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General News · 15th April 2011
Richard Lawton
"That is the role of the elders, to look after the children and the grandchildren by being diligent about what is happening in the world."

(I've updated this and added a PDF file so it's easier to read.)

I'm not usually prone to emotion. Perhaps decades of Island life is wearing off and changing me. The locals said it would. The locals were right about many things.

There was almost no attendance at OCP meetings after the first two set the tone. Have we lost interest in our own affairs? Or was Cortes saying its our OCP and we don't want someone else playing the tune?

Some vocal, not really local, voices chanting; "It's wet in here and we must DO something!" - with an occasional echo of; "Did we forget again that the idea is to bail out the boat? Did we ever remember?" (just ignore him like we usually do - it's just that paranoid Lawton guy) - memories of Ken Hansen sitting near the back when this happened before, loudly proclaiming "This is BULLSHIT!" to every hyped issue. (Ken was a local.)

But I digress ... a feeling of "Thank goodness, Cortes still cares" overcame me at the OCP first draft meeting last month. After many months of empty tables there were familiar faces again. Many familiar faces. The front two rows were a bit sparse, but otherwise it was a packed meeting. People kept arriving and having to get themself a chair. A welcome feeling of not being so alone after all.

Much of that meeting cared about Cortes during Ralph Nursall's magnificently impartial handling of our OCP in the early 90's. (adoption was delayed until 1995). I don't think the word “facilitate” had been invented and hardly an invoice put “community spirit” in doubt. Islanders did all the research while Hubert, Gail and others tirelessly arranged small gatherings and documented our views. The only visible cost was plain copies of drafts (and Ken's inexpensive reminders about reality). A series of “lively” public meetings, plus Ralph's insight and eloquence, brought it all together.

Most people seem to agree “it's a good document” that just needs a few changes to bring it up to date, but there isn't much awareness of its weakness - the reason we are in such a mess today is the economic component is missing. Cooks tell us that experience and judgement are needed to bake a cake and we are unlikely to produce anything edible without the right mix of ingredients and timing - the same kind of experience, judgement, ingredients and timing are needed to keep Cortes intact in a changing world.

Back to the OCP draft meeting ... lots of those familiar faces cared about Cortes when we created bylaws too, including an impressive presence of the the volunteers who spent eight months preparing our bylaw draft for public discussion.

Public discussion that never happened. Not only was a token presentation substituted for open disclosure and debate, 275 years of collective Island experience were overridden and cast aside.

What was cast aside is our future. Scores of Cortes families, including the Island's kids, are spread over the Province and beyond because we have insufficient opportunity for them here, and the loss is ongoing.

It's still hard to accept that trusted people did so much damage. No one has ever offered an explanation. No one has denied doing it.

The most likely explanation is someone is thrusting their long association with Vancouver on us while trying to control and stifle anything that competes.

Since urban planning is again being promoted in OCP review and rural growth is again being blocked, let's examine them:

Steering Cortes towards Vancouver: (marching band music with Leonard Cohen's “Sail On, Sail On, Oh Mighty Ship of Steel” in the background) ... An all-pervading shortage of land area forces Vancouver to do everything hi-density, hi-tech and hi-energy at (very) high cost, which amplifies their water, waste, pollution, transportation, infrastructure, crime, social and financial problems. Trendy professional words like “sustainable management”, “green efficient resources” and “smart growth” try to disguise their struggle, but reality is much simpler - cities would love to escape the burden of high density and can't. If we bulldoze away nature and replace it with too many people we put ourselves in the same irreversible predicament.
Proposed “OCP sustainability indicators” portray a centralized “complete liveable community” of pedestrians and bicycles with carefully manicured, controlled and extremely expensive infrastructure. This seriously conflicts with our casual rural realities of long hills, average distances over 5km for work, goods, ferry and social events, and 8-9 months of rain every year! And since Vancouver is financially impossible to mimic (because our rural earnings and tax base are much too low) … er … perhaps urban planning is not our wisest choice?
The community seems to agree. “High density in village centers” came last in the published housing survey results. The original document, before it was edited, shows “rezoning of certain areas into smaller minimum lot size” overall last with highest opposition. Documented OCP feedback confirms there is almost no support for high density housing models. (Typical responses were “keep Cortes rural” and “we don't need more rules”.)
Perhaps the underlying reason is our rural heritage of spaciousness and simplicity? Generous land area provides almost free building materials, food, heat and earning opportunities. We successfully replace complexity and sophistication with our experience - the local equivalent of “sustainable green energy efficiency” is how we built our home after the first winter in a damp, propane heated trailer, and then found out how much work was needed to cut and haul extra firewood for the uninsulated cabin - the result may be a few percent shy of hi-tech, but we're actually ahead because the building cost and consumed next to nothing! Low-tech, low-investment gently, automatically minimizes our social, financial and environmental footprint. No hype or brochure needed! Just get in step and it happens naturally without needless regulation and cost.
If we preserve it and use it wisely, generous land area is one of our primary protections against escalating cost.

So much for virtues, what about our problem? Four of our biggest costs - land, taxes, goods and fuel - are dictated by a more affluent, off-island economy. At the top of the heap, we are shut out of our own land market by inadequate earnings, and our most fundamental measure of stability - continuity between generations - is broken. No matter how financially independent or dependent on our local economy we are, no future for adapted people has serious implications.

Trying to push our cost down at someone else's expense is futile (because the full weight of a much larger economy supports its value). Our challenge is to pull our income up. Actually we need wholesome answers in both directions that meet in the middle.

That discarded bylaw draft contains the expense portion of the solution.

It's simple, proven and already in our OCP …


Don't take my word for this. Analyze it yourself.

Unless you have a magic wand big enough to mess up the laws of arithmetic and logic in one fell swoop, (at most a series of rapid poofs that achieve the same lasting effect), you'll discover that although “land sharing” is not our most desirable or popular choice, it is not “one of our options”, it's the ONLY workable solution left!

Without it there will be almost no Island people left a generation from now.

Let's look closer at housing cost:
Because we need an ongoing supply of homes and there is a pronounced shortage of “benevolent donors”, “affordable” does not mean subsidized, but rather that we have sufficient income to pay for it (or reduce the cost with our own effort, just like we grow food instead of buying it).
The idea that we can make Cortes homes affordable by cramming them closer together is false promise - icing on a hollow cake.
There's clear evidence in the seniors' cottages, where three quarters of a million dollars was spent to produce six small homes with shared well, septic, hydro and driveway. The seniors' project was heavily subsidized with grants and donations, which is not repeatable. To recover cost without subsidy the rent would be $1,000 per month ($1,600 if land and subdivision is included).
Here's the puzzle - play (realistically) with design and cost however you choose - add more dwellings, more hi-tech, create little city apartments in the air - and the conclusion will be unchanged - high density cannot provide affordability on Cortes (because the conventional cost of all four components - land, subdivision, services and building - is too high).

So how can affordability be achieved? The projects that were affordable (Tiber Bay, Redlands etc.) succeeded because:
1) they took place before prices escalated;
2) homes were owner built (still feasible but more difficult because of increased earnings pressure);
3) major costs were shared between several families (needs zoning change) and
4) needless regulation (subdivision) was avoided.

All except 1) is still intact. Our many year supply of undeveloped land diminished sharply after we excluded ourselves from our bylaws but there are still enough logged in the 80's RU parcels left to make a significant difference. Here's what can still be achieved:
Cost of land plus materials, well, septic and hydro for a common building (around $500K at today's prices) shared between several (10-15) families, plus trailer and building materials for an individual home, would cost around $60-70K per family. (What this creates is minimal, but it's enough to legitimately get started, and the rest can be added as income allows.) That's ownership for around $600 a month in today's market!

Summary: urban style development cannot provide a future for Cortes people … but rural can.

We haven't grasped this economy stuff. Because our financial see-saw is badly our of balance (like really badly out of balance), income and expense must weigh heavy in our choices until balance is restored (not because some paranoid guy says so, but because that's how see-saws and arithmetic work).

The reason I'm rambling on about this is exactly the same scene is set in OCP review. The same unworkable urban agenda is being invisibly promoted. The same workable rural solution is being invisibly blocked and actively sabotaged. By the same people. The only difference is everyone is in the open this time. Well nearly. (To be fair, only one person has actively manipulated things so far, and hopefully we learned enough last time to keep it that way.) Just like before the remaining players provide legitimacy, and are selected for lack of opposition. And just like before we have a Regional Director intentionally caught in an emotional bond of friendship, dancing to the tune without realizing the plan is bogus.
Some history is needed to explain that last statement: There were two inexperienced candidates for Regional Director when Ralph Nursall stepped down in '96. Pierre deTrey and David Rousseau persuaded their friend, George Sirk to run for election. Pierre was gleeful when George won because he believed a puppet director gave him the ability to invisibly control the Island's affairs. Pierre died of cancer, leaving George very vulnerable to influence, and it only recently became apparent who was exerting the majority of that influence during bylaw review. I was loosely connected with Jenny Hiebert's decision to run for election and I very much doubt that she was manipulated. But David Rousseau persuaded Noba to run for election and was immediately coaching her on how to conduct an OCP review when she won.

What we are witnessing in OCP review is three layers of deliberate smoke and mirrors that give an outward appearance of democratic process while maintaining control of a central agenda. The outer layer is the extravaganza of facilitated meetings that were ignored and unattended. Next is a hand picked (or perhaps more accurately hand excluded), “volunteer” OCP steering committee that has no legal status or recognition by the SRD, yet the staff is encouraged to act as if it has. The inner layer, shielded by the other two, uses an off-island consultant to ensure one person has unmonitored access and can freely intercept and modify OCP material (obvious examples are the “vision” statements in the work book and first OCP draft but it goes much deeper and appears to include modifications and deletions as documents flow back and forth for review and approval). Unfortunately the consultant, while legitimately sidestepping interference, may not have been as pliant as planned. Conveniently pointing to their lack of familiarity with Cortes, the consultant is being eliminated and it is proposed to “edit” the second draft behind closed doors before we see it. Any number of tricks can be used to load the dice and bias the outcome.

Last time this happened, in bylaw review, a combination of closed doors, smooth talk and irrelevant, yet convincing if you didn't look close, George Bush style reasoning slipped the agenda past an unsuspecting committee and then rushed it by the community with key issues hidden from view.

Noba claims that everyone is acting in the pure interests of Cortes with no hidden agenda or bias.

Sorry, but I'm having difficulty putting that much trust in local government, because:
1) I'm supposed to be paranoid;
2) The bylaw experience;
3) The same people control OCP review;
4) My OCP submissions have vanished far beyond the possibility of coincidence, and I hear I'm not alone;
5) Documented attempts to concentrate growth and eliminate remote parcels;
6) No meaningful discussions with major “stakeholders”. In most cases no contact at all. There has been no attempt to contact me despite three clear requests;
7) Demonstrated bias towards major players, including Klahoose, that could easily ruin our most important relationships. (The trick is not to act unbiased, but to be unbiased!)

So, Noba, if there is no hidden agenda or bias … Prove it.

Here's your chance to demonstrate that you, not your associates, are our elected representative … and that Cortes Island's Official Community Plan review is uninfluenced by your, and their, personal preferences.

There are no “in camera” secrets to hide, and if the motives are as you claim there is nothing else to hide, so throw the doors open. Wide open. Make the raw, unmodified draft from Focus available and let us observe these impartial “edit” sessions, and respectfully participate if there are important things to add.

And keep everything in full view with the doors wide open until we have a new OCP.

… which probably won't happen quickly - it took eight months to go once through the bylaw draft after the APC had already spent a year. Even then critical issues like aquaculture and second dwellings were not adequately addressed due to time constraints.

(Incidentally - there's a wonderful line in a movie about a rock band - “We may be paranoid, but it don't mean they ain't out to get us” :-)

Here are a few out of dozens of issues raised by the first OCP draft (Don't blame Focus for this - we could have done everything ourselves - instead we chose an off-island consultant with an urban background, and knowing they have no knowledge of our rural history, geography, economy and culture, we fed them mountains of irrelevant and obsolete information - and left them to figure it out with no attempt to correct or assist):

1. Planning staff already removed many proposals that exceed available funds, and I counted dozens more that supposedly need funding. All but one propose to use tax or shuffle money from someone else's pocket.

2. Growing year-round food for everyone could easily become reality. We would need 40+ acres of productive, arable land (includes crop rotation and creation of fertilizer) and since most crops need an inch of water every week to produce adequate yield, this would increase our water consumption 2.5 times. Use of moist, organic soil near fresh water is important to avoid overloading our aquifers. To blindly protect it denies us the ability to feed ourselves!

3. Scattered among 42 pages of superfluous new content is an urban “vision” that seeks legal permission to turn Cortes into a mini-Vancouver under the guise of looking ahead. It is self fulfilling prophesy that directly conflicts with clear directives in the same document to:
a) keep Cortes rural;
b) allow residents to choose for themselves the quality of construction;
c) keep regulation to a minimum

4) The proposed mix of unattainable affordability and insufficient earnings ensures someone else's kids will reap the benefits of our plan.

Keeping OCP and bylaw stuff relevant, with rural values intact and minimal interference in our lives is important for everyone. If you plan to live here in the years ahead, I suggest you get involved.

I've created a website in a forum format, primarily in the hope that we can fix our broken economy. OCP discussion can be included - just join in and add new topics or reply to existing ones. If we use it constructively, a forum is a useful place to express your views and learn what the community wants.

You'll need to register using your real name, and I'll announce it on Island notice boards to keep the content fairly local. Anyone with Cortes connections is welcome to participate, so just ask someone local if you are off-Island.