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Community Amenities

Oak Bay’s Official Community Plan says we will consider variations to the Land Use Framework, including built form and density to achieve heritage conservation and for significant community amenity contributions (CAC’s).

Last week it was announced Abstract Developments, will pay the full cost ($180,000 plus contingencies) of a restructured intersection to calm traffic at Cadboro Bay Road and Bowker Avenue. A 50-seat restaurant was also announced. Concessions versus Contributions to date are:

• Density increase from FAR 1.9 to 2.8, or an increase of 2345 square meters (25,240 sq. feet)
• Density increase exceeds the combined area of the 9 penthouses and 2 rooftop terraces (2206 sq. m), with sales market value over $20 Million
• Variance to reduce parking requirement by 69 spaces in return for bike lane and bicycle rack
• On the plans submitted, there are 2 parking stalls for each of the 9 penthouses, but a reduced number for the restaurant/commercial space
• 6 mature Garry Oaks removed replaced with restricted growth trees and garden for exclusive use of residents
• Boulevard encroachment for replacement of sidewalks
• $180,000 contribution for District to redevelop intersection

The Mayor and 3 members of Council approved increased density based on creating ‘affordable’ alternatives for Oak Bay. And, with good public transit nearby, parking was reduced. Yet development plans clearly showed 21% of the housing units were to be luxury penthouses with 2 parking stalls each.

Oak Bay gets 43 new condominiums and 6 retail shops, increased tax revenue and $180,000 community amenity contribution for the intersection.  The developer receives increased density equivalent to 9 penthouses and 2 rooftop terraces, worth millions of dollars of additional profit.

If the original offer was too low, is the new offer significant? It still seems low in comparison to millions of dollars in concessions the developer received from Oak Bay.

Environment and the OCP

Oak Bay’s Official Community Plan (OCP) was adopted in 2014 as “a framework to guide growth and decisions about the use and management of land and water resources in the municipality”. And, in accordance with the Local Government Act, the OCP includes policies for restrictions on land subject to hazardous conditions or environmentally sensitive to development, and for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The OCP doesn’t dictate that we must act, but that we must consider OCP objectives in making decisions. This translates into policies like Oak Bay’s Bylaws on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Tree Protection, or Reports like Urban Forest Strategy and Complete Streets. The OCP also includes goals of working towards climate change mitigation, and for protecting and enhancing the natural features that make the community environmentally and socially healthy. It is obvious, from the Survey and the OCP adopted, that environment is an important issue to Oak Bay residents. Opinions differ, though, on what the goals are and how they can best be accomplished. To some legislation may go too far, and to others it will not go far enough.

Oak Bay’s (2007) Bylaw 4319 outlined a target of 33% reduction in GHGs by 2020 compared to 2007. This year we received a grant under the Federal Gas Tax Strategic Priorities Program to reduce the District’s environmental footprint.  The grant is for a project to install a heat transfer system to capture waste heat generated by the Recreational Center’s arena refrigeration system.  The recapture of 155 tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere annually will result in an overall reduction of 14.2% of the District’s GHGs emissions. It will generate $34,000/year savings in operating costs, and will allow the Municipality to achieve its 33% reduction target ahead of schedule. Sounds like, and is, good news.  Many will say this demonstrates how various levels of government can work together to achieve positive change. Others will ask if action should have been taken sooner.

How do we relate the statement in the OCP that says,” The community places high values on the natural environment and recognizes that environmental conservation, with public and private stewardship, are core elements of community sustainability”, to the decision to reduce GHGs for recreational facilities only if and when funding is available? District staff provides good reports and recommendations at Council meetings on these issues, but to a very limited audience. Because message doesn’t get out to the broader community, the opportunity is missed to consider or discuss our responsibility to mitigate environmental impact.

After years of advocating for preservation, restoration or improvements to the environment I believe that the political process is limited in governing human activity. It is difficult, if not impossible, to legislate radical shifts in beliefs and values. If we reduce our environmental footprint individually, we can collectively achieve far greater success. My career allowed me the opportunity to make real and significant environmental impact. The commercial real estate industry contributed heavily to Canada’s carbon footprint; Canada’s plan to adopt the Kyoto protocol was a major concern. The Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada (BOMA) represented the majority of Canadian stakeholders. Members were split on whether to oppose or support Canada signing on to the agreement. I already had a decade of experience with large building energy, environment and life safety retrofits and my position was firm – as an industry we had the knowledge and responsibility to promote energy and environmental stewardship. After much debate, and real concern for the financial impact on the industry, the decision was made to voice support for Kyoto and to develop a ‘green’ program.No easy task for an industry association comprised primarily of volunteers.  BOMA BC and BOMA Toronto lead the way on BOMA Go Green.  It gave me great pleasure to be the spokesperson for the kick-off:

BOMA Go Green is Canada’s only national standard for existing buildings and provides a clear set of tools to measure and improve the environmental performance of existing commercial buildings. With each enhancement, we are very careful to ensure that the standards established for the Go Green Program are being maintained,” explains Esther Paterson, President of BOMA Canada. “The program is continually being updated as reflection of the dynamic nature of our industry,” she adds. “Given that it was developed by and for the commercial real estate industry, Go Green will always be responsive to changes in the industry and the demand for certification of other type of buildings.” (Excerpt from BOMA Canada announcement November, 2006)

The name has changed, but the commitment continues. In 2018, with more than 7,000 buildings obtaining a certification or recertification since its inception in 2005, BOMA BEST is now Canada’s largest environmental assessment and certification program for existing buildings. It is a unique, voluntary program designed by industry for industry; it provides owners and managers with a consistent framework for assessing the environmental performance and management of existing buildings of all sizes. The program has also expanded to include the award winning course e-Energy Training for Building Operations, the Earth Awards in recognition of excellence in resource preservation, the Sustainable Buildings certification, and in 2017 the BOMA Canada Net Zero Challenge was launched with support from Natural Resources Canada.

With over a century of achievements, BOMA Canada’s mission statement includes the sentence, “And that’s the key, community – a group of like-minded individuals who come together to create change.”

I know that Oak Bay also has many like-minded individuals who work together to create positive change in their community. And the Official Community Plan covers a wide range of topics on environmental stewardship: protection of watercourse and shorelines, protection and renewal of natural areas and green spaces, support for multiple forms of transportation, and minimizing adverse impacts on natural systems and resources. And as stated in the OCP, monitoring will be important to evaluate whether the visions, goals and objectives are being achieved. This is something I will advocate for if I am elected to Council in 2018.

 

National Dog Day – August 26th

Supporters

Ollie, Fife and Willie

This note from a few of my canine buddies gave me a smile and chuckle:

We read your last blog post with interest and were amazed – who knew a human could work so diligently, making such positive and helpful recommendations for the general good of our little municipality over the last 4 years.  Congrats to you … and thank you!

Let’s hope the Mayor and Council had the good sense to listen and to act on the suggestions.  Alas, maybe not.   As long as our 12 little paws are walking this community we will support Esther4Council.

Happy National Dog Day everyone!

– Please post this to your blog.  Our paws just don’t have the skills to do that. –

Ollie, Fife and Willie

Note from Esther: Although I love dogs, I don’t actually own a dog. Over the years, though, I have been fortunate to be able to have a dog to share. When I worked, it never seemed fair to leave a dog home alone. So I would spread the word if I was looking for a running or walking companion, and was never disappointed. Inevitably someone needed help exercising a beloved pet, and I never charged for the service.  It worked well, I saved the cost of food and vet bills, and still had the joy of a dog in my life. I learned, after a few comical experiences, to qualify candidates according to size and (mostly) manners and overall it’s been a positive experience. My furry friends brought me joy and tears – and I loved each for their unique personality. So if you don’t have time for a pet 24/7, or can’t afford the expense, reach out to neighbors, friends or the local animal protection agency who might be willing to share.

Real Dog Days of Summer

Smoke Haze, Willows Beach

Although most friends and neighbors are enjoying Summer fun and vacations, talk still turns to the upcoming Municipal election in October. I think the ‘buzz’ is directly related to bad scheduling of too many ‘hot’ issues in July Council Meetings. Agendas included the 2017 Annual Report, Development Cost Charges (DCCs) and Community Amenity Charges (CACs) Report, Public Engagement Task Force Report, Carnarvon Master Plan Report, Elected Official Compensation Review, Secondary Suites Terms of Reference, Water Conservation Plan, Recreational Cannabis Regulations Report along with administrative and land application items. Residents who attended, or submitted letters, weren’t too happy with either the form or content of the meetings. It felt like the ‘dog days of summer’ had arrived, with no reference to stars.

Compelled by a civic sense of duty, I read the reports, submitted letters and attended meetings. After all, the District invited resident input.  Summer is jazz season and I recall a quote by musician Wynton Marsalis, ‘We always hear about the rights of democracy, but the major responsibility of it is participation’.

Even as private citizens we can make a difference. My personal experience:

2014 I voiced concerns about the District’s lack information on Reserve Funds at Estimates Meetings. Council now gets a single page report, but I continue to press Council to pass a resolution or Bylaw to establish minimum and maximum values for each of the reserve funds, with a comparison to actual amounts in the fund, and the specific purpose for each fund. Otherwise it’s like signing a blank cheque.

2015 I voiced concerns about work on our street that was left uncompleted even though the District had collected payment from developers. In 2017, with a new Director of Engineering, our road and driveways were finally repaired. Coincidantly, the District’s Bylaws were amended to increase fees for private services because the amounts previously collected were insufficient to cover the actual costs for materials and labour. Instead, hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were used to fund private work.  Or, in some cases the work was just never completed.  If Oak Bay’s Annual Report included comparisons on changes in staffing and revenues collected for fees, the information would highlight when private work puts stress on District resources.

2016 I voiced concerns that Asset Management Reports on Oak Bay’s Infrastructure and Municipal Buildings were being withheld from residents. Several months later the Reports were released and showed that the District needed approximately $283 Million for repairs/replacement of repairs or replacement of infrastructure and municipal buildings over the next 20 years, and with most work in the next 10 years. Deferred maintenance is a short-term solution for a long-term problem. The Official Community Plan should be amended to include a requirement for, at minimum, a 15 year financial plan for the District’s infrastructure and buildings.

2017 After research and discussion with the Municipal Financing Authority (MFA), I outlined my conclusions were in a letter and comments to Council.  Finally in 2018, District Staff invited the MFA to give a presentation on financing options to Council. The MFA confirmed the District could be eligible to borrow up to $122 Million for capital projects.  But to be eligible Oak Bay would first need to have a Draft Bylaw approved by the Municipal Financing Authority and the Province, and then to hold a public referendum to obtain approval from Oak Bay residents. The MFA estimated the Bylaw process would take 6 – 12 months. MFA inspectors would also need to review proposed capital projects and verify sustainable revenues. In other words, MFA would be diligent in analyzing the proposed expenditures and ability of the District to repay loans.

2018 I questioned how contributions for land subdivisions were assessed, collected, and transferred to reserve funds. The answer was that there was no Municipal Policy in place to delegate the responsibility to Staff.  My follow-up letter to Council, on a specific application, stated that with no policy it was the responsibility of Council to approve the contribution. Council then approved $181,900 developer contribution in lieu of park land for a 2017 subdivision application.

2018 I submitted a technical review of the District’s 2017 Annual Report. My conclusion was that Oak Bay’s Annual Report failed to meet the objectives outlined by the Province as guidance for municipal reporting. The Report failed to measure performance, identify new or ongoing concerns, or to establish objectives for the following year.  Three Councillors voted against accepting the 2017 Annual Report.

On October 20th I want Oak Bay residents to elect a Council that will be accountable and transparent to the community. That’s why I am running for a seat on Council in the 2018 Election.

Public Engagement

Municipal Hall

The entrance to Municipal Hall (photo) is the only thing more disheartening than July 9th’s Council meeting.   The agenda was loaded with topics that have drawn support and criticism from residents at previous meetings, and in the media. Presentation of the Annual report, which drew indignation from the few who were able attend, resulted with 3 members of Council voting not to receive the report.

Included in the lengthy agenda (16 items):

  • 2017 Annual Report
  • Urban Systems report on Development Cost Charges (DCC’s) and Community Amenity Contributions (CAC’s)
  • Secondary Suites Terms of Reference (TOR)
  • Elected Officials compensation review

Agendas are not available until late Friday before a Monday meeting. So residents had the first weekend in July to review documents, and submit comments by 3:00 pm on Monday. A weekend is not a lot of time to read reports, formulate questions and prepare submissions. And July almost guarantees low turnout for the meeting.

Oak Bay’s website stated that residents were invited to provide input in writing or in person at the meeting. I did both. But District Staff were vague when asked when or who would respond to questions. Not surprising – the 2017 Annual Report also missed the target on accountability.

My comments to the Mayor at the start of the meeting:

‘The Mayor, as the Chief Executive Officer, is responsible to work with District staff on preparing Agendas and to conduct productive meetings. Arguably meetings might be considered more productive if the public are excluded from the process. However, many residents have expressed concern that they don’t feel Council is being transparent or listening to the community. In today’s society “transparency” and the “right to know” are paramount values’ (International Association Public Participation).

Other members of the CRD use award winning standards for measuring performance. If elected to Council, I will work hard to ensure that we achieve the same for Oak Bay.

Copies of the 2017 Annual Report and correspondence are available on the website.

 

 

Appreciation

They exist in all communities; the locals and the incomers. After almost a decade, I still sometimes feel like an incomer. No surprise, then, when I was asked recently asked by a local to tell her what I appreciate about Oak Bay.

The immediate things that come to mind – climate, air quality, good drinking water and the awesome natural landscape.  I don’t miss the haze of car exhaust, drinking only filtered water, or long commutes to get out of the city.  I appreciate just how fortunate I am to live in this environment.

I am still learning about our rare and endangered ecosystem; a significant treasure in the broader global community.

Safety ranks pretty high on the list of things I appreciate. I love feeling safe enough to explore the trails and parks in Oak Bay on my own. I’m still aware of personal safety, but not with the same vigilance that I experienced in big cities. I’m happy that crime in Oak Bay is mostly bike thefts or vehicle break-ins.

What I love most is the sense of ‘cultural refinement’ that exists in Oak Bay. By that, I mean, the quality of the character of the community. It’s not about the value of the real estate, but about the value that residents place on their community. Streetscapes, neighborhoods, and public spaces tell the story of a community that has matured, not just aged. Residents support and nurture a myriad of community events. Volunteers contribute countless hours to keep community spirit alive. There is a sense of permanence, character and community – cultural refinement.

The advantage of being an ‘incomer’ is that, by comparison, I know that Oak Bay is a wonderful place to live.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Oak Bay residents had a chance to see the results from Citizen Budget at the March 5th Estimates Meeting. Results, prepared by Open North, were infused with critical comments about infrastructure, land planning and finances.  Frustration with the District is evident, but residents need to be cautious about blaming District staff for problems. District staff has the responsibility to recommend, but not to approve, Municipal budgets. Staff reports and recommendations are provided to the public at Council and Strategic Priority Meetings, and in Financial and Annual Reports. For several years, Oak Bay Staff have voiced concerns about aging infrastructure and finances.  Despite Staff concerns, they have been limited by funding that is not adequate to maintain services to meet the expectation of residents. Council has the authority and responsibility for budget funding; residents have the responsibility to hold Council accountable.  In censure of the 2017 Financial Plan, 3 members of Council voted against approval. The move highlighted that at least 3 members of Council want to rethink Oak Bay finances. In his Asset Management Update of November, 2017, the Director of Engineering showed that the District needs approximately $5.5 million annually to keep up with infrastructure maintenance and replacements. In 2016 Council approved approximately $1.6 million and in 2017 Council approved $1.7 million. For 2018 the amount approved at Estimates has been increased, but is still $2.25 million short of what is needed for infrastructure. The real problem is Council’s lack of leadership in dealing with long term capital funding.

https://oakbay.civicweb.net/document/28967/5%20-%20Citizen%20Budget%20Results.pdf?handle=09D63E68BBE24CC7A3146B295F54F5DE

http://www.oakbay.ca/sites/default/files/municipal-hall/minutes/May%2011%2C%202017%20%28special%20council%29.pdf