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Incorporation: A Vision of Co-Creative Sustainable Development

    Editorial & Opinions, Governance & Politics    August 21, 2017

Hi all, I know this post is long, but I have poured my heart into these thoughts and words, I really care about this community where I grew up, and have returned to nest and raise my family. We are collectively making a decision that is critical to our future and the future of our children. Please take the time to consider these thoughts and perspectives…..

Yess! I believe we can be an amazing, pro-active and visionary community, manifesting and exemplifying the essence of Sustainable Development by becoming an Island Municipality within the Islands Trust. We are a community full of talented, smart and caring people who can come together and guide our natural growth in the most harmonious way, tailored to our unique island all the while resisting the pressure of large scale commercial development.

With all due respect to the valid concerns of the “positively no” crowd, I believe that too much emphasis is being placed on fear of losing protection of the Trust when really it seems that the Trust will remain and in fact must approve land use changes according to its mandate to “preserve and protect….”. Good thing! The trust is doing a great job and thankfully its oversight will not go away.

Really this is about taking local control of the services currently provided by the CRD and harmonizing them with the water and fire districts under one roof of elected representatives. I really believe this would be more efficient and sustainable than the current dysfunctional patchwork. I respect the fear that developers will try to move in and use money to influence our council. I personally have faith and truly believe that the representatives elected by this community would resist such influence.

I think we need to focus on the concept of Sustainable Development. Development is happening no matter what, but how best may we guide it to its most sustainable nature, one that protects the environment and our socio economic needs at the same time? How do we create a harmonious society where there is room for all the myriad participants in our community with our differing but inter connected needs and vision? How do we create and act on fulfilling a common vision of how our community is to grow and evolve, balancing the protection of the environment, encouraging ecological options and a sustainable, prosperous economy with opportunity to make a decent living to support our families?

One key to Sustainable Development is that it must follow the path of what is affordable. There is a fear that taxes will sky rocket and the council will be pressured to approve projects in order to generate taxes that will allow them to provide for services promised etc. etc. If we collectively demand that Sustainable Development is our way forward then council members elected will need to only promise services that we can afford given current revenues. Improvements and projects may be slower as we balance priorities we need to focus on to better our community with what we can afford to do. Maybe small tax increases will be necessary to achieve certain important objectives. I for one would be thrilled to pay an extra hundred dollars a year if it meant our roads were safer and better maintained. (Bike Lanes, yes please! There is an electric bike revolution coming soon to an island near you! Imagine carbonless tourism……hmmm?)

I believe our community lacks leadership to bring projects together for the benefit of a collective vision of our community, whether to complete the boardwalk around the harbour, paint the crosswalks in Ganges before the tourist season, improve park facilities, create a park and ride transit program to relieve parking congestion in Ganges, save the pubs we have lost in Vesuvius and Fulford and their cultural importance as music venues,(too late now, I know too bad…) to creating safe cycling lanes to promote cycle tourism….. so many things…..As someone mentioned we don’t even have a “Welcome to Salt Spring Sign”. It’s as though tourists come and visit and love the place in spite of our stand offish, dysfunctional dilapidating community infrastructure. It could be so much better! (and even funkier!) The trust has no mandate to provide this leadership, neither does the CRD. We fall through the cracks. All we get are initiatives for specific projects by varied groups and associations and thankfully too. I am grateful for all their hard work! Some tout all the things that we have managed to achieve for the island via the CRD and grants etc. and it is indeed an impressive list of accomplishments and I am grateful for the efforts that have been done, but I can’t help wondering could this not be at least as good or even better with a unified governance of a SSI Municipality? Some say it’s working just fine, it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but to me signs of dysfunction are all around and it is only going to get worse with time and more population/ tourist pressure. We are the Cote d’Azur of Canada. We cannot build a wall to keep the envious hordes at bay, we must be proactive and plan for the inevitable integration that must continue to occur.

One image stands out in my mind as an example of dysfunction. Observe on the ferries, a caravan of multiple CRD trucks with crew coming to the island to provide service. Paid to travel here, work for a few hours then paid to travel home and probably overtime on top of that. How can this possibly be efficient? How is this anywhere close to a sustainable model of governance and community service? I know we could do better providing local service with local crews, keeping the money in our community and actually getting a 8 hrs of work provided for 8 hours paid! Imagine that! More jobs on the island, more care and accountability. This is just an example that I see from time to time, I shudder to imagine all of the wasted dollars. It seems that on the whole it will cost about the same to become a municipality or to stay with the status quo but I am sure we will get much more value for dollars spent as a municipality if the above example is anything to go by. There is a better way to “preserve and protect” then to rely on the inertia of dysfunction!

This brings me to the discussion of another first hand observation of dysfunction that I see every day. I deliver bulk water around the island to people who have problems with their wells or supplement their water usage with bulk water for irrigation to avoid stressing their wells and water table. I am constantly filling water storage tanks. I also supply these water storage tanks for these purposes and to collect rain water. The discussion constantly arises about a CRD bylaw that mandates that any water storage tank above 4 feet tall be secured to a geo engineered platform. This of course doubles or triples the cost of installation. Any time anyone is interested in water storage it is usually advisable to install the largest tank that will fit in the site as they have the best price point per unit of storage. This bylaw inhibits the ease of installation in new homes or retrofitting existing houses. The reason for the bylaw apparently is fear that in the case of an earthquake the tank can topple over and become a missile damaging neighbouring property. I researched this quickly and found a resource from California stating that a cylinder that was 3 times taller than its base was indeed susceptible. I have never seen a water tank that tall compared to its base. The best proportioned tanks that I supply are 8ft tall and 8 ½ feet diameter, holding 3000 US gallons, perfectly stable on a properly compacted base. Compare to a 4 ft tall tank that holds only 1100 US gallons. For little extra cost an owner can get close to three times the storage were it not for the erroneous bylaw! The vast majority of tanks are installed on relatively flat areas or amongst trees that would protect any buildings in the miraculous case of an overturned tank. The engineered platform would make sense in the case of needing to install the tanks on a slope with a clear path above a neighbouring building. It would make sense to me to insist on the geo engineered platform only in such a case rather than blindly double the cost of all water storage tank installations across the board, especially here on SSI where we have water concerns that desperately need to be addressed. One of the best ways to encourage installation is to remove the cost prohibitive regulation! I brought up the subject at a meeting about water issues a few years ago, Trustee George Grams replied that he was aware of the concern and was lobbying the CRD to make an exception for the gulf islands or something to that effect. I naively thought “that’s great, something will be done about this! Cool.” Three years later, no change. I am sure the subject was broached, but how can we get the CRD to care about island specific needs like this one as important as it is to us? This makes me wonder how many other cases there might be like this concerning building code bylaws or other regulations. I believe as a municipality we could identify and act on this this right away as a good start to encouraging more rainwater harvesting all over the island in new and existing homes. This issue also affects potential solutions to low cost housing projects or individual rental cottages/ suites where water is an issue. Reduce the cost of installation by easing erroneous regulation!

I believe that as a municipality we could do other things to encourage less water consumption such as reusing “light grey” water (bath, shower, laundry but not kitchen sink) for flushing toilets or irrigating trees and shrubs, composting toilets, reed filtration septic treatment. All these have important places in Sustainable Development. What about encouraging these as well as solar, micro hydro, net zero energy homes, ecological building materials Natural Forest spaces, as part of a trade for increasing density in our land use planning.

It seems to me the easiest path to helping with our affordable rental housing problem would be to allow more family dwellings on a given property if the critical elements can be solved: proof of adequate water supply and septic. As it is now a one acre property can have a 7000 ft2 house with 10 bedrooms and who knows how many baths, but the same property is not allowed a modest home of say 2000 ft2 and a cottage or suite that could be rented to a small family and help the property owner pay their property taxes, mortgage etc. Instead of arbitrary rules, flexibility should be given to owners of properties that can prove adequate supply of water with some sustainable development design such as recycling light grey water and rain harvesting, bonus given to ecological building solutions. In this way density will build around sustainable water supply-“eco-hamlets”. It is untrue to think of the island as a single system with x amount of water thus y amount population no matter how that population is distributed. Our island is filled with micro climates with varied ground water availability. Recognizing and adapting to this varied availability as well as rainwater harvesting are essential keys to our Sustainable Development.

I believe that a SSI Municipality, would be best able to adapt to this kind of flexible, reality based Sustainable Development thinking, to quickly adapt to changing needs of the pressure of people wanting to live in this beautiful place, the need for housing for all classes from the gentrified to the working class to the artists and service providers and retirees, and the need for a sustainable vibrant economy to make it all go around.

I truly believe that our community would elect people to the council who support true Sustainable Development, serving people and the environment in line with the continuing mandate of the islands trust. I believe we could provide services more efficiently than currently provided by the CRD and the provinces meagre road maintenance. It will take time, there will be a period of transition for sure. All beautiful creations have growing pains!

We can be a model community of Proactive, Sustainable Development. The time is now! Let’s work together to go beyond “preserve and protect” to co-create a visionary community of a sustainable future. We can do this! Yess we can!

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