Capital Ideas

Opinion: Community associations are open to everyone. Why attack them for being closed?

Responses to 'Community associations need to evolve'

Capital Ideas

Opinion: Community associations are open to everyone. Why attack them for being closed?

Responses to 'Community associations need to evolve'

Fernwood village. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Capital Ideas

Opinion: Community associations are open to everyone. Why attack them for being closed?

Responses to 'Community associations need to evolve'

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Opinion: Community associations are open to everyone. Why attack them for being closed?
Fernwood village. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Editor's Note: This article is an opinion essay. Opinion pieces will always be categorized under the "Capital Ideas" tag. We are hoping that by offering a platform for informed opinion writing we can spark conversations about this imperfect city, and we eagerly anticipate hearing from people and groups on all points of Victoria's political compass. Submissions can be sent to contact@capitaldaily.ca, and should be specifically about issues of governance, city planning, politics, and the future of Victoria.

The following items are two responses to Jeremy Caradonna's recent opinion essay regarding the Fernwood Neighbourhood Association, "Opinion: Victoria’s community associations need to evolve." 

Sometimes people confuse the Fernwood Community Association (FCA) with the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group (FNRG). The FNRG offers a daycare, children's programming, and an active community centre and we thank them for that. They also have a big budget and a big profile. 

The FCA is a shyer kind of association. Our primary mandate is land use issues. Along with that we are responsible for two community gardens; Pandora Arts Collective, an open arts group started by people with mental health concerns; attend CALUC and cross-neighbourhood VCAN meetings; deal with traffic issues, and other similar activities. We host Theatre Inconnu, a great arts organization; sometimes collaborate with The Belfry; and provide space for Cafe Sympatico, Little Fernwood Art Gallery, and several 12-Step programs. We rent out four offices to non-profits and our hall at the lowest rates in the city. The FCA successfully lobbied the city to initiate and support the current community centre. We serve numerous communities who are integral to Fernwood's special place in Victoria's landscape.

Mr. Caradonna says we run the FCA like a private club; that we are a closed shop. That is unfair. All our meetings, both FCA and CALUC, are open to the public. Between AGMs if there are spaces on the board and someone wants to join us and has attended the requisite number of meetings, they're in, no questions asked. That's how Mr. Caradonna and his wife became board members after attending 2 or 3 meetings. We assume that if someone volunteers for the board it is out of love of the community and our strangely unique charm. 

I'd be the first to admit that we have not been perfect at keeping our minutes on our website. We are working to do better. We have one part-time employee working Tuesday to Friday from 12-4 who attends to all our administrative tasks. Indeed, we're on a shoestring. (For the record, both the FCA and the FNRG each receive $3,700 from the city.)

Mr. Caradonna also complains that we haven't made an effort to include Indigenous people and People of Colour on our board. This is not by design and it's not even accurate. As a board member, we would be pleased if he made it his mandate to recruit 2SLGBTQQIA people who'd like to join our board; they would be entirely welcome.

Our board and land use meetings are open to the public. The land use committee brings any upcoming land use or rezoning issues to whoever happens to attend the meeting. The chairperson's report then summarizes the sentiments brought forward without taking a side. The same is true for issues at the FCA board, though we don't have a mandate to comment on the issues that come before the land use committee. We do, however, lobby the city to make sure every citizen receives notice of upcoming issues that would affect them.

The issue of the Caledonia proposal to build “affordable” housing on Vic High land pits two crucial issues against each other. One is housing affordability; the other is the alienation of public land which had been promised for a metric track. Fernwood is tenth poorest in available green space among Victoria neighbourhoods. The city's Parks and Open Space Master Plan emphasizes the health and overall well-being that green space provides and the need to protect it. Currently, our whole neighbourhood uses Vic High's existing track and open space for running, walking, and pick-up sports. With the increased density that the city is pushing, that green space will be more needed than ever, especially if the Caledonia project is built. In fact, the City of Victoria and Mr. Caradonna ignore the city's own policy on the importance of maintaining access to parks and school grounds and their role in the mental and physical health of our citizens. 

Vic High serves our inner-city neighbourhoods, including numerous Indigenous people and new immigrants and refugees, often racialized – kids whose parents are least likely to have outdoor space for them to play in. The loss of the track for which Vic High alumni raised many thousands of dollars would undermine the positive outlet that sports have for kids, especially kids who are struggling academically. Sports provide skill building and time to let off steam. Many kids who come into their own through sports see their grades go up and their lives improve. This is indeed an equity issue.

The Caledonia project—which, despite Mr. Caradonna's suggestion, is not yet approved—is primarily market housing. If built, it will include 128 units for middle income people plus 18 subsidized units to replace the subsidized units slated to be demolished (after their tenants lived with mould problems for years) and 12-14 additional new subsidized units. 

Fernwood has never been a NIMBY neighbourhood. We've always been home to services for people struggling with mental health and substance issues. We desperately need middle income housing, but at the cost of our kids' future? To write off those who bring up these complexities as “single-family-house truthers” misses the many horns of this dilemma.

Mr. Caradonna says the Neighbourhood Associations need to evolve. He's definitely in sync with the mayor on that one. She and her council are doing their best to bypass CALUCs and Neighbourhood Associations in a startling violation of democracy. Fernwood was slated for its updated community plan two years ago. It would have involved extensive input from all of us on a range of neighbourhood issues. Now the city is pushing their Villages and Corridors plan to densify arterials and build up our “villages”. We are to be seduced by faux consultation and flashy posters showing the city's vision for Fernwood, North Park, etc., but it is thoroughly top-down. 

I will add that Mr. Caradonna and his wife live in a single family house with a good-sized backyard. 

This has been a painful period for those of us on the FCA board. Mr. Caradonna has launched a concerted effort to de-legitimize the FCA. We await the next chapters as we make our way through this mess. My hope is for less fraught times ahead and that the FCA can continues its dedicated service to the community.

Dorothy Field is a board member of the Fernwood Community Association (FCA), a visual artist, and the author of three books of poetry, a book of garden letters, a book illustrated with her photos, and a children's book. She lives in a stacked duplex and rents her upstairs suite at below market value. 

On the unglamorous work of community associations

As someone who spent over 15 years on the executive of the Fernwood Community Association (FCA), I was both bemused and disturbed at Jeremy Caradonna’s characterization of that community association as some Machiavellian force for maintaining the status quo.

In the period of time I was involved with the FCA, from 2005 through 2019, the volunteer positions on the board of directors often went unfilled. The constitution allows for up to 15 board members. The reason is simply that some of the groups Mr. Caradonna debatably cites were under-represented never put their hands up to volunteer. The board positions were there for the taking, in most years from 2005 to the present. Several of those boards had significant representation from non-property-owners, like I am.

The work of the community association board is generally not splashy, nor does it tend to garner a lot of public attention. Maintaining the FCA building, operating allotment gardens, facilitating citizen input to City Council, and facilitating the Community Association Land Use Committee (CALUC) are not glamorous tasks. To denigrate the efforts of those who have contributed to that community effort for many years, in some cases, feels profoundly disrespectful.

I understand that we are in an affordable housing crisis, and my personal opinion on the Caledonia project was that it needed to move ahead. That did not give me some morally superior right to disrespect the legitimate concerns of those who already live in the neighbourhood though, as Mr. Caradonna has. The disregard he is showing for those who would have a voice in the development of their neighbourhood is not appropriate at all for someone who wants to represent Victoria on the bigger stage of City Council.

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Occasionally an issue will come along that galvanizes the community, as did the scope of the CRD housing project. Certainly, grandstanding like this, and denigrating those with contrary opinions on a contentious issue will score points with a portion of the population, but is it a kind way to engage effectively with one’s neighbours?

I submit to you, that it disrespects the painful and often frustrating process that is democracy. As a non-property owner myself, I still find that the term “single-family-home truther” is pointlessly inflammatory, even as I recognize that the concept of single-family homes is becoming more and more a thing of the past.

It is entirely possible that Mr. Caradonna will galvanize enough support to do a “takeover” of the FCA board. I fully support the right of these individuals to go that route, and that is entirely permitted in the FCA constitution.

I do hope however, that any new FCA regime will recognize that there is still unspectacular community volunteer work that allows the organization to carry on serving the community. I also hope that they will show some more respect to the volunteers who have been doing that work for so many years prior to Mr. Caradonna and company putting their own hands up to help.

Tony Sprackett was President of the Fernwood Community Association from 2005-2019 and has been a proud Fernwood resident for the past four decades.

Update: In response, Caradonna says, “I appreciate and applaud Tony Sprackett and Dotter Field for their willingness to participate in a robust public debate about the role of community associations in Victoria and the systemic barriers to involvement therein.”

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