This Directors’ report to the First Annual General Meeting of the Gabriola Commons Foundation will be different from future AGM reports, since some of what I’m about to present must focus not just on the past year, but consider the past several years as well.
So we need to look backward five and more years. It’s the early history of what would become the Commons that explains the successful events of the year just gone by. You all know pieces of the story. Gabriolans with vision, Gabriolan kooks, Gabriolan dreamers – and often these were the same people – came up with sometimes fertile, sometimes scatty, usually productive ideas as to what an old goat farm could become. From the acquisition by AGES of these 26 acres along with a mountain of a mortgage, to public meetings that produced ideas and directions of great fertility, to the establishment of a semi-organized steering committee, to the creation of the Gabriola Commons Society, the prehistory of the Gabriola Commons Foundation has been like an inspired roller coaster where the up-slope ride produces the exhilaration. And there’s not going to be any downhill ride.
The present directors, those of us making this report, are a varied lot. An architect, a science- education author, a home maintenance professional and musician, a priest, a novelist, a lawyer, a retired traveller, a cabinet-maker and a business administrator. For the last year, and with similar others over the preceding years, we have worked our way into and through complex decisions with maximum coherence and minimal contention. We believe that our work over these past years has indeed, in the words of Commons Charter, allowed us to leave the Commons undiminished and enriched, for those who follow us, as others will pass it on in perpetuity.
The first year of the Foundation saw a remarkable series of successes within the Commons mandate. That mandate, the purposes of the Commons’ incorporation, are three-fold: to hold, protect and steward the property as a public amenity for the use and enjoyment of the public, in perpetuity; to preserve the ecological qualities of the Gabriola Commons; and to promote sustainable agricultural practices. We have been upholding that mandate with a set of guiding principles, as anchored in the constitution: public trust, meaning that the Commons exists in perpetuity for the benefit of the people of Gabriola; ecological sustainability, meaning the creation of a Commons covenant to safeguard in perpetuity the qualities of the land; social sustainability, meaning that one of the Commons’ purposes is to nourish the fabric of the community; local democracy, meaning that the Commons functions according to democratic, equitable and local stewardship; and community service, meaning that the Commons is a community legacy serving community needs.
More specifically, over the past year we have been working toward full property ownership, in trust, for the Gabriola community, through two kinds of fundraising campaigns. First it was necessary to meet the current financial obligations of the mortgage; to this the community has responded beyond expectation, and The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, which will ultimately hold the covenant with us, has helped us in the monthly donor campaign by providing charitable receipts to donors. Secondly, a major funds campaign is underway to reduce the principal owing on the mortgage; as you can all imagine, this campaign has not been helped by the current financial climate, but we continuing on this complex path nonetheless.
In addition, in February of this past year the Commons achieved charitable status as a Society. We were awarded this status, in the words of the Registrar of Charities, “because it benefits the community” by fulfilling its purposes. As well, this year saw the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Commons Foundation and AGES, agreeing to the transfer of ownership. This transfer will happen within the next couple of months, as soon as we have finalized details with a financial institution to hold the mortgage for the Foundation under optimal terms.
As well, half a dozen teams are hard at work on an ongoing basis, from the farm team with its weekly very physical activities, to the covenant team and its explorations of precise language which will guarantee that the principles of the Commons are enshrined in perpetuity; you’ll hear more about the work of these teams further along in the agenda.
A Commons Coordinating Council has come into existence, meeting on a monthly basis, with all meetings open to anyone in the Gabriola community who would like to attend. The Council is an information-sharing body and sounding board. At its meetings projects are discussed, excitement is generated and concerns are aired. The Council is the body which ultimately brings into existence decisions which are collectively arrived at rather than top-down or executively imposed.
Importantly the last year saw great progress in satisfying the land-use requirements of a Commons. These 26 acres lie in the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Agricultural Land Commission has granted that the Commons may engage in all uses requested, except for three projects (the elders’ eco-village, housing for land stewards, and an education centre). These will be considered after the ALC has been assured of the agricultural development of the Commons. Such final approval is still pending. Once this first agreement with the ALC was in hand, it became possible for the Commons to request that the Islands Trust consider rezoning the 26 acres for a diversity of uses of benefit to the community. A couple of weeks ago our local trustees accepted a third staff planning report, recommending a final community airing of the concept of a “Commons Zone.”
So the first year of the Foundation comes to its conclusion with a goal already expressed in its name: a solid foundation from which to go into the second year, the third, and beyond. We look forward to a vigorous major fund raising drive in the year to come, to obtaining a reduced mortgage, to receiving exemption from property taxes, to finalizing the transfer of the land from AGES to the Commons Foundation, to agreeing with a local society to act as a second covenant holder, to the fostering the ongoing fruitful work of the several teams, and to working ever more closely with the Gabriola community, all of you here and all of those not here who are also working productively for the good of the island and its people.