May 7, 2016

Reefer n’ Religion

It’s some sort of societal pivot when marijuana product producers seek certification from kosher inspectors.

It’s a good marketing idea for budding weed producers here in Vancouver — the coveted kosher certification as a useful way to distinguish your product in a crowded marketplace.

Rachel Adams writes in the New York Times.

As legalization of medical marijuana has hopscotched the nation, entrepreneurs have become nothing if not imaginative: Marijuana lotions, gluten-free edibles and many other niche products have hit the market. Businesses have also found resourceful ways to deal with a patchwork of taxation, banking and interstate commerce issues.

Little about the fledgling industry, then, comes as a surprise. But kosher pot?

Well, business is business, whether it’s widgets or weed, and any bit of competitive advantage is welcome.

“You’re seeing companies looking for creative ways to distinguish themselves, but also just interesting ways to appeal to different types of consumers,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Canadians are moving slowly along the path to some sort of legalization of cannabis beyond the medical.  Amusingly, given the shenanigans of the last many years, some of the impetus for legalization came long ago from the Federal Senate.

Senate Committee recommends legalization of cannabis 

OTTAWA, September 4, 2002 – The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs today released its final report on cannabis.  In an exhaustive and comprehensive two-year study of public policy related to marijuana, the Special Committee found that the drug should be legalized.  The 600 plus page Senate report is a result of rigorous research, analysis and extensive public hearings in Ottawa and communities throughout Canada with experts and citizens.

“Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue”, said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Chair of the Special Committee, in a news conference today in Ottawa.  “Indeed, domestic and international experts and Canadians from every walk of life told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing criminal records on users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis.  At the same time, make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational consumption.  Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties.  But we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the State much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization.”

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It was just one sentence in this bigger story in the New York Times:

A directive issued on Sunday by the State Council, China’s cabinet, and the Communist Party’s Central Committee says no to architecture that is “oversized, xenocentric, weird” and devoid of cultural tradition. Instead, buildings should be “suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye.”

The directive also calls for an end to gated communities.

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Helen Warn asked this question in response to “A Meme from TEAM” below:

What do you feel we can do to stop the frenzy of heritage houses being bulldozed, and the price of property skyrocketing?

Starting with the easy ones, eh Helen?  I don’t have easy answers either.  But there is something the city could do, without the need for provincial or federal co-operation – if it had citizen support.
But first, to give you some sense of why this is such a difficult question, and why the City would be so reluctant to just stop demolition of houses presumed to be of heritage value, put yourself in the position of these people:
(1) A 70-year-old widow, occupying a wood-and-stucco 1948 house badly in need of repairs that is hopelessly energy inefficient and has a garden and lawn too big for her to maintain.
(2) The City Councillor or staff person telling her she can’t demolish her house, and therefore will take a significant loss over what her neighbour will get for his 1950 wood-and-stucco house badly in need of repairs, etc.
Would you prevent her or a new owner who bought the site for land value from demolishing the house?


Yet there is something Council could do that would not require a somewhat arbitrary distinction between what is heritage and what is not.  Indeed, Kerry Gold laid an option out in her Globe and Mail column of January 8th: “Housing speculation seems to be taking hold in West Side Vancouver

Here’s the operative section:

Since the province has made it clear that it doesn’t want to intervene to slow speculative buying, there is one move that could be made at the municipal level that could take the pressure off.

The city could downzone single-family neighbourhoods that are in the crosshairs of speculation to disallow the building of houses that are bigger than what already stands.* After all, a massive house doesn’t house more people or increase density; it’s not sustainable, it’s usually out of scale, it often replaces a character house and it drives up prices.

And in simple terms, if bigger houses were no longer part of the picture, speculative buying would have to ease off. Theoretically, people treating the city as little more than a sure-bet casino would back away, prices would ease up and first-time buyers would have a chance to enter the market.

Legally, the city has the power to do it. The question is more of a political one. So far in the discussion, there’s been more concern about protecting homeowner equity than creating affordable detached housing. Some people argue their life savings completely depend on the overheated market staying overheated – which is nonsensical when you consider that those homeowners could never have anticipated that we’d currently be sitting with an average detached-house price of $2.53-million citywide. Such wealth was not earned or banked: It’s a windfall.

But the political will to upset that windfall is understandably absent, says lawyer Bill Buholzer, who’s an expert in municipal law and land-use zoning.

“I hear elected officials talking about things they can’t do for legal reasons, when what’s really going on is things they don’t want to do for political reasons. Sometimes, it’s easier to explain what they can’t do as a legal impediment. That’s not to say that the political impediment isn’t major. In this economy, in this city, it’s always brought up that the potential value of real estate represents people’s retirement plans.”

But it could be done. According to the Vancouver Charter, the city is entirely within its right to take away development opportunity in a neighbourhood such as Dunbar, for example, without having to compensate homeowners for any subsequent loss in value. As is, Dunbar houses are being relentlessly demolished because zoning allows for much bigger houses than what currently stand.

“The city has essentially added speculation value to those properties by zoning them to permit development in excess of what is there already,” Mr. Buholzer says. “And the city can take that development potential away just as it bestowed it in the first place, by exercising its zoning power. Would it be politically unpopular? Probably. But it’s not something that people would be compensated for.

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A letter in today’s Sun:

Let public in on tunnel alternative


As the son of the late George Massey after whom the George Massey Tunnel was named, I cannot allow our provincial government to mislead the public into believing we needed to build a high level bridge.
A tunnel makes more sense in the sandy soil conditions of the area. TEC Tunnel Engineering Consultants in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, met with the Department of Transportation in Victoria in 2014 and made a presentation on immersed tunnels and the suitability of this technology for the George Massey Tunnel Replacement project. They never heard back and the public never got an opportunity to review their proposal.
Is it because the B.C. government chose to ignore an alternative that might deter from their ability to industrialize the whole of the Lower Fraser River and benefit Port Metro Vancouver at the expense of the people and the ecosystem of the wetlands that sustains fish and wildfowl? The public deserves better.

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College Towns Get New Housing, but It’s Decidedly Not Dorms


Near college campuses around the country, developers have begun building luxury housing for the staff, not the students. Tapping into a desire among some younger workers to live in walkable, urban communities, these developers have discovered that a college neighborhood can fit that bill, as students are no longer the only ones who want to live near campus.


A one-bedroom apartment on Market Street in Philadelphia, staged for viewing.

At $1,900 a month for 700 square feet, it is priced to discourage undergraduates.


Developers use various strategies to keep undergraduates away from these new projects, including high rents that most students can’t afford. They time leasing to miss the start of the academic year, reject applicants who will rely on a guarantor to pay the rent and design spaces that are not ideal for young students. “The undergraduates get the message,” Mr. Downey said. …

The new development is having a ripple effect on the neighborhood. Last summer, Post Brothers Apartments, a local developer, began buying aging rental buildings with plans to renovate them. … The developers also plan to restore the historic lobby and renovate apartments as leases turn over, raising rent to $1,900 a month for a one-bedroom, from about $1,200 a month.


Full New York Times story here.

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November 23, 2015

Here’s a video from VanCity Buzz that invites people to the new New Year’s Eve Vancouver celebrations in dear old Soggyville.  It is a mosaic of people from all streams and corners of our diverse city, with socially-inclusive and welcoming messages.  Really, a mini-portrait of our society.  Look for Gordon Price to say a few words.
Irony?  Well, the production company is called “Antisocial Media Solutions”.  It looks to me like they’re anything but . . . .


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Tom Prendergast was CEO of TransLink between 2008 and 2009.  He left for New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, reputed to have been frustrated with the dispersed governance structure and fed up with the lack of support for TL funding from the Province.  Well, guess what.

Chief of Transportation Authority Must Wage a Political Battle for Funding


After months of uncertainty, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week threw his support behind the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposal to maintain and improve the region’s transit infrastructure.

For the authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, the governor’s announcement was a welcome, if belated, breakthrough. It came weeks after the end of a legislative session during which Mr. Prendergast tried, unsuccessfully, to line up lawmakers in Albany behind his $32 billion capital plan.

But Mr. Cuomo’s public commitment to a slimmed-down version of the plan — and to an $8 billion state contribution to close a funding gap — is only the beginning of what promises to be a battle over how to finance the state-run authority’s capital plan and how much New York City should pay toward it.

Mr. Prendergast, appointed by Mr. Cuomo two years ago and confirmed last month to a full six-year term as chairman, will be right in the middle of the fight, with the knowledge that his agenda for maintaining and modernizing the authority depends on making the plan a reality.

It is not an easy spot. …

Mr. Cuomo did not say where the state’s contribution would come from, offering only that he would work it out with state legislators when they returned for the next session in January.

How successful Mr. Prendergast is in securing funding for his wide-ranging plan is likely to define the region’s infrastructure for decades and determine whether mass transit service turns around or continues to deteriorate. …

All along, he has been adamant that the largest piece of the capital plan, $20 billion for “state of good repair,” is essential because it is for maintenance to keep the system safe and reliable. …

David Gunn, who was Mr. Prendergast’s boss as president of the New York City Transit Authority in the ’80s, said funding would determine whether the system fell back into disrepair.

“It’s a life-or-death issue to have adequate funding for state of good repair,” Mr. Gunn said from his home in Nova Scotia, where he is retired. “He knows what happens when you don’t. He’s lived it.”

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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.


Speed Limits .

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




July 2, 2014:


April 17, 2015:


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.



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


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


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.




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).


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.

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A Canadian Press story featured in, among other places, The Globe and Mail:


Vancouver transit vote ‘case study’ in national transportation funding crisis


Experts say the transportation problems faced by the region’s mayors are emblematic of a dilemma for many big Canadian cities: crumbling infrastructure threatening to buckle under growing populations and no money to fix it.

“It’s a huge problem everywhere,” said Prof. Patrick Condon, chair of the urban design program at the University of British Columbia.

“At the same time, the costs of maintaining the infrastructure are increasing proportionately, the taxpayers’ ability and their willingness to pay for that increase is decreasing. The current plebiscite is very good case study of that problem.” …

“This is about the future of the region – how it’s going to be shaped,” said transportation expert Gordon Price, director of the city program at Simon Fraser University.

The transit champions say upgrades are crucial for accommodating an estimated influx of one million more residents into the Vancouver region over the next 30 years.

Opponents have vilified TransLink, the agency that operates the region’s transit system, as wasteful. …

“Municipalities don’t have that many options for funding, unfortunately, under our system,” said Brent Toderian, a global city planning consultant and former chief planner for Vancouver. …

“It definitely frightens me when I hear other parts of the country speak positively about the fact we’re having a referendum,” said Toderian.

“That perception doesn’t understand the politics of what’s been going on here.”

Price, the Simon Fraser University professor, said that if the plebiscite fails, it will deliver a “devastating” blow to the made-in-B.C. vision of “cities in a sea of green” that’s shaped the region for the past 40 years.

“If we’re not going to tax ourselves anymore for these collective goods that deliver services broadly across the community? That’s a different kind of Canada.”


If you like your irony obvious, then you’ll appreciate that the Globe story online comes with that little promo on the lower left:


Ohrn adds his sardonic observation to this link:

As to who supports and funds the NO campaign, aimed at starving transit of any new funding, I leave it to you to surmise whose profits are maintained, and whose philosophies are served if the public denies this funding.  And who is watching carefully.

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