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–a review

[Addendum at bottom]

The 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.

dreamer posterIt 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.

The play, by Irish-American screenwriter/playwright John Patrick Shanley, is an intense, three-way quest for understanding — of oneself and one’s identity, and how that is warped and captured and mirrored by the other people in one’s life.

There’s bitter Dad (Gary Marks), avoiding life’s complications by withdrawing from human contact. There’s daughter Donna (Sophie L’Homme), who can’t avoid the complications because they are eating her alive. And there’s her lover Tommy (Carlo Marks, also directing), as self-unaware and destructive as the proverbial bull in the china shop. It’s a situation that could go spinning down the toilet so very easily. I won’t say how, or whether, this all works out, just that you have to ride the roller coaster right to the end to find out.

Dreamer is demanding of its cast: three big parts, lots of solo time on stage, lots of physical intimacy and interaction and outright fisticuffs that, for this reviewer at least, were uncomfortable to watch (no doubt the director’s intent). Yes, the piece has humorous moments, but they’re the kind an audience feels uneasy laughing at — people’s foolishness or gross misconceptions or bad decisions.

In the cast, experienced thespian Carlo was clearly comfortable in his element. Suave Marks senior looked delighted to be back on the stage that he built with his own hands some twenty years ago. And stage newcomer Sophie burns with angry intensity as catalyst between the two men.

The ear has some habituation work to do, with Donna’s French accent colliding with the ain’t’s of the working-class dialogue, and a hint of the Irish coming and going in Dad’s half-pickled pronouncements on life. But that’s community theatre for you!

It was interesting to watch the cast gel on opening night. What began as loosely related characters talking at each other, really felt like a crazy, dysfunctional but close family by the end of the play, which bodes well for the rest of the run. I plan to go once more at the end (if i can get a ticket), to see how it evolves.

* * *

This production is a three-way collaboration between Tofino Arts Council, the Pacific Rim Arts Society, and the Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre Association — a happy first for the region! It’s an ambitious and welcome kick-off to what many hope is the revitalization of local theatre in Tofino.

Theme and language are not suitable for kids, though older teenagers can probably relate. Basically it’s a play about, and for, those who have been kicked around by life.

Dreamer runs six times total: Fridays and Saturdays from July 8 to 23, showtime 8 p.m. at Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre in Tofino. Tickets are $15 ($10 for seniors, students, underemployed), available at Common Loaf Bakeshop, Mermaid Tales Bookstore, online at, or call 1-250-725-2565.

ADDENDUM 22 JULYWow! I caught the play on opening night, and saw it again tonight (performance #5 of 6). I’m glad i did. Opening night had a tentative air about it, a kind of trying-it-on vibe, and the show was largely carried by playwright Shanley’s strong dialogue. I was curious to see how the performance would mature as it gelled under production. I wasn’t disappointed.

The dialogue is dense and philosophical enough that it was well worth hearing a second time (maybe a third, eventually). But what really solidified was the stage presence. What emerged from rehearsal as three actors delivering lines has become three characters living lives — complicated, passionate, messily self-examining lives, confusion cutting them to the core, with dilemmas they yell and fight out with each other. Bravo.

Special kudos to Sophie L’Homme, who really grew into the part of Donna. On opening night she was bold but clearly the least experienced actor on stage; tonight she held her own as part of the team. And the audience (another full house) felt it.

Lucky folks who have tickets for closing night — you’re in for a treat. It’s sold out, but the ticketless may be be able to get a scalped one at the door. Or maybe they’ll hold the show over for another couple of performances.

All in all, a strong and inspiring resurrection of local theatre production. Much of the audience, me included, came away rooting for more. 

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

Council grants 2016

Here are my notes on the recent council grant awards. I’m not speaking for council here, just giving my impressions of how the conversation went, in hopes that the info will be of use to local nonprofits in future applications.

Big picture, the district has three grant streams available:

  • RMI event grants (for events that fit RMI criteria; awarded by council)
  • arts & culture grants (decided this year by public “Participatory Budgeting” process)
  • council grants (awarded by council)

Each has its own criteria and application deadline. The first two have been awarded already, and we settled the council grants at our 4-May meeting. Continue reading