The expected was sustained Thursday evening as the mayoral candidates debated in Oak Bay: Candidate David Shebib did not participate and deer and densification dominated the conversation.
Shebib is registered to run for mayor in all 13 CRD municipalities, but has told media he will not attend all-candidates debates in all communities. That included the all candidates meeting hosted by CommonSense Victoria at the Oak Bay United Church and moderated by former Oak Bay Mayor Christopher Causton on Oct. 23.
Current councillor Cairine Green and current Mayor Nils Jensen faced standing room only at the church with a 300-person capacity.
The planned deer cull and sewage treatment options showed the largest divide between the two candidates.
“If elected mayor, I will press the pause button,” said Green, of the deer management plan to cull 25 deer.
“I will not hit a pause button,” Jensen rebutted later.
A question on the Plan B for sewage lead to revisiting council’s June 2012 Oak Bay Lodge decision.
Jensen stood by his earlier assertions that the single site, as proposed earlier at McLoughlin Point, is the solution.
“That is the cheapest and clearest alternative,” Jensen said. He said it’s still possible, as the CRD is still seeking another site to develop one single plant. If that fails, he would work with Saanich and Victoria in the ongoing ‘Plan B’ to seek a single site to serve the three communities.
Green, a former councillor on the Saanich Peninsula, cited the wastewater treatment plant there as a “good model and it’s paid for” that takes secondary treatment a step further, providing tertiary treatment, the highest level of wastewater treatment to remove contaminants and pollutants. The Peninsula plant also provides heat back to the nearby Panorama Recreation Centre pool.
The process of writing a letter to Esquimalt pleading reconsideration after that community denied rezoning to allow for the wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point took some heat. One resident questioned the point of writing Esquimalt when Oak Bay had denied a regional care facility in Oak Bay Lodge.
The answer came down to money for Jensen, the cost increase that would result for the taxpayers of Oak Bay as a result of losing grants and funding for the plant.
Green said it was inappropriate to send the letter. “I respect other community’s due process, as I expect other communities to respect our process.”
In June 2012, council denied the Oak Bay Lodge variance required for a proposal to redevelop into a 320 bed dementia care facility based primarily on height. Candidates were questioned on whether they now regret that decision.
“I don’t regret that decision because it was based on the building report,” Green said, adding the facility would also not be available for Oak Bay seniors.
Jensen called it the “most difficult decision” in his political career, noting the site was zoned for three stories.
“That was not a variance decision,” he said. “It was rezoning.
“The decision had been made at the CRD and was presented as a fait accompli.”
The CRD and Island Health are looking at the site for other health options, he added.
“There is that opportunity to revisit the decision with VIHA (Island Health),” said Jensen, citing another redevelopment plan that didn’t get to the proposal stage. “There is room to come back.”
“There is a great potential for Oak Bay Lodge,” Green said, as a health care, daycare, or mental health facility. She sees a P3 partnership as a possibility. “We need to be proactive with the CRD and maybe a third partner.”
Suite sense of densification
Residents cited a rising concern over densification, suites and infill housing voiced during the official community plan review this year and put in place last month.
“Not regulating secondary suites is a public health and safety issue and possibly a liability issue,” Green said. “Densification and infill would not occur without public input … The housing strategy is the next step and we will be working with you.”
Jensen had a similar response, noting surveys during the OCP process indicated a “significant majority support the legalization of secondary suites.”
Amalgamation – no surprise
The two mayoral candidates agree amalgamation isn’t optimal.
“Amalgamation would not be good for Oak Bay,” said Cairine Green. “It’s not me who will make that decision.”
“I favour integration,” said Nils Jensen, citing police as an example where specialized services work together. “We retain the day to day operations.”
Full time versus part time
Does Oak Bay need a full time mayor?
“I believe the community is facing many complex issues and needs a full time mayor,” Green said. “I am prepared to make that commitment.”
Only two municipalities in the region boast full time mayors, Jensen noted, Saanich and Victoria.
“A full time mayor, over time, would require full time pay,” he said, noting part time works well for smaller communities.