Tsunami Warning – Reflections and FAQs

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In the early morning of January 23rd some Victorians woke up to their cell phone or landline ringing with a VicAlert call, some received a text, some got calls from relatives or friends. And others slept through the whole thing and awoke wondering what they’d missed. I think what all of us felt was a little vulnerable and a little scared, with pictures in our minds of big waves engulfing entire cities.

I awoke from a very early morning phone call from our Acting City Manager letting me know that she had followed the City’s emergency management protocol and set up an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at Fire Hall #1. I hopped out of bed, got dressed and walked the three blocks to the fire hall to join the City’s senior leadership team in the EOC.

In order to be better prepared as a community and to understand the risks that face us, here are some thoughts, reflections and lessons learned. It’s a bit wordy but packed with important details. Please read and please share with your family, friends and neighbours.

What does a Tsunami mean for Victoria?
A tsunami in Victoria is not a big wave. The City has done tsunami modelling and it shows for the City of Victoria it is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters. The maximum water level rise is 3.5 metres with a water flow speed of one metre per second. This means that the people who would be affected are those living within a maximum of two blocks of the ocean in low-lying areas pictured on the map above.

In comparison, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan had a maximum water level of 40 metres with a water flow speed of 12 metres per second.

What did the City do in the early morning of January 23rd?
Residents were notified of the warning through a number of channels including an emergency takeover of our website, social media and the VicAlert notification system.

Emergency responders were deployed and had started door-to-door notifications in the potentially affected areas based on our tsunami modeling. Victoria Ready volunteers were setting up a reception centre at the Fairfield Community Centre when we received notice at 4:30am the EOC that the warning – of the tsunami that had been predicted to arrive in Victoria around 5:50am – had been cancelled.

As Connect Rocket, the provider of the City’s VicAlert program put it in a tweet the next day, “Always lessons to be learned but @CityofVictoria got it right opting for targeted notifications. No benefit to anyone if evacuation routes become clogged by unnecessary traffic. These are tough calls and their team nailed this one.”

What is VicAlert and How Does It Work?
VicAlert provides you with important emergency information, such as imminent threats (e.g. severe weather, power outages, tsunami), AMBER alerts, and local incidents that affect specific areas of Victoria. The service enables emergency notices to be disseminated City-wide or to targeted areas, which can be helpful for neighbourhood-specific emergencies such as a gas leak.

When you sign up for VicAlert, you receive emergency updates and helpful instructions where you are, when you need them. You have the option to receive notifications by cell phone, landline, and email. Because emergencies can happen at any time, it’s a good idea to include the phone notification – and list your landline and cell phone numbers. A phone call in the middle of the night may wake you, while a text may not.

During the January 23rd tsunami warning notifications through VicAlert were only sent out to potentially affected areas. If residents selected to be notified only for certain neighbourhoods and didn’t receive a message, they were not in an area notified for evacuation. You can easily change your profile to select all neighbourhoods and receive all alerts in the future.

We are encouraging all residents to sign up for VicAlert in the wake of this warning, and suggest using both mobile and landlines where possible to ensure multiple methods of notification in the event of an emergency. Subscription to this service has increased from 6500 people before the tsunami warning to close to 50,000 people since.

In April 2018 a Province-wide “push” alert system that will automatically get in touch with each cell phone will be put in place by the Province. Here is a CHEK news story about that program.

Where do I go in an emergency?
The City of Victoria has identified potential buildings throughout the City that may be used for reception and group lodging centres. We don’t advertise these, as the locations will vary depending on the situation and suitability.  For example, after an earthquake these buildings will have to undergo damage assessments prior to their use and we do not want residents going to buildings if they’re not safe.  VicAlert, the City’s website, Twitter and local media will broadcast the appropriate locations for people to go depending on the circumstances.

Get a Siren!
On the morning of January 23rd while people were still recovering from panic mode, we heard many cries for the City of Victoria to get a siren. The City of Victoria is not at risk like coastal communities on the open water are such as Tofino and Ucluelet where there are sirens in place.  We do not expect a large fast wave like we’ve seen in places like Thailand and Japan. As noted above, what the Tsunami modelling shows for the City of Victoria is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters.

We have the resources in place to issue tsunami warnings without a siren due to the lower risk, the slow water level rise, and the length of warning time we will receive after an earthquake has occurred.  Our emergency responders have the capacity to go door-to-door and use loud speakers in the small areas within the City of Victoria that the tsunami modelling has shown the water level will rise to.

This approach has the benefit of notifying affected residents and businesses with personal instructions rather than a siren that would be heard by thousands of unaffected people and lead to confusion about what to do.

We’re all in this together!
The communities that do best in disasters are ones where people have a sense of connection, belonging and resilience. The false alarm on January 23rd is an invitation for all of us  to learn more about preparedness. It’s also a good opportunity for us to get to know our neighbours better and find out what their needs would be in an emergency. Where are the seniors who may need our help? The parents with young children? The people with limited mobility? Preparing for emergencies before they happen is a good opportunity to build stronger communities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bus Rapid Transit Key to Continued Prosperity of Region

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Bus rapid transit (BRT) between the Westshore and downtown is key to the future prosperity of our region and to meeting our climate action goals as a community.  In 2011, the Transit Commission adopted the Transit Futures Plan, which lays the foundation for transit development in the region. BRT between the Westshore and downtown is a key element of the plan. The lines are on the map for dedicated bus lanes. But the lanes are not yet on the roads.

This is because to date, the Transit Commission and local government partners have taken an incremental, patchwork approach to transit improvements. We’ve tackled one fragment of dedicated bus lanes at a time, starting in the City of Victoria.

But we haven’t conceived of BRT as a complete project, including all the stations, the Uptown Exchange, and an additional bus garage. We don’t have a total project budget nor do we have a current business case or a project implementation plan.

Although we hope it doesn’t take as long to get there, the sewage project serves as a good approach to thinking about transit. We received a business case and implementation plan for the project as a whole.  We call it the “$765 million sewage project.” With sewage we don’t think of the liquid processing facility, the conveyancing, and the solids processing plant as separate projects. All elements of the system are needed to make it work. This is also true with BRT.

It’s clear that incrementalism isn’t working. We know this because we haven’t moved the needle on transit ridership. In 2010 6.5% of the people in the region used transit. In 2017 6.5% of people in the region use transit. When BC Transit brought in BRT in Kelowna they expected 7% to 8% ridership; ridership jumped to 14%.

Thankfully at its December meeting the Victoria Transit Commission, which I sit on with a number of my colleagues from across the region, unanimously adopted a motion directing staff to develop a business case and implementation plan for a complete BRT project from downtown to the Westshore. We’ve asked staff to include all the necessary infrastructure in their business case. We’ve also asked them to include an analysis of the costs and benefit to our residents.

There will be an initial capital cost to building this infrastructure. But this infrastructure investment will keep money in people’s pockets and increase general well-being.  Recent research shows that people who commute daily by car spend at least 20% of household income on transportation. Research also shows that those stuck in traffic in daily commutes express lower levels of life satisfaction and well-being.

The time to act is now. We have a provincial and federal government interested in funding transit. We have a thriving economy and a growing population. And for the first time in history with the millennials, we have a generation that is driving less than the generation before them. This trend will continue. Our current and future citizens want to live and work in places with high-quality, high-speed transit. We can’t leave our future behind.

 

2018: Here’s to Civil Public Dialogue, and a Posture of Hope

Think Before You Speak
Poster by Julian Gibbs-Pearce, Grade 5

I’ve decided to run for Mayor for one more term. In the past three years we’ve accomplished almost everything in my 2014 platform. In addition to lots of doing, we’ve created detailed, forward-looking plans that I’d like to see through to implementation. These include:

But in the meantime, long before beginning a campaign for re-election sometime in the summer, I need your help with a more pressing issue: I need your help in restoring civility to public dialogue – especially about big changes, new ideas, experimental pilot projects, and bold innovations.

When asked in a year-end interview by a Times Colonist reporter what I thought was the biggest issue facing Victoria, I didn’t say affordable housing, lack of high-speed transit from downtown to the west shore, or preparing as a coastal city for a rapidly changing climate. There’s a bigger challenge that threatens us: we’ve forgotten how to have hard conversations, to really listen to each other, to allow each other the space to speak, without quickly deteriorating into name-calling, accusations, and dividing our community into “us” and “them.” This is hurting us all.

In order to meet some of the big challenges facing Victoria and all other 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, climate change – we need to be able to talk about solutions with clear minds and open hearts. We need to engage in what Michel Foucault calls “ethical dialogue” which means we need to listen to and understand other perspectives and to be willing to be changed by what we hear.

I feel that what’s happened in the last few years, in particular on social media – but also increasingly in the real world – is that we vehemently agree or disagree with something before looking at the whole picture, seeing a wider perspective. And because we’ve staked a public claim in a Facebook post or a Tweet, we feel that we can’t back down from our positions, we become rooted in our conclusions – which we may have jumped to with only a fragment of information.

This posturing paralyzes us as a civil society, it impoverishes our public dialogue and it ultimately tears us apart from each other as members of a shared community. It also keeps us further away from addressing the challenges I outlined above.

In The Well-Tempered City, Jonathan F.P. Rose makes a compelling case for diversity. “For an ecosystem to thrive,” he writes, “it must be sufficiently diverse, providing opportunities for multiple connections … If the elements of a system are too similar, something ecologists call ‘limiting similarity’, the variety of its interconnections is reduced, and it becomes more vulnerable to stress and volatility. Just as a healthy ecosystem integrates diversity into coherence, so too must a healthy urban metabolism.”

Affordable housing, bike lanes, downtown development, parking, transit, public art – there is a diversity of thought in our community on these important issues.

The coherence part is easy, we all ultimately want the same thing – to be happy and healthy, to be prosperous, to feel safe, to breathe clean air, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves, to know that our children will have good futures, to have a general sense of well-being. And as humans, we’re hard-wired to want the same things for others. No one wakes up and says, “I want to do everything I can to make my life and my community worse today.”

It’s how we communicate our different perspectives that seems so hard sometimes. But what if we were to take a deep breath before pressing “Post”, or getting up to speak at a public hearing at City Hall, or making comments at the Council table or to the media. What if we were to take a deep breath during political conversations around the dinner table or at the pub.

And what if during that breath we were to ask: Is what I’m going to say True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind? This wisdom comes from the son of a friend of mine, “THINK before you speak”, his poster for school (pictured above) said. My pledge for 2018 is to try to practice this. I’d like to invite you to do the same.

Why? Because it will make us stronger and more resilient as a community that shares this 20 square km slice of paradise here in Lewkwungen Territory on southern Vancouver Island. Because it will make room for complexity and wholeness. But most of all because it’s necessary if we want to build a prosperous, sustainable, affordable and smart city – our future literally depends on our ability to listen to each other better. We must move beyond cynicism and division in order to meet the many challenges we face.

In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, “Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

Here’s to a hope-filled 2018 and to public dialogue that enriches us as individuals and as a community.

 

 

 

City Budget – Your Input Needed

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City Council is about to make the most important decision it makes each year, and we’d like your help. Join us at the Budget Town Hall this Thursday November 30th. Or take the survey here.

How does the annual budgeting process work? At the beginning of the term Council set objectives for the City through the 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. Each year at budget time Council reviews the strategic plan and allocates funding through the budget to achieve its objectives including Create Prosperity Through Economic Development, Make Victoria More Affordable, and Take Climate Action and Prepare for Emergencies, to name just a few.

In late October and early November Council dove deeply to the 1116 page draft budget document. We face a challenging task: how can we continue to provide the broad scope of approximately 200 services and over 200 capital infrastructure projects that our citizens value and also meet demands from citizens and businesses for increased or new services? And how can we do this in a way that keeps people’s ability to pay their taxes top of mind?

This is where we’re looking for your input. We know our residents are busy so we want to make it easy for you. Head here for all the information you need about how to participate.

There’s be a budget survey so you can share your priorities with us. There’s a property tax calculator so you can see what the impact of any proposed increase would be on your particular property. There’s a budget snapshot for each neighbourhood so you can learn more about the work proposed to be done in your area. And most importantly, there’s a Town Hall meeting on Thursday November 30th at 7pm at City Hall. Come in person if you can; if you can’t you can call in, email, tweet, and Facebook with your questions and comments. We will use the public input gathered to inform Council’s decision on the budget in early January 2018.

Council understands like you do that, the City budgeting process is about services – ensuring your money is spent prudently on the priorities of our community. But the bigger picture, or perhaps the guiding principle of Council in making budget decisions is to make sure that we’re spending your valuable money in a way that enhances individual and collective well-being and meets the demands of our growing and changing community.

As I’ve shared in my last few articles, and based on census data, our community is changing. Young families with kids need playgrounds, green spaces, downtown public spaces that are welcoming for everyone; seniors need gathering places and programs to keep them connected with each other and with the community; young people need to be engaged, have their voices heard and the city shaped around their needs; and all of us need to focus on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century including building a resilient low-carbon city for the future.

 

Victoria to remain a human-scale city

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I’ve been reading the news headlines lately: “Victoria’s skyline could soon be reaching higher” and “Vancouver-esque’ 989 climbs downtown skyline”. The latter article states, “The Harris Green strip continues to grow as Cox Development’s $75-million, two-tower condo development climbs the skyline at 989 Johnson St., hoping to shake the design restrictions set by the city.” This isn’t even true. Headlines and stories like these are causing unnecessary alarm and generating fear about Victoria’s future.

989 Johnson and all the other buildings under construction right now fit very much with “design restrictions set by the city”. They conform to the design and livability guidelines set out in the City’s Downtown Core Area Plan (DCAP) as well as the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP).

When the City undertook deep consultation with its residents and business owners between 2009 and 2012 to refresh the previous (1995) OCP, the City asked what kind of land use planning it should do. The overwhelming feedback on the City’s future land use was to concentrate density in the downtown, in village centres, and along major corridors like Fort, Yates, Johnson and Pandora, to name a few. And now, five years after adoption, we’re seeing this plan come to life.

The benefits of this kind of density concentration are twofold. First, the traditional, single family neighbourhoods that take up most of the landmass in the city will remain largely untouched and intact. Second, concentrating people downtown, in village centres and along transportation corridors allows us to achieve our climate action goals as a city and as a community.

It should be a wake up call to us all that greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions in the community – which comprise 99 per cent of all emissions – are increasing not decreasing. This flies in the face of our image of being so green and sustainable. Dense compact land use planning decreases GHG emissions in all sorts of ways.

Another myth out there is that all the cranes on the skyline are there to build high-end condos. This also isn’t true. There are a total of 2,006 housing units currently under construction in the City of Victoria. Of those, 43 per cent are rental apartment units. A further 2,237 units are currently in the planning/approvals stages with 48 per cent of those proposed as rental or affordable housing units.

It’s not only Victoria’s built form that is changing, but our demographics as well. According to the 2016 census, the single largest age demographic in Victoria are 25-29 year olds. The second largest are 30-34 year olds, and the third largest are the 35-39 year olds.

Victoria is changing, but it’s changing by design. It’s changing to meet the needs of its current population and future generations who want to live in a vibrant, compact city with lots of nature, trees, parks and public spaces for all to enjoy. Victoria won’t become a city of skyscrapers. We’ll be a world-class city with a liveable, human scale. And we’ll continue working together to make our city in the 21st century one of the healthiest, most sustainable, inclusive and prosperous places to live, in the world.

This piece was originally published in the Victoria News here.

 

New government must act swiftly on childcare and housing

Many people have been asking me what my hopes are for our new government of British Columbia. They’re very simple: I’d like them to do everything they said they’d do. And I’d like them to do these things as quickly as possible particularly with regard to childcare and affordable housing.

Victoria’s economy is very strong right now. Tech and tourism are booming and construction jobs abound. Two big threats to this continued prosperity are childcare and housing.

The Chamber of Commerce has done some great work on advocating for affordable childcare. What they’ve found is that according to the to Victoria Child Care Resource and Referral, the average monthly cost of full-time child care for kids under five, as of February, was between $812 and $1,128 per month. That is over $10,000 a year per child and at least $40,000 from birth to kindergarten. The problem is exacerbated for a family with more than one child and continues with the need for after-school care and care during school vacations.

The 2016 Canada Census data reveals the gap between our regional population of children and number of child care spaces. The most acute gap is for infants and toddlers where we have roughly one licensed child care space for every eight children. The gap is likely to expand. Between 2011 and 2016 our population of 25 to 39 year olds grew by nine per cent and our population of children under 11 also grew by nine per cent.

The province must: ensure B.C. gets its fair share of funding from the federal government under the National Framework on Early Learning and Child Care; expand publicly funded spaces for early childhood education training; consider including childcare as part of the K to 12 education system and allow access to school property and facilities, which have already been paid for by the taxpayer, for affordable childcare spaces using cost-effective prefab buildings; deliver on the campaign promise of $10-a-day childcare.

It also matters to our economy that the people who provide services we need and want, can afford to live here. For example, a minimum-wage worker makes $22,568 per year working full-time. Assuming 30 per cent of this income is spent on housing – a generally accepted guideline – that’s $565 per month for rent, inclusive of utilities. But the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria is $1,290 as of February. This is not sustainable.

We need a predictable, consistent investment in affordable housing. We need to create a diverse and resilient housing ecosystem including everything from affordable housing with supports as needed for those exiting homelessness, to affordable three-bedroom condos for families in downtown urban centres. The government can’t do this alone; it would be wise to reward local governments that have clear strategies at the local level for cutting red tape and making it easier for non-profit and for-profit housing developers to build new rental housing.

The health, prosperity and sustainability of our city and our province depends on swift action on both these fronts. We are standing by as local governments to assist in any way we can.

This piece was first published here in the Victoria News.

Triathlon Canada Opens New National Performance Centre in Victoria

June 21 2017 – For Immediate Release
The City of Victoria and 94 Forward delivered the ultimate house warming gift to Triathlon Canada in the form of a new National Performance Centre, along with a major financial injection into the national body’s high-performance program. The announcements come as Triathlon Canada begins a new era by officially taking up residence at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria.

Mayor Lisa Helps and the City of Victoria are providing stability to Triathlon Canada with a long-term lease for office and training space at the arena, while 94 Forward has committed to providing a major boost in its base funding over the next two years – a necessary requirement for rebuilding the high-performance triathlon program in Canada.

“I’m pleased to be able to welcome Triathlon Canada’s high-performance athletes and support staff to Victoria,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “Victoria is synonymous with triathlon, and has been since the sport’s inception. With an ideal natural environment, and a new Crystal Pool training facility on the horizon, it is only fitting to have the national federation make Victoria its home base in Canada.”

Mayor Helps’ efforts were applauded by Canada’s National Team and National Development Team triathletes – many who have relocated to Victoria to take advantage of Triathlon Canada’s newly created National Performance Centre.

Led by Olympic pathway coach, Jono Hall, and Paralympic pathway coach, Carolyn Murray, the National Performance Centre in Victoria gives athletes access to the facilities and sport science staff at Canadian Sport Institute Pacific, while training alongside the nation’s best swimmers, rowers, cyclists and track and field athletes at Saanich Commonwealth Place and Pacific Institute of Sport Excellence (PISE).

“Our high-performance program is at the heart of the Triathlon Canada Nation. Developing a competitive culture of excellence where athletes can take advantage of world-class training facilities and resources is core to building a successful daily training environment that will foster podium results for this group of dedicated individuals who share a passion to swim, bike and run,” said Kim Van Bruggen, Chief Executive Officer, Triathlon Canada.

Thanks to the City of Victoria, Triathlon Canada also opened the doors on Wednesday to a 1,000-sqaure-foot training space on the main floor of their new office headquarters that will be used as a strength and conditioning gym for all of Canada’s high-performance triathletes and coaches.

94 Forward, the legacy organization from Victoria’s Commonwealth Games, will provide the financial backing in each of the next two years to aid in the implementation of a high-performance program for Canada’s development-level athletes who are accepted into the National Performance Centre. 94 Forward has also implemented a matching program to further support Triathlon Canada’s fundraising efforts over the term of the agreement.

“We understand the financial support young Canadian triathletes need, and deserve, to access the tools required to support their drive to compete with the world’s best,” said John MacMillan, President, 94 Forward. “We believe investing in the development of Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre athletes will have a long-lasting impact that dives deep into the Victoria region. As we have witnessed with the sport of triathlon in Canada, medal-winning athletes spark participation, which ultimately leads to a deeper athlete pool and event hosting opportunities, which presents tremendous benefits for a community.”

“The support and leadership demonstrated by the City of Victoria and 94 Forward ensures the road to the Olympic and Paralympic Games for Canada’s triathletes will continue to go through Victoria well into the future,” added Van Bruggen, who also rolled out a new brand that will guide Triathlon Canada into the future.

Victoria’s Matt Sharpe celebrated the news with his Canadian triathlon comrades by challenging guests in attendance at Wednesday’s event to a mini-triathlon relay race.

“Having access to cost-effective, elite-level training facilities at home is what Canadian triathletes must have if we truly want to re-establish ourselves as world-leaders in the sport and bring home more Olympic and Paralympic medals,” said Sharpe. “The National Performance Centre model provides Canada’s triathletes with the advanced resources we require – not to mention surrounds us with elite athletes from other sports. I know athletes for generations to come will thank both the City of Victoria for helping establish this much-needed training environment, and 94 Forward for financially backing our mission for medals. Canada’s triathletes are truly grateful for their support.”

Triathlon Canada is the governing body of the sport in the country. Triathlon Canada’s more than 22,000 members include athletes, coaches and officials from the grassroots to elite levels. With the support of its valued corporate partners –Project, Training Peaks, Zizu Optics, and Polar – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, and Own the Podium, Triathlon Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world Champions in all race disciplines. For more information on Triathlon Canada, please visit us at www.triathloncanada.com.

On Affordable Housing, Bike Lanes, and Building a Liveable City

I’ve been receiving questions lately with regard to both bike lanes and affordable housing. They go something like this: “Why are you spending so much money on bike lanes and nothing on affordable housing?” And, “Why don’t you use your role as mayor to do something real about affordable housing instead of just asking people to open up their homes?”

The simple answers are, “We aren’t.” And, “I am.” Both of these need some explaining.

By the end of 2018, Victoria will have a 5.6km network of All Ages and Abilities bike lanes in the downtown. This will cost approximately $9 million. By 2022, 75% of Victorians will live within 400m of a complete All Ages and Abilities network. The cost of the complete network has not yet been determined as the design of many components still needs to be undertaken through work with the community. This network, which takes a “complete streets” approach, improves conditions for all road users.

The active transportation network that we’re building, including bike lanes, is funded by gas taxes. These are monies collected at the gas pump and distributed back to local governments. There are restrictions as to what gas tax funds can be used for. They must be used for projects that have a sustainability impact; they cannot be used for affordable housing.

Yet bikes lanes, do contribute to affordability for Victorians. How? According to the Canadian Automobile Association, the cost of car ownership for a compact car is approximately $9500 per year. On average, Canadians spend more per year on owning and operating a car than they do on groceries.

We’re building a city where, in the not so distant future, car ownership might not be a necessity for many people. Victoria’s All Ages and Abilities network, when complete, will connect 75% of Victorians from their homes safely to the rest of the city. That means Victorians who now have to use cars will have approximately $9500 more in their pockets every year. That’s $800 more per month that can be spent on rent, groceries, piano lessons etc. Bike lanes contribute to making life more affordable for Victorians and making the city more liveable too.

As for affordable housing, and how much we’re spending in both time and money, it’s a lot more than on bike lanes. For those who don’t know about all the work doing as city and region on this issue, we’re using every tool in our municipal and regional tool boxes to get affordable housing built.

Right after the last election, Council struck a Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing. The task force was made up of non-profit and for-profit housing developers, housing advocates and others. In five short meetings the Task Force developed detailed and concrete recommendations. After receiving public input, Council quickly adopted these and staff created Victoria’s 2016-2025 Municipal Housing Strategy.

Since adopting the Housing Strategy Council has removed restrictions on garden suites, making it possible for anyone living in a single family dwelling to build a small rental unit in their backyard. It used to cost $4000 and take 12 months for permission. Now it costs $200 and takes four weeks.

We’ve also made it easier for homeowners to build secondary suites by removing restrictions in zoning that limited the amount of exterior changes that could be made to a building containing a secondary suite. These zoning changes increase the number of properties eligible for secondary suites while still maintaining livability, safety and affordability.

We’re fast tracking all new multi-unit residential buildings. And we’re in the process of revamping the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to incentivize the building of larger units, to prioritize women, children and First Nations, and to allow the Trust Fund to be used for affordable home ownership projects.

And all that is just in the city! In the early fall of 2015, myself and two of my council colleagues at the City of Victoria took the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness’s research and turned it into a funding strategy. We proposed – quite boldly and with much initial consternation from the media and some of our colleagues – that the CRD borrow up the $30 million to build new supportive and affordable housing in our region subject to the Provincial government matching with $30 million and Island Health covering the costs of health supports as needed.

We were thrilled in May 2016 when the Province showed strong leadership and matched the Region’s $30 million contribution. The $60 million Regional Housing First Program will build 880 units of affordable housing over the next five years, including 268 units that rent at $375 per month. And, I was recently in Ottawa advocating to the federal government to contribute their $30 million share; with federal funding we will build close to 1400 new units of affordable, and where needed, supportive housing.

Finally, we are ensuring that the monies are well spent and directed to where the need is. A refreshed Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which I co-chair, is responsible for developing a Community Plan which will guide both new capital spending and system improvements to the existing housing ecosystem. This plan has been developed with a wide range of community members including people with lived experiences of homelessness.

Affordable housing, bike lanes, high-quality transit and compact, walkable land-uses are all key to building a healthy, prosperous and sustainable city. To do so we can’t make “either or” choices, we must take a systems-based and ecosystem-based approach.

 

Victoria Commences its Witness Reconciliation Program

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On January 1, 2017 at the City of Victoria’s annual New Year’s Day Levee, and in the presence of local First Nations, City Council proclaimed 2017 a Year of Reconciliation. Since that time, Council has been in conversation with the Chiefs of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on how best to approach the work of Reconciliation.

Together, the City and the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations have created a program reflecting Indigenous family witness ceremonies. The City’s Witness Reconciliation Program brings together Indigenous Witnesses from both the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations’ Councils and a City Family. The Program is meant to be a fluid process — one that is flexible, adaptable and evolves to foster a long-term relationship between the City and its Indigenous partners.

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“We look forward to working together with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on a new path of Reconciliation,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “As we have learned from Esquimalt and Songhees Chiefs, Reconciliation begins with listening and deepening understanding, and is a living process of collaboration, imagination and action. Recognizing the depth of our work together, and the need to respect Indigenous traditions in doing that work, we understand that 2017 is the first of our years of Reconciliation.”

The Witness Reconciliation Program will focus on building and nurturing the relationships needed to facilitate trust and demonstrate the City’s ongoing commitment to doing the work for as long as it needs to be done.

“Reconciliation is a journey honouring the truth and reconciling the future. It is about respect, both self-respect for Aboriginal people and mutual respect among all Canadians. Reconciliation must become a way of life,” said Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam. “Songhees Nation welcomes the opportunity to work with the City through the time needed to nurture our current and future relationship, to take action, together, in the spirit of Reconciliation, and with respect for our traditional ways.”

Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas acknowledged the City’s commitment to an ongoing course of truth-telling, reconciliation and action, and the City’s willingness to embrace a different way of working together. “Esquimalt Nation expresses their openness to continue working with the City on a meaningful reconciliation process,” said Chief Andy Thomas.

The Indigenous Witnesses will be the Chief and Councillors of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, who have been chosen by their people as leaders. The Witnesses will provide guidance and oversight for the Program, coming together two to three times a year in a traditional Witness Ceremony to hear, reflect, comment and advise, witnessing and guiding how the Program moves forward.

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The City Family will meet regularly to collaboratively generate ideas that lead to a program of actions. This program will be presented to the Witnesses through a Witness Ceremony. The City Family will initially be comprised of Songhees representative Brianna Dick, Esquimalt representative Katie Hooper, noted artist Carey Newman, Camosun College Indigenous Studies Chair Janice Simcoe, Mayor Lisa Helps, Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Councillor Marianne Alto. Staff support will vary as needed, starting initially with Director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities Thomas Soulliere and Manager of Executive Operations Colleen Mycroft.

After the advice of Witnesses is heard at each Witness Ceremony, the City Family will facilitate actions to realize the ideas endorsed by the Witnesses. Subsequent Witness Ceremonies will provide an opportunity for reflection and to look forward to future actions.

“As a corporation, we have not done this kind of work before,” said City of Victoria Councillor Marianne Alto. “The work is new to us and so will be the way we do the work.”

The first Witness Ceremony took place this morning at the Royal BC Museum, timed with the start of the Aboriginal Cultural Festival that runs until Sunday.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) Calls to Action, findings and materials will provide context and a framework for the City of Victoria’s Witness Reconciliation Program, its participants and its work. The Program will consider how the City might respond to the five recommendations highlighted by the TRC for municipalities, and will also work to realize, on a local scale, the TRC’s mandate to tell Canadians what happened in the Indian Residential Schools, create a permanent record of what happened in the Indian Residential Schools, and foster healing and reconciliation.

Photo credit: Heather Follis

Help us develop one possible solution to the rental crisis

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In Victoria in the 1940s during WWII, Times Colonist headlines urged Victorians to open their homes and “Billet Homeless War Workers.” Victorians responded to the crisis and opened their homes to strangers recently relocated to Victoria to help the local war effort. They didn’t call it the “sharing economy”, they didn’t charge anything, they just opened up their spare bedrooms and invited strangers in.

Now we have a different crisis on our doorstep. For thirty years (1982-2012) there were no new purpose built rental buildings built in Victoria. And, in the last five years, nearly 6000 people have moved into the city. We’re facing a rental crisis. What if Victorians responded in the same way to this crisis? What if there was a way to connect people living in vehicles, in motel rooms, on couches, with seniors living in large houses all alone, with retirees with an extra bedroom, or even with families with large houses and extra rooms. Unthinkable? Victorians stepped up to help out their neighbours in the past.

Interested in exploring the idea further? I’m working with a group of citizens and businesses to develop one possible solution. We need three people currently living in vehicles, on couches, in woodsheds (yes I have heard that this is true in more than one case) AND three people who might be willing to open their homes.

We’d like these six people to join us for a short focus group session. There is no commitment required other than sharing ideas. We want to build a solution for the people who will use it – for those looking for a place to stay until the rental crisis subsides and for those wiling to billet someone.

Please email mayor@victoria.ca if you’d like to help us out. And please share this post! To read more on the current rental crisis and its causes please head here.