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  • Gayle Baker

Gary Holman is Asked: What Happened to our Safe Community and How Can we Get it Back?

August 14

A total of 23 came to welcome Gary Holman and ask him questions about the issues on their minds. When folks began gathering in the United Church Meadow, there was pleasure in the clear, sunny day. Soon after noon, some had started to wilt in the unaccustomed beating sun while others huddled (too closely) to participate from the shade of the apple trees.

Questions began with the recent unfortunate incident in which a bylaw enforcement officer was hurt in Centennial Park. Some expressed feeling that things felt out of control and that the Park no longer felt safe. Gary understood and agreed that it was very troubling. The RCMP has recommended a charge of “assaulting a Peace Officer,” a very serious charge. The individual has also been banned from Centennial Park.

Gary stated that he had supported gradual, but consistent, increases in the budget for CRD bylaw enforcement since his term began and that has he will continue to support such increases. Gary and CRD staff are also encouraging the RCMP to be more responsive, while also understanding their staffing restraints and the wide range of issues they have to address on Salt Spring. He noted that, while it was estimated that there are now eight officers here, for various reasons, there are usually no more than three to four officers on duty at any given time.

The RCMP has been requesting an increased allotment of officers but must compete with other communities in the province, many of which, according to our local RCMP, have more serious crime issues. When asked about our crime statistics, Gary noted that while RCMP collects these statistics, he is not familiar with Salt Spring’s statistics. He spoke, instead, of many islanders expressing publicly and to him personally that they are feeling unsafe due to misbehaving off-leash dogs, drinking and drug use, foul and violent language, and incidents in part appearing to be the result of mental health challenges. Gary noted that the fear generated by such behaviours was having a negative impact on too many Salt Springers simply seeking to enjoy our parks.

Gary noted that while problems in other areas of our village - United Church Meadow, the Japanese Gardens, Grace Point, and Seaview - have largely been addressed, the problem in Centennial persists.

We were reminded that communities have a choice about how they deal with those who are transient or insecurely housed. They can address the sad issues with more enforcement only or they can also take a more compassionate approach by giving support to those who are not as fortunate. There was a plea for a place for them so that they are not forced to move from park to park; Moving folks from one park to another is simply not a solution.

Guest Rob Grant of Community Services spoke with passion about a large plot of land on Drake Road - already owned by our community - that could serve as just that place. While BC Housing may soon build some housing on a portion of the land, the remainder of the property (approximately five-acres) could take years to develop. Gary has been insistent about getting permission from CRD Victoria to use this land to meet local needs, even if only temporarily.

During this discussion, we also learned a bit about the widely-diverse demographics of our “unsheltered” community, ranging from some who have been members of our community for many years, some who are actively-seeking housing and jobs, some who are already working, some who choose the “unfettered” life, and others who are truly transient with no intention of staying on Salt Spring.

One participant who is currently staying at Seaview where they are “packed in like sardines,’’spoke briefly of his story: He is unable to live on his boat due to health reasons and remarked how things have changed in the last five years - expressing that Centennial Park has become a scary place for him as well.

We learned that Housing First, operated by Community Services, tries to place folks in one of our various island shelter opportunities. There are between 90 to 95 people on a Housing First list with about 50-55 of them currently seeking housing. We were told that there would be more on this list if there were more housing options available.

A participant asked if the shelters we offer are attracting folks from off-island instead of serving those living here. We were told about a point system that was used, making it very difficult for an outsider to slip into our system and benefit quickly. While some could still be attracted to Salt Spring by its relatively welcoming attitude and lax enforcement, it was theorized that there is not enough available shelter here to attract significant numbers of unsheltered folks.

Rob Grant offered his perspective: He sees the responsibility for affordable housing being passed between government jurisdictions with no real solutions. He spoke of narrow, restrictive parameters for funding and the backflips the Community Services’ Salt Spring Commons as well as Croftonbrook had to do to secure finding. Gary acknowledged that funding from federal, provincial, and CRD sources do have strings attached, but, given the finite resources and key priorities, he did not think that this was an unreasonable approach. Gary reminded us that BC Housing is contributing unprecedented billions of dollars to affordable housing throughout the province and that Salt Spring has benefited significantly - already receiving $9 million for the two projects cited: Salt Spring Commons and Croftonbrook. And, this does not include the additional funding expected for the BC Housing project on Drake Road.

Gary took the opportunity to acknowledge Islands Trustees (Peter Grove was participant at this ASK Salt Spring gathering) who have consistently offered increased densities for affordable housing. He compared their good work to too many other areas in which developers get increased densities on the promise of affordable housing but are never held to this promise.

When asked about Dragonfly, we learned that much of the work needed to get permission has already been completed but that important decisions, especially whether it will be rental or purchased housing, must be made before proceeding. Will an upgrade to Drake Road be required before proceeding? Gary indicated that any such requirement would be determined by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure when it is referred during the Islands Trust rezoning process.

When asked what “affordable” means, we learned that 30-40% of a median (or average) income is the generally-accepted definition by various housing agencies. With a minimum wage in BC of $14.65, it was noted that many Salt Springers are working full-time and still unable to afford housing.

As water issues are so tightly interwoven with affordable housing, Gary was asked what was happening with the North Salt Spring Water District (NSSWD) moratorium on new projects. We learned that a community resident has challenged this moratorium and that Trustees have authorized a peer review of their research supporting it.

When questioned, Gary told us that the first draft of the provincially-funded study analyzing an Island-wide water service had been reviewed internally, and the consultant is now making final revisions to the report. (It had been due to be released in March 2020.) Part of the impetus for the study was not only to improve water management, but also to support the case for infrastructure funding in the event that NSSWD and its ratepayers agreed to become a CRD entity.

We learned that many of Salt Spring’s smaller water districts do not appear to have water shortages. The Fulford Water District, using Weston Lake, currently appears to have a surplus. The Salt Spring Water Protection Alliance (created by the Islands Trust) will be undertaking a study to affirm this. If a surplus is documented, a possible outcome could be legalization of suites in Fulford.

A representative of The Salish Sea Trail project, determined to get bike lanes from Fulford to Vesuvius, told us that this initiative is well underway with nearly 1,000 signatures on a petition. This initiative began when it became clear that, after decades of planning, completion of this important cycling link to Vancouver Island trails could still be delayed for many years. This group hopes to capitalize on Green Recovery funding to finally far safer cycling on Salt Spring. We learned of research that documented the economic benefits of such investments. These studies indicated that the return on roads is about $1.34 for every dollar spent and the return on cycling is $5.00 for every dollar spent.

While some essential projects, like the very urgent (already receiving regulatory warnings) CRD Malaview Sewage system, will take priority for Federal-Provincial infrastructure funding, there is hope that the new proposed $1.5 billion in BC Green Recovery funds will allow the long-awaited completion of this important project. (Last week, Adam surprised and thrilled many when he stated that the Salish Sea Trail project was his top choice of the many important projects throughout his riding.

When asked if Gas Tax monies could be used to fund shovel-ready engineering drawings for this cycling loop, Gary indicated that this might be a part of an overall funding strategy and indicated that he will be discussing this funding strategy with Adam Olsen. He also suggested that the Salish Sea Trail group meet with him to discuss their business plan, concept plan, and partners.

When asked about the long-awaited laundromat, we were told that it was “chugging along.” We learned that the business plan is finally nearing completion, an essential element to successfully acquiring the funding still needed to open in the fall of this year.

As she walked by, Jessica Harkema, Executive Director of our Chamber of Commerce, was drawn into the conversation, agreeing that getting funding for affordable housing is very difficult, often forcing worthy projects to fit into a very narrow box of requirements. She suggested considering a community investment plan in which locals invest their money to get a housing project completed - and reap a profit when it is successful.

When asked about housing prices, she told us that, while home prices do not seem to be rising significantly, most homes are selling very soon after being listed, and many are receiving their asking price.

We learned that Moby’s and Country Grocer are already providing housing for some of their workers and that Island Health is pursuing a similar strategy. For quite some time, Moby’s has been providing housing for some of the Back of the House staff, the hardest to retain. Country Grocer offers lodging for their night delivery drivers needing a place to stay until the morning ferry. Country Grocer staff also pick up as many as 30 of their crew from the ferry each day, unable to hire locals due, largely, to our high housing costs.

As 1:00 was upon us, many of us were wilting but quite happy to have learned so much. We bid a fond farewell to Gary, appreciative of his openness, hard work, tenacity, and willingness to come to ASK Salt Spring every month to discuss those issues most important to us.

Interested in participating? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering this coming Friday, August 21, from 11-1 in the United Church Meadow to welcome our Islands Trustee, Laura Patrick. (If it rains as predicted, we will gather in the Portlock Picnic Pavilion.)

All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.

Socially-distanced chairs and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.

No time to sit in the Meadow? Any question, anytime:

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