Salt Spring Local Election Letters

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The following are letters to the editor or opinion pieces with a connection to local election issues, published in the Driftwood newspaper. 

Oct. 3, 2018: 

Bending Rules to Create Housing Not an Option

By David J. Rapport and Luisa Maffi

Like many other places in our province and beyond, Salt Spring Island is facing a serious lack of affordable housing. That crisis has a profound negative impact on the ability of younger folks, young families and lower-income people to live and work here. In turn, that affects our ability to sustain our community at large, both socially and economically.

At the same time, like elsewhere, we are also confronted with a number of major ecological and health-related concerns. Drinking water is becoming scarce in the dry season; low water levels in our lakes increase the likelihood of outbreaks of toxic algae; shellfish harvesting closures have become chronic; traffic has increased considerably, generating more local air pollution; clear-cutting forests on steep slopes for road construction, utility corridors and house building contributes to erosion, ecological degradation of lakes and streams, and risk of mud-slides. Obviously, none of this is good news for any of us islanders — or for attracting tourism, one of the mainstays of our economy.

When an immediate concern arises, there is always the temptation to rush to throw solutions at it, regardless of whether such solutions might conflict with other problems at hand. Human as that reaction may be, it is shortsighted, especially when the other problems at hand have to do with sustaining the environment that sustains all of life, including us. The shortage of affordable housing is unquestionably a critical issue that needs our focused attention, but it cannot and should not be addressed in ways that might further compromise the health of our life-giving ecosystems. That is the ultimate bottom line for any and all proposed solutions to the housing crisis.

Nor would it be in any way responsible to seek to solve the housing crisis by breaking or bending the rules that our community has given itself — such as through our official community plan — or by weakening the enforcement of our existing bylaws. Given that the housing shortage is making life difficult for the more vulnerable among us, it may be tempting to think that the end (providing affordable housing) justifies the means (bending the rules to accomplish that result as quickly as possible). But think again: going that route is a slippery slope.

Start disregarding the rules, even for such a well-meaning purpose, and what’s to stop others from doing the same for much less noble reasons? It might backfire greatly — for example, by encouraging some of the not-so-needy to also make their own rules when it comes to cutting down trees in sensitive watershed areas to build mega-homes on the island or to disturbing the shoreline to install private docks. Next thing you know, it’s a free-for-all, and we might well end up replacing one crisis with another and yet another.

In short, disregarding the rules, even in the face of immediate crises, can only breed anarchy, with many unintended and undesirable outcomes. True enough, the rules are never perfect, and there always is scope for improvement, especially in rapidly changing social and ecological contexts. But that is a process that needs to unfold in a democratic fashion, not by way of individuals taking things in their own hands and resorting to their own self-styled solutions, be they laudable or not.

Ignoring the needs of vulnerable people certainly is not an option. But, at the same time, neither is it an option to arbitrarily and unilaterally throw existing rules to the wind; rules that were established to protect our local environment and our health and to reduce hazards in our neighbourhoods.

If our rules prove to be inadequate to address our changing concerns, the way forward is not to undertake individual actions that are in conflict with those rules. Rather, it is to undertake community actions that either are in compliance with the rules or seek to modify the rules, although in ways that do not compromise the fundamental rationale that motivated the rules in the first place. Here on Salt Spring, and in the Trust Area in general, the fundamental rationale underlying our rules is the “preserve and protect” mandate of the Trust Act. That is the rationale we recently reaffirmed by rejecting incorporation, and it is the rationale we need to follow in seeking solutions for the affordable housing crisis.

Ultimately, it is simply impossible to prioritize a threat to the social fabric over a threat to the health of people and the environment (or vice versa), as our ability to live and thrive as individuals and as communities depends entirely on the ability of our ecosystems to remain vital and resilient. No lasting solutions can be found by pitting one set of essential goals over the other, or even by seeking a mythical “balance” between socio-economic and ecological concerns. What we need is innovative approaches that recognize the inextricable link between people and the environment and seek solutions that enhance the resilience of both. And we need solutions that respect the rule of law and due process as cardinal virtues of a democratic society.

All candidates for CRD and Trust positions in the upcoming local elections have mentioned the housing crisis as a paramount concern. We look forward to hearing from them how they intend to address the issue, not in an ad hoc manner, but in ways that do not compromise our “preserve and protect” mandate and uphold  the community vision enshrined in the OCP.

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Bulk Filling Station?

By Dion Hackett

Lack of water continues to challenge many islanders. Conservation, water storage and the option of throwing a water tank in your pickup and purchasing water from the North Salt Spring Waterworks District were some of the ways islanders could survive summer droughts in the past. 

Unfortunately, NSSWD has felt compelled to remove the bulk filling option and so we are forced to purchase water and trucking from a private company. In light of the dire forecast around water availability in years to come, the question  at hand is: Will the candidates for CRD director make water availability an election issue and look at creating a CRD bulk filling station?

To be fair, a few years ago the CRD offered a small subsidy for property owners to create water storage systems and have great water conservation tips on their website. 

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Hard Choices Lie Ahead For Island

By Frants Attorp

As the local election draws near, there is a growing sense in the community that Salt Spring is at a crossroads. We are faced with many pressing matters, all of which will test our commitment to the “preserve and protect” mandate of the Islands Trust.

There is empirical evidence that we are already overstretching the natural resources of the island. Engineering reports have prompted the North Salt Spring Waterworks District to declare a moratorium on many new connections. Since over half the island’s population gets its water from NSSWD, the assessment that we have reached the limits of supply capacity on both St. Mary Lake and Maxwell Lake is sobering news.

The Cedar Lane Water Service Commission, meanwhile, has raised serious concern with the CRD regarding groundwater levels in their wells. And there is salt water intrusion in some wells in the north end of the island, again pointing to excessive groundwater consumption leading to terminal decline in the quality of water in some aquifers.

The Trust’s existing zoning regulations fail to recognize that we are stretching our fresh water resources beyond sustainable levels. Our OCP currently permits further subdivision and development on a significant scale. If all lots were built on as permitted by Bylaw 355, our population would grow from around 10,600 full-time residents to over 17,000. That’s a two thirds increase!

It would be a betrayal of the Trust’s mandate if the agency were to knowingly permit development that leads to a population increase our fragile environment cannot sustain. Therefore, a moratorium on further development in those areas where we are overstretching natural resources needs to be declared. Downzoning is an option that must be seriously considered.

Water scarcity raises questions about the policy of densifying Ganges, the target destination for a number of affordable housing projects.

While the needs of the disadvantaged cannot be ignored, it’s important to remember that the Trust’s primary mandate is environmental preservation and protection. When social and environmental responsibilities clash, there should be a thorough review involving the Trust, CRD, Community Services, BC Housing and our MLA. Hard choices may lie ahead.

There must be a parallel effort to address the problem of the growing number of homeless and itinerant people who arrive without jobs or accommodation, and who seek refuge in tents, trailers and other substandard housing. The calls by some in the community for a moratorium on bylaw enforcement of illegal dwellings will only lead to an explosion of unsafe, environmentally damaging housing across the island. Policies to prevent this are urgently needed.

It must be noted that the Trust’s main tool is zoning, a power originally bestowed to put the brakes on development. The Trust cannot borrow money, buy land or construct buildings. All such projects and undertakings must be left to other agencies.

The Trust is currently working on Bylaw 512, which would allow year-round occupancy of secondary dwellings on about 400 lots. While this might seem like a silver bullet, there is no guarantee it will increase the stock of affordable housing units as landowners may decide short-term rentals are more profitable. The Trust can only open the door to desired outcomes; it cannot force anyone to walk through.

Deciding who to vote for on Oct. 20 is not easy, but one thing we can do is listen for candidates who have an in-depth understanding of the issues affecting the community, ideas for possible solutions and, above all, an unwavering commitment to the protection of this unique and special place we call home.

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