Governance & Politics
February 10, 2016

Ohrn Words: Do CACs add to the cost of housing?

From Ken Ohrn:

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Another piece of the discussion about housing prices in Vancouver. The City of Vancouver hired consultants Coriolis to report on CACs (Community Amenity Contributions*) and their effects.
To quote the conclusions:

There is no compelling evidence that CACs have constrained the pace of apartment development in Vancouver or contributed to increasing housing prices. The City absorbs over a third of all new apartments in the region, which is remarkable considering the large number of high density urban nodes under development across Metro Vancouver.
Nor is there evidence that CAC policy has constrained the pace of rezoning. Rezonings are adding development capacity at a rapid rate and the City has capacity for more than 20 years of development. CAC rates generally leave considerable financial incentive for land owners and developers.
Housing prices are high and rising in Vancouver because there is strong demand from many sources including local households wanting affordable homes, affluent households shifting into apartments from single detached units, and non-local buyers.
The City’s CAC policy is not restricting development. In fact, CACs have been associated with a large increase in the City’s capacity for new development, have paid for amenities that otherwise would have been funded by property taxes, and in some cases have created affordable housing units. CACs are not the cause of rising housing prices in the City of Vancouver.

The report is dated June 2014.

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*Community Amenity Contributions and Development Cost Charges.
CACs are negotiated by the City where a rezoning would result in a significant increase in the value of the land. The City then receives a percent, usually large, of that increase for public benefits. Development Cost Charges are a flat fee calculated on the size of the development for amenities in the district zoned for that particular DCC requirement.

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So why will the Province require a listing of the CACs and DCCs, as well as any other municipally imposed levy, on the cost of a house or condo?  Presumably because it makes local government the bad guy.  Disconnect the immediate charge from what the money will provide in the away of collective goods – the parks, the arts and community centres, the non-market housing – and then let the animosity build.  Hey, it worked for the transit referendum. Read more »

A few items that came in over the last few days …

Council, as part of its approval on upgrades for the Burrard Bridge, decided that $3.5 million is not too much to save a life.  That’s how much ‘suicide barriers’ will cost to prevent the one suicide a year that might be avoided by the installation of fencing that will likely alter the character of the bridge.

Yet here are three places where interventions could save countless more lives at a substantially lower per capita cost.

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Speed Limits .

Lower the limit.  A B.C. town just did it: Rossland lowers speed limit to 30 km/h throughout town

Result:

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Problem:

July 2, 2014:

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April 17, 2015:

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Sugary drinks

New research shows that beverages sweetened with sugar may have contributed to up to 184,000 deaths globally, mostly by causing increased rates of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Read more.

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Here’s the Mexican delivery system for sugar, fat and salt.  Oxxos are everywhere.

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Problem: They’re owned by Carlos (“richest man in the world”) Slim, who also has the Mexican Coca-Cola franchise.

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Climate Change

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says wildfire seasons like the one the province is currently experiencing will become more common because of climate change.

“Climate change has altered the terrain. It’s made us much more vulnerable to fire,” said Clark.

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Problem:

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As a practising politician, I was aware of how easy it is to charge hypocrisy and inconsistency – since it was so often true.  But then the accusers never had to make the trade-offs or choose the least-worst option.

Politics, truly, is the art of the possible – and timing is key to possibility.

But as the clock runs down on climate change, I do wonder how the Premier, who has commited her government to accelerating British Columbia’s role as carbon dealer to the world, reconciles that with the reality of a burning province – and a fire-fighting budget that will eventually cross the billion-dollar line, and continue to increase in the future, eating up the royalties locked in for the sale of LNG.

Oh the irony: we would need to increase the sale of carbon to the world in order to afford fighting the fires that are the consequence of climate change caused by … (join snake eating its tail here).

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To top off this irony-fest, my In-box just received this from The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert:

A New Climate-Change Danger Zone?

… holding warming to two degrees would, at this point, require a herculean effort—one that the same world leaders who agreed to the Copenhagen Accord now seem unwilling or unable to make. A number of commentators have recently questioned whether, practically speaking, it is even still possible. “The goal is effectively unachievable,” David Victor, of the University of California, San Diego, and Charles Kennel, of the Scripps Institution, wrote recently in Nature. (The commentary was accompanied by a drawing of a feverish and exhausted-looking globe hooked up to a variety of life-support systems.)

Thus, whether the “danger” zone lies below two degrees Celsius or above, the world seems bent on reaching it—with all the suffering and challenges to “civilized society” that go with it.

Drink that soda, step on the accelerator and ignore the smoke.  At least there’s a fence.

Read more »

First item that came in is from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change:

Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) announced Monday it will likely scrap plans to tow open, football field-long coal barges down the Fraser River and across the windy Strait of Georgia to Texada Island — all as part of its plan to help big US companies get their thermal coal to Asia.

This is a win for everyone who cares about the Fraser and the Strait and pushed back on this proposal. Savour the victory — but only for a moment, because with this good news comes some bad…

FSD still plans to export coal from Surrey, but rather than a “barge loading facility,” it now wants to build a full-fledged coal port on the Fraser River, right across from downtown New West.  Worse still, we’re concerned once the Massey Tunnel is removed even larger coal ships will come up the Fraser.

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Then this showed up in the InBox from the Pembina Institute:

Climate change and the financial risk of stranded assets

… what exactly are stranded assets? HSBC has released a new report that provides a concise definition. “Stranded assets are those that lose value or turn into liabilities before the end of their expected economic life. In the context of fossil fuels, this means those that will not be burned – they remain stranded in the ground.”

This is becoming a hot topic. There has been a growing dialogue about the risk of stranded assets related to climate change and carbon regulation over the last few years. During 2014 in particular, it reached mainstream discussion with experts ranging from the World Bank Group president, Jim Yong Kim to former Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, issuing warnings about this risk.

The Pembina Institute has also been tracking this issue. Last November we helped organize a cross-Canadatour for James Leaton of Carbon Tracker — one of the leading voices in highlighting the financial risk of stranded assets. A Day of Learning organized with RBC, NEI and Suncor also helped raise the level of dialogue on this issue in Canada.

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Lots more connections here:

We could be spending billions on a new bridge to facilitate an expanded coal port whose product becomes a stranded asset – a bridge that puts new pressure for development on agricultural land, much of which is below sea level, while at the same time voting down transit expansion, much of which is zero emission.   This is not a pretty scenario, but more than possible.

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What is the link between this:

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The Climate Change Performance Index,” published annually by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe, lists Canada among the world’s worst at no. 58

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And this:

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It’s another sign that as science- and policy-based approaches lose credibility, extreme tactical responses to the climate change issue – and the related controversies from pipelines to coal ports – become more rationalized.

And that’s just not on the environmental side.  Here’s today’s New York Times:

Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’

WASHINGTON — If the oil and gas industry wants to prevent its opponents from slowing its efforts to drill in more places, it must be prepared to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, a veteran Washington political consultant told a room full of industry executives in a speech that was secretly recorded.

The blunt advice from the consultant, Richard Berman … came as Mr. Berman solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives to finance an advertising and public relations campaign called Big Green Radicals.

The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups. And major corporations secretly financing such a campaign should not worry about offending the general public because “you can either win ugly or lose pretty,” he said.

Both sides will justify more extreme tactics by the actions of the others, purposely creating nemesis out of caricature.  But the real problem is that some elected leaders, notably some of ours, have decided climate-change is not just an issue worth ignoring but to actually make worse because we profit from it.  That’s what the rating above tells us about Canada, which is committing itself to the biggest capital projects in its history for the purpose of accelerating the movement of carbon, while ignoring if not suppressing information and research about the consequences on our own environment.
As the impacts of climate change become more tangible, with the prospect of ever-worsening outcomes, the existential consequences will be unbearable.  How can we reconcile the image of ourselves (and that which others have traditionally had of us as environmental stewards) with the reality of what we’re doing? How can the Province that led the world in crafting a near-ideal carbon tax become a carbon dealer to the world while rationalizing away the consequences?
That requires an embrace of cynicism and hypocrisy just to live with what we’re doing.

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Those who try to base arguments on science, who promote public policy solutions, who try to engage in nuanced debate with calculated trade-offs, well, they will less and less have the credibility or the energy to continue when the responses are more entrenched indifference and strategic reversals (good-bye Kyoto).  The ground they cede, however, will be taken by those who can justify their excesses by the perceived consequences of inaction.  And in turn be met by the excesses of those whose self-interest is threatened but hold levers of power they will justify using by the threats they exploit or manufacture.
In the meantime, expect more of this:

For now, “I’m not a scientist” is what one party adviser calls “a temporary Band-Aid” — a way to avoid being called a climate change denier but also to sidestep a dilemma. The reality of campaigning is that a politician who acknowledges that burning coal and oil contributes to global warming must offer a solution, which most policy experts say should be taxing or regulating carbon pollution and increasing government spending on alternative energy. But those ideas are anathema to influential conservative donors …
While the politicians debate, the scientific evidence linking weather extremes to climate change continues to mount. …

For Mr. McKenna, the energy lobbyist and Republican adviser, the political future is clear. “We’re going to keep getting this question until we nail down a hard answer,” he said.

Or get nailed.

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Connections: Three items on sea-level rise

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From RISE: an open ideas competition with a $35,000 Grand Prize for innovations to address sea-level rise in Metro Vancouver.
RISE is an open ideas competition to find innovative ways to address sea level rise in Metro Vancouver. Form a team of one to four people, submit your idea online, and you could win a cash prize of up to $35,000!
Team registration starts September 8, 2014, but get over to www.sfu.ca/rise to sign up for updates before registration opens. Check out the challenge and dig into the research for more information. Find out more about the public exhibition day, and put October 19 2014 in your diary.
 

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In today’s Vancouver Sun: Rising Sea Level Demands Attention by Tasmin Lyle.

What do sea level rise and climate change mean to the Lower Mainland? Some cherished areas along our coast will be underwater twice a day at high tide, or even all the time. Other areas that are now well back from the ocean will face increasing threat from coastal storms as the shoreline retreats and natural protection is reduced. They will face nuisance levels of flooding every year during winter storm season, or even catastrophic damage when extreme storms hit. And, because the Fraser Valley is exactly that — a relatively flat deltaic valley — the impacts will be seen far upstream. Recent work by the province suggests impacts along the Fraser all the way to Chilliwack. …

The impact will not just be on our environment, but also our economy. Without serious efforts at adaptation — and soon — a large coastal storm would certainly damage the businesses that line our shores, and it could potentially paralyze transportation across the region. Portions of the Port would be under water, major train lines would be severed, road access to the U.S. would be interrupted and YVR would be affected.

Re-read that last sentence: “Portions of the Port … major train lines … road access to the U.S. … YVR would be affected.”

What do they all have in common?  They’re all on the delta lands of the Fraser River, especially south of the Massey Tunnel.

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So why is the Massey Crossing seemingly our first infrastructure priority – a single project on which we will spend roughly the equivalent of the Broadway subway, a transportation project that will put immense development pressure on the agricultural land reserve?

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Why is this rarely (so far as I can tell, never) critiqued in the context of sea-level rise?  This is a multi-billion project based in Metro Vancouver, no doubt to be largely paid for with tolls from Metro residents, that will not be included in any referendum – and yet will put in place an unstated obligation to deal with the consequences of sea-level rise in the future.

It’s not just that there’s a certain madness to this.  It’s the obliviousness with which we are proceeding to deliberately and massively increase our vulnerability.

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UPDATE: Another connection just came in from ULI’s UrbanLand:

From Droughts to Floods, Extreme Weather’s Increasing Impact

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Far from being a problem for future generations, climate change and its impacts both severe and incremental are confounding communities across the country every single day, according to Rebecca Smyth, the West Coast director of the Coastal Services Center, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that focuses on coastal health, restoration, and resilience. …
“When we talk about climate change, we can’t talk about it as a future state anymore,” she said. “We have to talk about it as a new normal to plan for and invest in today.” This was the major conclusion of the Third National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in May. …
Smyth explained how the most successful approach that cities and regions can take to adapt to climate change will combine “gray” (manmade) and “green” (natural) infrastructure. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has championed what it calls SAGE (Systems Approach to Geomorphic Engineering) that embraces both built and natural solutions to coastal resilience.

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Two items that came in within an hour of each other:.

Ken Ohrn: A photo used to illustrate an analysis of Vancouver’s tech scene in today’s Globe and Mail. .

.A good photo can sum up components of an idea, for better or for worse, in ways that are compelling and compact. …   This photo is a good example.  The embodied ideas are almost clichés, but overall it leaves a strong impression of the nature of the industry.

Youngish men (no women); madcap fun (!) at the foosball table – and bicycles.

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But in the place we aspire to be:  “Silicon Valley’s Self-Feeding Cycle of Car Dependence

From NextCity, via Tom Durning:

“Transportation is only a means to an end, not an end itself,” the report states. “As part of the larger picture, transportation should help shape great places and support a high-quality of life — not contribute to degrading these things.”

But in a place that relies so heavily on cars despite its next-century economy, the suburban myth that business will suffer from urbanized transportation is, Toeniskoetter says, “one of the hardest stories to overcome.”

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Further to the item below, the impacts of transportation on the quality of life for one of the most affluent parts of the region will be determined in large part by what happens to its east – notably in Abbotsford.  And if your mental geography is like mine, you may not realize the direct connection.  Literally: 16th Avenue.

I explored that issue here in March, 2011.

… with an airport that could one day be the second aeronautical anchor of the Lower Mainland, Abbotsford would inevitably be absorbed into vast undifferentiated regional sprawl if it wasn’t for the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes on 16th Avenue, which I’m pretty sure the highway planners are.  Imagine an expressway connecting with the Trans-Canada Highway, past the Abbotsford airport, streaking in a straight line across the ALR to the new interchange they’re building on Highway 99 at White Rock, and serving all the expanded streets to the international border crossings. 

The 16th Avenue interchange when completed:

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And it won’t just be the airport and connecting routes that generate the traffic; much of it come from the urban form in Abbotsford itself, which looks like this:

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With more to come.  Here’s a drawing of the new shopping centre proposed for the Townline Hill section of Abbotsford, sent in by Ken Wuschke: “Essentially it is a parking lot surrounded by retail. Towards the street there will be little connectivity to pedestrians walking by as all the stores have doors facing the parking lot.”

 

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Two points to make: this is what is being approved by a municipality whose leaders are loudly critical of the air-quality consequences of Metro Vancouver’s proposed incinerator.  And this is the form of development supported by the Province’s infrastructure commitments: bridges, highway-widenings, goods-movement corridors – like the 16th Avenue interchange, and very likely, support for the widening of 16th Avenue itself.

Needless to say: there’ll be no vote on that.

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Today in the Inbox:

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First up: the daily briefing from Foreign Policy lays it out:

Barack Obama’s administration says that climate change poses a clear and present danger to the United States that will only grow worse over time as droughts, floods, and storms become part of everyday life throughout the country.

Unfortunately for the White House, the politics of tackling climate change are dismal: Republicans have grown even more hostile to the issue in recent years, it barely registers in public opinion polls, and this year’s midterm elections make dramatic action a virtual impossibility.

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Next, a New York Times Alert explains: On Climate, Republicans and Democrats Are From Different Continents:

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A link to the National Climate Assessment from the Sightline Daily provides a locally relevant summary:

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Today’s Sun, augmenting my latest post on Climate Change Porn, provides more supportive evidence: “Torrential rain destroys South Surrey crops.”

Nine acres of Jamers Yue’s crops were destroyed after the South Surrey area was pounded by more than 91 millimetres of rain on Sunday. He had to strap on hip waders to survey the damage the next day, and the water reached halfway up his thighs.

By Monday, ducks and geese were landing on the flooded plain, diving down to get a taste of the leafy greens below.

“I lost three generations of crops here. For the whole month of June I won’t have anything to sell. It’s all gone,” Yue said.

Sunday’s heavier-than-expected rainfall resulted in localized flooding in Langley as well, according to Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist. In South Surrey, a small mudslide closed a section of 16th Avenue, and there were reports of flooded basements and roads in Langley and White Rock.

White Rock was soaked with 87 millimetres, more than a month’s worth of rain, in the 36 hours of the storm and set a new rainfall record of 83 millimetres on Sunday alone.

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And then, an hour ago, an email from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, announcing their new public engagement project: “a documentary film and interactive website called The Good Life – The Green Life. The film is a story about everyday green heroes – people struggling to figure out how we can deal with big environmental problems like climate change.”

Well-intentioned and earnest, of course, and beautifully filmed.

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Of the seven parts, here’s the one on transportation:

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And that takes us to 10 am.

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It’s not hard to draw the conclusion: Science, evidence and policy count for little when overridden by political bias and reluctant leadership.  But nature doesn’t care, of course.  You don’t declare war on physics, chemistry and biology; you only respond.

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UPDATE – At 11:30, another New York Times alert comes in: “The G.O.P. Can’t Ignore Climate Change.”  From Jon Huntsman, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012:

So obtuse has become the (Republican) party’s dialogue on climate change that it’s now been reduced to believing or not believing, as if it were a religious mantra.

This approach reached a new low last month during a North Carolina congressional debate at which all the Republican candidates chuckled at a question on climate change — as if they had been asked about their belief in the Tooth Fairy. Is climate change a fact, they were asked. All four answered no.

This is a shortsighted strategy that is wrong for the party, wrong for the country and wrong for the next generation. It simply kicks a big problem farther down the field. And it’s a problem we — as solution-seeking Republicans — have the opportunity to solve. …

Our approach as a party should be one of neither denial nor extremism. Science must guide sensible policy discussions that will lead to well-informed choices,

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Forget the crack.  And the thuggery. And the drunken stupors.

The Mayor of Toronto, according to one poll, still has a 44 percent approval rating.  Some think he could get re-elected.

How can that be?  Is it his personal charm?  All those return telephone calls to citizens with complaints.

Or is it, as some commentators affirm, the anger of the suburban base for what they perceive as the contempt of the “downtown elites” and a wasteful City Hall – and for whom Rod Ford is their avenging angel?  Is Toronto politics really just a consequence of the amalgamation of the mega-city by a conservative provincial government which perfectly understood that an ideologically divided region would rebound to their benefit.  They probably never expected a Rob Ford (Mel Lastman was more their style), but Ford’s personal antics are secondary to the value of a suburban-dominated Toronto.

Could something similar happen in Vancouver?

In particular, is the transit referendum a chance for the suburbs to express their frustration and contempt for the City of Vancouver – its greenies, its bike lanes, its grab of regional resources – while they get stuck in traffic in order to find more affordable housing from which they are priced out in the city?

Isn’t that what the ‘White Rock Friend’ was expressing in “What the ‘Yes’ side is up against …“?

If the provincial government can’t amalgamate us, they can least use the suburban voter base to limit the taxes that are seen to disproportionately benefit of the core by requiring region-wide votes.  And yes, of course transit benefits the region as a whole, of course the city and suburbs are co-dependent.  But isn’t that true in Toronto as well?  While we may not get a Ford running the City, we’ll get the consequences of the divide.

There’s another way in which Vancouver could get Forded: in the transformation of our image.  The world sees us as, well, nice.  We’re a stable and fortunate and beautiful place on the planet, not very exciting, but admirable, diverse and desirable.  The Vancouver region, in particular, is seen as a place that ‘mostly got it right.’ The City has, in urban circles, been credited with “Vancouverism” – the way we have accommodated to a constrained environment, how we’ve learned to live with limits and without freeways, with aspirations to be the greenest city in the world.  Just as Toronto was seen as ‘New York run by the Swiss.”

Then came Rob Ford and “I smoked crack in a drunken stupor.”   Toronto will never be seen the same.

Perhaps Vancouver will go through a similar, if not as extreme, re-evaluation.  That green halo in our case could get not just tarnished but burned to a crisp.

We’re on the verge of the biggest expansion of carbon-transfer infrastructure in our history.  Let’s say we expand those coal terminals on Burrard Inlet and, especially, on the Fraser River – taking the thermal coal from Wyoming that the Pacific Northwest states have rejected.  Let’s say we approve those pipelines. Or we transfer bitumen by rail.  And build one, two, three or more LNG plants on our coast, amping up the number of tankers by the dozens that flow through our dangerous waters.

Then, here in the region, we defeat transit expansion.  We open up the Agricultural Land Reserve. We build a ten-lane bridge to sprawl onto our wetlands and lowlands.  Even the First Nations pave over part of a continental flyway for a car-dependent shopping mall.  Realtors take out options on farmlands and then erect tilt-up warehouses, as the port expands its operations on the farmland it purchases.  And to top it off: no more of those damn bike lanes.

What of our image then – and our sense of our self as the world discovers that we’re not who they thought we were?

That we’ve become the environmental equivalent of Rob Ford.

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The provincial government has effectively announced that the Agricultural Land Reserve – the most important land-use decision in our history – is likely to be dismantled.
From The Sun:

VICTORIA — A provincial core review tasked with finding tens of millions of dollars in savings will take aim at some of the province’s most politically sensitive programs to make sure they are working efficiently, the minister responsible said Wednesday.
“We’re going to look at some sacrosanct things, like certain agencies. We’re going to look at the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission,” Bill Bennett, minister responsible for the core review, said Wednesday.
“I’m going to look at things that politicians have been nervous about looking at over the years and ask to better understand how they make their decisions and why they make their decisions and determine whether they’re structured to help achieve the goals of our provincial government,” he added.

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Unless we soon hear otherwise, there’s a reasonable chance that the ALR will be opened up for development.  Which would fit with this:

From Business in Vancouver:

“Delta’s industrial vacancy rate has dropped below 7% as of today,” Avison Young industrial broker Ryan Kerr told Business in Vancouver November 6.

“The South Fraser Perimeter Road is definitely spurring development in Delta south of the Fraser River, whereas typically in the past it was Annacis Island that was the strong market.” …

Deloitte Real Estate senior manager Jeff Ashton similarly sees a profound change in the client mix along the road as logistics and distribution companies arrive to join existing manufacturers.
“The area around the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) and Deltaport is the biggest beneficiary,” he said.

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Which  ties in to this – Tsawwassen Mills

… approximately 1.8 million square feet of of retail, entertainment, restaurant, and office space (larger than Metrotown malls) on an 182 acre site on Highway 17 and 52nd Street that was formerly a part of the region’s ALR.

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The viability of that project also depends on this:

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Which is also helpful for this:

Port applauds province’s move to replace George Massey Tunnel

Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) is applauding last week’s announcement from the B.C. government that it has begun planning to replace the George Massey Tunnel (GMT).
The port said it has been encouraging the government to take action to address the long-standing concern that the GMT presents a barrier to continued growth in the Fraser River terminals, in particular to Fraser Surrey Docks.
[Port Metro Vancouver is currently reviewing a project permit application submitted by Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) for the development of a Direct Transfer Coal Facility to handle up to 4 million metric tonnes of coal.]

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If the Province opens up the ALR to port-related industrial development, warehousing and intermodal operations, it avoids the Port having to use its jurisdictional superiority to override the ALR.

Which takes us to this – Pete McMartin’s column, where he puts it altogether.

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The real change is in what we still mistakenly call the suburbs. Here, the pace and scope of change make the furor over a bike lane down Point Grey Road seem hilariously parochial.
The enormity, cost and complexity of the South Fraser Perimeter Road — which is an industrial highway, not a road — has to be seen to be appreciated. We have just finished building the widest bridge in the world, every lane devoted entirely to car traffic.
The Port of Vancouver is bent on opening up the Fraser River to supertankers and deep-draught freighters, to be made possible once the Massey Tunnel is removed and replaced by a bridge.
Meanwhile, a dismaying abundance of rural and agricultural land is disappearing from Delta to Surrey to Port Coquitlam and being replaced by the march of thousands of overbuilt suburban tract houses, none of them with access to public transit.
No one out there pays much attention to Vancouverism,

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