What Better City?

November 30, 2021

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I just received a mailing from Ken Sim for Mayor: A Better City. I suspect this went to every household as his well-heeled 1% backers can afford to spread their money around.

It is a full page letter in both English and Chinese, and in that full page there is not one word — not even a passing reference — to any policy statement. Nothing about housing and homelessness, nothing about development, nothing about the opioid crisis, nothing about transportation or economic development or public safety, nothing about schools or parks or indeed anything else.

Why would anyone want to donate to a candidate for Mayor who is only interested in talking about himself?

Our city is far too valuable to be put in the hands of someone who just wants to play personality politics.


The Broadway Plan: Wow!

November 19, 2021

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As time goes by we get better and more detailed analyses of the Broadway Plan. It sounded bad — a developer’s wet dream — from the very beginning, and ever-closer inspection reveals the horror show that could be inflicted on our city if it continues on its present path. With rumours afoot that the dreamed-up SkyTrain extension to UBC is getting pushed further and further back into the infrastructure priority queue, the entire Broadway Plan along with its attendant subway — the $3 billion hole to nowhere — seems more like development profit driving transit building rather than the other way round.

The always-diligent CityHallWatch have been digging into the bones of the so-called “shoulder areas” along Broadway which, they show, will soon “look like the downtown core.” And these are not insignificant little patches:

They further note that “most details” are still missing, and that Planners give no rationale for the identification of so much land as “shoulder areas.”

Their article goes into great detail about the problems inherent in this Plan and rather than try to summarize their excellent work I urge everyone interested in the future of Vancouver to give it a read.


Larry Beasley Talks to TEAM

November 15, 2021

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TEAM for a Livable Vancouver, the new civic political party led by Clr. Colleen Hardwick, held a policy conference a couple of weekends ago during which the party’s key policy directions were being finalised.

It was a great meeting for policy wonks to thrash out details, but it also allowed the party to make a statement about where it stands in terms of values. And this was most forcefully addressed in the speech given by the keynote speaker, former Vancouver City Planner Larry Beasley:

Sandy James Planner at Viewpoint Vancouver has written a good article about Larry Beasley and in particular about this speech, which I recommend.


Renters and the Broadway Plan

November 11, 2021

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The Broadway Plan — otherwise known as the gold-plated pension plan for developers and city staff — is deep in the midst of its “consultative phase” and this month it is the renters (the majority) who get the treatment. We are offered a free 90-minute Round Table which:

“will focus on rental housing in relation to the Broadway Plan. This session will consider the entire Broadway Plan area and will include topics like the creation of new rental housing, protecting existing secure rental housing, renter protections, and mitigating displacement impacts.”

You can register to join at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/broadway-plan-refined-directions-renter-round-table-tickets-204670774797.

I would strongly urge everyone to read the excellent analysis of the rental implications put together by CityHallWatch. One of their important takeaways:

“Staff purportedly seek the “careful renewal of the aging rental stock” in the apartment zones (RM and FM) between 1st and 16th Avenue and Vine Street and Clark Drive. This is perhaps another way of saying that the City is looking to enable the replacement of affordable rental stock with expensive new rentals. Current renters in those areas should sit up, take notice, and get involved in the consultations.”


Is the Vancouver Plan Already A Bust?

November 7, 2021

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The Vancouver Plan — the much vaunted Official Community Plan for all of Vancouver — has just kicked off, with “consultations” on-going this month. I understand the projected budget for this Plan is $18 million, but you have to wonder what the point of it all is.

Major parts of the City already have 30-year Community Plans less than 10 years old: Mount Pleasant, Grandview, Marpole, the West End, and DTES. Oakridge and the Cambie Corridor are already heavily re-zoned. False Creek South, the Jericho Lands, the Senakw development, and the Broadway corridor are also subject to their own plans.

The “Streamlining Rentals” proposal that is before Council again this week rezones EVERY arterial road in the City plus makes changes to C2 zones city-wide.

And that doesn’t include the scores of spot rezonings for individual projects that continue to flood out of the Planning department on a bi-weekly basis.

What is left, then, for the Vancouver Plan to cover? Is the Vancouver Plan designed to over-ride all these other approved or in- process rezonings? I doubt it. It is hard to imagine developers making commitments without an understanding that their agreed zoning is guaranteed for some period. So what is the point of this much-ballyhooed expensive exercise?

It seems to me that Vancouver southwest and southeast are the two main areas that might need plans; and they could be handled more efficiently and with more focused consultation by individual Community Plans for those areas. Let’s scrap the Vancouver Plan and put the money saved to better use — such as affordable housing.

Postscript: Scot Hein was far more eloquent than I about this topic in an article he sent me from the Tyee from last January.


Another Sneak Attack By CoV Planning

November 5, 2021

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I have already written a piece about the so-called Streamlining Rentals proposal that is currently before City Council at a public hearing. My concerns there were city-wide and about the continuing elimination of public consultation in planning and zoning matters. I did not think that it applied to Grandview because the map that is so prominently used in public media about this proposal specifically excludes areas such as GW which already have Community Plans:

However, a closer reading of the entire proposal — as has been done, for example, by Stephen Bohus of CityHallWatch and GWAC — reveals that C2 zones within the Community Plan areas are also affected, including Commercial Drive.

The change, outlined in Appendix G, raises the maximum allowable height of a building to 50 feet if the commercial space on the ground floor has ceiling height of 17′. The purpose of the ceiling height change is to “improve flexibility and allow for more variety in commercial uses.” The change proposed raises the maximum height on most of the Drive from 35 feet to 50 feet, an increase of 40%.

There is a lot wrong with this proposal and the way it is being pushed through.

Specifically, it goes against the entire letter and spirit of the Grandview Woodland Community Plan’s statements on Commercial Drive:

“Zoning will remain unchanged in this area … Because of the area’s significance to the community and the strong desire to maintain its low-scale character and form, the plan will ensure that other City policies that may otherwise allow for additional height will not apply.” (p.40)

One of the enduring human-scale characteristics of the Drive is the small businesses operated mainly by local merchants. However, as Stephen Bohus has pointed out, the new ceiling height allowances are designed primarily for chain and other large stores that can pay the enhanced rents that such buildings will attract. This will inevitably change the much-admired character of retail on the Drive.

In his presentation to Council, Bohus also noted that the increased first floor height of new buildings allowed under this proposal will affect the older buildings adjacent to such spaces. The floor heights will not match and design will be compromised.

I am unaware of any consultation with locals about these proposed changes. I guess our views don’t matter.

More generally, this whole Streamlining Rentals proposal shows up a number of problems that have become endemic with this City Planning staff. The Report is 348 pages long and the public (and Council members) were given very little time to try to absorb the detailed technical aspects. This has been a typical tactic for too many years now.

The proposals to change C2 zoning in places such as Commercial Drive have nothing to do with streamlining the approval process for new rental properties which is the stated purpose of this Report. They are buried in the report and I don’t recall hearing about them when staff made their presentation.

The practice of putting a disparate set of proposals into one omnibus bill serves no one except the Planning staff, and they do it over and over again. Council needs to step up and demand that each item be presented separately for proper debate.


Streamlining the Public Out of Business

November 2, 2021

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City Council will today receive a report called Streamlining Rental Housing which has the stated purpose of reducing the time it takes to approve rental housing projects in areas of Vancouver not covered by Community Plans. It is an aggressive policy that forces through significant increased density across the city without any local context and which eliminates most opportunities for public discussion of the projects before approval.

This is a complex and over-arching policy decision that I have not been able to devote sufficient time to deconstruct in detail. Interested readers could do a lot worse than follow the discussion at CityHallWatch where highly experienced city planners, architects, and activists have tried to explain the devastating pitfalls that will accrue from this policy. See, for example, what architect Brian Palmquist has to say; and read the critiques by Elizabeth Murphy and Christina da Marco.

Former senior City Planner and current adjunct professor at UBC Scot Hein, who may be familiar to readers here for a number of reasons not least of which was the long conversation he and I had on similar matters earlier this year, is also opposed to the plan. In a letter to Mayor and Council, he poses a number of questions which I will reprint here with his permission (the original is at CHW here):

Good evening Mayor and Councillors.

I am curious why you would consider, and possibly approve, the following under the proposed “Streamlining Rental Housing” policy:

1) A policy that compels land assembly with the costs of land passed on in higher rents.

2) A policy that compels underground parking (at combined hard + soft costs of $70,000/stall) with these costs of parking by-law compliance passed on in higher rents.

3) A policy that compels underground parking in concrete suspended slab systems that generate enormous, and unnecessary, environmental costs.

4) A policy that compels unnecessary building heights, and related shadowing/view impacts, for the anticipated density and related forms (a four storey building only requires 35 feet, not 45 feet, to be economically viable and meet building by-law/fire fighting requirements).

5) A policy that compels less efficient (net to gross) apartment buildings with the costs of excessive circulation systems, including interior corridors, elevators and exit stairs, passed on in higher rents and related operational/maintenance costs. Note: A 100% efficient, compact, 3.5 storey building form would be a better response to housing needs, especially for families as they would yield ground oriented, larger units. Such buildings would also be more contextually compatible to off arterial contexts. Considering 4 storeys, vs 3.5 storeys, opens the door to out of scale apartment buildings on assembled flanking street sites.

6) A policy that limits more innovative missing middle building typologies that can provide similar, if not more, unit yield per site frontage. The policy before you defaults to conventional (uninspired, not innovative) housing form. There so many other approaches available to you for arterial development, including more contextually responsive building forms on unassembled lots that could be more dense, and even modestly higher, towards even greater affordability than the policy before you could motivate.

7) A policy that discriminates between neighbourhoods with community plans, and those neighbourhoods without.

8) A policy that does not enjoy the insight, and ideas, of local community that a CityWide Plan process might reveal. The False Creek South delegations, and your thoughtful response, are informative at this moment.

9) A policy that does not secure true affordability, while giving away land value to market speculation after you have approved, as recently evidenced by the article “Vacant lot rezoned by Vancouver city council for rental project flipped for $5 million” (Georgia Straight 29-Oct-2021).

10) A policy that puts the future of rental housing in the hands of only those familiar with the system when you could democratize market participation through a more thoughtful policy that could also motivate changes to the approval process currently plaguing builders of smaller housing projects.

Thank you very much for considering the above.

I urge readers who are able to follow the debate today at City Hall through the city’s website at vancouver.ca


Provincial NDP Gets Into Bed With Developers

October 31, 2021

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Earlier this week, the Provincial government introduced amendments to the Local Government Act that will reduce public consultation on zoning and planning matters and increase even more (if that were possible) the insider influence of developers. To quote the government:

“The proposed changes will remove the default requirement for local governments to hold public hearings for zoning bylaw amendments that are consistent with the official community plan. The amendments will also enable municipalities and regional districts to delegate decisions on minor development variance permits to local government staff.”

The matter is well covered in an article in the Georgia Straight today, primarily with an interview with the always excellent Randy Helten of CityHallWatch.

Vancouver operates outside the Local Government Act but , as I mentioned in my own interview with the paper: “What [the Province is] doing is catching with what Vancouver has already done, which is to reduce public engagement as much as they can.”

The Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, which the City now uses to cover a multitude of sins and as an excuse to restrict public engagement, was never a community-driven process. It began as a Planners’ plan and ended the same way as I described in my book “Battleground: Grandview“. Local activists say the same thing about the West End Plan, the Marpole Plan, the DTES Plan.

Pretty soon we will have the Broadway Plan and, eventually, the Vancouver Plan, all of which will be manipulated in the same developer-first way unless we radically change the membership of City Council and, they in turn, instruct Planners to heed the needs of local residents first and profit-driven developers a distant second.


Vancouver Plan

October 26, 2021

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Many of you will know that the City of Vancouver is developing a city-wide Plan for future zoning and development; this is the Vancouver Plan.

The next stage of this Plan includes a series of “neighbourhood” open houses. For Grandview, our sessions are scheduled for:

  • 8th November between 6:00pm and 7:30pm
  • 9th November between 10:00am and 11:30am

You can register at the Eventbrite site.

Given the way that the City of Vancouver is actively limiting or eliminating public consultation on many developments — and forcing through individual projects in advance that should be subject to the Vancouver Plan — these workshops may be one of the few occasions on which you can at least try to make your voice heard on the future of our city.

Therefore, I encourage everyone to register and attend whatever session makes sense for you.


Parking Fee Debate Review

October 8, 2021

As most of you will have heard by now, City Council voted 6-5 to not move forward with City staff’s proposals for a city-wide overnight parking fee and the establishment of a “pollution tax” on high-emission automobiles. The proposal claimed to be a key element of the City’s Climate Emergency Action Plan but even the Mayor — who usually votes in lockstep with the Vision 2.0 coalition of One City and the Greens — thought it was ill-thought out.

The result emerged after many hours of debate with scores of residents speaking their piece. What was clear to me after all that was that staff had made a strategic mistake. They love to dump multiple items into Reports that are so long they recognize that most working folk will not have time to read them. On this occasion, though, they would have been much more successful had they introduced two separate motions: one on the parking fees, and another on the pollution tax. I suspect that many people like me opposed the proposed version of the first but support the principals of the second. I can hardly remember a single speaker referring to the pollution tax during the debate — the entire argument was over the parking fee. Staff’s decision to link the two consigned both to defeat.

Of course once the vote failed, the faux progressives immediately claimed that this was a disaster and had set back Vancouver’s efforts to face up to climate change. That is nonsense of course and it astounds me that anyone could actually think the parking fee would have made a significant dent in emissions. It would have applied to a minority of vehicles in Vancouver and it would have charged people for parking, not driving. It’s effect on emissions would have been less than zero.

I am told that I am missing the point; that the purpose of the tax was to shift people out of their cars and onto bikes or walking or transit. However, the proponents also claimed (as a debate selling point) that it would come at minimal cost to residents. They failed to explain how something with virtually no cost would shift attitudes in the way they suggest.

Much of the talk last night was about freeing up public space on the roads and yet the City bans parking on front yards and most new multi-family developments Council approves these days come with very restricted parking requirements; thus forcing more cars to park on the streets. Some might suggest that the parking fee was a revenue stream caused by policies already passed.

Councillor Boyle, after the debate, was vociferous in her criticisms of those opposing the plan. She claimed that we were simply being negative and had offered up no alternatives. Either she hadn’t been listening to the vast online discussion over the past week or she was choosing to misrepresent. Many of us have proposed putting the pollution tax (the far more important part of the plan) through ICBC. They are already set up to administer such a scheme and so no additional layer of city bureaucrats would be needed. It is true that this would require the City along with UBCM to lobby the Provincial government both to implement the program and to equitably share the revenues. Apparently Councillor Boyle didn’t like the idea of that kind of political hard work.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the three Green Councillors, who were aghast at this loss, had a chance to make a real difference back in January but chose, all three of them, to approve the purchase by Translink of additional high-emission gas buses rather than pushing for an electric option. Success in that venture would have made a far bigger dent in emissions than dinging a working Jane or Joe for parking their car on a city street overnight.


The Future of False Creek Housing

October 3, 2021

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Many readers will know that the housing at False Creek South is recognized around the world as a model of integrated planning. The mix of high-, middle-, and low-income households supported by long-term leases from the City has developed into a highly successful community. Unfortunately that community is threatened and the residents stressed by the failure of the City to renew the leases even though discussions have been ongoing for many years.

At the Special Council Meeting on Tuesday (October 5th), Councillor Colleen Hardwick is bringing forward a Motion that would require the City to extend the current leases at least until the lease renewal negotiations are completed. She also wants the residents to “be guaranteed security of tenure in False Creek South at a rate affordable to them.”

The Motion also calls for any community planning for False Creek South to be carried out in public, and that any new development in the area should only take place on vacant land in order to maintain the current housing.

I urge my readers to write to City Council by early Tuesday morning in support of this Motion to retain and improve one of the great successes of housing policy in Vancouver.


An Inequitable Greenwashing Cash Grab

September 30, 2021

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The High Cost of Parking Your Car - Buddy Loans Blog

At the next Vancouver Council meeting our elected reps will be voting on a staff plan to introduce new city-wide parking fees including a sliding scale of pollution surcharges based on the type of vehicle. Staff claim that the anticipated revenues of up to $70 million would be used to pay for for some elements of the city’s Climate Emergency Action Plan.

Green Councillor Adriane Carr called the idea “a necessary step” and suggested it would go toward “changing consumer behaviour.” The pollution surcharge could be up to $1,000 a year for high-end vehicles, and Carr commented: “If you can afford to buy an SUV or high-end sports car that may well run you over $100,000, but certainly $80,000 and up, I think a $500 or $1,000 fee is not very much.”

That sounds reasonable but ignores the fact that many if not most of those who can afford such cars have garages and therefore will escape paying any part of the fees or surcharges. Because they will not have to pay, it will have no effect on the behaviour of the owners of the worst-polluting vehicles and thus will have little or no environmental impact.

In fact, the main burden of this new taxation will fall on the low-and-middle income workers in the city who have no garage and who need a vehicle for work. It is a situation that will get progressively worse as more people move into new apartment developments that, under this Council’s zoning policies, include fewer and fewer parking spaces.

This proposal is weighted in favour of the rich and will do very little to improve the environment. It is, in fact, a classic case of a greenwashing cash grab. I empathize with the policy’s declared purpose of moving people out of their cars and onto transit (or bikes or walking) but this is not the way to achieve those ends.

A far better solution, I believe, is to lobby the Provincial government to include a sliding scale emissions tax onto auto insurance. That way would oblige the worst polluters to pay in a way that cannot be avoided just because they are fortunate enough to have a garage.


Some Thoughts On The TEAM Announcement

September 29, 2021

Earlier today I published the media release for the new TEAM party that is gearing up to fight the 2022 Vancouver civic election. Regular readers will be aware that Councillor Colleen Hardwick, the driving force behind the new party, has spent the last two years battling the entrenched interests at City Hall to improve the governance of our city which, many of us believe, has been failing the citizens in so many ways.

She worked tirelessly for months — and against bitter opposition from city staff — to get us an Auditor General, one of the keys to improving efficiency and delivery of services to us all. And she has continued to press staff to justify their housing policies which, it is now shown, they developed without adequate data and which appear to be aimed at grabbing CAC revenues rather than meeting the needs of the majority of Vancouver’s working population.

I declare an interest here: I have spent a few weeks working with the new TEAM to help develop the guidelines for their policies on community and neighbourhood representation. I very much like the transparent way in which they plan to develop policies (there will be a full-on policy development conference in the next few weeks), and I greatly respect the talents of the group that Hardwick has put together, many of whom I have worked with over the years and some who are new to me.

We can certainly do a lot better than the Vision 2.0 coalition we have on Council today (or even a revival, God forbid, of the former Vision). In the next short while a website will be available for those interested in joining TEAM, in helping develop the policies we need to solve the city’s problems and move us forward into the future. I encourage everyone to take a look and join in.


A New TEAM For Vancouver

September 29, 2021

This morning, Councillor Colleen Hardwick issued the following media release:


Vancouver, B.C. (September 29, 2021): Councillor Colleen Hardwick today announced that she has joined TEAM for a Livable Vancouver, a new citizen-based movement. Hardwick resigned from the NPA in May and has been sitting as an independent.

“Effective immediately I will be sitting on council as a member of TEAM for a Livable Vancouver,” said Hardwick. She said that like the original TEAM (The Electors’ Action Movement) founded by Art Phillips and her father Walter Hardwick in 1968, the new TEAM will put Vancouverites at the centre in tackling the key issues of our time. “The first TEAM united residents to defend their neighbourhoods from demolition, stopped plans to run freeways through downtown Vancouver, and created the award-winning False Creek South neighbourhood, an inspiring legacy worth fighting for,” Hardwick said.

“I look at city hall today and what I see is a city government that treats Vancouverites like ATMs while ignoring the issues that are most important to Vancouver’s families,” added Hardwick. “Too often residents are simply seen as a source of more and more revenue for a bloated city government that takes too long to get things done and sidelines the valuable opinions of citizens. Meanwhile, small businesses are buried in red tape, renters are stressed, neighbourhoods and parks are neglected.”

Hardwick said citizens are right to be feeling ignored, as there are fewer and fewer opportunities for real public input. “City advisory committees are deliberately stacked and filled with the ‘right’ people. Neighbourhood opinions are regularly dismissed. In fact, just recently the city canvassed Vancouverites on its new ‘climate emergency’ parking plan that imposed additional fees. When 19,000 people taking the survey overwhelmingly said no, the city hired a market research firm to get the answer it wanted.”

“TEAM then and now share a community-based approach, one that appeals to people of every political persuasion who are committed to putting Vancouver, its people and its neighbourhoods first,” said Hardwick. “Being focused on our citizens first and foremost is an approach that makes sense, and something that will always stand the test of time. In fact, as we head towards the next municipal election, I have just one question for every Vancouverite: Do you like what’s happening to your city?”

“Too many politicians have a knack for talking about the need for more affordability, then out of the other side of their mouth they’re jacking up city costs and taxes that make our city less affordable,” said Hardwick. “There is an incredible disconnect between city hall and Vancouver’s working families, and the
gap is only getting wider as the city ignores the fundamentals of running a city for people who live and work here. That’s what happens when politicians don’t listen and get caught up in their vanity projects, while ignoring the very people who live and operate businesses here …”

Besides Hardwick, the founding board of TEAM for a Livable Vancouver Association includes award-winning filmmaker David Fine, information technology consultant and SFU student Sean Nardi, retired educator Sal Robinson, and architect David Wong.

“This new party was created by people from different backgrounds, but we all have a common concern about our city’s current direction,” explained Fine. “Our goal is to offer our fellow citizens a better, progressive and forward-thinking option in the 2022 civic election.” Wong said “the group has been meeting for several months, looking for better ways of dealing with issues such as Vancouver’s deteriorating livability, the ongoing housing crisis, the ever-increasing cost of living, the increase in crime and growing concerns about public safety in many of the city’s neighbourhoods.” “TEAM is built around the belief that Vancouverites need to be heard, particularly when it comes to how our city is run and what its future should look like,” noted Robinson. “Vancouverites deserve a city council, school and park board with an agenda that puts citizens front and centre: people who listen to the residents that elected them.”

“Our policies are still being formulated and we consider our launch as an open invitation to our fellow citizens to join us in shaping them,” added Hardwick. “Our aim is to create a broad-based coalition of people with innovative ideas that will fix what’s broken in our city. Vancouver is rife with division and anger, and we need to respond better and address issues that people really care about: livability, fairness, safety, and a truly sustainable and affordable city.”


Urban Design 101

September 27, 2021

Scot Hein is a retired architect, former senior urban designer at the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia. An adjunct professor of Urban Design at UBC, lecturer at Simon Fraser University, founding board member of the Urbanarium, and excellent conversationalist, he has now created a graphic novella called “What About Me?” that is available at spacing in two parts. It is primer on how Vancouver has historically regulated a for-profit—now over-heated—housing market.

He has followed this up with an essay in several parts called “Zoning Must Evolve” which begins here.

““You Forgot About Me” is offered as a backgrounder that introduces development regulation concepts that the City of Vancouver has relied upon for many years. It is intended to stimulate a conversation towards new approaches to address affordability—including the delivery of non-market housing better tied to income—by changing existing zoning.”

Together, these are an excellent way to start thinking about what we need to do in Vancouver to sort out the mess we are in. Thoroughly recommended.


Let The People Speak

September 17, 2021

Back in the bad old days, when the thoroughly anti-democratic Vision party ruled Vancouver, they forced through a motion that required public hearings which could not be completed in a single session to be held during the working day, rather than in the evenings. The motion was introduced partly because daytime meetings are more convenient for both City staff and Councilors. But the primary motive was to reduce the ability of Vancouver electors to have their say on matters of importance to them because most electors work during the day and cannot take time off to speak.

It has to be remembered that Vision had been so bad at public consultation that late-stage public hearings were often the only chance you and I had to voice our opinions – and voice them we did, to the chagrin of Vision and their staff — and even then we were almost inevitably ignored.

Once Vision were unceremoniously booted from office in the 2018 civic election it became possible to revisit this by-law and, in October 2020, a very slim majority (6-5) of the new Council voted to restore evening hearings for reconvened public hearings. Strike one for the people!

However, like Dracula, the monster was only sleeping and has now woken to attack us once again.

Next Tuesday, 21 September, City Council will debate a procedure by-law change establishing a schedule of meetings for 2022. A close examination of the memo reveals that reconvened public hearings (listed as “Public Hearing Reserved”) will generally begin at 3:00pm and some will start as early as 9:30am. If approved, we will be back in the same situation we were with Vision, in which, for example, developers and their supporters can come and speak to Council about a proposal because it is part of their work day, while Jane Doe and Joe Blow who have employment and childcare commitments at that time will miss out.

Who is bringing forward this by-law change? It appears to be the City Clerk’s office; leaned on, no doubt, by the City Manager. And why are we re-visiting a decision made less than one year ago?

And what will the Greens do this time? In the vote last October all three Greens voted against the democratic option, and I asked at that time:

“what were the Vancouver Greens thinking? I know that recently they have been happily leaning on the Vision-esque Americanized City staff for many of their thoughts and actions, but I could not believe they would be so publicly scornful of the public’s right to be part of the debate. It shows their fundamentally un-progressive position on so many issues outside of, perhaps, the environment.”

As CityHallWatch has written about next Tuesday’s vote:

“The changes to allow for reconvened Public Hearings to start as early as 9:30 am will only be debated by Council (there will be no public speakers allowed), so the only way for concerned citizens to take action on this matter is to directly contact members of Council (by phone, e-mail, social media, or other means). A simple message that these changes are not welcome could make a difference in the Council vote on the topic.”

I encourage everyone to write and complain about this proposed change.


Vancouver’s Auditor-General — Finally!

August 9, 2021

This morning, City of Vancouver issued a press release announcing that Mike Macdonell has been appointed as Vancouver’s first ever Auditor-General. The appointment comes after a two-year effort, led with enormous persistence by Councillor Colleen Hardwick, which we followed here, here, and here.

Macdonell, an accountant and fraud specialist, will take up his new position next month. In an interview with the Province, he said:

“I think any large local government has the opportunity to benefit from another set of eyes, an impartial view on how particular aspects of the city’s administration are working. … I wouldn’t really have wanted to take this position on unless I felt it had the opportunity to add value … The cornerstone of any auditor’s independence is their ability to report, impartially and in an unfettered manner, what they find. And that’s exactly what I will do, so every audit will have a public report at the end of it,” he said.

Councillor Hardwick notes that “The appointment of Mike McDonnell as the Inaugural Auditor General is a significant milestone for the City of Vancouver. For the first time, the City will have independent assurance of the stewardship of public funds.”

It was, as someone else noted today, like pulling hen’s teeth to get this appointment in place. Now, we look forward to the results we expect.


Housing Unaffordability — Blame City Hall

July 20, 2021

One doesn’t have to agree with everything Councillor Colleen Hardwick says — nor even agree with her motives — to recognize that she has spent the last couple of years trying to get Vancouver City Council’s governance improved for the benefit of Vancouverites generally.

Eventually, we will get an Auditor-General in place (based entirely on her efforts) and, providing Vision Vancouver doesn’t rear its ugly head and bury everything again, I believe we will eventually get the true housing facts and figures that she has been demanding for over a year.

On the occasion of the City’s last Council meeting before the summer break, she has issued a statement that bears reading:

“City Hall’s addiction to the revenues generated by rezoning continues to inflate land values, it takes too long to get permits and applications approved, and City charges and fees can add $200 per square foot or more to building costs,” said Hardwick as Council’s Finance Standing Committee reviews the current Vancouver Plan planning process this week. “It’s also been more than a year since I asked city staff in council to provide updated housing data so we could actually make housing decisions based on real numbers and facts, and still, we have no data. Meanwhile the city has charged forward with development and planning policies based on aspirations rather than evidence.”

Hardwick says the city continues to make decisions that are making housing unaffordable, particularly when it comes to the constant rezoning that results in rising land values that push housing costs through the roof.

“The volume of rezoning under Vision Vancouver inflated the value of land and the air above it, and today’s council continues to take that same approach, to the detriment of people looking to buy a new home in their own city,” said Hardwick. “Frankly, the existing zoning in Vancouver is more than able to handle the real population growth expected in the future. But City Hall is addicted to the revenues that come with rezoning, and those extra costs are passed on to the homebuyer and pricing this city out of the reach of Vancouverites. If you’re buying a 1,000 sq ft condo you can expect that about $200,000 of the actual cost is directly related to City Hall. Meanwhile, everyone at City Hall says they are committed to affordable housing.”

Hardwick said that when you take the pricing inflation caused by rezoning and add in the growing number of city fees and charges around developments, plus the fact that permits and approvals can take four, five and six years, it’s easy to see why Vancouverites are finding it harder and harder to live in their own city.

“Politicians and staff at City Hall say they are all for affordable housing, but then they do anything and everything in their power to make it less affordable,” added Hardwick. “It reinforces my strong belief that City Hall views Vancouverites as ATM machines and there is no real interest at 12th and Cambie when it comes to making our city more affordable for Vancouverites.”

“If we really want affordable housing we need to focus on three things: sticking with existing zoning for a time, rather than more rezoning that continues to push up the price of land; reigning in and rationalizing the cost of development permits, building permits and community amenity charges, all of which add more and more costs to the final price of a home; and we definitely need to reduce the time it takes to approve projects, because, after all, time is money.”

I would also note that your property taxes are having to bear the burden of hundreds more highly-paid City staff that have been added to various departmental empires over the last decade, homelessness and opioid issues have ballooned over the same period with little hope of resolution under this regime, and both the mayor and senior City staff are actively working to reduce the ability of you — the voter — to affect City policy and development.

We have just over a year to the next election when we can dump the anti-people free spenders that are currently ruining our City. Please give it some thought.


GWAC and TMH: A Report

June 8, 2021

I attended the GWAC ZOOM meeting last night which featured a long discussion about Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) in general and the new building at 1580 Vernon in particular.

The meeting began with an overview of TMH in Vancouver by Steve Bohus. It was a very useful review and was applauded by Lisa Jimenez, a CoV planner.

The meeting was then turned over to Julie Roberts and Robbie Moza of Community Buildings Group (CBG) who are in charge of operating the new building which is scheduled to open in July. CBG operates a number of low-barrier homeless shelters in Vancouver, along with two TMH projects, one in Marpole which has operated very successfully for three years, and another at Naomi House which opened earlier this year.

The new TMH at 1580 Vernon will include 98 housing units, along with a community kitchen, common areas, and office space. Each of the housing units is roughly 250 sq.ft. and includes a private bathroom and a small kitchen area. Ms. Roberts played a short but enlightening video of the TMH at Naomi House which illustrated the kind of housing units that will be available.

CHG is currently working with BC Housing to select the first tenants who will be offered space at Vernon. There is an attempt to prioritize local homeless.

CHG also creates what they call a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) from the local residential community. The CAC is designed to help integrate the TMH within the local neighbourhood. In the case of 1580 Vernon, there are no residences within three blocks of the building and so the CAC will probably be peopled by the businesses that are close by.

CHG noted that there were significant community concerns before the Marpole before the TMH was opened. However, after three years of operation, there now seems to be good acceptance of the building and its residents.

I found the presentation and the discussion to be extremely valuable. I have been a strong supporter of this development, and the proposal for 1st and Clark, and I hope that this presentation helped soothed some of the concerns people may have.

It was good to see CoV Planning and BC Housing staff, along with Councillor Jean Swanson and two BIA executives, join in with the GWAC meeting.


Another Future For The Drive?

May 27, 2021

After an evening of speakers last night, and an afternoon of debate and amendments this afternoon, Vancouver City Council passed the BIA-sponsored motion entitled “Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street.”

Rather than me try to summarize, the original Motion can be found at Motion – Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street – May 18, 2021 (vancouver.ca) The final Motion approved was slightly different (the exact wording probably won’t be available to me for a few days) but the essentials are the same.

This is a plan that — through the midwifery of Councilors Fry and DeGenova — comes fully formed from the Commercial Drive Business Society (the BIA) without any consultation with groups such as GWAC, Britannia, or any others except the Italian Cultural Centre, and it must be viewed in that context: It is designed to meet the BIA Board’s view of what businesses want, and to meet certain of their specific goals.

That being said, in my opinion it has some really good things in it; policies I support and have encouraged for years — a pedestrians-first agenda, slow streets, sidewalk widening and improvements, a better matching of the southern half of the Drive with the northern half.

It also includes some things — such as “maintaining and improving” parking on the Drive — that give me serious pause.

More generally, I have some concerns that the further gentrification of the Drive — and let us make no mistake, that is what this will be — could have significant and negative effects on the poor, troubled, and often homeless folks who live and spend their time in and around the Drive. Councilor Swanson voted against major parts of this Motion for the same reason.

But the Motion passed, so what does it actually mean? Very little in my opinion. There is no budget at Planning or Engineering for any work on the plan to move ahead: that was made very clear during the Council debate. An amendment to the Motion seeks funding in a future capital plan, but that can only be considered as wishful thinking at this point. I assume that lack of funding will also prohibit the kind of extensive consultations that are suggested by the Motion. So, we stay the way we are.

And that, believe it or not, meets one of the BIA’s most important goals — to defeat or substantially delay any plan to put a segregated bike lane anywhere on the Drive (as suggested, for example, in the Climate Emergency Action Plan approved recently by Council). Some might say that was the major goal of the exercise from the beginning. As was to be expected, Councilor Boyle made a number of amendments to get a bike lane included, but each was voted down, to the relief of the Motion’s sponsors. I have no dog in that particular fight.

I am hoping that the BIA will take this opportunity of a public debate to widen their engagement with groups and individuals in the neighbourhood. They fight hard to protect the parking that they believe encourages visitors from other neighbourhoods to come to the Drive. They need to fight just as hard to include the residents of Grandview in their plans. It is we, after all, who, day in and day out, provide most of the revenue to their businesses and make the Drive the lively and wonderful place it is.