City Hall rushes to clarify stance on natural gas, transition to renewable energy

Gregor RobertsonThe past couple days there has been somewhat of a media storm in response to an opinion piece by Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (“Taxpayers Will Shoulder Burden Of Vancouver Natural-Gas Ban,” The Province, 21-Sep-2016).

Excerpt: Lost in the hubbub over housing prices in the Lower Mainland this summer was the Vision-dominated city council rubber stamping its Renewable City Strategy, committing Vancouver to eliminating natural gas within city limits by 2050. Robertson wants a 70-per-cent cut in natural gas use by 2020, and 90 per cent gone within 10 years on new construction or renovations requiring a building permit. This will cost individual residents thousands of dollars — and was approved by Robertson and his council without any thought to the affordability crisis in Vancouver...
(Jordan Bateman, Canadian Taxpayers Federation)

Below we provide verbatim an information bulletin issued in response this morning (23-Sept) by the Corporate Communications office at City Hall, and at the bottom we provide a selection of other media coverage and related links. It seems the City could have done a better job of communicating the information initially, and that it is still a complicated story.

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Clarification of City’s position on natural gas: Long-term plans call for transition to more renewable energy forms, zero emissions buildings
(Information Bulletin from City Of Vancouver Corporate Communications, 23-Sept-2016)

The City of Vancouver is not banning the use of natural gas, despite claims to the contrary in a misinformed opinion piece in The Province newspaper.

Earlier this year, Vancouver City Council adopted the Zero Emissions Building Plan – an action plan that lays out a phased approach to combat and reduce carbon pollution in Vancouver. The plan establishes specific targets and actions to achieve zero emissions in all new buildings by 2030 i.e. the plan does not focus on retro-fitting buildings. Restaurants can continue to cook with natural gas and residents are not being asked to replace their gas appliances.

[CityHallWatch note: “Earlier this year” apparently refers to the July 12 and 13, 2016, Council meetings. Click here for council agenda, policy report, staff presentation and video on “Zero Emissions Building Plan” on the 12th, and click here to see  video of speakers, Council discussion, and vote on the 13th. Seven citizens spoke in favour, none against. See text of revised adopted motion, adopted unanimously by Council, at bottom.]

The Zero Emissions Building Plan is a product of Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy (RCS), committing Vancouver to derive 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources before 2050. Vancouver is one of many cities worldwide that have adopted 100 per cent renewable policy strategies to combat climate change.

The three core strategies in the Renewable City Strategy (approved by unanimous City Council vote in Fall 2015) include:
1. Reduce energy use through energy conservation and efficiency programs.
2. Increase the use of renewable energy (for example biomethane – renewable natural gas). The City of Vancouver powers City Hall with green gas we purchase from FortisBC.
3. Increase the supply of renewable energy and support that with new infrastructure.

[CityHallWatch note: See Regular Council November 3, 2015 for the “Renewable City Strategy” adopted.]

Fifty-eight per cent of the energy used in buildings (heat, hot water) comes from natural gas use (with the remainder from electricity); because electricity is green energy, natural gas is responsible for 96 per cent of a typical building’s greenhouse gas emissions. The phased approach laid out in the Zero Emissions Building Plan aims to reduce emissions from newly permitted buildings by 70 per cent by 2020, 90 per cent by 2025 and 100% by 2030.

[CityHallWatch note: A major assumption appears to be that all “electricity is green energy,” but that merits further discussion. For example opponents of the Site C dam would probably disagree with that claim.]

In addition to helping to combat climate change, these new building standards will also result in better quality homes that are quieter, healthier, and easier to operate and maintain.

The Zero Emissions Building Plan was brought forward after extensive consultation with designers, builders, developers, building operators and utilities. Consultation will continue as components of the plan are implemented. Stakeholders consulted (see Report to Council) included:

  • · BC Hydro (co-funded research and consultation)
  • · FortisBC
  • · Creative Energy
  • · River District Energy
  • · Urban Development Institute (collaborated on establishing scope of research work and supported industry consultation to ensure representative voices from the designers, developers, builders, and suppliers for multi-unit residential buildings)
  • · Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association
  • · BC Ministry Responsible for Housing, Building and Safety Standards Branch
  • · BC Ministry of Energy and Mines, Electricity and Alternative Energy Division
  • · Staff from the cities of Richmond, New Westminster, and Surrey
  • · BC Housing and the Homeowners Protection Office
  • · International Building Performance Simulation Association – BC Chapter
  • · Fenestration Association of BC
  • · New Buildings Institute (one of the leading U.S. building energy code think tanks)
  • · Pembina Institute
  • · Canadian Passive House Institute

As a result of City of Vancouver green building policies there have already been significant cost savings for Vancouver residents and businesses due to less energy use in buildings. The City estimates that, relative to our 2007 baseline, Vancouver’s businesses and residents save $44 million annually in building energy costs thanks to decreasing energy use and reduced buildings emissions.

For more information about the Renewable City Strategy, visit vancouver.ca/renewable-city.

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FINAL MOTION on Zero Emissions Building Plan AS ADOPTED (From minutes of Standing Committee of Council on City Finance and Services, July 13, 2016)

THAT the Committee recommend to Council
A. THAT Council approve the Zero Emissions Building Plan (attached as Appendix A
of the Policy Report dated July 5, 2016, entitled “Zero Emissions Building
Plan”), and adopt a target to reduce emissions from new buildings by 90% as
compared to 2007 by 2025 and to achieve zero emissions for all new buildings
by 2030 including intermediary time-stepped GHG emission and thermal energy
demand targets as described in the Plan.
B. THAT Council direct staff to report back with specific recommendations to
reflect the first step of these limits in the Rezoning Policy for Green Buildings
and Vancouver’s Building Bylaw along with any synergistic updates to
Neighbourhood Energy connection requirements by Q1 2017.
C. THAT Council direct staff to build all new City-owned and Vancouver Affordable
Housing Agency (VAHA) projects to be Certified to the Passive House standard
or alternate zero emission building standard, and use only low carbon fuel
sources, in lieu of certifying to LEED Gold unless it is deemed unviable by Real
Estate and Facilities Management, or VAHA respectively, in collaboration with
Sustainability and report back with recommendations for a Zero Emissions
Policy for New Buildings for all City-owned and VAHA building projects by 2018.
D. THAT Council direct staff, in consultation with industry, to develop a three
year, $1.625 million Zero Emissions Home Program for detached and row houses
($325K in 2017 from the Climate Action Rebate Incentive Program Reserve,
$650K in 2018 and $650K in 2019 from a funding source to be determined and
reported back to Council), and report back to Council with specific
recommendations for tools to catalyze leading builders to demonstrate cost
effective approaches to building zero emissions homes by 2017
E. THAT Council direct staff to engage partners, consult with stakeholders, and
report back with recommendations in 2017 on the resources and tools required
to catalyze leading developers to demonstrate cost effective approaches to
building zero emissions multi-unit residential and commercial buildings;
FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to meet with the National Research Council
(NRC) as soon as possible, prior to enacting F below, in order to access the
impartial and world-renowned expertise in building science and technology
that is offered by the NRC;
AND FURTHER THAT the City work with the NRC to achieve the City’s goals in
lowered GHG emissions and to provide the best building technologies
appropriate for the needs of Vancouver’s citizens.
F. THAT Council approves in principle $700,000 over three years ($300K in 2017,
$200K in 2018, and $200K in 2019 from the City’s 2017 Innovation Fund, subject
to Council approval of the 2017 Innovation Fund budget) towards establishing a
non-governmental Zero Emissions Building Centre of Excellence with the
mission to facilitate the compilation and dissemination of the knowledge and
skills required to design, permit, build and operate zero emission buildings in
BC, and direct staff to engage partners, secure matching funding, consult with
stakeholders and report back with recommendations for implementation in
2017.
G. THAT Council direct staff to review and recommend amendments to the City’s
bylaws, policies, and guidelines to incorporate “zero emission building related
rules” including but not limited to Official Development Plans, the Zoning and
Development By-law, Vancouver’s Building Bylaw, the Subdivision by-law and all
other applicable bylaws, policies and guidelines to remove barriers and
facilitate the development of zero emission buildings and provide them with
equal weight as other public policy objectives wherever such “zero emission
building related rules” confer discretion to a City official or board, and report
back with initial recommendations in 2017.
H. THAT Council direct staff to develop and report back in the fall of 2016 on a
plan, including educational demonstration projects in city-owned buildings, to
increase the generation and use of renewable energy such as solar.
I. THAT Council direct staff to report on the projected life cycle costs that will
result from adoption of the Zero Emissions Building Plan, any related policies,
and all future carbon reduction measures proposed by staff.

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RELATED LINKS AND MEDIA

City of Vancouver clarifies its position on natural gas in new buildings
Reports of an all-out ban on natural gas are unfounded, says city manager Sadhu Johnson (CBC, 22-Sept-2016)
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-natural-gas-ban-2050-1.3775085

The story above is recommended – a clarification of several facts – and it seems to go much further than the statement issued by the City on September 23.

http://www.cknw.com/2016/09/22/vancouver-commits-to-ban-non-renewable-natural-gas/

http://www.news1130.com/2016/09/23/vancouver-plans-to-ban-the-use-of-natural-gas-by-2050/

http://www.cknw.com/2016/09/22/vancouver-commits-to-ban-natural-gas/

http://www.am730.ca/syn/112/223487/vancouver-commits-to-ban-natural-gas

http://theprovince.com/opinion/jordan-bateman-vision-vancouvers-natural-gas-ban-will-cost-residents-thousands-of-dollars

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jordan-bateman/vancouver-natural-gas-ban_b_12130040.html

http://www.news1130.com/2016/09/23/vancouver-plans-to-ban-the-use-of-natural-gas-by-2050/

http://bc.ctvnews.ca/vancouver-s-plan-to-eliminate-natural-gas-goes-too-far-critics-say-1.3084907

http://www.dawsoncreekmirror.ca/business/fort-st-john-mayor-critical-of-vancouver-natural-gas-phase-out-1.2349508

City Council sends proposed “empty homes tax” out for public consultation

City HallOn its first session back from the summer hiatus, Vancouver City Council today discussed the topic item on the agenda: “Encouraging Homes for Renters: Emerging Approach on Empty Homes.Click here for the administrative report, and click here for the actual staff presentation. The Vancouver Sun has covered the story today: “Vancouver to launch public talks on empty homes tax” (by Matt Robinson). And below is the City’s media release, issued after the meeting.

 

Media release from City of Vancouver (20-Sept-2016)

Proposed Empty Homes Tax approved to go to public consultation: City staff to seek direction on exemptions and tax rate from Vancouver residents

Today City Council took next steps on a proposed new Empty Homes Tax to help relieve pressure on the rental housing market. City staff will now move forward with public consultation to provide homeowners with the opportunity to comment on the proposed tax. Continue reading

JARA Statement on REZONING – Joyce-Collingwood Station Precinct Plan and Related Rezonings (Public Hearing Tues, Sept 19)

jara-photo-17-sep-2016-joyce-collingwood-walkCaption: Taiko drummers leading the Community Celebration Walking Tour, part of the JARA organized Block Party held on September 17, 2016. The community mural by two Filipina artists, Aly d., Kim Villagante and youth reads, “home”.

INTRO: Joyce Area Residents Association (JARA) sent this statement to Vancouver Mayor and City Council on Sept. 19, in time for the Public Hearing starting 6 pm on Tuesday, Sept 20, 2016, for a major rezoning around this Skytrain station.* (Reprinted here with permission, but CityHallWatch added some bolding for emphasis. The statement raises concerns about loss of existing affordable housing, negative impacts on the community, unaddressed concerns about transportation/transit, and an unsatisfactory consultation process — asking Council to reject this rezoning and reconsider these key issues. CityHallWatch has added links and references at bottom.)

Dear Mayor and Vancouver City Council,

In response to the “REZONING: Joyce-Collingwood Station Precinct Plan and Related Rezonings”, the Joyce Area Residents Association (JARA) would like to offer our comments in opposition to the proposed rezonings in our neighbourhood.

You may recall a group of passionate community members, from youth to seniors, who came down to City Hall to offer comments on rushed development in our community in June this year. Rapid growth inherently conflicts with Vancouver’s goal to become the greenest city. We urge City Council to carefully consider the following before making a decision about the proposed mass rezoning.

High Renter Population/Current Affordability

The high renter population in the neighbourhood must be considered. As indicated in the plan, 46 percent of 6,300 home dwellings are rented by individuals and families. Many have chosen to stay as renting has always been a more affordable option. However, with the current state of growing unaffordability in the city, unprotected and displaced renters will be left with no other options for housing. Many renters are currently spending somewhere between 30 to 50 per cent of their income on rent. As a result, new development does not guarantee that current renters will be able to afford the units. There is an urgent need for more non-market rentals, especially in a neighbourhood with such high percentages of low-income, immigrant families and seniors.

Transit Convenience & Services

The City of Vancouver has already found that Renfrew-Collingwood area has a higher representation of low-income and immigrant residents compared to the city-wide average. In addition, the neighbourhood is also home to one of the highest proportions of seniors. Continue reading

City Council & Park Board agendas, week of Sept 19, 2016 – first week back from summer hiatus

City Hall(Updated) Draft agendas are now online for the first meetings after the summer hiatus for City Council (Sept 20 Tues & 21 Wed) and Vancouver Park Board (Sept 19 Mon). There is also a Public Hearing (Sept 20 Tues), and Urban Design Panel meeting (Sept 21 Wed). Note that the Development Permit Board scheduled for Sept 19 (Mon) has been cancelled.

We copy the draft agendas here (as of Fri Sept 16) and encourage citizens to scan the agendas, then write or speak to Council or the Board on any items of your concern.

Some highlights…

Park Board – September 19 (Mon) 7 pm

1. REPORT: Public Bike Share Stations in Parks
MOTIONS ON NOTICE
1. Seniors’ Centre to Serve the Sunset Community in Southeast Vancouver
2. A Vancouver Park Board Youth Ranger Program
3. Serving Seniors in South Vancouver Sunset

Regular City Council Meeting – September 20 (Tue) 9:30 am

  • See agenda contents copied further below.

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Public Hearing – September 20 (Tues) 6 pm

1. TEXT AMENDMENT: Miscellaneous Text Amendments for 4162 and 4188 Cambie Street, 2290 Main Street, 7299 Granville Street and 188 East 1st Avenue
2. TEXT AMENDMENT: 2016 Inflationary Rate Adjustments to Development Cost Levies (DCLs), Density Bonus Contributions and Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) Targets. CHW note – this appears to be an annual inflationary adjustment for the fees the City charges developers. Perhaps not a bad idea as there was no inflationary increase to the base rates before 2010. The rates were too low, and now the city is doing some catching up.
3. REZONING: Joyce-Collingwood Station Precinct Plan and Related Rezonings

CHW note: The first two items seem mostly administrative. The latter (Joyce-Collingwood Station Precinct Plan and Related Rezonings) is of crucial importance for many reasons. It is a final stage of a process – to approve rezonings of several blocks around this Skytrain station. It is an example of “transit-oriented development” with the stage set years ago and the outcomes probably predictable because of the Metro Vancouver region’s philosophy of building towers around transit stations. But the low-income, working-class, immigrant and largely English as a second language (ESL) community heard nearly nothing about concrete plans until suddenly developer Westbank proposed a 35-storey tower here, and then the City suddenly announced this “precinct” planning policy in November 2015. After newly-formed Joyce Area Residents Association organized quickly, the City gave more presentations, but the same basic plan moved ahead. Citizens had a chance to address Council directly during two daytime Council meetings (difficult for working people to attend) on June 14 and 15, 2016, and the Council approved the policy at a daytime meeting on June 28. This public hearing is the next step — to rezone the precinct to match the policy. Interestingly, of the letters of support posted online so far (Sept 19), one is from Colliers International’s vice president of investment, who claims as clients major developers (Wall Financial, Concord Pacific, Bosa, Anthem, Wesgroup, Intracorp, etc.), but does not mention his employer in the letter to Council. Another support letter is from a “YIMBY” lobby group that is organizing on social media to get people to support all new construction, everywhere. Local residents and businesses rightly fear speculation (already happening), evictions, loss of local character and local businesses, threat to seniors’ housing security, and dramatic change and loss of the community they knew. All due to the doctrine of “transit-oriented development.” Meanwhile, City Hall approved the policy in June without imposing limits on density and the number of storeys. That is like a license to print money. A number of towers are proposed, potentially up to 300 feet in height. To read JARA’s views, see “Strong Opposition: Joyce Residents Take City Hall June 15” and “City Plans for Joyce Collingwood Are Cause for Concern.” See also the statement of September 19, 2016, by Joyce Area Residents Association for the Public Hearing, asking Council to reject the rezoning and redo the process to address key concerns. 

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Council Standing Committee on City Finance and Services – September 21 (Wed) 9:30 am

1. HEALTHY CITY
a) Presentation – Update Fentanyl Crisis
b) Youth Homelessness and Challenges for Vulnerable Youth: City Response to the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Report recommendations for City of Vancouver “Paige’s Story: Abuse, Indifference and a Young Life Discarded”
c) Presentation – Be More Than A Bystander: Ending Violence Association of BC and BC Lions Partnership
d) Presentation – New Start: A Strategy for Immigrants & Refugees in Vancouver
e) Moving Towards a Healthy City for All – An update on enhancing access to food in schools
f) Seniors Centre in South Vancouver / Sunset Area
g) Make the City of Vancouver a Living Wage Employer
2. ANNUAL FINANCIAL AUTHORITIES – 2017
3. DEBENTURE PROGRAM 2016

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The Development Permit Board was scheduled to meet on Monday, September 19, but has been cancelled (we received confirmation of this from DPB secretariat on Sept 17).

Also, note that the Urban Design Panel meets September 21 (Wed). On the agenda: 

  • 6465 Vivian Street (2720 E 48th Avenue)
  • 431-455 W King Edward Avenue
  • 530 Drake Street (Covenant House)
  • 575 Drake Street (1280 Seymour Street – Covenant House)
  • Blood Alley Square

For convenience, below is the full agenda for Regular City Council on Tuesday Sept 20.  Continue reading

Canadian banks’ mortgage guidelines favour foreign home buyers (Kathy Tomlinson, The Globe and Mail)

Dollars, credit Desmog blog CanadaBrick by brick, Kathy Tomlinson of The Globe and Mail is deconstructing the complex structure that has led to the dramatic increase in real estate prices in Metro Vancouver over the past several years. Readers may get the impression that we are observing a systemic failure of all the institutions involved — governments, regulators, real estate industry, banks, and even media — for being inattentive and slow to act. If they had been functioning properly they could have ensured a more stable and healthy real estate market. As for the banks, besides being unfair for Canadians and messing up the market by encouraging speculation by foreign buyers, could the banks’ risky behaviour put the Canadian industry at risk in the case of large defaults by foreign borrowers — while enjoying record profits themselves? (Note that she does not cover credit unions in this article.)

Ms. Tomlinson’s article in today’s paper looks at how Canadian banks have played a crucial role in creating the unhealthy market conditions. Below are some points from the article. Please visit the source for full text.

Canadian banks’ mortgage guidelines favour foreign home buyers
(by Kathy Tomlinson, The Globe and Mail, 14-Sep-2016)

  • Canadian banks allow foreign clients with no credit history, including students, to qualify for uninsured mortgages without proving the sources of their income – a practice that exempts non-Canadians who have money in the bank from the scrutiny domestic borrowers face when buying a home or an investment property.
  • Those exceptions to the regular rules are outlined in internal documents from Scotiabank and the Bank of Montreal reviewed by The Globe and Mail. Scotiabank’s guidelines specify that loans officers do not need to verify foreign clients’ sources of income if they make down payments of 50 per cent. At BMO, such clients need only 35 per cent down to qualify for mortgages up to $2-million. The criteria from both banks show income verification is also not required for new immigrants who have been in Canada less than five years if they put 35 per cent downBMO’s guidelines also require clients, including “foreign students with a valid study permit,” to have the equivalent of one year’s mortgage payments on hand at the time the loan is issued.
  • The exemptions appear to be designed to attract citizens of foreign countries and newcomers to Canada as clients by making it less onerous for them to obtain and build credit here.
  • Canadian applicants must still prove their sources of income. Critics say that puts locals at an unfair disadvantage and inadvertently encourages real estate speculation by foreigners who have easier access to credit.

Continue reading

Detailed reports on schools proposed for closure – now available from VSB

VSB logo 2014

The Vancouver School Board today released detailed reports to the Board of Trustees about schools on a preliminary list that might be considered for closure before the start of the 2017-18 school year. The trustees will now review these reports are set to decide and at a board meeting on September 26 whether some or any of the schools on the preliminary list should be considered for closure. See below for links, excerpt of media release, and the list.

Excerpts of VSB media release:

As part of its long range facilities planning, VSB staff have submitted detailed reports to the Board of Trustees about the schools on the preliminary list that might be considered for closure before the start of the 2017-18 school year. The trustees will now review these reports, and at a board meeting on September 26, will decide whether some or any of the schools on the preliminary list should be considered for closure. Continue reading

Alternative surfaces for greenways, paths, trails – ideas for Vancouver from Elvira Lount

Vancouver citizen/activist Elvira Lount has shared with us (below, originally addressed to Jerry Dobrovolny – Director of Transportation) her compilation of information regarding input on surface materials for paths for walking, cycling and other uses. This is in the context of three consultation workshops for the city’s Arbutus Greenway (see Arbutus Corridor Update and Consultation Sept 17, 21, 22 – Sat, Wed, Thu), but the information could apply to anywhere in the world considering such surfaces. There has been some controversy about what kind of surface to put on various paths in Vancouver (see Arbutus Greenway paving halted for more consultation).

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The City’s description of the [Arbutus Greenway] workshops states “We’re looking at several different types of hard-surface materials, especially those that improve safety and accessibility”

In this regard, I don’t know if you’re aware of “National Trails Surface Study” the by the US National Center on Accessibility (Indiana University-Bloomington)  but it might be worthwhile for your department to consider it prior to the workshops. It addresses issues of accessibility and stability.

http://www.ncaonline.org/resources/articles/trails-surfacestudy-finalreport.shtml

Excerpts:

“The impetus for the National Trails Surface study was to investigate alternatives to the typical firm and stable surface materials of asphalt, concrete, or boardwalk. It is a common misconception that in order to make a trail surface firm and stable, it needs to be paved. Professionals have found that using soil stabilizers, or natural aggregates, can be effective alternatives to creating a trail surface that meets accessibility guidelines (Boone, 2008).

An individual’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being is positively affected by the action of hiking on trails. Factors such as being in nature, participating in a physical challenge, socializing with others in an inclusive recreational environment all contribute to an increased well-being. The desire to enjoy this type of outdoor recreational experience is equal amongst individuals with and without disabilities. Research shows that recreating is a necessary action when looking at increasing an individual’s overall well-being. The technical provisions of the Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas (U.S. Access Board, 2009) for trails requires a trail surface that is firm and stable. The guidelines are currently being applied as a best practice set of guidelines for Federal, State, Local and Private entities. In an attempt to preserve the natural trail experience (i.e. not concrete, asphalt and boardwalk surface materials), recreation professionals have identified a need to find alternative firm and stable trail surfaces.” Continue reading