The Crack Cocaine of City Finance

March 9, 2021

I originally wrote this piece in early 2014. I think it is worth bringing it back into focus:

Community Amenity Contributions — CACs — are a debilitating and socially-destructive drug that the City of Vancouver has fallen addicted to over the last twenty years.  They are, to be frank, the crack cocaine of city finance and they need to be flushed right out of our system.

Perhaps many of you have never heard of CACs; they are not, after all, everyday talk in the coffee shops and diners.  CACs are a bribe developers pay the city to allow them to breach the previously agreed zoning for a particular lot.  If you want to exceed the height limits, floor space ratio (FSR), use profile, or some other aspect of what the local community has determined is best for their neighbourhood, you can negotiate a fee — the CAC — with City Planning that will get you off the regulatory hook.  City Planning then puts that money toward specific new public amenities (supposedly in that neighbourhood, but apparently not always) [these days CAC payments are just another way to cover up the gaps in the City’s budget — and that’s why Vision 2.0 keeps approving them].

That sounds like an interesting idea — if a developer wants to break the rules, that’s OK, so long as he buys us a shiny new library or a small park or a community meeting room in exchange.  But it is actually a terrible idea, especially as now the City essentially says that the availability of new community amenities are completely dependent on getting CACs from developers.  In other words, we can have nice things but only so long as we give away profitable density to developers; who, in turn, may or may not contribute some of their excess profits to particular municipal parties.  Moreover, the current system encourages spot rezoning (often against the terms of Vancouver Charter section 565A), especially when the developer is dealing with today’s majority on City Council that never votes against development applications.

It is vital that we de-couple the civic amenities that residents need from the indiscriminate and rapid densification of our beautiful city that six [now thirteen] years of Vision Vancouver [and Vision 2.0] management has brought us.  The NPA and COPE were also in power during the period while this addiction took hold.

It didn’t used to be this way.  In the good old days — just a couple of decades ago — we voted on plebiscites every other year to determine which amenities we were willing to pay for by issuing City bonds.  It was mostly efficient. It was defiantly democratic.  The people got to decide what they thought was worth paying for, and the developers were not involved at all.  We need to go back to that system or something very much like it.

In return for lessening their costs, by eliminating CACs, I would tie this change into a change to the Development Cost Levy by-law to ensure a developer pays the entire cost of city infrastructure required for new development.

These changes, to CACs and DCLs, frees developers from paying CACs, obliges developments to pay for their own infrastructure, and allows the electors of Vancouver to more directly control the flow of amenities required to make us the most livable city in the world.


CoV Planning and Orwellian Doublespeak

February 12, 2021

Further to my earlier post regarding the development of 1766 Frances, I want to point out a method by which the Planning Department in Vancouver uses doublespeak to push through developments that cannot be approved in any other way.

The Planning Department’s Recommendation for 1766 Frances claims that it “meets the intent of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan with respect to the delivery of social housing” and therefore should be approved. However, this claim was immediately challenged and the head of Planning, Gil Kelley, felt the need to issue a memo dated 5th February (but which was not made public until yesterday) clarifying that the project should be approved under the terms of section 7.1.3. of the Plan.

During the questioning of staff by Councilors, Planning was specifically asked whether this project would have been approved had it been anything other than social housing. The answer was a firm “No.” It was, they said, approved because of 7.1.3.

After the staff presentations and the applicant’s presentation and a dozen or more public speakers had concluded, the Councilors made their closing remarks before voting. Almost without exception, they praised the development and — having drunk deeply of the Planning Department’s Kool-Aid — said they were going to approve the project because it met the Grandview Woodland Community Plan guidelines.

So let us look at the infamous section 7.1.3. of the Grandview Community Plan. The relevant bullet point states:

“7.1.3: Consider modest increases in height and density for the delivery of non-market housing to assist with project viability” ( p.131)

The key word here is “modest”.

The change in zoning that was approved last night increased the allowable height from 10.7m to 29.28m — an increase of 273% — and increased the allowable density from 1.4 FSR to 4.06 FSR — an increase of 290%.

Perhaps that is an unfair comparison as the rezoning had to be taken from the pre-Plan starting point. Under the Plan, the allowable number of storeys is 6; the approval is for 9 — an increase of 50%. As for density, the Plan allows for 2.4 FSR and so the increase agreed to last night was 70%.

Only in George Orwell’s dystopian world of doublespeak could increases of 273% and 290% or even 50% and 70% be considered “modest”.

It is as if the Planning Department in Vancouver is speaking a language known only to themselves and their developer friends; a language designed to confuse the rest of us and to thwart the terms and conditions of the social contract known as the Community Plan. It is a sad business that Vancouver City Council allows themselves to be dragged by the nose by their staff.


The NPA Cabaret Continues

February 6, 2021

The story so far: here and here.

Instead of facing up to the fact that the current NPA Board is skewing far to the right — or, indeed, choosing to celebrate that fact — they have decided on the Donald Trump course of action: sue everyone and hope that keeps their critics quiet.

On Thursday, seven of the NPA Directors sued Mayor Kennedy Stewart for issuing “a highly defamatory” press release attacking the NPA and engaging in “hate speech for political gain”. The City of Vancouver was included in the suit, claiming that the communications staff “conspired” with the Mayor in his defamatory remarks.

The elected NPA Caucus, long at odds with the party’s Board, issued a statement noting that they had not been consulted before the lawsuit was filed.

The Caucus’s demand that an AGM be held has also gone unanswered to this point. A long-time NPA supporter and previous Board member wrote to me the other day doubting that the Board could organize a proper AGM: “They couldn’t work their way out of a paper bag,” they wrote.

Word on the street is that Ken Sim — who barely failed to be elected as NPA’s mayoral candidate in 2018 — is thinking of starting a new party. Given the resources that one suspects will be behind his next run for office, I would assume that he could have engineered a takeover of the NPA if he and his backers thought there was any value left in the brand. Apparently they don’t, so why should anyone else?

Low drama on the civic scene – great fun for those of us on the outside looking in.


Will The NPA Survive?

January 31, 2021

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a piece about the 2022 civic election that touched on the troubles within the Non-Partisan Association (NPA). Since then, their problems have exploded into the public’s consciousness with a fury I am sure they never expected.

On January 21st, the Tyee published an article entitled “Worries Rise that NPA Board Could Run Extremist Candidates in 2022,” which expanded on some of the issues I had raised and featured details about Angelo Isidorou, a recently empaneled NPA Director. Isidorou was photographed at a 2017 protest wearing a MAGA hat and flashing a hand signal widely recognized as a symbol of white power.

This was far from the first instance of right-wing extremism shown by the current NPA Board. Director Wes Mussio has strongly criticized mask-wearing, and has used Trumpian insults to describe BC’s pandemic response, preferring to live in Florida rather than Vancouver. Christopher Wilson, who used to work for the extremist right-wing Rebel Media outfit, suggested last year that residents should harass homeless people whom he called “lowlifes.”

Isidorou and Mussio were added to the NPA Board last November when two more moderates resigned. Councillor Rebecca Bligh had resigned from the NPA Caucus early over similar concerns.

It seemed that the NPA Board had decided to try to ride out the storm by saying nothing about the Tyee article. However, the pressures from both outside and inside the party became too great and a statement was issued that satisfied none of their critics:

“The article is nothing more than part of a clearly co-ordinated smear campaign to besmirch a newly appointed board member, as well as a continued campaign against the conservative persuasion of the board,” the statement said. “It is becoming increasingly clear the smear campaign against the NPA and its board members are designed to distract from the poor governance of the City of Vancouver under Mayor Kennedy Stewart and his progressive allies from COPE, OneCity and the Green party.”

The Tyee responded by pointing out the falsehoods in the NPA statement, and the Vancouver Sun described the NPA statement as “decidedly Trumpian”:

“Mawhinney’s statement didn’t include the expression “fake news,” but it bore a distinctly Trumpian tone, and party leadership seemed to be following the former U.S. president’s template of refusing to answer journalists’ legitimate questions on matters of public interest, with party leadership choosing to attack media coverage deemed unfavourable, without actually refuting anything or citing any inaccuracies.”

With their first response withering on the vine, the NPA released another statement:

“On behalf of the NPA Board, the party denounces racism and discrimination of ALL forms. We are an inclusive political organization and support every citizen of Vancouver.”

Still not good enough, less than two hours later, the NPA’s entire elected 9-person caucus (described by the Breaker News as “dominated by liberal women” in contrast to the board “dominated by conservative men”) demanded that the NPA call an AGM to elect a Board that would “reflect the values of the elected caucus, long held ideals of the organization, membership, and the diversity of our city and residents.”

The following day, in an interview with Lynda Steele, Councillor Sara Kirby-Yung announced that an open AGM would be held.

Angelo Isidorou resigned from the Board, said his white power gesture was just “mimicking” Donald Trump, and that he planned to sue both the Tyee and Postmedia.

Tough days for the oldest party in Vancouver. The Sun ran an editorial cartoon which was forwarded to me by one of the party’s previous major donors with a note saying the party was now “a sad joke.”


GWAC on Strathcona Park

January 30, 2021

This month’s meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) is on Monday 1st February starting at 7:00pm. It is, as usual these days, a ZOOM meeting.

The main topic this month is the tent encampment on Strathcona Park, its impacts and possible solutions. The discussion will be led by Katie Lewis, secretary of the Strathcona Residents Association.

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84620957804?pwd=bGs3WEVVYWV1Qy9xRlB3REdjcHZ4UT09

Meeting ID: 846 2095 7804 Passcode: 669540


Vancouver for Renters?

January 24, 2021

Last Thursday, SFU Public Square hosted a ZOOM conference entitled “Towards a More Equitable Housing System: Is Vancouver a City for Renters?” It was co-hosted by Meg Holden of SFU and journalist Kerry Gold. More than 500 people joined the event, including at least seven Vancouver City councilors. It was, in my judgement, a very worthwhile two hours because of the range of viewpoints expressed.

The meeting kicked off with a poll asking participants to select the most urgent housing issues facing Vancouver at this time. 62% said homelessness, 52% cited affordability, and 47% suggested a lack of social and co-op housing opportunities.

The meeting proper began with a presentation by Andy Yan using his vast collection, and understanding, of the relevant data. He showed that renters represent 53% of households in the City, about the same as since 1971. This population is not spread evenly across the city: his maps shows 82% in Strathcona, 81% in the West End, and 62% in Grandview.

Further graphs showed that it is considerably more expensive to own property in Metro Vancouver than it is to rent (without even taking the down payment into consideration) and this shows, in his opinion, that renting is the wave of the future. His data also shows that roughly half of all renters earn less than $50,250 a year, whereas the median income of owners is $88,431.

Another interesting graph showed that for the purpose built rentals (PBR) approved between 2017 and 2020, 25% had anticipated rents suitable for those earning $150,000 and over, 66% for those earning over $80,000. Very few has rents suitable for the vast majority of the population earning a living wage.

Yan also noted that beyond affordability, accessibility is a real problem as the vast majority of new build approvals from 2009-2018 were market rental, with just a small number of rental suites. Thus being a renter has become significantly harder over the last decade.

Following the presentation, two more polls were conducted:

In the first we were asked to choose what types of rental should be built. 66% said co-ops, 63% said below market, and 53% said social.

In the second we were asked to prioritize the rental protection measures we wanted to see. 77% suggested protection of the current rental stock, 69% voted for anti-speculation measures, and 57% wanted more protection for displaced renters. I should note that vacancy control was not on the poll list but was given as an alternative by many of us i the chat box.

The panel discussion consisted on contributions from Evan Siddall of CMHC, Barbara Steenbergen of the International Union of Renters, Leilani Farha from The Shift, William Azerofff of Brightside Housing, and Khelsilem representing the Squamish Nation.

Sidddall kicked off the debate by decrying the glorification of home ownership and promoting a shift to rentals. He believes a paradigm shift is needed in cities that currently favour the rich.

Barbara Steenbergen gave a welcome European perspective, noting that in most of Europe housing is a right, that renters have significant protections, and that there is little or no disdain for public housing. She also noted that their are social rent laws in much of Europe. She suggested that it takes time to develop these protections and that we in Canada are just at the start of that process.

Leilana Farha made a pitch that what she calls the financialization of rental housing — the buying up of rental properties by REIT-financed corporations who then increase rents to improve their profits — IS speculation and must be seen as such.

Khelsilem gave a pitch about the 6,000 units the Squamish people are currently building on their land in Vancouver, with much more to follow on the Jericho lands etc. However all of these will be market rentals, with no social housing. He was very keen on the build more for affordability nonsense that decades of experience in Vancouver has proven to be false. He also seemed to suggest they would need huge subsidies in order to build more affordable housing.

Bill Azeroff discussed how Brightside is planning to expand on their existing properties to create more affordable units. He believe it is vital to have rents that are affordable in the areas of the city is which people have grown attached.

In the general discussion that followed, it was depressing to hear so many people still claiming that the only way toward affordability is to keep building unaffordable rentals. The myth of trickle down — which has never worked in ANY economic sphere — is still alive and kicking in Vancouver.

That being said, this was a valuable discussion and it was particularly interesting to hear the perspective of a European expert on how far behind we are in this field.


A New Governance for Vancouver

January 19, 2021

Vancouver City Council is today debating a report on civic elections and ballots. It seems a good time to revive my New Governance Model for Vancouver. The changes that we need are radical both in terms of policy and the form of governance under which those policies are pursued. This essay is a reworking of my thoughts on those subjects.

Structure:

Vancouver is currently governed under a weak-Mayor system, with a Mayor and 10 Councillors elected at-large. Less than 40% bother to vote even though the municipal government controls much of how we live on a day-to-day basis. It has proven itself to be a system far too open to big-money, big union, ideological, and other influences that many consider malign in an electoral context. I would scrap the current system and rebuild it from scratch.

First, I would eliminate political parties from the municipal realm, I would eliminate the position of Mayor completely, and I would introduce wards rather than the at-large system. 

With regard to political parties, it may come as a shock to some to learn that Vancouver is the only major Canadian city that allows parties to operate at the municipal level. It is vital in my opinion that elected representatives be accountable to the voters that elected them rather than to some amorphous party that selected them. 

It may also be a surprise to some that wards are the usual way of managing Canadian urban areas and that Vancouver is once again a unique outlier.  I would suggest Vancouver have 15 wards, each representing about 50,000 residents. There are 23 or 24 recognized “neighbourhoods” but several are small enough to be merged.

Some have suggested using the 11 Provincial ridings in Vancouver as the basis for the wards, giving about 65,000 residents in each. My only concern with that idea is that Provincial politicians might gerrymander those ridings for Provincial political purposes, and without value to the City.

The case to be made for wards seems to be well accepted by many that I talk with. A few have suggested a mixed Council system where there are both ward and at-large Councillors. I see that as an unnecessary complication (do they have different voting rights? they will need different balloting and financing rules) without any genuine value-add.  However, as I have written this weekend, a mixed Council might be a first step towards a full ward system; a first step that would be better than what we have today.

Eliminating parties and bringing in wards are both ways to bring democracy closer to the individual.

Elections:

As mentioned above, we operate in a weak-Mayor system, meaning that the Mayor has only a single vote along with each of the Councillors, and cannot break ties. It serves no genuine purpose other than to polish the ego of the person holding that position.

I would eliminate the election for Mayor. In its place I would institute a rotating chair system, in which the six leading Council vote-getters chair the body for a period of six months each.

One correspondent whose opinion I have valued over the years was worried, I believe, about the lack of a Mayor:

“you’re missing a crucial piece: the relationship with the civil service or: responsible government. Who takes ownership of staff work and can reps keep denying agency by following staff recommendations?”

My assumption is that the rotating chair would, in the absence of a Mayor, fulfil whatever executive management functions the former Mayor had completed.  I am hoping my critic expands on the issue as I am not sure I see a major problem here.  At least the discussion on that point allowed many of us to agree that the politicisation of the public service needs to stop and be reversed.

Some quick mental arithmetic will show that I am calling for a three year Council term (though I would prefer to return eventually to the two-year cycle) and I would propose a three-term limit for any Councillor.

There has been talk since the last election of somehow limiting the number of candidates. I would find any form of financial deposit to be obnoxious, designed to hamper the poor, and I am glad to see the current Council agrees.

However, I see no reason why a candidate should not be required to gather a substantial number of sponsors (say, 500) before throwing their hat in the ring. Without a party behind them for support, this will mean that each potential candidate will need to get out and do some face to face politicking with their friends and neighbours well in advance of a poll. We will gain from that better informed and better-known candidates in each ward, able to articulate their concerns and solutions.

I would like to see management of Vancouver elections be taken over by an independent third-party; Elections BC seems to the obvious answer.

Election Finances:

2018 was an interesting election so far as the money went. Some parts of the new Electoral Financing Act worked quite well: Election expenses were drastically reduced from the last election, because election donations totalled less than $1 million for all parties combined, so clearly some effect was being seen.  However, there are issues with billboard advertizing prior to the election, the cost of “volunteer’ labour, and the issue of dark money being funnelled to parties before certain legal dates.  We need to examine this election closely, see what needs to be tightened up still further, and hold the NDP’s feet to the fire until they actually change the law.

The key is to ensure that all monies that can be or are being used for political  purposes in, before, or after a campaign, from whatever source and given at any date be as transparent as possible and as available in as close to real time as possible. 

Of course, having no parties, no Mayor, and no at-large system — as I have suggested — changes the election expense pattern significantly. That will have to be taken into account in the redrafting.

Council Business:

In addition to the meta-changes suggested above, there other principles I believe should be adopted forthwith. 

  1. Public “real time” display of all City expenditures.
  2. Immediate elimination of all Non Disclosure Agreements for City business; if it involves public money, then everything must be public; if you don’t want to be public, then don’t do business with the city.
  3. If you or your company or your family members have made municipal political contributions to a municipal campaign within the previous four years, you cannot do business with the City (this would be a City rule, no need to amend the Charter).
  4. Return to line-item budgeting with details enough for everyone to understand.
  5. Make Vancouver number 1 in North America for the openness, speed, and efficiency of our FOI system.
  6. All documents regarding city policies, planning, and development to be made public at least six weeks prior to Council deliberation.  If later documents are created, then the meeting dates must be rescheduled in accord with this rule (no more showing up with 25 pages of amendments on the day of the vote).
  7. In camera sessions to be held exclusively for legal and personnel matters only.

There are probably others that should be included but, if just these seven proposals were adopted, our municipal government would be significantly more accountable and, I believe, far more efficient. 

If we can achieve this level of cooperation, trusting the public, then we might be ready for something seriously radical such as having recallable delegates rather than representatives, and referenda democracy a la Switzerland.

I hope the discussions continue and I look forward to some actual changes!


Commodity Housing

January 16, 2021

I went to the barbers today. It was busy, with all the chairs full. In the chair next to mine was a man in his late 20s, I would guess, chatting to his hairdresser, about the same age. For the full twenty minutes, they discussed the house that the client was preparing to buy.

Not once did he ever mention the aesthetics of the building or the landscaping. Not once did he talk about what a great place it would be to raise his kids or to have fun with his friends. No, his entire conversation was about maximizing his potential profit over the next 3 to 5 years. That was it, that was all he had to talk about; that was all that concerned him.

My parents, over the course of 50 years or so, moved from a cold-water inner-city slum to a modest semi-detached in the suburbs, then to a large rural house, and finally downsized to a suburban cottage. I bet that in all those moves, the question of profit from the property was never thought of. Making sure you could afford the move was important, sure, but having a comfortable and right-sized home was all that really mattered.

That mind-set has clearly changed and, in my opinion, it is this commodification of housing — encouraged by the real estate developers and their sycophants at City Hall — that keeps us in the mess we are today.


Another Reason For A Ward System

January 14, 2021

Regular readers may remember that I have pushed for a return to a ward system of elections in Vancouver for many years (see, for example, here, here, and here). Now, buried deep within a new report to City Council on electoral reform, we find a recommendation to change “the Vancouver electoral system from an at-large system to a ward-system.”

The recommendation is on page 66 of an appendix to a report on “Election Ballot Order Effects in Vancouver Municipal Elections” A commissioned report prepared for the City of Vancouver by two academics from Simon Fraser University, Eline de Rooij and Corinne Henderson. The appendix is to a City Staff report entitled “Report Back on the Random Order Ballot Model Used in the 2018 Vancouver Election.”

An excellent discussion on the entire report is found at CityHallWatch which also includes a full transcript of the appendix.

It will be interesting to see whether this particular recommendation is even mentioned in the Council discussion which is scheduled for 19th January. The NPA, for example, was founded in the 1930s specifically to fight the first at-large election after wards were eliminated; and the wards were eliminated specifically to defeat the incursion of the newly-formed CCF which threatened to take the then-existing eastside wards. I’m not aware of any change in their stance.

The local Greens have not, to my memory, ever pressed for a return to wards. The views of OneCity (and Kennedy Stewart) are also unknown to me but, as they seem to be the latest avatar of Vision Vancouver, it is unlikely they would support the change.

Back in about 2004, COPE made an attempt to bring the question of wards into focus but, as Allan Garr described it, “they fumbled the opportunity.”

Could this report re-open the debate? I hope so, but I am not holding my breath.


Calendar Date For Renters

January 11, 2021

The SFU Public Square is putting on a forum called “Towards a More Equitable Housing System: Is Vancouver a City for Renters?” It will be a ZOOM meeting on 21st January between 3:00pm and 5:00pm.

SFU’s description of the event:

Beginning in the early 1970s the percentage of Vancouver households living in rental units has been greater than 50%. Nevertheless, renters consistently face difficulties in finding housing that is adequate, stable and secure, with, in more recent years, rental affordability becoming a particularly challenging and detrimental issue for many households. While some in the city may strive for home ownership, data tells us that this possibility has become increasingly out of reach, even for those with moderate incomes.

Given the reality that a majority of Vancouverites will most likely continue to live in rental housing, what does this mean for the next generation, for seniors and families, for low-income, racialized and marginalized households, and for the many others who do not see a secure housing future in Vancouver?

How must the City of Vancouver think differently about housing and the housing market to better meet the needs of its residents, ensuring priority for those with the greatest need?

What is required of a new city-wide plan to ensure the urgent and transformative change necessary to establish an equitable housing system?

Join us to discuss these questions at the second event of The Future We Want: The Change We Need series.

There is an interesting range of speakers. Full details can be found at the SFU Public Square page.


Early Thoughts on 2022 Civic Election

January 10, 2021

We are now less than two years away from the next Vancouver civic election, and just about two years past the last one. It is about time we started thinking about how this will play out.

The makeup of City Council after the 2018 election was completely different than in the decade before. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious that while we had changed the packaging, the content was much the same as before.  Mayor Stewart, supported by the VDLC, is a clone of Gregor Robertson but without the charm or charisma. He and One City’s Christine Boyle seem bolted at the hip when it comes to voting and generally at least two of the three Green Councillors are willing to go along. That means that getting just two NPA Councillors on board creates a majority, especially on development issues where the NPA are traditionally supportive of development and construction.

Vision 2.0 as I call Stewart’s coalition has the same top-down approach to city building as did Vision Vancouver. They may have changed the focus from unaffordable condos (no longer marketable by their developer buddies) to unaffordable purpose built rentals, but the “we know best” attitude is exactly the same. Supported by the Visionista holdovers in major staff positions, communities are regularly trampled on with just lip service paid to consultation. Clearly I can’t support them in 2022.

Looked at in the broadest terms, the Vancouver Greens whom I have supported over the years have been a terrible disappointment, going along with much of Vision 2.0’s program. I suspect they will make efforts to distance themselves from the Mayor over the next couple of years, for electoral purposes, but their record so far has been abysmal. In both Federal and Provincial politics, the Greens have been centrists (at best) in everything but environmental policy, and the civic group seems determined to follow that path.

The NPA is a party with a split personality. Some of its Councillors — Colleen Hardwick in particular — have been at the forefront of attempts to reform the civic administration. They have supported an Auditor-General (against a much broader opposition behind the scenes than was apparent from the final votes) and attempts to get meaningful housing statistics. However, recent additions to the NPA Board suggest the party has drifted further right than anyone with sense would wish, and with moderates such as David Chen and Virginia Richards leaving the fold, their future seems dark indeed.

Former NPA members such as Ken Sim and George Affleck have intimated a desire to run again, but where would their home be? Certainly not the NPA represented by the current Board.

As Vision 2.0 and its partner OneCity drift away from a genuine social democracy (not unlike their big brother in Victoria) where does that leave the left? Councillor Jean Swanson is still the darling of many and there is much to admire in her work. However, she has also on occasion bought into the Vision 2.0 notion that a tiny increase in almost-affordable apartments is worth giving developers the moon.

And where is COPE? Has it been ham-strung by the corporatist VDLC? Does it have it in it to rise to the occasion and actually threaten the corporatist parties with a campaign worthy of the red flag? I haven’t seen any signs of that yet. Perhaps we need to persuade the BC EcoSocialists to concentrate on civic politics for a while.

I’m sure my views will evolve as this year and next drift by, but these are my thoughts today.


The Cost of Gentrification

December 11, 2020

Salon has an interesting column on the costs of gentrification.  The writer is talking of American cities but the relevance to Vancouver’s situation is clear and obvious.

“The not-so-hidden message of gentrification is that there is always plenty of money to go around, even public money, for the whims of the rich. But for low-income folks — whether they’re the residents pushed out by development, the city employees shafted as priorities shift, or building workers brought in for the new jobs — those resources are a mirage. The private development of mass gentrification, made way for by public policy including public financing, not only systematically ossifies but intensifies the economic inequality within our nation’s cities.

As Ta-Nehesi Coates once wrote for the Atlantic,

[W]hen we talk about gentrification, understand that we really are talking about the result of actual policies endorsed, not simply by shadowy interests group, but by actual Americans, erected with the explicit intent of making sure that another group of Americans remain a permanent peon class.”

The writer calls gentrification’s methods “brutal” and the end results “truly tragic”. That is probably true. But I see genuine benefits from the kind of change that comes direct from residents. I think of this not as gentrification (which always comes from outside) but rather as a necessary and healthy renovation (always coming from within), regardless of whether this change is in form or in use.  Gentrification and renovation are not two sides of a single coin, they are each a distinct currency.

This piece is worth reading, even several years after it was written.


How Eco-Density Ruined Planning In Vancouver

December 10, 2020

wendysarkissian

In January 2014, I quoted Planner Wendy Sarkissian on the history of Eco-Density, the Sam Sullivan/Brent Toderian planning paradigm that Vision Vancouver vigorously opposed to win their first electoral success in 2008 but which, upon taking office, they vigorously adopted and expanded giving us the unaffordable and almost unlivable city we have today.  As I see a new group of community activists beginning to take arms against the determinism of CoV Planning and their developer cronies, I thought it would be worthwhile to reprint that article as a reminder that we have been fighting this fight for a very long time.

* * * *

One of Australia’s leading urban planning theorists, Wendy Sarkissian, has been looking at Vancouver’s planning system, and she has little good to say about it, especially Eco-Density:

It is now widely accepted that the [Eco-Density] Charter misrepresented community views and did not adequately address issues raised in the public process. There were strong community complaints of misrepresentation by Council officers (and senior planners) of the contents of community submissions; there were serious weaknesses in the analysis of submissions about the draft Charter. In meetings to work out the Charter, it was observed that the moderator skewed public comments.
 
In the community’s view, the 2008 EcoDensity Charter represented a “battering ram” approach to densification. Considerable discretionary power was eventually granted to Council by the Charter, thus undermining well-established policies of community engagement and implementation. Despite the extensive publicity campaign, the community hated and distrusted the policy. It sank Sam Sullivan politically. Shortly after he announced it, his popularity went into steep decline and, despite thirteen years as a City Councillor, he lost candidature after only one term as Mayor …
 
Research reveals that even the City of Vancouver planners were not convinced that the policy would work. Brent Toderian was quoted in 2007 as saying: “EcoDensity won’t provide housing that meets average incomes. I don’t think we would affect housing supply to the point that prices would go down.”
 
 
* * * *

Groups such as AHV would have us keep on that Vision pathway of build for the sake of building and for the sake of corporate profit. If only they would understand the recent history — say the 30 years from 1990 to today — they might understand that their path leads to an even more ruinous future than the one already bequeathed us.


Vancouver’s Green (?) Plan

November 18, 2020

This is my take on the Climate Emergency Action Plan approved by City Council yesterday — it is greenwashing on a huge scale, devised to sell in the 2022 election; something that Vision Vancouver would have been proud of.

I absolutely agree with the supporters of this Plan who recognize that climate change is a far greater emergency in the medium term than several virus pandemics combined. But this Plan — applauded by already-wealthy developers all across the City — is not the answer.

Passing this Plan today allows the Greens and Vision 2.0 to crow about it come election time in the fall of 2022. The problem is that the only parts of the Plan that will be in place by that time will be the hugely profitable giveaways to the developers. All the rest will still be aspirational — especially the very expensive costs to the car-using public — with the price hidden away until after the votes have been counted.

Unlike many of my friends and colleagues I happen to be a supporter of congestion pricing (road tolls) such as they have in London and Stockholm. But I am also a supporter of honesty in government. Had the majority of Councillors had the integrity to pass a Motion that said this is why we are having road tolls and this is how much it will cost you, I would be behind them all the way. But they didn’t want to wait for the budgeting exercise, and they couldn’t face the indignation of the car-driving electorate; they were more interested in getting the applause from the peanut gallery without actually doing much, and making sure the real dollars are not revealed until they have four more years in office.

That is my opinion. As we used to say in the 60s “Your mileage may vary.”


Climate Plan Comments Urgently Needed

November 14, 2020

Next week, Vancouver City Council will vote on the Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP). Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) and the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) oppose this Plan and have sent out a mailer listing their issues:

Eliminating parking minimums in new residential construction gives too much cost saving benefit to developers, while offloading those costs to residents of the new building and surrounding area.

Pay permit parking citywide unfairly offloads developers’ costs onto area residents, who will be increasingly squeezed out of street parking due to the removal of parking minimum requirements, and increased costs will make life even more unaffordable.

Required conversion to zero emission heat and hot water for existing detached homes. This would have huge costs for conversion and operating, making it less affordable for owners and renters.

Annual home energy efficiency testing and fines for not meeting targets or doing upgrades. Would particularly disadvantage existing character houses.

Road tolls proposed for Downtown and Central Broadway which penalizes local businesses and residents while invading privacy by tracking movements.

Promoting growth rather than managing growth. This increases the city’s environmental footprint.

$500 million capital  and operating costs proposed for CEAP over next 5 years. CEAP would be on top of current deficits.  High current budget deficits are already projected for next few years to recover from COVID alone.

No broad public consultation held. The 371 page report was released to the public for the first time 3 business days before being considered at Council and the speakers list closed.

The Speakers’ List for this Motion is already closed, but you can still get your views to City Council.

Submit comments by copying or attaching a pdf through the City’s online form so that staff count it HERE

Also Email To: kennedy.stewart@vancouver.ca

adriane.carr@vancouver.ca

melissa.degenova@vancouver.ca

lisa.dominato@vancouver.ca

pete.fry@vancouver.ca

colleen.hardwick@vancouver.ca

CLRkirby-yung@vancouver.ca

jean.swanson@vancouver.ca

michael.wiebe@vancouver.ca

rebecca.bligh@vancouver.ca

christine.boyle@vancouver.ca

  Emails are urgently required by 3:00pm Tuesday 17th November.


Workshop on Social & Co-Op Housing

November 11, 2020

The City of Vancouver is hosting a series of online workshops to discuss their plans to encourage the creation of social and co-op housing in various parts of the City. The current proposals can be be viewed at the Shape Your City webpage: https://shapeyourcity.ca/non-profit-affordable-housing.

Background

The City is considering changes to streamline the process for creating new non-profit housing in select apartment areas across the city. These changes are intended to help existing non-profit societies and co-ops renew existing buildings and build more social and co-op housing over time, to ensure the city has enough safe, secure, and affordable homes today and into the future.

These zoning changes for non-profit housing are being considered in RM-3A, RM-4, and RM-4N zoning districts throughout the city. Typically, these areas consist of three storey condominium and rental apartment buildings. The zoning amendments being considered would allow non-profit social and co-op housing up to six storeys. This approach would be consistent with existing City policies and community plans, which prioritize the delivery of social and co-op housing for low and moderate income households.

Neighbourhood workshops

The City is holding a series of online workshops in neighbourhoods with a number of apartments where the proposed changes would apply. The purpose of these virtual neighbourhood workshops is to provide an overview of non-profit housing in Vancouver, the zoning changes being considered, and hear feedback on the proposals and how they relate to different neighbourhoods.

  • Marpole – November 17th, 6:00-7:15 PM –  REGISTER
  • Grandview-Woodland – November 19th, 6:00-7:15 PM – REGISTER
  • Kitsilano – November 24th, 6:00-7:15 PM – REGISTER
  • Mount Pleasant – November 25th, 6:00-7:15 PM – REGISTER

Registration is open to all and is not limited to those who live in the area. We encourage anyone who is interested in non-profit housing in these areas to register and attend. As the number of spaces is limited for these workshops, registration will be limited to one session per person.

For more information on the proposed zoning changes visit https://shapeyourcity.ca/non-profit-affordable-housing [can01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com].


Keep The People Out, say Greens

October 21, 2020

Yesterday, at City Council, the Vision-era decision to hold public hearings at times when most of the public is unavailable (i.e., during weekday business hours) was finally overturned — but only just.

Under Council procedures, Clr Swanson’s abstention counts as a yes, and so by the barest of margins — 6 to 5 — Vision’s thoroughly undemocratic rules for eliminating public discussion of public business were defeated and a more people-friendly policy will take effect in 2021. CityHallWatch has a detailed look at the history.

I am amazed that this nearly lost. It might have seemed likely that Vision 2.0 (Mayor Stewart and Clr. Boyle) would oppose, but 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.

I am glad that this Motion passed, but I am disappointed by what the voting shows about the Vancouver Greens


Congrats to CityHallWatch!

October 15, 2020

If you have any interest at all in what happens at Vancouver’s City Hall but are not following CityHallWatch then you are sorely missing out. Today, with their 3,033rd post they celebrate 10 years of solid reporting and analysis of Vancouver city politics.

“Common themes, always with a focus on our own municipal government, have been accountability, pro-transparency and anti-corruption, regulatory capture, the role of big money. We have tried to shine a light on things … We have tried to see where the dots connect, and to connect them. We’ve tried to deconstruct and understand the processes at City Hall. All of this, from a perspective of being outside the real estate and development industry, and outside of the government.”

Randy, Steve, and Gudrun do all this on a completely volunteer basis. We are truly lucky to have them, especially with a diminished media presence, especially at the community level.

Thank you!


City Staff Fail Again — Looks Deliberate

September 19, 2020

In May, I wrote about Colleen Hardwick’s motion to Vancouver City Council regarding re-calibrating and correcting Vancouver’s Housing Policy.

On May 27th, Council voted unanimously to accept a slightly amended version of the motion, even though Mayor Stewart tried on several occasions to have the motion shelved. The  approved motion required City staff to answer a number of important questions and required that they provide significant amounts of data required for Councilors and the general public to amend the current housing strategies. They were required to provide this information by July.

On the last day of July, the Planning Department quietly released a 59-page report signed by General Manager Gil Kelley. It was, to say the least, an unsatisfactory response to Council’s unanimous motion, failing to address a number of important issues.  In the middle of August, Councilor Hardwick responded with a detailed 16-page critique of Kelley’s memo, demanding that staff answer the questions as directed by Council.

The conclusion to the Housing Strategy story is yet to be written.

This is one of the latest examples of how City staff appear to act as if they believe themselves superior to our elected officials, reluctant to submit to even light oversight.  This is a hangover from the old Vision-driven politicization of City staff and we can only hope that the imminent departure of City Manager Sadhu Johnson improves efficiency and helps create a proper respect for the electorate.

 

Thanks to CityHallWatch for the heads up.

 


People Before Profit in DTES

August 26, 2020

Developer Michael Geller, who often has some useful things to say, has flipped his lid over the problems in DTES.  He claims the situation in the neighbourhood has become worse because City planners in 2014 would not allow condos to be built in a part of the neighbourhood.  He claims that having a “broader mix” of housing would have made it more liveable and help local business.  When I suggested that this would have led to displacement of the current residents he said “That would be fine.” I think we can safely assume that if they had been displaced to his front lawn that would not have been quite so fine.

There is no doubt that the DTES is a right mess, and I make no claims to wisdom as to its solution.  However, I do know that building housing that is unaffordable to the local population is no solution to anything — except to fatten the pocketbooks of developers, their minions, and their rich offshore clients.

I have some alternative suggestions:

  • decriminalize drugs, and thus remove police and criminals from a social welfare and health issue;
  • bring in Universal Basic Income;
  • expropriate all SROs and similar facilities and turn them into clean liveable affordable spaces;
  • reduce police budgets by x% and use that money (and more if needed) to significantly improve health, welfare, education and training services.

None of this would be cheap. But if you think the present situation is affordable for any of us, then frankly you are nuts.