Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Important news, with big implications for the City of Coquitlam's budget:
Nov. 30, 2011
Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General
B.C. reaches agreement-in-principle with RCMP
VICTORIA - Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Shirley Bond has announced today that the Province of British Columbia has reached agreement-in-principle with Public Safety Canada regarding a new contract for RCMP services in British Columbia.
The proposed agreement reflects a new partnership based on transparency and mutual benefits. It contains greater financial accountability and measures to monitor and contain costs over time.
Through a new proposed Contract Management Committee (CMC), the Province and Canada will jointly oversee how the RCMP delivers police services and how costs are managed. Municipalities will be represented on the CMC.
The Province will also be establishing a new local government advisory committee so that municipalities have a continued voice as the agreement is implemented.
In the days ahead, the contract details will be shared with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and shared publicly when appropriate. The tentative agreement contains important new management provisions and includes a two-year opt-out clause and a five-year review.
Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General
Connect with the Province of B.C. at: www.gov.bc.ca/connect
Photo from flickrhivemind.net
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 2:52 PM
Friday, November 25, 2011
The Coquitlam Now's story, on the election of two new members to Coquitlam Council (Craig Hodge and me), conveniently runs on the same page (A7, Nov. 23 issue) as my "Thank You Coquitlam!" ad.
This ad reads, in part, "I promise to work hard on your behalf." But exactly what will be my priority? The answer is found, also in part, in the above-mentioned newspaper story. But the story, by the fine reporter John Kurucz, doesn't quite get it right.
Mr. Kurucz correctly quotes me as saying that I (and, moreover, a great many of the voters I talked with over the last two or three months) believe that "property tax increases"(this emphasis, added by me, is key) have been "way too high."
However, Mr. Kurucz paraphrases this position by saying that my platform "consisted of promises to rein in municipal spending and reduce property taxes."
This is only partially correct. I did say I would work to rein in municipal spending by limiting the increases in operating expenditures. But, I never said I would work to actually reduce property taxes. What I said is that I would work dilegently to reduce the rate of growth of those property taxes, and that I would be extremely happy if there was no growth.
But to actually reduce property taxes? While this would be wonderful, I don't think it's a realistic goal, and I never held that out as an option.
Furthermore, at the beginning of the campaign, I signed the CFIB's Taxpayer Pledge, in which I promised to rein in spending increases to no more than what you'd expect with inflation and population growth.
Given this, and given that there's a direct link between spending increases and property-tax increases, it can be concluded that I am not necessarily opposed to property-tax increases driven by the need for the city to raise revenues to keep up with inflation.
On the other hand, increased spending driven by increased population should not necessarily lead to higher property taxes; this is because the broader tax base created by that increased population will, by itself, generate more revenue without an increase in property tax rates.
Photo shows me signing the CFIB pledge.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Barring any last-minute applications for a recount (and candidates have until November 28 to ask for a judicial recount), the results of last Saturday's election are now official. The actual moment of record was at 4 p.m. today when Lauren Hewson (pictured), the City's Chief Electoral Officer, stood in the centre of council chambers and declared the results official. The event was witnessed by four people: Richard Stewart, Linda Reimer, defeated school board candidate Humera Ahsanullah, and me.
Hewson also released the poll-by-poll results of the election. You can examine them in detail yourself by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page. My scanning of them has turned up the following tidbits:
*I received votes on 42% of the 17,961 ballots that were cast.
*My strongest poll was Eagle Ridge Elementary (very close to where I live), where I received votes on 58% of the ballots. My 287 votes put me behind only two other candidates, Selina Robinson (308) and Ms. Reimer (288).
*The poll in which I finished highest was, not surprisingly, at another school that is very close to where I live, Bramblewood Elementary. My 389 votes (51%) placed me second, behind only Ms. Reimer (417).
*I also did quite well at the Walton Elementary poll--also located fairly close to my home, and in the midst of an area where I did a lot of door-knocking. My 344 left me with the third highest total, and gave me the support of 49% of the voters there.
*My sorriest showing was at the Banting Middle School polling station, where my 186 votes meant that only 32% of voters chose me, and the total left me in 11th place. My placing in this strongly NDP/Left/Labour riding isn't all that surprising, but the figures are still rather sobering.
Monday, November 21, 2011
First off, a big "Welcome" to all of you who have been redirected to this blog from our old, campaign-oriented website. We'll be using this site, along with our Facebook page, as our primary means of communication in the near future.
Next, please allow me to thank each and every one of the more than 7,000 Coquitlam residents who cast their votes for me and, by so doing, put their trust in me. I truly appreciate your confidence in me, and promise to work diligently to live up to your expectations.
A big "thank-you" also goes out to the dozens and dozens of people who contributed to my campaign: the "burma-shavers," the lawn-sign planters, the phoners, the e-day teams, the generous donors, the advisors, and the scores of good folk who showed their support in so many wonderful ways. Thank you!
A special thank-you to my wife, Mary, for her encouragement, work, and constant companionship. I could not have done it without her. Thanks, as well, to our two sons, who, while both several thousand kilometres away, still provided me with much support. Thanks, guys! I can hardly wait til Christmas, when we can all celebrate together.
Thanks, also, to the many brothers, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, parents and parents-in-law, who were so supportive. You mean the world to me.
Congratulations to my fellow Councillor-elect, Craig Hodge. I look forward to working with him, and all the incumbents who won.
A special tip-of-the-hat to Doug Macdonnell, a long-serving councillor of great repute who did not win re-election. He should be proud of your record on council. And I wish him great good fortune in the years to come. As well, my best wishes also go out to Barry Lynch, who also will no longer be serving on council. Good luck!
I also want to congratulate and thank all the other candidates who worked so diligently but were not rewarded with a seat on council. As one who travelled the campaign trail with them, I know how hard they worked and how passionately they felt about the job, and can truly appreciate how disappointed they now must be. I hope they keep in touch.
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 9:56 AM
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
Great news for my campaign this morning, as the Vancouver Sun's Peter Birnie quotes, in his column today, my entire final response to the Alliance for Arts and Culture's recent questions to candidates.
Better yet, he seems so pleased with my answer that he concludes by writing, "Hear, hear!"
The article is on page D4 of today's paper.
Here's the link to all Coquitlam candidates' answers.
And here's the full text of that final paragraph that Mr. Birnie so admires:
G.K. Chesterton wrote, "There is no such thing on earth as an
uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person." With this in mind, I see the "cultural" sector of our community as one that has the ability to turn an uninterested person into an interested one. This is vital, because an interested person is a better citizen and, ultimately, a better person. To stimulate someone with an engaging work, to open their eyes, to touch their heart--these are essential to human growth. It matters not whether we cry at a play, laugh during a circus, are outraged by an piece of performance art, or experience joy at a music concert; the important thing is that we have been moved--moved emotionally and, perhaps, intellectually. That's education. That's growth. That's being alive. A City Councillor can help direct a few dollars here and there to assist this, of course. But a Councillor's more important role is found in his or her ability to act as a community leader. Councillors can help open doors, facilitate planning, offer moral support, and set an example by attending performances.
Photo of the Evergreen Cultural Centre, from cultureandcommunities.ca
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Hot on the heels of Jon Ferry's column in today's Province, which is about, in part, the financial and organizational support that CUPE gave to Neal Nicholson in last year's by-election, comes this blockbuster, pictured.
The graphic is of an ad that appeared on page 31 of today's Tri-City News (ironically, right below one of CUPE-endorsed Selina Robinson's ads).
For the record, I had nothing to do with the conception, purchase or placement of the ad. I had heard rumours that Coquitlam businessman William Dick, who is identified as the purchaser of the ad, was contemplating such an action, as he has attended several all-candidates meetings and has been vocal about his opposition to the undue influence of CUPE.
I was pleased to see that Mr. Dick, who two months ago donated to my campaign, had explained the controversy so well and, further, that he had gone so far as to endorse a group of independent candidates, including me, for council.
As readers of this blog and my Facebook page know, I have been writing about this subject for several weeks now in the hopes that the public would take notice. With today's publication of Mr. Ferry's column (which I blogged about earlier) and Mr. Dick's ad, it seems my efforts are finally bearing some fruit.
Here's the full text of Jon Ferry's column in today's Province:
Candidates should disclose all cash contributions
Taxpayers deserve to know who exactly is funding those for whom they plan to vote for
By Jon Ferry, The Province November 16, 2011
Miraculous though it may seem, I've actually found something on which I agree with Occupy Vancouver. And that's the local protest movement's call for "immediate and full disclosure of all developer and corporate contributions to all civic election campaigns."
But why stop there? Why not require the immediate and full disclosure of all contributions over a certain dollar amount — including those from environmental groups and unions representing municipal workers?
In the 2008 election, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and its locals donated nearly $700,000 to parties and candidates across Metro Vancouver, according to the Vancouver Sun's donations database.
The biggest recipient of CUPE's cash was Vision Vancouver, which got $260,000. The green-leaning Vision also received as much as $340,000 from a network of eco-friendly investment and public-relations companies, according to North Vancouver writer/researcher Viviane Krause.
Taxpayers should be at least as aware of these contributions as they are of those from big, bad developers and other corporations.
And, yes, they should learn about them before the election — not as much as four months after it, as is the current rule. Larger donations should be posted on candidates' websites for public viewing as soon as possible, after they're received.
CUPE, for example, represents workers with whom municipal councillors are supposed to have an arm's-length relationship, especially when it comes to labour contract negotiations. The council members are, in fact, their employer.
Richard Walton, running for his third term as North Vancouver District mayor, told me Tuesday he's been endorsed again by CUPE. But he hasn't accepted money from the union, because doing so would make him uncomfortable.
"My objectivity is pretty important to me," he noted.
I think objectivity should be important to all candidates. Indeed, my view is that the special relationship the influential union may enjoy with certain councillors through campaign donations does municipal ratepayers no favours — at least judging by their soaring property tax bills.
Coquitlam candidate Terry O'Neill points out that Neal Nicholson, winning candidate in the 2010 byelection, received most of his funding from labour groups, including half ($15,000) from the CUPE local representing Coquitlam city workers.
O'Neill added that CUPE B.C. is actually listed as Nicholson's "campaign organizer."
"Can you imagine the howls from the left and the mainstream media if, for example, the Business Council of British Columbia had fielded its own candidate, provided a majority of the candidate's campaign funds and organized the candidate's campaign?"
Nicholson, running again in Saturday's election, told me CUPE did not, in fact, organize his campaign — but did conduct mail-outs promoting his candidacy. He didn't think accepting union donations put him in any conflict or he wouldn't have taken them.
Nicholson, though, did say there should be election-spending limits. He also said he had no problem with posting details of the larger donations (say those over $1,000) as they came in: "I'm an accountant, I'm reasonably tech-savvy, so I wouldn't have a big challenge with that."
I don't think other municipal candidates should have a problem with it either. Taxpayers deserve to know in timely fashion who exactly is funding those for whom they plan to vote for.
© Copyright (c) The Province
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 6:17 AM
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I've been receiving numerous phone calls and emails over the past several days, asking for my position on the property-tax-exempt status of church properties in Coquitlam.
My answer is this: I am in favour of retaining the status on church properties. The City has a policy, allowed by the Local Government Act, to exempt from taxes properties that are used for charitable purposes. The policy means that the City foregoes collection of about $1 million in taxes every year. Details of the policy are currently under review (as noted in the document to which I provided a link, above)--I believe this is what has sparked all the questions.
But the City benefits in numerous far-more-important ways by supporting the vital institutions that receive this break.
A column I wrote seven or eight years ago, for the Tri-City News, details some of the benefits. My position has not changed since then.
Photo shows Our Lady of Fatima Church in Coquitlam. Photo from CitySoup.ca
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 9:32 AM
The Vancouver Sun has published an interesting and timely story today about the high costs and lengthy delays that developers often face when doing business in the Lower Mainland.
The City of Coquitlam's record is neither the worst nor the best, but it certainly has a lot of room for improvement.
The story is based on an annual survey conducted by the Vancouver chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Properties. The group's survey asked each City Hall to identify costs and processing times for a new, two-storey, 100,000-square-foot industrial warehouse distribution building on 5.5 acres, requiring both subdivision and rezoning.
Burnaby was the most affordable, at $170,000, and Richmond was the most expensive, at $1.03 million. Coquitlam came in at $434,000.
As for the processing time, Chilliwack and Abbotsford posted the quickest turnarounds, at 90 days, and Vancouver and New West were slowest at 270 days. At 210 days, Coquitlam wasn't much better.
This is clearly an issue the new council has to deal with. We already know that our high business taxes are hurting business development here. Our slow approvals and high costs must surely make the situation even worse.
Monday, November 14, 2011
With the Vancouver Sun and the Province both publishing front-page, above-the-fold stories this morning about the CFIB's latest findings on municipal overspending, our campaign's primary theme could not be more timely and necessary. And our decision to take the CFIB's Taxpayer Pledge looks better by the moment.
I delivered this message again at last night's all-candidates meeting in Maillardville, and it'll be the number-one topic as I continue knocking on doors throughout the week.
Here are some of my thoughts on "The Most Important Issue" of the campaign:
Let’s get right down to business and talk about the most important issue facing Coquitlam: The unsustainably high rate of city spending, and the high property taxes that it causes.
Talk to the average homeowner or business person, and you quickly learn that this is Issue Number One. And it grows even more important by the day, as the global economy continues to struggle.
You might have heard that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released his fall economic update last week. He made it very clear: Our country’s economy is still weak. He warned that the European sovereign-debt-and-banking crisis poses a significant risk to the global economy and will lead to slower growth here. His government will have to adjust.
What about here in Coquitlam? Over the past several years, the city has boosted property tax rates to fund operational spending that is higher than we can afford. Public-sector wages soared, even as private-sector ones stagnated.
Given this record, can we trust council to do the right thing, and reduce the rate of operational spending and tax increases, in response to the ongoing economic slowdown?
Can we at least trust council, including those backed by CUPE—the union that represents city workers—to make fair and balanced decisions at the bargaining table to control our rapidly growing expenses?
I am committed to responsible budgeting. That’s why I signed the CFIB’s Taxpayer Pledge, to support a municipal Auditor General, to cap spending increases, and to improve the business climate in Coquitlam.
There’s a big job ahead, and I’m ready to take it on. We’ll engage the public to help set priorities and make important decisions about protecting valuable services. And we’ll put a halt to overspending.
Photo from VancouverSun.com.
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 8:53 AM
Friday, November 11, 2011
Yesterday, I received an email from Tabitha McLoughlin, Executive Director, Coquitlam Farmers Market, asking me a few questions about my position on issues close to her heart. Ms. McLoughlin wrote, “Coquitlam Farmers Market Society operates a summer farmers market in Coquitlam (May-October), a winter farmers market in Port Moody (November-April) and has established partnerships with some of the region's largest employers to bring our award-winning pocket markets to their employees.”
Here are her questions, followed by my answers, in italics:
As our supporters are interested in your views on local food, we would appreciate your insights on the following questions:
1. How does local food fit into your plans for a sustainable community? In what ways would you work to strengthen a more localized food system?
This is not part of my platform. Moreover, I do not adhere to the worldview that puts the idea of a ’sustainable community' on a pedestal. I believe in international trade, I support multinational corporations, I applaud international cooperation between governments, and I believe the future progress of the world will involve specific areas of the world capitalizing on and, indeed, exploiting, their inherent advantages, be they in human capital or natural resources, and then reaching out to and connecting with the rest of the world in order to share, sell or market their products and or ideas. Insofar as the "sustainability" movement has led to increased prices for food, higher taxes, and higher construction costs, it has had the effect of hurting those most at risk in our society--the poor and disadvantaged..
2. The Coquitlam Farmers Market Society contributes well over $1 million in economic benefit to the community, yet like other farmers markets around the region, we lack permanent space/infrastructure for year-round operations, have insufficient or no on-site storage, and often confront municipal signage bylaws that impede our ability to advertise within the communities we operate. Recognizing that farmers markets are a valued public amenity, offer low investment yet high return for the municipalities that host them, and contribute to many of the same civic priorities articulated by council (citizen health and wellness, active lifestyles, ecosystem preservation, waste reduction) how might you help the farmers market to flourish further within your community?
I believe that, in providing public space in the parking lot adjacent to the Dogwood Pavilion, the city government is doing its fair share.
3. Do you support the broad vision articulated for Colony Farm as a centre and space for local food excellence, where small scale, labour intensive and pesticide free (non-industrial) farming, farmer training, community gardening, local food marketing (e.g. market gardens or farmers market, direct sales to local restaurants and institutions) and education around the entire food system from seed to waste, may take place?
This vision is an interesting and, perhaps, even appealing one, but it also has the effect of opposing or undermining many of the attributes of Colony Farm that are valued by nature lovers, bird-watchers, environmentalists, and those, such as myself, who simply enjoy seeing a bit of quasi-wild nature in the midst of their suburban communities. There's definite aesthetic and, some would say, spiritual value in preserving Colony Farm as a haven for nature, rather than turning it over to those who would develop it for food production--a development that would be as much symbolic as practical, I think. As well, the high cost ($30 million, as I recall) associated with the establishment of the show farm adds to its drawbacks.
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 3:46 PM
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Let’s get right down to business and talk about the most important issue facing Coquitlam: What to do about the unsustainably high rate of city spending, and the high rate of property-tax growth that it causes.
Talk to the average homeowner or business owner, and you quickly learn that this is Issue Number One. And it grows even more important by the day, as the global economy continues to falter.
You might have heard that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released his fall economic update on Nov. 8. He made it very clear: Our country’s economy is still weak. He warned that the European sovereign-debt-and-banking crisis poses a significant risk to the global economy and will lead to slower growth here. His government will have to adjust. (Euro-Crisis cartoon from www.mw.nl.)
What about here in Coquitlam? Over the past several years, the city has boosted property-tax rates to fund spending that is higher than what we can afford. One result is that public-sector wages soared, even as private-sector ones stagnated.
Given this record, can we trust council to do the right thing, and reduce the rate of spending and tax increases, in response to the ongoing economic slowdown?
Can we at least trust the incumbents, if re-elected, to make fair and balanced decisions at the bargaining table to control our rapidly growing expenses?
I am committed to responsible budgeting. That’s why I signed the CFIB’s Taxpayer Pledge, to support a municipal Auditor General, to cap spending increases, and to lower the job-killing gap between business and homeowner tax rates.
None of this will be easy. We’ll engage the public to help set priorities and make important decisions about protecting valuable services.
There’s a big job ahead. But I’m ready to take it on. My name’s Terry O’Neill and I’d be honoured to receive your vote on November 19th.
This is the text of the opening speech I delivered at the Nov. 8 all-candidates meeting.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
This is the second time I've run for a seat on Coquitlam city council, the first coming a year-and-a-half ago, when I contested a by-election. The campaigns are similar in many respects--funds have to be raised; signage designed; invaluable volunteers organized (thanks to everyone who's helping!); paperwork completed; ads designed and placed; pamphlets written, printed and circulated. Et cetera.
The big difference is in the number of organizations that want to know your platform or want to know your position on a specific issue. So far, I've responded to detailed questions from the Now, the News and the Vancouver Sun. I've also filled out questionnaires from the arts community, and am in the process of answering a very detailed one from Greater Vancouver homebuilders.
There are a few others I've completed, as well. But I've let the politically charged "Living Wage" query slip by. And, oh yes, I travelled downtown a few weeks ago to tape a two-minute presentation for Shaw TV. It and hundreds of others were airing yesterday.
And then there are the all-candidates meetings. I recall participating in four during the by-election campaign. This time, there are a seven, count 'em, seven for council candidates. Yesterday's, sponsored by the Civic Association of Iranian-Canadians (pictured, courtesy of the association), was the third. We have the final four over the next seven days.
All in all, it's quite the schedule, and makes me evermore appreciative of the higher-level politicians who campaign for months or, in the case of the U.S. presidential race, years on their way to elected office.
And one final thought: It's hard not to come to the conclusion that there's really no excuse for citizens to say they aren't voting because they don't know anything about the candidates. There's more information out there than ever before, in print and especially online.
Friday, November 4, 2011
I can understand why Vancouver politicians don't want to send in the police to clear out the Occupy Vancouver campers. Too much potential for mayhem, too close to an election.
And, I like, in principle, the soft pressure being exerted by the fire chief. But I think it's probably not enough, because someone will have to enforce the safety measures, and that will bring us back to the possibility of a direct confrontation between the occupiers and the police--something that could turn very nasty.
My solution? Put a high temporary fence around the entire camp, with only a couple of exits. Station police officers at the exits. And don't allow anyone or anything in. The occupiers will be free to go, but no one and nothing comes in. This should have the effect of forcing the misguided dissidents off the public square in a matter of days.
Photo from the Province.
We had a great morning of roadside campaigning at Johnson and Barnet today. Lots of friendly waves were returned to us, and more than a few encouraging honks of the horn were heard!
A special thanks to Cheryle (the photographer), Bill and Guy for coming out in the cold and dark.
Watch for more events like this in the days to come.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
In this morning's Province, Laura Jones, sr v-p with the CFIB, writes compellingly about overspending by municipal governments in the province. "Operating spending [from 2000-2008] soared by 58 percent, or double what a reasonable benchmark suggests tht it should be.
"Much of this is due to inflated wages and benefits at the municipal level, where compensation is about 35 per cent higher than equivalent private-sector jobs."
On a related subject, Peter A. Epp of Coquitlam writes, in a letter [not yet on line, but a similar one, from last week, is] to the Tri-City News, that, "With no one minding the store, city staff has grown into a bloated, overpaid and self-absorbed bureaucracy...I hope the mandate of the promised provincial municipal auditor general includes a review of all city staff positions."
Both of these items touch on what is undoubtedly the big issue of this campaign: the direct relationship between the property-tax increases we've seen over the past several years, and the high rate of pay increases and overall pay given, primarily, to the city's 1,444 CUPE workers, and also to the exempt staff.
The big question: can we trust new candidates and incumbents who have a direct relationship with CUPE, through major donations and even, as I've written about earlier, through CUPE being an officially registered Campaign Organizer, to put the interests of the taxpayer first?
As I noted in Facebook last night, it was very interesting to hear Neal Nicholson reveal a figure of two percent, when talking about what raise CUPE might earn in the coming year, during the all-candidates discussion we had about the city's finances. Two percent, with maybe some changes to the benefits package, he suggested, as if pulling the figure out of the air. But given his close ties to CUPE, I'm wondering whether this wasn't actually an opening gambit by the union, as a prelude to next year's bargaining.
For the record, I'm in agreement with Mayor Richard Stewart and Councillor Linda Reimer in saying there should be a ZERO percent raise. The current four percent raise is an insult to taxpayers and private-sector workers.
This month's edition of SNAP Coquitlam features two of our campaign ads, our candidate listing, and two photos of Mary and me at various community celebrations: the Evening of Caring Gala in aid of Eagle Ridge Hospital, and SNAP's first anniversary party at the John B. Fun stuff!
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 6:46 AM
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
With land development, population growth, zoning regulations, and the issue of so-called urban sprawl all being discussed during the current campaign, I was pleased to see the Frontier Centre for Public Policy issue today a timely and trenchant analysis of the impact of restrictive land-use policies on home prices. Well worth the read.
The Cost of 'Smart Growth'
By Steve Lafleur
Over the course of the last 40 years, governments have attempted to combat urban sprawl with restrictive land use policies, collectively known as “Smart Growth.” The core of the approach is to orient land use policy toward compact neighbourhoods with a mixture of commercial and residential housing. But while these types of neighbourhoods are often desirable, a report recently authored by Wendell Cox for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy demonstrates that Smart Growth policies have undermined housing affordability. The housing markets with the most stringent land use regulations saw housing prices increase four times as fast as housing in less restrictive markets. This helped to fuel the mortgage crisis from which the global economy has yet to recover.
Smart Growth policies gained traction due to the urban flight that began in the 60s. The massive expansion of suburbia was accompanied by an expansion of automobile ownership, which has raised the ire of environmentalists. Meanwhile, as cities hollowed out, their infrastructure decayed, and crime rates spiked. The solution devised by many urbanists was to force people back to the city. Some cities such as Ottawa and Portland, Oregon, created urban growth boundaries in the attempt to curb sprawl and encourage dense development within the cities. Toronto recently followed suit. Unfortunately, attempts to crack down on sprawl have done little more than drive up home values.
Regardless of one's lifestyle preferences, it is hard to ignore the fact that the majority of people in North America would wish to purchase a single dwelling house at some point in their lives. Attempts to crack down on sprawl have simply pushed people out further, which is why the City of Toronto proper is the slowest growing city in the GTA. People and businesses have migrated to cities such as Barrie and Vaughan, which are far more open to low density development. The same has happened in the Smart Growth Mecca of Portland, where companies such as Nike, Intel, and Columbia have massive complexes outside of city limits. Smart growth has not been that smart: it has had precisely the opposite effect intended by its advocates.
The evidence that Smart Growth increases home prices is unmistakeable. The report by Cox compared US housings prices in the eleven markets with the most restrictive land use regulations to the twenty two least regulated markets. In the least regulated markets, the median housing prices at the peak of the bubble in 2008 were between two to three times the median income. In the highly regulated markets, the median housing prices were between five and eleven times the median income. Housing values increased by 112 per cent between 2000 and the peak of the bubble in the most restrictive markets. Roughly $2.2 trillion in housing price escalation in these markets can be attributed to restrictive land use policies. Despite the fact that these eleven markets only account for 28 per cent of the housing in the United States, they accounted for 73 per cent of the home value lost during the crash. This makes Smart Growth the single biggest factor in the mortgage market meltdown.
Instead of using heavy handed regulations to combat sprawl, urbanists should focus on the incentives that work against density. Many cities, such as Toronto and Regina, tax multi-residential rental buildings at a far higher rate than single dwelling housing (four times more in Toronto). This makes rental units dramatically more expensive. Home ownership incentives in place also make single dwelling housing comparatively less expensive. Such policies should be eliminated, and cities should work to ensure that developers are paying the full cost of development.
Urban sprawl cannot be stopped. Nor should it be. After all, it creates a large volume of affordable housing, giving significant benefits to those who are less well off. But it also shouldn't be subsidized. Instead of punishing sprawl, urbanists should focus on ending policies that punish density. Forcing people to live in mixed use neighbourhoods hasn't worked. Removing the barriers to the creation of these neighbourhoods is a far more sensible approach.
--Steve Lafleur is a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. The full FCPP report on which this article was based, "The Costs of Smart Growth Revisited: A 40-Year Perspective," by Wendell Cox, can be accessed here.
The photo, which I took earlier this year, shows high-rises reflected in Coquitlam's Lafarge Lake.
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 8:56 AM
Labels: Frontier Centre Terry O'Neill candidate Coquitlam Council election urban sprawl smart growth