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New interim TransLink CEO will focus on customer service

February 19th, 2015 · 52 Comments

We’re all curious as to what this new interim CEO of TransLink might do, given that it was so important to bring him in a month for the transit plebiscite voting starts and to take the risk of adding more executive pay to the TransLink suite. Doug Allen was still getting briefed on a lot of things, so he didn’t have answers for everything yet (i.e. Can/will he do anything about executive compensation? Pondering. What is wrong with the Compass card implementation? Waiting to get the details, etc.) but you can get a sense of the kind of person he is from this condensed Q and A I had with him.

As you can likely tell from my questions, I was especially curious about whether his focus on the details of reality — customer service, escalators, cleanliness, procurement, etc. — will do anything to alter the perceptions that some people (especially drivers) have that TransLink is a fundamentally flawed organization.

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City planning keeners: A one-day symposium Feb. 27, including an appearance by former Portland mayor

February 12th, 2015 · 1 Comment

For when this blog and livestreaming council meetings just aren’t enough:

Symposium Poster

Former Portland mayor Sam Adams is the keynote and the program is diverse, as it always is with the SCARP crew.



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TransLink shuffles CEO to side, brings in new boss, promises change

February 11th, 2015 · 123 Comments

You all used to care about bike lanes. Now it’s just transit tax all the time.

Okay, so here you go. Ian Jarvis is out, Doug Allen is the interim CEO, the search is on for a permanent one.

An updated version with more reaction coming out later.



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Vancouver: Home of $2-million starter bungalows and a thousand grubby little nail bars and vegetable shops

February 3rd, 2015 · 22 Comments

Vancouver is such a city of contradictions: endorphin-inducing natural beauty and some of the tackiest housing and development in North America; the glass condos of Coal Harbour and the hovels of the Downtown Eastside.

One that has always perplexed me is how, in a city where it’s hard to find a shack with a piece of land for less than $700,000 at the least, the commercial streets near those pricey homes are often so down-market.

Near my home, whose assessment rose to the point this year where I no longer qualify for the full homeowner’s grant, it’s nothing but battery sales, Ethiopian restaurants, secondhand furniture, several truly grotty produce shops, print-and-sign operations, and a series of convenience stores run by immigrants desperately looking for a foothold in the new world.

Even in Kerrisdale, where the prices are triple and quadruple my dump, it’s not that much better. So I finally, in my latest Vancouver magazine column, tried to get some answers about this odd phenomenon.

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The transit file: Yes coalition train finally leaves the station; province makes U-turn on separate congestion tax; Vancouver warns of dire consequences of No

February 3rd, 2015 · 134 Comments

It’s now up to 250+ comments on the post about the last transit plebiscite. Time to start afresh, folks.

The latest stories on the transit plebiscite.

The launch

The province’s very fast switch to a harmonized tax after the Retail Council said it would go to war over a new, separate third tax

And, in council today, transportation director Jerry Dobrovolny outlined why it would be a disaster for Vancouver if there’s a No vote, how Vancouver would benefit, and what staff are doing to inform and persuade people. Story to come.

Also, I note that the B.C. Hotel and Foodservices Association seems to have swung over to the Yes side (Ian Tostenson didn’t sound so sure when I talked to him last week) even though it will mean a 15.5 per cent tax on alcohol.


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The origami tower — meant to be first step to new Vancouver waterfront — sparks debate over both tower and waterfront

February 3rd, 2015 · 7 Comments

Been a lot happening recently, so I’m catching up here and packaging a few things together since things are sometimes changing daily in the fast-paced civics world these days.

First up, the “origami” tower came to the urban design panel, where it was not supported in a 4-2 vote. My story here.

For those not familiar with how the UDP works, it is not like the development-permit board or board of variance or even council. The design panel is meant to allow local architects, engineers, and planning experts to give city staff some outside-the-hall feedback on major new projects coming forward. It’s more like an architecture grad-student studio than a judicial body. When a design is not supported, it means the advice is “Go and work on this a bit more.” It’s not a rejection.

And, for those who will be surprised when this comes back again, the panel expressed no discomfort with the height or density. Their major recommendations were to move the tower away from the train station, where it looks a bit like a Japanese horror-movie monster eating it, I have to say. And, since the plaza there has spectacular views of the water and mountains and should be a welcoming space for the public, they suggested making it even more accessible, possible even turning the lobby into a kind of passageway for general commuters on their way too and from the station.

The panel hearing also included a lot of discussion about whether this building fit in with the future waterfront of Vancouver, which was thrashed out six years in a planning document about the future Waterfront Hub.

That plan, which no one has talked about much since the idea of having a soccer stadium built over the tracks there fell apart, also alarmed some people — because of the new roads it envisioned for the area, the cluster of new towers and more. So I wrote about that in a follow-up story here. (As far as I can tell, these stories are available to non-subscribers in the link, but, if not, let me know.) Much more to hash over here. I had former city planning/design wizard Ralph Segal helping me understand some of the ramifications of the details. He’s written a couple of posts on this already here and on Gordon Price’s Pricetags blog.

Michael Alexander, the City Conversations convenor quoted in the story, called me later to clarify his remarks. Here’s what he had to say:

I am not opposed to the basic design of the building (though I think it can be improved, and overreaches in size— but that’s what developers do to get what they really want when the city protests). The problem is its location.
Waterfront Station is the hub of 10 major rail, sea and air corridors— the most concentrated and important in B.C. and one of the important regional transit centres in North America. Not once was transportation mentioned in the hearing. The building is being told to site a little to the east, a little to the west. But that parking lot needs to be the boarding location for major bus lines and taxis that then exit to the transit plaza in front of Waterfront Station which the Hub Study envisions. And the woefully underused Waterfront Station needs to become a place that attracts people, not one that they just pass through.
There is a place for that tower if some land swaps and infrastructure enhancements are brought into the conversation. I would hope that the city would be promoting that, and Cadillac Fairview is the kind of farsighted company that could entertain a broader vision. I don’t hold it against them that they are trying to build on land that they already own.

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Supreme Court ruling strikes down rezoning for controversial Yaletown city-developer land swap and two towers

January 28th, 2015 · 29 Comments

This was a bombshell yesterday. More to come. No one seems to know all the scenarios that might play out (could this void the city’s land sale with Brenhill? will public hearing process need to be changed?), all of which sound serious and complicated.

Lots of interesting things in Justice McEwan’s ruling. He stayed out of whether this is a good or bad deal for the public. He wagged his finger a little bit at the petitioners, saying it’s natural and normal for a city planning department to support a development by the time it reaches a certain stage — not a sign of some kind of nefarious conspiracy. And he didn’t seem to make much of the tentative agreement between the city and Brenhill, which the resident group dug out through Freedom of Information.

His main point was that the public needed to have complete information, they needed that information to be presented in a way they could understand (bombarding them with details isn’t good enough), they needed clear information on the financials (which could mean the city will need to provide much more clarity on community-amenity contributions) and they needed to be able to discuss the two pieces of property and the land deal as a whole, not as two separate projects with no relation to each other.

My story here. The ruling itself here. I’d love to hear from IanS and any other legal experts out there on this one.

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Retail Council will oppose transit plebiscite if it’s not harmonized with the provincial sales tax

January 28th, 2015 · 9 Comments

The people who sell us stuff are on pins and needles these days, waiting for the B.C. finance ministry to tell them exactly how a new transit tax might work.

Unclear yet:

– will it apply to alcohol

– will it apply to exactly the same things as PST does, or will people need to program their sales computers to charge PST and RST on some items, PST only on others, RST only on still others

– what will be the rules for cars (as some of my Twitter respondents noted, people in B.C. pay PST on their cars if they register them here no matter where they bought them)

– will it require a third line listing taxes on a sales slip or simply be rolled into the PST, so that PST becomes 7.5 per cent.

That angst, and more, in my Globe story here. So far Transportation Minister Todd Stone and the finance ministry say rules are forthcoming, the idea is for people to vote on the “concept” of the tax while the details are worked out, and the idea is to match the PST as closely as possible.

Oh, btw, the 10 per cent tax on alcohol is considered a provincial sales tax, so presumably if the transit tax tracks PST as closely as possible, that means another .5, in addition to 10 per cent provincial and five per cent GST on alcohol.

Bottoms up!

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

January 22nd, 2015 · 304 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.

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

January 21st, 2015 · 18 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.


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