A Battle Between Bureaucracy and Humanity?
Thirteen joined us on a lovely almost-spring day to engage with CRD Director Gary Holman on some of the issues that mean the most to us. After our First Nations Territorial Acknowledgement, we asked Gary to tell us what was on his mind. While housing concerns are paramount for him, he began by speaking of some other projects.
Gary is pleased that the Fire Trustees and CRD have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing, in principle, to allow the Ganges Firehall to remain in public hands and repurposing it for a year-round food market. The MOU also supports the co-location of the CRD Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in the new public safety building (firehall). Events have impacted this MOU in two significant respects:
EOC has now found suitable and very affordable space in the Salt Spring Island Middle School (SIMS). This new development means that, while the new public safety building can still serve as a backup EOC and for shared training space, dedicated space there, while perhaps ideal, is no longer such a pressing issue. This means that the size of the facility - and therefore its costs to taxpayers - can be reduced.
Recent changes in federal guidelines now allow the use of Community Works (“Gas Tax”) funds for fire halls. Even though EOC may not need space there, gas tax funds can still be applied to this new public safety building, resulting in a further reduction in the cost to local taxpayers.
Gary believes that a new public safety building is Salt Spring’s most important unfunded infrastructure project. He hopes that folks vote Yes to the firehall referendum. This approval is necessary to trigger the allocation of gas tax funds to the facility and allow for the eventual repurposing of the Ganges Firehall for community purposes.
Gary also told us that progress on the Composting Project continues, with some provincial grant funding secured by CRD, subject to some terms and conditions. One important CRD condition has just been addressed with the amendment of our local Liquid Waste Commission bylaw to include organics, paving the way for on-going operational support, if required.
Gary spoke to some recently-announced housing initiatives, including the commitment by BC Housing for a long-awaited 28 unit supported housing facility on a portion of the Drake Road property. This facility will include a commercial kitchen and common area, which BC Housing has indicated would allow for relocation of the services of the shelter now at Community Services. Because the project utilizes already-built modular units, BC Housing expects this facility to be completed by the summer of 2022. This will allow eligible residents at the Seabreeze Inne (now being leased by BC Housing from the Hospital Foundation) to move directly into the supported housing facility.
Gary also spoke briefly about a recent provincial change in regulations allowing cottages on Agricultural Land Reserve properties. This change, which still requires some Islands Trust measures to facilitate, will provide additional affordable housing and improve the viability of farming on Salt Spring.
Gary also mentioned the possibility that, as a result of a foreclosure process, ownership of the Salt Spring Island Land Bank Society might be transferred to a larger non-profit organization, such as Community Services or the Lookout Society. It is anticipated that this transfer will result in better management and development of these properties. The outcome of this foreclosure process will be known soon.
The rest of our time together focused on housing, generally falling into three categories: Drake Road, the Warming Centre, and community-owned land suitable for an encampment.
Drake Road: There still is some confusion about the BC Housing Drake Road project. BC Housing has publicly stated that the new, 28 unit supported housing facility will also include shelter services. Community Services will manage both the supported housing facility and shelter, but it is not clear whether the new facility will have the same number of shelter beds as currently offered at the Community Services location. Gary promised to get the answers from BC Housing regarding this fundamentally important question. The relocation of the shelter services also raises the question of how Community Services will utilize the space currently used as the shelter.
The importance of the number of shelter beds available was made even clearer when a participant told us that it was his estimate that Salt Spring has approximately 100 individuals who regularly need shelter.
When Gary was asked about the Big Picture for Drake Road, we were reminded that this 5-acre property was generously-donated by the School District 64 for family housing. Some years ago, CRD had a first reading at Islands Trust for 80 affordable housing units.
Soon afterward, the North Salt Spring Waterworks District moratorium was imposed, limiting current plans to the availability of adequate well water. Gary told us that there is sufficient water for the BC Housing project, and he will try to clarify whether this water supply is sufficient to also accommodate the relocation of the shelter services.
The Warming Centre:
Clearly a very emotional issue, we first learned a bit of the history of this Warming Centre. It was initially set up without a CRD permit at Peace Park on December 25 and, approximately one week later, moved to Mouat Park, again without CRD approval. After almost another month at Mouat Park, and numerous complaints from neighbours and park users about public drinking, loud music, apparently uncontrolled dogs, and potentially unsafe operation of a propane heating appliance, CRD was forced to enforce its bylaws.
CRD staff met with the Warming Centre proponents several times, informing them that it would be possible to stay in Mouat Park with appropriate permits and a safety check by the Fire District. This would have allowed the Warming Centre to be set up from 8 am to 8 pm in the open area fronting the parking lot so it could be more easily monitored by the RCMP and CRD bylaw staff. Proponents felt this was unnecessarily arbitrary and decided to move to Centennial Park. After several days, CRD bylaw staff evicted the group from Centennial as well.
While most sheltering in the Warming Centre were able to collect their personal belongings before they were confiscated, there is some question about how the remainder of these belongings will be returned to their owners. There is concern that some belongings were left by CRD staff in the Core Inn parking lot. Gary’s understanding is that arrangements were made for these belongings to be picked up there, but he will clarify with staff.
Gary acknowledged that the rules for camping and facilities like the Warming Centre on CRD property are somewhat inflexible. He also told us that negotiations were more difficult because no bona fide society appears willing to accept responsibility and liability for management of such a facility, A plea was made for locals and CRD to work together to find an answer.
Gary clarified that while elected officials cannot - and should not - direct bylaw enforcement staff, he did initially request CRD staff to exercise leniency in enforcing bylaw infractions during the coldest period of the year. Some ASK Salt Spring participants voiced disappointment that Gary had not met with the Warming Centre proponents, leaving those meetings to CRD staff. They expressed strong feelings that Gary should have met personally with the groups involved. Some felt that by working together, a solution could have been found.
Gary did respond that an individual had reached out to him about the possibility of a mediated discussion, and he indicated that he was willing to meet. One participant stated that he believed that this was a battle between bureaucracy and humanity. Gary acknowledged this, but he also pointed out that, in his opinion, the apparent unwillingness of Warming Centre proponents to even consider a CRD permit or consult with the Fire District regarding safety issues was not a productive foundation for further discussion.
The search for an encampment on Salt Spring is not a new notion. We were reminded of a disappointing outcome last year when Community Services, with Gary’s support, lobbied CRD Victoria to allow a temporary, supervised encampment on the Drake Road property. These efforts came to naught. Gary was also disappointed with the CRD decision but did not pursue it further because much better alternatives solidified, specifically 24/7 BC Housing funding for the Community Services shelter and the rental of rooms at the Seabreeze Inne.
Is There Other Land Available for Affordable Housing?
A participant reminded us that PARC owns multiple properties acquired as the result of a subdivision or purchase that could - in theory, at least - be used for affordable housing projects and/or an encampment.
Years ago, a referendum asked Salt Springers whether they would support selling 10 properties acquired as a result of subdivision. The referendum failed, in Gary’s opinion, because too many properties, some of which had important recreational and ecological value, were included in the proposal. Gary agreed that a few of PARC’s properties could be deemed surplus, including its Kanaka Road property purchased over two decades ago (therefore not requiring a referendum) and now used for PARC’s maintenance facility. However, Gary reminded us that these properties would have to be sold at fair market value. A participant questioned whether CRD could decide to donate these properties for affordable housing projects, and Gary indicated he would clarify whether this was an option.
The future of the property on Kanaka Road is currently dependent upon the results of a strategic planning process for PARC’s Rainbow Road property. If it were decided that this maintenance facility should be relocated to this location, the Kanaka property could be available for other uses. However, locating the maintenance facility on the Rainbow Road site would reduce the recreational options possible there. Stay tuned. . . .
Given the emotion of this highly-charged conversation, 1:00 came too soon for some. We all thanked Gary for joining us every month, listening to what could be considered criticism with courtesy and honesty, and working hard to do the best he can on those complex issues that are so important to many of us. ASK Salt Spring also got a nice compliment from a participant when he said: ASK Salt Spring is really is the best example of democracy on the island.
Please join us on Zoom 11-1 February 18 to welcome Islands Trustee Laura Patrick.
Given COVID concerns, we will be gathering virtually via Zoom:
(In case you need it, the passcode is 947504)
What do you want to ask her?
What are the 2022-23Trust Council initiatives?
What are some of the issues before our Local Trust Committee?
What is happening with Islands Trust’s Ganges Village Plan and Housing Task Forces?
Can you tell us about the Ecosystem Protection project?
What progress has been made on the engagement process for the Trust Policy Statement?
And. . . .?
See you Friday, February 18, 11-1 on Zoom to welcome Laura!
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?
Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.
We love your receipts! Remember: #15
(Our Partners. . . .
Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library -
is being paid for byIsland Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.
Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer.
What a team!)