So I learned a lot about plastic bags and the efforts of the Divest Victoria group while attending the lengthy Council meeting on Thursday (video here agenda here). Why was the meeting so long? Well mostly because a total of 17 people signed up for their respective 5 minutes to address Council and all but 3 of these groups were on the topics of banning plastic bags and socially responsible investing, as driven by the Divest Victoria group.
This clip (see below) from the especially verbose Councillor Isitt (maybe because he missed Planning and Land Use meeting earlier in the day) neatly encapsulates the general level of municipal operational professionalism at play on Thursday night.
Well, that and this picture of the City Manager and the Pope:
I kid. Not really. I did get asked how I put up with it all:
One final thing related to the general tenor of the evening worth mentioning, is a new initiative in Saanich which should really be considered for application here in Victoria, both to expedite regular council business and to also save the time & money of requiring staff to listen to things that really don’t apply to their “operational” jobs as Isitt would say. What Saanich does, is that in addition to letting the public speak when committees are considering things like new applications, they put aside 30 minutes once a month at the end of Council meetings (which allows staff to go home) for members of the public to come and speak on any issue.
An additional benefit of this opportunity coming at the end of council, is that people have to sit and wait and actually observe and hopefully learn more about the operational aspects that are actually the primary function of local government, not like plastic bags and socially responsible investments (e.g., items to lobby on if anything).
Public Hearings on Thursday
There were a total of 4 public hearings on Thursday and these were all resolved and passed within about 30 minutes. There was a rezoning for a garden suite at 1315 Richardson St, a small lot rezoning for 62 Cambridge Street, a heritage alteration permit for 135 Medana Street, and a heritage designation application for 1713 Government Street. Of note is that only the 1315 Richardson Street Public Hearing had members of the public attend and this was simply to speak in support of the proposal.
Council only really had praise for everything else.
All the recommendations in the agenda were passed.
There was whole bunch of stuff on the agenda related to the need for Council approval of strategic plan grants (scroll down to see items included on the agenda). However, everything but Community Garden Volunteer Coordinator Grants got pushed off to a special meeting that will be held starting at 8am on August 5th (see event here). And the reasons for this delay in decision making was Council’s dissatisfaction with how grant related information was provided by staff. And the reason for why they were actually looking this information to be neatly organized and provided (because hey, the city really doesn’t ever do this well) was because apparently they’ve been being lobbied hard by applicants for approval of grant requests submitted according to an originally very tight timeline.
Given the screwy way in which changes to the grant process have been brought forward and given the general lack of attention to the details of these changes by City Council it is not surprising how “clunky” this application process has gone. That said, I was surprised by how candidly Mayor Helps was speaking on Thursday night of how there are still many questions still to be asked and answered before grant funds can be allocated to applicant. Alto also revealed on Thursday how apparently requests were made for twice the available pot of money, which if anything, makes for more politics.
It still seems shitty to me that applications were made on a certain assumption and Council are now changing those assumptions. Perhaps they’ll just end up doing what Isitt suggested instead?
What do you think?
Committee Related Issues of Note
There is always a Reports from Committees section on every Council agenda for the Governance & Priorities and the Planning & Land Use Committee. And the purpose of these reports are so that Council can give formal endorsement to motions made in committees. Where I’d say the majority of committee issues get passed by Council without discussion, “big ticket” committee items often result in additional council discussion.
There were many of these such items on the Thursday agenda.
Housing Affordability Task Force Recommendations
I found the language used by Council during the significant amount of time they spent making political statements on these recommendations very frustrating on Thursday. Only Thornton-Joe made a comment of substance. I found it especially frustrating how Isitt and Helps kept repeating how:
“There are items in the recommendations that I can’t support in isolation but I can support them as a suite”
In fact, “suite of recommendations” seemed to be the new snappy phrase of the day of this Council. And this bothers me. It bothers me because there was no actual discussion by Council on Thursday of what particular items they did not support. Which I mention because, maybe just maybe, everybody could have possibly agreed on what items they could and could not support and could have subsequently removed those agreed upon items from consideration.
Such a process would have been practical, no?
Another thing that bugged me on Thursday was how Helps made sure to remind Council that they had approved task force members. This bugged me because it is my understanding that she hand picked her desired task force membership and then simply handed the list of Council to endorse. Which is to say, Helps behaviour read a lot like she had a lot to deflect on Thursday night.
Lastly, where Helps had originally promised a series of September workshops for Council to really work through (based on staff guidance) what actual implementation of this suite of recommendations would entail, she spoke on Thursday of how she has since realized that September workshops just won’t be possible given their annual week long commitment to things like UBCM in Vancouver. What we didn’t learn about until Thursday mind you, were city Trade Mission plans for late September as well.
Housing Supports – Tent Cities & Micro Homes
Following the recent GPC update on the Housing Supports file last Thursday (meeting summary here) Council did their political rounds on Thursday night speaking to the various components of the relevant motion previously approved by GPC prior.
Mayor Helps had this to say on the issue:
Such a sentiment was also reflected in a TC article published on Friday. The most interesting part of this article for me mind you, was the reference to “several hundred” people sheltering in parks because if you’ve been listening to Councillors speak on this issue over the past few months, their most frequently used total # for folks sheltering in parks is a flat 100. As for who is right, I really don’t know. But I do know there is a big difference though between say 1 and 400 or even 1 and 200.
Another bit of substance to note on this issue, was the solid lecture that Young delivered in response to the youthful ignorance of Isitt with his assumption that – if you make micro-homes and tent cities available there will no longer be folks sheltering in parks. It is a faulty assumption for many reasons. Especially if there are “several hundred” folks sheltering in parks and less than 100 new beds are made available from these new initiatives wouldn’t you say?
Related to the issue, there is now a citizen group that has emerged to oppose building a tent city in Topaz Park (twitter here). And based on what I’ve heard Isitt speak about in the Council chambers, he’s been a main organizer and supporter of such a movement by going around and speaking to local residents about City plans. Also of note is that he is previously on record as saying something like “nothing would be more effective (as advocacy for more funding for homelessness issues) than getting a bunch of residents to complain to the province about losing their playing fields”.
Might this be what he is trying to move forward? He also announced on Thursday that he will be hosting a Topaz park walk through on Thursday night at 6;30 pm. I’ll have to go and check it out, especially given that I won’t have any city council meetings to attend that day.
From a communications perspective, I also find it curious how this whole sheltering in parks issue has explicitly been on the City agenda for 3 months now and it is only starting to really bubble up in the community. Makes me think.
Report from VICPLUC – 613 Herald Street (map)
Building from my comments on this application during my PLUC Summary & Observations I must say that I was surprised by an additional requirement that Councillor Thornton-Joe squeezed in specific to this project (see below):
Development Permit with Variances Application No. 000377 for 613 Herald Street: That Council: Refer Development Permit with Variances Application No. 000377 for 613 Herald Street for a complete review by the Advisory Design Panel, with a request that the Panel pay particular attention to the following:
1. The exterior finishes of the building as they relate to the Old Town Guidelines.
2. The opportunity to provide a greater articulation of the upper-portion of the building.
3. The ground floor design as it relates to the pedestrian experience and historic Chinatown, the brick lintel, and the issues identified by the Downtown Residents Association.
Sure she was essentially just clarifying her concerns from this morning, but it still seemed like an amendment (at 10pm at night) that nobody really heard. Or was meant to hear. I would like to point out however, that there were in fact two #3s in the associated recommendation in the report (see bottom of page 2). I would also reckon that a Heritage Advisory Panel review of the pedestrian-scape would have been better suited to her ask. Don’t you think?
Public Hearings for August 27th
Building from comments by a fellow named Charles during Requests to Address Council on Thursday night and another fellow during question period, Councillor Isitt made an effort to convince Council to commit to NOT hosting a public hearing on August 27th for the Bosa Development planned for the old St Andrews School site (1008-12 Pandora) in North Park. Where Charles had spoken (unofficially) to community opposition to the project, the other guy asked if Council was aware of traffic counts, specially bicycle and car traffic counts on Pandora & Vancouver for the purposes of implying that it is already too busy of a site for more traffic.
Helps’s response to the Traffic Count question was essentially “I dunno, what does it matter” made me take a look back at my summary of the Bosa Development from when it came before PLUC on June 25 and my summary of that same meeting as well as review of the staff report provided for the 25th. I couldn’t find any mention of traffic counts associated with that site. There is however a bunch of work related to the Highway Access Bylaw, which you would think should have some traffic counts attached it to.
Also related to this Bosa development is Council’s recent consideration of associated amendments to the Housing Agreement bylaw (as amended) for this proposed development in North Park (see Council minutes of July 9 middle of page 15-16). I have made a cut of relevant video of this discussion in pasted it in below because illustrates again, the lack of coherence & professionalism so often displayed by Council when engaged in land use and development:
In the clip above, Isitt starts off with questions and Helps says “oh this is because you were away.” My response to such a comment, is that if and when a member of Council is away, there should really be some mechanism in place to ensure they are apprised of what happens when they are away. Wouldn’t you think?
Isitt then makes a point about significant outstanding community concern with this project. My response to such a comment was that I noted in my PLUC Summary of the project that no comment from the community association was part of the PLUC agenda package and this is bad because presumably Council are making decisions blind to community opinion on the development.
Alto then made an odd comment (recorded in the minutes as):
Councillor Alto asked if this amendment is solely about the Housing Agreement as there are still a significant number of issues still to be resolved (prior to Public Hearing).
My response to this comment, is that it amazes me because she was part of the PLUC meeting where a motion was passed (which she voted for) saying that committee was ready to move this motion forward to public hearing (see pages 5-6 in PLUC June 25 Minutes) so I would argue that she should have known better and known what she had moved forward in approving the PLUC motion.
In Council’s discussions there were a number of issues related to access to the development and Mason Street improvements. The Engineering Department is working with the applicant to provide greater clarity. This information will be brought forward when the application goes forward to public hearing.
So well shall have to see if indeed this additional information does come available for public review prior to August 27th and whether it also takes into account current traffic flows along Pandora and Vancouver. As for where to find this additional info if and when it comes available, my initial thought was to bookmark this link to the City’s Development tracker, because if information is published anywhere, it should theoretically be published here.
But you never know, especially since this is the current page:
If only the City had a simple tracking solution like Saanich does.
Needless to say, in the words of Isitt – I fully anticipate that there will be a “tense” public hearing related to the proposed redevelopment of St Andrews School and pretty much the whole block, when the Public Hearing occurs on August 27th (see green site map below):
Should be interesting as it will be curious to see whether both third and final reading, or even third reading of the relevant rezoning bylaws will be given. And not to continually hold up Saanich for its model process or anything (I don’t Attwell likes it when I do), but it should be stated that final reading of Saanich redevelopment bylaws does not occur on the same night of the Public Hearing like it does here in Victoria. It happens at a subsequent meeting and allows time for Councillors to think about all what they’ve heard in a predictable format.
And my final thing to note about Council discussion related to the Bosa development on Thursday night, was an additional comment made by Alto prior to the actual vote being called on moving this property forward for August 27th (Isitt & Madoff were opposed). This is the comment she made:
It earned her a swift rebuke from Madoff that I enjoyed. I enjoyed it because Madoff was firm in her declarations that, no actually, it is the job of council and not the applicants to move forward applications when they are ready.
My Contribution to the Evening
I got this tweet which helped me keep my spirits up:
I also had this to say to Council:
I didn’t get any tweets or retweets.