All candidates voiced transparency as an important objective in council decision making before last November’s municipal election. Often, once elected, this objective becomes less of an urgent priority.
One of the ways many communities are helping to ensure residents can see just how transparent, justified and rational council decisions are, is by taping live (webcasting) council, committee and public meetings. These meetings can then be viewed and used for reference by the public anytime.
The new Official Community Plan includes many new land-use proposals and objectives. Many of these objectives have the potential to adversely impose on existing residents.
In the past council term there have been concerns about transparency and the problem of the majority of Oak Bay council members providing only the advantage side of various development and zoning bylaw proposals. This has also occurred during many of the public consultation processes.
Public notice information is required by law but it has to be understandable to the public to allow for scrutiny and consideration – some public notices have not met this criteria.
There is also concern that there have been instances at council and at public meetings where relevant information and significant resident opposition has been voiced to the proposed bylaw changes or developments, however, there have been no modifications or amendments provided.
In many B.C. municipalities council policy has been to legislate (change the bylaw) first then problem solve, set policy and try to regulate, after the fact. Besides being incompetent and ineffective planning, it exposes existing residents to the adverse densification impacts, service reductions, user fees and property tax increases.
It is important to recognize the complex problems and disadvantages involved in densification and development. These impacts range from: what is allowed to be built; how much will regulation cost; how will more residents per dwelling and the new services and infrastructure requirements affect our property tax structure; how will council act responsibly and meet its many commitments to protect residents, who have previously built their home and life in Oak Bay, from new higher densification impacts.
The present council is now somewhat more balanced but careful scrutiny is required – the 2007 zoning change mistake that caused irreparable harm to many residents is a strong indicator of what can happen if council ignores community input.
If community concerns are not recognized in the public engagement process or in the implementation stages of the new Official Community Plan, then Oak Bay council will not have paid attention to what is and has been going on in other communities.
Ignoring the adverse impacts of poor densification planning and implementation and the resulting problems other municipalities are now struggling with will not result in fact-based decision making. It is for all these reasons council meetings are being recorded and webcast by Oak Bay Watch to ensure transparency and allow existing residents to see, first hand, council’s performance as the implementation of the new Official Community Plan unfolds.