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I primarily write about current major political issues in Richmond BC, my community, that interest me. Discussion of the issues is entirely from my own point of view. Others see them differently.

I try to make constructive suggestions, but sometimes there is nothing like a good old rant.

For entries more than a year old, the blog archive is here.

Subscribe to my blog here.

September 14, 2018. Transit Fare Policy

I have been asked by the organizers of the All On Board Transit campaign whether I support their objective of free transit for everyone age 18 and under.

I endorse free transit for children 12 and under as implemented in Toronto both for security and for inculcating the habit of using public transit. Above that age, I believe there should be at least token transit fares to remind youth that public services have a cost.

It is equally important to provide reduced fares for seniors 65 and over by offering an annual (rather than monthly) fare of $135 as implemented in Calgary. Many seniors have health problems that prevent them from driving and reduce their mobility so that they face greater transportation challenges than the youth highlighted in the All On Board Transit campaign.

I endorse a low income reduced fare system like the one implemented in Calgary with a sliding scale, based on a combination of family income and number of people in the family, that provides monthly fares from $5.15 to $51.50. It also provides a low income senior annual fare of $20.

There should also be a low-income application process similar to Calgary’s Fair Entry system that has a single application form for reduced transit fares, recreations fees, property taxes and other programs. It also provides alternative application options for low income youth who may face obstacles due to dysfunctional families.

August 28, 2018. Harvest Power Composting Odours

Numerous complaints about noxious odours emanating from the Harvest Power composting facility in Richmond have resulted in the owners deciding to close it down. A cautionary tale about throwing government subsidies at ideas which sound great but require research on obstacles that must be overcome to make them work. Richmond is now sending its organic waste and resultant smells to Delta. Not very neighbourly.

Richmond City Council still hasn’t put together an overall organic waste recycling and disposal plan similar to those developed for inorganic waste. Major sources of food waste like grocery stores and restaurants have to be part of the solution by reducing waste, providing surplus food to the needy and diverting waste to animal feed production and rendering facilities.

Richmond residents currently mix high smell food waste with low smell yard waste and Harvest Power was composting the mixture outside where the wind delivered the smell to local residents including those some distance away. Separating food waste from yard waste, like separating paper waste, would allow food scraps to be composted in an enclosed inside facility where odours are fully contained. Building an enclosed facility is expensive but so is hiring inspectors to investigate hundreds of smell complaints about which they can do little.

Metro Vancouver commissioned a detailed expert report on managing composting odours. Time for Richmond City Council to read it.

July 22, 2018. Politicians with Conflicts of Interest

The thoughtful editorial, “Election issues getting clear” in the July 19, 2018 Richmond News, should make us all think about what we should expect from our municipal politicians. Many believe that politicians crave power and their voting on the issues is motivated primarily by what will secure the financing they need to win the next election. That cynicism made me hesitate before deciding to run for Council myself.

As the editorial points out, many of us didn’t understand why the majority of Councillors voted to allow mansions on farmland when it provides huge financial benefit to farmland owners while making it very difficult for young farmers to secure long term use farmland. So our cynicism was turned on full when it seemed clear that at least one member of a slate was actively involved in soliciting substantial campaign contributions from the farmland owners who benefitted from the voting by the members of that slate. Our leap in thinking was that they voted for mansions in the expectation that the farmland owners would finance their election campaign. We will never know the truth, but soliciting funds from the farmland owners is perfectly legal.

A charitable view is that one member of the slate got entangled in the fund-raising fiasco through inexperience and the others tripped over their own feet in their haste to deny he had anything to do with it. I publicly poked fun at these implausible denials while wondering why they didn’t simply explain in much more detail why they voted they way they did.

Councillors are bound by existing conflict of interest legislation and anyone who attended the July 9th Council meeting would have seen two councillors leave the room when an issue in which they had a conflict was being discussed. We all have conflicts of interest on some issues. Since it’s impossible to prevent them, the important thing is to declare them and refrain from voting on the issue as required by law.

Oddly enough, several of the councillors mentioned favourably the motion in support of farmland mansions passed by the Agricultural Advisory Committee while ignoring the fact that it has no conflict of interest rules and many of its members have a substantial financial interest in the issue.

More important than conflict of interest is bias on the part of councillors. Even judges are assumed to be biased on some issues and are questioned about them at length before their appointments are confirmed. Richmond voters should check out the video recordings of past Council meetings on the City’s website and they will get an idea of who always votes for what.

For example, there are councillors who always approve whatever a developer proposes, those who usually question the details of a proposal and those don’t appear to have read the proposal. There are councillors who feel that bylaws are necessary to regulate behaviour for the public good and those who feel that regulation is an intrusion on our right to live our life as we wish.

Councillors are going to be voting on a wide range of issues over the next four years and their biases are more important than any conflict of interest they may have. Making candidates explain how they will solve problems allows voters to find the best fit with their own beliefs.

July 18, 2018. Concrete Floor Barns and Cannabis

Richmond allows farmland owners to build an 8,000 sq.ft. concrete floor barn without a variance:

The owners claim that this is too small and variances are a hassle. Applying for a variance to build something larger with a concrete floor requires explaining its use. One likely use is cannabis production.

The owners point out that cannabis production is legal and they shouldn't be prevented from growing it. In fact, provincial "right to farm" legislation gives them the right to grow cannabis whether Richmond likes it or not. They can even build a much larger structure for growing it, without a variance, provided it doesn't have a concrete floor. That way, the scarce and valuable soil is preserved for future generations and not covered up with concrete.

Illegal "BC Bud" cannabis producers have been growing it in remote garden plots for decades. Legalization is moving that to large scale industrial production in concrete floor buildings. However, there is no reason to put those buildings on valuable farmland when they can just as easily be located on much cheaper industrial land.

July 9, 2018. Market Rental Housing Policy

Video of my presentation on July 9, 2018 to Richmond City Council.


July 9, 2018. Richmond's proposed Market Rental Housing Policy

There is one major flaw in what is otherwise an excellent market rental housing policy. The City needs to require many more multi-bedroom housing units than the 40% recommended in the policy.

The public consultation process offered options of 20%, 30% and 40%. The response from residents on Let’s Talk Richmond was 40%. The response from developers in workshops was 20% or let the market decide. So we know that developers want to keep building the one bedroom units that are most attractive to investors and residents want to maximize the number of multi-bedroom units.

The rationale given for the 40% recommendation is that “approximately 40% of Richmond's renter households are families with children.” The flaw in that argument is that it’s not only families with children who require more than one bedroom. In addition to that we have:

1. Couples planning to have a child who wish to rent a multi-bedroom unit so they don’t have to move when the child is born.

2. Couples who are senior citizens with health issues that require them to have two bedrooms.

3. Couples or single individuals who increasingly work from home and require a home office.

Also completely ignored in the policy is the huge number of millennials who were brought up in Richmond and are forced to either continue living with their parents or move away from Richmond because they cannot afford to rent a single bedroom unit. They should be able to do what most young people have always done when they move out of the family home and that is to share rental accommodation with roommates to make it affordable. That requires a multi-bedroom unit.

Quite aside from the impact on the family when our youth are forced to move away from Richmond, they are no longer available to fill the entry level jobs in our community. That labour shortage will increasingly impact everyone in Richmond unless we start doing something about it now.

For years, developers have been building the one bedroom units that are most attractive to investors, are the easiest to sell and generate the most profit. Many of them sit vacant. The City has to substantially boost the requirement for multi-bedroom units to bring the rental housing stock back into balance.

My own recommendation is an 80% multi-bedroom requirement, but even 70% would be a major improvement.

April 30, 2018. YVR's Role in Richmond's Housing Crisis

The new BC Government initiatives on rental housing give Richmond City Council important tools to create more rental housing, but not to keep rents low enough to help the low income families with the greatest need. Richmond has a new Affordable Housing Policy aimed at increasing the number of subsidized and low rental units, but demand far outstrips supply and the waiting list is growing, not diminishing.

One reason for this increasing pressure on Richmond’s resources are the thousands of people working at YVR in the retail, cleaning and food service sectors for minimum wage, currently $11.35 per hour and set to rise to $12.65 on June 1st, when the annual salary will be $23,000 for a 35 hour week. Governments have set 30% of gross income as the maximum families should have to pay for housing. In this case, that’s $575 per month, an impossibility in Richmond.

Richmond is fortunate that YVR is extremely well run and provides thousands of jobs, but the jobs are supposed to help Richmond economically and not create an undue burden on taxpayers. While Richmond is struggling to provide affordable housing for its non-YVR low income workers in small businesses and shops, YVR should be stepping up to provide affordable housing for its own retail, cleaning and food service workers. One reason they haven’t is because Richmond City Council hasn’t asked them to.

YVR has the two essential ingredients for subsidized housing – land and money. A major hunk of the latter happens to come from the very retail, cleaning and food service concession operators and contractors that employ all those minimum wage workers. YVR’s income from concession contracts was over $115 million in 2016. YVR wound up with an excess of income over expenses of $80 million after handing over an additional $50 million in land rental to the federal government. Some fraction of those one year profits would make a very large dent in the housing shortfall.

In 2016, YVR took in over $150 million in Airport Improvement Fees from airline travellers which are to be used, in consultation with the airlines, on improvements in airport infrastructure. Subsidized housing for low income workers is infrastructure that ensures there will continue to be such workers. Otherwise, high housing costs will eventually force these workers to move beyond commuting distance. Subsidized housing will thus benefit the airlines which currently enjoy the lowest landing fees of any major airport in Canada.

YVR says that members of its Board of Directors, “are charged with ensuring the airport operates in the best interest of our local community.” [YVR Briefing Note August 2016] The idea that people working in the aviation industry on Sea Island ought to have affordable housing on Sea Island began in 1941 when Burkeville was established. It’s time for Richmond City Council to create a new Burkeville by asking YVR to allocate the necessary resources to build low income housing on Sea Island for its workers.


April 10, 2018. Onni Imperial Landing Waterfront Buildings

City Council has sent a proposal for rezoning the Onni Imperial Landing waterfront buildings to a Public Hearing on May 22nd. Onni has accepted City Council’s demand for $5.5 million in return for the rezoning which will add general commercial uses in Buildings 1 through 4 and a hotel use in Buildings 5 and 6. Onni has finally agreed to 24/7 on site staffing of the hotel. Over Onni’s objections, Council insisted on making this commitment legally binding on any subsequent purchaser of the property.

This proposal has sufficient support on Council to ensure that it will pass no matter what is said at the Public Hearing. One can lament the missed opportunities that this project represents, the low payment in return for rezoning and the lack of information on what type of hotel there will be if indeed there will be a hotel at all. However, it is time to move on and wait to see if we are all pleasantly surprised at what eventually materializes on the site. It would be even better if Council learns from the many mistakes it made in handling this epic saga.


March 29, 2018. Mansions on Farmland

Video of my presentation on March 26, 2018 to Richmond City Council.


March 27, 2018. City Council Delays Action on Farmland Mansions.

After voting unanimously to get additional information from staff on ancillary issues, City Council, at its March 26, 2018 meeting, voted 5 to 3 to also refer the question of house size on farmland back to staff. They already have a stack of staff reports on farmland house size generated over the past two years going into every possible option with elaborate charts and drawings. These reports have been dissected at numerous Council and Committee hearings plus an extensive public consultation process. It is hard to imagine that there is anyone in Richmond still waiting to be heard by Council on the subject. Dozens of citizens have spoken to Council multiple times. The answer appears to be that some of the Councillors simply don’t know what to do and are hoping that a magic solution which makes everyone happy will descend from the sky in a golden parachute if they wait long enough.

Unfortunately, the pace of applications to build mega mansions on farmland is increasing while City Council fiddles. In the 9 months of 2017 after the bylaw was passed to allow a 10,764 sq.ft. house, 16 building permit applications were received averaging 7,652 sq.ft. In the first 2 ½ months of 2018, another 16 applications were received averaging 9,910 sq.ft. Applications are coming in three times faster for much larger houses.

Even worse is the deepening division as time drags on between the farmers and non-farmers who show up at Council meetings. Unfortunately, the farmers have promoted this view as a tactic to make it seem as though the non-farmers are preventing them from living in the type of house they want. The non-farmers keep saying they want the farmers to get variances which allow them to build whatever size of house they need and want. Limiting house size is about preventing speculators from using mega mansion permits to double the value of farmland overnight, an outcome of huge benefit to existing farmland owners, but not to young farmers trying to buy their first farm.

We elect city councillors to make decisions in the best interests of Richmond and its future. That includes making very difficult decisions which may affect their popularity with the electorate. Although all of the councillors have the best interests of Richmond at heart, several of them don’t realize that allowing difficult decisions to drag on and fester does major damage to that ideal.


February 16, 2018. Electric Vehicles

Published in The Globe and Mail.

Re: The Long Road Ahead For The Electric-Vehicle Revolution, Feb. 10. The article very nicely summed up the international situation in general and the eastern Canada situation in particular. But it didn't get out to the West Coast, where cities such as Richmond, B.C., at sea level with a moderate climate, don't get too hot or too cold for batteries. Richmond is also flat and close to Vancouver, making it ideal for daily use of an electric vehicle.

The barrier in Richmond is convincing multifamily condo buildings to allow EV owners to install charging units in their garages, since 80 per cent of charging takes place at home. Most EVs have timers that allow charging to take place overnight when electric grid demand is low. The average monthly EV electricity cost in Richmond is in the $25 to $30 range. Condos can avoid the cost of tracking individual electrical consumption by adding $35 to the monthly condo fee. Power management systems allow up to four EVs to charge overnight sharing one 220V 40A circuit.

Richmond recently passed a bylaw requiring 220V charging capability in new construction of multifamily buildings. A committee is working on requirements for retrofitting existing multifamily buildings using circuit sharing.

Anxiety about the distance vehicles can go without recharging creeps in for overnight trips farther afield, especially when it often involves climbing mountains. Plug-in Richmond, the local EV owner group, publishes on its website the range required for typical destinations corrected for the extra energy involved in climbing mountains and the energy regained descending the far side through regenerative braking. This allows EV purchasers to know whether the range capability of a particular EV is sufficient for their lifestyle.


January 25, 2018. Richmond's Housing Crisis

Published in the Richmond News.

Our city councillors have been much too timid at a time when bold steps are necessary to address the housing crisis. While the city is increasing the amount of affordable housing that developers must provide in new condo projects and considering ways to increase the amount of market rental housing, there are not enough of the two- and three-bedroom units that are most in demand by families. Property developers have been allowed to build too many of the one-bedroom condo units that are most in demand by investors, but often wind up sitting empty.

City council should insist that at least 80 per cent of the units in any new development have more than one bedroom with 30 per cent having at least three bedrooms. There should also be a requirement that the strata manager assumes responsibility for renting out, at market rates, all of these new units not occupied by the owner, or a relative of the owner.

This can be made attractive to condo investors by having all rent revenue go into a common fund, from which expenses are deducted, and the investors then share in the profits according to the size of their unit. It doesn’t matter if an owner’s unit is temporarily vacant since the cost is shared by all the owners.

Unlike the Vancouver strategy of trying to track and penalize empty condo owners, this would encourage investors to help solve the housing crisis at no cost to themselves. Although developers may be reluctant to try a new model, it’s time for our city councillors to take the initiative. Give them a push. There is a public consultation on affordable housing policy at LetsTalkRichmond.ca and another consultation planned on market rental policy.


November 8, 2017. Mansions on Farmland

Published in the Richmond News.

Re: “Council couldn’t see this coming?” Voices, Nov. 3, your editorial makes the point that the profitability of small Richmond farms is central to the discussion of protecting farmland from mega mansion development.

Most Richmond families have more than one breadwinner. The median income before tax in 2015 of every individual in Richmond 15 and older with income was $25,482. Richmond FarmWatch, therefore, asked Statistics Canada to prepare a 2016 Farm Survey custom report comparing Richmond vegetable to blueberry farms in order to find out how many of them had a net income over $30,000 before tax and after expenses including part-time labour.

Of the 17 vegetable farms smaller than 10 acres, three of them had a net income more than $30,000. Of the 42 blueberry farms smaller than 10 acres, only one of them had a net income more than $30,000. The report also shows that a farm smaller than two acres can have a net income over $30,000. There is no question that very small Richmond farms can be profitable.

In the Richmond FarmWatch meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, she expressed an interest in training young farmers and mentoring both new and existing small acreage farmers to increase profitability. Statistics show that a lot of support and mentoring will be required to make the average small Richmond vegetable farm profitable.

They also show that the prospects for blueberry farms are very poor. The fact we have so many blueberry farms in Richmond indicates that they are being established by mega mansion owners to take advantage of agricultural tax breaks rather than for profit.

The existing 1,000 sq.m. limit on farm house size ensures that the residents of these enormous mansions will not be professional farmers whose primary occupation is farming. Yet they will control what happens to the farm.

In other countries, such as France, only qualified farmers can purchase farmland. Limiting house size on farmland to 500 sq.m. is a very modest step in comparison. One of the reasons we’re, “going around in circles,” as you put it, is the total lack of interest by most city councillors in taking steps to support small farms or even to halt their eradication long enough for other levels of government to do so.


August 25, 2017. Mansions on Farmland

Published in The Globe and Mail.

While it's important to ban foreigners from purchasing farmland in British Columbia, that is not going to solve the farmland megamansions problem (B.C. Green Party Calls For Ban On Foreign Buyers Purchasing Farmland, Aug. 23). There are plenty of Canadian citizens and others with permanent resident status who will happily build a megamansion on farmland or act as a front for a foreign buyer.

The objective is to get them to build their megamansion on residential land rather than farmland. The best way to do that is to restrict the size of house and residential footprint (home plate) permitted on farmland.

Here in Richmond, B.C., the recently imposed maximum house size on farmland is 1,000 square metres or 10,764 square feet. There are other municipalities in Metro Vancouver where the maximum home is 500 square metres or 5,382 square feet, still quite generous, with a maximum home plate of 1,000 square metres.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver should be pushing for legislation that includes imposition of these lower house size and home plate limits on farmland in Metro Vancouver.


June 2, 2017. Onni Imperial Landing Waterfront Buildings

Published in the Richmond News.

Onni has again submitted a re-zoning application for the vacant ground level space in its six Imperial Landing buildings on the Steveston waterfront. The application includes its previous request for commercial retail and restaurant uses in the four, western buildings. However, it has changed the requested uses in the two, eastern buildings to allow short-term rental accommodation, much like a motel with room doors opening to the outside.

The current zoning restricts rental housing to the upper levels of the buildings to ensure that activities of benefit to the local community are provided on the ground level. Allowing short-term rentals, the most lucrative type of housing, on the ground level is of no benefit to the local community which already has too many such accommodations.

Onni keeps coming up with new schemes to get something for nothing. What doesn’t change is its refusal to pay adequate compensation to the city for the requested re-zoning. When Onni bought the property, it paid industrial land prices since it was zoned for industrial activities. Had that land been zoned for prime, commercial activities, it would have paid millions more.

Onni keeps making totally inadequate compensation offers to the city for the millions of dollars increase in land value that the re-zoning would overnight drop in its lap. The longer Onni waits to make a fair compensation offer, the more the land value increases and the more rental revenue it loses.

Onni has already been in the short-term rental business. According to the Vancouver Sun on May 19, 2017, they have been using overnight accommodation websites to illegally rent out furnished apartments, without the required hotel licence, since at least 2013 in their building at 1022 Seymour St. in Downtown Vancouver.

The City of Vancouver fined them $24,000 just for the last, six-month period since that is the time limit for such fines under the law. Onni agreed to stop the short-term rentals in that building. Now, they would like to move the operation to Steveston.

Comments on the re-zoning application can be sent to Sara Badyal at the City of Richmond Planning Dept. (SBadyal@Richmond.ca.)


May 26, 2017. Mansions on Farmland

Published in the Richmond News.

The ongoing “mega home on farmland” debate has often obscured the main objective of the bylaws proposed in the initial city staff report on the problem — to preserve as much farmland as possible for the farmers of tomorrow, so that it isn’t built upon or contaminated, thereby taking it out of production forever.

The staff report showed how this objective could best be met by limiting farmland house size to 5,382-square-feet and ensuring that the setback from the road does not unduly encroach on farmland. Instead, council voted to approximately double house size limits and increase the setbacks.

When speaking to council, the farmers of today are wearing two very different hats. They are both farmers and landowners. Several of them were honest enough to say that their prime concern is keeping farmland prices high to provide for their retirement when they eventually sell or to provide a large inheritance for their children or to serve as collateral in obtaining large loans from a bank. An understandable sentiment shared with many other landowners, but it has nothing to do with farming.

While the councillors spoke of “supporting our farmers” and minimizing any impediments to their farming, these dramatic increases in house sizes have nothing to do with facilitating farming and will only result in more prime farmland being taken out of production forever. We need to reverse city council’s decision to ignore the staff report and increase farmland house sizes and setbacks.


For entries more than a year old, the blog archive is here.

Help Me Do It

As an independent candidate, I do not have the resources available to the candidates nominated by the local political parties, but I do have the freedom to speak my mind.

You can help even the playing field by contributing to my campaign.

  • Volunteer to help me distribute campaign materials in October by sending an email here.
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  • Comments and suggestions are always welcome. The best way to contact me is by email: john@johnroston.ca. I read all email although time constraints usually prevent me from providing individual responses.

Plug-in Richmond

Plug-in Richmond

I am the founder and coordinator of Plug-in Richmond which provides information for drivers interested in switching to an electric vehicle as a primary or secondary vehicle. Detailed information is available here.


Issues That Interest Me

Non-farmers have been buying up Richmond farmland in order to build mega mansions that make it difficult to farm the land. Farmland prices are beyond what any farmer can afford.

Details and lessons learned here.

The Richmond housing crisis is the result of housing being used as an investment rather than shelter. Investment demand has driven up prices and reduced the stock of multi-bedroom rental housing.

Details and lessons learned here.

The most effective deterrents are neighbours who know one another and provide advice or raise the alarm when there is suspicious activity.

Details and lessons learned here.

Both immigration and housing prices have increased dramatically. Foreign language signage has been an issue. These have resulted in inter-cultural isolation and mistrust.

Details and lessons learned here.

When councillors don’t know what to do about major problems, they ask city staff to prepare report after report and have a half dozen highly paid senior staff attend endless meetings.

Details and lessons learned here.

Objectives for Richmond

Although city councillors support most of the objectives below, the pace of change is too slow to prevent the problems from getting worse. Bold action is required.