Monday, September 16, 2019

Exploring ways to enhance our ecosystems in Metro Vancouver to improve human health

One of the key documents that the Metro Vancouver Regional District is responsible for is the Regional Growth Strategy. This document aligns our region’s 21 municipalities and Tsawwassen First Nation Official Community Plans with the provincial mandate “to promote human settlement that is socially, economically and environmentally healthy.”

Boundary Bay Wetlands

The currently Regional Growth Strategy, Metro 2040, is under-review as work is proceeding on Metro 2050 which is the next version of the Regional Growth Strategy. One of the areas that is under review is the environmental protection policies in Metro 2040.

Between 2009 and 2014, 1,640 hectares of sensitive and modified ecosystems where lost. Some example of why they were lost include for agricultural uses, logging, and residential development. With this is mind, the regional district is exploring ways to build stronger business cases, policies, and tools to better protect these ecosystems.

The regional district held a forum this summer between policy experts and government as part of the Metro 2040 Environment Policy Review to find ways to plug gaps in current regional environmental policies. The following items were explored:

Improve how we protect our ecologically important areas in our region

  • Implement additional mechanisms to protect, enhance, and connect sensitive ecosystems.
  • Create tools that help place a value on ecosystem services provided by ecologically important areas and include in municipal accounting.
  • Improve information about ecosystem services (including health and economic benefits).
  • Apply consistent policies and approaches across the region.

Explore biodiversity-led regional green infrastructure

  • Develop a common definition of green infrastructure noting the co-benefits for both wildlife and people.
  • Strengthen biodiversity and green infrastructure policies at the regional level.
  • Create a pilot project on biodiversity-led regional green infrastructure.
  • Develop funding and implementation tools for green infrastructure to support projects at a regional and local scale.

Link green space in urban areas to human health.

  • Increase the priority of green space in urban areas (especially new development areas).
  • Coordinate work between local governments and health authorities on green space and human health.
  • Rank public green space and health levels across the region.
  • Set green space targets for municipalities to meet or exceed, require reporting.
  • Develop best practices to optimize health and ecological benefits of green spaces.
  • Increase awareness about the benefits of green space in urban areas.

More details about these three focus areas can be found in the latest Regional Planning Committee Agenda. They will help inform the updated Metro 2050 Regional Growth Strategy which will hopefully further help creating an healthier region.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Over a quarter of jobs in Metro Vancouver depend on industrial land. Possible measures to protect this land are being discussed.

Because we are a port region, a centre of innovation for technology and manufacturing, and have a large creative sector, industrial land is critical for our economy. For example, the recently announced 600,000 square foot film studio in Langley Township is in regionally protected industrial and employment lands.

Research done on behalf of the Metro Vancouver Regional District shows that 26% of jobs in our region are “dependent on industrial land (including transportation/warehousing/logistics, manufacturing, wholesale, construction, and resources).”

These industrial lands are under threat due to pressures such as being converted for general urban usage for residential, retail, or office space. Even within areas zoned as industrial, due to inconsistent zoning between municipalities in our region, big box retail, offices, and auto dealerships can be found in industrial zones.

Due to the demand for industrial-zoned land, and the encroachment of non-industrial uses into industrial-zoned areas, it is predicted that we will run out of industrial land in about 25 years in our region.

As such, the Metro Vancouver Regional District is looking at ways to preserve and enhanced the industrial land base. The following ideas are being floated as possible tools to ensure that there is enough industrial land into the future:

Provincial Industrial Land Reserve

Working with the province to consider the establishment of an Industrial Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver, similar to the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Strengthening Regional Policy

Improving the definitions and permitted uses on industrial lands, and make it harder to convert these lands to other uses.

Trade-enabling Zoning Districts

Working with the province to grant municipalities the power to define permitted forms of tenure on industrial land. This is currently possible in residential zones.

Zoning Consistency for Industrial Lands

Developing a consistent definition of ‘industrial’ across all municipalities in our region, and ensuring non-industrial uses are not permitted in industrial zones.

Regional Land Use Assessment

Identifying opportunities for more optimized locations and uses for industrial land in our region.

Encouraging Intensification

Loosening any unnecessary restrictions to density or height limits where appropriate in industrial zones.

Mixed-Use: Allowing Residential

Allowing mixed-use industrial/residential within industrial zones that are in immediately proximity to rapid transit as long as it does not result in a loss of available industrial land.

These options will be refined, and will likely be incorporated into a future update to our regional’s growth strategy which must be followed by all municipalities in Metro Vancouver.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Only you can help reduce crime. Join Langley City’s Know Your Neighbour Campaign

I helped out during last year’s Know Your Neighbour Campaign.

Yesterday, I posted about last month’s crime statistics for Langley City. Langley City is a safe community, but we do have a challenge with people stealing items from cars and other crimes of opportunity. These are the types of crime that can be reduced when we have strong neighbourhoods where people know each other and look out for each other.

To help facilitate making these connections, Langley City’s Crime Prevention Task Group and its volunteers will be going door-to-door in select neighbourhoods in our community. They will be talking with residents, and giving them information, on how to build strong neighbourhoods by getting to Know Your Neighbour.

The more volunteers that join, the more people that we can connect with to help build a healthier, happier, and safer Langley City.

We need you! Can you spare some time as follows?

Saturday, September 28th from 10am to Noon

Saturday, October 5th from 10am to Noon

Please contact Dave Selvage at dselvage@langleycity.ca or 604-514-2822 if you have questions about the Know Your Neighbours Campaign, or would like to sign-up as a volunteer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Langley City August property crime map released. How you can help reduce crime.

Langley City is a safe community, and this is shown in the crime stats. The likelihood of you experiencing violence due to another person is extremely low. If you do, it is likely from someone you already know.

One of the initiatives of Langley City’s Crime Prevention Task Group (which I chair) is to raise awareness about the types of crimes that do occur in our community, and give people the tools to be part of the solution to reducing crime.

As a result of the Langley City’s Crime Prevention Task Group, monthly property crime maps will now be available to people that subscribe to the City’s monthly newsletter. The map shows both property crime and the location of Block Watch areas.

Langley City Property Crime Map - August 2019. Select map to enlarge.

There are two areas of concern: theft from auto and auto theft.

One way you can help reduce theft from auto and auto theft is by joining a Block Watch. Block Watch is “a community organized RCMP Crime Prevention Program. Neighbours look out for each other. They get to know who belongs and report suspicious activity.”

To join a Block Watch or find out more information, call 604-532-3213.

You can help reduce theft from auto by removing all non-attached items from your vehicle, including garage door openers, and by locking your vehicle.

If you don’t have a newer vehicle with a built-in electronic engine immobilizer, consider purchasing a vehicle alarm or steering wheel lock.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Metro Vancouver Regional District looking to build 500 new units of affordable housing

Metro Vancouver Housing - Sutton Place. Image source: Metro Vancouver Regional District

This weekend, I was at the Triple A Senior Housing Society’s HOPE4HOMES conference. This conference focused on what can be done to make life more affordable for seniors in Langley. Housing is a critical component when it comes to affordability. When people pay more than 30% of their income towards housing, they are living in unaffordable housing.

Seniors in our community who rent are the most vulnerable when it comes to the increasing cost of housing. They are on fixed incomes that are not keeping up with ever-increasing rents. At the conference, I learned that some 3,000 seniors live in unaffordable housing in Langley. Two-thirds of those seniors live in the Township of Langley.

The current federal government and provincial government have committed billions of dollars over the next decade for new purposed-built affordable housing. In BC, the commitment is to build 114,000 new units of affordable housing over the next decade.

The federal and provincial governments are not building this affordable housing, they are providing the funding. They are looking for non-profit housing societies and local governments to build and operate these new affordable housing units.

In Langley, there are around 250 new units of affordable housing being built and operated by non-profit housing societies that is funded through the provincial government. While this is a good start, if we have 3,000 seniors today that need affordable housing (and thousand of younger people who also need affordable housing), we need to be building affordable housing at a larger scale.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is a federation of municipalities from Langley to Bowen Island. As a collection of municipalities, we have a long history of working together to tackle big challenges.

The regional district provides affordable housing for some 9,000 people today in 49 sites throughout Metro Vancouver. This housing was originally built in the 1970s and 1980s with the support of the federal government. The feds got out of funding new affordable housing in the 1990s until a few years ago. This is one of the reasons why we have a housing crisis today.

With the renewed interest from the feds and province to building affordable housing, it is time that our region gets serious about building affordable housing at scale.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is looking to collect $4 million per year in new property taxes throughout the region to build at least 500 new units of affordable housing over the next decade. This money will be combined with significant federal and provincial funding, and land donated by municipalities. It is expected that 70% of these units would be low end of market rental, and 30% rent geared to income to ensure affordability.

This $4 million per year would translate to an additional $4 per year in property tax per household in our region.

If this program is successful in the first few years, I hope that the region scales it up because we need to be building thousands of units of affordable housing per year in our region.

I should note that the type of affordable housing in this post is not supportive housing for people transitioning out of homelessness, or who have complex needs. This type of housing with wrap-around services is being handled by other programs.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Take the Crosswalks within Langley City Survey

Crosswalk along 204th Street

Since being elected to Langley City council, I’ve heard from many residents requesting more visible crosswalks and new crosswalks in our community.

I wanted to find out if there are certain locations in our community where there is a strong desire from many people to improve an existing crosswalk or add a new crosswalk.

To that end, I’ve launched the Crosswalks within Langley City Survey.

If you are a Langley City resident, please consider completing this survey. It will take around two minutes of your time.

Thank you for your help!

Take the Survey

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Development Cost Charges: When growth doesn’t pay for growth

Yesterday, I posted about municipal finances and that municipalities in our province have reserve accounts that can be used to pay for things such as upgrading roads, sewers, parks, and the like. In Langley City, we had $34.9 million in reserve accounts at the end of 2018. For a more detailed look at how these accounts are used, please read my previous post. Municipalities also have another special reserve account which I didn’t post about yesterday: Development Cost Charges.

Since the 1950s, there was an understanding that new development projects in a municipality should pay for the services required to support them. Services can include upgraded roads, water lines, sewer mains, and/or park space. Various programs where tried, but the current system of Development Cost Charges was put in place at the end of the 1970s.

While Development Cost Charges are an important funding mechanism for local governments in BC, there are some challenges with the implementation Development Cost Charges.

In BC, the provincial government can technically do whatever it wants to municipalities. The tradition has been very hands-off when it comes to the province intervening in municipal matters. This means that municipalities have a high degree of autonomy when it come to finances.

For example, councils generally work with municipal staff annually to approve projects such as upgrading roads or building a new performing arts centre, and determine how these projects will be paid for.

Development Cost Charges are different. The provincial government must approve every project that will be funded by a Development Cost Charge; municipalities must create a bylaw for these projects for provincial approval.

Generally, Development Cost Charges can be used to widen roads, build bicycle infrastructure, build sidewalks, build water mains, build storm water mains, build sewer mains, and to acquire and improve parkland. This seems simple, but it is not.

The rules for what projects in these categories are eligible for Development Cost Charge funding is very complex. In fact, a 116-page guide is available from the provincial government on Development Cost Charge implementation.

An example of the complexity is that funding collected by Development Cost Charges can be used to build a washroom in a park, but can’t be used to build a spray park. A baseball diamond could be funding by a Development Cost Charge, but a tennis court could not.

Development Cost Charges are geared towards communities that are building new neighbourhoods, and not for communities like Langley City where redevelop is occurring. This means that in Langley City, projects which should be paid for by Development Cost Charges, can end up being paid for by general revenue from existing residents.

Langley City and other municipalities in BC are advocating to the provincial government to make the Development Cost Charge program less restrictive, especially when considering redevelopment.

At the end of 2018, Langley City had $17.6 million in restrict Development Cost Charge reserves.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What’s with Langley City’s $297 million financial accumulated surplus?

When most people think of financial surpluses, putting money into bank accounts and investments is something that likely comes to mind.

In Langley City, we had a $12.7 million surplus in 2017 and an $11.3 million surplus in 2018. Does this mean that the City is placing tens of millions of dollars into savings accounts and investments every year, all while claiming we have limited financial resources? Absolutely not!

Municipal financial plans have two kinds of expenses: operating expenses and capital expenses. Operating expenses are for things that generally occur every year such as paying employee salaries, painting lines on the road, and paying Metro Vancouver for water and sewer.

Capital expenses generally occur for one-off items that generate a tangible asset. Tangible assets include things like roads, water pipes, sewer pipes, streetlights, playground equipment, park trails, and garbage cans.

When you look at Langley City’s “Expenses” of $45.3 million in 2018, these were operating expenses. The surplus section is mostly capital expenses; creating and renewing tangible assets.

So, what was the breakdown of Langley City’s accumulated surplus at the end of 2018?

$3.9 million was an operating surplus. This can occur due to things like snow removal budgets being used less than expected. This also occurs due to staff vacancies that occur during the years, and when new staff positions are created. Any operating surplus is generally transferred into reserve accounts where the surplus can then be used for capital expenses.

$34.9 million is Langley City’s reserve accounts. These accounts are generally used for acquiring capital assets.

Because some projects can take multiple years to complete, when council allocates funding for a capital project in a year, it doesn’t mean that the project will be completed within that same year.

For example, council is planning to upgrade Glover Road to include safer bike lanes. Each year, we are adding to our reserve accounts for this project until we have enough money to complete the project.

Once a project is completed, its dollar value is converted into “equity in tangible capital assets.”

In Langley City, we have $257.9 million in these tangible capital assets at the end of 2018. This represents 87% of our accumulated surplus.

This is the book value of our capital assets. For example, if we spend $10 million on a road project, and that road had an expected life of 20 years, each year $0.5 million would be taken out of the accumulated surplus.

If a city’s accumulated surplus is going down in value, the city's assets are falling into a state of disrepair. Even if a city’s accumulated surplus is increasing, it doesn’t mean that the state of a city’s infrastructure is healthy.

If there was no increase in population and no new development, the accumulated surplus should grow at the rate of inflation. Because of population increase and development, the accumulate surplus should grow at a rate higher than inflation.

In Langley City, our accumulated surplus is growing at the rate of inflation. This means that more investment is needed to keep all our existing infrastructure in a state of good repair. This is why we are now working on an asset management plan.

In a healthy community, the accumulated surplus should be increasing year-over-year. While some of this surplus is investments and cash that will be used to pay for things such as roads, pipes, and parks, the majority of this surplus represents the infrastructure that already existed in a community.