Where our Official Community Plan Falls Short
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Because of a perceived threat, because of misplaced and frankly bizarre fear of creeping urbanization, because this is how some of our leaders think you preserve and protect an island, our municipality is not pursuing real and practical solutions.
Here’s the letter I submitted to Bowen Island Municipal Council for today’s hearing into the Official Community Plan that is about to be adopted for final reading. I think the plan does not do enough to reduce global warming pollution.
Mayor Turner and Council
Bowen Island Municipality
re: Bylaw No. 282, 2010 – cited as the “Bowen Island Municipality Official Community Plan Bylaw No. 282, 2010 (OCP).”
Dear Mayor Turner and Council,
In September 2007, Bowen Island Municipality signed British Columbia’s Climate Action Charter, and in doing so committed to develop strategies and take actions to achieve a number of goals to reduce global warming pollution at the local level, including:
creating complete, compact, more energy efficient rural and urban communities (e.g. foster a built environment that supports a reduction in car dependency and energy use, establish policies and processes that support fast tracking of green development projects, adopt zoning practices that encourage land use patterns that increase density and reduce sprawl.)
Under subsequent updates to the Local Government Act, greenhouse gas emission targets, policies, and actions became required content in official community plans like the one we are discussing today.
In my professional life, I advocate for policies, programs, and actions that fight climate change. I also serve on Bowen Island’s Advisory Planning Commission, though I am not speaking on behalf of that organization today.
And I know that while a national policy to put a price on carbon dioxide is the single best way to solve climate change, I also know there is another way to attack the challenge that brings so many more direct benefits to people. As this OCP states, as much of 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are under local-government control. Many of the low-hanging fruit solutions to climate change are tied up in how we live on the land.
As the Climate Action Charter notes, if we focus our growth into complete, compact, and walkable communities, we burn less gasoline and we use less energy and we reduce emissions. We make transit viable, and car sharing, and neighborhood energy systems, and curbside recycling pickup. And the quality of life benefits are unbeatable, because even with a modest increase in density, the research shows that we walk and cycle more, and lead healthier lives. We spend fewer tax dollars on roads, and have more for other things that we want.
The authors of this OCP suggest that Bowen Island is well positioned to meet the provincial target of 33 percent reduction from 2007 levels by 2020. That is eight years away. That is the same number of years since we were first presented with a range of these policy solutions, in our Community Energy Plan which this municipality adopted back in 2003.
Unfortunately, in the intervening years, we have implemented none of the recommendations of that plan. We have done absolutely nothing to address our escalating carbon emissions.
To comply with the Local Government Act, this OCP outlines a number of worthy objectives with respect to carbon pollution. Unfortunately, it offers no policies to achieve them. Instead, it largely pushes the responsibility for action onto private citizens and homeowners. For example, it encourages the people of Bowen Island to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. It promotes the use of electric cars. It “strongly encourages” building energy efficiency, and “supports initiatives” to produce green energy.
This soft language is familiar to anyone who has followed the inaction of our federal government on this file. These are not policies, they are suggestions. And I guarantee you, they will fail to reduce global warming pollution.
Meanwhile, this OCP seems to suggest that Bowen Island consider adopting a new provincial database of carbon emissions. It’s called an inventory, because its about taking stock. This inventory overlooks the pollution from our ferry, and our trips driving off-island. In the previously adopted, but largely ignored, 2003 energy plan, we identified these as our two leading sources of emissions.
Even if we do not assume responsibility for our own ferry and weekend trips to town, which we must, we will not come close to meeting our aspirational targets with this OCP. Objectives are great, but without policy they are empty promises. I may have the objective of being a famous opera singer one day, but unless I have a plan to meet that objective, I will still be singing terribly in the shower like the rest of you.
So why are we doing nothing? Why are we not reducing sprawl and embracing a more complete, compact, and walkable community with this OCP? The kind that also gives us the diversity of housing forms that we told this council in the community consulation process that we desperately need. Why are we skipping over the obvious taxpayer savings and health benefits associated with 21st century planning practices?
I’d like to cite one telling example. The concordance document that tracks changes made to this OCP since the public input phase notes that council and staff discussed the idea of mini-lots in and around the cove. These are smaller lots that would support more clustered, and more affordable, housing forms in our village. They are the kinds of lots that are proposed for the Parkview Slopes affordable housing development near Artisan Square.
The comment? “Staff and planning consultants consider mini lots too urban and not completely compatible with the form and character of Snug Cove.” The idea was dropped.
Fear rules this document. Because of a perceived threat, because of misplaced and frankly bizarre fear of creeping urbanization, because this is how some of our leaders think you preserve and protect an island, our municipality is not pursuing real and practical solutions. We are not reducing car dependency and energy use, we are not fast tracking green development projects, and above all we are not adopting zoning practices that encourage land use patterns that reduce sprawl.
None of these things will happen unless they are enshrined as policy in our Official Community Plan, our community’s constituion.
This OCP Review instead places a strong focus on what many people in the green movement call “critter environmentalism.” It seeks to preserve and protect our herons and sensitive island ecosystems. But by overlooking the proven land-use planning solutions that local governments have at their disposal, it does nothing to address a greater threat that elsewhere in the world is wiping out species and acidifying oceans. Do you like forests? Here in British Columbia, it has killed millions of hectares of pine forest. If you care about seabirds and salmon, you care about climate change. If you care about people, you care about climate change.
In 2009, this council sent a letter to Prime Minister Harper, asking him to ensure “the important role of local and regional governments be maintained” in any texts negotiated at Copenhagen climate change conference. We all know how that worked out. As far as I can tell, that was the last time we spoke up on the issue.
Yes, our overall impact here on Bowen Island may be tiny compared to other jurisdictions, but we can do our part, and should do our part especially given the multiple benefits that come with the solutions. Other small communities around British Columbia are winning awards for their leadership on this file. Unfortunately, we will not win any prizes with this OCP. It takes us backwards, and deepens our dependency on vehicles. It represents a tremendous missed opportunity.
Edmund Burke, one the founding fathers of conservatism, once said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
I will remain engaged on this issue as long as I live in this community, simply because the opportunities that come with solutions are too good to keep passing up. Whether we think this is our problem here on Bowen Island, or not, I guarantee you it’s going to become our problem. And if the solutions — solutions that are proven to address affordability, and obesity, and social alienation, and rising taxes, and food security, and yes, greenspace protection — are perceived by this council to be unsuitable for our community, well, that’s nothing an election can’t fix.