Feb 3 GPC Strategic Planning Summary

This is my summary of deliberations that occurred yesterday on Tuesday February 3 (9:00am – 3:00pm) when Victoria Council met in an informal Governance and Priorities format to continue with their 2015-2018 Strategic Plan efforts. Video of this meeting is available here from the City video service.

In accordance with the agenda report from Mayor Helps regarding the strategic planning process, the purpose of the Tuesday meeting was for:

“A facilitated discussion to bring everything together into high-level concrete outcomes and actions. This will loop back to where we started in order to make sure that things we said were “wrong” in question 1 section 1, are addressed by the outcomes and actions we agree to. This will be the meatiest session and this is where we will begin to make decisions.”

To aid in required efforts of adding strategic outcomes and actions to previously identified goals under the 11 strategic objectives, a helpful writeup was typed up and made available here as part of the agenda package. Prior to starting in on this however, Mayor Helps first had councllors go around the table and identify for the group what they are “passionate about”.

In brief, Councillor passion were as follows:

Lucus = economic development;
Madoff = building complete cities;
Coleman = increased options for seniors and young folks starting out;
Thornton-Joe = homelessness and affordability and downtown vibrancy;
Alto = keeping the door open for communication;
Young = affordability, efficient services, and the need to seismically upgrade building stock;
Loveday = community, renters rights and youth engagement;
Isitt = greenspace, active transportation and social inclusion;
Helps = economic development, public engagement and participation.

Once this was done, councillors were given 10 purple stickies for “high level outcomes” and 10 green stickies for recording 10 “actions” required to get to these outcomes. Once they filled out their stickies, they were then supposed to replace their goals from yesterday (on the Strategic Objective sheets) with the outcomes and actions they had just drafted. Mayor Helps specified that these outcomes actions were supposed to be arranged by anticipated time frame – e.g., 2015 – 2018.

The next 45 minIMG_0630utes of so were taken up with Council silently writing on their stickies and then rearranging items on the Objective sheets that lined the Council chambers. While this occurred and for 99% of the meeting, a group of high level staff sat silently on the opposite side of the room.


IMG_0628Once Council finished placing their stickies, Mayor Helps began a facilitated process of going through the Strategic objectives one by one, and reviewed all the posted outcomes and actions and attempted to establish agreed upon pathways and time lines for each with the approval of Council.


Objective 1: Enhance and Steward Green Space and Food Systems

This was a full sheet of items and related discussion on this objective took a significant amount of time as Council struggled with Mayor Helps’s intended process. Where there seemed to be agreement between Council about such things as increasing local food production and developing Ships Point (which I didn’t know where this was until I googled) there was significant back and forth as the process merits of a Parks Master plan (apparently in the words since 2009) were debated.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Create more parks and green space!
  • Support the production of food on city owned land;
  • Enliven public space! Make Victoria a place for people!

Objective 2: Strive for Excellence in Planning and Land Use

There weren’t as many actions and outcomes on this sheet, and save for Councillor Lucas’s nebulous desire to “Hire the best planner in Canada” the discussion was much more focused. There was a debate on the relative merits of “streamlining approval processes”, agreement on the need to update local area plans, and Mayor Helps emphasized the need to resolve a longstanding issue of “what land use approval responsibilities to delegate to staff vs. council”.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Update local area plans;
  • Streamline land use policies;
  • More support both human and financial for neighbourhoods through a department of neighbourhoods.

Objective 3: Facilitate Social Inclusion and Community Wellness

Some big ideas and outcomes identified in this section included ending homelessness, supporting downtown recreation, and supporting senior programming. Everyone seemed in agreement on the items identified in this section.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Refurbish/repair Crystal pool;
  • More planning for seniors;
  • Four pillar model for homelessness, addition and mental health.

Objective 4: Create Prosperity through Economic Development

Councillor Young and Isitt got into quite the back and forth on this item as Young, the economist, argued against the relevance, feasability, and practicality of Isitt’s proposed “municipal income strategic”. A second debate then ensued on Mayor Helps’s proposal for a economic development office and task force, both of which had been significant planks in her election platform.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Create incentives to attract more small and medium business to the city;
  • Give a partial revitalization tax exemption for a period of five years to a large portion of the downtown to fill vacancies and stimulate entrepreneurships.
  • Create an Economic Development Agencies that would be for Greater Victoria.

Objective 5: Complete a Multi-Modal and Active Transportation Network

Discussion on this item included a fair bit of time spent on cycling infrastructure and the need for a robust network to encourage more cyclists. The idea commuter rail between Langford and downtown Victoria was also raised by Councillor Isitt and then supported by Mayor Helps who informed Council that she’d lunched with local Mayors on Monday Feb 2 and they are all apparently in support of this commuter rail system. The need for a reliable complete streets approach to neighbourhood planning actions was also raised.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Build a world class walking and cycling network;
  • A public transit system that links the City with suburban areas and other town cetres;
  • Complete the harbour front walkway;
    Extend Government Street Mall.

Here is an example of what a completed outcome/action sheet looked like after it was reviewed by Council.


Objective 6: Engage and Empower the Community

There was only a few stickies on this objective sheet, and everyone agreed that a good and practical outcome for 2018 would be “to rebuilt trust with community on public engagement”. Everyone also agreed that improving relations with local First Nations was a good outcome for 2015. Mayor Helps also spoke briefly of how she sees the planned “participatory budgeting as a strategic action for rebuilding trust with Victoria residents”.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Develop adequate community facilities in each neighbourhood;
  • Resource neighbourhood associations…
  • Improve the City’s inclusion and engagement of youth.

Objective 7: Enhance Council’s Governance and Practices

What happened here was by far the most interesting part of the day for me. A fiery debate got kicked off by a strategic outcome that had been listed by Councillor Young for: “Fewer elected reps and local governments by 2018”. This led to the Amalgamation question being tabled while Council dealt with other stickies on the list (sister cities, open data, citizen engagement, facilities assessment) by placing on other strategic objective sheets.

Returning back to the amalgamation issue, Mayor Helps remarked on her concern that Council reverted to using the Council procedure bylaw as the struggled to come up with what she described as “an achievable strategic outcome”. Eventually, Council narrowly agreed to a commitment to “Support the province [in studying amalgamation] with the intention of putting a recommendation in front of the public by 2018.”

What made this even more interesting to me (to be explored more in a later post) is that this new strategic outcome then got moved to the “parking lot” leaving no strategic outcomes or actions associated with the strategic objective of “Enhancing Council’s governance and Practices”.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Create more open government policies;
  • Buy top of the line engagement software…
  • Fewer municipalities in the region and stronger governance;
    Review animal control bylaw.

Objective 8: Make Victoria More Affordable

Everyone seemed in agreement on items identified in this section and there were multiple mentions of Creating more garden suites as an affordability outcome. If interested, more information on the city’s garden suite policy is available here.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Mandate low cost housing;
  • Implement innovative solutions to make Victoria more affordable..;
  • There will be diverse options for housing.

Objective 9: Build the Financial Capacity of the Organization

Most of the discussion on this item concerned the City of Victoria acquiring and disposing land and whether Victoria was able to do so in a profit seeking manner, as had been suggested by Councillor Isitt. Councillor Coleman cautioned that the city hasn’t been very good at the property business.

The one “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday was:

  • Increase revenue and effectiveness through a Municipal Real Estate Acquisition and Management strategy.

Objective 10: Plan for Emergencies Including Climate Change Short and Long Term

Discussion on this was super brief. Everyone chuckled at Councillor Isitt when one point he asked if we should be “considering abandoning the low lying areas of the city”.

The one “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday was:

  • Emergency management is now in the City’s OCP – properly resource the functions so we can become resilient economically to recover from The Big One within a year of the event.

Objective 11: Nurture our Arts, Culture and Learning Capital

Discussion on this item was similarly brief, and everyone seemed to agree that affordable space for artists, and producing an Arts and Culture Master plan was important. Councillor Young was a voice of dissent on the need for a new library.

Some “Big Dream Ideas” identified Monday included:

  • Increase the City’s investment, planning and implementation of the creative and recreational economies;
  • Develop and implement a cultural master plan;
  • Plan and build a new Central library.

Reflections on the Strategic Planning Process to Date
As noted on Monday, I have many thoughts to date and I will be posting a written summary of some of these observations later tonight. I also intend to produce a short video of the 2014-18 Strategic Planning exercise this weekend. I am curious to see what happens in the final public Strategic Planning session that is scheduled for this Thursday.

Thanks for reading!

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