Elizabeth Murphy: This civic election will direct the next 30 years of planning

This civic election will direct the next 30 years of planning
Elizabeth Murphy, November 14, 2011

I am running for Vancouver city council with Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV). There are many reasons for this.

Foremost is my disappointment with the performance of Vision Vancouver this term. My colleagues and I in NSV worked in 2008 to help Vision Vancouver become our civic government as an alternative to the NPA. We did that on the strength of our perception of Gregor Robertson’s election platform and his promises to revive citizen’s involvement in governing our city. However, Vision Vancouver have not followed through on their promises.

I know the municipal system since I have worked as a development officer in the city’s housing and properties department in the 1990s, and from a private sector perspective as a consultant, business woman, and community advocate in the civic and provincial process for over 30 years. My experience shows me that the last two Vancouver council majorities under the NPA and Vision Vancouver have taken the city in the wrong direction. They have moved us away from the livable city of which we are so proud, and have undermined sustainability contrary to their own stated mandate.

Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver is taking a new approach. NSV will implement a process to restore public confidence in city hall. This will benefit the community as well as the development industry because transparent processes will produce community supported results in an efficient time frame.

Under NSV, certainly development will take place, but decisions will be based on the public interest with a balanced approach to pace and scale with local area decision-making reflected in the outcomes.

NSV only takes donations from individuals. We have not waited for the province to change the campaign finance rules to do this. This commitment allows NSV to be impartial and fair, representing all stakeholders without actual or perceived systemic influence from industry funding.

The November 19 election is a critical turning point for the future of the City of Vancouver. Since Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy was approved in July, the City of Vancouver must, within two years of adoption, provide a regional zoning plan called a “Regional Context Statement”, which will guide planning within the city for the next 30 years. This regional zoning plan will be created under the next city council.

The Regional Context Statement will require Metro Vancouver approval including consistency with TransLink’s plans to use development to fund transit under what TransLink calls the “Hong Kong model”. Once these approvals are in place, any future changes to that plan will also require Metro Vancouver and TransLink approval. This is a transfer of considerable land use authority away from the City of Vancouver to senior governments and undermines local neighbourhood planning processes even further than they are today.

Since this 30-year plan will be established under the council to be elected on November 19, the next election in 2014 will be too late to make any significant impact on that plan.

The NPA and Vision Vancouver are the same animal. Minor concerns, like chickens and bike lanes, are not the critical issues in this election. Suzanne Anton raises these issues in her attempt at a perception of difference between the NPA and Vision. A closer scrutiny shows both parties in the same camp.

The reason that the NPA and Vision have implemented the same policies is their campaign financing. They are each supported in the campaign to the tune of around $2.5 million each, mostly by development industry funding. Since city council regulates land use and determines what will be built in the city, this is a case of the regulators being funded by those that they regulate, which creates actual and perceived conflicts of interest. Campaign financing is the fundamental reason city hall process is flawed.

Candidates have said the province finance rules encourage this conflict. But the fact the province has not changed the campaign finance rules is no excuse for accepting large donations from the development industry when council is the regulator of that industry’s projects. It is systemically corrupt.

For example, Vision have continued with the NPA’s plans at Little Mountain; and the privatization schemes to sell off public land continues. Under Vision, the city approved the demolition of hundreds of affordable family housing units at Little Mountain Housing two years ago, which displaced long term residents. The site has now been vacant for two years when there is an affordable housing crisis. There is an estimated $10 million of lost rental revenue that would have been collected from the rental units if they had been left occupied.

The homeless count of which the Vision councillors are so proud, was done before our homeless shelters were shut down for the summer so homeless numbers are much higher than those reported. The shelters are one step in the right direction, but they are not a long term solution to housing people.

All of the permanent housing projects that have been brought forward this term were started by the NPA last term. None of it has been initiated by Vision Vancouver

Vision have rebranded the NPA’s EcoDensity as “Greenest City”, but it still green-washes the development agenda that permits huge density bonuses across the city. (For example, Vision approved towers in the historic neighbourhood of Chinatown as proposed by Suzanne Anton in the last Sam Sullivan NPA council.) Suzanne Anton’s objections to Greenest City only amount to arguments over branding. Although there are some good aspects to Greenest City, the problems associated with EcoDensity still remain.

The public consultation process under Vision has been just as bad as the NPA. In some cases, Vision has had no consultation at all, such as when the Short term Incentives for Rentals (STIR) program was implemented. When it was brought forward to council the report was posted only two days before the meeting. Vision approved STIR in the face of strong community objections; Geoff Meggs said, “The election was the consultation and this is the delivery.” There are many different ways of delivering rental housing; the STIR program was never discussed during the last election.

Vision Vancouver promised a change to the NPA’s policies but Vision have implemented the NPA’s policies and gone beyond them.

Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver recommends a full slate to voters. It has a balanced mix of skills and interests that span the political spectrum in the spirit of TEAM under mayor Art Philips. The slate includes NSV mayoral candidate Randy Helten and council candidates Nicole Benson, Marie Kerchum, Terry Martin, and myself, Elizabeth Murphy. In addition, six other council candidates from other parties or independents are also recommended: RJ Aquino (COPE), Adriane Carr (Green), Sandy Garossino (independent), Tim Louis (COPE), Bill McCreery (NPA), Ellen Woodsworth (COPE).

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