Richmond Farmland Owner$ A$$ociation Rai$es Dollar$ for Pro Man$ion City Councillors

 

There’s a farmland travesty occurring in Richmond where the City Council has been influenced to approve mansions of 10,700 square feet on farmland over one half an acre, and on larger parcels, an additional house of 3,200 square feet for the “help”. This is all a shell game in more than one sense. Vast portions of Class one supposedly Provincial protected agricultural lands have been sold to developers, often in shell companies to create large gated mansions. Everyone profits~the farmland is sold for more, the developer sells the property for even more, and the buyer can take advantage of signficant loopholes in legislation meaning there is no 20 per cent foreign buyer’s tax to be paid, and if there is a small profit made on berries or a horse, the property can also enjoy the much lower agricultural property tax rate. It is the perfect scam,  and Richmond City Council has been complicit in undermining the integrity and intent of the Agricultural Land Reserve which was designed to ensure food security for future generations, and the accessibility of good soils for local farmers.

Twitter quickly spread the invitation by the pro-development “Richmond Farmland Owner’s Association” ( you will note that is farmland owners, not farmers) to a $ummer Barbeque (yes they use the $ sign for the “S”) to raise money for those six Richmond City Councillor complicit in  the mcmansioning of farmland, ignoring the “cap”  established by the Province for houses on agricultural land which is a very healthy 5,382 square feet.

The Farmland Owners Association  also has a facebook page which has several videos, including one of a young man saying he  only wants to live in the same kind of house as people in the centre of Richmond. That sounds very nice, but people in the centre of Richmond don’t live in 10,700 square foot mansions, or partake in supernormal profit by selling land zoned for farm use as exclusive private estates. It is all very shady.

The optics of this group fundraising for Councillors who have ignored agricultural policy is striking. Even The Richmond News reported  some of the social media tweets, including one from John Roston running for Richmond Council~” When #RichmondBC councillors vote to help you make millions on your farmland by allowing mega mansions, it’s only polite to thank them.”  And Councillor Harold Steves, one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve responded by a tweet saying ” “six #RichmondBC councillors ‘opened the barn door for rampant speculation on agricultural farmland’…they are supported by the ‘Farmland Owners’ who are fundraising to keep them in office,” adding the hashtag “VoteThemOut.”

While the corruption word was being bandied about, the Farmland Owner’s Association said the poster was a “mistake”. It was for their “membership” and you can join for $100. The poster was changed “to remove details about the event being a fundraiser”.

The tweet from Kelley Greene, another  candidate for Council sums up the whole event: “Looks like a busy fundraising weekend for #Richmond BC city councillors who are in favour of luxury estates on farmland.Their names were scrubbed from the poster after the fact. Something to hide? #Richmond Last  #ALR  #ConflictOfInterest #BackroomDeal #Richmond Deserves Better. “

 

 

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Where $117,000 is Low Income~Housing in San Francisco’s Bay Area

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The New York Times reports that in three counties in California’s Bay Area, a family of four that earns up to $117, 400 is now classified as low~income. This is the threshold in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, and is used to calculate entry into local and federal housing assistance programs.

“To generate the number, officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development factor in the median income and average housing costs in an area. The second-highest threshold is in Honolulu, according to the agency — but the third is also in the Bay Area, in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley. The New York City area, where a family of four earning up to $83,450 is classified as low-income, came in at No. 9.”

Locals in the three California counties see the tech industry as bringing highly paid employees into the region. Housing, transportation and food have also increased in price. “It’s arguably the most expensive city in the country, so what that translates to is really not that much money,” said Ed Cabrera, a Housing and Urban Development spokesman who is based in San Francisco. “Especially with children in an area where properties are considered affordable if they’re going for half a million dollars.”

For a two bedroom apartment in San Francisco, “fair market” rent is determined to be $3,121.   The median house price is now over one million dollars in San Francisco. Many residents travel far inland to afford housing, adding to very long commutes. As Ken Cole the Housing Director of the county observes, “What it means on the ground is that teachers, first responders, people who grew up here of average income are being forced out by the high prices.” 

Building high density accommodation close to commuter rail lines and increasing rent control are two methods he believes can provide more affordability. His words also ring true for Vancouver, where affordability for middle-income earners is very challenging. “The very success of the place undermines the viability of life for at least the lower half, if not the lower two-thirds,” Mr. Walker said. “And those are the people who get forgotten in the narrative of the glamour of tech changing the world.”

If low and middle-income people cannot remain in San Francisco the Bay Area’s reputation as a diverse and innovative economy will diminish. As Kate Hartley, director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, said ” the harder it is to house our artists, teachers, restaurant workers, health care providers,” she added, “the more we put that great spirit and strong economy at risk.”

san-francisco-is-the-second-most-dense-city-in-the-united-states-after-new-york-city-with-about-18451-people-per-square-mile-packed-into-around-47-square-milesPhotos: Hotpads.com & Zillow

Why is Vancouver Still Using Big Bang Fireworks?

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There is a funny thing about calling Vancouver a “green” city. While we may judiciously recycle, reuse and repurpose, we’ve still not had a conversation about why Vancouver has huge fireworks festivals. Festivals around fireworks bring in money, but there is also an ecological cost. Price Tags Vancouver has previously written about the noise pollution and the impact on nesting birds in Stanley Park. There is also  the Point Roberts Eagle Man who we’ve previously reported had been watching the nest activity of eagles and found that the sites near the fireworks displays were abandoned or did not produce viable eggs. Some jurisdictions in the United States do not allow fireworks to be set off within specified distances of nesting eagles. The City of Enumclaw cancelled their July 4th fireworks last year when they found there was a nesting pair of eagles near the site.

Price Tags also referenced  Steph Yin’s article exploring quiet fireworks in the New York Times . “In parts of Europe, quiet fireworks displays have grown increasingly common. In Britain, venues close to residents, wildlife or livestock often permit only quiet fireworks. One town in Italy, Collecchio, passed a law in 2015 that all fireworks displays must be quiet. By relying on rich color effects and tight visual choreography, designers of quiet fireworks programs can forgo the big explosions and still deliver a stunning show. The hope is that softer celebrations mean less stress for noise-sensitive children, veterans, older people, pets and wildlife.”  

You can read more about Collecchio’s approach here. And in Canada, Banff Alberta has switched to the type of pyrotechnics associated with rock concerts which are heavy on light and colour and don’t make a lot of noise. Canmore and Jasper Alberta have also banned fireworks displays, seeing quiet pyrotechnics as the more fundamentally ecological and ethical thing to do.

 “We wanted to minimize the impact on wildlife in the townsite and obviously the surrounding national park, as loud fireworks can be stressful to them,” Deputy Mayor of Banff Corrie DiManno said. “And for us, moving to special-effect pyrotechnics helps us to walk the talk, so to speak. We consider ourselves leaders in this area of environmental preservation so we wanted to make sure that we were doing all we can.”

“Anybody who’s had a cat and dog in the vicinity of fireworks knows often what it’s like – you’ve got a pet adapted to an urban environment and often they run away or hide under the bed. So you can imagine the impact that might have on wild animals,” said Reg Bunyan, vice-president of the group that suggested the idea, the Bow Valley Naturalists.

Why is Vancouver still insisting on noisy fireworks?

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Richmond Growing Mansions on Protected Agricultural Lands

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Note: This was originally published as an editorial in Vancouver is Awesome on June 24, 2018.  You can review the original  editorial here at Vancouver Is Awesome.

In a puzzling scene at Richmond City Hall in May, City Council opened the barn door for rampant speculation on agricultural farmland. By throwing out the recommendations of their city staff and approving the building of large mansions of over 10,700 square feet on farm properties, Richmond Council extended their pro development stance to land that was supposedly Provincially protected. Council went one step further, allowing the building of an additional dwelling on farming properties of 3,200 square feet, for the “help”. That is 14,000 square feet of residential space approved by Council for each farming property.

Only three Richmond City Council members, Harold Steves, Carol Day and Mayor Malcolm Brodie voted against the motion to build mansions on what is the best farmland in Canada. Harold Steves, who is one of the longest serving City councillors in Canada, was one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and farms the land of his grandfather in Richmond.

Farmland in British Columbia is protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) which was enacted in 1973. This legislation was established to ensure that the rich farm soils in the province would remain protected for agricultural use only and be affordable to farmers. Under that legislation houses on agricultural land can be built to a maximum of 5,382 feet, half the size of what Richmond has approved.

With Richmond Council’s pro developer policy decision, any farmland property of over one half acre in size can now become a private, gated estate, with a very large house and with land that will never be affordable to a farmer or come back into food production. By exploiting loopholes in legislation, developers have found a crafty way to buy farmland cheaply, redevelop it with large houses, and resell it at a supernormal profit. And there are financial loopholes for the buyers, many in numbered companies and many from offshore. Buying a mansion on agricultural land means an exemption from the 20 per cent foreign buyers’ tax. And if the land produces a nominal farm product amount of $2,500, and that can be hay or a horse, the property can be taxed at the much lower agricultural property tax rate.

There is also a huge lift enjoyed by speculators in buying agricultural land and morphing it into residential. In 2014 a shell company purchased a 26-acre piece of farmland for $88,000 in Richmond. In 2017 with a mansion half built the property was reassessed at $8.3 million. There is no way that this piece of land will ever return to a farmer’s ownership, and valuations such as this have fueled repurposing land originally protected for future food security.
In fact, the City of Richmond is now processing 61 applications for development after Council’s decision to reinforce the mansioning of farmlands.

Richmond’s European settler background was as the “garden city” for 150 years, based upon the Class 1 rich alluvial soils that took the Fraser River tens of thousands of years to build. These soils are not just for cheap low maintenance operations like blueberries which qualify for farm status but offer low returns. These lands can grow a wide range of vegetables, provided work for farmers, and food security now and for future generations. It must be painful for Councillor Harold Steves, one of the original proponents of the Agricultural Land Reserve to see the death warrant signed by this Council for Richmond farmland. It is absolutely crucial that the Province step in to prevent the carving up of these rich farming lands. In Richmond itself, the Richmond Citizens Association is running a progressive slate of people for Council this October on a platform for transparent and open city government that listens to what citizens want-and preserves farmland.

There has been pushback and outrage against Richmond’s Mcmansioning of the best farmland in Canada, and it requires a quick intervention. Without a Provincial response, other municipalities will face similar pressure for the estate privatizing of farmland. Proximity to good agricultural land is irreplaceable. Local food security, and the stewarding of Metro Vancouver’s farmland and future farmers depends upon a universal response that agricultural lands matter.

Inverness Beach Nova Scotia Champions Universal Accessibility

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Being able to access the beach and the ocean is something that every child and adult should be able to do, despite their age and ability. Price Tags Vancouver has already written about the accessible mats that are being provided by the Parks Board to allow wheelers to get access to English Bay beaches. That article also described how Australia’s Gold Coast’s plan to make their beaches accessible to wheelchairs has been so successful that other municipal areas are following suit.

Another step up as reported by the CBC is in Inverness Nova Scotia  located one hour south of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There the Inverness Development Association and the Inverness County Accessibility Committee purchased accessible beach matting, two beach wheelchairs and two floating chairs so that anyone could go into the water.  That community is also creating ramps down to the water, accessible parking spaces and accessible washrooms, making it the most accessible beach in Atlantic Canada. Their main users are seniors, many from a local seniors’ residence.

There’s a healing within coming to a beach and I think everyone across Canada can relate to it,” said Rose Mary MacDonald, IDA’s vice-president…Doesn’t matter if you have mobility issues, if you have problems with your feet and can’t walk, problems with your grip, we looked at everything that we could do on this site to make it fully accessible.”

Other counties in the Maritimes are looking at Inverness Beach as the model to follow, with “mobi-mats” made of recycled plastic bottles, and easy to use equipment. A board member of the Canadian Paraplegic Association was involved in the design, and the cost for the new equipment and refit was a reasonable $60,000. The benefit to universal accessibility to a Nova Scotia beach? Priceless.

 

 

 

Voyeurism, Urinals and the Opus Hotel

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In the “what were they thinking” category, Jody Paterson reports in the Tyee that Vancouver’s Opus Hotel is going to remove the live video monitors which are strategically placed above the men’s urinals in their men’s public washroom. Since 2002 the hotel has been broadcasting a live feed of the bar customers from these monitors.

Surprisingly hotel management said that no one had ever complained about the live feed of bar customers in the men’s washroom until a visitor from Victoria identified this as a privacy issue. Hotel management had “always gone for a bit of “tongue-in-cheek” and voyeurism,  noting that its hotel rooms have windows between the bathrooms and the living rooms.” Earlier on there were similar monitors in the women’s washroom mirror  which were taken down when the monitors broke a few years ago.

After six months of back and forth with hotel management, Paul Razzell filed a complaint to BC’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) on May 3. The Opus Hotel now says they are doing a renovation of the washrooms, and those monitors will be taken down.

So is this legal? Private organizations are governed by the Personal Information Protection Act. Video surveillance can be used to prevent or record a crime, but recorded video has to meet tests “around consent and reasonableness”.  By not recording the video, Opus Hotel’s live feed was legal, and may not have required any notification of video surveillance from the men’s washroom. Collection, use and disclosure of taping of surveillance video does require notification.

This is not 2002 anymore,” says Razzell. “We don’t want to permit things like this to be normalized in our world. If there was ever a time to do the right thing and stop this, now’s the time.” 

New York City’s Tom Bob repurposes street utilities into whimsical wonders

 

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From Catherine Clement comes this New York City story about Tom Bob who has turned the ordinary into the extraordinary with every day street amenities.  Taking ordinary items like  manhole covers, bike racks and exposed wall piping Tom Bob transforms them into articles of delight and whimsy. It’s no surprise that his work has also been seen in Boston and has even extended to street signs.

You can see more of Tom Bob on his twitter account and follow his exploration of design and delight bringing a different perspective to the public realm.

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