UNION BAY, B.C- Residents of Union Bay had a chance to hear from their trustee candidates on Thursday evening.
Four people are running for two seats on the Union Bay Improvement District (UBID) board of trustees. They are Glenn Loxam, seeking re-election, and three new faces, being Trina Gable, Hein Vandenberg, and Paul Healey.
Two seats are open on the board, due to the retirement of trustee Peter Jacques.
The four candidates appeared at an election forum on Thursday evening, held in Union Bay’s community hall. The venue was full with residents of the area, with the candidates answering questions put to them by community members who were issued tickets to ask questions.
Those tickets were drawn from a bucket at random.
Both Vandenberg and Healey are running on platforms advocating for UBID to join with the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), in order to gain access to more funding that could pay for future infrastructure and services in the community.
Gable and Loxam are running on platforms that advocate keeping the improvement district on its current path, though they both indicated being open to an exploration of joining the district in the future.
The MyComoxValleyNow.com newsroom was present at the forum, and the rest of this article will summarize the substantial questions asked by residents and the responses from the candidates. Most of the questions revolved around the possible move to the CVRD, with some outliers.
It was stated that no video or audio recording was allowed at the event, in order to make people “feel comfortable” speaking.
The first question asked the candidates where more water could be found for housing in Union Bay, in light of the large Union Bay Estates development that is slated for the community. Langley Lake is the source for UBID’s water system.
Gable responded first, stating that the district’s new water treatment plan would have a reservoir tank, indicating that would add capacity from the spring-fed lake. Water available currently would cover the first stage of the Union Bay development, with the developer being responsible for finding more water to support more housing.
Healey spoke second, saying that the development was good for the community but water is needed, and that he believed the lake could support 1200 homes in Union Bay in “prime condition”. As for how more water could be found, he couldn’t answer, but he echoed the point made by Gable that the developer would look for more.
Loxam stated that the lake is fed by springs, and “no one knows” how much it could ultimately supply. He re-iterated the storage tank point raised by Gable, and indicated he would direct any water supply questions to the district’s water superintendent.
As for Vandenberg, he said he didn’t know an answer to the question, but echoed the point about the developer needing to find more water. He described the finding of water as “the developer’s problem”.
The second question faced by the four candidates asked about the pro’s and cons of joining the CVRD.
Vandenberg responded first, stating that a governance study would need to be done in order to figure out the pros and cons of multiple options the district could face. He believed it was in the district’s best interest to examine the possibility, with input from landowners.
Loxam responded by mentioning guidance from the provincial government about getting a new water treatment plant going first, before doing a governance study.
He didn’t know the exact pros and cons, but indicated that a study would be needed to figure those out, considering three options of the UBID staying the same, becoming a municipality, or joining the CVRD. Those three options would then be put to the landowners, and he said that “the people of Union Bay will decide”.
Healey believed that joining the CVRD would be a good move, due to Union Bay being a small community facing a large cost and said that the UBID didn’t have the experts to move forward in the development process and they would have to fund all their infrastructure themselves. Joining the CVRD, according to Healey, would help the area move forward in a “good direction”.
Gable said she didn’t know all the pros and cons, stating that infrastructure, policing, and road maintenance would be “a bit different” in joining the CVRD. She also quoted from the same letter referenced by Loxam, reading out a section where the province directed UBID to have the treatment plant construction “well underway” before a governance study could get underway.
The third question faced by the candidates asked them if they agreed with the current board’s decision to close and cancel public meetings, and if so, why.
Gable spoke first, stating that she understood the frustration of residents, and that she felt the same way. She went on to say that the public board meetings are meetings were the “public are invited as guests” who are not supposed to interact with the trustees, and that there are people who have been disrupting the meetings.
Those disruptions, according to Gable, are the reason for barring the public until they can “behave”. That remark got some laughter from the audience at the forum. She went on to say “we’re all adults here”, and there has to be respect. She ended by saying that if no one was working together, understanding meeting rules, nothing gets done.
Healey had a shorter answer, stating a belief that the meetings should be open, and orderly.
Loxam described the meetings as “not public meetings”, instead being board meetings that the public is invited to or not invited to, with the only meeting needing to be public being the Annual General Meeting (AGM).
He went on to state that there is a group of people who intentionally try to disrupt the meetings, and described them as being “very disrespectful”. While the defending the current board’s record, he stated that he wanted the meetings to be open, but that it was “unfair” the same people at the meetings keep interrupting. He encouraged residents of Union Bay to speak to those people, and ask them “what your agenda is”, and ended by stating he was tired of negativity.
Vandenberg responded by discussing different meeting types, such as in-camera sessions and committees of the whole. He believed the meetings could be problematic, but “for transparency’s sake” they need to be open.
Another question touched on dysfunction amongst board members, with the resident asking stating she had seen “a lot of dysfunction” and she didn’t know why. She wanted to know what the candidates would do to make it go away.
Loxam was up first. He responded by first stating the majority of the board had “worked well” together, but it only took one person to go in a different direction. He mentioned the trustee’s oath of office, saying trustees should honour it. He also stated that differences on the board needed to be respected, and that they were healthy, but “at the end of the day” they work together as a group, which could be difficult with someone opposed.
He again mentioned “negative things” and stated he wanted to see the community unified, with everyone “on board” despite differences of opinion.
Vandenberg stated that for a board to work well together, respect was needed, but also compromise, with work towards a consensus. He said that “four people in one direction” was happening now, and ideally five people in one direction was wanted, and said that listening and respecting the “other person’s opinion” was the best thing that could be done.
Healey cited discussion and looking at all the angles, and coming up with the best decision for the community.
Gable agreed with the other candidates, saying that there are differences of opinion but work on a compromise is needed. She believed that people could talk to each other and not agree, but still be respectful, without talking down to someone or using profanity. She also believed all the trustees would need to work on respect, not just one person.
The candidates were then asked by well-known resident Mary Reynolds about the criteria for a legally convened trustee board meeting, and what would signal the legal closure of a meeting.
At first, Loxam stated he didn’t quite understand the question. He began to go through the steps of a meeting, such as bringing it to order and having an agenda, and also brought up the concept of quorum after former trustee Peter Jacques suggested it from the audience. He also mentioned that there needed to be an agenda for a meeting, said that people needed to know about the meeting ahead of time, and broke down more basic meeting processes.
Asking Reynolds if that satisfied her, she responded that it did not, further asking if all trustees needed to be notified about meetings. In reply, Loxam said that all trustees did need to be notified, and that the meeting would be legally finished when it is adjourned.
The rest of the candidates also responded. Healey again broke down basic meeting processes, while Gable stated that both Loxam and Healey “got it right”. She also said the most important part is for the agenda to be sent to trustees before the meeting, so they would all have time to bring up new items or corrections from past meetings.
When Vandenberg responded, he said he hadn’t had to deal much with “meetings of that nature”, and that he was still working on the “condensed notes” of governance.
After that round of answers, Healey and Vandenberg were both asked about support going to them by “landowners who are asking for Clean Water Now”, and how they planned to speed up the receiving of clean water.
Vandenberg stated he was not supported by the group, was not aware of it, and that he could not make the construction of the treatment plant go faster than it is going. He also said he had no idea where the information about the group’s support was coming from.
Healey said that the timeline for the plant “is the timeline”, and that it would happen over time.
Former trustee Jim Elliott then asked the candidates if they could say where money would come for other projects in UBID, due to the costs that would come from the water treatment plant.
Loxam responded by discussing the rate of parcel taxes increasing, and indicated that the district wouldn’t be borrowing money all at one time, with a strategy to “pay as they go”. He also said the developer for Union Bay Estates was planning to write a cheque for $450,000, which would go to the district instead of paying “door by door” as the development came in.
He went on to describe the development as a “cash cow” for Union Bay, and that UBID had been forced into a situation where they had to pay for the water treatment plant on their own.
Vandenberg said he would want to have a crystal ball, and that he is not a trustee. According to him, the only way for him to answer the question would be to vote for him, put him in as a trustee, and “then he’ll find out”. He also indicated that development money only comes from finished development, and said “let’s not put the cart before the horse”.
Healey stated that there was a long way to go before Union Bay saw any money from Union Bay Estates, citing unanswered questions about waste disposal and contaminated soil, along with permits still being needed for more development at the site. He believed they could see money in 2024.
Gable responded by saying she wasn’t a trustee yet either, and that she has only been going off the landowner’s updates from the UBID administration for information about what has been happening with the development. She believed a $46 increase to parcel taxes was doable, and agreed with the increase being done.
A question was posed to Loxam about the direction from the province about the timing of a governance study. Citing the letter from the province saying construction had to be “well underway” before a study could be done, the resident asked if the ministry had been contacted about what that meant.
Loxam responded by mentioning past delays to the water treatment plant project in the past, stating that the Municipal Affairs ministry was tired of delays. According to him, August of 2018 was the last time for any extensions. He wanted to see no more interruptions or delays, and said that the plant needed to be built, up and running, before a governance study could be looked at.
He had no problems speeding up a governance study, but was concerned about seeing signs of a desire to go to the CVRD before a study could be done. He ended by stating that he was open minded to looking at starting a governance study before the plant was finished, but preferred that the plant is “three quarters done”, before looking.
Another question came in about when all the development being discussed was going to happen. The man who asked appeared to disagree with Loxam’s assessment of Union Bay’s current situation, and angry about the current boil water notice.
Loxam replied to the man, mentioning the agreement between Union Bay and the developer, and when the man said that residents still have to boil water, Loxam told him the board of the improvement district have “nothing to do” with the boil water notice.
He also said that the whole board voted in favour of the water agreement, which was approved by Island Health, and that if the man was saying nothing was getting done, he should look outside. The hall is located across the road from the development site, which has been cleared of trees in recent weeks.
Other candidates also responded to the question. Gable mentioned her father purchasing property in Union Bay back in 1991 with the belief that the development was going to go through, and she stated that approval of the work had “nothing to do” with the UBID.
She instead blamed the CVRD for the delays, stating they were taking their “sweet ass time”, and that the CVRD had been blocking the developer due to a need to get permits.
When members of the audience said what she was saying wasn’t true, she responded with “that’s what I know”.
Vandenberg stated that development is on its own timeline, and the UBID does not govern them. According to him, all the district is a water agreement, and if the economy went sideways, there would be no building at the site. He commended the past boards for their work on the matter, with Loxam responding at the end that “it’s done now”.
A question came in for Healey and Vandenberg about fire protection services for Union Bay if they joined with the CVRD. Both saw no reason for the area to lose local fire protection if the district was joined, with Vandenberg raising the possibility of fire service from Courtenay or a fire battalion in the area, joined with the Courtenay fire service.
Another resident asked the candidates if they would schedule the UBID annual general meeting to before elections, citing a desire to see financial reports and outlooks prior to a vote.
Gable responded by saying she had nothing to do with the timing of the meeting, and asked the audience if they wanted to know “all the fiscal stuff” before the election. With a response that appeared to be mostly positive, she said that it was a possibility, and something she would definitely look into.
Healey stated that bylaws for improvement districts and the UBID’s bylaws call for annual general meetings prior to elections, and people have asked him why the AGM got moved to after the election. He believed Loxam could answer the question.
Loxam indicated that there had been controversy about how long candidates had to speak to the community from the last election period, which was a factor in the timing change. As he expanded on his point, he stated that the timing of the AGM didn’t matter to him one way or the other, and that they could vote to change it in the future.
Vandenberg indicated he would prefer to see fiscal reports from 2018 and 2019 projections prior to a vote, and wanted to see it change.
Two questions then came in, one for Healey and another for both Healy and Vandenberg. The first for Healey asked him why he moved to Union Bay in 2017 to “dismantle” it, and why the CVRD was “looking so good” for him to get involved in the community so quickly.
In response, Healey stated that he didn’t realize what the UBID did when he first moved to the community from the CVRD’s Area B. According to him, the first thing he noticed was a tax increase from the switch, and he noted that taxes in Union Bay seem to be higher than other areas in the Valley.
He indicated that had he knew that information prior to the move, he may not have come, but having moved to the community he wants to stay. He also stated that he believed the UBID didn’t have the expertise to handle a large development, and outside help should be sought, which was his motivation to join the CVRD as a full-service area and not an improvement district.
The second question came from former trustee Peter Jacques, who asked Healey and Vandenberg how they could take an oath of office as a trustee for Union Bay, and “turn around and make an effort to dismantle things”.
Vandenberg had a short response, saying that a governance review would take place and residents of Union Bay would decide what to do, not a single trustee and not the board.
Healey said that trustees also swear to do what’s best for Union Bay in the oath of office, and going to the CVRD would be the way to move forward. He stated that the improvement district is already in the CVRD, with Union Bay only responsible for lighting, water services, and the fire department. A shift to the CVRD would “just be moving more into the family”.
The candidates were then asked about their hopes for change in the next five to ten years, with Union Bay Estates coming.
Gable responded, saying that she was looking forward to seeing families come to the area, and a new school built. She also wanted to see protection of the environment, which she stressed was important. Overall, she wanted Union Bay to be a place that people wanted to be a part of.
Healey said he wanted to see the development happen, with more taxes, housing, and community growth coming to the area.
Loxam wanted to see “unity and stability” in the community, with new businesses and new development. He also said it was an exciting time to “move the community forward” and work together, ending with a hope that the developer would build a sewer plant.
Vandenberg wanted to see growth and sustainability, as well as financial sustainability, and expressed a dislike for rampant growth. He also expressed doubts about the development and what people are going to come to the area, mentioning the possibility of yachts at a planned marina as an example. He did hope that whatever was built worked for the developer, and the community.
Trustee Susanna Kaljur had the last question of the evening, asking each candidate why they would choose to delay sending a letter to the CVRD asking about a governance study, when money could be saved by joining the district.
Gable responded that she wouldn’t want to delay saving $500,000, but again mentioned the guidance from the municipal affairs ministry to have the water treatment in place before a governance study could be done. She believed that the CVRD wouldn’t even look at Union Bay right now, until the plant is done, but did say that if there was a chance to do a study before the plant was done, she would be “all for it”.
Healey indicated that he believed any grant money that could be available should be sought after.
Loxam said he had asked the CVRD’s Area A director Daniel Arbour about grants for Union Bay, and he had been told that there was “not guarantee”, and indicated the idea of going to the CVRD and getting a grant quickly is “not true”.
He also said he had heard that once a project is started, you can’t get grants for it, and turned back to the point of residents in Union Bay only paying $46 more a year for the plant getting built without grants. According to him, a decision could be made for other infrastructure projects “down the road”. He ended by saying no one is guaranteed grants from anyone, and residents shouldn’t be “mis-illusioned”.
Vandenberg said the only way he could find out more information about grants would be by becoming a trustee.
After that final question, the candidates made closing statements. They thanked the audience for coming out, and thanked the hosts of the evening. They also encouraged everyone to get out and vote.
The MyComoxValleyNow.com newsroom spoke with Loxam after the forum ended to get more clarity on two points, being the inaction by the current board on sending a letter to the CVRD about a governance study, and where information about improvement districts getting grants was coming from.
Asked about the letter, Loxam first said he would have to go back and review the motion. Pressed as to why they hadn’t spoken with the CVRD on the matter, Loxam indicated that the provincial ministry for municipal affairs had put them in a different direction.
“The problem is, in the past here, what has happened is that they’ve had two extensions, the previous boards,” said Loxam.
“They (the province) were saying they were not going to do any more extensions. So, before a letter going to the CVRD, what they’re stating is that they’re mandating us to get this water filter system done first, well under way, we’ve got to get it done. There’s been so many delays over the years, that going now is not even the time, they won’t even accept it. That was the idea. We were mandated to get a water filtration plant done, secondly to get a billing system in place, the system we just installed, and then look at going to the CVRD. We checked into that. That’s what happened, my memory is coming back here.”
Loxam couldn’t remember the exact timeline of the process he outlined. The motion to send a letter was first passed in November of 2017, and the board voted in January of 2018 to put it on hold.
“There is a motion there to do it, when the time comes,” said Loxam.
As for grants for improvement districts, Loxam again indicated he had heard that from Area A Director Daniel Arbour.
“It’s brand new, and we go from there,” said Loxam.
Election times and dates are included below.
Advance Election Poll Tuesday April 9, 2019
9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Dining Room, Union Bay Community Hall
5401 South Island Highway, Union Bay
Election Poll Saturday, April 20, 2019
9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Bill Wood Room, Union Bay Community Hall
5401 South Island Highway, Union Bay