Friday, 28 September 2012


I am writing from France where the popular inclination is to assume that all governments are corrupt and should be on the receiving end of paving stones. Canada in contrast escaped a revolution. Whether revolutions build character or cost to much might be a lively topic for debate.It is a discussion that has become academic regarding the Vancouver planning revolution.

Vancouver's Housing Affordability Report is to be considered by Council shortly. It is the most recent step in a revolution won by the right. Don't think for a minute that because the City is extending all of its citizens the freedom to put their food scraps in their garden waste bins, that the left is in control. Both local government parties in Vancouver are owned by the real estate industry. For Councillors from either party  to deny this  would be like Jonah trying to deny that he has been swallowed by a whale.

I have been trying to keep up with what is going on outside of France by Kindle subscriptions to the Herald Tribune and Reuters. Vancouver has not made it to those publications. Can you believe that  even the French press didn't notice what we are doing with our food scraps or how we are screwing up our city so that it is more like those in the United States. 

Yesterday, I  downloaded the Vancouver Sun and there it was: The Housing Affordability Report.

I got the whole thing from the City's web site. The first recommendation of the City Manager is that Council should immediately implement the Committee's action plan by spot zoning large chunks of the residential areas of the City.

The recommendation will certainly be approved. Council, accordingly, will first adopt a policy (not a bylaw) to allow it to ram through spot zonings that meet certain criteria. For example, all houses within 1.5 blocks or 100 metres of an arterial could ultimately be spot zoned to allow 3.5 storey townhouses, row-houses and other forms of multiple housing.

Not that it matters much, but this first step of adopting the policy  might offend a few principles of Municipal Law. Zoning can only be done by bylaws and not by resolutions or policies of Council. (The proper method is to hold a public hearing and adopt an Official Development Plan.) The legal issue will be whether, by adapting a policy to rezone in advance of an application to rezone, the Council has evaded statutory requirements. Has it revealed such a degree of bias as to be unable to equitably deal with the rezoning?

The next step in the procedure would be for developers to buy up parcels that the City is promising them they will rezone on demand,- namely 1.5 blocks on either side of arterials. Prices will rise in those areas. This will certainly please those who feel that present prices are too low and that the demolition rate of elegant homes with reasonably priced suites is not high enough.

In the New Speak of the report, raising prices and demolishing existing rental suites is called “creating affordability.”

Having bought the properties, the developers will apply for the promised increased density. That will trigger the requirement of a public hearing and a rezoning. Does anyone seriously believe that each Councillor who, by voting for the policy,  and who thereby will have encouraged the developers to buy will honestly listen to both sides at the hearing? How could they when they have already voted to rezone lands meeting the policy criteria?

After 20 rezonings are processed, staff would evaluate their proud achievements. What's to evaluate? Whether the buildings remain attached to the ground? Whether they produce shadows? 

What (or more properly WTF) do they think will happen?

Local Government is supposed to be the level that is  closest to the people. Not any more. This report was the product of a group of mostly unelected developers and others with an interest in the process or the outcome.

The emailed effluent from the Mayor's PR machine nevertheless remains hilarious. Last week he did composting of food scraps,

Dear Dominique , With your support, ideas and activism, Vision Vancouver has always worked tirelessly to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world...This week our team at City Hall took another important step toward meeting those Greenest City goals, by  delivering on our major campaign pledge to launch a city wide expansion of Vancouver's food scraps composting program.  Starting immediately all Vancouver residents who live in a house or duplex, over 90,000 homes- can add all food scraps along with yard waste to their green bin.  Its a promise that we're proud to be keeping and a major step to reduce waste in homes across the city. Will you help share the news?

If only Marie (Let 'em eat cake) Antoinette had come up with that there might not have been a French Revolution.

I will have more to say about the report if it doesn't give me writers cramp.


  1. Great post Jonathan - thank you. Councillor Meggs was noted in an article on this as indicating that the public would have their chance to speak on the rezonings. He did not however indicate that anyone would be listening.

    With regard to the food scraps issue and this wording:

    "This week our team at City Hall took another important step toward meeting those Greenest City goals, by delivering on our major campaign pledge to launch a city wide expansion of Vancouver's food scraps composting program."

    It's shocking that no one has questioned the fact that Council will not even consider this item until the October 16th meeting...yet the Mayor (or is that Marie?) has already announced the new program?

  2. Interesting analysis Jonathan. How does telegraphing the intent to rezone create affordable housing? Yet another Vision Vancouver misconceived misadventure that will increase the cost of housing while trampling the rights of Vancouver citizens and contributing to a further erosion to Vancouver's quality of life.

    This is a Vision Vancouver "win, win, win"! The alternative of what their "lose, lose, lose" would be is really scary.

  3. Lived in Vancouver for a couple of years back a few decades ago. Never could understand the big deal about the "view". There must be at least a hundred places in BC and Alberta with similar or better mountain views. I suppose its about being cool and looking out your expensive condo window at the hills and contemplating your expensive weekend getaway at that other snob center Whistler (by the way I had to apply for Canadian instant lending service couple of times). Meanwhile downstairs your car is being ripped off and you have a two hour commute to get anywhere to work that could as easily be done someplace a lot less expensive and liveable. No thanks.

    1. Lisa

      Vancouver is a bit like Glochamora: The view returns when the clouds disappear... once every 100 years.