Council disregards planning professionals, media mis-reports

Coping with COVID-19 is clearly compounding QB residents’ concerns about Town Council and the Administration’s openness, transparency, accountability and fiscal prudence. Given the constraints of a closed Town Hall, and the restricted access for residents to provide feedback and suggestions to Town staff and Council, it is not easy to gauge the breadth and depth of resentment building in our community.

Council did NOT “move forward on a comprehensive land-use plan for contentious parcel,” as reported by the regional Black Press outlet, PQB News. In fact, Council chose to do the exact opposite

One indicator that all is not well in paradise was the chorus of voices who brought their diverse set of issues to the streets on July 15, 2020, culminating in a rally at Town Hall. One can only imagine how many folks would have attended a rally like this if there were no physical distancing and crowd size limits as required by current public health directives.

The crumbling of institutions that sustain civil societies and democracies is occurring around the globe, resulting in a massive spread of public distrust of the media and of authorities, both elected and non-elected. One item on the agenda for the July 15, 2020 Qualicum Beach Council meeting provides a sharp local example.

Despite a strongly-worded report from the Town’s Planning department and a public demonstration outside the locked Town Hall on that day, Qualicum Beach Council did NOT “move forward on a comprehensive land-use plan for contentious parcel,” as reported by the regional Black Press outlet, PQB News. In fact, Council chose to do the exact opposite of what Black Press would have readers believe.

This is a textbook case of how the public is misled by people who have power and influence, and why public distrust is spreading. The main contributing factors are:  Council’s disrespect of the wishes of citizens as expressed in the OCP, Council’s disregard for the Town’s professional staff recommendations, and misleading reporting by the regional Black Press media outlet.

Town’s professional Planning staff analysis disregarded

The Town’s Planning department — in its repeated recommendation to Council to NOT approve the Todsen proposal to build a sub-division on Estate Properties land near Milner Gardens — provided detailed analysis of the lack of compliance between the Todsen proposal and major policies and directives within the current OCP. The latest such report, authored by planner Rebecca Augustyn, with the concurrence of Director of Planning Luke Sales and Town CAO Daniel Sailland, is included at page 149 of the July 15, 2020 Council Meeting Agenda.

This most recent Planning department report was submitted to Council in support of the professional staff recommendation “THAT a Comprehensive Land Use Plan be undertaken to provide direction for future developments within the Estate Residential lands that would address and balance the importance of the forest, green way features, ecological importance of Milner Gardens and Vancouver Island University lands with the appropriate urban densification and public recreational amenities” and to initiate this “comprehensive plan for the entire Estate Residential area prior to approval of any development proposals”. [author’s emphasis]

By a 3-2 vote (Westbroek, Harrison, Wiese for / Filmer, Walker against), Council — in a matter of minutes — dispensed with this detailed, unequivocal staff recommendation. The three proponents piously agreed that this would be a “useful” planning exercise BUT kicked it down the road to be included as a part of the next scheduled full OCP update… not likely to surface until 2024. Thus, by a slim majority, Council eliminated one of the barriers to their unrelenting, increasingly undisguised determination to get the Todsens the subdivision approval they seek. As previously reported in Second Opinion QB, this decision puts the iconic Estate Properties at risk of sub-division development despite having been treated as protected lands for decades.

How Council willfully ignores the Official Community Plan

The Official Community Plan (OCP) for Qualicum Beach is updated every six years or so. The latest version of the OCP was adopted, after extensive community consultation, in 2018.

For context, here is a summary of the purpose of an OCP, as provided by the BC provincial government: 

“Official community plans describe the long-term vision of communities. They are a statement of objectives and policies that guide decisions on municipal and regional district planning and land use management. … Municipalities, regional districts and the Islands Trust have the authority to develop official community plans under the Local Government Act. To support community sustainability and resilience, local governments often integrate their official community plans and a range of other community plans and strategies, addressing such matters as transportation, housing, sustainability or the impacts of climate change.”

This is the critical statement in terms of expectation: “Local governments are not required to adopt an official community plan. However, after the adoption of an official community plan, all bylaws enacted or works undertaken must be consistent with the plan.” [author’s emphasis]

But there is a vulnerability or, one might say, a flaw or loophole in the provincial regulations. Should the municipal authorities desire to ignore the directions provided to them by the public through the OCP, the authorities can simply amend the OCP as easily as changing any other by-law.

It appears that three of five members of the current Council (Wiese, Westbroek, Harrison) are intent on fracturing a key strategic component of the current OCP to enable their approval of a subdivision of land in the Estate Properties owned by Rick and Linda Todsen. In so doing, these three members of Council are essentially breaking the social contract with the citizens of Qualicum Beach whom they were elected to serve.

Mis-reporting of the Council’s actions by Black Press

One report from this July 15 Council meeting episode is a prime example of why the public’s trust of another institution, traditional media, continues to fall. The regional Black Press crew completely misrepresented the Qualicum Beach Council decision. Under their posted headline Qualicum Beach council moves forward on comprehensive land-use plan for contentious parcel, their reporter and editor misconstrued the whole point of the Planning Department’s recommendation, namely that this land-use plan be done BEFORE approving any subdivision proposals, including the current Todsen application.

To reiterate, Qualicum Beach Council did NOT move forward on a comprehensive land-use plan. In fact, they chose to do the exact opposite of what Black Press wants readers to believe.

QB Council punted the idea of a comprehensive land-use plan for the Estate Properties at least three years down the road – well after the term of the current Council ends. The only thing Council moved ahead with was the Todsen proposal, ensuring it would escape any constraints that might be imposed by a comprehensive land-use plan. Sloppy reporting? Negligent editing? Or something worse? Given that Black Press also located the Estate Properties “in the south end of town”, let’s just go with sloppy and negligent, for now.

This example demonstrates the crumbling of institutions that sustain civil societies. Connecting the dots exposes a pattern – the undermining of laws, customs and courtesies that have been established to provide resilience against malfeasance and corruption by individuals and groups acting in self-interest instead of the public interest.

As indicated by letters we’ve received from multiple QB residents, the community wants, expects, and should be able to rely on, these institutions to help sustain a balance between the public interest and private interests, and to curb excesses by either the governors or the governed.

Rally at Qualicum Beach Town Hall July 15, 2020.