Islands Trust Trustee Laura Patrick Provides an Update on Local Initiatives

It’s reasonable to assume that the Islands Trust is endeared by many but may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  As one of your hard-working trustees, I’ve encountered seemingly endless criticism that at times can be disheartening. I do this job because I love these islands just like many of you. We want to maintain our island culture and its uniqueness, but we also want to sustain our communities, economies and quality of life, ALL within healthy, fully functional ecosystems. These things are not at cross purposes to each other, because they are all dependent on each other. To be very clear – I am not saying do one at the expense of the other.

In its March 2021 meeting, Trust Council affirmed its understanding that the mandate of the Trust, which is embodied within the Islands Trust Act, includes the concept of, and protection of, healthy and inclusive communities including (but not limited to) housing and transportation. This affirmation is not a shift in direction or a reordering of priorities; it is a statement of clarification.  I have always understood the mandate of the trust to mean that I have a responsibility towards our constituency (people) AND the environment. The Trust is different from every other “local government” in British Columbia because we have a statutory legal obligation to the environment, in addition to all other obligations.

With the start of a new fiscal year and budgets now approved, we are getting to work on a number of interrelated and intertwined planning activities to address what matters to Salt Spring residents the most: housing, Ganges Village, water sustainability, AND protecting the environment. All of this work will respectfully and meaningfully consider Reconciliation, equity and climate change.  As you know, the Islands Trust is not a fully-fledged local government entity; however, the Local Trust Committee is enabled and entrusted with the responsibility, through the Local Government Act, to direct the location, density and form of all housing. Zoning, subdivision and other land use bylaws are powerful and foundational tools that our community can use proactively to achieve a diverse and sustainable supply of housing, and to curtail residential development that is out-of-step with our community’s climate action and equity needs.

We need to work towards intelligent and comprehensive solutions that simultaneously address multiple issues confronting our island -- such as housing, biodiversity, watersheds and water supply, the climate emergency, forest health, land use, small business health, food security, and the community spirit and resiliency of our society. We know that finding consensus might be difficult, but with respectful, considered dialogue we can and must find common understanding.

You need to know that we are NOT meeting in the dark and drafting contentious new bylaws.  We are committed to early and ongoing community dialogue because the decisions we make today shape the lives of future generations. If you have questions, please ask us!

Here is a quick update on the planning activities underway.

Ganges Village Area Plan

This will be a detailed plan that guides development in Ganges Village. Task force members have been appointed.  Additional task force members will be recruited to expand the diversity and capabilities of the group. The task force will start to meet and kick off the community -engagement activities.  The trustees and staff have initiated community-to-community meetings with First Nations to dialogue about this plan and the other planning activities.  Staff have initiated dialogue with a number of key stakeholder agencies and organizations.

Housing Action Plan

The first deliverable will be prioritized options.  Any solutions that address urgent housing needs will be advanced immediately.  “More study” is not anticipated.  We expect the task force to carefully mine the many existing reports.  Task force members will be appointed at the April Local Trust committee meeting.  Expect community engagement activities to begin soon.

Protection of Coastal Douglas-Fir and Associated Ecosystems

This project is currently in the information gathering and education phase.  No policy or regulatory bylaws have been developed.  Available soon will be a series of educational materials that will help guide your own stewardship activities around your home.  A science working group is assessing existing information to identify any gaps. Once their review is complete, community engagement will be initiated to explore what, if any, policy or regulatory approaches are needed.

Freshwater Sustainability

There are a number of planning activities occurring: proof of water for subdivision; Weston Lake water availability and climate change assessment; and, a watershed protection strategic plan.

April 11, 2021 5:50 PM

  • Avatar sheryl says:

    Thank you Laura for your very clear explanation and for your service to the Salt Spring community.

  • Avatar Paul001 says:

    Thank you, Laura. If I'm not that much in love with the Islands Trust as a system of governance, I do really appreciate the work that you personally put into taking sometimes untenable situations head on. You may feel like a lone voice in the wilderness sometimes, but there are plenty of us who are listening.

  • Avatar Phineas says:

    Thanks so much for all you do.
    The Islands Trust area is the one part of the whole Victoria to Nanaimo area that still seems a little like its old self.
    Funny how some people see this as the last frontier to be 'pioneered' when it's actually the last remains of Granma's china collection.
    I hope you are able to bring in some tangible protection for our remaining forests.

  • Avatar Connie Gibbs says:

    Laura, your post is a timely reminder for me to express my appreciation for people like you who are doing their best for Salt Spring. I couldn’t do your job with its relentless criticism. Thanks for having the courage to persevere.

  • Avatar Frants Attorp says:

    Death by a Thousand Cuts - a Response to Laura Patrick

    By Frants Attorp

    At the Trust Council meeting on March 9, eight trustees voted to support a bold motion to make the natural environment the top priority in the Trust Policy Statement. North Pender Trustee Benjamin McConchie put their case succinctly: “Why is there no focus on the environment? We are losing the environmental battle slowly, a death by a thousand cuts.”

    Unfortunately, the three members of our Local Trust Committee were not among those who voted to prioritize the environment. Before helping to defeat the motion, Trustee Laura Patrick restated her commitment to keep the interpretation of the Trust mandate “as broad as possible”.

    It is well understood that, if the definition of key words is kept sufficiently broad, they lose all meaning. For example, if the words “Ocean Wise” were defined in the broadest way possible, fishing companies would have licence to harvest every last minnow in the sea while still claiming their operations are “sustainable”.

    The same holds true for the Policy Statement. If the words “unique amenities” apply to social, economic and environmental goals equally, there is no sense of direction for present or future staff and trustees. Prioritizing everything is the same as prioritizing nothing, and the result of such unanchored policies is apparent in the urban sprawl that surrounds the Gulf Islands.

    Yes, the narrowing of the interpretation of the Trust mandate would put more constraints on local trustees, especially when considering rezoning applications, but isn’t that exactly what’s needed at this juncture? Last year’s State of the Islands Report showed that the natural environment of the islands is at a tipping point, particularly with regard to forest cover and freshwater supplies. Three major islands are already at or near the unsustainable level, while others, including Salt Spring, are not far behind. And that’s before all existing lots on the islands have been developed!

    Rather than sound the alarm about the environmental crisis and give credence to the Trust’s commitment to fight climate change, Laura continually asserts that healthy communities and economies are entirely compatible with “fully-functional ecosystems”. While this rhetoric, which was repeated once again in her April 11 update, may appeal to some, it creates the impression we can have our cake and eat it too. There is no way more development can be approved without bringing on more people, tree felling, water use, vehicles, ferry overloads, waste and so forth.

    Laura makes frequent references to housing reports without acknowledging the reality that, no matter how many new densities are created today, there will always be a demand for more tomorrow. A good analogy is roads: the more you build, the more cars you get. Urban planners refer to this as “induced demand”.

    Given our geographic location, does anyone honestly believe there will not be another housing report in five or ten years calling for yet more affordable housing? And what can the Trust possibly do about the skyrocketing price of real estate?

    There is little doubt most island residents want adequate accommodation for local employees, but unfortunately the Trust has yet to find a widely-applicable way to designate new densities for workers only. As with the recently passed cottages bylaw, hundreds of new densities are created with no guarantee any will go to workers or even be “affordable”. This problem needs to be solved.

    And then there’s the enforcement issue which local trustees rarely mention. If property owners can rent out all manner of unauthorized structures with impunity, whether on a long-term basis or as illegal STVRs, what’s to prevent the trend from continuing or even escalating? Logic dictates there can be no protected area without effective bylaw enforcement.

    Laura is promising community engagement on the housing issue in the near future. As a starting point, I suggest she refer to public input from the Islands 2050 process which shows that the overwhelming majority of Trust Area residents are far more concerned about environmental protection than affordable housing. A recent on-line Salt Spring survey supports these findings.

    As I follow Laura’s words and actions, I sense she does not fully accept the rationale for the establishment of the Islands Trust in 1974—to put the brakes on development and protect the natural environment above all. My criticisms and those of others are not personal; they reflect a difference in values and stem from the sincere belief that political decisions are harming the home we, too, have grown to love.