Difficult Decision

Early morning walks on Willows Beach are a good time to discover log creations of all sorts. The photo was taken on Good Friday, an important day to Christians worldwide. To others, a long weekend to be enjoyed with family and friends.

Last week I received a pamphlet distributed by Oak Bay United Church about their proposal for affordable housing on Granite Street.  Its mission “aimed at helping those in our community on low or fixed incomes so we continue to positively contribute the Oak Bay community for years to come”. Readers are encouraged to visit the Church website, so I did.

The website states “we are aiming for the rental income from our housing complex to cover all of the associated expenses including the mortgage, property management, property maintenance (including OBUC annual capital maintenance), existing debt and program support.”  That statement entirely changes assessment of the project, simplified to valuation of return on investment. Future profits must be high enough to cover expenses of the proposed rental housing building, and to maintain the Church building.

This is not criticism of the Church; investors are entitled to profit from projects.  It does emphasize why Oak Bay’s Council must carefully weigh long-term risks and benefits.

–  Heritage importance/value of the Church building to the community
–  Financial sustainability of affordable housing building, and church buildings
–  Risk/Impact to the District if future income steams fail to support both housing and        church
–  Loss of social benefits to the community if the Church cannot be sustained

There will be difficult questions and decisions for Council, for the community, and for the congregation.



Development and Despiritualized Reality

It is on my early morning walks – Uplands Park, Cattle Point, Willows Promenade – that I feel the greatest connection with this wonderful landscape that I am privileged to call home. But, with only 5% of Vancouver Island’s Garry Oak Ecosystem remaining, I wonder if future generations will enjoy the same privilege. I am reminded of a quote by Russel Means “In terms of the despiritualization of the universe, the mental process works so that it becomes virtuous to destroy the planet”.

Russell Charles Means (1939 – 2012) was an Oglala Lakota activist for the rights of American Indian people, libertarian political activist, actor, writer, and musician. Means spoke out on issues related to the destruction of the planet for monetary gain, and on the need for people to communicate through spoken word.

On Development, Means stated, “Terms like progress and development are used as cover words here, the way victory and freedom are used to justify butchery in the dehumanization process….. Most important here, perhaps, is the fact that Europeans feel no sense of loss in all this. After all, their philosophers have despiritualized reality, so there is no satisfaction (for them) to be gained in simply observing the wonder of a mountain or a lake or a people in being. No, satisfaction is measured in terms of gaining material.”

On dialogue, Means says “My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.”

Harsh words perhaps, but protection of the planet and demands for open government prevail today.

Fast forward to the present, and I listen to the remarkable wisdom of Oak Bay resident Marion Cumming. Addressing Council in September, 2014, Ms. Cumming said “that it would be lovely to see affordable housing but not growth for the sake of growth.” Most recently Ms. Cumming advised Oak Bay Council on dangers of removing vegetation and blasting on steep slopes. An advocate for protection of heritage and the environment, Ms. Cumming is a member of Oak Bay’s Heritage Committee. Her words are echoed by many Oak Bay residents who have come forward to voice concerns about long term impacts of development, and the need for improved communication between residents and Council.

Oak Bay is blessed with a rare, but endangered ecosystem. Residents who speak passionately about protecting Oak Bay’s natural and built heritage may help us avoid ‘virtuous destruction’.  They want the legacy to survive for future generations.

Challenges of Affordability in Oak Bay

Housing Options and Affordability have been attracting many opinions in Oak Bay recently. The Local Governance Act in BC mandates that municipalities must include a provision for providing affordable housing in community plans. Affordability is defined in Oak Bay’s OCP as a percentage (30%) of family income. What is not clear is how Oak Bay can achieve affordability based on average regional income and high value real estate.

Last September the CRD Hospitals and Housing Committee introduced a report (McClanaghan & Associates) on entry level ownership in the CRD. The 109-page report provides detailed housing statistics for all CRD municipalities, and concluded that “land values, market dynamics and income demographics within the region would confine development opportunities to a very small number of municipalities/electoral areas – Esquimalt, Saanich, Colwood and Langford.” In other words, subsidies would have to be provided by the municipalities, developers or Government to make up the gap between income and housing costs. Based on 2016 Census and market data, the McClanaghan & Associate report is the most current data available for all members of the CRD, including Oak Bay.  It covers all types and values of housing types available, and although the report is specifically related to entry level housing, the information is well presented with comparison charts on everything from rental housing to owned housing, and apartments to single family residences. It is a great reference document to gauge what forms of housing could be viable for Oak Bay.  If you are interested in reading the report you can find it on the CRD website at