#NWELXN18 – a wrap

I have gone through the numbers of the recent election in a couple of posts, (here, here, and here) but I did so recognizing that I was perpetuating a trope that plagues democracy in North America (and perhaps the world?) – looking at politics like it is just another a sport. Line scores and a zero-sum-game of winners and losers are the easiest and laziest way to report on elections. It leaves little room for the more important discussions we should be having during an election: the debate of ideas and values and visions for the future.

I need to say that this has been a difficult blog post to write. There are a couple of 1,500-word drafts that have been deleted, because they all fell into the mode of being an us-vs-them analysis, and were more critical than helpful. I spent most of the last three months biting my (digital) tongue and not reacting to the messages of those who would have rather they be elected than me, because I wanted to avoid being drawn into a useless spat everyone would regret. It would serve no purpose (other than a little personal catharsis) to go there now.

**That said, I feel the need to stick one of my regular caveats here where I say all of this is my opinion, not the opinion of my council or election colleagues, City Council, the City, or any rational person or organization. If you disagree with me, let me know!**

This slipped once during the campaign when I made a reference to Daniel Fontaine, in reaction to a pretty ham-fisted attempt on his part to demean me on his blog, using what I think was an appropriate amount of dismissive humour, but then following to point out how disingenuous the hit piece was:

Trust me, the hardest part for me this election was not reacting to opponents on-line. There were many drafted-then-deleted tweets. Maybe I’m growing up.

But what was this election about? Other cities had clear narratives (Surrey wanted someone to deal with crime, Burnaby was about the need for housing, Port Moody about slowing the pace of development), but what was the New Westminster election theme?

After the fact and looking at the numbers, it is easiest for me to take the message that voters are generally happy with the way the City is being run, and were not as interested in change as in some of our surrounding communities. This reflected what I heard on the doorstep during three months of doorknocking, and what I heard in a thousand small conversations I had during the election. Things are not perfect, there are definitely things we could do better, but for the most part, things are headed in the right direction, and few are interested in a big shift in direction.

In the end, our main opponents must have heard that as well, and were challenged with messaging “things are mostly OK” along with the “time for a change” idea. In the end, they fell back on the familiar and tired narrative that New Westminster is run by organized labour in a poorly-defined but somehow nefarious way. This is the same narrative that James Crosty used to no success in New West for several elections, and the old Voice New West relied upon. Like running against bike lanes in Vancouver, this campaign message is exciting to a group of people in the City and gets amplified every election by the local media, but has never been one to motivate voters to come out and create a change. New Westminster happily votes for Labour-affiliated and NDP-affiliated candidates enough to elect them, and have done so in increasing numbers in every election for the last decade or two. This is why orange signs were a cynically good idea.

To the credit of my colleagues and voters, the winning candidates never stopped talking about the important issues to New Westminster – housing, transportation, inclusion and accessibility in schools, and livability of our community. They also worked hard to knock on doors and meet people. When I look at the new names at the top of the polls – Nakagawa, Ansari, Beattie, Dhaliwal – these are the candidates I saw out there every day earning votes with shoeleather and ideas. On election-period effort alone they earned every vote they got.

There was one big difference between this election and the previous one – the remarkable shrinking of the media space. Last election there were four (4!) local newspapers a week in New Westminster, now there is one. At the risk of poking those who buy ink by the barrel, there was not a tonne of coverage in the last few weeks of the election in the lone paper standing.

Since Labour Day (when the public starts properly paying attention to the campaign), there were a few news stories that announced the new candidates as they trickled out, a couple of pieces covering NWP messaging around how unfair the entire election process was, and not a lot else. The two substantial pieces were an October 4th quote-mining review of two All-Candidates Meetings (which strangely emphasized May Day as the biggest issue), and a really excellent 2-page spread on October 11th on diversity. However, through the entire election period there were no printed candidate profiles, not a single article discussing housing policy, infrastructure needs, transportation challenges, or any of the other top issues that might have informed voters about contrasts between what different candidates were offering. The final edition before the election (October 18th) had a single opinion piece admonishing people to vote, but no other coverage of the election or issues at hand. I don’t remember being asked a single election-related question by a single reporter between Labour Day and the close of the polls.

I recognize there are limited resources and limited column inches in one edition a week, and there was more material available on-line, but even that discussion was dominated by discussing the process of the election, with paltry discussion of policy issues. The emphasis on click-baity open-question headlines on Twitter and Facebook probably just worsened partisan bickering between supporters instead of actually inform on any issue. Indeed, here is where I missed the old Tomkinson-era Tenth to the Fraser that provided a really strong and well-curated online discussion. I suspect print is still more important to a significant number of voters than on-line content, and I can’t help but feel that the Burnaby Now side of the local Black Press Glacier Media office got a lot more attention, and their election got more column inches. Perhaps their election was more exciting.

So what now? The things I tried to talk about during the election are still my priorities after the election. We need to continue to improve how the City communicates and engages the public, and I want to have a serious talk with the provincial government on reforming the Public Hearing process. We are already leading the region in affordable housing policy, but have no intention of taking our foot off the gas, and will work to get new funding and new policy levers provided by the province (such as Rental Zoning) working for us locally. On transportation, I want to push a conversation forward about changing the culture in our roads. I want us to prioritize making vulnerable road users feel safe at all times. It is time for us to grow up and talk honestly about the goals of our transportation plan, which is not the destructive (and ultimately self-defeating) goal of “getting traffic moving”. 

Of course, I am just one of 7 on Council, and finding consensus on strategic plans for the next 4 years will be the main conversation for the next couple of months. Stay tuned!

Counting Lanes

The Canada Games Pool replacement project is moving along. We have just completed a second round of public consultation, and one group have taken this opportunity to encourage the City to do more than the initial concept plan that resulted from the work to date. As they spent some time delegating to Council and have got quite a bit of messaging in the media (social and otherwise), I figured I would write a bit about how we got here, and my understanding of the request.

A couple of years ago, this Council made the decision to replace the Canada Games Pool (CGP) with a modern facility instead of investing tens of millions of dollars in replacing end-of-life components of the existing building and mechanicals. This has led to a lot of work on planning for a new facility, from figuring out what the “program” of the new facility needs to be, what it will cost, where it will fit on the site, and other technical and financial considerations. This has included two lengthy conversations with the public and stakeholders.

There are a few points that constrain our opportunities here. Council agreed with strong advocacy in the community that the existing pool cannot be torn down until the new one is built – we cannot afford to have a lengthy period without the swim programs and other amenities that the CGP provides. It was also determined that replacing the late-life Centennial Community Centre (CCC) at the same time would provide worthwhile synergies and assure continuity of programming. Finally, an extensive analysis of locations around the City brought the conclusion that the existing location had many advantages, and that the cost of moving the pool to a different neighbourhood just didn’t make sense, financially or for the disruption it would cause.

This is recognizing another limit on the current site, in that the front parking lot of the current pool was built on the upper reaches of the Glenbrook Ravine, which was filled in the 1960’s, burying a regionally-important sewer line under it. We cannot build above that sewer line (due to Metro Vancouver owning a right of way that excludes any construction), and moving it would cost a significant portion of what a new pool costs, so that further constrains the site. However, preliminary design and architectural work demonstrates that we can fit a decent-sized (~115,000 square foot) facility on the site immediately to the south and west of the existing pool.

Another thing Council did was tour new pool facilities across the Lower Mainland. We visited the Edmonds Community Centre, the Hillcrest Community Centre, the Poirier Complex, the West Vancouver Community Centre, and more. We also had an extensive tour of the current Canada Games Pool. On all of these visits, we are able to talk to the operators and project planners to talk about what works, and what doesn’t. Most interesting was to discuss what they would do differently if they were to start a pool replacement project from fresh. A few of us even scheduled a visit to a larger pool facility in Gatineau when in Ottawa last year, and have been tracking new pool facilities across the region to understand who is doing what.

Of course there have been a tonne of conversations here in New West with the pool user community, and people who don’t currently use the pool, but might like to except for its lack of serving their needs. There was both formal consultation and more informal meetings with stakeholder groups (such as the Hyack Swim Club). A few of us on Council also went out and did a few days of door knocking in the neighbourhoods around the pool to better understand what people think about the current pool, what they know about the replacement plans, and to hear if the budget freaks them out.

I have to say the most consistent feedback I received was that the current pool is not as inviting to families and community use as other more modern facilities. Part of this is the somewhat aged structure (described by some as dank and stuffy), but also the lack of play space and the colder water temperature (which makes it better for competitive swimming) that makes it harder for families to enjoy the space together. We also had feedback that the gym was too small and not comfortable because it shared humid and warm airspace with the pool. We also heard from a significant user group that they loved the humid, warm gym environment. A very small number of people valued the diving towers and the water slide, but most wanted more flexible spaces. The value of the pool as a community amenity and the programs run by our recreation staff were a consistent theme, but when it came to details, there was a wide diversity of opinions. I have no idea who you are reading this, but I bet at least one point I raised above is something you disagree with, as is the reality of public consultation.

The process to filter through this feedback included working with an architect experienced in building these types of facilities and measuring out what different program components would add as far as square footage and cost. The cost part, of course, includes the cost to build the facility, but also a business case based on the needs of a rapidly growing community. This means determining the capacity of pools, changerooms, gym facilities and such needed to accommodate (increasing) anticipated users. The operational costs are put into context of the potential for revenue generation and revenue growth. New Westminster is a relatively small city with challenging infrastructure needs, and it became clear that the budget was going to drive part of this conversation – we are going to build the best pool we can, but simply cannot afford to build everything that everyone wants. We knew hard decisions were going to have to be made.

Amalgamating the public feedback and other data, and coming up with a program to fit as many needs as possible, was a challenging process. The report on the first round of consultation and the reasoning that led to the proposed program, can be read here. It is this program that the City took out for a second round of consultation last month, and we have yet to receive a report back at Council about the results of the consultation; that is the next step here.

This is the background to the Hyack Swim Club’s appearance at Council to delegate on their needs and desires for the pool. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but the message was that the proposed program is inadequate for holding the scale of meets that they think we can attract. We could still hold regional meets up to the level that the current facility can host, but we could not host national-level meets that are currently only possible at Kamloops and Victoria. In the media (social and otherwise) this has been characterized as requiring the addition of two more lanes, which sounds pretty minor, but there are hints it is more than this. So I’ll take a bit of time to put some context around that specific issue, recognizing this is at topic I am still learning about, so I stand ready to be corrected.

One big decision in any new civic pool facility is – do you build a 25m or 50m pool? The emphasis on fitness and lap swimming, including the legacy of the Hyack Club, is the reason the City suggested a 50m pool instead of a 25m pool (or even two 25m pools, which would be similar in cost to the one large pool, but provide much more user flexibility, which is the decision Richmond made with the new Minoru complex project). The demand analysis described above suggested that New West could meet anticipated swim demand by building a 25m 10-lane pool and a secondary leisure pool. It is the legacy of competitive swimming at the pool that led to the alternative 50m pool plan being considered.

The current pool is 8 lanes, and the proposed program would also be 8 lanes, with 2.4m lanes. The proposal also includes a much larger leisure pool that can accommodate some lane swimming, but also have the amenities people come to expect from a community pool serving families and other leisure users. So, contrary to some social media reports, we are not proposing a smaller pool that we currently have, but one with a functionally-similar main tank, and a significant second tank. It is my understanding (and I stand to be corrected here, as I have some reading to do!) that the Hyack Swim Club’s request is not just for two more lanes, but a deeper main tank, a much larger secondary tank with potentially less family / leisure useability, a significant increase in deck space for stands, and perhaps some other functional changes. The full proposal needs to be evaluated for fit and cost (capital and operational).

If I was to express frustration about this process, it is that the competitive swimming community always advocates for 50m pools whenever a new pool is built, but there never seems to be a pool built that satisfies their needs. Hillcrest and Grandview are just two recent examples of 50m pools that were built to accommodate a vocal competitive swimming advocacy group, but are(according to the presentations we received at Council) inadequate for competitive swimmers. The proposals for the new Harry Jerome complex in North Vancouver is going through a very similar conversation today (note – that “editorial” in the newspaper is actually a paid-for sponsored ad, which is its own weirdness), and I hear from the recreation operators that there are simply too many 50m pools being built in the region.

In summary, the conversation is ongoing here in New Westminster, and it is great that the Hyack Swim Club has been working to inform Council about their needs. I have had some correspondence from them since the Council delegations, and they have provided me some reading material to review. I hope to gain some better understanding about the details and (importantly) the business case implications involved in meeting the Hyack Swim Club’s expectations while not compromising what the rest of the community wants from a recreation facility. This conversation is not at all a setback for the project, but a perfect example of why we do public consultation. Our goal is (as it always has been) to have a project definition ready for when the Federal and Provincial government open the application window for infrastructure grants, and though there has been no confirmation of that date, we are in a good place to work out these details in time to make the window.

More to come!

Pipelined

I wanted to comment a bit on this story. Kinder Morgan is apparently using an industrial lot in the Braid Industrial Area of New Westminster for staging and equipment storage as part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project. That has caused some people to send me correspondence around why the City is allowing this, people asking me why I am not opposing the pipeline. I replied to a Facebook Post, but I think this issue is important enough for me to expand a bit on it here on my blog.

The site within New West being used by Kinder Morgan is on Port of Vancouver land, not land where the City has any jurisdiction. Council members were very recently made aware this was happening, but we do not have any regulatory authority around land use on Port lands, as only the Federal Government can issue or withhold those permits. We were not involved in the planning for this, and we have not had any formal correspondence on the issue from the proponent or the Port.

This City and this Council have been involved in the NEB review of the Kinder Morgan pipeline from the onset. The City acted as an intervenor in the NEB review, raised a number of significant concerns during the process, and continues to emphasize these concerns since. Not the least of these concerns is the potential for impacts on the Brunette River and its riparian areas.

We have supported court cases challenging this project and the process towards its approval. The NEB and the Federal Governments (past and present) have demonstrated no interest in our position, nor do I feel they have adequately addressed our concerns. It is actually worse than that, as there were recent hearings in Burnaby to review some of the still-unresolved questions about the routing of the new pipeline along New Westminster’s border (and within the Brunette River riparian zone) and the NEB didn’t even invite New Westminster to attend. I was refused entry to the hearings when I showed up. They were held behind closed doors, and as the routing was some 30m outside of our City, my being able to even listen to the conversation was not seen as relevant. At least the Harper Government invited us into the room to be ignored.

I cannot speak for all of Council, nor is this the “official position” of the City, but I have been involved in this process for several years now. I bring a significant amount of professional and technical experience to this, having provided expert evidence as an Environmental Scientist to several Environmental Assessments in my career. I am concerned about the pipeline, but I am much, much more angry about the unaccountable and unacceptable process that has taken us to this point. In the last Federal election we were promised that the industry-focused reviews brought in by the Harper Government would be replaced; that didn’t happen. We were told that community consultations would be opened up, and that consent from communities would be sought; that didn’t happen. We were told that a new era of reconciliation would be ushered in before we impose unsustainable and  damaging infrastructure projects to unceded lands; that didn’t happen. We were told that subsidies to sunset oil industrial development would end and a new energy vision would be offered; that didn’t happen.

We were lied to, and now we are ignored.

This is fine

This shouldn’t fill me with rage. I think the intent was to do the opposite; to provide me a guide to supplant anger and frustration with quiet acceptance. A serenity prayer to bring calm to the unrelenting intensity of our times. Instead, I found myself yelling at the radio on a Sunday Morning:

“You entitled asshole! How dare you tell everyone calm down!”

No surprise, the essayist in question is a white septuagenarian upper middle class Canadian male idling away his dotage by providing accumulated wisdom via the established media. Perhaps the messenger was the message.

For his regular Sunday morning essay, Canada’s kind leather-elbow-patched uncle Michael Enright decided to remark on a sense of despair or foreboding expressed by his fellow white-coiffed legacy journalist Gary Mason. In it, Mason remarked on the many aspects of our current troubled times, and invoked an interest in just getting away from it all. To which Enright prescribed a healthy dose of calming baroque music.

Which brought this to mind for me:
As Mason pointed out, this is a terrible time for many parts of the industrial world, and Canada is surrounded by storm clouds. This appears to be the decade where all the bad cheques written by 30 years of NeoLiberalism get cashed. Climate tipping pints are passing like telephone poles on a desert highway, stagnation of wages and erosion of social supports are run up against a cost of living inflated by speculative money trading and wealth measured by the ability to avoid taxation. For the first time we can be sure this generation will have less than the previous, and the next will be left to pick the scraps. Instead of lifting leaders willing to address the causes of inequity and despair, the exploited and disenfranchised are turning to despotic strongmen driving wedges to split apart the fibres of our society. To quote Mason’s article “We are living in times as dangerous and unpredictable as there’s been in 80 years.”

This is no more apparent than in media, the industry these two men inhabit. Hedge fund managers own every newspaper of note in Canada, a small collection of very rich and politically-connected individuals own every other traditional media channel, and use them to shamelessly shape political opinion. The President of the United States openly calls for the destruction of media organizations that counter the narrative presented by his defacto propaganda channel. In Canada, the second party in the House is increasingly being managed by alt-right propagandists and white nationalists who were apparently too radical for Rebel Media. Meanwhile, the emergent new media streams are being dominated by algorithms designed by the security apparata of hostile nations to bend our minds into false narratives and shape our political views at a scale that would have terrified Orwell.

That is the landscape that one of our dead-tree media stalwarts caught a momentary glimpse of, and suggested he felt the need to escape. To which Enright, in all of the comfort and security of resources drawn from the savings account of future generations, replied: just listen to Beethoven. It’ll all be fine. “The best medicine for what ails Mr. Mason and the rest of us is music”.

In an effort to avoid the long stream of profanity I feel, and to speak in the generational parlance of Mr Enright: Bollocks!

The only Sabbath Mason needs now is a Black one. If music is to be applied to this malaise, let it be loud, aggressive, and filled with calls to action. The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Anti-Flag, anyone who has taken seriously the hard work of yelling at fascists. Now is not the time for journalists to chill to a Bach cantata, it I time for the Fourth Estate to stand the hell up and start shouting about the chaos they are seeing.

If the likes of Enright and Mason are as seriously concerned about the fate of their children and egalitarian society as they claim, I don’t understand how solemnly lamenting their fate while enjoying a little Puccini is seen as a valid response. These gentlemen have been granted (earned?) three hours of national radio every week / ample column inches in an ever-shrinking media landscape. I humbly suggest they get past their woe-is-me head-under the pillow bullshit and start doing their job.

The media already has enough old men yelling at clouds for being a lesser shade of white than in their halcyon youth, dispatching their “I got mine” wisdom nuggets from their comfortable porches on the Sunshine Coast or “cattle ranches called the Schively” (dear Christ, did Enright actually say that!?). These are not the realities of young people in Vancouver or Toronto struggling with stagnant wages and housing crises and collapsing hopes, of First Nations across the country still waiting for the promise of some sort of reconciliation for their inter-generational sabotage, of a globe of youth facing terrifying implications of global climate shifts and concomitant migrations spawning a new rise of wall-builders (metaphorical and literal) and sabre-rattlers and possessors of ICBMs that can deliver hypersonic glide vehicles to any point on the planet as easily as their software that can deliver hundreds of thousands of duped votes to ballot boxes in the same far-off places.

Far from the luxury of seeking Bechet as an escape from the bedlam of a society stacked against them, there is a generation in this country, and across the industrialized world, who are feeling right now the doom of this bedlam, and cannot even dream of a dotage of relaxed musical contemplation. And it is you, Mr. Enright, and your industry that is, right now, the first up against the wall, being torn apart by a new wave of fascist demagogues from Moscow to Manila to Beijing to Washington, as dictators have always taken apart the free press at the beginning of their destructive rule. If you need contemplation in this time of chaos, be it in contemplating whether you are willing to take up the fight now to protect the things that made your life so comfortable?

Escaping from it all is a luxury that serves to demonstrate the privilege too many in your generation (and in your industry!) don’t even recognize as existing. Taking that luxury at this time may be the final (but not greatest) insult you generation imposes on your children.

Damn, I need a coffee.

That New Premier Smell

You may have seen this graphic across the #CDNPoli Social Media this week:

It reinforces whatever political biases you bring into it: Horgan is doing OK; Wynne is a wreck; PEI doesn’t matter. But I took something else out of it, and had to draw my own graph to demonstrate it:

Politics is a hell of a business.

For the rest of us who slept through Statistics 101, an R of .92 is a pretty high correlation, so I can definitively say popularity as a Premier in Canada correlates negatively with time in office. Any Premier above that trend line is doing better than average, any premier below the line is doing worse than average. Arguably, Pallister is doing worse than McNeil on average, but you know which I would rather be going into re-election.

Because in politics, it doesn’t seem to matter if you are above or below the line here. The only lesson to be learned from this graph is that the best you can hope for in Provincial Politics in Canada is to get things done before that New Premier Smell wears off. As years in office accumulate, any successes or victories are quickly weighed down by a legacy of being to blame for everything that may have gone wrong. Inevitably some of that is your fault (no one is perfect) and some is beyond your control, but in politics at the highest level, it simply doesn’t matter.

The only good way out of politics is to recognize when the door has been opened for you, and get out. Problem is, that kind of self-recognition is the first thing to be eroded by electoral success and access to power. Entering politics in the first place requires hubris, time in politics increases hubris, getting out requires absence of hubris. You can see the problem here.

I’m not sure how this plays out at the Municipal level, but I am just going to leave this post here, and hopefully someone will point it out to me when I am considering my 6th term for Council.

Listening

I have already written a slightly-too-long blog post on the City’s burgeoning reconciliation process. If I could summarize the thesis, it is that the community needs to take intentional and careful steps in creating a space for communication. We need to hear each other’s stories.

I was both excited and apprehensive to see the Record name reconciliation as their News Item of the Year. It is great that our sole remaining local paper sees this as an important topic, as their participation in nurturing those conversations will be important. The problem being that their story once again focused attention on a statue – a potentially important issue point, but a relatively minor part of a much larger discussion that has to happen.

The story in the Record has, for good or bad, already started discussion in the letters section of the paper, and associated Social Media.

I disagree with some of what I read in those letters. However, I more strongly disagree with people jumping on Social Media to (with the best of intentions) correct things in that letter they deem as inaccurate or (with less clear intentions) accuse the letter writers of ignorance or ill intent.

One thing I have learned in my first forays into learning about the Truth and Reconciliation process is that we need people to tell their stories, to share their thoughts and experiences. This cannot happen if our default is to immediately question a person’s ideas or impressions. Conversation is different than debate, and on this topic we need much more of the former, much less of the latter. Even when what we hear is uncomfortable. We need to find a way to talk about how our understanding, our experience, may be different or come from a different place without engaging in debate or placing the letter writer in an “others” group.

I wrote last time about trying to understand how we can create spaces where people who lived the Indigenous experience can talk about their truths. I think this is an important early emphasis, if only because we have to get over the hurdles related to 150+ years of systematic efforts to silence those voices. However, we don’t get there by shouting down the voices of the members of our community for whom the entire idea of there being an “Indigenous Experience” is a challenge to their deeply held beliefs.

We all, all of us, have to learn how to listen. It’s only the first step, but it’s an important one. We can use this process to build a stronger, more just and compassionate community. And that is a way better goal than just having a well-debated statue.

…on the Stairway

“A Stairway to Nowhere”. Literally the second paragraph of the story undermines the headline, but Global never lets a good lede go to waste, reality be damned.

The alleged “Stairway to Nowhere” is a fire exit, required by the building code because the ~100-year-old heritage buildings adjacent do not have internal staircases to facilitate fire egress in the event a fire or other emergency blocks the front entrance. The connections between the staircase and the building have not been completed yet, because the ~100-year-old heritage electrical connections to the ~100-year-old heritage buildings are going to be moved to make the Front Street Mews look and work better, and life will be better for everyone if the lines are moved before the fire escape connections are made.

The fire escape needed to be built because the Parkade was removed. The ~100-year-old heritage building used to have gangways that connected to the Parkade to facilitate fire egress. Those were part of the “railings, lights, stairs, wheelguards, and other ‘jewellery’ [that were] past their service life and [fell] far short of modern safety codes” that I talk about in that blog post from 2015. Until the new connections are made, there is a lighter-duty and even more temporary fire escape on Columbia Street which is (arguably) as intrusive as this one. The owner of the ~100-year-old heritage building, naturally, has some say in how these connections are made, and is apparently quite satisfied with the stairway on Front Street.

20170725_120448

The cost of installing this stairway or otherwise providing alternate egress for the ~100-year-old heritage building is not an unexpected expense, but part of the (budgeted) $11 Million cost of the Parkade half-repair, Parkade half-removal, Front Street re-engineering and general gussying-up project that was approved by Council a couple of years ago. At last report, this project is still on budget, although its finish was delayed for a bunch of reasons that were reasonably unanticipated. There were some changes to the design over the couple of years since first proposed, not the least being that all of the electrical services were undergrounded, which is a significant improvement to the aesthetic of the Mews, and will make the pedestrian realm more friendly.

All of this doesn’t mean I am happy with the staircase (**insert part where I say this is my opinion, not official position of the City, Council, or anyone else**). I was actually pretty (excuse me, Mom) pissed off when I first looked at this temporary solution for the fire escape and it was explained to me that “temporary” meant “for the foreseeable future”. Looking back at the many renderings for the Front Street Mews used for public consultation over the years, the stairs were never depicted, and to me the structure is oversized, obtrusive, and at odds with what vision we are trying to create on the Mews. With our Open Space planning staff doing so much good work to make Front Street a comfortable, human-scaled, and functional space, this looks like something designed by (I’m sorry) an engineer.

vision-2My first reaction was to think that a fire escape, by its very nature, would be used by a half-dozen people only once, if at all. This structure looks like it was engineered to facilitate the boarding of troops onto naval vessels. However, I am told that modern fire access standards for commercial buildings expect that well-equipped firefighters will use the stairs, and carry large things up and down them with some significant urgency. The stairs are also expected to remain standing after a seismic event that no ~100-year-old heritage building was built to sustain. So it is bigger, stronger, and with a much more substantial foundation than the stairs going (for example) up to the back deck in my house. It is also a modular design that can be picked up and moved, as it was recognized at the time as a “temporary” structure, which can be utilized elsewhere if ever major renovations to the ~100-year-old heritage building make the stairway’s presence on Front Street no longer necessary. Put these factors together, and the design, fabrication and installation costs are more than my aforementioned deck stairs.

Other options were explored by staff and the owner of the building. Maintaining access above Columbia Street was suboptimal, building an access on the McKenzie Street side simply didn’t work with the internal layout of the ~100-year-old heritage building. No-one was excited about the potential engineering challenges of hanging something that met modern standards off the side of a ~100-year-old heritage building. So in the end, they are ugly and look overbuilt, but represent the best of several bad options given the circumstances. I don’t like the way the stairway looks, but have no viable alternatives to offer.

Nor, I note, do the armchair engineers or outrage-mongers at Global.

Narrative

Elections are about campaigns, and campaigns are about narratives.

This is what makes the silly little story of Christy Clark and her posse ducking out of the Sun Run after the start-line Photo-Op interesting.

Photo-Ops are as much a part of a modern campaign as fundraising and debates. Showing up for a big public event like the Sun Run seems like a smart idea: Get a number, don some running gear, look like you’re part of the crowd, be relatable. Ducking out of an event after the photo-op is also not a surprising a move, so why was this duck-out a big deal for Christy Clark?

Because it fits the narrative that the opposition NDP have sucessfully placed around Christy Clark: she can’t be trusted, she’s crooked, she’s an opportunist and a cheater.

Showing up for a running race with your race gear, then diving out of the race before the end doesn’t smell genuine – it seems a bit like you’re cheating. You want people to think you put in an effort, you got photographed apparently putting in the effort, but you didn’t actually put in the effort. You lied to those people you were trying to relate to. Its sneaky in a way donning the hardhat at a construction site isn’t. It feels dishonest. It fits the narrative.

However, if there is a more interesting story coming out of the Sun Run Photo-op, it has to do with this photo:
samsunrun

Sam Sullivan has a tradition of showing up near the end of the Sun Run and sending high fives and encouragement to the runners as they go by. It’s a way for him to participate in the biggest annual event within his riding, and he has done it for years. Sure, it is Photo-op, but it connects with people, it feels genuine, and therefore it’s pretty cool. So it is perhaps apropos that Christy Clark didn’t bother to run far enough this year to share a high five or photo with Sam Sullivan. This, unfortunately for Sam, fits the narrative of his invisibility and ineffectiveness as an MLA.

I don’t think there’s another MLA in the province that has been as disappointing as Sam Sullivan. Love or hate his politics, this man was a champion for his City, with a vision for a more livable Vancouver, and an understanding of its role in the region. A politician with his resume (the former mayor of the biggest city in the province!) and his passion would be expected to have a prominent seat at the table in any provincial caucus. Instead, the most common hashtag used in the social media around his work has been #InvisibleSam. In the Christy Clark caucus, as in Cristy Clark’s British Columbia, there are winners and losers. Sam, along with the the smart and competent Moira Stilwell, also from Vancouver, is definitely on the wrong side of that equation. As a result, Sam has sat silently on the back bench during the public transit and transportation boondoggles, has been invisible during the overdose crisis, has been missing during the housing crisis. All of these issues that are so important to his riding, that disproportionately impact the City for which he served as mayor, that threaten his own vision for that City, are the issues he failed to meaningfully adress.

I don’t feel good picking on Sam about this. I’m sure he is as frustrated about this situation as any of us, because I do believe he cares about Vancouver, and I know he understands the public policy that can make his City better. However, this is about the leadership of Liberals, and the inability push good public policy forward within a Caucus system that is based on punishment and reward and appeasing donors. That is the narrative of Sam. At least Stilwell has the guts and the dignity to get out when she can, and call this government what it is:

moira

Fortunately, in this election Sam is running against Morgane Oger, a passionate advocate for education in a riding where BC Liberal failure on that file has resulted in a school deficit, even as the neighbourhood booms with an influx of young families and professionals – the type of mixed-use higher-density family-friendly development that Sam Sullivan himself supported when he was Mayor. It seems he cannot (or will not) speak out from his MLA seat, even as his government chooses to undermine the vision he helped create for his City. Morgane is running from behind, in a riding that will be tough to win, but if you are in Vancouver I hope you can find a way to help her get a seat in Victoria. She has a long history of speaking out for what is important to her and her community, and False Creek (and the rest of Vancouver) could use some of that right now.

How can we expect Sam to now speak up for his community, when he can’t even get a photo-op high-five from his own Premier?

Disgusting (updated)

At some point, a pander to one group of electors goes beyond cynical, and becomes an abdication of responsibility and an offence to the idea of governance.

The BC Liberals platform apparently includes a promise to create a “cap” on bridge tolls – where no driver pays more than $500 per year, regardless of how often they avail themselves of extremely expensive and not-yet-paid-for infrastructure. A great election promise to “put more money in the pockets of hard working British Columbians”, or some such bullshit, but I have to go bullet point to condense my anger about how bad an idea this really is.

  • It completely undermines the Mayor’s Council and the regional transportation plan that they developed. The province has put roadblock after roadblock in place of that plan, while shoveling money to vanity road projects that won’t solve the problem. Just last week they wrapped themselves in benevolent support for the plan with some commitment of financial support of a couple of it’s components. However, it has been clear all along that road pricing and Transportation Demand Management will be major components of the next phases. This cap is a pre-emptive strike against the Mayors, delivered with no warning.
  • This isn’t saving anyone any money. The tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge still need to be paid, because Golden Crossing General Partnership still needs to get paid. Similarly, the tolls on the Port Mann are still owed to TREO, and are already not bringing in anywhere near enough revenue to meet the business objectives of that White Elephant. The Province is going to have to top up these agreements from general revenue – potentially costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, because use of the bridge above the cap – the tolls taxpayers will have to cover – are actually encouraged by this scheme.
  • This undermines the business plan for the Massey Bridge. We don’t know much about the business plan for the Massey replacement, because the province redacted it to the point that none of the business risk was disclosed. However, the Ministry has been clear through the planning and the Environmental Assessment documents that the 10-lane bridge will be tolled. Tolling was not just a major component of the finances, but was fundamental to the traffic forecasts and environmental impacts for the project. This tosses all of those best-laid plans out the window.
  • It undermines the terms of the MOU for the Pattullo replacement. The stakeholders for the Pattullo have an agreement in place that underlies the ongoing project: a 4-lane tolled structure. Tolls are not just there to pay for the bridge, but to balance the traffic demand between crossings and reduce the impact on residential neighbourhoods of Surrey and New Westminster. A commuter cap on tolls shifts this balance, and sets back a decade worth of progress and partnership on this project, just as we were crossing the goal line.
  • It is counter to basic economics. We are taking a scarce and valuable resource, road capacity, and encouraging its increased use to save money. Simply put – the more you use the bridges, the less you pay. It is insane, and contrary to all Transportation Demand Management best practice across the industrialized world. It is separated from reality. It is deranged. Do I need to get out a thesaurus to make my point here?
  • It is not being offered for any alternatives. It will now, once again, be cheaper to drive a car across the Port Mann Bridge than to take transit across it. Just as the province has been dragged reluctantly into bringing expanded light rail to South of Fraser , they are creating a quick incentive to discourage its use, and undermine the entire model, shifting growth patterns in Surrey for a generation, at the most critical point of its growth.

Now, I am writing this about an hour after this information leaked out, so there may be devil-in-details I am not aware of here that will arrive with the official announcement, but that speaks to the point that there has been no consultation with the Mayors of communities affected, no public engagement over a plan that will re-shape the region and undermine so much of what the region is trying to achieve in livability, sustainable development, greenhouse gas reduction, and transportation. How do you recognize electioneering replacing governance? It is a surprise announcement completely disconnected from any other policy, program, long-term planning, or previous action by the government.

This is a flip of the bird to the regional plan (to the very idea of regional planning!) and to every resident of the Burrard Peninsula. It is a cynical pandering to a few ridings South of Fraser, and low-information voters across the province who likely won’t realize they are going to have to now pay through their taxes for infrastructure built on the promise that users would finance it. Not surprisingly, Jordan Bateman is taking a pass on criticizing this specific tax increase, being the original champion for the Port Mann fiasco.

And people will fall for it, of course. Congratulations, BC Liberals. You have raised the art of disgusting panders to a new level.

UPDATE: I was in the room when John Horgan announced out of nowhere that he would end all tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges if elected. The closest thing I have to a response was what James Gemmill made succinct on Twitter:  holdmybeer

Open letter on the OCP

I receive quite a bit of correspondence as a City Councillor, and I try to reply to as much of it as I can. Sometimes the time just isn’t available, and sometimes the writer doesn’t really leave a space for response (like the racist tirades I receive from “Immigration Watch” every week. Ugh, those guys are relentless).

I rarely make my responses public, as people writing may not like the idea of me writing in a public forum about their ideas, concerns, or opinions. However, recently a letter I received was also sent to and published by the local newspaper. In this case, I thought it appropriate to make my response public. There has already been a bit of social media push-back about this letter, some of it not very respectful to the writer, so I avoided responding via the Record for fear of “piling on” and making that conversation space less comfortable for anyone else interested in expressing an opinion.

We need an open discussion about things as important as the Official Community Plan. however, we also need to make sure the discussion is factual. So with that in mind, and with respect to the letter writer (whom I have met and is a very nice woman with honest and strongly felt convictions), here is my response as sent to her through e-mail a few days ago.

Mrs. Dextras.

Thank you for taking the time to write a letter to Mayor and Council regarding the OCP process. I know you are passionate about your neighbourhood, and am happy to see more voices from Glenbrook North take part on the public engagement.

However, I would like to correct a few misconceptions that I read in the letter as published in the Record, which were also manifest in your presentation to the GNRA when I was there.

The land use designations indicated in the draft land use map during the latest round of public consultation were not “arbitrarily” designated by planning staff. They were the product of more than two years of background data collection, public engagement, workshops, surveys, planning analysis, and conversation around the Council Table. Some earlier drafts presented at public meetings included more or less density in that area of Glenbrook North, and indeed in every neighbourhood in the City. The draft map you now see was developed through lengthy discussions of planning principles, and significant public feedback. There is nothing “arbitrary” about it.

Land Use Designation is not zoning. I know we have heard this more than once, and you have changed your language slightly to reflect this point, but it appears you are still conflating the two principles. The OCP is not a tool to change the zoning of your property, and there is nothing in the OCP that would force a person to sell or redevelop their home. There are currently no rezoning plans for your street, and your “property rights” are in no way reduced by the land use designation

The OCP update process was not initiated by this Mayor or Council, but began in early 2014 under the previous Mayor and before I or my colleague Councillor Trentadue were elected. The current OCP was developed in the 1990s, and though thoroughly amended over the years, was no longer reflective of the reality of New Westminster in 2016. As the Development Permit process to control development relies on an effective OCP, an update was necessary, and I vocally supported it while running for Council, however, I did not initiate it.

You also appear to have a mistaken understanding of the relationship between an OCP and the Regional Growth Strategy. The latter is required for regions experiencing growth (as we are) and s.850 of the Local Government Act (LGA) sets out its requirements. A Local Government OCP is required by law (LGA s.868) to include a Regional Context Statement that outlines how the OCP addresses the RGS, and how they will be made consistent. As such, local governments are required to follow the guidelines of the RGS, although they have considerable flexibility in how they meet those guidelines. In fact, the ruling you cite (Greater Vancouver Regional District v. Langley Township) found that the decision to add density to a protected area by Langley did not constitute a violation of the context statement, but was within that flexibility allowed to the City. Our Council is, indeed, legally bound to adopt an OCP that meets the RGS guidelines.

Your repeated assertion that 450 townhomes will be built on 5th Street in the next 20 years is difficult to reconcile with the draft OCP and guidelines. The west side of 5th street in Glenbrook North (outside of the part already converted to multi-family and commercial use near 6th Ave) is approximately 7 acres (not 15), perhaps 2300 linear feet of block face. With the guidelines proposed in the OCP, this would hardly accommodate a quarter of the townhouses you imagine. With a large number of residents (such as yourself) dedicated to stay in your homes, and not interested in exercising the expanded property rights an OCP amendment may afford, then it is safe to say many, many fewer than this will be built.

Where you are not incorrect (as it is an opinion) but where I strongly disagree with you, is in the assertion that young families like the one profiled in the Record should not be welcomed into our community, and we should not be developing housing policies to accommodate their needs. For a City, indeed for a neighbourhood, to be a livable and vibrant, it must remain accessible for people at different stages of life. I believe in the modern urban planning concepts that a community needs to include places where people can live, work, play and learn in close proximity, as the alternatives are ultimately unsustainable for the environment, for the economy, and for our social systems.

Nonetheless, I am disappointed to hear that your experience at one of the OCP Open Houses was not welcoming, or that you did not feel that your concerns were addressed. I attended several of these events, and never got the sense that staff were hostile to ideas that challenged the draft plans presented (although I occasionally heard participants passionately disagree on matters of principle or specific details). If you did not feel welcome to participate fully, that was indeed a lost opportunity, and I apologise. That said, the correspondence received from you and your neighbours has not been ignored, but has been read, included in the official record, and will be considered by Council as the final OCP is presented in the spring. I have listened to your concerns, have read your correspondence, and very much appreciated your hosting me for coffee in your home on Thanksgiving weekend to discuss your concerns with the process. I am, however, chagrinned that you continue to harbour false ideas about the meaning of the OCP update, and make oft-rebuked assumptions about the impact on your neighbourhood. Perhaps a more fulsome discussion may have provided some clarity to the points above (for example, I cannot stop emphasizing this is not about rezoning).

You are (of course) welcome to continue that correspondence, and to take an active role in the Public Hearing that will be required prior to Council adopting a new OCP.

Thank you again for taking the time to get involved in your community!

Patrick Johnstone