Setting sights to prepare for Saanich’s future

Strategic plan, citizen survey show need for food security, emergency prep improvements

Saanich has a long way to go to achieve some pretty lofty goals in the next quarter century – but Saanich council and staff members are confident that they’re doable.

By 2036, Saanich hopes to see the number of residents growing their own vegetables increase by 66 per cent, according to the municipality’s 2012 draft strategic plan, released last week.

On Wednesday, results from the latest citizen survey came out, which show nearly one-third of residents already grow a portion of their food.

“I think it’s achievable. They’re always stretched targets – it doesn’t move us far forward if they’re too easy to achieve,” said Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning.

She says the municipality has been moving in this “progressive and sustainable” direction for years, and more is in the works to reach the 2036 target. “People that come to the West Coast are usually interested in that type of lifestyle, or they’re really supportive of it.”

Food security – from backyard gardens and backyard chickens, to municipal allotment gardens and the state of local agriculture – has become a topic of greater interest to Saanich council recently.

In the last two years, Coun. Dean Murdock has recommended that council look at easing urban poultry-keeping restrictions and allowing rooftop gardens. As well, he suggested that Saanich examine the feasibility of a Moss Street Market-style farm market on the Lochside Trail, where it meets municipal hall.

“What I’m hearing, and I think it’s reflected in the citizen survey, is there’s a growing interest in producing food for yourself. As that continues to happen, as interest continues to grow, we’re going to have to look for creative ways to help people do that,” Murdock said.

The second-term councillor says food security is important, since in the event of an emergency, Vancouver Island could be cut off from outside food deliveries for a number of days.

“Certainly the ability to produce and consume your own food puts you in a much better position in terms of emergency preparedness. If you’re not able to get access to (imported) food, hopefully you have it in your garden.”

Capt. Brock Henson, Saanich’s emergency program officer, agrees, and acknowledges another goal set out in the strategic plan.

By 2018, 60 per cent of Saanich residents should be prepared to survive for seven days, following an emergency or disaster. According to citizen survey results, only 23 per cent of households are currently ready to survive for a week in the event of an emergency.

“Our supply routes are a little more vulnerable than if we were on the mainland,” Henson said. “Things come by boat, for the most part, and if the ferry and barge service were disrupted, that could cause some supply challenges in the shot term.”

While many government agencies say residents should be prepared for three days, Saanich shifted its messaging about four years ago, encouraging households to be prepared to last a week.

“Through my own experiences in Christchurch, New Zealand (following major earthquakes in that country last year), it often wasn’t until Day 3 there was a real problem with respect to supplies,” Henson said. “That’s why it is such a significant goal for us. The more prepared we all are, the better we will do following such an event.”

By 2036, Saanich aims to have 90 per cent of residents prepared to survive for one week after a disaster.

“We really have an uphill battle with respect to fighting the apathy toward being prepared, and for the public to recognize we all need to be prepared for a period of at least seven days, not three,” Henson said. “We are already above the national average here. We are seeing the numbers increase, they’re just not increasing as quickly as we’d like.”

Murdock says the direction Saanich is going, both in terms of food security and emergency preparedness, will help achieve the goals.

“I think, in part, some of the things we’re putting in place right now, and some of the things we’ve already done, are a step in the right direction,” he said.

Both the strategic plan and citizen survey are considered guiding documents – they provide direction to staff on short- and long-term goals and indicate residents’ priorities.

The citizen survey, conducted in January, found that 92.4 per cent of people define the quality of life in Saanich as good or very good, and  89 per cent say Saanich is a good place to raise children.

Respondents listed road and traffic control, parks and trails, and rec facilities as the top financial priorities. The municipal services considered most important are quality of drinking water, residential recycling and garbage collection.

The survey also found that residents cite the Saanich News as their preferred way of finding out information about the municipality.

To read the complete survey results, or to have a look at the draft strategic plan, visit saanich.ca.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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