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Candidates to lead left coalition in Vancouver start to emerge. First up, NDP current and former MPs

February 15th, 2018 · No Comments

It’s going to be a long campaign season (election day is Oct. 20, folks) because of the very open elections that will be happening in Vancouver and elsewhere, as numerous mayors announce they won’t run again and all but two Vision incumbents on council have bailed.

So, in the ongoing saga, here’s the latest: Two candidates of the many rumoured so far publicly confirming they’re considering running to unite the left/progressive/whatever you want to call them. While they may end up not running, the interesting sub-text to all this is the fact that clearly many on the left etc side are talking in what sound like fairly non-confrontational ways about how to co-operate.

For those trying to keep up with the rumour mill, here are the other names I’ve heard for a possible mayoral run (names here do NOT mean the person has indicated any interest or willingness)

  • Liberal MP Joyce Murray, who is one of the greener reps in the Liberal Party
  • Shauna Sylvester, a big star in the enviro community for her work on getting groups to collaborate and for her fundraising at SFU for that cause
  • Tamara Vrooman, CEO of VanCity Credit Union. Seems unlikely, given the great job she has now
  • Mira Oreck, ran for NDP and lost to Jody Wilson-Raybould in federal Van-Granville riding. Now working with NDP government, married to former Vision president. I’m told this is unlikely.
  • Raymond Louie. This councillor had always been named as a possible mayoral contender but, with the near collapse of Vision, changing fundraising rules, and the need for Vision to stand back in order to work with other parties, this might be a non-starter.


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A campaign to ensure that communities get the benefit of land-value increases that their tax dollars helped create

February 7th, 2018 · No Comments

I know some of you in my Twitter/blogverse are interested in this topic.

Lincoln Institute of Land Policy launches global campaign to promote land value capture

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is launching a global campaign to promote the adoption of land value capture, a policy approach by which communities recover and reinvest the land value generated by public investment and other government action.

Whether through a public works project or a re-zoning to allow new development, government actions can cause the value of land to increase dramatically, and land value capture ensures that the public reaps the benefits. As communities grapple with deteriorating infrastructure, rapid growth, fiscal stress, and other challenges, land value capture can help pay for public goods such as infrastructure, affordable housing, and economic development.

“Land value capture is based on a simple premise — public action should generate public benefit,” said George W. “Mac” McCarthy, President and CEO of the Lincoln Institute. “Implementing land value capure has never been more important to the future of cities and towns large and small. Through research, education, and development of a robust network of practitioners, policymakers, and researchers, the Lincoln Institute will help advance the understanding and adoption of land value capture globally.”

On every continent, communities already deploy numerous forms of land value capture, the most common of which include: betterment contributions, business improvement districts, inclusionary housing and zoning, linkage or impact fees, public land leasing, special assessments, transferable development rights, and certain applications of the property tax. However, these practices face persistent barriers to more widespread adoption, including gaps in research, the lack of local capacity, and inadequate access to practical knowledge.

Going forward, the Lincoln Institute will build on its strong foundation of research, especially in Latin America, the United States, Europe, and Africa, where cities have implemented innovative land value capture policies in recent decades. Guided by global experts, the Lincoln Institute has issued a request for proposals for research and case studies that advance the understanding of how individual jurisdictions use land value capture and how national, regional, and local policies interact to enable land value capture. Other new work will focus on the legal underpinnings of land value capture, valuation methods, and how different policy and political approaches lead to different outcomes, among many other topics.

To receive regular updates about the Lincoln Institute’s global land value capture campaign and related policy developments, sign up for our campaign mailing list.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy seeks to improve quality of life through the effective use, taxation, and stewardship of land. A nonprofit private operating foundation whose origins date to 1946, the Lincoln Institute researches and recommends creative approaches to land as a solution to economic, social, and environmental challenges. Through education, training, publications, and events, we integrate theory and practice to inform public policy decisions worldwide.

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NPA invites mayoral candidates as party sees former outsider make waves on the inside

January 30th, 2018 · 1 Comment

So what’s going on with the NPA is a topic of much interest among political observers these days. The party seems poised to win in the 2018 civic elethat ction, given Vision’s apparent wilting and uncertainty about any co-ordinated response from non-NPA parties.

However, the NPA seems to be undergoing some internal tussling, with putative mayoral candidates with wildly different opinions. My story here from the Globe highlights the extreme differences between Glen Chernen, who has formally announced he’s running for the nomination, and new NPA councillor Hector Bremner.

To top that off, the NPA has now delayed its nomination process by a couple of months at least. Speculation is high that the party is interested in making room for any unsuccessful Liberal Party leadership candidates who don’t win.

Here’s the news release from them this morning

Building the new NPA: an open call for Mayoral Candidates

Vancouver, B.C., January 30, 2018 Today, the NPA officially launches an open nomination process to seek out a mayoral candidate to lead the party into this fall’s municipal election. NPAPresident Gregory Baker says the NPA wants to provide a long runway between the announcement of the mayoral nomination contest and the nomination meeting itself in order to attract as many strong candidates as possible. The ideal candidate leads change, builds consensus, and bridges differences.

Baker says the NPA‘s mayoral nomination contest will be an opportunity for potential candidates to share their ideas. It will also provide an opportunity for the NPA to reflect and build on the important contributions the party has made in shaping the city over the past 80 years.

“We’re making every effort to improve diversity in our candidate selection by reaching out to a wider group of Vancouver residents. We want to get it right and have the best candidate represent a new, revitalized NPA,” said Baker. “The people of Vancouver deserve a leader who champions the interests of all its citizens, not just a handful of special interest groups.”

Baker says the NPA is looking to broaden its relevance given the changing political landscape: “The electorate has changed and there are new challenges to address; the NPA has to move with the times. We have a new provincial government, and with so many current members of Council not running again in 2018, we’re looking at a substantially new City Council. It’s a great opportunity for the NPA to rebuild and renew.”

Those who may be interested in exploring the NPA mayoral nomination can contact the NPA by phone at 604-637-7951, by email at, on Twitter @npavancouver, or through Facebook at Prospective mayoral candidates can request an application package by emailing

A candidate selection committee will be established to review applications and interview prospective candidates. The Committee’s recommendations will then be brought forward to the Association’s members at a nomination meeting sometime in the spring.

The process for selecting NPA candidates for City Councillor, Park Board Commissioner, and School Trustee will be announced at a later date. Those interested in these positions are encouraged to contact the NPA as noted above.

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Vision councillor Kerry Jang makes it official: He’s not running again

January 23rd, 2018 · 4 Comments

Got this note from Councillor Kerry Jang yesterday, confirming what city-hall people have been hearing for a while, which is that he won’t be running again. Not a surprise, as he has a busy second life as a psychiatry professor at UBC. Jang has been Vision’s point man on issues like shelters, marijuana dispensaries and mental health.

He’s been away from the hall recently because, as he says, his father died recently. (The Vancouver Sun obituary for Leslie Jang included a lovely picture of the young Mr. Jang.)

I am retiring from city hall after a decade of service.  I told Gregor when I ran in the last election that this was to be my last term as several talented people wanted the opportunity to run in the future.  I’m keeping that promise to them.
I meant to let people know this earlier but my Dad’s illness and subsequent passing, and my daughter’s move to Hong Kong University has kept me distracted.  My Dad’s funeral was yesterday.
This all means that the last two Vision soldiers who will be standing for the 2018 election (barring any new announcements) are Raymond Louie and Heather Deal. Sea change.

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Vancouver’s bold new housing plan calls for massive rental construction — but the people who would build it say the city makes it almost impossible. Some are giving up

December 17th, 2017 · 1 Comment

This story is an example of how following a trail of breadcrumbs on a story can lead to outcomes you never expected.

I started out planning to write something about yet another West End site selling for a crazy price — $79.5 million to newbie developer Vivagrand, with only one messy project so far on its resume in Vancouver — as the latest in what has turned into a boom in West End construction that even city planners can hardly believe. I think this is something like the 26th tower, making this take-up of new density as a result of the West End plan something no one had envisioned. It was supposed to take decades to get to the number of units projected. Instead, it’s taken a few years.

But as I was working on that story, along with some casual conversations as about the city’s plans to suppress speculation, people in the industry kept repeating the same story they had heard — that a number of developers had actually cancelled rental projects because of requirements from the city’s real-estate services department that they pay tens of millions in “community amenity contributions.” That’s something that has normally only been charged on condo projects, as part of the city’s model for development, which asks developers who are going through a rezoning to give back about 75 per cent of their “land lift” to the city to pay for the community services that will be needed as new residents move in.

My Globe story on this is here.

But, after years of Vancouver working to incentivize developers to build rentals — a form of housing that had almost stopped dead after everyone turned to condos in the 1980s — some were liking the rental thing so much that they started to plan projects that didn’t ask for city incentives. One example was the 43-storey Wall apartment tower at 1310 Richards, where the company paid almost $24-million in a CAC equivalent.

Then a demand for CACs became part of every rental project that came to the city.

At the same time, land prices were skyrocketing because condo prices were going up — especially downtown, where the Alberni/Georgia corridor seems to be transforming into some kind of luxury investor sculpture garden row of towers.

So landowners who had previously been attracted to rental now found that, not only were they being asked for millions in CACs, but the money on the other side of the equation had changed. Even after paying huge taxes on an outright sale or condo project, they’d still be further ahead than by building rental.

So they started backing out.

That’s only the beginning of the city’s problems when it comes to the ambitious plans to encourage the construction of 20,000 private-market purpose-built rentals. (i.e. permanent rental buildings, not condos that can be sold any time the investor thinks that would work out better.)

The companies with the most experience building rental, like, say, Cressey, are finding it nerve-wracking to go through the permitting process of building rental. A recent project that Cressey got approved near Olympic Village, something that the mayor touted this week as part of the city’s success in getting new kinds of lower-cost housing, almost didn’t make it.

After receiving assurances that the project wouldn’t have to pay a CAC and would qualify for a waiver of normal development-cost levies the city charges on all new construction (part of the incentive for rentals), Cressey got midway through the project and then was asked to provide its budget for the building to real-estate services — usually the opening move when real estate is going to ask for a CAC.

Cressey spent some time convincing real estate that there was no land lift. Once that was done, the company was told that it wasn’t going to qualify for the DCL waiver. Why? Because the city says that construction costs have to be under $250 a square foot for a company to qualify for Rental 100 incentives. That’s to prevent developers from building getting the waiver, then building expensive rentals that, after the first turnover, are rented out for top dollar.

But construction costs have been soaring. So the city decided Cressey likely couldn’t build for the required amount. (Presumably, that would mean no one could). Cressey then had to hire experts to testify that the company, in spite of the current rise, could still build for that amount.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, really, when it comes to rental problems. There were so many others that people ended up talking to me about.

One is the city’s plan for False Creek Flats, which many had thought would be an ideal location for rentals — close to downtown, likely to serve local populations working in the city’s booming tech businesses, easy to mix with the current industrial uses on the flats.

But the False Creek Flats plan has essentially made that a no go.

Then there is the rezoning in other areas, which limits heights no matter whether the building is rental or condos. That ends up forcing condo development on those sites, because the land prices make a rental building impossible unless extra density can be added.

David Taylor at Colliers said he had an ideal rental site for sale at 12th and Commercial, an area that is a natural gathering place for renters. But the city’s plan limits the site to six stories. He had a lot of buyers interested in building rental if they could get a couple more stories. But the answer was, Absolutely not. So the site was sold to a condo developer.

I’m sure some people will judge developers who spoke out for this story as just a bunch of privileged whiners who are unhappy they can’t make as much money as they’d like.

Whether they are or not, however, it’s doubtful whether the city is going to be able to meet its rental targets by hoping that developers will build rental as philanthropy. A few are doing it. But likely not enough to build 20,000 units in 10 years.

This whole exercise underscores a problem that I’ve been observing at the city for several years. That is: the people at the top are saying — and even trying to do — all the right things. The city’s housing plan, while not perfect, is a real effort to shape housing supply to better match the needs of people planning to live and work here.

But those goals are undercut when it gets down to the ground level — what happens when a project becomes the subject for negotiations with the real-estate services department, what happens when that project is in the hands of a mid-level planner who is trying to follow sometimes contradictory rules.

That’s why the city is going to succeed or fail, not on the basis of its much-covered policies, but on the basis of how the engine runs, or doesn’t, behind the scenes.

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Beedie goes for appeal to Board of Variance on controversial 105 Keefer project. Appeal letter included here.

December 17th, 2017 · 3 Comments

Every retired planner I talked to in the last month was convinced that the development company Beedie Living would take the city to court after the surprise decision from the development-permit board in early November to reject the proposal.

The board has never completely rejected a proposal before.

Many of us wrote that it had been 12 years since there had been a rejection, but former city-hall staffer Phil Mondor did some research and found out that, actually, that project ended up going through, using even the same application number. So, really, there has been no rejection since the DP board was formed in 1974. Some people may see that as evidence of a bad system. But people familiar with the DP board say the whole point is to wave off/discourage/get rid of bad applications long before they get to the DP board, so that by the time a project gets there, it is approvable.

Anyway, the DP board decision was a subject of much chatter by city-watchers afterwards, because the heads of planning and engineering made the case that, although the building complied technically with the basic requirements of Chinatown zoning, it didn’t meet the requirement to be sensitive to the context. Both talked about it having too much bulk — a criticism that meant that, if Beedie were going to come back with a revised project, it would almost surely have to lose some valuable square feet, likely off the expensive upper floors.

Anyway, I got a tip this week that the company was going to appeal to the Board of Variance instead. That will mean another big public showdown, for sure. The board was considering setting a date in February, but pushed it to March, anticipating that at least a couple hundred people will show up.105-Keefer-Street-Appeal-Info-PDF

I wrote a Globe story about the appeal here. The actual appeal letter from the company is here. 105-Keefer-Street-Appeal-Info-PDF



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City loses lawsuit to Chinese owners wanting to demolish Shaughnessy house

November 27th, 2017 · 2 Comments

I’m surprised more media didn’t report on this Supreme Court decision that found the city at fault for delaying so long on a decision about a Shaughnessy house (whether to allow demolition or designate it as heritage).

Perhaps it didn’t take off because there were no easy heroes to cheer for. It pitted some offshore buyers of the historic Walkem House at 3990 Marguerite against city planners.

At any rate, here is the full decision.

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A round-up of the stories about 105 Keefer

November 27th, 2017 · No Comments

Catching up on posting some stories here, so that this blog can continue to be a useful archive.

As we all know, the development-permit board made a historic decision on Nov. 6, with a 2-1 vote by the city’s top officials to reject the proposal.

Although I and many other reporters had written that there was a previous rejection of a project in 2005, that project in fact ended up going ahead. As former city staffer Phil Mondor discovered, it even proceeded with the same identifier number. So, in fact, there had never been a project turned down by the DP board since it was created in the 1970s.

I have three stories here: one noting in advance that it was going to be a historic decision either way according to former DP board members and city planning directors, one about the decision itself, and one follow-up a few days later, with more from city planning manager Gil Kelley and the site owners. (Headline was a little off because it says the developer will be revising the project but, in fact, Beedie people hadn’t decided yet.)

I’ve run into more than one former city planner since then who says that there is no way the city is not going to get sued over this. (Some people think that that won’t happen, not because the developer doesn’t have some grounds, but because he won’t want to alienate the city.) This story is not over yet.

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Impact of out-of-town investors: yes, increases prices; increases them more when supply restricted

November 8th, 2017 · 4 Comments

If you want to be guaranteed loads of clicks in this town, write about how everyone is being driven out by high real-estate prices (caused by heartless politicians, shadowy foreign investors, the real-estate cartel, etc etc) and/or about a study that tries to bring real data to the anecdotes.

So this recent study from UBC got loads of attention all around, though some didn’t like the author’s comments (made separately from the study) that the solution was supply first, and then, a poor second, restricting demand.

The study noted that, yes, out-of-town investors (whether from Chilliwack or Chengdu) who buy properties and leave them empty as second homes or investments do drive up prices. Some people were scornful that it took an academic study to come to this conclusion, but the point was not, do they or don’t they. It was: If they do, by how much.

This quantified the increase, noting that it is greater in Vancouver, where there is more of a supply problem, than in New York, where much more supply was already available and more is being added all the time.

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The archive of by-election coverage

November 8th, 2017 · 1 Comment

Catching up on posting some older stories here. First up: the stories before and after the Oct. 14 by-election, which provided a story with endless interpretation possibilities (Vision dead; no, progressive vote on the rise; no, NPA on the rise; no, people-power politics on the rise; coalitions the politics of the future; yada yada).

First up was the story that focused a bit on how many people working the campaigns were reporting a complete lack of interest or knowledge on the part of voters. That worry turned out to be justified. Just under 11 per cent of people voted. I talked to many knowledgeable, politically engaged people afterwards who completely forgot to vote on the Saturday, saying it had just slipped their minds because there was so little coverage and/or because they never received any kind of reminder from the city in the mail.

Then there was afterwards, with the endlessly fascinating results, as the NPA’s Hector Bremner won the council seat but progressive parties took most of the seats on school board. That set off a frenzy of speculation (two examples here and here) that Vision was dead, a trope that was repeated a couple of weeks later when Vision Councillor Andrea Reimer announced she wouldn’t be running again — an announcement that I understand some tried to get her to delay making because of the damage it would do coming so close after the by-election loss.

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