City of Victoria Takes Steps Towards Recovery

Facebook Live address. Friday May 15. We’ll be back next Friday, May 22 at 2pm on the City’s Facebook page, here.

I’d like to recognize that Sunday, May 17 marks International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the discrimination, harassment, and violence members of the LGBTQ2+ community still face to this day. The City of Victoria is committed to supporting community projects and programs that benefit the health, wellbeing, and inclusivity of the LGBTQ2+ community, and will continue to work with the members of this community to ensure that their feedback and perspective are represented in City policies, events, and programs.

Update: This evening as I was walking to the Fernwood Inn to pick up take out, someone yelled, “Dyke!” And they didn’t mean it as a compliment! It was a not so subtle reminder than even in our progressive city, there is work to do on discrimination.

News from the federal government

Today the federal government announced that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended to the end of August. This program is for employers whose business has been affected by COVID-19. The subsidy enables employers to re-hire workers previously laid off as a result of COVID-19, help prevent further job losses, and better position companies to resume normal operations following the crisis. With recovery on the horizon here in Victoria, this is really good news for our businesses.

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

News from the provincial government

Today the provincial government announced that on June 1st students will have the option to return to classroom instruction part-time. For kindergarten to Grade 5, this means most students will go to school half time (such as alternating days), while grades 6 to 12 will go to school about one day a week. There will be strict provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC health and safety measures put in place. Schools and school districts will be in touch with parents and students, but all of the provincial guidelines can be found at here.

News from the City

Youth bus passes

Transit has been free during the COVID-19 pandemic; with driver safety measures in place, fares are returning as of June 1st. This is why City of Victoria staff have created an online option for youth in Victoria to get their free monthly bus passes. Starting today, youth 18 and under living in the City of Victoria can apply online to receive their free monthly transit pass. The platform allows youth or their parents to provide the necessary information online, without having to visit City Hall. Transit passes for June, July and August will then be mailed directly to homes.

The goal of our Free Youth Transit program, the first of its kind in the province, is to encourage low-carbon, affordable transportation. But more importantly it’s to create lifelong transit riders which will lead to fewer vehicles on our roads and less traffic congestion.

I’m excited to see this valuable program moving forward in a way that keeps residents and staff safe. This is one COVID-19 innovation that will likely stick. It means no more long lines ups at City Hall even in the future when City Hall re-opens. And it means more youth may take us up on the free transit pass. It’s easy, fast a few clicks – and boom – you’ve got your passes.

So whether you’re a new or returning young transit rider, Victoria youth, their parents and/or guardians can visit head here to register online. If for some reason, internet doesn’t work for you, there’s a phone number to call.

Roll-up of recovery motions passed

Yesterday Council took bold action to assist residents and businesses through the recovery period. Really cheap parking downtown will remain in place for now, to make it inviting for people who drive to come back downtown to support our great local businesses. Staff will start working right away on options for restaurants and retailers to operate in public space – there are some really creative ideas coming forward! The arts and culture sector, which has been really hard hit, will benefit from a new grant stream as well as getting Create Victoria, our fantastic and award winning arts and culture plan, back on track as a key recovery strategy.

Neighbours will be able to apply for My Great Neighbourhood grants starting in June with a key focus on recovery and resilience. There’s also funding for other events and placemaking activities that can bring people together … but not too close.

Space for pedestrians and Beacon Hill Park

There was a lot of buzz around some of these motions, and I wanted to talk about one in particular, a motion brought by myself and Councillor Loveday to Increase Physical Distancing for Pedestrians in Public Space. Here’s the full text of the motion that passed. I’m sharing it here so that it’s very clear what it intended.

  1. That Council direct staff to keep the physical distancing measures in place in village centres and other locations and report back to council with to further opportunities to allocate additional spaces for people to walk and roll safely in village centres and downtown in order to proactively prepare for increased pedestrian traffic as people begin to leave their homes.
  2. Direct staff to pedestrianize Beacon Hill Park while opening parking lots at Heywood Rd, Circle Drive, and Nursery Rd. and the roads that serve as their closest access points for the duration of summer. Further that Council direct staff to seek input from accessibility organizations including the AWG if that body is available, and report back with that advice, and all other input received so council can consider whether to further extend the pedestrianized approach to the park.

What this means is that people who need to drive can still park in Beacon Hill Park, but that there will also be more space for everyone to enjoy the park in this new world of physical distancing. We’ll also be evaluating this program at the end of the summer to see how it’s working.

News from the community

Usually in May many of us look forward to and participate in Bike to Work Week. Well, this year of course looks different, with many people working at home, and large gatherings not possible. This year, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and the Bike to Work Society are partnering to put on a series of Neighbourhood Scavenger Hunts from May to August. These scavenger hunts are designed for all ages – you’ll be asked to take a bike ride to explore clues and then submit a story, photo, or video.

With every submission, participants will be entered into a draw for a chance to win a gift card for take-out food from a local restaurant or bike shop. There are still a couple of days to participate in the Fernwood challenge. It closes on May 18th, and another neighbourhood will then follow. This is such a fun, creative way of doing things differently. Thanks to the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and the Bike to Work Society for coming up with this.

Plus, we all heard yesterday from Dr. Bonnie Henry about importance of safe active transportation – she said, walk, bike or run to work, so for those still working and able to do so, please Dr. Henry’s advice.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Council considers recovery actions for business and residents

City COVID-19 Update, May 12 2020

I apologize for not posting Friday’s Facebook live address here. If you missed it and you want to catch up, you can view it here on the City’s Facebook page.

Today is International Nurses Day. More than ever, I know we are all so keenly aware of the amazing work that nurses do in our community. I hope at 7pm today – for those who are still out there cheering – we gave an extra loud shout out to the nurses in our community. To all of the nurses working hard out there, thank you, on behalf of myself and council, for all that you do.

News from the federal government

Today, the Prime Minister announced additional supports for seniors. Old Age Security recipients will receive a one-time payment of $300. Guaranteed Income Supplement recipients will receive a one-time payment of $200, and some people will get both payments.

There were also be $20 million in additional funding for the New Horizons for Seniors Program to support organizations that offer community-based projects that reduce isolation, improve the quality of life of seniors, and help them maintain a social support network. We hope that some of this funding flow to our amazing senior’s centres here in the City of Victoria who do such great work keeping seniors connected.

News from the City

Youth Poet Laureate

The City of Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate, Neko Smart, is looking for artists to participate in a new workshop series called Youth Verses. Youth Verses is a series of FREE virtual workshops for youth aged 14 to 19 who identify as visual and performance artists to take part in conversations about harnessing creativity while navigating mental illness.

Facilitated by Neko, these workshops will take place in a collaborative and safe space, where teenagers will feel supported and inspired to create art without judgement. At the end of the series, participants will get the chance to publicly display the art they’ve created in a virtual showcase.

For more information and to apply, you can head here. Applications are due by Monday, May 25 at 4 p.m. If you have any questions, please email culture@victoria.ca.


Council

This Thursday at Committee of the Whole we’ll be discussing what COVID-19 recovery could look like in the City of Victoria. Council members have brought their ideas, along with staff reports on creative ways the City can look at doing things differently in our new normal. You can read all the reports here on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

Staff will be bringing us new options for holding public hearings and adapting the My Great Neighbourhood grants program – staff are proposing a new category for recovery and resilience. And staff will also be reporting back to council on what the City is already doing to support small business, arts and culture, and the visitor economy.

Myself and council are bringing forward proposals including a new economic action plan for the city, Victoria 3.0, support for allowing restaurants, cafes, and retailers to expand into public spaces, grants specific to the arts community and grants specific to COVID-19 recovery projects, and increasing physical distancing space for pedestrians in public spaces throughout the city.

They include extending parking fee reductions downtown through the summer and being more flexible with our commercial loading zones, expediting housing security actions in the City’s Housing Strategy, looking at food security options for renters, identifying priority capital projects so we are ready for federal and provincial stimulus funding, advocacy for increased sheltering options, supporting the travel and tourism industry,  and endorsement of a community recovery plan.

If you’re interested in watching Council’s debate You can tune in to our livestream at 9am on Thursday. I’m really excited to see some of these ideas come to life quickly to support residents and our small businesses during the recovery period.

News from the community

Exciting news today from The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria: The Art Gallery will re-open their doors to the public on May 19th. And, to offer the public an opportunity to spend time with  art and to celebrate the re-opening, the gallery will be offering free admission to all visitors until July 5, 2020. That’s amazing!

Visitors to the re-opened AGGV will now find the two largest galleries hung with works from their collection – one space focused on historical artworks, the other on contemporary. During their closure, the art gallery has offered a wide range of virtual programming to engage the public. Many of these virtual programs, including the nationwide on-line program FieldTrip.art will remain in place.

The gallery will be following policies and procedures for re-opening put into place by WorksafeBC, the Provincial Health Officer and the Province of British Columbia. Thanks to the Art Gallery for taking a lead in re-opening we know that our other arts and cultural institutions are also turning minds to this and will hopefully be open soon as some of these restrictions start to lift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal and Provincial Governments Work Together to Provide Rent Relief to Business – Thank You!

For those who want to stay right up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. We’re getting lots of emails with lots of questions and we’ll do our best to answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Thursday. We’ll be back Friday at 2:30pm. 

News from the federal government

A few weeks back, myself and other community and business leaders wrote this piece in the Times Colonist asking for rent relief for businesses. Many businesses were directed to close to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to reduce the burden on our health-care system. Many others have done so voluntarily. We acknowledged their sacrifice.

This morning the Prime Minister announced a plan to help businesses pay rents for April, May and June. He said that plan will be worked out with the Premiers across the country, as rent issues fall under provincial jurisdiction. This is fantastic news. It is heartening to hear our call answered and our businesses supported.

Today, the federal government also announced that their business loan program, which offers businesses a loan of up to $40,000, will now be available to businesses with payrolls worth between $20,000 and $1.5 million. We know this will help Victoria businesses because we’ve had emails from businesses who didn’t previously qualify that now do. More good news!

News from the provincial government

Today the Province announced significant measures to support both businesses and local governments. For commercial and industrial properties, the Province further reduced the school tax rate and delayed the penalty date for payment of property taxes until October 1st, which means that most commercial property owners won’t pay their taxes until October 1st.

For municipalities, changing the due date for school taxes until the end of the year is welcome. For Victoria the extension of the commercial property tax extension is a little more complicated. Almost 50% of our tax base is commercial. Deferring the penalty date to October means we’ll need to manage our cash flow a little bit differently. But we are all in this together and because this is a positive announcement for businesses, we are okay to do whatever is necessary to make this work.

We remain hopeful that further announcements will be made to reinstate the Province’s financial hardship deferment program for residential taxpayers Such a program would provide significant relief to those in our community who are suffering hardship as a result of the pandemic.

News from the City

Today Council passed two motions to further address support for vulnerable communities in the midst of COVID-19. First, Council has asked me to write to the Province requesting they use their emergency powers under the Emergency Program Act to requisition hotel and motel rooms in the Capital Region for all unhoused people and to provide the health, mental health and addictions support for people moving in.

I have said many times that we all need to be able to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice around physical distancing, hand washing, and staying at home if we are able. If you don’t have a home, this becomes impossible.

Council also passed a motion to allocate a grant of up to $50,000, from previously approved COVID19 response funds, toward emergency outreach services for vulnerable populations, to be allocated among organizations currently providing mobile outreach services in Victoria.

Starting tomorrow the City is implementing additional measures to ensure residents can still enjoy parks and open spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. The parking area off Foul Bay Road and Crescent Road, serving Gonzales Beach Park, will be open to service and emergency vehicles only. The public washroom next the parking area remains open. People have been gathering on Gonzales beach need to limit this for now.

Physical distancing measures in Beacon Hill Park will continue on weekends only. Additionally, in response to requests from residents, we’ll put new signage in narrow pathway areas to remind residents to allow others the space they need to remain safe and follow health advice. And we’ll work with the Township of Esquimalt staff to ensure a coordinated approach in border areas.

We’ve received great feedback about our Recreation ambassadors, who are out in parks to engage with residents about recreation facility closures and to remind people about physical distancing. We continue to examine other opportunities to improve physical distancing while allowing our residents to still get outside and enjoy the nice weather we’ve been having.

 News from the community

We’ve been talking a lot over the past many weeks about programs and resources for adults, but this is also a really difficult time for a lot of young people who are coping with having their routines turned upside down and anxieties and fears around this challenging time.

I want to share a resource put together by Victoria’s Stigma Free Society – A COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit. This is an amazing, comprehensive resource. There’s a Youth Corner for grades 4-6 and a Teens Corner, for grades 7-12. There are videos, stories, activities, and also resources for parents. A huge thanks to the Stigma Free Society for putting this together. You can check it out here.

I also want to let you know that Foundry services continue online. The Foundry Victoria, which offers young people 12-24 access to mental health and substance use support, primary care, peer support and social services, is now offering virtual drop-in counselling for young people ages 12-24 and their families. To access this service, call 1-833-FØUNDRY (yes, that’s FØUNDRY with a zero! or 1-833-308-6379) to book an appointment. Sessions are available through chat, voice-only calls or video calls.

I’m grateful to both of these programs for providing support to youth through this pandemic so that they know that they are not alone.