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    Are the CRD's climate change goals pie-in-the-sky?


    Leslie Campbell

    One key policy, densification of the core, makes little sense in the face of the CRD’s impotence in controlling sprawl.

     

    VIC DERMAN told his fellow CRD directors at a November 2016 board meeting: “The only thing that could possibly be more urgent to act on [than climate change] would be if a large asteroid was hurtling toward us.”

    A few months before he passed away last March, I interviewed Derman, Saanich counsellor, CRD director, former teacher, and creator of the “Natural City” approach. He lamented the lack of leadership at the CRD around climate change. It’s not that there’s any lack of understanding, or well-written reports or sensible goals, but too often, as Derman told me, policy seems at odds with practice. Some of the stated goals on reducing emissions reminded him of New Year’s resolutions; “I should lose weight; pass the chocolate pie.”

    The CRD’s Climate Action Strategy’s stated goal is a regional reduction of GHG emissions of 61 percent by 2038, from 2007 levels. This is certainly ambitious, but like Derman argued, there don’t seem to be realistic plans to get us there.

    During the interview, Derman lamented the hostile environment we are creating for our children. “Pretty much all the scientists agree we have already put enough carbon in the atmosphere to cause a 1.6 degree increase,” he said, which in effect means we need to suck carbon out of the atmosphere in order to meet the Paris Climate Accord target. He noted that at one degree of warming, you start to get feedback loops, like the melting of the permafrost, which jacks up the temperature more.

    Derman, who urged application of the “climate change lens” to all issues and decisions, said that the most critical thing to do on the transportation-emissions front involves land-use planning: urban neighbourhoods should be compact yet also allow for greenspace, local shops, pleasant walking and cycling. It’s “smart” growth.

    Otherwise known as “densification,” the CRD recognizes it is a big part of solving the transportation and emissions problems. The antithesis of suburban sprawl, compact cities have numerous benefits, but at this point in human history, chief among them is the ability to lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The closer people live to core amenities, the less they need to use a fossil-fuelled car. With a more centralized population, it becomes more cost-efficient to provide better public transit. That in turn encourages more residents to shift more of their travels away from autos, thus reducing our community’s carbon footprint even more.

    Densification is essential to the decarbonization project upon us. But it’s not without its challenges.

     

    ON WALKS THROUGH MY ROCKLAND NEIGBOURHOOD, I’ve noticed numerous signs saying “Stop Overdevelopment: Respect Neighbourhoods.” There’s even a companion website for this “movement” which outlines concerns about Abstract Developments’ plans to create 94 residential units in 3 buildings on a well-treed, 2-acre park-like setting formerly home to the Victoria Truth Centre (www.concernedresidents.ca). The Concerned Residents group cites issues with height, massing and setbacks, and a lack of sensitivity to the need for both affordable housing and green space.

    Our letters section in this edition testifies to a growing unease among core residents about the increasing development in their midst. More citizens are calling me too, to express their concern over the changes to their neighbourhoods. They hope that Focus can do something. The common underlying tone of residents’ worries is a fear of loss—loss of green space, of old trees and their ecosystems, of quiet, of heritage, of the family-friendly character of their neighbourhood, of their children’s safety due to increased traffic.

    Critiques of the public consultation process around new developments are plentiful too: The process seems designed to frustrate residents who feel unheard despite open houses and so-called “consultation.”

    Given that the CRD is projecting 95,000 more people in the region by 2038—along with the goal of reducing emissions by 61 percent by that same year, core densification is both essential and long-term. So frustrations and conflict will likely grow and certainly continue—for decades to come.

     

    THE QUESTION THAT ARISES IS: Why put core residents through the trials of decades-long densification when at the same time the CRD is, at best, turning a blind eye to the continuing sprawl epitomized by Langford? The benefits of increasing densification in the core would no doubt be more palatable if local politicians could rein in Langford’s rampage over rural and wild lands.

    Unfortunately, the CRD and its member municipalities caved into Langford’s insistence in 2003 to make its municipal boundaries its “urban containment boundary”—meaning all of its 42-square-kilometres of land is able to be developed and serviced.

    Mayor Stew Young and his pro-development council, have taken full advantage of that dye-casting Regional Growth Strategy. They have approved big box stores that draw traffic from all corners of the region. They’ve offered fee reductions and tax holidays for developers. They’ve tried to lure businesses away from the core by announcing a 10-year tax holiday. And they are now creating a business park on land swapped with Metchosin.

    The result? Much of the region’s previously forested and agricultural lands, along with the many ecosystem services they provided, have been extensively mowed down, blasted apart and paved over. That sprawl has led to congestion and increased emissions on the highway because most people still work in the core even if they live in Langford or elsewhere on the West Shore.

    Allowing Langford its rampant growth strategy makes the trials of densification dangerously close to pointless.

     

    IN HER INAUGURAL ADDRESS to the CRD board early this year, before Vic Derman died, Chair Barb Desjardins spoke about climate change. She acknowledged “the passion and coaxing we have had from Director Derman that there is urgency to plan and more importantly act on this issue. I want to encourage the board to be bold, to leap forward with the required changes and actions that we must make.”

    The trouble is, the CRD, due to its nature and past agreements, is utterly incapable of taking the leap she urged. The update of the Regional Growth Strategy, which took 8 years to draft and win board approval, is now in dispute resolution mandated by the Province because half the region’s municipalities wouldn’t ratify it. Their concerns centred mostly around piping water into rural areas, which they correctly believe is a major driver of urban sprawl. These municipalities are trying to not add to the problem the former RGS created. But what will happen when, as is likely the case this fall, the municipalities and the CRD enter binding arbitration?

    There’s also an impasse on another key CRD goal related to climate change: the “strategic priority” of establishing a Regional Transportation Service to have authority to implement region-wide transportation goals, many of which address emissions reductions for the region.

    This has been stuck in limbo since 2014 because Langford, Colwood and Sooke nixed the idea. Though some CRD directors have voiced support for taking it to a referendum, the matter was left hanging until a consultant’s report on CRD governance was completed this summer.

    Susan Brice, the CRD’s transportation committee chair, told Focus, “Unfortunately there is nothing substantive in the report that will assist the CRD board in their deliberations.” Brice is convinced, as are many, that transportation is a region-wide issue and plans to continue pursuing the issue. “There may be some adjustments to the request that will get wider local government buy-in. Failing that, there are options under the legislation for the board to consider. However, the goal remains to have strong municipal support throughout the region.”

    The CRD has espoused very lofty emission-reduction targets. But given the sometimes contradictory visions of its 13 municipalities, it may well be powerless to carry out the central tasks around shaping growth and transportation. By enabling suburban sprawl and all the emissions that come with it, while at the same time urging more development in the core areas, it’s little wonder that some citizens are fighting back.

    Leslie Campbell hopes whoever fills Vic Derman’s shoes on Saanich council on September 23 will carry on his legacy.

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