There’s no way to sugar coat what has been happening in the City of Richmond with the majority of their elected council.
Council members have been complicit in ponying up with the “get rich quick” segment of farmland owners who know their land would be worth more if it was not, well, agricultural.
Jack Trovato, who is running for council with the Richmond Citizens’ Association, is now calling for a change to the rules of the game, one that would pull down one of the curtains hiding any actual conflicts of interest.
Recently, Richmond City Council – with Mayor Brodie, Councillor Day, and Councillor Steves opposed – voted to allow scandalously large houses on farmland, thereby facilitating speculators who seek to take advantage of our farmland at the expense of our local food security. The beneficiaries of this bylaw also contribute to the election campaign accounts of the councillors who voted for speculator–friendly farmland luxury estates.
Some of our councillors are property developers, or have close ties with property developers, speculators, real estate companies, and wealthy landowners. The results have been damaging and devastating to each of us in the community… These repercussions are far-reaching and impact each of us to some degree. They compromise the integrity of our community and make our once-beloved homes a burden due to increased costs and uncertainties.
The Community Charter, which falls under the auspices of the BC provincial government, regulates the City of Richmond; therefore, we will petition the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to request that the BC government amend the Conflict of Interest Rules and implements a Lobbyist Registry in each municipal jurisdiction.
Amending the rules would ensure that Councillors disclose business interests, and be subject to oversight of an independent officer. A lobbyist registry would also be created for lobbyists to declare details of their activities on an accessible on-line registry.
As Trovato asserts, vast tracts of land in Richmond are collectively in the common interest, and not just to Richmond residents. ALR land is Class 1 agricultural soil, the best in Canada, birthed over thousands of years from alluvial deposits of the Fraser River.
It was supposed to be protected by Agricultural Land Reserve legislation, introduced in 1973 by the Province of British Columbia, and designed to keep farmland in agricultural use. The intent of the legislation was to keep farmland affordable to farmer and to actually produce farm crops on that land.
Despite the guidelines produced by the province to ensure that the maximum house size on protected farmlands be 5,382 square feet, the current council majority in the City of Richmond approved mansions of over 10,700 square feet to be built, with a “smaller” house for “the help” of 3,200 square feet on larger lots.
This approval came despite the fact Richmond city staff recommended 5,382 square feet, the maximum established in the ALR.
This has resulted in a plethora of gated off-shore owned private estates on farmland, where owners, often in numbered companies use tax loopholes to pay no foreign buyers’ tax, and to pay lower farmland property tax, garnering millions of dollars in land lift when the former farmland becomes Beverly Hills like estates.
As Trovato concludes, this must stop, and if it takes new rules to enforce actual provincial legislation that is in the public’s best interests, then so be it.
Ultimately, we must remind our elected officials that their job is to serve our interests and not the special interests of their family, friends or donors. The solution is clear – we must demand transparency and uphold the suggestions set forth above. We must come together as a community and bring a new level of integrity to our beautiful city.