May 7 GPC Summary & Observations

It was actually a pretty good meeting this morning with some interesting presentations from staff and decent questions from Council (video here). The agenda had some late additions but these were the item powerpoint decks which are typically only added after meetings. I really wish they would be added before meetings because then I could tweet them out in addition to the relevant staff report or council motion when a given item comes up on the table.

People seem to like it when I do that. So what happened today?

Dr. Miriam Korn – Delgation

Where I mused in my Early Thoughts that Dr. Korn had to be friends with someone in order to appear before GPC let alone appear so quickly, I wasn’t too far off. Apparently she met Councillor Isitt during the recent municipal elections campaign and so he facilitated her appearance before GPC this morning. Things got off to a rough start mind you when Mayor Helps & Isitt showed up at 9am and Helps began the meeting with comments that made Dr. Korn think she needed to rush her presentation.

Which was all pretty rudimentary stuff about living well.

Related to the medical marihuana issue that was also on the GPC agenda today Dr. Korn made a number of comments this morning about how folks who can’t self regulate turn  to pot, people who use pot can get/are depressed and also how pot use by teenagers apparently leads to psychosis and increased risk of schizophrenia. An issue which is also frequently reiterated by Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose.

Anyhoo. Mayor Helps was really abrupt with Dr. Korn this morning but I suppose she made up for it by requesting a big box of Dr. Korn’s Living Well booklet. Where there was no mention of possible costs involved when such direction when it was given this morning, I assume Dr. Korn isn’t just giving these books away for free?

Johnson Street Bridge Quarterly Update

Now that I’ve sat through a number of these bridge presentations, I think I’m getting a better handle on the project. I say this because it seems I can sit, listen, tweet and even actually understand what’s going on. And that’s a pretty great thing because the JSB project director (Jonathan Huggett) is a very intelligent, sophisticated man who speaks very quickly and in a very detailed up front manner.

Whether he’s doing a good job or not, I can’t really say mind you. I was just googling though and see that he has a website where he’s described as a:

specialist in the non-traditional delivery of public infrastructure, including public-private partnerships, design-build, and other more innovative approaches to procuring public projects.

Which is to say, the man should know his stuff.

The focus of the JSB update today was to let Council know that he’s now got many many layers of eyes on the steel that is being fabricated in China. Sounds rather obsessive quite frankly, especially in how Huggett says his goal is to have complex records on each piece of steel, where it came from, who welded it, how it was welded plus some other variables as well. Huggett also told GPC today that he’s got a huge (I believe his word choice was actually “unprecedented”) team of inspectors closely observing everything.

Add it all up and I’m sure a North American solution would have been cheaper than the final Chinese product, but hey. When you issue an incomplete design you’re kinda obligated to go with the low ball tender are you not.

Which I’m assuming was the Chinese option.

What else happened this morning?

When going through the risk management matrix for the bridge, Mr. Huggett spoke of how his biggest worry is that he puts up the bridge and people go “hey that’s not what I signed up for”. To which Mayor Helps suggested that a workshop/public meeting of sorts be held so folks can be apprised of what the bridge is going to look and feel like. Direction was then given today to empower the Citizen Engagement team to go out and consult with the Downtown Victoria Residents Association and the Vic West Community Association in particular.

About what exactly, I’m not sure. I think just about this?

One thing of note is that apparently a paint colour for the bridge needs to be chosen because it takes 90 days to order the paint. I suggest a colour that goes well with rust because based on tradition, can we really be sure that the new bridge won’t also get rusty?

Rusty JSB

One other thing that was mentioned by Huggett this morning is that the City believes they’ve figured out the challenges of moving cyclists across the bridge. And this is something I disagree with because whereas at least before folks had to slow down before going under the rail overpass when accessing the bridge from the Vic West side under the old approach, folks now just motor on up and go right through – “like a freeway access” seems to be the common language for explaining such concerns. Thanks Ben!.

The traffic light from Harbour rd onto Esquimalt is also incredibly slow which discourages safe road use by cyclists I would think. That said, I watched a large group of cyclists wait patiently the other day for an extended period of time before the light finally turned. Meanwhile, me the pedestrian just ran across the road when it was safe.

Medical Marihuana Related Businesses

This was actually a pretty good presentation and there were some decent follow up questions from Council that attempted to clarify the current regulatory environment with respect to the medical marihuana related storefronts in Victoria. One thing I actually just noticed is that the actual report doesn’t use the word “dispensary” like I had been all day in my tweeting.

This would be because actual dispensaries are still technically illegal I suppose, and also why current business categories (under the city’s current licensing regime) are just “retail” for those who sell marijuana related paraphernalia or “professional services” for those who sell marihuana consultancy services (notice my different usage of “h” and “j”). Under such categories, selling pot itself is not permitted. The purpose of today was to therefor receive direction from Council on how they want city staff to respond to the whole thing (e.g., that of consultants and retails shops selling pot, or so I assume hard to tell because as I said yesterday, the report lacked actual detail).

Whereas Staff had recommended that Council direct staff to:

Initiate proactive enforcement in relation to medical marihuana-related businesses operating without a business licence or in contravention of a City business licence or City bylaws, which would include:

  • proactive investigation of businesses in this sector
  • direction to comply with City of Victoria bylaws or cease operation
  • ticketing for bylaw offences
  • suspending or revoking business licences
  • initiating legal proceedings to effect compliance

Council decided (as I predicted) to go with option 3 which is:

“That Council direct staff to bring forward for Council’s consideration:

1. Proposed bylaw amendments aimed at mitigating community impacts and concerns associated with the operation of medical marihuana-related businesses; and

2. A proposed compliance and enforcement strategy consistent with the proposed new regulations” 

3. That a townhall be held (newly added today)

4. That any possible regulations do not unduly impact compassionate clubs or marihuana co-ops. (newly added today)

Ultimately, the thing that bugged me the most this morning was that there were obviously a lot of folks sitting in the audience who, forgive my stereotyped characterizations, looked to be active marihuana users/storefront representatives. And despite this, Council sitting in their GPC format spoke only to each others as usual and did not engage with the folks in the audience.

As an example of such an apparent disconnect, I took this picture while Alto (the head on the far right) was saying her lengthy piece about the state of relevant city and federal regulations.  Alto speaking to GPC

It was also somewhat frustrating  this morning how in response to a question from Councillor Lucas (who actually spoke multiple times today) it was said by the City Manager, that they don’t actually know what City enforcement resources would be required for any new regulatory regime, but that a report will be coming forward.

Also of note it that the VicPD rep who attended the meeting this morning started off his part of the presentation by saying that VicPD currently have no real concerns about the marihuana related businesses in the city. He also made sure to stress that VicPD really only has resources for high level crime and & drug networks that pose serious safety risks to the city. Which makes sense.

And yet Council decided this morning to fund (at an undisclosed amount) investigation and subsequent introduction of a whole new regulatory regime – even though it was also mentioned this morning, that as evidenced in the Alberta election there is a decent likelihood that there will be “a new minister of justice in the fall” as Ben Isitt put it and new Minister of Justice probably = Minister of Justice who legalizes pot in all forms.

Yay! Makes no difference to me actually bc I don’t like the stuff.

Fort Street Parklet

There was no presentation for this report which was a request from the Fort Street Business Association for installing a temporary park like structure in the two street parking spaces in front of the Dutch Bakery and Dots clothing on Fort Street. Isitt was the lone voice of some dissent (though he voted for the thing in the end) when he suggested that there be some sort of licensing/permitting fee to account for lost City street parking revenues (estimated $15k).

Everybody else was opposed to this notion mind you and was full of praise for the innovative groups like Fabulous Fort and the DVBA who have worked together to make such an idea a reality.

Snowbirds Request for Funding

Again Isitt did a solid job of actually asking questions about this item a request for in-kind support from the city to host the Snowbirds on August 12 who will do their display along the water off Dallas road.  Similar to the concerns I raised yesterday, Isitt was reluctant to reward a group who circumvented the city’s typical festival approval process. In response to which, staff indicated that they are treating the August 12th proposal like any “special event” even though as they also said, details from the applicant are scant regarding the event itself.

Which isn’t good because events like permitting the Snowbirds to do an airshow off Dallas Road are things that bring out thousands of people, and accommodating thousands of people requires extensive planning and considerable resources – at least $14,000 to be exact. This was approved by Council with only Isitt opposed.

Douglas Street Improvements – New Business

This was the very brief motion from Mayor Helps:

That Council direct staff to work with the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) and the Downtown Victoria 2020 (DV2020) Society to design and implement an improvement [in accordance with this document] on Douglas Street in 2015 using the funding of $180,000 put forward in equal parts by the two organizations and the City.

This then got amended by Thornton-Joe to include a requirement that the downtown Victoria residents association be involved.

Councillor Madoff ended up being the lone voice of opposition to this vote, and she was ‘really sad’ to do so because she so very much supports enhancing Douglas Street. What she didn’t like however is that the City is just handing money over to other folks to spend without any direct Council accountability of oversight. Where Mayor Helps attempted to justify this by speaking to how $180k is a “tiny amount of money in the grand scheme of things” Isitt spoke instead of wanting to see this $180k spent on something as great and grand as possible.

As noted on page 10 of this design report (linked above) the money will likely be spent on one of the item identified in the pictures below (e.g., either some planters, some lights, a new crosswalk marking, or maybe even temporary down the middle of the street bike lanes). Douglas St Years 0-2

And as was noted by Helps, Lucas and Coleman during this morning’s discussion, if DVBA screws up implementation of this $180,000 project, then this will set a precedent (e.g., trust = bad). If a good precedent is set, this will encourage Council to make more money freely available to various folks to do various projects around the City. Kinda like Fabulous Fort with their parklet and Kindness meter, and Randy Wright with his snowbird show (for charity!), because hey, if you ask about a good idea and show you can deliver, you will get support.

No promises if you are a Community Land Use Association (CALUC) mind you. But then I suppose that makes sense because then Council would have to consider neighbourhood opinions on a given development/issue to be a “good thing” and this doesn’t always seem to be the case (or so I argued yesterday in my Saanich vs Victoria comparison). Speaking of which, did you know that the $60k being contributed to Douglas street is the same amount of money that is distributed across the 11 volunteer driven community CALUCs?

(See page 802 – shown below as “Base Capital Grants”.) 

CALUC grants

Other Items

Both the request for endorsing Councillor Coleman to stand for election to the FCM Board of Directors and the requests for funding to send Councillor’s Coleman, Isitt and Loveday to the FCM conference were passed on the consent agenda. One interesting thing to note is that there is a different cost breakdown for each of the three:

  • Coleman (highest hotel costs)
  • Loveday (highest registration costs)
  • Isitt (Lowest cost all around by $800)

Weird no?

 

 

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