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One year in, Langford mayor says his learning curve is a 'complete vertical'

No one was more surprised than Scott Goodmanson when he unseated longtime Langford mayor Stew Young. Now he has a new mantra: Change takes time
Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson in his City Hall office. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Scott Goodmanson’s office at Langford City Hall has a long split-log desk and a big-screen television with an autumn scene and light jazz playing.

It used to be called the Mayor’s Suite, but previous mayor Stew Young — who guided Langford from what he liked to call Dogpatch to one of the province’s fastest-growing communities over the past 30 years — apparently never used it, only coming to city hall to talk with city staff and attend council meetings.

Young conducted a lot of the city’s business in his own restaurants, at events and on the street over his three decades in office.

Last fall, Young’s reign came to an abrupt end. A slate of new councillors called Langford Now ran a slick campaign using social media and feet on the ground to appeal to the city’s fast-growing younger demographic and ­others disillusioned with the rapid growth under Young and his team.

They brought the unknown Goodmanson — a landscaper who lived in Saanich but was raised on the north end of Langford Lake — under their wing and collectively wiped Young and six of the seven councillors from the municipal slate, including several of Young’s most loyal councillors.

While Young threw an opulent gathering on election night on Oct. 15, 2022, Goodmanson sat around a campfire at the family property. When the results rolled in, no one was more surprised than Goodmanson, who won 4,483 votes to Young’s 3,796.

A year later, the Mayor’s Suite-turned-boardroom has been been partitioned, providing Goodmanson an office where he’s been immersing himself in the business of the city.

During an interview, he described the learning curve as a “complete vertical.”

“I can say it’s been a big jump,” said Goodmanson. “I’m the CEO of the city and we have a $70-million budget. Very few people are suddenly the CEO of a corporation that big.”

He stumbled often in his first few months, struggling to find the right words in speeches and at meetings (“Too many umms,” he admits). It was a sharp contrast to the polished Young, whom everyone in Langford seems to know and who is never at a loss for an opinion.

Goodmanson, who is paid just over $70,000 a year as mayor, said his calendar is booked solid most days from 9 a.m. to well into the evening. At events and in council meetings, he reminds residents that change takes time as the new council attempts to take a long-range approach to ­Langford’s affairs.

Over the past year, Goodmanson has presided over a council that has raised property taxes to unprecedented levels — 12.41% this year, with projections of 11.68% in 2024 and 9.5%, 9% and 8.44% in subsequent years.

It’s a sign of growing pains for a city now reaching 50,000 people and in need of more police officers and firefighters, additional city staff and the city’s share of a new West Shore RCMP headquarters — not to mention record inflation and a swimming-pool subsidy that has doubled to nearly $2 million a year.

Some have noted that the previous council kept Langford property taxes artificially low by dipping into reserve funds.

The tax hike brought protests outside City Hall and inside council chambers, where the clash between the new council and some residents often drags meetings on for hours longer than under Young’s tenure.

Often, speakers at the council podium have to be cut off because their topics are not on the meeting agenda. It’s not a new rule, Goodmanson said.

Young has said he would put people’s letters on the agenda so they could speak, but Goodmanson disputes that, saying that if “every single letter that came into city hall was put on the agenda, it would be a foot thick. It certainly wasn’t the case before we got here. Before us, the average meeting was half an hour long. Now [meetings] are hours.”

The new mayor added that in the dozens of meetings since the new council took power, motions to extend speaker time have been unanimously granted in all but one case. “When people tell us we don’t let the public talk, the truth is we allow the public to talk far more than ever before,” said Goodmanson.

The new council has also cut its citizen advisory committees from seven to two, settling on sustainable development and community advisory boards.

Goodmanson said staff recommended the move, saying the majority of meetings involving councillors and residents were cancelled because of no-shows.

A new strategic plan, with an eye on the long term

While Young and his council were widely seen as developer-friendly, Goodmanson ­maintains the city’s relationship with developers remains strong under the new council.

He said council embraces the inevitable build-out of ­Langford, as it’s the key land base in the Capital Regional District’s overall growth strategy. But he said it has to be done with an eye on long-term needs for housing and recreation, transportation and infrastructure — and ­sustainability.

The city’s last Official Community Plan in 2008 will get a refresh with new standards and practices while protecting the environment, he said.

“I’ve said to developers and businesses that what they were building during the 1990s is not what they’re building now. And what they’re building right now is not going to be what they’re building in 2035,” said Goodmanson. “If we can agree that change is always going to occur, instead of being forced upon us, let’s work on it together.”

Langford has already developed an interim tree-protection bylaw and is developing an urban forest management plan to limit the loss of tree canopy in the city. Council is also working on construction impact management strategies and looking at the crunch for parking.

Goodmanson said the OCP rewrite will encompass the whole community, which he calls “a first.”

If all the parts of council’s strategic plan are passed in the next three years, Goodmanson said Langford will have its first master transportation plan and active transportation plan.

It will also lay out the city’s first economic development plan, a long-term parks and arts and culture plan, and a ­management plan for critical infrastructure, such as sewer and water systems already valued at more than $500 million.

The economic development plan includes a lot of the ­former mayor’s initiatives, such as the Royal Roads-UVic campus in downtown Langford, which the city says will attract and ­maintain talent, as well as ­supporting the film industry with new sound-stage development, and attracting technology companies and tourism.

A new master­ ­transportation plan includes active-transportation corridors in an effort to get people out of their vehicles.

Another key plank of the new council’s strategic plan is “good governance,” said Goodmanson. That includes his own seat at the Capital Regional District table — his predecessor, Young, never attended — but also the need for transparent budgets and public-engagement portals such as the city’s recently launched Facebook page and Let’s Chat Langford.

By 2026, the city wants to have a development tracker so the public can monitor projects in the planning or construction phases.

‘I don’t like to disappoint people’

At six-foot-seven, Goodmanson is an imposing figure, but with a gentle manner. “Tall enough that unless I’m in a new structure, I’ve got to be careful as I go through a lot of doorways,” he said with a smile. “I have permanent bumps in my head.”

Before last fall, he never had political aspirations, he said.

He grew up in Langford, attended Ruth King Elementary and Belmont High School and was a sea cadet and competitive rower for 20 years.

He is an accomplished swing dancer and met his wife, Katy, who works at the legislature, on the dance floor. They have a daughter, Hazel, 6.

They continue to live in Saanich and have no immediate plans to move to Langford, which sticks in the craw of many of Goodmanson’s critics. The mayor said the plan is to eventually build a home on his parents’ subdivided property on ­Langford Lake, but high costs to build have delayed that goal.

Goodmanson had always kept an eye on Langford council, noticing what he called a “lack of respect at meetings.”

Last year, his political aspirations gathered urgency after he visited Hidden Valley Trailer Park, where three residents lost their homes to fallen trees, leaving one with a punctured lung. A thin tree buffer left by a neighbouring clear-cut development on Skirt Mountain left the trailer park susceptible to high winds. When Goodmanson’s calls to City Hall for answers were unsuccessful, he decided to run for mayor.

He submitted his papers last year on Sept. 9. “I thought this just isn’t right,” said Goodmanson. “These seniors are sitting in the dark … City Hall should be there to help these residents.”

Goodmanson admits he hasn’t been able to make any immediate changes, but he continues to be motivated by a desire to communicate with the public and “do what’s best for the city.”

“I don’t like to disappoint people and I know that whatever decision we do, big or small, even if I know 100% this is what’s best for the city, I know someone isn’t going to be happy,” said Goodmanson. “It could be something as simple as a single-lot redevelopment and there are neighbours on either side concerned how this is going to impact their life … someone will walk away disappointed.”

He is conscious of living in Young’s long shadow. The ­former mayor indicated last month he might run against Goodmanson in the next civic election and told the Times ­Colonist he was concerned the new mayor and council were “ruining” the city he spent 30 years building.

“Being a new mayor compared with someone who’s been there 30 years … I don’t have all those connections and that experience, but that’s the norm,” said Goodmanson. “Most cities have relatively regular turnovers of mayors and council. Langford skipped that for a few decades. That’s not attacking Stew.

“Right from the start, I said the word of the day is going to be patience.”

Goodmanson said his ­relationship with Young is ­cordial, but cool.

The two have met four times over the past year, including a couple of planned events on projects started by Young’s council. Another was an accidental meeting at City Hall after the election where the two spoke for about 90 seconds.

At one ribbon cutting, Young and Goodmanson chatted for 25 minutes. “He said this is your city now and you’ve won it,” said Goodmanson. “There’s a lot of things the former mayor and I agree upon.”

Goodmanson said Young told him he’s always available, “but he’s never once given me his number. I guess I’m supposed to find it from somebody.”

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