Frances Bula header image 1

The transit-tax debate roadshow first stop: Langley, where the argument is made: “Langley will get nothing. It never does.”

January 22nd, 2015 · 123 Comments

Made the trek to Langley (75 minutes there, 40 minutes back) to hear Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Jordan Bateman and pro-Yes campaigner Bill Tieleman face off, to get a sense of the main messages we’ll be hearing for several months.

My Globe story is here but to add a few observations to what is in the story:

1. First off, my mistake, not Bill’s, re the LRT to Langley. It is planned to end at Langley Centre, not Cloverdale, which I had so fixed in my head the last two years that I didn’t hear what was actually said at the meeting. Langley Centre, Langley Centre, Langley CENTRE.

2. Bateman’s focus on Langley as the poor cousin who never gets anything, but pays to support the rest of the region, was fascinating. (And as I tweeted the same that night, I got more than a few tweets from people claiming that Langley and various other suburbs actually get a huge amount of stuff, more than their tax dollars amount to.)

There was a lot of talk about how a local significant business park, Gloucester Industrial Estates, will end up paying $17 million in extra taxes (Bateman wasn’t specific on whether this was per year or for the next century) yet get no transit. There were several references to the fact that Langley was supposed to get a highway exchange at 216th when the Port Mann and Highway 1 were upgraded, but never did. There was more than one reference to the fact that Vancouver’s “Arbutus subway,” as he kept calling it (sounds fancier than Broadway?), will get 31 cents out of every tax dollar. (Nothing about how Surrey, whose projects cost about the same as Vancouver’s and one of which will serve Langley, will presumably get the same.)

I expect that politics of resentment to keep coming up, as people in North and West Vancouver and Maple Ridge and Burnaby debate whether there’s anything in this for them.

3. The debate was out and out nasty at points. Bill Tieleman started off with a full frontal attack on Bateman, saying that Mr. Anti-Tax had never been interested in campaigning against the HST, that he passed plenty of tax hikes when he was a Langley councillor, that he was part of a shady organization, etc etc.

Seemed like a poor choice to me, given that a) Bateman is from Langley, a hometown guy, and the audience might not take kindly to having one of their own slagged by a “west side, latte-swilling, champagne socialist,” as Tieleman described himself. Not only that, but likely many in the crowd likely agree with Bateman’s opinions, so why dump on him/them? Bateman hit back with a few of his own jabs, suggesting at times that Tieleman was probably just hoping to get a cushy job with TransLink, etc. On the whole, the kind of vitriol most likely to make voters want to stay home.

My story cut and pasted below, for those for whom the link does not work.

[Read more →]

→ 123 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Deadline for public comments on “origami” glass office tower next to historic Waterfront Station building is Jan. 22

January 21st, 2015 · 17 Comments

The design for this office tower at 555 West Cordova is creating quite a stir, with former planning director Ray Spaxman describing it as “the Martian has landed,” development consultant Michael Geller deploring it generally, and former Globe reporter Rod Mickleburgh calling it a “glass carbuncle.” Ray’s comments in detail (with others chiming in) over on Gord Price’s blog.

Cadillac Fairview’s application for the building, which does NOT require a rezoning, only a development permit, is here, including the explanation from the architects, or some set of people, on why they think the design enhances and complements the waterfront and former train station next to it.

I happened to notice, when I opened the documents for this application, that the deadline for public comment is tomorrow. Speak now or hold your peace until the development permit hearing on March 9.

 

→ 17 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Too much development in Chinatown? Or just enough to revive it?

January 19th, 2015 · 19 Comments

The wave of change that has hit Chinatown in the last while is making a significant number of people uncomfortable. A proposed nine-storey development by the Beedie Group at the corner opposite Sun Yat-Sen Gardens kicked it into high gear, but there was rising unease even before that, with three major condo developments, a number of smaller infill ones, and a wave of restaurants, longboard shops, and other hipster ventures washing into Chinatown.

I’ve been covering the story of What To Do About Chinatown for 20 years now and it is not an easy one. Some people would simply like it to go back to the way it was in the ’70s, all Ho Ho-type restaurants and bamboo and trinket stores (even though those places were closing because, clearly, they weren’t making enough money).

Others would like to see the old plan revived of moving 10,000 new people into the area. (Yes, really was a plan talked about like that in the ’90s.)

The latest is a petition for a moratorium from the Carnegie Centre Action Project, which I wrote about here. Some commenters might think this is just the same old anti-poverty group decrying any change that doesn’t preserve the area for the lowest-income residents.

But I am hearing the same complaints from any number of other people, which is about both the level of community benefits Chinatown is getting (or not) from the development and the look of the new buildings, which don’t seem to match Chinatown’s historic architecture. (And John Mackie at the Vancouver Sun documented many of those in a story last fall, when the Beedie proposal first arrived. Sorry if it’s behind paywall for you — nothing I can do about that.)

The city has secured 22 social-housing units from the Westbank development (only 11 of them at the welfare rate of $375 a month) and another $1.3 million that will go into helping Chinese family societies make the 600 units they own rentable. But, as with so many city efforts these days, people are either judging them as weak or they haven’t taken effect yet, so all that’s visible is the development stuff.

The city has set up a meeting. bringing together the city’s Urban Design Panel and the Chinatown historic committee, to deal with the architecture issues. What will be more telling is how the negotiations go between city planners and the Beedie group over the new building.

 

→ 19 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Goodbye to the dean of Vancouver city-hall observers

January 14th, 2015 · 2 Comments

There was a time when I didn’t know much about Vancouver city hall except where it was on the bus route. I hadn’t even thought about becoming a journalist in 1975 and was just starting my journalism career in the 1980s. I never imagined that I would ever be interested in things like zoning, bylaws, development, density, single-family housing, lengthy council debates, or any of that. It was all a bunch of old guys in suits doing boring things, as far as I knew.

But there was this writer who wrote columns on the last page of Vancouver magazine all about city hall, from 1975 to 1991, and he made what happened at 12th and Cambie sound interesting, as interesting as All the President’s Men (almost). There were dramatic stories and personalities and skulduggery and people making pompous speeches.

Sean Rossiter made me care about city politics and see that what was going on there was funny, tragic, important.

Others in town knew him much better than I did, and so wrote more detailed tributes to him last week upon his death. Charles Campbell’s is here. I just want to thank him again (I got to do it once in public a few years ago) for blazing the trail, making people pay attention through his careful, descriptive, sharp reporting.

His family and friends are getting together at Sun Yat-Sen Gardens tomorrow (Thursday, Jan. 15) 4:30 – 6:30, for those who haven’t received the word privately yet.

 

→ 2 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Aircare-free vehicles start to pop up in Vancouver Craigslist

January 12th, 2015 · 2 Comments

I really related to this story, since my old clunker of a ’98 Chevy Venture did not pass its last AirCare test last year, forcing me to spend a few hundred dollars to get that dashboard light to go off.

So, as the story says, (for those of you for whom clicking on a link is just too time-consuming), Metro Vancouver air-quality staff are noticing more old cars, cars whose owners cheerfully note that they haven’t passed AirCare, are starting to show up in the ads. A quick search in Craigslist was all it took for them and me to find them.

Now, they’re wondering if this is going to mean the return of the beater to the roads. Shurely not a Cuba-style automobile demographic, I’m thinking, but perhaps a few more vans like my ancient Chevy. (It’s gone now, btw.)

→ 2 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Vancouver NPA and Green Party will support transit plebiscite

January 12th, 2015 · 143 Comments

Much hay was being made a week or so ago about the fact that NDP MLA Andrew Weaver wasn’t gung-ho supporting a Yes vote in the transit plebiscite. But the local Green Party rep, Adriane Carr, said she plans to support it in a motion coming to council next week from NPA Councillor George Affleck.

My story here, for those who missed it while in a shortbread coma, on why they are pro-Yes.

→ 143 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Social column: Mayor and Chinese pop star dating; election injuries endure; holiday time for councillors

January 6th, 2015 · 79 Comments

Some people feel I haven’t done enough to document the personal lives of our politicians. So here is my new year effort.

Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr is vacationing on the Sunshine Coast until Jan. 19, thanks to a very convenient city council schedule that has the first meeting not on the schedule until Jan. 20. Vision Councillor Heather Deal is still recovering from a crippling knee injury incurred during election door-knocking (sidewalk, a twist, a popping sound).

And, contrary to the nasty little rumour passed around all last fall in emails, conversations and even brown envelopes dropped at doors in the west side, the mayor is not dating a well-known person in the development industry. Instead, according to extremely reliable sources (this is not gossip), he is currently seeing Wanting Qu, a 31-year-old Chinese popular-music star who has a lot of buzz in Vancouver. For more info on Qu, see here and here.

I will leave it to others to do the heavy lifting and ask what the implications are for Vision’s Chinese voter identification in the 2018 civic election or Canadian-Sino trade relations.

 

→ 79 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Where to put that coffee cup amid the row of recycling bins? High-powered researchers are here to help

January 6th, 2015 · 7 Comments

I am losing hours of my life these days, standing perplexed in front of rows of recycling bins, trying to figure out where to put the component parts of my garbage.

To make it more confusing, every place I go to seems to have a slightly different system. Just dumped off a bunch of papers at Langara College, where I teach, and which has a bin for ALL mixed paper, newspapers and regular paper. Just seems wrong to me, since I separate them at home, so I spend extra time studying the sign to make sure I have understood correctly. When I go to UBC, where I also teach, another system. When I go to a public festival or market, another system. (Fortunately, the Vancouver Folk Festival stations one or two volunteers at every row of recycling bins to help out with proper throwing away.)

All of that prompted me to start asking if anyone is trying to standardize the system or make it more coherent. And, to my amazement (my story ideas don’t always pan out like this), it turns out that very smart people are trying to figure this all out.

My story here in the Globe is all about how Metro Vancouver, Multi Material BC, and researchers/designers at UBC and Emily Carr are all trying to figure out how the best way to help people figure out, in split seconds, where to put there garbage. Pilots are coming to three communities — Penticton, Richmond, City of North Van — in the summer.

→ 7 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

What were the top stories of 2014? What were the important but uncovered ones? And what are the stories to watch in 2015?

December 28th, 2014 · 3 Comments

Why should only the paid media pundits get to do this? I’m sure this group has thoughts.

So do I, actually, but my brain is far too goose-and-turkey-logged to formulate them into anything coherent. But I can tell from the sporadic comments even over Christmas that many of you are still firing on all cylinders.

 

→ 3 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Next experiment in shipping-container social housing: seven storeys

December 27th, 2014 · 8 Comments

The housing non-profit Atira built a three-storey building out of shipping containers a couple of years ago. Now Atira is launching an even more ambitious effort, a seven-storey building composed out of 80 to 90 shipping containers.

My Globe story is here, with a render. You can also look at the rezoning proposal on the city’s website here.

Lots of reaction to this project. More than one person, besides Michael Geller quoted in the story, raised questions about whether building with shipping containers is any cheaper than conventional construction.

I didn’t get into it in the story, since that was focused on construction trends, but there is some dismay from some in the neighbourhood about the added stress and demand for more social services this will bring in a community that already has high demand for childcare, community-centre services and more.  Then others think this is just a bad area to be permanently housing women and children. And there have been some concerns about the height of this building, which will be backing onto an alley that has much lower houses on the other side.

All valid issues, but I know one of the ongoing problems with trying to create social housing is simply the cost of land. So where a city or a non-profit has land already available (which Atira does in the remainder of the lot behind the Rice Block that this project is planned for), that seems to trump all the other factors.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Uncategorized