Translink FOI release of untendered contract extension begs the question: Which is the easier ride: Skytrain or gravy train ?

A Freedom of Information request released yesterday by Translink after an extended delay, finally shows the details behind one of the contractors involved in providing services relating to the Mayors Council strategic plan and Transit tax plebiscite.

Where to start ?

How about with how long it took for this FOI to be released.

The initial  FOI request was filed on January 9th, 2015. On February 23rd Translink advised they were using a 30 day extension to further consult with a third party and that a response would be given no later than April 8th, 2015. ( the interoffice memo between Translink staff about this release, indicating any highlighted areas are to be redacted is dated January 20th, 2015- which seems to imply that at that point, it was ready for release)

On April 8th a reminder was sent to the Information Access manager at Translink of their prior commitment to respond on that date. Yesterday – April 15th- the information requested was finally released with an apology for the delay,a week post-deadline

Earlier this year, Bob Mackin wrote a post on Translink rolling out the contracts:

Counterpoint scores

On Jan. 2, Counterpoint Communications got a new year’s gift. Its “Business and Stakeholder Outreach” consulting contract was extended indefinitely by TransLink without a bid, because of tight timelines and Counterpoint’s “unique expertise.”

Said the notice of intent: “The Supplier has provided focused stakeholder engagement services to raise awareness of the Mayors’ Council vision, developed a strong understanding of the Mayors’ Plan and provided an important liaison between TransLink/Mayors’ Council and stakeholders.”

Mayors’ Council chair Richard Walton, who is also Mayor of North Vancouver District, was unable to answer about the budget for the contract when I contacted him.

The FOI on this contract is rather open-ended,with few concrete deliverable in place other than what is dictated in the  Schedule A ( pg 8) and a proposal letter sent from Counterpoint to Translink VP Bob Paddon in June of 2014 ( Pg 9)

services (2)

The timeframe for the original contract was June 2014 – December 2014 for $70,000 fees and &4,000 expenses.

An amendment to that contract was signed December 31st,2015 ( pg 15) extending the contract to July 31st 2015, for an additional $100,000 dollars.

No further changes to services were amended.

Also of note is section 17 which notes the following:

nopromotion (2)

While not unusual, it brings to mind the many tweets of Counterpoint principal  Bruce Rozenhart and Counterpoint senior consultant Bob Ransford, both of whom have been very involved in tweeting Yes side links and material on Twitter during the campaign period. I wondered if those tweets are part of the services provided in this contract, and sent an email asking for clarification and comment on this  to Rozenhart.

As of the time of this posting, I have not received a reply, but I’ll post one if he does respond.

If this is any indicator of the kind of contracts being handed out by Translink, it’s alarming on many levels.

What exactly does it mean to ” stimulate/facilitate discussion and information exchange” on the Mayors Council strategic plan and referendum development?

How is this objective measured? What are the deliverables? Where is the concrete plan written into the contract to ensure the best value for money paid is achieved? Are promotional materials involved? Where is the list of stakeholders to be met?

What exactly is Translink paying for? Conversations? Meetings? Tweets? I really don’t know.

A look at Schedule B (pg10) gives us this:

Fees (2)

“…Fees will be paid by Translink in the fixed amount of $74,000 regardless of the amount of time actually expended by the contractor to perform the services.”

Keep in mind, this was extended until July 2015 and for an additional $100,000.00.It’s all very open-ended and frankly, alarmingly vague – it makes me wonder if there are more contracts out there like this!

This is the kind of thing that drives taxpayers batty. We get fixed price contracts and we get the need for public relations and communications strategies. But $174,000.00 for a contract that has no measurable goal-posts in the contract and pays out regardless of how much time was actually spent on “stimulating and facilitating ” discussion and information exchange on the mayors transportation plan and goals?

Which begs the question: Which is the easier ride: Skytrain, or the gravy train?

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“It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news…”

“Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself.”
― Joss Whedon

I worry. A lot sometimes.

I worry about the price of produce at the veggie market every week. It’s getting more and more expensive and I worry that the drought in California will drive that price up even more.

Then I worry that California will figure out how little B.C. values it’s water supply,show up here like it’s a modern gold rush and tap into some trade agreement that leaves British Columbian’s paying through the nose for a resource we own…while entitled Hollywood types are lavishing in their pools,drinking BC water as California shrivels under crippling  drought.

I worry about the safety of my community right now, while young men with too much testosterone and not enough wisdom are putting the public at risk every time they shoot at each other. In busy family neighbourhoods, while people are out and about.

I worry about the lack of resources in our schools and I worry about how many good kids who need help are falling through the cracks, sure to cost society more in the long run than if we took care of the issues now. I wonder if the young men shooting at each other now, were once those kids themselves.

I worry about how a brand new ship could suffer a ‘malfunction’ that many mariners suspect was human error, releasing toxic bunker fuel into one of our most beautiful harbours.

I worry that our governments continue to make short-sighted decisions and policies that have implications so serious that people’s lives and livelihoods are lost. Veterans left behind, front line workers suffering from PTSD abandoned. Mt.Polley, sawmill explosions – the list is long and sadly, often preventable.

But most of all, I worry that so many good,decent people have become so de-sensitized to the never-ending onslaught of news that even this latest outrageous response to the Vancouver fuel spill will soon be forgotten with a few sunny days and the next scandal sure to come.

I’m here to tell you,that’s just not going to cut it anymore. It’s not enough to just be a good person and tsk-tsk at the morning news. That makes you part of the problem.

No, really, it does. You might not want to hear this but I’m so tired of hearing people say politics bores them, or politics has nothing to do with them. Look around you! Look at what is going on in your city, your town or your own neighbourhood.

Pissed off over potholes? Who’s in charge of that? Whats your local mayor and council doing if it’s an ongoing issue?

Guess what? That’s politics. That is how politics impact you. It doesn’t have to be an oil spill or tailings pond collapse, it can be something as minor as never-ending potholes.

Tired of overcrowded schools? How did that happen? Well, mayor and council have to approve all those developments and if they do without thought to the local schools, your kids are the ones who feel it.

That’s politics.

The  provincial government policy that prevents a new school from being built until the current ones are busting kids at the seams? That’s political.

Sitting in a waiting room in the understaffed hospital in ER for hours on end only to end up on a stretcher in the hallway because there isn’t a room for you? That’s political.

The people who run your city, your province and this country are elected by you.

They direct the policy making, they decide where and how the money is spent and they can either do a very good job at it, or not. And I think they like it when people don’t pay attention because it makes their job even easier.

You might not be into politics, but make no bones about it, politics is very interested in you.

Right now you’re probably saying to yourself: “But I’m busy, I am working two jobs, kids, my parents…” I get that. There are only so many hours in a day and the last thing you want to do is spend it in a room listening to campaign strategy.

That’s not at all what I am asking you to do.

It can be as simple as joining your local community association and just receiving their emails so you can find out whats going on right in your own small area, that directly impacts your life. That’s where it starts for many people. That’s activism. It engages you in how political decisions affect your life.It can directly impact how politicians make future decisions.

Over the last year, I had the pleasure of seeing a new community association form and grow in one area of Surrey and seeing some people who have never paid attention to politics suddenly discover how much impact they had… it makes me smile thinking of it now.

What matters to you? What impacts your life directly? Write a letter to the editor next time you see a story that touches you in some manner. Write a letter to your provincial MLA, or ask to meet them. Let your member of parliament know what you think of their government’s policy. Ask them what they actually do, or have done for your community.

That’s not only your right as a citizen, I’m telling you it is your duty as one too.

Ask questions, hard ones and demand answers. In writing. If you get none, write a letter to the editor about that as well. Start a conversation with your neighbour, your co-worker, the person next to you at the bus stop.

The closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station was a decision made to save money. It was heavily protested by Vancouver residents and mariners alike. The government still defends that decision.

It doesn’t get more political than that.

If you are as angry about that closure and this fuel spill response, you are interested in politics. It’s that simple. But instead of being angry and reactive, get engaged and be proactive.

If you are upset over the demolition of heritage homes in your city, you are interested in politics. It could be trees, it might be development, it could simply be the need for a new sidewalk. It’s all politics and for most of us, that’s how we started.

We simply woke up one day and said: “That’s it. I’m doing something about this.”  And never looked back once we discovered there were thousands of regular people out there just like us looking for the same direction.

And let me tell you – It’s so much nicer walking in awareness, than sitting in the dark.

“It takes guts and integrity of motive to fight the good fight. It takes a passionate interest in life itself. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines, shaking your head and commenting on how tragic things are.

But if you really care, you are going to be in the ring, trying to make the world a better place. And only from that position will your words and your thoughts and your insights have weight.

When you live an engaged life, your sense of self gains depth and power and authority, and your philosophy is no longer abstract. You become a person who can really make a difference, because you are actively participating, you are digging deep, and you are pushing up against the edge of your own potential.

 …And in order to fight the good fight, we have to engage, we have to get into the ring, not just stand outside it and be philosophers.”

~Andrew Cohen

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“If Leaders fail, the people will lead.”

“People want responsible leadership. On big issues, they are not going to sit in their homes. They will act and press for action.”

Kofi Annan

It’s a hard job being a politician.

From the moment you announce you are running until after your career ends, everyone wants a piece of you.

Questions, questions and more questions! All these bloody questions! And accountability- you mean I have to be accountable too? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Sometimes, it’s enough to make even the most seasoned politician want to duck for cover and there lies the difference between a real leader and someone who just likes the position and title.

The news today brought forth a crisis for Vancouverites  in the form of leaked bunker crude/fuel from a grain tanker in English Bay.  It  reportedly started around 5 pm on Wednesday and with all the pandering of pipelines, LNG and the resulting tanker traffic in coastal waters, one would have expected something close to a world-class response.

In fact, the reality was far from it and should have all British Columbian’s concerned.

Bunker fuel is a nasty substance that is incredibly toxic to animal, human and aquatic life…and it is the lifeblood of commercial shipping.This is a very busy harbour, and at any given time you can see many ships in English Bay waiting to offload or pick up cargo.

How did it leak? No one knows and at last report the company that owns the ship suspected as the source, denies all responsibility for it. ( a good friend who is a long time mariner put forth his theory that it may have been human error, with someone operating the bilge pump incorrectly)

City of Vancouver officials claim they weren’t advised for 12 hours of the spill and despite official statements the spill has been contained, many are left wondering what exactly that means. Photos available online show the slick moving towards Burrard Inlet and the changing tide peaking at around 11 pm this evening is sure to leave its mark as it departs.

Of course, one can’t help but wonder how all of this would have been different had the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base had still been open and could have responded within minutes. Harper defended the closure back in 2013 despite incredible opposition – I’d like to know if he would still defend that decision today.

The fallout from this should and must be severe.

A call into the Simi Sara show today from former Kits Coast Guard Base Commander Fred Moxey, was chilling:

”  …former Kits base commander Fred Moxey, who told us that  a special pollution response boat formerly stationed at the now shuttered Kitsilano Coast Guard base is sitting empty with no crew at Sea Island base in Richmond. According to Moxey, only a rubber boat from the Coast Guard responded to the English Bay oil spill last night. Moxey also told us the Osprey formerly stationed at Kits was dismantled and sold off then when the base was closed. Moxey says if Kits Base was still active today crews would have been on scene at the spill in six minutes with the equipment to deal with the situation.”

Way to go Harper.

I know you don’t live here, but you really do spend a fair bit of time out here looking for votes,so why not just try faking that you’re still into us. After all, we are the Gateway to Asia-Pacific trade!! Oh wait.. darn… that fouled harbour and all..oops.

Even  James Moore, federal Minister of Industry, supported the closure,serving up some attitude directed back at Vancouver city officials objections: 

” The reality is that the City of Vancouver — and all British Columbians, as a matter of fact — have more Coast Guard resources, have better coast guard protection, than any other port on any other coast in all of the country, even with the changes at Kits,” maintains Moore.

His defence comes even as rescue coordination centre staff say the closure could endanger lives.”

Silly us for worrying. It seem like they forgot about all the other vital functions the wonderful men and women serving in our Coast Guard do, least of which is responding to front line spills like this one. As I said, this is a very busy harbour and we need the ability to respond in minutes,not hours.

And so now we have bunker fuel, thick and nasty, fouling some beaches around English Bay, no one accepting responsibility for it and surprise surprise, as of this posting-more than 24 hours post-spill, neither Premier Clark or Prime Minister Harper has spoken.

Mary Polak, BC’s environment minister is deftly pushing all responsibility to the feds as the lead agency on twitter, saying they will co-ordinate the land operations.

And what did the people do?

Despite the city of Vancouver telling people to stay away for now because of the toxicity of this bunker fuel – please heed these warnings-  some Vancouverites not happy to wait for the leadership to arrive took the matter into their own hands.

Armed with buckets and wipes, there are photos on social media of them wiping brown crud off the rocks at the beach yesterday. People have been asking how they can volunteer, what they can do to help. They are on it. There is a veritable army of volunteers ready to go should our leaders bring the call to action.

But where are they? Gregor Robertson is cutting his vacation on the island short to come home. Christy Clarks media reps said she wont be commenting and Harper? I don’t know. captioncontest

Even the young Trudeau with locks so glossy one might have thought he swam through that oily sheen to save a sea lion, had the wits to say something coherent and appropriate- or at least his media handler did:

trudeau

It’s during times like this, when there are more questions than answers, when people are upset,agitated and rightfully concerned, that the test of real leadership arrives.

A real leader doesn’t continue on their day and wait for updates from staff-a true leader initiates communication, assesses the situation and makes themselves visible in some form to the public. Even on vacation. That is what we elected you to do.

British Columbia has a face and for many, it’s Vancouver that makes the first impression. Tourism is a money maker and so is a clean harbour where in recent weeks orca’s have been filmed playing in English Bay.

When things go wrong, people look to their leaders for  their reaction and for their guidance because leadership isn’t just a position, it’s an action.

 If today’s lack of response from our leaders is any indicator of what we can expect in a more serious incident, you are on your own, my friends.

Frankly, I have more faith in you, than I do in them.

Posted in Laila Yuile | Tagged , , , , , , | 34 Comments

“Home isn’t always where you live,but where they understand you:The passing of Ben Meisner “

The downside of social media is that sometimes you find out bad news on a computer screen, that perhaps should be heard first privately. Such was the case last week in the passing of northern icon, Ben Meisner. 

Sadly,Ben fell ill during an ice-fishing trip in Winnipeg and never made it back home to Prince George,cancer taking the man whose strong word and booming tones earned him the affectionate title of ‘ Voice of the North’.

Despite being born and raised just north of the city,I never knew Ben personally when I actually lived in the city, but I do recall my father having a choice word or two occasionally in reaction to something Ben might have said or written. That’s how Ben was. You might not agree with him, but he would tell it like he saw it and be damned with your reaction.

Several years ago, somehow Ben found my site and started reading some of my work. He contacted me, we had quite a chat and he invited me onto his show for the first time. We talked about how I started blogging and why, and although we disagreed on a lot of things, it was clear he deeply loved my hometown as much as I did.

I also had the pleasure of joining him live in his studio on one visit back home, for a longer on-air conversation about the city of Prince George, and my impressions after being gone for so long.

Ironically this visit coincided with an event that raised the ire of many PG residents – and the wrath of Ben. Former mayor Sherri Green had her media rep send Opinion 250 a note saying she would no longer comment,answer his questions or reply to him,his show or publication. ( not that she did in the first place, but putting it in writing spoke to her inexperience and naiveté as a politician)

The ensuing Free for all Friday- a regular feature on Ben’s radio show- was epic. It was classic Ben, no holds barred and full of thunder.

Ben and his colleague Peter Ewart held Sherri Greens feet to the fire her entire term- she declined to run in the last election and lost the federal Conservative nomination as well.

Many in the city will also recall how Ben was a force to be reckoned with in the north – his vociferous opposition to the Kemano Completion Project stands testament to this . I was pleased to see a write up on this by Charlie Smith over the weekend:

“When I heard that veteran Prince George broadcaster and writer Ben Meisner had died at the age of 76, it brought back memories of the battle against the Kemano Completion Project.

Meisner, along with former CKNW talk-show host Rafe Mair, played pivotal roles in the defeat of Alcan’s plan to divert massive amounts of water from the Nechako River in the early 1990s to produce more aluminum at its smelter in Kitimat.

It was one of the most controversial industrial projects in modern B.C. history, ranking up there with the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Nechako is a major tributary of the Fraser River fishery. During that time, government and nongovernment scientists issued gloomy forecasts about the impact of Alcan’s plan on the Fraser River salmon runs.

Environmentalists, led by Burnaby resident Mae Burrows and Greenpeace’s Catherine Stewart, worked extremely hard to educate the public about complicated issues such as the effect of lower water levels on river temperatures and the resulting impact on fish mortality. First Nations also became heavily involved in the debate.

Meisner served the province well by wrapping his mind around all of this and passing this information along to his listeners of his radio show and readers of his newspaper columns.

The controversy, which was largely whipped up in the media by Mair and Meisner, led then-Opposition leader Gordon Campbell to condemn the project. Then-premier Mike Harcourt sought a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, which issued a damning report leading to the cancellation of the project.

It can be argued that through his diligent efforts as a journalist, Meisner helped save Fraser River salmon runs for a generation. How many of his peers in the business can make a claim like that?”

I liked and respected Ben, and on the occasions we talked his greeting was always: ” Hey kiddo…”

I’m sad I didn’t get to see him again before he passed. Whether you agreed with his politics or not- and many did not- I know Ben loved Prince George and wanted to do right by the city. And he did.

I’m hoping the city finds another voice as loud as Ben’s- it’s a great city with a lot to offer. But even if they do, no one can replace Ben Meisner as the Voice of the North. He was one of a kind.

My condolences to all who knew Ben; his friends, family and colleagues.

In studio with Ben Meisner, 2012

In studio with Ben Meisner, 2012

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The joy of simple things at Easter.

“A tulip doesn’t strive to impress anyone. It doesn’t struggle to be different than a rose. It doesn’t have to. It is different. And there’s room in the garden for every flower. You didn’t have to struggle to make your face different than anyone else’s on earth. It just is. You are unique because you were created that way. Look at little children in kindergarten. They’re all different without trying to be. As long as they’re unselfconsciously being themselves, they can’t help but shine. It’s only later, when children are taught to compete, to strive to be better than others, that their natural light becomes distorted.”

~Marianne Williamson

As someone who grew up in what most people would still call ‘the bush’, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how strong the connection to nature is when you live in tune with the cycles of the seasons and all they have to offer or take away.

Back in the day when winter routinely brought -40c winter temperatures and snowbanks over 5 feet high north of Prince George, the change of seasons occurred with a consistent abruptness one could count on. Long winter, short spring, even shorter summer, short fall, and another very long winter. We never had tulips in our garden – rhubarb was more coveted because you could eat it!

I learned very early in life that you need to appreciate what nature provides when it happens, because often it is all too fleeting and then… well, you blink and it’s gone. And while my parents concentrated on the essentials,to this day I make time to enjoy the fleeting moments unique to each season.

One fleeting moment happened today, at the Tulip Festival  in Agassiz, hosted by the Seabird Island Band, who I must say have incredible patience for even the most harried, entitled city dweller seeking the ultimate selfie. :)

Tulipsofthevalley.com is  a must for anyone seeking to rejuvenate the spirit after a long winter. It’s not the scent of fresh green grass on the drive there; it isn’t even how the weight of your daily life miraculously lifts off your shoulders on the drive( take the back route, via Maple Ridge on Hwy 7).

It’s how even after waiting in a line for the shuttle bus for nearly an hour-whining kids, irritated tourists,impatient city dwellers sporting Prada purses and 3 inch heels in full force in tow -that the second ones eyes see fields of colour in a way you can’t even imagine…cancels out of the ‘hardships’ you endured to get there.

Seriously, I felt like a young deer getting off the bus, kicking my heels and frolicking towards the fields.Leaping here and there, pink to red to yellow…There is no word for how I felt.

Yes, I did get in trouble once for venturing too far down one row…but in my defense I felt the need to bond with the flowers..lol.

The festival goes until the 12th of April- if you can,I highly recommend it and in my opinion, it is worth the drive and wait in line for the shuttle. I don’t often recommend things like this, but moments of sheer beauty so powerful, so all encompassing that even the most burly men can be found standing awe-struck, are an essential balance to busy lives.

I’ll post some tips in the comments, but I will leave you with this passage :

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when awareness begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. (Don’t Hesitate)”
~Mary Oliver

Happy Easter my friends. For this moment, let us celebrate the small moments that soothe our tired or overworked souls. See the beauty right there before you,whether in your yard, a park, a jaunty dandelion in the sidewalk or in the scent of  the newly thrust, sappy leaves.And think about this.

We of many colours  rejoice as one, in the many colours of these flowers. There is so much joy to be shared in the smiles of every face. from many countries.

There is more that joins us, than separates us,and this is what makes these ordinary tulips, so extraordinary.

Go visit.

You won’t regret it.

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If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone in the city hear? * UPDATED April 3/2015

* Update April 3rd,2015

I received a reply from Jess Dhillon, head of Acquisitions & Development at Redekop Development  Corp and I followed up with a phone call where we talked more in depth.
This is his response:

“Hi Laila,

Regarding your comments, in response to neighborhood complaints, we received a notice from the City of Surrey on March 9th, stating that the Premises at 5750 Panorama Drive, did not meet City property maintenance standards; “Surrey Property Maintenance and Unsightly Premises By-Law, 2007, No. 16393”.

More specifically, household garbage, glass, syringes and other debris throughout the property.  We were asked to remedy the Property within 14 days.

The City was notified that the site was being assessed for clean-up, after reviewing an arborist report that had already been written up and submitted to the City.

Work commenced on March 24th to clean out excessive blackberry bushes and all small growth trees, defined by the caliper size and height, maintaining that no trees noted in the report were damaged.

The goal being to clean the site up to make it undesirable for trespassers to dump garbage, inhabit, etc.

We would preferred to leave the site as is, until we had met with the City to begin the rezoning process for Development, as we would then have had a chance for our first Public Meeting with the local Community.

Typically, we would wait till we are ready for construction before we do any site clearing, which we estimate to be in the Winter of 2015.

On a side note, our communication has been limited to the Panorama Neighborhood Association, until we can reach out to everyone in Public Hearing. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions or concerns. “

In speaking with Mr.Dhillon, he contends the development company thought they were operating within the parameters of the city of Surrey’s requirements,but should have had an arborist on site during this clearing. He reviewed the site with the arborist yesterday and is waiting for the arborists report and recommendations.

He also stated that this was not how the company intended to introduce themselves to the community but had to respond to the cities cleanup order within 14 days,leaving very little time to notify local residents.  When asked if he felt that the order to clean up the property required the removal of so many trees, he maintained much of the undergrowth could not be removed without taking trees as well, and that none of the trees taken were identified by the initial arborists report as ones to save.

Mr. Dhillon also expressed a great challenge in connecting with residents of the area not involved with the Panorama Community Association and I again, direct residents of the area to sign up at the link in the story below, to receive updates and get engaged in the process moving forward.

~ LY

————————————————————————-

Back in 2012, the province announced it was going to sell several public assets in order to ‘balance’ the budget. Among the properties in Surrey to be sold, was one the province had set aside for future health care expansion in the region: 

“In February 2012, the provincial government announced that it would sell off 15 acres of prime land in Sullivan, at Highway 10 and 152nd Street, which had been earmarked for health-care development under the Surrey Official Community Plan’s South Newton Neighbourhood Concept Plan.

At the time, Ralston likened it to selling the family’s jewels to buy groceries.”

A more accurate description for this particular lot of land couldn’t be found. Thick with blackberries,a forest of trees covered most of this land and residents were happy to have the green space in the interim,with the knowledge it would go to health care for the region at some point- a good use and vital infrastructure.

There was significant disappointment when the property was finally sold to Fairborne Homes, a developer with townhome projects in the Sullivan area. Concern the sale was extremely shortsighted in light of the tremendous growth in the South Surrey region, neighbourhood residents began to think forward to what kind of development might occur in the area.

With a glut of townhomes currently on the market in Sullivan/Panorama, and some developments not able to sell the current new stock off  completely, the news Fairborne had sold the property was not surprising, although residents were not informed of the sale.

What tipped the neighbourhood off, was the week long clearing that has been going on, unabated,unchecked and with not a rezoning or development application in site along any portion of the property.

The property in question is at 5750 Panorama Drive, and runs nearly the entire length of the drive to the north, bordered by 152nd to the east and a strip mall to the south and west.

I spoke with the planning department and the new developer intends for approximately 200 townhomes to the north of the property, a 4 story low-rise apartment building to the south and commercial along 152nd.
The planning details are in it’s very initial review,nothing has been submitted or gone to council at this time:
Panoramaproperty
The developer however, is already promoting construction starting in the winter of 2015:

redekop

Concerned at what appears to be very extensive clearing of the property, I made some calls to both the tree permit/landscaping department and the building permit department of the City of Surrey – at the time of this posting,neither department had called back.

The planning department however,has received several calls on this clearing. While some trees remain, the use of an excavator to tear trees down has also damaged remaining trees, as shown in the photos below.

The city of Surrey’s commercial development information for tree cutting and permits gives the following info for developers putting forth applications for development : http://www.surrey.ca/community/16198.aspx

It would appear that before anything substantial could even be done with regards to clearing the property, a permit would be needed,trees designated to be saved would have to be surrounded with plastic barriers etc. In a full walk around this property, none of this has been done, nor is there any signs or permits posted.

While there is great concern among the neighbourhood residents that some trees that have been cut are of a bylaw protected size, it is extremely alarming that such an extensive clearing could occur before anything has been put before council,without any community consultation and prior to any rezoning or development application approval.

It is not just undergrowth and vegetation that has been removed- a reasonable course of action and one no one could complain of- but trees of many sizes and heights.

In December of last year, a report commissioned by the city itself detailed how much of the tree canopy the city had lost, and how hard they would have to work to turn that around:

“In 2001, 33 per cent of Surrey was covered by trees, the report shows. By 2009, that dropped to 30 per cent, and four years later the figure had sunk to 27.17 per cent.

The numbers represent a decline in tree canopy of 17.66 per cent over those 13 years.

Surrey is aiming to be at 40 per cent by 2058, but it will require some significant changes to turn things around.

New developments are a large contributor to canopy loss, according to figures in the report.

The average existing single-family residential development (city-wide) in 2009 had 23.5-per-cent tree canopy. Now, the  average new home construction has a 2.6-per-cent tree canopy.

The figure is even more stark in South Surrey, where it dropped from 47.8 per cent in 2009 to 7.7 per cent for new developments.

Similar drops occurred across the board when comparing existing developments to new ones.

“With current practices, the tree canopy will continue to decline and it could fall to somewhere between 21 per cent and 27 per cent over the next 50 years, depending on the development practices,” the report states.

The report indicates Surrey needs to set tree-canopy targets in each type of land use and fix decade-long targets with an aim to reach 40 per cent by 2058.

It also recommends updating existing bylaws to place more emphasis on tree canopy.”

Clearly, when 15 acres of land can be cleared extensively in a week, without anything being rezoned, or approved. something has gone wrong.

From the shortsighted sale of provincial land, to this devastating cut that no one seems to have answers to, it’s a bit of a mess. There is a process and bylaws in place,but in this case, perhaps one needs to question the process itself when something like this can occur on such a large block of land. Residents I’ve spoken with are not opposed to development in general, but in favour of viable, well-planned and well-paced development.

I was at the site this morning, and many of the trees left standing in these photos, are now gone. As the excavator was clearing one stand of trees, rabbits were running crazy down the sidewalk,nearly into my feet in confusion, trying to find a place of cover where all the cover was gone.

There wasn’t much I could do,but watch.

The time to get engaged is now, if you aren’t already- If you live in the Sullivan/Panorama area and wish to keep updated and get involved in the process of this development as it progresses, please check this link,and get engaged in the future of your community:

https://panoramaneighbours.wordpress.com/about/membership-form/

* City update: Following several calls by myself and area residents,bylaws and an arborist are attending the site today, and I will update this story as it develops. An email has been sent to the developer asking for comment, but this was taken late this afternoon as a city staff person was on site documenting the clearing and remaining trees.

2015-04-01 022

Click on each photo below for a larger view.

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Left, Right and the space in between: Conquering the Great Divide in politics.

As many readers know, I grew up in a rural area just north of Prince George and enjoyed a childhood that I look back on with fond memories now, as an adult living on the coast.

It’s because of that rural upbringing, that I have often feel like I have a unique perspective to bring to the table on many issues, and one of those issues is the great political divide between the “Left” and “Right”- a very sweet spot that I think holds a lot of power in any vote.

British Columbia is a pretty interesting place when it comes to politics. With a lot of traditionally left leaning big labour,union back industry, one would think an NDP government would always win provincial elections, but they don’t. Many union members will vote for the Liberals despite leaders saying they should vote NDP – happens up north all the time, and many non-party voters afraid of change will vote Liberal too.

In fact we’ve had a Liberal government for over a decade, much to the frustration of the BC NDP, who’ve changed leaders/strategists/faces/clothes and still can’t pull in the votes. Why?

It’s my opinion that the majority of people in this province, and this country, really spend most of their lives residing in the space created by the Great Divide between left and right political parties. They don’t care to join a political party, they might not follow politics at all unless it’s the morning of voting day, or perhaps they limit it to paper headlines and coffetime chats.

If you were to ask them where they stand on various issues politicians like to use as emotional tools during elections (crime,taxes,jobs and education) you would likely find they lean left on some issues and right on others. To them, it’s the issue and how that issue is addressed that matters, not the political ideology behind the party trying to get that vote. Whatever  party happens to hit that nerve for them will likely get their vote.

It’s what makes the space between Left and Right, the sweet spot to aim for in politics. So far, the left hasn’t been able to conquer the great divide in BC and it’s because they can’t get those non-party,slightly conservative centrist votes no matter what they do. And when I use the word conservative here,I don’t mean the political party kind of conservative,I mean cautious – likely to err on the side of being careful.

The current transit tax plebiscite here in Metro Vancouver, has raised the ugly specter of partisan politics once again and as I’ve previously written, it only serves to further remove those in centre further away from politics:

” To be honest, I’m very concerned about where the labels assigned to political leanings have taken us. What I am seeing in the press and among regular people on social media, is a compete discounting of any ideas, policies, or changes.. based not on the merit of those items… but based on the label assigned to the person it originated from. Frankly, it’s a bit frustrating because in the end, it is the voters of this province that suffer the most from all these partisan politics.

I guess if you had to label me, I would be a leftie with a small L. But when it comes to finances, I am very conservative and I say that not to indicate the party, but that I think government needs to be really, very cautious when spending public money. But if you say you are a fiscal conservative, well, frankly, in some left factions, the world comes to an end.

Likewise, if you are a rightie BC liberal, and actually care about poverty and education and civil rights, you again cause worlds to collide.

Sadly though, for so many covering and living politics in BC, as soon as the label LEFT or RIGHT appears, the ears and mind close to anything further.

Doesn’t matter if the NDP have a good idea, the Libs or Cons will never accept or acknowledge it.

And God forbid those socialist NDP’ers come up with a good idea, because as Bill Bennett will tell you, they are a bunch of Commies.

So what the hell does a person like myself, who is sick of party politics, but is “left” on most issues, “Right” on others to do?

Hell if I know!!

It’s appalling to me on so many levels that public and political discourse has come to this in BC, leaving so many people discontent, unengaged and bereft of a political home because of partisan politics.

Both the Liberal and NDP leaders have spoken about bringing change, and bringing people back to politics, but I am just not seeing it…”

That was from 2013 and from the looks of the divisiveness that has been and continues to be created by the transit tax vote, it proves to be still an issue with long-lasting repercussions.

Progressives like myself are being labelled Right-wing operatives for voting No by others on the left…some of whom are working side by side with developers and others who stand to benefit directly from more Translink funding!

Cities and regions are divided because of vastly different needs and values and insults are flying left, right and centre. I’ve seen people told they must be stupid not to understand what is at stake here,that their opinions and their realities are wrong. It’s insane.

The single resident in Vancouvers West-end who’s never lived outside that area in their life, is often so far removed from the realities of families or couples in the suburbs south of the Fraser,it’s a complete disconnect between the two. Neither is wrong for their view,but neither can win in this ballot or this political climate.

It’s likely to be remembered for being one of the best examples of what poor leadership and policy making can accomplish,along with a good dose of partisanship served up on the side.

It’s all more than a bit sad and disappointing to see. Frankly I often wear my heart on my sleeve and my readers know very well where I stand on issues of social change and betterment. It’s all here on this blog. I’ve documented more than a 100 reasons the Liberals need to go and this plebiscite I’m still voting No in, is one more to add to the list.

Do our political parties really even want to conquer that great divide? Considering the extent of the partisanship on both sides, I don’t think so.Clark snipes at Horgan in the legislature and he snipes right back.Shes out playing to media at soccer games and he’s having coffee with people outside of Metro Vancouver who are telling him they can’t make ends meet. But does anything really ever change?

A wise man once said that one of the reasons people hate politics so much is that truth is rarely a politicians objective. Getting elected and power are.

I’d like to believe that’s not true- in fact I know it isn’t in many cases. Let’s prove that wise man wrong. Let’s open our ears, move things forward in a non-partisan manner and bring the people back into politics.

divide

Posted in BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, Federal politics, Laila Yuile | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Keep calm and carry on- I will return to blogging soon.

There’s something more than a little ironic about having tennis elbow when you don’t even play tennis.

For a while it’s been quite bothersome to sit,write and research for any extended amount of time, as my left elbow and forearm developed carpal tunnel like symptoms.It comes and goes,but after spending an inordinate amount of time over the past months researching several Ministry of Transportation stories that are related,it’s clear a break was needed from sitting at this desk if it’s going to get better.

This has reduced the postings here significantly, limiting my online activity to my weekly column for 24Hrs Vancouver and social media interactions on facebook and twitter done with my phone. Rest, followed by a change in how I sit and type at my desk should remedy this-it’s nothing terribly serious,just terribly irritating  when I have things piling up here to write about!

The Ministry of Transportation stories are longer features and I think you’ll find them interesting, in particular as we get closer to any more discussion on the Massey Bridge.

While this sector has been under examination in other provinces, British Columbia has still largely escaped intense scrutiny, and that’s a shame. Sometimes the most important stories, are the ones that have yet to be told.

Be well, spend some time reading the Best Of page and I’ll be back soon.

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This weeks column for 24hrs Vancouver: ‘The ‘Yes’ vote not worth saving

Perhaps I’ve been a bit persuasive but this week it appears that Brent’s support for the Yes side is waning…. this is my response to his argument that only Jordan Bateman can save the Yes vote at all.

This week’s topic: Can the ‘Yes’ vote be saved in the transit plebiscite?

Well, knock me down and call me Christy Clark because when I read my Duel partner’s column this week it confirmed to me that the growing feeling of contempt over this transit funding vote is ready to boil over.

When long-time champions of this government find it hard to continue to support what Brent refers to as an expensive opinion poll, it should sound alarm bells for everyone in Metro Vancouver. However, the argument that Jordan Bateman – poster boy for the No campaign – can save the Yes vote is clearly a half-hearted, last-ditch attempt to deflect culpability from the premier to the only convenient target.

Suggesting that Bateman and his campaign should redefine what voting yes would mean to include governance and oversight of TransLink is shortsighted at best in addressing how egregious this entire “congestion tax” vote really is.

It was April 2013 when the BC Liberals promised voters that any new funding for TransLink would be put to a regional referendum. It was a promise that has been criticized by former transportation ministers and transit advocates alike and rightfully so. Leadership is as much about making hard decisions when it comes to government policy as it is about listening to voters and even seasoned politicians will tell you it’s a fine line to walk.

Read Brent Stafford’s columnhere.

However, from the beginning the premier’s promise has been less about good governance than it has been about setting up the mayors of the region as targets she can point her finger to and say: ”Don’t look at me, this was their idea!”…

 

READ the rest of this weeks Duel, comment and vote at: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2015/02/15/the-duel-yes-not-worth-saving

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“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” ~ John Le Carre

Wise words for many policy makers who often seem to demonstrate a lack of empathy and understanding of how the real world works for the average person, perhaps because they spend more time behind their desk than out and about connecting with real people

There will be no Duel column next Monday, so I’ll be taking a rest until after the Family day holiday and will be back with a couple of stories,one involving Kiewit- again- next week.

However, today let me share with you this story from Sam Cooper, which serves as a good pre-curser for my story next week.

http://www.theprovince.com/touch/story.html?id=10791228

Vancouver Island RCMP have reopened a high-profile workplace death case that occurred six years ago, investigating under a rarely prosecuted criminal law.

In February 2009, 24-year-old Sam Fitzpatrick was crushed to death by a large boulder while completing a work assignment on a Toba Inlet mountainside. Arlen Fitzpatrick, who worked on site, saw his older brother die.

Unsatisfied with the results of a WorkSafe B.C. probe, their father Brian Fitzpatrick has for years argued that the employer, Omaha-based construction giant Kiewit, is criminally responsible.

He said Thursday that after months of contact with the RCMP, the force recently informed him a fresh investigation is under way.

Great news, and timely considering the recent finding in Washington State for ‘willful and serious safety violations” that put the lives of workers into danger.

http://lailayuile.com/2014/12/19/kiewit-general-comitted-willful-and-serious-safety-violations-in-washington-state-accident-fined-150000/

See you soon,and enjoy your long weekend here in BC ( this long weekend might be the only real legacy of Premier Clark that’s turned out well!)

Posted in BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, crime, Independent power projects, Laila Yuile | Tagged , , , , , | 34 Comments