Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

What Works, What Doesn’t

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Jeffrey Tumlin

San Francisco transportation planner Jeffrey Tumlin talked last night at SFU mostly about the experience of transit funding referenda in California. The presentation was recorded and will be available on the City program web page in due course. Tumlin’s book “Sustainable Transportation Planning: Tools for Creating Healthy, Vibrant and Resilient Communities” is used as part of the Next Generation Transportation course.

Have you ever been to Phibbs Exchange? It is probably as bad as they get – a dreary, isolated and unpleasant place to wait for a bus, (and one I often use in my own discussions about what is wrong with transit here). Translink has a lot of room for improvement but “it’s also the best that I have worked for.” We invented transportation tax measure referendums in California, and if you think the current experience here is bad, understand that it is so much worse everywhere else. You are right to demand perfection, but don’t let the best get in the way of the good.

Map_of_Alameda_County_1878_LARGE

Alameda County in California has 1.6m residents in 14 municipalities and 6 unincorporated areas. The original transcontinental railway did not reach San Francisco – it reached Oakland where passengers transferred to ferries. Up until 1994 it relied on a gas tax to pay for transit but as “funding dried up” in 1986 they introduced a county sales tax, which was risky given that at that time other neighbouring counties didn’t. In a referendum in 2000 a tax increase was approved by 82% of the vote. In California any general purpose tax increase must be approved by at least two thirds of the votes. That means for a vote to succeed there must be no organised opposition since at least one third of the voters are ideologically opposed to any tax increase. There is no federal or state support for transit operations or maintenance.  In 2012 Measure B1 a half cent sales tax increase failed at 66.53%. Measure  BB in 2014 passed at 71%. That was because by that time there was a coalition “with everyone on it” which adopted a strategy of focussing on “investments that matter to real people”. Communications stressed improvements in safety, efficiency, local streets and maintenance. Some projects were identified but not fully funded. Many projects were tied to housing development and many stressed bikes and pedestrians. The county is half suburban, with over a 70% car mode split. Car drivers voted yes because they understood that if other people switched modes there would be more room on the existing roads for those who continued to drive. Doing nothing would make matters worse.

Transit demand is increasing faster than population growth. This is due to demographics. As the baby boomers age and retire, they drive less and the millennials have much less interest in car ownership. Housing prices are actually worse than Vancouver. For many people in a low wage service economy driving is too expensive when housing costs have to be met first. Much of the success of the coalition was from the understanding of the combined affordability of transportation and housing. Every county in California has a similar story. Los Angeles knows that for its economy to succeed they cannot continue to bulldoze neighbourhoods to build freeways through them.

Messages that work

  1. Stress people, not mobility NOT focussing on congestion relief. For instance, tell the story of the single working mother who has the challenge of getting her children to and from daycare/school and herself to work – and how expensive that gets if she has to drive.
  2. Use pictures of people, including seniors and people with disabilities and reflect the diversity of the population. Be culturally sensitive to those communities and produce written materials in their languages
  3. Stress the need for employers to attract and retain young talent – people who don’t want to drive everywhere
  4. Improve public health – reducing the obesity epidemic means walking has to be built in to daily lives
  5. Improve economic efficiency – the space needed to move an automobile is ten times more than any other mode. There is much more people moving capacity if they are not all in cars – for the same space.
  6. Accomodate aging adults – see “Best Cities for Successful Aging” – that means walkability and more transit
  7. Everyone should have the opportunity to succeed – which is where the housing and transportation affordability index comes in. “San Francisco is more affordable than Little Rock, Arkansas” simply because it has homes and jobs within easy commute distance and good transit. It is not just affordable housing – its the combination with affordable transportation options. In Little Rock houses are cheap but they are distant from jobs and the only way to cover that is by driving. You do not improve the competitiveness of your region in the global economy by forcing poorer people to live in remote suburbs where they have to drive.

COMPASS

Much has been made by the No side of the delays in introducing this smart card fare payment system. The Bay Area has been trying to get such a system established since 1993. It was originally called Translink. It was launched in 1993 and abandoned in 1995. Twenty of the larger transit agencies agreed to relaunch the idea in 2010 .

TransLinkCard2

By 2015 only 15 of the 20 agencies have actually implemented the card. Now rebranded as “Clipper” it is hated by all. The problems are many and various. For instance in San Francisco alone there are six transit operators each with their own fare system and no coordination between any of them.

In fact there is no better transit system in North America than TransLink. Look for example at Boston, which is currently trying to de-ice 120 year old rail switches. Or Chicago where ancient wooden platforms on the El are disintegrating, dropping debris on the streets below and leaving foot wide gaps. Or BART which has had a disastrous 18 months. “You set the gold standard”  for integrating land use, transportation, environment and social equity. In terms of cost effectiveness Vancouver ranks alongside much larger systems like London or New York. If you want to see disfunction look at New Jersey.

The one thing where Translink has fallen behind is communications. To some extent this can be attributed to Canadian culture and your dislike of “boasting”. But also Translink needs to get better at listening. Public officials need to be in the limelight all the time. There needs to be a greater focus [in the Yes campaign] on telling stories not wonkishness. In California the campaigns for funding measures last two to five years. Plan B must be to win next time. The new campaign starts as soon as this one is over and will be a lot of work. It has to identify outcome based performance indicators, not just dollars per ride. How you meet economic, environmental and social targets to show tax dollars are well spent. Every $1 spent on transit produces $5 of benefits.

Q & A

1  “I want better transit but I see the defects of Translink.” The BC Government is the problem. They give tax breaks to the corporate sector and do not step up to the plate to pay for needed infrastructure. We do not have a fair tax system.

We have many people who share your values. Sales tax is the worst form of taxation. It is regressive. The poor pay the most and the rich are the least impacted. But we have to live in the real world. The right solution is not necessarily the most workable one. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and the alternative is worse. Pressing for perfection is a recipe for not getting anything at all.

2 “Can we pull it off? In a month?”

Poll results are often different to polling – going both ways. There have been lots of surprises and rapid turnarounds in sentiment. The important thing is the delivery of the message to voters – mainly through tv and radio. There has been rightful criticism and it warrants a full response. The problem is that it is very hard to do that in a seven second sound bite. The Alameda County campaign relied on images and factoids.

3 The current provincial government was elected by the majority. The coalition has a very wide range of organisations within it. The question is did anyone’s views change as a result of your campaign?

Tumlin then conducted a quick straw poll of those present. Many there said they were “conflicted” supporting transit spending but mistrustful of Translink or disliking the sales tax. A few who came undecided said they had been persuaded by the presentation.

4 The next questioner linked the distrust of Translink to the pay of its CEO as “grossly overspending”

Tumlin gently pointed out that Translink is comparable to other agencies and that the cost of living here is very high, which makes it hard to attract people if you offer lower pay. There are some systems that pay less due to “the optics” – but they do not necessarily get the best managers as a result. You are actually talking about less than 0.1% of the budget

5 Gordon Price asked if privatisation – perhaps of parts of the system – was a way to improve performance.

At that point my notes stop as I stood up and positioned myself to reply to that assertion. I think Tumlin must have dealt with it effectively, as I then talked extempore about the campaign – and how Tumlin’s interview with News1130 had been received by the facebook trolls. I did scribble “governance – none is perfect – Portland Metro” which he said was directly elected – and is certainly an approach I would favour.   Privatisation has been a disaster for public services everywhere: and worst bits of the Translink system are privatised – MVT runs HandyDART at much higher cost and lower service levels than the previous collection of mainly NGO and volunteer supported service providers. The Golden Ears Bridge and the Canada Line are P3 showcases of profit for the private sector at public cost.

6 How much do people save when they stop driving?

A media campaign is not an information campaign. The best facts are hard to explain. The cost of driving needs to include externalities, and needs to be expressed as an opportunity cost. That is a challenging message to deliver especially to the undecided. You need short messages  for swing voters, you don’t have half an hour. It also depends on who says what: it has to be seen to be real. Campaigns that work bring on key people. We found that affordable housing advocates were key – once they got the tptn+housing affordability index thing sorted they could relay that to their clients in meaningful ways.

7 The first speaker got another turn at the microphone. “It is not right or equitable that the corporate sector gets the benefit of de-congestion at the expense of the people. There has been a $13bn loss of revenue due to tax cuts for corporations and that is being filled by fees and charges on the poor. It is a beautiful plan but I don’t want to pay for it. There is no Bill of Rights for users.”

You present an intelligent reasoned argument, which is valid from a good governance and policy standpoint. But it is a solution for the next provincial election not this referendum. It is possible for voter initiatives to rescind taxes – and you can go back every year. (He was obviously talking about the California Proposition legislation at this point, not necessarily BC.)

8  We are tribal social primates. We have no sense of belonging (I think he meant to the region) which has lead to a loss of trust. How do we deal with tribalism?

Metro Vancouver is a coherent economic  unit and a very effective competitor in the global economy. It is more cohesive than many California metro areas. San Francisco is quite different to San Jose – but it is very difficult to put a simple line between them that  does not have boundary effects. In terms of economic productivity the boundaries here are clearer and well set. By tribalism I think you mean that we do not want to pay for other people’s projects. I think the way to deal with that is to engage young people as they are better networked than anybody else – but then you also have to get them to vote. I think you do have here a sense of commonwealth which is missing in the US. You have no idea how bad things can get. No-one can get everything they want. You have to develop a sense of compassion for people who are different to you. We are not in competition.  It is in my interest to help you become more productive. In crass politics give them what they need but not all that they want. It is an ugly process.

Hire a lot of young people and get them involved in the campaign. Get them to show up at the polls. The Alameda County  proposition was lost by 731 votes!

9  Erica Rathje reminded those present that the federal government subsidises the fossil fuel industry with billions of dollars. We will have the opportunity to deal with that in this year’s federal election.

Do not punish yourselves locally by denying additional funding that your transportation system desperately needs.

10  The Hong Kong model which produces great transit at no cost to the taxpayer.

I am very much in favour of Value Capture. We use a lot of it in San Francisco. Development of land freed up by the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway for instance. The TransBay Terminal is being funded in part by Tax Increment Financing. Impact Fees on residential developments pay for affordable housing.

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REACTION

The meeting was large and well attended. Discourse was generally polite – except for some heckling when the first speaker made a long statement which appeared not to include a question. He did get a better reception later, and many people admitted to “feeling conflicted”. I agree. I do to. I think we are being manipulated. We do not have the same antitax Proposition 13 mentality here – and it should not be foisted upon us. I think the speaker was right when he said that if this sales tax proposal is approved, the province can then withdraw from funding transit expansions and concentrate on its favourite road building projects. But I think he missed how much provincial politicians love to cut ribbons on SkyTrain extensions. It will be interesting to see, if Linda Hepner has to proceed with her Plan B, if the province co-operates. Though that risks creating the multi-agency mess that sank the TransLink card in the Bay Area and bedevils their Clipper.

My understanding is that the problems of the Bay area are more of Fares Integration and Service Coordination are at the heart of the Clipper problems rather than technology issues. When I came to Canada in 1988 it was to work on FISC between the TTC and GO Transit who had incompatible mag swipe and optical reader tickets respectively. But the problem was not one of technology – a clumsy “TwinCard” approach fixed that – but rather incompatible tariffs and service objectives. Much has changed in the Toronto region since but transit mode share regionwide has not advanced by very much. And the number of agencies has actually increased. The battles in the Bay Area are I think similar and are reflected in the number of agencies and their local loyalties. It would be very sad indeed if one of the outcomes of losing this plebiscite is  that Translink were broken up into municipal fiefdoms but that seems to be in the back of the West Vancouver Mayor’s mind.

As to Value Capture I must say that I am not all convinced that our developers will welcome the Hong Kong approach here. They have been infuriated by suggestions that Translink here get into the property development business. My experience with the first TTC Sheppard Subway proposal was that when developers heard that value capture of station developments would pay for the line construction, they would not give up so much of their profits and would be able to make more by simply taking their development proposals to adjacent municipalities outside the TTC service area. I have also heard here that many developers are becoming averse to the current Development Cost Contributions regime – which they see as capricious and open to abuse.  The municipalities meanwhile point out that DCCs pay for parks and schools, community centres and sidewalks, and other desirable amenities. They do not wish to relinquish this source of funding to the regional transit system which has more nebulous local benefits, in their view. Here is more about the use of value capture for rapid transit.

Oh and as for privatisation read this

Written by Stephen Rees

February 25, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Two Carbon Talks on the Plebiscite

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The meetings are at lunchtime in Surrey and Burnaby, and I won’t be attending either of them. The rest of this post is taken from an email I got today. If you are in the area – or you know of someone who will be – they are free but you have to register

The transit referendum campaign is currently underway and you’re invited to our next two Carbon Talks on the subject. In partnership with Moving in a Livable Region, an initiative of the SFU Centre for Dialogue, we are pleased to present two public dialogues one in Surrey and one in Burnaby.

See below for more information and please forward on to your friends and colleagues. For more information on the transit and transportation referendum, see Moving in a Livable Region’s referendum page

Transit Vote Surrey: Rapid Transit for Rapid Growth

Surrey is one of Canada’s fastest growing cities and has major transportation needs. With the transit referendum around the corner, what’s at stake?

When: Monday, March 9 from 1:00 – 2:00 PM

Where: Room 3090 at SFU Surrey Campus

Read More

Register to Attend

Transit Vote Burnaby: Congestion, Health, and Livability

A congested transportation system has consequences for emissions, health, and livability. Join us to hear from experts on how these subjects relate to the transit referendum.

When: Tuesday, March 10 from 12:00 – 1:15 PM

Where: Fraser-Thompson Room of the Diamond Alumni Centre, SFU Burnaby Campus

Read More

Register to Attend

Written by Stephen Rees

February 24, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Transportation

How to become a Climate Reality Leader

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This turned up in my email today.

I was intrigued enough to do a bit of follow up. Iowa, Florida or Canada? Well no surprise when Canada turns out to mean Toronto. At this point my interest flagged.

I must admit I enjoy being retired. When I was at work, I used to sleep well, because I was able to fantasize about a life that did not include work. Now I am living that dream, my actual dreams are often of being back at work. Closer to nightmares really. But then I read this story about Hazel McCallion getting a new job. At 94!

Anyway, they asked me to share this email with a friend or two. That would be you.

JOIN THE CLIMATE REALITY LEADERSHIP CORPS IN 2015 >>

APPLICATIONS FOR OUR NEXT
THREE TRAININGS ARE NOW OPEN!

Dear Stephen,

In late November, world leaders will gather in Paris at the UN’s COP21 meeting to create the first-ever global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s truly a historic opportunity — and now it’s up to us to build the crucial planet-wide support necessary to ensure the strongest agreement possible.

With only months to go, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we need your help.

If ever there was a moment when people from all walks of life and all corners of the world — teachers and taxi drivers, farmers and family doctors, parents and pastors, New Yorkers and nature lovers, and many, many more — could make a real difference in stopping climate change, this is that moment. If there was ever a time you wanted to stand up and change the world, this is the time to do it.

How? By becoming a Climate Reality Leader and helping build global support for a strong agreement in Paris. We’re hosting three Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings in North America for people like you who want a healthy and sustainable future for our planet — and registration is already open!

Already, nearly 7,000 Climate Reality Leaders are mobilizing communities everywhere to demand action from our leaders at this pivotal point in history. By joining this network of influencers, you can help build on this momentum and make our leaders act at COP21.

Training applications are now open and are reviewed as they are received – sodon’t wait. Your opportunity to make a difference in this crucial fight for a safe climate could be waiting in Cedar Rapids, Toronto, or Miami.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to climate action, and joining us on this critical mission.

Sincerely,
Ken Berlin
President and CEO, The Climate Reality Project
www.ClimateRealityTraining.org
PS: If you’re unable to attend, will you share this email with a friend or two who might be interested? Thanks!

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

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Debunking the “NO” campaign

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Last week Mario Canseco published the latest Insights West poll that showed intending No votes edged ahead of Yes votes. It seemed to stem from the Translink’s Board decision to remove Ian Jarvis as CEO but, rather than pay severance (a lot of money to do nothing) they retained him as an advisor – and also appointed a temporary CEO. This action seemed to play into the hands of the CTF who have decided to target Ian Jarvis and his salary as evidence of “waste”. Now Translink seems to be paying two CEO salaries.

I am not sure if Canseco was actually in the field at the time this decision was made. But even so, a number of articles and blog posts have appeared around the issue. So rather than duplicate them I am going to summarise their findings. This should enable YES supporters to counter some of the most frequently heard talking points – nearly all of which are based on misinformation.

Firstly, the accusation that Translink is incompetent – and lags behind other systems

Source: Peter Lander, Business in Vancouver December 2014

TransLink’s … performance successes:

•A mode shift – out of cars into transit, walking and cycling – that is unmatched in North America. The number of trips by transit is up 80% since 2000.

•By far the highest per capita transit use among other cities our size in North America – three times more than Portland, the next highest city.

•The third-highest per capita transit use in North America, after only New York and Toronto.

•The lowest-operating-cost light rail network in the world, more than covering operating expenses from fare box revenues.

•The Canada Line built on time and on budget and beating revenue targets – projected to have 100,000 daily riders by 2013 but hitting 120,000 by 2011.

•An overall 7.4 out of 10 customer satisfaction rating in the last quarter.

Secondly that Translink is “wasteful” as evidenced by its executives’ salaries

“the items commonly cited as examples of TransLink’s storied wastefulness add up to a mere fraction of one per cent of its annual expenditures. In other words, the vast majority of the organization’s budget goes to the vital public services we rely upon it to provide”

source David Bancroft in Rabble with his source embedded

Actually, public sector CEOs get paid considerably less than equivalent private sector CEOs but the Vancouver Sun helpfully lists highest paid public servants in BC which shows Ian Jarvis as well down the list of the top 100.  Not nearly as much as the CEOs of the port, airport, ICBC or BC Hydro. And certainly not nearly as much as the people who oversee my pension fund. (see note at end of this post)

This week I will be going to listen to Jeff Tumlin at SFU – again. I reported his talk here a couple of years ago. He is quoted by News 1130

“One thing that we have learned however is that the best thing to do to make your transit agency worse off is to de-fund them. That taking away money from them in order to demonstrate frustration only punishes the people who are reliant on the transportation system.”

Looking at all basic performance metrics, he says TransLink’s problems are far better managed than anywhere else.

Who is he? The principal at Nelson Nygard, one of America’s “most innovative consultants” (Price Tags)

I posted that on facebook – and it got one of the most vituperative responses when someone else copied it to their profile. So not my followers – and quite possibly the people who Norm Farrell identifies as paid trolls for the BC Liberals. By the way, I have the greatest of respect for the work he does on his Northern Insights blog. It just saddens me that he seems to have got caught up by the CTF rhetoric. But not to worry, Darryl de la Cruz rides to the rescue with some exhaustive analysis which shows what happens when you compare like with like. I doubt that the people who listen to the CTF will have the patience to plough through this stuff, but it essentially repeats what often has to be said to people who try to compare Translink’s region wide coverage, to other transit systems with a much more restricted remit.

===============

And on February 25 Pete McMartin brings his MSM spotlight to bear on Daryl’s blog with this conclusion

The comparisons the No side are using are intentionally misleading and meant to cause anger.

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As Peter Ladner  pointed out TransLink is not on the referendum ballot – but if it was

“They’ve tightened operations over the past few years. I don’t think they’re wasteful,” said independent commissioner Robert Irwin after his 2013 review. Spending is “reasonable” and employee compensation is “reasonable when compared to other organizations of similar size,” concluded an independent 2012 provincial government audit, prompting then-minister of transportation Mary Polack to say, “Everyone agrees that TransLink provides a world-class service that is the envy of many jurisdictions.”

Voting NO cannot bring about change in Translink’s governance, which is actually their weakest point but one which the CTF seems to ignore. And, of course, is something that Christy Clark appears not to understand.

There have been some pretty dreadful decisions at Translink. The Golden Ears Bridge – which was as bad as the Port Mann at predicting toll revenues – sucks money out of revenues that ought to be supporting transit. The reorganisation of HandyDART, and subsequent freeze on service levels. Going to one contractor actually increased costs significantly and produced worse service. Trip refusals surged so they simply changed the way they collected the data.  The Canada Line – which is now overcrowded but cannot utilise all the trains it has due to costs of its P3 contract. In fact, contracting out seems to cover all three problems I have identified here. And I would blame Cubic for the failure to deliver Compass on time if that did not let Kevin Falcon off the hook for his decision to impose unnecessary fare gates in the first place.

In fact most of the problems that beset Translink at the moment all have their genesis with the provincial government. Christy Clark has done one brilliant job: she has deflected all the criticism of her failure to authorize adequate resources for running the transportation system in BC’s largest metropolis onto an organisation that she herself controls. It is an appointed Board – with a bafflingly complex system of appointment to disguise the very limited range of qualifications of its appointees. No-one represents the users of the system, and there are only two of 20 Mayors on the board, both very recent appointments.

———————

POSTSCRIPT I wrote that paragraph a day before this Pete McMartin column appeared in the Vancouver Sun

_______________

Voting NO is not going to change anything. (See this Stephen Hume opinion piece in the Sun for more)

Actually Voting YES might have exactly the same result – since we are not voting in a binding referendum but rather an advisory plebiscite. Christy can look at the result and claim it is not representative enough, or even claim poverty – given that there is a budget surplus of ~$1bn this year I doubt even she has the chutzpah to pull off that one, but blaming the Mayors for the current mess shows how she rolls.

And now a complete and up to date post of Translink myth debunking is on VanCityBuzz

————

Note: thanks to Norm Farrell for this information about the BC Investment Management Corporation

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.53.34 PM

This occurred at roughly the same time that the BC Public Service Pension was effectively cut: pensioners were required to pay for MSP and Blue Cross coverage, which had previously been paid by the employer. We were told that this was necessary to protect the value of the pension fund. No mention was made of the increase being paid to BCIMC who manage the investment of the pension fund. Note that Doug Pearce in 2014 was making nearly as much in a week as Translink’s new temporary CEO makes in a month.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm

The Arbutus Corridor Dispute

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I was back on the CBC TV suppertime news last night. CP have sent in the bulldozers again to restart the work on their long disused track from Marpole to Burrard Bridge. They are down at the south end of the line now, back where they were ripping out gardens last year before the the City tried to get an injunction to stop them. Unsurprisingly, the courts were reluctant to stop CP from trying to make their tracks capable of carrying trains again. Except, of course, there is no reason for CP to do so: not one that makes any commercial sense that is. CP are not interested in carrying people: they are freight railway. There are no customers now on the line. That is why there have not been any trains: for years. The track has simply been left to return to nature. CP is obliged to maintain the road crossings as it has not formally abandoned the track. But the only reason it is clearing away encumbrances is to try to get the City to raise its offer. The corridor is designated for transportation use in the City plan. That also was established in court. CP is not able to sell the land to developers, so the City is the only potential buyer. And they do not put the same price on that strip of land as CP does.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm

FACT CHECK: “No” to Transit side is misleading voters with mythical math

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A Mayors’ Council press release

A “Yes” to Transit vote would cost average households $125 a year

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                         February 6, 2015

Vancouver, BC – The “No” side’s baseless claims, mythical math and random calculations demonstrates they are not producing facts to back their arguments. In this latest claim, they have no idea how households really spend their money and how the PST is applied to goods and services.

The Mayors’ 10-year plan to improve transit and transportation as the region grows by one million more people will cost the average household $125 a year. That’s about 35 cents a day. The mayors’ calculation considers how much money households make and how much they spend on PST-eligible items. They also looked at how much of the tax would be paid by households, businesses and visitors, to come up with a realistic cost for an average household.

In fact, households making less than $100,000 per year – about 70% of Metro Vancouver’s households – will pay between $53 and $116 per year for more buses, better roads and more transit options.

Our Plan “No” to Transit
·         Classified six income categories.

·         Used Statistics Canada Survey of Household Spending by income to:

  • generate a reliable picture of PST-eligible spending by income category
  • understand the impact of a 0.5% increase in sales tax by category
Household Income Average annual cost of 0.5% increase in sales tax % of Households
<$25,000 $53 8%
$25,000-50,000 $70 21%
$50,000-75,000 $100 22%
$75,000-100,000 $116 19%
$100,000-150,000 $166 18%
>$150,000 $266 12%

Determined the annual cost per average household

  • Multiply annual cost per average household by the % of households in that income category
Divided $250 million (total funding required) by 967,948 (total number of households).
=  $125 per household = $258 per household

The “No” to transit side wants us to do nothing. This will cost the region untold millions in economic costs as traffic gets worse, and mean you are stuck in traffic and on transit longer.

The Mayors’ Council will continue to share information and updates on activities at www.mayorscouncil.ca.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 6, 2015 at 10:59 am

Condo tower, social housing, public consultation and court ruling

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Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 3.26.45 PM

City Conversations today revolved around the controversial City decisions and subsequent court case surrounding a land swap between the city and a developer at Richards & Helmcken. Jubilee House is an existing somewhat run down facility that is in need of replacement. The developer proposed to build a replacement at 1099 Richards  St.that would add 75 rental suites, and would then build a 36-storey tower on city owned 508 Helmcken beside Emery Barnes Park. On January 27 the BC Supreme Court ruled that the process was flawed and the development could not proceed until there was a new public hearing.

The presenters at the conversation were John Green of the Community Association of New Yaletown – supported by their lawyer Nathalie Baker – and Alice Sandberg of the BC Nonprofit Housing Association.

John Green opened by saying that the entire city development process was new to all of the CANY members. He said they were in favour of social housing but the city had rammed through the redevelopment in an unfair process: “it didn’t matter what we said”.

Emery Barnes Park is in the heart of the downtown towers – not at the edges like all of the other parks. It could probably do with some enlargement. The Urban Design Panel examined the proposed deal on 27 March 2013 and found that the tower floor plate was too large, the development too dense for the site. Despite this the City Planner at their next meeting urged them to reconsider the proposal – even though there had been no changes – and it was approved. On July 16 there was a public hearing into the rezoning, where it was noted that there were several violations of the Official Development Plan for the area – five times the density, four times the height and with a six foot setback instead of the prescribed twelve feet. People in the area felt that the development was not a good fit. They felt there was a lack of transparency on the deal between the developer (Brenhill) and the City. Overall there would be no increase in social housing as the extra 75 units would be rented at 27% above the market rents for comparable units in the area. There was also the matter of a $50 million difference in the value of the site between the City’s valuation in the land swap and the BC assessment. The deal had not been put out to tender, and therefore the market had not been tested to see what other amenities other developers might be prepared to offer for the city’s site. It was a very complex process and hard to understand.

Alice Sandberg   did not look at the site specifically but examined the more general issue of local government’s role in providing affordable rental housing. She covered a lot of ground very quickly. “Affordable housing” is a relative term and can be applied to rental or ownership. “Social housing” specifically refers to rental housing which incorporates some subsidy from government to help meet the needs of specific groups of people. The development of either requires a range of financial and human resources – and she runs workshops on how to make housing affordable. At one time senior governments had a considerable role through capital grants, specialised mortgages, subsidies and rent supplements. The landscape has now changed. There are no supply side programmes: all are demand side and require the involvement of multiple partners. Senior governments – in Canada and BC – are driven by an ideological agenda and their priorities are to concentrate on the most vulnerable groups as well as emphasizing the role of private sector.

Local governments have some tools in their regulatory toolbox that controls development: these include planning and land use controls, zoning, and development approvals.  In addition they can provide financial incentives, land and partnerships.

The public perception of these developments is that they do not like change in their neighborhood. “They don’t like sprawl and they don’t like density.”

Participants

1.  The City could have increased the supply of social housing. They “got nothing” and missed the opportunity

2.  The land swap has not happened

3.   Small apartments on Richards were going to be 350 square feet and rent at $1100 pm or $3.39 per sf

4.  “This is not social housing it is human warehousing for profit.”

5.  Nathalie Baker did not make a presentation but responded to most of the factual questions: There was a two year process of negotiation between the City and the developer. This is not unusual and obviously during the process of negotiation there has to be privacy over the arrangements until the deal is finalised for public examination. However, that does not mean that when the proposal is presented facts that are material to the development can be withheld. The public hearing has to be informed if we are to get a smart decision that is in the public interest. Council decided yesterday that there needs to be more time to reconsider this development and fifteen other, similar deals.

6.  Councillor Adrienne Carr said that there had been no formal meetings of the Council with the developer, though individual councillors may have attended meetings with staff and the developer. At yesterday’s meeting she was surprised to hear the City Planner use the phrase “when Council reconfirms the decision” as it is imperative that when the Council looks at the deal that the court quashed they have to have an open mind. There also has to be an opportunity for the public to comment on changes to the plan. Council also needs to reconsider its definitions of social housing and density bonus.

7. Alice Sandberg you cannot do a building now that is all social housing. Only one third of the units can qualify for government assistance

8.  Chris de Marco observed that the city needs to consider who gains and who bears the cost. In her view the local neighborhood was being asked to absorb more development which benefits the whole region but the impact of that is not shared fairly

9. Gordon Price responded but I regret that my scribbled notes are unintelligible. If he reads this perhaps he can clarify in the comments. I do recall him observing that the longer he is out of office, the better it seems in hindsight.

10. Some senior staff – and indeed some councillors – seem to be micromanaging staff and hampering their ability to do their jobs

11. The process to date has been a waste of time and money. How do we improve this?

12.Nathalie Baker Council was always obliged to disclose information – the judges ruling actually changes nothing. Council can make decisions even if they are unpopular but they cannot conceal essential information. Up to now they have not been living up to their obligations

13. Opposed to “micro sized units” which may be harmful to mental health and also fail to meet the needs of an aging population who may need more space to use mobility aids

14. What can we do to prevent bad decisions?

15.  Randy Chatterjee:  Why is it that governments only have capital programmes and do not provide help to maintain and operate social housing?

I observed that this problem affects many other programmes – not just housing. There is no federal support for maintaining or operating roads, transit …. and so on.

Alice Sandberg also pointed out that timber frame buildings thirty years ago were not designed to last much longer than that.

——————-

Vancouver City Council has been given a very sharp check on its leash by the legal system. It should not be necessary for a Community Association to have to resort to the courts and Freedom of Information requests just to get Council to meet its obligations imposed by legislation and the Vancouver Charter.

I was very impressed that Councillor Carr came to this meeting. She handled the situation with grace and aplomb and is clearly an asset. No staff or other councillors appeared: that says it all.

We also need to elect much better governments federally and provincially that serve the people of this country – all of the people – not just the very wealthy and the big corporations. Public housing – like public transport – is an essential part of a civilised society. The private sector cannot and will not meet the needs of society at a reasonable cost.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 5, 2015 at 5:32 pm

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