In sending the answers prior to Wednesday morning's deadline, I replied: "Thank you for the license to contribute whatever word count we like, and I'm sure you'll need to edit what follows." It eventually shrank to a little over 500 words for publication, but here are my unedited, er, verbateman answers ...
What is your vision for Sooke over the next 4 years?
The District of Sooke will continue to move incrementally forward with timelines already underway on key community projects, i.e. completion of the five-year road improvement program; continued work on drainage issues; sidewalk and streetlight expansion; critical equipment replacement in the Fire Department; trailhead signage and park improvements (drinking water fountains and washrooms at John Phillips Memorial Park and Whiffin Spit); and the establishment of the long-awaited dog park/run.
A new Official Community Plan (currently perhaps 50 percent complete) will be finalized following full public process; just as was the case in 2009, it will be informed by new Transportation, Parks & Trails and Town Centre masterplans. A set of revised, modernized and enforced District bylaws will flow from it. In the process, we will reaffirm a community vision with threads that connect to area community plans dating back at least 40 years.
We will get a better handle on residential growth by discovering exactly how many already approved (1999 to present) building lots have yet to break ground in the District and what this means for future population growth and traffic impacts. We will then be in a better position to field new development approvals. I imagine council would be following OCP wishes by encouraging modestly dense growth in the core while discouraging further satellite housing developments outside of it.
A talented and experienced new Chief Administrative Officer will be in position as council's one and only hire. She/he will lead and empower professional District staff. Part-time or contract positions might also be established for i) a communications officer to ensure a vastly better flow of District news and information to the public; and ii) an economic development specialist who could liaise with the Chamber of Commerce and the EDG (Economic Development Group) to effectively woo and welcome targeted developers, gap businesses, government agencies, telecommuters, services and new residents to town.
The current OCP also encourages light industrial activity east of Sooke River Road, the development of a commercial node in Saseenos and the retention of our wilderness and rural character elsewhere in the District.
To this end, and pending a staff report that has yet to be filed, I imagine we will have looked seriously at extending the sewer across the Sooke River as far as Kaltasin to service light industrial, First Nation, residential and school needs while also securing the environmental health of the harbour. Another upside of sewage expansion would be the opportunity to establish a social services hub on a small portion of (hopefully donated) light industrial land for a shelter and new homes for the Sooke Food Bank and the Sooke Crisis & Referral Centre.
Also to be anticipated in the next four years: A new library, hooray, plus a masterplan for Lot A that, by 2022, will have seen ground broken for the new seniors/youth centre with three stories of seniors' rental cohousing. SEAPARC's latest phases of expansion will be complete with a new activity room and the all-season/lacrosse box within proximity of the new Sooke River Elementary School in Sunriver. We will have found a better solution to boat-trailer parking issues that endanger pedestrians east of the Prestige.
Finally, we will have established an expanded range of select, standing and advisory committees to tap the wealth of expertise in Sooke's greatest resource, its people. Ideally, the District will have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the T'Sou-ke Nation to explore how we can extend the boundaries of Solar City and its Net Zero housing initiatives to the rest of town.
What improvements can be made within the community in the short term, and what will you work on longer-term?
Short-term necessities and improvements are cited in my answer to #1 above.
Longer-term, the District must patiently, persistently keep its needs front and centre with senior levels of government and other public and private funding sources. We are one of 162 municipalities and regional districts in BC that all hunger for attention. Only through the kind of dedicated, consistent, strategic advocacy we've seen from Mayor Tait on the healthcare file will we continue to attract our fair share.
Establishing a true harbour viewpoint park or series of them (either at sea level or from the heights) is essential for this and future generations. No end of great ideas about all manner of local and big-picture subjects pop up and vanish on social media and in other public forums. I'd be interested to explore how can we effectively tap this flow of raw ideas and package them so that we can more effectively lobby with real-world feedback in such areas as Hwy #14, public transit, green energy, forestry, fisheries, education and the environment.
Our road network is straining at the seams, and the new Transportation Masterplan will likely reveal that we must refocus on a secondary bypass route (perhaps the Throup/Grant connector or another route) and establish a second Sooke River crossing (likely twinned with the existing bridge). Our current Town Centre plan is dependent on this bypass route.
Regarding Hwy #14, we must always press for our share of MOTI funding for ongoing improvements while recognizing and being grateful for the money the province has already spent these last five years. We might also ask the province to investigate an emergency exit route (perhaps via an upgraded Butler Main logging road to south Shawnigan Lake that would be used only during Malahat and Sooke Rd. closures.) I believe that a true, $100 million-plus alternative main road that connects seamlessly with Langford and/or Hwy #1 is a pipedream for at least the next 25 years.
What is your plan to ensure the widest possible range of housing affordability options in Sooke?
Affordability, of course, means that people should pay no more than 30 percent of their gross household income for housing costs.
The housing spectrum we need to look at spans from market-priced home ownership and rentals; affordable (by the 30 percent definition) home ownership and rentals; social housing units (i.e., the Hope Centre and the Knox Vision Society low-rise); and shelters for the homeless.
My first thought is that we need to more fully address this range of needs rather than continuing our current overwhelming focus on market housing as driven by mainstream developers. We also need to tap into the wealth of approaches to alternative, relatively low-cost housing, notably smaller footprint residences, mobile-home parks and micro-homes on either fallow ALR land or as secondary rental suites.
We have a relatively small population of homeless youth and adults, and this makes us an ideal community in which to test creative new solutions to a growing national crisis. Dorm-style, long-stay shelters matched with on-site health workers and employment opportunities would stabilize many lives. Seed funding through Ottawa’s National Housing Strategy and the shelter portion of BC Employment & Assistance programs could underwrite costs.
Other than nature-based tourism, what are the economic growth possibilities for Sooke?
Given the length of earlier answers, I'll keep this short:
i) Creation of new office, retail and light industrial opportunities and space;
ii) Active marketing of Sooke as an ideal "telecommuting" community for government and private-sector workers;
iii) Initiatives to attract gap independent businesses (while discouraging chains with Langford outlets that will weaken our unique civic character);
iv) Age-friendly healthcare and other support services for our growing population of new retirees.
v) Tap into the trades department at EMCS by giving graduating students a wider range of solid opportunities to work locally (perhaps in cooperative business start-ups) and put down roots in the community.
What is your experience with governance, budget management, and community engagement?
I've never held elected public office. From 2013 until recently, I was president of Transition Sooke, a non-profit volunteer citizen's group in good standing with the BC Societies Act. I have also been president (2015 to present) of the Edward Milne Community School Society. [edit: I failed to mention any of the public events both organizations have undertaken -- the Sooke Ecohome Tours, the Planet Earth Celebration, Zero Waste Sooke Repair Cafes and street clean-ups, the Sooke Talks series at EMCS (next one is on Nov. 2, not to be missed!) ...Scrabble tournaments, TS speaker nights, open-space community meetings with full documentation and reporting to the District ... so yes, I've my share of experience with community engagement.]
In both cases, these groups have either a skilled treasurer or, in the case of the EMCS Society, first-rate accounting and financial reporting professionals in charge of budget management. If elected, I would certainly respect and rely on District staff, especially the Director of Financial and Corporate Services, to continue to earn their keep with (as I've witnessed to date) best municipal practices.