Behind the curtains at City Hall
A look at the City of Victoria’s first quarterly 2019 “Operational Highlights, Accomplishments and Metrics,” reveals the value of the City’s construction permits has increased from $125.2 million in 2014 to $347.9 million in 2018. And, at the end of 2019’s first quarter, the value of construction in Victoria reached $82.8 million—a 56 percent increase over the same time period in 2018.
So, have taxpayers benefited from this housing boom? Less than $15 million was collected by the City in development and community amenity charges, and fewer than 100 affordable housing units (out of 3,786 built) were added over the past four years.
The lucrative real estate sector and escalating land values are fuelling changes everywhere. Yet, the greatest negative impact has been felt by renters who face soaring rents and large-scale displacement. But this is of little concern to elected officials whose only role is to approve the ever-increasing taxpayer-financed projects to upgrade infrastructure and beautify the area surrounding these upscale housing developments. Such projects include the new Johnson Street Bridge, Ship Point redevelopment, David Foster pathway, not to mention protected bike lane corridors throughout the core area. Preserving property entitlements also includes providing more than $40-million-worth of ten-year tax exemptions to 450 owners of heritage condo properties Downtown. Their latest tax-holiday decisions now support the most expensive residential restoration project in the City: the Customs House condo and commercial complex, only steps away from the Humboldt “Innovation Tree.”
It’s not hard for City council to justify removing an “iconic” mature tree, especially if it obstructs the flow of people, vehicles and bikes around the Customs House waterfront property whose units range in price from $900,000 to more than $10 million. Council’s role seems to be to facilitate more upscale real estate investment. Every decision they make must ensure maximization of profit for investors at the expense of maintaining a healthy environment and ensuring the well-being of the majority of the City’s households, who are tenants.
If the City is concerned about mitigating the negative impact of climate change, why are they approving the construction of the largest consumers of energy and emitters of greenhouse gas emissions—high-density, amenity-rich condo towers, concentrated in Downtown?
Truth-telling requires everyone to observe what’s going on around them, not to mention what’s behind the curtains at City Hall. As a wise friend once told me, follow the money and find out who stands to gain and who stands to lose from the decisions made.
Stop birching and complaining! Kudos to the FOI requester, however I think she was barking up the wrong tree. The root of the problem is the second-rate governance and management at the City of Victoria. The bike lanes are a gong show, and the design at Government and Humboldt is nothing short of hazardous. One must wonder about the decision-making processes at Centennial Square, which leave much to be desired, as you have so consistently reported, and would not be helped if the public were consulted ad nauseam about the removal of one tree.
I’m fully supportive of an urban forest, as opposed to a concrete jungle—developers, property owners, and don’t forget renters too, guided and assisted by common sense policies and programs, should be encouraged or required to plant new and replacement trees on private and public property, and receive property tax credits in addition to the feel-good Earth-saving nature of the exercise.
This is the season
I just wanted to thank Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic for her homage to the late, great Patrick Lane. I will now run out and find a copy of Mr Lane’s 2004 memoir, There is a Season.
Thanks, Trudy, for your lovely prose about the joys of finding wisdom and humility amongst the plants, trees, soil and rocks.
Goodbye Victoria, kale and all
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I’ll write an email instead. I was born in Victoria 64 years ago. I’ve lived here all my life. Like so many others, I remember Victoria as it was. Affordable. Room for all. Sleepy, dusty, and quaint. Trips to Cook Street Village with my grandmother to buy pastries at Ethel’s Cake Shop; fish and chips, greasy and fragrant at the local eatery; and to the drug store on the corner for cocoa butter. What she used it for, I don’t remember. Sundays, with the roast in the oven, we went in the family car to Douglas and Hillside to travel all the way around the roundabout. Then home to ride our bicycles to Beacon Hill Park until supper. It was safe back then.
Now I’m almost ready for old age pension cheques and all the other subsidies that will make my life easier, or so I’m told. As I look around my third-floor walkup in which I can no longer navigate the stairs or climb down to the basement to do my laundry, the rent is $1200 and climbing; I know I have to leave.
I’m glad, in a way. Victoria has become a city of condos—unavailable to most of us, and only really affordable to a very few. I’m leaving for the northernmost tip of the island, in hopes of securing a fixer-upper mobile home. I’m in shock really, not quite believing how this came to be. I can scarcely walk more than a block or two, and yet somehow I have to find the strength to turn an old, musty shell of a mobile home into something liveable. Where did the years go? Where did my Victoria go?
As I turn the pages through Focus to the last page, there is an article about gardens, and how wisdom and humility are nurtured in them. The author writes if she were to be banished from here to an island she’d pack some seeds and gardening tools. I’m curious about where she would live. The gulf islands have become as unaffordable as most of the island. Her advice? Plant kale. Easy to grow and loaded with nutrition. My balcony, and all the other apartments in my past that had no balconies at all come to mind, as well as the lack of sun needed to grow kale. I guess I could have bought a grow-light. I’m sure that’s what the author meant. The irony of it all.
I loved the articles in your May/June Focus by Gene Miller (“In Praise of Modesty”) and Trudy Mitic (“This is the season”) because they delve deeply into the nature of Nature and human nature.
Gene’s thoughts on greed and its relation to power coincide fully with my Judaeo-Christian beliefs. I go a little further, however. He says in a magnificent little paragraph: “Nature is, in this sense, the ultimate parent, and in a bizarre act of self-destructive, anti-ecological spite, we attempt to appropriate nature’s secrets and powers, and try to kill the world. Ego set against eco.”
For his initial word “Nature” I would substitute the word “God,” i.e. Creator. But not the “idealized projection of human beings” mentioned in the paragraph following. The Creator I trust and believe in “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—a parent who is able even to replace (in another dimension?) the priceless heirloom we treated as a toy. Of course, this hope does not alleviate my responsibility to Mother Earth in the slightest.
I also loved Trudy’s reflections on gardening and nature. What a delicious quote from Patrick Lane: “Every stone in my garden is a story, every tree a poem. I barely know myself in spite of the admonishments of wise men and women who tell me I must know my life in order to live it fully. What I know is that I live in this place where words are made. What we are is a garden. I believe that.”
A Message for the Minister of Forests
The headline above Briony Penn’s article (May/June 2019) stated that Forest Minister Doug Donaldson “talked and ran.” As the organizers of the Forest Dialogue that he attended, we must say that this is an unfair characterization. When the minister agreed to speak, his office was always clear that because the legislature was in session, his time was limited. So his speaking and then leaving was no surprise. Furthermore, the minister arranged for one of his senior staff to attend the entire proceedings and to make himself available to meet with the organizers to review feedback from the meeting.
It is our sincere hope that the Forest Dialogue has set the stage for new opportunities to exchange viewpoints, discuss values, and learn from experts and communities about the myriad issues facing our forest ecosystems. With more effective communication, we can move beyond the old tireless debate of jobs vs. the environment to a constructive dialogue around managing forests to both conserve the environment and keep the economy moving. Thoughtful, progressive people, including many who attended the conference, know this can be done, and that there are numerous examples of where it is being practiced. It is time to work together on a broad new forestry vision for BC, and for the BC government to step up with courage to embrace the leadership that is called for to make it a reality.
For more information on the April Forest Dialogue, to listen to the speakers, and learn more about the state of BC’s forests, please go to: www.northwestinstitute.ca.
Bob Peart, Pat Moss, Ivan Thompson
Editor’s note: Mea culpa. I (not Briony) composed the offending titling.
Government needs to assign a dollar value to every hectare of old growth or mature forests left standing in the province. The current rule of thumb is approximately $10K per hectare per year in environmental services they provide, including, of course, carbon sequestering. Until a forest is logged, government places $0 value on these forests that have been providing free services to society since the last ice age. Older forests and their services are worth much more to society today and to future generations than stumpage taxes. It’s clear that the Ministry of Forests has not known how to grow back a living forest, let alone high-quality trees, due to their continued reliance on natural forests to meet the majority of their Annual Allowable Cut.
Forests suffer from drive for growth
On Vancouver Island alone, I have witnessed the forested land being cut down to build subdivision after subdivision—from Swartz Bay to Victoria, and all the way up the Island.
Meanwhile, the large corporate logging companies who hold the lease to harvest the forests on the Island are cutting so much timber that there is negligible old growth remaining, and the newer trees are one-tenth the size. These newer forests are not like the older forests which were made up of cedar, hemlock, spruce, fir and balsam. No, they are made of quick-grow, single species trees that are being planted. Ken James of the Youbou Timberless Society once stated: “If we processed our lumber in BC instead of shipping out raw logs, we could cut half as many trees and employ twice as many local people.”
These ancient forests once helped maintain oxygen levels on this planet; they stopped flooding in the winter/spring by absorbing water; and these large trees kept the forest floors cool in the hotter months. These same old-growth forests took the carbon from the atmosphere and converted it to oxygen.
Today we have flooding in the rainy season, and forest fires in the hotter months. We have water restrictions starting as early as May! And by June, it is fourth-stage water restrictions. Hot weather is showing up in April instead of June. A record number of forest fires are taking place each year. This is happening across BC, which was once one of the world’s greatest rainforests. Our forest protection is vital to maintaining a balanced climate.
It is my understanding that we can no longer base our lifestyle on continuous consumption and never-ending growth. We cannot continue to cut our forests down for expansion of housing areas. We cannot assume that this environment we live in can be squandered and used up. Even the animals are showing up in our towns and cities because of human encroachment in their habitat. We must replace our assumption that happiness can be found by clearcutting our forested areas to build our large homes. We must learn to find contentment within our very being, instead of exploiting the world we live in. This continuous drive for growth and wealth is the very source of our environmental woes.
Logging hurts fish & tourism
Interesting to learn in Focus how tourism is such a major contributor to our economy here in BC. But still, it’s very different than what it once was. Consider sports fishing some 50+ years ago. Throughout the early postwar years, it was a big-time recreational activity along the southern coasts of Vancouver Island. Indeed, sports fishing in the local waters throughout Saanich Inlet and Cowichan Bay, was incredibly popular with massive schools of spring and coho salmon returning to spawn in local rivers during the summer and fall.
Indeed, there were numerous marinas and boathouses lining various bays, coves and beaches, where very popular fishing derbies were being run back in these good old days. Also, it should be noted that these were major fund-raising undertakings like the Solarium Derby which contributed thousands of dollars to the Queen Alexandra Solarium for Crippled Children in Saanich. Sadly, sports fishing to any extent has all been pretty well DOA since the mid-1970s.
Also, in the same edition, it is most distressing to learn of how the local orca population is in danger but no one will actually deal with or face up to the actual source of this catastrophe. Well, as it happens, there at the top of the whale’s menu are spring salmon which are well on their way to extinction with the on-going wholesale destruction of second growth and now third growth forests all along the east side of the Island. (Check out the loaded trucks at the weigh station on the highway just north of Duncan.) So what happened here?
Well, our local rivers flood regularly during winter and then dry up in the summer, which has resulted in the destruction of healthy spawning habitat. The reason? I asked an old retired Comox Logging & Railway Co. hand how it was that the company back in the early years of the last century was dropping huge first growth trees right into the Tsolum River and then booming them up? Well, he told me that back then the valley was entirely untouched prime Douglas fir forest land where the understory humic layer was very deep and intact. These soils and layers acted like an incredible sponge that soaked up the winter rainfalls to accumulate water and then gradually released it throughout the year. And today? As my contact stated, “There’s little water in all our rivers during the summertime…and they can flood like the bejeez’us during the winter, now that all the old timber is gone!”
This colossal disaster is all thanks to the former Liberal government’s rewriting of the Private Managed Forest Land Act, which threw the door open to rampant, out of control timber harvesting by Island Timberlands and TimberWest corporate entities thanks to the Liberal’s model of “Professional Reliance.” Basically the fox was left in charge of the chicken house and there’s been absolutely no government oversight of private forest lands since the early 1990s.
Rick James, Royston, BC
A moratorium on wireless 5G urged
I am alarmed by the 5G rollout that is soon to commence in Victoria and much of the world. This is not the 5G wifi that has already been installed. This is the next generation of radio frequency (RF) transmission for cell phones that promises to increase speed and performance. Unfortunately, it will also blanket our environment with transmitters (about one to every five houses) that will conduct pulsed signals at much higher frequencies.
In 2015, over 230 scientists from more than 40 countries expressed serious concerns about the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) generated by electric and wireless devices, well before talk of a 5G rollout. Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMR has adverse effects on living organisms, including increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free-radicals, genetic damage, structural and functional changes in the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plants and animals. (See Rainer Nyberg, EdD Professor Emeritus, Vasa Finland and Lennart Hardell, MD PhD Professor, Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Orebro Sweden).
A cancer epidemiology update, following the 2011 World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluation of RF EMR, states that evidence is now conclusive that RF radiation is carcinogenic to humans. Previous studies that show such radiation is carcinogenic include those by Hardell 2017, Atzman 2016 and Peleg 2018 (from Environmental Research, volume 167, Nov 2018).
On September 13, 2017, this declaration was made: “We the undersigned, more than 180 scientists and doctors from 36 countries recommend a moratorium on the rollout of the fifth generation for telecommunications—5G, until the potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry. 5G will substantially increase exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) on top of the already existing 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, etc, for telecommunications already in place. RF EMF has proven to be harmful for humans and the environment.”
Some cities in the world—most notably, Brussels, the capital of the EU—stopped the testing of 5G when its Minister of the Environment and Energy, Housing and Quality of Life Celine Fremault reported, “I cannot welcome such technology if the radiation standards, which must protect the citizen, are not respected, 5G or not. The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit. We cannot leave anything to doubt.” Vaux in France, Neuchatel and Geneva in Switzerland, Florence in Italy and Portland, Oregon have all halted 5G implementation for public health reasons.
The telecom industry has not invested in independent research to prove that wireless 5G is safe. In fact, industry representatives have publicly admitted that there was no investment in independent research, nor any plans for such. They intend to roll it out, and once it’s implemented, it will take decades to prove any damaging impact. Note: it took 40+ years for the damaging effects of tobacco to be taken seriously.
I am a member of a group of concerned citizens who are proposing a moratorium on the deployment of wireless 5G in the City of Victoria, based on the lack of evidence that 5G is biologically safe.
Heritage church replacement a sad sign of the times
A number of commentators in the media have recently expressed disappointment with the anticipated demolition of the Fairfield United Church, a heritage building. As others noted, this flies in the face of Victoria’s reputation as an innovator and leader in heritage conservation, particularly as there is now a long experience and widespread practice in Canada and beyond in the repurposing of historic churches.
However, what is even more egregious is the scheme being proposed for the Fairfield church’s replacement. Churches such as this are preserved for symbolic, as well as practical purposes. Even empty of their congregation they remain anchor monuments in their neighbourhoods, statements about community aspirations signalling thoughts a little higher up the values chain than say a casino or gas station—even to those who never, or rarely, set foot in them. Fairfield United marks the very core of a unique arts-and-crafts bungalow neighbourhood. It signalled “neighbourliness” in its construction. Red brick echoed the Edwardian James Douglas Elementary School which originally faced it across the street. Half-timbered gables, bracketed roof detailing, and an expansive pitched roof repeated the texture of the surrounding bungalows and cottages lining the adjacent streetscapes.
So where were the Fairfield Neighbourhood Association, the City’s planning department, its heritage and design committees, and the council when this over-scaled abstract cubist design was proposed? Were the developers and design professionals blind to architect Shiv Garyali’s brilliantly executed new James Douglas School, just across the road, which respectfully and literally grows out of the form, scale and craft character of its environs?
I am afraid this exercise, perhaps intended to challenge the status quo or reflect the “new spirit of our times,” will instead stand as an object lesson in political disinterest, questionable professional practice, and community amnesia. Is this what awaits Victoria’s historic residential neighbourhoods?
Subsidizing climate change, via LNG
It no longer seems that our BC government is an agreement between NDP and Greens. It is now a government of NDP and Liberals, given licence by the Greens to subsidize global warming by giving away $6 billion of our tax dollars to an LNG industry that can only accelerate our free-fall into economic and social destruction, brought on by the irreparable destruction of our environment. What the heck is Horgan’s bunch doing?