Category Archives: Issues and Ideas

Sidewalks: An open letter to Saanich

Earlier this summer, I invited Saanich residents to contact me to point out areas of the municipality where the safety and quality of the walking environment could be improved by a proper sidewalk. The response to my request was extraordinary. I received well over 200 invitations to visit neighbourhoods in every part of Saanich to see the condition of the walking environment.lets-keep-moving

The intent of my tour was to gather evidence and get a first hand look at the quality of our walking environment and the shortcomings of our pedestrian infrastructure. The evidence is clear. There is some very good work underway to improve pedestrian infrastructure with new sidewalks. But we have much work to make Saanich a truly walkable community.

Last month, I brought a report to Council that recommended the development of a Sidewalk Strategy. The recommended Strategy would provide a focused, prioritized approach to building the pedestrian infrastructure that Saanich residents value.

Council chose not to support my recommendation. However, Council asked staff for a report that summarizes the policies, guidelines and processes that informs sidewalk prioritization and implementation decision-making. I suspect we will get that report in time for next year’s budget deliberations. I am hopeful that we will see some recommendations that will assist Council to move forward with the work that needs to be done.

This summer, I heard clearly from Saanich residents that sidewalks and a walkable community are important priorities. I heard my Council colleagues respond that they take this issue seriously. Although my recommendation was not adopted, I was pleased to bring the conversation about the need for sidewalks into the Council chamber with a report to Council. It is the first of many steps toward a walkable Saanich.

Thank you to the hundreds of Saanich residents who reached out to me over the summer. I am so inspired by your notes and phone calls of concern for community safety and well-being. It’s the desire to provide a safe place for our kids to walk to school; for our seniors, with a walker or scooter, to get to the bus to buy groceries or a doctor’s appointment; and to create a community where we can venture out on foot and meet our neighbours.

I will continue to work with you to keep this issue on Council’s radar. It’s about more than building sidewalks. I think it’s about building community. And, if we work together, I know we will make it happen.

Dean Murdock
Saanich Councillor

Walkability in Saanich

As you know, sidewalks and mobility continue to be major priorities for me. This summer I launched a sidewalk study tour. I have been visiting dozens of neighbourhoods all over Saanich to take a look at the walking environment. I asked your Council to develop a sidewalk strategy that would guide the construction of pedestrian infrastructure. While I’m disappointed that didn’t happen, I am inspired by your many emails and calls and will continue to be your advocate for a walkable Saanich.

Sidewalk strategy prompts review

Roadside

Saanich councillor’s sidewalk crusade prompts policy review; by Jeff Bell, Times Colonist – September 27, 2013

Saanich staff will review the municipality’s policies governing sidewalks after one councillor sparked a discussion on the issue.

Coun. Dean Murdock raised the issue at a meeting this week after spending part of his summer visiting neighbourhoods and talking with residents who want to see more sidewalks created.

Although his goal of creating a “sidewalk strategy” for Saanich didn’t materialize after he spoke to council about the issue, Murdock said he believes his council colleagues realize more sidewalks are needed.

“I think there was consensus among councillors that something needs to be done,” Murdock said. “They recognize that there is a real demand and a need out there for improvement in the pedestrian environment all over the community.”

Murdock received more than 200 invitations from people wanting their neighbourhood to be part of his summer study. He has said the need for more sidewalks can be tied to the fact that much of Saanich’s development came in the 1960s and ’70s, when pedestrians were less of a planning consideration than they are today.

Sidewalks strike a chord

Sidewalks strike a chord with Saanich residents
Kyle Slavin, Saanich News – September 19, 2013

Dean Murdock’s position as a councillor makes him prone to fielding questions from Saanich residents about a variety of hot-button issues. The one question that comes up more than all others? “When is my street getting a sidewalk?”

And unless that particular sidewalk is slated to be built that fiscal year, Murdock and his fellow councillors who get similar queries can’t say when it will happen.

“The way (sidewalk) prioritization is done at the moment seems to be ad hoc and conducted on an annual basis. None of that is open to the public to view,” Murdock said. “I think we need to have that exposed a little more to show our residents how those decisions are made.”

The engineering department uses its pedestrian priority improvement plan (PPIP) to evaluate unsafe pedestrian routes in the municipality. But that’s only part of the equation, Murdock said.

The councillor spent the better part of his summer walking sidewalk-less streets in Saanich alongside residents who want improved pedestrian infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of places I found where a sidewalk would dramatically improve the walking environment. We’ve got some very busy streets where there’s little more than a gravel road edge for people to walk on – that includes kids on the way to school and seniors on their way to the bus or the store,” Murdock said.

Murdock points to areas in Royal Oak, around Commonwealth Place and Royal Oak middle school, where kids and families are forced to walk on busy streets like Normandy Road because of an absence of sidewalks.

On Monday, Murdock intends to submit a report asking for support from council to direct staff to develop a more complete sidewalk strategy.

He foresees a sidewalk strategy having three components: “I want to see the inventory of the identified pedestrian improvement areas; I want to see how that assessment is going to be made, using PPIP or another tool; then I want to see some options from staff to help council manage these projects in a prioritized, manageable timeline,” he said.

Saanich engineering says staff use more than just the PPIP to prioritize building and upgrading sidewalks.

“The (PPIP) is never a replacement for the nuances that our staff see in their work every day. We inject good old common sense into (determining priority roads) to make sure everything fits,” Colin Doyle, Saanich’s director of engineering, told the News earlier this summer.

Murdock hopes that decision-making becomes a more public process.

“I don’t have a lot of insight into what informs that process, other than evaluation. We need to explore that and put it in context of all the work that needs to be done,” he said. “And if we continue on this basis, we should be able to tell residents how long until we get to Wilkinson, or how long until we get to Lynnwood.”

For the past 10 years, Saanich has invested a portion of the funds collected through a specific property tax levy – which increases annually – in replacing underground infrastructure, namely aging water and sewer pipes.

Murdock suggests above-ground infrastructure, like sidewalks, could be prioritized and funded in a similar manner.

“That walking environment, that surface infrastructure is equally as important as the pipes that convey water to and from our houses,” he said.

“A number of our neighbourhoods were designed without the pedestrian in mind. … If there isn’t a proper or safe place for people to walk, it doesn’t help build stronger communities. It makes people more reliant on the automobiles.

“Having a safe place to walk enhances community and enhances that community relationship and neighbourhood building.”

Creating a Walkable Saanich

Councillor working to bring more sidewalks to Saanich
Jeff Bell, Times Colonist – September 20, 2013

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock spent part of his summer examining the needs for sidewalks around the municipality.

He talked to residents about their desire for sidewalks and has produced a report that will be presented to his fellow councillors on Monday.

The report recommends the creation of a “sidewalk strategy,” Murdock said.

“I spent the better part of the summer visiting neighbourhoods all over Saanich to have a look at the walking environment,” he said.

“I invited residents to get in touch with me back in July and received over 200 invitations to travel around. I visited about 30 streets around Saanich.”

A lot of people have made it clear to him that they want sidewalks added in the areas where they live, Murdock said.

“I’d say the most common question I get on the doorstep and at community events is ‘When is my street getting a sidewalk?’ ”

An existing Saanich plan that looks at basic demand estimates 190 kilometres of new sidewalk are needed on the municipality’s major and collector roads, at a cost about $57 million. Some work is already underway.

The timing of Saanich’s past development is a big part of the reason that more sidewalks are required, Murdock said.

“Saanich was largely built out in the ’60s and ’70s, and obviously the plans that guided that development didn’t consider the pedestrian as the dominant mode of travel. So now we’re in a position where we’ve got to go back and retrofit our neighbourhoods to try and fit sidewalks in.”

Safety is a major consideration in building sidewalks, but not the only one. Murdock said.

“It’s also about community-building,” he said. “If people feel comfortable walking in their neighbourhood, they’re going to get out and meet their neighbours, and that lends itself to community development and community relationships.”

Murdock said he hasn’t tried to prioritize requests, but has simply tried to get a first-hand look at locations that have been causing concerns. The Quadra area, Royal Oak and Gordon Head all need more sidewalks, he said, while Gorge/Tillicum still has a definite need despite some sidewalk installation there in recent years.

He said Gordon Head, in particular, has many streets without sidewalks that are used by children heading to and from school.

Recommending a Sidewalk Strategy

Background
As Councillors are probably aware, I spent the better part of the summer on a sidewalk study tour. I invited Saanich residents to contact me to point out areas of the municipality where the safety and quality of the walking environment could be improved by a proper sidewalk. The response to my request was extraordinary. I received over 200 invitations to visit neighbourhoods in every part of Saanich to see the condition of the walking environment.

The intent of my tour was to gather evidence and get a firsthand look at the quality of our walking environment and the shortcomings of our pedestrian infrastructure as reflected through the eyes of our citizens. The evidence is clear. There is some very good work underway to improve pedestrian infrastructure with new sidewalks, as approved by Council during our annual budget deliberations. However, the demand is considerable and we have much work to do to address it systematically.

What can Council do to respond to the demand? We have a valuable technical tool in the Pedestrian Priority Implementation Plan (PPIP), which is used to evaluate the need for sidewalks based on safety criteria. However, PPIP is only part of the response. Just as we have a clear approach to upgrade our subterranean infrastructure, Council needs a strategy that outlines its approach to upgrade or install pedestrian infrastructure with a manageable, prioritized timeline.

A sidewalk strategy should provide an overview of the inventory of all areas identified for pedestrian infrastructure improvements, the evaluation approach, and options to assist Council in responding to the demand with a manageable, prioritized timeline.

Recommendation
That Council ask staff to develop a Sidewalk Strategy to manage the demand for sidewalks.

Dean Murdock
Saanich Councillor

Some of the world’s best water for pennies a glass

Victoria-area water rates likely to keep rising
Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist – June 20, 2013

Greater Victoria homeowners can expect water rates to continue to increase in coming years as the Capital Region District tries to find a balance between operating costs and declining water use.

“[Debt] is one of the significant contributors to the cost of our service,” said Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, chairman of the CRD’s water commission budget subcommittee.

“We see the trend line of where water consumption is going and it continues to come down. Obviously, we have a fixed cost to our operation,” Murdock said in an interview.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the trend line and the cost line together. That’s going to take a few more budget cycles to get to.”

Residential water usage has been declining at between two and five per cent a year for the past 10 years. That trend is expected to continue at a slower rate for the next decade as more people make use of high-efficiency household appliances and fixtures, according to a CRD staff analysis.

A recent survey found that 2012 was the first year a slim majority of Greater Victorians (52 per cent) reported that they did not water their lawns.

“What we’ve learned across the community is, in fact, many folks are changing their behaviour with respect to outdoor water use — so certainly the brown lawns or golden lawns are becoming the norm in many parts of the region,” said Ted Robbins, the CRD’s general manager of integrated water services.

“But what we also discovered is folks aren’t really changing their behaviour when it comes to indoor water use.”

Instead, the decline in use is largely a result of more efficient appliances and fixtures, he said.

While water consumption continues to drop, the water division debt servicing obligations increased 86 per cent to $14.1 million in 2013 from $7.6 million in 2007 — primarily because of the CRD’s decision to spend $65 million to buy and protect the Leech River as a future water supply.

Since 2007, the CRD has bought more than 9,600 hectares of land around the river from TimberWest and Western Forest Products.

The annual debt expenditures associated with the purchases accounts for about 21 per cent of the wholesale price of water.

The CRD wholesale water rate accounts for about 40 per cent of the price residents pay for water. The CRD sells the water to local municipalities and the Juan de Fuca distribution service. They then set the rate customers pay.

Just how much water rates will increase depends on where you live.

Municipalities have to incorporate their costs into the water bills. Costs in the more established municipalities with aging infrastructure can be higher than in the West Shore, where much of the pipe is newer, Murdock said.

Brown is the new green… for lawns

More of us prepared to let lawn go brown, Victoria survey finds
Bill Cleverley / Times Colonist
June 19, 2013

Victorians’ summer love affair with lush, green lawns is on the wane.

Last year was the first year a majority of Greater Victorians surveyed reported they did not water their lawn, according to a report going to the Capital Regional District water commission today.

Among those who do water their lawns, nine out of 10 do so at the frequency permitted by the watering bylaw or less, according to the annual survey.

It’s a far cry from 2001, when the notion of lawn- watering restrictions was so foreign to Victorians that the CRD hired half a dozen students to look for scofflaws and remind them of the strict conservation measures that were brought on by a drought.

“I really think you’ve got a generation that has taken this to heart,” said Mervyn Lougher-Goodey, a Sidney councillor who chairs the CRD water commission.

“They know the grass is going to come back. They’re putting in drought-tolerant plants. They’ve bought in.”

Lougher-Goodey said he waters his lawn using an irrigation system timed to kick in according to the restrictions.

“But I’ll bet you I’m the only guy watering my lawn on my street. Everybody else has just got brown lawns and there’s a real cross-section of population here — a lot of working folks who don’t have the time or interest and a lot of younger folks who can control their water bills [by reducing water use].”

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, the commission’s vice-chairman, said he’s not surprised at the shift.

“Last summer, I saw brown lawns all over the place. You see them in our parks. You see them on our boulevards,” Murdock said. “I think there’s been a considerable shift in the way people think.”

The CRD has been conducting its residential water survey since the 1990s, annually interviewing about 500 residents by telephone on their attitudes and practices regarding water use.

Among the findings for 2012:

• Residents are satisfied with the quality of drinking water. The number of residents drinking tap water has increased from 35 per cent and 40 per cent in 2004 and 2008 respectively, to 50 per cent in 2012.

• A majority (85 per cent) support the water-conservation bylaw. The proportion of residents who use outdoor water-efficiency practices is increasing.

• There is an upward trend in households with low-flow toilets, and water-efficient dishwashers and laundry machines.

Lougher-Goodey said he’s “flabbergasted” that only 50 per cent of those surveyed said they drink tap water. “I thought it would be more like 90 per cent,” he said.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, who was water commission chairman in 2001, said he’s not surprised residents have adopted the conservation ethic, but it might have happened more quickly than he expected. “We’re a city of gardens but not necessarily a city of lawns.”

The CRD has maintained that conservation measures are necessary, even in years with a good water supply, to ingrain water-saving habits that are essential in drought years. Restricting use also means there’s less need for an expensive expansion of the water system.

Ironically, because less water was being sold, revenue dropped. That led to higher water bills in order to pay for the cost of running the water system.

First it was backyard chickens. Are backyard goats next?

Saanich girl goes for the goat
Saanich News – June 13, 2013

Residents in suburban Saanich can raise chickens on their property, and in one case, even cattle. A nine-year-old girl is petitioning the municipality to add goats to the list of allowable residential farm animals.

Jillian McCue says there are a slew of benefits to owning a goat – something she hopes to be able to do at her Gordon Head home in the near future, if she can garner support from Saanich.

“One of the reasons is they eat grass, so the air- and sound-polluting lawn mowers wouldn’t have to be used as frequently.

“Also goats aren’t too noisy if you give them enough attention, and their manure is a great garden fertilizer, and it isn’t too smelly,” she said. “Also they give milk.”

The Grade 4 student at Hillcrest elementary has collected 132 signatures from neighbours supporting her initiative, and mailed it, along with an information package, to municipal hall last week.

“I’m very impressed with what she’s doing. She’s quite passionate about this, and she’s done a great job” said Rich McCue, her dad.

Currently Saanich’s animals bylaw, as it relates to goats on residential properties, allows for a maximum of two goats on a parcel of land with an area of at least 1.6 acres.

Coun. Dean Murdock, who helped champion a bylaw change to allow backyard chickens in Saanich, commended McCue for her endeavour.

“We know there is a move toward local food production and people growing their own veggies and raising their own chickens. That’s a concept that Saanich supports, and we want to advocate for solutions and initiatives that encourage food security and promote local food production,” Murdock said.

“I think chickens was a good step forward. Goats takes that to the next level.”

Even before council makes a decision, if backyard goats are something it or a committee wanted to consider, staff would explore the concept and would need to get input from Saanich residents.

“We want to try and minimize the disruption to neighbourhoods so people can continue to enjoy their property, but at the same time we don’t want to unnecessarily constrain people’s ability to grow food and raise livestock,” Murdock said.

“It would be a balance, and we’d have to make sure we did a full process, much like we did with chickens, to explore the possibilities and implications.”

Saanich pound inspector Susan Ryan says it’s probably best if goats and residential neighbourhoods don’t mix.

“They cause problems, as far as smells and noises. We get complaints from people about smells even on agricultural properties,” she said. “And (goats) can usually lead to an increase in rats, flies, birds – depending on how the animals are fed.”

McCue points to Seattle as a city that successfully passed a goat bylaw, and a city whose lead Saanich should follow, she says.

Don Jordan, executive director of the Seattle Animal Pound, says he’s not aware of a single complaint that’s been lodged in that city relating to smelly or noisy goats. Seattle’s backyard goat bylaw passed in 2007 and allows for pygmy, dwarf and miniature goats. The animals must be licensed, neutered and dehorned to be kept.

“I think we’ve got less than a dozen (goats) licensed in all of Seattle,” Jordan said. “City council’s had a desire to renew urban farming. … This was another effort to have more sustainable living.”

Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver signed McCue’s goat petition during the election campaign last month, and says he’s impressed by what she is doing.

“She made a very compelling case (for me to sign it). I thought, ‘This is a kid who’s taken democracy into her own hands. She’s amazing,’” Weaver said. “She was articulate, she was passionate, she had done her research, and it was a very well-written, sensible petition. I want to support a child like this.”

While he supports the idea, Weaver joked that even if the bylaw was changed, he’s too busy to own a goat.

McCue says she’s looking forward to getting a response from Saanich, and hopefully seeing the issue come up on a council agenda in the near future.

“I’m trying to get goats to live in Saanich. They’re about the same size as dogs, and, like dogs, if you treat them well and take care of them, they won’t be (problematic),” McCue said. “And they’re cute and cuddly, as well.”

Royal Oak students raise the bar on recycling – again

Towers of recycling power at Saanich school
Saanich News – June 10, 2013

Recycling isn’t a passing fad at Royal Oak middle school, where students have taken it upon themselves to change the way the school – and the district – manages its waste output.

For four years now, students have taken recycling to the extreme, finding ways to keep paper, plastics and food waste out of the garbage.

The school now diverts 80 per cent of its waste from being tossed in a garbage can, destined for Hartland landfill. Instead, a series of 50 recycling towers are installed around the school

“There’s nothing that the kids or staff bring to school that we can’t recycle or compost,” said Angus Stewart, a teacher at Royal Oak.

Makeshift recycling centres around the school are much more thorough than simply garbage and recycling bins.

The students have different bins for juice boxes, bottles, cans, drink pouches, milk cartons, foam, foil, soft plastic, hard plastic and paper. There are also bins to collect kitchen waste, which is composted and turned into soil.

“The biggest thing that’s happened is the whole feeling around the kids, the teachers, everybody else – they’re now looking for the right place to put something,” Stewart said.

“I hear all kinds of stories of kids getting frustrated going out into the normal environment – malls or parks – and they can’t find the right place to recycle something.”

Royal Oak’s initiative helped the Saanich School District save money. By reducing waste output, they’ve moved from having their garbage collected every week, to once every three weeks.

“Every school in Greater Victoria can now do this. The program we started has been copied by a number of schools,” Stewart said.

Saanich council on Monday was scheduled to reward Royal Oak middle school with an environmental award, as given out annually to Saanich residents and organizations who exemplify what it means to be environmentally friendly.

“What these students are doing is better than what most households and businesses are doing,” said Coun. Dean Murdock, chair of the environmental advisory committee.

“This group of students is setting an example of what’s possible. They set an impressive standard a few years ago, and now they’re doing that again,” Murdock said, referring to the school receiving an Saanich environmental award in 2009.

“When we see schools, and students in particular, taking the initiative for climate action and waste reduction … we know that’s a positive message they’re taking home to their parents, to family and friends.

“And that’s getting conveyed in a way far more powerful than a group of politicians preaching about a new program. These are students taking the initiative to walk the talk.”

Saanich 2013 green award recipients:

-Royal Oak middle school; Green Ridge Crew; Outright Coffee and Tea; Peninsula Streams; Ed, Michelle, Jamie and Jesse Knaggs; and Paul West.