The cost of everything

For regular readers of this blog (Hi Mom!) and my social media feeds, my biases this election have been made pretty clear. I have gone on at length over the last couple of years about the public policy reasons I think we need a change in Victoria, from transportation to affordable housing to regional planning and climate/energy policy. Six years into this, my initial hopes that the Liberals under Christy Clark would surprise everyone and govern to the centre have been dashed. Then tossed under the wheels of a bus. A bus recently set on fire.

To quote another notable Conservative leader, “An election is no time to discuss serious issues”, and a myriad of public policy issues in this province are clearly too serious for our major media outlets to give them headline treatment. However, the fact this following headline is not the biggest (or only) issue in this election suggests our democracy is not as healthy as we would like:


We are at the point where even the most ardent of Christy Clark supporters are not bothering to battle the perception that she, and the party she leads, is corrupt. The recent strategy to paint their opposition as similarly (if not equally) corrupt is evidence of this: they cannot deny their own record or the public perception, they just hope to splash around enough mud that everyone looks dirty.

There is no point going through the exhaustive list of ethical issues this government has faced. From the illegal stripping of teachers contracts that was defended for 12 years all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada before they had to admit they were wrong (although, they never admitted they were wrong) to the shady sale of BC Rail and resultant police investigation and hush-money scandal broken by a guy who is now a Liberal Candidate(!). There are the number of blatantly false statements on the record regarding RCMP investigations, one resulting in a death. We had triple deleting of e-mails, “Quick Wins”, a Party ED indicted for corruption in Ontario., we had Bloy, Virk, Grayden, and Boessenkool. The list goes on.

When is the last time you saw a televised debate where the moderator was comfortable reading a list of ethical failures and asking the leader of a governing party, straight out: After all this, how can we trust you? Clark’s answer was, in essence, “it doesn’t matter“. That alone should lose an election.

All this aside (and that is a lot to toss aside), Clark cannot escape the public’s realization that she is bought and paid for, that decisions being made are based on donation received by her party, and by herself though a tidy little fundraising dividend (that is also resulting in a police investigation). It may be the oldest axiom in politics that you “got to dance with them that brung you”, and there are varying levels of truth to that idea. I’m an elected official, I received donations from people, companies, and unions towards my campaign. I know how sensitive is the suggestion those donations come with strings, and do everything in my power to avoid conflict of interest.

However, rarely in government are these strings so laid bare as with the current BC Liberal Party. The recent report by Dermod Travis connects the dots between the donations given to the BC Liberals and the variety of benefits afforded to those who are in the Millionaires Club. From avoiding charges in the biggest environmental spill in Canada’s history to sweetheart infrastructure deals and continued access to target bears at $30,000 a pop. It is banal to read through, and it is easy to see why Clark is not even trying to mount a defense.

None of this, I note, is policy related. Nothing here is directly linked to the serious job of governance. If defeated, Christy Clark will potentially have no governance legacy at all, except a closet full of skeletons that have long since spilled out and filled the room.

But, electorally, what does it mean?

Here we are with 10 days to go, the polls show the election is still too close to call. The Postmedia Newspapers of Note are dutifully reporting BC Liberal talking points in attempt to paint the opposition as angry or creepy; social media bubbles are keeping all but the most trolly of us away from hearing different opinions, and everyone is wondering if the Greens will be spoilers, and if so, for whom? Somehow the idea of re-electing what is (according to media from New York to Los Angeles) a fossil-fuel embedded kleptocracy of the first order, is not out of the realm of possibility. Not only is this not front page, it is hardly a story at all. We are so saturated in corruption, that we have lost our sensitivity to it.

I think this government deserves relegation to the penalty box for a bunch of public policy reasons. I am more bothered by the idea that a government, so demonstrably crooked that they won’t even bother denying it anymore, actually thinks that doesn’t matter to the electorate. What really keeps me up at night, though, is that they may be right. As someone who (perhaps naively) works every day to further better public policy and the democratic process, I don’t even know what that means.

Council – April 24, 2017

We had another daytime workshop in Council this week, discussing some details of the proposed Heritage Conservation Area for Queens Park. There is a lot of work to do, and some more discussions to have (based on the bombardment of e-mail I am receiving on the topic), but we expect that issue to come to a Public Hearing in June, so I suggest you watch the video if interested, and I’ll save my comments until the public hearing.

As it was the last meeting of the month, we started with a Public Hearing on two projects:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7907, 2017 for 1002, 1012, 1016 and 1020 Auckland Street
This is a new multi-family development on a challenging site in the Brow of the Hill. The now-vacant lots have a high slope, but are in a great walkable location near downtown and lower 12th. The proposal has 13 townhouses and 75 apartments, the majority of which will be 3- and 2-bedroom, which puts them above the minimums in our Family-Friendly Housing policy.

The Design Panel and Advisory Planning Commission approved the project, the Neighbourhood Association raised no concerns, and the 6(!) people who replied to the 6,700 (1) mailed out invitations to the open house similarly raised no concerns. We receive no written submissions, and the one person who came to speak to the development was not opposed, but did raise a valid concerns about parking issues for his very constrained lot across the street that I hope Engineering can address.

Council moved to refer the application for Third Reading, which Council approved in the regular meeting immediately after.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7833, 2016 for 518 Ewen Avenue
This is a simple re-zoning of a single lot in Queensborough to match the zoning of the adjacent properties and in compliance with the Queensborough Community Plan. We received no submissions and no-one came to speak to the matter. Council moved to refer the application for Third Reading, which Council approved in the regular meeting immediately after.

The Regular Meeting started with us moving the above Bylaws to Third Reading, followed by a Opportunity to be Heard:

Development Variance Permit No. DVP00624 for Royal Columbian Hospital (330 East Columbia Street) – To Vary Front Yard Setback for New Mental Health Care Building
The RCH expansion is a big project, and this is a minor variance required for the Phase 1 building. There are two relatively small protrusions form the main building that will stick into the setback required by zoning (the minimum distance allowed between any building and the lot line). These two encroachments will in no way impact the pedestrian or other transportation realm around the building, wont impact any other land owners, and will not result in a significant reduction of greenspace (as other parts of the building are set much further back from the setback.

We had one written submission opposed to this DVP, with no reason given for that opposition, and no-one came to speak to the application. Council moved ot approve the DVP.

The following items were moved on Consent:

Festival Grant – Appeal from Philippine Festival Society
This being Canada 150 year, festivals organized on July 1st have a few unexpected budget constraints. The PFS came to the Festivals Committee and made a compelling case for an increase in their budget, and demonstrated an ability to also address their budget constraints with increased sponsorship. As there is some room left in the Festivals budget due to the cancellation of another funded event, the committee recommended that this request be approved. Council agreed.

22nd Street Bus Exchange Upgrades Public Art Proposal
The pedestrian realm around 22nd Street Skytrain will see a modest, but much overdue, upgrade this year, thanks to TransLink. In consultations with the City, some ideas around introducing Public Art have been brought to TransLink, and a collaboration is in the offing! Our Public Art Advisory committee likes the idea, has some money in the Public Art Fund, and will be helping coordinate this partnership – a great way to leverage or modest PA budget to greater gain. I’m looking forward to what they come up with, we could use a little public space enhancement in the area!

Front Street Mews – Proposed Public Realm Enhancements
So much work has been going on down on Front Street, and the merchants down there have been so patient going on down there, I am glad we are finally seeing the end of the disruption. However, we are also looking forward to a much improved public space, and even collaborating with the Downtown BIA on some events down there this summer. Again, I want to thanks staff for again showing creativity and vision, and for the BIA and other partners for being great partners! Summer is almost here!

Downtown BIA Parcel Tax Bylaws No. 7911, 2017 and 7914, 2017;
Uptown New Westminster BIA Parcel Tax Bylaw No. 7912, 2017
These are the official Bylaws that authorize the City to collect a parcel tax on behalf of the Business Improvement Districts in Downtown and Uptown, so they can offer the programs they do to their members. We moved to approve them going to three readings.

2017 Tax Rates Bylaw No. 7913, 2017
With our Financial Plan update done, and in preparation for sending our official Tax notices and documentation to the Government, we have to pass a Bylaw officially approving our property tax levels for 2017. As anticipated, they are going up by 2.98%, meaning the City will collect a total of $75.5Million in property taxes this year. A good primer on what a 2.98% increase across the board means to you based on your assessment change since last year is available here (from last year, so adjust the numbers accordingly).

European Chafer Management Program Update
The grass-munching buggers seem to be back with a vengeance this year, and the best way for you to manage them is to not have grass, but instead plant planet-friendlier things in your front lawn. The second best way to manage them is to have really healthy deep-rooted grass that isn’t overwatered. The third best way to manage them is to use nematodes, and the City will help you pay for nematodes, but there is a process. Follow the links here if this option is right for you, because timing is everything for nematode application.

The following items were removed from consent for discussion:

Anvil Theatre Piano Purchase
Theatres usually have pianos, I get this. Great performers require great pianos, I also get this. Staff have asked Council to approve the purchase of a $215,000 piano for the Anvil Centre Theatre. I don’t get this.

It may be possible that this is the right piano for the Anvil, and that its purchase is important, but I was not convinced of this by the report I received. For a purchase of this size, especially a sole source, I need to see a business case around how it will improve our operation, and how this source and this piece of equipment is the best way to address the need.

Council did not approve the request, and have sent it back to Staff to make a better case or come up with a different plan

Repeal the 1903 Curfew Bylaw
I am glad that youth and unescorted ladies are now able to roam the streets at night. Adjust your behavior appropriately.

Official Community Plan Review: Summary of Draft Official Community Plan Feedback and Discussion of Land Use Designation for Glenbrooke North
This report provided some response to the last round of public consultation on the OCP Land Use Designation map, and some public feedback received outside of the formal consultation process.

The report was great, and showed broad general support for the direction of the OCP, and also pointed out that OCP consultations in New West suffer from a common problem: there is a general underrepresentation of people under 35, renters, young families – just the kind of people we recognized as being most in need of more affordable and more diverse housing choices. Still, the overall message in this last round is clear: we need to provide more housing choice and are either on track, or slightly behind, where we need to be when it comes to accommodating family-friendly housing

This is why I have concerns about the changes proposed in this report (as I did about the changes on Fifth Street). These changes take away those things we need the most: flexibility in housing forms in family-friendly neighbourhoods, and potential for increased affordability in those neighbourhoods. For these reasons, I proposed instead designating these areas Residential Ground Oriented. This would allow the maximum flexibility for current landowners, and provide the most potential for sensitive lower density infill like laneway houses, cluster houses, and small townhouse developments. I appreciate the feedback from the residents, and think Ground-Oriented best represents the balance between allowing flexibility for current owners and still providing impetus towards greater housing choice.

The majority of Council did not agree with me and the designation for the area was rolled back to Single Family Detached.

The OCP is an ongoing process, and we should see a Bylaw ready for Public Hearing by the end of summer.

We then went through our usual Bylaws shuffle:

Downtown New Westminster BIA Parcel Tax – Primary Area Bylaw No. 7911, 2017
Downtown New Westminster BIA Parcel Tax – Secondary Area Bylaw No. 7914, 2017
Uptown New Westminster BIA Parcel Tax Bylaw No. 7912, 2107

These three bylaws that allow us to collect taxes on behalf od the three BIAs was given three readings.

Tax Rates Bylaw No. 7913, 2017
This bylaw that formalized the 2017 property tax rates for the city was given three readings.


Elections are about campaigns, and campaigns are about narratives.

This is what makes the silly little story of Christy Clark and her posse ducking out of the Sun Run after the start-line Photo-Op interesting.

Photo-Ops are as much a part of a modern campaign as fundraising and debates. Showing up for a big public event like the Sun Run seems like a smart idea: Get a number, don some running gear, look like you’re part of the crowd, be relatable. Ducking out of an event after the photo-op is also not a surprising a move, so why was this duck-out a big deal for Christy Clark?

Because it fits the narrative that the opposition NDP have sucessfully placed around Christy Clark: she can’t be trusted, she’s crooked, she’s an opportunist and a cheater.

Showing up for a running race with your race gear, then diving out of the race before the end doesn’t smell genuine – it seems a bit like you’re cheating. You want people to think you put in an effort, you got photographed apparently putting in the effort, but you didn’t actually put in the effort. You lied to those people you were trying to relate to. Its sneaky in a way donning the hardhat at a construction site isn’t. It feels dishonest. It fits the narrative.

However, if there is a more interesting story coming out of the Sun Run Photo-op, it has to do with this photo:

Sam Sullivan has a tradition of showing up near the end of the Sun Run and sending high fives and encouragement to the runners as they go by. It’s a way for him to participate in the biggest annual event within his riding, and he has done it for years. Sure, it is Photo-op, but it connects with people, it feels genuine, and therefore it’s pretty cool. So it is perhaps apropos that Christy Clark didn’t bother to run far enough this year to share a high five or photo with Sam Sullivan. This, unfortunately for Sam, fits the narrative of his invisibility and ineffectiveness as an MLA.

I don’t think there’s another MLA in the province that has been as disappointing as Sam Sullivan. Love or hate his politics, this man was a champion for his City, with a vision for a more livable Vancouver, and an understanding of its role in the region. A politician with his resume (the former mayor of the biggest city in the province!) and his passion would be expected to have a prominent seat at the table in any provincial caucus. Instead, the most common hashtag used in the social media around his work has been #InvisibleSam. In the Christy Clark caucus, as in Cristy Clark’s British Columbia, there are winners and losers. Sam, along with the the smart and competent Moira Stilwell, also from Vancouver, is definitely on the wrong side of that equation. As a result, Sam has sat silently on the back bench during the public transit and transportation boondoggles, has been invisible during the overdose crisis, has been missing during the housing crisis. All of these issues that are so important to his riding, that disproportionately impact the City for which he served as mayor, that threaten his own vision for that City, are the issues he failed to meaningfully adress.

I don’t feel good picking on Sam about this. I’m sure he is as frustrated about this situation as any of us, because I do believe he cares about Vancouver, and I know he understands the public policy that can make his City better. However, this is about the leadership of Liberals, and the inability push good public policy forward within a Caucus system that is based on punishment and reward and appeasing donors. That is the narrative of Sam. At least Stilwell has the guts and the dignity to get out when she can, and call this government what it is:


Fortunately, in this election Sam is running against Morgane Oger, a passionate advocate for education in a riding where BC Liberal failure on that file has resulted in a school deficit, even as the neighbourhood booms with an influx of young families and professionals – the type of mixed-use higher-density family-friendly development that Sam Sullivan himself supported when he was Mayor. It seems he cannot (or will not) speak out from his MLA seat, even as his government chooses to undermine the vision he helped create for his City. Morgane is running from behind, in a riding that will be tough to win, but if you are in Vancouver I hope you can find a way to help her get a seat in Victoria. She has a long history of speaking out for what is important to her and her community, and False Creek (and the rest of Vancouver) could use some of that right now.

How can we expect Sam to now speak up for his community, when he can’t even get a photo-op high-five from his own Premier?

Regional Vision(s)

With a busy schedule at the city, and so much election-related angst and chatter and tension and fluff, I found a way to be inspired and challenged in the most positive way on Thursday.

The City Program at Simon Fraser University and the SFU Centre for Dialogue hosted a constructive dialogue on the topic of the Regional Plan, or more on the very topic of regional planning in a Metro Vancouver context. The guiding questions for a compelling 4 hour conversation were:

Is this vision of “Cities in a Sea of Green” still appropriate? Will it sustain us for the next half century? What are the issues our vision must address if it is going to continue to serve the region?

In the room were about two dozen regional leaders from academia, activists and community conversation leaders, planners new and old, and a couple of elected types, both new and old. I would love to list resumes, and attribute quotes (there were many great quotable moments), but the program was run under Chatham House Rule, in order to facilitate freer dialogue. There will be reporting out via the City Program, but what that looks like probably depends on where this new dialogue leads.

In as short a summary as I can muster, my read of the feeling in the room was that the vision and the resultant Regional Plans have served the region well, even as the populations rise, the economy boomed and busted, our economic drivers shifted, and public transit replaced freeways as the ideal connector between city centres. However, there are many flaws in its applicaiton, and many of the current crises challenging the region (affordability, transportation, increasing social alienation) have at least partial connections to the vision itself. The consideration of keeping this vision or developing a new one needs to be measured against its ability to adress our new pressures. There was a broad consensus that this is the time for the Region to be having this conversation, as the pressures right now feel large enough to shift the region in pretty fundamantal ways. I was driven to think about our beautiful, admired, and unique region as being on a precipice.

Instead of trying to summarize the entire diverse conversation here, I would like to touch on just a few points that really hit me.

The conversation we prefaced by a report by a small group of grad students from SFU that looked at the history of regional planning in Greater Vancouver, and the pressures on the current plan:


The historic timeline was interesting. A few burgeoning communities collaborating on water and sewer systems in the first half of the last century prefaced an initial dabbling in regional landuse planning driven by the disastrous flood of 1948, but the first comprehensive regional growth strategy emerged in 1966 (where the vision “Cities in a Sea of Green” was first codified). This vision was still of town centers (Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, Langley, etc. separated by greenspace and agricultural lands, tied together by freeways, as was the ethos of the day.

The complex history since this time has involved complex relationships between the province and the local government leaders – and there were great forward moves (The 1973 establishment of the ALR, formation of the GVRD, the 1975 Livable Region Plan and 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan, the 1998 formation of TransLink) and equally important slips backwards (Bill 9 in 1983, which abolished the regional planning function, the 2007 stripping of local governance of TransLink). Tried as I might, I couldn’t correlate the emphasis on regional planning with anything (resource industry boom-bust cycles, global economic shifts, housing prices, Canucks playoff runs) except with the name of the party forming government in Victoria.

That is part of a larger theme that became common: any plans made by the region for the region exists in a larger context of federal and provincial politics and how larger forces look at the purpose of our region.

It was noted that when Simon Fraser introduced the idea of the river that bears his name to the European colonist social media, there were more than 20,000 people living along its banks between Musqueam and Kwantlen. In a very literal sense, he was the first Gateway project planner. His goal was to push a route for hinterland commerce through to the coast, occasionally stopping to seek the permission of the people living there, but not overly concerned with whether that permission was granted. Two hundred years later, the Gateway has other leaders, but the mandate is little changed. As such, the story of the region can be told as a long series of carpet-baggers pushing past the locals for profit. The livability of the region, the ecology that supports it, the local food web and cultural values of the residents are no more important now to the National Enterprise of getting hinterland resources to tidewater than they were in 1808.

It would be ridiculous to equate our current planning frictions the centuries of cultural genocide that took place in North America; the point is only that the fundamental pressures have had similar vectors for a couple of centuries, even at massively shifting scales. There is no reason to asume that founding narrative will change now, and the best laid local and regional plans will fail if the important decisions that shape the region (Port Mann and Massey Bridges spring immediately to mind) are driven by different people working on a completely different plan.

In the end, the strongest feeling I had coming out of this event was (I sure hope @MsNWimby isn’t reading this) a desire to go back to school. To be sitting in a dialogue with people much smarter than me, bringing disciplines together and sharing compelling ideas that force me to shift my own assumptions about a topic so close to my heart was the most fun I have had in a few years.

Why can’t Facebook be like this?

Council – April 10, 2017

We had a long night on April 10th, as often happens when we have open delegations on an important issue like the Heritage Conservation Area for the Queens Park.

For some of us on Council, we started at 8:30 in the morning with a Canada Games Task Force meeting, so this Monday was spectacularly long. Recognizing that there were ~30 delegates, Council for the most part avoided getting into long discussions with delegates, even to the point where we left some questions hanging somewhat – but we do that to assure everyone gets a chance to speak before midnight. As the two topics of most concern (the OCP and the plan for creating a Heritage conservation area in Queens Park) will both be going to Public Hearing, and there are conversations ahead about that, please don’t take our lack of conversation as a lack of interest in the presentations!

We started the evening with our annual signing of the Parcel Tax Roll:

Parcel Tax Roll
There are a number of properties in the City that pay a little extra tax than everyone else, through the Parcel Tax System, These are members of the Business Improvement Areas (for whom we collect a tax, then turn it back over to the BIA so they can use it to fund their business development and support programs) and some special assessment areas, where neighbours have requested some works and were willing to pay for that specific works (like enclosing a drainage ditch in Queensborough). These are all voluntary programs decided by a special vote of the neighbourhoods.

Every year we need to officially list the impacted properties and let them know what their special charge is, and this provides them, Council, and the general community an opportunity to make any corrections or alterations of the roll. We received no complaints of comments from the impacted property owners this year, or from the general public. So the roll was passed without much fanfare.

Then we began our regular meeting, which started with presentation of the Heritage Week poster contest winners (arguably the cutest Council Meeting of the year) before we got down to business. The following items were Moved on Consent:

Official Community Plan: Draft Development Permit Areas and Design Guidelines
As part of the ongoing OCP work, staff and our external consultants have been working on draft Design Guidelines to inform how the development of new buildings in the City will fit into the existing neighbourhoods. Development Permit Areas are tools Cities can use to facilitate and/or restrict the shape, form, and character of buildings within those areas. There are examples in this report of proposed guidelines for multi-family residential forms in the Brow of the Hill and Sapperton that are lower density than high-rise or even medium-rise buildings, there are examples from employment lands, and a discussion of how development around the Brunette River will meet the requirements of the provincial Riparian Areas Regulations.

There is a lot to chew on here, and the detailed report (the draft form of which I liked to above) is pretty complex. From here, it will go to the Advisory Panning Commission, and will be wrapped up in the bigger OCP Public Hearing process. Council moved to support this path forward.

425 Columbia Street (Columbia SkyTrain Station): Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 – Request for Exemption by TransLink and 200 to 700 Block Columbia Street and Front Street: Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 – Request for Exemption by Metro Vancouver and 1400 to 1500 Block Stewardson Way and the intersection at River Drive and Stewardson Way: Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 – Request for Exemption by Metro Vancouver
All three of these are applications to do work outside of regular banker hours that will require some noisy equipment. The first because you can’t work in the SkyTrain guideway while trains are going by, the second is sewer work that needs to be done on Sunday night, because that when sewer loads are low enough, the third is being scheduled to reduce traffic flow impacts on Stewardson Way. Council approved all three.

809 Fourth Avenue: Application for Strata Title Conversion
This unique development on 8th Street at Fourth Avenue preserved three heritage homes by moving them over a bit, and built a multi-family mid-rise next door, with shared underground parking for all of them. The intent all along was to operate the three houses as Strata ownership, which requires this application process.

Asset Management Strategy Update
The City has more than $1Billion in physical assets like pipes in the ground, street signs, vehicles, buildings, etc. They are all depreciating, and will all need to be replaced or renewed eventually, some long after they have depreciated to “zero value” on paper, some at accelerated rates due to heavy use, obsolescence, or changing needs in the community. We are required to cost that depreciation as part of Public Service Accounting Board standards, but like all governments, there are still some areas where we are reactive to replacing infrastructure (find ways to pay for it when we need it) as opposed to proactive (planning ahead for when assets need to be replaced). Council has identified an Asset Management Plan as one of our priorities. This report is staff giving us a framework on how they are going to achieve that goal.

It is no secret that New West has a bit of an infrastructure deficit: our infrastructure is aging faster than we are replacing it. However, this is true for pretty much every city in Canada, and comparatively, we are actually far ahead of the average or median Local Government. This is due in part to our being a compact city (avoiding the externalized costs of sprawl) and because density increases have allowed us to invest in new infrastructure required to facilitate that growth. Still, a fully integrated Asset Management Program should help future councils better plan and adapt for the changing needs of the City.

This isn’t sexy work, and it is hard to cut a ribbon on an Asset Management Strategy, but the City will be stronger and more sustainable in the future for us doing this work now.

2017 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
Surprisingly, it still looks like snowpack levels across the province are around or below average this year, so the risk of flooding related to the Spring Freshet remains low. Snowpack is only one measure of flood risk – a long cold spring that preserves that snow followed by sudden warming and rains that accelerate melt can still cause problems, but all things being equal, we are less worried this year than in some others.

Environment Advisory Committee (EAC): Master Recycler Pilot Program
The EAC is recommending Council ask staff to support this program, which trains people in multi-family housing to be “recycling champions” in their strata or rental complex. Recycling rates in multi-family housing lags behind that in single detached households, and this type of education program has proven successful in other jurisdictions. The small cost ($3,000) of supporting this program can be absorbed in our solid waste budget, and should result in higher rates of recycling, eventually reducing our solid waste costs. Council moved to support the program.

Railway Community Advisory Panel: Regional Railway Inclusion in Brunette Avenue Interchange Discussions
The RCAP recognizes the City and Railways should be working together to address issues that impact both of our operations, and the potential Brunette Interchange project definitely falls under this category.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Community Garden at City Hall
A simple request by an established community group (full disclosure – one I used to be the President of!) to place community gardens on the expansive green space in front of City Hall has expanded somewhat.

Staff made the reasonably point that gardens placed in such a high-profile location need to be well designed as they will, like it or not, represent a bit of the “Face” of the City. They have come up with a clever design that works well with the natural slope of the land, and will integrate with some further planned improvements in the area.

There are actually two things going on here – the Community Garden being developed by the NWEP and managed in partnership with the New Westminster Community Gardens Society, for which the NWEP is fundraising and developing, and the park improvements that City has decided to do to support and enhance the Community Garden and City Hall Lawn. Council has already voted to support the former, and this report more addresses how we will make the latter happen.

12 K de K Court Boulevard Trees
This report resulted from a request to remove or otherwise manage trees that are planted in a location that negatively impacts their views. The initial request was for the City to remove or replace the trees, and this obviously raised concerns related to our newly-adopted Urban Forest Management Strategy. Staff has worked with the residents to develop a pruning schedule that can address the resident’s concerns without risking the health and vitality of the trees.

We then had a long Public Delegation and Presentations part of the meeting is not something I usually report on here, as they rarely result in us making big decisions, but rather guide future decisions (which I will report on then). I will say that the topics of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations and Heritage Conservation Area are both creating a buzz in the community, I will be blogging about them separately very soon.

We then addressed a couple of Regular Agenda, items:

Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Round 2 Public Consultation – Report Back
The conversation here is clearly moving to the next phase, as several months of work in developing guidelines and potential policy directions (based on earlier phases of consultation with stakeholders, the public, and Council) were sent out ot the greater community for feedback. Invitations to the open houses were mailed directly to every household in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood, including links to the online survey, and based on the large number of e-mails in my inbox (both in favour and expressing concern for the draft regulations), a large number of people are paying attention.

Again, I am going to have to hold off on a lot of discussion of this until the Public Hearing, but I do want to encourage people to talk to their neighbours, to get informed, and to let Council know how you feel about the regulations as drafted. This has been a long process over the last couple of years for the citizen Working Group and more than 20 years for heritage advocates in Queens Park. There are Heritage Conservation Areas in many jurisdictions in BC, some more successful than others in balancing the desire for heritage protection with the need to accommodate growth and change.

Demolition of the Pattullo Bridge
It has been discussed before, and will be again, I’m sure, but the topic of what happens to the existing Pattullo Bridge when a replacement is built is not something the City has much control over. TransLink has been pretty clear that the bridge is nearing the end of its useful life, including the underpinnings and foundations, and removal of those pillars from the river is probably required.

That said, I could dream is the City retaining parts of the bridge that are self-supporting and over City lands to create a type of elevated platform or park. These conversations have begun, but it is way to early to say if this is a viable plan. Stay tuned.

Elxn17 – Day 2.

I really have a lot to do in New West these days, but I’m going to take a few minutes here to sum up Day 2 of the provincial election campaign. Because it was too harrowing to ignore, and some of you wise enough to avoid Twitter might have missed some of it.

There was some sort of housing talk in New Westminster today, invite-only for the Real Estate industry, so I wasn’t there, but the weirdness of the news coming out of it makes me pretty glad I wasn’t.

Rich Coleman had a rough day. When asked to provide advice to young people growing up in Vancouver, his advice (Quoted by Frances Bula:)

It didn’t take long for people to point out that teens today also need to pay more tuition than his generation did, have much higher rental costs until they get to that down payment, and have little secure employment due in part to the growth of the gig economy. According to the data crunched by Generation Squeeze, a teen today is more likely to have a teen themselves before they save up enough money for a down-payment in the overheated Vancouver real estate market:

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He followed this up by announcing the BC Liberal plan to address the decimal-number-lower-than-one rental vacancy rate and rental-costs-spiraling-out-of-reach-of-most-workers-in-Vancouver crisis he has largely ignored in his decade as Minister in charge of housing. This would be to give money to people who already own houses – a $20,000 credit to fix up their basement suites.

John Horgan also felt some largess today, announcing the NDP will offer an annual $400 Tax credit to renters. Not enough to offset rental increases, of course, but a bit of a balm to renters who feel the much larger homeowner grant is a subsidy to something they cannot afford to own. The Premier’s quick reaction was to suggest that this would only “line the pockets of wealthy tenants”.

Chew on that for a second: $20K to homeowners = help for renters; $400 to renters  = only helps the rich. Are these people insane?

The housing crisis is nothing new, it has been a slow burn for a decade. But many competing forces have been pouring gasoline on it until it has replaced transportation as the biggest issue in the largest population centres in BC. Our housing system is broken, and Coleman, after a decade, has not been able to come up with a coherent plan to fix it, or even demonstrate that he understands a problem exists.

When managed by “free enterprise”, housing cannot be both a great investment and affordable. If it is the first, it must rise in value faster than inflation plus mortgage rates, otherwise you lose value investing in it. Anything that increases in value that much faster than inflation must soon become unaffordable. Our governments used to manage this issue by building housing for those without access to the capital to invest. They built subsidized housing for the poor and working class, they invested in Co-op model housing so communities could securely work together to provide a wide range of housing, they built student housing and seniors housing. They used to run rental buildings for those with few other options. Then in 1990s came along:


Now we have a fractured and disjointed system. Cities try to help, mostly by providing land and incentives, but with 8% of the taxes of the senior levels of government and increasingly complex Cities to run with that 8%, they are pretty limited in their effectiveness. A large number of not-for-profits and social service agencies try to string together grants and donations to operate what buildings they may be able to secure in this crazy market, then beg for a few crumbs from Rich Coleman to keep them running sustainably. All along, the Government has never provided a strategy, a comprehensive plan, any kind of vision. Random acts of funding are doled out (sometimes to agencies that have already folded for lack of funding!) so the Government appears to be doing something.

If you need just one reason to vote NDP this election, it is to get David Eby into government. No-one in the region has spoken as clearly and forcibly about the housing crisis – even back during last election when everyone else was talking LNG and Transit, Eby knew what issue #1 in BC was going to be by 2017, because his riding was at the front of it. He has brought a rational voice to it, against the insane ramblings of the BC Liberals. This guy needs to be in government:

That said, Eby’s not running in #NewWest. But if you want to meet your local candidates and talk about housing, the local affordable and family-friendly housing advocacy group Yes in New West is hosing an All-candidates event with Tenth to the Fraser on April 28th. It is free, but you need to register ahead of time because they plan to make beer and wine available, and for all the announcements, John Yap didn’t really make liquor laws that much more rational:


Disgusting (updated)

At some point, a pander to one group of electors goes beyond cynical, and becomes an abdication of responsibility and an offence to the idea of governance.

The BC Liberals platform apparently includes a promise to create a “cap” on bridge tolls – where no driver pays more than $500 per year, regardless of how often they avail themselves of extremely expensive and not-yet-paid-for infrastructure. A great election promise to “put more money in the pockets of hard working British Columbians”, or some such bullshit, but I have to go bullet point to condense my anger about how bad an idea this really is.

  • It completely undermines the Mayor’s Council and the regional transportation plan that they developed. The province has put roadblock after roadblock in place of that plan, while shoveling money to vanity road projects that won’t solve the problem. Just last week they wrapped themselves in benevolent support for the plan with some commitment of financial support of a couple of it’s components. However, it has been clear all along that road pricing and Transportation Demand Management will be major components of the next phases. This cap is a pre-emptive strike against the Mayors, delivered with no warning.
  • This isn’t saving anyone any money. The tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge still need to be paid, because Golden Crossing General Partnership still needs to get paid. Similarly, the tolls on the Port Mann are still owed to TREO, and are already not bringing in anywhere near enough revenue to meet the business objectives of that White Elephant. The Province is going to have to top up these agreements from general revenue – potentially costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, because use of the bridge above the cap – the tolls taxpayers will have to cover – are actually encouraged by this scheme.
  • This undermines the business plan for the Massey Bridge. We don’t know much about the business plan for the Massey replacement, because the province redacted it to the point that none of the business risk was disclosed. However, the Ministry has been clear through the planning and the Environmental Assessment documents that the 10-lane bridge will be tolled. Tolling was not just a major component of the finances, but was fundamental to the traffic forecasts and environmental impacts for the project. This tosses all of those best-laid plans out the window.
  • It undermines the terms of the MOU for the Pattullo replacement. The stakeholders for the Pattullo have an agreement in place that underlies the ongoing project: a 4-lane tolled structure. Tolls are not just there to pay for the bridge, but to balance the traffic demand between crossings and reduce the impact on residential neighbourhoods of Surrey and New Westminster. A commuter cap on tolls shifts this balance, and sets back a decade worth of progress and partnership on this project, just as we were crossing the goal line.
  • It is counter to basic economics. We are taking a scarce and valuable resource, road capacity, and encouraging its increased use to save money. Simply put – the more you use the bridges, the less you pay. It is insane, and contrary to all Transportation Demand Management best practice across the industrialized world. It is separated from reality. It is deranged. Do I need to get out a thesaurus to make my point here?
  • It is not being offered for any alternatives. It will now, once again, be cheaper to drive a car across the Port Mann Bridge than to take transit across it. Just as the province has been dragged reluctantly into bringing expanded light rail to South of Fraser , they are creating a quick incentive to discourage its use, and undermine the entire model, shifting growth patterns in Surrey for a generation, at the most critical point of its growth.

Now, I am writing this about an hour after this information leaked out, so there may be devil-in-details I am not aware of here that will arrive with the official announcement, but that speaks to the point that there has been no consultation with the Mayors of communities affected, no public engagement over a plan that will re-shape the region and undermine so much of what the region is trying to achieve in livability, sustainable development, greenhouse gas reduction, and transportation. How do you recognize electioneering replacing governance? It is a surprise announcement completely disconnected from any other policy, program, long-term planning, or previous action by the government.

This is a flip of the bird to the regional plan (to the very idea of regional planning!) and to every resident of the Burrard Peninsula. It is a cynical pandering to a few ridings South of Fraser, and low-information voters across the province who likely won’t realize they are going to have to now pay through their taxes for infrastructure built on the promise that users would finance it. Not surprisingly, Jordan Bateman is taking a pass on criticizing this specific tax increase, being the original champion for the Port Mann fiasco.

And people will fall for it, of course. Congratulations, BC Liberals. You have raised the art of disgusting panders to a new level.

UPDATE: I was in the room when John Horgan announced out of nowhere that he would end all tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges if elected. The closest thing I have to a response was what James Gemmill made succinct on Twitter:  holdmybeer

Gong show

The Minister of Transportation plans a “groundbreaking” ceremony for the Massey Tunnel Replacement, complete with big yellow getting-things-done machines. The fact this “groundbreaking” is not related to any actual work being done on the Massey Tunnel Replacement and the main contracts for the construction work have not yet been awarded is apparently not important, in this exciting pre-election time. Nor was the fact the “groundbreaking” in front of big yellow getting-things-done machines was held 9 km away from the actual tunnel. This “groundbreaking” was going to require some pretty long shovels, but I guess it is long shovel season.

There were protesters at the event, but not many. The “groundbreaking” was early in the morning, pouring rain, in the middle of nowhere and announced with only a few hours warning, so I’m surprised any made it at all. They were irritating enough that the cops were called and the “groundbreaking” had to be moved indoors (read that again).

Quoth Minister Stone:

“We absolutely respect the views, the opinions of folks who do not support this project and we respect their rights to make those views known.”

The Minister reiterated that, despite a few protesters, the project is widely supported, based on three years of consultation with First Nations, Local Governments and other groups. However, noticeably absent from the “groundbreaking” were 21 of the 22 mayors of the region, or anyone representing the City where half the project is located. Even the MLA for the riding on the south foot of the tunnel was absent.

Coincidentally (?), many of the mayors were only a few kilometres further away from the “groundbreaking”, as they were assembled at King George Station announcing that they want people to think about the real regional transportation crisis when they vote in May – long term and secure funding of transit improvements to match the region’s vision for transportation in the decades ahead. Perhaps they feel less “consulted” about regional transportation issues than the Minister suggests, becasue 21 of 22 Mayors in Greater Vancouver are opposed to this project. The Mayors of this region are a notoriously disparate group of characters, and rarely agree on major policy issues or investment priorities, especially when it comes to transportation. We have Mayors who are former NDP MLAs and former BCLiberal MLAs. We have Mayors who are strong supporters of the federal Conservative Party, and those closely aligned with the Federal Liberals and NDP. Despite this, the Mayors (excepting one – which makes me expect if Mayor Jackson was a dentist, she would be that one-in-five recommending sugary gum) are aligned on this issue – they have a clear vision for the region for which they are responsible. They all agree that this massive expense by the province is a bad idea.

They have been “consulted”, they said no. Yet here we are.

I’m not sure if this “groundbreaking”event was paid for by the Ministry of Transportation or the Liberal Party (Ministers are having a hard time telling the difference these days) but the Minister made it clear that this was an election announcement, and that the only way to stop this $4 Billion (and counting!) boondoggle that is not supported by the Regional Growth Strategy, the Regional Transportation Plan, The Official Community Plans of adjacent communities, the Mayors and Councils of the region, or (so far!) the Federal government, and flies in the face of all good public policy in regards to sustainable transportation, climate change, regional land use policy or protection principles for the Fraser River and adjacent RAMSAR protected wetlands, is to vote to get him removed from the job of standing in front of yellow tractors for TV cameras to create the illusion that he is getting-things-done.

As a contrast, here is a clear and principled position of someone ready to help our region define and achieve its goals:

“I think the Massey replacement is a vanity project that is not a priority for the region, it is not a priority for the local mayors… The region wants their regional projects to go forward.” – John Horgan.

The choice is clear.

RED Talks 2017

A few of us from New Westminster attended the RED Talks event in Vancouver last week, and I was pleasantly surprised by the content of the evening. Red Talks are a local rip riff off of the Ted Talks format, put on by the local development community – RED stands for Real Estate Development. However, it wasn’t developers touting their projects or contributions, it was a conversation about building better cities.


The organizers were cheeky enough to create a bit of a faux-protest motif for the event, whose theme was “Confronting Consensus”, but the talks actually brought a nuanced conversation about development, housing, and the role of consultation as a discussion between the public and decision-makers. There were probably an equal number of jibes at the Real Estate industry as there was at elected officials, and everyone seemed to acknowledge that the current housing situation in Greater Vancouver isn’t sustainable, or even desirable in the shorter term.

I wished that the folks from Yes in New West were there to be inspired by two of the speakers in particular.

Seth Rogen’s academic brother?
Seth Rogen’s academic brother?

Paul Kershaw has his Generation Squeeze pitch down solidly, and has criticism for pretty much everyone involved in creating a housing market where an entire generation is feeling completely squeezed out. His economic stats were pretty compelling, demonstrating how today’s young professionals are in an entirely different economic universe than their parents, with home ownership being well out of reach for even the most responsible savers.

His call to action is pretty simple: Generation Squeeze has got to get organized, then get active, not just to demand better, but to give decision makers (elected officials, for the most part) the information and vocal support they need to make the sometimes difficult policy decisions that are required to shift our land use.

A perfect example of this call to action was personified in Sonja Trauss of BARF (Bay Area Renters Federation), who is taking a pretty active approach in San Francisco:20170330_192115
San Francisco has, arguably, a bigger housing affordability issue than Vancouver, and faces serious challenges increasing housing stock because of resident push-back against any form of density. The simple truth Trauss realized is that traditional public consultation, when it comes to housing development, completely misses the target. People who will live in new housing never go to the public hearings to support that housing, so the only voice heard at public meetings is that of the people who already have housing near the site of the development. In what other instance do we ask the only cohort who do not want a product to comment on the form of the product?

Her organization tries to break this cycle in San Francisco by organizing active feedback by renters and underhoused people to pretty much every development project in the Bay Area, arguing that rapid increases in regional housing supply is much more important than the (inevitable) parochial concerns.

The talks were rounded out by Nick Buettner of the Blue Zones Project and Steven Levitt, the Freakonomics guy.

The Blue Zones idea is familiar to most urban planning geeks – there are places in the world where combinations of built form and behavior results in longer lifespans and higher quality of life. It is intriguing to learn what lifestyle commonalities may be behind the gerontology anomalies of Okinawa, Sardinia, and Loma Linda, California.

Finally, I may have been the last person on earth to have read Freakonomics, which I did over the Christmas break while on vacation. I found Leavitt in person very much like I found the book: Interesting, but slightly frustrating. Leavitt has a bewildering combination of pattern-seeking insight and intellectual laziness. He finds new ways to pull insight out of noisy data, but then seems to lose interest in the complex interactions that may underlie these patterns – he seems to rush from correlation to causation with reckless abandon, which rubs us in the non-dismal sciences the wrong way. Worse, he response when being called out on this tenancy is essentially to say “Meh”.

All in all, an interesting evening that had me buzzing with OCP energy: