picture? How do all these headlines and stories fit together?

I wonder if others also see how bad things actually are and how all the problems we’re facing as a human society are interconnected, or at the very least related. The climate crisis. The housing crisis. The labour shortage. Worker burnout. Racism and colonialism. And more.

The pandemic and climate change are the most obvious. BC’s State of Emergency finally came to an end after 16 months and then, weeks later, BC was in another State of Emergency because of the wildfires. Is the new normal a State of Emergency? This is a real question.

In the interior, last summer’s tourist season was ravaged by COVID-19. This summer it’s COVID-19 and climate change. And nurses in the interior (and elsewhere) are quitting their jobs because of the stress and continuous state-of-emergency conditions. In Alberta, nurses are being forced to work overtime to deal with a rise in COVID-19 cases. Nurses and doctors are exhausted. Firefighters are exhausted. What if everyone just gets too tired? Who will take care of us then? Who will back fill?

Our population growth via immigration has stalled because of COVID-19, but even when we begin to welcome newcomers again, where will they live? Canada has one of the worst housing supply situations of any OECD country. So even if we let immigrants in by the thousands to fill the massive labour gap that we are facing in many industries and professions, there are no homes for them. There isn’t currently enough housing in the country, province or city for people who are already here.

In Victoria last summer, we also felt the negative effects of COVID-19. Those without homes and living in poverty experienced the giant gaps in the social safety net and ended up living in parks. And we also experienced a lack of tourist travel which had negative impacts on our local businesses.

This summer, tourists are flocking to Victoria rather than to other parts of the province that are too smokey. Our restaurant staff are so stressed as there aren’t enough workers to cover shifts; they’re often working shorthanded, or many are new and being trained all at once. Last year, restaurants had limited capacity because of COVID-19. This year some have limited capacity because of lack of staff; they have to close on certain days or cut hours. Everyone is hiring but no one can find enough workers. Why? Because the workers can’t find housing that is affordable, and, in many cases, they can’t find any housing at all, even if they make a really decent salary.

A friend told me over dinner recently that a few years ago, BC Assessment began to assesses the value of multi-unit residential rental properties differently and that rental buildings are now being valued at the income that they could be earning rather than the income that they are earning.

What this means is that even if a building owner is charging tenants rents that are below market, their buildings are now assessed / valued at how much they would be worth if they were charging market rents. For example, if a building owner has tenants that have lived in a building for a long time and are paying less than what they would if they moved in today, or if a building owner supports a single mom with kids by giving her a break on rent, their buildings are still valued at the maximum rents they are able to charge. They are penalized for providing below-market housing.

How is having a building that is “worth more” a penalty? Because as the assessed value of a building goes up, this means property taxes for that building go up and the below market rents can’t cover the property taxes. My friend tells me that some of his friends – long-time building owners – are putting their buildings on the market because they can’t afford to keep them more affordable.

These buildings are being snapped up by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the mandate of which is to deliver as high as possible rate of return to their investors. Some of the investors in REITs are public sector pension corps. We want teachers and nurses and city workers to have good pensions; but we also want them to be able to afford housing now.

We also want our small local businesses to survive and thrive coming out of the pandemic. And yet, Amazon is opening a distribution centre near the airport to distribute Amazon goods up and down Vancouver Island. When our small businesses are still struggling.

Housing shortage. Labour shortage. Exhausted workers on the front lines. Housing crisis. Pandemic that looks like it’s here to stay. And climate change wreaking havoc. Something’s going to give. Something is giving. The world is breaking apart at the seams.

What do we do? Do we become bystanders? No. What is my role? As a human? As mayor? It’s exhausting sometimes when every decision that is good for the climate crisis or for the housing crisis feels like a giant fight. Think the Richardson Street bike corridor. Think the proposed rental building at 1475 Fort Street, sent back to staff for a third time rather than moving forward to create new housing.

Is this a blog post or a journal entry?

I thought this morning that maybe it’s a culmination of feelings built up over a few days of summer holiday reflection. It’s the same way I felt sometimes as a teenager – despair that we humans were destroying the planet and no one was really doing anything about it. I rode my bike and took the bus to school and became a vegetarian for a time. I did my best, but it didn’t really matter, because look at how the adults were treating the planet.

Now I’m an adult with an eighteen-year-old in my life who feels much the same was as I did. What are we doing as adults?

We can’t house people. We can’t properly care for people with mental health and substance use challenges; the latter are dying in larger numbers than people are dying of COVID-19. We can’t provide our essential workers with any relief as we lurch from State of Emergency to State of Emergency. We can’t adequately or quickly enough address systemic racism, the ongoing impacts of colonialism and the grief of residential school survivors and the families of those who never came home. We want to save the old growth forests, but we still fly to Mexico for vacation.

All of this while the province literally burns down around us.

Despair. Fear. Disconnection.

But thankfully, this isn’t all.

I’ve spent the last few months reading Margaret Wheatley’s, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. Almost every page has a folded corner. It’s from 2005. I bet her 2017 book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, has more recent insight for the even more precarious and uncertain time we are in now.

But still, in Finding Our Way, she shares wisdom that I turn to in despair. Wisdom that offers a path forward through connection, love, and hope-through-shared-action.

There are three elements in the book that give me not only hope, but the ability to see more clearly and to act more deliberately, both as a human and as mayor.

Wheatley says that we need to become better systems thinkers, to “see a system and its web of connections.” How is climate change related to COVID-19 related to the housing crisis related to the worker shortage related to worker burnout related to racism and colonialism related to disconnection?

She suggests when we’re trying to make change, to start small, do something that makes a difference and see who notices. The point is to find the connections in the system that we don’t know are there. Wheately says that when we do something like that – take a small action in the direction we want the world (or our street or community or neighbourhood) to move, people show up, “We didn’t know there was any connection between us, but their response makes the connection clear” (207). We then understand those connections better and can use them to take the next action.

To be better systems thinkers we also need to expect that there will be unintended consequences to the actions we take. We need to be able to identify these quickly, reflect on them, and then to take a different action next time. Systems thinking also requires seeking out different interpretations. “The more interpretations we gather,” Wheatley says, “the easier it is to gain a sense of the whole” (208).

Second, Wheatley says that we need to find less aggressive ways to work through problems. She points out that even how we talk about problem solving is aggressive. We “attack a problem,” “tackle the issue,” “get on top of it,” “wrestle it to the ground,” “take a stab at it” (182).

What she recommends instead is this:

“To step aside from aggressive responses to problem solving requires a little used skill: humility. Humility is a brave act – we have to admit that we don’t have the answer. We need more information, more insight. This kind of humility is rare in competitive, embattled organizations and communities, but it is what we need to find real solutions. One wise educator put it this way: ‘Humility is admitting I don’t know the whole story. Compassion is recognizing that you don’t know it either'” (184).

I think about social media here, how it is a platform for sheer aggression. What would Facebook, Twitter etc be like if – instead of posting with such certainty and then defending positions – people shared what they were grappling with, or struggling to understand. What if social media became a platform for humility and compassion.

The third kernel of wisdom I’ve gleaned and would like to share is probably the most important, and indeed the two approaches above are not possible without it: listening.

Wheatley writes:

“Our natural state is to be together. In this time when we keep moving away from each other, we haven’t lost the need and longing to be in relationship. Everybody has a story. If no one listens we tell it to ourselves and we go mad. In the English language the word for health comes from the same root as the word for whole. We can’t be healthy if we’re not in relationship. And whole is from the same root as holy. Listening moves us closer; it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy” (219).

What she recommends is that we “all play our part in the great healing that needs to happen everywhere.” She asks us to, “think about who you might approach – someone you don’t know, don’t like, or whose manner of living is a mystery to you. What would it take to begin a conversation with that person? Would you be able to ask him or her for an opinion or explanation, and then sit quietly to listen to the answer? Could you keep yourself from arguing or defending or saying anything for a while? Could you encourage the person to just keep telling you his or her version of things, that one side of the story” (221)?

Thinking like a system, approaching problems less aggressively, and listening. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complex issues we are facing right now. Yet in a time of despair and disconnection, in a summer where it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams, these are three tools that I can use – maybe tools that we can all use – to help stitch the world back together again, creating it anew at the same time. To become more whole, more healthy, more holy.

Council Summer Wrap Up – Housing, Bike Lanes, Sports Fields, and More

New skate parks and bike park too at Topaz. More below!

Thursday was our last Council meeting before a summer recess, and it was a long one! It was probably one of the most exciting days in my almost-decade at the Council table in terms of big moves that lay the ground work for the future. Here’s a synopsis of the key decisions and, where applicable, information about how to get involved in the next steps. Each of these could be its own full blog post, so I’ll just touch on the highlights and provide a link to the Council report for those of you who’d like to read more.

Missing Middle Housing Moves to Broad Public Engagement

I previewed Missing Middle housing in a blog post a few weeks ago, “Housing Supply in Victoria Tipping in the Wrong Direction.” Missing Middle housing is ground-oriented housing (front doors that open out onto the street) that fills a gap between single family homes and condos. Staff recommended to Council that we move ahead with the next steps in rezoning the single family lands in the city – about 45% of the city’s land base – to make room for townhouses and houseplexes.

Staff’s recommendations balances the need for new housing in what are currently single family neighbourhoods, with the preservation of the character of these neighbourhoods that so many of us love. Staff provided draft design guidelines for townhouses and houseplexes that people building these homes will need to follow. Staff also worked hard to balance the preservation and enhancement of green space and the urban forest, with space for parking.

Council endorsed staff’s approach and voted to move forward with the next step, which is wide consultation with the public this fall, before Council gives consideration to zoning bylaws that would increase the density throughout a large portion of the city’s land base. These proposed changes will make it easier for small-scale developers and also for neighbours to come together to pool their properties in land trusts or co-ops.

To read the detailed staff report, the preliminary engagement summary, and to view the proposed design guidelines, head here to item F1. To follow along with next steps on Missing Middle housing and to participate in the consultation this fall, head here and register.

Village and Corridor Planning – Joyful Public Spaces and More Housing Choices

Since the fall of 2019, staff have been working with the communities of Fernwood, North Park, and Hillside Quadra to develop 20-year visions for their neighbourhoods, and to create more housing choices for more people. The engagement to date has produced some pretty inspiring results! Much of the early engagement was done online because of COVID-19. What we found is that while there is still a need for more face-to-face engagement – which will happen this fall – we reached a much wider and more representative group of people by providing online engagement opportunities.

The people who participated shared their visions and aspirations for their neighbourhoods. This includes some pretty awesome ideas for public spaces and placemaking, more inclusive and affordable housing choices, more sustainable mobility options, improvements to parks and green spaces, and more. For those of you who live in Fernwood, North Park or Hillside Quadra, haven’t yet been involved and want to learn more, please take the time to head here, to item E1 and see the ideas that your neighbours have put forward for the future of your neighbourhoods. To those who contributed time, energy and ideas, thank you!

One of the big changes proposed for all three neighbourhoods – and pictured in the map above – is to rezone portions of neighbourhoods along and off corridors, and near village centres to create more diverse housing choices and to incentivize rental and affordable housing through bonus density. For example, if someone builds rental or affordable housing, they will be allowed more density than if they were to build condos. To learn more, please read the staff report which is the first item under E1 here.

If you haven’t had a chance to participate yet, not to worry. With Council’s vote on Thursday to move forward on the next steps, staff will be taking all of the preliminary input and turning it into draft neighbourhood plans for each neighbourhood. These draft plans will form the basis of the next phase of engagement, to take place this fall, where the plans and the ideas generated to date can be assessed, revised and added to. It’s a really exciting opportunity to help shape the future of our city and your neighbourhood. If you’d like to learn more and participate this fall, head here and register.

New Turf Fields and New Bike and Skate Parks at Topaz

In 2018, Council approved the Topaz Park Improvement Plan. Since then, staff have been working with the community to prepare and design the first two big projects – skate and bike parks that will accommodate all skill levels – from beginner to advanced, and two new artificial turf fields to replace the existing ones which are at end of life. As part of both of these projects, accessibility improvements will be made including the addition of accessible parking, accessible access to the sports field, accessible spectator seating, an accessible washroom including an adult change table, and accessible pathways in and around the bike and skate parks.

With Council’s decision on Thursday, staff and the consulting teams can begin the detailed design and then construction. The budgets for these projects ($4.3 million for the turf fields and $3.8 million for the bike and skate parks) have already been approved as part of the 2021 budget. Construction will begin later this year. The bike and skate parks will be open by June 2022 and the new fields by early fall 2022.

It’s exciting to be able to make these investments in sports and recreation. Both projects are much anticipated by a wide range of community members. With skateboarding just having debuted at the Olympics, we expect the new skate park will be well-used by young Victorians who have big aspirations. And, both the bike and skate parks as well as the turf fields contribute to the physical and mental health and well being of our community.

Head here to item F3 to read the reports and see the plans and the engagement summary.

Final Corridors of 32km Bike Network – Approved Unanimously

This is the current status of the build out of the 32km All Ages and Abilities bike network. For more detailed maps and corridor treatments head here.

Since 2016, the City has been building an All Ages and Abilities bike network to make it safe and easy for people who are hesitant to cycle because they don’t feel safe doing so alongside high volumes of fast-moving cars. Recent research undertaken for Victoria found that 85% of people surveyed would consider biking if they had safe routes to do so.

On Thursday, after two rounds of public engagement on James Bay routes, Council approved the construction of safe cycling routes along Government Street, Superior Street and Montreal Street, with a short connector as well from Government along Michigan Street into the AAA facility through Beacon Hill Park. The design of each corridor was given thoughtful consideration by members of the public and staff, and each route was designed taking a ‘complete streets’ approach.

A complete streets approach means improvements for pedestrians, retention of as much on street parking as possible, accommodation of transit buses, etc. It also means that safety considerations and the kind of bike facility that we build depends on the condition of the streets. For example, at the beginning of the Government Street corridor at Humboldt, there are high car traffic volumes as it’s a busy downtown street, so there will be protected bike lanes on either side of the road. By the time Government Street connects with the waterfront pathway at Dallas Road, the proposed treatment is a shared neighbourhood bikeway because traffic volumes on that stretch of Government are less than 1000 cars per day.

Council also approved expedited engagement for protected bikelanes on Gorge Road between Government Street and the Saanich border at Harriet Street. Gorge Road has had a great deal of discussion as a bike route over the years both in the initial network planning in 2016 and through the development of the Burnside Gorge Neighbourhood Plan in 2017. The Gorge Road bike lanes will help to better allocate existing road space, create a more human-scale feeling, include improvements for pedestrians, and will help to knit the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood – which is bisected by many busy roads – together.

The Gorge Road bike corridor is being coordinated with the District of Saanich, which is also building protected bike lanes from Admirals Road to the Victoria border. And, the Gorge Road route is being built in 2022 in anticipation of sewer repairs planned for 2023 which will mean the closure of the Galloping Goose trail for a period of the year. We are building the Gorge Road AAA facility in 2022 so that riders of all ages and abilities will have a safe detour route during the period of the Goose closure.

The final leg of the priority AAA network – Pandora from Cook to Begbie – will be designed in 2022 and built in the first quarter of 2023.

All the AAA projects to date have come in on time and on budget. And best of all, we’re seeing more people than ever before using the network. We learned at the Council meeting Thursday that on some days, the two-way bike lanes on Wharf Street along the harbour are as busy as the Galloping Goose Trail!

Head here to item F1 to read the staff report, see the proposed corridor designs and the engagement summary.

Northern Junk Buildings – Heritage Preservation and Building for the Future

Pictured here are renderings of the ‘Northern Junk’ buildings, two warehouses dating back to the 1860s. The proposed project that Council approved on Thursday evening was 11 years in the making. This was a very controversial project. Victoria has a world-class heritage preservation program and because of it, a large portion of our downtown is intact and well-preserved for the future.

Many of the people who were involved in the creation and stewardship of the City’s award-winning heritage program, were strongly opposed to this proposal, noting that it doesn’t respect the heritage guidelines for Old Town. A key point that they made is that the five-story addition on top of the old warehouses was not subservient to the heritage buildings.

I agree with this assessment. But my vote in favour of the project had wider considerations than only heritage preservation. I do think – from a heritage point of view – that this development has many merits. Many of the character defining features of the buildings will be restored and preserved, including a few of the internal elements. They will be brought back to life and able to be viewed and enjoyed from the street, Reeson Park and the water.

In addition, the redevelopment of this site which has sat vacant for 43 years – almost my whole life – will begin to knit that portion of the harbour front back together and breathe new life into it. The City has recently made improvements to Reeson Park, including installation of a portion of the waterfront walkway. The Northern Junk redevelopment will continue the harbour pathway from Reeson Park and along the waterfront of the old buildings.

On the north side of the buildings is a derelict piece of City-owned land currently serving as a small parking lot. With the certainty of the development going ahead, and with direction from Council, staff could begin work on converting that parking lot into another small waterfront park and continuing the harbour pathway across the City’s property there, linking the public realm of the south and north sides of the Johnson Street Bridge together.

In addition, the proposed development will add 47 rental units to the city. Some of the people who spoke against the development noted that these units won’t be affordable. That’s true. But with a rental vacancy rate hovering around 1% and with a massive labour shortage – in part due to lack of housing, even for people who earn really good wages – I’m very hard pressed to vote against housing.

You can head here to watch Council’s debate and deliberation on Thursday evening (debate starts at 1:32:04) which resulted in a 5-4 vote in favour the project.

“The Beginning of the End of Homelessness in the CRD”

During the pandemic, homelessness was a key issue that we had to work through as a community. On March 17 2020, there were approximately 25-35 people sheltering outside. By the end of April 2020, that number grew to over 400 people. Working hard together, the City, BC Housing, Island Health, the Province, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and so many amazing housing providers, outreach workers, peer support workers and others, helped over 600 people move inside from parks.

To learn from this process about what went well, what didn’t, and what should come next, the City applied for federal funding through the Reaching Home program to undertake an assessment. The report Council received and approved on Thursday is game-changing for addressing homelessness in the City and the region, that is, if everyone involved – from the City to the Province to the homeless serving system as a whole – implements the 28 recommendations.

The power of the report and the recommendations is that they foreground the stories and experiences of people who have experienced homelessness, most of whom moved from the parks indoors during the study period. Their experiences and stories reveal all the gaps in the system that need to be fixed, and point to a need for stronger coordination. They also reveal a keen willingness from, and need for, people experiencing homelessness to have a say in and control over their own journey from homelessness to home.

The goal that we have collectively set now – coming out of the successes and challenges of the pandemic – is to achieve what’s called “functional zero homelessness.” Functional zero is a concrete and measurable approach to ending homelessness; it means that there are enough, or even more homeless-serving services and resources than needed to meet the needs of individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness has already developed a work plan to implement the recommendations. We want to keep up the momentum gained during the pandemic. And we want to work to ensure that everyone in the region has a safe, secure, affordable place to call home, with the help, support and the community they need.

For those interested, I strongly recommend reading the full report. Head here, to item D2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring reality.

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

Ignoring reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCP Map 2 from Chapter 6 Land Management and Development.

Traditional residential means:

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

Urban residential means:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can-Do Spirit of Victoria, Clover Point Recap, Indoor Sheltering Update Plus How We Spend Money, and A Mother’s Email – Mayor’s Sunday Email – Sunday March 14

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to started this email / post with the op-ed I wrote for the Times Colonist on Thursday, which marked one year of the global health pandemic. The crafty headline writers at the paper gave it the title, “Can-do spirit of past year will help position city for the future.” I’m sharing it with all of you as a tribute to what we’ve all been through. If you wrote specifically about Clover Point or about homelessness and concerns with respect to parks sheltering and the plans to move people indoors, feel free to skip the op-ed and go right down to those headings. If you’d like to receive weekly updates, you can sign up here (top right hand side).

Can Do Spirit of Past Year
Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic. The flag at City Hall is flying at half-mast to recognize and mourn the lives that have been lost.

Today is also a moment for reflection: how we came together to fight COVID-19; how our lives have changed; what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. It’s also a time to look forward, towards recovery and to what kind of economy we build for the future.

Each of us probably remembers where we were the moment life changed. I was at the Victoria airport on March 11, 2020. I’d checked in and was waiting for my flight to Ottawa for a conference and minister meetings. My phone rang and it was staff at City Hall suggesting I reconsider travelling.

I remember telling the woman at the Air Canada boarding gate that I wouldn’t be on the flight. “You and almost everyone else,” she said. Recognizing me as the mayor she said, “Good luck to you … good luck to all of us,” with a real sense of foreboding.

It’s much more than luck that has carried us through the last year. It’s the skill, courage and sheer fortitude of those working in our health care system. They risked their lives to keep us all safe. They showed up for shifts in the early days of the pandemic when so much about the disease was unknown. They tended to the sick and the dying. They are COVID-19 heroes.

So too the bus drivers who kept transit running so people could get to work. The grocery store cashiers and clerks. The teachers who got kids back to school in uncertain conditions. The City workers who kept providing the services we depend on like garbage pick-up, street cleaning, running water.

When the world shut down and we were told to stay at home, to work from home, those who couldn’t and didn’t – for the benefit of us all – deserve our deepest thanks.

We did thank them early on, banging pots at 7 p.m. On front porches and in backyards throughout the region, every evening the loud clanging clatter of thanks. That simple act brought us together, lifted our spirits. But then it stopped, our spirits fizzled, and COVID-19 fatigue began to set in.

Our bubbles started to feel small. We couldn’t go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Many have lost jobs or had their work hours cut. The pandemic widened existing cracks in the social safety net, leaving our most vulnerable neighbours in desperate need of housing and support. Our kids’ mental health worries us, and maybe our own mental health does too. Our small businesses are struggling.

There have been some silver linings. The region’s generosity was evident in the early months of the pandemic when the Times Colonist, Victoria Foundation and Jawl Family Foundation launched the Rapid Relief Fund with the aim of raising $1 million. In less than two months, contributions small and large totalled $6 million, all of which went directly to non-profits providing services to people hit hard by the pandemic.

The Build Back Victoria initiative last summer showed how quickly Council can act and how agile City Hall can be. Within weeks, dozens of patios and retail “flex spaces” sprung up across the city to create more space for businesses to serve customers. I’ve had a number of business owners tell me that Build Back Victoria is the reason they’re still open. And I’ve had residents say to me that they’ve never spent as much time or money on Government Street as they did last summer.

Vaccines roll out next week, restrictions will be slowly eased, and life will start to feel normal again. As it does, we’ve got a lot of economic recovery work to do. Major sectors like tourism have been hard hit and need support. Emerging economic opportunities like the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST) need to be nurtured as key recovery projects.

In all sectors, women, youth, Indigenous people, people of colour, and low-wage service workers have been disproportionately impacted. According to the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Reboot recovery vision, “we must collectively take bold steps to nurture a more inclusive and diversified economy.”

This has been one of the most difficult years in Victoria’s history. And we’ve made it through. In the coming months, let’s continue to use what we’ve learned during the pandemic – agility, deep collaboration, a can-do spirit – to position our city and our region for the future.  

Clover Point Decision Recap
Please see blog posts from February 28th and March 7th (head to Clover Point section in each post) for a more comprehensive explanation of the approach we’ve taken to Clover Point. In response to further emails this week, I’m sharing some information on the precise decision for those who may not have these details, and a link to the February 25th staff report. At the February 25 Committee of the Whole meeting, staff presented three options for the interim design of Clover Point Park. Council approved the below motion and we ratified it at our daytime Council meeting on March 4.

Interim Design Options for Parking and Pedestrian Space in Clover Point Park
That Council direct staff to proceed with Option 2 for Clover Point Park:

  1. Complete modifications to increase the pedestrian priority space in Clover Point Park, as illustrated in Attachment B, with an allocation of up to $275,000 in the 2021 Financial Plan, to be funded from the Buildings and Infrastructure Reserve.
  2. That the painting budget be restricted to delineating pedestrian trails and bike trails versus passive space.
  3. That a location be found downtown for the “follow the pod” public art feature.
  4. That staff be in consultation with immigrants and immigrant associations, ethno-cultural groups and the seniors’ advisory committee, youth council and City of Victoria youth council, Fairfield Gonzales Community Association, Accessibility Advisory Committee, Active Transportation Advisory Committee, and that their views are considered.
  5. That food trucks must use sustainable practices and must submit these practices to staff.
  6. That the budget for furniture be reduced to $50,000.

You can find the staff report and Council’s discussion from February 25 here.

Update on Parks Sheltering and Moves Indoors (and what the City spends money on)
Some of you who have written this week have asked us to ends parks sheltering immediately. Others have asked us to extend it indefinitely, or to the end of the pandemic. My hope is that Council sticks to our commitment, which is the middle ground between these two positions.

In November, Council passed a motion indicating that we would change the parks bylaw to end 24/7 sheltering once everyone currently living in parks has been offered an indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. We had set a goal of March 31st. The Province and BC Housing accepted this goal and everyone has been working towards it. Parks are not homes. And Beacon Hill Park is not a campground. Parks have been used as emergency shelters in an emergency situation. A huge shout out to our parks staff who are working so hard to maintain Beacon Hill Park even in these very difficult circumstances. Please thank them when you see them.

As of this week the Province announced that it has secured a sufficient number of indoor spaces to support moving people inside. Because two of the sites secured this month require significant additional retrofitting to prepare them for use as emergency shelters, the process will continue until the end of April 2021, rather than the end of March as originally planned. Announcement of the final site list will be done in partnership with the city in the coming weeks once all of the agreements between BC Housing and the property owners have closed.

Following through on its commitment, at our evening Council meeting last Thursday, Council gave three readings to a parks bylaw amendment that would see the end of 24/7 sheltering as of May 1st. Council will consider adoption of the bylaw this Thursday.

All the indoor sheltering locations will be fully operational, with non-profit service providers identified, by April 30, 2021. At these locations, staff will be on site 24/7 to provide wraparound supports, including meal programs, life skills training, and health and wellness support services.

Fifty-seven people have moved inside since the beginning of March and moves will continue this coming week. People have moved inside from Ellis Street in Rock Bay, Cecelia Ravine Park, and 940 Caledonia. This site will be closed as of March 19th to make way for a Tiny Home development, subject to the outcome of an opportunity for the public to comment on the project at Council Thursday evening.

We expect a minimum of 52 moves this coming week into Capital City Centre and other sites. BC Housing is prioritizing people over 50 (down from 55), those at risk of COVID-19, those who are long-time homeless, and Indigenous people.

Here are four questions that one person has asked; they reflect questions from others of you as well. I have answered them a number of times – in some form – since August when I began weekly updates. Please read previous posts if you require further or more detailed information. You can find them here.

1. Why did you allow 24/7 camping in parks in the first place, given that this was not a requirement of the BC Ministry of Health?
A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. The City allowed people who had nowhere to go when everyone was told to stay at home to shelter in place. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos. That’s why we’ve been working hard with the Province to secure safe indoor spaces so that we can move people inside and end encampments.

2. Why didn’t you admit the mistake and reverse course when it quickly became clear that 24/7 camping was a disastrous decision?
While there have been many difficulties with this situation for everyone involved, I don’t believe it is a mistake. I think there would have been a greater risk of the spread of COVID-19 had 200 to 400 people had to take down their tents every morning and move throughout the city. Plus, there was literally nowhere for people to go. Even Our Place and the library closed, two places where people without homes can spend time during the day.

3. Why are you intending to allow 7pm – 7am camping in parks after all campers have been offered accommodation? The BC Supreme Court decision does not require cities to allow camping in urban parks except when there is no sheltering alternative.
I agree. The goal is to have no camping in city parks and to have adequate indoor sheltering space for everyone who needs it. The goal is to achieve what is called “functional zero” when it comes to homelessness. What this means is that if someone becomes homeless, there is room in the emergency shelter and housing system to catch them immediately and to meet their needs, however complex, before their situation becomes chronic.

The 2009 BC Supreme Court decision ruled that people who have no homes have the right to erect shelters overnight. The decision uses words like “adequate sheltering alternative” or something like this. So it’s not just as simple as the number of shelter beds that may be available on a given night. If for example, someone is in recovery from drug or alcohol use and the only shelter beds available are ones where drug use and/or alcohol consumption is permitted, that may not be considered an “adequate” shelter for that person. The Supreme Court decision is not a simple numbers game.

4. Why do you refuse to acknowledge the extent to which the homeless population in Victoria consists of people from outside the region? We will never get ahead of the problem of housing so many people when there is a large and steady influx from other provinces.
What the bi-annual Point In Time Count shows is that the majority of people who are homeless in Victoria are from British Columbia. And, Council unanimously voted last August to ask the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) table to prioritize people for housing who have lived in the CRD for at least a year. Council does not make decisions about who gets housed. You can read the August 6th recommendation to Council from myself and Councillors Thornton-Joe, Loveday and Alto here. (See item J3.)

There seems to be a narrative emerging in some of the emails we’ve received, and probably also on social media, that instead of “wasting” money on bike lanes and Clover Point, the City should be spending money instead on housing, mental health and addictions. At then there is also a narrative that Council focuses on issues that are beyond our scope and that we should stay focused on what is properly within a municipal mandate.

Health care and housing are clearly – and constitutionally – the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments. The City can and does partner with both levels of government; we sometimes provide land for housing. And we have a housing reserve fund in which we deposit $650,000 per year to help fund the creation of non-market housing by non-profit housing providers. But we are not responsible for housing, health care, mental health and addictions supports and we don’t have the revenue raising capacity or tools to fund these important services.

But cities are supposed to spend money on parks and improvements to transportation infrastructure. And, contrary to what seems like popular belief, most of the bike infrastructure in Victoria is not funded through property taxes. It is funded through gas tax funding which is remitted to local governments from the federal government each year and can only be used to fund sustainable projects. The City of Victoria is not alone in developing a high-quality bike network. This article, “Europe doubles down on cycling in post-COVID recovery plans,” celebrates the explosion of cycling infrastructure across Europe.

And just one more thing in this regard, because it gets raised so often: we spend millions every year paving roads and filling potholes. At the same time as we are building bike lanes and improving parks – to deliver on the City’s 20-year paving and road maintenance plan – we are increasing the paving budget up to a steady state of $7.9 million per year by 2023.

Road Paving – Major and Local Streets

Year                     Budget                                                                                                          
2018                     $2.8 million 
2019                     $2.6 million
2020                     $5.5 million
2021     $5.2 million
2022 (proposed)      $6.3 million
2023 (proposed)      $7.9 million

A Mother’s Story and Thanks
A mother sent me this email after reading my blog post last week.

“So, as the proud mother of a son who is both chronically disabled and homeless due to serious mental illness and has managed to survive on the streets of Victoria for many years: may I say that just LOOKING at the ‘Shelter Referral Card’ does some kind of deep healing to my heart.  I don’t even know that my son is ever going to receive one of these, but just knowing that people like him are is deeply, deeply encouraging to me.

I know that you and certain other concerned councillors are receiving a LOT of flack for these efforts from people who have no personal interest in really trying to understand the complex issue of homelessness.    Please know that there are MANY more mothers and brothers and sisters and grandparents out there who are BLESSING YOUR SOUL for this work, every single day.”

She shared this article with me from The Capital Daily, where parents of homeless Victorians speak. To all the parents, grandparents and siblings of people who are homeless out there in our city or across the province or country, we know it’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault either. The health and housing system fails those with the most chronic needs, over and over again. This is why we are working together with the Province and the federal government to make sure that the housing and health care systems work better together, and work for everyone.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Indoor Sheltering Plan, Clover Point Recap and One Year Into A Pandemic – Mayor’s Sunday Email – March 7 2021

This is a sample of the card that people who are living outside will get when they are offered an indoor 24/7 space as a pathway to permanent housing.

Hello Everyone,

Thanks for your emails this past week. As always, to ensure a timely response, I’m writing back to all of you at once. If there is additional information that you’re looking for with respect to sheltering in parks, the move to indoors, or Clover Point, please head directly to my blog here and check back over the past few weeks and months. If you’d like to receive a weekly email you can sign up here, top right hand side.

I’d like to begin by asking everyone to take a moment of silence for the two people who died this week in Beacon Hill Park.

In a country as prosperous as Canada, a province as prosperous as British Columbia, and a city as prosperous as Victoria no one should die alone, outside, in a park.

Many of your emails this week echo concerns we’ve heard from many months now about the situation of people sheltering outside. You want to know what the plan is. Many of you express frustration at the situation, are worried about some of the violence you’re hearing about. Others are worried about those who are living outside who are vulnerable and subject to violence, stigma and discrimination. You want us to do more, and to do better, and to do quickly.

For the past year, we’ve been in our small bubbles, not able to go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Some have lost jobs. Our kids’ mental health has been stretched, and maybe our own mental health has too. Some of us have been living outside in tents for months. We’re quick to anger, blame. Our frustration is boiling over. One year into a global health pandemic everyone is on edge.

I will out outline the plan for getting people indoors, I’ll respond to your other concerns, and I’ll update and recap the Clover Point decision. In the meantime, what I’d like to ask for, from everyone, over the next weeks and months as we come out the other side of the pandemic and the parks sheltering situation, is for all of us to work together to take the temperature down. I was reminded recently of a really simple piece of wisdom: when in doubt be generous. Generous in spirit. Generous in the face of anger, frustration, confrontation.

Indoor Sheltering Plan
Please share this section of the blog post widely with anyone who has questions about what to expect in the next few weeks. I’ll keep it tight and factual.

In November, Council adopted this motion:

“That the City of Victoria works with the Province and other partners to offer housing or indoor shelter with a path to permanent housing for everyone currently sheltering in City parks by March 31st 2021 and directs staff to bring forward amendments to the Parks Regulation Bylaw so that the temporary measures including 24/7 camping expire on March 31st 2021. Final adoption of these amendments are to be scheduled once it is clear that adequate housing and shelter space will be made available by the March 31st deadline.”

Since November, the Province, the City and many others have worked together to follow through on this direction. Here is what has happened in the past week and what to expect in the next few weeks.

  1. This week 49 people moved inside, 45 into the arena and four into other locations. Most of the moves happened from Ellis Street, Cecilia Ravine Park, and the Royal Athletic Park parking lot.
  2. All parks where people are living and most of the people living in them are known to BC Housing. BC Housing, PEERs and others have been working in parks for the past couple of months to ensure that everyone has housing applications filled out.
  3. Having a housing application filled out is the pathway to permanent housing. People can do so here.
  4. All move ins are being organized through the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) process.
  5. Offers are not being made on a park by park basis, but based on the CAA process and individual housing applications. Everyone who has been identified as living in an encampment in a city park will be made an offer in the coming weeks.
  6. The CAA table meets every Tuesday to evaluate applications.
  7. The following spaces have been identified / confirmed:
    45 Arena (full)
    52 Capital City Centre
    30 Tiny Homes
    5 Mt Edwards
    15 Comfort Inn Annex
    5 Youth Hostel
    Total Confirmed Units: 152
    These numbers are subject to change and are the latest available information as of Friday March 5th.
    Approximate number of units short: 50-70-ish
  8. We expect more sheltering opportunities to become available in the coming weeks. We don’t know where these will be.
  9. In addition to these 152 identified units, there are other spaces that are available mostly to people already living in shelters, motels or supportive housing. As these people move into these other spaces, this will create more spaces for people coming directly out of parks. This is a slow process.
  10. There are 24 units at Hockley House, a new Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) building in Langford that rent at $375 per month; 13 people have been identified so far to move in there at the end of March, CRHC is evaluating applications. The remaining 11 spaces will be assigned through the CAA process and applications forwarded to the CRHC. 
  11. There are approximately 30 two-bedroom units that rent at $1625 per month in a new CRHC building in View Royal. These would be suitable for roommates with one rent supplement each. There are approximately 70, $825-per-month rent supplements available through BC Housing. These are available to rent market apartments and are for people who can live independently. The two-bedroom, roommate situation is on the CAA’s radar but difficult to coordinate.
  12. This coming week, offers will be made for Capital City Centre and move ins will begin the week of March 15th.
  13. In the coming weeks, offers will be made to the other locations noted above, and to other locations as they become available.
  14. The criteria being used to prioritize people – with the most vulnerable being offered spaces first – is over 55, risk of COVID-19, long-time homeless, Indigenous.
  15. Island Health has been part of the planning for the move-ins over the past few months and will work to ensure that people have the physical health, mental health and other supports they may need as they move inside.
  16. When people receive an offer they will get a card as pictured above and will be assisted to move into the identified location.
  17. Not everyone will be offered a motel room; those who move into the non-motel room spaces like the arena and others that may become available, will move into permanent housing first.
  18. If you turn down an invitation to go indoors, you may still be considered for future shelter or housing opportunities. There is no guarantee of another opportunity, but applications will remain valid and will be considered as vacancies are available in the BC Housing system.
  19. 24/7 sheltering ending is contingent on people already identified in encampments being offered a 24/7 indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. A motion of Council is required to re-instate the 7pm-7am only sheltering bylaw.

Other Sheltering Related Questions and Concerns
Some of you have raised other questions and concerns that aren’t covered above. I’ll do my best to address them here, again with a numbered list for ease and readability! I do like to write in paragraphs rather than lists but also want to make sure that I share as much information as possible in as concise a way as possible. I’ll go back to paragraphs once we get to the other side.

  1. Some people will need more help and support than supportive housing can offer. This is why myself and the 12 other mayors in the province that make up the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus – which are all facing the same homelessness, mental health and substance use crises – are working with Ministers Eby and Malcolmson on Complex Care Housing. Please read our recent op-ed to learn more.
  2. Our police officers, bylaw officers, parks and public works staff are all doing incredibly difficult work in very challenging circumstances. I, like many of you, am grateful to them for their work. I will continue to support funding and resource requests to ensure they have they have what they need to do their work.
  3. Some of you have asked, “What has happened to our once beautiful city?” Part of my PhD research focused on Victoria in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. I read hundreds of reels of microfilm of Victoria’s daily newspapers, and people then were asking the exact same question. What is happening to our city and other cities across the province and country, is that we are in the middle of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now, like then, those who are suffering the most are the most visible. In the 1930s, people were upset to see jobless men in bread lines, the long line ups at the City’s relief office, and a feeling of general disorder and upheaval. In 2020-2021, it is people without homes living in parks that are the most visible. What we’re seeing now is the manifestation of the pandemic, just as in the 1930s what Victorians witnessed was the manifestation of the Great Depression.
  4. This is not to dismiss the challenges facing us. I have read all your emails. I share your concerns. The situation we are in with people living in parks in the middle of a global health pandemic isn’t good for anyone. Hence the plan above. Council and city staff are working hard every day with our dedicated and committed partners to address the issues that many of you have raised. This is a tough problem and it takes a lot of people working collaboratively and a lot of time to resolve.
  5. Some of you have asked myself and Council to support no sheltering in Central Park. I do support this, as well no sheltering in Centennial Square and Cecelia Ravine Park. Downtown, North Park and Burnside Gorge already host most of the shelters and supportive housing units in the city.
  6. Thank you to those of you who have sent suggestions, from buying old ferries to temporarily house people to sharing what Finland has done to end homelessness. All these creative ideas are welcome.

Clover Point
I understand that we touched a nerve with Clover Point. I think this is probably because the idea was sprung on you with no warning. I get how this is unsettling and disruptive, especially in the middle of a pandemic with so much uncertainty already. Those creature comforts and familiar experiences like sitting in a car watching that waves at Clover Point are really important.

I won’t recap everything I shared in my email / blog post last week about why now and the interim nature of the changes. For those of you who haven’t yet read that post, with all the details, I would really appreciate it if you take the time to do so. You can find the information here; skip down to the Clover Point heading.

And thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Some of you who want Clover Point to remain exactly as it was say that you sharing your perspectives with me is not going to change my mind. But hearing your thoughts and perspectives over the past few weeks did change my mind from making Clover Point pedestrian only to moving towards a middle ground. This new compromise option is temporary – let’s see how it goes and how the space is used over the next couple of years.

Turning the Problem Around
Many of you have written with points of view that are very different from mine, whether it’s about Clover Point, parks sheltering, downtown, the role of cities, the Vancouver Street bike lanes and more. The gift of being mayor is that I get to read all these different points of view. And I consider them all; that’s my job.

In a book I finished recently, Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities, Adam Kahane writes about a team that he worked with to develop democracy in post-apartheid South Africa: “When they listened, they were not just reloading their old tapes. They were receptive to new ideas. More than that, they were willing to be influenced and changed. They held their ideas lightly; they noticed and questioned their own thinking; they separated themselves from their ideas (‘I am not my ideas, and so you and I can reject them without rejecting me’). They ‘suspended’ their ideas, as if on strings from the ceiling, and walked around and looked at these ideas from different perspectives.”

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Clover Point, Parks Sheltering and Indoor Sheltering – Mayor’s Sunday Email – February 28 2021

Hello everyone,

Thanks for your emails over the past couple of weeks. I really appreciate hearing from all of you and want to ensure you get a timely response, so I’m writing you back all at once. I may not address the details of your email precisely, but I want you to know I’ve read them.

I’m going to take a bit of a different tack than usual and provide a succinct summary of the issues and facts as I understand them. Interested in Clover Point? Skip to that heading. Interested in the plans provide 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunities as a pathway to permanent housing to everyone living in our parks over the next 31 days? Please skip to that heading. Want to receive a weekly email? You can sign up here (top right hand side). Interested in none of the above and just want a dose of inspiration from Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom? Skip right to the end.

Before diving into either topic, I just wanted to say that there’s sure a lot of passion and thoughtfulness in my email inbox from all of you these past few weeks. I appreciate the thoughtfulness, passion and the stories that you’ve taken the time to share. And I also really appreciate those of you who have said that you’ve never written to mayor and council before but felt the need to do so. Thank you.

What I find a bit harder to take are the personal attacks (there aren’t too many of those but important not just note the positive!). And also the fact that it’s becoming more difficult generally to have a difference of opinion without becoming enemies or falling into the I’m Right and You’re An Idiot (great book I highly recommend it, or skip the book and hear the talk) way of thinking. Making each other into enemies doesn’t get us anywhere and it makes it more difficult to resolve issues and solve complex problems.

Clover Point

  1. People love this place very much and there are strong feelings in the community – both in the city and the region – that it should be kept the way it’s always been.
  2. It’s been a parking loop since 1956.
  3. Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was to return it to a parking loop after construction finished.
  4. Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was for what is now the highly used multi-use trail that runs from Clover Point to Ogden Point be a bike path only.
  5. Near the end of the sewage treatment construction, staff recommended to Council that the path be for everyone – not just for people riding bikes – because we are in a pandemic and everyone needs more outdoor space. Council voted in favour of this recommendation.
  6. Staff saw that this new multi-use pathway quickly became much loved with hundreds of people using it on a daily basis. They thought it might be a good idea to create more pedestrian space at Clover Point, on an interim basis, since the new pedestrian space along the waterfront was being so well-used.
  7. Staff proposed to close Clover Point to cars and create parking, including accessible parking at the top of the loop as an interim treatment until a proper consultation plan for more permanent changes is undertaken, which is planned for 2023.
  8. When the City undertakes parks upgrades, we seek detailed input from the public generally over a two-year period. This leads to really great parks designs where people who have contributed see their ideas come to life. This was the case recently with Topaz Park, Songhees Park, Cecilia Ravine Park and sč̓əmaθən Peter Pollen Waterfront Park.
  9. Many of you have made some great suggestions for Clover Point that can be considered as part of the longer term planning process.
  10. When staff presented the original pedestrian-only design to Council on February 11th, Council voted to send it back to staff to come up with an option which would reflect the feedback we had all received from the community and to come up with a compromise.
  11. On February 25th staff came back to Council with a number of options including one that best represented a compromise among those who wanted the park to only be open to pedestrians and those who wanted nothing to change. This option creates new westward facing parking spots at the top of the loop and keeps half of the loop on the east side open for people in cars. There are accessible parking spots in both locations.
  12. As part of the discussion on the 25th, Council eliminated the proposal for painting of the pavement (except lines to separate pedestrians and cyclists) as well as eliminating the Orca play feature.
  13. Council voted 8-1 in favour of the compromise option.
  14. There are no permanent changes being made to the area. Everything that is being installed can be easily removed, with the exception of the new parking spaces at the top of the loop near Dallas Rd.
  15. The option that Council chose does not satisfy everyone and many of you are unhappy with this decision, with myself, and with Council. Some of you feel like we are changing the city too much, that we are “anti-car” and that we should just leave the city as it has always been.
  16. Cities around the world, from Paris, to Oakland,to Toronto, to small cities in Quebec and many others, are rethinking the purpose of streets, cities and city life, and are making decisions to get cities ready for the future. This includes accommodating increased density, greater populations, low-carbon transport, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and more places for more people.
  17. The interim changes at Clover Point, as well as the City’s bike network and complete streets approach that some of you who have written this week are also unhappy about, are directly in line with what other cities across the country and around the world are doing. Victoria is not leading and we are not any different. The bike network, complete streets and the interim design at Clover Point fit with the City’s Climate Leadership Plan as well as our Sustainable Mobility Strategy.
  18. Many of you have said that the myself and Council don’t care about seniors or accessibility issues, yet Victoria is one of the few municipalities in British Columbia that has taken the time to engage seniors and people with accessibility challenges and to have developed both a Senior’s Action Plan and an Accessibility Framework.
  19. We are not going to make everyone happy. Many of you who have written this past week about Clover Point are unhappy. I understand that. Change is hard. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way that some of you have heard it in. I mean it sincerely. Change is hard. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for Council. It is definitely easier to leave everything the same, as it has always been. There is less tension that way. Less friction. Less division. Less emails to read! 🙂 But also the job of leaders is to make the changes now that are necessary, if difficult, in order to get our city ready for the future.

Parks Sheltering and Indoor Sheltering
These points below are as direct as answers as possible to your questions, comments and concerns. I have been writing almost every Sunday since August to keep the community up to date on the parks and indoor sheltering situation. If you don’t find all the information you need here, please feel free to scroll through my blog .

  1. The City and the Province along with outreach workers, housing providers, Island Health, and others are working to offer everyone currently living in parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering space by March 31st as a pathway to permanent housing.
  2. The move ins begin on Monday to the Save on Foods Memorial Arena. There are also spaces at the Youth Hostel, additional motel rooms at Capital City Centre that will be opening, the 30 Tiny Homes (subject to a temporary use permit hearing), and 24 new homes at Hockley House in Langford that rent at $375 per month. The Province is still working to secure more spaces by March 31st. Minister Eby has said they are going to “overshoot” so that no one is left behind.
  3. Those of you who are living outside who have filled out BC Housing applications will be given “offer cards” to let you know where you have an offer to move in. You will be provided assistance with moves. The Coordinated Assessment and Access table responsible for these offers is working hard to meet the needs that people have identified. People are free to refuse the offers of 24/7 indoor sheltering. Those who choose not to go inside will need to take their tents down every morning, as 24/7 sheltering will come to an end once all the offers have been made. My understanding is that most people who are living outside have filled out housing applications and want to move inside.
  4. This Thursday Council will consider changing the bylaws back to 7pm to 7am sheltering, once everyone has been offered indoor space. We will also consider keeping Central Park and Centennial Square as no camping zones. I support all of these proposals.
  5. For those who having been living in the parks during a global health pandemic when everyone has been told to stay at home, I know this has been difficult. It is not safe for people to be living in parks, as parks are not homes. There is no sense of security for those of you who live in tents with no privacy, no four walls, no door to lock, nowhere to truly rest. We hear you and that is why we’re working hard with the Province to meet the goal we set to get you inside on the pathway to permanent housing.  
  6. For those of you who have been living near parks where people have been sheltering since the outbreak of the pandemic, and for those who love our parks and especially Beacon Hill, I also know this has also been very difficult for you. It’s sometimes scary for some, disturbing for others, heartbreaking for others, and angering and frustrating to some. We hear you, and that’s why we’re working hard as noted above.
  7. Some of you have said it was a mistake to allow 24/7 sheltering during the pandemic. As noted, it has been difficult for everyone but I disagree that it’s a mistake. A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos.
  8. Some of you are frustrated that bylaws aren’t being followed or enforced. Our bylaw staff are in parks daily working with the people who are living there to achieve compliance. There are 200 people living in nine parks. The City’s bylaw officers are doing their very best balancing the needs of people forced to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic and keeping parks available for everyone to use. Their work is very difficult.
  9. Some of you don’t feel safe in parks and wonder what we are doing about crime in parks. VicPD officers are available to respond to calls as needed just as in other parts of the City. Council has also approved additional funding for police to accompany bylaw.
  10. Some of you have said that you feel completely safe using Beacon Hill Park and other parks and don’t want people who are poor and living outside to be seen as dangerous or criminals when they are really just vulnerable.
  11. Some of you have said it’s impossible to end homelessness, and there are too many people with too many challenges out there. I’ve felt this way too. There have been decades of neglect and under investment in housing and supports, treatment and recovery and care for those who need it. But with the federal and provincial governments prepared to once again invest heavily in housing and treatment, we will turn a corner on this important issue in the next couple of years.
  12. Some of you have addressed the need for a civilian response in parks rather than bylaw and police. The City is working with our Community Wellness Task Force as well as Island Health and VicPD to create such a response team with clear roles and responsibilities for different parties.
  13. Some of you have sent creative ideas for indoor sheltering from purchasing cruise ships to sleeping pods. Thanks as always for your suggestions. Right now we are ruthlessly focused on solutions that can be achieved by March 31st and at the same time c planning, processing and constructing permanent housing. There are hundreds of units on the way.  

A Dose of Inspiration
I find it helpful through these challenging times to maintain a connection to the world-that-is-bigger-than-each-of-us. Rachel Naomi Renen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal is a reminder of wholeness and connection. She writes, “We are all here for a single purpose: to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better. We can do this through losing as well as by winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or by failing. All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class.”

Here’s to openheartedness.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Black History Month: White Privilege and Racism in Victoria

Councillor Sharmake Dubow. Photo credit: Quinton Gordon

For those looking for an update on Clover Point, I’ll provide that next Sunday after Council has reviewed new options from staff on Thursday. For those looking for an update on indoor sheltering and the March 31st move in goal, I will also update on that when I have additional information to share. Please see past posts for details.

I remember the first time I was aware of having a racist thought. It was the summer after grade 10. I had been selected to represent my city, London, Ontario, at a global youth leadership conference in Pittsburgh. I was in the cafeteria line up with kids from all over the world. There was a Black kid in front of me. And I felt superior.

I caught myself immediately; I felt both horrified and ashamed for having that thought and wondered where it came from. I didn’t grow up in a particularly racist family and while London was pretty white, at least a couple of schools I’d attended had been relatively diverse. I hadn’t yet heard the term “systemic racism”. But by the time I was 15, I’d already internalized both my status in a systemically racist society, and white supremacy – one of the of the basic organizing principles of western culture. Those with white skin carry privilege.

Since that shocking moment in the cafeteria line up, I’ve been working to unlearn racism and racial bias. I’ve been listening hard to the voices and experiences of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour. And whenever possible, particularly in my role as mayor – which carries with it a great deal of privilege – I’ve been working to facilitate and to take action against racism in all its forms. But there is still so much to learn.

At our evening Council meeting on February 11th, a few speakers came to talk with Council about Councillor Dubow’s trip over the holidays and Council’s response to it. The most poignant remarks were from Gina Mowatt. Please take the time to listen to her address on the Council meeting archive. She begins speaking at 16:10. She noted that the statement I made in response to Councillor Dubow’s travel, “has incited violence against Councilor Dubow … the statement has been celebrated and shared widely through white supremacist websites and social media groups online.”

Ms. Mowatt went on to say that if City Council understands and and believes that racism and white supremacy are real and tangible for Black people as well as Indigenous people and people of colour as we claim we do, that we should deal with the racist backlash that Councilor Dubow is facing on social media. She noted that Councillor Dubow is now in an unsafe position as is the Black community in Victoria due to the surge of anti-Black racism that has come as a result of my statement and a disregard for the fact that Councillor Dubow will be targeted differently than a white politician for anything he does. She reminded us that this is white supremacy.

She concluded by noting that “Council facilitates the ignition of white supremacy and hate while hiding behind a thin curtain of progressive politics and diversity rhetoric.” She called for Council to make statement against anti-Black racism and to denounce the call for Councillor Dubow’s resignation.

What really struck me, once again, while listening to Ms. Mowatt’s candid and thoughtful remarks, is the great responsibility that privilege carries. Because I am white and because I have not experienced racism, as I was preparing my statement with respect to Councillor Dubow’s travel, I didn’t think about how it might be used by others to incite hate. I didn’t think about how it might add to a climate of unsafety for Councillor Dubow and other Black people in the Victoria community. Especially because I’m in a position of power as mayor, I should have thought about the impact my statement could have in perpetuating racism and white supremacy. I got publicly called out for this. And for that, I am both grateful and humbled.

I am not on social media so have not been privy to the racist attacks that Councillor Dubow has been subjected to. He has since shared some of this with me. He notes that some of the most racist comments – heartbreaking and unmentionable here – are from people in Victoria. He told me that the posts of responses to his travel have been shared 80 times as much as the news coverage of white politicians who traveled. He told me that racism is exhausting.

This is my statement: Racism against Councillor Dubow is unacceptable, it is hurtful to him and to many in our community and it must stop. Racism in any form is intolerable and we must call it out every time we witness it. This is a particularly important thing to do for those of use who benefit from our positions of privilege in a racist system. Calling out racism isn’t enough; we must work to dismantle racial hierarchies and the power structures that keep them in place. To do this we must foreground the voices and experiences of people who have been held back by, hurt by and excluded by systemic racism. And we must take the actions they say need to be taken to create a more just and more equitable society.

To undertake some of this work in Victoria, Councillor Dubow and I are leading the Welcoming City Task Force. Our welcoming city work is inspired by Welcoming America, which “leads a movement of inclusive communities, becoming more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong.” The mandate of Victoria’s Welcoming City Task Force is to develop a Welcoming City Strategy that will help to make Victoria more welcoming and also less racist as our city grows and changes and as we continue to welcome newcomers from around the world. The majority of the task force members are Indigenous, Black and people of colour and it is their voices and experiences that will shape the actions in the Welcoming City Strategy.

For Victorians wondering how you can participate in making our city more welcoming, the Welcoming City Task Force will be beginning engagement soon. But in the meantime, there are a few things those of us in positions of privilege can do immediately. We can watch, read, and listen during Black History Month to learn more about the Black history of Victoria, British Columbia and Canada. Here’s one terrific webinar put on by the BC Black History Awareness Society as a good starting point. You can also read Councillor Dubow’s Times Colonist piece on Black History Month here.

We can also ask ourselves, what can I do to make Victoria more welcoming and less racist, in my work place, my school, my classroom, my church? What can I do in my daily life to unlearn racism and privilege? How do I respond when I’m called racist or when my privilege is pointed out and challenged? And most importantly, to move forward and create a more welcoming, less racist city, we can continually foreground the voices and experiences of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour.

Clover Point, “The Majority of People Feel the Same Way As I Do,” and The Creatures We Cherish – Mayor’s Sunday Email – February 14 2021

These three photos show differences in accessing the waterfront. The top two photos show current conditions at Clover Point which prioritize people using vehicles, making the space inaccessible and unsafe for people to walk there. The photo on the bottom shows the new balustrade, sidewalk, separated bike lanes, and new angle parking for people to enjoy some of the most spectacular views in the country. These improvements make it safe and accessible for all modes. Photo credit: Ray Straatsma.

Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. In order to ensure you all get answers from me in a timely way, I’m writing you all at once. I want you to know that I’ve read each of your 483 emails! They were mostly about Clover Point so I’m going to focus on that this week. For those of you who signed up for sheltering in parks updates, there is nothing new to report except that we are still on target to get everyone in inside by March 31st and there are emergency indoor shelters open during this cold weather snap.

I’ll start with background information on the Clover Point proposal and address your concerns. Then I’ll look at Clover Point again from a couple of different perspectives, one related to democracy and one related our ecological responsibility. I’d be honoured if you took the time to read the whole post.

I like writing these posts as it’s a way to respond to your thoughts, questions, concerns and ideas and to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here (top right hand side.)

Clover Point
So many of you have taken the time to share some of your favourite memories at Clover Point. Thanks for doing so! You’ve said that it’s a place of refuge. A good place for car picnics on windy days. A place to share a cup of tea with an elderly parent. To watch the birds. To take in the magnificent view of the strait and mountains, wonderful for sunrises and sunsets, as well as storm watching. You like to eat your lunch there on your break or to get ice cream at the Beacon Hill Drive in and enjoy it in your car. And so many other stories.

One of my Clover Point car moments was years ago when I was going through a break up. You know that point in a break up where it still seems like a good idea to try and see each other even though the break up is definitely happening?! We got burgers from Big Wheel Burger and drove down to Clover Point. I think we were both grateful for the beautiful views while eating our burgers in the car, as it was much easier to look out at the ocean than it was to look at each other. A real solace.

Many of your emails seek to understand why this proposal and why now, what about consultation, and how will we consider accessibility concerns? There are also many of you who have sent passionate emails saying it’s a really good idea to change Clover Point in the way that we’re proposing. I’m not going to take a “side” here, because I think it’s always more complex than sides.  I’m going to talk about the circumstances that the led to this proposal, and about engagement, consultation and accessibility. Then I’ll talk about next steps and where we go from here.

Last year, staff came to Council with a recommendation to replace the old Dallas Road balustrade near Ogden Point as part of the civil and engineering works that were happening in that area because of the sewage project. It was more cost effective to do it at the same time as the sewage project than as a stand alone project in the coming years.

The balustrade replacement project went very well in two ways. First, it was very recently completed – the final touches were installed just a few weeks ago – and it came in under budget. This left approximately $250,000 that could be used to make additional improvements to the waterfront. And second, everyone loved it! We got such positive feedback about the yellow deck chairs, the path for people walking as well as riding bikes, the additional angled parking spots for up close viewing of the ocean.

So with this remaining budget for public realm improvements, and the sewage project still underway at Clover Point, staff turned their minds to a similar approach as they had at the balustrade: what could we do now to improve the public realm in a cost effective way.

To get ideas for Clover Point, staff referred back to previous public consultation on ideas for Clover Point including this 2017 Fairfield Gonzales neighbourhood report that was produced by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Land Use Committee. Please take the time to read it; the residents put a lot of work and effort in.

Staff consulted this document as well as the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan and the Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan both of which had extensive public engagement. Policy direction in all of these documents points to enhancing pedestrian access to the waterfront.

Drawing on all this information and wanting to capitalize on the opportunity as they had up the road near Ogden Point, staff proposed the new interim treatment at Clover Point which has generated all the buzz this week! The proposed design is exactly that, an interim proposal the can be implemented in time for this summer while we have a longer conversation about the future of Clover Point.

One of the key things that came up in many of your emails this week is concerns that what staff had proposed to keep Clover Point accessible to those with mobility challenges did not go far enough. On Thursday, Council directed staff to report back on February 25th with some different options to address these concerns. Thanks to those of you who have proposed design ideas. I’ve forwarded them to staff.

A few other concerns that some of you raised is how windy it is and not a good place for picnics. Also the kite surfing crowd – a sport which I learned a lot about this week, thank you! – said we need to keep the grassy space open for kites to land. The good thing about an interim treatment and the installation of chairs and picnic tables, etc. is that they are easily moveable as necessary. There was also some concern about food trucks and lots of questions about garbage flying around etc. The food trucks are just an idea. People seem to have enjoyed the food carts that were along Dallas Road last summer, so perhaps maybe they’d also enjoy them at Clover Point from time to time.

The whole point of the proposed project is to try something a bit different down there that will make the place feel more like a park than like a space for cars to park, while keeping it accessible to as many people as possible. Many of you in business will know the Six Sigma PDSA methodology: Plan, Do, Study, Act. It’s an iterative, four-stage problem solving model used for improving a process or carrying out change. And it’s also so that we can learn by doing, not by talking or theorizing or studying. This is the approach we propose to take over the next few years at Clover Point. And all your feedback has been and will be most helpful in this regard!

I’ll post a further update on my blog after the Council meeting on February 25th.

“The majority of people feel the same way I do.”
This is a phrase I’ve heard uttered often this week about Clover Point. And every time Council proposes to take a bold action that changes the status quo, whether it’s bike lanes, reconciliation efforts, sheltering during the pandemic, or this week, Clover Point, I hear the same message, “The majority of people feel the same way I do.”

Those of you who have written to me this week to tell me this have shared a screenshot of the number of “likes” on your Facebook page, or you site the majority of comments in a Facebook Group that you belong to, or point to the number of people in an online media poll where the majority of voluntary respondents have supported your point of view, or note that all the callers on one radio show are saying the same thing.

This approach to difficult issues – asserting that a majority of people hold a particular view based on social media, an online poll, or talk radio – threatens democracy, undermines civic dialogue, and inhibits our collective ability to tackle complex problems.

“The majority of people agree with my point of view,” is a product of the echo chamber of social media where algorithms predict our likes and interests and feed us content that reinforces what we already believe. This documentary, The Social Dilemma, lays this all out really well. In social media land, differences of opinion are trounced on and facts become irrelevant. The most notorious case in point: there are millions of Americans who believe that Donald Trump won the election.

As noted above, we’ve received a number of emails from seniors and people with disabilities this week requesting that Clover Point be left as is so that they can continue to enjoy it. Here are some other emails we’ve also received from seniors and people with disabilities.

From a senior

“Dear  Mayor and Council,

“As an 88 year old resident of Victoria, I want to urge you to keep Clover Point car-free. Clover Point is a unique and much visited part of Victoria. It is  very important to keep it car free  in order to maintain its  natural, unspoiled beauty.  I can enjoy it when I get a ride to that area, and then can walk out to the end of Clover Point, enjoying the  natural sea shore, WITHOUT VEHICLES as part of the view and landscape. When I can no  longer walk I shall sit  in a car parked along the road … I DO NOT NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE TO THE END OF THE POINT TO APPRECIATE THE SPLENDID VIEW!!!

“By the way I am an active citizen who VOTES every chance I get!!”

And from a person with a disability:

“Fully support the proposed changes — I have a toddler and avoid Clover Point. We walk down to Dallas Road and there’s nothing for us at Clover Point. 

“The cars backing in and out, the exhaust, and the fact that the green space is enclosed on all sides by a parking lot makes it unsafe and frankly, super boring. Which is a shame because it’s such an incredible and unique spot!

“I love the city’s new vision and I’d love to see Clover Point made into an actual park.

“I have a disability which among other things means that I can’t drive. Make Clover Point a safe, accessible place and everyone wins. There are tons of other places to park in a storm and look out the window.

“Maybe some wind breaks in the new design would be neat.

“Also, shout out to Councilor Young who first proposed this back in 1994! Wow!”

And if these two emails aren’t evidence of a healthy diversity of opinion even within the most affected groups, the survey conducted this week by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association is a bit more evidence that there is no strong majority opinion on the topic of Clover Point, one way or another. This survey was open from Tuesday morning to Wednesday afternoon and was completed by 992 people. It is voluntary and non-representative The results show that:

48.0% support the proposal (475 votes)
9.2% somewhat support the proposal (91 votes)
42.8% oppose the proposal (423 votes)

There is this great movement afoot in the United States called, “Make America Purple,” where Democrats and Republicans with strongly held views sit down, one-on-one, and have a conversation. What they’re finding is that they have more in common than what sets them apart. I’ve done this too. Some of you may remember a few years ago when Paul Seal who ran a Facebook page called Victoria BC Today was waging what felt like pretty personal attacks on me online. I invited him to my house for tea. And he came! We found that there were quite a few things we could agree on and also that it felt good for both of us to have a face to face conversation.

So a request from your mayor who loves each of you and this city very much: the next time you’re thinking that the majority of people see something the way you do, or when you’re feeling really strongly about an issue, reach out to someone who thinks differently about it, and invite them to have a conversation. I can guarantee that if we all do this, it will make our city better, and also, it will feel good because being connected with each feels better other than being divided from each other.

What’s our responsibility to the creatures we love?

This is a male Bufflehead duck, a species of duck that is frequently seen at Clover Point. Photo credit: Kim DiPasquale

A final consideration that has been niggling at me all week in the discussion of Clover Point is that few people have talked about the ecological health of the area.

Clover Point is part of the Victoria Habour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Here is a great site, maintained by local bird watchers that lets us know the birds that have been seen recently. This past Friday alone, there were 19 separate species spotted.

Here is what someone who likes to drive down to the point shared this week with respect to nature: “I have witnessed, many a time, Orcas swimming so close you could almost touch them, Humpback’s slapping their large flukes just feet away. I have witnessed Eagles eating their catch on the rocks below as well as many an Otter frolicking on the rocks as well. I hear the sea lions barking and watch them swim by and occasionally jump out of the water.” 

In 1956, according to Beacon Hill Park history, which cites a Daily Colonist article, “A circular drive with an oiled surface will be completed around the point.” Since 1956 storm water runoff from vehicles has been going directly into the habitat of the wildlife we all cherish. This article in the International Journal of Urban Sciences outlines the negative impact of heavy metals released from from car exhaust, worn tires and engine parts, as part of storm water runoff. In addition to heavy metals, the most common storm water pollutants from vehicles include oils and grease, and sediments from construction vehicles.

For years we pumped raw sewage right into the ocean off of Clover Point. As of December 2020, we are no longer doing so; we now have a sewage treatment system in place that aligns with the values of our community in the 21st century. I know that staff and Council will come to a solution for Clover Point that addresses the needs of people with disabilities and senior’s with accessibility challenges to have access to the water.

But for the rest of us, it’s time for the days of driving right up to the ocean to come to an end. I know this will feel like a loss to many people. But by letting go of this practice and by thinking of something much, much bigger than ourselves, there is also a lot to be gained.

Almost post script: On Saturday morning, after shoveling the sidewalk and checking in with the people running the emergency cold weather sheltering sites, I got back into bed with a cup of coffee. I was staring out the window, reflecting on how little was said about protecting nature at Clover Point this past week, and this Alice Walker poem popped into my head from her book called, Her Blue Body Everything We Know. This is my Sunday offering to you all.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

We Have A Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
mother
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes
hills.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs
oceans.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
grasses
her plentiful
hair.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her green lap
immense
Her brown embrace
eternal
Her blue body
everything
we know.