Oak Bay News presents the Top News Stories of 2011

A look back on the past year of breaking news in Oak Bay

Oak Bay Mayor Christopher Causton talks on his phone in his office in mid-November. His decision to run federally for the Liberal Party and to step down after 15 years as mayor made headlines in 2011. On Nov. 20

JANUARY

Some hot topics that lingered through much of the year start to simmer, including secondary suites, the disposition of a beloved heritage home and the introduction of smart meters by B.C. Hydro.

The urgency of settling the secondary suites issue is brought up by Mayor Christopher Causton in his New Year’s address. Despite his wishes, the matter of deciding whether to make it legal to have a suite in a home and creating the bureacracy for administering new and existing suites in Oak Bay does not get settled in 2011.

After hosting several public meetings and hearing from residents, whose comments illustrate how divisive the community is on the issue, council chooses to put off making any decision until the official community plan is revisited in 2012.

A Samuel Maclure-designed home on Runnymede Place known as Blair Gowie moves into the spotlight, as a potential buyer asks council to allow subdivision of the lot. Oak Bay Green Committee members, protesting possible removal of trees on the lot, are first to complain to council about the proposal. Other concerns are voiced later from heritage advocates, who argue that allowing another building to be built on the split-off portion of the lot would eliminate the garden area and alter the heritage value of the entire property.

Council votes in May to keep working with the vendors – the Ellis family – and prospective buyers Bruce Wilkin and Ann Hillyer on a heritage revitalization plan for the property, but by late September, the sale falls through.

B.C. Hydro announces it will begin replacing existing meters around the province with digital smart meters. Opposition to the move grows through the year, with groups formed to rally support for a moratorium on the installations, or at least to force Hydro to hold off putting meters in where a resident refuses to accept a smart meter on their property.

By year’s end, a group called StopSmartMeters.ca has launched an online recall campaign attempting to bring legislation to prevent B.C. Hydro from installing the devices, citing health and privacy concerns. To file a petition the group must collect signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in all 85 ridings then submit a draft bill. If successful, the petition would still not likely be voted on for three

years.

 

FEBRUARY

The Oak Bay Police Department finds itself making news, but not for its crime prevention strategies or suggestions.

Retired Saanich police chief Derek Egan takes the interim reins of the Oak Bay department after the retirement of Chief Const. Ron Gaudet. Egan, who advocates getting officers out of their cars and onto foot and bike patrols, fills in until the municipality completes the hiring process for a new chief in the summer.

Not long after Egan takes over, the department is rocked with controversy, as two senior officers, Deputy Chief Kent Thom and Sgt. Ray Maxwell, are singled out in a Human Rights Tribunal discrimination complaint by Const. Jennifer Gibbs. The complaints centre around alleged reprimands and comments made to her that she believed showed unfair treatment due to her gender.

The original complaint was made in October 2009, but the matter came up for review this year. In the end, Gibbs and the department settle the matter through mediation, ending the process in October 2011.

Around the time Gibbs’ complaint comes to light, the department is already under the microscope. Two separate reviews commissioned by the Oak Bay police board, one on its operations, the other on its organizational structure, are in the works.

Retired judge Alan Filmer ultimately makes recommendations on operations and policies, including a realignment of the deputy chief’s duties, more performance reviews and increased foot and bike patrols.

Meanwhile RCMP Insp. Alex Graham conducts the first review of department structure in 15 years, requested partially in light of seven years’ contracting out certain services to the Saanich Police

Department.

 

MARCH

Deaths, past and present, are in the headlines, not to mention a further indictment of the police department for alleged discrimination.

Firstly, a woman’s body is discovered washed ashore at McNeill Bay by a pair of passersby out for a morning walk near the foot of Monterey Avenue. It isn’t initially clear whether foul play is involved. Later investigation finds that Mary Grant, a 67-year-old caregiver, spoke to police before taking her own life.

New information is revealed in the 2001 death of Owen Padmore that prompts police to reopen the investigation. No foul play had been suspected initially, but police hope the new tips would shed more light on the exact cause of death.

And news that Oak Bay police Const. Davinder Dalep has launched a human rights complaint against the department goes public. The allegations are not resolved by the end of the year.

On the topic of deaths far in the past, Willows Beach homeowner Wendy MacKay loses a $600,000 civil suit against the provincial heritage branch for the costs of legal fees and archaeological explorations done on her Esplanade property during construction of her home.

Having seen the project blockaded by Songhees First Nations members concerned over the generational importance of the site – burial sites have been found in the vicinity – and watching her total bill rise far higher than first expected, she plans to appeal the ruling.

She warns other homeowners to double- and triple-check titles to their property before doing any building to see whether it is registered as an

archaeological site.

 

APRIL

Mayor Christopher Causton vows to organize an open town hall-style meeting, after facing down about 50 residents in a peaceful demonstration at municipal hall the previous week.

The residents are concerned over subdividing the Blair Gowie heritage property, the possible legalization of secondary suites and their perceived lack of opportunity to provide public input in municipal affairs.

Despite Causton’s taking of a leave of absence to run in the federal election, the meeting goes ahead and attracts about 200 people to the Monterey Centre. A debate on the appropriateness of secondary suites – with the voice of renters heard for a change – dominates the proceedings, while a perceived lack of communication between residents and Oak Bay council is a common theme to many of the comments.

Liberal candidate Causton keeps himself busy on the campaign hustings, as do NDP incumbent Denise Savoie, Conservative Patrick Hunt and Green Jared Giesbrecht. The four are profiled in successive editions

of the News in advance of the May 2 election, but Savoie hangs onto her seat by a comfortable margin over second-place finisher Hunt.

 

MAY

Name recognition does little to enhance Causton’s showing in the election, as he takes just 14 per cent of the popular vote in the riding, third-best among the four candidates. He does, however, garner around 25 per cent of the votes in the Oak Bay-based polls.

At St. Philip Anglican Church, parishioners are told by Rev. Christopher Page they will be staying put. The news comes months after the Anglican Diocese announced the Eastdowne Road church would be among those closed, and its members shepherded to St. Mary’s Church on Elgin Road, to help address the diocese’s overall financial woes.

At Oak Bay High, former and current students and other residents check out the latest design for the new school, which Greater Victoria School District trustees approve the following Monday. The school will feature a neighbourhood learning centre to allow for more community use.

On the police front, Insp. Mark Fisher of the West Shore RCMP detachment is named the new Oak Bay police chief constable. The 20-year veteran begins his new job July 11 and must help put in place recommendations from two external reviews of the department, as well as deal with a pair of Human Rights Tribunal complaints launched by

members.

 

JUNE

Two years after gaining approval for a new boathouse at Oak Bay Marina, Oak Bay Sea Rescue has yet to begin building the structure. Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society president Terry Calveley explains that a chunk of the cash set aside for the project had to be used for a mandated safety upgrade on its newest boat, and that behind-the-scenes fundraising work continues moving forward with the boathouse project.

Neighbour complaints about a pair of ongoing residential building upgrades lead council to look at creating a nuisance property bylaw. Municipal staff produce a report on the subject and are crafting revisions for council to consider in 2012.

Mayor Christopher Causton, along with Saanich Coun. Vic Derman, asks the Capital Regional District board to develop a regional deer management strategy. They are told that CRD staff plan to study the

issue and undertake significant public consultation.

 

JULY

Looking at ways to increase voter turnout in advance of November’s municipal election, council approves the use of mail-in ballots. Mayor Causton goes one further and suggests that for future elections, online balloting be considered.

“I did my census online,” he said. “Voting online with a secure password – I don’t see why we can’t do it.”

The entire community is shocked when longtime Oak Bay councillor Alan Cassidy dies at age 59, just days after participating in his daughter’s wedding and celebrating his own 35th wedding anniversary. Cassidy had been living with lung and brain cancer for two years, though very few people were aware of the fact. No byelection is held, due to the impending municipal vote.

Speaking of elections, two-term councillor Hazel Braithwaite tosses her hat in the ring for mayor, becoming the first to declare her intention to replace outgoing mayor Causton. Fellow councillor Nils Jensen follows suit in September, giving the race two solid candidates.

And longtime Oak Bay municipal staffer Lorna Curtis announes she will retire in November after 31 years with the parks and recreation department. She spent her last five years as director of parks and rec.

 

AUGUST

Coun. John Herbert adds his voice to the growing outcry over urban deer overpopulation in Oak Bay.

He hopes the municipality can take a lead role in crafting a regional solution to the problem and encourages Capital Regional District staff to solicit residential input on solutions. The request pulls in more than 400 responses.

Oak Bay sees a melding of its two heritage-related committees. Communication issues and jurisdictional confusion were the impetus for the re-forming of Oak Bay’s Heritage Commission after a six-year hiatus.

The Oak Bay heritage committee and Oak Bay heritage advisory panel were combined to form the new commission, which will advise council on projects with heritage considerations.

And, after delays due to the finalization of provincial funding, tentative dates were set for construction to begin on the new Oak Bay secondary. Officials target spring 2012 as the start date, with the doors set to open on the $64-million project in time for the 2013/14

school year.

 

SEPTEMBER

Recreation Oak Bay’s only facility dedicated to serving adults exclusively, Monterey Recreation Centre first opened in 1971 as the Oak Bay Seniors Activity Centre. It’s gone through several name changes and renovations since then, including a $1.2-million, 7,500-square-foot expansion in 1990, a glassed-in courtyard in 2001 and an elevator in 2010. The Oak Bay branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library is attached, as well as a Hampshire Road house the municipality purchased in the 1970s.

Commissioned by Oak Bay council, the newly released 56-page active transportation report identifies routes, facilities, programs and regulations that would help Oak Bay be a better place to walk or cycle. The report concludes that pedestrians, cyclists and people in wheelchairs already have fairly good infrastructure, but there is still room for improvement.

Baptist Housing, the primary proponent to assume management of a new care facility which would replace the existing Oak Bay Lodge, unveils its design plans to council. The proposed six-storey, 320-bed facility, tentatively named Garry Oak Meadows, would have space for dementia care and residential living, but not independent living, something which Oak Bay Lodge currently provides. Baptist Housing holds a pair of open houses later in the month to allow neighbours and others to review the

design.

 

OCTOBER

Plans for a six-storey facility to replace Oak Bay Lodge don’t cut it with neighbours, who complain about the height of the proposed building, among other aspects. The proposal would essentially double the height of the current Lodge.

Council, which must consider a pair of variance applications by developer Baptist Housing, defers its decision, leading to further meetings on the matter as well as a town hall session in November lasting more than five hours.

After spending three years as an emergency preparedness volunteer in Saanich, Eileen Grant took over the job of Oak Bay’s emergency program co-ordinator from Deputy Fire Chief Dave Cockle. Grant’s hiring came just as a new Emergency Response and Recovery Plan was due to be adopted by council.

Students at Oak Bay High shatter their own fundraising record for the annual Cops For Cancer Tour de Rock, bringing in more than $45,000 in donations. Tour de Rock sees law enforcement and media members ride 1,000 kilometres over a two-week period to raise money for pediatric

cancer research and summer camp for young cancer patients and survivors.

 

NOVEMBER

The final and most important piece of the puzzle falls into place as the provincial government confirms its contribution of $50.1 million for the construction of a new Oak Bay secondary. The municipality had already pledged $1 million towards the project, to be put towards a new theatre in the school, and the school district threw in an additional $1.4 million to increase the new school’s capacity from 1,200 to 1,300 students.

The project was approved after it was determined that necessary seismic upgrades to the 1957-built structure would be just as costly, if not more so, than a new building.

The Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame honours Oak Bay Marine Group owner Bob Wright for making tourism an important part of his life’s work and whose actions have had a positive impact on the industry.

During his time in Greater Victoria, Wright has had a hand in several significant projects, including the gates at Chinatown, the totem pole in Beacon Hill Park, and Sealand, which operated in Oak Bay from 1980 through 1991.

After a close race, Nils Jensen is elected to replace Christopher Causton, who spent the previous five terms in the mayor’s chair. Jensen, who had spent five terms of his own on council, beat out fellow councillor Hazel Braithwaite for the job.

Jensen’s victory and Braithwaite’s defeat, along with the July death of councillor Alan Cassidy, meant there were three empty seats on council. They were filled by Cairine Green, Michelle Kirby and Kevin Murdoch; incumbents Pam Copley, John Herbert and Tara Ney were all re-elected.

By a 3-2 margin, Oak Bay council decides that concerns over the proposed height of a replacement care facility for Oak Bay Lodge are too significant to allow the project’s proponent, Baptist Housing, to move forward.

The bigger concern, however, for those who opposed the design, is the rushed nature of the proceedings.

Baptist Housing unveiled the designs in September, and told council their financing would be lost if not used before Dec. 31.

Councillors Tara Nay, Hazel Braithwaite and Nils Jensen felt they did not have enough information to approve a pair of variances required for the project to move forward. The rejection means an uncertain future for dementia care in Oak Bay, as it is no longer assured that a new

facility will be built in the municipality.

 

DECEMBER

A pair of Oak Bay police officers are honoured with meritorious service awards for their efforts in talking a distraught armed man out of a tense situation in April. Sgt. Donald Symes and Const. Larry Worock responded to a 911 call from a woman who was trying to get a shotgun away from her suicidal husband.

After entering the home and getting the woman to safety, the two officers talked to the man for 15 to 20 minutes, eventually convincing him to lower his gun. Oak Bay’s recently retired chief constable Ron Gaudet, who was with the department from 1980 to 2011, is also recognized for outstanding service at the award ceremony.

The Oak Bay Police Department re-signs its service agreement with Saanich for another five years.

The agreement, which sees the Saanich department provide assistance with general crime investigation, administrative support, information technology and investigative support services, will cost Oak Bay $80,000 per year.

Re-signing the agreement also means that if Saanich chooses to join the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crimes Unit, Oak Bay will likely go along for the ride, at a much lower cost than if the department joined separately.

And a plan to add about 800 square feet of space to the Henderson Recreation Centre has Recreation Oak Bay officials hoping for financial support from the province – a grant of nearly $400,000.

The proposed renovations would predominantly spotlight the facility’s fitness studio, adding a dedicated stretching area and thus freeing up the entire gymnasium for expanded use.

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