Saying NO to Yes Vancouver

June 29, 2018

Hector Bremner, the NPA councillor so conflicted that even the NPA won’t have him any more, has formed his own municipal political party which he calls Yes Vancouver.

A number of problems are already obvious with this party which is partly ego-driven and partly a front for the Rich Coleman side of the BC Liberal Party (yes, the same Rich Coleman who is currently hiding from the media who want to question him about money laundering):

  • First, there is already a fine local organization called Yes Vancouver. It is a non-profit which raises money for Dress For Success. They are non-partisan and support no political party;
  • Second, people searching quite reasonably for YesVancouver.com actually get taken to a website for a Toronto Real Estate firm; ironic as Bremner’s “party” favours build build build as the only solution to our problems.

So, these folks who want to run our City after the next election cannot do a simple name search for their party, and cannot do a simple web search for suitable urls.  Imagine the chaos if we want them to do something that actually takes some thought?

Finally, a question we need to keep asking Bremner whenever he puts his head above the wall:  during his council campaign last year he promised to donate his Council salary to a worthy charity. Did he do that? And if so, what organization was favoured with the donation?

We need to send a resounding NO to these wannabes.

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City Fees and Street Festivals

May 26, 2018

There is an interesting article published by CBC today regarding the soaring cost of putting on street festivals such as Commercial Drive’s Italian Day (June 10) and the various Car Free Days across Vancouver (July). Most of the increase in costs comes from charges for sanitation/clean up and security/policing costs.

Brunella Gaudio of Italian Day said waste management costs doubled this alone.  The society estimates the festival will cost about $50,000 over their budget this year. Car Free Day has found security cost increases to be the most pressing expenditure.

I’m sure the city could go a long way to assisting with both these expenditures, or at least explain why the costs have escalated so far above wage increases for the workers involved, for example.

 


COPE Candidates On the Drive Saturday!

May 25, 2018

COPE hopefuls for nominations in this fall’s municipal election will be front and centre at a meet-and-greet tomorrow, Saturday 26th May, at The Drive Coffee Bar, 1670 Commercial, between 1pm and 5pm.

 

Come along and meet some really committed folks who are looking to make our city a better place.


Whose Community Is It?

May 14, 2018

As an architectural and social artifact I have no real issue with high-rise towers.

When I moved to Vancouver in 1979, I lived first at what was then the Plaza Hotel at the northern end of Lions Gate Bridge. I worked as a freelancer and so needed a corporation to invoice my services. My first company was called Twenty-Third Floor Productions, which accurately reflected the position of my apartment. I loved it up there. When North Vancouver became inconvenient for me commuting without a car, I moved to the West End and happily lived amid (though not in) the towering glass and concrete erections.  No, I have no issue with high-rise towers.

In fact, I have often said that if the residents genuinely approved 15-storey towers on every block on Commercial Drive, I would have no problem with that. I would definitely move because that’s not the Drive I want; but the point is that I will always support the right of the neighbourhood to make that decision.

From a planning point of view, I am deeply concerned in particular by the Boffo Tower proposal on Commercial Drive because of what the success of the developer against the expressed wish of thousands of local residents would mean for any concept of genuine neighbourhood control in the future.

It matters not whether we are talking about towers or townhouses or row houses or supported housing or a new transportation option or a change in the use of roads; the issue always comes down to where the power of approval lies.  Right now, the disproportionately asymmetrical power equation of developers + money + a developer-friendly City Council and Planning Department versus ad hoc volunteer groups trying to protect the right of the communities to choose means that the ability of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods to control their own affairs, in matters of zoning and streetscapes, business and housing, is slipping away at a fast and increasing rate.

It is vital that we re-establish the rights of the electorate by pushing powers down to the lowest, most local level.  In terms of municipal policy this means making “city-wide” policies subject to local opt-in or opt-out.  Today, this would mean that the Interim Zoning policies enacted after the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, land use policies under Transportation 2040, and the city-wide plan currently being devised by the Vancouver City Planning Commission would all be controlled and enacted — or not — by each neighbourhood in Vancouver.

This also means that regional groupings, such as the unelected Metro Vancouver, need to become operational liaisons only with no executive powers concerning local development, and certainly no authority to over-ride neighbourhood decisions through Regional Context Statements and similar.  If necessary, the City of Vancouver should be prepared to withdraw from Metro in order to ensure this level of local control.

And we must oblige the Province to amend the Vancouver Charter so that we, the residents of Vancouver, have full control over the style of council we have, the financial terms under which elections are fought, whether or not we become members of larger groups such as Metro and Translink, and all the powers needed to ensure that we can at least address the pressing crises of unaffordable housing, homelessness, and the low salaries paid to Vancouver employees compared to other large cities in Canada.

In a Twitter exchange with me some while ago, major Vision supporter and developers’ mouthpiece Bob Ransford called “parochial decisions” and “endless debate” a problem.  No, it’s not a problem.  After so many decades of top-down control and crony management, parochial decision-making after legitimate local debate is exactly what we DO want, what this City needs.


East Of The Viaducts: The Question Still

May 2, 2018

Five full years ago, I wrote about the stupidity (or crass profiteering) of demolishing the viaducts without having any real idea of what happens to the traffic east of Main. In his haste to bring down the viaducts in the service of his developer cronies, I likened Geoff Meggs to Wile E. Coyote, always running off the edge of a cliff in his eagerness to do evil.

I was reminded of this when reading today’s Tyee article about the City “Offloading” the traffic decision to a “Community panel” based on GW’s discredited Citizens’ Assembly.

From what I can gather from the article, the demolition of the viaducts is a done deal (subject of course to the upcoming election) but the vexing matter of what then happens to the east end traffic is being punted not to the elected Councilors, not to the experts we already pay in Planning and Transportation, not to expensive outside experts, but “to a community panel who may or may not have knowledge of transportation planning, and who may or may not have access to the amount of detailed information needed to make such a complex decision.”

This panel is to be given three options for getting traffic from Main to Clark, each of which includes a major negative issue:  1.  William Street, cutting through Strathcona Park; 2. Malkin Avenue, the original contender but subject to destroying the successful Produce Row industry; and 3. National Avenue, considered by many to be too far south, emerging too close to First and Clark.

The writer in the Tyee is clear that in her opinion, the decision should be made by experts (“Let’s not put a panel of community members into the uncomfortable and unpaid position of choosing one of the three evils.”).

My opinion is that we need to start again, revisit the whole question of the viaducts and their viability, ignore the nagging from the Aquilini’s and others who are impatient to build more towers there, and use a working group of interested residents from each of the neighbourhoods affected, assisted (but only assisted) by professional planners, to create an overall plan with or without the viaducts as they so determine.


COPEing With Housing Policy

April 9, 2018

Making policy democratically can be a messy business; it is always cleaner and more efficient to dictate policy from the top and simply have the underlings sign off on it. But that is not democratic, and COPE is nothing if not democratic. And so it was that I spent a couple of hours watching membership rather messily go through Housing Policy proposals on Saturday morning at the WISE Hall.  Policy development, though arguably the most important part of politics, is not a “sexy” enterprise to many and there were fewer than three dozen members in attendance. However, they more than made up for the small numbers by their enthusiasm and passion for the topics discussed.

Co-chair Connie Hubbs began by noting a number of dates that are of interest. The Vancouver District Labour Council is holding a “mediated” meeting on May 6th in their continuing attempt to create an alliance between COPE, the Greens, One City and Team Jean. I’m guessing Vision may also be invited even though their mayoral candidate — laughingly called an “independent” — has made it clear she doesn’t want to meet with COPE.

In the meanwhile COPE and Team Jean are continuing to meet with Patrick Condon who, in my opinion, would make a very good mayor; I suspect he would be attractive to the Greens too.

The COPE nomination meeting is set for June 10th, with more details to follow. If you are interested in participating, you need to be a COPE member thirty days prior.

Then, onto policy. A long document was circulated with a number of different proposals.  It was revealed later in the meeting that some of the proposals had already made their way to the Policy Committee and had already been incorporated into their document which will be brought before the membership. This meeting was dealing with a very wide range of topics from Housing through Economy, Transit to Indigenous Relations. I was only able to stay for the Housing segment.

The first set of proposals from a member, included a call to increase the cost of CACs and DCLs “to reflect true benefits to developers,” a luxury of “mansion” tax on super-expensive homes, a moratorium on condo building and gentrification in the DTES, an immediate moratorium on demolition “in single and multi-family zones”, a major push in rental construction, rent controls on “large developments”, and changes to regulations to make in-house suites easier to build.  This was such a large and complex set of proposals (I have merely traced the high points above) that it was clearly destined to be referred back to the Policy Committee for refinement and further consideration. (see my comments at the end of this review)

A second proposal from a member concerned a city-wide plan and neighbourhood consultation prior to re-developments, including a final veto by neighbourhoods.  There was some serious discussion about the problems with a city-wide plan, and no-one seemed to recognize that if a neighbourhood can say “no” to development then Shaughnessy and Point Grey and others could just as easily say “no” to social housing. This motion, too, was referred for more work.

A proposal to increase use of co-ops was approved.

Team Jean submitted a number of proposals including a four-year rent freeze (approved), and making rents tied to each unit rather than to each tenancy (approved).  Team Jean also proposed a mansion tax, the stopping of renovictions by giving the right of return at the same rent to any tenant displaced, better checking of rental condition by City Building Department, moratorium on demolition of rental properties when vacancy rate is below 4%, a proposal to end discrimination against pet owners in rentals, the building of 4,500 affordable units per year for the next four years, and the development of a progressive commercial property tax to assist small business owners.

Proposals from others also included allocation of foreign buyers’ tax and speculative taxes to purchase of land for affordable housing, and upzoning all city owned land.

Unfortunately, we were just going through Team Jean’s proposals when it was decided to refer to the Policy Committee’s updated document. This meant essentially starting again. What eventually brought discussion to a halt was a proposal by Policy on the allocation of speculative tax revenues which included, at the very end,  the notion that some funds should be used to “start the process” of returning indigenous land to the indigenous people.   No one was opposed to the principle but the meeting got bogged down in semantics and a discussion about indigenous rights.

By the time this had gone on for a while, I had used up all the time I had and I had to leave.  There were some valuable discussions at the meeting but I was struck by a few things.

  • There seemed to be no recognition that developers do not pay the CACs — they pass them on and the end user pays, thus adding to the already unaffordable prices.  The calls to increase CACs will not harm developers, but simply make things worse for all of us.  I have stated often enough my belief that CACs should be dropped entirely (this immediately lowers the price of housing) and we should return to the highly successful and democratic process of bi-annual bond plebiscites to determine what community assets we are willing to pay for through property taxes: let the people decide, not the developers in cahoots with Planning;
  • Other than a rent freeze (which leaves things in the sorry and expensive state they are) and a vague call for rent control, there was no discussion about affordability of new rentals. In fact, there was a call for just the building of more rentals as if that will solve matters.  We need to build more rentals, it is true, but we also need to amend Rental100 so that incentives are given to developers ONLY for rentals that can be afforded by the median and lower income earner with at most a 30% of median income limit;
  • The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods has already produced an excellent set of principles for consultation and neighbourhood consultation and approval of new development. Why re-invent the wheel?

I am glad to have gone and wish I could have stayed longer.

 


The Multiple Layers of The Housing Crisis

March 30, 2018

I was interested to read today that the Provincial government will be working to block the bare-trust loophole that allows speculators to avoid property taxes. I don’t know enough about the details to comment, but I assume this is a good thing to close off.  Along with the speculation tax, and an increased foreign buyers’ tax, pundits that I trust assure me this will help cool the top end of the housing market in the Lower Mainland.

At the level of the “ordinary” homeowner,  the provincial government seems happy enough to keep raising the threshold for property tax relief, and offering deferred payments for seniors.

Below that level, the so-called “missing middle” (a misnomer) is being dealt with, perhaps not as fast as some would like, by the huge backlog of condos and expensive apartments that are already in the approval pipeline.

At the very lowest level — and genuine problems and delays notwithstanding  — all three governments seem committed to building social housing in some form or another. (Though the failure to significantly raise the $375 shelter rate is nothing but a disgrace for a group that calls itself social democrats.)

The folks who have been truly forgotten are those at or just below the median income (in our famously low income City), most of whom rent.  It is true we weren’t promised much — a $400 annual grant — but even that has failed to materialize while money has been found to help those with capital in property. The lease-vacate clause in the RTC has been amended for the better, but so much more is needed.

We need immediate reforms, at least in these areas:

  • rents MUST be tied to units rather than tenancy; this alone will handle most of the renoviction issues, and help cool the general increase in rents;
  • all suites in the City should be grandfathered in as “legal”, and counted in Rate of Change regulations regardless of zoning;
  • a rent freeze, at least until the annual grant is established and operating;
  • changes to the Rental100 programme so that giveaways to developers are disallowed for units that will rent for more than 30% of the median income in Vancouver (30% of the single person’s median wage for studios and one-bedrooms, 30% of median family wage for 2 beds and up).

I will let those more qualified deal with the high end housing issues; these are the things I’ll be pushing for.