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Does Vancouver really have a new pollution problem as cars idle because of the bleeping bike lanes?

November 26th, 2014 · No Comments

There was a little one-liner that kept surfacing during the recent Vancouver election, one that I’ve heard from more than one letter writer, which is that Vancouver is actually becoming less environmentally friendly by putting in bike lanes. That’s because the complicated lanes and lights and subsequent congestion are forcing drivers to idle longer as they wait to make right turns, from Hornby to Georgia, for example, or just idle longer because of the general congestion.

I realize some people will think this falls into the category of Obvious Logical Fallacies Not Worth Refuting, but we reporters like to check things out anyway. So I called Metro Vancouver to see if the air-quality monitoring done by the regional district has a measure for anything downtown or near a bike lane and what those measurements are.

Sure enough, they do.

There is a monitoring station in Robson Square near the Hornby bike lane. This is what it has shown over the years.

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Election poll: Somehow Green vote collapsed slightly, while votes for Vision councillor and NPA went up slightly over predictions

November 19th, 2014 · 111 Comments

For those who didn’t see it, Barb Justason released the results of the poll she’d done in days just before the election at 8:45, once everyone had voted.

Interesting to see how the three Green Party candidates both saw their actual votes down compared to the poll estimates. That meant Adriane got 41 per cent of the votes, not the originally predicted 50 per cent. For Pete Fry and Cleta Brown, the difference was enough to drop them out of the running for election. On the other hand, votes were slightly higher than poll estimates for Vision councillors Geoff Meggs and Kerry Jang and NPA candidate Ian Robertson. I hesitate to try to interpret the results of this complex ballot and the intentions of 187,000 voters, but is it possible voters veered away from Greens to support the two main slates at the last minute, at least for council? Or a question of the Greens not able to get their supporters to the poll as well as Vision and the NPA? (Yet they did well at park board and school board) Or ???

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Vision Vancouver was facing “a shipwreck” as they went into final week of election

November 17th, 2014 · 12 Comments

When the Vision Vancouver team got into the elevator at the Wall Centre to travel down to the basement level where the victory party was going on, things looked pretty good. They were in charge of the school board, they had three people apparently in line for seats on the park board, and the councillor people had feared was a goner, Geoff Meggs, was 4,000 votes ahead of the 11th-place finisher.

By the time they got off the elevator, they’d lost the majority on school board, been all but wiped out on park board, and seen the gap between 10th and 11th place shrink to 600 votes, as a big advance poll dominated by NPA voters came in.

But it all could have been much worse, as various people from the party told me here.

I understand that Vision polling indicated early that the park board would be a struggle, as the aquarium’s people activated its considerable network to mobilize people to vote against the party that wanted to stop them from breeding cetaceans. (Maybe better for Trish Kelly that she got dropped.)

The school board and council were supposed to be okay, but then things got really tight in the second-to-last week before the election. The team — between leaking polls, getting Gregor to apologize and warn people not to split votes and elect the barbarians, and ramped-up advertising — managed to turn things around in the last week.

The school board’s odd results, by the way, are not an indictment of the Vision board. People who care the most about the school board have always skewed a bit more left — all those teachers who used to be in COPE have some pull. So the Vision loss of a majority at the school board is likely not a big swing right, but more a case of people who were voting Vision also throwing their votes around to COPE and the former COPE Public Education Project candidates. That was enough to see Ken Clement lose his seat by less than 300 votes.

 

 

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Vision wins council, loses school and parks as voters back them one more time, with some reservations

November 16th, 2014 · 41 Comments

Assuming everyone reading this blog has now memorized these election results, so you can cite them down to the last digit for the most obscure party in all political conversations of the next decade.

I’ll have more to say in the next couple of days about what Vision and the opposition can learn from these results.

Below is copy that I filed to the Globe before the polls closed, as background and colour for the day. Even though I had heard from a Vision insider and Barb Justason that polls showed Robertson winning, as the field split 48-41-9, I remained unsure of what would happen in actual voting. The anger from people I talked to in line-ups was so pervasive that I wondered if Vision’s get-out-the-vote operation would be overwhelmed by the “I’ll get out my own vote because I’m so furious” movement on the other side.

And frankly, Vision campaigners were wondering the same. Even though they knew they had 80,000 supporters and could get them to the polls, there was a possibility they could have been overwhelmed by opposition if turnout rose to 50 or 60 per cent.

Surprises for the night:

– Justason’s poll showed Green Party Pete Fry winning, (though Vision’s pollster Bob Penner said earlier that only Carr had a chance). In the end, he and Cleta Brown did about the same and were way down in the polls. Just seems as though name recognition, name recognition was a crucial factor.

– I’d also heard from various factions that Vision councillor Geoff Meggs was “toast.” He did barely squeak in, but there was never a serious challenge to him from the 11th-place finisher, Ian Robertson.

– Even though there was huge support for Patti Bacchus, not enough for her team on school board (lefties splitting votes between Vision, Green, COPE and PEP, possibly?) A big question re who will be chair now. All depends on how Green Party Janet Fraser votes. Greens might want to show they could work collaboratively with Vision. Or they might want to keep the Vision group and Bacchus out of the limelight.

– In spite of all the controversy over the Grandview-Woodlands tower/plan fiasco, fuelled in the last days by emails circulating from Ned Jacobs quoted an anonymous planner about the Vision agenda and a blog comment from former planner Scot Hein, Vision support in Grandview-Woodlands dominated the vote there.

More to come. Interested in your comments. My 6 p.m. reporting below, raw copy as I filed it to the Globe

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Qs from readers: Where was LaPointe on CP before? Why not advertise Vision tearing down viaducts? More

November 14th, 2014 · 4 Comments

I’ve been getting a lot of City Plumber questions recently that aren’t really questions, but more like opinions, so I thought I’d just put them up as is. If anyone has any answers, feel free to weigh in.

How can Kirk Lapoint be sending out letters to Kitsilano voters telling them that he will negotiate in good faith with CP Rail?  I sent him an invite to the summer garden party – organized to give people a chance to reflect on and discuss the value of this space to our communities –  that happened while the City of Vancouver was negotiating with CP Rail – NPA’s Lapoint did not show up or make comment.  David Eby came out and talked seriously with gardeners.

Why is it Left moving away Robertson?Instead of The mean Conservative right bullying their way into Vancouver?That’s what you will see right across the Country…Big Conservative dollars,probably even paying for Court for all their nasty ways!

Why is there no “Vision will tear down the viaducts you are driving on” signage visible to all the commuter traffic and so close to the voting date?

One of the reasons Gregor Robertson beat Raymond Louie to run as Vision’s mayoral candidate three elections ago was by promising to shift some of the commercial property tax burden onto the residential property tax. This gained him the support of much of the business community. Home ownership became more expensive and everyone I know who rents had a significant rental  increase during Gregor’s first term. This made housing less affordable. Yet Vision has the audacity to make affordability one their central issues this election cycle. Why has the mayor’s property tax increase been forgotten? Why doesn’t someone publicly ask him to reverse this tax shift from the wealthy onto the commons?

Have any of the mayoral candidates addressed the E Coli & contamination problems in False creek?

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Why we need better info: a summary of the city’s record on rental, low-cost, social housing

November 14th, 2014 · 9 Comments

Several weeks ago, I asked the city communications department if they could pull numbers for me to help quantify what kinds of housing Vision Vancouver has been instrumental in creating since its was first elected in 2008 and what stats were available on the rents. Here was my request:

Does the housing centre have any reports/stats available on the exact number of 1. social housing units built since 2008 2. market rental units built since 2008. 3. analysis of the rents charged for each. (I know that the big towers are all rented at welfare rates, but I think there are some other projects called “social housing” that are a mix of deep subsidy, shallow subsidy and near market)

I got this back this week, which is somewhat helpful, though a bit densely packed. A second chunk of info at the bottom of the post has very interesting numbers on how much councils have spent on housing since 2002, up from $33 million in 2003-2005 to $275 million in the most recent council term.

But I have to say, it’s rather stunning that a government that had affordable housing as an essential plank didn’t compile and convey this information consistently, effectively and repeatedly. As I said in a previous post, it should be essential work at all times for cities to “audit” their initiatives and find out if they are working.

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BulaBlog guide on how to figure out who matches your values, how to vote strategically

November 14th, 2014 · 32 Comments

I’m hearing from more than one person that this election is very confusing for them, especially those who are young and/or who are not regular political junkies. They aren’t sure what the parties really stand for, whether some candidates are better than others, and whether they should vote strategically — or even how to do that.

This is my attempt to help out with a short guide that’s not written in the often coded language of most news articles. It is necessarily incomplete and inevitably informed by some of my personal preferences.

People who read this blog regularly know already that I’m a centrist moderate, with a weakness for good-hearted conservatives and pragmatic lefties. I do retain a special place for the odd fiery rabble-rouser, right or left, if I think they’re making telling points. I place value on people who have put in some time learning about their communities and city politics and shown a commitment to causes. And I prefer those who can make their case without too much hyperbole or outright lying — though that’s a tough condition in this fractious round. Finally, it matters to me what a political party or candidate actually accomplishes or proposes that can be realistically accomplished. (Sometimes I’m too cautious and I acknowledge that.)

With all that, I’m not going to recommend very many individual candidates, as others have. It’s not that kind of election.

This time, it’s a choice among parties, not candidates. All of the candidates from all of the parties are sticking to their party line. Vision votes like a bloc, and the NPA candidates are almost indistinguishable, just lining up behind their mayoral candidate without even being introduced. You’d have to go to a lot of all-candidates’ meetings to get a real sense of any differences. I haven’t had time to do that, as a one-humanperson band. And, even then, I think I’d end up differentiating more on the basis of style and rhetorical ability than anything else.

I also don’t believe in recommending political choices as though they are right for all voters. Everyone comes with different values and questions.  And this blog post is not for those who are diehard Vision only, NPA only, or COPE only voters. You guys know what you’re doing. It’s for those in the middle, who are thinking about picking a mix, who are thinking about switching from the way they voted last time, who are wondering to stay with old choices.

Finally, I won’t make judgments on mayoral candidates. You’ve read enough to decide for yourselves whether you think Gregor Robertson of Vision Vancouver is a phony ideologue or awkward but principled man with good goals; whether the NPA’s Kirk LaPointe is an ambitious blowhard or intelligent breath of fresh air; and whether COPE’s Meena Wong is a wacky radical or a passionate advocate for the working class. (I’ve heard each of those opinions in the course of this campaign.)
With that long preamble, here you go:

NPA:  This is the party likely to be supported by federal Conservatives, federal Liberals more on the conservative end of the party spectrum, and swing voters who feel that Vision Vancouver has badly let them down.

Your ballot-box question: Who is promising me something significantly different than what we have now and will be able to act on it?

If you’re sick of Vision and will take anyone who promises they’ll govern with a different, more open and accessible attitude, no matter how unspecific the rest of the program is, and you want a party that has a chance of taking control of council, this is the main party for you.

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My wish list for new Vancouver city council: Info on key issues, staff not politicians leading discussions, a more effective Green Party

November 13th, 2014 · 11 Comments

Whoever wins control of Vancouver’s council, if anyone does, here is a short list of changes I’d like to see, changes that mostly didn’t get mentioned during the campaign. I’m sure all of you have your own favourites you’d like to add. Please join in.

1. A readable yearly accounting of what is happening with the city’s valuable Property Endowment Fund. It’s worth slightly over $1 billion and the city’s credit rating is cushioned at all times by that asset.

But no one outside of the real-estate department has any idea what’s in it or how it is changing. There’s no sense of what percentage of land in the PEF is being used for existing social-housing leases and what’s available for other purpose. I’ve heard from a couple of trustworthy people that it’s being depleted to pay for Vision housing plans, but can’t make heads or tails of the scattered numbers in financial statements to understand what’s going on. And I like numbers.

There needs to be a yearly report that someone who isn’t a CPA can understand.

2. An accounting, with each rezoning that involves community-amenity contributions from developers, of what the property’s value was before the assessment, its value after a rezoning, and what the city is getting in return from the developer. This needs to be done by some agency that the public can trust and it has to be presented, again, in a readable way.The city has improved its reporting on how much in developer-cost levies it collects and where they are being spent, by project and by neighbourhood. It’s working on something similar for CACs. But every rezoning should come with a public-friendly statement about the developer’s gain and contribution, ideally posted at the site and on the city’s website.

3. An independent assessment of the value of the social housing or rental housing that developers are producing in exchange as part of their contributions. One former planner in whom I have a lot of faith says the problem is that the city is not getting the housing units at cost, but is paying market value for them. So, when a developer, in exchange for a rezoning, offers to build 50 units of social housing, those units are being valued at what it would cost to buy them. But, of course, market price always includes a hefty mark-up for developer’s profit. That means that a developer contribution of, say $100 million worth of social-housing units is really only costing that developer $65 million. If that’s true, the city should either get the units at the real cost or ask for the $100 million in cash to spend elsewhere.

4. An audit to see whether any person who has been evicted from a rental apartment being redeveloped  (where the developer under current city rules has had to promise to rent the new units at a discount to those tenants) has ever been able to afford to move back in. I see an increasing number of older fourplexes, duplexes, and smaller apartment buildings being torn down and redeveloped on Clark, Main and Fraser. I understand that former tenants are given the option to rent units in the new buildings at a 20-per-cent discount from the new market rent. But has a single renter been able to do that? If all you can afford is $850, a 20-per-cent discount on $1,200 is meaningless. If no one has been able to move back in, what’s the point? The program should either be scrapped or revised if, in fact, it’s not helping existing tenants in any way.

5. (Okay, this is not new, but dear to my heart.) Access to a wide array of city staff again, not just the beleaguered 10 people at the top. I realize there still has to be some traffic control, as there are many more journalists, bloggers, pretend bloggers who are running partisan operations, and more now besieging city hall than 20 years ago.

But surely there is some way to provide credible reporters with easier access to staff than the current system, where everyone is funnelled through four or five over-worked people in the communications department, and then they have to try to nail down a time for the 10 over-worked senior managers who are deemed safe enough to talk to media.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. There’s a chance people won’t hate your government and see everything as political if you do that. If planners were out talking to the public about projects and seen to be leading the discussions, every rezoning decision might not turn into a political football.

Planners come across as neutral and willing to listen, if they’re allowed to do their jobs. As I’ve said before, they were the city’s best public-relations officers and communicators for many years. And it’s completely untrue, as the mayor and others have tried to claim, that they didn’t want to be bothered with reporters and all their questions because they had real work to do. Every good planner and engineer I’ve known sees talking to the media (and thereby to the public) as an essential part of their job. Planning is worth nothing if you can’t make the public see and understand what you’re trying to achieve.

5. No more “off the record technical briefings” by staff before the official news announcement. What a crock and so unnecessary at the city level.

6. Adriane Carr. This Green Party councillor will surely be elected again. She is incredibly hard-working — it was rare for me to go to a community meeting where she wasn’t present. She’s a great retail politician, able to talk in an accessible, coherent way about issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up heading the city’s future real opposition party. But she needs to stop just saying whatever she thinks will make her popular with angry resident groups, start learning how the city really works, and start exercising some real political skills.

At the moment, she’s known among staff as someone who doesn’t do her homework or read her reports. She frequently misrepresents city information or the way the city works at meetings.

(Just one example of many: She told a Strathcona crowd breathlessly earlier this year that, just as they suspected, developers were not in fact paying all of the costs of new amenities, but that the taxpayers were being stuck with much of the bill. Of course they are. When a new arts cenre or library is built, it would be unfair to make new residents pay the entire bill in the purchase price of their units. Of course all taxpayers contribute, as they get the advantage of the new amenity. And so do those new residents, over the years, with their taxes. I could go on. But you get the point.)

Carr also takes great pleasure in telling residents how she tried to get this or that done at the city, but was blocked. But she’s fighting for people in spite of the terrible obstacles, she reassures them.

Okay, here’s the deal. Learn how to get things done. That’s what politicians, even minority politicians with hostile people in control, do. Figure out smart motions to make that everyone has to agree with. I’ve seen her do it on occasion. (One was her motion to get the city to call a meeting with the parties involved in the Hollywood Theatre.) And show that you can do the difficult thing of telling a crowd that you don’t agree with everything they’re saying — even if it’s not popular. It will be good practice for if you ever have to be in charge of the difficult decisions.

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Three days to election, mayor apologizes to everyone for “overstepping” and asks COPE voters to come to Vision

November 12th, 2014 · 24 Comments

Jeez, to think this election seemed quiet a month ago. Here’s today’s small bombshell. Note appearance of former campaigners Daniel Fontaine and Neil Monckton further down in story. (Text appended below for you cheapos who are not contributing to my upkeep by subscribing to the Globe.)

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Former city planner talks for first time about how Grandview-Woodlands towers got shoved into plan

November 12th, 2014 · 7 Comments

This comment is buried far down in a post on Gord Price’s blog, Pricetags, (the one about the death of residential real estate) but of course it’s attracting a lot of interest. For those who don’t know, Scot Hein ran the urban-design department inside the city’s planning division. It was a position that had been created by former planner Larry Beasley, as a way of driving home the point that planning wasn’t just about the buildings or the traffic flow or the other mechanical parts, but about how communities used space. Scot was a big part of the planning for Olympic village. The European feel of the plaza, which has become a hive of activity, is part of his work. He left earlier this year to work at UBC, a surprise to many who knew him and how dedicated he was to the city.

November 10, 2014 4:28 pm

Here is what really happened speaking as the city’s Senior Urban Designer at the time the GW process was tabling built form.

We put together what we believed was a reasoned overall plan for GW towards increased residential and employment opportunity. We fully appreciated the development economics of the Safeway site at B+C that, given active revenue generating impacts on the pro forma, related phasing considerations, noise impacts and view opportunity up and down “the cut” and believed that two modest towers in the range of 20 to 25 storeys maximum located on the easterly half of the site could be considered to make the Safeway site developable and, more importantly, improve the challenging interface conditions (all four sides) of Safeway while pedestrianizing the Commercial Drive frontage by integrating those shallow depth properties into a larger development opportunity. We imagined a series of related, modestly scaled low and mid rise buildings in this scenerio. Otherwise, we believed that the appropriate approach to intensifying an already relatively high density community, of what must be seen as “special urban fabric”, was in transitional mid to low rise form. We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”. We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day. We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood. Our next plan yielded 20 towers which was advanced to the decision makers (I cannot confirm who saw this plan). We were then told to produce a third plan which cut the towers in half down to 10. We prepared this third plan, also under protest, which was taken out to the community. The public process imploded soon thereafter. Our work in the city’s Urban Design Studio for over 10 years was always about best practice and integrity of process. We always believed that meaningful, honourable co-design processes could yield win-win if conducted properly. We were never given this opportunity in GW.

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