Vancouver City Councillor

BC Housing’s “transfer of assets” creating wave of concern in non-profit housing sector

BC Housing’s sudden announcement Oct. 3 that it will sell its leased land to non-profit organizations operating housing on its sites is causing a wave of concern in the affordable housing sector, particularly at two Vancouver locations already out for “expressions of interest.”

City manager Penny Ballem told council today the city has found a “paucity of information,” on the new program, despite learning that two important sites in the city — Stamp’s Landing in Strathcona and Nicholson Tower in the West End — are the subject of “request for expressions of interest” that have a November deadline.

That means these two valuable locations, each capable of significant redevelopment, face an uncertain future.

In response to questions I raised at the end of the council meeting, Ballem said city staff were working hard to pull together more information and any proposed city actions would be brought back before council.

In the meantime, the province is preparing to offer more than 300 non-profits across BC the chance to take over the leased land as “fee simple” property through a purchase made possible by a mortgage from BC Housing. [Read more →]

October 14, 2014 Bookmark and Share

The Pristine Coast traces salmon farming’s trail of broken promises, environmental threats

Given the relative abundance of BC’s wild salmon stocks in the 1970s, it was never clear why salmon farming should even be a consideration. We had annual wild salmon harvests worth hundreds of millions of dollars that employed thousands of people coastwide, exporting smoked, fresh, frozen and canned salmon around the world.

But salmon farming burst on this coast like a storm in the early 1980s, riding on promises of year-round production, massive job opportunities and an alternative to intensified fishing on weaker wild stocks. The farms, it was said, would expand the existing industry and the environmental risks? There weren’t any.

How wrong those forecasts were is carefully laid bare in Scott Renyard’s The Pristine Coast, a compelling documentary that premiered at VIFF and gained one of the largest festival audiences. As editor of The Fisherman, the newspaper of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, I covered those early years and was interviewed by Renyard for the film.

Renyard has pulled together remarkable footage, some of it 30 years old, from the earliest days of the industry, as well as the recollections of some pioneers. It’s all here: the massive fish kills, the successful battle by farmers’ to get access to wild chinook eggs, the disease outbreaks, the seabed pollution, the explosion of sea lice and much more.

Even more impressive is Renyard’s careful examination of how netpen aquaculture may be linked to depressed stocks in the fisheries of several oceans and the long-term consequences for the capacity of the marine environment to absorb carbon dioxide, an important factor in managing climate change.

It’s exciting, as a journalist, to ring the alarm about potential risks of new developments, but discouraging, years later, to see those threats come true. I had that feeling this morning as I saw Renyard’s film today for the first time, but found myself buoyed by the footage he also included of Alexandra Morton’s continued campaign to rein the industry in, a fight supported by thousands of British Columbians.


October 12, 2014 Bookmark and Share

Flawless rollout of Sydney’s new Opal transit card highlights delays on Translink’s Compass project

Sydney, Australia, overcame dire predictions of commuter chaos Aug. 31 with the flawless launch of its new Opal card system, a cousin of Tranlink’s long-awaited Compass card, which is being implemented by the same company. The complete launch came only nine months after the start of basic service.

It’s a stark contrast to the long-delayed rollout of the $197 million Compass card, now more than a year overdue. Translink officials have promised an update on the Compass program this month, but there doesn’t seem to be any chance that Translink will deliver on its 2013 vow to launch the program in 2014.

If Translink doesn’t announce a firm launch date, many commuters will want to know why not — not to mention the Translink Mayor’s Council, which now has two representatives on the Translink board.

Both Sydney and Translink are using systems developed by Cubic Transportation Systems.

Just a month after the Opal rollout, the main criticism is coming from seniors and students who are angry that the system has not delivered promised concession cares. Translink’s Compass fare system has been developed, but questions remain here about how it will work for students and special groups like the homeless.

September 28, 2014 Bookmark and Share

UBCM endorses Vancouver’s call, endorsed by BC Police Chiefs, for regulation of party buses

The Union of BC Municipalities annual convention voted Wednesday to endorse the call, first made earlier this year by Vancouver City Council, for regulation of party buses by the Passenger Transportation Board.

Since I made the proposal in January, after reading a moving story in the Vancouver Sun about the death of Maple Ridge teen Shannon Raymond, it has been endorsed by Maple Ridge Council, the Lower Mainland Local Government Association and the BC Police Chiefs. (A special VPD enforcement program this spring showed that the party bus sector remains a dangerous place, especially for young people.)

Now Raymond’s mother Julie, along with her sister Danielle, are scheduled to meet on the issue with Attorney General Suzanne Anton. Does this mean Victoria is ready to act? Let’s hope so.

(You can read my updated brief for elected officials here.)

September 27, 2014 Bookmark and Share