Saanich residents will have to get creative when heading outdoors for pandemic-friendly socializing this fall, as council has voted against adding shelters and covered areas to parks.
On Oct. 5, five of Saanich’s nine councillors voted against the concept for safe outdoor socializing amid the COVID-19 pandemic after reviewing a staff report that highlighted high costs and police disapproval.
In Favour: de Vries, Taylor, Mersereau, and Plant
Opposed Haynes, Chambers, Brice, Harper, and Brownoff
Motion has fails. 🙁
We will try to renew discussions during the 2021 budget process.
— Zac de Vries – Saanich Councillor (@zacdevries) October 6, 2020
At the request of Coun. Zac de Vries in mid-September, council directed staff to report back with options for the installation of up to six permanent or temporary shelters to allow park use to extend into the rainy season. He’d heard from residents that there was a need for covered areas in municipal parks to permit safe socializing despite adverse weather.
In the report, Saanich staff recommended six parks for the proposed shelters: Rutledge Park, Rudd Park, Weatherby Park, Horner Park, Hampton Park and Brydon Park. However, staff also explained that the total cost for adding six structures would be between $120,000 and $180,000 and as the project had not been included in the 2020 budgeting process, there were no allotted funds. Staff also pointed out that to complete the shelters in time for the 2020 fall and winter season, four other parks projects would be delayed and some 2021 projects could also be impacted.
Saanich police also raised concerns about the shelters being added to parks – specifically, those where temporary overnight sheltering is permitted.
“There are concerns that public safety will be negatively impacted from issues related to homelessness, drug use, youths drinking, mischief and other social disorders,” Chief Const. Scott Greenwrote in a letter to the district.
When the motion to add shelters to the six parks failed, de Vries attempted a second motion to add shelters to just three of the parks but council again voted it down.
Mayor Fred Haynes, who opposed the project, noted that he supports adding shelters to parks, but not at this time. He emphasized that the motion was not shut down completely. After a “robust” discussion, council agreed to send the matter back to staff for a “rethink” and reassess during the 2021 budgeting process.
It was “rather unfortunate” to see the shelter initiative be shelved, de Vries said. He felt the costs were minor and that covered areas in parks would have been “well worth it.”
There was “lots of interest” from the community, de Vries noted, adding that of the few concerns raised, most were based on what he called an “incomplete understanding of homelessness.”