Judi Murakami wants City Council to focus on senior women’s poverty, arts and culture, revitalization and removing blight and protecting green spaces. Plus, she’s prepared to put in the time to make important decisions
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated for the correct spelling of Judi Murakami’s name
Judi Murakami wants to use her education and professional experience to help the Courtenay City Council coalesce around some common goals, something she believes they desperately need to do.
She decided to run for office in January, after meeting with Mayor Larry Jangula, who she says told her the council was not working well together.
That shows up, she says, in the failure of the city’s strategic plan to even mention schools and education, green spaces and arts and culture, and is short on specifics.
“For example, the plan talks about growing the economy, but how?” she told Decafnation. “It doesn’t say.”
FURTHER READING: Read about other Comox Valley candidates
Since moving to the Comox Valley 10 years ago, Murakami has been a tireless volunteer, including a seven-year stint hosting the local cable TV program, Comox Valley Stories.
She has a masters degree in applied behavioral sciences with a focus on organizational development, and worked as a safety advisor for the Vancouver Island Health Authority training staff how to better manage aggressive behaviors.
Before retiring, she also did quality assurance work with the BC Ministry of Health.
Murakami thinks that knowledge and experience will benefit the city by helping the council focus on its four most important issues.
At the top of her list is senior women’s poverty.
“Rising house prices in Vancouver and Victoria have moved up island,” she said. “We don’t have any affordable housing for low-income seniors, particularly women.”
She points to the three-year wait for a vacancy at Kiwanis Village as a symptom of the problem.
Next, Murakami would make arts and culture an economic pillar of the city.
“The city should create a budget for arts and culture, not make these organizations come cap in hand every year for funding,” she said.
She believes the city could do more to market Music Fest, CYMC, the art gallery and The Sid. She envisions maps with walking tours, and more city-sponsored events to promote the arts.
Murakami wants the city to take more aggressive action to revitalize its core areas.
She specifically refers to the vacant lot at England and Cliffe, the site of the old Palace Theatre, which has sat empty for years.
“It’s an eyesore in the heart of downtown,” she says. “The private owners are not being incentivized to do anything … they’re not being fined or taxed enough to get moving.”
She wants to identify that site and other blighted areas and encourage property owners to speed up improvements.
Finally, Murakami wants the city to better protect and enhance green spaces.
She applauds the city for forgiving taxes on the Kus-kus-sum site while Project Watershed raising the funds to purchase the property.
“But waiving property taxes for two years isn’t enough,” she said. “Council should get on board and approve a sizable grant for the project.”
Murakami believes the Comox Valley is a “charity driven” community.
“People consciously go out of their way to attend events and support local causes,” she said, noting that the Valley is one of few communities to support a YANA (you are not alone) organization to help families that must travel to access medical treatment for children.
Murakami says there’s another important reason why voters should choose her on Oct. 20: She’s got the energy, qualifications, time and commitment to serve on City Council.
“I won’t just show up to meetings,” she said. “I’m prepared to put in the time to read and understand the reports and issues that come before council, and ready to make important decisions.”
Murakami sees the role of a councillor as a two-way street.
“It’s a dialogue with people to understand their concerns,” she said. “I’m always learning from people.”
FURTHER READING: Visit Judi Murakami’s Facebook page
Working in an Alberta ministry office taught City Council candidate Deana Simpkin that it’s easier to get things done from the inside. She wants to densify and revitalize downtown, meet growth head-on and keep taxes in check
EDITOR’S NOTE: his post was updated on July 5 to correct that 16 (not 19) additional staff were hired and one staff was reclassified.
Having spent 20 years advocating for the developmentally disabled and also several years in the Alberta Minister of Culture’s office, Courtenay council candidate Deana Simpkin learned that it’s easier to get things done from the inside.
While she’s proud of her advocacy work, she had a greater impact on developmentally disabled children like her daughter, and their families, while working for MLA Lindsay Blackett. Simpkin helped change the system to smooth the transition when a DD child turns 18.
Despite that provincial-level accomplishment, Simpkin says she’s always been more interested in municipal politics. And now, after eight years in the community, she’s ready to get involved.
Simpkin and her family moved to the Comox Valley from Calgary in 2010 to be closer to her parents, who made a stop at CFB Comox in the 1950s and retired here in 1990. She and her husband bought the former Billy D’s restaurant on Fifth Street and rebranded it last September as the High Tide Public House and seafood restaurant.
She’s been active in the community ever since, serving as president of the Courtenay Rotary Club, the Downtown Business Improvement Association and currently as vice-president of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.
“I think I’ve earned my stripes,” she told Decafnation. “And along the way I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about Courtenay.”
INTERESTING FACT: Simpkin’s name is pronounced “dean-ah” not “dee-anna.” She’s named after Dean Martin, her mother’s (a singer) favorite performer.
She hopes to help densify and revitalize the downtown core and to steer the city toward proactive measures to deal with its inevitable growth and housing issues.
And she wants to use her accounting diploma and business experience to “keep taxes in check.”
“A lot of people are worried, both business and residential,” she said. “There’s no big industry in the Valley paying for infrastructure.”
She points to the recent hiring of 16 additional city staff and one reclassification at a cost of about $2 million as an example.
“What are those people doing? If they’re not doing anything, then that’s a concern,” she said. “And where is the money coming from? I heard they’re taking it from a reserve.”
Simpkin said once she’s elected and get answers to those questions, “then maybe it will all make sense.”
But she thinks the council and staff haven’t done enough to convince her and others that the hires were necessary.
“I feel like council needs to give more direction to staff and communicate better with the public,” she said. “A lot of people think staff are running council.”
She says she is not a member of the Comox Valley Taxpayers Association.
Simpkin also hopes to spur a revitalization of the downtown area by encouraging more people to live in and around the core. Young people, single people and young couples want to live close, she says, and more downtown housing would help businesses expand and improve.
She says there is no way to achieve that or to create affordable housing generally without decreasing development costs. She envisions property tax breaks and other incentives to encourage developers to build more affordable houses.
“It’s a big ugly circle,” she said. “If there’s no incentives or lower development costs, then all those extra costs go down to the consumer. The builder can’t lose money.”
Simpkin says Campbell River recently offered a long-term tax break for builders of new homes.
Simpkin says she can work well with the other people on council, although four seats are open. And she’s staying out of endorsing anyone in the mayor’s race “… for now.”
The recent paddle board convert believes she can make a positive difference by working within the City Council.
FURTHER READING: Interviews with other candidates on our politics page.
PHOTO: 21st Street is in the middle at the bottom, with the car lot on the right side. It crosses Cliffe Avenue and dead-ends at the Courtenay Airpark boundary. Dave Bazett photo
A proposed new bridge would kill the Courtenay Airpark, walkway, Hollyhock Marsh, undermine Kus-kus-sum and add another signal light on Comox Road. So why is the City of Courtenay promoting it? Even mayoralty candidates aren’t sure
The City of Courtenay has floated a proposal to build a third crossing of the Courtenay River at 21st Street to alleviate traffic congestion at the 17th Street and Fifth Street bridges.
The proposal, which is part of a study for the city’s required update of their 2014 Master Transportation Plan, would wipe out the Courtenay Airpark, part of the Airpark walkway, destroy the estuary’s last remaining intact ecosystem at Hollyhock Marsh, undermine the Kus-kus-sum rehabilitation project and create another major signaled intersection on Comox Road at a point that regularly floods during winter storms.
Not to mention that Hollyhock Marsh is protected crown land and is an area under claim by the K’omoks First Nation.
It’s an idea that has left many people shaking their heads.
“I thought it was an April Fools Day joke,” said Dave Bazett, a land surveyor whose office is in the proposal’s path and who owns two aircraft hangared at the airpark.
Project Watershed Technical Director Dan Bowen said the study appears to have been done by someone who doesn’t know anything about the area.
“And, who employs someone to pursue an idea that’s not feasible?” he said.
Bazett pointed his finger at the city, which defined the scope of the transportation plan update for the consultant, including a bridge south of 17th Street and the idea that the airpark and the marsh were expendable.
Even the three announced candidates for Courtenay mayor tried to distance themselves from the proposal.
David Frisch emphasized that the proposal is not a plan, just some consultant’s idea. He said there are more environmentally friendly options.
Bob Wells said he didn’t know how a third crossing got in the plan. He thinks its an option the consultant picked up from previous studies, before Kus-kus-sum became a community project.
Erik Eriksson wondered how many millions of dollars per minute of wait time at the existing bridge intersections the public is willing to pay for. A new crossing would cost tens of millions of dollars.
“So we’re not going to see another bridge in my lifetime,” Eriksson said.
The city has undertaken a required four-year update to its 2014 Master Transportation Plan. It held an open house in March and another in mid-June, and is conducting an online survey.
The study and community feedback will be presented to the Courtenay City Council over the summer. Council members will decide what parts of the study get costed out and eventually make it into the 2018 Master Transportation Plan.
Take the survey here
FURTHER READING: See the study’s open house display boards; The city’s Master Transportation Plan webpage
The 2014 plan also examined options for a third crossing. It rejected crossings at 19th and 26th streets, and suggested Eighth or 11th streets for new bridges. The city eventually costed out an 11th Street bridge at around $35 million, and later dropped the idea.
But traffic congestion at the 17th Street east intersection and at the Fifth Street east intersection has worsened as the Comox Valley has grown. But is it unbearable?
Wait times at the bridges may pale now in comparison to the Langford Crawl in Victoria or to numerous choke points in Vancouver, but without an acceptable long-term solution, motorists’ frustration will magnify.
Why 21st Street won’t fly
Bowen, a former BC Ministry of Highways employee in the Comox Valley, said the third crossing proposal and other proposals in the study to build new roads across the Courtenay Flats farmland “fly in the face” of everything Project Watershed has been trying to achieve.
“We’ve been working on projects over the past 20 years to preserve and protect the remaining flora and fauna habitat along the river and K’omoks estuary,” he said. “This proposal has no regard for the estuary. It’s single-minded and not well-informed.”
Local citizens fought Crown Zellerbach from filling in the marsh back in the 1960s and battled them and the provincial government to save the pristine ecosystem, which is unique in the Comox Valley.
Hollyhock Marsh is the model for Kus-kus-sum, a project to restore of the old Fields sawmill site, and the marsh is it’s connection back to the estuary.
“It’s a non-starter for us (Project Watershed,” Bowen said. “And I would expect for K’omoks First Nation, too.”
Decafnation was unable to reach K’omoks Chief Nicole Rempel for this story.
Bazett, a pilot who uses aircrafts in his land surveying business, considers the 21st Street crossing a “purposeful attack” on the Courtenay Airpark.
Bazett says the city has tried to shut down the airport before and neither the mayor or council members have been supportive.
“This crossing was concocted as an excuse to eliminate the airpark,” he said. “The study didn’t even consider air transportation.”
He doesn’t think the city realizes the economic impact and importance of the airport. It brings pilots and passengers to town and the RCMP and MediVac helicopters use the facility regularly.
“It’s a precious jewel,” he said. “There are few private airparks in the province for both float and land aircraft, and within walking distance of town.”
Bowen said his experience working with the highways ministry taught him there are better options to improve traffic flow.
The primary problem is that there are two northbound lanes of traffic approaching the bridge from the south on Cliffe Avenue and two lanes on the bridge. But whether you turn north or south, you have to merge down to one lane.
It’s the same approaching the bridge from the north on the Island Highway bypass, which is two lanes at Superstore, but merges down to one lane at the bridge.
Bowen believes there should be four lanes of traffic approaching the 17th Street bridge, across the bridge and then all the way to the Shell gas station at the old Island Highway and also part way toward Comox.
The long-term solution, he said, is to twin the 17th Street bridge. The highways ministry purchased extra land on the north side of 17th Street east of Cliffe Avenue to anticipate a widened bridge. That land looks like a park with cherry trees.
The ministry also designed the bypass for four lanes, which is why the shoulders are extra wide through the S-turns.
Bowen agree with Erik Eriksson about also widening the Fifth Street bridge and making it four lanes from the Shell gas station at the bottom of Mission Hill all the way to Cliffe Avenue.
An election issue?
City Councillor Eriksson says the study is flawed in another important way: it only considers Courtenay boundaries.
“Any traffic study has to be regional,” he said. “And Comox people should help pay for any traffic improvements.”
Councillor Frisch wouldn’t rule out a third crossing forever, but he said “city taxpayers are not going to pay $20 million to $30 million for a new bridge.”
The question for him is where to spend the city’s limited funds.
“If we spend it on a bridge now, what’s the lost opportunity to support walkability, cycling, transit and other things,” he said.
City Council candidate Melanie McCollum said the cost of building a bridge across a estuary seems potentially prohibitively high.
“It’s very sensitive habitat. It would also mean building into sediment, which liquefies in an earthquake,” she said. “Of course this is not my area of specialty, but from what I know, building a bridge in an earthquake zone on sediment will incur some very expensive geoengineering.”
McCollum would also like to know if the plan for this bridge had taken into account sea level rise expected in the next 50 to 70 years.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula did not respond to our questions.
Comox mayoral candidate Tom Diamond has a strong vision for a vibrant town facing massive growth pressures — a future by design, not by default
Tom Diamond loves the Town of Comox. He’s lived there for eight years, and thinks it’s a well-run municipality. But he would like to see the town led toward a more vibrant future.
So Diamond is running for mayor in this fall’s election.
During a Saturday morning interview over coffee outside The Grind on Beaufort Avenue, Diamond talked about his strong vision for Comox, and why the town’s unavoidable growth pressures make it so important.
“Massive growth is upon us, the whole Comox Valley. We can’t escape it,” he told Decafnation. “But with a well-defined vision, we can plan for it and manage it.”
Diamond points to the town’s default residential zoning, which makes every development project a one-off discussion, or fight. Some projects are stalled for years as a result.
“That’s fine in a slow-growing environment,” Diamond said. “But we can’t afford that anymore.”
FURTHER READING: Tom Diamond for mayor
Diamond’s campaign platform is based on developing a clear community vision, and making zoning decisions ahead of time.
“The council doesn’t know what the right thing to do is without a community vision,” he said. “With a plan, we’ll know when the right development comes along, and we can choose wisely.”
Diamond sees the Oct. 20 municipal election as a referendum of sorts.
“Are the people of Comox interested in a plan for the future, one that creates a vibrant downtown, attracts 21st century jobs and housing with a range of styles and affordability?” he said.
“I think so.”
Diamond has a masters in clinical psychology (counseling) and a Ph.D in organizational psychology (organizational development, human resources).
He’s worked for the U.S. Navy, several universities in administrative and teaching roles, a consulting group specializing in health care and as an independent psychologist.
Diamond was serving as Director of Academic Affairs for Walden University in Vancouver, when his family decided to seek a quieter lifestyle. They moved to Salt Spring Island, which proved to be too quiet.
FURTHER READING: Brain Fitness Center
The settled in Comox in 2008 as a happy medium. It offered a slow pace, yet had more opportunity for his family.
He’s gotten back into counseling since moving to the Valley, especially in the areas of biofeedback and neurofeedback to improve sleep and focus, reduce anxiety and recover from concussions.
His “brain fitness center” is called BrainiGo.
Vision for Comox
Diamond would use his experience in building strategic plans and forming collaborative teams to create a community vision that won’t get steamrolled by out-of-control growth.
He envisions a revitalized downtown core with a walking promenade from a more formalized seafood market on the docks up to Comox Avenue, lined with locally-owned shops and restaurants. He sees an expand marina, perhaps accessible by small cruise ships.
He sees a Granville Island-style public market, a community swimming pool and a safe network of pathways for non-vehicular traffic.
Diamond wants to encourage and attract technology jobs that will draw younger people to the town, and maximize recreational opportunities to keep them here.
“There are already a lot of younger, working families here that are underserved,” he said. “One priority will be to incentivize a wider variety of housing styles and price ranges.”
In Diamond’s vision, Comox not only keeps, but enhances the beauty of its coastline, and retains a small village feel within the downtown area.
The key, he says, is a “vision-led town council, rather than slowing everything down.”
Why mayor, not a council position?
Although he’s not held elected office before, Diamond says the mayor’s role is the right fit for his skill set and the motivation behind his campaign.
“I have a lot of big picture experience and that combined with my leadership and collaborative skills, makes me a better candidate for mayor,” he said. “I want to encourage people to get involved in shaping their town.”
He readily admits that his vision for Comox reaches high and will take time to achieve. But without that kind of thinking, he says the growth that is coming our way will bulldoze us.
“I believe the people want a future by design, not by default,” he said.
Courtenay is growing into a bigger city and Melanie McCollum’s budgetary and finance experience can help guide the city through decisions on transportation and housing that will have long-lasting impacts
Courtenay City Council candidate Melanie McCollum has had a couple of fairly recent “aha” political moments.
The first moment came while knocking on doors in support of David Frisch’s 2014 council campaign, something she was initially reluctant to do.
“It was an eye opener for me that I actually enjoyed the process of talking about issues with people on their doorsteps,” she said.
The second occurred to her in 2016 while sitting through one of many School District 71 board meetings about the controversial proposal to close Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary, which serves the area where she and her family live.
“I asked myself, how have I — as an adult and parent — not attended a school board meeting before?” McCollum said.
Those moments created a thought in the back of her mind of some day running for office, but it did not become an active thought until this year.
“I’ve got space in my life now,” she said. “And the city is entering … growing into an interesting time, and the growth that Courtenay is currently experiencing means that the decisions made by the new council are going to have long-lasting impacts”
McCollum moved to the Comox Valley from Victoria in 2006, originally settling in Union Bay and later moving into Courtenay. She grew up on Gabriola Island with her politically active parents, and worked on a friend’s mother’s MP campaign while in Victoria.
She believes her education background and professional experience could help have a positive impact on the city’s future.
McCollum has a undergraduate degree in geography, focused on urban planning, and a post-degree diploma in accounting. She’s worked for the past 11 years at North Island College, currently as a financial analyst.
She takes a fresh perspective on the city’s status, a way of imagining it that might escape people who have lived here much longer.
“Courtenay is a city in transition,” she says. “From a small city to a bigger city.”
McCollum points to myriad traffic issues and transportation infrastructure needs as evidence that municipal government must recognize this transition-in-progress.
She points out there is no safe route for high school students to ride bicycles from West Courtenay to either G.P Vanier or Mark Isfeld high schools. And once on Lerwick, right-hand bike lanes turn into right-turn lanes, which makes it risky to cycle there.
“Thirteen-year-old kids may want to ride their bikes, and not wait for mom or dad to pick them up, it seems reasonable to provide that as a safe option” she said.
The bus stop on lower Ryan Road, serving a large residential area, causes pedestrians to navigate the most dangerous, and accident-prone stretches of roadways in the city without a sidewalk.
McCollum would like to see bump-out crosswalks, similar to what Robb Road residents petitioned for in Comox, so pedestrians can be more easily seen.
“There’s a political will on transportation infrastructure to prioritize modes other than vehicle traffic,” she said. “We should add these considerations when making infrastructure decisions.”
Bringing transportation infrastructure up to date is “the crux of not being a small town any more,” she said.
McCollum’s other key issue is to create an environment that encourages developers to build a wider variety of housing and to solve the city’s need to create more urban infill density without building tall apartment buildings or sprawl on the edges of town.
She envisions financial incentives to build a style of housing within walking distance to downtown that provides just enough space for a family, includes some outdoor space and doesn’t cost a fortune. She thinking of something like townhouses or row houses, a style in between condo towers and single-family homes.
The “missing middle” housing is a problem that urban planners across North America are grappling with in large and small cities.
McCollum thinks there are council-level actions that could make it profitable for builders to fill this gap. She mentions lower development costs and other incentives to build the right kind of housing in the right locations.
And she notes that greater density living in the core would have a positive impact on downtown businesses.
McCollum said she would help develop housing strategies so that the city was prepared when the federal and provincial governments offer financial supports to solve the nation’s housing problems.
“It’s important to be ready, have a plan, know what we want, so we don’t miss any opportunities,” she said.
The City of Nanaimo recently missed out on a significant grant because council was undecided about supportive housing, which McCollum supports.
McCollum hopes voters will recognize how her budgetary and finance skills can benefit the city, but she also stresses her pragmatic and calm approach to issues.
“I don’t have to agree with someone to have an interesting conversation,” she said. “That’s how you get to good decision-making.”
And she’s quick to point out that the city should have more than one female voice on a council of seven members.