Local Community Commissioners Field Tough Questions
Eleven came to this ASK Salt Spring gathering to welcome Local Community Commissioners (LCC) Ben Corno, Brian Webster, Gayle Baker, and Gary Holman, also our Electoral Director. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Commissioners were asked what excited and delighted them. Ben began by using the example of the construction at Centennial Park as an opportunity to be in the know about what was happening at the park. He was pleased that he could help address Salt Springers’ fears as well as apologize for the unfortunate timing of the start of construction just before the Remembrance Day celebration at Centennial.
Brian continued with this example, a clear indication of challenges of getting important information to everyone. He reminded us that, despite a recent article in the Driftwood about Centennial Park construction, many were totally surprised when the fence went up and constructions began. Brian cited the difficulty of getting information to everyone, despite great effort to share important news. Not unique to Salt Spring, Brian noted that too many do not have a clear understanding of what is happening. He has also observed that many do not even know who to ask for this information. He sees the role of the LCC to stay informed about all things Salt Spring and continue to share that information whenever possible.
A participant spoke briefly about social media, citing frequent toxicity in the conversations. She reminded Local Commissioners that monitoring these conversations and adding relevant information when needed was a very effective way to communicate. She also suggested Local Commissioners write regular Salt Spring Exchange articles. Local Commissioners agreed that local communication should be enhanced. Unfortunately, this local communication is limited by CRD communication protocols - another of many challenges the LCC faces. Gary will continue to write Director’s Reports for the Driftwood with a focus on regional and other issues over which LCC does not have delegated authority.
Gary spoke of three CRD expected initiatives that could create additional region-wide services. While Salt Spring has gained from some of these regional services, others, like CRD Regional Parks, have cost Salt Spring taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars ($602,076 this year) with little local benefit. As a result of this inequity, Gary is cautions about supporting new regional services. The three possible new services are:
A Foodland Service (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/food-agriculture) may be proposed as a required regional service. Gary believes that the initial focus of this service, if it is approved, would be to use CRD- or publicly-owned land for farming. While Gary does not yet know all the implications of this new service, he is cautiously-supportive, hopeful that it will help increase our local food production at an expected cost of to Salt Spring of about $25,000 a year.
Gary believes that the proposal for a Regional Arts Facility Service (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/past-capital-projects-and-initiatives/regional-arts-facilities-needs-discussion) will soon return to the CRD Board for more discussion. While Gary sees the value of this service for Victoria-area communities with large arts facilities, he is concerned that, if this new service is created, Salt Springers will be required to pay large sums without direct benefit to our local arts facilities.
A region-wide Transportation Service is again being explored (https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/news/article/2022/01/12/crd-seeks-public-input-on-southern-gulf-islands-transportation-service-options). While this service - potentially encompassing all public transit as well as possibly even including road work and construction - could be helpful to Victoria-area communities, Gary worries that, if approved, Salt Spring could be charged for this new service without commensurate benefit. Recently, Local Commissioners were asked to respond to a survey concerning this possible new service. The consensus was that Salt Spring would be better served by its stand-alone system rather than being taxed for its portion of the entire system. (Gary estimates that our transit costs could quadruple if Salt Spring were required to contribute to this proposed regional Transportation Service.) A letter was sent to the CRD Board expressing LCC opposition to being included in the possible regional transportation service.
The first question for Local Commissioners was fueled by a participant’s frustration that North End Road, an important north end loop, did not get its centre line painted this fall. Why? Brian reminded him that the minimum line painting commitment this year was for our major roads connecting ferry terminals, but this participant was not satisfied. Knowing that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) has routinely allocated only about 25% of the money needed to adequately paint lines throughout the province did not help either. The provincial prohibition of longer-lasting oil-based paint, necessitating more frequent painting, was still not the answer this participant wanted.
He still wanted to know why the major road leading to his home was not painted. Who makes these decisions? He was told that the painting contractor produces a report each April identifying roads needing paint (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/driving-and-transportation/transportation-infrastructure/highway-bridge-maintenance/pavement-marking/pmsa-savi-boilerplate.pdf) - see page 29. Unfortunately, that the April 2023 report does not seem to be available on the MoTI website.
This frustration that MoTI does not allocate enough to adequately-paint our roads is widely-shared. Inadequate painting, as well as poor safety signage and infrequent shoulder sweeping, was even noted in the recent Salt Spring Cycling Safety Study (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/driving-and-transportation/reports-and-reference/reports-and-studies/vancouver-island-south-coast/2023-04-21_salt_spring_island_cycling_safety_review.pdf). MLA Adam Olsen has often asked MoTI to increase its budget for these critical safety needs; the Salish Sea Working Group has formally requested this; and a recommendation to advocate for more funding for painting and sweeping will be discussed by the LCC.
A participant asked about progress with our long-awaited HarbourWalk. He was told that a Request for Proposals for conceptual designs for the HarbourWalk as well as a pathway on the harbourside of Lower Ganges Road was released early in 2023 and a proposal from Stantec (https://www.stantec.com/en) was accepted this spring. Not simply an engineering project, community engagement, archeological studies, as well as First Nations consultation are included in this project. When complete, detailed designs will be the next step, hopefully funded by the award of the recently-submitted REDIP application (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/economic-development/support-organizations-community-partners/rural-economic-development/redip).
This participant cited decades of waiting for this project with no results. He was reminded that a large stumbling block was the refusal of one of the largest upland owners to agree to right of way for this HarbourWalk. As the foreshore lease for this large landowner was up for renewal (Thanks, Richard Kerr for discovering this!), their application to FLNRORD (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/organizational-structure/ministries-organizations/ministries/forests) eventually resulted in the province's agreement to provide this right of way on public foreshore as soon as the detailed designs have been reviewed by the Ministry.
Despite this hard fought progress, this participant asked whether the LCC has considered cutting its losses and discontinuing any efforts to build this HarbourWalk. While a very popular project throughout much of our community, it was agreed that this HarbourWalk project is one of several key initiatives that need to be discussed and prioritized by the LCC. Early in 2024, the LCC plans to have these delayed strategic priority discussions.
A participant expressed her dismay with the inaccessibility of our gathering place, SIMS. While is location up a hill will always be difficult for some to walk, it was agreed that accessible solutions are needed. It was also noted that environmentally and economically-superior options were needed for heating (propane cost us $28,000 last year) and lighting, currently largely old fashioned florescents. While an environmental assessment has been completed, extending the CRD lease with School District 64 beyond its current 5 years is a first step before spending the dollars needed for these improvements. (It looks promising that a 10-year, automatically-renewable lease will soon be approved.) It was noted that there are energy efficiency companies that will pay for these improvements in return for an agreed portion of the cost-savings, something the LCC clearly needs to better understand.
A participant asked how he could get clear, easy-to-understand information about our local CRD provisional 2024 budget. While there is plenty of budget information, that simple summary of local services, including changes approved by the LCC, is a bit illusive. It is expected that this summary will be included in the agenda package for the next LCC meeting, Thursday, November 23, 9:00 a. m. in the SIMS Boardroom. All agenda packages can be accessed by going to the CRD website: https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/board-committees/board-committees-and-commissions/salt-spring-island-local-community-commission).
As changes to this provincial budget can be made until January 2024, it was also suggested that a simple budget sheet of LCC services be produced and brought to a Town Hall in January to welcome additional community feedback.
The rest of our time together was a discussion of. . . . you guessed it: Worker Housing! We were reminded that affordable housing, while a specific definition, is complicated: https://www.saanich.ca/assets/Community/Documents/Planning/Saanich-Affordability-Definition-May18-2023.pdf. While affordable housing can potentially accommodate workers with a wide range of incomes, a distinction is emerging between affordable housing and worker housing. Many believe that Salt Spring’s top priority is to create housing for workers in well-paying jobs who can afford neither escalating home prices nor market rental rates.
There are a number of ongoing conversations about affordable housing projects, including, but not limited to:
The 5-acre Drake Road CRD property leased to BC Housing for 60 years. While there is widespread frustration that the promised 28-unit supportive housing community has not even begun construction, completion is now slated for the end of 2024. This property could also accommodate up to 80 more densities, and another well is expected to be dug soon to secure the needed water.
Dragonfly Commons (https://dragonflycommons.com/), soon to offer 30 affordable purchased homes, has been long-delayed due to water issues. It now appears to be progressing, largely as a result of the CRD offer to manage its water utility.
GISRA (https://www.gisra.ca/), owner of Meadowbrook and the Kings Lane property, is rethinking its commitment to senior-only housing at Kings Lane, now considering a multi-generational community and applying for provincial funding..
Bracket Springs, an 11-density property on Rainbow Road, is currently in foreclosure and being sold by Vancity. It is being considered by several nonprofits, despite challenges of a restrictive Housing Agreement, water and septic concerns, and its riparian location.
On November 13, it is expected that Phoenix School will be officially closed, opening housing possibilities on this 6.2-acre property on Drake Road. Expected to be leased by School District 64, rather than sold, many appear to be interested in further exploring possibilities here.
And, the list goes on to include other initiatives, including the underway renovation of the Seabreeze Inne to eventually house 17 health workers. . . .
Despite these possibilities, a participant said that nothing was actually happening. He wondered what the LCC intended to do to get projects moving forward. Local Commissioners responded that they recently passed a resolution identifying worker housing as Salt Spring’s number one economic development priority. Slated to begin this discussion at their next meeting, Thursday, November 23, 9:00 a. m. at the SIMS Boardroom, Local Commissioners have every intention of leading the community discussion, identifying projects and actively working to address the challenges that complicate worker housing projects.
So, they were asked. . . Why doesn’t the LCC purchase Bracket Springs while it is bargain-priced at an estimated $700,000? Interesting, but, Local Commissioners ruefully agreed that the services they oversee simply do not have the budget line for such a project. Maybe someday. . . . ? But, for now, it was agreed that the Salt Spring Island Foundation (https://ssifoundation.ca/) should be approached with a proposal: What if a fund for worker housing were established so that donors could easily support this important initiative? Should this fund even be specifically for Bracket Springs, with the largest donor getting to name this worker housing project?
With 1:00 upon us, we concluded our time together with a participant thanking all of the Local Commissioners, Brian Webster, Ben Corno, Gary Holman, Earl Rook, and Gayle Baker, for their deep caring about Salt Spring, their commitment to transparency, and their hard work for make the services they oversee ever better.
Please join the next ASK Salt Spring gathering Friday, November 17, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome David Norget and his Mental Wellness Initiative team.
Offering a wide range of new mental wellness initiatives from peer counseling to the Ambassador Program, you will learn a lot about some very exciting new programs. . .guaranteed.
What would you like to ask them?
So, what are the programs of the Mental Wellness Initiative?
How are you funded?
Who can access these initiatives?
What have you accomplished so far?
What do you hope to accomplish in 2024?
What are the challenges to fully-implementing your Mental Wellness Initiative, and how do you plan to overcome them?
Can I volunteer?
Please join us Friday, November 17, 11-1, in the SIMS classroom to welcome David and his team!
ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!
***New fundraising option***
You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.
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monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.
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