Monday Quick Links

There are a few interesting announcements today from the CRD and the Federal Government regarding communities, planning and green space.

The CRD is looking for people to sit on their Regional Parks citizen advisory panel for the new Regional Parks Strategic Plan. If you are interested, the site has documents with more information and the deadline for applying is June 12th, 2009.

The new CRD Pedestrian and Bicycling Master Plan has its launch event next week. Curiously, it doesn’t have a website yet, so to get a better idea of what this plan with entail, see the Request for Proposals (PDF). The CRD has selected Alta Planning & Design out of Portland to do the initial stages of the work. Alta has done some great work all over the US and Canada and they are very focused on planning for bicycling and walking, so I look forward to they can bring to our great region. The initial report is due this fall with the larger plan including network maps done by Spring 2010.

The federal government also dropped another tiny little bit of money in the bucket today, with a $4.2 million announcement of the EQuilibrium™ Communities Initiative. And yes, they did trademark the name. So sayeth the press release:

The new $4.2- million, EQuilibrium™ Communities Initiative will seek to improve community planning and develop healthy sustainable communities that are energy-efficient, economically viable and vibrant places to live.

Colour me not impressed. $4.2 million is nothing. The new CRD plan above will cost $20,000 – $30,000 just for the inital report with the 2nd and 3rd stages being considerably more. I suspect this might just be a feel good thing for Lisa Raitt, better known the whole Chalk River “sexy” isotopes statement, bad-mouthing a fellow minister on tape and leaving documents behind at a newspaper issue.

(Hattip to the Livable Region Blog in Vancouver for the link)

I am off to council tonight, where the agenda pretty normal. It is the season for block party requests and there are the usual rezoning requests. Also up is a letter from the Oak Bay Marine Group regarding the ongoing saga of the getting the Sea Rescue Society a new boathouse.

Belated post on the ducky race

Been a little bit busy recently with real life, so I have been sitting on these pictures of the Bowker Creek Rubber Ducky Race. This is the 11th annual hosted by the Oak Bay High Environment Club, but actually the 12th race ever hosted. The weather cooperated for the event, with a nice light breeze and beautiful sunshine. Given the low volume of water in the creek and the breeze, this meant that the race was actually up the creek, not down it. Of course, what you really came here to see are some pictures:

The youngest volunteer and some of her fellow volunteers
The youngest volunteer and some of her fellows

Urban Raincatcher Gazette with Freya, a volunteer
Urban Raincatcher Gazette display with Freya, a volunteer

NDP MP Denise Savoie chats with with a member of the public
NDP MP Denise Savoie chats with with a member of the public

David Lock calls everybody to announce the start of the race
David Lock calls everybody to announce the start of the race

Sonora and fellow student just before the start
Sonora Godfrey and fellow student just before the start

Students watch the ducks cross the line
Students watch the ducks cross the line
Oak Bay Mayor speaking with with a member of the public
Mayor Causton speaking with with a member of the public

David Lock marshalls his volunteers
David Lock marshalls his volunteers/students

Oak Bay Councillor Pam Copley speaking with a member of the public
Oak Bay Councillor Pam Copley

Students wait with boxes of ducks for the start of the race
Students wait with boxes of ducks for the start of the race

The ducks are in the water
The ducks are in the water!

David Lock announces the results
David Lock announces the results

Kudos to Sonera and David for organizing the event and all the people that came out and bought rubber ducks. It was a great event and hopefully this will keep Bowker Creek and all the work that needs to be done in the public eye and in their mind.

Followup on BCI’s presentation to council

As I mentioned on Tuesday, Monday night’s council meeting was started with a presentation by Tanis Douglas, Bowker Creek Initative Coordinator, and Jody Watson, chair of the BCI, about the BCI’s activities in 2008 and proposed activities in 2009. Tanis gave the bulk of the presentation then Jody then finished with a few final points and a call for funding for 2010 through 2012.

One of the major goals of the BCI is 2009 is the creation of a Detailed Watershed Implementation Plan or DWIP, which, when finished, will lay out the blueprint for what exactly needs to be done in the future to make Bowker Creek a better place. This will replace the Integrated Stormwater Management Plan that already exists. Jody mentioned that the DWIP will allow the BCI, its member municipalities or some group thereof to make funding proposals to senior levels of government to tap both climate change and stimulus funds.The full report is planned to be finished later this year.

Of particular interest to Oak Bay residents in 2009 will be the work done near the Monleith allotment gardens to clear out some of the non-native species and establish a few more allotment plots, which should reduce the huge waitlist. Also, the BCI is following with interest the redevelopment of Oak Bay High, as they would love to do some work on the section of the creek between the field and the running track, however there has been as of yet no communication between the school board and the BCI about that work.

Allan Cassidy grilled Jody for several minutes about whether or not the BCI had delivered on its promise to leverage “3 to 5 times” what the municipality was paying in. He also commented that Oak Bay views Bowker Creek as an “asset” as opposed to Saanich and Victoria’s views of it being a ditch. The funding opportunities were the only things that drew him to the BCI in the first place. Speaking of funding, Oak Bay currently pays in about 11,000 a year towards Tanis’ salary and other incidental costs and this will rise by 3% each year over the next  3 until 2012 when the funding commitment comes up again.

Purchased rubber duck may not be exactly as illustrated. Image from flickr user Gastev

The council ended up approving in principle funding until 2012 but I fear that because of the slow pace that any creek restoration takes and the jurisdictional challenges facing the BCI, come three years from now, some council members will be less than impressed with their work.

Tomorrow afternoon is the Bowker Creek cleanup and annual rubber ducky race. The cleanup starts at 10am behind the Oak Bay High East building parking lot and the rubber ducky race starts at the St. Ann pond just west of St. Ann Street (across St. Ann from the Fire Hall). Hosted by Oak Bay High’s Environment Club, this is the 11th annual, which makes me feel a bit ashamed that this will be my first time going.

No post on Bowker Creek Initiative yet

I did promise a post on the Bowker Creek Initative’s presentation to council on Monday night but I haven’t yet finished right it. This is because I managed to injure my shoulder somewhere and typing is a little bit painful right now.

Pain or not, I will be at the Bridging the Gap seminar for youth about municipal politics tonight, starting at 6:30pm in the West Theatre of Oak Bay High.

Notes from last night’s council meeting

Last night’s council meeting was an interesting one, not just because of the content but also because there were several split votes, a relative rarity in Oak Bay. There was also a whole variety of things covered, from the Bowker Creek watershed to variances and a shiny red firetruck. See the full agenda (PDF) for the whole list. Nils Jensen was missing tonight and having only 6 did lead to two split votes.

First up was a presentation by Tanis Douglas, Bowker Creek Initative Coordinator, and Jody Watson, chair of the BCI, about the BCI’s activities in 2008 and proposed activities in 2009. Tanis gave the bulk of the presentation then Jody then finished with a few final points and a call for funding for 2010 through 2012. There was a lot of discussion about the BCI, but council ultimately approved in principle funding the BCI going into the future.. I will have a more detailed post later today about the BCI’s presentation to council but for now, you can read BCI’s 2008 Annual Report (PDF) or the minutes from 2007’s council meeting about the 2007 report.

The Fire Chief then presented his after-the-fact request for council to approve a funding request to the Union of BC Municipality’s Age-Friendly Communities Initiative. Part of the larger World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities, this funding is provided by the provincial and federal governments and Oak Bay is asking for $10,000 to map concentrations of vulnerable people and their potential routes to emergency services. I hope they make as much of data available as possible, in the spirit of open government.

The usually boring variance section of the agenda was far from that tonight. One of the most controversial applications was for 2064 Penzance, seen on the map of the right. The new house there had a wall that was over the allowed height and a stop work order had to placed on the building for that and a few other issues. Neighbours of the house were uniformly against it, with several showing up to talk about how the builder had failed to do any community consultation and their fears that the building would be flipped. Apparently the owner or builder was in the audience, but chose not to speak. Ultimately council voted against the variance request 6 to 0.

Interestingly, Tara asked about and was told that due to the way the bylaws are written, the owner can take down the wall and put up a roof 1′ higher than the existing wall, a gaming of the bylaws as with the Panorama Rec. Centre’s new slide.

Also controversial was a parking variance request for 1 space instead of 2. The bylaw (PDF) requires:

Two (2) parking spaces per dwelling unit, one of which shall be within a building.

which is totally crazy. Parking is a generator of traffic and if anything the municipality should be trying to reduce the amount of parking, not expand it. Also, parking spaces are usually impermeable, so adding more paved land isn’t going in the right direction to Ian Graeme of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society’s goal of 10% permeability (average residential is about 40%-50%. I don’t know what the exact % is for Oak Bay).

The whole parking issue also was amusing for us policy geeks, as the motion to table the motion for variance to allow notice to be given was defeated. This is not the motion to approve the variance, merely the motion to let staff give notice to neighbours that the variance request has been filed in case they want to write and/or speak about it at the next council meeting. However, this left the request in limbo, until a consultation of the Community Charter revealed that the Mayor or any Councillor can request a revote on any motion at that meeting or the next one. No, that didn’t have to make sense. Just know that the inner workings of council are very strictly regulated by provincial law, primarily the Local Government Act and the Community Charter.This often ties council into doing this certain ways.

The third contentious issue that has come up a bunch is the Tree Protection Bylaw and how to amend it. The one debated today allowed the council to make a ruling that any tree could be removed if it caused hardship to the owner, something no other tree protection bylaw has. Braithwaite spoke forcefully for following what the Parks & Recreation Commission suggested to take notes over the course of a year or so and then do a single large amendment, rather than piecemeal edit it. Thankfully today’s motion was defeated, but it was an interesting matchup with Herbert, Ney and Causton for and Cassidy, Braithwaite and Copley against. Not your usual “party line” vote.

And in more interesting news, Oak Bay is a getting a shiny hybrid fire engine. It will likely be painted red. Oak Bay was also compared to Rio de Janeiro and New York tonight, in reference to the house on Penzance. This adds to the list of Oak Bay being compared to downtown Vancouver a few months back. Those who wish to attend council in the summer, it has a greatly reduced schedule with Committee of the Whole meetings on July 13th and August 10th and Council meetings on July 20th and August 17th.

Notes from last night’s forum on urban watersheds and forests

Tree on the bank of Bowker Creek
Tree on the bank of Bowker Creek

Last night the Friends of Bowker Creek Society and the Oak Bay Green Committee co-hosted a well-attended forum on urban watersheds and urban forests. The forum was an outgrowth of an internal effort by the Green Committee to get arborist Jeremy Gye to speak to them but ended up growing into the public forum with both Jeremy and Ian Graeme of the Friends of Bowker Creek speaking.

Jeremy’s talk was an excellent introduction to the values and challenges of trees in the urban context. He recently finished doing work for the City of Victoria looking at their urban forest and the massive challenge they face in the near future due to their mostly uniform age trees. This is also a problem that Oak Bay faces and given most of these trees are reaching the end of their life, both municipalities are going to need to spend a lot of time and money not only replacing those trees but also working with the public to understand the process and get them involved with it.

Ian’s talk on Bowker Creek was shorter and covered the watershed aspects of the evening. Aside from a basic introduction to what a watershed is, he gave us a tour down Bowker Creek by canoe. Given all the culverts, this involved a great deal of portaging down streets like Shelbourne. I would love to see a canoe race down Bowker Creek  as a way to fundraise for the Society and raise awareness of Bowker Creek in general. One of the more serious ideas presented was the idea of a Bowker Creek Greenway (PDF). Ian made the point that the new Baptist Housing lacks easy access to Bowker Creek Park, as the section right by the Rec. Centre is bounded on either side by parking lots, a sad waste of an opportunity if I have ever seen one.

There were also excellent tasty treats and coffee, a must for any public event. Half the time I think that people show up just to get some free food. Speaking of people, I was pleased to see both Councillors Tara Ney and John Herbert come out. I have said this in the past and I will say it again: Tara’s election has been a major boon for Oak Bay and she has made an excellent councillor even in the few short months since she has been elected. I am continuely disappointed at how few community events our elected representatives come out to.

After the two talks and a bit of eating, there was a short discussion period, which raised several excellent points about education, especially to the young. One suggestion made was to have a package of information to new home-owners to tell them about what sorts of native trees and habitat are already on their propety, in the hopes that they preserve it. One commentor also lamented the lack of native flowers at Buchart Gardens, noting that there were only native trees.

With the challenges of getting preserving and increasing the size of the urban forest, Jeremy noted that an excellent source of Garry Oak seedlings are uncut lawns. Lots of yards with mature Oak trees, if left uncut would yield dozens of seedlings. Maybe Oak Bay Tourism could sell these native trees instead of palm trees. I am not holding my breath.

In the next month or so there will be a bunch of events surrounding Bowker Creek. On the 30th of this month there is a cleanup and rubber ducky race. The cleanup starts at 10am behind Oak Bay High and the race at noon near the fire hall. On June 13th there will be a Bowker Creek Celebration Walk starting at 1pm in the upper parking lot of the Oak Bay Recreation Centre.

Overall, it was an excellent event. I am glad that the Oak Bay Green Committee and the Friends of Bowker Creek Society were able to put it on and like several people mentioned, there is sense that maybe change is in the air. Maybe in the next few years, we will get critical mass on getting a greenway built along Bowker Creek, connecting Oak Bay into the Lochside Trail and beyond.

As a final note, this coming Monday, the 25th, Council will be debating their continued support of the multi-municipality Bowker Creek Initiative. It is vital that the funding for this continue, so come out at 7:30pm at the Municipal Hall and tell council to support Bowker Creek and fund the BCI.

Estevan Village Food Roots market has returned

Foot Roots market with sign
Estevan Village Food Roots pocket market

Yesterday marked the return of the Food Roots pocket market in Estevan Village. This means good, local produce is now available every Thursday from 3pm to 6pm. Of course, I had to go down buy some vegetables, take a few pictures and chat with people.

When I was there around 4pm, it was fairly busy, with at least one person at shopping at all times. Speaking with Larkin, the Food Roots employee running the stall, she said that this was amongst their busiest markets and that business on of the first day of this year has already been pretty good.

Larkin was kind enough to take some Bicycle Master Plan promotion cards. They can be seen by the till. The more people we can reach, the better the plan will be.

For those in other parts of the city, Food Roots operates a total of 11 number of markets around Greater Victoria, from Vic West where they started to right downtown in Centennial Square. If you don’t have a pocket market near your house, they offer a handy Pocket Market toolkit to help you get one going.

A few more shots of the market in action:

Bicyclist with haul of food
John Snively with his haul of vegetables
Food Roots market in Estevan Village
Larkin with customer

Sewage experts to Colwood: “Screw you”

The experts have decided: One giant sewage plant in Colwood is a great idea. Except of course, if you live in Colwood. Too bad one giant plant is a terrible idea for local land values, the environment and just about every other reason short of get-it-done-now-itis.

One giant plant is being sold as a way to save money, as the cost estimates* show that lots of little plants have almost double the cost of one big plant. Except of course, one big plant makes certains types of resource recovery such as neighbourhood hot water heating basically impossible. One big plant is also very attractive for a P3, something I know a lot of people are not very keen on, myself included. I wonder how many of those “experts” the CRD have found have worked for the big “environmental” (I use the term loosely) firms that would likely bid on any such project?

All in all, just another report. Sewage treatment studies in the CRD are the new transit studies. Lots of hot air and wasted paper without much done. Too bad small plants have already been proven to work and coexist with residential neighbourhoods right here in Oak Bay…

* A word about capital costs: don’t trust any capital cost estimate done before 2009. The price of materials and the cost of wages have fallen so sharply in the past 6 months that any and all estimates, especially those made around the middle of 2008 are totally suspect. For instance the bid for a piece of the University Link Light Rail in Seattle was 34% under estimates, a bid made in December 2008.

Bottled water ban suggestion passes

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has passed a resolution to urge cities to ban bottled water. As I mentioned last Wednesday, the environmental impact of bottled water is two-fold. Not only does it use a massive amount of plastic, it also depletes aquifers and generally threatens safe water supplies. The Canadian Bottled Water Association, the industry’s trade association, is not impressed, claiming that they were not consulted. Funny how they care so little about this resolution that they didn’t even release a press release

Closer to home, Oak Bay Councillor and chairman of the CRD’s water committee Nils Jensen noted that the Oak Bay council already uses a carafe with tap water. The last time I was at Oak Bay Recreation Centre, there was definitely still bottled water for sale there. Nor has any councillor raised the issue at any meeting. Hopefully Nils or one of the other council members will have the guts to suggest such a ban.

Banning bottle water sales for fun and profit

Late last year Toronto decided to ban sales of bottled water on city property, it the latest in a long series of municipalities that have banned bottled water sales. This Saturday here in Victoria the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is voting on a voluntary policy to urge all municipalities to ban bottled water. Much like the recent motion passed by the Oak Bay Council involving the replacing of plastic bags with biodegradable ones, nothing in the motion forces anybody to do anything. But coupled with the recent drop in bottled water sales, this is promising news.

Plastic is among the most damaging material we produce because it isn’t biodegradable. Worst than that, it breaks down into little tiny pellets that choke living systems, filling bird and fish stomachs, causing them to slowly starve to death. Of course, not everybody agrees with this. Save the Plastic Bag presents the alternative view. Too bad they don’t tell you who funds them.

Beyond the issue of the plastic packaging, in a water-scarce world, the wisdom of moving large amounts of water vast differences is questionable at best. The Wikipedia article on bottled water documents a few of these problems. Of course, the irony is that by 1999 25% of the bottled water sold was Coke’s Dasani or Pepsi’s Aquafina, which both are rebottled municipal water. This little white lie bit Coke badly in 2004, when they had to pull Dasani off the shelves in Britian due to illegally high bromate levels. This led to the joke that only Coke could take Thames water and make it less drinkable.

Whether or not this FCM motion has any affect in the Greater Victoria region remains to be seen. I truly hope that it does but I am not holding my breath. Watch the CRD and the municipalities to pass the buck back and forth for awhile before anything gets done.