February 27 Council Meeting Highlights

The Council agenda this week focused on requests of the municipality by local/regional organizations to host events in Oak Bay, most of which I supported and Council approved, that include:

  • Mountain Equipment Co-Op requested to host Victoria Paddlefest at Willows Beach on June 30, 2012.
  • Jaguar Club of Victoria requested to host their annual and popular Jaguar Car Show at Windsor Park on July 28, 2012.
  • Girl Guides of Canada requested permission to sell their iconic cookies on Oak Bay Avenue on March 31, 2012.
  • Victoria Wheelers Cycling Club requested permission to conduct the Windsor Park Road Races.

One item that created some controversy was a request by the Oak Bay Tourism Committee to conduct their fund-raiser, the sale of palm trees, on the front lawn of Municipal Hall.  Mayor and Council received a number of letters from residents opposing the use of municipal property for this sale, citing a variety of environmental concerns.  

Following Council debate and written and verbal input from the Tourism Committee Chair and from residents, I voted with a Council majority to deny this request.  While I commend the Tourism Committee for its efforts in fund-raising, particularly for charitable causes, my reasons to deny this particular request are as follows:

  • protection of local eco-system or habitat — palm trees are not indigenous to Oak Bay;
  • in the context of regional water conservation/efforts to encourage residents to buy drought-resistant native plants/local food production and security — promoting ornamental/exotic tree species such as palms is incongruent with these priorities;
  • a new municipal Environmental Advisory Committee will be developing goals related to community sustainability — using municipal hall property to promote the sale of trees that are not native or sustainable, sends the wrong message; and,
  • protection of local urban tree canopy and Garry oaks — propagation of palm trees fails to meet our goals of protecting urban forests, local tree canopies and native tree species.

My last point relates directly to tourism.  For decades, Oak Bay has been marketed using the Garry Oak tree as part of its Coat of Arms, as a historical symbol and as a community attraction. I question the use of municipal property to promote/market the sale of trees that are not consistent with these well recognized symbols.  I therefore encouraged the Tourism Committee to seek alternatives to the sale of palm trees as a tourist attraction and a source of fund raising.

To this end, Mayor Nils Jensen announced a new initiative, to be convened by Councillor Tara Ney, that will bring together local tourism, business, heritage and other key stakeholders to explore how we want to profile Oak Bay as a tourist destination to the rest of the region and beyond. 

A mixed-use (residential and commercial) development proposal by Abstract Development, to build a new complex on the southwest corner of Oak Bay Avenue and Foul Bay Road, was presented to Council as a request for support.  The development received unanimous support from Council through resolution.  Although the development is within the City of Victoria municipal boundary, because the property borders Oak Bay and forms part of the Village that extends past Foul Bay Road, approval from the adjacent municipality is required, in this case from Oak Bay.  I supported the proposal because:

  • the corner needs substantial improvement;
  • the development adds to the area new residential spaces that will support local housing alternatives;
  • new commercial activity enhances the Oak Bay Village business community through increased economic development; and,
  • underground parking spaces reduce the impact of increased street parking activity.

Two requests for financial assistance, one from the Maritime Museum and one from YesBC (a youth environmental stewardship organization), were referred to budget estimates for consideration.

Mayor Nils Jensen proposes a change to Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings: That one COW meeting be eliminated, reducing the number of meetings to three a month.  Mayor Jensen believes that this will alleviate work pressures for staff, who are now supporting two new municipal committees on the environment and on active transportation.  Staff are also participating in new working groups focused on community engagement and review of the Official Community Plan.  Mayor and Council foresee a full agenda of new activity ahead, especially during the next 18 months — reducing the number of regular COW meetings will help to expedite some of this work.  The proposal, if approved, will be evaluated for effectiveness and efficiency this fall and I look forward to your feedback.