Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes at the 2019 Saanich remembrance day ceremony on Nov. 11. (Sophie Heizer/News Staff)

COLUMN: Saanich council takes on housing, climate, and the environment in 2020

The council just passed its one year anniversary

Following an election with a record turnout, the council just passed its one-year anniversary. I can say a great deal has been accomplished.

Saanich has a council with a vision to deliver service excellence for our residents. A council that is taking on the crises our residents see in housing, climate, and the environment. In short, a Saanich where our children’s children can thrive and prosper.

Saanich councilors Zac de Vries, Judy Brownoff, Colin Plant, Nathalie Chambers and Ned Taylor (back row, left to right); Coun. Karen Harper, Coun. Susan Brice, Mayor Fred Haynes, and Coun. Rebecca Mersereau (front row, left to right). (Saanich)

To achieve this as a council, we are asking a lot of questions. We are challenging both ourselves and the status quo to seek ways to do better. In this, we are fortunate to have staff with the same interests in improving our efficiency and effectiveness.

Council adopted its new strategic plan with 40 major initiatives under five new areas. The plan includes developing a housing strategy to increase our supply, affordability, and diversity of housing.

Reports indicate a regional shortage of some 10,000 rental units. The Nigel Valley plan for 800 units is the single largest approval of affordable housing units in Saanich’s history. Six hundred new on-campus housing units at the University of Victoria are moving through approvals. On the horizon is potential for 520 rental units at University Heights. Our draft Uptown Douglas Corridor plan envisions options for 4,000 or more new housing units. These are part of the solution.

Council is reviewing our occupancy levels in single-family homes and regulations for garden suites, including options for garden suites and secondary suites on the same property. A council committee is charged with exploring options to address our housing needs and to bring recommendations for the council to consider.

Saanich was the first municipality in the region to declare a climate emergency and to bring accelerated actions in response.

Saanich was the first municipality in the region to declare a climate emergency. Prospect Lake (pictured) is within the municipality. (Sophie Heizer/News Staff)

Council has committed to five community actions. These include zero-emission vehicle infrastructure (EV charging infrastructure for all new developments as of June 2020, doubling Saanich-owned public charging stations and promoting and incentivizing electric bikes), converting all oil heating systems in Saanich to low carbon heating systems by 2030, energy upgrades (enhanced support for energy upgrades in existing buildings), doubling the number of trees planted annually to reach 10,000 trees by 2025, and building the capacity of Saanich residents to make the changes needed to meet our climate targets.

Saanich is updating its climate plan to adapt to a changing climate. Our new targets are to achieve a 50 per cent reduction of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions before 2050 to become a 100 per cent renewable energy community. Council has taken leadership action in banning single-use plastics and polystyrene products.

Our residents tell us that Saanich is a truly wonderful place to live. However, they worry that housing, climate, and environmental issues are not meeting their needs. I hope you can see that your new council is challenging itself to reach these new expectations and that these examples show some of the ways we’re going to get there.

Fred Haynes is the mayor of Saanich.

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