The Alberni Clayoquot Regional District Board unanimously adopted its West Coast BC Transit plan last week, despite a last-minute plea from Salmon Beach property owner Terry Graff urging them to extend their alternative approval process.
The officially adopted plan will see two buses running between Tofino and Ucluelet three times a day from May-October and one bus operating from November-April.
In order to cover roughly $550,000 of the service’s annual operating costs, West Coast communities will see their taxes increase to the tune of $167 in Tofino, $98 in Ucluelet and $88 in Electoral Area C.
Rather than seeking taxpayers’ permission through a referendum, the ACRD board chose an alternative approval process, which required anyone opposed to the plan to submit forms expressing their opposition. The deadline to submit those forms fell on Nov. 29 and 336 were received, falling short of the 602 forms necessary to halt the plan.
The board officially adopted the plan during their Dec. 11 meeting, where they received a presentation from Graff expressing that Salmon Beach owners had not been informed of the process, or the accompanying $88 tax increase.
“The whole point for me was that we weren’t informed. The people at Salmon Beach weren’t heard. They did not get a chance to say how they felt about it either way,” Graff told the Westerly News. “We had no idea about this. We assumed we would be told if there was something like this going on, we just had no idea this was going on. We didn’t know.”
Graff sits on the Salmon Beach Advisory Board and said she was shocked to first hear about the process the day after the deadline.
“They [ACRD] have my email. They know how to get a hold of me because they relay information to us quite often through email, but nobody thought to send it to me,” she said. “We did not receive any notification of this process.”
Graff noted that Salmon Beach owners are not often in the community during the winter months as the community’s zoning prohibits them from spending more than 180 days in Salmon Beach. She added that owners do not get the local newspaper delivered, are outside Tuff City Radio’s broadcast zone and are usually unplugged from their devices, so they rely on correspondence from the ACRD to keep informed.
“I assumed that we would be told if there was something big coming up,” she said. “I don’t think was Salmon Beach was informed adequately, if at all. They don’t have to publish how many votes they got from each area, I gather. But, I bet that they didn’t get one vote from Salmon Beach and that should be a really good indicator to the powers that be that watch these things that they did not share the information correctly… It’s not fair if they don’t ensure that people have had a good opportunity to know.”
She said Salmon Beach contains about 376 lots and she’s confident that the community has enough residents that they could have pushed the opposition votes past the required 602.
“It’s an absolutely unusable service for us. It’s not that we disagree with the bus, it’s just that it’s not a service for us,” she said noting the isolated community is roughly 18 kilometres from the closest proposed bus stop. “People at Salmon Beach are not happy about this at all.”
She added she is frustrated that the transit plan was not discussed during an Oct. 28 meeting between Salmon Beach and the ACRD.
“All we’ve ever heard about this is that there might be a bus running from Ucluelet to Tofino,” she said. “I think that this process was badly flawed. I think they should have figured out some way to give a three-week extension.”
Salmon Beach is under the constitu- ency of Electoral Area C Director Kel Roberts, who told the Westerly he had informed Salmon Beach owners of the process in the spring, but could not recall if transit was discussed during the Oct. 28 meeting, adding it can be hard to ensure everyone in the community is informed.
“We don’t get a ton of people at these meetings,” he said. “I don’t know that I discussed it at the meeting with the Salmon Beach committee because it wasn’t on the agenda and they had specifics that they wanted to deal with.”
He said he did his best to relay information about the transit plan to all Area C residents and added that he owns property at Salmon Beach himself.
“I’m an owner there too, so I’m going to be bearing the brunt of an additional 2.4 per cent tax increase as well,” he said. “It’s not unlike paying school tax or paying for RCMP or library or other associated costs. It’s part of the community supporting the community in total.”
He said he supported the transit plan because it will improve transportation and accessibility across the West Coast.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s progress and it’s a step forward for the whole of Area C,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who drive from Ucluelet to Tofino for work and vice versa and this is going to keep vehicles off the road. It’s going to be a bonus for everybody in Area C as far as I can see and I think it’s a really, really, worthwhile project. It’s a step forward.”
With the plan now approved by the ACRD, the transit service is expected to arrive in 2021 after specific routes, schedules and fares have been worked out, according to Tofino mayor Josie Osborne.
Osborne told the Westerly via email that work is still being done to seek out other funding contributions from local partners and stakeholders and that additional revenue could include advertising and bulk pass sales, but those details still need to be worked out.
She said she has heard “a huge variety of perspectives—from wholesale support to complete opposition,” about both the transit proposal and the alternative approval process.
“We heard loud and clear from some residents that the timing of the request for transit funds was extremely challenging, given other tax increases Tofino is facing, and that some were very unhappy with the Alternate Approval Process and would have preferred a full referendum such as the West Coast Mutiplex underwent,” Osborne wrote.
She added she supports the service and the process because it will provide access to affordable transportation and reduce traffic congestion.
“Public transportation provides a positive return on investment through increased employment taxes going to government and decreased health care costs,” she wrote. “Mass transit is a key need identified in Tofino’s mobility plan for reducing congestion, alleviating downtown parking issues, and shifting people out of passenger vehicles thus lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”
She added local governments have an important role to play in providing access to services to people from all backgrounds and income levels.
“There are many examples of services that not everyone needs all the time, but that most are thankful for at some point in our lives: childcare, fire protection, recreation programs and facilities, and parks and trails like the MUP come to mind, transit is another,” she wrote. “While I am focused on building a caring and inclusive community, I am very mindful that the growing costs of infrastructure and public services are weighing heavily on local residents’ minds, particularly those who pay property tax bills. We were elected to make some very tough decisions – and public transit is a perfect example of one such decision.”