Thursday, March 26, 2015

Metro Vancouver Map: Shaping Growth and Investing in Transit for a Livable Region

The Regional Planning Committee is part of the Metro Vancouver Board which represents the interests of 21 municipalities and one treaty First Nation in our region. The Regional Planning Committee’s mandate is to provide advice and recommendations on regional planning, agricultural, and transportation matters.

Recent Regional Planning Committee agendas include various statistical maps that highlight some of the important metrics that impact our region. The latest Regional Planning Committee agenda contained an info-map called “Shaping Growth and Investing in Transit for a Livable Region.”

Shaping Growth and Investing in Transit for a Livable Region. Select info-map to enlarge.

The map shows how the mayors' transportation plan, which people are voting on in the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite, ties in with the Regional Growth Strategy. Both the transportation plan and regional growth strategy aim to accommodate the 1 million new people and 500,000 new jobs that are projected to come to our region in the next 25 years, while maintaining the livability of our region.

According to Metro Vancouver, 55% of residents today are within a 5 to 10 minute walk to frequent transit service. Frequent transit means a bus that runs every 15 minutes or better all-day, a B-Line, or SkyTrain. If people approve the mayors’ transportation plan, 70% of resident will live within walking distance of transit.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Township’s Green Building Rebate Program

When the Township of Langley adopted its Sustainability Charter in 2008, it marked a change of course in planning for the community. Since that time, there has been some major changes such as transforming the plan for Carvolth in Willoughby from offices parks and single-family houses, to a vibrant mixed-use community with a high street. There have been tweaks to other community and neighbourhood plans, making them more walkable with a variety of housing types and shops. On the transportation front, Township of Langley staff has been working for several years on a comprehensive cycling plan for the community.

Of course there is much work that still needs to be done. There has also been cases where Township Council has actually gone against the spirit of the Sustainability Charter. The controversial approval of the Trinity Western University District, or the refusal to increase funding to build out the cycling network last year comes to mind.

One of the innovative ways that the Township is working to increase sustainable building practices is with the introduction of a Green Building Permit Rebate Program.

In 2014, the Township of Langley piloted a one year program to rebate builders $750 for each new single-family house, and $150 for each new townhouse, row-house, or manor-house if an EngerGuide rating of 80 for single-family houses, or 82 for other housing types was achieved.

Typical houses built to code have a rating of between 65 and 72. The rebate comes off the Township’s building permitting fees. You can find out more information about the rating system at Natural Resources Canada.

To help fund the rebate program, the Township is introducing a Sustainable Construction Fee which is applied to virtually all new major building permits.

Twelve participants qualified for rebates during the 2014 pilot program. There are 460 housing units that should qualify for the rebate this year.

Because of the success of the program, Township staff recommended that the rebate program become permanent. The BC Building Code is requiring more energy efficient houses, and the Township will monitor the rebate program to make sure it encourages development that goes above and beyond BC Building Code requirements.

Township Council approved making this a permanent program earlier this month.

The Township needs to focus on commercial development next. Looking around the community, many recent commercial projects look like they could have used some incentive to help them be designed and built in a more sustainable manner.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The feds and province have the authority, but local government has the responsibility

Having responsibility without authority is not a good thing. Since running in the Langley City municipal election, I’ve been thinking about responsibility without authority when it comes to the provisioning of government services.

In the context of government services, downloading is when one level of government with the authority to provide a service, transfers the responsibility to another level of government.

A classic example is the enforcement of the criminal code. Back when Canada was founded, and government authority was being divvied up, the power to make the criminal code was given to the federal government. The responsibility to enforce the criminal code was given to the provinces.

I’m sure the original thinking was to protect provinces from being taken over by a federal police coup, but it is an early example of one level of government’s decisions having financial consequence on another level of government.

Today when the feds trumpet criminal code changes to “get tough on crime”, it’s actually provincial governments, and in BC, local governments that have to pick up the tab for added policing costs.

In BC, the provincial government dumps its policing responsibilities onto local government. Before 2007, rural areas or municipalities under the population of 5,000 didn’t have to pay for policing services. Municipalities between the population of 5,000 and 14,999 had to pay for 70% of policing costs, while larger municipalities had to pay 90% of the costs.

Under the guise of fairness, the BC government in 2007 started charging a police tax in rural areas and municipalities under the population of 5,000, to recover 50% of the cost of policing.

In my hometown of Langley City, policing is the single largest item in the municipal budget. Local government has to pay for police whose primary purpose is to enforce federal and provincial laws. Local bylaws are enforced by bylaw enforcement officers, generally not the police.

If you happen to live in West Vancouver, it really doesn’t matter if the federal government, provincial government, or local government pays for policing services. But not all communities have the financial resources of communities like West Vancouver. Langley City is a working class community. Every dollar spent on policing at the local level means less money to fix sidewalks or enhance parks.

Having services paid for at the federal, or even provincial level, spreads the cost of providing services out equally. This ensures that all Canadian have access to similar levels of service whether they live in a wealthy community or not.

So while the federal and provincial governments lower income tax and sales tax, proclaiming they are cutting government waste, it is more likely that the feds and province are actually downloading the responsibility to provide even more services to local government. The irony is that for most people when the feds or province downloads responsibility to local government, it ends up costing them more.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Linwood Community Garden Update

One of the priorities of the City of Langley Parks and Environment Advisory Committee in 2014 was to see more community gardens built in the City. North of the Nicomekl Floodplain consists mostly of row houses, townhouses, apartments, and businesses. With limited private green-space for gardening, there was a demand for public gardening space.

One of the ironic things about living at higher densities is that people don’t get to know their neighbourhood as well. In many parts of Langley, and throughout Metro Vancouver, there isn’t a sense of ownership in neighbourhoods. Besides providing an opportunity for people to do the business of gardening, community gardens also provide an informal meeting space. This allows people to meet their neighbours. Community gardens also get people out of their homes and into the neighbourhood, providing “eye and ears” on the street. This instills a sense of ownership in a neighbourhood which works to reduce crime, and the perception of crime.

Map of parks within the City of Langley with Linwood Park highlighted. Select map to enlarge.

With all that in mind, I was happy that Langley City Council chose Linwood Park as the site of the second community garden in the City (the first community garden site is at Nicomekl Elementary School.)

For the day-to-day operation of the new Linwood Community Garden, the City of Langley was looking for a non-profit organization to help out. At tonight's council meeting, Council will be receiving a report from City staff who recommend that Langley Environmental Partner Society (LEPS) be the selected non-profit. LEPS already operates community gardens in the Township of Langley making it the perfect fit for the new Langley City community garden.

LEPS projects that the cost to operate the Linwood Community Garden site at $4,200 per year. They are proposing to charge $50 per plot per year, plus a $25 key deposit. LEPS will have to find an additional $1,500 per year beyond the plot and key fees to fully fund the garden site.

I’m hopefully that council will approve LEPS as the operator of the Linwood Community Garden, and will also provide a $1,500 grant to LEPS for the operation of the site.