Sunday, July 13, 2008

On Trees: Save or Cut? A Loss We Can't Repair

Trees have been going down at a great rate in Brentwood Bay this year. It seems the municipality set a precedent by cutting the beautiful trees on our main street despite 1600+ mostly local signatures asking them not to, and now some developers and homeowners have decided to follow suit.

The Bickford trees pictured here are some of those still left on site after many trees were cut earlier in preparation for a new multi-family development just above Trafalgar Square. These are unquestionably heritage trees of an age and size that should make them untouchable. The developer says he has an arborist's report and a hydro report that say they should come down. Have you ever heard of an arborist's report or hydro report that says the trees should stay? Rarely if ever, I'm sure.

It is very easy to set the stage for removing a tree that took decades to reach this size. As you can see the power lines run in front of the trees and the trees are not encroaching. These are healthy trees and should not be taken down.

The maple on the property that the Brentwood Inn is about to turn into 6 condos at $1.4 million each is to be saved apparently, but citizens will have to be watchful. What is the value of a tree like this? It is priceless. Its roots hold our storm waters in the ground and thereby help prevent flooding. Its leaves breathe for us, cleaning our air of the GHGs from the cars along the road and the off-gassing of the pavement itself. Its shade cools the pavement keeping the pavement from creating unpleasant micro-climates that heat us up further. Its branches and trunk provide homes for the birds that eat mosquitoes and other annoying pests. When we cut down a tree we throw the balance of nature out in that spot. Dan Behune has stated that he always intended to make every effort to save the maple and the other native trees on the property and for that we should thank him. It's important to let people know that we are watching and we are concerned.

What will happen to the trees along Mt Newton if the Senanus pipeline goes through?

What will happen to the "mostly-treed" properties along Keating that some would to use to expand the industrial corridor?

Every time you cut one tree you are interfering with others in the interdependency that makes a forest even in an urban setting.

If we have any understanding at all of the global emergency we are facing we would know that we need to keep every tree we can. We need to build around our trees. We need to plant more fast growing, drought tolerant large trees (not ornamentals in need of much watering and bred to stay small).

We need our Council to start saying no to cutting and start saying yes to making sure we keep our lovely village and rural countryside green.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

How Do Our Councillors Rate?

We have to start thinking about rating our Councillors’ performance. So from first to worst here are my observations after 6 years of regular Council attendance (they are listed alphabetically where tied) :

Do they make sure we can see how they voted on every issue or do they go out of their way to hide this most important information, including trying to change procedures to eliminate any sign of how they voted; do they actively try and make the votes more transparent?

1. King
2. Bryson
3. Graham, Mar
4. Garrison, Mason
5. Thompson

Do they sincerely care about the environment or are they just greenwashing their own and our District’s record (this includes doing research, making proposals, finding funding and proposing tougher bylaw & OCP wording vs watering down, creating loopholes and refusing to reconsider when a bad decision has been made)?

1. King
2. Bryson
3. Graham, Mar
4. Garrison, Mason, Thompson

Did they provide a welcome atmosphere for citizens coming to council with ideas and problems, or did they whine about too many citizens showing up or that the same ones show up regularly (this includes placing letters at the end of the agenda and finding other ways to muzzle citizens; interrupting, being rude, rolling their eyes, belittling in the media etc)?

1. Bryson, King
2. Graham
3. Mar
4. Garrison
5. Mason
6. Thompson

Are they only interested in their own ‘perspective’ or are they actually listening to the community?

1. Bryson, King,
2. Graham, Mar
3. Thompson
4. Mason
5. Garrison

Special mention needs to made of Councillor Bryson’s reminders that applause and scornful comments may intimidate some of the speakers at Council and that is undemocratic. His wise and thoughtful comments on many issues are very helpful.

Councillor King is far and away the most concerned about our environment and although the vote is almost always against him he never gives up trying to put forward ideas that are for the benefit of our community. He is also the champion of citizen participation and inclusiveness as he encourages people to bring their thoughts, ideas and concerns to Council and to participate on both citizen-initiated and council committees.

I find Councillor Graham and Mayor Mar to be sincere and hardworking, willing to listen to what citizens present for the most part and willing to stand up and be counted on difficult issues. I don't always agree with their decisions, but I do respect them.

Almost all the Councillors have had a 'shining moment' at some point, but this list is meant to be reflective of the general state of affairs.

Someone spoke to me the other day about their anger over part of the new draft Official Community Plan. I pointed out to them that it is a draft only at this point and there is still plenty of opportunity for input and change. Councillors did not make all (or even most of), the suggestions that went into the draft: staff, citizens and the consultant have all added pieces to the document, so saying the Council should be thrown out because the document contains bits you don’t like is quite unfair.

It's interesting to note (see the articles below, especially that on the Civic Leagues and one called 3 Unfair Motions and Their Implications from September 2007) that the sense that Councillors' are hiding the votes so we can't know who stands for what is quite universal in the region, and in fact, in Guelph, Ontario citizens got the Council to buy a voting machine to record the vote as it is cast and project it on the wall for all to see. Knowing how they voted is fundamental to any democracy. Without it we have only a sham.

I guess we need the machine too.
"The earth provides enough to satisfy every one's need, but not every one's greed." - Mahatma Gandhi

For a long time I've been pondering need and greed, wondering how some can be so cavalier about taking more and more as if by right while the rest of us have trouble just getting by.

It's a problem that we all understand when we think in terms of the world: we see the unbearable poverty of Africa and the flaunted billions of the corporate baronetcy, but we don't seem to recognize the same disparity in our own little piece of paradise.

How can it be acceptable for someone to come to Central Saanich Council because they need variances for a 10,000 sq ft home on prime farmland?

How can others lobby for a water pipeline to serve 7-bathroom homes, homes with spas and indoor/outdoor pools, water features and other frills even though our aquifers are being drained and neighbours with more modest lifestyles are deprived of water they always had before the greedy came along?

It seems that our greed is boundless: as long as we can leverage the money we will do what we want.

We need a Council willing to say no to this kind of unsustainable 'lifestyle.'

We need bylaws that limit the size of houses (Oak Bay recently passed a bylaw to limit homes to 3,000 sq ft and other jurisdictions have had such limits for years).

We need environmental standards in place and we need them enforced: for water, for trees, for recycling and for every other environmental concern..

The best way to do this would be to hire an environmental planner for the District, whose job it is to prepare new bylaws; research new methods of water conservation, power production and reduction and other environmental innovations; find the funding to help homeowners, businesses and the District to get the job done; and to put in place tests, measures, reviews and enforcement to be sure we are doing what we should be doing.

Some have suggested funding as a problem, but Councillor Zeb King showed that if the time is spent doing the research and preparing the applications there is money to be had from senior levels of government and from foundations and organizations dedicated to environmental preservation.

Nothing is impossible.
Only greed will fail.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

S-P-R-A-W-L: Undermining the Regional Growth Strategy

If the Senanus waterline is passed by Council we will have set a dangerous precedent that undoes the Regional Growth Strategy, endangers our Official Community Plan and sets up a bleak and overbuilt future for rural Central Saanich.

To satisfy the ‘needs’ of people with 7 bathrooms in one house, indoor and outdoor pools and, in one case, a home spa the owner had featured in Western Living Magazine earlier this year, the District of Central Saanich is preparing to build a waterline which will see those not on the line paying unfair amounts to provide service to those whose need appears frivolous at best. Keeping in mind that these homes were bought by people who knew that they were outside the Urban Containment Zones and therefore not eligible to receive services, we have to ask how this pipeline fits into the protection of our rural environment. Everyone is entitled to the basics, but when the basics become this ostentatious one wonders what the ‘need’ is.

Alternatives used by other neighbours along Mount Newton are not enough apparently for these homeowners. Options include wells and cisterns, rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, green roofs for cooling and for storm water catchment and permeable surfacing so rainwater recharges the aquifer rather than running down the road into storm drains and then into the Inlet. Rain gardens also store water and of course a bit of water 'belt tightening' so that so much isn’t required wouldn’t hurt either. The following material is from the Capital Region District website.

Regional Growth Strategy

The CRD Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) was adopted by the CRD Board on August 13, 2003. The strategy represents an agreement, developed and approved by the member municipalities and the regional district in partnership, on social, economic, and environmental goals and priority actions.

The RGS includes eight strategic initiatives that together express a 25-year program for this joint partnership.

The eight initiatives are:

Keep urban settlement compact
Protect the integrity of rural communities
Protect regional green and blue space
Manage natural resources and the environment sustainably
Build complete communities
Improve housing affordability
Increase transportation choice
Strengthen the regional economy

Regional Context Statements

The Local Government Act Section 866 requires municipalities within a regional district to prepare a Regional Context Statement (RCS) within two years of the adoption of a regional growth strategy (RGS). The purpose of the Regional Context Statement is to outline how the municipality's Official Community Plan is consistent with the RGS or how it may be made consistent over time. The intent is to develop a level of consistency between municipalities and the regional district to achieve common visions and shared goals.

Our Regional Context statement is here: