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.