Governance & Politics
February 10, 2020

Bait and Switch~ Reliance Properties leaves 1188 Bidwell Street Returning Tenants with Few Options

Transparency is such an important quality and nothing is as vital when developers move existing established rental tenants out of buildings that they are refurbishing or redeveloping. The language of the Residential Tenancy Regulation indicates that

“The landlord may end the tenancy only for the reasons and only in the manner set out in the Residential Tenancy Act and the landlord must use the approved notice to end a tenancy form available from the Residential Tenancy office. The landlord and tenant may mutually agree in writing to end this tenancy agreement at any time.”

As Jen St. Den writes in BCTV News when Reliance Properties moved the tenants out of the twelve unit rental building at 1188 Bidwell Street and redeveloped a  20 storey 108 unit apartment building on the site, those existing tenants that wanted to stay thought they could return to that building at their old agreed upon rents and signed an agreement to vacate the old building. Their assumption was that after a two year time period that had been agreed to by the developer and the City, that rent increases for those returning tenants would only be the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for British Columbia, as stated in the Residential Tenancy Regulation.

Wrong.

Instead Reliance Properties trotted out “new” leases that brought the returning tenants’ rents up to “market rental levels” of   $2,350 a month for a one bedroom, and then offered those returning tenants a “rebate” to their old pre-development rent for two years. After that, the rent mushroomed up to the “new” rent, plus the percentage annual  increase in the CPI.

You can take a look at the agreement entered into between Reliance Properties and the City of Vancouver regarding the return of the existing tenants to the newly developed 1188 Bidwell that resulted in this ambiguity. This was approved by the Development Permit Board. It  states:

“That returning Eligible Tenants will be entitled to rent with a discount of 20% off starting rents. That discounted Starting Rents are applicable only to Eligible Tenants who exercise their right of first refusal and occupy a unit in the new development.”

Now there is a case of who said what, and exactly what a “starting rent” would be. There is  finger pointing from the City to the developer over the lack of clarity over correct lease execution,where it appears that the City’s intent was to allow the few returning tenants back in the building at their “old” rents, subject to annual adjustment.

In the end, it is the tenant who is left holding the bag, without enough disposable income  to continue living in the building. Those tenants feel bamboozled, and Reliance Properties whose website states “The company focuses on developing long-term tenant relationships and today, many Reliance tenants have been with the firm for over thirty years”  has developed a horrifying precedent. Clearly the City will need to spell out exact terms in future redevelopments.

 

There’s still time for Reliance to do the right thing and give this small handful of tenants the understood rent that they and the City believed was negotiated.

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The Province of British Columbia has started rolling out their first tickets for the Intersection Safety Camera (ISC)  Program announced last year. That means  7,353 motorists have received letters indicating that they are being fined for speeding through one of the 15 of 35 red light intersections equipped with special cameras capturing speeding drivers.

As Dan Fumano in the Vancouver Sun observes that compares with “police throughout B.C. issued a monthly average of 16,414 speed-related violation tickets in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available).”  Managing speed by automation is an accepted trend and works well in Europe, where steep fines keep drivers to posted speeds.

Of course those receiving speeding tickets will be outraged, and there will be hand ringing going on as lawyers test the legalities of the process. But look at the statistics the Province has produced~60 percent of all crashes happen at intersections. At the locations where the cameras have been located an average of 10,500 vehicles annually travel 30 km/h an hour over the posted speed limit in those intersections. Each of the chosen intersections  have an average of 84 crashes a year. That’s one crash every four days, or seven crashes a month per intersection.

The intersections for cameras were specifically chosen by the type of crash, the severity, and frequency. There’s been lots of notice about the cameras  in media, and online on the ICBC and Province’s Public Safety and Solicitor General’s website. The links even contain maps showing which cameras are activated for speed.

The statistics are sobering. In the summer of 2019 the highest speeding ticket issued was for a vehicle travelling 174 km/hr in an 80 km/h zone. In the fall of 2019 the highest speeding ticket given was for a vehicle travelling 154 km/hr in an 80 km/hr zone. In both cases this speed is close to double that of the posted speed. This occurred despite the fact that each intersection in the camera program has large signs posted indicating that speed cameras are in operation.

Currently Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec are the other provinces with automated speed enforcement, and Quebec has statistics that show their program works. In Quebec there has been a 13.3 km/h reduction in average speed at camera intersections, and a 15 to 42 percent reduction in crashes at “mobile and fixed speed” locations.

The speeding ticket goes to the owner of the vehicle, not the driver at the time of operation, and those ignoring the ticket will be personally served with the ticket at their home address. And this is no cash grab~the Province is moving all the net revenue from the program to municipalities that have policing budgets, with the stipulation that the funds “support community safety and address local policing priorities”.

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Here’s the spoiler: you would think that City of  Vancouver proclamations would be based upon the approved criteria as listed on the City’s website and are then vetted through an approval process and then presented to Council.

Wrong.

It was the CBC’s municipal roving reporter, Justin McElroy who along with the Breaker News  started to see that Vancouver’s proclamations were a little funky. On his twitter feed Justin noted that under Mayor Robertson there had been a  “St. George’s Rowing Day”, “The Rock Proc for Dwayne the Rock Johnson Day”,  “The Elite Canadian Champion Wrestling Day” and the ‘International Clash (the UK Band) Day”.

Surprisingly work done by Bob Mackin with the Breaker uncovered  a proclamation for Mayor Robertson’s girlfriend on her birthday, and another proclamation for the  mother of Mayor Robertson’s chief of staff on her birthday.

I was curious why the City of Vancouver would not recognize Pat Davis and her son John Junior for the remarkable multi-decade  legacy they have left the city with their streetscape on the 100 block of West Tenth Avenue and the stewardship of Mount Pleasant. What I found is that the approval process for City of Vancouver proclamations is not a transparent process, but are approved by the Mayor’s own political staff~and the Mayor. There’s no Council involvement for background or references.

The mayoral staff are the hardworking people that are hired directly by the mayor and usually leave with the mayor as he/she go onto other political jobs. Extraordinary people like Laurie Rix, Janet Fraser and Muriel Honey have held those positions.

While you fill out the proclamation here  the proclamation then goes into a political decision making process in the Mayor’s office and is not referred back to Council. The criteria that is used to decide who gets a proclamation is also not publicly available. Other journalists have had challenges even getting a list of all the approved proclamations from the City of Vancouver despite having  a Freedom of Information request. There is apparently no list.

Take a look at the City of Burnaby’s criteria for a proclamation. They are more transparent in their process and even list what proclamations have been approved for the last two years.

 

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I have been writing about Nita (Pat) Davis and her son John Davis junior, who after the death of John Davis Senior continued to work on the remarkable landscape of  houses in the 100 block of West 10th Avenue. John Senior and Pat bought a worn out Edwardian or Victorian to fix up in 1973 on what was then a run down street with discontinuous sidewalk.

That  first house, 166 West 10th , became the first structure in Vancouver to obtain heritage status. As Rafferty Baker wrote in an article for the CBC“the plaque next to the front door has a small number one marked in the corner”.

John Senior died in the early 1980’s and Pat and her son John Junior continued his vision of learning about and renovating these houses, researching paint colours, and bringing the houses back to an active life with several rental units in each one. It was the rental units and John’s custodial services at other apartment buildings that allowed the family to continue rehabilitating these houses, at a time when the RM-4 land use zoning in place easily allowed for the construction of three storey walk up apartments. They were the outliers of the 1980’s and 1990’s, and it was not until this century that they were perceived as early adapters to the reuse and revitalization of existing buildings. Over four decades the Davis Family restored eight houses, all heritage designated to ensure that they would continue existing as a lifetime legacy in this city.

Pat Davis and her son John are quiet people, and surprisingly their legacy has never been acknowledged at the City of Vancouver, despite the fact that nationally Heritage  Canada has given the Davis Family an award for the preservation of the historic streetscape. They were innovators as well, with the first coach house which became a model for the coach houses now allowed in the neighbourhood, and their work became the foundation of the RT-6 zoning in place in the area. This zoning allows for the main house with heritage merit to be maintained and developed into apartments, with a coach house on the back of the laneway. John Davis Junior was also involved in the public process  of the heritage style lighting that went on Tenth Avenue, the maintenance of the road surfacing, and public realm. Their involvement with the first Mount Pleasant Traffic Plan resulted in the City turfing out  the engineer prepared scheme and going with that suggested by the community. That has been successfully implemented for over 15 years with only minor adjustments.

The way the Davis Family maintained the public realm around their block became the basis for the Mount Pleasant Linear Walkway, a streetscape plan to install sidewalk that was missing throughout Mount Pleasant, along with corner street bulges, landscaping, lighting and interpretation. In the 1990’s the area was extremely rundown with absentee landlords that would not approve streetscape improvements through the normal Local Improvements Program. Working with City Engineer Susan Clift, we devised a plan to provide continuous walking surfaces throughout the area, with landscaped areas and shortened crossing distances. By assessing the entire neighbourhood for the improvements, costs for the average lot were $15.00 a year added onto the tax bill.  The plan was approved by the community, and an area that had poor walkability was finally completely connected with sidewalks and street crossings.

With the passing of Pat Davis, it seems fitting for the City of Vancouver to recognize the work of the Davis Family in maintaining this heritage block of rental housing with the lush streetscape and public realm they carefully curated for the neighbourhood.

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In the very good news department,  Sadhu Johnston the City Manager of the City of Vancouver has announced the new City Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services. That individual  is Lon LaClaire, who has been Director of Transportation in Vancouver since 2015.

Lon is taking over the position vacated by Jerry Dobrovolny who is now the Chief Administrative Officer of Metro Vancouver.

For people that have worked with Lon, he is extremely forthright and has a collaborative approach to working across civic departments and within communities. He’s a proponent of active transportation and was part of the team that so successfully convinced Vancouverites to walk, bike and take transit during the 2010 Olympics. Changing the way people in Vancouver move to be less car intensive and more active transportation and transit related is echoed in Vancouver’s transportation plan.

You can listen to a Vancouver transportation related podcast between Gordon Price and Lon LeClaire recorded last November here.

How transportation ties in with active transportation, health, sociability  and the role of cities is changing in the region, with progressive mayors like City of North Vancouver’s Linda Buchanan and City of New Westminster’s Jonathan Cote leading the conversation.

All of us at Price Tags welcome Lon’s leadership, and look forward to his stewardship in Vancouver and in the region.

Below is the text that was distributed to City of Vancouver staff by the City Manager.

 

“I am pleased to announce that after an extensive recruitment process for City Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services, Lon LaClaire is the successful candidate for the role.

I am very happy that Lon is taking on this position permanently to head up Engineering Services at the City. Lon has a deep understanding of our priority areas of work in Engineering Services, and having been part of the department for 23 years, I know he is keen to continue the great work planned and underway in the department.

Lon comes to the role with extensive experience in transportation, having started with the City working on the Millennium line, the Downtown Transportation Plan, the Canada Line and transportation planning for the 2010 Olympics. Lon has connected the department’s work to the transportation component of the Greenest City Action Plan, as well as the Transportation 2040 Plan.

In 2015, as Director of Transportation, Lon led ground-breaking projects such as the Arbutus Greenway, Burrard Bridge upgrade and implementing new parking strategies. Experience with major projects like this puts Lon in a strong position as he begins his new role as GM. His cooperative approach and ability to make connections to how our work interacts internally as well as with major partners across the city and the region will be invaluable. I know he will bring his experience and appreciation of collaborative projects to the wider department.

Lon will be starting in the role immediately. Please join me in congratulating and welcoming him as City Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services.”

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It’s not often that a political columnist will delve into the details of urban and regional planning.  Those are weeds too thick for most readers.  

But Sun Victoria correspondent Vaughn Palmer did so today, perhaps because he got fed a report on what could be, in fact, a pretty big deal: a direction for the urban and economic planning of British Columbia. 

If taken seriously, backed up with action and able to survive changes in governments, it could be for the province what the first regional planning was the GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) in the 1970s.  That is from whence came the Livable Region Plan, or ‘Cities in a Sea of Green.’   We adopted it, stuck to it, and a half century later can the results.  It worked out pretty well.

This ‘economic framework’ is more the structure on which such a plan could be built.  It seems to be a result of departmental thinking aligned with the priorities and strategies of the government – in other words, not just an NDP political exercise to justify what they wanted to do anyway. 

Following are excepts from Palmer’s column, found here in its entirety.

 

An economic framework recently distributed by the provincial government outlines strategies to accommodate future population, trade and business growth. Key elements of the plan include developing Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro. ECONOMIC PLAN CALLS FOR DISPERSING GROWTH

The John Horgan government has adopted an economic plan to shift growth and investment away from Vancouver and toward less congested parts of the province.   … Key elements will promote the development of Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro Vancouver, anchoring a “growth corridor” extending into the Fraser Valley.

Part and parcel of that push will see development of an updated transportation and regional land-use plan in co-operation with local governments.

While the plan mentions few specifics, it does quote favourably from a recent B.C. Business Council paper, which called for “a new Fraser Valley innovation corridor anchored by a commuter rail system running from Chilliwack to the city of Vancouver.”

“Squamish, the Tri-Cities, Delta, Tsawwassen, Langford” (yes, Horgan’s hometown) “and others offer significant advantages for technology startups or satellite office locations …  “Kamloops, Rossland, Nelson, Canal Flats, Campbell River and many others are seeing transformational growth in the technology sector from businesses and workers purposefully seeking out the cost and lifestyle advantages of a smaller community, while staying connected to their B.C. and global customers through high-speed internet.” …

To help persuade investors to locate operations in the north, the province cites access to “B.C.’s clean affordable hydroelectric grid that can power industrial development.”  The latter pitch depends in part on successful completion of the hydroelectric dam at Site C on the Peace River. The New Democrats discounted the project as unnecessary during their opposition days, but it now dovetails conveniently with their new economic strategy. …

Also in the works is “a regional inventory of investment-ready opportunities, including transportation, energy, educational, internet connectivity, community and other infrastructure needed to support quality economic growth.”

But the inventory is no more public than the plan itself, which, as noted here Tuesday, was crafted mainly for the eyes of the public service and selected stakeholders. …

As to the rationale for all this, the plan notes that the province is scheduled to add a million people over the next 30 years. …

“B.C.’s population grew by close to a million people, with much of the population increase concentrated in the Lower Mainland.”

The region was unprepared for growth of that scale.

“Demand for housing, public services and infrastructure exceeded supply, with particularly acute impacts for housing affordability. Higher demand led to sharp increases in the cost of rental and market housing, and those with lower incomes were squeezed out — or sometimes forced out through ‘renoviction’ — of housing they could no longer afford. Families moved farther away from their work in order to find housing within their means, resulting in longer commute times and growing congestion problems.” …

The fallout from runaway and unplanned growth is one reason why the New Democrats picked up 10 seats in Metro Vancouver in the last election and the B.C.

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Via Kris Olds and Croakey.org this story is from Gemma Carey who lives in Canberra Australia and is an associate professor in the Centre for Social Impact at the University of South Wales.

Professor Carey writes that the smoke enveloping Canberra has shown the need “for better health warning systems, especially around hazardous air pollution, and for equity considerations to be foremost.”  

In her city “the unprecedented fires which began on New Year’s eve brought a thick ‘fog’ of smoke across the ACT (Australia Capital Territory) and parts of New South Wales. Canberra, where I live, is perhaps worst hit with particle readings of up to 1800 2.5PM. The limit for hazardous levels is 200 2.5PM in the ACT, according to the ACT Government.”

Professor  Carey wrote in December that women being  pregnant in a climate emergency meant they are stuck indoors. “At that time, dangerous particles of 2.5 micrometres or smaller (‘2.5PM’) were at 100-300 – ranging from serious to hazardous.”

The air in Canberra is ten times over the hazardous level and is the poorest air quality of any city in the world. Air with this type of particulate creates complications for people with lung and breathing issues, and can impact heart disease and cancer rates. Research shows that the longer the exposure to these particulates, the higher the incidence of disease. Couple this with research showing that pregnant women exposed to these particulates appear to have babies that are premature, weigh less, and can be miscarried.  What is not being calculated is that families in Canberra are also experiencing direct stress due to the fire disasters as well as the long term implications of particulate exposure.

Poorer areas in the city have worse air. Professor  Carey states “We have no precedent in the scientific literature for the health implications of what is currently happening in Australia.”

Clean air is costly~“Since New Year’s, nowhere indoors is safe. Shopping malls, libraries and national monuments – where many were seeking refuge – are filled with smoke. Air conditioning systems are simply not designed for this level of pollution.”

Even air purifiers which cost 500 to 800 dollars are not affordable to many people and there are none left in Canberra or its suburbs. Indoors people wear high grade pollution masks. “I take it off only to shower and eat.”

The  air particulate mask is only good for 100 hours and costs 50 dollars. Again as in the air purifiers, there is an equity issue of who can afford and access them. The masks  available at hardware stores are not designed for the particulates that are raining down on Canberra.

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There’s some new information on the proposed Senákw project in Vancouver which is on Squamish Nation land near Burrard Street and Vanier Park in Kitsilano. Earlier this year a three billion dollar project was announced at this site which hopes to build 6,000 dwelling units in eleven towers.

This massive project has been ratified by the Squamish Nation in a voting process, and it is intended to be built in an equal venture agreement with Westbank Development Corporation, the same organization  that has built Vancouver House.

As reported in the Vancouver Courier with Frank O’Brien , Peter Mitham  and  Hayley Woodin building 6,000 units in 11 towers “would require buildings of between 55 to 60 storeys, based on comparison with other residential towers proposed but not yet built in Vancouver.”

Squamish Nation Councillor Khelsilem indicated that while the percentage of rental versus strata units had not yet been decided, the project is seen as a long term economic development project. While Westbank will guarantee the loan for the development, and provide any needed equity, the Squamish Nation will be providing their lands.

Leases will run for 120 years, and build out could take ten years. It is intended that  rental units will have a 110 year lease and condos will have a 99 year lease paid up front, with the understanding that the condos turn back to rental units upon lease expiry.

The project will be built in five phases, with the first potentially commencing in 2021.

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Here is a tale of two municipalities and two councillors.

As reported by Aaron Hinks in the Peace Arch News White Rock has a Dogs on the Promenade Task Force, evaluating whether dogs should be allowed on leash on the town’s famous waterfront promenade. White Rock council has approved a six month trial period for dogs to be permitted which ends March 31, 2020.

While there has been some complaints of dogs disturbing wildlife and complaints of unleashed dogs and defecation, there has been no complaint about canine aggression or biting.

And on December 12  White Rock received a morning complaint about dog feces being left along the public walkway. The chair of the Dogs on the Promenade task force Councillor Scott Kristjanson personally went out that morning to clean up the “doggy debris”.

“I beat staff,” Kristjanson said, and offered to share photographs of him handling the business.” 

And Kristjanson noted that the temporary acceptance of dogs on the promenade had unintended consequences~seniors with small dogs that did not have access to vehicles were using the promenade to walk their dogs, and were thrilled to socialize with the community that way.

Counter this with the actions of this City Councillor in Cleveland who was upset that the pastor of the Denison Avenue United Church was going to open up the church for homeless people to stay warm and sleep during the coldest part of the winter. Councillor Dona Brady “told the pastor of Denison Avenue United Church of Christ more than a month ago that she would not allow it to offer homeless people a cot for a safe night’s sleep.”

And how did she do that? While the church’s Metanoia operation  brought 13 people in a night and offered a meal, access to bathrooms and a shower, a by-law officer showed up with a list of code violations. That officer returned the next day too. As Michael McIntyre writes in Cleveland.com that City Councillor refused to meet with the church to discuss her concerns, and did not return the journalist’s calls. Of those 13 people that were taking advantage of sleeping in the warmth of the church, some did live on the streets in the immediate neighbourhood.  Metanoia also operated in another church in downtown Cleveland providing a warming centre, a meal and sleeping facilities. That location received a fire inspection and was told that a 45 person limit was in effect, meaning dozens of homeless were turned away at night.

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Last week, the City of Vancouver hosted a free public workshop on the Granville Bridge Connector project.

Currently, there are six design options being considered, with hopes of bringing forward a preferred design to council in early 2020. In theory, feedback from public engagement and workshops will be used to inform the selection of a preferred design.

In an effort to apply a lens of equity to this project, the city organized a Mobility Equity workshop, facilitated by the ever-insightful Jay Pitter.

To kick-start the workshop, Jay offered insight into what equity is, what equity can look like, and how that relates to transportation. Key takeaways:

Streets are contested spaces. Streets have been designed or re-designed for the efficient and high-speed movement of vehicles, often at the expense of people. As a result, aspects pertaining to safety, both physical and social (e.g. personal security), are often an issue.

This begs the question: to what extent has efficiency been prioritized over safety and security? To what extent do women, elderly, LGBTQ, visible minority and immigrant groups (among others) feel safe and secure on our streets? To what extent have such groups been overlooked in planning and design?

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