Saturday, November 14, 2009

A review of That was the Year that Was

Thank you to everyone who came out today. I hope you found the event as worthwhile and gratifying as I did. While I would have liked to have seen a few thousand more people in attendance, Gord Price, Bob Ransford and I were delighted with the many people who took time away from their Saturday morning to attend.

I would like to offer a complete review of what was said, but I don't have the time. Hopefully some others in attendance will post some comments. Below are some notes for Wendy Turner and Janet Fraser and a few others who wrote to say that they were sorry they couldn't be there, but were looking for a report, along with some of the images prepared by Gord Price that were used for our presentation with Jim Green.
Olympic Village We all agreed that the City had generally done a good job of sorting out the financial mess caused by the economic meltdown (we didn't discuss who else to blame.) However, we disagreed on the appropriate future for the social housing. Jim thought it should remain social housing; Gord thought that Vision had to keep it as social housing for political reasons; and I thought that if the city was going to lose money on the Olympic Village, it should sell the units as shared equity affordable 'workforce' housing, which would still ensure some social mix.
Burrard Bridge Bike Trial While we all agreed the Burrard Bridge bicycle trial went better than expected, due in part to a much better communication program than for the previous effort, no one seemed to think this is the long term solution. I thought it was a much better solution than the alternating lane proposition put forward by Vision during the election campaign. Remember that?
Parking. I wanted to talk about this matter since I think it can significantly impact the affordability of development and redevelopment opportunities. We all agreed that the city was to be congratulated for following up with reductions to the parking requirements it should now go further, both to generate revenues, and try to reduce the number of cars on city streets. In other words, let's extend the hours the parking meters are in operation, let's re-price the resident parking permits, and let's consider further reductions if developers are prepared to take the risk building projects with even greater reductions, as long as visitor requirements are established and met.
Woodward's Knowing that Jim would want to talk about Woodward's, we included this image but he got to the topic much earlier! I also wanted it on the program since earlier in the week Jim Green had accused me of being 'the only developer in the city who didn't support the project'. This was nonsense and I sent him a newspaper clipping revealing that I supported the project with a mix of uses...but he didn't. In 2002, he was arguing that there should be no private housing in the project.

There was full agreement that the project will be good for the neighbourhood, but Gord thought it was important to point out that only a COPE council could have approved the significant height that was ultimately built. I would now like to see more condominium and mixed income projects developed in the community. This need not lead to gentrification, but it will lead to regeneration.

HEAT shelters. Opinions differed on how well the city had managed the creation of the HEAT shelters. However there was no doubt it was a learning experience. I reserved my support for the interim housing strategy for the homeless, which was subsequently approved by Council, including my proposal for relocatable housing modules.

Laneway Housing. There was unanimous support for bringing in laneway housing and 'suites within suites'. Suzanne Anton, the only councillor in attendance was horrified when I thanked Vision for bringing in the latter, reminding me and the others in attendance that this was also an EcoDensity initiative. However, there was concern over the complicated submission requirements and guidelines that accompanied the laneway housing.

Metro Core Jobs I again noted the irony of this council approving changes to zoning in and around the Central Business District which will effectively eliminate housing in favour of larger office buildings. I couldn't believe Vision would support this.
View/Capacity Study The view study was discussed in general terms. The consensus seemed to be that there should be no net loss in views, but some of the existing views could be reconsidered.

North East False Creek and BC Place Stadium precinct Gordon Price expressed concern about the increased density being proposed for North East False Creek. While there was full agreement that a 'convertible roof' on BC Place is not an appropriate amenity for all the additional housing, Jim seemed to be in agreement with some reduction in the park space requirement to accommodate additional density elsewhere in the area. Most of the attendees and especially the UBC journalism students were shocked to hear him say this.

On a related matter, Gord and I both thought that this council was being too generous with density in order to encourage more rental housing. While supporting the STIR program in concept, we questioned whether it was necessary to give condo density bonuses for market rental housing. Jim kept calling it affordable rental housing, but it's not. It's market rental. An NPA Council would never have gotten away with such give aways.

The Greenest City Task Force initiatives were generally applauded, although it was agreed that they need much more specificity. I expressed concern that it seems we are even allowing the water to turn green. Jim was not amused.

There followed a very good Q&A session, and I like to think that everyone in attendance thought the dialogue between the three of us was worthwhile.

The second panel, featuring James Fletcher of Think City, John Tylee of the Vancouver Economic Development Commission Gord Price (again) and Peter Ladner, looked at the economic strategy for the city and region, the proposed budget, and Green Capital. In response to a question by Ladner about the 4% increase in most city fees, Fletcher noted that most respondents to their budget survey were not aware of this measure. The Greenest City Task Force initiatives were generally applauded, although it was agreed that they need much more specificity.

While the economic panel discussion was substantive, I thought the following media/pundits panel was extremely interesting although at times, a bit uncomfortable as bloggers from the left and right (Jonathan Ross and Mike Klassen) accused each other of being too partisan! Frances Bula was superb as a moderator and also for providing the audience with a good overview of the changing face of media. All agreed that the mainstream media is not what it used to be and more and more people are looking to the bloggers for information, even thought there may be a lot more bias than what one might expect from MSM.

While I hesitate to try and summarize the discussion, here are 5 points that I noted:

  1. Miro Cernetig noted that Gregor did not distinguish himself as an MLA and so he was keen to see how he would perform as mayor. As he put it, while no one disputed his GQ, there were some questions re: his IQ. However, he thought the administration had generally done well and the mayor had shown good judgment overall, especially when ducking some matters, such as regional transit, on which he might be vulnerable.
  2. Frances questioned whether was being too personal and petty in some of its attacks on Vision personalities. She mentioned its criticism of Penny Ballem's efforts to protect private emails as an example, adding that she wondered whether they knew about such things since the previous administration did them as well!
  3. Jonathan Ross accused of being too partisan for an entity that claimed to be non-partisan. Klassen denied ever pretending to be non-partisan. "We are most definitely partisan" he replied, adding that he thought was equally partisan.
  4. Monte Paulson had reviewed Vision's campaign promises before coming and thought that they had failed when it came to dealing with affordable housing. He also thought they were being somewhat 'Sullivanesque' in their re branding of old ideas (proposed by earlier councils) as new ideas.
  5. Paulson also noted that the mainstream media are not covering local politics, thus leaving it to the bloggers, who by nature tend to be biased.

I thought the best questions of the pundits' panel came from James Fletcher of Think City who questioned why the Mayor, who promotes sustainability, had been so ineffectual on promoting improved funding amongst the Mayors' committee for transit in the region. Fletcher also wondered whether the partisan attacks on personalities were the result of the fact that Vision and NPA are so very similar in so many of their policy positions, one must resort to attacking the personalities.

Frances had the best line in response to those who claimed an addiction to politics..."There is a supervised injection site, you know."

If I had to summarize the big idea of the day, there is no doubt that Vision has been instituting programs and policies that are not unlike those of earlier NPA dominated administrations. Moreover, they have been quite effective in doing this given their various constituencies. Now, some of those who have or had prior association with the NPA are concerned they may be going too far, especially in the area of higher density neighbourhoods and density bonusing for market rental housing.

All in all. A good day. Maybe we'll do it again next year.


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