Environment

In an election such as this, which is "civic", many people and organizations ask candidates what they think of certain issues that might come before council. Flora has been asked about "environmental issues" by SENS (www.sensociety.org). Below are those questions and her answers.

Questions from SENS society:

1. What have you already done to help all of us and be effective on our community? What will you NOW do to be effective and help protect our environment and human health? 

My family is in the process of moving away from red meat and fish. We do eat chicken currently but are considering how to move to a plant-based diet. We are aware of the methane problems from animals used for our food. However, we have heard that feeding cows seaweed can help. We also know that the fishing industry is causing tremendous problems in the sea. We have vowed not to eat fish until something is done about the way this industry exploits the ocean. We will vote on protecting the environment with our wallets. Also, we will purchase an electric vehicle for our next car.

I think what has happened to COP26 (recent environmental summit in Glasgow) is what may be happening in Vernon. The organization has been accused of lack of action. I will want to bring fresh ideas to Vernon City Council and not depend on the same old ones that may not work quickly enough considering the crisis we are now in. I’m very pleased that there is a plan of Smart Growth in the Official Community Plan and I would study that first to see if it addresses the current and imminent threat to our city.

As a counselor, I will do everything I can to encourage council to act now and not later and pay special attention to what environmental experts are telling us we can do to turn this problem around as quickly as possible. It is a top priority for every human being and political entity. In my opinion there's no point in playing dead and hoping the predator will go away! It won't!

2. How do you plan to ensure the rapid implementation of Vernon's Climate Action Plan? 

Vernon’s Climate Action Plan is already well thought out, or so you say yourselves. I believe you must have done the work to determine that this is true. Now the City Council must act on it. I would push hard volunteering my time to research how the city can do its part faster and firmer to mitigate climatic changes and global warming. I already have a collection of eco project other municipalities are engaged in to do their part.

For Vernon’s safety, I want to see immediate action on how we can, as a council, work with the proper authorities to make a fire break for Vernon around the Okanagan Lake where the fires of last summer stopped. It’s important, in my mind, that this be done over the winter so we don’t have to face the trauma of alerts and evacuations in Vernon next spring/summer.

3. The Official Community Plan 2013 calls for the protection and preservation of green spaces and sensitive areas, a comprehensive parks system that provides green spaces for people and protects natural areas and habitats, the protection of agricultural land, and the revitalization of the Vernon's City Centre as the key redevelopment area in the city. How do you see the balance between that and opening greenfield areas (land that had never been used before for building) for development? 

This must be a balance. Both are important. There’s plenty of land for development. We don’t have to open designated

greenfield areas. We need the relief of the open areas for human, plant, and animal needs. I know that developers choose locations for their own specific reasons due to costs and infrastructure, so let’s work together and find other places to put development without taking he natural world away from us, future humans and other life on the planet.

 

Let’s look at vacant lots and adjacent areas to current development for our immediate needs. If we wrote an Official Community Plan (OCP) that identified greenfields as a priority, we must have had a reason. If the OCP is 8 years old, I’d suggest we revisit it, revise it, and make a new plan that satisfies both needs considering new urgencies regarding global warming/climate change.

 

We must solve the current housing crisis for homeless people and those who find housing unaffordable in Vernon before we build new developments for upper income or even middle-income citizens.  Even the parks that are wanted and needed will just turn into homeless camps if we don't satisfy their housing needs first. 

4. Keeping in mind the recent local climate impact of wildfires and floods, the city now has professional advice (e.g., new Flood Mapping Study, recent Community Wildfire Protection Plan) on restricting development in areas identified as vulnerable to these threats. How would you balance these restrictions with the push by developers to add housing in some of these areas? 

I think building on flood plains and fire paths is just plain poorly thought out and if that is what is being asked by developers then I’m not in favor. We have witnessed these problems already around the world where people have built towns and communities next to volcanoes and flood plains. In these areas we have had to move the developments away from these threats. Let’s plan instead for Vernon. With the increasing threat from climate change it’s even more likely that it would be a bad idea to build in vulnerable areas. Again, balance the development with the vulnerability plan by collaboration, but don’t build where the future of the area will ecologically threatened.

5. The City’s adopted Master Transportation Plan emphasizes more trips to be made by walking, cycling, transit and carpooling (collectively known as active transportation) instead of in a single occupant vehicle (SOV). Do you have any suggestions or concerns about this plan? 

I have concerns about the lack of “good” bike paths in Vernon. There are some good paths, but to get outside of the city for recreation, say along the Commonage Road for example, there are no bike paths. It’s difficult to ride your bike to the Rail Trail from downtown right now because of a lack of bike paths. We have to put our bikes on a bike rack and use our car. In addition, our intersections are not only dangerous for cars, but also for cyclists. If cyclists felt safer biking in the city, I’m sure they would use this mode of transportation more, thus cutting back on emissions. The adoption of e-bikes recently would be even better for many who can’t get up the hills or go the distance on a regular bike. E-bikes are clean transportation, but they need safe paths and more charging stations.

 

I haven’t used the transit system, but I’m willing to try it out and see how good it is. I don’t think all seniors have sufficient mobility to get on buses, so we need special busses for them that will accommodate their special needs (eg. wheelchairs).

 

I think encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) will help for those who want to use the Single Occupant Vehicle (SOV), but again more charging stations are needed.

6. What do you see as the pros and cons of developing bylaws that require builders to meet the requirements of the BC Energy Step Code (a single provincial standard for achieving more energy-efficient buildings)? 

I’m not familiar with the Code, but in theory it is necessary for our planet to make changes such as these. We must start somewhere. Now, is the time. If this makes the houses more expensive, then we must investigate subsidies like those available in other areas of homeownership like saving electricity with new windows or subsidies that are offered for the purchase of EVs.

7. Many developers build large, expensive homes, distant from the town’s core, to make money – they’re twice the size they were in the ‘60’s, require much more ‘stuff’ to fill them, and don’t support the need to densify for smarter growth and to reduce car dependency as specified by our OCP. Families and those who grew up here cannot afford to stay and work here.  Businesses now can’t get staff and must adjust hours of operation or close.  What will you do to support affordable housing?

The brief answer is I will support affordable housing to fulfill the need for a balance in our community. Currently prices are high because of lack of supply. We need to encourage development of affordable housing (apartment buildings and town houses), but we can’t forget the homeowners who have long-term rentals as they were here supplying that demand for affordable housing in terms of long-term rentals before the developers. When the affordable housing problem is mitigated then we can consider permits for the more expensive housing. Affodable housing is the priority, but for these larger homes, we should put a size regulation in place and consider the accessibility of infrastructure. If we encourage people who don't live in the downtown core with charging stations so they can invest in EVs, that might make a difference too.

I'm concerned that long-term rentals are being taken up by short-term rentals (Air B&B etc.). We need to do some real research on this and perhaps limit the number of short-term rentals in the city, at least until we can build up more affordable rentals and housing.

That was the short answer, but if you want more, here's the long answer:

Affordable housing. If we want to maintain our lifestyle then we must find solutions to keeping people who are essential in our labour force. That means taking affordable housing seriously. We must have housing for all income levels. Yes, focus must shift to affordable housing before the permits for rich homes are considered for developers. That doesn’t mean the rich can’t live here. They are valuable to our community for a range of reasons. Again, it must be a balance. It’s more work to try for a balance. We must consult, collaborate, and make decisions to find a balance. Problems rage when all we do is go for profits or tax dollars instead of taking into consideration the balance required of a community.

Kelowna may know a lot about this problem. Perhaps we could get find out if they are suffering from a lack of affordable housing. I suspect they are since renters come to Vernon for more affordable rentals and drive into Kelowna for work. That’s more emissions!

 

Again, let’s consult with other municipalities and find out what’s been successful for them. Young people with good jobs can’t buy a house here. I understand supply and demand. I understand that current renters must charge enough to pay increasing mortgages from higher interest rates. All of this must be taken into consideration in planning for affordable housing and making policies around it. I hear a lot about rents going up, but very little about mortgages going up, but mortgages will go up this Spring. 

 

Our rental housing market has been pioneered by homeowners who are vulnerable to the cost of keeping a home. Taxes, sewer, interest rates go up, but only rents are frozen. We must acknowledge the investment made by our homeowners who offer rental accommodation and work to help them afford their housing and the provision of their rental units. Seniors on fixed incomes who have mortgages can’t absorb taxes, sewer, inflation and interest rates when they all go up, without passing some of those expenses on to their renters. Not everyone has a fully paid home to rent out. Everyone in the mix must be considered. We can build more affordable housing, but it will have to be in the form of apartment buildings or townhouses. This is fine and we can encourage our developers to build them, but we must be careful too not to build so many that it puts the pioneer homeowners with rentals out of business.  I don't think they are without accountability though. They are culpable if they just charge too much for their rental because they can in this market, but we need to be cognizant that homeowner rentals were here before the developers built rental buildings and therefore include homeowners who rent in the discussion. Some homeowners depend on the rental income and do a very good job for their renters.