Scratching the surface of the plebiscite
• We must look beyond sound bites coming from the multi-million dollar, publically funded Yes campaign for the transportation plebiscite. The evidence shows that the plan for the Broadway Corridor is more about implementing Metrotown-scale development than it is about transporting people.
With foreign capital taps wide open into local real estate and development, Vancouver is demonstrating the kind of deregulated extraction capitalism opposed by Naomi Klein in her latest book, This Changes Everything.
Manipulated growth projections are used to justify development we do not need. This is leading to overbuilding of about 2,000 units per four-year census period. By 2011, this amounted to a total of 22,000 unoccupied units. The point is not how do we force these expensive new units to be rented out, but why do we permit overbuilding?
Like the 1950s and 1960s neighbourhood clearing and urban renewal highway projects, this current tower oriented redevelopment of established neighbourhoods will prove to be a mistake.
Affordable older housing stock is being demolished to be replaced by tiny-unit, expensive cookie cutter condo towers or new monster houses. These are not affordable or viable options for most people or families in Vancouver. Increased development pressure will increase rents and the cost of home ownership.
This plebiscite is a crucial step to fulfilling the decade’s long play initiated under former premier Gordon Campbell and Kevin Falcon when they set up TransLink to push forward the Canada Line for the winter Olympics.
As shown by the City of Vancouver’s policies under Transportation 2040, and explained further through the City’s KPMG report, development along Cambie at Oakridge and Marine Drive stations are examples of what to expect along the Broadway Corridor if the plebiscite is approved.
The Oakridge site was approved last year for upzoning to 11 towers of up to 45 storeys jammed around the mall. The scale certainly does not conform to neighbourhood character along the Broadway Corridor.
The Broadway Corridor has been identified by the City as a Frequent Transit Development Area (FTDA) for transit oriented development in the City’s Regional Context Statement. This blankets Commercial Drive to UBC and 4th Avenue to 16th Avenue, through Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Fairview, Kitsilano and Point Grey.
The Urban Land Institute (ULI), an urban design think tank, stated in its 2014 report that there is enough zoning capacity in Central Broadway to support a subway since the existing C3A zoning is only 60% built out. However, the City’s current policies show that upzoning of the Broadway Corridor is the intended outcome if the subway is approved even though upzoning is not necessary.
We need to reconsider the impacts of an unsustainable tower model placed outside of the downtown core; this is proven to be the least possible energy efficient form of development.
Further, if the plebiscite passes and densification precedes the decades-long process (including phase 2 to build a subway to UBC), it will result in massively increased congestion for the next 20 years.
Instead of adding more electric trolley buses to service increased population, the use of more diesel spewing busses will result in increased GHG emissions, particulate pollution and traffic congestion. With most of the funding going into expensive rail technology, little will be left for expanding the electric trolley bus network that could substantially reduce noise and pollution at a fraction of the overall cost of rail. A subway is about $250 million per km, streetcars $40 million per km and electric trolley buses only $1 million per km plus $1 million per double trolley bus. Electric trolley buses, including rapid bus or express routes, could implement system-wide reductions in pollution and noise immediately at a very modest cost if more money went into this now.
There are also many unclear aspects to the Broadway plan such as which part is to be elevated and which is budgeted for a tunnelled subway. Will it be cut and cover or a bored tunnel? Will this affect small businesses along Broadway the same as the devastation on Cambie Street with the cut and cover for the Canada Line?
How will the civic amenity services – community centres, parks, libraries, daycare – for the increased concentration of development be paid for? Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) paid by development only cover about 10% of the total costs of development. Property taxes will have to increase again to subsidize the costs for civic amenities.
But if development is used to pay for transit as contemplated in the City’s Transportation 2040 plan, the CACs will go towards paying for transit rather than civic amenities and facilities. This will require even more property tax subsidies to cover amenities.
The City of Vancouver’s lack of democracy, transparency and accountability breeds distrust. Recently, the community of New Yaletown sued the city to reverse an arrogant development scheme. In the BC Supreme Court decision on January 27, 2015, it was ruled that the public must be provided all relevant information, presented concisely and intelligibly, in order to enable informed public input. That the City is appealing this court decision shows how little they are willing to be held to account and how they value development above democracy.
Further, unlike a referendum, this plebiscite does not require financial disclosure. There have been media reports that $7 million in public tax funding has been given to the Yes campaign, with questions raised about additional unreported amounts from private sources that stand to gain from a Yes win, such as developers and transit infrastructure providers. Are public funds going to political parties and their supporters? We will never know what the funding sources are or where the money is being spent. But watch for all the advertisements they are buying with your money to trick you into voting Yes.
The questions about the plan for the Broadway Corridor need to be publically debated. A plan supported by the community ought to be reflected in City policy before the authorities are given more power and money. This plebiscite question is premature and should be voted down.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and formerly a Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for BC Housing.