Sailing the Red (a letter)

Ltr Paul 1994 blog cropWell! Here’s a window on a past life. A good friend’s father recently passed on. The father was also a friend; among his effects was a letter i sent him back in 1994, and it made its way back to me.

It’s a 9-pager, handwritten in ballpoint on scribbler pages, completed in segments while coaxing Triangle Island, my 18-foot open yawl, north through the Red Sea’s myriad hidden reefs and wild desert winds. Reading it was a trip back in time, evoking the emotions i was feeling while immersed in a dangerous solo adventure. Here are a few excerpts:

24 Mar. 1994

Dear Paul,

Coming to you from the Red Sea, west shore, at about 16½ degrees north. Triangle Island and I are amongst the islands off Massawa, Eritrea’s port city. The wind is mild, the sky full of puff-clouds, and we’re barely hanging to our desired course: north. Seems benign, yet I’m nervous as hell. Except for one low island, supposedly 5 miles ahead but still invisible, there’s nothing but open water for 150 miles ahead. Continue reading

Think housing (a spontaneous rant)

I just had one of those sparks of clarity, in which something i was clumsily trying to elucidate during today’s (5-hour!) council meeting suddenly took shape in my head. Tofino’s planner was introducing first reading (effectively, first draft) of part of our zoning bylaw — the all-powerful bylaw that dictates what an owner can and can’t do on their land.

I was wondering about some provisions proposed in that bylaw, such as a minimum house size for a “small single family dwelling” (42 m2/450 ft2), and minimum allowable dwelling width (4.9 m/16 ft). I can see the point of maximum limits, having witnessed the neighbourhood impact of oversize McMansions in Vancouver. But what would it matter how small, or how wide, a dwelling is? Why should the district have its fingers in that pie?

It hit me just now that, residentially speaking, the whole bureaucratic process of zoning is based on a suburban model of living: land parcelled out into big lots where nuclear families, each in their private castle, live row on row with other private castles on big lots, and nobody rocks the boat by doing anything different.

That model sort-of worked in decades past (though savvy planners now decry the car-based sprawl, alienation, and lifeless city streets it creates). But the world has changed, economically and demographically. It has changed a lot, even in our tiny end-of-the-road slice. That suburban housing model assumes stable, two-parent families. It assumes breadwinners with well-paying jobs-for-life, who can get big mortgages. It relies on lots of available land, and on doing everything by car. Today all those assumptions are falling by the wayside, for a variety of reasons, good and bad. But the suburban zoning model lives on, unchallenged.

Like many, i often daydream of doing something really creative with housing in Tofino, something daring and innovative. And then i think of ZONING BYLAW NO. 770, 1997, all 138 pages of it, and i deflate. Co-operative housing? Co-housing? Tiny houses? Three families getting together to buy a lot and build three small dwellings? Someone with a large lot wanting to split it and sell half to a friend? All these seemingly simple things would probably take years, and tens of thousands of dollars, and dozens of meetings and reams of paperwork, just to wade through the zoning process. There’d be no guarantee of a positive result. And even if you were lucky, that would only get you to the starting line: from there, you’d still have to build the damn house.

Under the present system, the obstacles to housing innovation in Tofino — temporal, financial, and bureaucratic — are almost insurmountable. Given the modern world, with its modern challenges, our basic zoning model needs a serious rethink.

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow: review

[Addendum at bottom]

dreamer posterThe language in a play is like language nowhere else in life. You get eloquent soliloquys out of nowhere; tight dialogue batted back and forth without the ums, ahs and hesitations; you get ordinary, bumbling real life boiled down to killing intensity and presented in three acts that build like ladder rungs, elevating you to a view you don’t ordinarily get.

It was good to hear this language, and three brave local actors delivering it, on stage at Clayoquot Community Theatre last night, in the opener of The Dreamer Examines His Pillow. Continue reading

The Future … is missing

The strange case of The Future is Japanese.

thefutureisjapaneseI’ve been looking for this book for a year, based on an interest in Japanese culture and in one of the book’s editors, Nick Mamatas. It’s subtitled Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies From and About Japan, and the Amazon blurb says: A web browser that threatens to conquer the world. The longest, loneliest railroad on Earth. A North Korean nuke hitting Tokyo, a hollow asteroid full of automated rice paddies, and a specialist in breaking up “virtual” marriages. And yes, giant robots. These thirteen stories from and about the Land of the Rising Sun run the gamut from fantasy to cyberpunk, and will leave you knowing that the future is Japanese!
Continue reading

Permissive tax exemption

Property tax revenue is the main source of income for the district: It’s what we use to pave roads, replace pipes, build infrastructure, run programs, and pay staff to do all of the above.

People tend to dislike paying taxes, but they usually enjoy the benefits of having paid taxes. Council tries to keep taxes as low as possible, consistent with staying on top of things like infrastructure maintenance and keeping the district running. Previous councils arguably haven’t kept up with demand, which translated into this council’s 8% tax increases in 2015 and 2016 (dropping to 2% for the rest of the five-year budget).

So here’s a tax issue i’ve been wrestling with: permissive tax exemptions. That’s when council decides to exempt certain properties from the property tax that every landowner pays to the district each year, because those properties are perceived to offer a benefit to the community at large. Continue reading