In my COVID cocoon, I've been revisiting my campaign website to review the big ideas, hopes and what-ifs I shared before the election. In the rear-view of 18 months of local government experience, I now acknowledge a number of them are -- what is the right word? -- "naive" will suffice for now. I did try back then to frame my thoughts as ones that might be realized with planning and patience over time, rather than a set of campaign promises. That, I felt, was realistic. I've followed municipal government just long enough to recognize that the norm involves starts, staff reports, stops, rethinks, revisions and relatively glacial progress towards consensus ambitions that are, hooray, eventually realized. I hope a fair share of the possibilities I floated in 2018 -- many of them grounded in existing District plans and reports -- will be captured and/or reconfirmed in our next Official Community Plan (OCP) over this year and next.
One hope that will be realized (as it has been in the past locally and in all functional municipalities) in the near-ish future is the following: "Tap citizen expertise with an expanded range of committees, commissions and task forces. Sooke's people are our strongest resource. How can we harness these people and given them a chance to put their skills to work in shaping our community's destiny?"
On this note, bright, talented, eager-to-contribute locals will be interested to know that, at Monday night's special council meeting (agenda here), we will be looking at terms of reference for a new OCP Steering Committee and a revitalized Sooke Program of the Arts Committee.
The SPA Committee is returning a year after the sad passing of its former chairperson, the irreplaceable Cllr. Brenda Parkinson. In keeping with tradition, it will feature a mix of public members (hopefully a number of fine returnees among them) and one representative each from the Sooke Arts Council and the Sooke Region Historical Society. Other organizations will be considered. The new committee will, I imagine, be asked to initiate action on the previous group's top recommendations -- the painting of the town centre's three crosswalks (featuring, in turn, a rainbow, musical notes and the combo of whale's tail and leaping salmon) and a makeover of the tourism kiosk at Evergreen Mall. The new committee will also have license to conjure fresh ideas that will (to quote the existing terms of reference) "foster public awareness, recognition, education, support and celebration of the community arts in Sooke." (The Whiffin Spit memorial wall is also a legacy of Brenda's SPA committee; the staff recommendation for a display space for memorial plaques in Quimper Park near the Spit parking lot is being brought back by Mayor Tait for reconsideration Monday night; this is to ensure staff will work with the new committee and in consultation with the T'Sou-ke on a dignified, effective, respectful and yet also unique and artistic memorial facing the harbour.)
As for the OCP Steering Committee, the staff proposal (see below for excerpts from the report and a nod of appeciation to those who previously served on this most impactful of all committees) identifies the need for seven public members to represent and speak for the following key sectors of #Sooke: environmental stewardship (to cite #PlanSooke priority #1 at the outset); economic development; healthcare; culture, recreation and the arts; building and trades; First Nations; and youth.
A councillor would be appointed to join this group, a chair would be chosen among the participants, and staff support would be provided. Then, as ever with OCPs, a series of public meetings and consultations would follow under the guidance of a planning consultant. This will be the municipality's third OCP following the 2001 original and the current 2010 model. (The first advisory group involved six public members, two councillors and the Mayor; the second featured 12 public members and three councillors. The heaviest lifting was done by paid consultants and staff.)
The right consultancy firm is essential. The District received nine responses to the Request for Proposals issued in March. District staff is recommending the $200k contract go to DIALOG, a leading light among North American community design and planning groups with offices across Canada and the U.S., including a Van Isle outpost. It would work in consultation with planning experts from four other firms: the Sustainability Solutions Group, Colliers International, WATT Consulting Group and, for the critical mapping sections of the OCP, Licker Geospatial Consulting (which claims "geography is badass," no arguments here.)
Winner of multiple planning awards, DIALOG is particularly renowned for the Community Wellbeing Framework developed in association with the Conference Board of Canada. It's an early 21th century, infographic-driven version of the common sense #SmartGrowth approach to creating community via tight-knit town sites, trail/sidewalk connectivity, green spaces, recreation, shopping, active transportation routes and ideally jobs too all within easy walking/commuting distance. Studies (to reinforce said common sense) show that people are far happier in these kind of planned built environments than the far-flung sprawl communities that developed post-WWII. The framework was showcased at last year's Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in front of a full house in Quebec City that included Mayor Tait and five of we councillors. (Here's the executive summary.)
More to the point, DIALOG reps have stickhandled first-rate OCPs over the last decade for Powell River, White Rock, Regina and, most recently, the City of Colwood (where prospective team lead Jennifer Fix - such a good name for the job! - and others associated with the current bid collaborated with our returnee planner Katherine Letyshin). It also masterminded the Abbotsford OCP (aka 'Abbotsforward'), which is frequently cited as an model of its kind in terms of public engagement and final product. (I spoke with Abbotsford councillor Brenda Falk at the UBCM convention last fall, and she had nothing but positives to say about DIALOG and the creative, systematic, legislatively precise approach it brought to the two-year process.)
The company has also developed blueprints for Ladysmith's waterfront, a makeover of main street Tofino, a North Cowichan climate mitigation strategy, and a refresh of the University of Victoria campus masterplan. All in all, the firm has a great track record and looks wonderful on paper (not, I should note, that we on council had an opportunity to vet the other submissions.)
HERE & NOW COMMITTEE NEEDS
Okay, all the above is ahead of us and subject to our council discussion on Monday night. In the meantime, a few engaged locals here in Vancouver Island's volunteer capital are required immediately for two committee vacancies at the District of Sooke ...
i) The Board of Variance
i) The Climate Action Committee
The three-person Board of Variance is "an independent body which considers requests for minor variances to the Sooke Zoning Bylaw, where compliance would cause undue hardship." The board is a requirement of the Local Government Act. The term is for three years and meetings are infrequent (the last was in 2015), though likely will be more frequent when a full compliment of board members is in place. (The current council has handled several tricky variances in its absence.)
Personally, if unelected, I'd jump for a chance to join the Climate Action Committee under the lead of Councillor St-Pierre. Two of the current group have had to step down for various good reasons The first of these slots was filled recently by Jeffrey Robinson, an energy audit specialist with Sunriver-based Enertech Solutions. One more willing soul is still required. Tony and his A-list team (Roland Alcock, Diane Bernard, Susan Clarke, Catherine Keogan, Andrew Moore, Christina Schlatter, Kyle Topelko) have spent the last year establishing sub-committees on four consensus priority areas -- Food Security; Transportation; Engagement and Education on Climate Change; and Sustainable Development and Land Use. Working groups focused on each have now developed short, medium and longer-term objectives utilizing the SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Specific) yardstick.
The draft of the committee's work plan was released in its May 26 Zoom agenda and I heartily recommend the read: it's an exciting, comprehensive, achievable vision over time. It will be brought to council for discussion in the near future. Paired with Transition Sooke's Community Action Town Hall report from last fall and the set of now-operational volunteer climate action teams that emerged from it, we are very much beginning to act like a community that was among the first in Canada to declare a climate emergency.
The CAC's food-security recommendations have already been approved for discussion and hopeful inclusion in council's four-year Strategic Plan; we'll be determining their relative now/next/later priority status during the plan's six-month at the end of June. (Revisiting the 2012 Agricultural Plan and establishing a Food Policy Council, as the CAC has recommended, seems vital at a time when localized food sources - from farms and backyards alike -- are so important as climate change threatens our supplies of imported fruit and produce (as alarmingly documented last year by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; New York Times coverage of the report here).
Bottom line: If you are contemplating applying to this lively, forward-thinking Committee, please peruse its archive of committee agendas and minutes, take a look at this post of mine from last year, and then submit the application you'll find here.
MORE ON THE OCP STEERING COMMITTEE, 2020/21
Okay, for those still reading, back to the preparatory steps for the OCP Steering Committee as stated in this excerpt from Monday's agenda (see pp. 89/90). The proposed Terms of Reference follow on pp. 101-104. Further background on the process ahead in my pre-COVID blog post here.
"Staff has prepared a draft Terms of Reference (Attachment 1) for Council consideration. The Official Community Plan Advisory Committee (OCP-AC) will be a Select Committee of Council, comprised of one council liaison member, and seven (7) appointed members of the public who will represent a balance of community interests on a broad number of local topics. Ideally, members would have an extensive knowledge or current involvement in one of the following:
1. Building & Economic Development Community
2. Health & Social Services
3. Environmental Stewardship
4. Business & Tourism Community
5. Arts,Culture & Recreation
6. Youth or Young Adult (Under29)
7. First Nations Culture & Heritage Resources
The purpose of the committee is to provide Council with meaningful, technical input on a range of community issues related to the creation of an updated Official Community Plan. The OCP-AC will provide technical guidance at key project milestones including identification of key community issues, input on draft materials, input on policy options,
and input on implementation strategies. Existing District committees may wish to encourage their members to apply to serve on this committee as well.
Staff and the project consultant will be available at each committee meeting to provide clerical and technical support. The engagement strategy prepared by the selected consultant, which will be forthcoming in the project start-up, will also refine meeting frequency and function. It is expected that approximately 6 meetings will be required in the duration of the project. The committee is intended to be advisory in nature, and will always include facilitated discussions. Committee members will act as ambassadors of the project and the expectation is that members will take part in helping to promote the project, and when possible, attend public consultation events that are planned.
The Terms of Reference also cover the eventuality that virtual committee meetings may be held in order to adapt to the realities of COVID-19 over the coming year.
Once Council has approved the Terms of Reference, staff will advertise for committee membership in accordance with Policy No. 1.4, Committee Structure and Function Policy, 2006 and report back during an in-camera meeting of Council for membership selection. Once committee membership has been announced, the committee will begin meeting following project kick off, which is anticipated at the end of August."
Before closing, I'll take the opportunity on this infinitely unfolding page to acknowledge members of the District's first two OCP steering committees. No small thing to step up and contribute in such a public manner where one can anticipate praise, blame or, given the fact that most residents are far too busy with the rest of their lives to notice, echoing silence. As I've repeatedly said before, we need to value the time, brainpower, hard work and, in the case of the consultants, significant public funding dedicated to previous reports and studies. We need to re-read them carefully, weigh their gifts and flaws, and only then set out on this latest attempt to repurpose (rather than reinvent) a wheel that's already rolled a long way -- 20 years as a municipality, 53 years within the Capital Regional District, more than 170 years as a settler community and at least 12,000 years with the T'Sou-ke. (Given our cultural ADHD and short-term amnesia, it's such a temptation with bright, shiny new toys/approaches to discount worthy earlier achievements.)
If you want to get the jump on other potential applicants and/or play a meaningful role during the public consultations, please download existing plans from the District's website and especially spend time in the depths of the current OCP. The menu of options will soon be expanded with the addition of Sooke's new Transportation Masterplan (which we'll receive at a Committee of the Whole meeting on June 22) and a refreshed Parks & Trails Masterplan later this summer.
Now a round of applause for those who have served ...
OCP 2001 Steering Committee (term: Feb. to Dec., 2001)
- Councillor Lorna Barry (Chair)
- Councillor Jeff Stewart
- Mayor Ed Macgregor (Ex officio)
- Community representatives Tom Burgess, Marion Desrochers, Dwight Johnston, Bruce MacMillan, Richard Stafford and Laurie Szadkowski
- Consultants: Urban Aspects Consulting Group, idealink architecture, Cloghesy + Doak Ltd., GMK 2000
- Staff: Tom Day, Chief Administrator; Frank Limshue, Municipal Planner
OCP 2010 Review Committee (term: 2007-2010)
- Councillor David Bennett (Chair, 2007/08)
- Ellen Lewers (Chair, 2009)
- Councillors Sheila Beech and Ron Dumont
- Public members: Randy Clarkston, Patrick Fallon, Rick Gates, Dana Lajeunesse, David Mallett, Andrew Moore, John Nicholson, Mark Poppe, Susan Todman, Tara Tompkins and Laurie Wallace.
- Consultant: Mazzoni & Associates Planning - Felice Mazzoni, Principle
- Staff: Gerald Christie, Director of Planning; Ian Scott, Planner