An acquaintance of Nils Jensen calls out to him on the street near Oak Bay Village. After exchanging talk about coaching baseball and other topics, the man asks why he should vote for him as mayor of Oak Bay.
Jensen launches into campaign mode, stating his experience at the regional level and during 15 years on council would serve him and the community well as mayor. The exchange ends with the man agreeing to put a Jensen sign on his lawn.
Finding common ground with residents is a characteristic Jensen has cultivated since he was mentored by former Oak Bay councillor and MLA Scott Wallace, who recently passed away.
“He told me to use the simple test: What is in the best interest of the community?” Jensen said. “Those words have been my guiding principle. It’s a simple strategy, but it’s not always easy.”
As in dealing with the possible legalization of secondary suites, a hot-button issue in the municipality in recent years and one that came to a head this year.
Jensen has a wealth of experience dealing with the issue.
He chaired the task force on secondary suites and wrote the final report for council, complete with recommendations, which were then hotly debated by the community.
While council tabled making a decision on the matter until next year, the issue continues to be divisive, Jensen said.
He brought up a conversation he had with a neighbour who stated firm opposition to the idea. After Jensen presented some options for how it could work to the community’s advantage, in terms of guiding housing strategy in the municipality, the man began to see it wasn’t a black-and-white issue.
“I think there is a lot of common ground. The new council should cultivate that,” Jensen said. “I think people wanted an appropriate process (on secondary suites), and felt the timelines laid out by the mayor didn’t allow for that.”
Housing strategy should be included in a revised official community plan, he said. Jensen would ideally like to see the OCP project completed in a year or so. He noted, however, there are more variables to consider than in the 1996 revision, such as the twinning of the Uplands sewage/stormwater lines, transportation, police service integration and heritage preservation.
For projects that will significantly impact residents, the best approach is to get them involved early in the planning process, which he said happened with the new Oak Bay High project, but did not with the Oak Bay Lodge replacement.
“It’s about encouraging a meaningful dialogue and mutual problem solving.”
Nils weighs in
On council turnover: “There were three of us who were new to council (in 1996) and we had the luxury of easing into the job. The new council will not have that luxury. They’ll have to be up to speed on a number of issues, from deer to sewage to policing, the OCP and parking issues.”
On secondary suites: “Questions raised by residents need to be addressed in an open, informed and rational community dialogue that starts with understanding the benefits and cost of having secondary suites in our community.”
On urban deer: “I support a regional management plan that results in a significant reduction of the deer population. This will require co-operation and co-ordination, and as mayor I will continue to ensure that Oak Bay interests are represented at the regional tables.”