30 October 2011

INTERVIEW | The Civic Greens’ Adriane Carr and Stuart Mackinnon

By On October 30, 2011 The Mainlander

Here Sean Antrim and Tristan Markle of the Mainlander interview Adriane Carr and Stuart Mackinnon of Vancouver’s Civic Green Party. Mackinnon is an incumbent Parks Board Commissioner, and is running for re-election. Carr is a candidate for City Council. On June 26 2011, the Civic Greens rejected Vision/COPE’s offer of only one candidate spot as part of a joint slate. Instead, the Greens are running three independent candidates – one for Council, one for Parks Board, and one for School Board. The election takes place Nov 19 2011.

Sean Antrim: What are you going to do to make Vancouver an affordable City?

Adriane Carr: That’s a big question. It has to be answered, and I want to really focus on that. It’s not an easy set of solutions, because we’ve had programs like EcoDensity from the NPA and the STIR program from Vision, neither are delivering affordable housing. These programs are also creating social conflict, with spot rezonings for incredibly high towers where they don’t fit. People are upset.To get affordable housing you have to work within the zoning that’s there so we don’t get the social conflict. People are okay with four storey or six storey or even smaller high-rises if it fits in with the neighbourhood. So let’s get that straight.

There are incentives that are being offered to developers that include density incentives that I think should be off the table. There are other incentives that could bring down the cost of housing. Those incentives might include reducing parking requirements in areas where you have good transit. You have to make a deal with the developers that says, if we give you these incentives, the cost of construction is going to come down, and that will be passed on, in a lower cost of housing, whether it’s rental or not.

We’ve also got incredibly strong lobbying from the City to the federal government to reinstate the kind of tax breaks that enticed developers to build intentional rental housing. I’ve talked to developers about whether or not that would work, and they’ve said yes, especially if you include some ongoing tax breaks for upgrading and maintaining rental housing, because it’s hard for delopers to say “I could build this condo unit, sell the unit off, make a bundle, or do I build this rental housing unit which has ongoing costs.”

You have to entice private investors, you have to put those tax breaks in place. One idea that Stuart and I have talked about is creating some of those affordable units in neighbourhoods along the transit corridors, near shopping and community centres already are, and create them in a variety of sizes and types so that people who are reaching retirement can sell a home that’s too big and move in to a unit that’s in the neighbourhood they love. We don’t have that in Vancouver right now, that level of affordable housing for every stage of the life cycle.

Tristan Markle: Where are some neighbourhoods or areas where that might work?

Adrianne Carr: You name one it will work. I can’t think of a place in Vancouver where there aren’t people who would relish the chance to do that. Dunbar, Marpole, East Vancouver, all over this city. We are an aging population. There are people who have homes that are too big. Those corridors exist.

Stuart Mackinnon: Look at Renfrew or Nanaimo, that’s a really good example where there are smaller homes. The population in that area is aging. Nanaimo and Renfrew are fairly busy corridors, and people don’t necessarily want a house along there, but you could build town-houses or lower-density buildings and get a lot more people in that neighbourhood, and those people are going to stay there. That’s what makes a neighbourhood strong.

Tristan Markle: I have a tough one now about the Downtown Eastside. Ellen Woodsworth just came out in favor of a moratorium on condo development in the DTES until the community plan is in place, with a strategy for housing people. I was wondering if you had a response.

Adriane Carr: We haven’t talked about any kind of moratorium on condo development, it just hasn’t come up in our conversations. I’ve worked in the DTES for many, many years. Prior to returning to politics in 2000, I worked with my husband at Western Canada Wilderness Committee and we had our main operation down on Water Street. So I’ve seen the deterioration of the Downtown Eastside. The solution in that area is not just about housing. It’s so complex. I saw such a deterioration in 1999 when we had a provincial NDP government and the deinstitutionalization of a lot of people from Riverview and they ended up in the DTES. The issues are mental health, drug addiction, the economy and the lack of even part-time work that could provide some sense of pride and usefulness in one’s life. There is a range of housing, some of which has to be socially supported housing, with a lot of support systems in place. The solution is not just stopping condos, it is really tackling the DTES as a very big social issue, and as a set of social issues.

Stuart Mackinnon: I understand what Ellen’s talking about, she’s talking about the displacement of people and gentrification, but we have to get beyond that analysis. In the Park Board when we did the redevelopment of Oppenheimer Park and the redevelopment of Pigeon Park, there was an incredible amount of push back from a certain segment saying we’re trying to gentrify. I was very offended by that. I’m saying, this neighbourhood deserves good parks as much as Shaunessy or Marpole or Point Grey does, so why are you stopping us from putting in excellent services in this neighbourhood, because you’re afraid of gentrification. The only way that we’re going to improve the plight down there is by putting in civic improvements. There’s going to have to be some sort of change in housing, because it’s all deteriorating. Whether we’re rebuilding single room occupancies, or putting in smaller units, or even putting in some condos, we’ve got to raise that neighbourhood. We can’t just let it continually deteriorate. Parks Board is doing its part by putting in first class parks down there. Now it’s the City’s turn, to start putting in first class services for those people.

Adriane Carr: Did you know that the very first issue that the Green Party of BC got involved in, was to support CRAB Park in the DTES. I was one of the co-founders in 1983. We asked people what we could do to help, and what the Green Party did was to get a porta-potty down there. That’s really the very first roots. I have to totally agree with Stuart. Gentrification is an issue that should be thought about, because that has happened in cities around the world, and this city too. But it’s about getting the complete quality of life enhanced and it’s just about providing housing, it’s about services, parks and open spaces, everything that makes quality of life better. I prefer and the Green Party has always supported communities that are robust and complete and mixed. You shouldn’t isolate social housing in any one neighbourhood of this city.

Tristan Markle: Do you have a plan to get social housing in other neighbourhoods?

Adriane Carr: Social housing comes with senior government support. It’s not paid for by the City, it’s the federal and provincial governments. I’m hearing people say that in the Mount Pleasant area, there seems to be a lot of socially supportive housing units going in. They’re asking “What about other parts of the city?” I’m willing commit to looking into that. I haven’t got an answer.

Stuart Mackinnon: What we’ve found is that there was the whole pushback at 41st and Fraser, when they were going to put in dual-diagnosis housing. There was an incredible push-back from the community because the City hadn’t done a proper engagement with the community. Once that was done, they realized that it enhanced the neighbourhood. There were people looking out for each other on the street. There was a more supportive network in that neighbourhood. Suddenly it was a safer neighbourhood than it was before. The City doesn’t do a very good job of getting out and talking with people and saying “this is what’s going to happen.” Instead they put this little notice in the newspaper that nobody can understand, that says “this is going to happen in your neighbourhood” and a little tiny bit at the bottom that says “if you don’t like this you can come and talk to our City planners.” This is not dialogue, and we’ve seen it over and over again. People push back.

Sean Antrim: So you’ve mentioned creating affordable housing by decreasing construction costs, but one of the major contributors to housing costs in Vancouver is the land. Is there any hope of decreasing land values, or is that something that the Green Party would even consider?

Adriane Carr: This is the biggest problem. We’re a global city, and we’re an attractive global city. Investors come here from around the world and it’s pushing up the price of land and housing, to beyond reach for local people. The solution is not just in the hands of the City. It has to be a comprehensive solution that spans all levels of government.

Right now, given that we are open to everyone investing here, the only thing that the City can control is the taxation levels on property, and the zoning. Both of those are signals around land value. When you open up the zoning issue, and the zoning by-law, to spot-rezoning, you escalate the price of land, you just do. Land prices do get set by the zoning that’s in place. So I think that the City has got to be diligent about sticking to a zoning plan. I believe it has to be diligent about moving off-track from what the City’s just adopted, such as the Regional Growth Strategy and get back to a Livable Region Plan, but that’s another issue.

In terms of the taxation of land, I do want to have a conversation the right mix of taxation. Only about eight cents on every dollar that Vancouverites pay out in taxes stays in the City. There’s a real fiscal imbalance in Canada. In terms of the mix between business and regular people paying tax, I think the shift onto people is not good. We have to redress that balance. There should be reward in the property taxes we use to support what we like and to stop what we don’t like.

We are talking about the exploration of a derelict or vacant property tax to increase the cost, heavily, to people who just let a lot lie vacant until they get the right opportunity to develop it. There should be ways to encourage, through property tax, the building of truly affordable housing, for the long term.

Tristan Markle: When you’re talking about vacant properties, there’s an idea that there are projects that are complete but haven’t been sold. The head of the real-estate board was on the radio saying they’re holding back units until the HST is abolished. But there’s also land that’s vacant, and on the contrary the City has policies such that if there is a community garden built on the land, then the developers get tax breaks.

Stuart Mackinnon: You’re encouraging the property developer to leave it vacant. There’s not an incentive for them to build on that land. The community garden is good PR for them, but you know that as soon as they see the opportunity to build, you know the bulldozer is going to come in, and they’re not going to care about people who have their garden there or what time of year it is. They’re going to be in there to build. It’s a really false premise that I think the City is working on, to give a tax incentive to make a community garden that’s not sustainable. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Adriane Carr: We need permanent sites for community gardens. We need permanent sites for winter markets. We need to institutionalize that in our city and not just give developers tax breaks for the short term when it suits them.

Stuart Mackinnon: Again, when talking about empty units, that’s not a civic issue. This is a real problem with Christy Clark and the Liberals in Victoria. From what we see, they keep saying they’re talking with their federal counterparts. There was a clause in the HST deal that after three years they would look at it again without a penalty. If they just wait three years, they’re done. Well of course that causes a lot of problems for the people on the ground. Developers only develop in order to make a profit so that they can move on to the next development. If they can’t move on to the next one, they’re going to wait. That’s a provincial issue.

Tristan Markle: We talked about building affordable housing on transit routes and for better or worse the most recent line was built on Cambie. It’s probably good that a line was built, but there’s a whole bunch of speculation then that went on behind closed doors and the general public doesn’t know about that. Selecting a route in a transparent way is important. If not, there will be speculation on all the properties along the line. On Cambie, key developers got a hold of the main sites to be rezoned afterwards.

In Richmond, the province came in and gave businesses relief, because they were being displaced. In Vancouver they didn’t. It goes to show that something significant was happening – such that the province had to come in and help businesses that were fighting up-zoning and speculation.

If we’re building housing along transit routes, how do we do that in a way where that kind of thing doesn’t happen?

Adriane Carr: You’ve raised a lot of issues. Let me say first off that I don’t think there has been transparent and truly engaged involvement of citizens in the decision-making around this city. I think that we as Greens are going to stand very clear on that. Stuart has already talked about how you post one thing, and have eight point text in an ad.

On the Canada Line, I faulted the process all the way along, both in terms of the “behind closed doors decision making” and the lack of consultation with the business community, the inaccuracy in telling the business community how it was going to be done, and the lack of compensation. Every element of it wasn’t good in terms of process. As it turns out, that line has high ridership. I look down there and think there’s a lot of low-rise development down there, and I bet somebody has snabbed those properties up and we’re going to see some development, and again without the community really being engaged. It wasn’t done right. How you do it better is in fact how Coquitlam did it better with the Evergreen Line. That’s where they cried foul. They had an engaged public process, they zoned and they rezoned in anticipation of that line. It was clear and transparent, on the books. And then they didn’t get it. We have the Canada Line instead. They’ve had the plan in place with the investors and the public knowing what those plans are.

We’ve got some other corridors. Out to UBC, there’s been talk of what kind of transit system is going to be built out there. I think we should be starting those conversations now. They should be above ground (not that the line needs to be). We need to have real community engagement, and I’ve seen it when it doesn’t happen, and it doesn’t work when you don’t engage the public.

Photo credit Flickr user miss604

29 October 2011

Make a difference for Parks and Recreation in Vancouver

Help re-elect Stuart Mackinnon as your Green Park Board Commissioner. For the past three years I have been working for you. Now I need your support. Campaigns cost money for publishing, signs and postage. A donation of $100, $50, or $20 goes a long way in helping to get our message out. The message that parks matter, green space matters, and children's programs matter. You can also volunteer to help with the campaign or ask for a sign (though those are in limited supply). Please help bring better parks to Vancouver. Visit betterparks.ca to donate your time, space or money to the r-elect Stuart Mackinnon campaign.

19 October 2011

On November 19th you can make a difference for Parks and Recreation in Vancouver.

You can re-elect Stuart Mackinnon as your Green Park Board commissioner. For the past 3 years Stuart has been fighting hard for you and your values:

Parks as Parks - working to end the commercialization and politicization of our parks and recreational facilities

Parks as a reflection of our community - working to keep our parks beautifully maintained and realistically funded

Parks as a reflection of our values - helping to save the Bloedel Conservatory and working to improve the VanDusen Botanical gardens

Parks as places of refuge and play - allocating under-utilized areas for community flower gardens

Parks as places for people- keeping our public washrooms open and making sure they have soap and hot water

Community Centres as places for everyone - fighting to keep fees fair; fighting against charging fees to infants and toddlers

Community Centres as safe places for community recreation - fighting for renewal and neighbourhood services

Neighbourhoods as peaceful places to live, work and play - fighting against noisy machines that disturb the tranquility of your home

On November 19 make one of your votes count for parks and recreation.

Re-elect Stuart Mackinnon, your Green Party commissioner.

09 October 2011

Giving Thanks

On this beautiful crisp morning it is hard not to give thanks for all of our bounty. Walking my dog along the river always reminds me how lucky I have been in my life to have been born in Canada. The beauty of the natural surroundings, the peace and tranquility of a free and democratic society and the shear joy of living in a place that has autumn, are some of the things I am thankful for. I am mindful that not everyone here or elsewhere is as lucky as I have been, and I pray for them as I do for us.

We are grateful at this time for the bountiful harvest in our lives. I am grateful for the opportunities presented to me and for all the wonderful people who have crossed my path. May the blessings of the season be always with you. I wish you and your loved ones a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

08 October 2011

A City for Everyone

I recently received a letter asking me to donate money to Vision Vancouver. In it the writer says “I don’t want to live in a city that puts ice skating ahead of the working poor". This made me so angry. This from a party that spent ¾ of million dollars on renovations to the mayor’s office, and then voted to charge fees for the first time to toddlers for recreation. Do they think the working poor don’t use or deserve to use recreational facilities? It is the working poor who need our public community centres, pools, and ice rinks most of all. In times of economic uncertainty we all need our public amenities more than ever.

We need a change of attitude in our civic governance. We need to elect Councillors and Commissioners who are in touch with what Vancouverites want—and that is a clean, beautiful, affordable, and safe city. A city that has amenities for everyone. A city that has recreational facilities available to all. A city where public spaces are for the public, not private interests. We need public washrooms that are open year round. We need affordable recreation in buildings that are safe and secure. We need green spaces that not only are great to play in but also are great just to be in.

This is why I am running for re-election to the Park Board; why my friend and running-mate Adriane Carr is running for Council; why my colleague Louise Boutin is running for School Board. This November 19 make your vote count. Vote for the city you want. Vote for a better Vancouver. Vote Green for Council, Schools, and Parks.

05 October 2011

A letter from Ann Phelps, General Manager, Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival

Dear Paddlers and Supporters,

On October 6th, at 2 pm, Vancouver City Staff will present the newest Northeast False Creek planning recommendations to Council for approval. The report includes a list of community amenities contributions (CAC’s) that developers might fund in return for profitable changes in zoning. The Dragon Boat Society has long been lobbying to have the city include a boathouse as a bona fide CAC on this last piece of undeveloped waterfront land on False Creek. Unfortunately, though the report pays lip service to paddling with support for a future home for paddling, the boathouse has been left off the CAC list once again. The appearance of support is meaningless if it’s not backed up with action. A boathouse must be put on the list of approved CAC’s if we want it to be built. It’s that simple. We have support from a developer but they aren’t going to do it all for free. The estimated cost of a boathouse is $5 million dollars.

We are worried that this last piece of land will be developed without a boat house because of conflicting interests. If you’d like to read the whole report, cut and paste this link: http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20111006/documents/penv1.pdf

So, what can you do? You have lots of options.

1. Write a letter to City of Vancouver Mayor and Council telling them you support a permanent home for paddling and rowing in Vancouver and encourage them to put a community boathouse on the list of CAC’s.
You can email your letter to mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca. I’ve listed some points you can use to customize your letter below.

2. Speak on October 6th at 2 pm.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to speak for a long time and anyone of any age can speak. You can even speak as a team. Just get up and tell them who you are and why you think a boat house and permanent home for paddling and rowing is important. You can register to speak by emailing pat.boomhower@vancouver.ca .

Please send this to as many people as you can. Hope to see you on Thursday.

Ann Phelps
General Manager
Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival

Points you might like to put in your letter:

Dragon Boat Festival is a legacy of Expo ‘86.
Council must back up their support of dragon boat and other paddling sports by making a community boathouse a bona fide CAC (Community Amenity Contribution)
There are approximately 8500 dragon boat paddlers using False Creek.
A boathouse will be a lasting legacy for Vancouverites for years to come
The Northeast corner of False Creek is the last piece of undeveloped waterfront land. Once it’s gone, the city loses the opportunity to have a boathouse in False Creek.
If a permanent home is not found soon, paddlers will be forced to go to other nearby cities, or stop paddling.
Vancouver is a maritime city yet offers its citizens very few opportunities to be on the water.
Paddling is part of a healthy active life and can be enjoyed at any age.
The Dragon Boat Society receives less than 3% of it’s revenues from government sources.
Regardless of physical and mental ability, anyone can be a paddler.
Teams from Vancouver compete on the world stage, winning world championships.
Paddling is the ultimate in green sports, with almost no negative impact on the environment.
The Dragon Boat Society introduces 3500 children to dragon boating every season.
The Dragon Boat Society sponsors many teams with free or low cost paddling programs.
Every year approximately 1500 tourists spend an estimated $1,042,500 in Vancouver because of the dragon boat races
The economic impact of the Dragon Boat Festival and Dragon Zone activities is just under $4 million dollars.

Governance of Hastings Park debated by Vancouver politicians

Straight, Publish Date: October 5, 2011

Hastings Park is a park, so it falls under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver park board, right? Well, it’s not, and Coalition of Progressive Electors park-board candidate Brent Granby and Hastings-Sunrise resident Barry Sharbo think that situation should change soon.

But according to Vision Vancouver city councillor Raymond Louie, it’s “premature right now” to determine the appropriate governance model for the site.

Louie is seconding a motion on the October 6 agenda of council asking staff to consult stakeholders about the future governance structure for the city’s second-largest park.

In a phone interview with the Straight, Louie maintained that the 66-hectare city-owned area is not just a park but a multifaceted space. It’s the site of the annual fair at the Pacific National Exhibition and the Playland amusement grounds, which are administered—along with other civic buildings like the Pacific Coliseum—by the board of the PNE, of which Louie is the chair.

It hosts the Hastings Racecourse, for which the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. pays a lease to the city. It’s the home of E-Comm, which provides 911 service and emergency dispatch service, mostly for Metro Vancouver. South of East Hastings Street, and also part of the parkland, is the Hastings Community Centre.

“All of these are currently controlled by council, ultimately by council,” Louie said.

For COPE candidate Granby, that’s not an ideal arrangement. “Is it an amusement attraction or a park?” Granby asked in a phone interview with the Straight. “I think it’s a park.”

Sharbo will address council on October 6. He has previously criticized what many consider as the PNE’s control over Hastings Park.

“It’s like a fiefdom,” Sharbo told the Straight by phone. “It’s a self-perpetuating entity like any big bureaucracy. And, unfortunately, what happens is that organized labour and this group, they’re in harmony with each other.”

Park commissioner Stuart Mackinnon of the Green Party of Vancouver is reserving his final opinion. “Many people in the community, and I happen to be one of them, think that Hastings Park should be governed as a park,” Mackinnon told the Straight. “But I’m wanting to hear what the community at large has to say.”

04 October 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the NEFC Development Plan

A new North East False Creek development report goes before council on Thursday. It has a lot of people talking and it isn't all favourable. Somehow over the many drafts a new boathouse/dock for the dragon boaters was left out. Dragon boating in False Creek is a legacy from Expo 86 and there was always the promise of a permanent home when Creekside park was finished. The Dragon Zone, as it is called, has been using the dock on the south side, which has caused no end of problems as dragon boaters compete for space with the false creek ferries.

Also missing is a big chunk of parkland--well not so much missing as moved. The new plan calls for a reconfiguration of Creekside park extension from one suitable for a playing field, to a linear one not suitable for a playing field. This change was previously presented to the Park Board and the elected Commissioners defeated a motion to reconfigure the park.

The question now is will the Commissioners break their promise to the community and rescind their motion to not reconfigure? I certainly will not. And I will continue to advocate for a new home for paddlers on the northeast side of false Creek.