Friday, 29 June 2012


Ideas of catastrophic climate change are not new nor are proposals to deal with it. In the 1950s Emmanuel Velokovsky suggested that the earth might wobble and tip at any moment because of the accumulation of polar ice not to mention dangerous planetary alignments. His theories were widely accepted and were set forth in his book, "Worlds in Collision" .

The response to Climate change reflects at any time the belief in the cause. When people thought it was the work of an angry God they chucked virgins into volcanos. When they thought it was a top heavy earth it was proposed to detonate nuclear bombs on one or the other of the poles to lighten up things at the heavy end.

In 1970 it was predicted by the Club Rome that the earth was on the cusp of a period of global cooling. But when temperatures rose it was decided by a consensus of scientists that we weren't cooling. We were warming.

The news concerning the likely causes was for a time, as variable as the climate itself. The United Nation's Committee on Climate Change was established to review the literature on the subject. The IPCC reported that it is very likely that climate change is caused by man. The mechanism by which this might happen is exceedingly complex and at this stage a debate exists. There is no debate over whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas. There is a huge debate over rates of change. The most important one is over what to do about it.

Richard Lindzen was a member of the first IPCC and is the Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT. Of the first IPCC report he said,"it is a summary for policy makers that was not prepared by scientists."

How is a layman to judge rival claims of supposed experts? Any charismatic person can spin a persuasive argument about any subject not in the domain of the reader's personal expertise. On this point Stephen Jay Gould observed, "When I see how poorly Velokovsky uses the data I am familiar with, then I must entertain doubts about his handling of data unfamiliar to me. But what it is a person who knows neither astronomy, Egyptology , nor geology to do especially when faced with a hypotheses so intrinsically exciting and a tendency shared I suspect by all of us to root for the underdog?"

There is no shortage of charismatic people floating around today who head foundations or got elected and who make pronouncements ex cathed
Anthropogenic climate change is now generally accepted. While the precise extent of anthropogenic as opposed to changes caused by other factors is debated the political responses have sometimes been bad policy. The promotion of Bio fuels it has been said resulted in an increase in CO2.

All the hype on densification may be another example. Local governments are now rezoning for a cooler climate. If they are going to do this they should first conclusively show that increasing density will result in a net reduction of CO2. No City has done this. There is not yet a reliable model that justifies an increase in density and a radical restructuring of our society.

Planners claim that high density buildings are more sustainable in the context of CO2 emissions.

It is quite an assumption. Apartments with their common areas,elevators,lights,heat,air conditioning, and other facilities demand lots of energy.

Infill housing happens at the expense of trees and vegetation.

Planners assume that people in high rises and dense areas will not drive their cars. They will commute by transit. Vancouver's commuting patterns are changing. People live in the City and commute to work outside it. Dense urban areas are magnets. The boulevards of Paris,which has the best public transportation system in the world, are jammed with cars.

If we accept what I take to be the prevailing view of the science, the real issue is simply this: the population on earth is not sustainable. If that is so, how will it help to accept millions of people from everywhere, and dump their excrement in Georgia Straight and their CO2 in the air?

To evaluate the science is hard for a layman because science advances not by consensus. Sometimes the crazy postal worker is right and the Academy is wrong. E equals mass times the speed of light squared. When Mendelieve proposed the periodic table to the Russian Academy, its head mockingly asked whether he had considered arranging the elements in their alphabetical order.

To evaluate solutions proposed by committees is a different matter. Those are the solutions of politicians - not climatologists. There are billions to be made in the climate change industries from composting toilets to urban home windmills and from bicycles to high rises.

Don't let them try to tell you that they are endorsed by a consensus of Scientists. When a developer tells you they are in it for the principle, not the money you can be sure of one thing - its the money.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

GROUNDHOG DAY: The Affordable Housing Report

When City council released its affordable housing report it seemed like Groundhog Day.

It never stops.

In the early 70s the City produced a report on "housing the hard to house." Then in the mid 70s a fellow named Soules went to the trouble of interviewing every politician and developer in the Vancouver region about it and published a hard cover book called the "Housing Crises."

Oh what to do! What to do?

Then Gordon Campbell got elected. These were the halcyon days when developers were  kicking 80 year old grannies out of their Kerrisdale apartments as they were condominiumized. The construction of rental housing was dead in the water. Who (other than Morris Wosk) wanted to bother with complaining tenants whining to the Rentalsman?

So Mayor Campbell set up a meeting of concerned Developers. There was no end of ideas but the one that won the prize was this: Create a new company. Hand over to it 50 Million dollars of land on long term leases. Make the City's rent way down the totem poll so it starts collecting only after everyone gets paid.

The city contributed the land at an option price of ten dollars and away they went. The beauty part was that much of it would be funded by union pension funds.

Harry Rankin,Vancouver's socialist councillor,was against it. He described it as "state capitalism." He said that the state should only be involved with things that the market could not do. The market he said could build market housing.

That vote took a  lot of courage because the union pension funds supported the project. Can you imagine this VISION gang or for that matter the NPA not supporting a developer?

The Company was supposed to build thousands of units. Actually with City encouragement it became a large union developer but not for city rental units. It built on some of the best land in the city package and then moved on to better things. It put up a small fraction of the expected rental units and never exercised the options on the rest. I don't know when the city started collecting rent.

For some reason politicians keep trying things that didn't work the first time. Someone does OK I guess,.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Municipal lawyers make money by knowing things that are generally not worth knowing. 

The idea of encouraging the installation of wind turbines  in the relatively dense areas of Vancouver is probably no more  idiotic than the other things done by our Council. A permit issued for one of these things could quite likely be set aside by a court.

Section 10 of the Zoning and Development Bylaw contains a grab bag full of general regulations. These regulations apply to each of the uses listed in the land use section of the bylaw. It says:

Relaxation of Limitations on Building Height
10.11.1 Height Increases for Buildings

(d) access and infrastructure required to maintain green roofs or urban agriculture, or roof-mounted energy technologies including solar panels and wind turbines, provided that the Director of Planning considers:
(i) their siting and sizing in relation to views, overlook, shadowing, and noise impacts, and
(ii) all applicable policies and guidelines adopted by Council;

A zoning bylaw regulates the use of land. Use means the purpose for which land can be used. All things that are not expressly permitted are forbidden.  The use section of the RS-5 Residential Zone for example allows a one family dwelling.  (One family dwelling actually means something else but we can deal with that some other time.)  It also allows   

Accessory Uses customarily ancillary to any of the uses listed in this section.

There has been speculation that a developer is planning to install some kind of a wind turbine on or with a new house.  The neighbours are worried about the potential noise and other impacts.

Is a wind turbine in Vancouver customarily ancillary to a single family dwelling?

The simple answer is: No

The City has adopted by resolution a bulletin which sets out certain guidelines for Wind Turbines. This is not a zoning bylaw.  Zoning bylaws must be adopted by "bylaw" following a public hearing. The city has no power to adopt zoning bylaws in any way other than as permitted by the Vancouver Charter. A resolution will not do the trick. There must be a public hearing at which the public has its say. [That the councilors pay any attention to what you have to say is what is known as a legal fiction.]

It use to be that where there is an ambiguity in a zoning bylaw it was construed in favor of the taxpayer. That has changed over the years. Now it favors the Government. So, it is always possible that a court would hold that the sleight of hand involved in leaving turbines out of the listing of uses, and slipping them into the general regulations does the trick. If I were the developer though, I would not count on it. It does not pass the 'bad odor' test.

So when the City issues a permit for a wind-turbine for the house next door, and if you think there is a enough wind in Vancouver (other than at City Hall)  to make the infernal contraption squeak in the night, then sue them. File a petition for judicial review against the City and Developer to quash the  the permit. While you're at it, ask the court to declare that wind turbines are not a permitted accessory use. Also ask for court costs.  

Saturday, 16 June 2012


It looks as though wind turbine's will be the next step on Vancouver's road to "greenest city" sustainability.  Section 10 of our zoning bylaw allows them as long as the Planner considers the impacts on the neighbours.

Small turbines placed in areas blessed by frequent breezes can  generate  electricity in a reasonable breeze.  People in windy areas swear by them. 

I love machines. l have always thought about adding a small wind turbine to our Cabin on Nelson Island. There is plenty of wind as long as it is a westerly. It is just that they are a lot more expensive than solar collectors from Costco and, since turbines have moving parts they require service. Solar collectors are forever, or at least until an eagle drops a fish on one.

Notwithstanding the storm that took out Stanley Park a few years ago, Vancouver is on average neither a very breezy nor a very sunny City. It seems unlikely that small, roof top, wind turbines could be justified economically in an area already served by BC Hydro. Solar collectors, on the other hand are inexpensive, low maintenance, and have environmental advantages. Among these are that solar collectors do not puree' bats and finches.

According to a government of Alberta web site an average wind speed of 18 km/h is rated poor for wind turbines.$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/eng4456    An average  22 km/h wind speed is good. Vancouver's average wind-speed is between 11-12 km/h. ttp://

Therefore the performance should not be very good. One would hope there are better ways of investing money, such as in LED light bulbs.

Theoretically the two complement each other. Sustainable correctness dictates that we install solar collectors and tin wind mills and take the burden off soon to be over-stressed government hydro electric power. This, however, is not really about effectiveness or efficiency. 

It is about fashion. Its about sustainable chic.

Home windmills in Vancouver will likely be the  Cartier  roof adornments of sustainability. Then over time the technology will improve in urban areas, like ours which is somewhat shy of wind, and will actually be useful. If you believe the manufacturers there may already be good systems out there. (There is one on YouTube based on 3000 year old Egyptian technology.) I would say, call me a sceptic on that score, except that the word sceptic has become associated with "denier", as in Holocaust Denier, in the new-speak of  sustainability.

 In the late 1940s, to have the first TV set in the neighbourhood was, in my hometown, Atlantic City, the penultimate status symbol. (The ultimate was wearing mink coats on the board walk even on warm summer nights. When it was really hot women would wear their appraisals) Neighbours who saw the antenna on the  roof knew that we had a Dumont TV with a six inch screen.  They would drop by to watch the test pattern. 

That was before they invented programs. 

To be able to show that you could  buy a machine that was absolutely useless showed a noble faith in technology. All it did was produce a circular CBS pattern on the screen, but we could say that one day they would have programs. Sure enough we eventually moved into the next phase, known today as  vast wasteland.  

I would love to have a tin wind mill on my roof. I would sit in the yard waiting for the wind to blow.  People would drive by for the educational experience of witnessing Newtons  first law of motion: bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.  

Sometimes it would move. What a moment that would be! The hood would  swoon at  the reduced carbon footprint. 

The ultimate symbol of conspicuous sustainability would be to park an electric Tesla car on the roof. Not only is it powered by clean energy,  but better, it couldn't go any where, thus meeting the apparent goals of our city fathers.

It is likely that City hall wants to see those of us living in over-valued homes who do not ride bikes, pass the commitment test by putting windmills on our roofs. 

A better idea would be for the City, through Science World, to provide an annual prize for inventors. I bet they could get great ideas from high school students on how to generate power from waves, tides, wind, horses, baked beans and anything else.

Encouraging home owners to invest a fair amount of money in stuff that looks good and may work somewhere else, but can not be economically justified here, will in the end just turn people off. They will see it as another government screw up.  It may be trendy but that fact  brings to mind Marlene Dietrich's advice:  Beware of  trendiness. What looks good today will look ridiculous tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


In a previous post I noted how the late Mayor Tom Campbell, who had survived drinking a glass of water from a public pool thus proving that the water was safe, survived for another 43 years, became wealthy and accumulated a  large collection of clocks. 

Today while skimming Google News I came across a perturbation in a time continuum.

There is a guy running in the Republican primary in New York’s 17th Congressional District, who, if the winner, could affect the fate of the Republican Party in New York State and be a major embarrassment for the national Republican Party.

New York will hold its first ever federal Congressional primaries on June 26th (they’ve never been held on this date before) and the 17th District’s GOP contest will decide the party’s nominee to oppose the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Nita Lowey. The 17th District, brand new as a result of the every ten year Federal census which results in redistricting to equalize Congressional district population (New York lost two Congressional Districts as residents fled the state’s high taxes, high property taxes, and lack of jobs) now covers most of Westchester County (just outside New York City) and all of Rockland County, just across the Hudson River from Westchester. The District runs the gamut from wealthy to poor residents.

One Republican candidate, Joe Carvin, the twice elected Rye Town Supervisor, has the full support of the Westchester and Rockland County Republican parties, having been endorsed at their convention on March 27.

The other candidate, Jim Russell, will be on the ballot to oppose Mr. Carvin in the primary.

Mr. Russell, who has run for Congress at every opportunity, may have been ejected from a parallel universe. Back in 2001 he published an essay which, finally in 2010, received national media attention when he was on the Republican line for Congress, after the party’s choice, a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves, was called up to active duty just before the election by the Pentagon and sent to Afghanistan. Mr. Russell wound up on the party line by default. But his being there caused the national media to start looking into his background, and in September of that year both the web site Politico, the Gannett Journal News (which covers Westchester and Rockland), various magazine reporters, and the New York Times read his essay and discovered he was that most abhorrent of public figures, a racist and anti-Semite.

Here’s how Peter Applebome of the New York Times described Russell’s essay in a September 26 article:

“Mr. Russell seemed to embrace, among other things, racial separatism, eugenics and an assortment of historical and literary figures with anti-Semitic or Nazi ties. It also turns out that he has attended gatherings of groups with white nationalist views.

Mr. Applebome went on to report that “Russell writes that ‘parents need to be reminded that they have a natural obligation, as essential as providing food and shelter, to instill in their children an acceptance of appropriate ethnic boundaries for socialization and marriage.’”

Candidate Russell is also quoted (not by the Times) as claiming: It has been demonstrated that finches raised by foster parents of a different species of finch will later exhibit a lifelong sexual attraction toward the alien species.  The raising of finches is one more thing Washington should regulate.

In response to his publications Russell pleads what lawyers call various rules of statutory interpretation. 

This will be quite a campaign. Russell’s opponent, Carvin, represents everything Russell loathes. Carvin is married to an African-American and has mixed-race children. He speaks five languages fluently (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Wolof, English), and has lived throughout the world. He co-founded Building Community Bridges (a group created to promote interracial and intercultural understanding) and One World United and Virtuous (to encourage international understanding).

So there you have it. The Rockland and Westchester County Republican Parties and every Republican candidate for county and state wide office in Westchester and Rockland Counties has disowned Russell (as the GOP did in 2010) but not every registered Republican who can vote in the primary may know all of this. What happens if instead of telling Russell to “get thee behind me, Beelzebub” they nominate him? The simple answer is the Republican parties in Rockland and Westchester Counties will once again disown him, and Mrs. Lowey will win the election, as she did in 2010, by default.

In a letter to the editor published June 11 in the Gannett Journal News, one writer said that the eyes of the county, the state and, yes, the nation will be on this primary watching whether or not Republican voters drown out a bigot from another dimension with a finch obsession.

Make that also Canada.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Tom Campbell passed away on February 3, 2012 at the age of 84.  He was the Mayor of Vancouver for three terms from 1966 to 1972.

I had forgotten Tom Campbell was a lawyer. Otherwise, he was hard to forget.  Campbell was no shrinking violet.  He used to say,   “I don’t care what the press says about me as long as they spell my name right”   They got it right for his obituary and it brought back a flood of memories.

Tom Campbell ran as an independent against the NPA’s Mayor Bill Rathie  (1962-1966)  and won.  The next time around he ran with the NPA.

In the late sixties the phrase “Generation Gap” expressed the sharp differences between those under thirty and everyone else.  Tom was in his forties but no one in politics exemplified the Gap better than he.

When the hippies proceeded to occupy the lawn at the Vancouver Courthouse (now the Art Gallery) the Mayor promptly called a press conference on location.  The interview, conducted by none other than Doug Collins, is posted on Wikipedia.  To listen to it is to revisit the recent Occupy Vancouver Protest as it was occurring in the parallel universe of time.

Collins: Mayor Campbell.  Does it not seem wrong to you that anyone should be apprehended in a public place on account of his beard?

Campbell: “I think that any lazy lout that lies down on the sidewalk and obstructs traffic should be charged with loutering…  I mean loitering.  I think that anybody that obstructs the rest of the decent people of Vancouver should be charged *** they [hippies] expect hospitals police protection and they shout “fuzz” when the police are around.  *** They want to take everything and give nothing.  They are parasites *** a scum community.  They have organized and have decided to grow long hair***”

The Georgia Straight remembers Tom Campbell well.  He tried, unsuccessfully to shut them down.

Campbell, called Tom Terrific by friends and foe alike, was not fettered by the chains of political correctness nor was he addicted to polls.  He said what he thought - sometimes   before he thought it.

Between 1969 and 1975 I worked in Vancouver’s Social Planning Department which was established during his administration.  In 1970 the Yippies (Youth International Party) who were the interventionist branch of the hippies and who eventually became yuppies, announced that they were going to liberate the animals in the zoo.  They would hold an impromptu Rock concert somewhere in the West End.  Then they would march on the zoo and there they would bring about the Great Release of lions, tigers and bears. Oh my, it was rumored that Abby Hoffman (Nixon’s Nemesis) himself would  take part.

City Hall dealt with this through the Social Planning Department by hiring Bruce Allen.  Mr. Allen had just opened his offices as an impresario in Gastown.  I paid him $500 to organize a rock concert East of Main Street in False Creek Park.  Allen assembled many budding rock stars.  News of the concert scheduled for the same time as the Great Zoo Liberation was leaked and, as hoped the Revolution was diverted to False Creek Park for the better music.  The animals remained imprisoned.  No one suspected that City Hall was behind it.

The next day Tom Campbell called me into his office.  He acknowledged that our dirty trick was successful but wanted me to know that in his opinion one should deal with things directly.  The police would have been happy to protect the zoo and it might have been better to deal with Yippies and Hippies by more orthodox means.  Rock Concerts for animal liberationists was not his idea of good public policy.

The West End Community Planning process started under the Campbell administration and was completed under Mayor Art Phillips TEAM party. So did some of the City run arts programs funded by the Federal Government but run out of City Hall.

After he left office, Campbell disappeared from politics and public life.  What happened was simply that the hippies and yippies became first yuppies and ultimately Campbell’s kind of decent working people:  lawyers, laborers, judges, builders, brokers and bankers.  For the rest of his life Tom Terrific eluded publicity in all its forms- politics, elder statesmanship, the senate and academia.  He must have found that having a life, raising a family and becoming wealthy was a reasonably satisfying alternative.  I ran into him in the late 80s.  We had a pleasant conversation in which he mentioned his considerable real estate portfolio and his antique clock collection.

Mayor Gregor Robertson graciously pointed out on hearing of his passing that Two Bentall Centre, the Centennial Museum, the Bloedel Conservatory, HR Macmillan Planetarium and Pacific Centre were built under his watch.  He oversaw the initial acquisition of some of the South Side of False Creek.

In the early sixties Vancouver was often described as a site in search of a city. When Campbell left it had started to become something more.

(This article was first published  in the "The Advocate" and is reprinted with the editors kind permission.)

Monday, 11 June 2012


Until to 1972 the West End had what was in effect an automatic self-regulating bylaw.  That is much of the area was zoned to encourage apartment towers that were evenly spaced from one another.  A built in density bonus ensured that the more open space provided on a site, the taller the building could be.  The system was fair in that anyone who bought into the area knew in advance, what could be built and how the owners’ lands could be affected.  The design of buildings was a product of a mathematical formula.  The bylaw was a girdle into which the building was slipped.

Partially in response to the criticism that buildings were repetitive and uninteresting, the City in 1972 introduced discretionary zoning.  This system allowed   planners to adjust the siting, height and designs of buildings.  The discretion was not absolute.  The bylaw has guidelines that must be applied.

Under the Local Government Act, the system allows variations on siting, but the use or density in an official community plan may not be touched.  Under both systems, however, spot zonings are allowed.

The Vancouver Charter does not generally allow  an owner to sue for damages to his land resulting from a downzoning.  Of course when property is up-zoned or down-zoned, assuming the values move in parallel, so do the taxes.

At common law the sale of zoning by Cities was forbidden.   The legislature, however, can overrule common law.  

Community Amenity Contributions

City governments found a way around this inconvenience.  The song and dance would go like this:  

The Developer would ask to rezone the land to a higher density.  The City would wistfully say, “We would love to but we need three new fire trucks, and many defibrillators.”

The developer would say, “No problem we will give you three fire trucks and all the defibrillators you like.”  

Eyes cast Demurely to the floor, the City Officials would sigh, “Kind sirs, -  that would be the sale of zoning.  We have our virtue to protect.  If, however, you offer us these things, and assure us that your hearts and motives are pure, we can do this.  We will enact the zoning bylaw.  One more thing *** don’t believe for a second that it has anything to do with your gift.  It is your sincerely expressed affection that has seduced  us.”

Their hearts, as pure as the driven slush, the deal would complete.

That system worked fine in other municipalities.Eventually it was expressly authorized by Local Government Act and the Vancouver Charter in the form of Community Amenity Contributions.  Now City Council can leave love out of the zoning equation and focus on the public interest.

When construction takes place on land that is already zoned for a set of land uses and at a specific density,  the City can charge Development Cost Levies.  The charges are fixed in advance by bylaw and then applied to individual developments according to a formula. That is fine.

Development Cost Levies

These are described in in Vancouver’s Web site as:

Development Cost Levies (DCLs) collected from development help pay for facilities made necessary by growth. Facilities eligible for DCL funding include: parks, child care facilities, replacement housing (social/non-profit housing), and engineering infrastructure. The DCL by-laws establish the boundaries, set the rates, and describe how to calculate and pay the levy.  Levies collected within each DCL district must be spent within the area boundary (except replacement housing projects which can be located outside). This Bulletin provides general information about DCLs:

Development Cost Levies v Community Amenity Contributions

A DCL (called DCC under the Local Government Act) is imposed by bylaw on all developments within the area covered by it.  Council must decide that the imposition is fair and equitable.  

Community Amenity Charges by contrast are a completely ad hoc thing sometimes covering the same matters as DCCs. 

The City Web Site defines them as follows:

Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) are in-kind or cash contributions provided by developers when City Council grants additional development rights through rezonings.

How does this differ from the sale of zoning?  Vancouver is allowed to do what it is doing. The question is one rarely asked in politics: Is it right?  

It could easily, over the past two years, have amended its Development Cost Levy bylaw and the Community Plan if  it felt that  the it  was not getting enough from developers. It  could have charged them higher DCC's.

Now you might ask, if this is so bad why don’t the developers complain?  The answer is simply that they build it into the cost of doing business.  Secondly, they may be getting a pretty good deal in terms of a density bonus.

And why should the residents care?  Aren’t they getting free amenities?

The reason they care is that really they are paying for it.  By rezoning the land, the impacts are unequally distributed.  People, for example whose views are affected by the extra bulk of the building lose value in their own homes.  If anyone should be getting paid cash for the gain of amenities, it is the ones adversely affected – not City Hall. 

What exactly are they paying for? What is the amenity?  Part of it is some units of low end rental housing.  But how is that their amenity?  It is  really a form of tax on low to middle income people who live in older multiple family housing stock.  Why should they bear that burden?

The West End Residents have asked Vancouver City Council to produce a new community plan, if they are intent on change. They also want them to stop departing from the existing plan by spot re-zonings until the new one is completed.  In a scene reminiscent of  the Old Testament (Exodus) the West Enders are saying to Council, Let our people plan.  

Council, Pharaoh like, has hardened its heart and indicated that they can plan all they want but the re-zonings will continue.

Given Council’s own priorities, this seems strange.  The basic Community Plan was prepared in 1972 by West End Residents, with help from the Social Planning Department. It accepted high densities. It also resulted in street closures and parks that reduced traffic and made it a safe place to walk and  bike. 

It produced Vancouver’s first urban core bike network. The plan and the process yielded exceptional results.  Vancouver became one of the very few Cities with a livable high density core under a plan that was neighborhood based.

Vancouver Council should go back to the future and give planning a chance. 

Friday, 8 June 2012


 “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape being consigned to the ranks of the insane" -- Marcus Aurelius

Every year I try to remember the first two weeks of March. I  missed it this year but will try to make up for it now.

On  Monday in March 3, 2008, Vancouver used its full legal might to prosecute a student who threw a single potato chip at a friend. A bylaw enforcement officer saw it happen near the court house and the lad was charged with littering. The Vancouver Law Department prosecuted and the young man plead guilty. The JP fined him ten dollars payable over 100 years.

Co-incidentally, this happened on or about the 150th anniversary of the invention of the Potato chip. George Crum, employed as a chef at an elegant resort in New York, decided to rile an annoying guest by producing fries that were too thin and crisp to skewer with a fork. The rest is history.

 March 10 was also the day that New York Governor Elliott Spitzer was forced out of office. FBI wiretaps revealed he had been purchasing the services of a high priced hooker.

Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, a former City Manager who  had become our most accomplished lobbyist, plead guilty to engaging in his employment without completing a required form. (He did not know he had to.) More, to be pitied then censured, he was required by the Court to write an essay about lobbying,

It was in New York, however, that the lobbying profession received its come-uppance. On Wednesday, in the home state of the potato chip, a reporter bluntly asked Spitzer’s successor, Governor Patterson if he ever patronized a prostitute.

 "Only the lobbyists," he replied.

Then on Thursday it turned out that while Gov Spitzer had been brought to his knees, first by the hooker and then by the FBI, the hooker became an overnight sensation to more than the Governor. She was to be featured in a juried publication, Hustler Magazine!  Her songs were the number one down load on the Internet.

Today, the Governor is a frequent guest on TV talk shows. 

For some people things just work out.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


Have you watched "Boardwalk Empire" starring Steve Buscemi, on HBO?  It chronicles the history of Atlantic City from the days of prohibition and is the story of its political boss, Nucky (Enoch) Johnson. Johnson (named Thompson on the TV series) was the head of the Atlantic County Republican Executive Committee. He considered it beneath his dignity, as a true political boss, to ever run for office. His reign ended  in about 1941 when he went to jail.


Atlantic City was my home town. I graduated from its high school in 1956.  In 1964 after college, law school and military service I moved to Vancouver to attend my best friend's wedding and stayed.

When I learned a few years  ago that many of Vancouver’s departments had been dispersed outside City Hall to various locations throughout the city, I thought of my home town.

Atlantic City  had a commission form of government. Each of the five department heads was an at large, elected commissioner. They would not have thought of doing anything without checking first with Nucky. 

No one had to communicate with anyone else. This left the planners free to plan more streets. It was said that this was part of their social planning efforts to reduce the percentage of crime on any one street.

Others said that the contractors were paying off the Commissioners or Nucky or someone.

Whatever the reason, lots of streets and road works were being built which in the depression was a good thing. But if the engineers had to make traffic direction signs without knowing from the planners where the streets were,  it was predictable that signs would point to streets that did not yet exist.

It is important for city staff to operate out of one city hall. If they know where the other departments are located and can talk to each other over coffee they hear about things like where the streets are going to be.  It makes for better decisions.

The  NPA caused the diaspora in the first place. Council, or the manager or whoever is in charge  today should  invite them back to the partially vacant city hall.

There are other contrasts and parallels.

Vancouver's current, likable mayor, Gregor Robertson, used to be in the business of selling  juice made of un-distilled herbs and berries. Nucky, supplied the post distillery product during prohibition. His sometime associate was Al Capone.

Nucky was a wildly popular boss endowed with all of the attributes of a great politician.  He was charming, likable, a good speaker and did favors for everyone. If he had to run for office I am sure he would have won no matter how many votes he got. He did some time  but it was only for tax evasion.

When it came to development, he did not need to consult with neighbours. Responsibility for consultation was divided between the elected commissioners who consulted and Nucky who made the decisions. If the decision was too unpopular Nucky could blame the commissioners and reverse it. Actually, the un-elected boss was probably more in touch with the Republican voters then any elected commissioner. This was a lot like the system under Napoleon where they had a bicameral legislature. One house could debate but not vote and the other could vote but not debate. Government must appear democratic above all else.

The classic Monopoly board is based on the street system of Atlantic City. The inventor lived near us in Marvin Gardens. Park Place was the most expensive property on the  board and was Atlantic City's equivalent to Vancouver's Shaughnessy area. Its density increased with many suites being added. Gradually it became a run down boarding house area.

Another thing about the streets in Atlantic City is that they had an astounding number of traffic lights per intersection.  On some dead ends, there would be three or four traffic lights.  That is because the traffic light dealers were amazingly proficient at selling the city more traffic lights than they had streets. 

Some said that this was another example of corruption. That is a pretty cynical view. I could see why this might have been accidental. It could happen for example if the planners who planned the streets did not tell the engineers who bought the lights how many streets there were. They had to predict the number of streets like the weather.

Here is another comparison. Vancouver has superb hospitals!

Atlantic City had a lousy hospital.   My father said in the 40's that if only the schools and hospitals could learn to be as corrupt as the Atlantic City engineers, planners and commissioners, maybe they could have installed a few extra doctors and teachers instead of traffic lights. 

Nucky Johnson  was a true civic booster. Vancouver's goal today is to be the Greenest City in the World. Nucky dreamed that his Boardwalk Empire would be known as The World's Playground." The slogan was deeply embedded in our psyche.  That is not the only place it was embedded. They  used to sell underwear on the Boardwalk with that slogan emblazoned across the front. 

The slogan on underwear is a nice idea for Vancouver. Our old nuclear free zone slogan would work but one based on Greenest  would require further thought.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Should Cities be able to sell zoning?  I am not speaking of fees charged by Cities to pay for the cost of the application or development cost charges paid for the burdens created by developments.  I refer to a deal whereby politicians on Council decide to change zoning in consideration of a payment to City Hall either that they have demanded from a land owner,  or that has been voluntarily paid to them by one owner for the right to violate the existing zoning bylaw.

The Courts have held that unless the Provincial Government expressly empowers them to do so Cities cannot sell zoning. 

The reason gets down to simple morality.  Zoning bylaws are the rules by which a community agrees to live. They are a neighborhood pact.  Zoning seeks to minimize the adverse impacts of various land uses on each other.  The zoning paradigm may shift from time to time.  The public may decide that environmental rather than aesthetic considerations are paramount.  Whatever the rules,  people are to be treated equally within a zone. 

Payment for zoning is morally corrupt not because politicians are pocketing any money,  but because it treats people who are in the same zone unequally based on their ability to buy their way out.  It places burdens on those who relied on the zoning in exchange for money paid to the City. 

The City of Vancouver is hooked on selling zoning.  It does it all the time.  As a  condition of the rezoning, it demands cash or amenity contributions.  The cash  can be used off site.  It is explained on Vancouver’s Web page:

It is allowed under the Vancouver Charter. It is also perverse.

Consider the West End for example.  The City spot zones land first.  That is it exempts the developer from the rules upon which the other existing renters or condo purchasers in the area have relied.  The City knows that there will be an increase in the value of the land if the density increases or if special uses are allowed.  Therefore, it keeps for itself  the value of most of the lift as an amenity contribution.  The Developer keeps the rest.

The City does the accounting and it is not easy to find where the money really goes.  Let’s  assume for now  that it puts all of the money in a new West End theatre.  The people who are really paying for it are the ones who are adversely affected by the change of zoning. They are the ones whose values drop as a result of their blocked views or increased traffic or shortage of parking spaces.

Low density areas face exactly the same problem.  Most neighborhood  plans and zoning call for development on arterials.  That is where it should be for planning reasons.  The Catch 22 is that if the arterials are already zoned for commercial or high density use the City cannot extract more money for the charges.  

It is in the interest of developers and the city to accumulate land in the low density areas.  (Who pays retail when you can buy wholesale?) They can do this by the familiar method of block busting.  They  acquire options at an option price that makes the owner want to leave the neighborhood.  Instead of paying retail for the already zoned higher density land, they pay a little over the lower single family value.  Then, when the land is accumulated, they can ask for a spot zoning of increased density.  The City gets most of the lift in value and the developer gets the rest. 

As to the neighbours, the familiar maxim applies:  If you want fairness go to a whorehouse, if you want to get fucked go to City Hall.

So where does this leave us?  Residents of the West End can be expected to go to City Hall and beg them to respect the existing Official Community Plan and Zoning bylaw.  Isn’t that glorious!   If past is prologue, the land will be rezoned no matter what they say.

A modest proposal that respects Equality Rights

So what to do?    Residents could of course occupy City Hall. All the world hates a whiner though so I have a more practical solution that doesn’t involve trespass.  The West End Enders should hold a series of bake sales, concerts and other fund raising events.  They should raise enough money to at least get an auction going with the developers to buy off the Council.  They would figure out how much the lift in value for the spot zoning will be, determine how much of that will go to the City,  and then offer the City money to simply leave them alone. The City would get paid either way.  Now, the City might say that they already get higher taxes from the rezoning,  so they should get even more money from the residents.  The beauty part is that under my proposal everything goes.

There are still moral objections to this approach but, happily, neither City Hall nor the developers are in any position to raise them.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


The Simon Fraser Centre for Dialogue, as part of its Carbon Talks project, has produced a document called “Density in a City of Neighborhoods”. The Primary author is former NPA City Councilor, Gordon Price.

Density is made possible because of cycling. Price sees cycling as a means of displacing carbon producing cars. Everyone can bike 10 km from their homes. If they live in a dense urban area they don't really need to go much further. Plumbing tools or cellos strapped to the back fender, Joe the Plumber or Yo Yo Ma can all pedal to work.

Much of the paper seems to be an attempt to provide  the ontological proof that the perfect dense city exists. We must all get with the program.

If you would rather hear about Parmenedes click above

Price follows in the footsteps of the Philosopher, Parmenedes, who invented  reality. If  Parmenedes had written the paper it would have gone like this: (A) One can imagine the perfectly dense City. (B) Now try to imagine that it doesn't exist. (C) But, if it does not exist then it wouldn't be perfect. Right? (D) Therefore, the perfect, high density city, Vancouver,  exists. That is the ontological argument.  If Vancouver is not quite perfectly dense it is because residents don't fully understand that what is good for the development industry is good for them and the rest of the country.   Price doesn't put it exactly this way but its close enough.

 If Parmenedes discovered Reality, Price transcends it. He says, at one point  “Beyond the downtown pensinsula, however new forms of density were rarely greeted with enthusiasm.”  and “Rarely in the past does a stable neighborhood embrace a fundamental change in its character.  In the past it was imposed, as happened in the 1950's.” (underlining added)

We have to embrace density and fundamental change if we are to live up to Gordon's expectations.

No individual or neighborhood is likely to embrace a fundamental change in their character, unless they are serving time. In that case the change is insincere. Price is really saying that stable neighborhoods should have no choice but to embrace fundamental  change by densification. That's how it was done four score and seven years ago. As long as it is prescribed by those who know what is best that is what must happen. Implicitly to deny density is to deny climate change which in turn results in the loss of species including barn owls and frogs and causes the retreat of glaciers all of which leads to disappointment. 

The good news is that we have been embracing change for our entire history. We do not have much of a choice.

In stable neighborhoods where there has been no proper planning process, forced change will lead to trouble. The rezoning of the Marathon lands by the CPR at 25th and Arbutus Street brought 1200 people to a public hearing.   Mayor Tom Campbell opened the hearing,  scanned the crowd and said cheerfully, “It’s a sell out!” 

Pediatric Surgeon David Hardwick, an accomplished heckler, from the back of the auditorium shouted, “Tom, it was a sell out before the hearing.”  That rezoning went ahead but the NPA paid a price. It was turfed in the next election. There was a feeling that Council was lint in the pockets of developers.  

Substantial increases in density are likely to be accepted under two circumstances. The first is where the increase is pursuant to a plan that the public prepared in their own neighborhood with the assistance of a City Planner.  Almost all neighborhoods that participated in City Plan, an initiative of the Vancouver's Planning Department in the 90's accepted increased density. The Dunbar Plan was quite specific and called for it to be on arterials and assume certain forms. The West End willingly accepted increases in density in the 70s under a local area planning process that took two years to complete. That plan also added parks to intersections and generally reduced traffic.

Other neighborhoods like Fairview Slopes accepted more housing because they had been in transition for a while. They had been bought up by speculators and absentee landlords.  I remember in the 70s when Fairview slopes was  rezoned upwards  to facilitate  as it turned out, the construction of  leaky condos.   I was in the Social Planning department and attended the public hearing. We expected opposition. Someone stood up in  the audience and said to council; "We all know why we are here--- lets get on with it." There was virtually no opposition.  It was rezoned. Upwards.

Price says “by mid-decade as part of a strategy called Eco Density reinforcing the environmental connections with the compact city- Vancouver aimed for density that was invisible, hidden or gentle, while still meeting the challenge of growth and environment. Hence the legalization of secondary suites across the city and the introduction of lane houses, encouragement of housing along arterials and frequent transit routes.

New speak, the term introduced by George Orwell in his novel,  1984, refers to the practice of giving words new but opposite meanings.    War is Peace, Love is Hate etc. Terms like “hidden” or “gentle” density are  new speak. The intention is to associate density with something with which it is unrelated. Newspeak  destroys language.  Laneway houses reduce the amount of landscaping and open space by 50%.    "Gentle Density"  is plan-ese for doubling the site coverage of an area. There is nothing gentle about it. The developer of an apartment building will have to supply certain amenities and pay development cost charges. The developer of a laneway house will not. 

Gentle-fication is happening to much of the City. Owners are being taxed out of their houses. Housing stock is replaced with mega houses.  There are many investor owned vacant houses. Eventually they will become apartments. Newly renovated houses are being demolished.  Gordon Price is one of the drum majors.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


There is an ancient expression monks in certain religious orders use  to describe the situation where multiple things go wrong.  The origin dates back to medieval times when  flocks of geese invaded  the  peaceful cloisters of the monasteries. The incessant honking disturbed vespers.  Gregorian Chants were disrupted. 

The monks called the birds a Cloister Flock.  

Today it is used to describe a chaotic situation or event where an excessive number of people are trying to accomplish a task in a complex environment.

Incidentally, in the South of France the sound of the Geese flustering the monks is called a “Fluster Cluck.”

The public gets Cloister Flocked all the time by local governments. Over the next couple of days I intend to warn you of  some of them. Let us begin with a hypothetical.

Suppose you are carefully riding your bike down a separated bike lane in Vancouver. You are wearing your helmit and are generally slathered in protective gear and moisturizers. You arrive at an intersection and come to a complete stop. Then as you proceed to pedal across the street you are hit by a car driven by a City bicycle planner travelling in the course of his employment .  Happily you are not badly hurt. You thank him for the City’s  various good works and you pedal off.

Your friend who is 10 minutes behind you arrives at the same intersection and he too is hit by a car. This car is driven by a car dealer. He hops out of his car. Unlike the City employee he is not a caring person.  He hands you his card.  He says insensitive, hurtful things about you, your bike and the environment and drives off.

You and your friend compare notes and find it curious that you had identical accidents and injuries and are grateful that you were not badly hurt.  Still you are both limping.

Three months go by and you both notice that your knees are starting to seize up.  By the 5th month you can hardly pedal. Only your sense of righteousness keeps you going. You both have a medical checkup and both of you learn that you have  suffered permanent identical disabilities.

You both decide to sue. You take the agonizing trip by bike, downtown to your lawyer's office. The  way things are going you both figure that you will receive the same damages award.   


No way.  Your friend who was hit by the car dealer will get thousands of dollars from ICBC.  You, however, having been hit by the nice City car driver will get nothing.  

You have been Cloister Flocked.

The result has nothing to do with the fact that the City driver was charming and had a socially responsible job.  Neither did the fact that the car dealer was a complete prick. I added those things to show the importance of careful analysis. That is why the legal system is so expensive and rightly so.

You are Fluster Clucked because  of section 294 of the Vancouver Charter. That section says in part (2) The city is in no case liable for damages unless notice in writing, setting forth the time, place, and manner in which such damage has been sustained, shall be left and filed with the City Clerk within two months from and after the date on which such damage was sustained; (Similar provisions apply right across Canada and the United States.)

The City lawyers raise this defence. Your lawyers tell the City lawyers that you did not decide to sue until you figured that things would not get any worse. They say to your lawyer, "Where did you get your law degree --- Canadian Tire?"

Your lawyer tells you to go to court. You take his advice. You lose. You have to pay your lawyers and the City lawyer. 

It is all part of the Cloister Flock.  You have been Fluster Clucked. By comparison your friend has been lucky.

So if you suffer damages from the City remember that you face a 60 day limitation period. The law discriminates between victims of Cities and Victims of everyone else.  It is possible but not easy to get around it.  If  you are hit by a car dealer, you have plenty of time. Get a lawyer and sue him or her. 

(Incidentally, if you are a real estate agent and the City gives you wrong zoning information the same principles apply. )

Send the City a letter telling them the whole story. Even if you don't think you have been hurt you might still get lucky.  Send the letter.  Lawyers call this showing an abundance of caution. (Latin abundantia caute) If you ultimately decide that you have been made a better person by the accident and have grown from the experience you do not have to sue. 

If you change your mind you will have two years to sue and watch them twitch under cross examination.  After judgement and after paying your lawyer I would urge you to give the money to the Engineering department to install some new safety devices at intersections.  You can even demand that as part of any settlement.

Friday, 1 June 2012


Last summer while excavating for a sewer line, Vancouver City workers came across a big rock.  It was not just your everyday rock, but a very big, fully developed boulder. 

It was temporarily deposited in front of the Dunbar library. 

Dunbar is a neighborhood suffering under a burden of enormously high property values. At a time when houses are being demolished and flipped we found solace in this stolid visitor from underground. It was not going anywhere. People said things like, " Hey, look at that craggy rock!" 

The neighborhood historian went on line and got things moving:

The city crews working on Dunbar have uncovered a very large and very special Dunbar Aratic Rock and you can see it near the Library!  It was a rock that was in a glacier that covered Dunbar about 14 thousand years ago and when the Glacier melted, it parked itself on Dunbar’s doorstep and was covered with melt water rock, gravel and sand until it was discovered by the city crew about 2 weeks ago!  Yes, it is a part of Dunbar’s geological history; it is unique for it looks like it is of the very hard granite type that came from the Coast Mountains Range or even farther afield!  I think it could be ours, if we ask the city for it, but do we have a place to display it!  It is a great attention getter for visiting tourists etc., its home since riding on the Glacier and rolling off to its present Dunbar home, do we want it is the question and again where do we put it if we get it!  Got any ideas?  
Thucydides could have said it shorter but not better.

As with the current debate over what to do with our viaducts, a great online discussion took place.  Many were deeply suspicious that the engineers might  grind it up with their infernal machines. The pebbles would then be spread on non native, incorrect species like rabbits and raspberry bushes .

I wanted to give it to the State of Massachusetts to replace Plymouth Rock.  That Old Rock  is worn down from Pilgrims stepping on it and our rock, having serenely reposed next to a sewer easement for eons is none the worse for wear.  It would be Dunbar's gift to Plymouth just as the Statue of Liberty was France's gift to New York.

Another idea was to honour Vancouver Council by placing it on them.

Happily the Rock was moved to our own Memorial Park.  The event has been preserved for the ages on YouTube:

Around the same time, a story appeared in the newspaper.  Canada was ranked the second happiest country in the world, after Denmark.  (Denmark has more bike lanes.) A country that loves ordinary rocks and stones found in sewer easements must also love the universe and for sure is very happy.