Monday, 30 December 2013


James Thurber recounted the  fable of the Little Girl and the Wolf.  One afternoon a  big wolf waited in the forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food for her grandmother.   When the little girl arrived at her grandmother's cottage, she saw that there was somebody in Grannies' bed with a nightcap and nightgown on.  Not taken in by the disguise, without a word, the little girl pulled out a Colt 45 and blew the Wolf’s head off.  

Moral:  It is not so easy to fool little girls  nowadays as it used to be.

Time passed. Wolves were driven out of town, forests were clear cut and affordable housing became  extinct.   

One day the Council asked the City Manager to restore the dwindled stock of affordable housing. 

The Manager said, "Sure. How affordable would you like it to be?"

Without blinking the Councillors  explained, “You know, Whatever.”

The Manager invited the developers to a costume ball and said, "The Council wants affordable rental housing.  Can you do this?"  

The Developers snapped back, “It Depends on a variety of factors including finishing, size,  fixtures, landscaping and such.”  

The Manager said, “Whatever?” 

The Developers explained, "Exactly."

A year later 1,917 rental units were completed.   

When a little girl in the West End  learned  that the rents were way higher than  current market rates,  she sued. She claimed that  "They had no right to delegate legislative powers to the Manager and the standards are inadequate. They have taken my money, handed it over to developers for these high priced chicken coups?"

Unlike the hapless wolf in the fable, the councilors, anticipated this reaction. "It is not about law," they opined. "It is all about spin."  They hired a battalion of professional  twitter persons.  “Tweet Like the wind,” exhorted the Mayor! 

And so they did. Here are the twinkling tweets the twitterers tweeted:
The @CityofVancouver is now 1,917 units above its target for new rental housing by the end of 2014:  #vanpoli #bcpoli
1. Mayor's Office ‏@VanMayorsOffice29 Dec “Making housing more affordable means residents & families can live closer to where they work" -@MayorGregor  #vanpoli
2. Quinlan ‏@KQ_VanCity26 Dec  Housing affordability, oil tankers, transit referendum: @MayorGregor year-end Q + A with @SunCivicLee  #vanpoli
3. lamontagne ‏@nlamontagne26 Dec In cities working to enable new cultures of walking/bicycling, police are often slowest to change.  #vanpoli #walkLA

Moral:  It remains to be seen whether it is any harder to fool little girls today than it was when James Thurber composed his fable. Whatever.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


The issue of how large a gift may appropriately be given to a politician by a developer periodically makes the news.

Small gifts can be as politically damaging as large ones. Mayor Jack Volrich accepted a Seiko watch from Japanese officials while he and other councilors were visiting Japan.  It was a ceremonial visit and gift. There was nothing wrong with it.  Besides,  Mayor Volrich did more than any local politician to bring  Expo 86 to Vancouver.

Did they call him "Expo Jack" after that? 

No. He was remembered as Seiko Jack. He and the NPA lost the next election to Mike Harcourt.

Relieving taxpayers of their burdens

Councilor Tim Stevenson has performed a splendid service by his willingness to test how far one can go in accepting gifts, even for the good cause of taking on homophobia in Russia. According to the CBC, a recent Council motion includes a mandate for Stevenson to travel to Russia and lobby the IOC to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights in the Olympic charter and ensure host cities have a pride house.

The CBC reported as follows: )

Funding for the trip is expected to come from private donations, including $50,000 that has already been donated by condo marketer Bob Rennie and hotelier Peter Wall, two major players in Vancouver. Critics have raised concerns the donations could influence future development decisions at city hall, but Mayor Robertson disagrees.

"The key thing [is] if people are willing to put money forward for initiatives, that's fantastic," said Robertson. "If it takes the burden away from taxpayers then that's good for all of us."

The initiative in this case - sending a councilor to the Olympics,  is different from giving money for  the Orpheum Theatre or for a park. The difference is recognized by the law.

The Vancouver Charter

Under Section 196 of the Vancouver Charter, the duties of office  include travel by a Councilor to represent the City abroad. He is entitled to claim expenses. Council has implemented this power under the Mayor and Council Members' Expenses Bylaw No. 8904.

Vancouver Charter s. 141 sets out the grounds upon which a councilor can be removed from office. One of the grounds is a violation of Vancouver Charter s. 145.7. That section states

“(1) a Council member must not, directly or indirectly, accept a fee, gift or personal benefit that is connected with the member's performance of the duties of office.

(2) Subsection 1 does not apply to (a) a gift or personal benefit that is received as an incident of the protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the responsibilities of office,

(3) A person who contravenes this section is disqualified from holding an office described in, and for the period established by, section 141 (2) [disqualification], unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgment made in good faith.

Thus, travelling to the Olympics would be connected to Councilor Stevenson’s performance of his duties of office. He would not be on a frolic of his own. As a result, he could fall victim to another current trend: To sue councilors and the City.

But there is more to it. A separate section, s 145.8 requires disclosure of the receipt of gifts that are incidents of protocol. If the gift is connected with the member’s performance of his duties, the section would not apply and would not be a defence.

The Petitioner would argue that interpreting sections 145.7 and 145.8 together, if a councilor, even indirectly, accepts a gift of an expense paid trip to Sochi; he has contravened the section and would be disqualified from holding office.

Councilor Stevenson has not concealed anything. In fact he indicated that if the Russians sent him to some gulag or other, he hoped his friends would send him Purdy’s chocolates. "I like the dark ones," he added.

The process for removing a councilor from office under these circumstances is by a simple application to a court for a declaration of disqualification. It must be brought within 45 days by 10 electors  under s. 142 of the Vancouver Charter.

Regardless of the law,  can it ever be right for a councilor to accept a substantial gift from a developer, whether or not the gift relates to the performance of his or her duties? A councilor's duties, in addition to visiting Russia and correcting that country's moral shortcomings, also include regulating developers. 

Even if the councilor agreed not to vote on any project that directly or indirectly affected the most well intentioned developer, the Councilor's  job is to vote on development regulations- not to abstain on the grounds of conflict of interest or perceived bias.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


Frances Bula recently called the Affordable Housing report “the Strangest Report  (approved Tuesday) I’ve seen in a while.”

She is right. The report, to coin a phrase, uses statistics as a drunk uses a lamp-post--- for support rather than illumination.

Ms. Bula noted that the rents — $1,440 for a studio and up to $2,500 for a three-bedroom — seemed not anywhere near affordable, which the city’s persistent critics have noted. But the numbers in the report on actual completed projects indicate that, of the projects built or planned so far, the actual rents are way above the proposed rents.

Here is what happened

The West End Neighbours  sued to set aside two bylaws, one of which they said illegally delegated the power to the City Manager to create affordable housing. She set up quite a system. The Developer would submit an application for a building and estimate the proposed monthly rents. For example, the developer estimated that the proposed average rents for the 400 ft2 units at 1142 Granville Street would be approximately $960 a month. The Manager considered these rents consistent with the 
Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) program, and the program’s successor, Secured Market Rental Housing PolicyRental 100.

The May 3, 2010 Staff report,  on the apparent assumption that the rents would be as proposed, states at pg. 7:

"The developer estimates that the units will rent on average for $960 a month. Given the finishing, unit size and design features in this location, staff find the rent levels proposed for this project to be consistent with STIR program and the City Manager has determined that there is a measure of affordability for this housing".

Some measure!  Some affordability!

Since the average rent downtown for a bachelor unit is about $1,047 per month, the rent may appear to have some "measure of affordability.” There was, however, a Catch 22. Once the project was completed, the rents for furnished 400 ft2 units were actually $1,495 per month.

The link below shows shows the hugely subsidized tiny unit in all its sartorial splendour.

Somehow or other the City Manager’s office failed to require the developer to stick with the proposed rents. This was simply not regulated. So, after getting a generous density bonus and having his or her Development Costs Charges and Amenity Contributions waived, he would rent the units for whatever he wanted. “Affordability” was ultimately not a requirement or even a factor.

The Councilors decided to set standards for affordability themselves and take away the City Manager's discretion thus agreeing to one of the orders sought in WEN's judicial review application. 

They seemed to think that the whole Judicial Review Application was a mere technicality. They hoped that Council  could take whatever developments the the Manager had approved, apply her standards and enact all of it as a bylaw. They expected nothing would change. 

Staff therefore came up with numbers that they thought would confirm the wisdom of the Manager’s determination that the rent was affordable.

When they produced their report, they discovered that they screwed up. It is not clear from their public comments that they really understand to this day what they did. The actual rents were not as proposed and approved by the City Manager as being affordable.   That is why the City has now set the maximum average rents at the present exorbitant figures. They have to set them high to legitimize previous approvals and current in stream proposals.

The shocking fact is that the City has been approving these developments, from the start without any regard to ultimate affordability. As WEN  (West End Neighbours) suspected, Council rezoned the properties, provided density bonuses and waived applicable levies on the theory that by so doing they were lowering the cost of housing. They did it for nothing. The City and tax payers are out of pocket. 

There are many morals to the story, one of which is, "Never believe your own lies." Another is that the spoils system of government with a politicized bureaucracy may be American as apple pie but can produce absolutely terrible government. On this point have a look at today's Vancouver Province Newspaper explaining why a civil service must be apolitical.

Don’t blame the developers. Presumably acting fully within their contractual rights, they saw to it that fools and our money were soon parted. It was the Council, not the developers,  that broke the law when it improperly delegated their responsibility to the Manager, contrary to the express requirements of the Vancouver Charter.

When Councilor Louie, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, was interviewed by Frances Bula, he noted that he found it difficult to explain.

I bet he did.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'        
Lewis Carol, Alice in Wonderland

Vancouver City Council had given the City Manager the extraordinary power to make the word unaffordable mean affordable. Depending on her feelings on the subject, she could in effect bypass zoning bylaws and subsidize developers to develop  rental housing at or above market rates.

The system was straight out of Alice in Wonderland, so an Association of 
West End Neighbours sued City Hall.  The Judicial Review application did not have to go to court. Council could no longer hide behind the Manager’s skirts. It revealed the standards that they thought should be applied. 

The scheme was even crazier than when Councilor Jang announced that everyone knows that 'affordable means - what else- affordable.' As it turns out affordable means anything but.

“Developers charging a rental of $1440 to $2743 for market housing deserve a subsidy? On what planet is that affordable ? ”

Depending on the perversity of one's sense of humour, it gets funnier.

Councilor Raymond Louie is quoted in the Globe and Mail by Francis Bula.  He told her today that 
the units being created through the incentive program, despite the fact that they are initially expensive,  will become more affordable as they age. 

On that theory, the Taj Mahal and the Palace at Versailles could be justified as long term affordable housing projects. In fact what Marie Antoinette actually said before King Louie's and her own beheading was, " Let them live in Versailles and eat cake."

Stay tuned.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


I have read the West End Plan. At 127 pages, it is longer than the British North America Act (our Constitution) but without its perky style. It is 5 times longer than the former West End Plan.

The plan starts with a declaration of 7 universal goals or principles. 

  1. Achieve a green, environmentally sustainable urban pattern. 
  2. Support a range of affordable housing options to meet the diverse needs of the community. 
  3. Foster a robust, resilient economy. 
  4. Enhance culture, heritage and creativity in the City.
  5. Provide and support a range of sustainable transportation options.
  6. Protect and enhance public open spaces, parks and green linkages. 
  7. Foster resilient, sustainable, safe and healthy communities. 

Those West Enders who anxiously demanded more time to review the plan can relax. They will be pleasantly surprised that our local government is not proposing to clear cut the parks. It does not seek economic stagnation over robust resiliency. Creativity will no longer be the exclusive province of accountants. As to culture, some might have fearfully recalled Herman Goering’s remark, “every time I hear the word “kultur” I reach for my revolver.” Culture in our green, sustainable, robust, healthy West End is going to be “enhanced!”

Chapter 6 sets out built form guidelines. The first one is that the “dome of the skyline of the downtown as seen from a distance is to be reinforced.” This means that if a building is to be erected on a parcel of land, the developer should go stand somewhere else and gaze at the skyline. If from that perspective he sees the dome of the skyline, he must be sure that his building reinforces it. If the skyline doesn't appear dome-like from wherever he’s standing, it’s one less thing to worry about.


The 4th principle is to “recognize transitional roles in form and scale.” One of many helpful illustrations explains the geometry. Suppose you are a developer. You are thinking of buying a parcel that is near a high building. On the other side is a low building. Now, a building that is between two other buildings of unequal height should be an average of the two heights and neither too high or too low.


New buildings must be responsive to private views. Buildings should not block the views or privacy of other buildings. An illustration shows how this might be done, by aiming a balcony demurely in a different direction. Another way of course would be to build in New Westminster.

Chapter 7 deals with place. It explains that the West End has a number of distinctive places. If you think about it, this is another one of those great and simple truths. The plan observes that these places all have sub areas which the planners call villages and the villages in turn have sub-areas. If you are inclined to forget facts like this it is helpful to remember the poem,

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite em
And little fleas have littler still,
And so on, ad infinitem.

The three known  villages are each on Robson, Denman and Davie Streets.

Vancouverites are exhorted to  “Recognize and celebrate these three vibrant and distinct places. This is to be done by going to them to “gather, socialize and celebrate.”

There are general policy statements for almost everything.

The policies for the three villages are virtually identical and include, for example,  to “Limit residential development to ensure vibrancy at all times of the day.”


This is big news. It seems to me that for the last 25 years the City has been trying to require – not limit- residential developments above commercial developments to ensure vibrancy. Now the planners seem to have discovered that residents deaden the neighborhood. I hope the last generation of planners had liability insurance.

Another Policy that applies to Denman, Davie and Robson is to “Sculpt built form to maximize sunlight on the sidewalks particularly during the afternoon when Denman, Robson and Davie Villages are busiest. The Plan says, “Let there be light” and commands the UDI and member developers to turn it on.

Much of the plan is not concerned with land use planning. Rather it presents dozens of other good ideas relating to biking, walking, enhancing this and improving that. All of this used to be referred to as “peace, order and good government." The plan will be a useful reminder to administrations in the next 30 years to remember to replace dying trees, fix up the library, cut the grass, compost stuff, build facilities for special groups and generally lighten up and celebrate.


If you want to know about density and height, most of it is called for on Georgia and Burrard Streets. They have not prepared design guidelines yet. For those who might worry that the plan is too specific,  it contains the following warning: 

Building heights are subject to other Council-approved policies, guidelines, by-laws and urban design considerations, and minimum site frontage (39.6 metres /130 feet).  [See my blog, Part 1]

Don’t ask how much the plan cost. You will never find out because they abolished line items from the budget.

Friday, 22 November 2013


A plan is a law. It must communicate proposed rules about land use that can be understood by those who are governed by it. It must speak with enough clarity that it can be enforced by those who must enforce it.

I watched some of the West End Official Community Plan ("OCP") public hearing on streaming video. (If Vancouver was any other town in B.C. it could have had an OCP.  However, it is Vancouver and has only those powers conferred by the Vancouver Charter. It can enact Official Development Plans which are not quite the same as OCPs.) 

 One group of speakers could hardly contain their bliss. The days of glory had arrived. Others found it incomprehensible and grimly asked for more time to study it. 

An Official Development Plan under the Vancouver Charter does not require the changes it advocates. It requires only that if land use regulations are amended in the future, the changes must be consistent with the plan. If inconsistent, the amending regulations can be set aside by a court. It is unlawful to undertake any development contrary to the ODP. (Vancouver Charter s. 563)

If a plan is to apply for thirty years, subsequent councils of different political stripes, should be able to take some direction from it.  They must be able to determine whether or not a proposed development or zoning amendment  is consistent with the plan. The plan does not have to be precise, but it must say something.

Conveyancing lawyers in Vancouver do not normally give an opinion on whether any particular development can take place on a parcel. If a lawyer asks for a letter from the City, it will respond and will charge for the response. It will not, however, warrant its accuracy and will warn that it should not be relied upon.

I will comment on a few parts of the West End Plan in a later post. For now I want to review the powers pursuant to which it was enacted.

Vancouver Land Use Powers

Vancouver zoning regulations are found in a series of separate publications.

(1) Zoning and Development Bylaw No. 3575;

(2) The Official Development Plan Bylaws.

(3) Subdivision Bylaw No. 5208 and

(4) Parking Bylaw No. 6059.

There are also published policies and a
dministrative bulletins  to guide staff in interpreting the bylaws and exercising their discretion. These policies are not by-laws. 

The Vancouver Charter differs from the Local Government Act in that Council has greater powers to delegate discretion in zoning and planning matters (Vancouver Charter, s. 565).

Comprehensive Development Zones

In conventional zones Council approves bylaws that regulate setbacks, floor space ratios, and height regulations. The result is a regulatory girdle into which the building must be slipped. A minimum amount of discretion is required in administering these bylaws. The plan checker’s task is limited to ensuring that the numbers match those the bylaw prescribes.

In contrast, in comprehensive development zones, Council is authorized to designate zones in which no regulations are fixed (s. 565(1)(f) of the Vancouver Charter). In exercising this power, Council has enacted two types of comprehensive development zones: the “single site” zone and the “official development plan” area. Official development plans govern large neighbourhoods or communities.

 All comprehensive development bylaws are listed in the Zoning and Development Bylaw in a single district schedule entitled “CD-1” (Comprehensive Development) District Schedule. The district schedule includes over 75 pages of addresses and the enactment date of the bylaw applicable to the comprehensive development area. 

Official Development Plans

Vancouver has somewhat different planning powers than other municipalities which are governed by the Local Government Act which, in s. 877 lists statements that must be included. 

Section 561 of the Vancouver Charter authorizes the creation of long-term development plans that relate to planning for a regional growth strategy. Such plans may then be adopted as “official development plans” under s. 562 of the Vancouver Charter. Not all areas of the city are covered by an official development plan.

Two bylaws may simultaneously cover certain large districts of the city. For example, the downtown district (created by Bylaw No. 4911) amends the zoning map to include the area within certain boundaries as “a Comprehensive Development District to be known and described as ‘Downtown District (DD)’.” The Downtown Official Development Plan (Bylaw No. 4912) applies to the same area. Section 3 of Downtown District Bylaw No. 4911 permits virtually all commercial, residential, institutional, industrial, parks, and public uses. These uses are permitted subject to the form, location and any special characteristics being in conformity with any Official Development Plan, By-law or applicable policies and guidelines adopted by Council and subject to such other conditions not inconsistent therewith which the Development Permit Board in its discretion may prescribe.

The Greenhouse Reduction Plan is an official development plan adopted in May 2010 that sets out statements on targets and policies.

Neighbourhood Vision Plans

In addition to official development plans, certain neighbourhoods have neighbourhood vision plans. These resulted from efforts of the Planning Department in 1997 to achieve a high level of community participation. Although the plans do not have the legal status of an official development plan, they can be just as influential on development decisions because neighbourhood vision implementation committees continue to meet, review plans, and meet with developers, and have varying degrees of influence. They generally should not be ignored by developers. These exist in Dunbar, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Victoria-Fraserview, Killarney, Sunset, Hastings Sunrise, Renfrew-Collingwood, Arbutus Ridge/Kerrisdale/Shaughnessy (arks), Riley Park/South Cambie, and West Point Grey.

Exercising Discretion

Official development plans are zoning bylaws, at least in form. However, the  regulations do not always provide much guidance. The Director of Planning is given a broad discretion to approve, approve subject to conditions, or refuse applications for permits based on a review of the related goals, development guidelines, regulations, and any other policies that Council may determine.

Official Development Plan as a Zoning Bylaw

In Stanley Estates Ltd. v. Vancouver (City) (1985), 28 M.P.L.R. 56 (B.C.S.C.), the court held that the Vancouver Charter grants Council the jurisdiction to enact a development bylaw that is, simultaneously, a zoning bylaw. 

Single-site Comprehensive Development

On large sites and for large integrated developments where the development may comprise retail, office, institutional, or even residential uses (for example, Oakridge Centre or Pacific Centre), it is useful to allow the developer and consultant a free hand to design the project unhampered by numerous zoning regulations. The city’s design staff critique the design, a lengthy period of negotiation follows, and, when all agree on the project’s design and form, the zoning bylaw is drafted to fit the project rather than vice versa.

In single-site comprehensive development zones, Council prescribes the design of one or more buildings. Land use is controlled not by a set of rules; rather Council prescribes a form of development. Only one development is possible, for which a bylaw is drafted to fit the project, and a public hearing is held for that development as set out in the bylaw.

The plans for the permitted building are presented and approved following a public hearing 

Transportation 2040 Plan: A transportation vision for the City of Vancouver

The Transportation Plan was adopted by resolution. It does not purport to be a bylaw. It has some of the characteristics of an official development plan but was not formally adopted as such after a public hearing. It could be considered a zoning policy statement or an administrative bulletin. A downloaded link is found at

The Plan sets out land use directions linked to the road system and should be checked against any development proposal. The plan may render a rezoning or failure to consider a rezoning subject to attack if under the circumstances it could be said that Council had fettered its discretion as a result of it.

Under s. 569 of the Vancouver Charter 569(1) there is no entitlement to compensation when zoning powers are exercised. It could be argued that the Transportation Plan is really intended to be an official development plan that has not been properly enacted. Therefore a question arises whether the immunity to compensation for injurious affection applies.

A direct link to the Plan is:

Mayor’s Task force on Housing Affordability

The Mayor’s Task force on affordability is found on the City Web Site at

The Council report adapting it is found at

Staff is directed to implement the plan with varying degrees of urgency. This document seems like an an official development plan but it’s not. When a zoning hearing takes place concerning lands for which rezonings are either encouraged, or discouraged, it could be held to be an illegal fetter on discretion should anyone seek to challenge it in court as such. 

Density Controls

Bylaws may regulate the height, bulk, location, size, floor area, spacing, and external design of buildings (Vancouver Charter, s. 565(1)(d)). As well, bylaws may prescribe open spaces, height, building lines, and regulate the maximum density of population or the maximum floor-space ratio (Vancouver Charter, s. 565(1)(e.1)). The power to regulate the maximum density of population authorizes the city to establish a system of quota zoning in which the uses and occupancies are disallowed after the population in a district reaches a prescribed maximum.

In a future post we will examine some of the features of the West End Plan.

Friday, 15 November 2013


One year from today there will a civic election.  VISION will be lucky to hold on too any of its seats.  The party which started off as COPE has Humpty Dumptied itself.  Every move it makes and every step it takes is greeted by protests and law suits.  Most of the protests have related to land use and transportation issues.  Much of the resistance comes from people who do not see increased density as the ultimate aphrodisiac. 

VISION has reached its tipping point. It has done too many things to too many people.  The apparent collapse of the Bike Share program in Toronto is the embarrassment du jour.  It reveals how they make decisions from the relatively benign (back yard chickens) to mass rezonings.

In July 2013 I commented on  the bike-share program. This was in the context that the  companies recommended Vancouver Staff for the contract (Bixi / Alta) were already in trouble.

Seven months ago on April 19, 2013  Toronto's  Robyn Doolittle reported on the imminent collapse of Toronto's bike share program.  

Toronto’s cycling lobby leaned hard on council. It was 2010, a bike-friendly mayor was in office, and an election was looming. Toronto jumped on the wagon.
Now, taxpayers stand to lose millions.

“I think we got hosed,” Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, said in an interview.

Just two years after its launch, Bixi Toronto appears to be veering towards bankruptcy. The company can’t pay its debt and isn’t breaking even on its day-to-day costs, according to city staff. It’s the same story elsewhere.

Across North America, Bixi projects — its American partner is Alta Bicycle Share — wouldn’t stay afloat without government subsidies. 

Alta, was also in trouble in Chicago.

Three months later on July 23, 2013, although Toronto’s bike-share problems were by then old news, staff  recommended a contract with the same troubled company.  Vancouver council approved.  Staff admitted that the company’s lack of success to date raised questions but, incredibly, they were ready to give it 6 million dollars anyway.  The proposal was arguably an illegal subsidy to a business contrary to the provisions of the Vancouver Charter.  

The obtuse bike report reflected VISION's opaque programmed budget system.  Non-Partisan Association councilors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball and Green Party councilor Adriane Carr opposed the adoption of  budget recommendations because they found it incomplete and incomprehensible.  Affleck said he asked for a detailed operating budget this year and last, to no avail.  "I don't know how much more clear I can make it," he said of his requests for a breakdown of budget line items.  Carr said her requests for clarification of budget specifics, in particular details as to how community amenity contributions are to be allocated, the answers she got were "too wishy-washy."


If you think we will not suffer a loss don't count on it. Gerry, Dobrovolny, Vancouver's transportation plugger upper is quoted in the morning Province, "We won't issue any money (to Alta) unless we are confident (bicycles and a sound business plan) are provided."  LOL

As far as the impact on traffic flow created by the bike lanes is concerned, it seems somewhat of a paradox, if not idiotic. that they would make lane separations that are as sturdy as the Maginot line  rather than to try them out first. The are designed to make it as expensive as possible for a future council to modify or remove them. 

It will take forensic accountants to determine the cost of the lanes  because the City doesn't provide line items in its budget.  All we can say is that they cost more than you think if you think that they cost less than they did. 

At the same time that they reduced street capacity for cars, they propose huge increases in density and tweet about walkable neighborhoods.

You can tell when VISION is getting nervous by the number of preening, self-congratulatory tweets the Mayor’s communications office sends out explaining how green we have become.

There is an array of hopeful political parties circling.  There are several possibilities. They could either (1) ultimately split the vote to ensure VISION another three years,  (2) split the vote to VISION's detriment,  (3)  each pick up a few seats , or (4) one of them could control council.

Four of the Parties (TEAM, NSV, COPE and CEDAR) have no incumbents and have not yet chosen their candidates.  TEAM has some fine people on board.  It has made overtures to NSV to merge, but it hasn't happened.    

NSV is also blessed with  good people some of whom belong to COPE.  Ironically,  COPE gave birth to VISION which has become the drum major for  the Development Industry.

CEDAR’s founders, the Chernen brothers, will likely run.  They have  no use at all for any professional politicians. This gives them a charm denied to the others.  They would like to take over City Hall and immediately do what they say needs to be done. 

The GREENs  will see Adrian Carr, who has connected with community groups and admirably irked the Visionistas  re- elected. Green could even gain some seats.

Which brings us back to the venerable  NPA- the party that has ruled Vancouver for most of its history. It starts from a position of strength compared to the others with its incumbent councilors, Affleck and Ball. Its name is tarnished in areas of traditional strength because of Sam Sullivan’s introduction of eco-density. The NPA can carry the next election if they:  (1) select candidates who are  intellectually credible but not alphabetically (E- Z) challenged . In our at large system a candidate’s position in the alphabet makes a difference.  (2) limit the slate to 7 or fewer council candidates, (3) commit to a workable system of local area planning ; (4) reject VISION's iteration of  Sullivan’s Eco-density, (5) Develop its platform by consulting  with neighborhoods and (6) Manage to attract members from the other parties. 

Monday, 11 November 2013


Why are Neighborhood Associations so enraged? Whatever the VISION Council does today seems to be greeted by protest. Neighborhood associations have no electoral mandate. If they have any influence on politicians, it comes from the fact that they know more about their own neighborhoods than people who live somewhere else. They can be useful to politicians because they provide insight into local issues. Many such associations and neighborhood councils are slow to participate in protests that go beyond writing letters and making occasional appearances at hearings. 

This is because their Boards try to remain politically neutral. They recognize that their membership includes a cross section of voters. To endorse one particular party risks offending some of the people they claim to represent. Also, they are anxious to remain on as cordial terms as possible with the government of the day. Single issue groups are much more likely to be carrying signs, denouncing one party or another and speaking publically on the steps of City Hall. 

Today, many neighborhood associations are joining everyone else in protests. Here is one reason why.

From the mid-1980s through the 1990’s neighborhood associations were relatively quiet. Mayor Gordon Campbell (1986 to 1993) and Mayor Philip Owen (1993 to 2002) were careful not to stray far from issues raised in their election campaigns. Mayor Gordon Campbell, for example, in the late 80s suggested that illegal suites should be shut down. When owners told him that they needed them as mortgage helpers he proposed methods of allowing them to be upgraded and licensed. Massive waterfront Developments took place during this period but they resulted from a thorough planning process and were not projects that affected everyone.

In 2002, Larry Campbell, Vancouver’s 37th Mayor led a COPE council to victory. COPE accomplished the redevelopment of the Woodward’s Building and the safe injection site. Neither of these Downtown East Side projects, directly affected communities other than the one in which they were located. Other areas remained quiet. Larry Campbell graduated after his first term to the Senate. That was that.

In 2005, running against two separate candidates each named Jim Green, only one of whom ran for COPE, Sam Sullivan, led the NPA to a narrow victory. In June 2006, he introduced his “Eco-Density” initiative which proposed to enormously densify Vancouver. There would be towers and laneway houses. It had not surfaced in the election and yet it was so radical that Sullivan saw fit to copyright the name. This was the start of the current neighourhood protest movement. 

The Planners loved eco density, however and ultimately the Canadian Institute of Planners awarded Vancouver its Planning Excellence award.

Overnight everyone became an environmentalist. Vancouver’s former Director of Planning, Brent Toderian was hired by Sullivan. Born with a silver ecological footprint in his mouth, he said things like, “Vancouver’s challenge is to grow in a way that reduces our ecological footprint. The neighborhood-centre model supports the principles of Eco-Density—smart, sustainable growth.”

The Globe and Mail reported, when the VISION Council released Mr. Todarian:

But for years, development-community members unhappy with him had been saying he didn’t give clear messages about the planning department’s direction, with the result that projects floundered and stalled as people tried to figure out what he and the department really wanted.

Others blamed his leadership for the steady rise of neighbourhood anti-development groups; while another group of critics was concerned about what they said was a lack of overall vision for the city.

During his time, Mr. Toderian steered through the Eco-Density policy – Mr. Sullivan’s idea about increasing density as a way of making the city more environmentally sustainable – laneway housing, and a plan to transform the single-family housing along Cambie Street and the Canada Line into a row of apartments and office towers

One of the endearing aspects of the planning profession is that they are quite certain that they are correct and that all others are wrong. Sam Sullivan’s Eco-Density reflected the prevailing view held by American Planners and Todarian, that high density cities are correct, and that low density suburbs are not. This is called Smart Growth. Planners are to the manor born in that they are spared the indignity of running for public office. They can just tell the rest of us to get with their program.

It was the Norquay Neighborhood Association that first took on the ménage a trois of planners, developers and politicians. They took their protests to the steps of City Hall and were supported by members of other neighborhood associations.

The Dunbar Residents Association, met with Sullivan in the Dunbar Community Centre to discuss Eco-density. Many were enraged that such a policy would be introduced with no discussion during the election. Dunbar and other neighborhoods had several years earlier been led through a process by City Hall which, after almost two years of work, resulted in a plan called the Dunbar Vision. It supported densification but also specified areas where it was to occur. The Neighborhood bought into it.

Because of the intensity of opposition to Eco-Density, Sullivan was denied the NPA nomination in 2008. Peter Ladner replaced him as the NPA’s mayoral candidate. Not surprisingly, he lost. ROBERSTON and VISION won 7 seats. COPE Classic took two and the NPA elected only Suzanne Anton. During VISION’s and ROBERTSON’S first term, there were a number of issues that annoyed people but not yet to mutiny. That came later. For now, the election was taken to be a repudiation of centralized planning as represented by Eco-Density.

In 2011, VISION sought a second term and ran on its record. There was no reason why voters would consider returning to the NPA. It had not renounced its densification policy which conflicted with the existing neighborhood vision Plans and current zoning.

The floodgates of anger were opened when the VISION Council in its second term implemented Eco-Density under a different name. It was bad enough for Sullivan to introduce a change that affected all neighborhoods when he never raised it in his campaign. When VISION implemented that plan, many people realized that the election had been hijacked. Today no action by VISION escapes the attention of communities and their associations. A series of law suits is pending.

VISION could easily have avoided this by the simple expedient of listening to affected neighborhood associations. Now VISION is in an even worse position than Sam Sullivan was in 2008. Politicians who are feared can survive. When they are seen as ridiculous, they are finished.

With a year to go until the next election, to whom will the voters turn? I t is too early to tell since candidates have not yet been selected. According to the Georgia Straight VISION is creating neighborhood cells of Visionistas. This possibly reflects the fact that they have burned their bridges with existing groups. The other parties would be well advised to establish and reinforce their connections with all of the Neighborhood Associations.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


The rezoning of Stong's market in Dunbar can be best understood by reading the Legend of Beowolf. The Danish King Hrothgar had constructed a mead hall which I have always imagined as being something like Stongs market in Dunbar. The Community was justifiably pleased with it There was, however, a demon named Grendel who lived in a cave. He did not see the Mead Hall as as his ultimate amenity. Regularly attacking it, he pruned the heads off the bravest Danish Soldiers. Not until Beowolf came along from Sweden and ripped Grendel's arm off and killed his mother, did things return to normal.

So yesterday, when the news broke that the City was slinking off in defeat, one of our many bloggers, crowed, "City Hall staff hear the community & quash Harwood's proposed rezoning of the Stongs site on Dunbar"

Not since the first of 30 platoons of defending Danes were dismembered by Grendel, has anyone so underestimated an opponent's prowess.

The CBC reported that Planner, Brian Jackson, explained, "The planning department found the proposal did not meet city regulations."

Of course they didn't. The statement is a truism. Rezoning by its nature is a change of regulations.

He continued, "If this would have been rental housing on top of Stong's, there would have been rental policy that would have allowed us to consider a building of six stories. But the applicant was proposing condominiums on top of Stong's".

What did  the planner, mean by the word "regulations?" Some of the residents of the Dunbar shire assumed he was referring to the "Dunbar Vision Document." That document was the result of a process initiated many years ago by the Planning Department that took a long time to complete but which was never enacted as an Official Development Plan ("ODP"). An ODP does not effect a change in zoning but it does require that if a zoning bylaw is changed, the change must be consistent with the plan.

So what! The Sermon on the Mount was never enacted either.

To truly understand Dunbar you must read more than just Beowolf. You should also watch the film Galaxy Quest. An ancient civilization of octopus people on the other side of the universe started receiving broadcasts of Star Trek. The shows became known to the Octopusians as the Historical Documents and shaped every detail of that civilization including their motto, "Never Give up, Never Surrender."

Gilligan's Island was another important historical document.

The Dunbar Vision is like the "Historical Documents." It is kept alive by devoted residents who never give up and never surrender.

Now, Vancouver's Planner knows perfectly well that the DUNBAR VISION is not an Official Development Plan. If it were, then a zoning amendment would have to be consistent with it. It is, however a historical document. It lives in the hearts of all Dunbarians. The fact that it is old, has no legal status and has not yet been set to music, is of no import.

If we carefully parse the words of the Planner, "If there was rental housing on top of Stongs *** six stories...but the Developer was proposing Condominiums."

The Developer is being invited to modify his plans to supply rental housing.

What about the money that the City gets when it rezones the land to CD-1 in the form of amenity charges? Will it have to give that up?

Of course not.  It will ditch the hated CD zone. It will replace it with a new zone called C2-Stongs - a variation on C-2 adjusted for Dunbar because we are special. Each neighborhood in Vancouver will get the same kind of variations in their C-2 zones. The amenity charges will be even higher because construction costs for rentals are likely to be cheaper than for condo's.

Who will live in the rental units? That depends on how affordable they are. Councilor Jang has already defined affordability as whatever people can afford. He will work it out. Whatever!

They are on to a good thing. The next phase will likely be to ban cars on streets in front of your home if you agree to take in boarders. 

Sunday, 6 October 2013


The Bike Lane Department of City Hall sent a letter to business owners on 4th Avenue near MacDonald Street. It had called a meeting for October 4th to consider a current proposal. Explaining that this was a consequence of his splendid“Seaside Greenway and York Avenue Bikeway, Active Transportation Project.” Engineer Dobrovolny wanted feedback on how the loss of all parking could be minimized. 

He had a Power Point Presentation that would prove that the merchants had to lose their parking. There could be no other way. To ensure that they had no illusions as to the hopelessness of their cause, he said the decision had already been made and approved. 

Pharaoh had hardened his heart.

I asked why ( expletives deleted) he needed to bring a squad of engineers to explain an irrevocable decision to remove parking spaces. After all, how many engineers does it take to screw the public? Could it possibly have had anything to do with the fact that they would be paid time and one half for overtime?

The Bike Rider in Chief started with an aerial photo of the street. He stated that the parking in front of two of the stores would lose only four spaces. The owner said he had just measured it and the engineers could not have counted correctly. There were seven. The store owner grabbed their aerial photo and counted them. There were six cars with additional room for a seventh. (Happily, this engineer does not design bridges.)

Their faith shaken by the parking space count, the merchants asked for the City’s evidence to support the need to cause them this catastrophe. Dobrovolny explained that they had done traffic counts on the intersection.

No one believed him. Never had anyone in 20 years seen a count taken at this intersection.

In reply, the staffers explained that you don't always see the counts because they may be done at various times of the day and in the alternative, maybe once every two or so years. Yes, and sometimes there are stealth counts. They hire little people who sit in chairs, count cars and then run away.

Then they got down to business. They explained that they could vastly improve things by installing parking metres further down the street. The existing unpaid parking was inefficient according to Dobrovolny It would be a lot better if 15% of the spaces could be kept vacant.

So this was why there was a meeting. If the merchants would only ask for it, then the engineers could install meters, collect the money and claim that consultation and democracy had been gloriously triumphant.

But if they know that paid parking is the solution, why are they asking the merchants? Having already decided to remove all of the spaces it is also their job to mitigate damages.

One person suggested that they could inexpensively put in an advance signal at the intersection instead of turning bays. The engineer said that the ephemeral traffic counts that they forgot to bring, proved that there was too much traffic for advanced signals.

The shopkeepers said that they would be forced to close. Dobrovolny could have explained that they should be honoured. Their sacrifice was for the greater enjoyment of our creme de la creme, West Point Grey, Golden Mile waterfront residents. That is a noble cause. The Engineers deserve a few cases of Pouilly-Fuisse and  Lulu Lemon jogging pants.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


Vancouver’s Planning Director alleged on Tuesday that Chinese wall posters misinformed the public. 

Posters in Mandarin which the planners thought related to four community plans actually alleged that the City was promoting genetically modified vegetables in home gardens to make people smaller so as to allow higher densities per acre.

A side effect of the program was that citizens in the areas subject to the plans were  growing additional noses on their foreheads. 


The Planner said that he was very disappointed and noted that he and his colleagues "had tasted the ingratitude of the people---the Planner’s ancient cup of hemlock.


Consultation Consultation Consultation

The Posters claimed that once a lot is rezoned to duplex or townhouse it can be further rezoned without  consultation.

Speaking on a condition of anonymity, the Legal Services Department  defended the Planner. “The rule of law works like this. The City has to run an ad in a newspaper of general circulation for two weeks notifying the public that they are going to rezone or re-plan their neighbourhood. Then they do it.” (See Vancouver Charter s. 566(1))

The Province should require immigrants to have a better understanding of the King James Version of the Vancouver Charter. Blame Victoria if Councilors do not consult."


Plans won't increase taxes

Another poster claimed that even a draft rumour that a 6 storey building might replace a house, would prompt residents to flee the neighbourhood. It explained that developers would come along and buy houses. When the sales took place, the BC Assessment Authority would raise the assessment and taxes would skyrocket.

An anonymous member of the Property Department explained, “There are those who think the purpose of life is nothing more than to move water from one place to another. Planners give us the gift of wisdom. If a homeowner sells his house to a speculator with a handlebar moustache, whose fault is that?”

No financial benefits to City from density

Another  lie that unsettled the planner was that the City benefits from increased density.

A member of the Finance Department explained what the planner had repeatedly told the neighbourhood protesters: “ Residential users do not pay their full share? Who do you think has to pay the battalions of planners to produce all these plans? If the residents can’t understand their own plans or refuse to take their medicine, what can the planners do other than to tax restaurants, toy stores and orphanages to cover these expenses?"


We must fight lies with truth

The Director of Planning with the ecclesiastical  mien  of a lobster being backed into a bottle explained, “We have to counter the misinformation that is being posted, illegally, on City Poles. We have to put the facts out there and calm people down. We must explain that it is not a rezoning. I keep telling them that it is a draft community plan but they do not listen."

No hidden agenda

The Director of Planning, whose name will come to me in a minute said, “We really thought we were listening to what the community was telling us at the time. This Planner does not have a hidden agenda."

He warned that in California citizens could  repeal the good work of planners by holding a referendum.  He hoped that extremists would not take democracy to that level in Canada.