I emailed the person (name new to me) who shared the revised e-vite the day before yesterday for details about the new organizers -- Are they affiliated with any candidates locally or elsewhere? Where do they live? Are they registered as a third-party with Elections BC, if indeed that's required? -- but never heard back. (Ellen Lewers told me Ms. Mackay is a Sooke resident and an engaged voter, but who the friends were and my other questions are unanswered.)
Nonetheless, after much indecision and despite my own considerable reservations, curiosity won out and I had to be there, at the very least to see what went down in person and contribute as appropriate. As it turned out, a dozen candidates were present and seated in alpha order: Anderson, R., Anderson S., Bateman, Beddows, Belford, Bordua, Brandon, Haldane, Holm, Millard, Noseworthy, Paul and Powers.
A dozen more of the Hall's plastic gray seats, semi-circled amongst us at the front of the hall, sat empty apart from the name tags of those who declined. (Since no one else had done so to that point, I took a minute at the close to partially explain the above complications in trying to give a voice to those who'd opted out for their own good reasons. I also noted that, in my three campaigns, I've attended debates organized by reputable groups like Sooke Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce and Transition Sooke with whom we've all felt confident and comfortable and yet in this case still hadn't met nor knew anything much at all about the organizers.)
Director Hicks gave us four minutes each for an opening comment, then we were asked in alphabetical turn to reply to four pre-circulated questions. About 75 folks were in the audience, a few familiar faces but many new to me. Mike said at the outset: "I know from experience it is not easy to stand-up and speak, so please be respectful." And that was indeed the case for the next three well-managed hours.
Closing thought: Respect above all to everyone and their freedom of choice to attend or not. And onwards we go to Saturday, the pack of 26 jockeying to the finish line. May we all be well, content and grateful for this fortunate life whatever the final results.
(recycling content from my EMCS speech and my website with a few new twists)
Good evening everyone. Jeff Bateman, live and in person again. As I said at EMCS two Saturdays ago, I want to carry on to see through the directions that our council and staff team have initiated since 2018. You will find those directions captured in the new master plans and reports we’ve endorsed …
- Parks & Trails
- Community Economic Development
- Climate Action
- Housing Needs
- Child Care
- Economic Analysis
And, of course, our pending OCP, which I rate as an exceptionally good document that reinforces themes found in all our other plans dating back 50 years. I want to again paraphrase what the Advisory Committee said they heard from YOU during public engagement:
1. The strong desire to maintain and enhance Sooke’s unique character.
2. Environmental Protection
3. Focused Town Centre growth
4. Good relations with the T’Sou-ke Nation
5. Improved road networks to deal with our growing traffic jams
6. United community support for climate action.
OCP Advisory Committee members, including recently Steve Grundy and Chair Helen Ritts, have confirmed that these major themes are all substantially addressed in the OCP and they both urge adoption.
So yes, let’s do these things – with planning, patience, persistence, fiscal responsibility, advocacy and action.
As for me, I believe I have the energy, positivity and commitment to continue making a meaningful contribution. I better understand the fundamentals of local government and council procedure to a significant if certainly incomplete and often humbling degree.
It took awhile, but I'm now able to absorb multi-hundred-page agendas released 96-hours before meetings. I'm recognized for doing my homework and providing context to council discussions. I trust I've proven myself to be an active, respectful listener and effective colleague. I'm known for my humour and good will.
And I enjoy being a team player who has thoroughly enjoyed working with my council colleagues guided by staff. We're seven individuals with varied personal and working styles who reflect a diversity of Sooke viewpoints. We listen. We discuss and debate as our perspectives evolve. We vote. We accept the results and move on to whatever’s next on our agendas. Serious business and the rare spat, but never short of laughs, friendliness, good will and an eagerness on all our parts to be of community service.
Finally, I'll say that being a councillor in my experience is a challenging, complicated, mentally taxing role on a minimum wage salary. It's about much more than our individual top-three issues. It's about creating a respectful working bond between each other on council and with District staff and the public in tackling an unbelievably wide range of issues and concerns. It's about keeping up with the intense workload and extra-curricular council assignments. The work is fascinating, rewarding and often a lot of fun.
It absolutely invites burn out ... and yet here i am seeking four more years. l wish there was a karaoke machine nearby so i could pay tribute to the late, great Loretta Lynn and sing a few bars of (wait two beats) "Crazy." But I'll save that for another time. Thank you.
Four Questions Distributed Beforehand and Asked of All Candidates
(two-minutes response time)
1. What is the main issue for Sooke and what would you do to address that issue?
The main issue for Sooke – well, I reject the premise of the question a little – everything is interconnected … and that includes:
- natural environment
- built environment
- parks and trails
- roads, sidewalks and wastewater infrastructure
- food security
- community economic development
- arts and culture
- equity and inclusion
- recreation and community services, including health care
Those, incidentally, are the community policy areas in the provisional Official Community Plan.
But to the question: What I have been saying for nearly a decade is that issue number one is Sooke’s population capacity. What is the sweet spot for growth given the reality of our mostly two-lane highway? How many of us is too many? When do we lose the quality of life that drew many of us here?
And how can we manage growth given that landowners with the proper zoning have a legal right to develop provided they are aligned with the Official Community Plan.
I’ve spent untold hours pouring over the draft OCP and I’ve grown obsessed with the population projections from the CRD and Statistics Canada. Based on annual 2.9% growth as we’ve experienced the last five years, we’ll reach 26k by 2040 and 34,561 by 2050.
I think my one biggest contribution to the latest version of the bylaw was to get a boxed paragraph inserted above these population forecasts. It reads: "The District of Sooke and its elected Councils have the ability to challenge, reject, and re-envision these projections."
Our tools are zoning, transportation mode shift, local job creation and perhaps logically selling Sooke as an age-friendly committee where the newly retired or teleworkers can live and NOT add new volume to the road.
So that’s what I suggest we do: Future councils re-envision these projections, strive to identify this elusive population sweet spot and work strategically to reach it over time while making decisions here and now that invite the best possible development onto a smart-growth land base that is absolutely finite.
2. What changes would you support in the draft OCP?
(I spent the first part of my two minutes responding in the moment to Elections for Change candidate Rob Anderson, who one speaker before me had begun answering this question by holding up his lighter, sparking a flame and saying something along the lines of how he'd like to torch it entirely. Mostly kept my cool, I hope, while later laughing aloud to myself at this master class in political theatre. Then back to my notes for an abbreviated answer ....)
" I’m largely content with the OCP as it stands. The next council, I imagine, will conduct another round of public input and EXPERT stakeholder input atop the 28-month labour of professional and public input.
A main outstanding source of concern are the Development Permit Guidelines. Personally, I like the idea of a task force comprised of staff, a councillor and a set of diverse stakeholders based on the criteria used to assemble this last term's Land Use and Development Committee -- namely reps from the land development, home builder, business, agricultural, environmental & climate change, and oceans and fisheries communities in Sooke.
Their job would be to review and fine-tune the current recommended Development Permit Guidelines for inclusion in either the OCP itself or the new Zoning Bylaw that will follow its adoption.
To axe the guidelines entirely, as some have suggested, doesn’t make sense to me, not after seeing how effective the current set of them is proving as staff and the developer negotiate over the west-side of Brownsey Boulevard. How else can a community ensure that the form and character of our built environment matches community wishes?
(The timer's stop sign went up about now, so I had to hold back on the second part of my pre-digested answer)
Also I wonder whether maximum density in the Community Residential designation – i.e., the sewered parts of Sooke -- should be less than the proposed 70 units per hectare.
No question, the policy directions in the OCP – which call for density in the town centre and only there – will control this ... as will the new Zoning Bylaw with its site-specific zoning.
Yet I wonder if perhaps we should reduce this number outside the town centre designations. I would sincerely hate to see a development-minded council elected here who would then have the tools to transform us into a denser urban environment – which is exactly what the OCP input tells us we don’t want to be."
3. What would you suggest as a solution to the transportation problem?
1. Stay focused on the short-term priorities in the Transportation Master Plan – primarily the build-out of the Throup/Grant Rd. West bypass route with its roundabouts. This will ease Sooke Road traffic with alternate routes to schools and homes.
2. Continuing developing and densifying a walkable town centre where people can safely access -- on foot and bike and scooter -- services, shops, cultural amenities, the new library, the boardwalk, etc.
3. Advocate with the Ministry of Transportation as we are doing through Sooke’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry.
4. Build out of the next four TMP priorities for sidewalk/bike lane construction based on safe routes to schools – namely Rhodenite, the Beaton/Pryite area, Charters between Sooke Rd. and Throup, and on Phillips near the museum and SEAPARC.
5. Recognize we’re a bedroom community but also one that does have a growing number of local jobs … strategies to create local jobs are in the new Community Economic Development Action Plan and they’d be accelerated by sewer expansion east to Kaltasin.
6. Advocacy for private and provincial teleworking centres in Sooke.
7. Car share and ride-share programs
8. Lobby as Mayor Tait is doing for full implementation of BC Transit’s Local Area Transit Plan – held up by Covid but promising expanded regional and local service. I’d like to see incentives introduced at the outset to boost local route ridership – perhaps free transit for young people and means-tested adults. It really pains me to see mostly empty buses on our secondary streets as I do now.
4. Sooke is experiencing an incredible rate of growth, what would you do towards addressing this situation?
Well, we live in one of the most beautiful, privileged places in a world of eight billion people. And we live on an island and in a region that is well and truly on the map …
According to various travel authorities …
- Victoria is rated as the second best small city in the world
- Mystic Beach is ranked among the top-50 beaches in the world.
- Vancouver Island is the world’s best island for tourists
And naturally this attracts new residents too …
- The climate, the setting, the people, the proximity to Victoria and Langford
- The relative housing affordability.
People from everywhere want to live here. We clearly can’t pull up the drawbridge … we only have the one bridge, and that’s an issue too. Growth is inevitable and welcome – new energy, new faces, new investment, new amenities.
But as I said earlier we must recognize that this community has an optimum population size given our limit to growth – Highway 14. To handle significant more growth, we’d need a secondary access … and that’s tricky.
The Ministry of Transportation rejected 14 options in its 2020 study of Malahat alternative routes … including the Boneyard and Sooke Main options … this because of impacts to the Sooke watershed, costs and various “geotechnical and geohazard” constraints.
Two routes made the shortlist – Niagara Main in the Langford area … and the Far West Allignment, which would loop from Mill Bay around the west of the future Leech Water Supply area and reach Sooke. They too were ultimately rejected for various good reasons. Butler Main Road is there as another possibility apart from the Marine Circle Route.
According to MOTI, four lanes from here to Langford will cost $1 billion …
Whatever the potential alternative route we have an OCP that states categorically that we want to remain a small town with a big heart. A secondary route here would likely make us a much bigger town with what I'm sure would still be a Big Heart.
We must always remember we are still WILD BY NATURE and that we’re THE GATEWAY TO THE JUAN DE FUCA – and never lose sight of those aces in our deck. Also worth recognizing that long-term growth on Vancouver Island was supposed to be channeled up the Malahat and along the eastern seaboard. The four and six-lane road infrastructure on the Trans Canada and #19 north to Campbell River is in place for that very reason.
How to manage growth in Sooke?
- Planning and regular renewal/review of our evolving growth patterns
- Zoning Bylaw
- Smart growth town-centre development
- Transportation mode shift
- Better transit services
- Telework centres
- Ensure new development is aligned with existing road and wastewater infrastructure.
- Essentially take the foot off the gas pedal, take a breath, be extra vigilant with new development permit applications, settle for nothing less than the best, and never forget we are blessed beyond measure to live here."