Opinion: Both the funding model and land-use planning strategy take power away from municipality
By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun
This map of rapid transit station areas and corridors appears in Appendix A of the City of Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 Report to Council of Oct. 30, 2012. The final report map defines rapid transit station areas and future rapid transit corridors, covering the majority of the surrounding neighbourhoods for potential transit-oriented development. This was not in the draft for consultation.
The City of Vancouver recently approved the city staff policy report on Transportation 2040. Although presented as a transportation policy document, it is in fact the long-term land-use plan that will direct future development and inform the upcoming regional context statement required under the regional growth strategy.
Public transit is a very important part of the city’s infrastructure and needs to be expanded. However, the city’s transportation policy has been transformed into a development regime and cash cow for TransLink at city taxpayer expense.
In summary, Transportation 2040 is not about transportation, affordability or environmental sustainability.
Transportation 2040 is:
• Based on the flawed “Hong Kong model” of funding transit with development, thus creating a provincial tax grab on civic taxpayers with a complicit city hall that is not looking out for the civic public interest; and
• A land-use plan with provincial override of civic land-use authority.
Transit-oriented development has merit. However, the location and scale of development should be under the full control of the city and in context with local community plans. Civic developments should never be dictated by the province to fund TransLink or any other provincial responsibilities.
These two aspects of the plan are explained as follows:
THE HONG KONG MODEL
The city’s Transportation 2040 is a major step in a big development play started by the BC Liberals under Gordon Campbell and Kevin Falcon shortly after they were elected a decade ago. Their objective was to use the Hong Kong model of funding transit with development. This model is continuing under Premier Christy Clark.
The Hong Kong model means TransLink can fund transit through buying land and entering into Public-Private-Partnerships (P3s) using the land lift (property value increases) from rezoning or charge fees on any development within an area near transit stations.
Both options would take away funding mechanisms from the municipal level, such as development cost levies and community amenity charges, that go toward things like city daycare, parks and community spaces, while the civic costs to service new development for any increased density would increase.
However, unlike Hong Kong which is a city-state, linking transportation with development can’t work the same way in Canada because transportation is a provincial responsibility, while land use is municipal. In order to use development to fund transit, the province intends to gain control of civic land-use authority.
Gregor Robertson’s Vision council, like Sam Sullivan’s NPA council before them, are working together with the BC Liberals to implement this Hong Kong model.
As part of their plan, Campbell created TransLink with a board made up of unelected provincial appointees who replaced elected civic councillors, brought in legislation to replace the regional plans, and brought in legislation enabling TransLink to use development to fund transit under the Hong Kong model.
In July 2011, the Livable Region Strategic Plan, a strongly supported regional plan that prevented urban sprawl through protection of green zones, was replaced with the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). The RGS allows Metro Vancouver, TransLink and the province access to municipal land-use authority tied to transit while weakening green-zone protection for increased industrial and urban sprawl.
Since public transit funding is a provincial responsibility, any use of civic funding mechanisms is a form of downloading provincial costs to the civic level. Even our city’s property taxes are targeted for transit funding.
The province should instead use transit funding options such as fuel taxes, carbon taxes and mileage-based vehicle registration fees.
The Hong Kong model using development to fund transit should not even be considered.
TRANSIT POLICY AS LAND-USE PLAN
The City’s Transportation 2040 policy report was a bait and switch as a land-use plan.
The draft distributed for public consultation, dated June 2012, was “a 30-year transportation vision for the city”, while only referencing land use in three pages of the 44-page document stating “this is not a land-use plan.”
However, after consultation ended, a final 123-page report was brought before council on Oct. 30, with only three days notice. This version included land use as the major component in the top section
The final report states “Transportation 2040 is a long-term strategic vision for the city that will help guide transportation and land-use decisions and public investments for the years ahead,” and “Transportation 2040 is not a detailed land-use plan.” Note that the draft went from being “not a land-use plan” to the final version being a broad land-use plan, only qualified as “not detailed.” This is a massive, important distinction with no consultation on this change.
The final report map, as shown above, defines rapid transit station areas and future rapid transit corridors, covering the majority of the surrounding neighbourhoods for potential transit-oriented development. This was not in the draft for consultation.
Many of the affected areas of the city shown on the map have existing older buildings that include affordable rentals and heritage/character buildings. Redevelopment would result in a net loss of affordability and civic character that would never be replaced.
On another key issue that was not in the draft for consultation, page 46/123 of the final report states: “T 6.1.2. Explore how development can be used to help pay for rapid transit projects, while recognizing the need for other public amenities that are also required with increased densities.”
This is the insertion of the Hong Kong model into the city’s Transportation 2040. While it recognizes the need for other public amenities, the unspoken but well-understood reality is rapid transit is so expensive it will cannibalize all potential for funding of civic amenities from development, while creating additional costs to be subsidized by city taxpayers.
The city and province have been working toward this horrific end ever since the Campbell Liberals took power, without general public awareness, meaningful consultation or legitimate consent. Vision’s Transportation 2040 is not looking out for the civic public interest. Allowing transit to be hijacked by other interests will not work to the city’s long-term benefit.
Elizabeth Murphy is an urban affairs commentator. She was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s housing and properties department, senior development officer for BC Housing and private-sector project manager.