By Roy L Hales
Cortes Islanders will choose their next regional Director on October 20, 2018. There is a sense in which both candidates are seeking re-election. George Sirk was our representative from 1996 until 2005. Our current director, Noba Anderson, has been in office since 2008. In the first of two interviews with the candidates, I ask why re-elect Noba Anderson as our Regional Director?
“The most important issue that I want to put to a free elective is housing. I’ve dedicated … my maternity leave year to housing and we’ve moved mountains, in a way that I have never really seen Cortes move before. We’ve raised over a million dollars and bought fifty acres of land [for the Cortes Community Housing Project],” says Noba.
Last week the Housing Committee submitted an application to BC Housing for the funding that will make it possible to build four more units in the senior’s village and twenty units in the new community housing land.
THE SRD’S BIGGEST INCOME GAP
A study conducted by the Strathcona Regional Health Network found that Cortes has the biggest income gap, between people’s income and ability to fund housing, in the whole district. It also has lowest amount for available housing stock.
“There are so many people here, who have been here for a very long time, dedicated their life of service to this community and are really struggling to be here. Costs are being driven upwards, people are increasingly seasonally homeless. I’ve know some people who moved every year for the 20 – 25 years they’ve been here … The personal instability that comes with that is untenable.”
She adds, “I did it for a few years … I was raised here as a kid, but when I moved back about fifteen years ago, I moved around every year for a few years and couldn’t handle it so I bought a motor home … I didn’t want to pack my stuff up and move two or three time a year.”
“Housing is not only a real social crises here, but it is also the biggest impediment to economic opportunity … speaking more and more with the various businesses on the island, they can’t hire their full staff compliment because there is no way for them to live.”
CORTES NEEDS A STRONG ADVOCATE
“… I believe you are really going to need a strong advocate in the seat of Regional Director in order to move on housing issues, because everything housing related comes back to zoning. Whether its the fifty acres in Manson’s Landing, … housing initiatives owned by the common, or other housing initiatives that private enterprises want to do, it will ultimately/absolutely be up to the community to decide through public hearing process. But you are going to need a strong advocate within the regional district to advocate at the board and with support staff to go through the process for rezoning.”
NOBA’S 10 PAST TEN YEARS
So what has Noba accomplished during her past 10 years in office?
“I think the most profound contribution I’ve made is shifting the role of Regional Director from one that is largely a representational role, where my past colleagues have mostly gone to [Campbell River] and represented Cortes at the Regional Board, to one that is very much more community engaging. I see the role as a social license to convene conversations that would not otherwise happen.”
Example #1: The Strathcona Regional District wants to encourage tourism, so Noba brought the local tourist operators together to see if this was something Cortes Islanders want to do. This led to the formation of the Cortes Island Business and Tourism Association (CIBATA)<
“I spent quite a few years incubating and facilitating the initial meetings … [CIBATA] is now shifting its attention away from tourism as a primary focus and is now shifting its attention to becoming an economic development activator, which I think is a very exciting space to be in. Thinking big picture, long term …”
Example #2: Noba brought together the people in the Community Foundation and “ … out of the Community Foundation came the Housing Committee and then we then approached the Cortes Island Senior’s Society to partner with us and be the umbrella organization to do the community housing project.”
Example #3: Noba is also behind Cortes Island Transportation Committee, which carried out the 2017 study on Cortes’ transportation habits and needs,, and also helped find a home for it with Friends of Cortes Island [FOCI].
Example 4: The Senior’s health action team:
“I pulled together a group of people who are interested in senior’s health in a more comprehensive and integrated way – nurses, people who are interested in death and dying, people who work with elderly, community paramedics, the doctor’s team. It is a really high calibre group. They have only met a half dozen times. It is super new and there has just been a couple of notes on Tideline about them. They are interested in [subjects like] more dementia awareness and how we can be holding death cafes, talking about the inevitable that all of us will face … How to do that with greater ease, greater dignity and greater celebration.”
Example 5: Whaletown Commons:
“Whaletown Commons Park would not have happened without my leadership. We had to put money away for many years, in the park’s acquisition reserve, to make that purchase possible. It is 70 acres in the middle of three neighbourhoods in Whaletown that connect people through walking trails, but also protect the salmon creek and a beautiful little green space.”
Example 6: Hanks Beach Forest Conservation Park – the 153 acre park, on the southeast shore of Cortes, was made possible through a private donation and brought into the Strathcona Regional District’s park system by Noba.
“You needed someone in office to really believe in parks and advocate for them on the board level.”
Example 7: The Recycling Centre rebuild – “I don’t know if anyone was here ten years ago or more, there was this beyond rickety little recycling shed that I do not know how it did not fall down on people. So [I have been] advocating to do a rebuild of the whole recycling centre there.”
Example 8: The Fund Raising Hub
“Sandra Wood and I worked together really early in my term of office, eight or so years ago. Through some initial grant-in-aid support and with the support of the non-profits, she created the fund raising hub. A lot of the non-profits did not have the personal or experience to fund raise in a meaningful way and that is Sandra’s passion. She is really great at grant writing and trained a number of other people, signed up to a grant database that all the non-profits have access to, and raised a lot of funds for the community.”
- Marijuana – “There are places where we just need more community input. For instance on marijuana production and sale. Next month marijuana production is going to be legal, provincially and federally, but we do not permit growing it in our zoning bylaw … So it the current draft it speaks to just allowing personal medical use and production – but there are a lot of people who have spent a lifetime developing the skill to grow marijuana. We are known the world over for our craft oysters, well the truth is we are also known the world over for our craft dope – but because it has been this underground economy we don’t talk about it … We need to have a serious conversation in the community about where we permit marijuana’s production and sale.”
- Short Term Vacation Rentals – “have never been [legally] permitted, well that doesn’t work here. It is a huge piece of the economy. We did an economic study here on Cortes and it showed that about a third on the income on the island was from people renting out their property; A third came from wages; and a third came from pensions or government assistance of some kind. It is completely absurd to have vacation rentals as an illegal activity. The question we need to grapple with is shall we have it unconditionally permissible everywhere? Or is there an opportunity to leverage its permissibility to help with the housing stock affordability issue?”
WHY RE-ELECT NOBA ANDERSON?
“I’ve worked really hard to redefine the role of Regional Director. it is no longer a passive position where the Director attends meetings in town. I would really love whoever is in this role going forward in time, to continue that legacy of having it be a role of community organizing. I offer people an active, engaged, passionate, committed community organizing role. I am devoted to this community and I really am your Cortes advocate, both internally and to outside agencies.
“Over the past ten years, I have worked really hard on a number of fronts that are ready for action now. We have a economic action plan; a transportation plan; this new birthed housing initiative. They are all at this precipice where they are going to need continued advocacy within the role of Regional Director to see something come of all these years of planning and prep work. I would really love another four years to take a lot of that hard work into a place of action.”
“You know me. I stand in my truth. I believe I have a lot of integrity and ultimately, I am dedicated to community service.”
(There is more, including a personal message for Noba’s supporters, in the podcast.)
Top photo credit: From the Cortes Community Housing Development in Manson’s Landing – Priya Huffman photo
Next week on the ECOreport: Why re-elect George Sirk as Cortes Island’s Regional Director?