Saturday, October 14, 2017

Opinion: Vancouver Courier Byelection favours A, B, C and D candidates

       This Saturday, Oct. 14, Vancouver voters will be going to the polls for a by-election.
Let me rephrase that.
      Nine candidates are running for council and 19 are vying for nine positions on school board. In addition to independent candidates, Vision Vancouver, NPA, Green Party, COPE and OneCity are running candidates.
(You can find candidate bios in the Courier’s online voter guide. See city council candidates here and school board candidates here.)
      My longstanding complaint about Vancouver municipal elections is the ballot. Candidates are always listed alphabetically, which in my opinion gives the A, B, C and Ds an advantage.
I would be worried if I was Joshua Wasilenkoff, an independent council candidate, or Judy Zaichkowsky, a Green Party candidate for school board.
      It would be so much more equitable if future ballots were redesigned so every candidate had his or her name on top an equal number of times.
      For many, electing the school board is the most important aspect of this byelection. New trustees must repair the considerable damage caused by the firing of the previous trustees, and deal with the debacle caused by reinstatement of smaller class sizes.
      (Given the severe shortage of qualified teachers, why didn’t some smart person decree that smaller class sizes would be phased in over two years?)
      Homelessness and housing affordability are significant issues in the council election. Indeed, they have been the only issues, as everyone seems to ignore councillors’ role in overseeing an $1.8-billion capital and operating budget.
      Running for the NPA is Hector Bremner, whose fortunate name will put him at the top of the ballot. While I do not know him, he appears knowledgeable, well-spoken and has been around politics for many years.
      Based on his remarks at a recent SFU all-candidates’ forum, and response to a survey by Abundant Housing, a group of non-partisan volunteers advocating for all types of additional housing, I generally agree with his proposed solutions to address housing affordability.
      Bremner is running against three relatively well-known, left-leaning candidates, and the Vision Vancouver candidate, Diego Cardona, a 21-year old Colombian refugee with a remarkable life story.
I cannot comment on Cardona’s views on housing affordability. He was a no-show at the SFU all-candidates forum, and after reading his responses to the Abundant Housing survey, I doubt whether he personally penned his answers. Rather, they were prepared by Vision Vancouver staffers.
Pete Fry is the Green Party candidate, having run for council in 2014. I find him to be a knowledgeable, credible and likeable candidate.
      Judy Graves, running for OneCity, has for decades been a respected advocate for the homeless, and for many years city hall’s homelessness expert.
      More recently, she has been critical of Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson who, in 2008, promised to end homelessness by 2015. Vancouver’s homelessness problem is now worse.
Jean Swanson is running as an independent, but endorsed by COPE. She’s been a poverty and social justice activist for more than 40 years, and I first met her in 1975 when I was CMHC’s program manager for social housing.
       Swanson is certainly not seeking support from Vancouver landlords with her false claim that four years from now the average one-bedroom apartment will cost close to $4,000 a month. Her proposed four-year rent freeze is also wrong-headed.
      While it will no doubt attract many votes, she won’t have mine. I know from experience that if ever approved, it would discourage landlords from maintaining existing buildings, and deter others from creating new rental housing.
      This council byelection is important. If Bremner wins, it will give NPA some much-needed momentum going into the 2018 election. A Fry victory will give Green Coun. Adriane Carr someone to second her oftentimes thoughtful council motions.
      I prefer not to think about other outcomes.
      The city now estimates the cost of this byelection at $1.5 million. If only 10 per cent of eligible voters turn out, Vancouver taxpayers will shell out $36 for every vote. The more who vote, the greater the value for money spent.
geller@sfu.ca
@michaelgeller

As Vancouverites go the polls, a Vancouver Column worth re-reading

From the Vancouver Courier November 2014

Michael Geller / Vancouver Courier
November 10, 2014 04:02 PM

As I reflect on the 2014 Vancouver election campaign, I am reminded of a short story I received during the final days of the 2008 municipal election:

The most eye-opening civics lesson I ever had was while teaching third grade this year. The U.S. presidential election was heating up and some of the children showed an interest.
I decided we would have an election for a class president. We would choose our nominees. They would make a campaign speech and the class would vote.

To simplify the process, candidates were nominated by other class members. We discussed what kinds of characteristics these students should have. We got many nominations and from those, Jamie and Olivia were picked to run for the top spot.

The class had done a great job in their selections. Both candidates were good kids.
I thought Jamie might have an advantage because he got lots of parental support.
I had never seen Olivia’s mother.

The day arrived when they were to make their speeches Jamie went first. He had specific ideas about how to make our class a better place. He ended by promising to do his very best. Everyone applauded. He sat down and Olivia came to the podium.

Her speech was concise. She said, “If you will vote for me, I will give you ice cream.”She sat down.
 
The class went wild. “Yes! Yes! We want ice cream.”  

She surely would say more. She did not have to. A discussion followed.

How did she plan to pay for the ice cream? She wasn’t sure. Would her parents buy it or would the class pay for it. She didn’t know.

The class really didn’t care. All they were thinking about was ice cream.
Jamie was forgotten. Olivia won by a land slide.

All candidates running for office offer ice cream. Fifty per cent of the people react like nine-year-olds. They want ice cream. The other fifty per cent know they’re going to have to feed the cow and clean up the mess.

During this past campaign, while no one promised ice cream, all parties made a lot of other promises.
We were promised a subway along West Broadway even though the Mayors’ Council says Vancouver will have to pay for under grounding, if required for aesthetic reasons.

We were promised the most open city hall in Canada.

We were promised free swimming lessons and more swimming pools.

We were promised a $30/month transit-pass and a tax on vacant foreign-owned properties.

We were promised a reduction in harbour oil tanker traffic and no more pipelines.

We were promised counter-flow traffic lanes and more free parking times.

We were promised 4,000 plus units of rental housing and 1,000 plus childcare spaces.

While many voters may be influenced by these promises, others will wisely question which are realistic given the city’s limited powers and funding constraints.

Wise voters will also question which candidates are most likely to deliver on their promises.
In last week’s column, I urged Courier readers to learn about the candidates running for council, park and school board. I suggested we choose the best candidates, regardless of party affiliation, and the letter with which their name begins.

With this in mind, and given a desire for both experience and new ideas, I will be giving serious consideration to the following candidates.

Vision’s Geoff Meggs is a very intelligent, experienced politician with much to offer; as does Heather Deal.

NPA’s George Affleck and Ian Robertson are two experienced politicians who could again bring a practical perspective to council debates.

The Green Party’s Adriane Carr has proven herself to be a dedicated politician. I would expect the same from thoughtful newcomer Cleta Brown, who cares very much about social justice.

At park board, the Green Party’s Stuart Mackinnon along with NPA’s John Coupar, and newcomer Stephane Mouttet could all bring greater balance to deliberations.

For school board, the Green’s Janet Fraser has a most impressive resume. Fraser Ballantyne, Penny Noble and Chris Richardson could also be good additions.

For mayor, I believe Kirk LaPointe is the best person to manage what could be a very diverse council and hopefully fulfill his promise to create a more open and transparent city hall.
 
What prompted me to re-print this are some of the promised made in this election. One candidate is offering to end homelessness in a year, if her tax proposal is adopted. Another is promising a 4-year freeze on rents, suggesting that without such a freeze, a one-bedroom suite will cost $4,000 in 4 years. Both are ridiculous assertions.
 
If you want to learn more about the candidates running in this election, go here http://vancouver.ca/your-government/candidate-profiles.aspx

As for who to vote for, I'll leave it up to you this time. But I will not be voting for either Jean Swanson or Judy Graves, in part because of their naive and misguided solutions to address housing affordability and homelessness. They are little more than offering free ice cream to young children. You can find my Vancouver Courier column on the forthcoming election here: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/byelection-favours-a-b-c-and-d-candidates-1.23060962
 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Major Rush Mews: another West Vancouver Heritage Revitalization Proposal

At a time when many West Vancouver heritage and character homes are being demolished to make way for large new houses, earlier this year I purchased another heritage house in Ambleside, West Vancouver. My goal is to save it from the wrecking ball by obtaining approval from West Van council for a Heritage Revitalization Agreement which would conserve the 1923 Rush House, and allow three more units on the large (almost double) corner lot.

A Garden Suite, would be created on the lower level of Rush House. Two infill cottages would be built on the southern half of the site. The resulting FAR would be 0.67 plus basements; not at all high by Vancouver standards, but high by West Vancouver standards where the single family FAR is 0.35 plus basement.

The application is going to West Vancouver Council on October 16th, for approval to refer to a Public Hearing on November 20th. Since the project was initiated by some of the neighbours who wanted to see the house conserved, I am optimistic it will be referred to Public Hearing. However, I still expect opposition from those who might worry about an almost doubling of the FAR and a precedent for further densification of the neighbourhood.
artist's illustration looking north across the lane.
Details of the application including the zoning rationale, Heritage Conservation Plans prepared by Donald Luxton & Associates, and plans by Formwerks can be found on the District's excellent major projects website at https://westvancouver.ca/home-building-property/planning/major-applications/rush-house-1195-12th-street
artist's illustration looking west from 12th Street
I welcome any comments, especially from those interested in heritage conservation and 'missing middle' housing, and those worried about the loss of character in single family neighbourhoods.
And if you are so inclined, do sent a note to the Mayor and Council and share your views. You can do it easily from the District website.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Now Selling Vinson House Cottages

Artist's illustration showing view from Gordon Avenue
Artist's illustration of view from the rear lane
Vinson House Cottages is a small, but interesting infill project in Ambleside West Vancouver, being developed by Trasolini Chetner and my company under a Heritage Revitalization Agreement. The address is 1425 Gordon Avenue.

The development comprises 4 homes, a conserved heritage house, a new Garden Suite below; and two new cottages. Although our marketing program is just getting underway, the single level Garden Suite has already been sold.

While we initially considered holding off the marketing until the development was finished, similar to Hollyburn Mews, now that the framing of the two cottages is complete and the roofs are going on, it seems like a good time to bring these homes to market. We will likely complete the conservation of the heritage Vinson House before offering it for sale.

Below is an 'advertorial' that recently appeared in the real estate section of the North Shore News which is starting to generate interest. To assist potential buyers in appreciating how the completed development will appear, we have created a small, modest presentation centre in Major Rush House, another Ambleside heritage house which I purchased earlier this year. On display are a model, floor plans and the proposed finishes, etc.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the overall development or these two homes, please contact me, or our Sales Manager Elaine Biggan of Royal LePage Sussex at ebiggan@telus.net or call 604 880 4559 or go to our website www.vinsonhousecottages.com

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Yom Kippur 2017

If my late mother knew I was writing a Yom Kippur  blogpost on Yom Kippur, she would be horrified. After all, I grew up in a house where we not only did not do any work on this special holiday, we didn't use electricity or even tear toilet paper. Really!

However, although I am not a religious, God-fearing Jew, I do like to observe many Jewish holidays, and especially Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While some have compared it to Catholic confession, with a full day of day of prayer and fasting thrown in, it is also a time to reflect on the past year, and especially the sins one may have committed and things one regrets. It is also a time to resolve to live a better, more compassionate and caring life in the year to come.

One of the prayers recited during Kol Nidre on the eve of Yom Kippur goes like this:

I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have done me wrong, whether deliberately or by accident, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account.

As I forgive and pardon fully those who have done me wrong, may those whom I have harmed forgive and pardon me, whether I acted deliberately or by accident, by word or by deed. 

So let me say directly to any of you who I may have wronged, I do truly apologize. I especially apologize to those of you who may have been upset by something I said or did in a face to face encounter, or through social media. After all, so many of my interactions these days are via Facebook and Twitter! 

At a time when organized religion continues to create so much misery in the world, it is somewhat uncomfortable to write about a religious occasion. However, Yom Kippur is a day for reflection, and I wanted to share these thoughts with those of you who visit this blog. 

May you too be inscribed in the Book of Life and have a happy, healthy and peaceful year to come.

Opinion: So you want to liquidate your aging condo building… Vancouver Courier September 28, 2017

     I have been wanting to write the following column for some time, ever since I learned that the law was changed with respect to condominium wind-ups.
     This is a difficult issue, since in many instances it makes a lot of sense to replace well-located older condo projects in need of repairs, with new, higher density housing. Furthermore, the owners generally receive considerably more than they would selling their individual units on the market, often twice what the units are worth.
     At the same time, it does not seem fair to those owners who simply do not want to sell and move. Also, when the realtor comes knocking on the door, considerable dissension within the strata often results between those owners who want to sell, and those who want to stay.
     There is much more to be said on this topic, especially now that the first projects are going through the courts, but in the meanwhile, I hope this provides a good, and understandable overview, especially for those who may find themselves in this predicament, or know others who are.
     Thanks to my editor at the Vancouver Courier for including this column in the print edition. I have had many positive comments and will be doing a follow up interview with Jill Bennett at CKNW tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 7:45.

Some condominiums are now being viewed as redevelopment sites
      Do you live in a well-located older condominium complex in need of extensive repairs? Have you been thinking of buying into an older condominium complex, or know someone who is? Read on.
      Although condominium legislation was first approved in the late 1960s, it was not until the early 1970s that condominium developments were built in Vancouver. While many early projects continue to provide wonderful accommodation, others have been poorly maintained and require significant repairs, often costing more than the homes are worth.
      Other projects are in locations ripe for redevelopment, making them two times or more valuable as vacant sites.
      Until November 2015, an older condominium development could not be wound up or liquidated without the approval of 100 per cent of the residents. While a few projects were sold to developers with unanimous approval, many sales did not proceed because one or more residents did not want to sell.
      After all, these were their homes. Many were elderly and wanting to live out their final days in the apartment they had enjoyed for 40-plus years.
      However, in November 2015, Bill 40 received royal assent from the British Columbia legislature. It amended the Strata Property Act with respect to the winding up of a condominium project.
The Bill 40 amendments resulted in two important changes. The threshold required to terminate a strata development was reduced from 100 per cent to 80 per cent of the strata’s eligible voters. Secondly, when there was not unanimity, the strata must apply for a court order to provide some protection for dissenting owners.
      Since the legislation was passed, it seems like every older condominium along a major road or near SkyTrain has a realtor knocking on the door. Increasingly, strata corporations are considering a potential windup and sale. Sadly, this is also causing major strife between those wanting to sell, and those wanting to stay.
      Increasingly, legal firms are specializing in this aspect of property law.
      In March 2017, the B.C. Supreme Court approved the first sale of a condominium complex. Although owners of two of the building’s 30 units previously voted against selling the building, no one was in court to oppose the sale.
      I’m told another 10 projects are now going through the court process. However, in some cases, the dissenting owners are hiring their own lawyers to challenge the majority decision.
      A key issue for many owners is how the proceeds from a sale will be distributed.
Three different formulas could apply depending on when the project was built. They are unit entitlement, interest on destruction, or B.C. Assessment valuation. A strata corporation may also create its own custom-made formula through unanimous vote.
      Unit entitlement is the number assigned to each strata lot that determines its share of common property and assets, and is used to calculate strata fees and special levies. It is generally based on size, not value. However, if a project was developed in the 1970s, this is the formula that was used to distribute proceeds if a building burned down.
      For those projects developed in the 1980s or 1990s, prior to registration of the strata plan, a schedule of “Interest on destruction” was prepared. This set out the value of a strata unit compared to the whole building, usually based on its initial sales price in relation to the total sales prices.
      For more recent projects developed under the current Strata Property Act, B.C. Assessment values are to be used to determine each unit’s share of the proceeds in the event a building is destroyed.
      However, there is a problem using B.C. Assessment’s valuations, since for many projects, they have been found to be skewed and inconsistent.
      Furthermore, since so many condominium projects are now being viewed as redevelopment sites, B.C. Assessment no longer values their units based on current use. Rather, they are valued as part of a future vacant redevelopment site.
      Consequently, property taxes are rising significantly, even though the buildings may need extensive repairs. While many planners, realtors, and developers may view this as a good thing, it is not for those wanting to stay in their homes.
      It’s time for a public conversation on this.