By the SNS Editorial Volunteers
On Monday, January 31, Council will discuss the OCP Project Team’s Phase 3 Engagement Plan and the additional $116,000 that the Team is asking for to continue their work. (That number, by the way, is in addition to the $350,000 already budgeted, 87% of which has been already spent on a report that thus far has about a 5% approval rating, according to the over 400 OCP-related letters that North Saanich residents sent to Council so far.) During this OCP review process, the Project Team has focused almost exclusively on “Housing and Affordability”, a subject which, in the Project Team’s own surveys, garnered almost no support from residents. The Project Team previously indicated that there would be an opportunity in Phase 3 for the community to engage on the five non-housing themes (marine and land-based natural environment, climate action, agriculture and food systems, healthy communities, and jobs and the local economy). According to those same surveys and 400 letters to Council, folks who actually live here (and are financing this whole thing) care a lot more about these topics than they do about how to add condos.
However, the Project Team has now pushed those conversations back to Phase 4. In Phase 3, they will only be engaging in . . . you guessed it! . . . “Housing and Affordability”. (While they’re at it, they will also somehow be drafting the rest of the OCP, for stakeholders to weigh in on in Phase 4). The Project Team, in their wisdom, recognize that “this may cause confusion or erode trust”. But apparently they’re comfortable with going ahead anyway.
Speaking of trust, the Project Team says they recognize a need to win it back. Well, golly, guys. People who live in North Saanich sent in more than 400 OCP-related letters to Council last year. (And it cannot be repeated enough: 90% of these letters were opposed to the development proposed by the Project Team, and only 5% were in favour.) These letters were summed up in a measly two pages (with no analysis), in Appendix 6 at the back of the 151-page Phase 2 engagement report. If you are one of the people who sent a letter in: do you trust that your feedback is going to be handled respectfully going forward? We sure don’t. This of course begs the observation that it might be worthwhile for the Project Team and Council to consider why so many North Saanich residents felt they needed to write letters in the first place. Perhaps that had something to do with trust in the engagement process as it unfolded. The Modus report indicates that a measure of success is 800 participants across all public engagement activities. Well, they got half that in letters written to Council by real North Saanich residents, who even signed their names. Alas, that real, accountable resident input was relegated to a two-page summary in an appendix. The engagement plan proposed for Monday states: "It is also important that feedback is submitted through the formal engagement activities and associated tools as outlined in the revised Phase 3 engagement plan to enable that feedback to be most appropriately used and interpreted in drafting the OCP." They don’t explain why letters sent to our Council, which inevitably get “referred to the Project Team”, cannot be “most appropriately used and interpreted”. The interpretation is pretty clear: only 5% of people who have taken the time to write in think that developing North Saanich is a good idea. We are asked to accept instead that the Project Team is able to use and interpret sticky notes written in the rain, tokens placed on maps, closed-door design charettes with non-resident "stakeholders", and anonymous surveys, work books and Menti-meter comments from people who may or may not live here. That brings us to the stakeholders who do have influence over what is purportedly our OCP. According to the CRD website, “the key to development of an OCP is that it is a community-driven exercise that reflects the community's values with respect to growth and development. OCPs are created in consultation with community members, local committee and commission members”. However, the staff report states that there are "no meeting proposed with the District Commissions as part of the Phase 3 engagement plan". (Note though, that in another confusing move, the engagement plan mentions engaging with the commissions a couple of times. Who knows?) So, are our Council-appointed commissions and committees, made up of North Saanich residents, being consulted, or not? Why is this even a question? In the early consultations, the development industry was actively invited to participate in many engagement opportunities. And they certainly took up the invitation. That’s why SaveNorthSaanich and others have asked that surveys, workshops and open houses going forward include only North Saanich residents, First Nations and local businesses. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. And would you look at that: the Urban Development Institute, a powerful development lobby group which was earlier issued a personal invitation from Staff to participate in the survey, community conversation work books, web panels and design charettes, is once again on the stakeholder list! (Said list includes 48 groups already.....but ominously notes that “this list is not exhaustive”.) Quite remarkably, the Peninsula and Area Agriculture Commission is not among the “stakeholders” the Project Team has opted to consult. If trust is the goal, residents must be confident that non-residents with a pecuniary interest in densifying a municipality in which they do not live will not be allowed to influence the outcome of our OCP Review. North Saanich residents are the ones who will live with the outcome, pay for the outcome, and pay for all the nonsense that gets us there. The biggest issue in the next phase will be “land use”. The staff report says: "Land use (including the type, density and location of residential development) is the core basis of an OCP". Even though there are many different types of land use besides housing, it seems that the money-making portion is the overwhelming focus of the Project Team, to the exclusion of almost anything else. The Regional Growth Strategy states that agricultural/rural is the primary land use for North Saanich, not housing. Along with agriculture, other land uses include things like parks, buffers, First Nations traditional and medicinal gardens, natural forests, and wildlife habitat. The Engagement Report states: "Key takeaways from the COP26 Climate Change conference highlight that climate action requires intense collaboration and challenging established ways of thinking." We believe two of the most important "established ways of thinking" that need to be challenged are the ideas that land is just "development waiting to happen", and that Urban Containment Boundaries are meant to be moved when they’re not convenient any longer. The point of an Urban Containment Boundary is to contain. There is no point in having a boundary if it’s just going to be moved once the pressure from developers gets a bit uncomfortable. In designating North Saanich “rural/rural residential” and explicitly noting that Metchosin, North Saanich and other rural-designated areas are to remain that way, the Regional Growth Strategy explicitly states that these areas, collectively, should provide no more than 5% of the housing need in the Capital Regional District. One has to ask: what has changed since North Saanich signed on to the RGS four years ago? Surely the need for rural and agricultural spaces is greater than ever, especially given the recent dire climate events. Some of the best things that we can do to mitigate against climate change are to protect and enhance our natural areas, and enhance local agriculture and food security. And would you look at that: this describes exactly our stated role in the Regional Growth Strategy. If we do want to add housing, the best way is to use our existing buildings more efficiently by promoting affordable secondary suites. Any other building will increase GHG's, not reduce them. So. Monday is another important meeting for the future of North Saanich. We encourage you to read the reports. The Staff report is here and the Modus report is here. If you can write a letter to Council, telephone your councillors, register to speak via Zoom or in the meeting, or even take at stab at being one of the six lucky people who can attend in person, we encourage you to do so. To paraphrase the words of the illustrious rapper Ice Cube, OCP reviews ain’t a track meet, they’re a marathon. We don’t need to keep this thing running at a boil, but to protect the North Saanich we all know and love, we must not acquiesce. Whether you write, call, speak or attend, please make your voice heard.