It was a long meeting on Thursday and I have to say this surprised me because it started off with Mayor Helps suggesting that more than half the agenda items go on the Consent Agenda (e.g., get passed with no discussion). The meeting still ended up being a long one because of how the remaining items were presented by staff, which is to say, had the issues been presented differently the resulting meeting would have been more efficient and more coherent.
If you’re interested 5 Hours and 48 minutes of GPC video is here.
Of note is that Councillors Coleman & Isitt were absent as they were attending FCM Annual Conference & Trade Show. It appears as though Isitt was keeping track of things by following my twitter feed so that was fun for me!
What all Went on the Consent Agenda?
The 2015 1st Quarter Budget Update Report
BC Seniors Games – To host 2017 Games
My thoughts on this list of items (e.g., the consent agenda) that got passed forward to Council with no discussion and probably won’t get discussed at Council, is that the Vic West Park Improvements and the BC Seniors Games item should not have been part of it.
Because they warranted discussion.
Vic West Park Engagement Plan should have been discussed from a procedural perspective so that there would be a public presentation on record of the process that local residents could expect to be engaged in specific to a local parks. And I say this because, when no public presentation is made and no public conversation is had there is less to report on and encourage interest from a public media perspective.
BC Seniors Games should have been discussed because the Business Plan for the games that was part of the agenda demonstrates the operational complexities of coordinating things like the BC Seniors Games. Furthermore, my take on the “notes” document also included in the agenda is that GPC agreed without discussion to submit a bid of interest for hosting the 2017 games and that this bid will actually cost the City $60,000.
Delegation – BC Transit
I found the BC Transit presentation really interesting. I learned that they are actually a Crown Corporation and that transit services are provided through a 50/50 cost sharing formula whereby monies from local governments have to match monies put forward by the province. This means that if the province only provides a reduced share of funds, local governments have to do the same. Which seems kinda demented if you ask me, and also that such a system could promote a lack of local ownership as a result of this provincial funding contingency.
Provincial funding is definitely good – we should just be able to pay more if we want more so as to maintain certain levels of service!
Apparently the BC Transit model in the Greater Victoria area is unique in that BC Transit is also the operator of the local bus system (as a holdover from the days of streetcars) and it is also said to be the most cost efficient (for service & administration) transit provider in Canada. Other fun facts are that BC transit here in the CRD carries 100,000 people a day and has a fleet of 281 buses which get switched around routes.
On the issue of Transit exchanges, the new exchange at UVic is a recent accomplishment for BC Transit. Apparently plans are in the works to work towards establishing new exchanges at Uptown Mall and Royal Jubilee Hospital. Current challenges for BC transit include the need to invest in a new major corridor, better connections to the West Shore and more late night service. BC Transit is also pretty proud of their new website and trip planner. Related to this, has anyone else noticed how the bus trip options in Google Maps seem out of date?
Perhaps a deliberate effort to bring more traffic to BC Transit?
Notable Council Questions Included:
Alto asked about bike racks on buses and was told that every bus is equipped with a two bike rack. On the issue of capacity, apparently racks with 3-4 bikes are problematic in how they impact the turning radius for the bus and they also decrease the functionality of front bus lights, and lack of light is a real issue outside of the City core.
Young asked about Rapid Bus Line Planning efforts and was told that BC Transit staff are also working with Oak Bay and Saanich. Mention was also made of how, now that the City OCP is done (2012), BC Transit is able to engage in specific discussions about localized route needs. The three year time lag seems strange to me and so I’m curious to see if any sort of engagement related to these new localized efforts will come forward.
Lucas asked about efforts to address specific needs of slow moving seniors who use buses and was told that BC Transit provides a Hybrid service (part regular bus part handidart) in other communities and so they are looking into the possibility of making this “Shopper shuttle” available in YYJ.
After Loveday mentioned that he didn’t even know that BC Transit service was available to and from the Victoria Airport, the transit reps committed to considering a new advertising campaign related to the availability of this transit service. Apparently they currently advertise the service in a Peninsula news circular but not across the rest of YYJ. Of note is that I previously wrote on my blog about the current status of this service in my GPC Summary of the May 21 visit from the Airport Authority.
Mayor Helps asked for an update on the downtown transit precinct (for lower Douglas outside of Crystal Gardens to colocate with the Pacific Bus line and Greyhound) and was told a report will come to the Transit Commission on June 16th and will be finalized in September. As for what the difference is between a Transit precinct and a Transit Exchange I do not know.
New Operational Plan & 1st Quarter Highlights
1st Quarter VICPD Update
Because the Police Chief had been sitting dutifully in the audience since the start of the meeting, he was encouraged by the City Manager to speak first to Council. As always, he provided an interesting presentation and spoke candidly with Council in response to a myriad of questions. Where a recent survey revealed that drug activity and social disorder are top local concerns, Chief Elsner stated clearly that downtown Victoria is one of the safest in Canada.
As a way of maximizing stretched budgets Chief Elsner told Council about a new Telephone reporting system where trained Police officers assist in answering calls for service as a way of minimizing the frequency of unnecessary full deployments. In response to a concern from Lucas about a fire truck, ambulance and police car being deployed for a call about a fellow asleep on the sidewalk Chief Elsner said that the telephone reporting tries to get more information about a situation so that the typical “triaged response” of “all hands on deck” in not necessary. Related to this, the new telephone reporting system is said to also help get officers to an urgent scene faster since they are less busy with lower priority issues.
Chief Elsner is committed to purposeful Youth engagement. He runs a weeklong Leadership camp for Youth and also manages a Chiefs Advisory Council where he encourages Youth to be active in their communities. Cyber crime is a top priority in Youth engagement.
In response to questions about whether or not he would consider replacing retired officers with social workers because more and more police services are becoming mental health related services, Chief Elsner explained how he could not do this because then more regular police work would not get done. He also suggested that focusing on mental health service training now is only a short term fix and also said in response to a question about integrated police services, that there would be fewer officers across the region if there was an amalgamated force.
Regular Staff Update
This item started off with some energetic comments from the City Manager, which was good in the sense that he never seems like a pleasant guy when in the Council Chambers, but it was also odd in how he made his comments from the side of the room. And I highlight this because Council sits in the centre of the room when in GPC and staff typically sit with them when speaking to particular issues. The City Manager however stayed on the side of the room.
The City’s Director of Citizen Engagement and Strategic Planing was dutifully at the table and for the most part she was quite boring as she read through her written notes. Things got more interesting though when she spoke candidly on other items. One thing to note is that it was during one of the more boring sections when I stood up to go to the washroom and the TC reporter sitting beside me asked empathetically if I had “had enough” because he mistook my actions as packing up to leave.
And I mention this because it is not infrequent for conventional news media tasked with covering local government issues to actively disparage and be quite vocal about their dislike for the local governments they’re being paid to report on. As for me who doesn’t get paid, sure I get frustrated sometimes with the lunacy of certain processes but I’m never filled with disdain because I am deeply committed to the business of local government, reporting on it and making it make sense for others.
I’m not just there to get a quote and go home.
I’d rather write instead about the messy process and make suggestions for how to improve it because it is only then that change happens. Like yesterday for instance, the meeting ended with an apology to GPC from the City Manager for how staff had mismanaged the presentation of “historical items” to Council as part of the GPC Quarterly update. And I’m pretty sure this apology came because of my tweeting every single little snippet of action while Council and stuff bumbled their way through.
I give exposure to bad things and some of them get changed.
It is fun.
It was also fascinating how GPC deliberations yesterday on the historical items (previous council commitments) highlighted a solid disconnect between old and new guard Councillors and their understanding of their 2015-18 Strategic Plan – a document and process that I have critiqued extensively. Where the 1st Quarter Performance Report and Operational Plan has been completely redone so that every City action now aligns with the 13 Council objectives, yesterday revealed how the older guard Councillors didn’t quite realize this was the direction in which they were being led by Mayor Helps.
It appears they didn’t realize that Mayor Helps wants the strategic plan to serve as the complete City plan, meaning that only what is in the Strategic Plan is official city activity for the next 3 years. It was refreshing to see the old guard on their toes yesterday as they pushed to both receive more info from staff and to also ensure that nothing significant gets left behind.
All told – the process was still very messy. But what else could the City Manager have expected when he decided to place a basic list of items (these historical items) with no explanation, dates or motions attached to them and yet also “expect Council to provide direction”.
It was odd.
Changes to City Grant Process
This was the first item dealt with after lunch and I recommend checking out the ppt deck for an easier sense of the issue. The 6 proposed recommendations from staff prompted a fair bit of discussion and most of this was focused on approval of the terms of reference for a new volunteer community garden coordinator grant.
Where Loveday as the original mover of the grant had originally envisioned it as an annual $36,000 pot of money to be distributed to the 6 community food gardens currently in the City, issues of fairness and equality emerged and this grant got tweaked so that any Community Garden (food producing or not) that has official permitted approval from the City of Victoria will now be able to apply for this volunteer coordinator grant. It’ll be curious to see how this new granting program ends up working out, especially since it appears as though the 6 groups who were counting on $6,000 won’t be getting the full amount.
Other motions passed by GPC included:
- Approve the Grant Policy, including amendments as a result of the feedback:
- A simple application form with a shorter version for the micro-grants
- A streamlined reporting form
- An interim report requirement for the 2016 intake
- Pay community garden volunteer coordination grants and micro-grants in March
- Require presentations to Council only for grant requests over $10,000
- Direct staff to accept applications for the 2015 Strategic Plan grants until June 26, 2015
- Direct staff to report on eligible applications at the July 9, 2015 Council meetings (decisions on awards to be made on July 23 after presentations)
- Direct staff to schedule Town Hall meetings as required for presentations by eligible applicants the week of July 13, 2015
- Approve the 2015 Fee-For-Service Grants as outlined in Appendix B
Sheltering in City Parks
So I’m sure that most of you who read my blog have also already read the TC coverage of this discussion. As a woman, I have to point out that the male who wrote the TC article was a bit of a dick in how he began his coverage of a complex issue:
Victoria Councillors, two of them in tears agreed to a plan to help people camping in city parks, approving measures that could cost up to $350,000, including the possibility of creating a community of tiny homes.
As a woman I will say definitively that neither of the two (conveniently female) “Councillors” was in tears when they voted. Yes one of them (Thornton-Joe) teared up when speaking of an issue close to her heart and yes, compassionate softie Mayor Helps (not a Councillor BTW) choked up when praising staff and Council for having the discussion and committing to a plan, neither woman was “in tears” when the vote was called and the plan approved.
Showing emotion at an isolated point in time is not being “in tears”.
Being in tears is something women and men do sometimes. But we generally reserve such things for when we’re in private, when we’re in pain, when we’re really pissed off, or when we’re just really sad. And I can say with some certainty that none of the seven people sitting around the Council table yesterday were in any of these conditions. Which is to say, that for the TC reporter to begin his article of the Housing Action Plan in such a way was not only incorrect but also sexist and condescending because to highlight “tears” is to suggest a lack of control of the situation due to being overwhelmed by emotions as a result of say, the four situations above (e.g., private time, pain, pissed off or sad).
Of note is that this same TC reporter asked me at the start of the meeting, while pointing to Councillors Lucas and Loveday:
“Who is the grey haired lady and the dark haired guy?”
So what actually happened yesterday?
Picking up on my theme that started the article (e.g., if issues were structured better more could have actually happened) there actually wasn’t much that happened yesterday that was really new or groundbreaking. Yes. GPC gave approval (for Council to consider, not approval-full-stop) what’s been called an Action Plan for Housing, Supports and City Services for Homeless People Sheltering in City Parks but if you read the Action Plan, it still contains a lot of unknowns.
As I spoke about in my Early Thoughts the staff report on the issue was incredibly thorough from an operational perspective in the sense that it was meticulously thought out, but the whole thing was also quite superficial for how high level it all is (e.g., still contains a lot of unknowns for cost and process). And it was here that Lucas was very vocal about wanting to know, prior to approving expenditure of the additional $350,000 being requested from staff:
“Who all does what in the City related to homelessness & housing, what are their particular skills related to homelessness & housing, and how much money is currently being spent on all this”.
She didn’t get an answer.
She did however get a half commitment from Mayor Helps on how perhaps the next Mayor’s task force to strike once the Housing & Economic Development ones are complete, would be a Social Services task force that would focus on understanding and untangling the current network of providers. Noble sounding sure, but so far outside of the responsibilities of local government the idea of it is quite frankly ludicrous.
Speaking of ludicrous – I was appalled by the quality of coverage provided by all conventional media of yesterday’s discussion. A particular example of this was how the Check News and CTV camera guys showed up to the Council chambers at the end of the meeting. They both set up their cameras, Mayor Helps came over, and they asked her “so what got done today”.
Her response: “It’s too complicated for the 6pm news”.
Exact Items Approved Yesterday
It is important to note that section 2B of the Housing Action Plan was tabled until Thursday because it explicitly references the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homeless and Conflict of Interest regulations prohibit Councillors from voting on items that impact the groups they are part of – because only 7 members of Council were present yesterday and because 3 of them are Coalition representatives there wasn’t quorum (a majority of council) available to give due consideration to section 2B so it wasn’t part of the plan “given approval” yesterday.
Instead, this section of the plan will be considered by Council on Thursday before Council gives official approval to the plan.
Another change to the plan as written was that the 3rd bullet in the 3rd column on the 1st page was tweaked so that an item specific to additional capacity for shelter beds could also be turned into rent subsidies if possible.
A final change to the staff recommendation (adopt the plan and approve $350,000 in new money) came from Alto who proposed the inclusion of a very vaguely worded requirement for “outreach with current and future residents” as a condition of facilitation of the plan.
What I Would Like to Emphasize About the Plan
The Housing Action Plan is a 3 page document. The funding request for $350,000 only applies to items listed on the third page including:
- providing a storage opportunity/service for homeless people’s stuff.
- a six month pilot project for additional social services.
- A lot of money for enhanced monitoring, cleanup and washroom hours for those sleeping in parks to ensure these parks remain useable for other residents.
- Amendments to the Parks Bylaw to restrict and regulate sheltering in parks – of note is that apparently these amendments have been drafted but were not part of the agenda. I wonder if they’ll just be added to the Council agenda for Thursday? I’ll have to keep an eye out.
- A Compliance Strategy that was not defined or costed.
Which is to say that no costs or actual times are available for the first two pages of the plan (e.g., the items that involve setting up micro-housing or regulated sheltering in community parks).
Mayor Helps had wanted to see this item go on the Consent Agenda but it was pulled by Councillor Thornton-Joe who wanted to ask a question about, just what exactly will the City be making an application for? Everyone agreed that an application should be submitted for a portion of the David Foster Harbour Pathway improvements.
How to Amend the Strategic Plan
This item prompted a fair bit of discussion and resulted in the addition of a requirement for quarterly reporting on strategic plan amendments (bc as illustrated above, Mayor Helps expects all major items to be listed in the Strategic Plan) and a requirement for all changes to the strategic plan to be added to printed version of the strategic plan that will be distributed to all major stakeholders.
Which just seems wasteful to me because documents such as strategic plans should be programmed in such a way that they are electronically useful. A printed copy should not be required.
Nor should a graphic artist be paid to make murals like these:
I didn’t make the document vertical – the City did!