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.

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.