Budget nearing End – More Public Hearings – Transportation Lobbying – Food Security and Climate Change Committee Thursday

I’m still working on making the updates here more frequent!  Still trying to work out a regular timing for these that captures the information I’d like to give you and produces it in a timely manner.  I’ve had some very nice comments from folks about the information provided so far, so I am encouraged and committed to figuring out something that works!

The Budget Process Winds Down

Last Monday, Council had what was supposed to be the final session to provide direction to staff on budgeting priorities.  We were presented with all of the results from the public input and worked through a handy-dandy spreadsheet.  Click the image below for a full PDF of it.  The totals might be a little different as it is an earlier version).

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City Manager’s Budget Item spreadsheet – blank cells are items Council did not adopt, $0 cells (you will see in the PDF) are items Council adopted but that do not affect the 2015 budget tax increase.

There was so much debate and discussion (which is a good thing!) that a 1.5hr meeting turned into a 2.5 hour meeting and we only got about 2/3 down the sheet.  Our last item before we adjourned was the decision to continue the commitment to volunteer groups in the Community that have been trying to move the historic mill stones from their current location on the Catalyst property to Victoria Quay.

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My main goal in the proceedings was to advocate for the implementation of seasonal (winter) bi-weekly garbage pickup until such time that we had the kitchen and yard waste program up and running.  That motion was defeated as council decided that with concerns around food scraps in the bins for two weeks and with kitchen and yard waste pickup hopefully coming next year, two changes in as many years would make it difficult for residents.  Fair enough!

Our final budget direction meeting will be today, Monday March 30th starting at 1:30PM.

The financial plan will then move through regular council readings on April 13th, it will be adopted on the 20th, and then the final tax rates for 2015 adopted on the 27th.

Check out lots more info including the survey results at the City’s Financial Plan 2015-2019 page.

More Public Hearings Monday Night

There will be another pubic hearing at 5:30PM on Monday night.  You can download the agendas from the City website.  The hearing will deal with three different rezoning requests at once:  a new CoOp Gas Station on 10th Avenue beside Tim Horton’s; the Westcoast Aquatic interpretive centre at Harbour Quay, and a subdivision of property on Ian Avenue.

I do not expect these hearings to be nearly as controversial as the hearing earlier in the month on the Westporte park and Rainbow Gardens.

About that Rainbow Gardens and Westport Issue

Part of the reason I didn’t post anything for a couple weeks was because I did not want to do anything that might contravene the workings of the Public Hearing process for the Rainbow Gardens application.  Public Hearings are arguably the most serious and important issues Council deals with and there are very strict rules on how they are conducted including a requirement for Councillors not to engage in any discussion or new information sharing with the public, proponent or staff between the end of a Public Hearing and discussion on the motion at the next public meeting of council.

That included potentially engaging in discussion on social media or here on the blog.

That also means I cannot and will not engage in any discussion on the CoOp, Westcoast Aquatic and Ian Avenue issues on this blog after the Hearing tonight and before the motion is considered next week.

That said, I wanted to give my reasons for how I personally voted on the rezoning and land swap deal in Westporte.

I will not speak for council as it is the Mayor’s job to do that and he has been on the radio and in the papers. But here is why I personally voted against the rezoning:

This was obviously the hardest decision our new
 council has made. At the beginning, it really seemed like a no-brainer to me. We have a huge need for seniors housing in town, that is a plain and undeniable fact. This proposal was to sell the community park adjacent to the facility to Rainbow Gardens so that they could then go to Island Health with a plan to expand their facility. Without land in hand, Rainbow Gardens could not approach Island Health. That’s just how it works. In return, for the residents of the area, the City would ensure the park stayed as a park for the undetermined amount of time it took for Rainbow Gardens to secure a commitment from Island Health by leasing the park for $1 from Rainbow Gardens and in the meantime set aside a portion of the large natural area nearby so that when Rainbow Gardens was ready, a new park could be built to replace the previous one.

It all seemed very easy and it all made sense.

The reason I voted no was for several reasons which grew over time and by themselves might not have convinced me to change my mind, but together were too much to ignore:

1) The plan submitted by Rainbow Gardens was quite incomplete.  At first I was under the impression that the drawings submitted were fairly close to what was envisioned, but after listening to the proponent at the hearing indicate they really had no concrete plan on how the new facility would work and what new services or beds would be created, it became clear that there was no concrete vision for what the expanded facility would actually look like. It was very preliminary, and for a project of this magnitude and consequence, it just wasn’t enough meat on the bones.

2) The offer from the City of the Park was equally not well flushed out. Were there other options in the area or on the Rainbow Gardens footprint that could work? Was the whole park actually needed?  There was no park design submitted from Parks and Rec for consideration and there were no cost estimates provided by the City except that it would definitely be more than the $160,000 Rainbow Gardens would be paying for the original park.

3) The park itself is unique in the City. I visited almost every community park in the City and the one in Westporte pretty much unique in its centrality in the neighbourhood and safe placement surrounded by homes. The Westporte development was specifically created with that park and it is a significant draw for new buyers.

4) The proposed new site for a park was heavy bush, marsh and ravine. It would be physically difficult (ie. expensive) to recreate the same park and it would have nowhere near the advantages in terms of safety and accessibility even though the area is beautiful.  There are a great many active parks in the City bordered by natural landscapes and wooded areas.  While I do not believe that those City parks are dangerous, there is no doubt that the unique design of the Westporte park centrally located within the neighbourhood made it very different and provide unique advantages from all other natural/active parks.

5) Rainbow Gardens was going to pay around $160,000 for the park. Because it was so far below the cost of a new park, the taxpayers of Port Alberni would be on the hook twice for the same park.  

6) There simply was not enough cooperation between Rainbow Gardens, the neighbouring community and City, to make the proposal. For it to be successful everyone needs to be invovled from the start.  That cooperation would have made, I think, for a much less controversial meeting.  I did get the sincere sense from residents that they wanted to work with Rainbow Gardens to find solutions and I believe that will be the best way forward.  

All of those factors combined meant that I simply could not support the proposal. I hope that all can come back with a new proposal that is more complete and that has a better plan for replacement of the neighbourhood park. I believe there are solutions that can work for both parties. I am hopeful that those will come forward in time. I am an advocate for both young and old. I do not see there being a fight between one and the other. We simply need to find solutions in cases like this that can reasonably accommodate both. That is where I hope we get, and soon, because we need seniors housing.

Hello Mr. Minister!

Last Wednesday, I got to shake the hand of BC Minister of Transport Todd Stone.  Here is me looking awkward.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.34.15 AMI would like to make a motion that we buy Economic Development office Pat Deakin a new phone… I think he needs one with a slightly better camera. (:)) That is Zoran Knezevic, CEO of the Port Alberni Port Authority beside me.  Minister Stone is in the back speaking with the rest of our contingent.  This was at the Breakfast meeting where the Minister announced the new 10yr “BC On the Move” plan.

The plan did not include Port Alberni in particular as a priority.  Their main focus on the Island is Highway 1 from the Malahat into Victoria including the Colwood Crawl (the Ministry says this area is the worst traffic congestion in the province outside the Lower Mainland).  They are also focusing on Highway 4 west of Port Alberni to Tofino and Ucluelet.  There have already been a lot of good improvements to that stretch of highway and it sounds like that will continue to happen.

Even though we didn’t get top billing, Port Alberni did get some mentions.  There was a commitment to fund a major study into the feasibility of a Horne Lake connector highway from Coombs Country Candy at the bottom of the Hump to the Horne Lake intersection on Highway 19.  There was also an announcement of a fund to help small airports improve their facilities in order to attract more aerospace type industries.  This falls directly in line with the aspirations of our local airport to try and keep the Coulson Group at our airport and allow them to bring in their large C-130 firefighting aircraft for maintenance.

But what really stuck out for me was the public engagement feedback conducted during the study.  The most emphatic responses from the public on Vancouver Island came on the issue of transit and cycling infrastructure.

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More than 80% agree with more funding for cycling and transit!  I found this to be quite stunning in a survey spanning the entire Island and with over 2000 respondents. The ministry did heed this call and continued a cycling infrastructure program with new funding.  With our new Active Transportation Plan, the City of Port Alberni should now be better positioned to try to get some of that funding for bike lanes, trails and other active transport infrastructure.  The province will also be upgrading the fleet of BC Transit buses around the province which should include our buses in town.

My only slight disappointment in the plan was that there was absolutely no mention of the E&N / Island Corridor railway.  This remains a key infrastructure asset that has received no provincial or federal money and will not be able to be rehabilitated until it does.  The Minister did address the question on Wednesday but I fear the small amount they have already committed is only a bandaid.  The railway is our only potential zero-carbon solution for transportation on the Island for both people and freight on the East side as well as to and from Port Alberni.  It is an incredible tourism attraction waiting to be realized and could certainly help the commuter problems in Victoria.  There is so much potential there, it is a shame it continues to be ignored.

Food Security and Climate Change Committee coming and the Future of Energy!

On April 2nd the Food Security and Climate Change Committee will have its first meeting (at City Hall)!

It is a timely creation given the very sudden and widespread extreme weather events we are having of late, not the least of which being the historic drought in California.

This Committee will be charged with making recommendations to Council on how it can improve Food Security in the Valley and how it can mitigate (through GHG reductions) and adapt to climate change in the months, years, and decades ahead.

We have an excellent group of people on the Committee:  Rosalind Harper, Samantha Brownlee, Gary Swann, Guy Langlois, John Mayba, Sandra Gentleman, Bob Haynes and myself.  The meetings are open to the public (as are all committee and commission meetings) and Agendas and Minutes will be posted on the City website.

I have a ton of ideas on initiatives and things that the City can do to make a difference on these issues.

One slightly fun thing… considering it was Earth Hour this past Saturday.  I wonder how much money the City would save, and energy consumption it would reduce, if BC Hydro shut down the streetlights from 8:30PM to 9:30PM at the Earth Hour next year?  I bet we would improve our 1.6% reduction (#19 in the province!) this year.

But we do need more concrete and long lasting initiatives.  More community gardens, more education on use of and finding local food, incentives for people to reduce their energy consumption in their home and in their car, installing renewable energy infrastructure.  There are many things we could be doing and not only will much of it end up making people healthier and saving some money, they will also potentially put Port Alberni on the map as a forward thinking and vibrant place ready to tackle the big issues of the world head on.

It’s going to be *another* interesting ride!

Happy Monday all.

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