Blog Archive

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.

August 2, 2016.

Published in the Richmond News.

Re: “Steves turning Onni into four-letter word,” Letters, July 27. By making Coun. Harold Steves the obstacle to re-zoning the Onni Imperial Landing buildings, Terry Thorsteinson gives him more credit than he is due. There are nine members of council and no one leads them around by the nose.

Most of us have disagreed with some of their collective decisions, but sitting through their deliberations at council sessions reveals that they are all independent, thoughtful people who have the best interests of the city and its citizens at heart.

When it comes to the vacant Onni buildings, what most of the citizens want is a fair solution to the problem. When Onni bought the Imperial Landing property, it paid industrial land prices for the prime strip along the river that was zoned for industrial activities. Had that land been zoned for prime commercial activities, it would have paid millions more.

When Onni first asked for that land to be re-zoned, it did not offer to pay the city the millions of dollars increase in land value that the re-zoning would overnight drop in its lap. It instead offered [$500,000]. Thorsteinson may think this is just the Onni boys playing “hard and tough and stretching the rules.” But I think it demonstrates a cynical attitude toward city council and an aggressive drive to maximize their wealth without any thought of what is a fair solution to the problem.

It’s perfectly legitimate to take an adversarial approach and make it all about winning the game. But Onni should not be offended when its perceived adversaries on city council respond by playing just as hard and tough as it does.

When city council dismissed its insulting [$500,000] offer out of hand, Onni built buildings designed for commercial activities anyway and went on an extensive and aggressive campaign to convince local residents that the obstacle to re-zoning is the bogus idea that the city wants industrial enterprises in the buildings rather than commercial establishments. One technique was to create the straw man image of the welding shops that uninformed, but well-meaning local residents may have taken at face value as a real issue. The mythical welding shops aren’t the problem.

The problem is that the city wants Onni to pay a fair price for what it would receive from re-zoning. Although Onni gradually raised its offer, it has not reached the level that a reasonably alert person would consider accepting.

Demonizing city council and its members isn’t going to solve the problem. Neither is demonizing Onni. The Onni owners are probably perfectly nice people when they sit down for a beer with Thorsteinson. They have probably adopted a very aggressive business style because they have found that it usually pays off financially. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet got the message that it won’t work here.

Over the years, many letters have been written by myself and others suggesting compromised solutions that involve reducing the amount that Onni would have to pay by zoning one or more buildings for low rental community service activities. These ideas are not going to fly. Onni isn’t interested in compromise. The buildings will sit empty until Onni decides that it wants a fair solution or sells the property to someone who does.

At that point, independent expert valuation of the increase in value due to re-zoning can establish a fair payment to the city. We can use the funds to improve the Steveston Community Centre and other community facilities which, in turn, makes Steveston more attractive and enhances the value of all property in the area.


February 19, 2016.

Published in the Richmond News.

Re: “Onni hopes fest will garner public support,” News, Feb. 17. Further to the “Mexican standoff” between the city and Onni over rezoning of the Imperial Landing buildings, a solution requires the city to finally decide whether to install a marina on the city-owned water lots opposite Building 5. Without a marina, there is little prospect of maritime enterprises locating at Imperial Landing.

A marina would require Building 5 for marine services and would attract tenants such as Steveston Marine and Hardware. Onni wants to have a fitness centre in Building 5, which requires a very expensive installation that, once completed, could not easily be moved. City council should fast-track a marina study on the understanding that if a marina is not approved within the next year, Building 5 could be rezoned.

In the meantime, Building 5 use should continue to be restricted to “Mixed Maritime” with an added permitted use to allow market stalls for craftspeople, artists and farmer’s market activities at low lease rates.

Onni’s proposed fitness centre could instead be installed in Building 2 where Onni wants to have a grocery that, as Coun. Harold Steves stated, would be much better located in the new Rod’s Building Supplies development, where there will be a lot more parking at grade level. Building 2 would also have sufficient additional space for minor medical services such as physiotherapy and sports medicine.

Certainly, given the history, the largest possible rezoning compensation payment should be extracted from Onni for Steveston community use. Expansion of the Steveston Community Centre to accommodate a larger library and a roof for the pool are priorities. Time to settle with Onni and make those projects a reality.


October 15, 2014.

Published in the Richmond News.

Re: “Wake up Steveston,” Letters, Oct. 8. In his letter, Bob Ransford attacks the mayor, city council and Steveston merchants for opposing Onni’s application to re-zone the empty Imperial Landing buildings along the Steveston waterfront. Many Steveston voters did wake up some time ago when they realized that Onni was trying to manipulate them through misleading meetings, telephone surveys and petitions.

All of these were a variation on the theme, “Would you rather have empty buildings or commercial stores and restaurants?” None of them asked the question, “Do you think that in return for being handed millions of dollars through re-zoning, Onni should share some of those millions with the city so that it can construct improved community services such as an expanded Steveston Library and a permanent roof for the Steveston pool so that it can be used year round?”

One of the major reasons that we need expanded community services in Steveston is the large amount of new housing that Onni built on the former cannery property with the resulting substantial increase in population. City councillors have made it clear that the main issue is money for the community, not leaving buildings vacant or insisting that they only be used for boat repair.

Onni can get around $20-30 per square foot more in rent for commercial space than it can for currently zoned maritime industrial use. They have 55,000 square feet of space available, so re-zoning hands them a gift of an extra $1.5 million per year for many years in the future. Onni’s last offer to the City in return for re-zoning contained various options with a value between $2 and $2.5 million. Not nearly enough.

While no one is pretending that all of the space could be leased for maritime related use, one potential tenant has stated that Onni refused to lease an entire building at maritime industrial rates for a maritime related store and insisted on commercial rates. If so, this confirms that the dispute is all about money.

Some Steveston merchants have opposed the re-zoning on the basis of unfair competition. Given the large amount of land in Steveston already zoned commercial which is being or will be developed, competition will increase no matter what happens with the Imperial Landing buildings. The point is to preserve the small shops character of Steveston and not introduce big box stores that drive out small shops. This could be done through appropriate zoning. One option is to re-zone most of the buildings to commercial use while keeping some of the buildings zoned for maritime-related or community use at lower rents.

People like Bob Ransford, with deep roots in Steveston, should be promoting a fair deal between the city and Onni which provides maximum benefit for Steveston voters, rather than falling for the misleading Onni agenda which provides a very large financial benefit to themselves and a relatively small benefit to the community.

There should be meaningful negotiations between Onni and the city, rather than the pathetic back and forth we have witnessed over the years. The Onni strategy now appears to be waiting for a new council that may include some new faces who only see empty buildings. If so, Steveston voters will wake them up and insist on a fair deal.


May 1,2013.

Published in the Richmond News.

Undeterred by continuing negative feedback from the community on their many past efforts to maximize their profits by re-zoning the waterfront Imperial Landing properties, Onni is having yet another kick at the can.

The community message to Onni in the past has been that there must be a substantial benefit to the community in return for re-zoning. Onni's idea of a substantial benefit last time around was a [$500,000] donation to the Steveston Community Centre in return for the millions they would reap over time from re-zoning the permitted ground floor uses in the six buildings from Mixed Maritime to Commercial/ Retail.

Commercial/Retail zoning would also generate a lot of traffic in what is presently a residential neighbourhood with many young children. Onni pointed to the large underground parking garage under the buildings, but then admitted that they would charge for parking while there is two-hour free parking on the surrounding residential streets.

Onni continues to say that it welcomes feedback on how the re-zoning could "better serve the community's needs." At one of the previous community meetings organized by Onni, they suggested yet more coffee shops, pharmacies and restaurants, not exactly underserved needs in Steveston.

On the other hand, those attending showed considerable support for a suggestion from the community that Onni provide rent free use of the entire ground floor of one of the two eastern buildings for a new Steveston Library. Together with two-hour free parking in the underground garage, this would be a major improvement in community services for Steveston's growing population, much of that growth the result of Onni's own Imperial Landing project.

City council should continue to reject Onni's rezoning proposals until Onni includes free community use of one of the buildings and free two-hour parking in the underground garage. Residents should continue to show up at all of Onni's community feedback events to send the same message. Eventually Onni will get tired of looking at all that vacant space and do the right thing.


January 20, 2012.

Published in the Richmond News.

Almost all of us in the Greater Vancouver region use YVR and have created the need for more jet fuel. City council and the VAPOR lobby group have opposed the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation (VAFFC) plan to send huge tankers up the south arm of the Fraser River to a new jet fuel storage facility, describing in detail the risks to both the marine environment and nearby residents. That's only half of what's required. We also need to promote an alternative plan. Otherwise, it comes across as saying it's someone else's problem and you only care the solution doesn't involve your backyard.

VAPOR acknowledges the need for more jet fuel and favours a new pipeline to YVR from the BP Cherry Point Refinery near Blaine, Washington. The city opposes this and favours reducing future demand by conservation measures or increased efficiency through technological advancement, coupled with upgrading the existing pipeline (from Burnaby to YVR). VAFFC's reply to the city explained conservation and technological improvements have been factored into its fuel need forecasts. It also supplied details of its opposition to both solutions suggested by the city and VAPOR.

The fact is that there is no happy solution that has no serious drawbacks, but both of these solutions are better than VAFFC's preferred option of tankers on the Fraser. The city and VAPOR should take on the important task of publicly explaining why. For example, VAFFC's "critical" objections to an upgrade of the existing pipeline are that getting the required permits will take too much time and the pre-construction and construction capital costs are too high, partly due to the fact that the pipeline passes through residential areas. However it may be time and money well spent.

The most secure possible source of jet fuel for YVR is the Burnaby refinery. It's the only refinery in B.C. and is fortunately close to YVR. The existing pipeline also carries additional jet fuel brought by ship to Burnaby from the BP Cherry Point Refinery. While no one is keen on shipping jet fuel through residential areas, that will continue to happen with the existing 40-year-old pipeline - far better to upgrade it now with all the modern safety features and increased capacity.

This is not an unusual solution. All of the fuel for New York's JFK airport is shipped through a 64-kilometre pipeline from Linden, New Jersey, that passes through the New York boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.

City council meets next Monday, Jan. 23rd at 7 p.m. to discuss the matter. I hope they can come up with an improved resolution that recognizes the problem, engages the Greater Vancouver region and counters the VAFFC position by giving concrete reasons for a more detailed investigation of the Burnaby pipeline upgrade option.

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.