Thursday 27 January 2022

The OCP - Rebuilding Trust


The OCP Review - A New Direction? 

How Will Trust Be Rebuilt? 

            Dear Mayor and Council, 

            Assessment of the two reports [for the 31 Jan 2022 Council meeting] has proven difficult; the Implication section in the Staff Report is particularly obtuse.  I have had considerable difficulty in aligning the wording and intent of the Council directive with the Staff Report and Attachment 1.  However, after much laborious scrutiny some findings and conclusions have appeared. 

            The recurring topics of resident discouragement and lack of trust should command significant attention in charting a forward path.  There is much work yet to be done on understanding why those topics persist in so many reports. 

            Also of great concern is the budgetary request for work that was previously mandated and funded, details are below.


§  The topic of trust with discouraged stakeholders is mentioned several times in both reports.  It is both odd and alarming that the trust of the client should even need to be mentioned.  For any consultant or service provider of any kind, the trust of their clients should be of huge importance.
However, in this project, and in these reports, there is no evidence that the Project Team are curious as to the reasons for the discouragement and lack of trust.  Neither are they specific about how that trust will be rebuilt.  In places, dialogue is mentioned as being important, which of course it is.  Again, history does not help us here.  With both Council and the Project Team there has been communication but no dialogue; the volumes of letters and other forms of input have received little response.  The rally on 14 July did move the needle somewhat.

§  Similarly, the topic of discontent and discouragement surfaces several times.  The PT anticipates difficult conversations, divergent viewpoints, disengagement from the process and discouragement.  Again, has there been any investigation of the reasons for this?  Could it be that the PT is not understanding the concerns of the residents?  Or making any attempt to address them?
A useful clue here might be the 5% approval rating calculated by the Project Team in assessing hundreds of written comments about the process.  This shocking number has never been investigated.

§  The Project Team mentions the importance of a holistic approach to an OCP Review and stresses the importance of the inter-linkages among the themes and that they should not be addressed in isolation.  This is all true and should be one of the bedrock foundations of this OCP Review.  However, the project team has never taken their own advice, instead focusing intently upon only one of the six themes from the get go.  Moreover, this contradicts the guidance provided in the formative Staff Report of March 2020 and the resulting guidance supplied by Council based on that document.  At that time, Council endorsed all 20 topics presented in the report.  Why has Council not queried this glaring departure from their intentions?

§  In the report several comments relate to the focus of the work to date.  On page 7 of the Staff Report is the amazing statement that Phase 2 engagement activities focused on all six OCP themes!  And that the intense focus on urbanization was merely a perception!  These statements lack credibility and are only one of the reasons why the residents are discouraged and have little trust in the process and the project team.
The staff report observes on page 8 that there is a “risk that some members of the community will become increasingly frustrated that the focus of engagement is housing and that this may detract from the intention of creating productive dialogue.”  This is but one item of evidence that the Project Team is not in touch with the residents and their sentiments.  Do they not recall the July 14 rally?  There is no longer a risk of increasing frustration, that state has been realized many months ago.  Furthermore, the likelihood of this group suddenly "creating productive dialogue" is thin based on the history in this area so far.

§  These reports introduce a new budget, the existing allotment of $350,000 having been whittled down to $41K.  To continue on, a further $116,000 is requested. 
It is worthwhile to reflect upon what this funding is for.  It is to address the five themes which have been all but invisible in the engagement activity so far and to engage even more extensively, if that is possible, into the issues of housing and affordability.  We must bear in mind that all of this work scope was made plain in the initial plan of March 2020 and did not change in the distillation of that plan down to six themes from the initial 20 topics.  The Project Team, with little intervention from Mayor and Council, established their own priorities and chose to spend all their time and 87.4% of our allotted funds on only one of the themes, housing and affordability. 
Also important to note is that North Saanich lies outside the Urban Containment Boundary, already has an existing supply of housing stock to satisfy the 5% RGS growth guideline and that housing affordability is now, more than ever, a matter for nonmarket intervention.  I don't believe the OCP Review has explored any nonmarket housing potential.
All of which points to the fact that this so-called five theme new initiative is not new at all.  This work plan was clear from the outset and funded accordingly.  Residents can rightfully expect that the Project Team, overseen by Mayor and Council, should diligently apportion their time and budgeted funds to all of the project targets equitably.  Why was this not done?


§  Trust has indeed been badly eroded but there seems to be little interest in discovering the reasons for this or making any serious efforts to win that trust back

§  While acknowledging that there is discontent among the residents is encouraging, it similarly requires serious investigation and a perceptible change in philosophy before it will have any real meaning

§  It is very concerning that the Project Team could extol the virtues of a holistic approach to OCP planning while abandoning that philosophy in the actual execution of their work.  This clear contradiction goes a long way to explaining the previous two conclusions and why there may be great difficulty overcoming those problems

§  The work plan being proposed at this juncture does not constitute a change in scope from that plan which was originally proposed and endorsed by Council in March 2020.  Similarly, the budget of the day and the subsequent change orders, were intended to underwrite work on all of the project components.  No directives to the contrary have ever been issued.
No further funding should be authorized and Mayor and Council must insist upon a detailed accounting of the funds already allocated.

Assessing these two reports and making reasonable decisions will definitely be challenging for Mayor and Council.  However, in reviewing the points made above, none of them have arisen recently.  Residents have been concerned about these problems for many months and articulating them very well in many forms.  If harsh measures are now required, it is only because milder remedies were not applied earlier. 

Thank you for putting your best efforts to this situation.


Sincerely, Spring Harrison, North Saanich