Vancouver City Councillor

The fight to “save” industrial land is really all about jobs, that forgotten priority of “city-building”

Suddenly, after months and years of obsessive coverage of Metro Vancouver’s red-hot housing market, we get two in-depth probes of the region’s dwindling industrial land base, that forgotten step-sister of the affordable housing debate, one with a Vancouver focus, by The  Tyee’s Christopher Cheung, and a regional take by Frances Bula in The Globe.

The “industrial land” debate is really about jobs. If you don’t have stable, well-paying jobs in your city the future will be bleak. But the jobs issue is always the forgotten priority of “city-building.”

Metro Vancouver has seen much of its industrial land base move to residential development in the last 50 years. (All of False Creek, for example, was heavy industry until after the Second World War.)

Yet “industrial” lands that formerly housed machine shops, saw mills or manufacturing can still be very intensive job producers in the modern economy, as Cheung notes. The lands between City Hall and Second Ave., a low-rise industrial neighbourhood where the city has broadened permitted job uses and allowed slightly more density, is seeing strong growth  on an existing base of 8,000 light industrial, commercial and office jobs.

A moratorium on condominium development in the Central Business District has seen seven new office towers committed or under construction, enough to ensure that area and the Broadway Corridor remain the heart of the province’s financial sector for a long time to come.

As Michael Geller notes in Bula’s piece, the new Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy goes a long way to locking in the remaining industrial land for the long-term.

But remaining job pressures come from two directions. On the one hand, Port Metro Vancouver is acquiring all the land it can, including agricultural land, for future port expansion. This activity supports jobs, all right, but mostly in other parts of Canada and the world. Metro Vancouver has recently begun studying options like inland terminals to help relieve that pressure.

The other pressure comes from owners of former industrial properties — think St. Paul’s Hospital, moving to the False Creek Flats, or the former Canada Post building on Georgia — who believe some residential in a mixed-use project makes for a better development and improved financial outcomes. Those are the tougher calls that Metro and city council will be called upon to make in the future.

August 3, 2015 Bookmark and Share

Success of Compass rollout on West Coast Express suggests new program is finding its feet

In the welter of unhappy news from Translink, there are welcome reports of a very successful rollout of the Compass Card on the West Coast Express.

Although a relatively simple proposition, given the nature of the commuter rail service, the confirmation that Compass was fully operational on the WCE is good news both for Translink executives — if any are left — and Cubic, the Compass supplier, which has implemented much larger systems in other cities.

Implementation of the Compass program, delayed for many months by policy issues at Translink, is now under way in earnest, with U-Pass users joining the system this fall. After that, the rest of us regular riders should be a straightforward proposition.

July 29, 2015 Bookmark and Share

A rent increase tsunami? Not because of Vancouver’s rental protection rules

According to rental market real estate experts David and Mark Goodman, the only things standing between Vancouver tenants and a rental wonderland of affordable new housing are Vancouver’s rental replacement bylaws that protect the city’s stock of older rental housing. They’re wrong.

These rules, originally implemented by the NPA and continued by subsequent councils, were designed to ensure a rental unit was replaced by another rental unit whenever new construction was proposed. (The current council is awaiting staff recommendations to further tighten this protection.)

These bylaws are doing a good job of protecting the city’s older rental stock from destruction. If you want to see the alternative, look no further than Burnaby, where condominium towers are mowing down older rental around Metrotown.

The city’s invaluable older rental stock, where most lower cost units are located, is further protected by community and city zoning rules.

But the Goodmans, pointing to big 20 percent rent increases when units are vacated by current tenants, say shortage of new rental is building a potential rent increase tsunami that can only be resolved by replacing existing rental with much larger new rental buildings. They’re furious at the claim a rental building has been rejected by the city that would have replaced 16 units with 80. [Read more →]

July 28, 2015 Bookmark and Share

Lessons from the smoke: how sockeye have sounded the climate change alarm

Through the smoke and flame there’s bad news on many fronts today about British Columbia’s sockeye runs, our own province’s magnificent counterpart to the plains buffalo or the massive herds of the Serengeti.

Not least of the threats: rising water temperatures which can trigger exhaustion and death in migrating salmon, driving down spawning success. Then there’s rising acidification of the ocean as it soaks up carbon dioxide, as well as the microparticles of plastic that are concentrating in the food chain.

According to new BC research, rising water temperatures could depress the sockeye runs by more than 20 percent, forcing a dramatic rise in retail prices. This is absolutely the wrong way to improve prices to fishermen. There is no silver lining here and such major declines may make sockeye harvesting a thing of the past in most of the province.

It was always likely that sockeye would sound the climate change alarm. Scientists have long known that the runs are at the extreme end of their range along the 49th Parallel and even minor climatic changes could have a dramatic impact.

But weather is not the only challenge. Bristol Bay sockeye, which return to cold Bering Sea rivers still free of industrial activity, appear to be having their own problems this year, returning at much below forecast levels. This suggests problems in the wider ocean ecosystem.

Just five years ago, the 2010 sockeye salmon run defied conventional wisdom and came storming back with a run of nearly 30 million fish, far above the two million recorded just a few years before. That 2010 run produced another solid 2014 return of more than 20 million fish, enough to meet First Nations requirements and leave plenty for harvest, processing and export.

All our salmon runs have the potential to be great again.

With the city’s skies grey with smoke, much of it generated by deadwood in forests already scarred by mountain pine beetle, the reality of climate change is no longer in doubt. If only we could say the same for the provincial and federal government’s willingness to confront that reality.


July 6, 2015 Bookmark and Share