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NOTE:   A Vote of Council on Nov. 7/16  https://gerdapeacheysviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/justice-denied/

From: Gerda Peachey <gerdapeachey@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 9:48 PM
Subject: Abuse of public office in Abbotsford
To: pross <Pross@abbotsford.ca>, “systems@ombudsman.bc.ca” <systems@ombudsman.bc.ca>, Conflict of Interest <conflictofinterest@coibc.ca>, Henry Braun <hbraun@abbotsford.ca>, George Murray <gmurray@abbotsford.ca>, rsiemens@abbotsford.ca, lbarkman <Lbarkman@abbotsford.ca>, mgill <Mgill@abbotsford.ca>, Brenda Falk <bfalk@abbotsford.ca>, “Dave Loewen (Councillor)” <dfloewen@abbotsford.ca>, Kelly Chahal <kchahal@abbotsford.ca>, Sandy Blue <sblue@abbotsford.ca>, imacdonald@abbypd.ca

Dear Premier Clark:

Yesterday someone from the Ombudsman’s office called.  Essentially she seemed to be saying that in order for their office to investigate how Land Use Contracts are dealt with at the local government level, I would need to be personally aggrieved, or negatively impacted.

Well that is the simple part.  As I’ve pointed out this current system of notifying affected property owners, about proposed by-law changes, is woefully inadequate, I have made myself a target for the wrath of City Hall, particularly Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun and councillor Ross Siemens.  The whole business of bringing the year 2024 suddenly to my community in July of 2016 certainly has had lots of impact in my life and potentially big impacts for the future of everyone who lives in our unique bit of Abbotsford,….. mobiles on our own land.

The city manager, George Murray, sent me a letter which illustrates my point, about inadequate notice time being given to the public about by-law changes.  The date on his letter is Oct. 26th, the postmark on the envelope is Oct. 27th and the letter arrived in our box on Oct. 31st.  The Ombudsman’s office says that the City is within its Provincial mandate when it has first and second reading on a given Monday, about a development proposal, then grant a Public Hearing for the Monday two weeks away, then drop a post card in the mail on the Tuesday to let neighbours within 100 metres know about a development that might have radical implications for them.

We know now for certain that those cards arrive at staggered dates. So using my letter from Mr. Murray as an example, if the 26th had been the Tuesday, after a Council meeting, that mail would have arrived at my home the following Monday.  My mail arrives about 2 or 3 Pm.  So now five business days to prepare for a rezoning hearing.  Five business days to learn about and possibly try to act on a proposal that may profoundly impact on my property value and quality of life.

If the City does everything right — which in our situation was not the case — then a rezoning sign will be put on the subject property before the matter comes to Council for first and second Reading, and there will be announcements in the local newspaper. That news will first appear on a Friday six business days before the Monday Hearing.

Six business days is well below a standard two-week vacation time.  There are thousands of lucrative land deals coming up for LUC discharge all across BC, and local governments can claim, as Abbotsford does, that these paltry few days are adequate notice for the public to know about possibly huge bylaw amendments to the land around them.  In my neighbourhood people went on holidays and came home to become aware of a Hearing date that had already passed. Thankfully for us, that first Hearing did not work out as the City had intended,….. because one man in our community pointed out the illegality of their voting on a zoning change minus a re-zoning sign on the subject property, which was required by City by-law.

Ordinary working people spend the biggest part of their life’s wages on the purchase of a home — unlike the land speculators who seem to have bulging pockets to scoop up affordable housing.  Here I am speaking of the impact your guidelines have on our home and neighbourhood.  You need to change the notice time for ordinary, hard-working, tax-paying citizens.  To make significant changes within LESS THAN the span of a tax-payers two-week holiday is immoral.  How can you who govern BC think it is fine to alter the lay of the land for decent people, while they’re enjoying their well-deserved vacation, after first working and paying taxes to fund government wages and benefits?

This system obviously favours those who make the rules, decide on bylaw amendments and have insider information, long, long before neighbours are given a chance to be aware of proposed developments.

 Right now the notification ensures a disadvantage to landowners.  There are millions to be made on real estate.  Why this disdain for the general public, on so critical a matter?

Saying that a notification of ten business days — or LESS — is good enough for the people who pay for government, is a betrayal of the public trust.

You elected politicians, and civil servants must never lose sight of the wonderful concept inherent in our democratic system of government, ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’  Canada is a beacon in the world, please keep us that way.

Treating affected land-owners as if they are not worthy of sufficient time to hear about,…..inform and engage themselves, when significant zoning changes are proposed,……. is shameful.

But being made aware of this absurd brevity of time, to date all response from officials has been that they are operating within the Provincial guidelines.

So the Provincial guidelines have to change.

Minister of Finance, Mike de Jong is a powerful elected official who was part of the legislative decision to enact Bill 17, the decision to remove all LUCs in BC by 2024.  I know it is perfectly legal to buy and sell property, but Minister de Jong happens to perfectly illustrates the point that  changes to a community must never happen without adequate notification time to affected neighbourhoods.  Mike has been involved in the real estate market in my own neighbourhood, and I challenge you to take a clear look at this flawed system that opens wide the possibility for corrupt activity by government insiders.  Mike’s name was invoked by the developer who wants to be the first to alter the LUCs that have protected our community for 44 years.

In their determination to finish what they began very badly, both mayor Henry Braun and councillor Ross Siemens have stooped to shameful lows.  Both men misused the power of their elected office in an attempt to slander my name.

In my absence they engaged in cheap, unsubstantiated accusations, during a public council meeting.  They did not use my name, but there was no doubt at all as to the object of their attack.

The Mayor accused me of causing “angst” and “fear” with two letters I wrote to my community.  Most all of my communication to my neighbours also went to City Hall.  My letters are freely accessible on my blog.  https://gerdapeacheysviews.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/letter-to-my-neighbours/

Ross Siemens calls alerting neighbours about the swift and almost silent plan, of July 11th, with potentially significant impact to 195 properties,  “stirring up the neighbourhood”.   City Hall obviously preferred the swift and silent method.

Ross Siemens calls straightforward, factual observations about signs that do not align with the City’s own website information, “making accusations”, and this about an issue that no one on Council or staff seemed to understand themselves, let alone us in the outside ‘public’.

These men accuse me of “spreading misinformation” and “misleading the neighbourhood”   I’ve asked them repeatedly to write down exactly what it is that I’m misinforming people about, but there is nothing, neither in print, nor in the Council proceedings, do these men spell out what they insinuate so publicly.    These slanderous attacks on my name and character were done Oct 3rd at a Regular Council Meeting, knowing full well that I was not present, nor did they invite me to come and hear them make their sneaky, cowardly attacks.

Here I will state that Ross is using his position to take revenge. I opposed the slate of AbbotsfordFirst precisely because the slate of five had as their star candidate a man whose central claim was based on gross “misinformation”.  Ross knew about the dubious nature of this man, but Ross saw the slate as his path to power, and he cast his lot in with the known fraud anyway.  https://gerdapeacheysviews.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/alf-wall-bruce-konrad-gerry-swan-menno-froese-and-the-rest-of-you-advisors/

On November 9, 2014, I asked this question:  “If Dimanno and/or Siemens, Falk, Blue, Chahal should engage in unscrupulous activity, misusing the power of a city councillor, would you, as their behind-the-scenes Advisors, quietly countenance that too? Does the slate of 5  matter more than the good of 140,000 residents?”

Well the chickens have come home to roost, and Ross Siemens is indeed misusing the power of the office of City Councillor.

So I ask that you send senior officials to investigate the abuse of the power invested in the office of mayor and councillors.  But please do not lose sight of the far bigger picture that the number of days notice given to tax-paying people about matters of huge importance to their lives, is an insult to them, and a grave invitation for the abuse of the power and privilege invested in those whose job it is to protect and serve the trusting public.

George Murray’s letter to me is obviously a sop to someone in the senior government, because he makes statements that are brazenly untrue.  One that I accused the City of misinformation, but as you can see, below,  it is the City that accuses me.  Two Mr. Murray says Ross Siemens responded to my concerns about his public slander of my name.  That is a bald-faced lie!  Three, Mr. Murray says he has never blocked my emails, and that “in future, if you wish a specific response from me”,…… I should send my emails directly to him.  I have done that and asked for specific answers regarding what assurance my community has if and when the LUC is removed as the zoning which is currently proposed emphatically does not allow for mobiles or modulars.  I have asked many times for clarity on this ‘grandfathering’ question, ….. and neither Mr. Murray, nor anyone at City Hall has written to resolve this.  Mayor Braun has vaguely referenced this most important question, and did so again, (see below.)  If there is no guarantee given to those who want to go on living in their mobile/modulars, on the land they bought in good faith, based on known Provincial Land Use Contracts, then, changing the zoning of the land may very well be used as a tool to take the land away from current owners.  I hope this is not remotely so, but the persistent silence of Mayor and Councillors and staff does not give me reason to trust them.

My husband Richard has after attempting to have Mayor Braun and Councillor Siemens apologize publicly, twice asked to be a delegation to Council, which Mayor Braun denied.  Richard appealed that and last night Council voted to deny him the right to challenge what they said publicly about me, behind my back, in a setting that would not have allowed for a rebuttal from me, even if I had been present.

How is it possible to deny someone the right to address something so egregiously, clearly an abuse of the office of Mayor and Councillors? 

Mayor Braun does not like that I started this by asking for the LUC process to be above board, open, transparent and beyond any hint of insider/influence peddling.  We’ve come so far down a road of lies and cover-up.   I started by asking for a process that allowed for no hint of corruption in land transactions worth millions to speculators. 

To be a delegate for a 10 minute presentation to Council would entail an application that MUST be at City Hall TEN DAYS prior to that date. 

The City gives itself 30 BUSINESS days to process Freedom of Information requests, often giving itself another 30 day extension. 

But the announcement about a Public Hearing that can  radically change the lives of surrounding neighbourhoods is treated with a dismissive, shrug.  The City says you, the Province, only require them to send a post-card a minimum of ten calendar days, and whether, or not that arrives in a diminishing to zero days is of no concern to them. 

The Ombudsman’s office agrees that merely dropping a card in the mail is fulfilling the mandate.  The public has no value in the eyes of government then.  This is stunning indifference to the public and clear benefit to speculators in the know.  And now I’m beginning to think of it as beyond mere carelessness.  

Premier Clark, please send investigators into Abbotsford.   

Gerda Peachey

Here are RICHARD’S notes:  

based on my recollection of my meeting today with Henry Braun. If anything else comes to mind, I will supplement this.

Henry Braun, mayor

mayor@abbotsford.ca

In-person discussion at City Hall, Thurs., Nov. 3, 2016

Henry said he didn’t do well in school, he’s not that good in English, and everyone on the 5th floor knows it. At Council meetings, he doesn’t bring notes, he speaks off the top of his head, he might make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. He told me I’m fixated on small things while he’s looking at the big picture.

Henry tried to deny that when he used the word “misinformation” he was referring to the sticker issue, but I showed him his actual words in the transcript of the Oct. 3 Regular Council meeting. Then he physically took the transcript I was pointing to, picked it up and turned it over, face down. To me this was a very graphic display of his evasiveness. He clearly did not want to be held to account for the things he says in Council meetings. He told me he has never listened to any video of a Council meeting in the five years he’s been on Council.

When I pointed to the document on the City website that indicated a sticker requirement, Henry said someone on staff had posted that, implying that the document wasn’t that significant. (But he admitted it was on the website prior to the Sept. 12 public hearing.) When I told him two people from planning had told me stickers will now be required on new rezoning signs, he said there are 900 people working at City Hall, and you get different answers depending on who you ask a question.

Henry indicated he would not apologize to Gerda regarding his statements about her on Oct. 3, and took no responsibility for the things said by Ross Siemens or George Murray. (Ross Siemens has refused to meet with me. George Murray has not responded to my recent emails, even though I sent them to him individually and asked him for specificdirect responses.)

In my meeting yesterday with Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun, he said (to the best of my recollection):

With regard to the issue of “grandfathering” in our area, i.e., guaranteeing that an owner whose modular home is burnt could replace it with another modular home even if the zoning has changed . . . the City cannot commit in writing to “grandfathering” because some insurance companies may have stipulations in their policies that they will not pay for the replacement of a modular home if such a home would not comply with the City’s current zoning for that area.

 Transcript from Regular Council Meeting, Abbotsford, BC

Monday evening, October 3, 2016

Comments on Bylaw No. 2623-2016 and 2552-2016

Mayor Henry Braun: “… that of a sticker that had not been placed on the sign. The only other person that spoke to this bylaw was a half-owner of the property in question who spoke in support of the Land Use Contract discharge, and stated that he did not believe that there was a sticker requirement for the sign regarding a Public Hearing. So with regard to this sticker, could staff inform Council as to whether or not there is a sticker requirement for the sign regarding the Public Hearing. I don’t know who wants to take that on or not.”

City Manager George Murray: “I’ll jump in, your worship. Currently there’s no requirement for a sticker on the sign to deal with a Public Hearing. That was discussed at one of our committee meetings as a future potential proposal, but it is not currently in the Development Applications Procedures Bylaw.”

Mayor Henry Braun: “All right, thank you. That clears that up. I would also, just for the viewing public and those who were at the Public Hearing, just point out that there is actually no provincial legislative requirement to place a sign. However: in Abbotsford, in an effort to be open and transparent, our Council Procedure Bylaw requires that a sign be placed, but it is a self-imposed Council requirement, and I won’t belabour the first Public Hearing. That did not happen. I think our staff explained what happened, and so conversely that, or as a result of that, the Public Hearing item was pulled from the first Public Hearing and then was subsequently placed on the subsequent Public Hearing, and there was no meetings as some have alleged that somehow there was meetings going on. So I just wanted to make that plain. Under normal circumstances I would be voting in favour of this Land Use Contract discharge for a number of reasons. The one objection that was raised was based on misinformation that a sticker was required on the sign regarding the Public Hearing. Secondly, Land Use Contract discharges have occurred fairly regularly in my almost now five years on Council. The discharge of Land Use Contract is not something that just appeared as some alleged. Discharges have been happening for many years as residents make application. Every property owner has a legal right to request a rezoning or a discharge of a Land Use Contract. That doesn’t mean that we will do it, but they have a right as a property owner to ask. However: It appears to me that we have a situation with this bylaw and the next one that is similar to a report that Council dealt with earlier today at Executive Council meeting regarding properties located at Duncan Avenue, Sunvalley Crescent, Simpson Road, and Ross Road. As Council will recall, the followup report recommended that Council authorize staff to schedule a neighbourhood information meeting to consult with the neighbourhood on a conceptual draft zone for the subject properties which, in that case, would allow for agricultural uses to be maintained. With this bylaw, as well as the one that follows, I also believe that staff need to take a closer look at the entire area involving five different and distinct Land Use Contracts, not just the two that we’re dealing with tonight. In other words, there is a parallel — there are parallel land uses, land use issues with both Ross and Simpson in that area, and this one, that need to be looked at, I believe, in a more holistic way. With Ross and Simpson, it was agricultural land use; with this one, it is modular homes. I believe that by denying both applications, it would allow staff to have a much broader public consultation with the property owners that are captured by all five Land Use Contracts, not just the two we’re dealing with, and to bring back a report to Council, hopefully when the zoning bylaw is complete. Now I know that this will be a great disappointment to the two applicants, but I think it is the right thing to do. This neighbourhood information meeting would also allow staff to specifically address the significant amount of misinformation that was circulated prior to the Public Hearing. As I listened to the majority of the residents who spoke at the Public Hearing, my heart went out to many of them regarding the views that were expressed, some at the point of tears. I was saddened that the misinformation caused angst and fear in many of those who spoke. And lastly, a neighbourhood information meeting would also provide opportunity to hear from the entire neighbourhood affected by the five Land Use Contracts, and I think Council needs to hear from that entire neighbourhood. One example: By not allowing residential homes to be built in the neighbourhood, Council would in effect be devaluing the underlying land of each property. In other words, when a modular home has reached the end of its useful life, only a new modular home could be erected, which would significantly reduce the value of the underlying land for anybody who wanted to sell. Now for somebody who just wants to replace, it doesn’t matter. But I just want to make sure that everybody in that neighbourhood understands that. And so I think this would allow for broader consultation and I think Council might make a better decision than we would if we don’t have this consultation. So those are my views. I will now turn it over to Council with regard to the first bylaw. Councillor Blue.”

Councillor Sandra Blue: “Thank you, Mayor. Just adding to your comments, and in a slightly different perspective, you know, clearly the neighbourhood is passionate about their neighbourhood, there’s no question there. And I really went through all of the comments again, and I was really struck by two things, one, that you’ve noted already, the misunderstanding by many that this application would somehow force others to follow suit, or that there would be negative consequences, and also that some of the current owners are really frustrated by their inability to replace their homes as it currently is, and one gentleman described his as, he characterized it as deteriorating and unhealthy, so as I look at this, I’m wondering if there’s a way that we could allow this particular application to proceed. The applicant has heard the concerns of the neighbours and about the character, the form and character that they want to maintain, and if there’s a way for us, and this will a question through to staff, and if there’s a way for us to do that and allow this one to proceed, and then subsequently do all of the other work that’s required, and maybe the question is one of timing, how expeditiously could staff come back with the neighbourhood meeting and the plans and so forth, so that we’d have some idea of how long this would take either way.”

. . . .

Councillor Ross Siemens: “Thank you. Yeah, this is—I’m just wondering, there’s—Proponents on both Windsor and on Oakridge have followed proper procedures, and I think there’s—Are we able to, if we defeat this and send it back for consultation, the monies that they have expended on this, because again, it was, I think, they were following proper procedures, as laid out, but I think that there’s extenuating circumstances here that would require us to maybe have a more holistic view, similar to what we did with the Simpson Road area. So are there ways that we can reimburse them that money?”

Mayor Henry Braun: “Yes, I was intending to suggest to Council that at the end of the decision, assuming that we defeat it, that a motion be made to reimburse both parties for their application fees because, as you rightly pointed out, they followed the procedures that were in place, so I don’t think that’s a problem.”

Councillor Ross Siemens: “Well, with that in mind, then, I would be prepared to defeat—move that we defeat this bylaw. Do you want this to be in two—?”

Mayor Henry Braun: “We’re just dealing with the first bylaw but my comments covered both bylaws so that—Council understood where I was going, because Council’s not heard what I said until this—a few minutes ago.

Councillor Ross Siemens: “Well, I would be prepared to follow suit on both—defeat both of these and send it back. And I guess I just want to make it very clear that I respect the respectful tone that many proponents brought forward. I was a little dismayed, and I don’t see the particular individual that resorted to, sort of, stirring things up, but I think you achieve a lot more when you’re respectful in your comments, and when you don’t mislead your neighbourhood, and, you know, we got elected, I think, because we care about our community. I don’t think there’s anybody I got elected with that doesn’t, and we’re here to be, we’re reasonable people, we care about our community, I think we can be approached, and we can be dealt with accordingly. But I don’t think we got elected to be abused, and I think some of the negativity was bordering on abuse, and I think for that particular individual, I hope takes note, that she was precariously close to having this thrown out, and I just am a little frustrated that I don’t see that particular person here. But yeah, I think the neighbourhood raised some very valid points, and I think, because of those points, I think it would be contingent upon us to do the right thing and I feel quite comfortable in making that motion to defeat this and send it back.”

** In relation to the foregoing, note the following comments by Councillor Siemens and Mayor Braun during the discussion of the deferral motion relating to Item No. 5.1 Bylaw No. 2623-2026, at the Regular Council meeting of September 12, 2016:

Councillor Ross Siemens: “There’s no debate, but I was just wondering if I could get some clarification in the next week then. How do we go about getting clarification on the accusation of the sticker issue on that sign?”

Mayor Henry Braun: “Well, I think we’ll have to reserve our comments for the next meeting when this will—”

Councillor Ross Siemens: “But staff can get us that information?”

Mayor Henry Braun: “Well, I’ll let the city manager answer that question, but I believe so, yes.”

. . .

Councillor Ross Siemens: “There was an accusation that the sticker was not on this sign as well, so I just wondered if we could get that clarified. Thank you.”

Mayor Henry Braun: “Yeah, since there’s a deferral motion I would love to answer that, because I think I might have the answer, but anyways, we’ll need to deal with this motion before we go any further.”

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