City Council received a presentation tonight on a new program called “CNV4ME: Connecting Children, Youth + Families In The City Of North Vancouver”.
It was presented as an outcome of the North Shore Congress Child and Family Friendly Community Charter which was signed by the eight governments (yes, there are eight plus two First Nations) of the North Shore.
Who wouldn’t agree with Children, Youth and Families being better connected? Nobody I’m sure. However, this program is more about the government of the City of North Vancouver trying to increase it's own profile and less to do with connecting children, youth and families with each other.
You might think I am cynical. But after reading the professionally illustrated and produced brochure/report, even the new catch phrase, CNV4ME, seems to me to be organizational self promotion. Here are some of the highlights:
1. It begins with “Quick facts" that tell you about the City. That its arbitrary boundary encompasses only 12 square kilometers 50 thousand of the 190 thousand people that live on the North Shore and that somehow is important for the City to have its own strategies to make a family friendly community.
It’s important to the City bureaucracy that you are aware of how the City is a distinct community, with its own culture, because without any natural boundaries, this somehow justifies having duplicate local governments in North Vancouver. In this world, government creates community, not the other way around.
2. The first action item: “Provide training for City staff and interested partners on strategies to effectively engage younger community members in municipal activities.”
So, are we going to have our street and utility maintenance crews being trained to relate to kids better? Maybe talk them into coming to a Council meeting? Perhaps help out with the street cleaning or garbage pickup.
But don’t we already have a lot of trained people in the North Vancouver School District and Recreation Commission for whom relating to kids is their job? Or is it that the City thinks it is missing an opportunity to indoctrinate kids early on how one community can’t have too many governments?
3. Another action item: create “an easily accessible micro grants program for residents to access for the purpose of implementing new and innovative activities that build intergenerational connections.”
Hmm… are we going to give grants to kids in the City so that they can go visit their parents in the District? Or perhaps the other way around?
And where are we taking money away to fund these direct grants to individuals for ‘new and innovative programs”?
It is likely to come out of the same pot that funds the Community Service Grant program. This program is one that we fund and manage jointly with the District, which is a very good thing for the organizations that apply since most of them operate across the City/District boundary and if we did not collaborate they would be having to do twice the work for the same chance at obtaining a small grant.
On June 23rd the City approved about 60 grants, many as small as $500, for a wide variety of organizations taking care of people from every age group. The City’s contribution to this jointly funded program with the District is $100,000, a level that has been capped at in 2008 as the requests total over 2.5 times the amount funded. (The District's share has continued to increase and is now 2.9x that of the City)
Since actions provide better evidence of priorities than words, it is worth noting that while the City’s contribution to Community Services Grants has been frozen at $100,000 for six years - the City Manager’s salary went from $231,000 to $291,000.
What bothers the powers that be at the City about this granting program for social service agencies (and to the North Vancouver Recreation Commission for that matter) is that they often don’t respect the City/District boundary. Very few do, thank goodness. As a result, the City doesn’t feel it gets proper ‘credit’ and reinforcement of its legitimacy as a government.
CNV4ME is the City government’s attempt to redress that. It is a part of a deliberate campaign to literally buy legitimacy and connection with the people who live within its odd and awkward boundary, but at the expense of the larger North Vancouver community. That’s why I think the “C” stands for Cynical.
As North News readers know from Brent Richter’s excellent article , the City of North Vancouver was stunted at birth.
Self-interested developers of the day conspired with the then Reeve (old word for Mayor) of North Vancouver to draw a line around the land they controlled and create a ‘City' that would be dedicated to getting their lots for sale instead of 'wasting' money building a larger community.
Every once in a while, common sense and the pressing needs of the community pushes through the increasingly institutionalized limited vision and self interest. In one of those rare moments the North Vancouver Recreation Commission was created and what is now the Harry Jerome Complex was built.
But as local governments get bigger and more complicated, their organizational self interest and the interests that fund campaigns for Council will be much more difficult to overcome.
The only way that it is going to get done is by consolidating the two local governments called “North Vancouver” - one at Mahon and 29th and the other at 14th and Lonsdale - into the lovely and capacious new City Hall at 14th and Lonsdale. The savings from doing so would more than pay for a new Harry Jerome Centre to serve everyone in North Vancouver. And at no cost to the taxpayers of North Vancouver.
Then North Vancouver would be a real City. One that could do an authentic Official Community Plan. A plan that truly aligned with the rest of what means community to the rest of us and not the stunted, small one that is trying to ’shape’ the community to match its own limited vision.
We should be talking about things like this during the election. We don’t get another chance to talk about it, and have it matter, for four years.
Both my father-in-law, Art Charbonneau the former NDP Minister of Everything, and my father, Bob Heywood the former City Councillor (and RCMP C/O), were outstanding politicians in their own right. It makes for animated discussions when either (or both) are around the dinner table.
After the fun of collaborating on a piece with Art that got into the Sun about the teacher's strike, my father and I co-wrote a letter to the NS News about the upcoming election. Unfortunately, I don't think it is going to get published. Here it is:
The only thing we know for sure about the next election in the City of North Vancouver is that, after twelve years, there will not be a Heywood on the next Council. With the benefit of that experience we have some advice to pass on to the candidates running to fill our seat (and the other seats) on Council, as well as for the people that will elect them:
1. Be aware
Being a Councillor is a very serious responsibility. It pays $40,000 a year including full benefits plus generous conference/travel allowance and in return for a commitment to show up for 34 regular Council Meetings (in 2014) and a half a dozen special meetings. That's $1,000 per meeting. Once elected you are really not accountable to anyone until the next election, which will be in four years. That's a lot of trust.
2. Be realistic
The electronic and paper package delivered to you on Friday afternoons before Monday Council meetings is often over 500 pages long. It may contain extremely detailed budgets, complex development proposals, ponderous bylaw recommendations and voluminous reports on everything from feral cats to the latest community health and recreation trends. If you are taking it seriously, you will find it overwhelming at times.
You will be invited to many more meetings and social events than you will have the capacity to attend, unless you are the Mayor with is the only one expected to be a full time politician. It is virtually impossible hold down a regular day job and lead a normal family life and perform this role properly. Something will have to give and usually will.
3. Be honest and unconflicted
This is an area where the bar is rising. One would think that the notion that candidates for Council should not to take money from the corporations or unions that benefit by the decisions they could make as Councillors is a very low ethical bar to clear. Amazingly, not everyone can.
You will feel better, and the public will have more respect for your decisions, if there are no connections between the organizations who benefit from your decisions as Councillor and those that fund your campaign.
4. Be independent and thoughtful
You are elected to think about the broad interests of the community and not just respond to each single interest group. If it looks like you are consistently voting with a block or in a way that does not square with the principles you claim to represent, you are taking up a seat that should be occupied by someone with a more independent and consistently principled point of view.
5. Do it for the right reasons
It is not a glory job. While some consider local government to be a farm team assignment to endure will they wait to be called up to the big leagues of politics, we hope that you don’t. North Vancouver is an unusually blessed community. It deserves to have local politicians who really have the best interests of the community at heart.
Our best wishes and thanks to everyone making the effort to run in the next election. We hope there is a record turnout!
Bob Heywood, Councillor (2002-2008)
Guy Heywood, Councillor (2008-2014)
My reasons for voting against the OCP are quite different from the other three Councillors that also voted against it. I was actually happy with Chapter One, “Land Use and Density”. However, without being able to separate that out and vote for it individually I was not able to vote for the bylaw as a whole. Nobody should have been surprised that I have significant misgivings about the OCP given the number of issues that I have brought up at Council.
Procedurally I was not able to express my approval for chapter one along with my misgivings about the balance of the document. So I was left no choice but to vote in opposition. For those who are interested, here are some of my thoughts on the balance of the document.
First of all what is not there:
1. A long view of fiscal sustainability. The document talks about the need for the City to be “...sustainable in its ability to prosper without sacrifice to future generations…” If so, where is the long view of City financing? Why is there no analysis of past tax and spending patterns and a projection of possible future taxation and expenditure patterns.
I asked for this to be a part of the OCP back in January because I believe that fiscal sustainability should be a key part of any 30 year view of the City and there are long term trends are not working in the City’s favour. (see my previous blogs on Municipal Taxation).
2. Where is the Corporation of the City of North Vancouver in this Official Plan for the Community?
I have made several attempts to get a process of taking a common-sense look at the structure of local government in North Vancouver. Inertia, organizational self interest and lack of comparable data have frustrated this effort. If it is not a part of the OCP process, I firmly believe that is should be going along in parallel. When we are taking a 30 year view of the future of the community, “City Shaping”, shouldn’t we check to see if the government is the right shape?
The Plan Itself
That I was not successful in either of the initiatives mentioned above was not reason enough to vote against the plan.
My reason for voting against the plan is that I feel the material after the first chapter had not received enough discussion and process at Council.
The first chapter garnered pretty much all of the attention and ended up where I was prepared to support it. The balance of the plan has had no discussion in town halls or at Council. We seemed to be in a rush to pass a 30 year vision of the community 90% of which had virtually no debate or formal public process?
Here are the issues that I have with the balance of the plan:
Context: The short history of the City’ glosses over the real reasons for its creation. The individuals who controlled the two companies that owned virtually all the land in North Vancouver lived in Vancouver. They believed that the City of Vancouver was too big and as a consequence the resources of the municipality were diverted from what they thought its main job - getting the developers properties serviced for sale - to other less important tasks like maintain road and bridges out to settlers at the edge of the municipal boundary that were too poor to pay enough taxes to support their services. So they engineered the creation of a municipality, the boundaries of which exactly match the lands that they owned.
That is the DNA of the City. It was created to cater to the needs of developers. Evidence of the persistence in that bias could be the first draft of the plan, which had density targets significantly in excess of what regional growth estimates required.
Chapter One: All that we have been talking about to date…
Several staff reports point out that property values tend to trade up to their indicated OCP densities - so it was perhaps understandable that tensions would be high. People were potential being enriched. Others could suffer if the density worked to the opposite effect on their property.
One thing is for certain. This is all just a ‘testing of the waters’ on behalf of the development community. The OCP is not binding. Any restraint achieved in the final draft of the OCP is not a material protection against the will of a future council that decided to simply amend it. Those that might have taken comfort in a plan that has levels they were comfortable with would be mistaken. The only thing that matters is the composition of the next Council.
Chapter Two: Transportation.
No clear statement of the frequent bridgehead gridlock issue that is a shared responsibility of the City and District.
No mention of Council’s frequently expressed interest in an improvement of service up and down Lonsdale.
There is a fairly clear indication that the lack of coordinated planning with the District is an issue here that is not mentioned at all in the plan.
Chapter Three: Community Well Being.
This is the chapter I feel most strongly about and that I felt deserved much more process. I have two major problems with it.
First it appropriately talks about community well being from the point of view of emergency preparedness and resiliency. What is resiliency? It is the ability of key public institutions to survive potential adverse natural events. What are likely the most relevant to life in North Vancouver: earthquakes and climate change. I would argue that earthquakes are the more likely.
What have we done? We have facilitated the School District’s renovation of all its buildings in the City. Our children are in safer schools and the board office staff have a modern, seismically safe building to work in.
We have also taken care of the City’s key facilities (a new City Hall and Works yard). So the City is taking care of its employees. Added to that we have also facilitate the construction of a new, state of the art headquarters for North Shore Search and Rescue, of which we can all be very proud.
However, when I have spoken to staff at the North Shore Emergency Management Office (NSEMO) about contingency planning for natural disasters they tell me that most important places are our community centres, and the places where our most fragile people might be. Specifically the buildings in the Harry Jerome Complex and the seniors centres and daycares at Silver Harbour and North Shore Neighbourhood House.
All of these buildings were either built by the City or under its control. All of them are old, seismically at risk buildings. So much so that NSEMO has to exclude them from their disaster scenario planning as they are not sure that they would be still standing after a moderate to severe earthquake. Not referring to this situation when discussing community resilience is a glaring omission.
My second major misgiving relates to the role these and other City controlled buildings play as part of our social infrastructure. There is no mention of the role that community centres and the housing of our key non-profit social service providers, as critical and active components of a healthy community.
The City has gifted of retail office space that it obtained as in-kind community amenity contributions to specific community groups just because of their political influence, not because of their role in the existing social service network of the City. Is this because the City is not as connected to the community as it should be? In any event, it would be in this chapter that I would have expected more fulsome discussion and planning.
The Harry Jerome Complex is an issue worthy of the name, “complex”. But it tops the list of social infrastructure amenities that the City is expected to deal with. I have speculated on the real reason why it has not moved on this issue in another blog post (“The Trouble With Harry”).
Chapter Four: Natural Environment, Energy and Climate
I don’t have significant issues with this chapter other than to point out that the City does not have natural geographic boundaries, nor a complete natural system. The key features of our natural system are the watersheds which are a shared responsibility with the District.
Chapter Five: Parks Recreation and Open Space
My comments about community recreation centres are most contained in the comments on Chapter Three. When I was on the North Vancouver Recreation Centre we tried to change the name of these critical facilities to Community Recreation Centres (“CRC’s”) to emphasize their importance as social infrastructure and not just places where people go to work out and play sports.
Parks and outdoor recreation is an area that requires closer cooperation with the District than most others as virtually all of the sport organizations are North Vancouver-wide. A critical coordinating role has been played by the Recreation Commission for many years but will it survive the increasing tension between the City and the District that is apparent in every report that Council has received regarding shared services and also evidenced by the District’s decision to ‘go it alone’ on the reconstruction of the William Griffin facility.
Chapter Six: Arts Culture and Heritage
The North Vancouver Arts and Council barely receives a mention at the end of this section, but the City houses the organization at the Cityscape Gallery at 4th and Lonsdale. It does a remarkable job mobilizing volunteers and talent for the whole North Vancouver Community.
The arts community is generally frustrated by the City and with the lack of City/District collaboration. However, nobody from the community is going to raise their voice with even mild criticism after seeing the treatment of the President of the Chamber of Commerce by the mayor when she made a respectful submission to Council on the issue of the potential for better City/District collaboration. Fortunately the Chamber does not rely on City funding to any great extent and the service it provide to the City and North Vancouver is worth a lot more than the contract revenue that it earns from the City. However, arts organizations are much more vulnerable and in the current environment, they and the managers of other non-profits that are reliant on the City will be keeping their heads down.
Chapter Seven: Economic Development
The case for the potential benefit that could come from better coordination between the North Vancouvers in economic development would be an easy one to make. However, economic development is not a priority at the City and it insists that initiatives like twin Cities are more for cultural and social benefit and a safe perk for the Councillors who enjoy the trips at taxpayer’s expense.
Chapter Eight: Municipal Services & Infrastructure
This chapter should have two parts: one that deals with the physical infrastructure and another that deals with the overhead and services to citizens. It only deals with the former. Good news. The City’s infrastructure is in good shape. Utility costs within the service areas of the City should remain lower than in the District, regardless what happens. If anything, there might be some economies in maintenance and billing services, but the cost of utilities in the denser part of any community should remain low in any scenario.
There is no discussion about services in the sense of the things that touch citizens. The new City Hall is now a great place for over the counter service for permits, licences, paying fees etc. It seems to have been built to accommodate much larger demand than it actually sees in terms of in person traffic.
There have also been many advances in the delivery of services to individuals and households made possible by the internet and technology in general. Furthermore advances in technology make the provision of back office functions like tax collection, permits and licensing things that can be done more cheaply and effectively than ever before. But those kind of services do not get a mention in the draft OCP.
A final comment on Lonsdale Energy Corporation. It is an initiative that has consumed a great deal of the City’s management capacity and now, a significant amount of financial capacity. It operates at break even and supplies efficient heat from natural gas from to forty buildings in the City instead of the less efficient natural gas or electric heat they might have used themselves. Its price to customers is apparently less than market, so to that extent it is a conferring a benefit to those consumers that is to some degree subsidized by the balance of the City taxpayers. I am not sure why. Furthermore, it is has reached the boundaries of the City. To gain scale and service buildings in the District, it would have to become provincially regulated, which will be prohibitively expensive. It is a City utility. Should we be running bus shelter ads extolling its virtues to people who cannot access it’s products? I don’t think so, but we do.
The final chapters nine and ten are about the plan’s implementation. I did not feel I needed to put my thoughts in writing on those two issues before an opportunity to deal with my issues regarding the seven chapters that I don’t feel had sufficient due process to be passed.
In summary, I think the citizens of the City of North Vancouver deserve better.
Residents of the City of North Vancouver should read the City's draft OCP. You can learn a lot about what is happening in the 12 square kilometres that is the jurisdiction of the City of North Vancouver by reading the document. In addition to reading the document, one should think about the appropriateness of the conceptual framework and the assumptions about context.
The document has three parts: Part I is "Foundations" which talks about vision, principles and context. Part II is the meat of the plan, "Community Directions" and has ten chapters that start with one on land use and then goes on to discuss transportation, parks, culture, heritage, economy and municipal infrastructure. Part III is a shorter section on implementation and measuring progress.
I will make some comments on those chapters in later blogs. In this one I am going to focus on Part I and the conceptual framework that it sets out for the rest of the plan.
It begins with a "Community Vision" that talks about being a vibrant, diverse, and highly livable community that is resilient to climate change etc.. ". In other words nothing different than what we would expect from any local government in our society. The Guiding Principles are ten statements of positive intent that represent what are likely pretty generally acceptable motherhood statements of good intentions that would be reasonable to hold a local government to account for.
The discussion of context talks about the North Shore as a home to First Nations and subsequent European settlement and the saw milling industry in the late 1800s. The short form history then jumps to a short description of the "Ambitious City" and its development after incorporation in 1907 without any explanation as to why the Corporation of the City was formed with its peculiar and awkward boundary (for that story see my blog below "Ambitious City or Selfish City").
I would argue that an appreciation of the specific reasons that the City was founded is important to understand the original purposes and the likely institutional inertia that informs the current directions and priorities of the organization. The City of North Vancouver was created for the convenience of the property developers of the day and not to be aligned with the community growing around it.
As an organization, however, the Corporation of the City of North Vancouver has developed its own interests and purposes. This purpose is not a profit motive, but it is certainly a self preservation motive that is most acutely felt and acted upon by the interests that are most served by its continued existence and independence and who rely on its decisions on a day to day basis. In the case of a local government, its day to day decisions are the most important to the developers of property in its jurisdiction, to the unions of the employees of the organization. It is also important to those senior management who have obtained positions in the organization who then see their role to defend the organization even they appear unreasonable doing so.
The City government-centric bias of the document is also apparent in the in what is introduced as the "Sustainable City Framework", graphically illustrated on page 12 of the draft plan:
The graphic might say more about the real motivations of 'City Shaping' than the authors intended. If you substitute the word "Framework" with "Corporation" the graphic takes on a somewhat different, and perhaps more clear, meaning.
In this perspective it looks as though nature, society and economy are expected to orbit around the "The Sustainable City" and "City Shaping" is the process of bending all of these other elements to better align with the interests of the Corporation of the City of North Vancouver. To the extent that those interests are not the same as the interests of the people who live in the community of North Vancouver, there is going to be inefficiency.
That, in a nutshell is one of my concerns about the government-centric nature of the OCP process. While it is full of great and laudable aspirations, there is a bias in the conceptual framework that demands to take as given, in its current shape and form, a local government organization that is working hard to avoid scrutiny of its own context, purposes and the opportunity cost to the community if it is not in alignment with the community that it is supposed to serve.
An edited version of a letter that my father-in-law, Art Charbonneau and I co-wrote for the Vancouver Sun was published today. Here is the full unedited version:
It is a tragedy that the issue that takes all of the energy and attention related to public education is how to settle an industrial age style collective bargaining dispute in a context where nobody actually in the room is going to suffer any serious consequence from failure to get an agreement in a timely fashion. It does not work for pretty obvious reasons.
There are no actual owners who will lose their businesses or workers who will lose their jobs if an agreement does not get done. The government representatives have job security and the union reps have guaranteed jobs to go back to. Nobody ‘in the room’ feels any direct pain from failure. They can stick to the narrow selfish principles they have been mandated to protect while the broader value of public education in our society is diminished.
The real pain is the waste of the collective investment that we are all making in the next generation. The most focused and acute pain is the one felt by the parent whose child is having their chances of succeeding in life reduced by not getting the best education possible with the resources available now.
The haemorrhage of children to the private school system will compound the problem in the long term. The process of collective bargaining is the only (and dubious) value being served. Its dysfunction is undermining the long term viability of the public education system and ultimately, of our democratic, multicultural society that relies on the integrative and egalitarian effect of public education to regenerate itself.
Like money, energy and public attention are limited resources. If it is all spent in and around a ritualized process for determining how many people are going to be on the job site, the maximum amount of responsibility they have to have, and how much they get paid, then there is less to spend on the improving quality of the tools they use, the adequacy of the space they occupy and the value of the outputs they produce.
Decisions of successive governments to continue to increase the share of public revenue that goes to fund health care over education (and every other ministry such as parks and environment) are ultimately based on values, not efficiency. They have been wrong choices that have increased the risks to our society in the future.
We have to find a better way to determine the priorities for spending the intergenerational trust called public education. And, when we all feel better about the way that the money is being spent, we need to increase the public education budget. Unlike what the the sappy Telus ads say, the future is not friendly for our children. There needs to be a fundamental reconciliation and change in the process...now!
Guy Heywood is a former Chair of the North Vancouver School Board. Art Charbonneau is a former NDP Minister of Education who once fired him and replaced the Board of SD 44 with a Public Trustee. They have since reconciled.
If you go to the City of North Vancouver’s web page describing property taxes, it features a graph that appears to show a declining trend in property taxes in the City over the years from 2007 to 2014:
While a casual inspection of the graph might make you think that taxes have been decreasing, it is only the rate of increase that is decreasing. As anyone who has been paying those taxes over those years, their 'lived experience' would be much different than what this graph is indicating.
In fact the cumulative effect of all of those successive increases is that residential taxes in the City of North Vancouver have increased by 46% in the 8 year period when average family incomes have increased only 8%. Local government is the fastest growing part of the public sector, and certainly growing faster than the private incomes that it ultimately relies upon to pay the taxes.
While the graph showing a 'declining rate of increase' is annoying, there is another even more misleading comparison featured on the “Tax Information Sheet” is enclosed with every tax notice. A copy is also available on the website. It purports to compare taxation levels between jurisdictions by comparing municipal taxes on a ‘representative house’. If you look at it with an uncritical eye, you would think that taxes are ‘high’ in West Vancouver and North Vancouver District and ‘low’ in Port Coquitlam and North Vancouver City.
If you look at municipal tax rates instead, the picture can be turned on its head. The tax rate is actually highest in Port Coquitlam and lowest in West Vancouver. North Van City is in the middle and certainly higher than the Districts of West and North Vancouver.
2014 Municipal Tax Rates Of MetroVancouver Local Governments
*Rates from an excel spreadsheet provided by the Provincial Government Local Government Statistics website. The tax rate for NorthVan City slightly differs slightly as the City does not follow the provincial reporting guidelines.
So which is the more reasonable comparison? I believe any fair person would agree that the rate has much more to do with fairness than does the actual taxes paid. The rate is the relationship between the amount of tax payable and the amount of income, or in the case of property tax, the asset value, that is subject to the tax.
The only reason that “taxes paid on a representative house” are low in Port Coquitlam, when their rate is the highest in Metro Vancouver, is because home values in that community are low. It seems perverse to be claim some kind of virtue in lower cash taxes when they are lower only because the homes in your community are less valuable.
One would hope that generally richer people pay more tax than poorer people. One would also hope that they at least pay the same rate, or even a higher one if we believe the tax system should be a 'progressive' one, featuring higher rates of tax for higher levels of income or wealth.
Property taxes in Metro Vancouver, however, are most certainly not progressive. They are quite regressive. Homeowners in poorer communities like Port Coquitlam and New Westminster have to pay a much higher percentage of their home value in tax to support their local government than homeowners in West or North Vancouver Districts, or in Vancouver itself.
Property tax is particularly challenging because it is a tax on the value of one’s major asset regardless of income. Does it seem fair to you that in West Vancouver, the wealthiest community in the country, they also pay the lowest rate of tax on their much more valuable homes.
It is disingenuous that the North Vancouver City Government continues to present this specious and self serving comparison in the information that it sends out to all of use every year.
The City's municipal tax rate is now in the middle of the pack. But where is it likely to go from here? There are several reasons to believe that it will start trending higher than the District tax rate, after being virtually the same for many years, for a number of reasons.
One reason is one given in the City’s Tax Information Sheet. It talks about the average value of single detached homes going up by 1.14% year over year, while the value of strata residences going down by almost 2% in the same year.
Strata homes make up 85%of the housing stock of the City. If this trend continues, NorthVan City will have to raise its tax rate faster than the District just to raise the same amount of revenue. Many people believe that there is more downside to strata property values than there are for single family home values.
One way to avoid that squeeze is to increase the number of new units by more than the decrease in their value every year. But that in turn could create the risk of being dependent on continuing to grow to fund normal budget increases while at the same time creating longer term pressure on infrastructure from the rapid population growth.
Another reason is that taxes in the City are likely to go up faster is that it faces much more pressure to increase social service related spending than the District.
The City owns social housing. Virtually all of the major social service agencies are in the City. There is pressure to change the allocation of the policing budget from a population based formula to an activity and call based formula. This would significantly increase the costs to the City as the majority of crime in North Vancouver occurs in the dense urban and poorer core.
Certainly if the City decides to take on the financial risk of developing a new waterfront attraction, which its consultant admitted was planned to serve the whole North Vancouver population, then there is another potential source of cost pressure.
The City needs the District tax base to fund the future development of the core services and amenities for all of North Vancouver for the next 100 years. It should find a way to overcome the myopia and self interest of certain politicians and senior staff and do the right thing for whole North Vancouver community.
While democracy may not be dead at the local level in North Vancouver, there is going to be less of it in the future. There are going to be fewer opportunities for citizens to have influence on their local governments for several reasons:
1. Longer terms. After the election in November it will be four years until the next one. So if you don't like the direction your mayor and council are going, it be an extra year before you will be able to vote them out.
2. The provincial government's failure to reform local election financing. Developers and unions that have the greatest interest in council decisions and which are the main contributors to the campaigns of Councillors and Mayors that support their objectives, are free to continue to do so and their better financed campaigns will drown out the voices of independents and suppress serious discussion about the future of our communities.
3. Official Community Plans are pretty much finished. The District finished theirs last year and the the City is almost finished it's latest one. In the City, staff is seeking to extend the horizon of the plan to 30 years. Most planners would prefer not to expose the land use planning process to public scrutiny any more frequently than absolutely necessary. It could be 20 years longer until the next mandatory review of the plan and opportunity to ask planners fundamental questions about land use policy and its impact on the community.
4. Media restructuring. The ability of local media to provide coverage of local politics in smaller municipalities is already overtaxed given the revenue sources they have available to them. The editorial and reporting capability North Vancouver Outlook was a victim of the last wave of retrenchment. Social media (Twitter, Facebook and blogs) is growing, but it is not clear if it can fill the gap.
Adding to the challenge in North Vancouver, there is likely a majority of people who don't know if their government is the one on 14th and Lonsdale or the one at 29th and Mahon. Is their biggest concern a shared service (police, recreation)? Or is it a duplicated one (library, fire halls)? Do they want a bike lane on the north side of parts of Keith Road or 29th Street (District) or on the south side (in the City) and who is responsible for painting the line down the middle? I can understand why someone not directly involved in local politics loses patience and gives up.
Normal pressures of everyday life just don't leave enough time to figure out how vote or otherwise influence our complicated local government structure. Without declared parties to frame the issues and connect them to overarching ideologies and perspective, the citizen who may want to vote feels lost. 4 times out of 5 in North Vancouver, they don't bother. Put another way, it means they are withholding their acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the government that influences their lives the most on a day to day basis.
Mind you, it is also possible that people who are lucky enough to live in a place as fabulous as North Vancouver are predisposed to just trust that the people in charge will do the right thing.
But what if those people in charge, driven by inertia or self interest, are not doing right by the community? What if there is actually an unacceptable level of duplication and lack of coordination between North Vancouver’s two governments 15 blocks apart? What if this becomes painfully obvious when long term plans for land use, density and infrastructure are being developed? And what if it is getting worse the longer it is allowed to persist?
From 2005 to 2013 City and District government expenditures grew by 46% and 40/% respectively, the economy and average family incomes grew by around 8%. With requirements to fund a new sewage treatment plant, and other projects like Harry Jerome or the new $30 million waterfront attraction that Mayor Mussatto would would like to build, we can't keep sticking our collective heads in the sand.
Citizens of North Vancouver deserve to be confident that our local governments are spending our money wisely. That it is not being spent on duplicated overhead. That major projects and long term plans for the future affecting all North Vancouver are being properly managed. I am not confident. I believe there is a lot at stake and that we are on the wrong track.
I thought my concerns could be addressed by taking up a standing offer the Province makes for any local governments that wants to look at restructuring. This suggestion was welcomed by District Council, but met with fierce resistance at the City. Mayor Mussatto went so far as to bully the President of the Chamber of Commerce for expressing the Chamber's support for just doing a study. The City Manager then wrote a report strongly recommending against the initiative (surprise) which resulted in the motion failing by a 4 to 3 vote at Council.
While the study is not going ahead, the ferocity of the resistance to it is very troubling. I am now more convinced that all citizens of North Vancouver would benefit from an objective look into the shape and effectiveness of our local governments. But when the chances to ask those questions are going to get fewer and farther apart I fear that it is not going to happen. Does anyone else share my concern?
Guy Heywood is a former North Vancouver City Councillor.