31 July 2012

Vancouver is teeing off over city-owned golf greens

 Developers, and the city itself, would like to see affordable housing, rather than affordable golf, on the publicly owned land

by Emma Teitel Maclean's Magazine , Tuesday, July 10, 2012 
Teeing off over city-owned greens
Rebecca Bollwit/Flickr

Vancouver’s publicly owned golf courses—Fraserview, Langara, and McCleery—are currently protected “green zones” out of reach to interested developers. But pressure from none other than the city itself, and its mayor, Gregor Robertson, might change that.

Last week Robertson revealed his plan to establish a housing authority that would manage the development of taxpayer-owned land. He also revealed he’s open to leasing some city public golf courses to developers for the construction of public housing. Referring to Langara golf course in particular, Robertson said, “It is debatable as to whether that is valuable green space. The public can’t access it, it is not bio-diverse and there is no strong business case.” The mayor might agree then, with Vancouver Sun columnist Don Cayo’s argument that “selling 20 per cent of just one of three city-owned golf courses could net $675 million that could be used for providing affordable housing to lowering taxes to approving amenities.”

This argument isn’t unique to Vancouver. Since October, the city of Winnipeg has received 32 proposals from private companies interested in leasing one or more of its public golf courses, which lose about $1 million a year.

Community activists in both cities, however, are concerned that development will eliminate valuable green space. And in Vancouver, some argue while affordable housing is very important, so is affordable golf: Vancouver’s supervisor of golf operations, Howard Normann, recently defended the city’s public courses, arguing they make golf accessible for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

Source:  http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/07/10/vancouver-is-teeing-off-over-city-owned-golf-greens/

25 July 2012

Former Vancouver park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon questions new meeting schedule

A former Green park board commissioner by night and a schoolteacher by day, Stuart Mackinnon admits he’s “a bit of a process wonk”.

Having served one term on the board, from 2008 to 2011, Mackinnon told the Straight he finds the board’s new meeting structure “peculiar”. Earlier this year, the Vision Vancouver–dominated board adjusted the meeting schedule so that committee meetings happen right before meetings of the full board, all on one night.

“There is a reason why committee, for me, happens at least a week before the park board,” Mackinnon said by phone. “That’s so that, if something comes up, staff has time to go back and research and make changes. Quite often, an idea would be brought to a committee, commissioners would bat it around and listen to people, and then we would send off staff, saying, ‘We need to look at this, and we would like to see this.’ And it gave them a week, at least, to tweak it or to rejig it and then bring it back. That made sense to me.”

Ian Robertson, a Non-Partisan Association commissioner from 2005 to 2011, told the Straight of the new arrangement, “It’s ridiculous for a couple of reasons. First of all—and I think most importantly—it significantly limits the public to have discussion and debate, and to understand the issues by doing that. Secondly, it just jams everything into one night. Therefore, you’re not able to get a thoughtful and good discussion around an issue.”
Vision park board chair Sarah Blyth told the Straight one reason commissioners decided to change things was for greater simplicity.

“Take, for example, the seawall [motion from July 23],” Blyth said by phone. “We severed it, and we are putting it back to committee—because it was at committee—but we need to do a bit more…we want to bring up the issues of the past [relating to the foreshore in question].”
She admitted there may be initial “bumps” with the new approach.

“But I think that, overall, it’s a lot better,” Blyth said. “It saves money, which we can put back into our programming, and staff time to work on other things.”

One Misstep After Another: Where is Vision taking the Park Board?

First it was housing on the Langara golf course, now paving the last natural foreshore on English Bay. Where are the Vision Vancouver park commissioners going? Do they even know?

If you look at the their 'policy' statements from the past two elections you would see that they really stand for nothing and have no real ideas. Follow lock-step to where ever their City Council colleagues lead them. Cuts to park maintenance, cuts to community centre maintenance, cuts to renewing the aging infrastructure. Gauge public opinion and then jump on the band-wagon. They have closed programs and raised fees for children. In their first term they tried to undo decisions made by previous Boards while postponing making real decisions in the present. This is hardly leadership.

Vancouver deserves better than this.

The recent debacle of the Seawall extension from Kits to Jericho is a good case in point. A poorly worded motion that was based on an amorphous and mysterious 'anonymous' donation of a reported $10 million dollars. Good public policy is not made on ephemeral promises. Good public policy engages the public and understands the economic, environmental, and social costs of all decisions. This hare·brained scheme missed the mark on all three of these benchmarks. And once again, the decision was not made but deferred.

But this is not surprising; as the election campaigned showed, the only desire of the Vision team was to be re-elected. And re-elected they were. We have another two and half years of missteps and political theatre. Pontificating and grandstanding. Perhaps their plan is to abolish the elected Park Board as an anachronism. If this is the case they are certainly making their point.

18 July 2012

KEEP KITS BEACH WILD. Say NO to the Point Grey Foreshore Seawall

Please visit  the KEEP KITS BEACH WILD website to sign the petition. The following information is from the website.

The Vancouver Parks Board is proposing to extend the seawall from just west of Kitsilano Pool along the quiet wild beach to Spanish Banks. Vision Vancouver has lined up a private donor who is offering $10 million to pay for the costs. Park Board Chair Sarah Blyth introduced a seawall motion on July 9, 2012, “ which, if approved July 23, will see staff developing options to connect the seawall and provide a timeline and estimate of costs for the job ... That preliminary work will include city engineering reports, community consultations, meeting with residents along the route, discussions with the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans, which manages the foreshore along that stretch of beach, and nailing down the cost and funding." (Vancouver Courier July 11, 2012)

This beach is called the “POINT GREY FORESHORE”. It is the last natural beach in the City of Vancouver. On this foreshore a bounteous intertidal zone provides a rich feeding for waterfowl that come in large numbers, especially during the winter months. More than 150 different bird species have been identified here, at which at least 70 are regular winter residents.

As a concerned citizen wrote on a sign at a beach access point: “This is the very last publicly accessible undeveloped beach in the City of Vancouver, a recovering marine habitat. The media has portrayed this beach as a preserve of "the very rich mansion owners of Point Grey Road. Most of them have no access from their property: they may or may not be on the beach. The Point Grey Foreshore belongs to those who love and use it, who do not want to sit with 10,000 others in an artificial environment, who want to watch the herons fish, seals pass by and cormants sun themselves on floating logs. Vancouver has many kilometers of wheel-accessible beach paths, only one "primitive" beach for the general public.

Another concerned citizen wrote in a Letter to the Editor of the Vancouver Courier on July 13, 2012: “One of the wonderful aspects of living in Vancouver are the pockets of relatively unspoiled nature that the public can enjoy if they want to. So now the two parties at city hall want to ruin the quality of life that many of us enjoy by marketing (and therefore ruining) the very thing that makes Vancouver special. The beach beyond Kits all the way to Spanish Banks is a joy to use for the very fact that there isn't any formal seawall or path way that the hordes can use... and therefore makes it a gem in Vancouver. When my family and I are down there for our walks and mooching around, it is almost like being on a Gulf Island but with a city view. No crowds, no frenzy, just a wonderful peaceful retreat within the city. It's a luxury within Vancouver.”

This is another attempt to homogenize the natural world that we live in. It's remarkable that we have such a treasure in our midst -- a place where one can walk and see the city -- but feel like one is not in the city. Let’s keep it that way. Don't turn it into another noisy seawall of cyclists, joggers and skateboarders. We have plenty of those.
We urge the Vancouver Parks Board and City Council to take a walk on this quiet beach and reconsider your plans to extend the seawall. Keep Kits Beach Wild. Say no to the Point Grey Foreshore seawall.

We also ask that you reveal the anonymous donor. We're entitled to know this information so that we can determine if there are any vested interests.

12 July 2012

Just because we can build a seawall extension doesn’t mean we should

 July 12, 2012. 4:00 pm • Section: Opinion
The Province, Vancouver BC

There has been some discussion at Vancouver city council about an extension of the seawall. A motion is coming to the parks board on the feasibility of extending the seawall from Kitsilano Beach to Jericho Beach. This is on the heels of an anonymous donation pledge to help defray some of the costs.

I think the city and the parks board are putting the cart before the horse on this one. And I have to ask: just because we can do something, should we?

I asked this questions several years ago when the proposal to prop up the dead stump in Stanley Park, known as the Hollow Tree, came before the board. Vision Vancouver said yes and the tax payers are now on the hook for maintaining it in perpetuity.

I asked the question again a year later about keeping whales in captivity in Vancouver parks. Vision Vancouver said the citizens didn’t have a right to answer for themselves and my motion for a plebiscite was rejected. Now it is an extension of the seawall.

The seawall is a tremendous amenity, surely one of the most used public features in the city. Tourists and residents alike take great delight in the grand vistas of the cityscape seen from it, whether on foot, rollerblades or bicycle. It is a place for serious fitness and casual pleasure. Yes, it would be nice to have a continual path around the city, but is it necessary?

The seawall cost millions of dollars to build and further millions to maintain. It is a never-ending job keeping it safe and secure. Time, storms and natural erosion take their toll on the structure.

With limited budgets for maintenance, we have to ask ourselves if an extension of the seawall is a good use of tax dollars. Look around Vancouver this summer. It seems we don’t have enough money to maintain the parks and amenities we already have. So why are we looking at an expansion we can’t afford?

A seawall extension would also dump tons of fill and concrete onto one of the last sections of natural foreshore on English Bay. Is this what we want? Do we really want a cement, fortress-like structure surrounding our city? What about leaving some space for natural waterfront?

There is another foreshore walkway along the Fraser River. This path is a mixture of soft walkways and shored up breakwater support. This is part of the flood-control system and serves a purpose as well as providing a lovely amenity. There are no concrete retaining walls. But what do concrete slabs hugging the last rugged shorelines of English Bay serve? Other than once again spending countless millions to show that yes we can do this, not much.

I would suggest a better use for the millions of dollars required to build and maintain a seawall extension would be to maintain the parks and community centres we already have. Vancouver used to be a city with flower baskets and beautiful gardens maintained by parks employees who were proud of their work. Today, our parks and public gardens are neglected and ragged. Boulevards are unkempt and public litter bins are overflowing. Many of our community centres are aging and need replacing. Outdoor pools have been closed. There are only so many tax dollars to go around. Let’s use them wisely.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Let’s have a discussion about whether a seawall extension is a good use of our money, time and the environment.

Let’s have the discussion about whether we should before we have the discussion about whether we can.

Stuart Mackinnon is a former Vancouver parks board commissioner. He blogs at: betterparks.org

Source URL: http://blogs.theprovince.com/2012/07/12/stuart-mackinnon-just-because-we-can-build-a-seawall-extension-doesnt-mean-we-should/

Developing Vancouver's municipal golf courses could be "disastrous for biodiversity"

Mayor Gregor Robertson may downplay the value of city-owned golf courses such as Langara for their green space and biodiversity—and dream of housing developments on bulldozed links—but nature experts disagree.

“In recent years, a lot of the golf courses, particularly in Vancouver, have changed their tune to a much happier degree for wildlife,” Mike Mackintosh, urban-wildlife manager and 30-year veteran at the Vancouver park board, told the Straight by phone. “The reduced use of herbicides and fungicides…has been very good.”

Asked about biodiversity, Mackintosh said the courses generally have ponds, thickets, hedgerows, and areas of planted trees “that do provide habitat for a much greater diversity of species than we used to see”.

Last month, Robertson told the Vancouver Sun it was “debatable” whether Langara Golf Course “is valuable green space”.

“The public can’t access it; it is not biodiverse and there is no strong business case,” the paper quoted the mayor as saying on June 26. Robertson went on to say that he was amenable to the idea of allowing housing on the golf-course lands.

The mayor was not available for an interview with the paper before the Straight’s deadline.
Then, at their July 9 meeting, Vancouver park-board commissioners voted 4–2 in favour of Vision Vancouver vice chair Aaron Jasper’s motion to ask staff to “compile and report back usage and revenue metrics” of Vancouver’s golf and pitch-and-putt courses; the motion was amended to state that there was no suggested use of golf-course land for commercial or residential developments.

According to the park-board website, Vancouver’s three major municipal 18-hole courses—Fraserview, McCleery, and Langara—together comprise 186 hectares, almost 15 percent of the city’s parkland. The site also states that all three provide “prime habitat for numerous
species of birds, mammals and aquatic wildlife”.

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System of Canada has certified all three courses, the board site also notes.

Jasper told media last week that Langara could be turned into a nine-hole golf course and the rest of the site made into parkland or the entire property could become a public park.
Jude Grass, a naturalist who worked for 24 years with B.C. Parks and Metro Vancouver Parks, chairs the birding section of Nature Vancouver (formerly the Vancouver Natural History Society). She said the consequences of developing housing on the Langara course are obvious: “That would be disastrous for biodiversity,” she said by phone.

Grass said the results of turning the course into parkland might not be much better for wildlife. “I think I would be against turning it into a park, because the city always seems to want to put in playing fields and lights,” she said. She added that Nature Vancouver’s 2011 bird count for the Langara course identified 70 species, and “I suspect it’s a lot more than that.” She also noted that it probably even supports deer.

Robyn Worcester, a biologist with the Stanley Park Ecology Society, told the Straight that lots of wild animals make their homes on the properties. “I know the golf courses are hot spots for coyotes, and I know that they have some waterfowl in the ponds, like geese and mallards and gadwall, and I know that they do have a variety of songbirds in the spring and fall entering into there, as well as bats,” she said by phone.

Worcester said she wasn’t sure how high the “small mammal” population was on the courses, but she noted that coyotes eat mice, rats, and other such animals and that there is probably at least one coyote den on each of the properties.

The Cambie Corridor Plan approved by city council in May 2011 includes the provision of “much needed habitat for local wildlife”, as well as strategies that “enhance and connect both aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity” in the corridor, which includes Langara Golf Course. The plan also included the Langara course in a list of the corridor’s “significant natural habitats”, and noted that the opportunity to “enhance…biodiversity within parks” was “especially high, given the scale of open space such as Queen Elizabeth Park and the Langara Golf Course”.

11 July 2012

TEDxBelfast -- Colleen Hardwick -- Authenticating Public Consultation

Vancouver's Colleen Hardwick is revolutionizing how public consultation takes place. She is trying to reconnect people with their government so that government reflects the will of the people. Here is a TED talk she made in Belfast Northern Ireland

"There is a crisis in public consultation; people don't trust the process anymore." So says Colleen Hardwick. From Vancouver Canada, with family in Belfast, Colleen talks at TEDxBelfast in Titanic Belfast about tackling the "deep alienation between people and their governments" and how she is attempting to improve public consultation.

Colleen is an "Urban Geographer, Film Producer, Internet Entrepreneur."

10 July 2012

Speaking of fluff: Too good not to share

via Sandra Thomas, Courier Staff Writer July 9, 2012

Duck walk
Former Courier writer Pat Johnson sent us a YouTube video to enjoy and we thought it was too great not to share. According to the story, a mother duck and her many ducklings were wandering around the parking lot of the Jewish Community Centre on West 41st Avenue at Oak Street this past weekend when Kyle Berger and building manager Jason Marques became concerned the birds were going to be killed by a car.

The men scooped up the babies and placed them in a cardboard box with a plan to drive them and the mother to VanDusen Garden. But when the mother duck refused to get in the car, the men walked the entire family over. The journey included harrowing trips across both Oak and West 41st, all caught on video. Enjoy.

Twitter: sthomas10

More fluff than substance at Park Board meetings

Last night the Commissioners of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation passed two more fluff resolutions that could have been left to staff directions. The first, concerning a review of the golf courses, is something that staff regularly reports on. Each year I was a Commissioner a report on the state of revenues and maintenance was brought by staff to the Board. It would have been easy to ask staff to add a review of usage and alternatives to that regular report.

The second concerning the level of chlorine used in public pools--to cap at 3 times the minimum required--could also have been a direction to staff through its regular reporting schedule. A pool report is also done on a yearly basis.

These motions would appear to be simply exercises in public relations and getting Commissioners names in the news. Aaron Jasper often accuses his detractors of 'political grand-standing'. These motions are little more than that. Despite fierce opposition to the golf motion, there was little chance that it would not pass. With a majority on the Board, Comm. Jasper and his Vision colleagues can pass whatever motion they choose. Decisions are rarely made around the table. By the time a resolution gets to the Board it is generally fait accompli. The rest is just theatre.

Are we any further ahead for having these debates at the Board? I don't think so. The system is broken and the more broken it becomes the more the general public turns off. This is seen with each election as fewer and fewer people vote. But as long as the system works for the party in power, there will be no change-- the status quo is the only winner.

04 July 2012

Reality Check: Langara Golf Course

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about Langara Golf Course.

Some say it is private--wrong. It is a public course owned and operated by the Vancouver Park Board.

Some say that it is open only to golfers--wrong."Langara Golf Course’s treed greens are surrounded by a popular walking and jogging trail. Along with the tennis courts and playground along the way, the tree-lined trail has wonderful filtered views of the golf course and surrounding neighbourhood."

Some (the mayor of Vancouver for one!) say there is a dearth of bio-diversity--wrong. There is a huge variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. It teems with birds, mammals and insects. I would venture to guess that there is far more bio-diversity there than most playing fields in the city.

By all means let's have a debate about the land, but let's get our facts straight. Personally I have no objection to some or all of the land being converted to parkland--though the golf course does bring in much needed revenue to the park system--money that would otherwise come from tax dollars. But the idea that this land could simply be usurped by the city to build housing is wrong--unless of course they would trade land on a 2 to 1 basis for land of equal or better value. Then we could talk about housing. But that will never happen because land values are far too high. The very reason we should not lose this parcel. It would be impossible to ever replace it.

Stanley Park: An Urban Wilderness Teaser Trailer

The good folks at Beautiful Earth productions are completing a documentary film on the history of Stanley Park. Here is the first of what they promise to be several trailers. Please watch and enjoy.

03 July 2012

Does Mayor Robertson really want to build condos on parkland? (Updated)

A story in the Straight quotes Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson of supporting the idea of building housing on a portion of the Langara golf course.

"Meanwhile, Vision mayor Gregor Robertson told the Vancouver Sun last week that he's open to the idea of putting housing on the Langara course, which is just south of a Canada Line station. 'At this point, it is debatable as to whether that is valuable green space,' Robertson told the Vancouver Sun. 'The public can't access it, it is not biodiverse and there is no strong business case'."

Does the mayor really believe that parkland isn't valuable? Does he honestly think a public space isn't open to the public? Does he think that the trees, shrubs and grasses don't clean the air and produce oxygen for the city? Has Vision Vancouver really strayed so far from its origins that the Mayor doesn't think green space is valuable?

Jordan Bateman with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told the CBC he also supports the idea of developing the land.

"If you even developed half of one of those courses, you’d probably generate enough revenue to hold taxes in line for probably another two or three years, or you could use that money for other infrastructure, things that people actually need and expect municipalities to provide," Bateman told CBC News Tuesday.

What Bateman doesn't seem to realize or care about is that after those 'two or three years' any gain would be lost and the parkland gone forever. He also doesn't seem to think that parkland is an important part of urban infrastructure. He seems to believe that somehow people don't need or want parks and green space.

One can only imagine that they all have become so beholden to the idea of development at any cost that they would sell off public parkland for a quick buck. Even the NPA never advocated selling off parkland for development.

What a sad commentary on civic governance. What a sad state of affairs.