Poor North Saanich!
To hear some tell it, North Saanich is in an unstoppable free-fall. Our mayor is seen as a meanie, our OCP planners have disappeared, we’re short a councillor, and our pricey Vancouver consultants – now fully put-upon and tragically miffed – have ridden their sedan chairs all the way home.
So dire are the present straits that a member of the previous council, who has been firing out missives since the October election, complains she’s embarrassed just to live here. It seems the new council is doing things differently than the old council. The horror!
In any case, your faithful correspondents want anyone feeling that way to know: we understand! Planners and consultants crowding the exits, and a blunder-prone councillor following them out. Hard discussions at council meetings, and headlines shouting all about it. Former elected officials beating relentlessly on a broken drum. My goodness, with all this going on, we would not for a second blame those among you who might think that we’re all in a handbasket, destination: hell. What a lot of change. So much change!
But wait....wasn’t that the point?
It was indeed. And with all change comes a period of adaptation. To be sure, there are things that could’ve been handled better. It’s true that Mayor Jones has sometimes stumbled settling into his brand-new job, and we’ve yet to hear anyone call him a master of diplomacy. It’s also true that getting the OCP process up and running has taken more time than he expected. And so, some folks are cranky with him. That’s politics, baby, in real life.
But truth is the guy got elected on a promise to reform the OCP process. And he and the majority of council are delivering – big time.
What's happening with that whole OCP thing, anyways?
Things are moving. - most notably in the form of the Mayor’s OCP Advisory Committee (MOCPAC) and a shiny new hire.
We’ve said all along that there is a copious store of knowledge contained within this community, and the MOCPAC is tapped right in. The list of people recruited to deliver the “by and for North Saanich” OCP reads like the community’s greatest hits.
The MOCPAC, for the procedural nerds in the crowd – we see you! - is the group that was formed to replace the “staff advisory working group”, generally known as the AWG. Readers may recall that there was significant opposition when the AWG was formed – residents noted that its meetings were closed to the public, and the terms of reference seemed to deliberately skirt the “open meeting” requirements set out in provincial legislation. In response to opposition from residents (including letters from some of us yahoos, lest you think our first instinct was to rush right out and build a cheeky webpage), the council of the day doubled down and amended the terms of reference to skirt the legislation a little harder. The lawyer-types in the crowd didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. (PG: I did both.)
The MOCPAC, on the other hand, is an open book. The public is welcome and the sessions are available to watch online. The meeting schedule can be found here on the district website. Or you can attend in person! You can bring a sandwich! Make a day of it!
There’s no question that MOCPAC would benefit from a catchier acronym. But what it lacks in marketability, it makes up for in composition. Get this: for the first time in 15 years, North Saanich councillors are serving as working members of OCP working groups, thereby bringing a duly-elected perspective into the process. And the three councillors on MOCPAC - Councillors McConkey, Stock and Shrivastava – bring an array of individual talents; physics professor Sanjiv, for example, is also a data czar.
Equally exciting is the fact that our councillors are joined on the MOCPAC by three widely recognized and well-respected professionals, each of whom combines long working experience and vast expertise in a highly relevant field - with decades-long, personal understanding of the history and the character of the place we all live. Those professionals are:
A veteran provincial land use authority who served as BC’s executive director of planning and intergovernmental relations, Alan Osborne has contributed to countless OCPs, working with local governments throughout the province on challenges like affordable housing, urban sprawl, sustainability and climate change. Mr. Osborne also developed most of the legislation still used by local governments for community and regional planning and regulating development. Read some of his writing over at North Saanich Community Voices.
Terry Chow, a professional registered forester and professional agrologist, has spent more than 30 years working on the front lines of silviculture, with key roles in land and forest resource management and ecology. Currently working with BC Forest Safety, Mr. Chow’s understanding of the North Saanich tree canopy will be invaluable as Council moves toward reconsideration of the widely reviled 2022 tree protection bylaw. Read his positions in letters to the TC and PNR, and on Facebook and Next Door.
Bob Peart is a biologist with an advanced degree in education, co-founder of the Peninsula Streams Society, and former chairman of the 130,000-member Nature Canada. The 2022 recipient of the Douglas H. Pimlott award, Canada’s top honor in the field of conservation work, Mr. Peart also served as the principal author of the Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s 2021 publication “A Bioregional Framework for the Peninsula,” a comprehensive three-community sustainability plan, available for your perusal on the SPEC website.
(You can bet there will be a climate/environmental lens all over this official community plan.)
Each of these MOCPAC experts is a long-time North Saanich resident and all are volunteers, contributing their time, energy, experience and expertise entirely without compensation. They are literally doing this for love and community (as opposed to, say, for half a million bucks). And would you look at that - all the mayor and council had to do was ask.
Reporting to the MOCPAC are four Working Groups - each composed of councillors and community volunteers, each examining the current status and the future shape of a different aspect of the OCP:
Housing and planning
Agriculture and food security
Climate and the environment
Marine and waterways
As we understand the process, the working groups will send their work products over to the MOCPAC, where they’ll be synthesized with all other available resources, including the reactions of the community and the data collected by the former consultants. (Most of the work we paid Modus for is in the possession of the District – nothing has been “lost” ....although some of it certainly should be.)
The plan is for that synthesis to provide the basis for more community feedback and a draft OCP, to be written by the District’s planning department. What a concept!!
The mayor and council majority campaigned on a change in course. To sum it up: they’re delivering.
Comings and goings
And, perhaps as a result of their delivery, lately there’ve have been a few notable departures from Municipal Hall. The loudest, of course, was the exit of the former councillor who triggered widespread dismay by addressing the mayor as “Mr. Hitler,” thereby effectively cursing out Mr. Jones and trivializing the Holocaust at the same time
(while also triggering a by-election costing $50,000).
On top of that, your correspondents were disturbed to hear various additional Nazi references emanating from a couple of women seated behind us at the same meeting. Frankly, hearing all this while sitting beside a Jewish guy in a Canadian municipal hall in 2023 was bizarre and appalling. We can all agree flippant Third Reich comparisons are not cool, right? Ooof.
Meanwhile, the exits of staff planners who figured North Saanich was destined for density, and the departure of the pricey consultants who sought to sell us four-story apartment buildings and "Neighbourhood Nooks“, are not cause for mourning - not for them and not for North Saanich. We’re genuinely glad that our erstwhile planners have found work in CRD municipalities more aligned with their interests, and we’re confident that our former consultants are already busy imposing their dreary science someplace else.
We’re also very glad that the district is planning for its own residents. What a concept! Given the impressive volunteer team that North Saanich has assembled in the MOCPAC and the Working Groups, along with the consultants’ data and an unbiased assessment of its value, and the real possibility for a cooperative, focused and friendly relationship among MOCPAC, North Saanich residents, and the planners at municipal hall, we're feeling decidedly optimistic about the OCP process this time around.
Who's the new guy?
The shiny new hire - and the embodiment of that “real possibility for a cooperative relationship” - is one Felice Mazzoni, who is the newly appointed Director of Planning at municipal hall.
Mr. Mazzoni was named the Planning Institute of BC’s 2007 “Planner of The Year”. His sustainable planning initiatives have since been recognized by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the International Awards for Liveable Communities.
But is this a good thing? Is recognition from an industry whose existence depends on continuous building and densification a selling point in this neck of the woods?
We were skeptical, but it turns out Mr. Mazzoni has been central to the creation and implementation of sustainable planning projects in a lot of small-town BC, including in Telkwa and Sooke. Heck, he was the long-time Director of Planning for Ucuelet! Significantly, his frequent presentations to academic and industry audiences feature such titles as “Sustainable Planning Techniques: Doing Things Differently in Small Towns and Rural Communities.”
This sounds promising, yes? Add to that the fact that many thoughtful residents have already expressed heartfelt relief and genuine enthusiasm that Mr. Mazzoni has been brought on board - “the perfect fit for the job,” one councillor said - and we're feeling pretty good about him, too.
We welcome Felice to North Saanich, and look forward to reading his draft of the OCP. Yep, he’s going to write it. In house. (Don't break our hearts, Mr. Mazzoni!)
So for now at least, the OCP seems to be in very good hands. Which is a damn good thing, because we’ve got that aforementioned $50K by-election to worry about. Stay tuned.