Vancouver City Councillor

An outside expert’s opinion: the next “transit” debate must really be a “transportation” debate

Jarrett Walker’s lengthy but very constructive reflection on the outcome of Metro’s tranportation and transit referendum has everything you would expect from an expert with such wide international experience and Translink-specific local knowledge: sound insights, calm conclusions and a clarion call for leadership.

That leadership, as Walker points out, needs to come from “state/provincial” levels, and seek “solutions instead of pointlessly stoking urban-suburban conflict.”

In Metro, that means Premier Christy Clark and Transportation Minister Todd Stone — who are planning billions dollars worth of new transit investments to build a new Massey Bridge, without a plebiscite on funding — need to step up and stop trying to punt to the mayors.

They’re the provincial leaders, right? When we will see leadership?

The transportation and transit investments in the Mayor’s Plan are not a whimsical wish list. They are a carefully-considered response to the real challenges of the region, including car-oriented suburbs. The Broadway Subway, already years overdue, is at the heart of that regional plan.

Victoria is collecting tolls on the Port Mann, plans to collect tolls on the Massey Bridge and doubtless will toll the rebuilt Pattullo. When will Victoria’s plans focus on transportation, in all its dimensions, not just the concerns of car commuters?

July 3, 2015 Bookmark and Share

Worried about organized crime links to dispensaries? Why not go further, investigate the whole drug business?

The City of Vancouver’s new marijuana dispensary bylaws have infuriated Vancouver Sun court reporter Ian Mulgrew because they allegedly ignore that “the money made from the low-hanging cannabis fruit pays for the soldiers and street dealers pushing other drugs.”

They are also “mischievous,” a blatant “cash grab” and “simply irresponsible.”

Worst of all, they do nothing to achieve the goal Mulgrew believes is critical: the end of prohibition and the legal, regulated sale of weed “to help the sick and stop the imprisonment of our kids.”

I agree with Mulgrew’s last point, of course, but can tell him straight out that no one on council is naive about the inevitable links between the criminal drug industry and the dispensary business. How could it be otherwise, when the industry is emerging from a chaotic, illegal underground existence?

I have asked VPD, both during private briefings and in the public hearing, whether or not the dispensary bylaws needed further refinement or strengthening to minimize criminal involvement. The answer was always “no.”

In fact, the oversight provisions of the bylaw arguably strengthen police ability to manage a problem that has emerged because of the complete collapse of the Conservatives’ so-called “war on drugs” in the face of Supreme Court rulings. That’s not the city’s fault and the bylaws are an effort, however imperfect, to provide a modicum of neighbourhood protection.

Veteran journalists like Mulgrew and Sun crime reporter Kim Bolan could perform a real service to everyone frustrated by the current state of affairs if they turned their considerable skills away from the symptoms of the drug trade — weekly shootings, gang warfare, lengthy trials, dispensaries — to the political economy of the business.

It is, after all, a widely-recognized major element of the BC economy, worth billions annually, which pays no taxes but must employ platoons of people, from lowly grow-op operatives to lawyers, accountants and logistics specialists.

Who owns the business? How is legalization in the United States affecting prices? What businesses are the focus of money-laundering? Who profits from the current state of affairs?

The power to shut down the trade — along with the political prominence to challenge national policy — lies in Victoria. Why not turn the rhetorical guns on the people who could make a real change, rather than municipal bylaws that seek to make the best of an absurd situation?

The drug trade is literally the elephant in the room when it comes to the BC economy, but many more reporters are assigned to cover the Vancouver Giants than what is arguably a much more significant story.

July 1, 2015 Bookmark and Share

Hamilton’s court challenge highlights problems posed by Canada Post’s cancellation of home delivery

Just as municipalities across Canada warned more than a year ago, Canada Post’s proposed cancellation of home delivery is causing plenty of problems in cities like Hamilton, which has launched a court challenge of the switch to community mail boxes.

According to Hamilton’s court filings, the new community boxes are sometimes inaccessible, have blocked a driveway and interfered with utilities. Then there are the lighting problems, safety issues and privacy concerns.

City manager Penny Ballem told council last month that Canada Post has not rolled out the program in Vancouver, but city staff have warned they are “not enthusiastic” about the idea and are urging  Canada Post to be “strategic and innovative.”

If Hamilton wins its case, Canada Post will not have a choice.

June 27, 2015 Bookmark and Share

Air BnB share of Vancouver’s rental market: 3,473 units and growing

Short-term renters had 3,473 Vancouver Air BnB listings to chose from June 1, up sharply from the 2,901 available in November, according to impressive new analysis of the “sharing economy” phenomenon in our city just released by SFU urban studies graduate student Karen Sawatsky.

These new numbers, carefully set out by Sawatsky here, are bound to trigger controversy on an issue that has raged for several years in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. A problem here? It’s difficult to be sure, but it seems likely these numbers are more than big enough to worsen vacancy rates, particularly for two and three-bedroom units.

Sawatsky had her suspicions, as outlined in the Tyee last year. Now she’s produced the facts to underline her concern.

June 22, 2015 Bookmark and Share