Council Preview April 28 & 29: Marijuana Dispensaries, District Energy monopoly, Telus Wi-fi contract, Financial Statement and more

City Hall at nightThree meetings of City Council are scheduled on April 28th and 29th, 2015. There is also a Park Board meeting planned for Monday, April 27th (see our previous report on the Park Board meeting here).

The most controversial item on the Regular Council meeting agenda on April 28th is the report on regulating medical marijuana retail outlets. If the report is accepted, Council will hold a Public Hearing on changes to zoning bylaws in order to permit marijuana shops in commercial districts. An additional 6 dates are recommended to be added for potential Public Hearings in May and June of 2015.

Cannabis plantCouncil will consider requiring new large developments to have a compulsory connection to a neighbourhood energy system in Northeast False Creek and in Chinatown. The main corporate beneficiary of this move is Creative Energy Canada Platforms Corp., a firm that was quietly bought by Ian Gillespie of Westbank Projects as reported in the Vancouver Sun (Jeff Lee, February 24, 2014). Westbank is a financial backer of Vision Vancouver. Creative Energy may have a monopoly on providing centralized district energy in certain parts of the City as a result of proposed changes by Council.

The 2014 Statement of Financial Information is mandated by the province; it will also be reviewed by Council on Tuesday. This document contains a list of City employees earning over $75,000, a consolidated financial statement, and a list of suppliers with contracts that exceeded $25,000 in value. Policy reports for rezoning applications at 4956 Cambie (6-storeys), 5648 Victoria Drive (6-storeys), 3819 Boundary Rd (4-storeys) will be reviewed and likely sent to public hearing. Liquor License amendments to Farmers’ Markets and changes to ground level retail at the Telus Garden CD-1 are also proposed in staff policy reports. A motion on notice related to the proposed relocation of St. Paul’s Hospital is also on the agenda.

A raft of zoning bylaw amendments are proposed for the Public Hearing on Tuesday, April 28th. The Granville Slopes, Dowtown Eastside (DEOD) and Downtown Official development plans will be affected (include more FSR exclusions, less sun, relaxations to side and rear yard setbacks). Heritage Revitalization Agreements for 2546 West 3rd Avenue and 1836 West 12th Avenue are also on the agenda.

The Planning Committee meeting for Wednesday, April 29th includes the approval of a contract to award Telus a 5-year contract to supply public Wi-Fi at 43 locations in the City. Telus is a financial backer of Vision Vancouver. This contract can be extended to up to a 20-year term. The Annual Procurement Report 2014 has details on large contracts and sole source purchases. The distribution of 2015 Property Taxes will also be discussed (54.1 residential vs. 45.9 non-residential).

There will also be a Digital Strategy Update by Jessie Adcock, Chief Digital Officer at the Committee meeting. The report is not yet available online. It may be worth noting that parts of the City’s website are inaccessible to search engines for indexing; a simple fix would allow search engines to link to City staff reports. There are also issues with the City’s reluctance to share internal digital data; here’s an example:

For reference, we’ve reproduced the agendas for the upcoming meetings below: Continue reading

Is Metro Vancouver ready for the magnitude 9.0 earthquake? Read Munich RE “The 2010–2011 New Zealand earthquake sequence”

earthquake seismic graphOn April 25, Nepal was struck by a major earthquake. We encourage Canadians to support relief and recovery efforts.

Meanwhile, the tragic event provides British Columbians with a reminder that the clock is ticking for a megathrust quake along a large stretch of the Pacific coast, from Alaska to California. It is expected to be in the range of magnitude 9.0. The last big one was in 1700. We believe our building codes, infrastructure, and every aspect of preparedness could use more attention and resources.

A report titled “The 2010–2011 New Zealand earthquake sequence,” published by reinsurance company Munich Re in February 2015, provides a powerful summary of the aftermath of the quakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2010 and 2011. This is worth reading and considering the level of preparedness in Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia.

Greater Vancouver has more towers than Portland and Seattle combined. In contrast to Japan, which uses steel girders, construction in B.C. uses reinforced concrete — and failure could result in towers collapsing like a pancake. Have B.C. designs ever been tested in a megathrust quake? Meanwhile, the Provincial government is now preparing to move St. Paul’s Hospital to the silty soils of what was formerly a swamp on the False Creek Flats. The Metro Vancouver region is preparing for another million people in the next thirty years. Everyone needs to step back and take a fresh look at how our region is developing in this megathrust zone. Every industry should look at its level of preparedness, and ability to respond to a disaster. Do we need an earthquake commission in the insurance industry, for example?

*****

The 2010–2011 New Zealand earthquake sequence
(Munich RE, 10-Feb-2015)
http://www.munichre.com/en/reinsurance/magazine/topics-online/2015/02/2010-2011-new-zealand-earthquake/index.html

New Zealanders showed resilience in the aftermath of the quake that rocked Christchurch in autumn of 2010. Despite aftershocks, the prevailing attitude was positive and people were eager to pick up the pieces and get on with their lives. Yet a far more devastating earthquake with 185 deaths in early 2011 challenged the community’s spirit. Four years after this complex and unanticipated series of events, reconstruction efforts and insurance settlement processes are still underway.
Neuroscience - Munich Re

The Darfield, or Canterbury, earthquake of 4 September 2010 measured 7.1 on the moment magnitude scale (MW). It was centred 40km east of the city of Christchurch at a depth of 10km. Although the quake caused no direct fatalities, it resulted in considerable insured damage in the local rural area and in the city (currently estimated at NZ$ 10bn). The event was followed by a prolonged sequence of smaller aftershocks.

Complete silence: Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency’s response on land speculation, housing market and vacancies

vancouver-affordable-housing-agency-logo(Update: On April 26 media started reporting a leaked memo from Mr. Latif to City Council. See for example: “Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency investigates factors behind homes being left empty,” by Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight)

(Posted April 24 at noon) The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) has been completely silent despite our attempts to find out its research plan and outcomes on housing speculation, “unnecessary vacancies,” and the housing market.

Its first anniversary is quickly approaching. What’s mukhtar-latif-mrics, from Linkedin Sept 2013going on? What is its work plan? What has been accomplished? Who are its directors? So far, we’ve received only silence from CEO Mukhtar Latif in response to our requests for information, which started on April 18.

Money launderingland assembly, empty homes, land speculation, “hot” money flowing into real estate, the #donthave1million Twitter campaign, Chinese secret service agents in Vancouver under Operation SkyNet chasing down billions of dollars pilfered by state officials, huge gaps between reporting by Vancouver realtors versus banks under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act — these topics have at last gained some prominence in the past weeks and months. One account estimated that half of all real estate deals in Vancouver in 2014 were purchasers from China. While the rising tide powered by enormous inflows of global money has inflated the asset values of home owners, society as a whole has paid a heavy price — particularly young families, the most vulnerable, and people trying to survive on local incomes.

Rental housing has not been started at 1700 Kingsway; site announced in August 2012 for non-market housing

Construction of rental housing building has not started at 1700 Kingsway; non-market housing was announced in August 2012

What are our Mayor, Council, and City Hall doing about all of this? Housing affordability has been getting worse for many years. Politicians have been elected based on promises to fix the problems. Their emphasis has been to boost supply, but hungry global demand (much of it illegitimate) for land here is virtually infinite. (See our post on this topic: Is there a peak for Metro Vancouver housing prices? What about the question of (infinite) demand?)

During election season, on July 10, 2014, Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement proclaiming the creation of the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (http://vancouver.ca/your-government/vancouver-affordable-housing-agency.aspx). Media gave it prominent coverage. Mayor Robertson and his party probably garnered some support and votes in the November 15 election based on these promises — perhaps this promise alone earned them the extra several hundred votes to narrowly edge out challengers and grab the renewed (but very slim) majority on City Council.

The public and media must hold them to account on their promises, and now is the time.

Excerpt of Mayor of Vancouver statement (10-Jul-2014):

The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) will also collect available data on issues such as vacant homes, and provide information on ways to limit investor speculation and unnecessary vacancies in Vancouver’s housing market.
“The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency will be a key tool in the City’s efforts to create new affordable housing that meets the needs of local residents,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “As well, by designating it as a research hub to monitor issues such as vacant homes and excessive investor speculation, the VAHA will contribute to an informed, fact-based discussion of Vancouver’s housing market.”

On April 18, 2015, CityHallWatch wrote the following message and later sent reminders, with an additional question about who are the directors of VAHA (as they are not listed on the website). The response? Complete silence, so far. Copies of correspondence plus related materials follow. Continue reading

WPG Residents Association hosts Jericho Lands Info Meeting April 29 (Wednesday)

Jericho Lands
The West Point Grey Residents Association (WPGRA.ca) is hosting a Public Information Meeting about the Jericho Lands Development
Time: 7pm on Wednesday April 29, 2015
Location: Jericho Hill Gym at 4180 West 4th Avenue
Free admission
Jericho-Lands-Meeting-April-29-2015The featured speaker will be Mr. Robert Howald, the Executive VP of Canada Lands Company, the agency charged with the task of developing the 52 acre federal lands eastern half of the Jericho Lands. Local MLA David Eby will also be present to speak about the western half of the Jericho Lands owned by the Province of BC.

For more information please see WPGRA.ca or email info@wpgra.ca.

Reportedly David Eby recently sent an email about news on the provincial portion. The province is looking at completing a sale without first consulting the public.

One question: If the Jericho Lands are fully built out, how many people will that be, and how will it affect the City of Vancouver’s population goals for 2040 under the Regional Growth Strategy. Will it relieve pressure on other neighbourhoods, so their totals can be reduced?

Vancouver only has only 3 outdoor swimming pools. A comparison with other Canadian cities

New Brighton PoolThe City of Vancouver currently has a total of 3 outdoor swimming pools. In recent years, outdoor pools were closed in Mount Pleasant, Hastings, Sunset and Marpole. How does Vancouver compare to other Canadian cities?

The City of Mississauga, Ontario has a total of 7 outdoor pools. Mississauga’s 2011 census population was 713,443 (in comparison, the 2011 census for Vancouver was 603,502). Winnipeg by comparison, has a total of 10 outdoor pools (2011 census 663,617). The webpage for the Vancouver Society for Promotion of Outdoor Pools compares facilities between a number of urban centres in Canada; Metro Montreal leads the count with 74 outdoor pools. An open question is whether additional pools will be built in the Vancouver. This may ultimately be decided by Council, as it is Council (and not the Park Board) that controls the City’s purse strings.

Additional funding for pools and for other park board facilities could come from the “emerging priorities” part of the 4-year Capital Plan ($95 million). Or Park Board facilities could be funded in part from Community Amenity Contributions (CACs). Both of these sources of revenue are under the City’s control. Is City Council willing to invest in Park Board facilities to benefit residents? Or will all CACs and the emerging priorities reserve in the Capital Plan be allocated so none of these funds go to Park Board? Stay tuned.

outdoor pools mississauga

New marijuana dispensary bylaw would require 300m separation from schools and community centres

Weeds marijuana shop

The former “Weeds” marijuana dispensary was raided by the VPD in July 2014

The proposed bylaw to regulate marijuana dispensaries would mandate a minimum distance of 300 metres between individual shops. There’s also a proposed minimum 300m distance from the shops to schools and Community Centres. Would many existing marijuana dispensaries be affected by the changes? Does the City intend to exempt and grandfather existing shops? Is this the desired outcome of the proposed regulations?

The staff report does not make it clear how the City intends to measure the 300m distance; is it from the entrance of a school, from the building, or from the property line of the school yard? These same questions also apply to Community Centres. Neither does the staff report distinguish between public and private schools; it appears that the 300m distance would apply to both. The report does not appear to include pre-school kindergarten, Sunday schools at churches, and schools at various cultural hubs throughout Vancouver.

For the most part, the City has tolerated illegal marijuana dispensaries. Last year the Vancouver Police Department raided “Weeds” on East Hastings after they received multiple complaints. There were allegations that marijuana bought in the store was subsequently sold to young people in the neighbourhood. Further details are available in the following articles: Vancouver police raid second marijuana dispensary in less than two months (The Georgia Straight, Travis Lupick, July 24, 2014) and Jim’s Weeds medical marijuana store raided by Vancouver police (CBC, July 24, 2014).

Pot Shops in VancouverAccording to the City staff report, “there are now over 80 confirmed marijuana-related businesses in the city operating without a business licence and the total number has grown at a rate of 100 percent per year for the past two year.” The City’s map of marijuana dispensaries indicates that the shops are mostly concentrated in EastVan, with a few shops in the downtown and also along the Broadway corridor. There are three shops in close proximity in Marpole on South Granville; there are no other shops in the southwest part of the Vancouver. According to the City’s data, certain neighbourhoods such as Dunbar and Kerrisdale currently don’t have any marijuana dispensaries. Is this merely a coincidence?

An open is question is how does the City intend to deal with the issue of establishing a 300 m separation between existing pot dispensaries? Would it enforce its new bylaws and require shops that are in violation to close? What would happen if a medical marijuana clinic were to open in an industrial zone that allows for retail? Would suggested fines (from $250 to $10,000) be applied and would there be bylaw enforcement? The proposed bylaw changes extend to commercial zones only. Further details on the City’s changes are available in our previous post: City seeks to regulate marijuana shops, rezone Commercial districts to allow use (April 22, 2015).

A quick spot check revealed that several existing marijuana dispensaries could be within the proposed 300m buffer from schools and Community Centres. We’ve highlighted a few examples below:

Raycam and East Hastings

Two cannabis stores are located just half a block from RayCam Community Centre on 800 block East Hastings (or approx. 60m away)

"Health Lifestyle Marihuana" is within 250m of Charles Dickens school. It's also within 300m of the Charles Dickens Annex. Would shop be closed under new rules?

“Health Lifestyle Marihuana” is within 250m of Charles Dickens Elementary on Windsor Street. It’s also within 300m of the Charles Dickens Annex on Glen Drive. Would this shop on Kingsway be closed under the City’s proposed rules?

A medicial marijuana dispensary on Commercial Drive is located a block away from a private school

A medicial marijuana dispensary on Commercial Drive is located a block away from a private school (East 14th Avenue)

The Canna Clinic+ and Pain Management Society stores on Commercial Drive are located within 300m of nearby schools (Grandview Elementary and Queen Victoria Annex)

The Canna Clinic+ and Pain Management Society stores on Commercial Drive are located within 300m of nearby schools (Grandview Elementary and Queen Victoria Annex)

MMJ and Queen Alexandra
MMJ Canada on Clark Drive is within 250m of Queen Alexandra Elementary. Continue reading

City seeks to regulate marijuana shops, rezone Commercial districts to allow use

Pot Shops in Vancouver

City of Vancouver’s unofficial count of marijuana-related businesses

The City of Vancouver will be considering a report on regulating marijuana shops at the Council meeting on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. If the recommendations in the staff report are accepted, then the proposed changes will be referred to a Public Hearing. The next date on the Public Hearing schedule is May 26, 2015.

The City has no official count of marijuana businesses because these are technically illegal. The map in the staff report to identify the locations of the shops is incomplete (map enhanced and reproduced in the inset). The shops currently operate without a business licence. The staff report is recommending that Council rezone all commercial districts to allow for the legalization of the marijuana product shops with the following conditions:

Health Lifestyle Marihuana on Kingsway is located within 250m of an elementary school

“Health Lifestyle Marihuana” on Kingsway is located within 250m of Charles Dickens Elementary School

A Marijuana-Related Use would be allowed to establish in any commercial-retail district (i.e. C-1, C-2, C-2B, C-2C, C-2C1, C-3A, C-5, C-5A, C-6, C-7, C-8, Downtown District ODP, Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District ODP, FC-1, HA-1, HA-1A, HA-2, HA-3) provided that the site is not:

  • within 300 metres of a school or community centre;
  • within 300 metres of another Marijuana-Related Use;
  • located in the Downtown Eastside other than on sites located on Hastings Street or Main Street;
  • located in the Granville Entertainment District; or
  • located on a minor street(defined as any street that does not contain a painted center line).

An annual business licence fee of $30,000 per year is recommended by staff. Other fees, fines and requirements are also outlined in the report. It’s an open question on how staff would deal with established shops that are already within 300 metres of another shop or with shops that are located within 300 metres of a school or a community centre. Best practices from Washington State and Colorado are used for a comparative analysis by staff.

Cannabis products available from 420 vendors (Art Gallery)

Cannabis products available from street vendors at 420 event (Art Gallery)

District Zones AppendixH

This topic is important for public discussion. If City Council adopts this plan, are measures in place to avoid concerns about possible impacts on our youth in society? @tlupick tweeted out a map of public schools juxtaposed with a map of proposed marijuana dispensaries. Someone else added that a map of private schools should also be superimposed on the maps, to get the full picture.   Continue reading