We're back to regular council business on 9/11. Notably we are anticipating the latest restart of the Official Community Plan discussion on Monday, Oct. 3. By then the 2023 Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference in Vancouver will be in the rear-view, and we'll have eight more regularly scheduled meetings to anticipate before Christmas. Of particular focus in the fall will be development of council's necessarily delayed 2023-26 Strategic Plan; it will be created in close collaboration with the new CAO and Sooke's management team.
As ever, there's no telling what will appear on our agendas or when; we usually know the same time you do with their publication on the Thursday afternoons before meetings. What we can anticipate in the fall/early winter, however, are the presentations we've asked staff in open meetings to arrange: Agricultural Land Commission Chair Jennifer Dyson (taking advantage of her offer early this year to meet by request with municipal councils); Andrew Gage from the West Coast Environmental Law Association (re: its Sue Big Oil class-action campaign, introduced to council by Susan Belford and Jo Phillips last month); and the Capital Regional District's Local Government Climate Outreach Coordinator Matt Greeno (re: the Zero Carbon Step Code, now approved for bylaw implementation in the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, Victoria, Saanich, View Royal ... and under discussion in Colwood, Metchosin and Langford). We're also asking for a progress report from the M'akola Housing Society on the new BC Housing complexes it will be managing at Charters and Drennan.
Anyway, much to squeeze in tonight before the break. Here's what is on tap with more detail than you iikely want or need ... and yet (cue the music)
* Development Variance Permit – 5627 Woodlands (four-lot subdivision rezoned in 2021)
The future look/feel of semi-rural Sooke roads like Woodlands, Mowich and Harbour View is at stake to some degree with this decision related to a four-lot subdivision that follows a 2021 rezoning of this spectacular waterview 1.45 hectare, formerly treed and now cleared, property.
Option A follows the letter of Subdivision and Development Standards Bylaw #404 (2014, now undergoing an in-depth makeover). It commands that road frontages be developed to the "Local Urban/Suburban Cross-section standards" as approved in the Transportation Master Plan (2020, pp. 38-51) and recently embedded into Bylaw #404. That means a 6m wide public right-of-way with a sidewalk on one side, boulevard/bioswales on both, street lighting and street trees. Common sense tells us this kind of streetscape is essential for the town centre, but not out where it happily feels like you've driven into the Sooke countryside (and suitable since "low-density in-fill" is encouraged in the current Gateway Residential OCP land designation.)
While legislatively duty bound to adhere to the letter of District bylaws, staff get this and hence have also presented the applicant's preferred Option B -- namely choosing instead a 2m wide gravel (or asphalt, says the legislation) trail along the property frontage, retaining existing trees in the process and adding others along with a roadside swale as needed. That's clearly the right fit for roads that currently average 5m wide along their length.
Bottom line: Woodside is a lovely, leafy, stress-busting "character" street in Sooke and please let's keep it that way while also improving pedestrian safety. Option B presents the template for further frontage development along Woodlands and Harbourview.
1. What's the cost differential between the two options? Logically, the applicant should pay the full price for the legislated requirement (Option A), with the difference banked as per the TMP's recommended Policy/Regulation Action 4.1 -- "Establish a Reserve Fund for cash-in-lieu of frontage works that include sidewalks to support the implementation of Walking + Rolling projects identified in the TMP." (pg. 20). (I don't believe such a fund has been established yet, however.)
2. Former councillor Ron Dumont raised this wise rainwater management suggestion at the recent Maple Avenue rezoning, so I'll ask on his behalf: Why is a permeable-surface trail not the automatic requirement here rather than also allowing asphalt as an alternative? (The celebrated Hornby Island Roadside Trail, for instance, features a "trail topping mix of soil and gravel, and is good for cycling, walking and horseback riding.") [Option B was voted on, with a gravel/aggregrate trail -- asphalt no longer an option -- to be added along Harbourview but not Woodlands.]
#1: RCMP Quarterly Report with a welcome to new Sooke RCMP Detachment Commander Staff Sgt. Greg Willcocks, recently arrived from Haida Gwaii’s Daaiing Giids (Queen Charlotte) division. Besides extending an appreciative hello, I'm interested in how recruitment is going for new hires in the wake of council's decision in the early spring to approve five more officers through 2026. And, as ever, I'll ask about speed enforcement given that I keep hearing about this from folks on Grant Rd. West, Whiffin Spit and Sunriver Way, just as i have the last five years. (Echo: We need smiley-faced speed-reading boards in multiple spots around town.) See the first quarter stats and other RCMP news in the supplemental agenda. [Disturbing to learn therein of a "significant increase" in "Assault With Weapon/Causing Bodily Harm" files -- 10 in this year's first three months compared to five in 1Q 2022. "Assaults" also doubled early this year to 27 incidents (vs. 14 in Jan-March 2022). More encouraging: "Thefts" (23), "Theft from Vehicle" (6) and "Mischief" (34) are all tracking down, quite possibly because repeat offenders have been apprehended.]
#2 Fire feedback: Woodland Creek residents have questions in the aftermath of the May 2 fire at 6700 Steeple Chase Rd. that destroyed one home under construction and seered/damaged adjacent homes. Investigators have labelled the fire "accidential," however two dozen near-neighbours have organized in search of "closure for those impacted but also peace of mind that strong measures have been taken to ensure the future safety of our community." The cindered construction waste remains on site, and construction of adjoining new homes continues. [Thorough and moving presentation about the practical, emotional and legal impacts of the fire and lingering questions in its aftermath. Council directed staff to meet with the residents to share relevant District reports and address unresolved issues. One key point is that Steeple Chase Rd. remains, as I said, "the poster child for poor parking management in Sooke." Both-sides-of-street parking congestion, exacerbated by looky-loos drawn to the spectacle, required emergency vehicles to set up further away from the fire than would have been ideal. Staff are already looking into ways to remediate this long-standing issue and will report back.]
#3 "Prevent increase to property taxes" is the only brief clue we're given about a presentation by Chris Zmuda, a 2018 Victoria mayoralty candidate and former owner of the now-closed downtown Taste of Europe Deli. [Mr. Zmuda was a no-show on Monday night.]
#4 Sooke Volunteer Tour, Sept. 23, 2023: Koshin Moonfist and the Baptist Church's Rick Eby of the Sooke Multi-Belief Initiative will request modest funding to support promotional costs for a one-day, ideally first annual event intended to help Sooke volunteer groups recruit new members. (As part of SMBI's core team, I’ll be recusing myself). [Council awarded $2500 from its contingency fund. As the Sooke's Volunteer Policy states: "The District of Sooke recognizes the essential role that volunteerism plays in building a healthy, caring, and vibrant community and how it contributes to the health and well-being of citizens." A tour website is being established here. If you're keen to act now, you're welcome year-round to contact the Sooke Volunteer Centre, where SRCHN staff will help you find a good fit for your interests and skills.]
* Deputy CAO Report: The latest newsy update from Raechel Gray, who has done a splendid job in this high-pressure role these last four months in addition to handling her responsibilities as Director of Finance. Her substantial written reports have replaced previous CAO verbal reports as an anchor in our recent agendas, and they are exactly what is needed in publicly sharing District work on an ongoing basis. (See pg. 53 for her multiple items of note, incl. updates on Ravens Ridge Park; the Citizen Budget Survey with its Aug. 20 deadline; and progress in hiring eight vacant staff positions in this tight employment market (where white & blue collar civil servants are in seeming short supply). , Good news is that interviews with shortlisted candidates are underway for the key roles of Manager of Community Planning (a new position, aka part-time Climate Action Coordinator) and Manager of Parks & Environmental Services (to fill the big triathalon-competing sneakers of Laura Hooper, who moved on recently to her own newly launched Danaca Consulting after a decade-plus with the District.)
* Community Climate Action Seed Grants: Year one of this two-year pilot project rooted in the Sooke 2030 Climate Action Plan was made possible by BC's Local Government Climate Action Program. Last month's call-out has netted 14 applications seeking $68k from the available $40k in first-year funding (see pp. 57-150). Inspiring/encouraging to see the array of projects proposed by the following:
- EMCS ECO Academy (student and adult food-garden education based at the school's slow-food garden under direction of Patrick Gauley-Gale);
- Fireweed Foundation (essential, long-term community capacity-building initiatives tied to the Climate Action Plan and created by educators Elizabeth Lange and Shandell Houlden from the 2021/22 Climate Action Committee);
- Friends of Sooke Park Society (park stewardship, tree planting and wayfinding initiatives by group led by 2022 election candidates Trevor Paul and William Wallace);
- Paula Johanson (rewrite and publication of a new edition of her Making Good Choices About Fair Trade)
- North Sooke Community Association (neighbourhood FireSmart program);
- 606 Water Group (watershed, aquifer and rainwater harvesting education via Chris Moss and crew);
- Sooke Country Market (shipping container for use by market participants);
- Sooke Region Tourism Association (study with RRU's City Studio South Island program to align SRTA's draft Climate Plan with the District's plan);
- Transition Sooke (development of a new town-centre community garden with 100 allotment plots via a working group led by Levi Megenbir);
- Zero Waste Sooke (Bernie Klassen et al. to host three more Repair Cafes and five art/craft/board game community swap events at the Sooke library);
- The Pointe@Sunriver (FireSmart neighbourhood implementation).
"The Community Climate Action Seed Funding Pilot Project is intended to support projects that: Adapt and respond to the changing climate; increase biodiversity; work towards a healthy, sustainable and resilient community, and/or; facilitate neighbourhood connections."
Staff have wisely divided applications into 2023 and 2024 grant distributions. One exception, I'll argue tonight, should be the Fireweed Foundation. Its overall goal is to "develop a research-based and community driven educational strategy that istailored to Sooke and shares reliable climate information to activate citizen engagement to meet our local climate change challenges." See Ms. Lange and Ms. Houlden's presentation in the May 15 Commitee of the Whole agenda. They propose a two-year plan at $10k per year yet are being offered half of that amount. Shortchanging this one important initiative that will keep on giving into the future would be unwise, I think. Perhaps council can spare $5k from its contingency fund? I'll ask. [Not necessary, as it turned out. Fireweed is on track to get its full budget request over the life of this two-year pilot program.]
* Manzer Road Traffic: One somehow unforeseen (by MOTI, at least, if not local residents) outcome of the Highway 14 four-lane expansion is that the new stretch of narrow, s-curved tarmac on a once sleepy Manzer Road has become a short-cut for drivers wishing to shave 60 seconds off their trips into East Sooke. Since June 17, a speed reader board has captured the stats: Daily averages of between 166 and 265 vehicles at an average speed of 30kmph (with a top recorded 56 kmph on June 24.) Naturally, the majority of the 18 households on Manzer are upset and aggrieved. Their logical consensus solution as discussed with the District: Add a locked gate to the already tricky right-in, right-out entrance to Manzer from the highway. Gate access would only be available to Sooke Fire Services and the Ministry of Transportation. Manzer residents will come and go via the Gillespie entrance/exit, and everyone else will return to new-normal travel patterns and find other ways to (oh, how we love doing this) beat the system. [Done.]
* Road Projects: Charters (Sooke Rd to Throup) and Church Road Roundabout: Sooke's town-centre road buildout continues with Charters a necessary priority after the impacts of the Nov. 2021 atmospheric river. Staff recommend that work on both it and the Church Road roundabout be awarded to Hazelwood Construction Services. The same Nanaimo-based company tag-teamed to successfully construct the Church Road and Otter Point Road improvements in fall 2021. As proven then, a single company is better positioned to coordinate work activity and resultant road closures while keeping costs lower. ($1m less than the two other bidders for Charters; Hazelwood was the lone bid for the roundabout.) As per District policy, full blueprints have been completed and included in the tender packages. Two more essential steps towards a more navigable and safer up-Sooke road network. [Approved. Work on the roundabout will begin first, with target completion date of next spring. Charters construction to begin early in 2024.]
- Charters Road: $6.28m
Request for Proposals ~ Charters Road Streetscape + Addendum 1.
$3.6M Growing Communities Fund
$2.2M Road DCCs
$1.0M Cash in lieu contributions
$0.2M Community Building Fund
- Church Road Roundabout: $3.98m
RFP ~ Church Road Roundabout + Addendum 1.
$1.5M Growing Communities Fund
$1.7M Road DCCs
$0.5M Active Transportation Grant
$0.8M Community Building Fund and Casino Fund
(Over the last decade, Sooke has received $1.25m from the province's Active Transportation Infrastructure Grant Program, notably $1m for Church Road improvements and smaller amounts for a connector trail off the Galloping Goose and the future DeMamiel Creek trail. Annual applications welcome again starting on Sept. 1. A super-ambitious ask for $6m for the Charters rebuild was declined earlier this year. As with the District's failed $23m application for sewer-expansion funding, I guess the teachable moment from on high is that we can only really ever hope for our fair share of grant programs with finite dollars that must necessarily be stretched across 180+ BC local governments.)
* FireSmart Community Funding: None more timelier given the powder keg drought conditions and this spring/summer's worst-ever BC wildfire impact. Since 2018, Sooke Fire Services has tapped every available grant opportunity from the UBCM's Community Emergency Preparedness Fund -- including $75k for evacuation route planning and Emergency Operations Centre training. And through the subsequent Community Resilient Investment stream, the District secured $210k in 2021/22 to hire contract FireSmart Coordinator Ashlene Aktarian and establish a local wildfire prevention program based on FireSmart BC criteria. The 2023 funding provides a maximum of $100k this year to communities like ours (Wildland Urban Interface Class 4/5) and there is a promise of more to come in 2024 in creating a full-time position as BC continues to modernize its Emergency Program Act in the face of new realities.
PS A new Sooke Community Wildfire Protection Plan is being prepared by Bruce Blackwell and Associates to update the current (2011) edition. Spring/summer 2023 is now the worst BC wildfire season on record. Six of the largest 11 wildfire seasons in the province since 1950 have occurred in the last decade. The advent of more routine summer droughts starting in 2015 is causing Western red cedars to die off in growing numbers (signs of stress include overproduction of cones and what's called "top dieback," where the top branches turn orange.) That only adds to the fuel load that will feed future wildfires. [Grant submission approved, of course. Interesting conversation spurred by a public comment that climate change is not responsible for wildfires, human stupidity is. Chief Reuiter rejected an either/or explanation, saying that while humans are the primary cause, there's no question that extended droughts and the resultant increase in dead vegetation is a factor in size and severity.]
* 2Q Financial Operating Report (pp. 205-222): Good news with revenues and expenditures "on track" as per the anticipated 2023 budget. Of note from the Capital Accounts update:
i) The Waste Water Treatment Plant expansion is set for completion late this year/early next;
ii) KWL Engineering's Whiffin Spit Master Plan report has been received with its recommendations for Spit parking reconfiguration and long-term responses to storm surges and rising sea levels (the report reaches council this fall);
iii) The DeMamiel Creek Crossing bridge will be tendered in the fall;
iv) The Memorial Wall in the pocket park near the Spit parking lot will be constructed by District staff;
v) A welcome map and new interpretive signage will be installed at the now-completed Sooke Potholes parking lot next month;
vi) The bare patches created by happy paws at the Carter Navarette Dog Park have been resurfaced and the Rotary Club gazebo will open soon;
* 2Q Corporate Services Report: The team led by Carolyn Mushata and Sarah Temple update us on their activities, including support for 17 council meetings, drafting nine new bylaws, record management system modernization and the creation of a bylaw operating guideline manual. Staff handled no less than 19 Freedom of Information requests these last three months (yes, you can dig deep into just about anything re: the District's business; in due course, you'll get back likely mildly redacted paperwork. The BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act guarantees your anonymity). Bylaw officers, meanwhile, responded to 207 complaints these last three months. Next: Addition of workstations in bylaw vehicles for increased on-the-road efficiency.
* Draft Code of Conduct: Sooke council is legislatively required to consider adoption of a Code of Conduct bylaw for itself and also, optionally, appointed committees. A code for municipal staff is also an option. The UBCM's Forging the Path to Responsible Conduct in Your Local Government (2021) provides guidance.
Corporate Services has created a new proposed bylaw (pp. 235-251) rooted in the District's existing Code of Ethics Policy (2011). The language is borrowed almost verbatim, it seems, from a code I read today from West Vancouver (where a standing committee is studying the matter with this proposed bylaw, as well as other communities, including Squamish (code adopted fall 2022) and Langford (Feb. 2023). (Our and other codes are likely based on the UBCM's 2019 model code of conduct, but the link to it now comes up empty and so I can't verify. Staff tell us that "some changes" have been made to "make it more relative to Sooke," however there is no red-lined version to show us these changes. (i.e., I note that West Van's code gives its council the option of referring matters to "a prosecutor or police," however that line is missing from Sooke's draft (which does include the following line in the West Van code -- "any other action recommended by the investigator" -- so that likely covers it.)
We're advised to sit with this draft bylaw over the summer and reflect on its importance in an imperfect but functioning and effective Canadian democracy where a small yet still significant number of individuals from governments and bureaucracies larger and smaller continue to slide into egregiously sad, tragic, petty, influence-peddeled, abusive, occasionally comic and sometimes illegal behaviours. Amen.
Then it'll be time to consider passing this bylaw, perhaps following a consultant's involvement if indeed that's required.
We're also asked tonight for a yes/no answer to whether we want to continue this process; if no, we must publicly explain why we believe ourselves and future reps mature and responsible enough to ride the roller-coaster without guardrails. (Beyond our existing Ethics Code, which is a pretty substantial document in itself and covers much of the necessary ground in defining what our higher angels expect of us. Just because it's a decade old doesn't mean it's not entirely timely as is. I continue to be dismayed at how quickly some folks will label substantial reports and documents as staledated and in need of a complete overhaul -- one among other curses and stupidities of our short-attention-span society.) [Received for information with expressed desire to have a Code for Sooke elected and appointed representatives as well as a staff code.]
* Correspondence Requiring Action
- Sooke Fall Fair Association: $25 for District sponsorship of the annual scarecrow contest
- Support for Local News Media: A Black News request from Sooke News Mirror publisher Rod Sluggett for the District to join the Province of BC in stopping advertising on Facebook and Instagram in the wake of Mr. Zuckerberg's decision to ban content from news outlets in response Canada's Online News Act (Bill C-18). (I don't believe the District currently advertises on these platforms, but the point is entirely valid.) Requested is a proclamation to the effect "that the power to decide how and what information is shared isn't the purview of an elite group of foreign-based players, but should be in the hands of democratic governments and the people who elect them" -- and, unmentioned, also in the local hands of those who select, shape and deliver the news, of course.
* Council Verbal Reports
[Too late in the night to subject everyone my ramble, but these were my pre-digested notes, largely unstated]
"Party/wake atmosphere at the Stick yesterday for what turned out be the end of one chapter and the start of another. As you’ll have read in the Times Colonist this morning, David Evans is relocating to his Roastoreum to focus strictly on beans and bean sales … And the Sooke Community Investment Cooperative has, in under two months, rallied together and come up with more than $100k in funding to take over and relaunch as Cafe VOSINO. Still lots more fundarising ahead, but bravo to Mr. Evans, Wendy O'Connor, Grant Storry, Bernie Klassen, Anita Wood, Jim Meunier, Raymona Sutton and everyone who contributed. Third Place meeting spots like this are absolutely VITAL in Sooke and everywhere else. They're formed when whatever particular group of us gathers ... in physical places like A&W, Tims, Little Vienna, the glorious view deck at Artisan's Garden ... or the Legion, the Flats and the Community Hall ... during walks on the Spit ... or in action on playing fields and ball diamonds … all these variations on homes away from home. For me and many of my friends/acquaintances, The Stick is one such definitive place. So very glad it will carry on in a new incarnation."
- I attended a portion of the CRD Environmental Services meeting last week. Subjects discussed (as per my report back afterwards to Director Tait):
- Tod Creek Healthy Waters study will be going ahead ... $250k budget to include $50k contribution from community groups ... no Hartland biosolid impacts will be gathered from this study beyond CRD's already solid monitoring, but staff acknowledge useful science will emerge on other parts of this watershed.
- Hartland fines structure -- received for information. Director Thompson, a former bylaw officer himself, had requested report on increased fines as a means to ensure compliance. Staff and consultant concluded that the proposed carrot and stick approach is best as a starter, rather than waiving around a still bigger stick (larger fines) at this introductory stage -- increased fines can be considered at a future date if the new system is ineffective. "Continuous improvement loop" is the CRD gameplan for this and all new regulatory systems.
- Biosolids report received. Main discussion focused on the thermal gasification pilot project. RFP closes this Friday. Staff say that once a proposal is chosen, it will take 2 years of regulatory review before province grants a 15-month pilot project window (i.e., likely no earlier than 2025). Once data is studied, a whole new round of public input is needed if decision is made to go ahead with a permanent facility ... Five to 10 years is the timeline to get all this done. A major amendment to the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Plan will be required.
- I’ll be attending the Sooke Shelter Society’s Annual General Meeting this coming Thursday at the Sooke library, 6:30 PM start. Remarkable, difficult, inspired and ongoing work undertaken by Sherry Thompson and her team. Through the Sooke Homelessness Coalition, several of us will be dedicating time this summer to assembling a Community Advisory Group that can serve (as BC Housing intended) as a go-between for the Shelter, people-with-lived-experience, business owners, RCMP and community members.)
- Looking forward to twice-a-week yoga with Amy Rubidge and the gang ... hanging out with the Dumpster Boys outside the closed Stick ... and attending Sooke's big local events over the next six weeks. Carolyn and I have a few Island road trips planned. I have an appointment with Sooke Auto this week, so wish me luck there as its mechanics breath fresh mileage into my 2004 Mazda 3.
(School's out for summer)
- Sooke Fine Arts Show, July 29-Aug. 7 at SEAPARC
- All-Sooke Day Family Picnic, Sat. Aug. 19 from 8 AM to 6 PM in Fred Milne Park (see this video + backgrounder)
- Sooke Music Festival, Sept. 1-3 in John Phillips Memorial Park
- Sooke Fall Fair, Sept. 9-10 at the Community Hall