While I still dream in technicolour about Sooke's promise and potential, I'm now better aware that the primary job of council is to work with and oversee professional District staff in managing the ABCs of municipal business: financial management, fiscal reserves, land-use planning, parks and recreation, fire protection, policing and infrastructure (sidewalks, sewers, water, roads) upkeep and expansion.
Additionally, I've seen that council best represents residents and fosters grassroots volunteerism by ...
i) Empowering community groups through feedback, staff engagement and fair if modest funding;
ii) Sparking collaboration between local and regional public, non-profit and private-sector stakeholders;
iii) Advocating on Sooke's behalf re: such provincial and federal matters as housing, health care, public transit, green energy, forestry, fisheries, education and the environment while, at the same time, being creative in dealing as best we can with these same issues at a local level.
The specific ideas that follow are not election "promises." If I were to be elected, I would do my best to raise the possibilities while recognizing that funding and staff time are necessarily limited. I do think, however, that these are matters the District will want to address over the short, medium and long-term as Sooke continues its patient growth into what the architects of local community plans have envisioned over at least the last 40 years.
You'll find our inspiring 2010 Official Community Plan vision statement reproduced below. Like it, I'm a realistic (I think) dreamer who is optimistic about our town's future. And from speaking with many of you over the years, I know I'm not the only one.
~ Champion a respectful, team-oriented relationship amongst council, professional District staff and the community. Active listening, informed decision-making and, especially, clear communications to the public is essential. A quarterly District newsletter (modelled on what the District routinely published a decade ago) and regular email updates of council business (as done by the City of Victoria) would keep citizens fully in the loop. Perhaps a part-time position is warranted at City Hall for a communications specialist.
~ Value taxpayer contributions while urging staff to stay alert to funding opportunities from higher levels of government for matching funds on shovel-ready projects (i.e.,the FCM's Green Municipal Fund, which could potentially be accessed if ever we wish to collaborate with the T'Sou-ke Nation on expanding the boundaries of Solar City to the District).
~ Complete and enshrine our community vision in Sooke’s next Official Community Plan. We need to ensure the final document reflects present aspirations and realities while also aligning with Sooke and JDF Electoral Area OCPs dating back at least to the 1980 plan (available for browsing in our library's reference section). We're off to a great start with the public feedback collected during the #PlanSookeNow process. A public committee with council and staff involvement steered the 2010 OCP forward, and that's the logical next step. Might we also consider recruiting a gifted small-town planning consultant (as Langford did with the big-league Avi Friedman) to help us complete an actionable short, medium and long-term masterplan? Of course, and it always bears repeating, we in Sooke have ZERO (all caps for emphasis) desire to be another Langford. One is quite enough, and it's 20 short minutes (touch wood, next accident pending) from most Sooke doorsteps. Yet what can we learn from how our neighbour developed so systematically with a consistent strategy from 1990 to the present?
~ Woo and recruit developers, gap independent businesses and new residents to the town centre to begin realizing the long-standing community vision of an age-friendly seaside village with ample waterfront access. This needs to be the new CAO's responsibility in collaboration with council. Or perhaps it's time to hire an Economic or Community Development Officer. The right balance of density, amenities, services, green space, shops, harbour access, sidewalks and road access is required as we grow over the next number of decades. Our admirable Town Centre Plan and Downtown Design Guidelines provide the blueprints for Sooke Smart Growth with infill mixed-use commercial/residential low-rise condos cascading down to the waterfront. Tax breaks for built-green and affordable housing in the core are available to developers. Setting the tone for up-Sooke's future is Harbourside Cohousing, one of Sooke's signature achievements of the last decade; also in the works is its neighbour West Wind Harbour and three storeys of seniors' rental cohousing above the planned Lot A community centre.
~ Press pause for the short-term on building approvals and zoning decisions outside the core until we get the OCP revised and corresponding infrastructure needs identified. What's done is done, yet over the years previous councils have approved developments outside the town's central growth containment area that arguably betray the spirit of the OCP. We've not calculated the downstream impacts: Loss of biodiversity, wildlife corridors and aesthetic beauty, ongoing drainage issues, public safety on busy secondary roads and, especially, the soaring traffic volume on Hwy #14 (for which Sooke must shoulder a share of the responsibility.) Let's take our cues from other municipalities by negotiating harder with, and asking more of, developers who wish to invest in our community. A pause is also required to assess the future impacts of developments that the District has previously approved (likely well over a thousand units) but which have yet to break ground.
~ Follow-up on an incoming District status report on expansion of the sewer system, which is currently at 65 percent capacity. The District's Liquid Waste Water Management Plan (2010) identified the Kaltasin area and Whiffin Spit North (not Whiffin Spit as a whole) as the next priorities. The latter is now underway with service planned for T'Sou-ke Reserve #2. Now might we consider expansion eastward over the bridge to reach T'Sou-ke #1, the two schools, the area's light industrial M2-zone properties, and the densely populated stretches of Kaltasin and Glenidle? This would spark much activity and existing zoning would control it. The upsides: i) securing the environmental health (OCP priority #1) of a basin that is home to T'Sou-ke aquaculture operations and marine recreation; ii) significant upgrades and opportunities for new business in the light-industrial zones (think artisan workshops, warehouses, office space, full-service recycling depot as per Zero Waste Sooke's suggestion, and perhaps a social services hub anchored by a new home for the Sooke Food Bank; and iii) replacing aging septic systems in the Kaltasin area that threaten to pollute the Billings Spit area.
~ See through the OCP refresh-related updates of the Transportation Masterplan (as begun by the current Land Use and Development Committee) and the Parks & Trails Masterplan (both dating back a decade). Our Town Centre vision is predicated on the Throup/Grant Rd. West connector as a bypass that will reduce traffic volume through the core. We spurned $3.7 million in federal and provincial funding for a sizeable chunk of the project in the 2005 referendum. Can we get it back on track or are there other options? Is the current secondary road improvement program the best expenditure of public monies when busy roads like Otter Point, Grant West and Whiffin Spit require fresh tarmac, sidewalks and, in the case of the latter two, perhaps rolling speed humps (not bumps) to slow speeding traffic?
~ Tap citizen expertise with an expanded range of select and standing committees. Sooke's people are our strongest resource. How can we harness these people and given them a chance to put their expertise to work in shaping our destiny? This year has seen the launch of Land Use/Development and Affordable Housing committees, and some great work by the Sooke Program of the Arts committee. I'd want to see all three carry on as well as a revival of the Parks & Trails Committee, the Climate Change Action Committee and perhaps an Advisory Planning Commission that would ensure the directions laid out in the new OCP colours all our decisions. Also: Huge volumes of practical and imaginative thinking flows into and promptly vanishes in the slipstream on social media sites like Meanwhile in Sooke, Sooke Social, Sooke Traffic, Sooke Issues and Sooke Embrace. Might these groups be encouraged to produce digests of vital threads and commentary that would be filed routinely for reference with the District?
~ Cheer on and support however I can the campaign to secure a local primary health care centre (which is now in our hopefully immediate future thanks to the steady, strategic advocacy of Mayors Milne and Tait in collaboration with the Sooke Region Communities Health Network and local health professionals led by Dr. Anton Rabien.) I was fortunate to hook up with a local doctor starting in 2013 after a literal lucky break (my wrist), however until then I was one of the thousands of locals on wait lists.
~ Get serious about renewable energy. The T'Sou-ke Nation and Accumulated Ocean Energy, among others, are local green trailblazers, but apart from the District's EV charger station expansion program, we've been slow on the uptake compared to many municipalities. I co-presented the BCSEA's 100% Renewable by 2050 initiative to Sooke council in December, 2017. Despite the polite reception, there has been no action to date on it nor any of the recommendations that emerged in 2015/16 from the Climate Change Action Committee, RIP. (Ideas raised during committee meetings by the likes of T'Sou-ke solar facility manager Andrew Moore, former Climate Change Secretariat senior policy analyst Mark Ziegler, Viridian Energy Cooperative's Steve Unger and Solar Colwood's Nitya Harris included solar power demonstration projects, a retrofit of the municipal hall, and a Sooke compost and yard-waste depot).
~ Seek creative alternatives to area housing needs at all levels of the affordability scale. Sooke's Affordable Housing Committee is exploring rentals, micro-homes and support for the homeless. Traditional single-family homes with secondary suite potential continue to be approved and built, often without adequate parking provisions for what could be as many as four cars per home (renters included). Might we tap into the tiny home revolution and capitalize on secondary suite potential in some zones? Micro-homes and time-honoured natural building techniques need to be championed (as per Transition Sooke's annual Ecohome Tour.)
~ Stay on course for a new-build Seniors/Youth centre on Lot A. The Community Centre Advisory Committee (of which I was a member) also recommended a variety of good ideas to repurpose existing facilities for community use; one of the best was a renovation of the downstairs of the Sooke Community Hall in combination with the necessary relocation of the Sooke Food Bank to larger, more efficient quarters (perhaps east of the bridge on District land at Kaltasin or might a local business donate land?)
~ Ensure our fire department professionals and volunteers along with the citizens involved with Sooke Emergency Support Services get the backing they need from the District. Wildfires in our region are a growing threat, and it's always worth revisiting this alarming New Yorker article to learn about the potential consequences of the great quake that reliable, peer-reviewed science tells us is due this century. A formal roll-out of the neighbourhood "pod" system locally is overdue.
~ Develop more of a collaborative good-neighbours’ policy with the T’Sou-ke Nation, the JDF Electoral Area and the City of Langford to ensure our respective visions and actions sync up to whatever degree possible. Westshore amalgamation of services is likely inevitable, but perhaps not in my lifetime unless the CRD implodes.
~ Encourage more town-centre retail and office space along with, outside the core with sewer expansion east across the Sooke River, expanded light industrial opportunities. Otter Point's Sooke Business Park is in the neighbourhood, of course, but it would be smart to create more opportunities for small business within municipal boundaries, serve local entrepreneurs and artisans, and reap the business tax revenue.
~ Promote telecommuting and cooperative business initiatives that create local jobs and promote the circular economy (i.e., dollars earned here are spent and invested here). Might the District explore a contract position or underwrite a local non-profit in training and advising local farmers, tradespeople, wood artisans, health workers or firewood suppliers in setting up mutually beneficial cooperative businesses?
~ Explore the possibilities for a post-secondary institution or satellite campus focused on one or more heritage Sooke pursuits, i.e., small-lot managed forestry, farming, sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, environmental studies, midwifery and/or First Nations studies. Local citizens with expertise in post-secondary education could be tapped to lead the investigation.
~ Maximize our weekender, day trip and long-stay tourism potential by securing a hotel tax that will give the Sooke Region Tourism Association at least $150k a year in destination marketing funds. Credit to SRTA for its marketing campaigns and to the local businesses responsible for the Pacific Marine Artisan Trail, however we need more of this kind of sharp, smart promotion. Might a public competition be held to identify our top attractions before promoting them with "seven (77?) wonders of Sooke" branding? How about set of creative tourism maps, trail guides and info sheets for residents and visitors? Coordinated tourism marketing would include an overdue makeover of the annual Sooke to Port Renfrew visitor guide.
~ Address the gaps in town centre amenities with a public washroom, drinking water fountain and a clocktower (perhaps affixed to a new logger's pole). Essential for residents. And useful in encouraging drive-bys to stop, linger, charge up their EVs, wander around town, visit the Rotary Pier, and hopefully shop and dine locally as they discover to their delight a new favourite seaside village destination.
~ Push for public-access harbour and Strait of Juan de Fuca viewpoints at which residents and visitors can linger and truly appreciate the stunning vistas south towards East Sooke and the Olympic Mountains. As I said wistfully in 2014, we need them at sea level (Mick Rhodes' bold proposals for the Mariner's Village property are inspiring) and from the panoramic heights (good that a park with what I imagine will be see-forever views is proposed for the south slope of Broom Hill at Viewpointe Estates, but we missed the chance to negotiate for public viewpoints at Stone Ridge Estates and Erinan Estates during the design approval stages). I'm excited to see how the Government Wharf at the foot of Maple develops in the years ahead (yes, we need a waterside fish-and-chip takeaway).
~ Revitalize fallow ALR farmland and boost regional food security. No work has been dedicated to the short and mid-term priorities of Sooke's Agricultural Plan since it was completed in 2012. As T'Sou-ke Chief Gordon Planes, Premier John Horgan, MP Randall Garrison, Mayor Maja Tait, Director Mike Hicks, Elida Peers and Ellen Lewers all stated at the Sooke Fall Fair this year, we must support food growers and keep farmland productive. Sooke Region Food CHI and the Sooke Farmland Trust need to be front-and-centre in the discussions.
~ Continued trail system and sidewalk development for those who walk, cycle or ride mobility scooters. Great work is underway with wayfinding signage east of Otter Point Rd. on established trails leading to schools, SEAPARC and the Rotary Pier. Yet how about formalizing the ad hoc westside trail system winding through blackberrry tangles and open land to Millennium Memorial Park on Maple Ave.? This route would ideally lead to a southside sidewalk running west along the West Coast Rd. to the Prestige. The ongoing puzzler re: boat trailer parking issuesalong that stretch is unsolved. I have no magic-bullet answers. The southside shoulder of Sooke Rd. has too severe a drop-off to be expanded. In the past, I suggested the District might need to crack down and limit the number of boat trailers to available slots at the Prestige and the (under-utilized the times I've checked) government wharf overflow lot. Additional trailers would be out of luck and would need to find another regional boat launch. Bottom line: We must ensure safe passage for non-motorists along a busy highway.
~ Investigate a tree protection bylaw similar to what is on the books in Duncan, Nanaimo, Victoria, Saanich and elsewhere. The District's estimable Laura Hooper suggested this as a possibility in her Nov. 18, 2013 Report for Information submitted to the Land Use and Environment Committee of the day. (File No. 6300-00). Such a bylaw would protect "significant trees," defined in the Duncan example by "unique characteristics such as size, age, species, aesthetic value, cultural significance, and ecological importance that provide considerable benefit to the community.” In Duncan, residents are encouraged to nominate what they deem to be “significant trees" for protection.
~ Canine capers: My wife and I are cat people and hence don't have a vested stake in this issue, but I heard recently there are as many as 2400 dogs in the Sooke region and they deserve respect too. Carolyn walks the Spit regularly and has seen happily rare but still alarming incidents with off-leash dogs not under effective control. The new council needs to address this matter in association with dog owners and groups via a perhaps three-part strategy: i) On-leash-only on Whiffin Spit to ensure all feel safe when strolling this beauty spot at all times (while also protecting nesting seabirds and the off-trail environment); ii) Establishment of a long-awaited, much-debated dog park in the core for socialization and romp-around pleasure (a fenced area in John Phillips Memorial Park is most logical); and iii) Continued advocacy with the CRD for an off-leash exception on the Galloping Goose (followed by acceptance of whatever our regional government decides in its wisdom). Meow.
For the record, here's what i had to say back on this page in 2014 ...
Sooke is imperfectly perfect just as it is.
It's perfect because of the setting, the diversity of the people, the rural character, the history, the harbour, the hills, the school system, the volunteer spirit and so many intangibles that can't be seen when driving along an often traffic-choked main road through town.
It's imperfect exactly because it developed as a sprawl town, evolved into a bedroom community (to a large extent), features a core area that is (to be kind) non-descript, and is very much a work-in-progress whose best harbourside face is still hidden.
The future, however, is packed with promise and potential. The District of Sooke has assembled a comprehensive library of community plans and reports. These have been completed through painstaking public process. Four previous councils have each added pieces of the puzzle, consultants have weighed in with expert advise and a multitude of citizens have dedicated much brainpower to creating a set of documents (not all of them posted on the District's website) that point us in the right direction.
These plans need to be revisited, dusted off, re-read, updated and then enacted in patient, fiscally responsible and achievable fashion -- all while respecting taxpayer contributions and never losing sight of the day-to-day essentials of municipal business: road development, land-use planning, business licensing, police and fire services, water treatment and supply, refuse collection/disposal, and recreation and culture.
To repeat my theme, the District currently does an imperfectly perfect job with all these fundamental requirements, I believe. I'm truly grateful to live in a teenaged municipality (born: 1999) that functions remarkably well and provides me with all the basic necessities any homeowner could desire.
That said, I'd like to bring forward to the council table the visions of three organizations to which I've dedicated considerable volunteer time in recent years: Transition Town Sooke, the EMCS Society and the Sooke Farmland Trust Society. My values match those of the global Transition Town movement and its common-sense, old-fashioned belief that hometown communities thrive on sustainability, resilience and whenever 'local people, strengths and solutions' (to quote Transition Sooke's slogan) are prioritized for the common good.
I'm especially inspired by initiatives such as the T'Sou-ke Nation's solar, aquaculture and greenhouse projects, the Sunriver Community Garden, Harbourside Cohousing, the Hope Centre, the Sooke Therapeutic Yoga Societyand the Sooke Incubator start-up business concept. My question: How can the District work with these and other local change agents to develop further initiatives and more fully put Sooke on the map as a community brimming with potential. Certainly we need to beat the drum and tell the rest of the country that Sooke is an affordable, progressive, friendly and investment-ready community.
Read more about my thoughts on Sooke on my Facebook page and at my website blog. Thanks, and please consider giving me one of your six votes for councillor."
District of Sooke Bylaw No. 400
Official Community Plan, 2010
Page 14 of 212
3.0 PART I – “VISION AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES” + COMMUNITY VISION
"Looking forward twenty-five years from now....
The people of Sooke are proud of their community and its natural setting. Sooke’s historic ties with the T’Sou-ke Nation are creating strong economic partnerships, social bonds, and development opportunities, which have strengthened the cultural integrity of both communities. Sooke’s friendly people, diversity of culture, history, character, working class roots and small town atmosphere make it very attractive for people to visit and call home. Sooke is a great place for families, children, seniors, and others who appreciate a quiet, less complicated lifestyle with the amenities of a complete yet sustainable community.
Sooke has a vibrant, sustainable, well defined commercial core with pedestrian linkages, mixed land uses, higher densities and an appealing Town Centre character and design. The Town Centre has been linked to surrounding neighbourhoods through an integrated trail and pedestrian network. Sooke has also developed a number of sustainable, mixed use areas to complement the Town Centre and existing residential areas. The Town Centre is now the hub of vibrant pedestrian activity with many people living, working and shopping in the area. There are many small shops and galleries clustered in quaint buildings within this urban environment, which attract both visitors and new residents.
There is a strong sense of character within the Town Centre, with narrow streets, public gathering places and attractive landscaping. A sea-walk extends along the harbour waterfront of the community, linking the mouth of the Sooke River to the Town Centre and Whiffin Spit Park, and which has become a main attraction for residents and visitors. Sooke is a small town surrounded by rural agricultural lands, natural forests and water. The community is a safe, inviting place to live, linked to surrounding communities by a variety of transportation modes.
The community creates shared sustainable economic development through a thriving economy. The existence of a variety of housing types in conjunction with affordable housing has attracted a wide variety of demographics and income levels. Tourism is an important economic driver combined with a well established visual and performing arts scene. Marine and waterfront businesses support tourism as well as a mix of commercial and appropriate industrial activities. Innovations and flexibility in zoning has made Sooke a food security hub, created a friendly development environment, and which respects the rural cultural character and sense of place of the community."