What's the big secret? What are they hiding?

On Tuesday, January 8th 2019, the following email was sent to the Minister of Citizens’ Services, Honourable Jinny Sims.
It outlines the way Chris Corps, consultant to the OBUC Development Committee, has circumvented the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. It raises questions like:
Who is Chris Corps to decide what is in the public’s interest?
Why didn’t Mr. McNaughton, strongly and unequivocally, refuse to buy into this collusion to thwart the FOI rules? (Maybe he did but the FOI responses do not show that).
Is the FOI legislation little more than window dressing?
Read on….

Dear Minister
 In addition to sending the email at the bottom of this message (see our email here) to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, we thought that you, as Minister of Citizens’ Services, would be interested in the highlighted paragraphs.

Of particular concern is the exchange that follows.

Background: Instead of the Oak Bay United Church (OBUC) applying for development funding from BC Housing, the OBUC used a consulting firm that provided information that was NOT addressed to BC Housing to obtain a $500,000+ forgivable loan (forgiven if project doesn’t proceed). When local residents tried to get more details of this secretive project, we received an FOI response that was so heavily redacted it was virtually useless.

From FOI request #30-0518, part 2 page 300

From: Chris Corps <email via Pivotall>
Sent: November 23, 2017 3:34 PM
To: Malcolm McNaughton
Subject: RE: Oak Bay United Church Neighbourhood Consultations

Explanation: I'm sure you'll rephrase as you think will suit.

The church has not been providing any materials partly for privacy reasons but mostly, because they are highly respectful of Oak Bay's public process, which will determine the project, its appearance, sizes, etc. Releasing draft work - which in any event looked at a wide range of options - could be contrary is not to the public's interest as it provides no firm conclusion and multiple options were considered, not just one.

we ran through the spreadsheet model with you and the model itself was not provided. You can thus honestly say that you don't have a copy, because you don't. We ran thru it with you fairly extensively and also, separately with Kirsten testing numbers, to allow you to look at and test multiple scenarios, but it wasn't actually provided.

It might help to note that I was careful that the "business case" documents were not in fact addressed to BC Housing, but were confidential documents addressed to OBUC Board and which included proprietary information. The first document (provided to Shayne) was a draft. I think I'm right in saying that the only formal application documents submitted to you are a one page formal request for PDF funding from the Chair of the Project Devt Committee, plus a spreadsheet budget. You had sight of other OBUC documents, and to the model so you could satisfy yourself as to the project options and potential, but the documents are OBUC documents and are marked confidential and contain proprietary information. I'm sure your FOI colleagues can comment on the appropriateness of releasing third party confidential and proprietary documents?

Hope that helps, but if more needed then by all means call. Seeing Kirsten tomorrow.

Kindest
Chris Corps
Pivotal IRM Inc.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
<phone number available Pivotal>

Should not BC Housing have insisted on a “"business case" … addressed to BC Housing“ instead of playing privacy games with developers?

We do not accept that “Releasing draft work - which in any event looked at a wide range of options - could be contrary is not to the public's interest (sic) as it provides no firm conclusion and multiple options were considered, not just one” as we would have liked to have seen the multiple options.

Concerned Citizens Network
ccn-ob@shaw.ca
Oak Bay

Questioning BC Housing's responses to FOI requests

On Tuesday, January 8, 2019 this letter was emailed to:

Malcolm McNaughton, BC Housing
with cc’s to Hon. Selina Robinson, BC Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing
Hon. Jinny Sims, Minister of Citizens’ Services (FOI legislation)

 Dear Mr McNaughton,

Re: BC Housing Ref #9444 Project Ref #7958 - Oak Bay United Church (OBUC)
Our group, the Concerned Citizens’ Network of Oak Bay, has recently received information about the above project, subsequent to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request (#30-8718).
It was noted that Michael Flanagan has reported to you on the neighbourhood’s position regarding this overdevelopment project of the OBUC site. Mr Flanagan has forwarded copies of emails from the Concerned Citizens’ Network to you. These clearly outline neighbours’ concerns.
To monitor the growing opposition, we invite you to visit our website www.ccn-oakbay.com and sign up for our newsletter.
The information received under the FOI indicates that BC Housing (Kirsten Baillie and you) reached out to the former mayor and at least two councillors in May 2018 (p 167 of the FOI response #30-8718) It is our understanding that the local representatives who attended these meetings were told to keep what was discussed in the strictest confidence. That secrecy is cause for grave concern. Good news is rarely kept private.
Perhaps you might explain why BC Housing resorted to closed door meetings, excluding the community from any understanding as to why BCH supports such a massive development project for an established single-family neighbourhood? More importantly why do these meetings exclude the people whose lives will be most affected by any decision reached?
BC Housing, as a crown corporation, holds over a billion dollars in taxpayer assets (2017-18 Annual Service Report). This position of trust demands a high standard of transparency, which is not evident in the way this OBUC project is being handled.
In the May 1, 2018 Confidential Advice to Minister, it was stated (FOI30-8718 p 134):
“Residents in Oak Bay have expressed concerns about the suitability of a proposed affordable rental housing project in their neighbourhood (originally proposed for six storeys). In response to neighbourhood concerns, the development has been reduced in height to 3 and 4 storeys.”

This is a false and highly misleading statement.

FACT: the OBUC development team submitted a proposal for a six-storey building to BC Housing in order to secure funding. (April 6, 2017 per FOI 30-0518).

FACT: NONE of the neighbours had a true idea of the size of the project as originally proposed by the OBUC. Rumours did circulate that it would be big. Only after the personal expense of time and money, were we able to ascertain that the OBUC’s original submission had been for a six-storey tower. (FOI request 30-0518, part 1, starting page 24.)

FACT: the FIRST official indication of size provided to the community was in the scaled-down plans presented in December 2017. Neighbours weren’t told these were revised plans. Contrary to the Confidential Advice to Minister, the developers did not reduce the size in response to neighbourhood concerns about the six-storey tower. The conclusion is that the minimal community engagement made before this date had indicated such an ambitious proposal would not be supported.

Further, it is also important to note that those December neighbourhood meetings, where drawings were finally tabled, were called by the developers at very short notice. Letters hand-delivered from the OBUC dated December 6 invited neighbours to meetings on December 13th and 14th, at the busiest time of year for most people. Was the short notice intended to engage as little participation as possible? Regardless, 4+ storey models that were presented to the public in those meetings were met with immediate and widespread opposition.

FACT: Representatives from the OBUC and the development team remained evasive about size and plans until the December meetings. At no time did anyone from either source mention the proposed six-storey tower as submitted to BCH in March 2017.

While the community has repeatedly attempted to engage the OBUC developers in discussion about this project, our efforts have been stonewalled. Worse still, they have been exacerbated by funding provided by BC Housing, as well as being denied access to critical documents.

The developers of this project are clever: they knew enough to establish a third-party representative to avoid disclosure and scrutiny of their plans. See the email from Chris Corps to Malcolm McNaughton, November 23 2017. (FOI request #30-0518, part 2 page 300).

As citizens and taxpayers, we ask that BCH resist this manipulation of the system by developers who seek to compromise and undermine the intent of the Freedom of Information Act. BCH should insist that principals in any projects, who hold out their hands for public money, be prepared to fully disclose their intentions to the public who fund their ambitions.
May we ask at this time, before advancing any further funding for this project, BCH require an independent mediator be appointed to find a suitable compromise. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been handed to a group who thus far have refused to deal with the community in good faith.

BCH now has the opportunity to insist the developers work with the community to reach a reasonable resolution, something the residents have been asking for since the ambitions of this group were first made public.

BC Housing has failed the community in the past. Now is the time for leadership.


Below are the names of some of the neighbours who have helped write and / or asked to have their names attached to this letter. This list is an indication of some of the local support, but it is in no way exhaustive.

Wayne Todd
Wayne Randall
Alan Bolitho
Maggie Bolitho
Barbara Judson
Scott Judson
Jake Richardson
Curtis Hobson
Garen Kassabian
Catherine Griffiths
Pat Hindmarch-Watson
Peter Hindmarch-Watson
Matt Stooke
George Dufour
Ron Matthews
Patricia Matthews
Diana Butler
Barb Lamb
S. MacRae

Investigation needed - Times Colonist October 12, 2018

Some history to the letter that follows:
Many of us have asked, on numerous occasions, for the names of the people who comprise the Development Team driving the OBUC’s proposed project.

secret pexels-photo-315918.png


To date, we have asked the OBUC directly, in emails, letters, and, on October 1, on Facebook on the Oak Bay Municipal Election Discussion page. Here is a screenshot of that conversation:

When that didn’t work, we wrote to the Executive Committee of the BC Conference, United Church of Canada (October 6, 2018) about this and a few other matters.
To date, the senior branch of the church has not provided the names of the Development Team, nor do they seem to have encouraged the OBUC to share this information in the spirit of transparency.

Curiosity.jpeg

Then, on October 9th, the Times-Colonist published an article titled Oak Bay mayoral candidates at odds on housing. This piece, written by Richard Watts, repeated many of the OBUC’s favourite refrains.
Following is one response to the inaccuracies in that report. Also in this letter the question is asked again: Who is the Development Team?
The longer that this vital information is withheld, the greater our curiosity - and the more this important question will continue to be asked.

How design images conceal the truth - TC Oct 10, 2016

One aspect of any design application is the artist’s rendering. These are the soothing images that persuade an unsuspecting public that proposed projects will slide into the landscape with barely a ripple. They ignore shadow patterns, traffic snarls, and strain on infrastructure.
As of today’s date, the Oak Bay United Church has not shared the Shadow Study in respect to its proposed development. The District of Oak Bay still refuses to allow public access to the application file.

The OBUC drawings are done from the perspective of someone standing 20' to 30' above the ground (6 m to 9 m above the ground).   See this page

The OBUC drawings are done from the perspective of someone standing 20' to 30' above the ground (6 m to 9 m above the ground). See this page

Opposition not diminished - TC August 8, 2018

When Cheryl Thomas told a Times Colonist reporter that opposition to to the Oak Bay United Church’s proposal had diminished, the church’s neighbours were confounded. How had she formed this opinion? Did she arrive at it because she doesn’t live near the church and failed to see all the protest?
Maybe, like a lot of politicians these days, she thought if she said it often enough, it might come true?

FOI raises fears - OBN July 27, 2018

Click on the article to read an online version of this letter: