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  • susanebelford

Four Questions Asked and Answered

The format of the last all-candidates meeting for the 2022 municipal election was to give the candidates two minutes to answer each of the following four questions. I thought I'd share more broadly.

1. What is the main issue for Sooke and what would you do to address that issue?

Depending on who you are, and your life circumstances, the main issue might appear to be affordability of housing, excessive growth of housing, traffic congestion, the local economy or stressed infrastructure.

The reality is that each of these affect some Sooke citizens profoundly. I see these issues as interconnected, and they have a lot to do with our resilience as a community, our ability to respond effectively to sudden change.

We are living through unprecedented times and experiencing a lot of changes. It hasn’t rained since July and now the soil is so dry rainwater will run off the surface before being absorbed, flash flooding, and landslides.

A resilient community would pay attention to such potential changes and plan for them—beyond the immediate emergency response. We’d make sure new housing isn’t built in high- risk areas; and we’d retrofit at risk homes and neighbourhoods to meet the risks they face. We’d make sure that all neighbourhoods are accessible to emergency vehicles.

Global instability and the pandemic have disrupted supply chains. We no longer see store shelves nicely dressed and full to bursting. We’re getting used to shortages.

A resilient community would pay attention to how such disruptions might impact Sooke over the long term and resolve to build its local agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors, so that Sooke could be more self sufficient—even, as we once were, an exporter of food and goods.

So I guess I would say, if I have to name one issue it is that- building resilience.

Sooke has a solid groundwork for building our community’s resilience, with master plans about the local economy, transportation, parks and trails, climate action and the official community plan. But all the plans must be accelerated now, as the changes around us accelerate.

2. What changes would you support in the draft OCP?

In general, I think that the OCP is an excellent document. Yes, it is a bit prescriptive; yes, it uses a lot of technical jargon. It needs a user-friendly companion document for the lay reader. But it is a strong document in terms of having a systemic approach and a clear implementation plan, and it addresses the complex issues facing Sooke right now. It’s a 2022 document, for the future; it is not about recreating the past.

That said, the OCP has been referred to the new Council to decide, and given the feedback from some community members, largely local builders and developers, it would make sense that Council would hold some public engagement concerning some aspects of the OCP—particularly around density and development standards. However, I think the time for a laissez-faire approach to development has passed. We need to make sure that the things done in zoning, design and building from now on, serves a vision of Sooke as a resilient, thriving community.

I have some concerns about density recommended in the OCP for the community residential areas—not the rural residential areas-- of 70 units per hectare. While I understand that density allows for improved walkability and has many social benefits when done well—lots of services, parks, trees, etc-- I think that the plan leaves too great an area under that density. I think that it would be good to have some sessions which provide education about the “why” of density, and then robust discussion about how and where density would be most useful in Sooke.

As someone very concerned with climate change, I support the OCP’s policies concerning climate and environmental protection.

3. What would you suggest as a solution to the transportation problem?

There isn’t one single solution, because transportation in Sooke has multiple causes.

I know some want to see a highway punched through the Sooke hills; to me that’s a short-sighted approach. We need a clean watershed. However—given that our one road could become blocked in an emergency, impeding evacuation, I know a resilient community would ensure that an alternate route of some kind is available. Council would benefit from some discussion with MOTI on this issue.

A big part of our traffic congestion problem has to do with our car dependence and our lack of transit, and our lack of local employers with good jobs.

Boosting the local economy to create good jobs to keep people working in town will help reduce congestion heading to Langford and Victoria. But that’s a long-term action. Reducing the amount of housing growth would help to prevent new commuters adding to the problem but would do nothing to ease the problem of congestion that exists.

We need to help some of us leave our cars at home, and there are several short- and medium-term actions we can take in addition to ride sharing and car sharing.

Fully implementing the Transportation Master Plan and the BC Transit Sooke Local Area Plan will not only open the Throup connector and increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists, but also increase frequency of buses into Victoria, as well as increasing routes around Sooke. This can be done quickly and efficiently and could considerably reduce commuter congestion for those who don’t need their vehicle to do their work.

Sooke could also initiate a program of dedicated buses to serve workers at DND Esquimalt, VGH hospital and other destination employers in the CRD. This also could be implemented quickly and at relatively low cost using existing programs.

4. Sooke is experiencing an incredible rate of growth, what would you do towards addressing this situation?

In the past several years, Sooke has seen growth of 16%. No wonder we are dizzy. Some of us, long time Sooke residents, can remember whole farms where subdivisions and roads are now. And we are still seeing farms disappear.

There are currently applications for about 1500 units at some point in the development planning process, so the pace isn’t slowing down.

This rapid growth has not created affordable homes, but it has outpaced local economic growth and our very infrastructure. I propose that the District move to delay acceptance of development applications for a 6 month period, while our infrastructure needs, including our transportation infrastructure, is assessed and its upgrading is begun.

During this period, we would also refocus on encouraging commercial, and affordable housing development in Sooke’s core—as the centre of Sooke’s town. Industrial development and measures to build our agricultural sector would also be carried out at this time.

Given that development pressures are global in nature, Sooke may not be able to stop growth completely, but we can plan to control it so that it serves our needs.

Making sure that all new builds use locally or regionally sourced low carbon materials, and no carbon heating and cooling systems will minimize climate pollution from development. Making sure that parks, community gardens and community woods are within a 5-minute walk of these new builds would build residents’ wellbeing and ensure that neighbourhoods retain the Sooke character of tall trees, salal and other shrubbery we love.

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