Comment: Public input key to marina future

A commentary by the mayor of Oak Bay.

A commentary in the Thursday Times Colonist that was critical of Oak Bay’s marina lease renewal process contained errors.

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Since a key criticism was the lack of a larger “visioning” process and transparency, it should probably have been disclosed that one of the authors lobbied, unsolicited and unsuccessfully, for marina “visioning” work that was priced at $120,000.

I think it would be helpful, perhaps even for other local governments, to learn how Oak Bay has approached the opportunity.

Early in 2019, council considered a wide range of approaches to address the end of the lease for the marina at Turkey Head in Oak Bay.

It was determined that the best approach was to use the power and creativity of the open market through a request for proposals process. RFPs come with reasonable restrictions to ensure an open and fair bid process, and are simply not the same as land-use policy approaches such as a secondary suites review, so they cannot be fairly compared.

The district is utilizing experts, including an external “fairness adviser,” to ensure validation of the process at every step. For instance, this included making applications anonymous so no bias would be applied to bid evaluations.

To ensure all potential bidders had equal information and opportunity, in 2019 and 2020 the district commissioned detailed environmental, built-asset-condition and geotechnical reports to share with all applicants. The package also included official community plan priorities, which had been developed with considerable public input in 2014.

Because this site is of such significant public interest, Oak Bay council built in public consultation from the beginning.

The RFP background information included links to earlier community-led visioning feedback, the proponents were able to seek their own anonymous market surveys, and of course the district undertook a month-long heavily advertised call for input. This questionnaire was tied to the specific proposals, but also invited open-ended comments.

Oak Bay received more than 600 detailed responses to the online questionnaire, plus paper forms, emails and verbal input during a dedicated public input meeting.

Special care was taken to use local community associations, community groups and printed newspapers to “spread the word” due to the pandemic restrictions on in-person interactions.

I am extremely grateful to the almost 700 residents who took the time to participate in this process. Every member of council spent hours reading every word (all the feedback is available for review on our website) and used it to inform the selection of the lead proponent. We will continue to use it in negotiations.

The time, energy, and knowledge shared by citizens is valued, important, useful and deeply meaningful.

So what next? Now that a “preferred proponent” is selected, the real work of negotiation begins.

The district’s negotiation team, supported by a team of subject matter experts, will seek the best value for the public. As this “value” can include more than just financial remuneration, the values, priorities, concerns and aspirations that came from the feedback will help inform the negotiations.

As already shared publicly, we heard some consistent themes. These included, but were not limited to, the importance of ocean environmental protection, seeking opportunities for First Nations reconciliation, access to beaches, supporting small craft watersports, all-ages walkability, opportunities for gatherings, and of course ensuring the district sees revenue proportional to the high value of the property.

The negotiation process, which might take upwards of a year, is the way we work to incorporate these goals into the lease.

As negotiations begin, and knowing there is a lot of work ahead, I am cautiously hopeful we can find a result that will meet the needs of all stakeholders.

If we do, it will be in large part thanks to the tremendous work our public has contributed to help inform the process. I continue to be available to anyone who has questions or wishes to share their thoughts on the future of this spectacular location.

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