Blog Archive

December 23, 2019. Richmond activist pushes for rental at Lansdowne development

Article in the Richmond News by Maria Rantanen

One Richmond activist would like to see all the homes planned for a redesigned Lansdowne Shopping Centre designated for renters. Lansdowne Shopping Centre will eventually be redeveloped into a mixed residential and commercial hub with about 9,000 people living there.

John Roston is enthusiastic about plans put forward by owner Vanprop but believes if Lansdowne were rental only, it would be a vibrant community with people actually living in their homes rather than just buying them as investments properties. “It’s a fabulous development being done by very nice people. The problem is, they’re selling it to investors who very often leave the units vacant,” Roston said about the 40-year-old mall. His vision is to have people living there who work within a 20-minute walking distance.

John Roston thinks all of Lansdowne should be rental with a focus on providing housing for people who work in Richmond. Photo: Maria Rantanen

The city currently requires new developments to have 10 per cent of their units designated for rental. However, in May 2018, the provincial government made changes that would allow cities to create “rental zones,” with the aim of encouraging cities to up the minimum rental requirment. Richmond has yet to take advantage of the new rules despite having a 0.7 per cent vacancy rate. Roston pointed out that some companies and investment funds are buying up large rental projects across North America because of the guaranteed long-term rental income.

The redevelopment of Lansdowne has been in the works for a couple years, and vice-president Jesse Galicz was expecting it to be before council in September. It was then delayed to later in the fall, but now it isn’t expected to be dealt with until March. A development sign has popped up on Kwantlen Street, on the edge of the shopping centre. Unlike Richmond Centre which was rezoned decades ago, in order to develop Lansdowne Centre, the owners have to get changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and rezone the site from its current “auto-oriented commercial” to allow residential on it.

Having pushed before for rental at Richmond Centre while that plan was before council — which eventually went from zero to 10 per cent — Roston has now set his eyes on getting rental at Lansdowne. He believes that introducing this much rental would substantially bring down rents, tackling the housing crunch. It would also address climate change issues by having people live close to where they work. The theme of his campaign is “walk to work and save the planet while enjoying life without commuting.” He has been meeting with like-minded people in the community, for example, poverty activists, and plans to approach council next year on the topic.

Furthermore, he thinks now is the time to secure a school site for the Lansdowne development as was envisioned in 2018. Documents to council include notes from stakeholder meetings regarding a school site within the current shopping centre property. Vanprop proposed two sites for a school – in the southeast corner and smack in the middle. The city proposed a third possible site, located between these two and adjacent to a proposed park and event space. The school district, however, said it is not pursing a school at Lansdowne “at this time,” and its long-range facilities plan doesn’t identify one in Richmond’s city centre until after 2032.

July 6, 2019. Richmond's small producers need access to big grocers

Published in the Richmond News.

Do Richmond farms produce organic broccoli at this time of year? You bet. However, a small Richmond organic farm doesn’t produce enough of it to supply a large supermarket chain. If the city had a program to organize a marketing cooperative for many small farms in collaboration with the supermarkets, maybe more of us would be buying local produce.

The city could also erect large signs at major intersections directing locals and visitors to local berry farms during the season. It would save the farmers a lot of time and money and the bylaw enforcement officers could be tracking down all those illegal Airbnb operations instead of farm signs. They put up highway signs for the wineries in the Okanagan, why not for our farms? The city is revamping its Agricultural Advisory Committee. Let’s hope the reincarnation will focus on promoting local agriculture instead of facilitating mega-mansion construction.

February 4, 2019. Richmond’s Market Rental Housing Crisis

According to 87% of Richmond business owners responding to a Richmond Chamber of Commerce survey, the Richmond housing crisis impacts their ability to hire and keep workers. [“’Recruitment crisis’ in Richmond,” Richmond News, Jan. 24, 2019.]

Richmond has the highest resident worker shortage of any municipality in the Lower Mainland. For every 4 jobs in Richmond, only 2 are occupied by workers who live in Richmond, 1 is occupied by a worker who lives in Vancouver and 1 is occupied by a worker who lives in a municipality elsewhere in the Lower Mainland and has an expensive commute.

We are importing around 25% of our workforce, almost 30,000 workers, every weekday, from places that require us to make huge investments in transportation infrastructure to get them here. They would love to live in Richmond. Some of them are millennials who were brought up in Richmond but can’t find rental housing here now.

The main obstacle is Richmond’s severe rental housing shortage. Our rental vacancy rate is well below 1%. While 53% of Vancouver’s housing units are rentals, only 26% of Richmond’s housing units are rentals. This shortage has driven up rents for the few units that are available. We need thousands of new market rental units to house our workers and bring down market rents.

Ideally the housing should be in the City Centre where many of the jobs are and there is easy access to mass transit. Ironically, thousands of new housing units will be constructed in the City Centre over the next few years, but most of them will be sold to investors who frequently leave them vacant. This is much more profitable for developers than market rental housing which they will only build if they have no other choice.

Recognizing this problem, the BC Government last year passed new legislation that gives municipalities the power to require that a designated area be for market rental housing only or that a proportion of new housing units must be market rental units. Despite that power, Richmond Council recently approved the Richmond Centre redevelopment which will create 2,200 housing units and only required that 200 of them be market rental and 150 below market rental. The remaining 1,850 will be offered for sale to investors and the opportunity to provide affordable rental housing for Richmond workers will be lost. Only councillors Day, Greene and Wolfe wanted to require far more market rental units.

Several of the other councillors expressed the view that developers don’t want to build market rental housing and might abandon their redevelopment plans if required to do so. If they did abandon them, it would preserve the land for future development to meet our housing needs rather than wasting it now on maximizing developers’ profits.

Most of the developers have owned their City Centre land with one- and two-story commercial buildings for many years. They are looking for ways to increase their revenue by building new mixed-use buildings with commercial on the ground floor and residential units above. Market rental housing will increase their revenue substantially even if it isn’t as profitable as selling units to investors. CMHC reports that it is more profitable in Vancouver to initially build basic finished units for rental than to try later to convert expensive finished units, built for investors, to rental units.

Although an important opportunity has been lost at Richmond Centre, Richmond Council can still create large amounts of market rental housing in the proposed Lansdowne Centre redevelopment and the other large redevelopment proposals along the No. 3 Road corridor. Council can also put pressure on YVR, which has both land and substantial reserve funds, to build rental housing for the thousands of workers in its concession operations from which it derived $130 million in 2017. Many YVR workers only earn minimum wage and require below market rental housing, a burden that currently falls on the City of Richmond to YVR’s benefit. However, Richmond Council will only act when citizens make it clear that much more rental housing must be a top priority.

References:

  • Demographic data from City of Richmond website. [Note that Richmond jobs include those working at home, but not those with no long-term fixed place of work such as construction workers.]
  • Metro Vancouver 2018 Housing Data Book
  • CMHC 2016 report on economics of rental housing
  • YVR Consolidated Financial Statements 2017

November 13, 2018. The Housing Crisis

How bad is the housing crisis in Richmond?

The CMHC standard is that the cost of housing should not exceed 30% of household income. Its 2011 survey showed that for Richmond, 5,320 households were spending at least 50% of household income on housing and were “considered to have dire housing circumstances” and were “at risk of homelessness.” [All data from the Metro Vancouver Housing Data Book, April 2018] Since then rents have risen steeply while salaries have stagnated, so we know the situation is even worse. The total doesn’t include all the millennials living in their parents’ basements because they cannot afford rental housing.

A distinction should be made between the worst off households who qualify for below market rent subsidized housing through BC Housing and the majority who do not qualify, but have dire housing circumstances. Of the 5,320 households spending at least 50% of income on housing in 2011, 540 were on the BC Housing wait list for subsidized housing. The remaining 4,780 presumably didn’t qualify for subsidized housing, but couldn’t come anywhere near affording market rents.

What has Richmond Council been doing about it?

In 2017, 129 subsidized units were built in Richmond while the BC Housing wait list increased to 680 so the situation is clearly deteriorating. For the thousands of other households in dire housing circumstances, 247 market rental units were built, far too few to keep rents from continuing to rise.

Of the 247 market rental units, 132 were condominium/apartments and row houses. These 132 units were only 8.8% of the total 1,494 condominium/apartments and row houses built. The other 91.2% were sold to investors and the wealthy.

We are drowning and only 8.8% of the resources that might save us are being thrown our way. Richmond Council has increased the rate (from 5% to 10%) at which subsidized units must be included in new developments, but it has done nothing about requiring more market rental units instead of units to be sold to wealthy investors. Thousands in dire housing circumstances have been ignored.

What could Richmond Council do about it?

We know that the only way to bring market rents down for the thousands who cannot afford them now is to build thousands of new purpose built market rental units to dramatically increase the supply. Since there are limits on how many units the construction industry can build, we need to reduce by thousands the number built for wealthy investors. We must change the Richmond housing industry from one that maximizes the benefit for developers to one that maximizes the benefit for Richmond citizens. That will require courage and determination from our newly elected Richmond Council.

The ideal place for new market rental housing is downtown Richmond close to where many people work and the Canada Line. The only opportunity to build thousands of market rental units there is in the redevelopment of Richmond Centre, Lansdowne Centre and the other major new developments along No. 3 Rd. All of these developments are close to receiving approval to build thousands of new housing units for sale to investors and the wealthy.

Richmond Centre Redevlopment

The BC Government handed Richmond the perfect tool to change that development scenario by passing new legislation in May 2018 that allows Richmond to require a minimum amount of market rental housing in new developments at any time up until the development permit is issued. Richmond Council was due to give final approval to the Richmond Centre redevelopment at a Public Hearing on Oct. 15th. When it was pointed out privately to councillors that in the middle of an election campaign, this would put the lie to their promises to take action on the housing crisis, the item was withdrawn from the agenda and postponed to Nov. 19th.

There is every indication that Council will approve the current Richmond Centre proposal on Nov. 19th. There have been several reasons given privately by councillors:

  • The developers have agreed to provide 150 below market rent subsidized housing units even though they are not required to do so because the site does not require rezoning. These units will be lost.
  • The developers will abandon the project and it will never be built.
  • The City has led the developers to believe that the project would be approved and this is going back on a “done deal.”
  • The developers may sue the City because the new legislation is vague in some areas.

In fact, the project would very likely be delayed for a year while the developers quite rightly fume about being treated badly by the City. The City owes them an apology. However if Council stands firm, the developers will most likely get into the rental housing business or partner with one of the large national developers that specializes in rental housing. They are in business to make money even if it is less than they would have made with the original proposal. The City can insist that the 150 subsidized units be provided. The provincial government can issue regulations that clarify any vagueness in the legislation.

Richmond Centre is only the beginning, but it will likely set the template for what is done with Lansdowne Centre and the other developments. If you voted in the municipal election and care about the housing crisis, you may want to attend the Public Hearing on Nov 19th and find out whether it all turns out as you had hoped.

September 29, 2018. Traffic Congestion

A Richmond citizen wrote to ask me what I would do about traffic congestion. As the Richmond population continues to increase, this problem will get worse. Like many others, I believe that we need to reduce the number of cars by increasing the use of cycling and public transit. However, we also need to increase our use of technology to spread traffic over the available road network at times of congestion.

Tesla Navigation

There is a movement to make public transit free for everyone under the age of 18 to get them used to using public transit all the time, a habit that it is hoped will continue into adulthood. I support that as well as isolating bike lanes from vehicle lanes to make them safer. We also need to increase the number of trains and cars on the Canada Line so that it becomes a pleasant experience rather than one where people are jammed in at rush hour.

For people using vehicles, we need to increase the use of computer systems that regulate traffic lights. Richmond is already using sensors in the road to determine how many cars are waiting at a light. We need to expand that and develop far more sophisticated systems to handle future demand.

Most new vehicles include a navigation system that plots a route to the destination based on feedback from Google maps. We need centralized computer systems that connect to these vehicle systems to see where everyone is going and determine the optimum route pattern that distributes the traffic evenly over the available road system and then sends a plotted route to each vehicle. Not ready for implementation tomorrow, but we need to start work on it now.

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.

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.