Fourteen gathered at the Foxglove Nursery Greenhouse to welcome our CRD Director Gary Holman. With higher numbers this week, we needed both the speaker system as well as more seats, but, despite a bit of scurrying, all seemed pleased with the idyllic setting.
After a participant’s heartfelt territorial acknowledgment, Gary began with some good news: the Capital Regional Hospital district, a group to which we contribute each year, has allocated $3 million towards Lady Minto emergency room expansion, a $10 million project. The Lady Minto Hospital Foundation has committed $4 million and plans to raise the additional $3 million in a fundraising campaign. Gary will also be exploring additional funding possibilities with the Foundation.
More good news is the completion of the North Ganges Transportation Plan (NGTP), Phase Two. With the completion of this project, we finally have a safe way for pedestrians to get from Country Grocer to the village with a pathway loop that includes Lower Ganges to Rainbow Road, Atkins, and then back to Country Grocer. Years in the making - some said it could not be done - so many should be credited with its completion, including tenacious, visionary, and hardworking Island Pathways volunteers; current and former CRD Directors; CRD staff; past Transportation Commission members/chairs; and our community who approved a four-year requisition totaling $1 million some years ago.
Despite this satisfying completion, there is more to be done, and the Transportation Commission will be meeting this month to plan its priorities for the next few years. Some of these priorities may include enhancements and/or expansions of the NGTP. One clear and present concern is that - despite the lovely sidewalk - many are still walking on the unsafe harbour side of Lower Ganges Road. Despite this need, construction of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure on the harbour side is complicated by a number of factors including right of way constraints, public parking on the side of the road, and some private business parking.
From the discussion about for sale cars parked along the harbour side of Lower Ganges Road, it was clear that participants are frustrated by Salt Spring’s-inability to ticket illegally-parked vehicles and tow those that are abandoned.
While a participant - with Gary’s help - was successful getting several long-term parked cars at the Vesuvius Bay Ferry Terminal moved, this seemingly-simple request took months to accomplish. The two cars that have since been removed were tagged and, eventually, the owners moved them. The clearly-abandoned one - although tagged as well - remains in the parking lot, taking up a valuable space needed by ferry customers. We learned that it costs about $300 to have a car towed and that neither MoTI nor the RCMP seem to have the available funds.
Gary noted that parking issues are increasing as we successfully-complete more and more sections of pathways and sidewalks. Islanders are used to parking wherever they like, and these pathways/sidewalks are challenging this convention. Gary’s view is that public land should be available for public, not just private, purposes.
While there would be additional costs, and could, potentially, be unpopular with some in the community, the Transportation Commission has the legal mandate (outlined in its 2008 establishment bylaw that Gary initiated) to manage parking - including abandoned vehicles - on land for which the CRD has a license of occupation, or, through protocols with MOTI and the RCMP, on road rights of way. Parking management options will also be discussed in the Transportation Commission’s upcoming strategic planning session.
In other good news, we learned that the Harbourwalk Committee (a subcommittee of PARC) recently recommended that PARC contract design plans for this long-awaited boardwalk. PARC will decide its priority at its next meeting, but it is understood that it will be competing with many other high-priority PARC projects. Stay tuned. Luckily, this detailed design project already has funding in place because previous CRD Director McIntyre committed Community Works (gas tax) funds for it.
With the completion of these plans, which will require collaboration with upland owners and First Nations, it is expected that the Ministry will approve the right of way along the marina portion of the Harbourwalk. With this permission and completed designs, we will be better positioned to apply for infrastructure grants. It is also likely that a donation drive in the name of former Harbourwalk Committee Chair Matt Steffich will be initiated.
When asked why Harbourwalk designs currently stop at the intersection of Upper and Lower Ganges Roads, Gary replied that, as a part of their lease expansion, the marina at Moby’s has committed to build and fund the HarbourWalk in front of their property. It is possible that this portion may also include beach walk sections.
More good news. . . Darryl Martin announced that he is the newly-elected President of the Chamber of Commerce. Also, as chair, of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0, he announced that this comprehensive and actionable plan is about to be released. The countless hours spent by hardworking, knowledgeable volunteers to create this plan - with over 250 recommendations! - was acknowledged by the group - as well as Darryl’s tenacity converting this huge amount of expertise and passion into a cohesive plan.
Not an end but a beginning, the release of this plan marks the beginning of the implementation phase. Transition Salt Spring is committed to help build the island-wide partnerships needed for this implementation and has already secured some funding from a CRD Grant-in-Aid, Islands Trust, the Salt Spring Island Foundation, and Vancity.
More good news: The Baker to Central pathway has been completed, and bids have just been received for the Baker to Booth Canal portion, largely-funded by a $490,000 provincial Active Transportation grant.
When the conversation shifted to our inadequately-housed population, there was a sense of frustration that we cannot seem to find a safe place for them to be, instead forcing them from public park to park. Efforts by Gary and Community Services to use of a portion of the CRD-owned Drake Road property has not been accepted by CRD Housing in Victoria. Gary will be working with Community Services, CRD, and other agencies to explore other possibilities.
Gary shared his frustration of unsuccessfully (so far) finding a plot of land for our inadequately-housed Salt Springers. However, he reminded us of a number of successes that were possible due to collaboration of local government agencies and NGOSs:
Community Services received increased funding from BC Housing to not only operate their shelter year round, but to expand it and increase shower and laundry capacity. Community Services also received funding from BC Housing to rent rooms at the Seabreeze Inn over the winter.
Emergency support funding through the Salt Spring Island Foundation, CRD Grants-in-Aid, and other sources have assisted social support groups like Community Services and Copper Kettle to assist Salt Spring’s disadvantaged.
Island Health is filling some staff vacancies (including support staff and a psychiatrist) to help address related mental health and addiction issues.
The CRD has also received $13 million from the federal Rapid Housing for the homeless program and is developing a list of possible projects, including those on Salt Spring, that could be funded.
Despite these successes, in too many instances, according to Gary, local governments have been left to address provincial issues (like homelessness, mental health, and safety) without the needed resources. While the province is already dealing with a dizzying list of problems - made worse by years of not addressing them as well as our current pandemic - too many of their areas of responsibility have fallen to local governments, including small rural areas like Salt Spring.
Concerning affordable housing, Gary has helped current projects through gas tax funding for alternative water supplies at Croftonbrook and Drake Road - such as drilling wells - as well as energy-efficiency measures at Salt Spring Commons. (More good news: both Croftonbrook and Salt Spring Commons are preparing to welcome their first residents!)
More good news: Gary reminded us that the $3.5 million upgrade of the Ganges sewage plant is now complete with increased capacity that maintains a treatment standard that rivals that of the newly-completed Victoria plant. We seldom even think of our village sewage plant, but Gary reminded us that it is one for which we can be quite proud. He also reminded us that it is necessary to support affordable housing in the Ganges area.
When asked about all that surveying work on Ganges Hill, Gary confirmed MOTI plans to repave it - with 1.5 metre bike lanes on both sides! - summer 2021. Hopes for a pedestrian pathway on the uphill side are in the sights of the Transportation Commission which recently requested staff to seek tenders for detailed design. With an Active Transportation grant opportunity approaching rapidly (February 2021), it is hoped that these shovel-ready designs will be ready in time to apply for this funding. Gary is also prepared to commit gas tax funding to prepare the pathway designs as well as possibly assisting with construction.
The conversation shifted to a Local Community Commission (LCC) with a participant asking whatever happened to the Community Alliance Governance Working Group recommendation for this LCC in their September 2019 report.
If we were to get a LCC, would it be only advisory - not that different from our other commissions - or would it have administrative oversight and powers? Gary told us that the elected representatives of a LCC would have the same mandate and political authority as the Electoral Director. (Any specific service oversight would need to be negotiated and could be added later as a result of proven performance.) Local Community Commissioners would work together to determine the allocation of funds such as gas tax funds, a decision that is now effectively made by Gary alone. Additional LCC discussions and decisions would be made in public meetings, broadening representation and increasing transparency, according to Gary. While a LCC would address only CRD services, it would have some similarity to a municipal council in those service areas.
Gary clearly stated that, while he supports the establishment of a LCC, his top governance priority is to explore the possibility of NSSWD joining CRD, a decision that would have to be approved by their ratepayers. NSSWD concerns, such as retaining effective local control as well as its water protection mandate, would have to be addressed. If NSSWD ratepayers decided to join CRD, there is the possibility of a provincial infrastructure grant, a benefit that was provided to other Salt Spring improvement districts that became CRD entities.
Gary believes that the conversation concerning a LCC must wait until this potential partnership with NSSWD has been fully-explored. When asked if there was time to wait, he reminded us that there are still two years left in the current term. He believes that there is still plenty of time for a referendum on a LCC, which, if successful, would result in the election of both the CRD Director and Local Community Commissioners in the fall of 2022.
As 1:00 approached, we all thanked Gary for his tenacity, enthusiasm, willingness to listen,. . . and for coming to ASK Salt Spring each month to listen and help us seek solutions to the issues nearest to our hearts. Thank-you, Gary!
Interested in joining us? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering at our new location, the idyllic Foxglove Nursery Greenhouse this coming Friday, November 20, 2020, from 11 a.m. -1 p.m to welcome our Islands Trustee Laura Patrick.
All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.
Social-distancing maintained and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.
No time to come to a meeting? Any question, anytime: email@example.com