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Is the sales tax the best way to pay for transit? No, but it’s politically sellable, says LA

December 17th, 2014 · 9 Comments

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (are there any?), I was in Los Angeles recently. Yes, one of my favourite cities, which I’ll explain another time.

But while I was there, observing the anguish of house monsterization (a real word, it appears), the worry about gentrification brought on by bike lanes (a real debate, it appears), the angst over a developer building fortress-like apartments in downtown LA (a real architectural sin, it appears), I also had a chance to interview one of the architects of the coalition that helped get 67-per-cent approval for a half-per-cent sales tax in LA in 2008 to pay for $36 billion in transit improvements.

Denny Zane is one of those great old-fashioned American leftists, still fighting for the people. In his downtown office building, complete with a giant photo of a young Cesar Chavez, he talked for an hour about how to win the transit fight and why it’s important. Interestingly, there was a lot more focus, when he talked, about how important transit is to working-class people than I hear in debates around Vancouver (where the left and the NIMBY right seem to view it currently as some evil developer plot).

Here’s my story summing up his main points. More to come.

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Mayors appear headed for .5 per cent sales tax to fund 10 years of transit improvements

December 11th, 2014 · 75 Comments

We’ll be hearing any hour now what the final wording and funding choice is for the regional mayors, as they head into the referendum. But all indications I’ve had the past two weeks is that it’s the sales tax only, as I wrote in my Globe story.

Fuel tax is seen as a losing proposition — revenues from fuel taxes are going down, as taxes plus other car costs are pushing drivers to drive less, buy more fuel-efficient cars, etc. A regional carbon tax would suffer from the same problems.

And a vehicle levy would be seen as penalizing drivers only, not the way to win a transit referendum. As TransLink surveys have shown in the past, people who predominantly drive tend to have more negative views of TransLink, are more likely to think money is being wasted, don’t have as positive views of transit as those who actually use it, etc.

So even though a sales tax has its problems, it’s spread around in a way likely to be perceived as more equal. (Yes, I know, transit riders will now be double-paying, through fares and the sales tax.)

And it seems as though Transportation Minister Todd Stone, after a strange wobble last week that threw everyone into a panic, is back on board (pun intended) with the general idea.

So the Retail Council of B.C. likely won’t be on side with this, and Langley businesses probably won’t be unhappy. But there are no great choices.

I know the mayors’ council and many others would like to move to a total road-pricing scheme at some point, i.e. billing people for their road use based on kilometres, size of vehicle, and time of day that they past through certain congestion points. A system like that could encourage people to travel during off-peak times to save money, which is as good as building new roads in terms of creating more capacity. And there’d likely be some kind of discount for people who have to drive, because there’s no decent transit in their areas.

But all of that will take time to figure out and the mayors figured they needed a money source they can tap into instantly, so the buses can be ordered, and the planning for the Broadway subway and Surrey light rail can start.

We’ve seen the announcement of the coalition supporting this emerge. Now waiting to see who will be lining up on the No or Nitpicking about Details side.

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The 2015 Lower Mainland transit referendum: hang on for the ride

December 2nd, 2014 · 23 Comments

Okay, go ahead and comment. What more can we say?

The new mayors’ council is about to see this Friday the proposed preamble and question that will go to the province for approval. By next Friday, they have to sent their tweaked version on to the province and cabinet.

Everyone is gearing up to take on this daunting challenge — getting a referendum on a new tax or fee with only a three-month campaign in order to pay for a complex $7.5-billion, 10-year plan that promises something for everyone in the region.

I feel tired just thinking about it. But … we have no choice because this is required for all major public transportation projects in the province. Oh, right, it’s not. Anyway, here we go. Your thoughts.

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Mayor promised to do things differently. Now what about everyone else?

December 2nd, 2014 · 16 Comments

We are all on pins and needles, awaiting word any day now from the mayor’s office about the radical changes in communication, accessibility, and general user-friendliness about to take place as a result of the mayor’s pre-election apology and post-election promise to do better.

I ran into an old city-hall fellow traveller recently, who reminded me of how Mayor Philip Owen used to reserve a block of time Friday afternoons, where 15-minute appointments could be scheduled by random members of the public to talk about their city problems. Tea was served, she recalled.

Perhaps that could be a start, if there were some way to ensure the appointments weren’t taken up exclusively by people determined to waterboard a confession out of the mayor about the latest CD-1 rezoning.

In the meantime, I’m wondering what other city players are going to take away from this election and whether they’ll be similarly inspired to change their communication style and accessibility.

I’m talking, of course, about the various resident groups, cityhall watchdogs, mysterious Twitter entities, and political parties that sprang into being the last few years whose main function appeared to be to oppose, always and everywhere, the latest development project or bylaw or proposal  or comment from a (Vision) city councillor.

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

November 26th, 2014 · 45 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 · 137 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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