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Leslie Campbell

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  1. July 3, 2020 THE FOREST AROUND OUR QUADRA ISLAND HAVEN is aglow right now with droopy white plumes of ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), ruby-jewelled salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) and huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium). I feel so lucky to have been here through the full pandemic-infused spring as I have been able to watch and photograph each stage of these plants’ evolution from bare branches through the unfurling of their leaves, blossoming of their flowers and swelling of their berries. The salmonberries and huckleberries are plump and juicy, thanks to copious rain over the past few weeks. I have been picking them regularly to use on my oatmeal in the morning, but now that the huckleberries are ripe, I am thinking more ambitiously about pies and preserves. Mostly, I am enthusiastic about such kitchen production because it gives me an excuse to hang out in the forest. I find berry picking among the most calming, meditative-yet-productive things to do. Red Huckleberry Ocean Spray The three plants mentioned above are very common in Douglas fir forests. All were relied on by native people who lived here pre-colonization. The ocean spray has very hard wood, which, according to Pojar & MacKinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, was used for spears and tools by First Nations. The seeds were eaten as well. The berries of huckleberry and salmonberry, of course, were eaten fresh as well as preserved, as were those of salal (Gaulthoria shallon). Many birds, squirrels and bears in Vancouver Island forests eat the berries as well. The red-berried huckleberry was one of the few plant species to survive on the slopes of Mount St Helens when the volcano erupted in 1980, according to Wikipedia. In local forests it loves to grow on rotting logs and old tree stumps. Salal berries will ripen later in summer. They produce an intensely flavourful purply-black jam I love. I hear they are also really good for making fruit leather, which I might attempt to make this year. It will give me another excuse to hang out quietly, with sticky fingers, in the forest. These plants all seem very hardy and abundant. But the forests they depend on are getting mowed down at an alarming rate. When I hike into the backwoods of Quadra Island, I see clearcut after clearcut. (Satellite images show the same patchwork look all over BC.) Up close, a new clearcut is a hell-scape, with wide roads blasted through rock, a desiccated, scraped terrain littered with “course woody debris” (former tree limbs), and stump after stump of “harvested fibre.” Speaking of harvested fibre—or “feedstock,” see Michelle Connolly’s excellent piece on this site, “Words Hide Truth,” about the Orwellian, euphemistic language employed by BC’s Ministry of Forests et al. The government’s deliberate rebranding of natural forests as commodities helps discourage our awareness and defence of forests as complex living systems. Unfortunately, not enough of us are able to get out and witness the contrast between a clearcut and an intact forest. On Quadra, there are many examples side-by-side, providing for a mind-bending contrast. I certainly cannot recognize a forest I’ve visited before, formerly graced with dense, towering trees, carpeted with moss and my favourite bushes, after it’s been mowed down by the industrial machinery now used. It’s a stark lesson in the rapacious, absurd behaviour of our species. For further elucidation on the BC government’s appalling stewardship of our once-magnificent forests, read David Broadland’s recent analysis (along with many readers’ comments) of the financial realities of the forest-industrial complex. It appears the BC taxpayer is getting shafted along with the forests we love. I think I need to get back to berry-picking… I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page. If you are taking photos of native plants and animals, you might be interested in our Mapping Nature project, here.
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    Bastion Square Artisans Market Saturday & Sundays 11:00am - 4:30pm until September 27, 2020 We are located in Bastion Square every Saturday and Sunday, 11:00am-4:30pm. Shop locally-made from local artisans in downtown Victoria’s only outdoor artisans market! COMMUNITY EVENT · CRAFTS · SHOPPING & FASHION 56 Bastion Square Victoria, BC
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    “Molten”: Encaustic Group ShowFeaturing works by Alanna Sparanese, Brenda Walker, Lynn Harnish The Gallery At Matticks Farm Inc.109-5325 Cordova BayVictoria, BC V8Y 2L3Phone: (250) 658-8333 https://www.thegalleryatmatticksfarm.com
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    2020 VIRTUAL VICTORIA FLAMENCO FESTIVAL July 23 to 26, 2020 Please visit www.victoriaflamencofestival.com for information regarding virtual show times and links. Cost: Free, donations accepted at www.victoriaflamencofestival.com The Flamenco de la Isla Society has come to the difficult decision, given the current COVID-19 situation, to suspend all physical in-person events at the 2020 Victoria Flamenco Festival. We feel it is important to do our part to keep artists, audience, and our community safe. We are currently working to bring you virtual festival. Our commitment to Flamenco on Vancouver Island remains strong and we encourage you to reach out if you have any questions: info@victoriaflamencofestival.com Thank you for your ongoing support! 2020 VIRTUAL VICTORIA FLAMENCO FESTIVAL Experience southern Spain at the 8th Annual Victoria Flamenco Festival on July 23-26 where artists from across Canada, Spain, and Mexico perform bold and haunting rhythms through dance, song, guitar, and percussion. Enjoy FREE on-line shows. The Virtual Victoria Flamenco Festival is hosted by the Flamenco de la Isla Society.
  5. The Vancouver Writers Fest andToronto International Festival of Authors presentDavid Mitchell in Conversation withLisa Christiansen$45 includes access to exclusive online event, a copy ofUtopia Avenue and shipping. The first 300 people to order will also receive a signed bookplate.Sunday, July 26 at 4:00pm PDT / 7:00pm EDT TICKETS
  6. LAILA BIALI TRIO Live/Livestream Victoria Performance Date: Saturday, July 25, 2020 – 7:30pm (doors open 6:30pm) Venue: Victoria Event Centre 1415 Broad St Tickets: $30 advance only On sale Tuesday, July 14 at 10am Tickets purchased online at: www.victoriaeventcentre.ca CBC’s Saturday Night Jazz host Laila Biali returns to Victoria for a special evening concert, this time to showcase songs from her brand new 2020 album, Out of Dust. This Juno-award winning singer, pianist, and songwriter last played in Victoria with her trio at TD Victoria International JazzFest 2019. Her upcoming performance at Victoria Event Centre with Jodi Proznick bassand Ben Wittman drums promises a night of stunning live music that has been dearly missed for months. Opening the evening will be the duo of Wes Carroll guitar and Phil Albert bass. The performance will be also livestreamed via Twitch and Victoria Jazz Society’s Facebook page. Donations may be made to the Victoria Jazz Society to support the VJS’s Jazz Alive! Summer Pop-Ups in Victoria this summer, as well as future VJS presentations. To donate, please visit: https://jazzvictoria.ca/society/make-donation If you attend, bear in mind health and safety protocols of wearing a mask (at the request of the artist) and keeping six feet apart from those who aren’t in your household/immediate social circle. Due to COVID-19, there will be a limit of 50 tickets available for purchase. Tickets must be purchased in table packages of 4-6 in order to adhere to physical distance protocols. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Please visit https://www.victoriaeventcentre.ca/covid19/ to familiarize with current Victoria Event Centre COVID-19 practices. The livestream will be available at: https://www.twitch.tv/victoriaeventcentre CLICK HERE TO VISIT TICKET PAGE CLICK HERE FOR LIVESTREAM
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    The FREE-B Festival Strikes BackWith no potential for an event permit from the City of Victoria, the Free-B Film Festival has changed location, dates AND will now be opening up to only 50 people each night at The Fort Common. For the first time in 22 seasons, folks will have to register online! The event is still FREE but the VFF needs to know that you’re coming because… well… you know… there’s this virus that we are all social distancing from and we asked ourselves ‘Why line up if there’s no room?’. Registration opens for the first three films at 10 AM on August 3 and same time on August 10 for the final three films.The fabulous Free-B film line-up has gone back to its roots and we’ve hauled out some of the most fun B movies ever! Check it out at freebfilmfest.com. Roman Holiday – August 13Bored in her luxurious confinement, a princess (Audrey Hepburn) escapes from her guardians and falls in love with an American news reporter (Gregory Peck) in Rome. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die – August 14A cheez bomb from 1962, not to be missed! When his girlfriend, Jan Compton is decapitated in a car accident, Dr. Bill, experimenting with transplant techniques, keeps her alive while trying to find her a new body. George of the Jungle – August 15Slapstick and humour fills the big screen as George turns out to be dashing and handsome but also a total klutz. King Kong Escapes – August 20Are you up for the campiest KK? Dr. Who forces King Kong to replace MechaKong on his search for precious minerals but soon enough he’s escaped and headed for… you guessed it… Tokyo! Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – August 21Oh, it’s always about the presents! Martian children obsessed with Santa Claus send their parents on a mission to kidnap that Right Jolly Old Elf. Worst movie ever made? You be the judge! The Witches – August 22A young boy stumbles onto a witch convention and must stop them, even after he has been turned into a mouse. The Fort Common is located down the alleyway between Starbucks and Be Love @ 1019 BlanshardThe Free-B Film Festival is created by the Victoria Film Festival.
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    Summer Jazz Camp by U-JAM in Victoria Making Music - in Real Time & Un-Real Times · AUGUST 16 - AUGUST 21 9:00 am - 9:00 pm · https://www.u-jam.ca/summer-jazz-camp · Hermann's Jazz Club, Victoria The Third Annual Jazz Camp is designed for current reality: "Making Music - in Real Time and Un-Real Times." With the current restrictions on gatherings, this year's camp will be available both virtually and live, on campus. Campers will have the option of participating from anywhere on the planet, via the internet, to access our classes and perform and practice with our all-star faculty. Our program celebrates jazz and improvised music in its many forms. As always, Master Classes and specific topic classes feature an impressive list of special guests and educators. Our local all-star faculty will be augmented by new technology to facilitate making music during the pandemic. Campers of all levels will have a choice of classes in theory, harmony, songwriting, technology, improvising, and ear training. You will be able to perform with a combo, big band, or vocal jazz group. Private coaching is included for each student. Performances by faculty, students, and special guests will be live-streamed each day. Musicians of all ages will have a great learning and playing experience. Camp fees shown include virtual and real-time classes, jam sessions, masterclasses and more. Camp will be held at Hermann's Jazz Club in downtown Victoria, in the club's downstairs and upstairs areas. This will facilitate afternoon ensemble rehearsals, jam sessions, concerts, and masterclasses in a live format with a live feed for our virtual campers. Refund Policy: $100 non-refundable upon application; balance fully refundable up to July 31st Sibling/spouse discount: $75: the second camper must be from the same household and apply at the same time. Scholarships and bursaries are available for deserving students.
  9. Posted July 7, 2020 Image: Cruise ships have been visiting Victoria since the 1990s. The coronavirus crashed our growth-dependant economy just as the global community was figuring out how to shift to an economy that doesn't destabilize climate or threaten biodiversity. How will Victoria respond? Go to story
  10. July 7, 2020 Given travel’s role in the pandemic and its large carbon footprint, “staycations” look like the best path to recovery of human health and ecological stability. READING THROUGH THE CITY OF VICTORIA’S recent economic action plan, Victoria 3.0, one might easily get the impression that tourism is not important to the City’s economy. There is barely a mention of it. It crops up exactly twice. Once in a short highlight of the organization Destination Greater Victoria, and again in reference to the Victoria Conference Centre. In the Destination Greater Victoria section it’s noted that (normally) the visitor population “contributes $2.3 billion in economic activity to the regional economy, while stimulating more than 24,000 direct jobs and $400 million in local taxes.” The report observes, “In Greater Victoria, the overall visitor economy is comprised of more than four million overnight guests annually.” This year, however, mid-pandemic, it’s all different. Most of the usual six million tourists are absent. In mid-May, Victoria hotel occupancy was only at 15.5 percent. Revenues of many tourist-reliant businesses are being obliterated. Words like “devastating” and “ominous” are used to describe the impact. A local industry task force estimated in May that 90 percent of the full-time tourism workforce has been laid off and roughly 20,000 jobs lost. Victoria, especially its downtown area, could be transformed over the next year. It’s not just the obvious businesses like tour operators and souvenir shops, but all the retailers and restaurateurs that will be missing tourists this summer. As will the businesses they in turn supported. Many other businesses will miss the money spent locally by all the former tourism industry employees. It’s a bleak picture indeed, with no end in sight, and with the possibility for further disruptions due to a second wave of COVID-19 —or other crises. The abrupt plunge in the number of visitors to Victoria underlines the fact that components of tourism are a key factor in the global transmission of disease. It’s also implicated in the climate crisis. How does a community that has become so dependant on tourism adjust to these new realities? Air travel in January and February quickly spread the novel coronavirus around the globe. Below, airport workers in Korea attempt to disinfect part of an airport terminal. The high cost of flying ONE VERY BIG elephant in the room associated with international tourism, even the so-called sustainable version, is its immense carbon footprint, due in large measure to aviation emissions. According to the Victoria International Airport’s data, about 2 million international travellers arrived in Victoria by plane last year. (Another large group—about 700,000 in 2019—came by cruise ships; more on them later.) A Guardian analysis shows that individually, flying from Vancouver to Bangkok and back generates about 2,394 kilograms of CO2—more than the average person in 98 countries produces in a year. Even a return flight from Vancouver to New York produces 593 kilograms of CO2 per passenger—about what the average person in 44 countries generates in a full year. Contrails created by condensation of moisture from jet airplane exhaust. The gases released that contribute to the climate crisis are invisible to the human eye. Some in the travel industry are aware and concerned, but offer little in the way of real solutions. Destination Greater Victoria has hosted two “Impact: Sustainability Travel & Tourism” conferences in recent years (and is scheduled to hold another in January 2021) on the interplay between tourism and the environment, including climate change. At the 2018 Impact conference, a session on the future of low-emissions travel noted that the International Civil Aviation Organization is committed to carbon neutrality from 2020 onwards. That goal was set in 2010; meanwhile, air travel has increased exponentially. As the proceedings paper notes, “In 2016, 3.8 billion passengers took flight—an increase of 7 percent over the previous year.” By 2036, the numbers flying are expected to double. How is carbon neutrality to be achieved in light of such numbers? A record of the conference proceedings states: “Improvements to technology and shifting to alternative fuels, and finally through carbon offsets for any remaining emissions.” But with longer-haul air travel there really are no alternative fuels on the horizon. As for fuel efficiency technologies, the paper notes that in 2016 Canadian air carriers improved fuel efficiency by all of 3.2 percent. It concludes: “Requiring that airlines purchase carbon offsets may be one of the simplest and least risky ways to ensure that airlines factor in the cost of emissions when making capacity decisions.” Offsets, of course, do not reduce emissions or the climate emergencies heading our way. Tourism’s emissions are not just due to air travel. Research by a team of University of Sydney scientists calculated the direct emissions from air travel and indirect emissions—including from food production, hotel maintenance, and souvenirs—in 160 countries. The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that tourism now accounts for eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. One researcher involved with the study, Dr Arunima Malik, told the New Scientist, “Growth in tourism-related expenditure is a stronger accelerator of emissions than growth in manufacturing, construction or service provision.” If the (pre-COVID) business-as-usual scenario continued, the researchers projected the carbon footprint from tourism could increase to 6.5 gigatonnes by 2025. The report noted, “The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology.” Such realities pose a problem for a city like Victoria, which is heavily reliant on tourism for jobs and bringing revenue into the community, yet committed (in theory, at least) to reducing its carbon footprint. The City of Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan, however, makes virtually no reference to tourism and certainly none at all to those extra-heavy-footed vehicles—air planes and cruise ships—bringing millions of tourists and travellers to the city. The global tourism study found that the highest emissions were associated with the very type of “high-value” traveller Victoria (and Destination Greater Victoria) is most keen to attract—those from affluent countries. As Dr Malik told the BBC, “When richer people travel they tend to spend more on higher-carbon transportation, food and pursuits.” Besides the carbon footprint, there are now public health issues to consider. Global travel helped cause the world-wide spread of the coronavirus, resulting in over 550,000 deaths (as of July 7) and a serious, likely years-long recession. While all the big travel industry players are lobbying the federal and provincial governments to relax restrictions, infection disease experts are warning against it. “[Travel] is the one segment of the economy that probably has the greatest potential to derail our ability to stay out of lockdown,” Lauren Lapointe-Shaw, a general internist and clinical epidemiologist at Toronto’s University Health Network, told the Globe and Mail in late June, further noting travel’s “outsized effect on the ability of outbreaks to grow quickly.” It’s not just the risk of spreading a virus on a plane, another medical expert told the Globe, “but the risks that come with travel, such as venturing out and meeting new people.” While compassion and concrete measures to help tourist-dependent workers are called for, there are, thanks to the climate crisis and pandemic, ethical considerations around long-distance travel in particular. Coronavirus superspreaders no more: Idled British aircraft parked on runways The cruise industry: A blessing? Or a curse? OVER THE LAST TEN YEARS, some Victoria businesses have become increasingly reliant on tourists from cruise ships. It’s not clear how many businesses benefit, but the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA), which operates the cruise ship terminal, claims the cruise industry contributes more than $130 million annually to the regional economy and is responsible for 800 direct and indirect jobs in the area. Given that passengers do not stay in local hotels, and take most meals onboard their ships, it is Downtown retailers and the short-tour guides who will likely miss the cruise ships the most. Since 2010, cruise ship passengers have increased over 45 percent. This year was expected to bring the most ever: 300 ships with close to 800,000 passengers between April and October. But after alarming stories of virus-infected ships, chaotic management, detained passengers, and the ensuing worldwide grounding of the industry, will cruising will ever rebound? Should it? Certainly, the GVHA is counting on increasing cruise ship visits in the years ahead. In April, the organization completed a $6.8-million extension to the mooring dolphin at Pier B—one of the largest capital infrastructure investments in the organization’s history—to allow for newer, larger ships, “ensuring the Victoria Cruise Terminal will remain competitive in the decades to come.” Ogden Point often saw three cruise ships at a time before this year’s coronavirus pandemic struck With 70 percent of its approximately $15 million in revenues coming from cruise ships, the GVHA relies on them to fund its other operations—like Ogden Point Breakwater, the Inner Harbour's Lower Causeway, Ship Point, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Without any cruise revenues in 2020, GVHA has laid off 50 percent of its staff, is deferring major capital projects and even maintenance on the other properties it manages. The wisdom of the GVHA’s emphasis over the years on growing the cruise business is put into question considering the industry’s widely recognized contribution to the climate crisis. Large cruise ships are notoriously carbon-intensive and polluting (of air and water). Though emissions-per-passenger have come down, overall emissions from cruise ships at Ogden Point rose 19.1 percent between 2010 and 2018. Late last year, GVHA resisted City of Victoria council’s push to have cruise ships use less-polluting electrical shore power when in port. Councillor Jeremy Loveday likely had no idea how prophetic his statement to CBC was last December, when he said: “I think the tourism industry is heading toward a climate reckoning, and we’ll need to adapt very quickly.” Many ports around the world have required large ships to plug into shore power rather than continuing to run their engines when in port. Synergy Enterprises, a carbon accounting and energy audit firm hired by GVHA, reported in late 2019 that with shore power installed, the terminal would see greenhouse gas emission reductions of 51 percent and 47 percent for other polluting emissions. It noted that “emissions have been increasing since 2010, as the average vessel stays in port longer; total hotelling time almost doubled.” (Synergy measured ship emissions from 4.4 nautical miles outside the terminal.) To get a clearer idea of just how much one, let alone 300 cruise ships, can pollute when in port, a New York Times article from December 2019 noted: “When not using shore power, a single cruise ship docked for one day can emit as much diesel exhaust as 34,400 idling tractor-trailers, according to an independent analysis verified by the Environmental Protection Agency. When a ship is plugged in, the agency said, its exhaust is nearly eliminated.” In Seattle, where shore power has been available at some terminals for more than a decade, more conversions are planned. Its Port Authority has described the carbon reductions: “An average cruise ship plugging into shore power at Terminal 91 saves the greenhouse gas equivalent of a typical car driving 30 road trips from Seattle to New York.” Vancouver has shore power too—since 2009. Over the ensuing years it’s estimated to have reduced greenhouse gases by over 20,000 tonnes, along with removing 600 tonnes of air pollutants. Given the global move towards mandating that ships use shore power, it’s surprising Victoria, a city priding itself on being green, had not insisted on it sooner than last year. The GVHA had apparently not even thought of it before being called out. CEO Ian Robertson initially stated he wasn’t sure BC Hydro would even have enough capacity. BC Hydro immediately assured that they would have no problem meeting the load. In February 2020, City Council agreed to give GVHA another 5 years to come up with shore power. The GVHA estimates it will cost $20 million, and will be looking to government and the cruise industry itself to subsidize the improvements. Of course, with every organization feeling pinched after the pandemic, expect resistance to paying for such improvements, including retrofits needed for many ships. Yet, with a climate crisis unfolding on the heels of the pandemic, insisting that cruise ships use zero-emission shore power while in port seems the very least that needs to happen. Future directions: go local, go virtual, be smaller VARIOUS REPORTS AND FORECASTS by Canadian industry analysts provide headspinning statistics and dramatic graphs of the plunge in tourist activity in the early months of 2020. Even under best-case scenarios, the financial picture is dire. A recent Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) report states that “without further government investments, 61,000 tourism businesses (57 percent of total) are projected to fail, and 1.66 million tourism sector employees could be laid off (~83 percent of total).” Such reports also make it clear that we cannot rely on the tourism industry itself to make the profound transformations needed. TIAC wants to see Canada “re-emerge as a stronger, more cost-competitive global tourism competitor.” It makes a host of recommendations. Some, like the government funding of marketing campaigns to entice Canadians to explore Canada, might be compatible with a lower-carbon industry. Others like a postponement of the excise tax on jet fuel, are not. The federal government has already re-directed $30 million from international tourism marketing to promoting regional travel within Canada. The City and Province could also fund “tourist-in-your-own-town” campaigns, along with more art promotions. Simple things like the City of Victoria’s closure of Government Street to automobiles, and opening up more outdoor spaces to businesses and citizens, also help locals enjoy their city in a low-carbon way. More concrete long-term help could come in the form of government funding of projects like the redevelopment of the E&N line as an electrified train, ideally that extends further north to Campbell River or beyond. This could be hugely attractive to regional tourists—including from points south in the US, where there are electrified trains already. It could be marketed as an environmentally-friendly “trip of a lifetime,” allowing for a wide variety of side-trips developed by businesses along the route—adventure travel featuring kayaks, sailboats, hiking in Strathcona, forest conservation work, wildlife viewing, and the like; trips for foodies featuring farm stays and vineyards; guided tours for seniors of natural wonders and cultural attractions in electric vans that meet the train. This could keep the hotels and restaurants of the areas hopping as long as the train allowed for lots of layovers along its route. Maybe it’s feasible to have a bike path alongside as well, allowing some of us to do parts of the journey by train and others by bike. Another important role in lowering the emissions of the tourism industry will be played by a move to virtual activities. A good case in point is the Victoria Conference Centre. The City of Victoria’s action plan, Victoria 3.0, notes that VCC delegates are the highest-spending segment of out-of-town visitors—the very visitors research shows have the largest carbon footprints. Apparently still stuck in the old paradigm, the report states: “The VCC has the potential to be a greater economic generator through hosting larger conferences and attracting more international audiences. Our current facility only allows us to host one conference at a time. We want to be able to host two, mid-sized conferences concurrently or one large meeting. A significant renovation or rebuild is necessary.” When asked at an online panel discussion to explain how doubling the capacity of VCC would help put Victoria on a “path to low carbon prosperity”—as is a key goal of the action plan—Mayor Lisa Helps said some conferences could be virtual. Though not mentioned or implied in the report itself, it’s the direction needed. Besides saving on travel emissions, it would allow for a more modest, less carbon-intensive renovation. Businesses, too, can help lower emissions (and save money) by switching long-distant meetings to teleconferencing. Pre-COVID statistics show that business travellers account for 12 percent of airline passengers. Even with such virtual conversions, and projects like a new rail line, and re-targeting towards nearby clientele, tourist-dependent businesses will likely need to figure out how to operate in the black with lower revenues. Victoria’s whale-watching industry, for instance, will be especially hard-hit. A recent news story noted that only 10 percent of their clientele is BC-based. Whale-watching industry players have always prided themselves on their conservation efforts and their ability to inspire love of the animals they showcase. But unless travel is done by kayaks or sailboats (rare in this age of instant gratification), the carbon emissions associated with the industry are very high. While some of the companies boast new fuel efficiencies and carbon offsetting, these do not address the emissions associated with travel to the region. What might come out of the “creative destruction” of the whale-watching industry? Shifting to non-motorized boats with an even greater emphasis on education about their subjects would certainly help the whales. With their population reduced to only 73, the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) have been largely absent in the Salish Sea all spring, apparently residing in California waters. Their main food source, Chinook salmon, has been so diminished they have to forage longer, and fossil-fuel-powered whale-watching makes that process harder. A study commissioned by the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program found that SRKWs lose up to 5.5 hours foraging time each day due to noise and disturbance from whale-watching and commercial vessels, from May to September in the Salish Sea. Some tourist-focused businesses may need to convert themselves to something else entirely—those in the accommodation sector, for instance. Ingrid Jarrett, CEO and President of the British Columbia Hotel Association (BCHA) stated recently, “With over 400 hotels closed, and more than 62,000 employees laid off in the province, many businesses—some of which rely completely on the summer season—are on the brink of insolvency.” In Victoria, there is dire need of housing and some hotels and motels are already being transformed to fill this need. Maybe others can be converted into efficient green housing, creating jobs in the process. Finally, Victorians themselves can rethink their “right” to travel long distances, given the high environmental and public health costs—which are largely born by others. Is it such a sacrifice to embrace “staycations” in which we explore Vancouver Island’s wealth of appealing natural and cultural offerings? When we do travel afar, we must be prepared to pay higher prices and more taxes to offset our emissions. The “stay home” mantra may have long relevance beyond the pandemic. By foregoing international travel, we not only help out those struggling to stay afloat here, we help keep the world a safer place for everyone. It seems the kind thing to do. Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus.
  11. July 7, 2020 The coronavirus crashed our growth-dependent economy just as the global community was figuring out how to shift to an economy that doesn't destabilize climate or threaten biodiversity. How will Victoria respond? THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has dramatically reduced economic activity. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, for instance, estimates real GDP will fall by 12 percent this year, close to four times the steepest drop on record. Stats Canada reports that “from February to May, total employment has fallen by over 2.7 million, as the unemployment rate rose to a record high 13.7 percent.” Despite government injections of cash—causing ballooning, unprecedented deficits—people are losing their businesses, their jobs, potentially their homes. They may well have trouble paying their taxes, which means governments will be hard-pressed to deliver all the services (especially with those deficits) we’ve come to expect. Statistics Canada’s graphic depiction of what happened to economic activity in Canada in the first three months of 2020 Along with such pain associated with the economic fallout of COVID is a silver lining: climate-warming carbon emissions and other forms of nature-destruction have gone down in synch with our reduced economic activity. While many people and governments want to quickly get back to full-tilt economic growth, this is the ideal time to reimagine the economy. How could we rebuild it so that it doesn’t harm life-support systems we depend on? Can we get our economic or material desires in line with the Earth’s carrying capacity? Given the realization that another virus or the climate crisis could destabilize our lives in the future, how can we best reshape our economy so that it is more resilient? The solutions will likely involve a radical departure from the traditional economic growth model. The assumption of conventional economics—that we can just keep growing the economy—fails to reflect the reality that Earth’s resources are finite. Most of us acknowledge that climate change has already given rise to costly floods, forest fires, and fatal heat waves. But the encroachment of our continually growing demands on natural systems also threatens food security, water supply, and the physical integrity of coastal communities. Bold steps are needed and the pandemic has proven that they can happen in short order if we muster political will and social cohesiveness. The fact that Canada and BC’s economies are based primarily on natural resources, however, poses a significant challenge. Two reports with lofty, contradictory goals A PROVINCE OF BC TASK FORCE and the City of Victoria have both issued economic reports in recent months that appear, at least on the surface, to take seriously the need to transform the economy in a way that protects the natural world and addresses the climate crisis. The BC Emerging Economy Task Force’s final report, released in March 2020, states “We cannot stress enough the need to make the changes now in order to have a diversified and resilient future.” It calls into question our reliance on GDP as a measure of success: “Moving beyond GDP and including indicators like work and life balance, education and skills, income and wealth, jobs and earnings, environmental quality and housing, can give us a realistic window into the true state of our province.” The report continues, “These broader measures can be used as a blueprint for addressing challenges including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.” That report characterizes the emerging economy as: “Rapidly evolving: The economy of the future will experience regular disruption and uncertainty, creating a need for nimble, adaptive and flexible business practices and policy, as well as continuous learning in order to remain globally relevant and competitive.” The future economy will be “low-carbon, circular and sustainable…one where society exists within its ecological means, avoiding the excessive depletion of natural resources while extracting their maximum value and minimizing pollution and environmental degradation in all its forms.” The City of Victoria also has a new report addressing such issues. Victoria 3.0 – Recovery Reinvention Resilience – 2020-2041 lays out measures to “build an economy that enables everyone to flourish and that will set Victoria on a path to low-carbon prosperity.” Adopted by city council in May, its first of three main goals is helping small business, “the lifeblood of the community,” become more resilient in light of experiences and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. The assistance seems to come mostly in the form of “how to” guides, new committees, hiring a consultant to guide strategy development, and, as we’ve heard about, opening up patio space and the like for restaurants. Tech is the shiny new industry in town, creating $5 billion of economic impact annually (about double that of Victoria’s tourism sector). The new, desired economy is described in Victoria 3.0 as “an innovative economy that develops solutions to pressing global challenges, sells these solutions globally, and brings the money back to Victoria.” The second goal is “to create a city and an economy for everyone.” A strong and resilient economy has diversity. It provides living wages, childcare, affordable housing, and affordable transportation. The third goal, states Victoria 3.0, “is that while we build our economy over the next two decades, we do so within the boundaries of the Earth’s capacity to sustain us.” Given the other goals and the nature of cities, this will be the most difficult goal to realize. As the report itself notes, “Cities consume resources from global hinterlands at unsustainable rates [and] produce well over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions…” Unfortunately, the report doesn’t outline a set of actions that will reduce that impact. In fact, there are recommended actions—like doubling the capacity of the Victoria Conference Centre—that appear to take us in the opposite direction, increasing our footprint. (More on this in an upcoming Focus’ article on the tourism sector.) The report mentions how an Arts and Innovation District, along with an Ocean Future Cluster will create low carbon prosperity, yet fails to illuminate us on how, except for a brief mention about creating a “Building Innovation Incubator to stimulate construction innovation for climate impact.” The central vision of Victoria 3.0 states: “As the Capital City, Victoria is a future-ready, globally-fluent influencer and innovator. Working within the bounds of the Earth’s capacity to sustain us, we will use our status as a small powerhouse and nurture our innovation ecosystem to create a strong and resilient economy that meets our needs now and anticipates the future.” The jargon-heavy text frequently references working or thinking “like an ecosystem”—but it’s an “innovation ecosystem” or “tech ecosystem,” not the real, endangered varieties. Both BC’s Emerging Economy report and Victoria 3.0 pay lip service to the goal of carrying out business without environmental degradation yet fail to appreciate how difficult that is. In the BC report, a Victoria-based tech company is highlighted that helps logging companies operate more efficiently through data-generated 3-D imaging to “harvest” timber. While it might reduce loggers’ consumption of fossil fuels, it is also helping them destroy the capacity of forests to store carbon. In the Victoria report, BC Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC) is highlighted—a corporation, based in Victoria, investing government employees’ pension funds in all the major international oil and gas firms, and more locally, Mosaic (the joint business management unit of Island Timberlands and TimberWest), which clearcuts forests on Vancouver Island, thereby once again preventing those forests from continuing to serve as the best carbon capture and storage facilities in existence. Economic growth and emissions: decoupling not happening AT A RECENT URBAN DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE WEBINAR on the Victoria 3.0 plan, Mayor Helps, Gordon Fyfe, CEO of BCIMC, and other panellists painted a picture of an exciting future Victoria that will house a growing population of innovators. The City of Victoria will need 6,000 more housing units, on top of the 6,000 recently built, the audience was told. Traditional neighbourhood restrictions on housing form may have to be removed, said Luke Mari of Aryze, a development firm. Fyfe implied that bringing workers and wealth to Victoria is the name of the game—by nurturing tech companies that sell internationally and bring the money back here; bringing in workers and their families, and supplying homes and more jobs for the spouses and kids. Is this growth inevitable given Victoria’s liveability? Certainly our political and industry leaders don’t question its desirability, even as they acknowledge the need for a low-carbon future and the need to work “within the bounds of the Earth’s capacity to sustain us.” Yet decoupling economic growth from the destabilization of climate and ecological systems is a form of magical thinking according to many experts. There might even be “overcoupling” happening, according to the International Resource Panel. The global economy now needs more materials per unit of GDP than it did at the turn of the century. The European Environmental Bureau states: “not only is there no empirical evidence supporting the existence of a decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures on anywhere near the scale needed to deal with environmental breakdown, but also, and perhaps more importantly, such decoupling appears unlikely to happen in the future.” While there have been dramatic increases in energy efficiency in recent decades, the International Energy Association (IEA), notes that “2018 marked the third consecutive year in which the improvement rate for energy efficiency slowed.” And such measures have been outweighed by the demands of even more dramatic, compounding economic growth, at least pre-pandemic. In European countries where a degree of decoupling seems to be occurring, one study shows it’s been accomplished by shifting energy intensive activities abroad. The only thing that seems to cause emissions to decline at any substantial rate is declining economic activity. As the IEA states about COVID-19’s impact: “Not only are annual emissions in 2020 set to decline at an unprecedented rate, the decline is set to be almost twice as large as all previous declines since the end of World War II combined.” [Italics added] Until the depth of the economic growth problem is understood, there’s no hope of solving it. And our leaders appear to have no clue. Expansion—of population, industry and prosperity—is the name of the game, with little analysis of the external costs. Yet COVID-19 has shown us that we can change our habits, our assumptions even, almost overnight when there’s a threat to our health. It has shown us that economics do not trump everything else with the public, the government or business. While the climate and biodiversity crises may not seem as urgent a threat as a pandemic—they are already impacting our well-being. COVID-19 itself was recently acknowledged by the leaders of WHO, the UN and the World Wildlife Fund to be directly related to humans’ over-exploitation of the Earth’s ecological systems. Citizens have key roles to play—in the industries and government policies they choose to support and in how they otherwise lead their personal, professional and political lives. The likelihood of both another pandemic and of climate catastrophe demand we rethink many of the things we’ve taken for granted, be willing to change our expectations, give up certain types of consumption, and pay more for others so that their external costs are mitigated. The first industry sector we’ll look at is one of Victoria’s and BC’s largest—tourism. Go to story... (The BC government is inviting citizens to submit their ideas on the BC Economic Recovery Plan. Visit www.gov.bc.ca/recoveryideas) Focus editor Leslie Campbell wrote about the need for a transformation to a degrowth economy pre-COVID as well, here.
  12. until
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  13. May 2020 Women Talking (Vintage Canada, 2019) is a mesmerizing, fast-moving, powerful little book. Yet it’s almost entirely based on conversation—eight women talking—in a barn’s hayloft, over the course of two clandestine meetings. Like many women’s conversations, this one meanders, often going off on tangents, but it all helps them understand their dilemma and what to do about it. That dilemma is whether to stay in or leave the small, ultra-conservative Mennonite settlement in Bolivia that they’ve lived in all their lives. Will they acquiesce in their complete domination by men who have failed to protect them and who want them to forgive eight men who have been arrested for raping many women in the colony? This aspect of the story is based on real events that occurred in the remote “Manitoba/Molotschna” colony in Bolivia from 2005 to 2009: eight men were arrested after over 100 women and their daughters (ages ranged from 3 to 65) were raped in a drug-induced sleep. Though the drug wiped out most of their memories of the events, the women knew something had happened. Some thought it was demons. Some were too afraid or ashamed to talk about it; those who did were initially dismissed as imagining things. Women Talking is an act of wild female imagination—the very thing the real women who complained of the rapes were initially accused of. For the women to leave Molotschna would be a truly revolutionary and courageous act. They would have to do it almost immediately, while most of the colony’s men are in the city trying to arrange bail for the arrestees. They would have to take their children, animals, wagons (no cars or electricity in Molotschna) and supplies. They have no map and cannot read; they cannot speak Spanish (or English). Yet a decision must be made. They talk through the realities of their position, each woman contributing her insights, logic, anger, and love for each other and their children. At first, I wondered if I’d be able to keep the eight women straight. But soon each came to life as individuals. Ona, the free spirit carrying the child of her rapist; Agata, her mom, who suffers from edema and impatiently reigns in tangential discussions; righteous Salome who chafes at authority at the best of times and whose anger is “Vesuvius” because her three-year-old daughter has been raped; chain-smoking, clear-thinking Mejal; Mariche whose husband beats her yet is still very wary of leaving; her mom Greta who is determined to take her two beloved old mares Cheryl and Ruth on the journey; and two teenage girls, who are excited by the chance of an adventure, resourceful, risk-taking, and inspired, for the most part, by their older sisters (though they can’t help rolling their eyes—or giggling—at certain points in the meetings). The women’s conversation is narrated by school teacher August Epp, the one man they trust right now. Epp left the colony at age 12 (his parents were banned) and returned as an adult trying to make sense of himself. The women have asked him to record their conversation, but not to interfere or interrupt. He is mostly able to do so, though adds helpful observations and background in his “minutes”—and commits his own acts of revolution by assisting them in more concrete ways over the two days of decision-making (for instance, he steals the colony’s safe to help them finance their sojourn). Despite the violence and betrayal the women have experienced, and the rage, fear and grief they feel, the story bursts with tenderness and humour—indeed sometimes gales of laughter at absurdities in their lives. Canadian author Miriam Toews is a master story-teller. I’ve read most of her other books and look forward to more. She is particularly adept at capturing women’s complicated lives and their journeys to liberation. Women Talking was a Governor General Award finalist. Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus.
  14. May 2020 Resistance Women (2019, William Morrow) by Jennifer Chiaverini is set in Germany between 1929 and 1946. The three main characters, all friends, are women who work in various ways to thwart the rise of Nazism and Hitler’s horrific policies. One (non-fictional) character, Mildred Harnack, is an American professor, married to a German who works in the government’s economic ministry; together they try to get information out through the American embassy, and later other means. A German woman, again non-fictional, Greta Kuckhoff, works for a time translating Mein Kampf into English, convinced the unabridged edition will open the eyes of the British and others. (The Nazis realize its publication would be explosive and round up all copies and notes, though one is smuggled out.) A third character, a young Jewish doctoral student goes from being a star student, through expulsion to ghettoization and narrow escape for the crime of being Jewish. I have learned a lot of history reading this book, and some of its warning bells ring loudly when I hear how certain leaders like Trump in the US and Duterte in the Philippines have become popular and are allowed, one step at a time, to pervert justice so thoroughly it seems breathtaking in retrospect. In the earlier 1930s, the resistance women kept thinking “it can’t get much worse”—but it always did, especially for the Jews. Eventually they realized that Hitler and his cronies will stop at nothing and can never be trusted or believed. The women took great risks to let the rest of the world (which for a long time seems to be idly standing by, ignoring reality) know what was going on and to help Jews escape the genocide. Along the way, we watch these brave women cope not just with fascism, but fall in love, attend university, dream of careers, have babies and work as teachers, writers, editors, and translators. All against an ominous backdrop and facing personal hardships and growing fears for themselves and their loved ones. The fact that the characters are based in reality makes it that much more fascinating. An afterword by Chiaverini fills us in on what happened to Kuckhoff who survived, along with some of the other less central characters. I love historical fiction and this one has introduced me to a writer who has no less than a dozen such books to her credit. I’d love to hear from others who’ve read this book and what they thought about it. Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus.
  15. November 2019 Victoria’s affordable housing crisis puts the bullseye on public land in Fernwood. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF MY HOME is one of my favourite city neighbourhoods: Fernwood. I love its diversity, its heritage homes, its artsy, alternative vibe and lack of pretentiousness. These days its experiencing a lot of community angst over a proposed housing development on lands owned mostly by School District 61 to the west of Vic High. Called the Caledonia, it will offer 154 units of desperately needed affordable non-market housing. The Fernwoodians I know say they have no issue with the “affordable” aspect. Instead they are concerned with its size, the impacts on the neighbourhood’s traffic, the precedent it will set for further development, and the loss of School District-owned land. The developer—in this case the CRD’s Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC)—has submitted its development application to City Hall, and is requesting rezoning and Official Community Plan (OCP) amendments, with the hope of a fall 2020 construction start. In total there are five separate buildings, including three-storey townhouse rows, and four- and five-storey apartment buildings, with 109 parking stalls underneath. Artist's rendering of one part of the Caledonia redevelopment proposal The first the community heard about the new Caledonia project was last November when an agreement was announced among the City, CRHC, BC Housing and School District 61 (SD61) to create the large housing complex. This “Letter of Intent” was both an agreement to work out a “land swap” among the players and a vision for the 154-unit housing complex. The land swap would “assemble” a 9,000 square-foot rectangular lot, owned by SD61, but leased for 60 years to CRHC which would build the housing. The City of Victoria would end up owning the Compost Education Centre, Spring Ridge Community Gardens and Haegert Park, all important community spaces currently owned by the School District. It was a big deal. Ownership before (left) and after the land swap. The project would go on the SD 61 land (blue swath, right). (Courtesy of Fernwood Village Vibe) After some feedback from the community, CRHC made changes to its plan, and last summer held an open house for the community. Christine Culham, a senior manager with CRHC, told me, “I do think we’ve been really thoughtful in the way we listened to the community around their concerns.” She mentioned that building heights have been reduced (though there’s still one at five storeys)—and topmost floors of the two higher ones “stepped back” to appear less massive. Neighbourhood traffic concerns led to changes in the configuration of entrances. A building of 1,500 square feet was added to provide community space. Long-time Fernwood resident and Fernwood Community Association board member Dorothy Field emailed me in August, saying, “the proponents, CRHC are treating it as a totally done deal. The Fernwood community is not very happy, so the designers have tweaked the plan a bit with ‘green’ addenda but nothing substantive has changed.” She noted that Fernwoodians are supportive of a new development which provides low-income housing, but “we are distressed at the size, density, and height of this proposal. When asked if the number of apartments could be reduced, CRHC said, ‘No, that’s the arithmetic.’” Culham explained to me that while they try hard to keep everyone happy, the number-one priority of the City of Victoria and the CRD is affordable housing, so that weighs heavily in the balancing of objectives. Building costs have increased 36 percent, she notes, “so it’s difficult to make a property affordable without any government grant or intervention. Right now both the provincial and federal governments are coming to the table with funding…that hasn’t happened in 20 years, so we’re looking to take advantage of those grants; you never know when they’re going to go away.” The Caledonia project has already been approved for provincial funding, partly because of its high number of units. Given the cost of land and construction, the only way to have affordability in the City of Victoria is to create density, Culham continued. “How do we get the best use out of land? Just like the fire hall, building up is the only way we’re going to be able to get that.” In the case of the Caledonia, she says, “I am mindful and I am empathetic to the challenge around change, but I do think that the benefits outweigh the change that is occurring.” Culham, who lived in Fernwood in the past and appreciates its special character, feels the Caledonia’s proximity to Cook Street and its amenities mean its “walkability score is off the charts.” A passionate advocate for affordable housing, she sees the provision of it in the City of Victoria as a matter of fairness and equity. With 61 percent of those living in the City of Victoria being renters—with a median household income of $44,600—the average rent they can afford is $1100 per month. But the average rent for listed vacancies in the City is now close to $1500 per month. So in her analysis, with Caledonia rents averaging $1000, she is building housing for the majority of the population. “Those are the people we don’t hear from, even though we have 1,500 waiting for homes on the BC Housing Registry,” she said. I MET WITH FERNWOOD RESIDENTS Dorothy Field and Trish Richards for a look at the site of the proposed housing on a sunny fall day. They first pointed out to me the CRHC housing already occupying some of the SD61 land. Built in 1992, there are 18 units for families in the attached townhouse structure (also called Caledonia). Only 27 years old, it will be torn down, not just to make room for the new development but, according to Culham, because “it’s a leaky condo.” In 2012, the CRHC was given a remediation estimate of $130,000 per unit. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines leaky condos as a “catastrophic failure” of building envelopes, which lets water into the building frame and leads to rot, rust, decay and mould. It has been attributed in part to a building boom in the 1980s and early ’90s, which led to a high demand for workers and materials, and in turn to lower-quality construction and materials. It’s not a stretch to think something like it could happen again, given the current construction boom. Culham told me residents of the old Caledonia will have first right of refusal once the new buildings are complete. Meanwhile, they have been offered alternative units in other CRHC buildings. One current resident, who came by to talk to us as we wandered around, said seven families had already moved out, which seemed premature given nothing had been approved—including the land swap and the rezoning from a combination of “Traditional Residential” and “Parks” to “Urban Residential.” The resident said that due to her special needs, she was having to look at housing out in the Royal Oak area. As we chatted in the sunshine, David Maxwell came by on his bike. He is the chair of Fernwood Community Association’s Land Use Committee. He noted that CRHC has known for years about the problems their tenants have been living with and dragged their feet on remediation of the 18 units. “Why should we have faith CRHC will be able to manage 154 units properly?” he asked. Maxwell and Richards agreed that the first order of business was to let the School Board know they should not be giving up any more school land. Besides the land under the existing Caledonia, much of the lot is “rubble fields” resulting from the demolition of the Fairey Tech school buildings in 2011 (the tech programs moved to a new facility). It was understood by the neighbourhood that this area would provide, once remediated, more green and activity space for the school and community. Eight years later that still hadn’t happened. PERHAPS I SHOULD REMIND READERS that Vic High’s renewal was the subject of a lengthy process of public consultation involving three options for upgrading and necessary seismic work. The community made it clear they preferred the Full Monty, involving seismic and other improvements, as well as creating room for 200 more students and a Neighbourhood Learning Centre. In June 2018, the School Board unanimously supported it. The price tag was $79.7 million. No one was warned, however, “If you choose this option, we’ll have to build housing on school lands.” Yet when the new Caledonia project was first announced last November, and through subsequent consultations, raising needed funds to fix Vic High was part of the rationale. At the end of June 2019, however, the Province came though with $77.1 million in funding for the high school upgrades—leaving SD61 with only $2.6 million to raise. People are now questioning whether the School Board should be entering into long-term leases on Vic High lands when such a small amount could likely be raised by any number of less-invasive means. Chief among those people are Fernwood residents Scott Fox and Corey Kowal. Throughout the fall they’ve been making the rounds of School Board and committee meetings with well-polished power point presentations. The father of two girls who currently attend George Jay Elementary and will likely attend Vic High, Fox’s background as a business analyst is apparent in his presentations. Kowal, like Fox, lives with her family near Vic High. She has a background in strategic planning and operations management with the BC government. Using aerial shots of different local high school grounds, Kowal argued at one SD61 committee meeting that Vic High, after the proposed removal of land for housing, would have less space per child than most other high schools in the district. School green space, research has shown, correlates with improved mental health, safety and school pride, she said, noting, “Once the land is gone, it’s gone.” With an inner-city school like Vic High, where many students don’t have their own back yards, it’s especially important to have green and activity space available. Ministry of Education regulations call for each school in the province to provide a minimum of five hectares of land per 1,000 students. Fox worked out the space left for educational purposes after the land swap to be 4.69 hectares per 1,000 students. Culham disputes those numbers; in CHRC’s analysis, there would still be 5.05 hectares per 1,000 students after the land swap. Either way, of course, it’s very close to the minimum requirement. At an October presentation to the School Board, Fox gave another power point, this one suggesting a lack of due diligence around the land swap. He said that there had been no land appraisals performed by qualified independent appraisers; that no cost benefit analysis had been performed regarding the land swap; and that there had been no internal controls to prevent bias and collusion, as is recommended by the BC Auditor for any real estate asset sale. Fox and Kowal, along with others, have formed the Vic High Neighbourhood Action Group, with a website (www.itsnotsurplus.com) and will host information sessions on November 5 & 6, both 7:30-9 pm at 1923 Fernwood Road. SD61 is holding an open house on the issue on November 12, 6-8 pm at Vic High’s Roper Gym. It is expected the board will vote on the land swap shortly thereafter. THERE ARE NO LESS THAN FOUR levels of government aligned behind the Caledonia project: SD61, CRHC of the CRD, BC Housing, and the City of Victoria. The development package submitted to the City by CRHC includes a 33-page book full of persuasive details about the need for affordable housing, the appropriateness of the site (a “walker’s paradise”), and the project’s many admirable features including energy efficiency, urban agriculture, rain gardens, tot play areas, and a new city “greenway.” In late October, David Maxwell, chair of FCA’s Land Use Committee, was alarmed to learn from a City of Victoria planner that, despite the School Board not having decided yet to go ahead with the land swap, the development application had already moved through all the necessary departments—regarding roads, utilities, sewer, etc—with recommended changes sent to the CRHC. Though the planner assured him “this is the way it’s done all the time,” in Maxwell’s mind, it seemed premature and wasteful. “This is public property, funded by the taxpayers, as are all the City and CRHC staff involved…[They] are wasting all that money before knowing whether it can go ahead.” Echoing others, he says, “It starts to look more and more like a done deal, like we’re all just going through the motions, just playing this huge game.” (It doesn’t help that Mayor Helps and School Board Chair Jordan Watters have made positive comments about the development.) The Fernwood Land Use Committee will soon give the City a formal response on the Caledonia application indicating its lack of support due to the needed OCP and zoning changes, said Maxwell; “We don’t have any five-storey buildings near there.” He believes if such height and density are allowed there, it will set a precedent for the whole area west of the site, over to Cook Street. Fernwood community members know that affordable housing is needed, but have noticed the City hasn’t done much to generate such housing in all the other developments council has approved. As Field pointed out to me, “We also have four large developments approved or almost approved that will add to pressure on existing public infrastructure: Wellburn’s, St Andrews, the former co-housing site [Fernwood Commons at Chambers and North Park], a large new tower at Chambers and Johnson…the City has not negotiated affordable suites in any of these new buildings.” (Going forward, the City’s new inclusionary zoning policy will require 20 percent of all units in larger developments to be affordable.) The task of adding affordable housing, especially in core neighbourhoods, gets more difficult by the minute. Victoria continues to attract those who have wealth—to retire here, to have second homes here, to invest here, causing land values to increase. As Culham pointed out, this makes it difficult to provide enough housing for citizens of modest means—those who work in our nursing homes, shops, offices and cafes. It’s little wonder that once-sancrosanct school lands, churches, and heritage buildings are now being eyed by developers, including those building affordable housing. Perhaps it’s time for neighbourhoods to be more proactive, implementing a bottom-up approach wherein they themselves come up with neighbourhood-supported ideas for increased affordable housing. Websites of all the organizations mentioned above offer more information. Access Caledonia’s development application here. Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of Focus.
  16. September 2018 Victoria City council will soon be faced with a controversial heritage conversion and demolition project in the heart of Old Town. MOST OF US PAY AT LEAST LIP SERVICE to the value of the City of Victoria’s Downtown heritage buildings. We enjoy how they conjure the past, make Victoria unique, and attract tourism dollars. It’s up for debate, however, whether current powers-that-be—City council, staff and citizen committees—are up to the task of guarding Old Town’s heritage buildings as the continuing development boom rocks their foundations. I set out to examine just one new proposal—that for the 1892 “Duck’s Block” and its neighbour at Broad and Johnson—but right away, it seemed to open the proverbial can of worms. The Duck's Block on Broad Street My first call was to Stuart Stark, as he was the chair of the City of Victoria’s Heritage Advisory Panel which gave the proposed development a unanimous thumbs-down on March 13, citing concerns about the height and monolithic design “absorbing” the heritage building, and noting it was “not consistent with the Official Community Plan (OCP), the Downtown Core Area Plan and the Design Guidelines.” Minutes also state the concern that, “Block by block Old Town is being converted from three to six storeys.” On March 28, however, the City’s Advisory Design Panel gave the project a unanimous thumbs-up. To make things even more confusing, I learned that in August 2017, the Downtown Residents Association’s Land Use Committee had soundly declined to support the Broad Street development for similar reasons as the heritage panel’s. The Committee’s chair, Ian Sutherland, pointed out that the OCP is relatively new (2012), and “was compiled to the satisfaction of the public and the industry stakeholders.” The Downtown Residents Association’s position is that the maximum density of 3:1 for Old Town was a carefully considered policy and should be upheld. The Duck developers are requesting almost double that amount. Since making their presentations to these citizen committees, developers UVic Properties and Chard Developments have made only minor adjustments to their plan for 172 residential units plus ground floor retail. The new buildings are still seven storeys tall. David Chard told me they have now applied for rezoning and permits and expect it will reach the Committee of the Whole in the next couple of months. If passed, it will go to public hearing and City council. An artist's rendering of a redevelopment of the Duck's Block proposed by UVic Properties and Chard Developments Before I could query him about the Duck’s Block proposal, Stuart Stark informed me that he had resigned from the Heritage Advisory Panel, within a month of the March 13 meeting, and that the kind of issues the proposal raises are a good example of how heritage is being endangered by practices and attitudes at City Hall. He was willing to talk to me, he said, “in the hope that citizens might realize that their relied-on heritage program no longer exists.” A long-time heritage consultant in Victoria, Stark had sat on the Heritage Advisory Panel over three different periods in its history—in the 1970s, 1990s and from 2014-18; he chaired it for 6 months previous to his resignation. “We had a fabulous heritage program for 35 years, but for the past few years it’s been disintegrating,” he told me. He’s referring to a constellation of programs, policies, plans and guidelines that are supposed to protect both the individual heritage properties Victoria is renowned for, and the overall character of Downtown’s “heritage conservation area.” This includes Old Town, Chinatown, and the historic waterfront area. Development is allowed in these areas, even encouraged through grants and tax holidays, but there are various restrictions. It was such programs—and their visible results—that led to Victoria winning the Prince of Wales Prize for Municipal Heritage Leadership in 2001, said Stark. One aspect of the program is the Heritage Advisory Panel itself. Composed of 10 volunteers, all with expertise in heritage matters, along with the City’s heritage planner, its mandate is to advise council on proposals regarding heritage in the City. City Councillor Pam Madoff usually attends as a guest, though is not allowed to comment on proposals. They meet monthly to review proposed changes to heritage properties—now only commercial and multi-family ones. This was one of Stark’s complaints. A couple of years back, planning staff made recommendations to council on administrative changes aimed at speeding up permit approvals. Council passed these measures, perhaps without realizing that it meant quite a drastic change. “In the stroke of a pen,” says Stark, “any application for changes to a single-family house became a staff review,” rather than going through the Heritage Advisory Panel. This removed about half of what the Panel once advised council on—and perhaps explains, for instance, how a 1904 house in Rockland, connected to the Dunsmuirs, was able to be demolished. If council has no recommendation against such demolition from its Heritage Advisory Panel, it has a hard time justifying declining it itself. Stark, however, isn’t convinced that the Panel’s recommendations even make it to council, at least in a clear, unaltered fashion. They are “filtered through planning staff,” which sometimes disagree openly with the Panel’s recommendations. “The goals of the OCP are being used to trump heritage,” Stark told me. And indeed, if one reads the OCP, one can see how, despite platitudes about heritage resources being protected and celebrated, there are other goals to do with the economy and walkable cities that might well be used to justify significant alterations to heritage structures. The OCP, for instance, calls for “at least 20,000 new residents and associated housing growth,” 50 percent of them in the Urban Core. But it’s more than that, said Stark. “There was once an atmosphere at City Hall that heritage was important. It’s not there now.” He emphasized that “valuing heritage did not prevent development—and it shouldn’t. But heritage was a lens through which all projects were reviewed—now it seems to be viewed as more of a hindrance to development.” Stark understands that developers are not the problem. They are trying to do what they do best—making a profitable investment through development projects. But he feels that City staff, particularly those at the top of what’s now called “Sustainable Development and Community Planning,” no longer really care about the heritage of Old Town—there’s a lack of knowledge and/or interest. How else to explain the “façadism” that’s being allowed? Stark pointed to Customs House as the most visible example of this currently, with its three walls propped up and a heap of rubble inside. Plans call for Duck’s Building to be gutted and another floor added on top, with the façade retained. The façade of the Customs House building is being retained for a redevelopment at Government and Wharf The lack of value attributed to heritage at City Hall also helps explain, in Stark’s mind, the lack of timely and meaningful consultation with the Heritage Advisory Panel. “We were often the last to see a proposal,” said Stark—and, if they had issues with the proposal, planning staff would complain about the time they’d already put into it. Stark claimed informational presentations by staff about planned changes are relayed to council as “consultation”—as if the Panel had some say on them. After such a faux consultation on zoning changes involving height restrictions in Old Town, the Panel passed a unanimous motion that did not get relayed at all to council, said Stark. Stark met a few times with senior staff and once with the mayor who urged him to stay. Believing things wouldn’t change, he resigned. Stuart Stark I invited Councillor Pam Madoff to comment on Stark’s resignation. She wrote: “Stuart’s resignation from the Heritage Advisory Panel is a loss to the Panel, to City Council and to Victoria. A highly respected heritage consultant, and designer, with decades of experience, Stuart has also been a tireless and effective volunteer advocate of our built heritage for decades. As chair of the Panel he spent untold hours preparing for each meeting and ensuring that all voices around the table were heard. For Stuart to have become so frustrated with the role of the Panel, and how its opportunity to advise council had become increasingly limited, that he felt he had no option, other than resignation, should serve as a wake-up call for how the City’s heritage policies are currently being implemented.” When I asked the City’s Director of Sustainable Development and Community Planning Jonathan Tinney about Stark’s resignation, he acknowledged the wealth of heritage knowledge among Panel members” and said, “We want to make sure we get the benefit of that—and the feedback from Stuart was helpful. Some changes have been made as a result.” He told me more applications are now going to the Panel that formerly were handled solely by staff. An additional heritage planner has recently been hired. Stark remains skeptical that the heritage program has the backing of senior staff, or even the mayor, who he sees as pro-development. Madoff tends to lay the blame at council’s feet: “All council and the mayor have to do is apply things that were put in place earlier.” The appropriate guidelines and policies are all there, she feels. They just need to be applied with consistency. This will provide developers with the surety they need to create projects that will work in Downtown’s heritage conservation area. Madoff doesn’t believe that heritage needs to be sacrificed for other priorities. She pointed to earlier developments which managed to restore and revitalize heritage properties without adding extra storeys on top and devolving into “façadism.” LISTED ON CANADA'S Historical Places website, Duck’s Block is described as “an excellent example of a large-scale Late Victorian commercial building. Constructed in 1892 for Simeon Duck, a successful early local entrepreneur, MLA, and former Minister of Finance for British Columbia, this handsome Victorian building is a testament to the entrepreneurship of its original owner.” Initially a carriage works, it also housed retail outlets, entertainment venues, meeting rooms and a brothel. “Bold decoration and architectural solidity make Duck’s Block a dominant presence within Broad Street’s narrow streetscape.” Among its character-defining elements are “rusticated masonry piers at street level, and stone lintels; bold Victorian detailing, such as arched windows on the uppermost storey, … [and] intact original storefront elements such as cast iron columns.” Both Duck’s Block and the next door building (615-625 Johnson), which is to be demolished under the proposal, are on the Heritage Registry and in the heart of Old Town. The guidelines for this area note: “The distinctive character of Old Town, without parallel in other Canadian cities, derives from Victoria’s decline as a major seaport and centre of commerce by 1900, that protected it from the pressures of urban development that have altered the scale and character of most other urban seaports.” Michael Williams, the late developer and heritage afficionado, bought Duck’s and the Trounce-designed building beside it many years ago, though never developed them. As a result, they now house affordable artist studios, retail spaces, apartments and a dance studio. Williams bequested these buildings, his other numerous Downtown properties, his businesses (e.g. Swan’s Hotel and Pub) and extensive art collection to the University of Victoria upon his death in 2000. UVic Properties, which manages the university’s revenue-generating properties, has sold Duck’s and the corner property (also built by Duck, in 1875, as the Canada Hotel) to Chard Developments, at fair market value, according to David Chard. In 2017 the two properties were assessed at $5.7M. Chard will build market condos on his properties—113 in all. Duck’s will be gutted and have an extra storey built on its roof, and the old Canada Hotel building will be demolished and replaced with a seven-storey building. UVic’s new building will occupy the parking lot to the left of the Duck’s and house 59 non-market rental units for UVic grad students. It’s been noted that once students graduate, there is no requirement for them to move out to make room for other students. In all, that’s 172 residential units—with no parking. Retail shops will occupy the ground floors. Stark told me, “As an alumni of UVic, I am totally embarrassed that the university would inflict this on a heritage conservation area.” I asked Councillor Madoff what Michael Williams would think of the current proposal. Noting that Williams certainly never did anything like what they’re planning to do with Duck’s, she stated, “He was very protective of the character of Old Town. He understood the value, texture and scale of Old Town and that was what he was working to enhance.” Madoff said she told the developers a couple of years ago that she couldn’t see even one principle of heritage conservation fulfilled by their plans. “The storefronts didn’t relate to each other. And in taking the height up, they’d also flattened the height along Broad, when Old Town guidelines clearly call for varied heights echoing the rhythm and character of the conservation area.” Besides being too high, she warned them, it reduced the Duck to a façade. Before I even asked developer David Chard about this, he told me, “We’re maintaining the entire structure, so it isn’t façadism.” At 22.47 metres, the project is well over the 15 metres stipulated in the guidelines. Chard noted that there are heritage buildings in Old Town already over 15 metres, and Duck’s Block itself is one of them. While this is true, Madoff noted, “15 metres was chosen as the limit for new buildings because new infill developments were not intended to dominate the Old Town profile and the profile was to remain ‘sawtooth.’” The main reason for greater height from Chard’s standpoint (and most developers) is that it is needed to accommodate the number of units that “make the economics work.” One huge expense, said Chard, is seismic work which is especially challenging with 125-year-old buildings. With the Duck proposal, the plan is to build the two new buildings before working on the Duck—“We’ll use them to reinforce the Duck while we replace its rock footings with concrete,” he explained. Chard believes that what’s getting lost in the discussion is this: “Many heritage buildings are in poor shape. What will happen to these buildings if they are not redeveloped?” The most concerning aspect of the UVic/Chard proposal for Madoff is that the three-storey Johnson Street heritage building is to be completely demolished. Designed by architect Thomas Trounce in 1874 as the Canada Hotel, it is one of only a few of his designs left. Admittedly, said Madoff, it has been stripped of some heritage features over the years—like bay windows—but it could have been restored. David Chard disagreed with that. He said the poorly-constructed wood-frame building could not be saved, as it was in “very rough shape.” Nevertheless, the property is a registered heritage building, and demolishing it, said both Stark and Madoff, sets a dangerous precedent for Old Town. THE HERITAGE ADVISORY PANEL’S unanimous lack of support for UVic and Chard’s proposal was followed on May 8 with a similar thumbs-down for Reliance Properties’ application for the Northern Junk project. The Panel suggested the seven-storey building on that site be reduced to four or five storeys, and urged that materials be more responsive to the immediate neighbourhood. (See Ken Johnson’s letter to the editor in this edition about the companion issue of selling off City-owned lands that this development necessitates.) Reading through the minutes of the Heritage Advisory Panel shows it is not anti-development. A proposal to build a new eight-storey condo project on Store Street, between the Janion and Mermaid’s Wharf, was recently passed unanimously. And in June, it supported a Heritage Alteration Permit for the 1897 Hall Block at 727 Yates Street, which adds two floors on top for rental housing. Council has since approved it for a public hearing. The current acting chair of the Panel, Rick Goodacre, served as executive director for Heritage BC for 23 years. He told me that dealing with development proposals virtually always involves a type of deal-making or trade-off, because the developers want to get as many units as possible on a site, while the City wants to see heritage buildings maintained, as well as more residential units Downtown. He implied that sometimes a good balance is struck, whereas other times it’s debatable (he pointed to the Janion, with the huge new building behind the historic hotel). In the past, many redevelopments of some of Victoria’s oldest buildings earned the support of the panel, and subsequently council. Madoff can rattle off numerous examples—from Dragon Alley, to the Vogue, Chris Le Fevre’s Wilson’s Storage project on Herald, and Michael Williams’ restorations—all part of a slow and steady stream of projects that revitalized Old Town, proving that developments can add housing while not sacrificing heritage buildings. But can they still do so in the current market? Or have much higher land prices made those more modest, respectful developments financially impossible? Without developers opening their books for me, I don’t know the answer, though I do appreciate the risk they take on. The larger, more complex projects, involving heritage properties, are among the riskiest, taking years of planning and consultation. It’s hardly surprising that by the time a developer gets to the Heritage Advisory Panel, he or she might well feel that they’ve already figured out the puzzle as best as it can be—and they are not inclined to lop off a few floors just because a citizens committee suggests it. Even staff can only advise the developer. In the end, the shape of the application for rezoning and permits is up to the developer, even when they get a unanimous thumbs-down from advisory panels or community groups. The decision on their proposals is ultimately council’s, taking into consideration the reports of advisory panels and land use committees. Two official citizen bodies—composed of volunteers putting in serious time and study—have clearly advised council against the Duck proposal as it stands (though the Advisory Design Panel loved it). They are basing their refusal to support the project on established rules in official documents. Besides the OCP, the Core Area Plan is a principal guide for planning decisions related to Downtown. Madoff said the City developed its Core Area Plan in a very conscious way, allowing, for instance, buildings of 20-plus storeys on Blanshard, because it would save Old Town from such pressures. She supported it, but now states, “If [Old Town Guidelines are not respected] it puts the Core Area Plan into question for me.” Downtown’s heritage conservation area is a relatively small area west of Douglas Street between Humboldt and Chatham. If council doesn’t enforce the regulations around height and density in the area, developers will notice, and we can expect more precedent-setting changes to the character of Old Town. Madoff worries that changes, including the “façadism” trend, are going to make Old Town look like a theme park rather than a vital part of Downtown. “International visitors,” she said, “are discerning. They know authenticity when they see it. If it looks like a stage set, we’ll lose on all counts.” Leslie Campbell knows there are many issues to reflect on, heading towards Victoria’s October 20 civic election, but consider adding to your list the way potential council members manage growth in Victoria’s Old Town.
  17. July 2018 A lack of balance on a June housing forum provides food for thought as to where the community needs to look for answers. DID YOU KNOW THAT VICTORIA is the “hottest” ranking “luxury primary housing” market in the world? According to Christie’s International’s Luxury Defined 2018 report, we beat out Paris and Washington DC and every other city due to our strong year-on-year luxury sales volumes and high domestic demand during 2017. At first blush this might seem rather exciting, something to be proud of. But earning this distinction means a lot of local homes are being bought up by wealthy folks from outside BC; Christie’s mentions an upsurge in buyers from the US and China. The building boom, here and elsewhere in BC, is obviously fuelling the economy: real estate is now BC’s largest industry by GDP, and construction is #2. Together they are about one-quarter of the economy—larger than Alberta’s oil and gas sector. But such glories come with a price. Besides being in danger of the bubble deflating, neighbourhoods and citizens are feeling squeezed as lower-cost units are demolished and replaced with taller buildings offering condos that most in the neighbourhood could never afford. The building boom corresponds with (some argue, has caused) a rise in all housing prices, from rentals through condos, from one end of town to the other. Victoria is now one of the least affordable cities in Canada. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the provincial government, besides funding non-profit housing, has brought in measures to “cool” the hot luxury real estate market. These include taxes like the foreign buyers tax, a school tax on properties over $3 million, and the poorly-named “speculation tax.” Promontory, one of several luxury condos in the Mariashes' 20-acre Bayview Place development in Victoria West. How those in the development and real estate industry feel about these taxes, particularly the speculation tax, was on full display at a June 12 luncheon presented by Kenneth and Patricia Mariash, owners of Focus Equities and developers of Bayview Place. It was misleadingly entitled The 2018 Global Issues Dialogue: Exploring the BC Housing Crisis. Marketing materials listed Kathryn White, CEO of the UN Association of Canada, as a host, and promised to “identify practical and realistic solutions that address housing affordability.” As it turned out, it was mostly a venting of grievances against new taxes and regulations standing in the way of ever-greater development. Even former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was there for some reason, telling us, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Enough people complained to the UN Association of Canada about its involvement in the event that it issued a series of clarifying tweets, one stating, “UNA-Canada did not sponsor the Kenneth W. and Patricia Mariash Global Issues Dialogue. Rather, we were the charity of choice.” THERE WERE ABOUT 300 IN THE AUDIENCE, which included many mayors, councillors and other big-wigs from the region. During the three hours we heard over and over again from the eight male speakers that the speculation tax was wrong-headed. Mariash said buyers were now “running scared” because of the Province’s new tax. BC now stands for “bring cash.” He also criticized the City of Victoria for years-long permitting processes, which he says can add $250,000 to a housing unit’s price. His most surprising remarks centred around how he first heard about Victoria many years ago in LA, and was told “Victoria is on the no-invest list” due to Councillor Pam Madoff. This was all before Mayor Helps gave a short “greeting” from the City of Victoria, assuring the audience that approval times are now down to 6-8 months in 90 percent of cases. One of the forum’s panelists, Jon Stovell, CEO of Reliance Properties (developer of the Janion and Northern Junk properties) and chair of the Urban Development Institute, rattled off all the taxes now faced by his industry: the transfer tax, vacant property tax, speculation tax, school tax, GST, along with the mortgage stress test, which itself is taking many out of the market, he claimed. Even with all these, he noted, we still haven’t done anything to fix the supply. One of the main speakers did at least mention what was needed to do that. Mike Harcourt argued that the lack of affordable housing is not a crisis so much as a permanent condition given global realities, including population growth and climate change. While he admitted city halls need to speed up approvals, and that the speculation tax “needed a second look,” Harcourt argued the solution is mostly about building affordable housing, and that the NDP government was on the right track with its commitment to build 114,000 new housing units over the next decade. No one on the panel offered any ideas on how to accomplish this beyond letting developers continue unfettered with what they do best. During the short Q&A, there was at least one dissenting voice. Nicole Chaland commented, “Many of us locals have noticed the intense building boom has corresponded to the greatest housing unaffordability…Increased supply doesn’t seem to be the most reliable way to meet the challenge.” Panelist Michael Ferreira of Urban Analytics attempted a response by pointing out the “compounding of demand” with people wanting to live in cities, investors wanting to get into the market, and people like him who want to jump in and buy another house to ensure their adult children have a place to reside. “Supply is part of the solution,” he concluded. But supply of what—more million-dollar condos? The developers’ own construction workers must find it difficult to afford decent housing here, not to mention the service workers in restaurants and shops. Even younger people with well-paying jobs fear getting permanently shut out of home ownership. NICOLE CHALAND WOULD HAVE ADDED BALANCE TO THE PANEL. The former director of sustainability at Simon Fraser (2007-2017) is so immersed in community activism right now, she’s put aside plans to start a business until after the civic elections in October. She sits on the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan Working Group and on the steering committee of Cook Street Village Residents Network. I contacted her after the event and she sent me an op-ed she and Sheldon Kitzul penned in response to the forum and sent to the Times Colonist. In it they wrote, “This was not a genuine exploration of what possible policy solutions are available to solve the housing crisis. Far from it. This was a temper tantrum; a fist-bumping anti-tax political rally featuring an all-male panel of developers and former politicians. “At no point did any speaker give us the impression that they had actually read and understood how the speculation tax works. At no point did anyone explain that one could simply avoid paying the tax by renting out their second home for six months, by selling their expensive home and buying one that is less than $400,000, or by making BC their primary residence and paying income tax like the rest of us.” (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the T-C didn’t publish Chaland and Kitzul’s op-ed. The T-C’s before and after coverage of the Mariashes’ forum, along with three pages of puff pieces on the Mariashes last November, and a recent op-ed by Mariash, not to mention the big golf tournament the paper and Bayview jointly sponsor, all testify to the cozy relationship Mariash enjoys with the city’s daily.) Chaland does not believe there will be any leadership from the private sector in addressing the lack of affordable housing. She wants the Province to “stay the course” with the new taxes. She is also advocating that the City of Victoria demand more from developers in the way of “Community Amenity Contributions” in return for rezoning and density approvals. A draft report she’s written states: “From 2016-2017, Victoria’s approach to CAC’s generated $3,086,000. Some analyses suggest that, given our current building boom, we’re missing out on tens of millions of dollars. This would pay for affordable housing, new parks in the Downtown core and childcare—all amenities which are desperately needed in Victoria.” Chaland told me the City’s Director of Planning Jonathan Tinney seems overly cautious in his insistence that all such CACs must be voluntary. This is not the case in other cities, noted Chaland. IN OUR CONVERSATION, Chaland referred to research by John Rose, an instructor in the department of geography and environment at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He would have been another great addition to Mariash’s panel of speakers. Rose’s research paper “The Housing Supply Myth” seems hard to refute. Rose reviewed the rate at which housing cost increased between 2001 and 2016, alongside how wages increased. He did this for 33 cities across Canada, using Statistics Canada data. He found that in most cities during those years, the rate at which housing costs increased was never more than double the rate of wage increases—a situation that would still degrade affordability. But Victoria’s housing increases were almost three times those of wages. In Vancouver they were six times more. More number-crunching around building volumes allowed Rose to conclude: “the expensive markets are providing not only enough units to satisfy growth in the number of households between 2001 and 2016, but to also provide (in absolute terms) surplus units to the market at rates comparable to (indeed, slightly higher than) less expensive markets.” He continued: “In all of the seven ‘severely unaffordable’ markets where housing affordability degraded most significantly between 2001 and 2016, the relative amount of surplus dwellings, as a percentage share of total dwellings, increased in number.” Or, as he put it in a Globe and Mail interview, “Here [in Vancouver] we’ve had more than enough supply and yet the housing costs have gone crazy.” The same is true of Victoria. Here, as Chaland told the luncheon audience, over the past 15 years, for every 100 new residents, 113 new units of housing have been added. Other researchers looking primarily at Vancouver’s luxury housing boom have argued that a good number of new buyers of luxury homes are foreign buyers, some of whom are merely “parking” or laundering money this way. It is this global trend that is leading the Province to implement taxes and a just-announced public registry of who owns real estate in BC. Said Finance Minister Carole James, “Right now in BC, real estate investors can hide behind numbered companies, offshore and domestic trusts, and corporations. Ending this type of hidden ownership in real estate will help us fight tax evasion, tax fraud and money laundering.” It could well be that such regulations and taxes will not lead towards more affordable housing. But as the research of Rose and others makes clear, neither will unfettered development. The market has proven that, at least given the current global scene, it cannot be relied on to provide what is most needed by BC citizens: affordable housing. THE CRD RECENTLY REPORTED that this region needs 6,200 affordable units. Since these are unlikely to come from the private sphere, Mariash would have served his audience better by including in his speaker lineup some of the knowledgeable people building non-profit housing: Kaye Melliship, for instance, the executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society, an organization that has quietly been building non-profit housing for low-wage workforce members, people with disabilities, and seniors for decades. In 2018 the organization earned the “Non-Profit of the Year” Award. Among its 16 properties is Pembroke Mews, an apartment building geared to low-to-moderate income workforce tenants. Built in 2012, it is on the fringe of Downtown and offers 25 apartments on 2 floors above commercial space. Rents are pre-set and tenants are selected with an income no higher than $33,000. Other agencies in the non-profit housing sector locally include Pacifica Housing with 36 buildings on the Island, Cool Aid, which runs 15 supportive housing buildings, and Greater Victoria Rental Development Society (which built the Azzuro on Blanshard and the Loreen on Gorge Road E.) It’s in finding land for organizations like these, easing their approvals through local governments, and donating funding, that affordable housing will primarily be realized. But private developers can get in on the action too. If Mariash had included David Chard or a speaker from BC Housing, we might have heard how private developers could build something like Chard Development’s Vivid on Yates Street. Chard partnered with BC Housing to make the 20-storey, 135-suite condominium project affordable for lower-income and mid-income buyers: they have to have a household income of less than $150,000 and commit to being the primary tenant of their home for a period of two years. Its below-market pricing—condos start at $289,800—was made possible through favourable lending terms backed by BC Housing. Only a dozen units remain unsold. Another source of knowledgeable panelists is the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), an umbrella group that has produced an “Affordable Housing Plan” with a ten-year roadmap towards sufficient affordable housing across British Columbia. Its extensive research shows exactly what we need and how much it will cost. After dealing with the backlog of nearly 80,000 units in BC (2016), an additional 3,500 affordable units will be required annually on average. How much will that cost? An estimated $1.8 billion per year over the next ten years. It’s a lot, but according to the organization, the non-profit housing sector “can bring $461 million to the table annually through land contributions, leveraging equity from assets, private donations and financing. This requires the provincial and federal governments to each commit an average annual investment of $691 million over the next ten years.” It notes the governments’ portions are not dissimilar to what they already committed in both the 2016 and 2017. This sounds promising. But how is it working out as developers buy up more and more land for luxury housing and inflate land values? Are non-profits being priced out of the core area, thereby threatening the diversity that makes a city vibrant—and making it harder to solve long-term transportation and emissions challenges? Will Downtown be transformed into a resort town where more and more people are just passing through? BCNPHA’s Policy Director Marika Albert (formerly director of the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria) would have been perfect on the panel to address some of these questions. Finally, another obvious choice for any discussion of affordable housing in BC would have been either Carole James or Minister of Housing Selina Robinson. Either could have discussed the government’s 30-Point Plan for Housing Affordability, which includes building 114,000 units over the next decade, along with various measures to dampen speculative-type investment. The ministers could have enlightened us about the new Building BC Community Housing Fund to which municipalities, non-profit groups and housing co-operatives can apply for funding of their affordable housing projects. Ken Mariash is obviously a man of many talents. It takes a visionary with much business acumen to take on a project as large, costly and complex as the 20-acre Bayview site. But his dream project—and the projects of other luxury resort builders—are having the effect of driving up land costs. And they are taking up too much of the City of Victoria’s time and attention. Our civic leaders’ and workers’ efforts needs to be directed toward assembling land—at 100 units per acre, 70 acres would be enough—in parts of the City where denser, far more affordable housing can be created. The CRD accepts that 6200 affordable homes are needed. Let’s focus on that. Focus editor Leslie Campbell has lived through a number of real estate boom-times in Victoria. This one feels different.
  18. May 2018 Oak Bay neighbourhood wrestles with a 98-unit housing proposal. ONE DAY, Focus may tell you about a housing proposal that everyone in the neighbourhood is happy with, where the public process surrounding it is hailed as transparent, inclusive, effective and painless for all involved. But that day isn’t here yet. When it was announced last summer that Oak Bay United Church wanted to build some affordable housing on its property at Granite Street and Mitchell—just one block over from Oak Bay Village—it sounded refreshingly bold and in tune with the times. Affordable housing is the region’s number-one need. Oak Bay United Church in Oak Bay Soon afterwards “Stop Overdevelopment by Oak Bay United Church” signs popped up like mushrooms on neighbourhood lawns. A “concerned citizens” website was created, and media reports citing divisions and alarm were heard. Some early concepts for the development indicated up to five-storey buildings and 160 units could be proposed. For a 1.2-acre lot in a leafy, mostly single-family neighbourhood, it did seem perhaps too bold. Now, church representatives claim they have listened, and in their recent plans—unveiled at open houses at the end of April—have tried to meet neighbours’ concerns as much as possible. We shall see how that works out. IN HER OFFICE in a 1920s-era duplex behind the church, Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater told me the idea of developing the property stems back to 1994 when the heritage church was “condemned” as unsafe, and the congregation had to conduct services elsewhere. It wasn’t clear that the church, built in 1914, could be saved, so everything was up for consideration, including selling off the whole property. Eventually, it was decided that restoration was possible, and the congregation worked hard for years to raise $1.5 million. In 2010, 16 years after its closure, the church reopened. Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater Once back in their church, congregants had little appetite for further change any time soon. But, said Slater, “it was always accepted that that was just the first step to renewal.” There are five structures on the 56,000-square-foot property. The church occupies 9000 square feet. There is also a large storage shed; an office building (often called the “duplex”); the cinder block, seismically-challenged Gardiner Hall (with a gym); and Threshold House, which is rented to Threshold Housing Society, and has nine studio apartments for vulnerable youth. With the exception of the church, the latest plans call for demolition of all these structures. Slater said that if the 200-strong congregation was dwindling, they would look at amalgamating with another church and selling off the property. But it’s actually growing, though that includes those who use the church’s many services. “We’re becoming increasingly aware, particularly through our ministry to children and families, of the real crisis with diverse and affordable housing,” said Slater, mentioning seniors who attend weekly coffee meetings and young parents who come to church activities. Sometimes congregants can’t afford a prescription they need, so the church steps in. It has also provided food vouchers, or even a funeral for those in need. In all, she estimates that Oak Bay United provides about $2.5 million annually in community services (calculated by a formula arrived at through research by the Halo Project at McMaster University). Some of it, she noted, comes in the form of saving the community money—for instance when members notice another congregant is unwell, and ensure they receive help before needing an expensive hospital bed. At this point, Slater stopped herself, noting wryly that it sounded as if she’s trying to justify the church’s very existence—perhaps in reaction to the heated atmosphere in the neighbourhood of late. The social services she alluded to have added an extra layer of complexity to the debate. Do such services mean the church deserves more right to develop as it pleases, despite neighbours’ concerns? Continuing the historical overview, Slater told me that a few years ago, the board asked a couple of members to look into options for developing the 56,000-square-foot property, in keeping with the mission and purpose of Oak Bay United Church. That led to them devoting $20,000 to a feasibility study led by Chris Corps, a land economist, which in turn led, in March 2017, to the church board giving unanimous support to applying for a $500,000 loan from BC Housing to do a thorough proposal involving “diverse, inclusionary and affordable housing,” said Slater. “We could make a lot more money if we just put up some luxury condos. But that’s not what this community needs,” said Slater. “And making the most money is not the most important thing to us.” The church got the BC Housing loan, and by last August, its board members had started knocking on doors to inform immediate neighbours that the church was thinking of developing its property. Some became alarmed, Slater said, and asked for a meeting. About 60 people came. They wanted to know the plans, but, said Slater, “We’re not a developer; we wanted input first.” In November, four sessions with “near neighbours” were held. “We asked what would you be most concerned about?’” said Slater. Feedback was all over the map, she said. “We got everything from ‘nothing’ to ‘six stories.’ [On style], we got ‘traditional’ to ‘contemporary.’ We gave all the input to the architect. In mid-December we presented four scenarios for siting and massing to test people’s responses.” (The scenarios involved three-, four- and five-storey buildings; many neighbours were aghast there were no smaller options.) The biggest concerns were around height, density and traffic. “We’ve worked hard to mitigate or solve the concerns people have—which are for the most part legitimate,” said Slater. However, she argued, Granite Street, running parallel to Oak Bay Avenue, is viewed by the municipality as a transition street, from the busy Oak Bay commercial zone to residential. “It is not solely a single-family-home neighbourhood,” said Slater, pointing to the boxy, 3.5-storey Granite House condos across the street towards the Village. “Our project will be much more attentive to the character of the neighbourhood than Granite House.” Reverend Slater is diplomatic when speaking of the resistance to the development: “I am not surprised at the depth of feeling, because everyone values their neighbourhood and wants to preserve what’s best about it. I was distressed by some of the personal comments about our consultants,” along with the level of distrust. “We feel we’re really trying to do something good,” she said. “This is a good way for Oak Bay to contribute to the region and show leadership.” She seems bewildered and dismayed that some people do not trust the church. AN INDICATION OF THAT DISTRUST, and perhaps another brick in the wall between the church and its neighbours, occurred at a meeting of Oak Bay’s Committee of the Whole on January 15. The last item on the agenda was a request from the church that council approve a process to expedite the church’s development application, once submitted, as a pilot project for affordable housing projects. It brought citizens out in force; they filled all the seats and the hallway. Numerous letters of concern had been sent in. Kim Fowler, the planner on the church’s team, explained that they are working on “a minimum, break even” budget, and delays would be costly. She pointed to other municipalities that have adopted streamlined processes or a “concierge”-type service with staff dedicated to ushering non-profit proposals through various hurdles at City Hall. (Fowler played a similar role at the City of Victoria when she worked as the project manager for the Dockside Green redevelopment project). Councillor Tara Ney, noting the evident community interest, voiced a concern that “the amount of time for making decisions, the amount of time for consulting thoroughly with the community—that those parts of the process are not compromised.” Fowler assured her that that would not happen. When Councillor Hazel Braithwaite warned that “it takes a long time to get something correct,” there was applause from the gallery. Braithwaite also suggested that shepherding the application through City Hall was Fowler’s job—and that it would have been “friendly” if the church had notified citizens of its request for expedited service. When Councillor Tom Croft asked, “Where is the extra cost of delay when the church owns the land?” Fowler alluded to an existing mortgage (it is about $300,000), and the escalation of construction costs. At 6 percent, she said, that translates to $170,000 in carrying costs per month. Other councillors noted that with “complicated applications like this,” the best way to expedite it is to have a good application, and to not short-circuit public engagement. Councillor Eric Zhelka advised studying the case of Oak Bay Lodge—which came to council two times with proposals that were both rejected. The lesson being: “Find a design with everyone here [meaning the audience] before you come to council, that everyone can support.” The Committee decided not to even vote on Fowler’s request. Later, Ney told Focus the request for an expedited process was “not an example of good timing.” On a Saturday morning in April, I met with five members of “the resistance” at Sue MacRae’s house, right next door to the church property. They expressed many concerns: about Oak Bay’s infrastructure not being adequate to handle another 100-plus residents on the one-acre site; about the unfairness of the church having $500,000 to put towards developing their plan and doing PR, while their group relies on volunteer time and digs into their own pockets for signs and flyers; and about the size and scale of the proposals they’ve seen and how it will impact their beloved streetscape, characterized by lots of trees and 100-year-old single-family homes. But they were most perturbed by the public consultation process, and the distrust they feel it has fostered. Both Reverend Slater and the church’s development team co-chair Cheryl Thomas have told me that what they were actually trying to do in consultation sessions in the fall was get neighbours’ input before designing anything. But it seems to have backfired, as these neighbours believed that there was a plan, but it was being kept secret. They pointed to the church’s application for a BC Housing loan, which they obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Though 90 percent redacted, it shows that as early as March 2017, the church was outlining options to BC Housing and Oak Bay municipal staff—whereas the neighbours only got notified in August that the church was considering development. Cheryl Thomas assured me that only financial models went to BC Housing, not actual designs, yet it seems clear those would have required some assumptions about size in order to project costs and revenues. Diana Butler, a former mayor of Oak Bay who lives on Granite Street, suggested the fall consultations were mostly for show, and as evidence, pointed to the short time lapse between the November “consult sessions” and the “reveal sessions” in December, at which the scenarios involving 101- to 160-unit buildings were presented. The development team’s unwillingness to entertain a project with a much smaller profile fuelled suspicions around the church’s motivations, as well as its strategy. Two of the church's neighbours, Wayne Todd and Diana Butler At our meeting, neighbour Wayne Randall said he believes it’s now the church’s strategy to focus solely on the wider community and ignore the neighbours. Butler concurs. She has written extensively on the Concerned Citizens’ website (ccn-oakbay.com), at one point writing: “We have spent hours and hours working with the development team to design a better consultation process. We placed our trust in the development team truly wanting to engage the neighbourhood in a meaningful discussion. We are very disappointed that they have so abruptly abandoned this route, in preference to taking their project to the wider community where they hope to get more support.” The development team contracted Gene Miller to help with consultations with this group of neighbours, who say he sincerely tried to help. They told me he met with them separately a couple of times, to try to work out a better process. But, they said, “he failed.” (Disclosure: Gene Miller writes for Focus. I did not know he was involved until recently, and have not had any communication with him about the project.) Curtis Hobson, a special education teacher who lives directly across from the church, told me, “We feel excluded, manipulated, and are being painted as against change or affordable housing.” Hobson and other neighbours I spoke with said they are in favour of affordable housing on this site, but not at the scale the church has in mind. Curtis Hobson and Sue MacRae, both close neighbours of the church's property. Threshold House (in the background) would be demolished to make room for the project. At the meeting, these residents provided me with an outline of what they would accept: A maximum three storeys, with massing along Granite Street, with some variation in height, and a more traditional design in keeping with the neighbourhood. Ideally, they’d like the buildings broken up or clustered so that pedestrians can move through the site. They want to keep Threshold House, but if it must go, they want alternative housing to be provided on the site for the nine vulnerable youth (age 16-22) now housed in its studio apartments. This heritage-style building, they argued, is only 25 years old, fits into the neighbourhood well and serves a valuable purpose. The main stumbling blocks towards agreement, however, will be the massing and the number of units: the neighbours’ wishlist calls for 25-40 suites, whereas the latest church plans (not unveiled when I interviewed them) call for 98. AT A MEETING WITH the Development Team co-chair Cheryl Thomas and architect Rod Windjack, I was shown rough drafts of the plans that will be unveiled at the late-April open houses. Thomas lived in Oak Bay when her kids were growing up, and got involved in the church in 2012—mostly to sing in the choir. She ended up on the board and came to realize “we’ve got to make this place sustainable.” As a congregation, she said, “we wanted to live our values and provide something that was truly needed. Obviously affordable housing is desperately needed.” Windjack, an architect who was involved with the design for the new Oak Bay High School, had his work cut out for him, trying to accommodate the needs of both church and neighbours. Besides the concern over size, he said, one thing that came through loud and clear from neighbours was that the development shouldn’t result in additional parking on nearby streets. This, he noted, created a burden on the church financially, because underground parking is so costly. After numerous iterations, Windjack eventually came up with a 3.5-storey (four floors), L-shaped building with 98 units (predominantly one-bedrooms) and tilted it, so it’s not monolithic from the street. “We’ve tried to deal with how the building responds to neighbours, through how it sits on the site and by playing with the massing of the building—using articulation in front, further extended by our use of materials,” Windjack said. Materials include some brick, echoing the church. The main building has a gently-sloped roof with dormer elements that are common in the neighbourhood. At 51 feet high, it is slightly higher than the ridge line of the church. Oak Bay United Church's 98-unit proposal, unveiled at the end of April In the location where the church office now stands on Mitchell, the project is proposing a three-storey “brownstone” building with four market-priced leasehold units. Parking—for 116 vehicles—would all be underground. Virtually the whole site would need to be blasted (through granite) to create a two-storey parkade, costing about $5 million of the $26-million total price tag. About half would be for church-goers and the other half for project residents. While they cannot prohibit a resident from having a vehicle, they can tell prospective renters that units do not include parking. Residents would have good bike storage and likely a car-share vehicle, perhaps even bus passes, noted Thomas. Everyone with the church and the neighbourhood was in agreement that a green strip, with majestic Garry oaks, that runs along the back of the property, had to stay. Units would be small, even by present standards: one-bedrooms approximately 420-455 square feet, two bedrooms 650-700 square feet, and three bedrooms 850-900. “That’s what makes them affordable,” said Thomas. (Brownstone units are larger.) Rents for the affordable units would be set by BC Housing and CMHC, and rent increases would be tied to the cost of living (not the market). A one-bedroom unit would cost about $1000 per month. Thomas stressed that the development team has tried to accommodate all that they heard from neighbours, but the financial realities are limiting. In their attempt to keep the height to 3.5 storeys, only 50 units will be officially “affordable,” though 44 others are characterized as “market affordable.” The feedback at the Open Houses planned for late April might help them “further refine what we’ve got, but we don’t see major changes,” said Windjack. CURTIS HOBSON DIRECTED ME TO an interesting 2014 article in the United Church’s Observer magazine, called “The Perils of Redevelopment.” In discussing the trends for many churches—declining congregations, rising costs, and the sale or redevelopment of their properties—it warns, “Even a plan conceived with the best of intentions can go horribly wrong.” The article stresses the importance of constructive community outreach, without which, it warns, years can be spent fighting with neighbours and municipal governments. Neighbour Wayne Todd researched every development mentioned in the article and found virtually all of them had been sold or failed, with congregations forced to rent other facilities. But he also inadvertently stumbled on one church project, not mentioned in the Observer article, that worked out well; in fact it may become Canada’s first net-zero-energy multi-family building. Andrew Gregory chaired the planning committee of the North Glenora Community League during the time (2013-2015) the Westmount Presbyterian Church in that Edmonton community sought rezoning for its property in order to put up affordable housing. In a report on it, he stated: “It took dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours of focused effort on both sides to get to ‘YIMBY.’” He mentions the wisdom of arriving at “a mutually understood definition for community engagement.” He writes: “It seems that the Achilles heel of most re-development plans in the city is that too many decisions are made too early without involving the community…committing the developer to a plan before engagement has taken place and derailing authentic dialogue before it can happen.” Certainly in the Oak Bay case, it does not appear that the church went to neighbours with a blank slate. It had priorities and financial realities that led it early on to think big. One major difference between the Edmonton church and the Oak Bay church is that in Edmonton, the North Glenora Community League’s planning committee (all volunteers)—took the reigns to negotiate a community engagement process. Then it took minutes of every meeting which were posted, hosted periodic town halls, and conducted surveys on specific aspects. In Oak Bay, there’s been no similar body providing such leadership. (The Oak Bay Community Association did host a community forum on housing affordability that both sides appreciated.) Another difference: the Edmonton church seemed willing to take its time—two years in total from announcement to passing at Edmonton City Hall—whereas Oak Bay United Church representatives seem in a hurry, and seem to believe they’ve already done much of the community consultation necessary—not the hundreds of hours allowed for in the Edmonton case. By the way, it too started out on shaky ground, but in the end, at the final Edmonton City Hall public hearing, two residents spoke in favour of the development, none opposed, and it passed unanimously. Another noteworthy difference: the Edmonton church’s proposal was for a 16-unit townhouse development for families. EVERYONE I SPOKE TO for this article seems to care deeply about their community and be in favour of some affordable housing on the church property. No neighbours expressed concerns about property values. Even the vociferous ad-hoc group I spoke with would accept a three-story building. Yet even if the church wins wide community support for its project, it may be embarking on a perilous journey. Its financial straits have been alluded to time and time again, in church minutes, at consultations, at council meetings, and during interviews. The church has a $300,000 mortgage now. To create a development on its property, it has borrowed $500,000 from BC Housing (which needs to be repaid, regardless of the outcome). If it gets rezoning approved, it will be borrowing tens of millions more from BC Housing to finance it. Yes, it will get rental income to pay down its debts, but it will also be sacrificing significant space for its activities, along with $100,000 in annual revenues from its thrift store, and $54,000 in annual rent from Threshold Housing Society. These revenues currently get fully spent on church operations and maintenance. Right now, the sanctuary needs an estimated $300,000 in repairs. When Threshold leaves, the church will also have to refund the balance of a loan the housing society provided for renovations—about $40,000 now. But the church is committed to the project. And as of last August, it’s doubtful the congregation could back out if it wanted to. The church board transferred all decision-making to its project development team. In church board minutes, it’s noted that the team, composed of four church representatives as well as some external advisors and consultants, has “commission status,” meaning they have “complete authority” until their mandate expires at end of the rezoning process. “The governing body or executive [of the church] may not debate the commission’s decision and come to a different decision.” Reverend Slater told me she hopes their proposal goes before council in May, and that it’s approved in advance of the municipal election in October. Given the usual pace of the development process, this seems wildly optimistic. Interestingly, the church is already permitted, under its “institutional” zoning, to build three floors of multi-family housing on the church property. But the proposed density will make it necessary to apply for rezoning. For instance, the minimum square footage for a one-bedroom apartment has to be 603 sq ft, not the 420 the church is planning. The project would also take up a far greater portion of the land than its institutional zoning allows. Will a majority of councillors be willing to “spot zone” the development as proposed? Will they give weight to the church’s provision of services and financial need? In light of citizens’ complaints, will they send it back to the drawing board? When I asked Councillor Ney about this, she reiterated the message of the January meeting, that the way to ensure success is to have a robust consultative process, developing rapport with the community and coming up with something that is amenable to all. “For whatever reason,” she said, “the consultation with this proposal went off the rails,” resulting in people being scared and nervous—especially about the massing. Historically, Ney said, Oak Bay was not planned with adequate transition zones between areas of multi-unit buildings and single-family homes. Ney noted that council often has to “soften the edges” of developments so they are not pushed hard against neighbours. But there appears little room for compromise on the part of the church. Thomas said, “Our reality is we’ve made it as small as we realistically can. We are now [in the late April open houses] putting all our cards on the table. This is the best we can do.” So what is the church’s fall-back position if rezoning is refused? Thomas said they would probably have to subdivide, selling off the Threshold building to get enough money to do the needed repairs of other buildings. “There would be no housing. And it puts the church in a precarious long-term position,” she said. It is admirable that Oak Bay United has stepped up to create some desperately needed affordable housing. Reverend Slater might be overly optimistic, but she’s correct in her assessment that the project proposal is “an opportunity for the community to wrestle with the ‘over-development’ issue, and how a community has that conversation.” Leslie Campbell attended the first open house on April 25. She overheard one gentleman saying, “Well, at least it’s going in the right direction.”
  19. July 2017 Affordable housing—for low- and moderate-income people working Downtown—should be a City of Victoria priority. VICTORIA'S CURRENT HOUSING SCENE is now recognized in official circles as in “severe crisis”—both in terms of affordability and availability. The Capital Region Analysis & Data Book shows 50 percent of households can only afford 13.7 percent of the region’s homes. The City of Victoria has responded to the crisis in numerous ways. It has removed the necessity of rezoning for garden suites. It has given preliminary approval to a moratorium on granting demolition permits for rental housing, as developers salivate over replacing those three-story 1970s-era apartment blocks that form the bulk of the City’s affordable housing. It is considering special taxes on vacant and derelict properties. It is fast-tracking applications for rental developments and encouraging developers to include some non- market “affordable” units in their buildings. And, upon learning that at least 300 Downtown housing units had been diverted from their intended purpose of housing to money-making tourist accommodation, it started debating ways to restrict that practice— those developments, after all, got building permits on the basis of supplying housing, not hotels. These are all necessary, but wholly insufficient steps to turning the tide on the affordable housing crisis. But promises of help are coming from both the feds and the NDP-led, Green Party-supported provincial government. The NDP promised to build 114,000 affordable rental, non-profit and co-op housing units over 10 years, and to provide social housing to middle-class workers who have been priced out of BC cities. The Greens were willing to spend $750 million per year building and renovating social housing, to construct about 4000 affordable housing units per year. And the feds’ new $180-billion infrastructure funds are geared, in part, to affordable housing projects (some of it in the form of federal land to build on). It’s timely and crucial for local communities to make concrete plans for projects in the region that will attract federal and provincial funding. It’s clear that the private sphere will not, and likely cannot, build the homes that are truly needed. Centennial Square Parkade. A seismically-vulnerable and low-value use of Downtown space? ONE POPULATION THAT IS ESPECIALLY ill-served by the housing market is Downtown workers of modest income—the folks who cook and serve us in cafés and restaurants, who clean hotel rooms, who are the helpful receptionists in offices we visit, and who help us find the perfect shirt or gift in Downtown’s stores. There are over 24,000 people working Downtown, about half of them in the hospitality (4183), restaurant (3834), and retail (3225) sectors (2013 figures). Despite the building boom throughout the city, but especially in or near Downtown (see the slide show at www.focusonvictoria.ca), none of the newer and under-construction buildings, with one notable exception, offer “affordable” rents for those making the low-to-modest living that many thousands of Downtown workers earn. Downtown employers are paying competitive wages, but tell me they have trouble finding and keeping good employees simply because of the difficulty and expense of parking and travel from their far-flung homes—in Shawnigan or Langford or Sooke. Transit and cycling are both often highly inconvenient for someone who is forced to work two jobs, as many do. But owning a car—and parking it Downtown—is prohibitively expensive for these workers. (My 1-hour-40-minute visit to the dentist the other day resulted in a $7 parkade charge. Double ouch!) A minimum-wage job currently pays $10.85/hour. If the BC NDP government keeps its promise around minimum wage, this will rise incrementally to $15 per hour by 2021. Many Downtown employers already pay above minimum wage, so let’s take the example of a worker currently making $15/hour. At 40 hours/week, he or she makes about $2500/month before taxes and deductions. That means their affordable rent would be $750/month. (The accepted definition of “affordable housing” is housing that costs no more than 30 percent of household income before tax.) What can one find now in that $750/month range? When I looked at online ads for apartments in or close to Downtown, I did find one “$750 Downtown loft apartment.” On further inspection, however, it turned out to be a 10-foot-square room within a loft apartment. And when I stumbled on a fully-furnished “large one-bedroom” in Esquimalt for $650, and emailed to ask if it was just the bedroom (I thought I was getting wise to the scene), I was soon contacted by Used Victoria to let me know it might well be a scam. It was: I was sent photos of the lovely interior, saying I should drive by 1194 Esquimalt but wouldn’t be able to see inside since they were out of town. Verbatim: “If you are interested. I want you to remember that I’m in (Portland, Oregon.). and the keys and documents are here with me, so you will not be able to see inside the apartment, you can only view from the outside. I will send the keys and documents to you via FedEx and you will receive it within 48hrs…” Of course, with the application, I was to send $950. Besides the too-good-to-be-true price, the brackets every time they mentioned “Portland, Oregon” gave it away. But I digress. There were actually quite a few of the second-bedroom-for-rent type ads. In Esquimalt that might cost you $600; closer to Downtown (e.g. on Pembroke) it’s more likely to cost $750. (And these were not “short-term vacation rentals”—those are about twice as much.) There are a lot of folks advertising themselves as great tenants in the “apartments for rent” section—everything from “professional couples” willing to pay $1400 to $2400/month, to a “sober nerdy vegan” who can afford $475-$625/month. Craigslist has a whole department devoted to “rooms & shares.” If you really want your own, albeit tiny, apartment Downtown, expect to pay a lot more. For example, a 452-square-foot studio (with a 50-square-foot balcony) at Hudson Walk One on Caledonia is asking $1510 per month—certainly not affordable for the Downtown worker making $15/hour, or even $20/hour. That price tag is also about 50 percent more than rents at Hudson Walk One were when it launched a year ago. The Janion has an even smaller pad—350 square feet—for $1280. Again, unaffordable for a full-time worker at $15/hour. In fact, at the 30 percent definition of affordable, one would have to make $4300/month—about $26/hour—to rent 350 square feet. If you are determined to have your own space for just shy of $800 then you might find one at the Dominion Rocket—but it might be only 179 square feet. While the City sometimes demands developers include some non-market units in new buildings, they are usually only just a small handful per complex. The Greater Victoria Rental Development Society’s Azzurro project across Blanshard from the arena One non-profit thankfully stepped up recently to help more workers of modest means. The Greater Victoria Rental Development Society, paired with Realhomes Development Corp to develop the 7-storey, 65-unit Azzurro right across Blanshard from the arena. Forty-three of its units are non-market: $925 for a one-bedroom and $860 for a studio. Despite the low rents, Alanna Holroyd, the executive director of GVRDS, says she can make it work financially. It helps that she was able to do much of the work herself, and that the $5 million in development costs were waived. She has assembled a great team, including locally-based builders Knappett Projects. She also credits BC Housing financing—100 percent financing [of 14.8 million] through construction at 1.6 percent, interest only—as making housing lower- income people a feasible business model. Holroyd notes, “The lower two levels of commercial also played a significant role in getting financing from BC Housing. After the sale of the commercial spaces, a further $2.5 million will be raised.” While grants of $495,000 from the CRD and $544,000 from the City helped make Azzurro happen, Holroyd believes she can do such developments without any grants in the future. If we want a liveable, vibrant Downtown, we need more such creative, bold moves. By supplying affordable housing in the core for the the core’s workforce, they will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and help make the heart of our city more truly liveable. AMONG THE RECOMMENDATIONS of the City of Victoria’s Housing Affordability Task Force last year was one urging the contribution of City-owned land at no cost or at reduced market value for the development of affordable housing projects. The Task Force report noted that “Under current law, the City can donate land or enter into long-term lease agreements with organizations that commit to providing affordable housing. The City can also enter into land swaps with other public institutions or the private sector and use those properties for affordable housing purposes.” The most visible form of City-owned property Downtown, besides City Hall, are parkades. Could we develop a plan to transform one or more of them into affordable rental apartments—a Downtown workers’ paradise? The City of Victoria owns five parkades. We can rule out the one below the Central Library, so that leaves four, all above ground. Most were built in the 1960s when seismic standards were much lower. From past research via FOIs, we know that City-owned parkades have not been seismically evaluated. It’s highly likely that once they are assessed for seismic vulnerability, they’ll have to be replaced, otherwise the City would be faced with a huge liability issue if an earthquake did strike. In that case, do we simply put up replacement parkades? That seems crazy in light of land values, needs for housing, and climate change. Why not consider replacing them with affordable homes for Downtown’s service workers? Start with the one which has the fewest parking spaces—it just so happens that’s the one adjacent to Centennial Square. You could retain some or all of its 188 spaces by putting them underground. They can be designed with smaller parking spaces to match the smaller cars we’ll be driving, as well as outfitted to provide charging for the electric vehicles we’re expected to drive. The main floor would have space for retailers paying market-based rents. Above, build a high-rise of varying-sized suites, all rented on an affordable basis to those who are eligible: people who work at jobs Downtown and have incomes in the target range suggested by the City’s Housing Affordability Task Force: $18,000-$57,000/year. Oh, but what about losing precious parking spaces, you ask? It’s surprising how many parking spots might be available underground. Under the Central Library, for instance, there are 544 parking spots. (It’s worth noting that there are also 11 privately-owned parkades and 40 parking lots Downtown.) There might even be a net gain in parking spaces if Downtown workers no longer need to drive a car to work. This means there’s an important added benefit: a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. (In BC, transportation accounts for 37 percent of our total annual emissions.) Another possible objection: That particular parkade, and the attached one-storey part of the building on Douglas, were designed in 1963 by renowned architect John Di Castri. It’s a heritage building. Yet that same pedigree belongs to the Crystal Pool, which Victoria council seems determined to replace (see story, page 22). In the case of the Centennial Square parkade, the seismic issue alone will mean its eventual demise. Let’s make sure what we build there is beautifully designed (perhaps incorporating or echoing Di Castri’s work), durable, and aimed at a higher purpose like affordable housing. Think how such a transformation would enliven Victoria’s central plaza, especially if families with children are housed there. The Centennial Square side of the John Di Castri-designed parkade But why stop at one parkade? There are three other above-ground City-owned parkades, each seismically questionable: at Bastion Square, View Street, and Johnson Street. The City should be planning now for how to deal with them over the next decade, in ways that will best align with our future needs—around housing, transportation, and climate change. Most likely, the City would and should involve one of the local non-profits involved in building low-income housing—the Greater Victoria Rental Development Society and the Greater Victoria Housing Society, for instance, have each built quality apartment buildings throughout the city in which units rent at non-market rates. Those in the social-housing industry can figure out the details, including eligibility criteria and precise rental rates, but all of the apartments should be geared to Downtown workers of modest means. The buildings will ideally house 300 or more residents per building. Our theoretical full-time worker, with a $2500/month income, could get a decent studio or small one-bedroom for $750. A couple, perhaps with a child, working Downtown with a monthly income of close to $5000, could get a larger suite for up to $1500. Incomes would be reviewed annually and rents reassessed. Sure there’s nitty-gritty details like “what happens if a person leaves their Downtown employ for a job somewhere else?” But surely we can dream up some fair-minded policies to deal with such situations. Perhaps they are given six month’s notice. I like this parkade-to-housing concept simply for the compassion it shows to those who enliven Downtown through their work, not to mention how it places value on homes over cars. But other benefits would also flow. Besides the already-mentioned reduction of green house gas emissions, it would help local businesses retain employees, a crucial ingredient of stability and success. And that would help the City’s economy, as those businesses would be far less likely to pull up stakes for the suburbs. It might even cool the housing market a tad, a good thing, as one glance at real estate ads will attest. Since the City owns the land, that cuts out a huge cost of development. According to GVRDS’s Holroyd, “if the site has a Certificate of Compliance [from the Ministry of Environment[, it could be worth $250 per square foot and up depending on what density is allowed after rezoning.” But, she warns, “the variables are massive.” Regardless, “it could easily be half the cost of construction…without a development fee of course.” Holroyd agreed that having land donated makes a lot more things possible. So the City supplies the land, perhaps waiving some fees, and other levels of government provide funding, and non-profits take care of the rest. Unless we are willing to have our governments step up and provide non-market housing, we’ll face a city bleached of its diversity and vitality, and we’ll witness more lives, especially young ones, stunted by unbearable costs. Remember Portland, once held up as a shining example of how to deal with homelessness? It now has 4000 homeless, including many families living in shelters, and is currently working on a pilot program to supply government-constructed “pods” of 200 square feet, placed in the backyards of willing homeowners. And they are not cheap; the pods cost about $75,000 each (but here too the land is free). Victoria has the opportunity to avoid such drastic measures by moving more aggressively to actually initiate development and put up the land. If this community is willing to tear down a di Castri-designed swimming pool and spend $70 million to replace it (even though it could be fixed for far less), I think we have a moral obligation to affordably house the people who work to make the Downtown experience so fine. Leslie Campbell invites other dreamers to send us your ideas on how to create a liveable, green, compassionate city.
  20. September 2011 A fast track to Langford? Or bankruptcy? IT’S IRONIC THAT THE POLITICIANS WHO JUMPED ON the light rail transit bandwagon in August labelled as “premature” a suggestion that we hold a referendum on the subject. If anything is premature it was their endorsement of the billion-dollar proposal. Ever since BC Transit came out with its report recommending LRT from Downtown to Langford, many have been scratching their heads at the idea of making Greater Victoria the smallest metropolitan area in North America to be served by LRT. Jane Sterk, leader of the BC Green Party, (echoing many others) has come out calling for a region-wide transportation plan before we invest in LRT, as well as suggesting that “a better immediate investment would be upgrading the E&N line to move people—including those who work at Naden Base, one of the region’s largest employers—between the western communities and downtown Victoria. This would alleviate the most congested routes in the region at a fraction of the cost of building an LRT.” Recently, Bev Highton of the CRD Business & Residential Taxpayer’s Association noted: “The Association has encountered many unanswered questions about the LRT proposal, some of which are as basic as: How many riders would be anticipated? What revenues would be produced? And what are the numbers behind the so-called business case? Surprisingly, none of the information is included in the project final report, or the project website, or any other public source, and none of this information has been provided under the Association’s outstanding Freedom of Information requests.” The Chamber of Commerce and others are calling for an independent review. A good idea in light of the apparent conflicts of interest: First, it was discovered that a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin Inc, which builds LRTs, co-ordinated the Rapid Transit Study that led to the proposal of LRT for Victoria; and then on August 23 the Taxpayer’s Association pointed out that “the Chairman of BC Transit is also the Chairman of InTransit BC. InTransit BC is one-third owned by the same SNC-Lavalin Inc that is in a position to bid on a Victoria LRT line.” As Highton said, “It’s a rather flimsy way to proceed.” But that didn’t stop Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, councillor John Luton, MLA Rob Fleming, MP Denise Savoie and a few other politicians from endorsing LRT and talking about getting funds from the federal government. I support investment in public transit; we need to rely less on cars to move us around. But the current proposal, with it’s mega-price, seems more like business-as-usual thinking, based on the same kind of constant-growth model that brought us urban sprawl and traffic congestion in the first place. Megaprojects have a way of being costly disappointments. Research by Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School shows that megaprojects tend to cost more than projected and underperform—on economic, social and environmental fronts: “positive regional development effects, typically much touted by project promoters to gain political acceptance for their projects, repeatedly turn out to be non-measurable, insignificant or even negative.” Flyvbjerg notes, “Megaproject development today is not a field of what has been called ‘honest numbers.’” As if that’s not enough, he continues: “Project promoters often avoid and violate established practices of good governance, transparency and participation in political and administrative decision making.” Edinburgh is the poster child for how wrong things can go with LRT. With a budget overrun of more than 50 percent and construction running three years behind schedule, their city council was forced to shorten the line by about one-third. Most recently, after considering options to borrow $374 million more to complete the shorter line or scrapping it altogether (with $986 million already spent), council voted to shorten it even more, abandoning tracks already laid to the centre of the city (which caused months of unpopular disruption to lay). News reports are rife with words like “cock-up,” “fiasco” and “madness.” Edinburgh’s council denied its citizens a referendum. Hopefully that won’t happen here. Everyone in the CRD will pay for LRT even though only a small portion of the community will benefit from it. We also need comprehensive, community-wide transportation planning and priority setting. Infrastructure is expensive so we can’t do it all, or at least not all at once. We certainly shouldn’t commit $1 billion to any project without a clear understanding of what else needs doing, both in terms of transportation infrastructure and other needs—or before relatively inexpensive tweaking of our current transportation system: adding some designated bus lanes, getting an E&N commuter train going, building the McKenzie interchange. The rush to LRT, a proposal that seems to have deep roots in the ever-hungry engineering/construction industry, has attracted politicians eager to be seen as “progressive” and willing to commit vast amounts of public funds to ensure Victoria is not somehow doomed. It brings to mind Langford’s Stew Young warning that if the Spencer Road interchange wasn’t built, it would ruin the region’s economy. He was wrong. Instead, the region got a Bridge to Nowhere and resources that could have been used to eliminate the bottleneck at the McKenzie Avenue intersection were misspent on his miscalculation. How much transportation miscalculation can one small city take before it wakes up and demands a thorough effort at creating a regional plan? Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus Magazine.
  21. April 2011 What doesn’t the CRD understand about its own regional growth strategy? IF THERE WAS EVER ANY DOUBT in my mind that a resort involving 257 housing units, a spa, recreation centre, and store on land alongside the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail—a provincial park—should be denied, a gathering of 300 people in late March ended it. We were sitting in the pews of the First Metropolitan Church. The event, hosted by half a dozen environmental and community groups, was facilitated by former federal environment minister David Anderson, who noted “Everyone in the province has an interest in protecting the park, so it isn’t entirely a [Juan de Fuca electoral area] issue.” Yet right now, the decision on whether to allow developer Ender Ilkay’s proposal to proceed may well be left to a subgroup of five CRD directors—from Juan de Fuca, Sooke, Langford, Colwood, and Metchosin. As writer/activist Zoe Blunt wrote last December in Focus, “This committee…has yet to see a development application it didn’t like.” On that evening in the church, it wasn’t just the many arguments put forth by panellists and speakers from the audience against such a development in that fragile and beautiful place that were persuasive. It was the crystal clear unanimity of the polite but determined crowd—from all walks of life, all ages, and representing diverse CRD neighbourhoods. First off, it seems this is all moving forward without proper consideration of First Nations’ claims in the area. As Russell Jones, a Pacheedaht elder stated at the meeting: “That land is not owned by any of the people who bought it.” Why, asked others at the open microphone, would we allow any risk to the wilderness experience afforded by Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, with its spectacular remote beaches and forest? A wide buffer, they said, is critical to the park’s health and integrity. But it’s not just lay people and First Nations elders who don’t understand why Ilkay’s proposal has gone as far as it has through the CRD’s approval process. Panellist Deborah Curran of the Environmental Law Centre, a lawyer intimately acquainted with our area’s regional growth strategy, said “Nowhere in the regional growth strategy is it contemplated that tourism uses are compatible with rural resource lands. So it is confusing to me why this proposal continues to move forward.” She explained to the gathering that the regional growth strategy is a formal covenant that we, and our various municipal and regional governments, have all agreed to live by. Endorsing as it does principles fostering compact urban development as opposed to sprawl, it helps us create healthier communities. Municipal bylaws—including zoning—are legally bound to comply with its principles. Attendees listened with rapt attention as Curran also explained that there is nothing in the regulations that requires the CRD board to even refer the question to the five West Shore representatives. There is hope, then, for some sanity. Brian White, another panellist and the director of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Royal Roads University, warned that experience shows that if this proposal is approved, land values will rise and there will be pressure from other developers. “This proposal is a Trojan Horse,” he said. “It opens up [the area to] land speculation on a grand scale…[it will become] a giant monopoly board for offshore developers who never see the place.” Pascale Knoglinger, the young president of the newly formed Jordan River Community Association, told of how “the process was very frustrating” for her community: “We feel we’ve had no input.” She remains unconvinced the project will provide any benefits for her community. Many in the audience issued pleas to the CRD to “live up to its responsibility.” Greg Holloway pointed out that those in urban areas accept greater density in return for keeping wilderness and rural areas preserved. Others raised important questions. “How are we going to get over the notion that just because someone buys a property, they have a right to develop it?” asked Ray Zimmerman. Diane McNally urged us all to take a hard look at “our love affair with growth and development.” By the end of the evening, it appeared that citizens were hopeful of changing not just the direction of the CRD, but were keen to go further. A North Saanich resident advocated for making the Juan de Fuca lands a federal election issue and establishing a national park—perhaps even a World Heritage site. The final speaker, Saul Arbess of the Sea-to-Sea-Greenbelt Society, noted that our new premier, untainted by the travesty committed by Gordon Campbell’s government in releasing the lands from tree farm management, might be convinced to purchase the land to expand the park. “It’s an opportunity to get the land back for the people of BC in perpetuity,” he said. Ender Ilkay is obviously a persistent fellow—this is his third proposal for the area. But that doesn’t mean the CRD should give into his desires, that his interest supersedes the people’s. In 2007 the provincial government acted in a way diametrically opposed to the public interest in letting Western Forest Products take their lands out of tree farm licenses without compensation. Here’s hoping that CRD directors don’t add insult to injury. Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus Magazine.
  22. Women Talking (Vintage Canada, 2019) is a mesmerizing, fast-moving, powerful little book. Yet it’s almost entirely based on conversation—eight women talking—in a barn’s hayloft, over the course of two clandestine meetings. Like many women’s conversations, this one meanders, often going off on tangents, but it all helps them understand their dilemma and what to do about it. That dilemma is whether to stay in or leave the small, ultra-conservative Mennonite settlement in Bolivia that they’ve lived in all their lives. Will they acquiesce in their complete domination by men who have failed to protect them and who want them to forgive eight men who have been arrested for raping many women in the colony? This aspect of the story is based on real events that occurred in the remote “Manitoba/Molotschna” colony in Bolivia from 2005 to 2009: eight men were arrested after over 100 women and their daughters (ages ranged from 3 to 65) were raped in a drug-induced sleep. Though the drug wiped out most of their memories of the events, the women knew something had happened. Some thought it was demons. Some were too afraid or ashamed to talk about it; those who did were initially dismissed as imagining things. Women Talking is an act of wild female imagination—the very thing the real women who complained of the rapes were initially accused of. For the women to leave Molotschna would be a truly revolutionary and courageous act. They would have to do it almost immediately, while most of the colony’s men are in the city trying to arrange bail for the arrestees. They would have to take their children, animals, wagons (no cars or electricity in Molotschna) and supplies. They have no map and cannot read; they cannot speak Spanish (or English). Yet a decision must be made. They talk through the realities of their position, each woman contributing her insights, logic, anger, and love for each other and their children. At first, I wondered if I’d be able to keep the eight women straight. But soon each came to life as individuals. Ona, the free spirit carrying the child of her rapist; Agata, her mom, who suffers from edema and impatiently reigns in tangential discussions; righteous Salome who chafes at authority at the best of times and whose anger is “Vesuvius” because her three-year-old daughter has been raped; chain-smoking, clear-thinking Mejal; Mariche whose husband beats her yet is still very wary of leaving; her mom Greta who is determined to take her two beloved old mares Cheryl and Ruth on the journey; and two teenage girls, who are excited by the chance of an adventure, resourceful, risk-taking, and inspired, for the most part, by their older sisters (though they can’t help rolling their eyes—or giggling—at certain points in the meetings). The women’s conversation is narrated by school teacher August Epp, the one man they trust right now. Epp left the colony at age 12 (his parents were banned) and returned as an adult trying to make sense of himself. The women have asked him to record their conversation, but not to interfere or interrupt. He is mostly able to do so, though adds helpful observations and background in his “minutes”—and commits his own acts of revolution by assisting them in more concrete ways over the two days of decision-making (for instance, he steals the colony’s safe to help them finance their sojourn). Despite the violence and betrayal the women have experienced, and the rage, fear and grief they feel, the story bursts with tenderness and humour—indeed sometimes gales of laughter at absurdities in their lives. Canadian author Miriam Toews is a master story-teller. I’ve read most of her other books and look forward to more. She is particularly adept at capturing women’s complicated lives and their journeys to liberation. Women Talking was a Governor General Award finalist.
  23. May 22, 2020 IN A RECENT Guardian column, Lucy Jones called being attentive to nature “a healthy form of escapism.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s the greatest gift we can get from lockdown, she notes; and the evidence that being in nature helps with healing, grieving, fear and loneliness is growing. (And that’s in addition to the vast ecosystem services nature provides, from water to carbon storage and well beyond.) My hope is that we try to “repay” nature for such gifts. The upheaval of life-as-we-knew-it does gives us an opportunity, not just to slow down and revel in near nature, but to save it as well. News sites and social media indicate more people the world over are taking notice and falling in love with nature right in their own backyards. Not just a glancing sort of notice but a deeper, longer, more contemplative type of awareness, one that leads to seeking out more knowledge about the plants and animals with which we share the Earth. The more we understand about our fellow creatures, the more we care about them—and the more we make connections between the health of those backyard biota and the need to protect the environment, including taking aggressive action against carbon emissions. One backyard creature I cannot help but notice right now is the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). We have swarms of these feisty little jewels at our feeders—I just upped my daily sugar-water production from six to eight cups to meet their demands. These tiny “notably pugnacious” birds arrive here from points far south, making journeys of over 3,200 kilometres. Wintering in Mexico, some nest here on the Island, others head further north, right up to Alaska—further north than any other type of hummingbird. Female Rufous hummingbird Their populations have been declining, and with the climate crisis and the decline of insect prey due to pesticides, they will be faced with existential challenges. These globe-trotting birds must hit many different habitats at just the right moment to meet their needs. An interactive map at Audubon.org shows that even at +1.5 degrees C scenario, most coastal areas of Vancouver Island will not be suitable habitat for them. (Unfortunately, the planet is already at about +1 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures.) It’s terrifically sad to contemplate a world without these little jewel-like creatures. Yet such contemplation is a step towards saving them. Understanding how their survival depends on humans radically reducing their carbon emissions and pesticide use, helps motivate me on those fronts. It seems the least I can do to repay the many gifts nature provides. (I am pleased they appreciate my gift of sugar-water as well.) ON THAT OTHER CRISIS FRONT: In recent days, the BC government has reported fewer new cases of COVID-19. Ten yesterday; but other days, 8, 2, 15, 7, 9, 14. So we are flattening the curve. But we are still being admonished that we cannot go back to “normal” yet. Non-essential travel and large get-togethers are out. We’ve been officially urged by Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Theresa Tam, to wear a mask in public. While many businesses re-opened starting May 19, they are operating with very non-normal restrictions in place—one at a time service, lots of extra cleaning, and the like. Business inspections are being made to ensure compliance. FOCUS clients tell me they are exhausted trying to keep their businesses alive. Late last week we learned that Dance Victoria, Pacific Opera Victoria and the Victoria Symphony have all cancelled their seasons through next spring. Over 8 million Canadians have applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, millions more are on the wage subsidy, and large businesses are now eligible for $60 million-plus loans. Oh, and Worksafe BC, the lead agency on getting us re-opened safely, lost close to $3 billion in the stock market collapse. There’s abundant evidence that we are far from normal. I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page. If you are taking photos of native plants and animals, you might be interested in our Mapping Nature project, here.
  24. There will be a virtual celebration of John Gould’s The End of Me this Sunday, May 24. THIS ZOOM LINK will take you to the launch of John Gould’s The End of Me: Sunday, May 24, 2020, 2 p.m. Pacific / 5 p.m. Eastern. THIS FACEBOOK LINK will take you to the event page, where, if you like, you can let us know if you’ll be able to join us. John will be joined by Kelsey Attard of Freehand Books, and by fellow authors Sara Cassidy and Julie Paul, who’ll pepper him with questions from the audience (via Zoom chat) and with questions of their own.
  25. Posted January 2019 Photo: The ironically-named Bellewood Park development will see the removal of 29 trees, including Garry oaks and the two giant sequoias in the background. Residents are mobilizing to protect one of the city’s greatest natural charms, increasingly threatened by development. Go to story
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