Category Archives: Articles

The Limits of Free Speech

The following article news4  was published in the Nov 15th issue of The Global Canadian, a new North Shore community newspaper, available at various locations (contact us for a list).

The Limits of Free Speech: When a citizen spoke to Mayor Mussatto:

AT A RECENT COUNCIL
MEETING, MAYOR DARRELL
MUSSATTO WELCOMED A
CITIZEN TO THE PODIUM BUT
HASTENED TO PULL OUT THE
RULE BOOK ON THE WHAT,
WHY AND WHEN OF SPEAKING
BEFORE THE COUNCIL.

GAGANDEEP GHUMAN
November 15, 2017
It’s a seemingly routine task that most
mayors and councillors are familiar with.
A speaker comes before the council, is
formally welcomed and allowed to speak
while politicians listen patiently. It doesn’t
matter if the speech is boring or irrelevant
or repetitive and it may not even matter if
the politicians are really listening or merely
pretending to do so. The idea matters, the
idea that you are being listened to by those
who have the power to shape your city. The
whole scene is an affirmation of democracy
and this political contract between the people
and politicians plays out in the villages,
towns and cities across the country.
It does play out in the City of North Vancouver
as well but a recent council meeting
could make anyone wonder if the spirit of
democracy is being squeezed out of even
this basic symbolic act of a citizen speaking
and the councillors listening. At a recent
council meeting, Mayor Darrell Mussatto
welcomed a citizen to the podium but
hastened to pull out the rule book on the
what, why and when of speaking before
the council.
“You spoke about development on the
second and the 16th (in October). Are you
speaking about development again? Are
you speaking about developers and development
again? You are allowed to speak
only once every three months on the same
issue. Well, you can’t speak about development.
You can speak about other things but
you are allowed only one topic every three
months. I know you come every week, but
you can’t say the same thing every week,”
he said, warning a speaker before him.
“I will speak and see how it goes,” the
man said.
“Yes, give it a shot,” the mayor said
laughing, and then reminding him again
about the rule.
“We have a rule. You have to speak
about something different. You can’t just
come back with the same thing,” he said
“It’s not the same,” the man insisted.
“It’s the same. It’s about developers
and my name will come up in the next 30
seconds and how bad I am. You can’t just
do it every week. You can do it once every
three months. Just in the future, you can
talk about one general issue every three
months, so you get the full two minutes
when it comes to development, but if you
wish to talk about something separate…
find a topic you haven’t talked about in the
last three months and then we would love
to hear from you,” Mussatto said.
Fred Dawkins of North Vancouver City
Voices says this kind of limitation only
serves to discourage public engagement.
“It’s clear that the mayor and his voting
bloc on council too often view citizen input
as an inconvenience, not a welcome sign of
an engaged public. It’s hard enough to get
people to engage in municipal affairs without
putting a lot of arbitrary restrictions on
their right to speak. If civic officials can’t
take being criticized in public for their decisions,
they shouldn’t be in politics,” he says.
The changes to the public input were
introduced after a heated debate in 2015
when a staff report suggested to council
the public input be done away with altogether
because the input was often accusatory,
repetitive and not relevant to the
topic being discussed. After hue and cry,
the council decided to keep the public input
period, but not without restricting it with
limits on the number of times one topic can
be discussed in three months. Other changes
also included limiting the numbers of
speaker to five unless there is a unanimous
vote to allow more speakers.
In fact, when he reminded the speaker
about the only-once-in-a-three-month rule,
the mayor seemed to be keeping a promise
of being strong in implementing the rules.
“You have to be respectful and play by the
rules and I will be firm,” he said back in
2015. “No member of council or public
can question the motives of the council.
They can’t question the motives. They can’t
express a negative opinion of the personality
or the character of the council member
and nor can they speak disrespectfully. I
will rule with a tougher hand,” he said.
Former councillor Bob Heywood says
the policy is on the slippery slope of public’s
right to freedom of speech, access to elected
officials, and bona-fide public input for
council to make its decisions.
“If this policy is being used to weed out
individuals that are against certain applications
or future decisions, then the policy
cannot withstand the test of “fair and
reasonable”. We don’t really know if all
persons and lobbying agencies are being
held to the same policy test. Perhaps it is
time for someone to challenge this policy,
maybe a review by the BC Ombudsman?”
Heywood says.
Former council candidate Amanda
Nichol says she feels the elected officials
used their position and power to change
policy to muzzle criticism.
“I feel like it might have been done to
censure particular individuals that a majority
of the council did not like, did not want to
hear from, and did not want those watching
council to hear from. It might lead one to
question, why? What, in two minutes, are
those individuals saying? How is it that the
questions, comments cannot just simply
be addressed and/or followed up on at a
future meeting?”
Former mayoral candidate Kerry Morris
says it’s wrong to limit speaker input
at council meeting to just five individuals,
and it’s wrong to limit the topics on which
anyone can speak, over and over again, if
that is what they choose to do.
Council watcher Cathy Lewis says there
have been several times that the speakers
have been interrupted and told they were
not allowed to speak on the same issue that
they brought up in the last three months.
“At most meetings, there are no more than
three speakers and many times no one
signs up to speak. Whether I think it is
fair? I think it is a change to the bylaw that
has muzzled the public from being heard,”
Lewis says.

It’s clear that the mayor and
his voting bloc on council
too often view citizen input
as an inconvenience, not a
welcome sign of an engaged
public. It’s hard enough to get
people to engage in municipal
affairs without putting a lot of
arbitrary restrictions on their
right to speak. ”
FRED DAWKINS
North Vancouver City Voices

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What Goes Up …

Comment from Voices:  We heartily agree with this sentence in the following article from The North Shore News today:  “What Goes Up …”,  ‘We also need our municipal governments to keep a closer eye on developers who walk in the front door preaching affordability and walk out the back door hawking luxury living.’  

We have calculated that over 7,000 new units have been added to the City of North Van since 2011 – and if you are searching for a new condo, or a rental – you will likely not find one to purchase under $500,000 and a rental under $1800.  That would be for 500 sq.ft.

From: http://www.nsnews.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-what-goes-up-1.23101123

Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster and the relationship between housing supply and affordability. It’s an unlikely trio that belongs to the realm of the mythical – at least, that’s the contention of a Kwantlen Polytechnic University professor who crunched 15 years of housing numbers and concluded Metro Vancouver has produced more than enough supply to meet demand. For every 100 new households, Metro Vancouver has built 119 new housing units, John Rose contends.

There will doubtless be sufferers of tower fatigue who will use the study as grounds for opposing every construction project. And it’s true supply has utterly failed to exert any gravity on the North Shore’s astronomical housing market. Over the past decade, benchmark home prices in North Vancouver and West Vancouver have risen 98 and 106 per cent.But even if Rose’s conclusions are correct and we do have enough physical houses, that still doesn’t mean we have an adequate housing supply. That’s largely because we’re burdened with a more than adequate supply of Airbnbs, empty homes, and speculators.

While the foreign buyers tax has helped, we still need senior levels of government to make a simple declaration: if you’re not going to live here then your money’s no good here. We also need our municipal governments to keep a closer eye on developers who walk in the front door preaching affordability and walk out the back door hawking luxury living.

Rose is slated to release his report this Friday. We hope all levels of government will examine it closely because for far too many trades workers, nurses, and teachers, the real myth is an affordable place to live on the North Shore.

 

North Shore Retail Headed for Shake-up

Some thoughts about Sears Capilano Mall from Elizabeth James (former contributing writer for the North Shore News et al):

NORTH SHORE RETAIL HEADED FOR SHAKE-UP IN 2018
The imminent loss of Sears Canada’s two-storey, 124,911 square foot anchor
store at Capilano Mall cannot help but send aftershocks throughout the North
Shore retail industry and beyond. Indeed, judging by other already-closed
small stores, the Mall atmosphere on a mid-November Saturday suggested
the New Year will usher in major changes as to where and how we shop for
the goods we need.
The reasons for Sears’ demise vary across the country. Locally, though, it is
easy to point to several factors that, for a decade or more, have contributed
to its decline and fall in this area.
The siting of Walmart at the other end of the mall and the increased
popularity of online shopping are two obvious factors.
Looming large, though, has to be the stubborn refusal to move with the times
on the part of Sears’ owners and management. They failed to refresh the
store’s product lines. They failed to adjust their price points on furnishings
and kitchen ware, electronics and other higher-budget items relative to the
easy-access presence of Walmart, Costco, Canadian Tire and IKEA.
Most of all, they failed customers and sta7 by not providing a more exciting
alternative to the same-old, humdrum shopping experience we saw at the
Capilano Mall outlet.
Retail 101: a store can get away with higher prices than its neighbours, but
only if it o7ers unique and/or higher quality products.
It boggles the mind that the 65 year old Sears Canada has been so lacking in
business acumen not to know that.
So what of the health of the mall itself? Does it have another “major” waiting
in the wings to replace Sears? Or do the tired surroundings and the delays in
@xing parking ramps, elevators and other such renovations presage a move
toward a total re-development of the 401,000 square foot prime real estate
site on Marine Drive. (If you don’t like that idea – keep tabs on CNV council!)
Traditionally, Canada’s retail industry has been a major contributor to the
country’s economy. Yet, as its population increased, the North Shore has
su7ered the domino losses of not only the nearby and much-loved Downtown
Woodwards in 1993, but also of West Vancouver’s Eaton’s Department Store
in 1999 and of the North Vancouver Zellers in 2013.
So what now for North Shore shoppers and those seeking retail jobs close to
home?
Well some of the answer lies within ourselves. Online and cross-border
shopping may be tempting, but if we adjust to that and send our retail
industry out of the country, Sears Canada will not be the only contributor to
unemployment; we will be too. And if people cannot find jobs, they cannot
buy goods and they certainly will not be paying the taxes governments need
to support all the services we demand.
Is that where retail is headed in 2018?

In October 2018, don’t be part of the 70 per cent (Sullivan NS News)

Only 344 days until the next election on the North Shore.

Oct. 20, 2018. Circle the date. 

 

It’s a Saturday, so that should make it easier to cast your ballot.

Here’s hoping something works, because voter turnout in municipal elections is dismal. 

It’s not just a local problem. Everywhere across North America, turnouts are typically under 30 per cent.

The North Shore is no exception – 27 per cent of those eligible turned up to vote in the District of West Vancouver, 28 per cent in the City of North Vancouver and only 23 per cent in the District of North Vancouver.

Two out of three of the mayors, Michael Smith in West Van and Richard Walton in North Van District, were acclaimed, i.e., elected without opposition.

To me, it’s the great mystery of the age why folks don’t vote, especially in municipal elections.

Lots of people vote for premier or prime minister, even though Justin Trudeau has loftier fish to fry than the good people who deliberate over keeping your streets safe, collecting your trash, deciding if you do or do not need a stop sign at the foot of your street, or deliberating on that proposal to put a 20-storey tower next door.

Because all that and more is the responsibility of your municipal council, and by some miracle, we are somehow gifted with intelligent, competent and hardworking municipal leaders such as the abovementioned Smith, Walton, and their City counterpart Darrell Mussatto.

And all the others who eat, breathe and sleep politics.

 It’s a myth that being a municipal councillor is a part-time job.

Part time for a workaholic, maybe.

But count on it: whenever your neighbourhood association, fraternal organization, or constituent assembly has a meeting (usually in the off hours), you can count on the presence of a municipal politician, quietly doing his or her job.

You could argue that they’re just working the vote, and yes, they do have to get themselves re-elected if they want to keep serving the public.

But isn’t it a thankless task when they serve the public and more than two out of three don’t bother to acknowledge their efforts by voting?

If you disagree with me, just turn up and vote in the next election, 344 days away. Plenty of time to plan.

My point is, it’s not the fault of the politicians – or maybe it is.

It could be they’re so good, we take them for granted.

Leap ahead to the first work day after Oct. 20, 2018 and it’s a sure bet that the leaves will be swept out of the drains, the trash will be collected, bylaw officers will still be issuing tickets, schools will be open and kids will be learning.

Situation normal. For now.

But I’m afraid that like newspapers (present company excluded, of course), democracy at the local level is becoming a sunset industry.

Older people vote in much higher numbers than the rest of the population. Is it because they’re the last ones who remember what they sacrificed to keep democracy safe for a bunch of ingrates who can’t make it three blocks to the voters booth?

Lest we forget.

I’m not sure how to solve this. I’m not even sure there is a solution.

In my last column, I wrote about the nascent North Vancouver Citizen Action Association, which is at least an attempt to stimulate citizen engagement in the political process.

Marks for trying, although I am worried that the NVCAA will appeal to the same people who are already engaged: the handful of political wonks who steadfastly attend Monday night council meetings and town halls.

There are some who think online voting is the answer. And maybe it is. Instead of all that bricks and mortar activity, just press a button.

You could even register on Facebook.

If you can buy marijuana or a car online, why not elect a school trustee, council or mayor?

If you’re worried about Vladimir Putin hacking the voters list, or making up fake news about the District of North Van, surely he’s too busy messing with the U.S. or the U.K. to worry about the NV.

Got a better idea?

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna. p.sullivan@breakthroughpr.com

http://www.nsnews.com/opinion/columnists/sullivan-in-october-2018-don-t-be-part-of-the-70-per-cent-1.23089857

The bucks stop here

Comment from Voices:  We heartily agree with this editorial today- very good news for the independent Council members in the City of North Van.  We note that total spending money in the CNV in the 2014 local election was over $338K, the DNV $128K, West Van $166K.  This equated to over $33 per VOTE in the City of North Vancouver.  Monitoring the process may be a challenge however, voters are already remarking about possibilities for abusing the process.

Editorial in the North Shore News:

With less than a year to go before the municipal election, the new NDP government has brought in legislation that will ban corporate and union donations, limit personal political contributions to $1,200 per year (including self-funded campaigns) and bar donations from outside the province.

The annual donation limits are still a little high for our liking but we’ve published a great many editorials over the years calling for electoral finance reform and this goes a long way to removing one of the most embarrassing stains on our political landscape. People don’t like the thought of vested interests having so much opportunity to influence local elections.

This issue was particularly noteworthy in the City of North Vancouver where the mayor and his allies on council received tens of thousands of dollars in support from developers and unions, many of whom had projects or labour contracts coming before council for a decision. Were these decisions tainted by the campaign donations? Likely not. There was far less developer money spent on our other two North Shore councils but they all have roughly the same attitude towards development. But the presence of the donated money sullies the discourse and distracts us from the real debate about the merits of these proposals in their own right.

We’d like to see these new rules enforced by the province with zeal. We’re just now emerging from a long period being seen as the “Wild West” for our almost total lack of campaign finance rules and lackadaisical enforcement of the few we had. We look forward to the 2018 municipal elections with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. When it comes to the local campaign trail, being able to say “Your money’s no good here” to vested interests will be a breath of fresh air.

Source: EDITORIAL: The bucks stop here

Article: http://www.nsnews.com/news/corporate-and-union-donations-banned-in-municipal-elections-1.23080485

New political party declares in City of North Vancouver

Source: New political party declares in City of North Vancouver

The next municipal election is a year away but a new group in the City of North Vancouver is already declaring their intentions for council.

The North Vancouver Citizen Action Association has formally registered as a society and is planning to run a full slate of candidates for mayor and council, who they hope will bring “balance” back to city council chambers.

Former Coun. Guy Heywood was a catalyst for the group and started organizing living-room meetings over the summer. Membership is now in the dozens, Jensen said.

The group is still developing its platform and no candidates have been selected to run yet, but anyone wanting to apply must reject corporate, developer and union campaign donations.

“There is a perceived potential conflict of interest that doesn’t breed confidence amongst the electorate. If this type of issue is important at the federal level and now at the provincial level, we don’t see why it shouldn’t be important at the municipal level,” Jensen said.

The city should also renew its philosophy on density bonusing and infrastructure so the benefits from new development flow to existing residents, Jensen said, listing projects that have been completed in the last decade – the updated city hall, the city works yard and the Lonsdale Energy Corp.

“While the Harry Jerome Centre has been at death’s door for many years. The North Shore Neighbourhood House is in trouble and Silver Harbour has a seismically outdated building,” he said. “You serve the people who are living here now by ensuring we have a community that people in the future will want to live.”

Traffic is another major problem that NVCAA members hope to begin tackling in the next term, Jensen said. Traffic impact studies that come with new developments should be cumulative, not just focused on the number of additional vehicles on the road from one project or another in isolation, Jensen said.

Jensen said the city also needs to do more for transparency and open data, and to co-operate better with the District of North Vancouver and West Vancouver.

There will be no party whip, meaning any elected NVCAA member will be free to vote as they please.

Those who want to run under the NVCAA banner will have to wait until the spring or summer of 2018 before the party will start seriously considering who will be nominated for the ticket. For now, the group’s main objective is to improve the level of civic engagement in the community.

“We want to start getting people involved and then start identifying people who are calm and reasonable and not dogmatic or angry, to participate in civic politics,” he said. “This is really about improving the level of engagement and communication in the city,” he said.

The group can be found online at nvcaa.org.

Municipal elections will be held across B.C. on Oct. 20, 2018.

 

Developers to pay higher rates for bigger projects

Coverage in the North Shore News today of our delegation appearance before the City of North Van Council on July 17th.  The Anchor’s extra density (10,888 sq ft) is now for sale for $11,888,000.  Detail here: NVCV – Delegation Jul 2017
Article:

If you build denser you’ll pay dearer.

That’s the message in the City of North Vancouver where rates for community amenity contributions – which tend to be levelled on developers who exceed density guidelines – are set to rise 35 per cent in the city centre and 52 per cent on the outskirts beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

The city centre is sandwiched between Mahon and St. Andrews avenues and bordered by the highway and the waterfront.

The change is late, according to North Van City Voices, a watchdog group advocating a freeze on development given the number of housing projects in the pipeline.

By not charging heftier fees, the city has fuelled real estate speculation while “doing little to generate affordable housing,” according to member Fred Dawkins, who recently appeared at council to oppose the city’s density bonus rates.

Dawkins took aim at The Anchor, a 61-unit East Third Street development approved in 2012.

In that case, the developer requested 10,888 square feet be excluded from the city’s floor space calculations. In return, the developer pledged to fill that space with 18 market rental units and to pay the city a $100,000 community amenity contribution. The developer also funded infrastructure improvements and public art.

Given that those units are now selling for approximately $1,000 per square foot, the increase in value was essentially a gift to the developer “with no strings attached,” argued Dawkins.

The value of rental density on vacant land was approximately $100 per square foot in 2012, according to a city staff report.

“This value is not to be confused with the cost per square foot of improved land in today’s dollars,” the report noted.

If a project similar to The Anchor were approved in 2018, the developer would likely be on the hook for a $2.3-million community amenity contribution under the new rules.

Coun. Rod Clark sought to defer council’s July 24 decision on community amenity contributions, citing his desire to pore over a report from North Van City Voices in greater deal.

The deferral was narrowly defeated following an objection from Coun. Craig Keating, who emphasized the city’s role in addressing the regional housing crisis.

“When you talk to actual human beings who need real places to live and cannot afford to buy in this community, rental housing policy is absolutely crucial,” he said, describing the city’s 0.3 per cent vacancy rate as
“punishingly low.”

A “healthy” vacancy rate is between three and five per cent, noted a city staff report.

Low vacancy rates are leading to higher rents, according to a 2016 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. New tenants in older buildings face 6.4 per cent rate hikes, more than twice as much as the allowable increase for established tenants.

For Coun. Pam Bookham, all new development “needs to make a financial contribution to the redevelopment of Harry Jerome.”

Bookham also backed deferral, suggesting developers already have five months to “get in under the lower, existing rate.”

Keating differed with Bookham on both the deferral and the primacy of the new Harry Jerome community recreation centre.

“Talking about the thing that people in our community need, I think a place to live is top of the list,” he said. “By the time you get to a pool and curling . . . you’re pretty far down the list.”

The city’s community amenity contribution rates are currently “a bit low,” according to staff.

The community amenity contribution rate of $190 per square foot in the city centre is a “fair price point,” according to an analysis from G.P. Rollo & Associates. The charge should allow developers to make a 15 per cent profit, assuming prices hover above $1,000 per square foot. Charges for projects outside the city centre are set to rise to $175 per square foot.

If the housing market remains strong, the city could pocket between $6 and $10 million per year in community amenity contributions. In 2016, the city collected $3.85 million.

The payment are meant to mitigate the impacts of new projects without reducing the rate of development, according to a staff report. The payments are also meant to encourage developers to build less expensive housing, and housing for residents with special needs.

Source: Developers to pay higher rates for bigger projects