Interview with Mayor Silas White [Gibsons, BC]

Interview with Mayor Silas White [Gibsons, BC]

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TONY: In this episode, I welcome Gibsons'  Mayor, Silas White, to the podcast.   TONY: Born and raised a Sunshine Coaster, Silas  White spent time in Vancouver and Toronto to   attend university and to build a business. He  returned to Gibsons in 2005, and since his return,   Silas has volunteered with organizations like  Voice on the Coast, Sunshine Coast Arts Council,   and Sunshine Coast Community Futures. Silas has  also served as a Sunshine Coast School Trustee,  

a town of Gibsons Counsellor, and most  recently as Mayor of Gibsons. Silas,   thank you very much for sitting down with  me today and taking the time to talk.   MAYOR WHITE: Thank you for the invitation. TONY: Silas, I meet a lot of professionals that   are moving to the coast, such as teachers and  nurses, and their struggle is that the careers   they're moving over here for aren't necessarily  paying them enough to afford the accommodation.   What's the town doing at the moment to  address the challenges with affordable   accommodation for these professionals? MAYOR WHITE: Sunshine Coast wide,   we need more housing diversity on the coast. Those  kinds of professionals aren't in a position to be  

subsidized by BC housing, to have the affordable  housing developments that could be subsidized by   government or the federal government either. TONY: So they're not the target. Affordable   housing, it's below a certain income level. It's  not just a general kind of fund for everyone.   MAYOR WHITE: Definitely, yes. For people  to qualify for those, it does have to be   below a certain income level. And of course, we  desperately need housing for people who work in   retail and work in service industry as well.  So when we have the small amount of affordable   housing, which is being contemplated on the coast  right now, including 40 units on Shaw Road in   Gibsons, which is unfortunately a project that's  been in development for eight years. Now finally,  

the shovels are in the ground. Really, because  of that, and because of that threshold of income,   we really need to encourage market housing for  those professionals and rentals, especially.   MAYOR WHITE: The great news is that there are  some developers who are coming to town and   recognizing this. And I think because of a lot  of other factors that you're well aware of, and   interest rates especially, and their effects on  mortgage rates from the federal government, it's   becoming more favorable and needed for rentals in  town. So some developers are proposing rentals and   we're looking at some. And a lot of the rental  rates, one of the reason the rental rates are so  

high in Gibsons, is a lack of supply. So people  can charge whatever they want for their little   basement suite. So we need more supply for rentals  in order to bring those rates down, and that's the   best way to be able to house professionals. TONY: This was true a while ago when I looked at   it, but I thought Gibsons was the second oldest  demographic in BC. I think Parksville is the  

first and we're the second, or we may... MAYOR WHITE: Sunshine Coast overall. Yes.   TONY: Overall, the Sunshine Coast overall.  Speaking of that and having a more senior   population. Ideally with development, do  you find that a higher density development,   is better for the town, potentially better  for the environment than the large sprawling   estates kind of thing? And is that part of  the decision-making process that council makes   when it approves or declines development? MAYOR WHITE: Absolutely. Yes. And that's been  

recognized for a long time in our town, actually.  Our last two official community plans, going   back to early 2000s, have talked about needing  more density for environmental sustainability   purposes for housing needs. And you're right,  you started off talking about workforce, which   I find we often talk about that in relation to  density at council, too. And we do also need  

to talk just as much about seniors needing to  downsize. Because, especially, I see a lot of   seniors who are really challenged by housing right  now and needing better options when they're-   TONY: To age in place as opposed to have to move  elsewhere. Assuming we build more infrastructure   to be able to house people for rentals and  more development and that kind of stuff,   what is the status of Gibsons' water supply?  Because there was a local state of emergency up   in Sechelt, I believe, recently, drawing attention  to the limitations as far as that goes. What is  

the water situation for Gibsons? If we continue to  build new housing projects, is there going to be   enough water to service the new residents? MAYOR WHITE: Yes. Yes, definitely in the   foreseeable future. And it might be partly  because we're a smaller community, so   being able to really focus on our water has  hopefully been, I wouldn't say easier... a lot of   credit goes to former councils and former mayors  and staffs in Gibsons who put a lot of work into   making sure we have sustainable water. We had an  aquifer mapping study done a number of years ago  

to ensure that our official community plan and  all the growth is based on knowing the amount of   water that we have available in our aquifer. That  was just updated last year and it reconfirmed that   we still have enough water to supply sustainable  water. It's not like we run out. We can supply   sustainable water for 10,000 people, which is the  build out rate in our official community plan.   TONY: Our current population's  about 4,700, is it?   MAYOR WHITE: Yes. Yes. So we're far from 10,000.  Our growth rate here is about 1% a year, and it'll   probably increase a bit. A lot of people in the  community, understandably, are pointing out that   Gospel Rock development could start. I don't  see it starting anytime soon, by the way,  

but it did meet its approvals. I haven't  heard anything from those developers recently.   Another thing to consider is the real estate  saturation rate, which you could probably speak   to better than I could. It's not like developers  can build 300 homes here and then all of a sudden   those will sell even when it's really... TONY: Absolutely yes.  

MAYOR WHITE: There is a saturation. TONY: Can only absorb so much new inventory.   MAYOR WHITE: Yes, yes, yes. So overnight, we're  not going to get to 10,000. This is looking at   decades down the road. And in the meantime, we  continue to monitor our water really well in   Gibsons. In fact, during that state of emergency  we were in such a good, strong place with our   water. We were supplying water to the SCRD. TONY: That's what I noticed. It's like the   different municipalities on the  coast have different challenges,   but because we're all part of the Sunshine  Coast, people assume that what's a limitation   in one area is necessarily the same else- MAYOR WHITE: And another story, another point   that I've heard as a concern, that I want to  address, from people, is what if we have to   keep supplying water for the SCRD? Will that then  drain our aquifer even lower? We wouldn't be doing   it if it wasn't a sustainable practice. As we all  know, water does come down and it eventually gets  

into the ocean. We are pumping water up from  the aquifer as well. But there's some that's   just going out to the ocean, especially in  the Chapman system, but also here in Gibsons,   even though it's aquifer water. So there is  this kind of leeway of sustainable water that   we have left over and can supply to... TONY: To help out our neighbours.  

MAYOR WHITE: ...the SCRD when we need. TONY:   Does infrastructure lead to growth or does growth  lead to infrastructure? Is it realistic to halt   development until we have infrastructure in place  to accommodate, anticipate a population growth?   Or do you have to build the accommodation  and then upgrade the infrastructure? How   is that normally planned in a council? MAYOR WHITE: It's definitely you need the   growth to build the infrastructure. That's how  the finances are structured. When it comes to some   really essential infrastructure for the entire  town, I know we'll be looking soon at a sewage   treatment plant upgrade that's been identified,  that we've needed for a number of years. But our   council's going to have to look seriously at  it. That's going to cost a lot of money. We'll  

probably be needing to look at... Hopefully  government grants would help with that, from   senior levels of government. But perhaps a loan  as well, local governments always need to take out   loans for some major infrastructure projects. But  other than that, when it comes to infrastructure  

that's needed for future development, those  developers need to pay for that through   development cost charges. And that's some- TONY: The DCCs.   MAYOR WHITE: Yes, the DCCs are the primary  way of improving our infrastructure,   then the only way we can get those is to  have those developments coming forward.   TONY: So moving on to kind of a hot button  topic, the elimination of short-term rentals   in Gibsons. My interpretation of the residential  guest accommodation policy is that it's meant   to essentially eliminate short-term rentals in  Gibsons over the next two to five years. Would   that be an accurate assessment for you? MAYOR WHITE: So there was a policy that was   put forward by a consultant. I've inherited  a lot of things. I've had to dig through that   work that was done by the previous council.  I watched a lot of those meetings, too. And  

it was frustrating watching those meetings  because it's a complicated issue, I think,   and counsellors found it very complicated, and we  kind of come back and go, "What about this? What   about that?" And that happened when they tried  to pass their first bylaw. They actually went   through... They had a much simpler bylaw that went  through the public hearing and I think counsellors   came up with new issues and concerns at the  very end of the decision-making process, which   is why I'm really focused so far on improving  our decision-making process and really making   sure our meetings are focused on making good  decisions. Because that was a challenge I could   see in the recent past. So that's another issue. But getting straight to that, I think there was a   lot of confusion about a very complex issue,  a very complex policy that went forward. And  

as far as I can see, that policy was never really  endorsed or adopted by the council. Bylaws were,   and looking at the bylaws, there's nothing in  there that says there will be an elimination.   And even if a previous council were  to say, "We plan on doing something   in two to five years," I'm going to come  in and say, "Well, sorry, you can't."  

TONY: New administration. MAYOR WHITE: Yes. You can't actually   bind future councils to some decision you've made  five or 10 years ago. So really the way we've   approached it, unfortunately, we do need to move  forward with this bylaw. We need to keep moving   forward. And you see it in all governments, a new  government can't exactly come in and just say,   "Here's something that's already in motion..." TONY: Turf it out.  

MAYOR WHITE: "We're just going to turf it  out." And then, also, there's an issue there,   with this one in particular, with our community  and our staff in saying, "The previous council's   already been talking about this nonstop, and for  three years, let's just keep doing it." We need to   keep moving forward. So what our council's done  is recognized that we need to keep this process   going. But it's a two-year temporary use permit,  is what all this RGA is based on. So we've set  

a date for all of them, all the temporary  use permits, to complete December 31st.   TONY: Okay. 2024? MAYOR WHITE: 2024, yes.   TONY: And I imagine that will  give you time as well.   MAYOR WHITE: Exactly. TONY: Especially with the Premier's agenda  

of backfill housing or making development easier.  The applications that are on the books right now   for rental accommodation, the change in rules as  far as strata councils allowing non-rental units   to now be rented out. Hopefully over that time, I  imagine things will clean themselves up a little   bit and there'll be a clearer idea of what's  necessary. Because right now it seems, like you   said, a quagmire of two different opposing  opinions on the thing, but not necessarily   having all the information on either side. MAYOR WHITE: Yes, and that's good policymaking,  

too. I've always been frustrated,  too, in local government, to see   councils and boards get hung up on thinking  we've got to set one policy in stone that's   going to work for 50 years or for eternity, which  is not reasonable. Something like this for short   term rentals that's very, very much changing  due to the economy, changing to housing needs,   you need to review things like this every  few years. Especially something that's so  

sensitive to the economy and tourism. And other  communities in BC that I've been following,   the ones that have been really successful in  maintaining tourism and focusing on needing   short-term rentals for not only tourism, but maybe  short-term workers, but also needing long-term   rentals. And really seriously focusing...  I think at Tofino is a great example.   TONY: I was going to ask  if Tofino was one, yes.  

MAYOR WHITE: Yes, yes. They're reviewing  and tweaking their short-term rental   policy every two years. And it's not  a bad thing. This is the reality. And   they're responding to their community's needs in  terms of tourism and housing, and that's what I   think we're going to have to do in two years.  And it's ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous   to say, a year or two years ago, "We're just going  to eliminate them all in four years." You actually   need to keep a finger on the pulse of what's going  on in the community and how the economy's going   and how housing's going and respond to that. TONY: I hear a lot of questions about short-term  

rental bylaws passed by the previous council. In  this context of the bylaw, can you explain how   the town defines a principle residence? MAYOR WHITE: That one, I have to read off   the bylaws itself. TONY: Cue card.   MAYOR WHITE: The definition of a principal  residence means a single dwelling unit where a   person lives at least nine months in the calendar  year and conducts their daily affairs, including   paying bills, receiving mail. And the dwelling  unit, I think that might be the important part  

you're looking for, it has a residential address  related to billing, driver's licenses, all that,   are connected to that principle address. MAYOR WHITE: So I think maybe the concern that   that's out there, which is different from other  short-term rental bylaws, maybe not all of them,   but some of them in BC, is that the town, I think  oddly, cuts everything up in terms of dwelling   units. So a secondary suite in your home would  be considered a separate dwelling unit. So if you   were to go get a temporary use permit, it would  only be for that secondary suite. And if you also   wanted to maybe do a short term rental upstairs  with a room in your own living space, you'd need   a separate temporary use permit for that too. MAYOR WHITE: So I think that's been a really   challenging part of this bylaw and it's something  that we're going to have to take a really serious   look at when we review it next year. Yes, it's  made it very, I think, unnecessarily complicated.   And it's something that a lot of homeowners  are just dealing with anyway. We are getting  

applications and we've approved  22 temporary use permits so far.   And councils, I think, showing some  support for having a balance of   short term rentals in our community and needing  them for tourism, needing them for the economy.   By approving those 22. And we'll get  more in and continue those as well.   TONY: You've had 22 applications that have been  approved. I guess the follow-up question to that  

is that there seems to be a lot more short term  rentals operating, if you go on VRBO or Airbnb   and that kind of stuff, that may not have been  approved or even applied for a permit. What's the   intention of the council with those operators? MAYOR WHITE: Well the hope is that they're   applying for temporary use permits as  well. The way that staff is doing it,   it would totally swamp us in terms of procedure  to do one at a time. So another group is being   collected together for council. TONY: Oh, so they're building  

now kind of thing? MAYOR WHITE: Yes, yes. Council to   consider soon, I think within the next couple  months there'll be another batch to consider.   There's bylaw enforcement, which is something  we passed at our December meeting, has been   put off until the end of this month. So there will  be bylaw enforcement starting in February. And   when bylaw enforcement tends to happen, especially  for the first time, it isn't like our officers go   around just handing out fines to people. It'll be  a warning first just to let people know that they   need to de-list their buildings and make sure they  have a temporary use permit, make sure they have a   business license, and we'll go from there. MAYOR WHITE: I think that's going to be an  

interesting time for council because I  think we'll be getting a lot of letters.   We should be right now. I just received a really  great letter from somebody yesterday explaining   kind of a unique situation they're in where  our bylaw's being interpreted in a certain   way that's not allowing them to continue on  with their short-term rental. And some of   those things I'm hoping we can troubleshoot a  bit and make them work. And I'm sure we'll be   getting some more of those in front of our faces  once the bylaw enforcement actually kicks in.   TONY: I have another example for you.  So if a Gibsons homeowner has a house  

with a separate garden suite, can the  homeowner rent out the garden suite as   a short-term vacation rental assuming  that they apply for the right permits   and that kind of thing? MAYOR WHITE: Yes, and we've   even approved one of those so far. TONY: Oh, very good. So Silas, there are   two proposed multi-family complexes potentially  happening in upper Gibsons. If one or both of   these projects are approved, would that additional  rental housing result in the council potentially   revisiting its short-term rental policy? MAYOR WHITE: Well we already have a schedule for   revisiting the policy, so that'll be next year.  We've had to follow this policy that was already   in place and schedules were already put out.  People had already put money into applying for  

their temporary use permits or renovating their  homes. So the new council couldn't exactly come   in and say, "Oh, sorry, everybody." And people  are also, I've learned too... I've talked to a lot   of short-term rental operators and learned that  people are scheduling their whole lives based on   if they can have their short-term rental and when  it'll be. So getting a temporary use permit and a   business license really helps people with security  and being able to go, "Okay, we can go on holiday   for this portion of the year." TONY: We can rely on it.   MAYOR WHITE: "Because we have our permit  and someone's not going to come in and   shut it down," which was actually always a  potential in the last few years because we   weren't regulating them and they were reviewing  them. So that's one big bonus of regulation,  

is because people can have security and know that  they're going to be able to plan out their lives   based on having their short-term rental or not. MAYOR WHITE: Back to revisiting any additional   rental housing, we have a schedule for revisiting  it already. But with the additional rental   housing, a big frustration we all have at council  is... and all housing advocates do as well,  

is that we can be approving rental housing or  planning affordable housing and we're still   looking like three years out. TONY: Nothing happens quick.   MAYOR WHITE: Two, minimum. So if we end up  approving some rentals in the next couple months,   there's going to be no immediate impact,  unfortunately, to Gibsons. And I think  

more likely we'd be looking at Venture Way,  what kind of impact is that going to have,   one that's just getting built. And we'll offer  rentals on Venture Way, which is really exciting.   And I think that's a really great project. TONY: Great looking complex, already filling up   with a lot of great commercial operators as well.   So definitely a diamond in Gibsons, that one. MAYOR WHITE: Yes. And that's going to be great   for us when we review it in a year, we'll be able  to say, "Okay, what kind of impact has this had   having these new rentals and Gibsons?" TONY: You mentioned to Tofino as one of the   places that you've looked at that have done a good  job finding that balance. I do remember Tofino,  

and I think it's actually still going, they  have a campaign attracting tourists, attracting,   potentially, people to move to that area. Do you  have any plans or does council have any plans to   try to support tourism that way in Gibsons? MAYOR WHITE: Not as a town of Gibsons function.   So I'll explain that Tofino is an even smaller  town than Gibsons. We all have a hotel tax that   helps to pay for Destination BC. And Destinations  BC's wing on the Sunshine Coast of Sunshine Coast   Tourism, and Tofino has one as well. So when  we see those advertisements, they're actually   being paid for and done by Destination BC. And I  think council's role would be more to make sure  

we're supporting that tourism by ensuring  we have accommodation here for one thing.   And also through the messaging, I think. MAYOR WHITE: I was involved in a group called   Voice on the Coast, as you mentioned in the  intro, about 10 years ago. And a big reason   for that, the need for that group to come  up and say, "We need more young families,   working professionals here," was the local  governments themselves were beginning to market   the Sunshine Coast and just talk about their  areas as a retirement community. Fortunately,   I don't hear that so much anymore, despite what  you talked about with the demographics. I don't  

actually hear anyone from the local government  saying, "We're a retirement community. We're a   retirement community," the way they used to. TONY: I think the median age over the last 20   years has dropped substantially on the coast.  I think we're around 50 now, so I think   it's trending in the way that you're talking  about. Continuing on the thought of stuff to do   and young families and that kind of thing. Not  that the retiree demographic didn't enjoy it,   but what's going on with Sea Cavalcade? MAYOR WHITE: I don't know anything that's going   on about it and I'd love to... TONY: But you'd be open for  

it to start up again. MAYOR WHITE: Absolutely. Yes.   Yes. And the town of Gibsons still has funding,  the last couple years anyway, that it's allocated   to other areas for summer activities. But  really it needs to be pushed by the community.   I think some people have raised the idea,  maybe the town should put more funding into   it and actually pay for an event coordinator,  and that's definitely something we should look   at and consider. There are- TONY: Maybe a volunteer position   for that, in that capacity. MAYOR WHITE: It has been in the  

past. And then the volunteers... TONY: Do a lot of work.   MAYOR WHITE: Do a lot of work, and... TONY: Not a lot of appreciation.   MAYOR WHITE: Yes, yes, exactly. I'm excited  because when you talk about all these new   families who have come here and new businesses  opening up, I think there's so much potential   there for other people to come and say, "We want  to redefine Sea Cavalcade. We want to do a Sea  

Cavalcade for 2022." 2023, it would be now. But  yes, 2022 would've been nice too. There's just   so much potential for people to get involved and  work together on it. And I've heard people kicking   around the idea, and I do think the mayor and  council do have a role in facilitating that and   encouraging it. So it is something... We're doing  our strategic planning and we're putting that out   to the community on January 31st at the Gibsons  public market very soon. So I hope that people   from the community come forward and say- TONY: Show some support.  

MAYOR WHITE: "Let's kickstart Sea Cavalcade  for sure." Or some other summer event.   TONY: I know when I moved here about 20 years ago,  and I knew nothing about the Sea Cavalcade before   I moved, but that was the most amazing thing to  see. The whole town, all different walks of life,   all different types of businesses come together  and celebrate, have this wonderful summer event.   It's kind of like living in a Hallmark movie  where they have this town all comes together   and does it. You don't really think it exists  anywhere, but it did exist here. So it'd be   wonderful to bring that back. MAYOR WHITE: Yes, I agree.  

TONY: Beyond everything we've talked about,  what are your aspirations for Gibsons,   and where do you see Gibsons say in 2030? MAYOR WHITE: To me, I've been talking about   this a lot recently... I've been talking  about it for years actually, is that the   change that I see in Gibsons, especially as  somebody who grew up on the Sunshine Coast,   has been familiar with Gibsons all my life, is  not so much what we see around us with the natural   environment and the buildings, I think... I was  even speaking to Jackson Davies the other day,   from The Beachcombers, and he's coming  from Richmond, he lives in Richmond.   He's just like, "Gibsons hasn't changed at  all compared to some of my surroundings."  

TONY: Yes, compared to Richmond. MAYOR WHITE: And he loves it for that,   and we all do. I see it's more demographic changes  that we're dealing with. And the big challenge   I think we have is are we going to become  another West Vancouver in the way that...   TONY: Like a bedroom community. MAYOR WHITE: Yes, only some people can afford to   live here. And it's going to be really challenging  for us because at least in West Vancouver maybe  

you can have people renting somewhere else in  the lower mainland and commuting from Richmond   or from Bernaby or somewhere, to go work in West  Vancouver as teachers or nurses. Whereas that's   much harder to do in Gibsons. TONY: It's a big ask,   getting the 7:00 am ferry. MAYOR WHITE: We're geographically  

isolated so we really need to work  on, when we're looking ahead to 2030,   making sure we have housing for everybody. TONY: I want to thank you very much for coming   on the podcast. I've been waiting  a long time for you to be mayor,   and I'm sure that you're going to continue to be  mayor hopefully for many years into the future,   and hopefully you can maybe come back, do this  again sometime. And thank you very much.   MAYOR WHITE: Thanks, Tony. It was  great conversation and I look forward   to speaking in the future too. TONY: Thanks for watching, and if you  

haven't already, please consider subscribing.  While you're here, maybe you want to check out   one of my listings or watch my video about  why you should choose me to sell your home.

2023-02-11 08:19

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