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

When is a loan Not a Loan?

This following letter was emailed to Malcolm McNaughton, Director of Regional Development, Vancouver Island on October 21, 2018.
If you’d like to contact Mr. McNaughton, his email address is: mmcnaughton@bchousing.org

Dear Sir,
Re: Oak Bay United Church,

First, congratulations on your receipt of a 2018 Care Award for creating Excellence in Housing Affordability.

And, secondly, I and many Oak Bay residents recognize the need for affordable housing.

However, B. C. Housing GAVE AWAY $500,000 of taxpayer monies to Oak Bay United church to develop a 6 story 269 unit housing proposal on church property and some of the units would be affordable.  Under the church's contract with B. C. Housing these taxpayer monies do not have to be returned if the project doesn't proceed (presumably the 269 unit project).  As you probably know, the proposal presented to B. C. Housing was not presented to the District of Oak Bay but instead a proposal was presented to build 96 units of housing as follows:

4  market priced 100 year leasehold town houses
35 market affordable units
57 affordable units

and all of this development, with unit size not meeting zoning requirements, would be on approximately 47,000 sq. ft. of land amid a block of single family homes.

Current zoning requires 90+ parking stalls for church use, 196 parking stalls for the units and 23+ parking stalls for guests.  Using the current surface parking lot for development would mean blasting down through granite rock for parking.  The proposed development would face Granite Street which is a transition street and bears most of the truck traffic servicing the Oak Bay village which includes a Fairways grocery store.  There is very little street parking on Granite Street so it would be reasonable to assume that vehicles would park on Victoria Avenue, thereby reducing the street to single lane traffic.  And as traffic increases it can be difficult to make a turn from Granite onto Foul Bay Road.

In addition to the traffic and parking situations, the size of the proposed development doesn't meet current zoning requirements and would occupy 23% more land that currently allowed.
Considering all of the above, how could you give away so much taxpayer money, with no strings attached, for an even larger development?  Why didn't somebody from B. C. Housing look at the proposed site and the current zoning requirements and question the application before being so generous?  After all, it is not the responsibility of taxpayers to fund any business, including a religious organization.

It is all so disappointing as B. C. Housing has funded some great developments but it appears that not much care was given to the proposal presented by Oak Bay United church.

B Sirinic
Oak Bay

cc Hard copy delivered to District of Oak Bay mayor and counselors

Within hours Mr. McNaughton replied:  

We did not give away any money. The money that BCH has loaned Oak Bay United Church is secured by a mortgage on the property. It is common for initial design concepts to evolve through the development process.

Malcolm McNaughton
Director Regional Development – Vancouver Island

It seems Mr. McNaughton deflected the question of whether or not the money was given or advanced via a forgivable loan. Yes the loan must be repaid if the project goes forward but if it doesn’t, there is no obligation to repay it.

Later that evening clarification was requested:

To: Malcolm McNaughton
Subject: Re: DISTRICT OF OAK BAY

Thank you for your information. An internal B. C. Housing Executive Committee document stated "The requested $503,392 including GST will be given out as an interest free loan and will be evidenced through a Promissory note.  If the project proceeds the loan will be repaid through the anticipated interim construction financing to be provided at Final Project Approval.  Should the project never proceed the PDF loan will be forgiven."

I further understand that, at a later date, there was an additional loan of $300,000 that was secured by a mortgage against the church but I don't know the terms of this financial arrangement.

B Sirinic

Note: The additional loan of $300,00 may not have been advanced yet.
In the same afternoon that Mr. McNaughton was replying to the above letter, he answered another inquiry about the additional $300,000 this way:

We have not completed the processing of the request for additional funds.  If the request is approved it would generally be on the same terms as the original request although there are instances when additional terms may attached to an approval. 

Malcolm McNaughton
Director Regional Development – Vancouver Island