Over 250 North Saanich residents of all ages gathered outside Municipal Hall on July 12 for a family-friendly Rally to Save North Saanich. We don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a good time was had by all.
If you’ve got a minute and a half you can Recall the Rally – or see it for the first time - by watching the very first SaveNorthSaanich.ca video here:
So, what happened at the meeting?
Given what went on at the meeting inside Municipal Hall, there’s no question that together, we all made a real difference. From the hundreds of letter-writers to the folks who came to stand outside the hall, Council paid attention.
The meeting was a long one, with MODUS running a full 30-minutes over their initially-planned 30 minute presentation. The consultant was allowed to ramble on uninterrupted but a new resident, speaking in the public participation portion at the beginning of the meeting, was denied a one-minute extension when she realized her prepared comments ran a few seconds too long. It was not a good start. But things got better.
While it’s true that they didn’t vote for the “Stop!” that many of us had been seeking, Council did give staff a long to-do list, to be completed no earlier than “after the final Stage 4 British Columbia Public Health Order date”. It’s then that we’ll all be able to attend – in person! – such large, organized gatherings as rock concerts, sports games and OCP open houses. According to the BC Government, that won’t happen at least until September 7, seven weeks away. So we don’t have a “stop”, but we certainly have a “slow”.
Another bright spot is that Council now seeks a whole raft of new information from the Project Team before the OCP process carries on, regarding such things as the District’s residential “build-out capacity” (that is, how many housing units could be built under our current OCP) and more detail on the feedback from residents so far, including what was written on all those post-it notes at the pop-up events. Information, particularly when it is accurate, is a good thing.
Council also wants a “facilitated meeting” with the Project Team, to talk about topics including the “Preliminary Vision and Goals and how to approach the review of these important and foundational Official Community Plan items”. Of course, it probably would have been a good idea to discuss these foundational things at the beginning of the process rather than halfway through, but at least they made it there eventually.
Finally, and most notably, Council also wants an accounting of how the “Six Big Concepts” – which include such mind-boggling ideas as “Sensitive Infill”, the “Deep Cove Community Hub” and the “McTavish Village Centre” - might be revised or eliminated from the Official Community Plan. We’ll drink to that.
To read the exact motions Council passed, click below. (Please note that the first motion is Councillor Stock's, which was defeated. Scroll down for the motions which were passed.)
How did this happen?
We see three persuasive elements:
Firstly, there was the overwhelming negative public reaction to what the Project Team has wrought. The fact that hundreds of people showed up on a Monday evening outside of Municipal Hall – not to mention the 285 letters opponents sent in – provided Council with more resident input than the entire OCP process thus far. And they’d heard plenty even before that.
Secondly, as it became clear listening to the Mayor’s interview on the July 12 Capital Daily podcast, the District has engaged a new communications strategist. That very same morning, as the roosters started to crow across North Saanich, the district’s Chief Administrative Officer also reversed his earlier stern prohibition, and allowed the Save North Saanich rally to proceed on the lawn. The official line has become increasingly conciliatory since then.
Though this strategist works with the MODUS consultants a lot – she is on their webpage, they are on hers – so far she seems to have the magic key to Municipal Hall. Let’s hope she has a better read on the North Saanich climate than her Vancouver-based friends.
Thirdly – and vitally – were the valiant efforts of Councillors Celia Stock and Jack McClintock, who drafted a motion calling for a hard stop and reassessment of the direction of the OCP review which, we understand from comments made at the meeting, council was aware of well in advance. Both Coun. Stock and Coun. McClintock spoke passionately in urging their fellow councillors to stop the process. The motion was resoundingly defeated, with only those two councillors voting in support. One of the opposing councillors, in giving reasons for voting against the motion, said that if there was going to be a pause, it should have been "quite a few months ago, not 16 months in". (Which, incidentally, is exactly what all of these letter writers asked for in January and February. Complaints about the process started rolling in as early as November, and there's more still in March and April, but you get the picture.)
Nonetheless, the mayor alluded that the motion of Couns. Stock and McClintock helped him frame a few motions of his own. They passed.
Things have slowed down, and that is good. But the OCP review will march on again in September, and residents must be ready to speak up again. The three huge problems that existed two weeks ago still exist. Namely:
We still have the six “Big Concepts”, including McTavish Village Centres, Deep Cove Community Hub, and nooks galore. Council may change or scrap these....but they haven’t yet.
The entire review is still based on the fundamentally flawed Housing Needs Assessment Report. You can read about that problematic document under the heading “Misconception #4” in this article.
We are still saddled with a Project Team that thinks a single open-house in Phase 3 would have been enough to tick the “public engagement” box, and favours the kind of public input that fits on a post-it note.
In short: Council hasn't swatted the fly, they’ve just caught it in a jar to take a closer look.