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And the debate over a new Vancouver Art Gallery heats up again

March 26th, 2015 · 9 Comments

This Vancouver Sun story today, saying the VAG is not going to meet its deadline to raise money and never planned to, and this proposal for an art gallery expansion on this existing site arrived in my mailbox this morning.

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Uber has something to say about the Lower Mainland’s transit referendum

March 19th, 2015 · 37 Comments

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Front porches to be the design theme for Robson Square this year

March 18th, 2015 · 4 Comments

And now, pausing for a break from the transit plebiscite wars, the winner of the Robson Square competition this year is here.

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Why do people hate TransLink? “It’s a headless beast with no defenders”

March 16th, 2015 · 175 Comments

It appears, from the latest Angus Reid poll, that public opinion in the days from Feb. 25-March5 was running 61 per cent No, 27 per cent Yes. As other polls have shown, the main concern is TransLink and how it will spend the money.

So what is it that’s so wrong with TransLink, you may ask? It doesn’t run gold-plated, empty buses through town. It provides a degree of service that is rare for a city this size. And, although it had a couple of spectacular breakdowns over the past year, it doesn’t have the horrific problems some other cities do.

So what’s wrong? My Globe story is here, but for those who just want the summary:

1. It’s a customer-heavy operation, meaning more people scrutinize it, have opinions, and think they know how to run it than, say, Port Metro Vancouver (whose CEO makes $857,000, I found out when researching this) or even the Vancouver Airport Authority (couldn’t find Craig Richmond’s salary, but the board chair alone made $135,000 in 2013, $35,000 more than the TransLink chair).

2. It’s doing more than it was ever intended to do. It was never intended to be the funding mechanism for major infrastructure projects. As Ken Cameron, former planning manager for the Greater Vancouver regional district told me, it was meant to be the agency that ran operations only and other levels of government were supposed to figure out how to finance the big projects.

3. Unlike many other government operations, it has to go to the public every time it wants to get more than an incremental amount of additional revenue. Since it is doing 2. more than it was ever intended to do, it constantly has to ask publicly for money, which brings its operations to the attention of the public and the Fraser Institute than, say, the transportation or health ministries. (Their fights for funding all happen quietly at treasury board.)

4. There’s no single person that the public can look to when things go wrong. Former CEO Ian Jarvis, whatever is pay, is clearly not completely in charge. Neither are the mayors, who have sometimes been the first to go after TransLink when there’s a problem. Neither is the board, whose members act more like they’re at Port Metro or YVR (aka invisible). It feels to people on the inside like the province is in charge but, of course, the province is the first to take potshots at TransLink.

5. It does have people at the top who don’t seem to understand what is not going to fly with the public, who don’t actually seem to want to communicate with the public, and who have made some key terrible decisions. As a result, it seems to have a never-ending supply of current (bus drivers, especially) and former disaffected employees willing to talk about its problems.


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In another part of the forest, the office meant to scrutinize municipal spending not doing so well

March 10th, 2015 · 4 Comments

I realize no one gives a poop about anything but the transit referendum these days (hey, you guys, the bike people have been going WILD in the city without your scrutiny) but here is a story in another area: the doings in the office of the Auditor General for Local Government.

My Globe story here on the dysfunction. The original report on the workplace review here: 20150309163505-3 The debate in the legislature here.


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Vancouver could go over $400 million in spending for housing the next four years

March 5th, 2015 · 11 Comments

One of the things I don’t think the public really gets about the Vision Vancouver administration is how much money is going into housing efforts. I won’t get into, the moment, whether they’re effective or whether they’re targeted to the right people, but they are spending a lot.

I asked staff to compile the spending numbers for me last fall, because I was hearing grumbling from various people about the amount of money coming out of the city’s famous property endowment fund for housing.

I got the note that I attach below.

This week, I dedicated a little time to highlighting the amounts likely to go into housing over the next four years. There’s $125 million approved in the capital budget, with $61 million of it allocated for this year. If the PEF withdrawals continue at the same rate, that would be $40 million over this term (since it appears to be $10 million a year in the past). If the amount of housing secured through rezonings remains constant, that should approach $200 million. And then money does get spent from operating, which doesn’t seem to be included here, on various things like improvements to leased buildings that are being used for transitional housing (the Biltmore, the Quality Inn).

My Globe story is here, with some of these numbers, and an explanation from staff and councillors about what the housing plan is for the next four years: 2,550 units, with as-yet unknown rates of subsidization. Public consultations done in the past, plus election results, seem to indicate this is what people want. Or does it? I’m not sure most people even know what is going on.

This data outlines expenditure using different fiscal tools for the delivery of housing including social housing, permanent supportive housing, interim supportive housing and land purchases for the latter. Of note, at year end 2008 and 2009,  the PEF had a substantial negative fund balance which related to the situation in the Olympic Village. Pending resolution of the financial risk of the City related to the Village, spending to enable affordable housing  was therefore decreased significantly from the PEF and other opportunities were pursued through the capital budget, rezonings, capital grants and DCL exemptions. The spend is totaled for each council term.


Council Terms

PEF Capital Fund Secured Hsg thru’ Rezoning Grants DCL Exemptions Total
2003-2005 $27.6 $4.8 Not Available Not available $1.3 $33.7
2006-2008 $31.5 $15.2 $1.0 $4.8 $6.4 $59.0
2009-2011 $4.7 $54.7 $29.0 $2.8 $7.1 $98.3
2012-2014 $31.2 $87.9 $148.0 $3.9 $4.5 $275.5


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Yes side starting to talk to real people instead of each other and media

March 2nd, 2015 · 280 Comments

So the mayors headed out on to transit this morning to sell the Yes side. And then there’s this, tonight. No info in the news release from City of Vancouver on how people can join in, but perhaps 3-1-1 has the answer

As part of ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the upcoming transit and transportation plebiscite, Mayor Gregor Robertson, Councillors George Affleck and Adriane Carr will take part in a telephone town hall with Vancouver residents this evening.

The telephone town hall will be moderated by award-winning former radio host and journalist Bill Good.

“With two weeks until ballots get mailed to local residents, Vancouver City Council is making the case directly to voters about why we support a ‘Yes’ vote in the transit plebiscite,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “With our region growing by one million more residents in the next two decades, we need to invest in better transit and transportation. We want to inform voters about what’s at stake and encourage them to get out and vote.

“I’m pleased to be joined tonight by Councillors Carr and Affleck, both of whom strongly support a ‘Yes’ vote. Vancouver City Council is unanimous in our belief that a ‘Yes’ vote is the best thing we can do to grow our economy, protect our environment and cut traffic gridlock in Metro Vancouver.”

The telephone town hall will involve phoning thousands of Vancouver residents at 7pm, and will go to 8pm. Participants can listen in, take poll questions, and ask questions live, moderated by Bill Good.

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NPA new board: Peter Armstrong leaves as president; Kirk LaPointe comes on as director

February 26th, 2015 · 2 Comments

NPA had its annual general meeting last night. (My gilt-edged invitation must be lost in the mail somewhere.)

Elected a set of new directors, see a clip from the news release below, and officially clarified that the NPA is a party.

Gregory Baker, Johnny Cheung, Erin Chutter, Carling Dick, Jay Jagpal, Jason King, Kirk LaPointe, BC Lee, Ken Low, Rob McDowell, Suzanne Scott and Tanveer Siddiqui. Laura Campbell was elected U40 Chair and Paul Tolnai as U40 Vice Chair.

Outgoing NPA President Peter Armstrong, who has served for the past 3 years, will continue as Past-President alongside fellow Directors Susan Gagnon and Rob Boyko.

A new president will be chosen when the board meets next week.


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Campaign spending reports show Vision spent a million more than NPA in city’s most expensive election ever.

February 23rd, 2015 · 7 Comments

Gets boring to write election after election, but … most expensive election ever.

Campaign finance reports are over on the Elections BC website, for those anxious to scrutinize them. I so look forward to having someone note that somebody gave some sum of money every time their business licence or development is approved.

The basics: Vision went nuts on spending, with $3.3 million in spending by the end, leaving the organization almost $400,000 in debt. Strangely, the NPA had $228,000 left over, after raising almost $2.5 million. Did they decide it wasn’t worth blowing any more money or it was in the bag or ???

COPE did not file by deadline. Greens spending was modest, as they’d said it would be.

I look forward to your finds of nefarious doings, hidden in all the pages of money. I’d like to go through the timelines to see how much money Vision spent in the last few weeks of the campaign, when the team was desperately trying to pull it out of the polling hole

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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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