"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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Signs of success!

The lawn signs going up this weekend are a real family affair: the photo was taken by my niece, Michelle; yesterday's lawn-sign-placement crew comprised my brother-in-law Bill and my wife Mary; today's crew features my son David and wife Mary once more. One other crew, doing the public-placement spots, was headed by staunch ally and friend, Ed R. Thanks to everyone for their help! And thanks to my many supporters who have agreed to give me a piece of their lawn for the next three weeks.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Opening salvo in Maillardville

Here is my opening address to the Maillardville all-candidates meeting last night:

Thank-you. I’m Terry O’Neill, and I'm seeking re-election to City Council.

The view from my spot. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)
You know, my background in journalism and community volunteering taught me the importance of standing up for what you believe in, and for working hard to help others.

And that's why I'm proud of the role I played in slowing down tax increases during my time in office. When I was first elected, those increases had averaged more than 5% annually over the previous three years.

But in the three years SINCE I was elected, they have been HALF that. And I certainly intend to continue working to lower the rate EVEN MORE if re-elected.

I also hope you give me the chance to build on the many successes I helped initiate or supported in the area of democratic reform to make city hall for accessible. THE E-TOWN-HALL-MEETING is a real step forward, as is the interactive BUDGET consultation process.

In addition, council supported my call for reform of Metro Vancouver’s unwieldy structure. And when the Province asked for input into campaign-finance reform, I submitted a major brief.

You’ve told me that Maillardville’s safety is a real concern, too. That’s a big reason I led an initiative to ask Ottawa to toughen the penalties against chronic, repeat offenders. Revolving-door-justice will NOT solve our problems.

And I’ve been a strong advocate for a measured and taxpayer-friendly approach to any new affordable-housing policy, not pie-in-the-sky promises. Coquitlam’s hardworking property-taxpayers should NOT be expected to shoulder the burden of subsidizing housing.

And one final point: As an independent candidate, I am not beholden to any slate, team or party. Instead, my priority is you, the taxpayer, the voter, the citizen. THAT'S MY PROMISE, AND YOU CAN COUNT ON IT!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Yes, No, Maybe and Say What?!?

Graphic from commons.wikimedia.org/
I’ve just filled out a candidate questionnaire sent to me by the Tri-City News. The survey, whose results will be published as part of a voter guide a week before the elections, asks a variety of questions, and seeks yes/no, either/or answers. Some of the issues raised, however, are about complex affairs and deserve more detailed examination or explanation. Here are the questions I’m referring to, followed by my analysis, and then my official survey answer:

Question 7. Do you use public transportation?
I use public transportation from time to time (Westcoast Express, Skytrain and buses), but not on a regular basis. Strictly speaking then, my answer is "Yes," even though I suspect the question was about regular use.

Question 8: Are you more willing to see services reduced and taxes held or cut or see services improved and taxes increase?
My sentiments are with the former but my actions on council have been with the latter because I’ve voted in favour of budgets that have seen ever-smaller tax increases while increasing services. As long as we continue to whittle down the size of each year’s tax increase—as we’ve done successfully each of the three years I’ve been on council—I will continue to vote in favour of such budgets. My answer, then, is "services improved and taxes increase" (with a large "on condition that...")

Question 11. What provincial political party's ideology most closely reflects your belief system?
Yikes, what a question! My “belief system” is something that encompasses my religious, philosophical and ideological beliefs, many of which aren’t actually part of any political party’s platforms and shouldn’t be. What I can say is that I have voted for the BC Liberal Party in the last few elections as the most pragmatic choice. So, I selected “Liberal.”

Question 14. Should the city spend more taxpayer money to improve cycling infrastructure?
I have supported budgets that call for moderate expenditures every year to support cycling, but I am not sure about what the question is actually asking. If the options are to cut off such funding entirely or to spend some more money next year, of about the same amount as this year, I would say "yes". If the option is to spend more money next year than the city is spending this year, then I would say "no".  I ended up selecting "Yes."

Question 15. Does the city have a responsibility to ensure the availability of affordable housing to low- and moderate-income households?
Another whopper of a question. Under provincial law, all cities have a duty to adopt an affordable-housing policy or strategy. The City has one in place, and we’re working on a new one. So, if this question is merely asking if I know that provincial law mandates the City to have a policy, then my answer is "yes." Furthermore, I also agree that it’s a good idea for the City to have in place policies that further the availability of affordable housing. We have many ways of doing this—from freeing up land for development to making it easier to have a secondary suite in your basement.
   But, given that the question uses the word “ensure,” which means “to make certain” that something takes place, this question is probably asking if I believe the City has a responsibility, above and beyond provincial law, to make certain that all low- and moderate-income households can afford to buy or rent a home in Coquitlam. If that's the case, and given that Statistics Canada defines a low-income household as having an annual income of below $15,000, then any city adopting a policy guaranteeing that those folks can find a place to live in the city would be courting financial ruin for a variety of reasons which are too numerous to spell out here.
   I do not believe the provincial law demands that we do this. And I do not believe a responsible municipal government should be compelled to do this. Provincial and federal governments have the resources and the flexible taxation systems to tackle this issue, but municipal governments certainly do not. Ultimately, then, I am forced to answer No to this question.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Street-vending deferral hurts small business

Food truck in Coquitlam. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)
You might recall reading last week that Council had narrowly voted in favour of some new street-food-vending regulations. Well, since then, Councillor Neal Nicholson changed his mind, with the result that the new regulations—including all calls for expressions of interest—have been put on hold.
And that’s a shame, because the councillors (Nicholson and those who were initially opposed) appear to be worried only about street vendors’ impact on restaurants along Glen and High streets. (And that fine; they're entitled to their opinions, of course.)
However, the result of their reconsideration and deferral is that even the non-controversial cart applications (for locations such as those near Douglas College) are now in limbo until staff can produce a full report on the issue, involving a round of consultation with the Chamber of Commerce. And that’s likely to take two months, says Deputy City Manager John Dumont.
This means that it is highly unlikely that street-vending operators, who wanted to open early in the New Year, will be able to do so. Such a shame! I know of at least one local man who was really looking forward to launching a new career with such an operation. And now that dream will have to be put on hold.

Here’s some background. Of special note is the fact that all of the votes to set up the program in 2012 and 2013 were non-controversial and received the full support of council and that no objections came from restaurants before we passed the bylaw or during the first year of operation. So, here’s the history:
The idea of a street vending program arose in late 2011/early 2012 when Council expressed an interest in having a more formalized program to allow mobile vending on City streets and in City parks and requested that staff report back. 
In May 2012, Council directed staff to publish newspaper ads giving notice of its intentions to adopt the proposed bylaw and an opportunity to provide feedback.  Notification letters were sent to the Chamber of Commerce on June 4, 2012 and to the local Business Improvement Associations. 
As the program implementation required a Zoning Bylaw amendment, there was also a public hearing held in June 2012. 
Staff received no objections from the public or businesses. At that time, the bylaw received fourth and final readings by a unanimous vote of Council.
Staff from various City departments including Engineering, Planning, Parks and Economic Development then underwent a detailed process of identifying and resolving the technical and other issues necessary to select potential sites on City lands.
In Feb. 2013, Council voted in favour of proceeding with a tender of up to 10 mobile vending licences at the identified sites: The High, Glen Drive, Pinetree Way, the parking lot at Adair and Brunette, and the parking lot on Ridgeway behind the Safeway. 
The first Request for Information and Expression of Interest was issued in early 2013 for the Council-approved locations.
In response to the first Request for Expressions of Interest, the City received six proposals and four licences were issued. Staff in Legal/Bylaws did not receive complaints from existing businesses about the program.
It’s also worth noting that, while some of the current naysayers expressed concerns about street vendors unduly competing with adjacent or nearby businesses, this issue is already one of the evaluation and selection criteria listed in the city’s Request for Expressions of Interest.  If there were to be more applicants than licences available for a specific location, staff on the evaluation committee would be able to consider the proponent’s compatibility with existing businesses as one factor in awarding the licences.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Towards an affordable housing-affordability strategy

A proposed Bosa project that would replace old rental units.
Last night, Council gave unanimous approval to a draft Housing Affordability Strategy, an action that sends the HAS into the public realm for comment and consultation. I seconded the motion because it is important to hear what the community -- taxpayers, homeowners, renters, activist groups, industry, etc. -- has to say about the issue. 

My vote doesn't mean that I support all possible initiatives spelled out in the HAS. On the contrary. I'll explain why.

The Provincial government says each municipality must have an affordable housing strategy, but doesn’t specify what is in that strategy. Local governments are given a variety of tools to address housing affordability challenges through the Local Government Act and Community Charter.  The City of Coquitlam does not have the mandate or capacity to build and operate affordable housing. 

However, the City does have a role in promoting the creation of affordable housing in the community
Approaches can and do vary. There are essentially two models: One exemplifies activism, expense and something I call “up-grabbing”,  the opposite of downloading, in that it willingly takes upon itself responsibilities that are more properly the federal or provincial governments’.

Activism is exemplified by Victoria, for example, which boasts a Civic Housing Fund, a Regional Housing Trust Fund, a Social Housing Permissive Property Tax Exemption, a Secondary Suites Incentive Program, has issued two development permits for the creation of private sector low income rental suites and signed 11 housing agreements that either limit restriction on rentals (in the case of strata projects) or create rental units and rent restrictions for a prescribed period of time. And it has even bought old motels and converted them to housing. But none of this is cheap. An average of $1.34 million a year for three years ending 2010. That’s about $4.1 million.  

Another model is exemplified by the City of Langley. It issued a paper in 2009 discussing a wide range of possible actions, but in the end chose a responsible, and taxpayer-friendly model  to: 1.      Support Density; 2.  Encourage the creation of secondary suites; 3.  Maintain tough regulations on the conversion of rental stock to condominiums.

Keep in mind: property tax is the least-fair, least-equitable way to tax people. It is not based on one’s ability to pay, but on the assessed value of the home you are living in. Yet, an interventionist, up-grabbing approach to housing affordability has the ultimate effect of putting more of a burden on the shoulders of property-tax payers, instead of on the shoulders of the consumption or income taxpayers—the sort of tax collected by the provincial and federal governments.

There are a great deal of good, common-sense, non-burdensome options lists in our proposed new HAS. See page four of the document for the broad outline and 16 to 26 for details.  For example, the proposed Rental Housing Strategy is, as I interpret it, basically a continuation of existing policies which – while placing quite a burden on developers, also seeks to find a balance with a general public concern to protect displaced renters.  What it doesn’t do is compel a re-developer to replace, one-for-one, every purpose-built rental unit that is lost to redevelopment, which is something that at least one Coquitlam councillor/mayoral candidate is calling for. (And, anyway, every economist and expert that I have talked with, says that buildings in which condos are sold end up having upwards of 40% of their units put on the rental market.)

And so, what are the possible burdens to the taxpayer of Coquitlam? Most come down to the Affordable Housing Fund.  Page 19., 3.1.4. 1.  Many on council want to expand the affordable housing fund, skimming off a portion of density bonus, with no cap. I oppose this; it should be capped.

The draft strategy asks the public to  “consider other options”  to add to the fund. What might those be:  Massive infusion into AHF through other sources such as proceeds of sales of city land, is the leading one.

Thankfully, no one is suggesting hiking property taxes!  I oppose this, and I urge voters to ask each and every candidate where they stand, and further, to ask them, why they think it’s fair to the already overburdened residential property taxpayer to deny them the benefits of such potentially redirected monies, when there are so many other options that the city can and should take. Such proceeds can and should be used for general well-being, such as land-sales reserves or maybe even directly for capital costs of new cultural or sport facilities.

We must also watch closely to ensure that working families, who are just barely able to put together enough money to afford a downpayment on a new condo in Burquitlam, for example, aren’t pushed out of the market entirely because the cost of their unit is hiked as a result of a neighbouring project escaping some civic charges because it is promising to provide cheap housing to low-income families. That’s simply not fair.

On the other hand, 1.2.4 on page 21 – “considering exempting rental floor space form maximum density allowances…” seems a less-burdensome, more-equitable alternative.

There are a great many other options and ideas in this report, and I urge the public to get involved in what I hope will be a full and fruitful discussion about this important such.

We need a grounded, responsible Housing Affordability Strategy, one that is rooted, not in a sky’s-the-limit attitude towards redistribution of public money, but in respect for all citizens – be it the young couple looking to put down roots, the working-class family endeavouring to make ends meet, or the newly-retired homeowner on a fixed income.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Looking for consistency

Photo illustrating the Tri-City News's story.
Something to consider:

1. I've heard several folks around Coquitlam in recent days voice concerns about the new Canada-China investment pact. Here's a link to a story about the deal.


2. I've not heard a peep about what I believe to be the Chinese government's continuing role in paying for language-education classes in Coquitlam. Here is a link to a new Tri-City News story about how successful the programs are. Here's a link to an older Vancouver Sun item about the Chinese government's involvement in those programs.

I'm not judging the merits either the investment pact or the language-education programs. I'm just wondering why there's so much concern about the former and not the latter.

UPDATE: Only a few hours after I wrote the above, I came across a letter to the editor in the Tri-City News which was highly critical of SD43's relationship with China. Here's a link to the letter.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Crime and the Evergreen Line: No new Transit Police

Evergreen Line construction. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)
Today's Vancouver Sun and Tri-City News each have stories about an interesting report, prepared for the Transit police, about the possible impact of new Evergreen Line SkyTrain stations on crime rates around the station. In short, the study predicts no increase in crime rates.
That's fine as far as it goes, and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the report. However, neither the stories nor the report itself tell the whole story.
First point: Even though the Evergreen Line will add six new stations to Metro's rapid-transit system, and even though an additional 70,000 riders will use the system once the line opens in the summer of 2016, the Transit Police force will not add a single new officer to its force in response to the opening of the new line.
Chief Officer Neil Dubord confirmed this fact with me in a telephone conversation I had with him earlier today. Instead, the force will realign its services to establish what Dubord calls "hubs of safety," at "high-visibility points" at which Transit Police, Transit security personnel, and SkyTrain attendants can cluster, and from which they can quickly respond to reports of problems.
For the Evergreen Line, the "hub of safety" will be at the Lougheed Station. "It's almost like a hub and spoke [system]," Dubord told me.
Fair enough, and I'm sure these hubs will be staffed with high-quality professionals. But I hope this doesn't mean that Coquitlam RCMP will be forced to respond to incidents that have heretofore been handled on existing lines by Transit Police. If Coquitlam Mounties are, indeed, called into action in such circumstances, it will undoubtedly increase the City of Coquitlam's costs and will thereby represent a downloading of costs onto municipal taxpayers.
Second point: Note that the report talks about crime rates, with an emphasis on rates. Given that populations are already increasing rapidly around planned Evergreen Line stations, and that the populations will continue to increase once those stations are open for business, we will undoubtedly see an increase in the real number of actual crimes committed in and around those stations if the rate stays the same--which it is predicted to do.
Moreover, experience with other rapid-transit systems suggest there will be a high number of quasi-criminal or near-criminal disturbances in and around Evergreen Line stations.
Bottom line: the number of real crimes will increase because of population growth around Evergreen Line stations, 70,000 new riders a day will use the Evergreen Line, but authorities are adding no new Transit Police officers to the system.