"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Yes, you can protect a neighbourhood and foster business too

I don't believe I've written a letter to the editor of any newspaper since I was elected a year-and-a-half ago. But the Tri-Cities Now's otherwise-excellent coverage of a zoning issue from Monday's council meeting left out a key element of the story, prompting me to write the following missive to the editor. (The Now's story follows my letter.)

I must congratulate the Tri-Cities Now for its detailed coverage of an important zoning decision made by Coquitlam Council on Monday ("Coquitlam upholds OCP", July 31). The depth of the coverage you provided reflects the importance of the issue with which my colleagues and I wrestled for quite some time.However, your story left out an important element: that the vote, in favour of rezoning a residential property to allow a car wash in an area designated commercial-service in the Official Community Plan, was passed only after council, acting on my suggestion, stipulated that the carwash exit would not disgourge cars into the heart of the neighbourhood. Instead, the cars will have to exit back onto Lougheed Highway.With this proviso, I believe that we accomplished two important goals: protecting the residential quality of the neighbourhood and fostering the development of business. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?

Coquitlam upholds OCP

City council sticks with plan, despite opposition

After almost two hours of public input and another hour of council debate, a new car wash facility off Lougheed Highway is one step closer to being a reality, despite the majority of neighbours at a public hearing speaking against it.
Photo by Lisa King/NOW
While the decision affects only those near the proposed business, which would be attached to an existing Husky gas station, it's important for all Coquitlam homeowners - as several council members suggested - since it sends a clear message that the city plans to uphold its Official Community Plan (OCP), even in cases where residential development is encroaching and homeowners are against the expansion of business and commercial interests.
Council voted in a split decision to change the zoning of the lot at 801 Henderson Ave. off Lougheed Highway from residential to commercial-service, essentially approving the developer's desire to build a car wash. A final development permit has yet to be approved, but the rezoning approved the car wash in principle, despite neighbours' complaints that it will increase traffic, cause noise and lower property values.
The co-owner of the lot, Sukhjit Gill, is proposing to develop the site to include three manual washes and one automatic wash off the existing Husky gas station, to be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tony Class, a resident at 727 Henderson Ave. next to the proposed site, said a car wash there isn't a good plan.
"From my living room window, my bedroom window, I can look down and I'll be looking right into a car wash," he said. "Put the wash behind the gas station and no one is [going to] care."
He, along with many other speakers, is also concerned about the direction the neighbourhood is taking.
"I'm worried about kids in the neighbourhood, about traffic getting backed up, and property values going down," he said.
If the car wash is approved, he added, he would like enough time to sell his home before development.
Jim Allen, the applicant working on behalf of Gill,
spoke to council about the proposed business.
Allen and others handdelivered 75 invitations and advertised in the paper, and about 25 people came to a public open house on Jan. 10, he said.
"Of the 15 who commented, nine were in favour and six opposed," he said.
From the comments, those against the car wash said it would increase traffic too much, the lot is too steep to safely build on, the wash will be too loud and it won't be profitable since another car wash is already in the area.
Commenting on those concerns, Allen said traffic flow will not drastically increase and only a 12-metre (40-foot) stretch of road on Henderson Avenue, which the wash would exit on to, will be affected.
He also said he hired an acoustic engineer who noted the noise generated will not be any louder than traffic noise already present.
Allen pointed to the city's Official Community Plan (OCP) and said this proposal is in line with Coquitlam's desire to build business, especially in this area.
The proposal is in accordance with the existing OCP, which has planned for the site to be commercial-service since at least 1990, according to city staff.
Joanne Erickson, another resident living near the proposed site, said her biggest
concern is not with property values.
"My biggest concern is I've got children," she said, stating she uses the crosswalk next to the station often. "If you've got increased traffic there I think you've got a real safety concern." After the public hearing, council debated the proposal.
Coun. Terry O'Neill said he was torn, as he believes the rezoning is a good idea in the long-term, but understands the safety concerns.
Coun. Neal Nicholson did not support the proposal, despite the OCP designating that area as commercial-service more than 20 years ago. "People have told us what they want in that neighbourhood - they want houses," he said. "I think we have to respect that and give them the neighbourhood that they're building for themselves."
Coun. Craig Hodge said the neighbourhood has to move forward with what's happening, but he doesn't like the idea of traffic exiting off to Henderson Avenue. Coun. O'Neill agreed.
Coun. Lou Sekora was less sympathetic to the residents' concerns.
"If I was to buy a house in that area, I would go to the planning department and ask them what is the community plan for that area," he said. "What would I have been told?" He would have been told it is commercial-service, city staff said.
"If I go to City Hall and it says service/commercial, I would not buy a residential house in that spot," he said. He finished by saying the development is a good idea.
Mayor Richard Stewart said he was torn, as he feels this business is in line with the city's OCP, but he knows times have changed and the area has been transforming into a residential-type neighbourhood.
"I think this is a pretty good project, and I think it's entirely consistent with the plan that was put forward 20 years ago," he said.
In the future if residents want to change the plan for the area they live in, they should bring their ideas to council, he said.
But, that still didn't change his mind that the neighbourhood is moving in a residential direction.
In the end, Couns. Nicholson, Brent Asmundson and Mayor Stewart opposed the rezoning, with the majority voting in favour.
The developer now needs to put forward a permit and have council approve it in a fourth and final reading, expected in September.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why I support the by-election

Robinson and Reimer at their final council meeting earlier this year.
The late US president Woodrow Wilson once said, “Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.I believe he was correct, and this is why I voted last night in favour of staging a by-election to replace Coquitlam’s two departed City Councillors, Linda Reimer and Selina Robinson, who now sit in the BC Legislature. (Happily, my vote was part of a 4-2 majority to accept Reimer and Robinson’s resignations and set in motion the process to hold a by-election, which is likely to be held in October.)
Yes, there were practical reasons—most of which involved the saving of money—for not holding the by-election. But I believe the importance of the principles that are involved in the question far outweigh issues involving the city’s finances.
I am reminded that the world “democracy” comes from the Greek word, “demos,” meaning, “people.”  And a democratic system of government is one in which a country’s political leaders are chosen by the people in regular, free, and fair elections. Thus, the holding of elections is of paramount importance in a functioning democracy.
Furthermore, the key role of citizens in a democracy is participation. It is significant that two of the more-publicized initiatives I have undertaken in my first 18 months on council involved citizen engagement. One initiative—the publishing of the names of those who voted in an election—did not receive council support; the other—the staging of electronic Town Hall Meetings—met with overwhelming success. It doesn’t really make sense, then, for me to be in favour of increased citizen engagement but opposed to a by-election.
A democracy also involves government by the rule of law. I believe the Community Charter, which governs the City’s actions here, does not intend to allow the type of gymnastics—going on an unpaid leave for six months and then resigning early in 2014 so as not to trigger a by-election—in which the opponents of the by-election would have had us engage.
After all, any definition of “leave of absence” with which I am familiar suggests that the person taking a leave has the intention of eventually returning to work. Neither Robinson nor Reimer has any intention to return to City Hall.
Those who keep focusing on the money that could be saved by not staging a by-election remind me of something Oscar Wilde said many years ago: “Nowadays,” he quipped, “people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Yes, democracy's price can be high, but its value is far greater.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Public art project nears completion

Illustration of how Blake Williams' work (affixed to column) will look. 
You might remember that, almost 10 months ago now, I raised some concerns about what sort of art might come from a community-engagement project designed to promote multiculturalism while also producing a work of art for display in the new City Centre branch of the Coquitlam Public Library. Here's a link to one of the stories about my concerns. Well, on Monday evening, council will be receiving a report about the completion of the project, carried out by artist Blake Williams after extensive community collaboration, and will be asked to approve its installation. And, so, you might be wondering what I think about the work? Specifically, will I be voting to approve the installation of The Welcome Project - Migration in the library. My answer: Yes.

I've made some notes about my reason for doing so, and I'll share them with you here:

Lenses through which The Welcome Project – Migration might be judged.

Does it meet the goals of 2007 Multiculturalism Strategic Plan? That is, does it promote and communicate Coquitlam’s cultural diversity to the public, and connect with the city's diverse community to bridge the gap between individual ethnic communities and the community at large? YES. See last paragraph on page two of report for how good it made the community participants feel.

Is it Art? The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture. Meet this description? YES

Is it decorative? Serving to make something look more attractive; ornamental. Meet this description? YES.

Does it demonstrate skill and craftmanship? YES.

Is it offensive? That is, harmful or injurious. 2. likely to irritate or offend. Meet this description? NO.

Is it inspired, groundbreaking, breathtakingly original? Not really.

on the other hand....

Is it banal or pap? That is, so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring. Meet this description? NO. It’s actually somewhat clever.

Is it propaganda? Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. Meet this description? Somewhat YES, insofar as it is, by definition, being used to celebrate multiculturalism and bring people together. But it is not “biased or misleading.”

Ultimate question:
Is it great art of the sort that tourists will go out of their way to view? NO.

Did it fulfill the project’s community-engagement and multiculturalism-enhancing intentions, while adding a decorative and topical work of art to our new City Centre Library? YES