A self-described former ski and mountain biking bum with a degree in chemical engineering, is challenging incumbent Leslie Baird for the Cumberland mayor’s chair
Eduardo Uranga is running for mayor of Cumberland because he believes the current mayor and council have failed the village.
“I believe that the current administration is not serving the residents of Cumberland, and me in particular, and there is complete chaos on how our tax dollars are spent, too much debt, too large expense accounts, too large payroll, too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” he told Decafnation via email.
Uranga said the lack of action by incumbent Mayor Leslie Baird is making the village “a very inhospitable place.”
He says the village’s wastewater management plan, devised with consultant Paul Nash, doesn’t provide a solution that will comply with the Ministry of Environment regulations. He says the village’s recent upgrades to its drinking water system is “a waste of money and totally unnecessary.”
And although Mayor Baird voted with council to ban all wood burning devices in new construction, Uranga accuses her of denying there is an air quality problem.
Uranga said if he’s elected he would have a “lagoon-less, self-contained sewer treatment plant … in operation and in compliance by the end of 2019.” Plus, he said, village taxes would be lower.
Uranga, who was born in Mexico City in 1954 and came to Canada in 1982, says he has “been connected to the Comox Valley for 37 years.”
He has a degree in chemical engineering. He’s worked for Club Med, was a self-described ski bum for nine years in Colorado, Austria and Whistler, and a mountain biking bum for four years in Squamish. He says he’s had “many professional experiences.”
He describes himself as a “climate change warrior” who was once homeless and has a “Ruth Masters degree in shit disturbing.”
“I am committed to working on behalf of all residents of Cumberland. I will take the directions indicated by the majority after the priorities are established by the community in a referendum for major decisions and surveys when opinions are appropriate,” he said.
The mundane decisions that comprise most of an elected official’s term in office reveal little about their values or principles. It’s the pressure-cooker moments that reveal a person’s true colors
Not everyone possesses the characteristics to become widely regarded as an effective elected official. Although, surely, every incumbent or candidate believes they do.
The problem is defining those treasured human qualities. We all have our political perspectives; what we’re in favor of, what we’re against; what we want more of, what we want less.
In a community as philosophically diverse as the Comox Valley, only a saint could distill our collective community values down to a few purely non-political human virtues.
And so, like art, the public just knows a ‘good’ councillor, mayor or school trustee when they see one.
But the occasions to ‘see’ the defining aspects of elected officials occur infrequently in local government. We usually learn nothing about elected officials when they decide issues of minor consequence: which streets to pave or whether to support a festival.
It’s when the polarizing, highly controversial issues arise that elected officials reveal themselves. Will they be like firemen or law enforcement officers who run toward the trouble to help people, or will they retreat? When panic and anxiety strike, will they refuse to succumb and, like the pilot Scully, cooly and calmly steer us to safety?
It’s in the pressure-cooker of those difficult moments that we really see a person’s true colors.
This week’s Comox Valley Regional District board meeting thrust 10 Comox Valley elected officials into a high-stress and fast-moving situation. Did it provide the public with moments of clarity about the directors at the table?
At stake was a critical point in the decade-long controversy over amending the Regional Growth Strategy for the benefit of a single developer, and the crux came in the final weeks of an hotly-contested election campaign.
RELATED STORY: With much drama, CVRD denies 3L Developments
Three candidates for the mayor of Courtenay sat at the table, and all but three of the 10 directors who would ultimately vote in this charged atmosphere were running for election.
The 3L Developments’ application was ready for first reading. Directors had reports from its Technical Advisory and Steering committees and a staff recommendation to deny the application, which was considered before first reading occurred. They could choose to either move it along and continue public consultations through first, second and third readings, or deny it based on the consultations they had already completed. By a 6-4 vote, those chose the latter.
So, how did our elected officials conduct themselves at this meeting? Here’s a director-by-director accounting from our notebook. You be the judge.
The incumbent City of Courtenay mayor began by questioning the accuracy of the committees’ assessment of available housing in order to suggest 3L’s 1,000-plus houses were needed. He said the demand for housing was greater than staff had predicted, and that he had seen on social media “somewhere” that more than 6,000 people were currently seeking rentals in the Valley. Later on, he suggested a petition signed by about 1,500 people opposed to 3L Developments wasn’t representative of public opinion. He suggested we “petition all the people in the regional district.”
The Courtenay councillor running for mayor stuck to a single message throughout the entire proceedings. He said the CVRD was “not complying” with the court order to fully consider 3L’s application if it voted to deny the application before it went to first reading. He wanted to postpone a vote or extend 3L’s application and continue the consultation process and hold a public hearing. He said to decide 3L’s fate now was “disingenuous.”
Eriksson said it also created a personally awkward situation. He said every director has friends who are either for or against the 3L development. “We’re being asked which group of our friends to make happy.” And, he said because the vote was coming during an election campaign, directors were likely to decide on the basis of “what would get us the most votes.”
Before the vote, Eriksson said “This is wrong. It’s not honorable.” He positioned himself with Larry Jangula, Ken Grant and Mano Theos on this issue.
The Courtenay councillor running for mayor questioned a 3L spokesperson about their conversations with the K’omoks First Nation, which the company had mischaracterized and later apologized. After a presentation by a 3L spokesperson, Wells expressed concern that the debate had turned toward criticism of the Regional Growth Strategy, which resulted from a long community-wide process.
Wells said the staff had done a good job of presenting the facts in a clear way. And in response to certain directors, Wells said both 3L and the CVRD directors knew from a flow chart they had all seen at the beginning of the application review process that “the application could be denied at first reading. Unless someone was not paying attention.”
Prior to casting his vote, Wells said many of the arguments heard at the meeting had focused on issues beyond the single application that was before them, and pertained more to a review of the RGS that should take place in a less high-stakes environment. He said his gut was telling him that a future and fulsome discussion was needed on how the RGS was structured, but that it was a separate issue from the 3L application.
The incumbent Comox Councillor seeking re-election said it was unfortunate that first reading came up during an election cycle, and he alluded to “a lot of misinformation” on social media. He said if the board didn’t postpone the vote before first reading it would have only given “lip service” to the idea of adequate consultation. He said the CVRD was setting itself up for another court action by 3L.
The incumbent Courtenay councillor seeking re-election said directors had to do “what’s best” for the community. But he added, “We don’t know what’s best.” He said directors would get more benefit from postponing the vote and gathering more information because “clarity is so critical.”
The incumbent Cumberland councillor seeking re-election noted 3L’s flip-flop on timing. Sproule noted that 3L had asked for an expedited process. But now, she said, in hindsight, they aren’t so happy and wanted more time.
The incumbent Area B director seeking re-election said 3L couldn’t claim their application had received an unfair process. He had kept an open mind, but had made a decision “at this meeting,” and he said it’s time to “get it done.”
Scoville is an alternate director for Area C and, like Barbara Price of Comox and Bruce Joliffe of Area A, he is not seeking election to any public office this year. He was the first director to separate first reading of 3L’s application to amend the RGS from any potential desire to review and update the RGS, which he noted was a much more complex and public process.
He acknowledged the application process can be frustrating, “especially when you have money on the line.” He said no directors want to ignore 3L’s promise of a large park at Stotan Falls, but “it would be nice not to have to decide the issue on that basis.” Scoville praised the thoroughness of the committee reports and said postponing first reading to gather more info by “piggy-backing” on a private owners’ studies was not a good idea.
Scoville said he thought postponing first reading would be a waste of time and money for all concerned “just to come to the same result.” He said it’s better to say no now, “and take it on the chin.”
Kiyoshi Kosky, the Courtenay City Council candidate from Cortes Island with the Japanese first name, says we could learn a lot from First Nations culture, and about affordable housing from Whistler, BC
To describe his view of local government, Kiyoshi Kosky looks to Section 7(d) of the Community Charter, a provincial act that defines the purposes, powers and governance of municipalities.
“It says the purposes of the city are to foster the economic, social and environmental well-being of the community,” he told Decafnation. “And that’s what I’m focused on.”
Kosky uses the Kus-kus-sum restoration project as a prime example.
He says returning the old sawmill site to its natural habitat, which will widen the river at that point, will provide an economic benefit to the city through flood mitigation. Rehabilitating a key section of the productive K’omoks estuary will provide environmental benefits.
And all of the above, plus removing an eyesore with walkable trails, will create social opportunities and improve our quality of life.
That section of the Community Charter has inspired Kosky to run for Courtenay City Council, and would guide his decision-making as a councillor.
“We need to keep our community values in mind, so that we don’t make decisions in isolation,” he said.
FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page
Kosky moved to the Comox Valley two years ago from Pemberton, where he worked for 10 years as a education assistant, supporting students in K-12 with a wide range of abilities, including autism. He is now working on a BA degree in social work at North Island College.
He is passionate about using the Whistler Housing Authority model to create more affordable housing in Courtenay. He envisions the city using its housing reserve fund to leverage loans and build affordable units that would pay off the debt through rental income, and ultimately provide a revenue stream for the municipality.
Kosky has proposed the idea in conjunction with other plans to revitalize downtown Courtenay at the former Thrifty’s Foods site. His plan includes converting the former grocery store into a technology hub to attract new business, an arts hub and and a large farmer’s market.
Kosky is also promoting more off-leash dog parks. He has a number of environmental issues including the banning of single-use plastic bags and phasing out wood stoves, the prime cause of concern about the region’s air quality.
Kosky, whose mother was enthralled with Japanese culture when he was born (hence his first name, Kiyoshi), is himself impressed by the culture of First Nations people.
“First Nations culture gives us the experience of a different way to live,” he said. “It shows us how to take care of each other and the environment and not compromise our children’s future.”
Kosky was raised on Cortes Island in close contact with First Nation communities.
“My mom appreciated the teachings of First Nations culture. She had a high respect for it,” he said.
At the school he attended on Cortes, if there was an issue, all the children sat in a circle and talked it out.
“We were taught how to resolve problems,” he said.
Kosky describes himself as person with a strong work ethic, who would do the homework required of a councillor. In addition to his perseverance and determination, Kosky says his interpersonal skills could be an asset on council.
“I have a positive regard for other people. I listen actively and I’m collaborative,” he said.
Kosky has previously sought office in Pemberton and sought the NDP nomination for the Courtenay-Comox riding in the 2017 provincial election.
Over five terms on Cumberland Council, Gwyn Sproule has shifted her agenda from saving trees to growing the village’s commercial base with light, green industries along Bevan Road. And she wants to see the wastewater treatment project to completion
What does an immigrant from England with a degree in Greek and Latin who became a hippie tree planter in British Columbia 42 years ago do for an encore after nearly two decades on the Cumberland Village Council?
For Gwyn Sproule, her agenda for a sixth term on council is quite a bit more pragmatic than it used to be.
“I was all about saving trees in the early days,” she told Decafnation. “My goal now is all about diversifying the village’s tax base, mainly attracting light industry and creating jobs.”
The village budget relies heavily on residential property taxes, so a recent building boom in the Coal Valley Estates subdivision has helped village finances. But Sproule says commercial development is needed for long-term balanced growth.
She hopes to promote light, green industries for some lands along Bevan Road that are already properly zoned. Hancock Timber Resource Group owns the properties.
And Sproule recently learned that funds are available for infrastructure and technology projects from the BC Commission of Innovation. She hopes the village can use those funds to help attract high-tech companies.
“It’s galling to me that young people have to go away to get jobs,” she said. “Vancouver Island is well placed to develop its own economy in green industries. We could create real jobs, with living wages.”
FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page
Cumberland also holds the first option on methane gas from the nearby landfill, which Fortis would capture and refine. The village could then use the gas as a power source for some of that light industry, or sell it as fuel for buses and trucks.
The village already has two small industrial areas closer to its downtown and next to residential areas.
One of those, along Royston Road, is home to the Muchalat Group that builds modular homes. They are currently building 30 self-contained housing units and five shelter spaces for the City of Port Alberni at an estimated cost to the province of $7.4 million.
Sproule was the driving force and co-founder of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. She lives along the forest lands and would invite the new forester to tea every time the property changed hands — Dunsmuir then Weldwood then Hancock — which is how she got the inside information about their logging plans.
“I was a troublemaker in my early days. I really believed I could take on everything,” she said.
She recalls the first fundraiser for the society was a plant sale and dance at the Elks Club.
Sproule also served on the original board of the Comox Valley Lands Trust.
But the candidate also has other objectives for her next term that include continuing to develop the village’s safe walk-bike network. She’s happy to have the water treatment project completed and hopes to see the wastewater project through to a similarly successful conclusion.
And she continues to work on her most personal project: keeping alive the memories of Cumberland’s industrial days, its coal mines.
She has recorded hours of interviews on audio tape with the village’s oldtimers and miners before they passed on.
“We need to keep our history alive. It’s the reason why Cumberland exists,” she said.
She regularly speaks to groups and teaches classes on the history of the mines and Chinatown. She does walking tours of the mine sites, and advocates for the preservation of the last remaining concrete structures marking the mine entrances.
Sproule taught primary school in England before moving to Canada in 1976 to live in an old gold mine shack and plant trees in the Cariboo where she met the camp cook, her future husband. She moved to Cumberland two years later.
Her first visit to Cumberland was to attend the Renaissance Faire in 1978.
Sproule’s history of settling on Vancouver Island in the 1970s is one of the stories in the new anthology Dancing in Gumboots, just released by Caitlin Press Inc.
With tension thick in the boardroom, with accusations of lies and corruption, slander flying back and forth, and despite 3L Developments’ last-minute tactic through Mano Theos to salvage their Riverwood subdivision, the application to amend the Regional Growth Strategy failed on a 6-4 vote
Tomorrow: In moments of high drama, directors reveal themselves
It took a dramatic three-hour board meeting fraught with accusations of lies, corruption and slander, unruly citizens standing and shouting from the gallery, several points of order and a last-minute, desperate power play, but the Comox Valley Regional District finally denied, with a 6-4 vote, an application by 3L Developments to amend the Regional Growth Strategy in their favor.
The tension was already thick in the cramped CVRD boardroom when Kathleen Pitt stepped to the podium to speak in favor of the 3L application, and then her animosity toward the board took the atmosphere to a whole other level.
Pitt attacked the board for fumbling 3L’s bid to build about 1,000 houses in the Puntledge River triangle, near Stotan Falls, suggesting there were “back room deals” and said directors told “lies” and insinuated widespread “corruption” at the CVRD.
When Pitt referenced a human rights violation by a director not at the board table, Cumberland Director Gwyn Sproule called for a “point of order,” suggesting the comments crossed over into slander. Area A Director and Board Chair Bruce Joliffe paused the meeting and Pitt eventually apologized.
But the dramatics were just getting underway.
Speaking against the 3L application, Lisa Christensen accused 3L of bullying and other nefarious tactics to force the CVRD into approving their Riverwood subdivision. That caused a man in the gallery to stand, point at the speaker and shout, “This isn’t slander?”
Joliffe stopped the meeting again to tell everyone to “calm down.” The man grabbed his coat and left the room, and not long after that Pitt also left with other 3L supporters.
The board eventually got down to business and the gallery quieted down, temporarily.
On the table were reports from the CVRD Technical Advisory Committee and the 3L Steering Committee that both recommended the board deny the 3L application at first reading. You can read the reports here or here.
But 3L had also asked the board to postpone first reading and extend the timeframe for considering their application by around six months. Company spokesperson Mark Holland said the company had applied in 2014 when certain studies on traffic and environmental concerns weren’t required as they are in 2017. 3L has not completed these studies.
That’s when Alternate Area C Director Curtis Scoville brought a sharp focus to the board discussion.
Scoville said it sounded like the board was discussing two separate issues: one, the application by 3L to amend the RGS to create a new settlement node; and, two, a desire by some directors to review and update the RGS.
“Shouldn’t we treat these two separately?” he asked.
Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s Manager of Planning Services, responded that the key difference between Scoville’s two issues was that an RGS document would be reviewed when the board felt key principles were no longer valid, that it’s goals weren’t current or that the community no longer shared a value expressed in the RGS.
But, she said, the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy is the only RGS in the province that allows applications for amendment from a private third party, such as 3L. In the other regional districts, only a member municipality — for example, Comox, Cumberland or Courtenay — could apply to amend an RGS.
Comox Director Barbara Price then made a motion to approve the staff recommendation to deny the 3L application.
But before the board finishing discussing the motion and called for a vote, Courtenay Director Mano Theos suddenly announced he had “new information from the applicant.”
That surprised everyone because it was the first indication from Theos that he had such information. He was seated directly in front of the 3L owner and representatives, about three feet away.
Theos asked the board to allow 3L spokesperson Mark Holland, a Vancouver urban planner hired by the company just days before the meeting, to speak.
Holland told the board that if it proceeded to a vote on first reading, as per Price’s motion, without first considering 3L’s request for a postponement and extension, then 3L would withdraw its application entirely. He said the company didn’t want to be judged on 2017 requirements when they had applied in 2014.
The gallery, which by that time comprised mostly 3L opponents, rose back to life with rumblings of delight: “Perfect, withdraw,” and “exactly what we want.”
After much more discussion, Erik Eriksson voted with Larry Jangula, Mano Theos and Ken Grant to oppose the motion, but the six other directors voted in favor.
3L Developments can still reapply to amend the RGS, but they have a narrow window to do so.
The CVRD is itself in the process of amending the Regional Growth Strategy to no longer allow private party applications to amend the document. That will bring the Valley’s RGS in line with the province’s other regional districts.
That amendment could pass as early as next month.