As this year draws to a close and 2023 looms, I am reflecting on the past year and on the four-year term.
As you know, what suffered most was our ability to engage with our community on a person-to-person level. While the pandemic subsided over time, the ability to meet and work directly with our community was significantly diminished. Online meetings and the use of additional electronic media simply could not replace meaningful, personal interaction with residents and neighbourhoods. While we are slowly resuming more direct public engagement, I feel we still have a long way to go and I will make this one of my priorities for the coming term.
While the last Council made inroads on infrastructure funding (no pun intended), there is still a lot to do on that front. The same applies to Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation but with the support of Indigenous communities, staff and community groups, such as ReconciliAction Oak Bay, I am confident that we will make real progress this term.
On housing, we managed to complete a housing needs study and an infill housing consultation and strategy for the future. The biggest news on the housing front is that we also approved secondary suites in Oak Bay, a key housing need that has lingered for decades. This is the first Council that moved suites forward and I am proud to have been an advocate and a part of this critical housing decision.
Oak Bay has taken some political heat this past year on housing, especially from the provincial government. We have been identified as a community that has been slow to respond to the need for “affordable” housing and a variety of housing options beyond the single family dwelling. This opinion is unfortunate, given that Oak Bay has raised the bar on other important issues such as infrastructure funding, asset management and climate action. Oak Bay also contributes annually to the Capital Regional District’s housing trust fund, a fund that leverages taxpayer contributions to build affordable housing with partners across the region.
Yes, we can do better on housing and we are committed to this file. But let’s be honest about the struggle when it comes to affordable housing in Oak Bay — land values are among the highest in the region, there is limited public land on which to build affordable housing and our community has not grown substantially (and yes, one could argue that’s because of the lack of housing options to attract newcomers). Oh, that it was that simple.
When it comes to sustainability, Oak Bay’s aging infrastructure (and in some cases, failing) must also be addressed as one of the most serious and real barriers to larger scale development; our services must be adequate to support and sustain new housing and new capital projects.
Another stark reality is that to build quality affordable housing, I believe that we need key partners to support us — senior governments, the non-profit sector and willing developers to name a few. We also need to be honest about the current housing market, one that has been driven by profit and corporate investment, factors that began to emerge more obviously about 2010. Real estate prices took a significant jump late that year and have continued to climb unabated ever since.
I have always said that local government can be a clumsy tool for change. The environment is highly regulated and yes, there are some local planning and development tools that create barriers for planners and developers. I believe that this new Council is determined to work together on removing some of these barriers and creating a more positive environment for good quality development, both owned and rented.
I believe that no one wants better housing options in Oak Bay than my colleagues on this new Council; they seem committed and dedicated to improving the housing stock that will lead to a more diverse, vital and inclusive community.
At our last meeting of the year, on December 12, 2022, we reviewed and discussed the priorities that we believe matter most to our community. Some reflect the goals of the last Council but most are identified by members of the new Council. Staff will be reporting back to us by February 2023 on what resources (human and financial) that will lead to implementation.
While a project management framework is important, so is the work of managing the public’s expectations. I believe that to over-promise but under-deliver can damage a community’s trust in its local government. That’s why I believe it’s important to remain realistic and pragmatic about what we can and cannot achieve this term.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for re-electing me to Oak Bay Council. It is both a privilege and a responsibility that I take very seriously. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 250-920-9534.
Wishing you and yours a joyous, peaceful and healthy Holiday Season and all the very best for 2023!