Climate change ( A letter written in response to a concerned islander).

Thank you for your helpful suggestions. You raise very serious issues which need to be addressed by all of us.

Unlike the remediation of water quality in St Mary Lake and the protection of our watersheds, the solutions to climate change are so dependent on the actions of those in other parts of the world over whom we have no control that it has the capacity to render any action and investment we make futile. That is not an excuse for inaction on our part, but it should cause us to carefully consider what resources we ask our communities to expend when all our efforts might well be in vain. A recent report in the Vancouver Sun about the effect of additional cars in the developing world over the next few years says it all….”the increase will negate all the gains made in recent years”.

The powers possessed by the LTC to tackle this issue are extremely limited. Climate action and reducing GHG emissions need provincial and federal support to make meaningful strides. At a time when both those governments are seeking to expand resource extraction and fossil fuel exploration, it’s akin to Salt Spring trying to fill in a hole with a teaspoon while the provincial and federal governments keep digging it out with a backhoe.

If Salt Spring stopped producing any GHGs tomorrow, our collective contribution to a reduction in Canada’s GHG emission would be something less 0.03%. If we are to make a meaningful difference, then we have to encourage, cajole and lobby both federal and provincial governments to lead the change. Stopping all GHGs on Salt Spring is going to be far less impactful than if we work towards having the provincial and federal governments make legislative changes that in one stroke will achieve more than we can ever do locally.  Changes to building codes to increase insulation requirements, the use of solar energy, rainwater capture and higher standards for septic systems could have a huge and meaningful effect.

Having said that, we cannot ignore what is staring us in the face and must work diligently to do what we can where we can. Dealing with climate concerns must be on everyone’s agenda and each of us must take responsibility. And dealing with the effects of climate change must be incorporated into the OCP including issues relating to water quantity, quality, sea levels and fire risks.

Affordable housing (letter to the Driftwood)

There is increasing pressure to “do something about the lack of affordable housing on Salt Spring”. It is a matter I take very seriously.

First of all it is important to understand that the supply of affordable housing is a Provincial matter. The Premier has made announcements recently on the Province’s role and how they are addressing the issue, primarily through the Capital Regional Housing Corporation. Adam Olsen also spoke on the subject acknowledging the government’s responsibility, noting that it has set up a rental housing task force of which he is a member. Among other things they will be looking at recent changes to the rental act, implemented to assist renters but which have made it less attractive to be a landlord, with negative consequences to the supply of rentals properties and possibly an increase in the proliferation of Air B&B’s. I am hopeful that we will see a solution to that particular problem.

While the Province and the CRD deal with the development of affordable housing on SSI, the Trust deals with zoning and land use. The current Local Trust Committee has been very receptive to CRD plans and to those of individual land owners who wish to develop affordable housing. It is important to understand that the Trust is not in the position to develop or manage such housing and must rely on the CRD and/or the private sector for such development. Bear in mind that most land on SSI is privately owned and so our community is largely dependent on individuals stepping forward making their land available, as Fernando and Tammi dos Santos have done so admirably with their Dragonfly project. The CRD has been actively supporting and financing projects such as Drake Road, Croftonbrook, and the Cedars.

The good news is that there are currently over 250 units of affordable housing at various stages of development on our island. Progress is slow as each deals with its own particular needs, but they are nevertheless moving ahead. The issues which provide challenges for such developments include potable water availability, the building code, Islands Health (particularly regarding the use of rainwater catchment in multi residential developments), First Nations interests, funding, available land and some aspects of the OCP. I am hopeful that the province will amend its regulations to make it easier for multi residential developments to use rainwater catchment for drinking water, but this will take time. The OCP has not been reviewed for some 10 years and it is high time it was updated to reflect current realities regarding climate change and community needs. It should also reflect the community’s position regarding B&Bs and STVRs, including, possibly, the requirement for licensing of those activities so that they can be monitored.

But none of this deals with the immediate needs of those who cannot find an affordable home. From the teacher recently employed by the school board who is couch surfing to the bus driver who is living in a car. What is being done to assist these essential and valuable community members?

The Trust’s bylaw enforcement officers are dealing with, what appears to be, the proliferation of short term vacation rentals (STVRs) which are not legal on SSI except in specifically zoned areas (commercial accommodation) and which may very well be affecting the availability of rental housing. While B&Bs are legal in most areas, as a home based business, using bedrooms within the main house or a legal cottage, the rules are clear that they are to be used for sleeping purposes only and that full kitchens may not be provided. When those rules are not adhered to they may become STVRs. Although not necessarily always the case, such accommodation could be used for long term rentals. Bylaw enforcement officers are now taking a more proactive approach in dealing with this issue which may begin to address the supply of affordable housing.

Suites are now legal over more than half the island, including ALR lands and the pilot project implemented by LTC some years ago. I am hopeful that this will be expanded to include the entire island, with some restrictions in watersheds and areas known to have water issues.

LTC has, on its top priority list, the legalization of seasonal cottages for long term rentals. While this brings with it a number of challenges it could certainly go some way to easing the housing crisis. I am hopeful that we will be able to move ahead with this matter before the end of our current term, and we are pressuring staff to make it so.

Many of the letters we receive are critical of, what appears to be, a heavy handed approach by bylaw enforcement officers dealing with illegal housing on the island. However by-law enforcement officers must respond to complaints made. They do not simply turn tenants out onto the street as has been suggested. In fact they typically work with landlords by providing them with options to making their accommodations legal. Clearly, where issues of health or safety are concerned, action must be taken.

To conclude, the current situation is not acceptable. Here on Salt Spring the shortage is having a devastating effect on many islanders and businesses which cannot attract staff if there is no housing. It affects us all. It is up to all levels of government to do what they can to improve the situation. It is also up to each and every one of us who are fortunate to have roofs over our heads to help where we can, by making suites, cottages and houses we are not using available to those in need. We are all responsible for the wellbeing of our community.

2017/18 in review (written for the Driftwood)

Our island is one of the most desirable parts of the country which many would argue is second to none. In addition to its natural beauty and relatively mild climate, it is blessed with a supportive and caring community. It lies right between the two largest population centres in the province. Local farm production is increasing; the arts are thriving; our schools are highly regarded; the Lady Minto Hospital provides us with superb healthcare with fast access to larger hospitals if necessary; we have the fastest growing rural transportation system in the province; we have three ferry terminals and the service is improving; the IT community is thriving with more and more people working from home; we have more electric cars per capita than anywhere else in Canada; tourism is at record highs.

However we have some harsh realities to address. We face a housing crisis, with a severe shortage of affordable homes for those who wish to live here and contribute to our economy, and for an increasing number of homeless who are living in unacceptable conditions.  The lack of housing affects our essential services directly. We are feeling the effects of climate change with more extreme weather: Colder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. Water management must be a priority and we need to require rainwater catchment systems for all new builds; we must lobby the provincial government to support the use of rainwater in multi unit developments (Islands Health makes it difficult except for individual residences) and to change our building codes to allow for such. There is no shortage of water on our island. Our needs can be addressed through improved storage, accessibility and distribution of rainwater.

Climate change is already affecting sea levels. BC Ferries is actively addressing the issue at its terminals. We can no longer afford to ignore those parts of our island which are vulnerable. We must also strengthen our defences against forest fires.

The Foundation’s recent Vital Signs study is illuminating. We can expect the island’s population to continue to increase. It is also aging rapidly. We must ensure housing for seniors and young families alike. It is essential that we make it possible for those who provide services to live here.

We must also care for those who are less fortunate. We have a serious need for more mental health support and help for the homeless. Community Services provides essential services and needs our continued support, together with numerous volunteer groups for which we are grateful.

And there are significant projects underway: There are currently close to 250 units of affordable housing at various stages of development; working with the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation the provincial government is considering improvements to our hospital; North Salt Spring Waterworks is developing a plan, together with the CRD, Islands Trust and SSIWPA, for future water services; Harbour House hotel has re-opened with enhanced facilities; Ganges, Salt Spring and Fulford Marinas are at various stages of improvement, to list a few.

I am hopeful that 2018/19 will see the long awaited new fire hall. In the perfect world the building would house a number of services both reducing costs and increasing efficiency. This could include the ambulance centre, emergency services, the Islands Trust and the CRD offices. Improving coordination and communication among agencies is one of the clear messages from the recent incorporation referendum. Shared space would certainly help.

And that brings me to some of our more recent highlights. The incorporation referendum was a major event for our island. With a high level of engagement and passion we were involved in debates, social media exchanges, articles and letters in the press, gatherings and discussions…The community was alive with the issue of whether to incorporate or not. It was stimulating and valuable to be a part of it.

The Islands Trust has already begun a process of reviewing its role and what might be done to strengthen its mandate, through changes to the Islands Trust Act. We will also be exploring ways by which it might serve as the coordinator for local government services. Community groups are discussing governance issues and what might be done to improve on what we have.

The need for affordable housing has reached crisis point. In addition to doing what it can to support and encourage the projects noted above, the Local Trust Committee (LTC) is considering more immediate action in in the form of legalizing seasonal cottages for full time rentals to residents. We must also address STVR’s and B&B’s, to ensure they are being used as intended by existing bylaws and not detracting from the full time rental market.

It is time to take a fresh look at our official community plan (OCP). It was last reviewed in 2008. It is the closest thing we have for a long term plan for the island but does not include those services provided by other agencies, including the CRD. We are badly in need of an integrated strategic plan for the island, involving the Trust, the CRD, the Improvement Districts and other relevant agencies.

Your LTC has recently completed the review and update of Industrial zones and its project to protect rural watersheds which had slipped through the RAR bylaws. I would also hope that we will complete a plan, with the CRD, for the harbour walk along the Ganges seafront. It is clear that the majority of those who have participated in the debate so far do not want additional commercialization of the water front and most seem to support a simple pedestrian walkway.

Whatever we do and whatever we plan needs to be done in consultation with First Nations who are fittingly playing an increasing role in island life.