Vision’s reign of error finally ends
The city budget has ballooned over the last decade, much higher than population growth would justify.
By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, October 29, 2018
Vision Vancouver, having pushed though their failed agenda for the last decade, was wiped off city council in the Oct. 20 election. They exit leaving an affordability crisis, record homelessness, unsustainable development policies and a ballooning debt and tax burden. But Vision’s developer backers prospered well.
The public has made a clear and decisive vote for change. It’s about time.
The only remnants that remain of the party are those who didn’t run under the Vision name. Mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart, an “independent,” only won by less than 1,000 votes. He has no council majority or mandate to implement his policies that mirror Vision’s.
Stewart talks to the media as if he represents council opinion, but that is far from the case. Only one of the councillors for One City, Christine Boyle, has a similar platform to his.
Both the Greens and NPA voted against the controversial recent city-wide RS rezonings, and they both have made significant gains in the election, in part because of this stand.
The Greens elected nine of their 10 candidates, with a substantial breakthrough on council from one to three councillors. Two of whom got the most votes, more than the mayor by a significant amount. The NPA won five seats on council, with their mayoral candidate Ken Sim coming close. And one seat for COPE’s Jean Swanson. It’s a very mixed council with no majority.
The yes-in-my-backyard crowd have made lots of noise on Twitter, but they counted for few actual votes. They don’t represent the millennials’ interests, as they claim, mainly just the development industry that endorses and funds them. In 2016, Bob Rennie encouraged the YIMBYs advocating for development in San Francisco to be replicated here.
Based on platforms and the campaign, the votes on council will likely vary depending on the issue. Stewart can’t take anything for granted.
The lame-duck, outgoing Vision council is bringing the final citywide RS rezoning bylaw for approval on Oct. 30. Despite Stewart’s support for the rezoning, the new council could repeal it a few weeks later at the next public hearing opportunity.
The Greens and NPA will initiate a city-wide plan with broad public consultation, rather than Stewart’s platform to continue the Vision agenda of pushing through massive rezonings without adequate or meaningful consultation.
A first step in a city-wide planning process would be providing accurate data, such as real numbers on existing zoned capacity, both city-wide and by neighbourhood and zone. Also, realistic growth projections based on census data.
Stewart’s push for a subway to the University of B.C. is not supported by either the Greens or NPA unless fully funded. So far, even the Broadway subway to Arbutus needs the city/regional approval of their portion of funding that has increased from to 28 per cent from 20 per cent.
Colleen Hardwick campaigned on replacing the subway with more affordable streetcars and trolleys across the arterial grid. Despite polls supporting the subway, Hardwick got the second-most votes for the NPA while opposing it, proving the polls are wrong.
Swanson focuses on social housing, homelessness and renters’ interests. The rest of council are supportive too, but there are varying opinions on how that should be achieved.
COPE’s mansion tax is a non-starter since neither the Greens, NPA nor Stewart support it.
Adriane Carr has also publicly voiced her opposition to the provincial government’s school-tax surcharge on the local property tax bill. She said, “Instead, I support, and have already been lobbying for and received the support of Andrew Weaver and the B.C. Greens, the raising of funds specifically for affordable housing, including housing to end homelessness, by increasing the income-tax rate on the highest B.C. income-tax bracket. This would tax people with actual real income and does not impose a burden on those whose property wealth may be high, but whose incomes are not.”
A Ministry of Finance analyst has confirmed that only a 0.25-per-cent increase to the top income tax bracket would cover the $250 million the B.C. surtax is proposed to cover annually. This would mean that someone making $150,000 net income wouldn’t pay, while someone making $250,000 net income would only pay $250 additional income tax.
Certainly more affordable and within the provincial tax base, rather than an encroachment onto the municipal tax base of property taxes intended for municipal services.
Even though Stewart supports the B.C. NDP property surtax, the Greens and NPA on council may vote to oppose its implementation in 2019 as proposed and request that the province withdraw it.
The B.C. “speculation” empty homes tax is on top of the city’s empty homes tax. This tax does nothing to address speculation and it unfairly affects locals more than foreign buyers. Tripling the city’s empty homes tax isn’t the answer either.
The 25,000 empty units in Vancouver are a symptom of the bigger problem of overbuilding for the luxury home market that commodifies housing and inflates land values. Taxing it doesn’t really address the actual issue that we need to stop building so much of this kind of development.
The new council may also consider asking for more of the tax funds raised in Vancouver get returned to Vancouver. For example, the existing school taxes, without the B.C. “school” surtax, already goes into general revenue and in 2016 covered 111 per cent of the Vancouver School Board budget. The provincial average is only 46 per cent, so Vancouver is already subsidizing the rest of the province.
Some of this existing funding should be returned to the city to cover much-needed school improvements and operating expenses.
And much of the provincial and federal economic activity and related income taxes are raised in Vancouver, especially through the development industry. More of these income-tax funds should be returned to Vancouver to pay for affordable housing and transit infrastructure to support the growth that created this income-tax base.
Property taxes cannot cover everything since they are not based on the ability to pay. Higher assessed properties already pay significantly more property taxes than those with lower assessments.
The city budget has ballooned over the last decade, much higher than population growth would justify. The city also stopped providing line by line budgets that need to be restored for transparency and a full audit done to determine where all that money has gone.
It is with great pleasure that we can say good riddance to an incompetent regime that has reigned without listening to the public. We need to ensure the public interest is being served. Without a majority on council, this is more likely possible.
Vancouver will have a broad mix on council, but with goodwill between them, much can be achieved.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s housing and properties department and for B.C. Housing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Vancouver Sun print edition Monday October 29, 2018 page A9
Copyright Elizabeth Murphy 2018 all rights reserved.