Questions about the Oak Bay Lodge project and candidates’ responses dominated Tuesday’s all-candidates meeting.
The Nov. 8 meeting at Emmanuel Baptist Church included three current councillors, Pam Copley, John Herbert and Tara Ney, vying to retain their seats in the Nov. 19 municipal election along with newcomers, Corey Burger, Bill Carver, Cairine Green, Gregory Hartnell, Michelle Kirby, Colleen Kirkpatrick, Kevin Murdoch and Susan Woods. Sitting councillors Hazel Braithwaite and Nils Jensen, both running for mayor, were also questioned.
Oak Bay Lodge
Braithwaite and Jensen agreed that the Oak Bay Lodge project deserves more public consultation. “It has been a very rushed process,” said Braithwaite. “That’s not comfortable for me … at the last meeting the motion was put on the floor by councillor Jensen to move it to the next level so that we could then get input from the community.”
“There will be an opportunity for the community to speak,” said Jensen. “This is a very important issue, it’s an issue of process. I was opposed to the issue going forward at this point. I don’t think that project is ready to have a public hearing because there has not been enough consultation.”
The current council is scheduled to vote on the Lodge proposal on Nov. 14 – days before the Nov. 19 municipal election.
When asked about height restrictions in the community incumbent councillor Tara Ney said four storeys is high for Oak Bay. “We need to pay attention to which part of the community would be more than four storeys … I’ve tried to imagine any corridor that would tolerate a height of more than four storeys. The Oak Bay Lodge is going above that … that’s a massive building that’s going on that site, so anything that would look like that, I couldn’t support,” said Ney.
Incumbent candidate Pam Copley said she thinks bigger isn’t necessarily better. “In the proposed review of the OCP we’ll be looking at, and ensuring, that zoning does not encourage either mega houses, additional storeys that are unnecessary and that detract from the surrounding neighbourhood,” Copley said.
Council hopeful Cairine Green earned a smattering of applause with her answer to the question.
“The OCP review is a must because your original plan was written, I believe, in 1991, slightly updated in 1997. As long as you have a plan that is that outdated, then you are vulnerable to development pressure … I would like us to explore as a community together, the possibility of having a qualified planner. If you don’t have a qualified planner and you have outdated zoning bylaws and OCP developers sometimes have the upper hand and they put relentless pressure on communities to develop,” said Green.
The issue of secondary suites was also on the mind of voters. Candidate Susan Woods told the crowd, “It comes down to balancing the rights of homeowners versus the rights of the community. Many are concerned. Some have told me they’ll move out of Oak Bay if the new OCP includes secondary suites. Others have said people shouldn’t live in this community if they can’t afford a home without revenue property … I’m not saying if I’m in favour or not in favour, my job is to reflect the wishes of the community,” she said.
“There are issues that do crop up, small ones, but they aren’t large enough to nix the entire process as a whole,” said candidate Corey Burger. “I do support secondary suites … I do believe we can deal with the small issues that do crop up through bylaws.”
“Affordability is a big issue,” said candidate Michelle Kirby, who addressed suites via a question on attracting young people to Oak Bay. “We have the opportunity to look at this through the OCP review … a concern of everybody is rising taxes. As long as our tax base remains residential and stays at 17,000 population, then our taxes are going to go up because costs are going up — and we’re looking at some major infrastructure challenges in front of us. So we have to look at ways for making life affordable for families to stay here and that means maybe thinking about suites and also thinking about densifying around the villages. and on the border of Victoria and Oak Bay.”
Braithwaite and Jensen were asked about their roles on the secondary suite committee that was set up in 2008.
Braithwaite explained that due to a staff change at municipal hall, the committee did not get to the discussion stage. “It was not a really productive first six or seven months on that committee,” she said.
Jensen became chair of the committee in 2009. “We held eight public meetings,” he said. “We surveyed the community, we surveyed the rest of the BC municipalities to see what they were doing in the area of secondary suites … all of our committee meetings were open to the public … I wrote the report on behalf of the committee, presented it to the committee, they approved it and it went to council. That was the process,” he said.
On how local police forces can work together, Jensen answered the key is in cooperation, rather than amalgamation. “We’ve seen a move in Esquimalt and Victoria towards an amalgamated police force,” said Jensen. “We’ve seen the results of that after a number of years, Esquimalt wanted out.
“What we have developing between Saanich and Oak Bay is a more cooperative, integrated model where police forces are maintained in each community … That’s the solution we should look for for the region, where we maintain community policing locally, provide a high level of service, service our community’s come to expect and I think we need to protect that. That doesn’t mean we can’t cooperate on a regional crime unit, which we already do,” he said.
“I’ve been chair of the emergency radio system for the last three years. One of the things that’s come out of being part of that is the question should we have here, in the Greater Victoria area, one dispatch service? In some areas of the lower mainland, that’s how they handle it. That’s a concrete thing that we can do … One unit that dispatches all police, fire and ambulance.”
Asked if he supports amalgamation, council hopeful Kevin Murdoch had a short answer. “No. That’s an easy answer to that one.
“Like anything else if you look at it in context and the research, I don’t see anything that’s compelling to me that there’s any cost savings or anything that comes out of it. I know sometimes people mention police and fire services. We’ve done a very good job of moving our police services and fire services into the 21st century. They have very few holes in their ability to move back and forth with Saanich and Victoria, and the community policing model that we have in place is an incredibly, efficient policing force … and has also engendered a culture of participation in the community.”
“I don’t have the exact answer,” said Colleen Kirkpatrick. “When I think of amalgamation, I think there’s three things that we have to consider. Will it increase our level of service? Will it decrease our overall costs? And how will it affect our identity as a community?
“I think our identity as a community in Oak Bay is really important and that requires some value to be brought to account as well. I believe the right balance could be found with more shared services within the CRD, but not complete amalgamation, I don’t think that fits. I’ve done a fair amount of research on the subject and it seems like amalgamation seems to be a bit of a Canadian phenomenon. It’s not found in the States and there’s one case, I think in New Zealand, in the last decade. I think we need to look at other ways to make our costs come down and efficiencies higher.”
“When amalgamation is raised normally, the two issues that are discussed are cost and communication between police,” answered John Herbert. ” I very seldom hear service as being an issue that’s discussed. Our costs are incredibly low in Oak Bay, our administrative staff fits into less-than one-half of the floor of the hall. We have 13 administrative staff members, all of whom do multiple jobs. The police communication issue has basically disappeared with the PRIME BC system. Every case that’s entered into the computer is available to everyone throughout the province. We also contract 10 of our police services from Saanich and Victoria — we spend about $400,000 for those services and yet we continue to have the lowest police costs of all municipal forces.
“If you want to see how an amalgamated council would work, I would encourage you to go to a CRD meeting. Oak Bay gets one vote Saanich gets five, Victoria gets three or four, there’s seldom unanimity on most issues. Problems in Langford has no bearing on Victoria, it’s very confusing.”
“There’s a lot of appetite for this,” said Michelle Kirby. “I guess you might be asking the people who would lose their jobs if it would work … I hear John say we do run a very tight ship at Oak Bay, but at the same time we don’t get a lot of the same services that you would get from a larger municipality like a planner, which I think is a very valuable resource when it comes to big development and change. And change is happening all around us, so I think there is some benefit to having those kinds of services and maybe we can make our own model by sharing services with Saanich and Victoria. I think it’s something we need to talk about.”
“My background is policing,” said Bill Carver. “Whether we should integrate or amalgamate police services … I think what we need to do is take the emotion out of this and sit back and do a review of the services that we get. Right now we have seven different entities that are providing police services. And the men and women of each one of those police services do an excellent job in providing a level of service that the community wants. What we need to be mindful of is the non-taxpaying citizens who are committing the crimes throughout the CRD. We don’t live in 14 different aquariums, 14 different places where these people can’t move through. What we need to do is have a look and spend more time investigating the offender and not the offence. That’s what we’re doing right now, we’re spending a little bit too much time investigating the offence and not the offender. With amalgamation and a little bit more integration I think we’ll find that become less of an issue.”
What to do about deer
With just six minutes left in the meeting a woman stood up and said, “I can’t believe that we’ve got to the end of this meeting and nobody has asked about deer.
Green described a program in Cranbrook that involves public consultation, in-kind services from the province in the form of traps and a bolt gun. “I think it’s a program that we could adapt to the needs of Oak Bay. I know it’s a difficult issue and I know there are people that have strong feelings on both sides of the issue. But my feeling is the health and safety of residents supersedes the health and safety of deer.”
“The deer are clearly a hazard,” said Colleen Kirkpatrick. “I live next to an empty lot that has a two-deer family in it. We’re seeing them grow, seeing the babies come out. But there’s also some big bucks out there and I have a four year-old daughter and I don’t let her play in the backyard by herself, it makes me nervous. I’m also a little bit concerned about the Lyme disease they carry. They are a hazard. They need to be dealt with on a regional issue. The deer don’t know the boundaries between Oak Bay and other municipalities. I believe it needs to be done as a regional issue, but I think something needs to be done right away.”
“There are two other things that I think are important, one is the cougars that are coming further into our community and I think that there follow deer and also farmers being put out of business by their crops being eaten by the deer,” said Susan Woods. “We can’t do it alone as a municipality. As my husband put it the other night, if Oak Bay comes up with a plan to cull the deer, then the other municipalities will be forming cowboy gangs at night to drive their deer into our community.
“Really, it’s no laughing matter,” she continued. “Is a cull what we want to do? No. Is it the responsible thing to do? Yes. We are responsible for taking care of the environment that we have created.”
“I am not an animal liberationist and I believe we need a cull here,” said Gregory Hartnell. “There’s two other issues that have not been mentioned, I’ll just mention them briefly. Geo-engineering dumps on our organic gardens that’s got to stop — I’m referring to chem trails. And I also want to commend the council for having stood with the majority of municipalities at the recent municipal convention where 55 per cent stood against the arbitrary putting in of these so-called smart meters. We’ve got to stop smart meters.”
Braithwaite weighed in on the deer issue, calling on the CRD to help out.
“Yes, we have to have a strong voice around the CRD board, but as we all know the CRD can suffer from paralysis by analysis. And we need to make sure that we have a strong enough voice to push them forward. “Yes, the deer have no boundaries, we understand that. We need something that Oak Bay will push forward. I think the buck stops here, no pun intended.”