Two sorts of truth
Last month’s vote by City of Victoria council in favour of Abstract Developments’ 1201 Fort proposal at the former Truth Centre really solidified the neighbourhood’s sense of cynicism and despair about the development process and our representatives at City Hall.
Abstract used the “community engagement” process as an exercise in public relations. They began with a proposed scheme of 6-storey and 4-storey condominiums and 8 to 10 townhouses. Then, for their official submission, they padded their proposal to 6-5-12. When, as anticipated, they were forced by council to make “compromises,” they conceded storeys and townhomes back down to their original 6-4-9 scheme. Even the concession on the townhome height was only the removal of a variance for extra height.
By moving this proposal to a public hearing, council took the possibility of compromise off the table. As Councillor Madoff made clear, council was creating a win-lose situation where it didn’t need to. So rather than use its power to force a compromise between parties, City council created a crisis that it then resolved by being too worried about the terrible things the applicant might build.
Despite hundreds of nearby neighbours asking for a compromise, Mayor Lisa Helps, joined by councillors Margaret Lucas, Marianne Alto, Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Jeremy Loveday, and Chris Coleman, sided with the developer’s windfall profits at the expense of the community. So if council is wondering about the source of Victoria citizens’ apathy, cynicism, and anger, it has an answer. These councillors helped to make the City like this.
As neighbours and others stressed at several council meetings, under council’s current leadership, developers are cashing in by building expensive condominiums that most Victoria residents can’t afford. Abstract’s own presale video shows the development is for wealthier out-of-town folks who can afford these expensive condos and might move here. There’s a big mismatch between what Victoria citizens can afford according to their current income and what these expensive condos will sell or rent for. Councillors know this, but they keep approving these expensive condo developments anyway.
1201 merely adds to the problem. There is lots of evidence that just building more supply of these luxurious condos will not bring prices down.
What many of us resent most about 1201 Fort’s approval is not the additional densification or the decision that ultimately went against us. We resent the way, intentionally or unintentionally, City Hall has stacked the deck in favour of rich developers and against local residents.
We resent the way council has acquiesced to the City’s own Development Services unit in accepting their ludicrous explanation that no community amenity contributions or density bonuses were due for this application. Councillors seem to believe that the City will recoup costs through the municipal taxes paid by the new residents of the new units. But other cities do that too! However, on top of that, other BC municipalities ask for the developer to contribute to the true cost of the new amenities (bicycle lanes, parks, recreation centres) the new residents will expect.
We watched with dismay as council struggled to find money for its many reasonable additional needs. Yet it sacrificed a source of income that would offset the true costs of this development, and others, in effect creating an upward redistribution of wealth.
What nearby residents resented most of all is not that council made a decision against our wishes, but that council sold us out for so little: for the promise of only 10 slightly more affordable units somewhere else, in a deal that ties council to that later deal’s approval. Just weeks ago the Capital Regional District’s draft housing affordability strategy reported that we had a shortage of 6,200 units of affordable housing. Yet council traded the bonus density of this jewel piece of property for just…10 of them, maybe.
In another city, the 1201 development might have entailed $2.5 million in community amenity contributions and a density bonus, and might have involved some public art for residents to enjoy. But our council sold us out for so little. A bench and a pathway.
This experience taught us that rich developers can expect to manipulate neighbourhoods and council into building housing that current residents don’t need instead of building the housing we actually need. Council taught him and other developers that City Hall will not try to promote compromise densification, but will accept all kinds of rezoning for the purpose of personal enrichment—and that it can be backed into a corner through the development process led by Development Services, at which point council will feel forced to concede to the plan at the risk of the developer building a big ugly apartment block.
And council has taught the rich-developer community that they can successfully stack the public hearing process with their developer pals, all scratching each other’s backs the next time round.
Mayor Helps, and councillors Lucas, Alto, Thornton-Joe, Loveday, and Coleman have a lot to answer for.
This process has made it clear that Victoria needs an external review of its community amenity contribution and density bonus policies. Council should pass a motion to have a couple of directors of planning from similarly sized BC municipalities come to Victoria in order to investigate the question of why our community amenity contributions and density bonuses are so atypical. Council is forgoing millions of dollars that might be used to build the amenities Victoria citizens expect and hold dear.
I thank you for the article “Two Sorts of Truth” by Ross Crockford.
He said: “It’s debatable if 1201 Fort will be for ‘Everyone’: its one-bedroom units start around $400,000.”
I would like to offer a correction. The website for 1201 Fort indicates that prices start at $600,000. A 1,298 square-foot 2-bedroom+den condo on the 4th floor in the 6-storey building is listed elswhere at $1,275,000. A two-bedroom+den penthouse is $3 million.
These prices are before taxes, of course. Please add a monthly strata fee. Even for retirees who own an above-average house in Fairfield or Rockland, the selling price of the house will not translate well into downsizing into this particular development.
The majority of our council approved a massive rezoning and numerous variances for 1201 Fort project’s sake.
Who will benefit from this?
Kinder Morgan link to Enron discomforting
The latest issue of Focus was, in our opinion, the best. Everything from the fraudulent dealings with the (shall we say inferior) bridge; Horgan’s double-take on the LNG situation and Weaver’s waffle on that topic; the destruction being caused by Site C, another Horgan change of mind; the unhappiness in Oak Bay with the bid to build low-income housing on real estate which is the most expensive in the region; and, of course, the lies and falsehoods put out by our politicians about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, all of which makes us feel our province is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket. The fact that Richard Kinder was the past president of another infamous project—Enron—is discomforting.
But what can we as ratepayers and voters do to combat all this mistrust and destruction? Many will fight, but sadly the majority of the population will assume that typical Canadian attitude in times like this—shrugging their shoulders and saying “Oh well, what can you do!” As long as we Canadians take this weak-kneed attitude, politicians will walk all over us.
Ruth and Jason Williams
Good candidates need to step up
Ross Crockford has written a very accurate, appropriate and timely article. Well done and thank you.
Chris Le Fevre
If you’re not immersed in the minutiae of local political spats, you may be reflecting on the big picture—that which asks how a candidate serves the public interest? Where the common good lies in an economic and social environment dominated by private interests hungry for entitlements from the public purse? Who enjoys most benefit from an increasingly deregulated environment? Who bears the heaviest burdens?
The loudest, most influential voices in municipal affairs are property owners (both commercial and residential). Although tenants may represent six out of ten households in Victoria, and pay taxes like homeowners, they can be ignored by decision-makers. Rental tenure remains insecure. The presence of tenants is now diminishing in a city that places greater value on high-end property owners and speculative investors.
Ross Crockford suggests that “Victoria gets plenty of scrutiny in a town that eats and breathes politics.” If so, where’s the strong evidence of investigative reporting? Or even critical comment by the media in Victoria, other than Focus Magazine? That Victoria is home to the Provincial Legislature and City Hall is no guarantee any genuine public consultation exists. Or that openness, transparency, and accountability, which form the foundation of democracy, are upheld. Judging from the number of in camera meetings held, and stymied Freedom of Information requests, they are not upheld. What if we demanded that candidates or elected representatives reveal their monthly income and expenses? Their investments? Political donations? Potential conflicts of interest? Meetings with lobby groups or individuals?
Those seeking public office might encourage public trust by disclosing such information.
Crockford concludes as follows: “Victoria needs articulate people with common sense, experience handling employees and questioning consultants, practical ideas about how to improve the City, and the determination—and the time—to see them realized.”
These important qualities are expected of an elected official. What is critical, however, is whom these elected officials intend to serve among the special interests and power brokers.Will such individuals disclose their personal beliefs and any biases that frame their choices? Have they ever disclosed publicly an error or misjudgment, and if so, what have they done to remedy the matter? Where are the candidates’ red lines?
How easy it is—in our island paradise—to drift with the flow. What takes courage is challenging the City’s prevailing narrative, being open to criticism, and welcoming new ideas which may undermine our comfort levels. Individuals who can manage this kind of courage are rare. But they’re worth their weight in gold. We need elected candidates of this calibre if we are to build a healthy, inclusive and sustainable city. And, as informed and engaged citizens, we need to do our part to see that such candidates present themselves, earn our trust, and be held to account as valued members of Victoria City council.
Loggers harvesting ridiculously young trees
Further to my letter to editor that ran in the past issue (“Why Bambi and Friends Moved to Town”), now I’ve learned that things have actually slipped farther down the tube here along the east coast of Vancouver Island. How? Well, after speaking with a few local residents here in the Comox Valley who are more up on what’s going down in the Oyster River Division, the local TimberWest private forest lands claim, word is that 40-year-old or possibly 30(!?)-year-old stands of timber have been harvested for some time now. Find this hard to believe? Then take a gander at the weigh station on the highway just north of Duncan. Perhaps if you are (un)fortunate enough you will catch a loaded logging truck just arrived from TimberWest’s Cowichan claim sitting on the scales stacked with what are no more than veritable sticks of trees on their trailers. You know, like the size of tree trunks in the cedar hedge you have planted along your property line.
Electoral reform referendum
The reaction from electoral reform opponents to last week’s report by Attorney General David Eby was as swift as it was predictable: “The deck is stacked!” and “it’s too complicated!” But is that really true? We find it normal that governments make many important decisions without holding a referendum, but now that we, the voters get to make the decision, the deck is somehow stacked? Really?
The first referendum question will simply ask us whether we want to keep our current system, or move to a more proportional system. That is no more complicated than deciding which shoe goes on which foot.
The second referendum question gives us the opportunity to express our preference between three voting systems. All three systems contain the principles which we find important: a local representative, more proportional election results, having (almost) all our votes count, a threshold of five percent to keep out fringe parties, no loss of regional representation, and little or no increase in the number of politicians or the cost of elections.
BC had multi-member ridings in our history before 1990, when the last dual riding was abolished (without a referendum), so the Dual Member Proportional (DMP) system is not really new to BC.
The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system would give us one vote for a local candidate, much like what we have now, plus a second vote for a regional candidate. Is that so complicated?
The Rural/Urban system proposes to use different voting systems in rural and urban areas because the Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system works well when combining small urban ridings, but doesn’t translate to some of our already gigantic rural ridings, which instead would use the MMP system.
Much information is coming our way, and we have five months before we vote in November to find a little time to look at these three systems, any of which could work just fine in BC. Then, should we decide for a new system, there will be another referendum after 2 elections in which we can decide to go back to our current system.
This is about our democracy, about how we choose our governments. We are very lucky, because we, the voters get to make the decisions every step of the way. Considering the many benefits which introducing proportionality in our voting system could bring, a little effort to get informed is a small price to pay.
The business case for proportional representation
Successful corporations prosper because they spend valuable time building “goal congruency” for both short and longer term corporate goals. This is achieved by working as a team with all levels of management and their employees in the annual budget and planning process. Corporations that are divided, adversarial and do not spend time discussing short and long term goals will be outmanoeuvred by their competitors.
These benefits of goal congruency and objective setting can certainly apply to a country as well, especially if it has a proportionally elected minority government. A system where every vote counts makes voters feel more responsible. Coordination and cooperation are encouraged between parties to act in the interest of the people—goal congruency. Proportional representation ensures the most effective and economic use of labour, capital and energy in the long term.
Countries that have adopted proportionally representative electoral systems, such as the Scandinavian countries, Germany and New Zealand, seem to have more success in developing progressive common goals. Sweden, a country of only 10 million, tops the Global Green Economy index and is among the top ten countries in World Competitiveness. Germany is phasing out nuclear power by 2021, with an emphasis on energy conservation and green technologies. New Zealand has successfully settled the majority of Maori treaty claims with both right- and left-leaning minority governments since 1996.
Achieving common goals does not happen as naturally under “one party” government for they are essentially adversarial and there is very little opportunity to discuss common goals with other parties.
For Canada we just have to think back to the composition of our recent federal parliaments, that have been dominated by the two traditional parties with 40 percent or less support of the voters while holding absolute power. Not only do these parliaments neglect to hear the voices of other parties but they continually lurch from each other’s polarizing economic and social policies with all the consequences of correction that entails. For instance, the present Trudeau government (39.5 percent support) spent their first year in office changing taxation and immigration legislation that a Harper government (39.6 percent) had enacted, just as Harper had removed Chretien’s earlier legislative initiatives.
Probably the most important aspect of proportionally representative government is the more congenial style of party leadership, for any prospective premier must show some team-building skills and be able to work with other parties in the legislature. Government formation normally takes about a month and this a crucial time for all parties to review their positions on common goals in order to see what “goal congruency” exists between them.
After having survived 150 years of “one party” government under the present system, surely we can take this unique opportunity to catch up with over 60 percent of the world. BC would be the first Canadian jurisdiction to try a Proportionally Representative electoral system in North America for electing our politicians.
Gene Miller: to laugh and/or cry?
I want to thank you once more for producing such an important magazine for our times; it never fails to inspire me to continue social and political activism, no matter how dire the future appears.
Speaking of which, Gene Miller outdid his brilliant dark self in the May/June issue; sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (usually both) when I read his column.
Because of the volunteer work I do at our local school, I was especially taken by Gene’s comments on how modern technology puts us at odds with our biology (and our better human instincts, surely) by supporting solitude and putting us all in states of anxiety, fear, depression and anger.
Researchers like Dr Lucy Suchman at Lancaster University in the UK sounds similar alarms in her work, urging us to pay attention to what is happening to the parts of civil society that are being handed over to artificial intelligence. She gives examples like Google rebranding its research division as Google AI, and the fact that AI now controls important civic functions such as road safety, scholastic grading, health care and aspects of policing.
All of this goes to support Gene’s final comment in his most recent column: think community. Yes, that is where our only hope of activism can make a difference—with people we know and with whom we can (as Mother Jones said) organize, and not just mourn. The warrior mentality does not work in groups where stories, music, art, and projects for the public good are a priority.
With gratitude for all the work that goes into Focus.
Alan Cassels’ articles appreciated
Thanks to Focus Magazine for providing the public with well researched articles on pharmaceuticals. There are limited reliable sources for this type of information and good resources are invaluable to the public in forming decisions about drugs they may be prescribed. I’m not suggesting a person would refuse to take a drug as a result of an article in your magazine, but more likely be able to ask better questions of the medical profession and pharmacy staff before ingesting something. It’s good to know more about true efficacy rates, potential side effects etc. The articles provided by Alan Cassels are always helpful in raising awareness on drug testing, marketing, efficacy of drugs, and side effects, and where else are we going to get such well researched data? We can google until the cows come home, but would likely not be able to draw good conclusions from what we individually might glean from internet sources.
Editor’s note: Alas, in light of a new job with BC’s Therapeutic Initiative, Alan Cassels has penned his last Focus column for the forseeable future. We already miss him but congratulate him on his important new role.
Tar sands operations = ecocide
When governments cross a line and start destroying their own populations, we have words to label these actions: “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” These words tell the rest of the world that something is not right, and that action must be taken.
As of 2013, 715 square kilometres of boreal forest had been destroyed by the extraction of bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta. As of October 2017, 242 square kilometres (The Guardian) stand in poisonous, sludge-filled tailing ponds. Less than one percent of this land has been certified as reclaimed.
Alberta has destroyed much of it boreal forest (and plans to destroy more), poisoned its water, and accelerated climate change. Now, with the support of the federal government, it wants to extend its ecological destruction through the mountains and to the coast of BC, where the wreck of only one of a fleet of tankers would have disastrous consequences for the vital inland Salish Sea.
While the logging and mining industries have modernized their practises to be more eco-friendly, the petroleum industry has not.
Perhaps this bitumen should be left in the ground until a less destructive way of extracting it has been developed. (In the late 1950s, it was seriously being considered to use underground thermonuclear explosions to extract the oil. The proposed project was known as Project Cauldron. The Diefenbaker administration put a stop to it in support of an underground test ban that the USA and USSR were negotiating at the time, and aren’t we glad it did!)
In the meantime, we need a word to describe the situation when a state supports methods of resource extraction that endanger the common good and exceed an acceptable degree of environmental degradation. Perhaps the word “ecocide” should be used to alert other countries that what is happening in Alberta is wrong, and that action must be taken.
Hit the pause button on Crystal Pool
Hold on! Now we hear that the Crystal Pool rebuild in Central Park plan has morphed into “Let’s add in affordable housing.” The rebuild-instead-of-renovate choice by council was misguided to begin with. There was no consideration for the outdoor recreation facilities that the new pool would displace by moving from the northwest corner to the southwest corner of the park. No thought for the Steve Nash basketball court, the tennis court, the newly installed exercise equipment, the kids’ playground—all popular and necessary elements to the park. Instead, we were to get a parking lot with 140 spaces on the site of the current pool. When the optics in an election year of paving a park became obviously embarrassing, the tune changed to underground parking with affordable housing on top.
Does council not see the increasing value of green space in an increasingly dense core? How is it that the City hasn’t done a full survey of its City-owned properties and offered up land for housing on suitable lots? How is it acceptable to, first of all, come up with a plan that ignores all but the pool structure and increased parking, leading to a bad decision to rebuild that jettisons the amenities already there?
It looks to me like the agenda was hijacked by the regional swim clubs using the pool. Council went along with it, decided it didn’t need a referendum to spend the money [that may change given recent statements by the Province], and focused on the pool structure, ignoring those who use the green space and outdoor recreation facilities. Next thing you know we’re asked to consider building housing in the park, increasingly valuable in a city becoming more congested with development and traffic. Parks provide respite and space to breathe. We need parks to remain parks.
It’s time to hit pause and do a complete rethink, starting with the extravagant decision to rebuild a grander structure offering something for everyone in the region—the price tag: over $69 million. Is this starting to sound like the Blue Bridge debacle? Never mind the Di Castri-designed current pool that would be consigned to the landfill. Never mind the need to protect every bit of green space we have.
City aids Chinese bike companies at expense of locals
As a long-term tenant of the City of Victoria at various locations and most recently at 685 Humboldt Street, and as President of Cycle BC Rentals, I recently wrote Mayor Helps and councillors to voice my concerns and objections in regards to the dockless bicycle program that has spread throughout Greater Victoria.
I’m sure the mayor and council were full of good intentions when they headed to Asia, at local taxpayer expense, to attract foreign investment. However, they either didn’t do their homework or they didn’t care how their actions might affect local businesses when they rolled out the red carpet for U-bicycle, the Chinese company behind the green dockless bikes spreading throughout Greater Victoria. A quick check with cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Austin, Dallas, Beijing, Shanghai and on and on, would have shown that there are many problems associated with dockless bikes.
We now have Greater Victoria councillors and mayors actively promoting the U-bicycle company within their municipalities, bylaws are being changed to accommodate U-bicycle, and to top it off, free rent is provided throughout Greater Victoria for their equipment. Who could wish for more!? I know we’re not the only bicycle business in Victoria that would have appreciated a visit from the mayor, a councillor or anyone else from City Hall.
The cost to the Chinese company to buy and import the bicycles, using low-cost Chinese labour and Chinese steel, is less than what we pay the City of Victoria in annual rent, let alone what we contribute through local employment, taxes and community support. Within a two-year period we pay the City of Victoria in excess of $100,000 while a Chinese company, importing bicycles made and assembled in China at a cost of less than $100 / bicycle, can flood the City’s streets with over 1,000 bicycles for less investment.
The City should understand the adverse effects their actions have not only on bicycle rental businesses like ourselves, but on many other bicycle-related businesses. Bicycle retailers will be adversely affected by the thousands of dockless bikes scattered throughout the city, and many bicycle tour companies will not be able to compete against U-bicycle tours departing from City-owned land.
U-bicycles can park their equipment in areas that are unavailable to the rest of us, including but not limited to, the cruise ship facilities at Ogden Point, Fisherman’s Wharf, front of the Empress, Ship’s Point, Harbour Air, Provincial Museum, etc—pretty much any prime area in Victoria.
U-bicycles brochures are being offered through Tourism Victoria, offering day rentals on bicycles at a fraction ($10/day) of what any of the competing bicycle rental companies can offer. Existing cruise ship bicycle tour companies are being forced to cut their tour rates due to undercutting by U-bicycles. Easy when you don’t have to pay real estate rent, don’t have to pay property taxes, don’t have to pay local wages, don’t buy locally, and effectively have the City looking after marketing. Clearly it’s not a level playing field.
Think the U-bicycles are green? Do a Google search on “dockless bike piles” and you will see the only thing green is the colour.
I am asking that the City reconsider its position on dockless bikes, and that it consult with existing bicycle rental and retail businesses throughout Victoria. The dockless bicycle program is resulting in serious financial losses for many of the existing businesses, and if left unchecked, will likely result in the loss of several businesses that depend on the summer tourism trade.
Was the intent of introducing dockless bicycles to Victoria to provide short-term commuter transportation, as is the case with most docked bicycle programs, or to flood the streets with thousands of bicycles that will destroy many of the existing bicycle businesses and ultimately result in discarded bicycles clogging our waterways, sidewalks, parks and public spaces as has occurred throughout hundreds of other cities around the world?
Doug Turner / Cycle BC Rentals
The Malahat and the E&N
Premier Horgan suggests that a bridge from Mill Bay to North Saanich would be a better idea than the E&N to provide an alternate route to Highway 1 over the Malahat. I don’t think so. After paying for feasibility studies, environmental studies and interchanges on both sides, building a bridge across Saanich Inlet, widening secondary roads and purchasing land, we will be left with the Pat Bay Highway being more crowded or West Saanich Road being straightened out and widened, but only after successfully convincing three First Nations that this would be in their best interest.
Green Party MLA Adam Olsen improves on Horgan’s idea by suggesting a car ferry to cross to the Peninsula. On the west side of the inlet, the ferry will start at Cowichan Bay thus ruining that area with car traffic, and end at the Pat Bay float plane dock. Ferries will have to be purchased and terminals built; infrastructure will have to be provided to park and stage cars at each of the ferry terminals and to accommodate passengers. This idea would be good for anyone going to the airport, but how many would be doing that? While it avoids the construction costs of the bridge, where do the cars and passengers go from there: West Saanich Road? Pat Bay Highway? Where do cars line up to board? Where do the 50 cars that arrive at the same time go?
Horgan and others have suggested replacing the Mill Bay Ferry with one of a larger capacity. This would require replacing the docking and loading infrastructure at both ends to accommodate the larger ferry. Would the streets in Brentwood be able to handle the increased traffic when a ferry lands? Those vehicles would then have to use West Saanich Road or any of the cross-peninsula roads that were not designed for heavy traffic. We know from the Pat Bay Highway experience that ferry traffic puts a heavy burden on the roads for only a short period of time but they need to be able to handle it safely.
If there is going to be a ferry, picture what would happen when the Malahat was closed: hundreds of cars would immediately be diverted to a ferry that carries a maximum of 50 cars and would have a round trip of close to an hour. Of course, this is the same problem with roads: they have to be designed to handle rush-hour traffic, but for most of the time they are overbuilt for the amount of traffic they carry.
The above ideas assume that everyone using the Malahat is going to, or coming from, downtown Victoria. In reality, traffic will also be going to Esquimalt naval base, Royal Roads University, Langford, Colwood and Sooke. If those people have to take the bridge or a ferry to North Saanich, they will then increase the traffic on the connecting roads leading to those destinations. Finally, both ideas seem to ignore the fact that there is a considerable amount of truck traffic and some bus traffic on the Malahat, which will be more difficult for the infrastructure to accommodate than cars.
Another idea that has been suggested is to put a road through the catchment area for the reservoir that provides Greater Victoria with its drinking water. Victoria has a safe, secure supply of water that requires a minimum of treatment for drinking. Why would we want to build a road through that area to introduce pollutants that would then have to be removed from the water? An idea that I haven’t heard proposed yet is to tunnel through the mountain. It’s what the Swiss would do.
Every time there is an accident on the Malahat, ideas for an escape route abound. So far, the solution has been to widen portions of the highway and put in abatement barriers in an attempt to eliminate accidents. However, we know from experience that even the best designed roads have accidents, usually because of human error, so it is unlikely that road improvements are going to eliminate them.
I don’t see any of the above alternatives being better or cheaper than the E&N which would run on a frequent daily schedule, giving Islanders an alternative to driving the Malahat. They will learn to appreciate the safety and convenience of rail travel. Diverting vehicle traffic from the Malahat to an already traffic-burdened Saanich Peninsula is not a good solution.
Let’s face it: the problem is cars; there are too many of them and they go too fast. If you make the roads easier to drive on, there will be more cars, and they will go faster and they will cause more accidents.