MetroVanWatch responds to RGS-defender, Vancouver Clr Reimer

MetroVanWatch responds below to the words of an RGS-defender, Councillor (Andrea Reimer).  Clr. Reimer is on the Metro Vancouver Board, one of the six Board members (all six being Vision Vancouver) representing Vancouver citizens, is the Vancouver delegate to Metro’s Regional Planning Committee, and was the Vancouver delegate to the Public Hearing Process. Vancouver is the most powerful municipality in the weighted voting system of Metro, with over 23% of the vote. What she says probably represents the dominant view of Vision Vancouver, which commands absolute power in Vancouver Council. Clr Reimer uses similar messaging in response to challenges to the RGS and its process. For these reasons, we felt it important to share some MetroVanWatch analysis and perspective. Some points of this exercise: (1) The issues are big and complex, but we are all willing to learn. (2) We do think Vancouver citizens deserve a timely, well-advertised, public meeting (or several) before our elected officials make the irreversible decision to accept the RGS (which Vision plans to do on 3 March). (3) A 2 pm committee meeting on a working day is not the right forum to give Vancouver citizens their first opportunity for public input on Vancouver soil since the real text of the RGS Bylaw took shape last fall. (The closest was in Burnaby, and it was attended only by a handful of people.)

(Reference: Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer’s Blog of Jan 15, 2011

Reimer: There are several “Special Study Areas” in the RGS which could, and have been, misread as a land use designation. However, after many months, many questions and recent clarifications in the text of the RGS it is clear that these areas have no change to land use designations at this point but rather that the local municipality is studying land use in the area. While I may personally prefer that studies that may result in a request to change the zoning not be done, especially where agricultural land is involved, I can’t deny the study is happening which is all the Special Study Area indicates. I and all directors still have the same vote available to us to refuse to remove that still designated agricultural land should the study result in a municipality making that request

MetroVanWatch: The Special Study Areas have a much lower approval requirement for exclusion of only a 50%+1 vote of a quorum of  the Metro Board with no public hearing. Further, the Special Study Areas fuel land speculation that increases the value and makes it uneconomical to farm or retain as protected areas.

Reimer: The inconsistencies between the Agricultural Land Commission’s designation of certain areas as ALR and the plans designation as general urban (229 hectares in Richmond, Aldergrove and Abbottsford) have been a bigger challenge to understand and accept. The back story is long but the highlight of it is that these areas have had this same inconsistency since the Liveable Region Strategic Plan was adopted 15 years ago. More compellingly from my perspective, in the case where designations are inconsistent the ALC designation takes precedenceThe functional impact is that should the ALC agree to remove those areas from the ALR, it doesn’t come to Metro for decision. But as Metro had already agreed to the change in designation 15 years ago, that would be the case regardless.

MetroVanWatch: Both the Agricultural Land Commission and the West Coast environmental Law Society have confirmed that the RGS is illegal under the Act and the wording in the RGS does not adequately address this. The inconsistency must be resolved to be legal. The LRSP does not have defined regional land use designations like those in the RGS Bylaw.  The RGS puts much more development pressure on those lands.

Reimer: Translink’s role was a pretty easy one to resolve. The provincial legislation is pretty clear: Translink is considered an “affected local government” under the provincial government’s Local Government Act that requires the region to have an RGS in the first place. I may not agree with it, but it is an inherent constraint not of our making. I have worked hard, alongside many others at Metro, to negotiate the smallest possible role for Translink in land use decisions (they can comment but will not have a decision-making role) and they have agreed to accept that diminished role.

MetroVanWatch: Although TransLink’s role has been somewhat reduced from the original draft, TransLink’s role is still a significant one. Allowing an unelected body have the same rights as a municipality under the RGS is just fundamentally wrong. The legislation  that has given TransLink rights to fund transit with development under a Hong Kong model which also sets out the regulations for the Regional Growth Strategy, was created and enacted without any public consultation. The legislation needs to be change, including a full public consultation on the matter,  before a new regional plan should be considered.

Reimer: There are two criticisms I’ve heard that I don’t understand. The first one is the contention that there has been a lack of public consultation, which is a bit astounding. In the most intensive phase of the RGS development there have been 46 public meetings, including nine in Vancouver. In addition there are Regional Planning Committee meetings every month that the public can present to – and the RGS has often been on the agenda – and Metro held over 50 meetings with local government staff and councils, which in turn results in consultation between councils and their local community. In Vancouver for example, we’ve had the RGS come to committee three times in the last 18 months and staff have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the public had an opportunity to provide feedback to Vancouver City Council.

MetroVanWatch: The general public have not been informed or included in the development of the RGS. Just because it took a long time to negotiate the RGS does not mean there has been adequate consultation.  It has mostly been a back room deal negotiated by the municipal planning departments. Last summer the Directors of Planning throughout the region met weekly for 15 weeks and made many changes. When the revised RGS was released in September 2010, there were no public meetings, with several more revised drafts coming forward before going to public hearing. The public hearing was only held in 4 of 22 municipalities with very little notice or publicity. There was no hearing in the City of Vancouver even though this was requested by members of the public. The adoption process as set out in legislation is too restrictive and not inclusive.

Reimer: The second criticism I don’t understand is the contention that the RGS fuels urban sprawl. This land use plan has all the green and agriculture protection that the Liveable Region Strategic Plan did AND also adds in protection against job centre sprawl. We’ve paid a heavy price over the last 15 years for not having those protections: half the industrial land in the region has been up-zoned and billions have allocated to highway expansion to try and make goods movement work in increasingly far flung storage and manufacturing areas.

MetroVanWatch: The RGS has eliminated the Green Zone and replaced it with the Urban Containment Boundary which is not nearly as effective. The requirements for conversion to other uses are much lower. Special Study Areas and lands adjacent to the Urban Containment Boundary can be re-designated with only a 50%+1 vote of a quorum of the Metro Board and no public hearing. Overall amendments have been changed from 100% required vote and a public hearing under the original LRSP to only a 2/3 vote under the RGS. The region could amend the LRSP to add some protection of industrial land until a new regional plan can be established.

Reimer: Clearly, from this post you can see that I’m not in love with 100% of the plan but a plan that requires the unanimous acceptance of 22 municipalities is highly unlikely to be 100% embraced by any one councilor or even one municipality. However, it does protect and preserve green space, agricultural land and job space for the future which, in my opinion, is a tall order given the constraints we were working under and I’m proud to have been a part of the efforts to make it the plan it is.

Reimer: The process has also highlighted for me how much stronger we are as a region when we are working together, not for the sake of it but towards the strongest possible consensus we can seek. My strong hope is that we use the relationships and processes we’ve strengthened through the RGS development to be more in control of our own destiny, to deal with issues we collectively find egregious, such as an appointed and private Translink board being considered an “affected local government”, so the provincial government is responding to us and not the other way around.

When I’ve raised these kinds of sentiments on the Regional Planning Committee, the oldtimers on the Metro board roll their eyes and tell me I’m hoping and dreaming. But somebody has to if we’re going to have a liveable region for the long term.

MetroVanWatch: TransLink’s role as defined in legislation must be changed before any new regional plan is accepted. It is a mistake to move forward now under the proposed terms. Once the RGS is implemented, it will be difficult to change because P3 (public-private partnership) contracts will be in place that cannot be broken without high compensation costs.

Reimer: A final note: the RGS does have to go to all member municipalities for ratification which is required to be completed in 60 days by the provincial legislation that imposes the regional growth process on regional districts. Ratification happens by council resolution and, at this stage in the process, the legislation allows only one of two answers, yes or no. If the answer is no, the specific sections of the plan that the council opposes must be stated (ie. councils can’t just say “we don’t like the plan” but can say we don’t like strategy # whatever). The provincial government then leads a dispute resolution process to see if the disagreement can be resolved.

MetroVanWatch: The City of Vancouver should vote NO to the RGS until the related legislation that defines TransLink as an Affected Local Government and defines the RGS  are repealed. The Green Zone should be reinstated and the exclusion threshold increased to prevent sprawl and illegal inconsistencies with the Act. Otherwise the RGS does not achieve the stated goals. The RGS is a very regressive plan and should not be implemented.

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