Welcome to Garden City conservation

February 5, 2018

Richmond, British Columbia, Canada has long been known as the Garden City. This blog aims to provide informed in-depth opinion on a range of conservation issues of interest to the Garden City community, which is centred in Richmond but extends around B.C. and the globe.

Background for newcomers

It began when the citizens had a vision for the Garden City Lands, a 136-acre field in the city centre that had always been green through historical good fortune. By acting together and with BC’s Agricultural Land Commission process, they saved it—from dense multi-billion-dollar development—for the higher value of its Agricultural Land Reserve uses for community wellness. That is one of Richmond’s priceless legacies from the past for the present and the future 20, 50 and 100 years or more from now.

Turn down the pH in here!The lands have become a city park, with a major park enhancement process under way, and the citizens aim to help steward the lands in the ALR for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness. That would include restoration of the sphagnum bog on much of the lands. Sphagnum moss, illustrated at right, is the keystone genus (group of species) that spent millennia leading the forming of the lands.

We began as the Garden City Lands Coalition and evolved into the Garden City Conservation Society, active in various conservation issues in Richmond and beyond, with many “Friends of Garden City.” 

 Current Events

Scroll down to articles about the latest Richmond farmland survey and open houses (Feb 7, 8 and 15, 2018) or go to “The truth that could save our soil” and/or “Use farm mansion survey to save our soil.” Complete the survey by the end of Sunday, Feb.18, 2018.

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The truth that could save our soil

February 5, 2018

Richmond’s current farmland survey says, “The Ministry of Agriculture’s guidelines suggest a maximum house size of [a stated floor area].” It’s as though one size fits all parts of the province. Not so.

In reality, the ministry’s Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas suggests limiting new houses on local ALR land to a “floor area commensurate with urban areas.” With that guideline, the maximum ALR house size can vary to suit each BC municipality.

Our city staff calculated the size limit for new ALR houses in Richmond at about 300 m2. (They said 303 m2, but let’s round it.) They informed council in their report of April 19, 2017.

The point of the guideline is to stop making the local ALR land more attractive than the local urban neighbourhoods for building urban homes. With the 300 m2 limit, we’d succeed. The callous loss of farmland could end.

We would, I hope, still let farm families build beyond the basic limit to meet verified farm needs. Richmond’s bylaw to streamline that process could be tweaked to enable up to 500 m2 of farmhouse for those exceptions.

In these ways, we can save our soil for our farmers to farm.

_____________

Notes:

Before doing the survey, it’s helpful to read and print this colourful Survey Guide or this black version.

Let’s Talk Richmond calls it Farmland Housing Regulations 2018. The survey page also includes info about open houses on Feb 7, 8 and 15.

Ministry of Agriculture Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas, 2.4.6.5.3, page 19: “The maximum floor-area—farm residence(s) is the lesser of floor area commensurate with urban areas or . . . 500 m2. . . .”

Also read the “SOS” article on this blog.

SOS: Use farm mansion survey to Save Our Soil

January 31, 2018

Save Our Soil, Richmond FarmWatch, Richmond, BC, Canada

Take a firm stand to Save Our Soil
in the new round of Richmond “Farmland Housing” consultation.

Tip: Print out this PDF of bold answers.

That way, you can use your computer screen to do the survey.

Do the survey at Let’s Talk Richmond.

And don’t get buried in the piles of verbal dung.

Richmond FarmWatch urges bold answers like these:

# 1: Maximum farm home plate? Other. 1000 m2

# 2: Septic system within farm home plate? Yes.

# 3: Limit house footprint? Yes.

# 4: Increase house height? No.

# 5: Reduce house size for properties 0.2 ha or larger? Yes.

# 6: Appropriate limit for farm house size? Other. 3,200 ft2 (300 m2)

# 7: What should other levels of government do?

Some examples:

Apply the foreign buyers’ tax to farmland!

Strengthen the ALR.

Stop farmland speculation.

Help new farmers get into farming.

Protect farm leasers from owner-predators.

Discourage land investors from buying up farms.

Step up Agricultural Land Commission enforcement.

Clarify that houses in the ALR are required to be for farm use.

 

Also Save Our Soil at a Farmland Housing open house:

2–5 pm on Wednesday, February 7 at Richmond City Hall

5–8 pm on Thursday, February 8 at Richmond City Hall

5–8 pm on Thursday, February 15 at East Richmond Community Hall

 

Here’s the direct link to the survey feedback form.

Also read “The truth that could save our soil” on this blog.

Thanks on behalf of the ducks

January 24, 2018

Ten years ago, “Save Garden City” spirit swept over Richmond, B.C.

The Garden City Lands, “the people’s lands,” a huge 55-hectare open field in Richmond City Centre that had always been publicly owned, seemed doomed to dense development. With immense effort, the people—loosely organized as the Garden City Lands Coalition—saved the Lands from development, enabling them to become a public park instead.

Citizen Sharon Doucelin recently sent this note about the Garden City Lands to Jim Wright and the Garden City Conservation Society after rainy weather had created a lake:

Thank you for all the wonderful hard work you have done to make this happen.  As I drove by the park today, I saw the ducks swimming in the lake.  It reminded me of how upset I was as a younger person when the city allowed apartments to be built on the southwest corner of what was then the Lansdowne track. 

I worried for a long time about the ducks and geese who lived in the pond/wetlands there and where they would go.  I’d like to think the ones I saw today are descendants who have come back.

We replied:

Thank you very much for sharing this, Sharon! 

It’s wonderful how this has brought you happiness, which would not have been possible if so many of us had not pulled together to save the Garden City Lands from dense development.

And Sharon wrote again:

When the Garden City Lands Coalition first started, I didn’t think there was much hope to save the lands from the almighty dollar.  But thanks to perseverance and faith, we can still see the mountains and provide a home for those wonderful birds.   Thank you again.

New insights into the Massey Crossing

November 26, 2017

What will happen to this location? It is the north end of the George Massey Tunnel, between the maintenance cove for BC Ferries on the west (left) side and the Canfisco dock and plant on the east (right) side.

The BC Government will soon decide, and the Garden City Conservation Society keeps providing input. Later today, we’ll send the Minister of Transportation our “Five factors pleading for priority—Massey Crossing.” Click on the link and read five insights on the first page, and you’ll suddenly feel a whole lot more informed about the Massey Crossing.

Help Richmond Urban Forest—before 11:59 pm, November 12, 2017

November 11, 2017

Have your say in Richmond’s Urban Forest Management Strategy survey at LetsTalkRichmond.ca. You have until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017.

You can look over the survey here. If you have a large screen, you can have this article and the survey open side-by-side.

Skim past the introduction to the questions. Recognize that some of them are worth your time far more than others, and you don’t have to answer every question. Make preliminary notes, including whether to answer particular questions.

You would answer #1 but might skip #2 (because of unclear directions) or just mark all the items as “4-important” or “5- Most important.”

If you are going to answer #3, you might as well choose “Very satisfied” or “Very dissatisfied,” since the other three options all mean the same thing. (If you are somewhat dissatisfied, then you must also be somewhat satisfied, and vice versa.)

With questions 4 and 5, the main one to answer is #5. If you think “Unevenly spaced, variously sized trees” would be best for the urban forest, then you would write the number 3.

It’s worth doing #10 and often answering “Strongly agree.” Be aware that you can just skip an item. (However, once you have clicked a rating, you can simply change the rating but no longer skip the item.)

You might want to skip confusing items. Example: For “Require replacement trees for every tree removed unless the tree was hazardous,” does “Strongly disagree” mean that you strongly don’t want removed trees to be replaced? Or does it mean you strongly don’t want to exempt hazardous trees from replacement? (It’s anybody’s guess.)

For #12, “The three things I MOST VALUE about Richmond’s urban forest,” here’s an example, one person’s actual answer.

Where the urban forest is flourishing:

  1. It makes Richmond seem like a Garden City.
  2. It enables all kinds of life to thrive below and above the ground.
  3. It is a key factor in community wellness.

For #13, “The things I LEAST VALUE about Richmond’s urban forest,” one can list many things (not just three). This is perhaps the most useful part of the survey, so it is worth some thought. This is an edited version of a set of suggestions from another person, Cindy Lee, who is a leader of Save Richmond Trees:

The lack of protection for our mature trees.
Excessive limbing of protected trees.
Change in ground level by builders that leads to a tree’s death.
Concrete fences that are killing mature trees, as they suffocate the tree’s roots.
Not enough medium-size native street trees in established neighbourhoods.
Little consultation between city, architects and builders to retain trees.
Absence of a neighbourhood tree watch program to watch over protected trees.
Insufficient staff in tree bylaw department.
Lack of an annual tree sale like Vancouver’s.
Non-existent volunteer tree planting program.
Insufficient trees on farmland.

Too few urban tree corridors.

For #14, there’s no need to write an essay. For “My ideal image of Richmond’s urban forest” (in 2050), one person wrote this: “From the air it looks like a forest.” Worth aiming for!

 

Yay, Michelle, Kelly, Lana, Laura and John!

October 30, 2017

The Garden City went to Victoria today to advocate for the ALR.

Our representatives from Richmond exchanged ideas with the Honourable Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, a friendly host.

From left to right in the above photo, the group consists of Michelle Li, Kelly Greene, Minister Lana Popham, Laura Gillanders and John Roston.

They came to the BC Legislature bearing the best of gifts, organically grown food from a Richmond ALR farm. You can be sure that Lana Popham—as agriculture minister and as a longtime farmer—appreciated it.

All of them were representing FarmWatch, along with the Garden City Conservation Society. Most of all, they were representing many hundreds of citizens who signed letters of support that the visitors brought with them (as shown), along with millions of British Columbians who care about the ALR.

What can we say? Yay, Team!

(Click the photos for larger versions.)

This 1-page chart shows the Recommendations to the BC Government on this issue.

An open letter to BC MLAs who support the ALR

October 28, 2017

Thank you whatever help you can manage!*

Every one of you—every green, orange or red MLA—please act together on this as British Columbians, transcending everything else.

You probably know that Richmond is fast losing its ALR farms to non-farm mansion use. While that city’s ALR has been almost defenceless, perhaps you can deter the pillage before your community and its ALR are hit as hard.

For better or worse, the legislature’s action or inaction will have wide ALR effects. We need you all to amend Section 18 of the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

Let Section 18 forbid “a residence with a floor area of more than 500 square metres” on ALR land. For years and for all of BC, that has been a Ministry of Agriculture suggestion in its Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas.** Make it law!

Then ask the minister to fix the guide advice on how to set local limits. It’s hard to know how to act on gobbledygook like the guide’s “commensurate with urban areas” standard, but Richmond staff found a way. They came up with a farm residence limit of 300 square metres.

Siding with election-expense funders, Richmond council ignored the staff method and embraced the speculator method: to brainstorm “compromises” between the proposed BC limit and infinity. The outcome was ludicrous too.

Beyond passing that BC limit into law, MLAs can’t force any local council to do its part, but the guide could show it how. It could express the “commensurate” principle like this:

In order to direct the largest residential uses to non-farm areas, a municipality may set a lower floor-area limit for ALR residences below the provincial limit. It would typically be the average floor area the municipality permits on urban lots that are zoned for detached houses.

The related Richmond staff calculation of 300 square metres (3,230 square feet, a big house) would serve the purpose. Be aware that a Richmond bylaw already gives farmers an efficient means to be permitted to exceed the local limit if need be. This approach could easily be implemented by municipalities throughout BC.

Be aware, too, that Section 18 of the ALC Act already forbids any building “to be erected on the land except for farm use.” To enforce it, the strict approach (not recommended here) would be to end any and all construction of non-farm residences on ALR farmland.

When ALR speculators protest the updates to the ALC Act and bylaw guide, perhaps you can tell them what they strictly deserve.

Sincerely,
Your faithful ALR***

Bcc: All who respect, defend and help revitalize the ALR. See final note.***

______

* This letter was prompted by “Green’s Weaver takes aim at ALR speculation, “ Richmond News, Oct. 18.

** “2.4.6.5.3 Maximum Floor Area—Farm Residences” is on page 19 of the Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas, page 19 (PDF page 26), just before 2.4.7.

*** On ALR behalf, the Garden City Conservation Society wrote this and a recent letter to the Honourable Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, with a “Bcc” to all ALR supporters. The Letter to Ms Popham, written in collaboration with Richmond FarmWatch, addresses this topic in depth.

Garden City Conservation Society and the ALR

October 17, 2017

Introduction: One facet of the Garden City Conservation Society is conservation of ALR land. This recent article recaps that story. Click on the graphic for a large version, which shows the Garden City Conservation Society at Richmond Harvest Fest 2017.

The Garden City Conservation Society embodies a Richmond movement to respect and conserve ALR land for ALR uses: agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness.

In the late 1980s, as the Save Richmond Farmland Society, the movement battled to save Terra Nova, farmland in the northwest corner of Lulu Island. The results include Terra Nova Natural Area and Rural Park, along with the Sharing Farm.

A decade ago, the movement evolved into the Garden City Lands Coalition. With great support from the people of Richmond and beyond, we helped save the Garden City Lands. (At the time, it was a huge federal field of ALR in the Richmond City Centre, with most of it slated for dense development.)

It was also a chosen battlefield for ALR opponents, and its fall would have been a major setback for the ALR in BC. Thanks to the highly effective citizen action, the ALR won, enabling the City to buy the Lands as ALR park.

Our ongoing action has included immense efforts in 2014 that helped limit the harm from the “bill to kill the ALR.”

In our recent return to the Garden City Lands for Richmond Harvest Fest, we carried on the tradition.

_________

If you are supportive, you’re a “Friend of Garden City,” and there’s a free newsletter, the Garden City e-News, via email about once a month. You can subscribe to the Garden City e-News here. (It is very simple to unsubscribe whenever you want, and your email address is never used for anything else.)

__________

This article is essentially an excerpt from a recent letter to Lana Popham, BC Minister of Agriculture, from the Garden City Conservation Society with regard to the epidemic of mansions that broke out on ALR land in Richmond this year.

Come by the Garden City Conservation booth at Harvest Fest!

September 28, 2017

Update: Harvest Fest was informative and fun. Congratulations to all involved.

Friends of Garden City, you’re all invited!

To what? The Garden City Conservation Society booth at Harvest Fest.

When? Saturday, September 30, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where? The Garden City Lands.

Where’s that? Main entrance on Garden City Rd, south of Lansdowne Rd.

 

Who’s leading it? Mainly two talented and generous teachers:

Mr. Michael Wolfe, a conservation biologist, knows and loves the ecology of the Garden City Lands. He has lively displays and answers to your questions.

Ms. Suzanna Wright welcomes kids of all ages to the colouring table, featuring her Lulu Island Bog line art. Colour it there or take the handouts with you.

Anyone else? Richmond Nature Park Society will share the booth. Other volunteers will join in. Richmond FarmWatch will be nearby.

 

Links? Learn more about Richmond Harvest Fest and the Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets, and download them and coloured versions.

 

Who deserves to celebrate? You do! We all do!

A few years ago, the community saved the Garden City Lands from dense development by the City of Richmond and two powerful partners:

  • We demanded that the Lands remain green as open-land park.
  • We became a grassroots tsunami, the Garden City Lands Coalition.
  • We persuaded the Agricultural Land Commission to leave the Lands in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for community benefit.
  • Together, we won! Let’s celebrate on our Lands!

Safest Massey Thruway Renewal Project

September 6, 2017

Update: On Sep 6, 2017, the BC Government announced that independent experts will review the Massey Project. Very good news!

Victor Wei, P. Eng., Director, Transportation, City of Richmond, is welcoming community input about current Massey Crossing options. Since the responses from the Garden City Conservation Society (GCCS) are well received, the GCCS and Jim Wright have provided a series of four responses:

  1. Massey Options Rationale Sheet
  2. Massey Thruway Renewal Project (MTRP)
  3. Safest Massey Tunnel Option
  4. Why two 2-lane-tubes to add 4 lanes?

How “the developers” got their way in spite of Day

August 1, 2017

Ever wonder how “the developers”* get their way with Richmond? Is it that council members are developers at heart or beholden to developer money that gets them elected?

Maybe not. Maybe we simply have clever developers.

Let’s look at an example, the recent public hearing about a house-building bylaw update. A key intent was to ensure sufficient backyard space.

That could let living things thrive—even sturdy trees and birds that are happy with them. Also, it might let neighbours see more sky, not a towering wall that blocks the sunlight and feels like prison with no parole.

The good news is that city staff who deal with house building are adept at consultation. Staff had met with builders about the bylaw revision and also analyzed input from almost 800 citizens.

Despite the usual pressure from developers, staff had kept their balance and brought promising changes to council’s planning committee.

However, that committee has been stacked in the developers’ favour for months, ever since Mayor Malcolm Brodie deleted Coun. Carol Day from it and inserted Coun. Alexa Loo.

When the developers presented the committee with their preferred regulations to replace the staff advice, everyone except Councillors Harold Steves and Chak Au voted for the developer wish list.

But the decision had to face the full council in the next stage. After a hard-fought battle, the consultation-based staff proposals got restored. They were then brought to the public hearing, the final stage.

It slipped out at the hearing that the developers’ shrewd young leader had met with a core group of allies to plan how to get what they wanted.

They’d settled on phrases to keep repeating while aiming to reduce the depth for backyards on most lots to 20 percent of lot depth (from 25 percent, which is one-quarter more). The trick was to make the intrusion into the backyard just a single storey and to show it at low height at the public hearing.

They introduced it after most citizens had spoken, so the developers dominated near the end. Their key phrases, along with visuals, framed the change as a small design preference, enabling a modest “rental unit.”

But past performance is the best predictor of future performance. In that reality, the single storey would likely be 5 metres high (plus roof), as tall as older two-storey houses.

It’s a trophy-house design preference, not oriented to affordable housing or neighbours’ sunshine.

The astute Niti Sharma exposed some of that, but other citizens who could have debunked the developers had already spoken.

At the end, people were allowed to speak again—supposedly for three minutes with strictly new content. The developers’ leader got away with speaking last for ten minutes, hammering home the previous key phrases.

Final result: Only Councillor Day held her ground. Despite her vote, the developers largely got their way.
____________

*A footnote: “The developers” is the usual label, but some in the industry are admirably different.

Conservation leads to new lives

June 29, 2017

With Canada Day two weeks after Father’s Day, it’s a time for grateful reflection. For me, that includes my family’s arrival in Vancouver in late June, 65 years ago.

We came by ocean liner, the MV Georgic, from England to Halifax, and then crossed our new country by train. In the battered photo, we’re stepping into the future on the deck of the Georgic—the children in order from two to seventeen years of age and then our parents. I’m second youngest.

During the voyage, my father gave the keynote speech at a banquet. It told the story of the ship.

I listened and learned the Georgic was a motor vessel, not a steamship. It began life as a passenger liner in 1932 but became a troop ship in World War II. In 1941, German aircraft bombed it at anchor south of the Suez Canal. Ammunition stores exploded, and it burned and sank, a total loss.

Incredibly, it was refloated a few months later and towed 1,500 miles to “British India,” where my future father, an engineer, was chief executive of the Karachi Electric Supply Company. To help the war effort, his electricians restored the motors and everything else electrical (March–December 1942).

After structural work in Bombay (now Mumbai), the Georgic was a troop ship again. After the war, it was refitted as a passenger liner once more, enabling our Atlantic voyage in 1952.

The story ended like this: “And that was how the Georgic came to be known as ‘the ship that lived again’.”

Later, the Georgic’s final voyage brought British troops home from Hong Kong in 1955. It had served longer after death than before it.

My father retired young for health reasons in 1959. Encouraged by George Norris, sculptor and friend, he took up sculpting. He’d gather driftwood from the sea, notice latent form, and carve exquisite sculptures from it. In essence, they’re like the sunken shipwreck with value after all.

Dad died in 1976. Just four of us in the photo are alive for Canada’s 150th birthday, and we all live the Georgic spirit in our own ways. Through my conservation efforts, you may have shared in it.

Jim Wright is past president of the Garden City Conservation Society.

Support the 2017 Oxfam Richmond Walkathon

June 16, 2017

Orval Chapman, longtime Friend of Garden City, is a tireless volunteer despite the severe ongoing effects of being knocked down by a car several years ago. Currently in his mid-eighties, he is a co-organizer of the 2017 Oxfam Walkathon, which will be on Sunday, June 25.

Here, with a photo of Orval, are their poster (click for a larger version) and letter:

Several African nations and also Yemen are now facing the worst famines since the Second World War.

On Sunday, June 25, 1:30–4 p.m., the Richmond Oxfam Committee will once again host a Walkathon at Garry Point Park in order to help. The government of Canada will be doubling all donations up until June 30.

Please join our Oxfam Richmond Walkathon, gather some pledges, or donate to this worthy cause. We would like to have all donations by June 25 so they can reach Oxfam in Ottawa in time. You can also donate online.

Thanks very much!
Richmond Oxfam Committee—Orval Chapman, Carol Rennie, Don Maclean

An  anniversary: Canada’s 150th birthday year is also the 50th anniversary of the Miles for Millions Walkathons across Canada, raising funds for victims of famine in Africa since the 1960s and 70s.

The Fraser Estuary is trending well

June 14, 2017

There’s a promising trend for the Fraser Estuary, the union of mighty river and Salish Sea that begot the Richmond islands, much of Delta and more.

A citizens group and Ecojustice, along with Surrey and New Westminster, recently took the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to court. They are aiming to prevent the barging of immense amounts of thermal coal through the estuary. While we wait for a decision, we’re spared the hazards of dirty coal, and we can read an informative report here.

Another dire threat from the port is their proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2, a new artificial island of fill in the mouth of the estuary. (Click image for larger version.)
A federal review panel for the Terminal 2 plan keeps asking tough questions—this month with a focus on marine life. I’m impressed.

The port has announced that it’s now less intent on dredging the Fraser ship channel deeper. That may be part of the port’s strategy to get Terminal 2 approved, but it’s also an opportunity to stop harm to the estuary.

(Note: If the port doesn’t have to include the environmental impact of dredging as a “cumulative effect” of projects in the estuary, it has a better chance of getting Terminal 2 approved. After that assessment by review panel, the port could consider deeper dredging again.)

We trust a new government will listen well and sift through the old one’s half-decade of Massey Replacement content to find what’s ideal for transportation, safety and the environment.

They could revive the pre-Christy plan with extra insights.

The “Expanding the Tunnel” graphic shows the essence of it, with the eco-excellent “Green Tube” providing two new lanes.

That and the four-lane “Legacy Tube” would comprise the expanded Massey Tunnel in the Highway 99 corridor.

However, it could be best to place the Green Tube upriver, further east, as a new tunnel.

In that case, it could connect with Richmond’s Nelson Road, which leads into Highway 91, with just a minimal effect on farmland.

Either way, the aim is to increase the transit capacity by two lanes. (The Green Tube may not be directly used for transit but enables it.)

At least to begin with, Rapid Buses are the likely mode, planned long ago.

The Green Tube is the urgent need. Done fast and well, it could initially divert traffic from the Legacy Tube to expedite the many overdue and near-due renovations. (Legacy lanes could close for the work, a pair at a time.)

After the external phase of the seismic retrofit, that would entail refurbishing of the Legacy Tube with a new ventilation system, installing of ceramic tile throughout, renewal of the in-tunnel transmission line, and other refinements.

Beyond the tunnel, the renewal would include the seismic retrofit of highway approaches, as well as better overpasses and interchanges. That is described in the Phase 2 Guide for the Massey Project and shown here. (Click to enlarge.)

I’ve addressed the obvious, but the new government may do better. Perhaps, for example, they’ll work with the port toward extended operating hours that help reduce the route-clogging port traffic at peak hours.

A fast-tracked BC environmental assessment would be great. The previous Massey Replacement assessment seemed to skirt the process, but I picture this one embracing it.

In short, we humans are getting in tune with the estuary. Hurray!

_______

Notes: This blog includes an extensive Massey Project section.
For an overview of threats to the estuary, see Let the Fraser Live.
Also, have a look at the Garden City Conservation Society’s input to the City of Richmond’s Transport Department about current options for the Massey Crossing, the Massey Options Rationale sheet.

Welcome to 2017 gathering—June 21st

June 7, 2017

Update after the event: Here’s a video of a few of the Annual Gathering participants doing Aztec dance.

Dear Friends of Garden City,

Join in our 2017 Annual Gathering on Wednesday, June 21, at the Richmond United Church hall. Our theme is celebration.

As our June 21st date coincides with the solstice, it’s a perfect chance to honour the earth—and to celebrate all who protect her.

And let’s dance together! A bit of dancer-friendly Aztec Dance will enable us to experience conservation in an ancient way.

Note: At left, Sharon MacGougan is dressed for Aztec dancing and holding a conch for it.

But taking part as a dancer is optional. In the circle, all will share in experience of the present that connects with past and future.

Along with celebrating past achievements, we will look ahead to future ones, celebrating the possibilities with a wishing tree.

Art teacher Suzanna Wright (left) will facilitate that with the help of her instant-art skills.

Suzanna will also be greeting you at the sign-in table, and you can pick up her Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets there. (Learn about them here.)

The event also serves briefly as the annual general meeting of the Garden City Conservation Society.

It’s free—no charge except the $10 annual fee for membership in the society. Looking forward to seeing you!

Let us know right away that you’re coming—or thinking about coming. Our Sign-Up Form allows for shades of maybe. Like us, it is unique and has worked well for years.

Let’s celebrate together!
Sharon MacGougan
President, Garden City Conservation Society, and Aztec Dancer

–––––––––––––––

DETAILS

Please respond:
Visit the Sign-Up Form now to express interest in the gathering and/or to enjoy the unique sign-up approach.

Timetable for Annual Gathering on Wednesday, June 21, 2017:
6:30 pm on: Sign-in, chat and snack (wraps, local strawberries, beverages, etc.
7:00 pm: Start on time.
8:30 pm: Celebration cake and time to chat.
8:45 pm: Clean-up.
9:00 pm: Bye!

Snack: Deliciously healthy finger-food and coffee/tea/juice from 6:30 pm. Delicious cake at 8:30. It can even serve as a light dinner if need be.

Membership in Garden City Conservation Society (to 2018 AGM):
Join/renew, $10 (cash or cheque), at the sign-in table or online (PayPal or credit card) if you support our purposes.* Donations welcome too.

Location:
Richmond United Church hall, 8711 Cambie, on the north side of Cambie Rd just west of Garden City Rd. Park in stalls marked B or C or unmarked. The hall entrance is near the northwest corner. Click the thumbnail at right for a larger image.

Aztec dancing: Click here to see Sharon MacGougan and her Aztec Dance team in action. In the 90-second video, they are dancing at a Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House cultural event earlier this year. Click the thumbnail at right for a larger image of the team.

* Purposes of the Garden City Conservation Society:

  • To help steward the natural legacy of Richmond’s Agricultural Land Reserve area called the Garden City Lands for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness.
  • To research, educate and act to help steward other natural legacies of the “Garden City,” Richmond, in consultation with government and community.
  • To encourage respect for the legacy name “Garden City” as a community value.

Celebrate success in spite of failure

May 24, 2017

Richmond’s new farmland bylaws put a limit on the largest mega-mansions, but they still batter our endangered ALR farmland.

That’s because council, obeying the farmland-owner lobby, set a farmland house-size limit that’s two to four times what it should be under the Ministry of Agriculture guidelines.

Their so-called compromise obliterates the ministry’s aims, such as minimizing any loss of ALR farmland to non-farmer residential use. If the Serengeti National Park compromised its 2,700 endangered elephants council-style, they’d end up shot.

If you’re pro-elephant or pro-farmland, it’s a less than pretty picture. As Richmond’s ALR legacy gets tossed aside, what can we still do?

Celebrate! Celebrate that Councillors Harold Steves and Carol Day did everything in their power to educate their colleagues. Celebrate that Harold, 80 years young, worked all night to prepare his final case for ALR values and shared it with vigor at the public hearing.

Celebrate the seven hundred citizens who took part in early consultation. Celebrate that three hundred citizens then got involved—with self-sacrifice for the common good—to put council in a position to not torpedo the ALR.

Celebrate how citizens mastered the issue to simplify all aspects for council members who have difficulty with reading or finding time for it.

For example, John Roston used graphics to unmask the fallacy that people with the occupation of farmer should always be treated like farmers. John would say that a farmer who is also a surgeon should be treated like a surgeon when removing appendixes and like a farmer when milking cows.

The graphic shows that the new bylaws smile on farmers, and it’s fine they’ve been enabled to easily exceed the house-size limit for non-farmers. But the bylaws should not coddle farmers in their land-investor role, especially when they demand a sky-high house-size limit to inflate the selling price of their land.

Despite John’s input, the council members who fawn on landed farmer-investors clung to an imagined duty to assure their wealth. So we have a bylaw that allows huge farmland houses up to 1000 square metres, as specified by the head farmer-investor.

Skewed council thinking has persisted even though the farmer-investors revealed their perspective early on. One even said, “The elephant in the room is land value,” but some on council wouldn’t heed it if it sat on them.

In contrast, Richmond could have progressed toward protecting our battered farmland and the fragile status of newer lessee farmers—with livelihoods at the lessors’ whims. They are the future that an oblivious council squashes.

We’ve needed to mourn, but let’s get back to celebrating our citizens who made success possible (even though it got blocked). Let’s renew our focus, energy and resolve, and let’s keep up the thoughtfulness.

The trick is to start. Please take a moment to be one in spirit with our farmland lessees, voiceless but vital.

Exellence in protecting Richmond farmland

May 10, 2017

Should Richmond council (A) kowtow to ALR speculators or (B) do their job? A or B?

If you chose B, please ask council to respect our farmland and the citizens they swore to serve. (Details at end.)

Your efforts will support Richmond staff. For years, some of them have tried to get council to stop misuse of our farmland, which is almost all in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Remember: “We have to protect our farmland.” That’s a mantra of our entry-level farmers, and they’re right. If council heeds those words, all will be well.

What could matter more? Speculators who’ve trained council to jump for them?

Note: I’ll use the general word “speculators” to include money launderers, opportunists, farmland investors, etc.

Speculators hoard farmland as a commodity to store, build and flaunt their wealth. That can easily conflict with the ALR as a collective reserve that stores agricultural value for the long-term benefit of British Columbians.

The Richmond farming establishment, who inherited much of their land, do care about farming. It’s lucky for them when farmland prices shoot up, but it’s sad when they lobby for non-farm mansions on ALR land to keep those prices high.

Then there’s the scum that Douglas Todd described in Saturday’s Sun. The global “corrupt elite” buy expensive properties here with stolen wealth. I bet that’s had a part in the frenzy of mega-mansions planned for Richmond farmland: 25 that are over 12,000 square feet in the first quarter of 2017, almost equaling the previous seven years.

So how can we protect our farmland? By doing the obvious. There’s a proven solution, roughly what Delta does. A staff report explains the approach, but it seems that some council members missed it or didn’t grasp it.

The essence: Limit farmland house size enough to divert construction of non-farm residences from the ALR to residential areas. (And include a simple approval process so farmers can exceed the limit—for example, for a large extended family of farmers.)

Site Economics consultant Richard Wozny calculated the optimal farmhouse size limit for Richmond. Staff then expressed it as “Option 3”: a limit of 3,650 square feet (plus garage). Simply making that option a bylaw would greatly reduce the problem.

However, staff also calculated slightly differently and arrived at an “Option 2” with a limit of 3,261 square feet (plus garage). After taking a lot of factors into consideration, I’m convinced that Option 2 is the best one for protecting farmland.

Coun. Harold Steves and staff favoured an “Option 1” with a higher limit than Options 2 and 3, but that will not protect farmland nearly as well.

All three of those options can be said to meet the provincial guideline, but Option 2 (limit of 3,261 square feet of flaw area) is best for diverting non-farmer’s residences from ALR/Agriculture farmland to urban residential areas.

Shockingly, Mayor Malcolm Brodie jumped to a limit of almost 10,800 square feet (but half that for lots under 0.2 hectares). Only Coun. Steves and Coun. Carol Day voted against it.

Other than lopping a tier of mega-mansions, the mayor surrendered to the speculators, ignoring massive public input, staff expertise and Ministry of Agriculture guidelines.

Coun. Day urges us to attend the public hearing about this at City Hall on Monday, May 15, at 7 p.m. Come early to sign in to speak (10-minute limit). Remember, “We have to protect our farmland.”

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Notes:

Instead of putting in a lot more links, I’ve put many of them in the form of this helpful memo to council. Also, refer to the farmhouse bylaws: Bylaw 9712, the ALR house size bylaw, which I see as a disaster (along with the related Bylaw 9717) and Bylaw 9706, which allows exception for farmers (useful, in my view).

For tips about participating in the Public Hearing, scroll down or click on “Succeeding at the farm house public hearing.”

Succeeding at the farm house Public Hearing

May 10, 2017

These tips are related to “Exellence in protecting Richmond farmland.” They are tips for the Public Hearing of Monday, March 15, 2017 re farmland house size (floor area).

  1. On the Richmond.ca site, you can see the public hearing agenda. Notice that there are other hearings before the Agriculturally Zoned Land Bylaws at the end. Those preliminary ones will tend to move fast.
  2. It’s a good idea to get a seat early and sign up to speak early (if you wish to speak). The sign-up list will be at a table just outside the council chambers.
  3. The sign-up list will be open for signing from 6:30 p.m. on. Look for it and sign up promptly when you arrive—for yourself only.
  4. However, you could come half an hour or so late if you need to. You may have just standing room at first, but some seats will open up when earlier hearings on the agenda are completed. (It is even possible that staff will open up another room where you can hear what’s going on and come up to speak when it’s your time.)
  5. There’s also a section about public hearings that explains how to make a written submission or a spoken one. Council pays less attention to the written ones, but it’s still worthwhile to send a written one, whether or not you also speak as well.
  6. In written or spoken input to a Public Hearing, it is normal to begin by saying that you support a particular bylaw (perhaps Bylaw 9706) and/or oppose a particular bylaw (perhaps Bylaw 9712 and the related Bylaw 9717).
  7. You can send your written input by email to MayorandCouncillors@richmond.ca or use the online form. Be sure to send it before 4 p.m. on May 15. (That deadline is not an ironclad one, but follow it.)
  8. For speaking to the public hearing, it is useful to come with speaking notes and refer to them while speaking. Also practice a bit, and make sure your remarks will fit easily within ten minutes.
  9. However, most people can make their point quickly, beginning by stating their basic position. It is very effective to have lots of people like you stating their position and giving a concise reason for the position. That makes the point while respecting everyone’s time.
  10. If you have thorough speaking notes that are a rough script, the recording secretary would like to have a copy. You can give a copy to her/him before the meeting begins or right after you speak. (Be sure your name is on it.) This is a thoughtful thing to do, because it makes the recording secretary’s challenging role a bit simpler.
  11. While other people are speaking, make notes so that you can politely rebut their points or reinforce their points.
  12. Even if you did not sign up at the beginning, do this and perhaps speak at the end. The chair (almost always the mayor) will normally ask if there is anyone else who wishes to speak, and at that point you would raise your hand and make sure the chair sees you.
  13. We try to be respectful of the Public Hearing process while helping council to make an informed decision that is best for protecting Richmond’s threatened ALR/Agriculture farmland. We also respect opposing views and the people who state them.
  14. Council members can ask questions of any presenter (normally at the end of the presenter’s remarks), so be prepared for that. In this case they will probably not do that much because of time considerations.
  15. There is an opportunity to speak again for three minutes at the end if new content that will make a difference arises for you to share. (The mayor will ask for a show of hands of anyone who needs to speak again.) If you have made notes and have additional new information to add to a point or refute a point, this is the time to concisely state it.
  16. After all of that, council members will discuss the issue and eventually pass a motion for each bylaw on the topic. For example, there could be a motion to approve Bylaw 9712 or to refer it back to staff with particular instructions.
  17. There’s more on the “Speak at a Public Hearing” page.

The location is the first floor of Richmond City Hall on No. 3 Road at Granville Avenue. There is a fair amount of parking space, but come early to be sure of parking. If need be, park in the parkade to the west, on the other side of Minoru, or in Minoru Park.

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You can scroll up to go to “Excellence in protecting farmland” or simply click on that link.

My explanation to council is also a very useful if you wish to speak in an informed way and work for excellence.

Christy Clark, Andrew Weaver and thermal coal

April 30, 2017

Just before the main election debate for BC party leaders, Christy Clark sent Justin Trudeau a dirty coal letter. Whether or not the two were in cahoots, it is highly political. It seems crafted to save seats in the BC legislature, not BC jobs.

It says, “I am writing you today to ban the shipment of thermal coal from BC ports.”

As an old saying goes, “Who’d have thunk it?”

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Of course, Clark excels at dramatic timing, and she used it to grab the limelight on debate day while prodding Trudeau to do a hatchet job. Still, it is a stunning gambit when a cheerleader for coal, bitumen and LNG turns green.

Clark’s commitment is suspect, but in essence the promise is welcome.

That said, the ban has a cost if Trudeau accepts the mission. It will cost the jobs of Canadians and Americans who mine thermal coal, not just Canadians who ship it.

And Clark vows to enforce it herself if Trudeau falters, using a high tax on exports of thermal coal, even from Alberta. To her credit, at least she is honing her trade-war tactics on nice Canadian neighbours before nipping at Donald Trump to make him behave.

In that vein, Clark implies she has crafted a bargaining chip to combat Trumpian lumber tariffs. However, her ban has left nothing to tempt the Americans to be fair. Perhaps the whole thing is play-acting as an election ploy or bargaining ploy. Whatever else, it is bunkum.

In reality, the American lumber lobby that ceaselessly preys on our lumber sector is anything but playful. If Clark instigates a hostile alliance of US coal and lumber, we might end up with BC lumber shut out of the US market.

Fortunately, American homebuilders want our lumber for their own sake. Also, Canadian companies have hedged by buying into the American lumber industry. That is comforting, but less so for Canadian workers than for shareholders.

Ms. Clark has opened quite the can of worms, which are muddy and tangled and who knows what else. Is there a reset button to push?

Possibly.

With her opportunistic approach to thermal coal, Clark contrasts with the steady Andrew Weaver, leader of the BC Green Party. He has funneled the passion of a values-driven movement into a viable political force. He espouses substance, but his affable nature gives him just enough style.

After the throne speech in 2014, Dr. Weaver proposed an amendment that the government explore all means to “halt the expansion of thermal coal exports in British Columbia.” Sadly, MLAs reacted as party automatons, so Weaver got squelched, 73 to 1. Ouch!

In his post-political way, Weaver stayed collaborative. If more MLAs had stood up for their constituents and aimed for consensus, we could be well along by now.

After all, BC’s grassroots movement that rejects dirty coal is very large and informed, and local governments pitch in. The momentum was free for the taking long before Clark got the impulse to surf it.

In what might have been, the phase-out of thermal coal exports from BC ports would be humming along. Meanwhile, the work ethic of former coal workers would be fueling the new economy, as described in Weaver’s platform. That ship has sailed, but a new cruise is possible, perhaps with a new skipper.

Weaver’s response to the recent Clark letter amounts to support in principle. It means the two leaders are well placed to share expectations and meet them together. Voters willing, they could soon begin with a thermal-coal transition plan, with a focus on jobs but a range of economic and ecological outcomes.

They would best forego any irritating direct linkage with softwood lumber. Instead, our province could take the goodwill from the diplomatic phase-out of thermal coal and bring it into a culture of teamwork with the state of Washington, including joint action to conserve and restore the Salish Sea.

All along, Weaver has known that Clark’s intended George Massey Tunnel removal would, by design, enable a mega increase in BC’s shipping of thermal coal, but he wisely does not cry “Hypocrite!”.

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For alternative views, see the insightful analyses thermal coal export ban promise by Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight and Kevin Washbrook in the National Observer. Smith has also written an enlightening column that, in effect, compared the views of the BC party leaders on the promise.

The NDP has been quiet on this issue. John Horgan has pointed out that Christy Clark had years to act on thermal coal and that Clark’s threats of retaliation are an irresponsible approach to the softwood lumber issue.

Crisis point for the Fraser Estuary

April 10, 2017

Choosing to save the Fraser Estuary and the wild salmon means choosing to expose and repel the Big Lie Technique.

It is epitomized by the “No plans to dredge” mantra in the Massey Tunnel removal issue.

Here’s one more try to combat the Big Lie.

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Imagine yourself on a spring day five years from now. You’re relaxing in the shade with a sunny view of the Fraser Estuary. Out of the blue, you hear an unseen creative power: “Either keep this as the world’s great salmon river or dredge it deeper to lure more shipping. You must choose.”

Of course, that’s absurd. We really can make the choice, but the time to get results is now, not years from now.

The George Massey Tunnel can still be retained, not removed with unmitigated harm to habitat and the nurture and passage of wild salmon—and orcas and more. In five years, we’ll rue bad consequences if we don’t prevent them now.

This is old news, but it may seem new because it keeps getting negated. Whenever the intent to dredge the channel for larger ships comes up, the BC transport minister or a surrogate jumps in to claim “no plans to dredge.”

In truth, the Massey project’s own 2012 discussion guide says the tunnel is “an impediment to expanded trade at Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) and points east along the Fraser River” because “many of the newer ocean-going vessels are too large to pass over the tunnel.” Citizens keep simply stating that truth, but denials fog it.

Documents from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and Fraser Surrey Docks take further the plans to dredge deeper. With the tunnel gone, they would increase the channel depth by at least two metres to suit Panamax vessels and even some Aframax ones, bearing over 80,000 tonnes.

That doesn’t entirely conflict with “no plans to dredge,” since clear intents to dredge may not be “plans” in every sense. However, the mantra is misleading. And the tactic has been pervasive, even when the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) tried to review the Massey project.

The BC EAO report reveals that First Nations groups like the Musqueam, along with many concerned citizens, alerted the EAO about the “larger plan to dredge the South Arm Fraser River to deepen the channel and accommodate larger vessels,” with “industrialization of the Fraser River.” That was promising.

Then, in response, the transport ministry professed to be “unaware of any plans to dredge the river deeper.” And the port authority “confirmed that VFPA currently has no plans to dredge the Fraser River to create a wider or deeper navigation channel.” The EAO got fooled.

In a Business in Surrey article, FSD CEO Jeff Scott, who is forthright, has described a plan to dredge a little deeper with each annual maintenance. That way, the ship channel depth would be at least 13.5 metres deep (a two-metre increase) within five years. It would be wider too.

After tunnel removal in 2022, an influx of larger freighters and tankers would take over the Fraser. But we can still choose to save the Fraser for wild salmon and ecological riches. The last chance is the BC election, May 9.

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For a slide show on the issue, view Let the Fraser Live!

For hyperlinks to the sources in this article, please see the longer related articles on this Garden City Conservation blog.

The “No plans to dredge the Fraser” plan

March 27, 2017

Dredging ship, Fraser River Pile & Dredge

Removal of the George Massey Tunnel to enable deeper dredging could begin the excruciating demise of the Fraser as the world’s greatest salmon river. In my view, truth has been another casualty.

Let’s focus on the government talking point of “no plans to dredge.” Whenever the intended channel dredging for larger ships comes out, the BC transport minister or a surrogate typically jumps in to say “no plans to dredge” or something much the same.

If you followed the Trump election campaign, you know the stratagem. There, it was “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” and “replace Obamacare with something terrific” and “never going to lose.” Mantras got drummed in.

With the “no plans to dredge” mantra in the Massey project, there’s a twist that the project’s 2012 discussion guide (page 11) says the tunnel is “an impediment to expanded trade at Fraser Surrey Docks and points east along the Fraser River” because “many of the newer ocean-going vessels are too large to pass over the tunnel.”

Documents from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (in a 2013 letter to the Massey project director and in the 2013 president’s report) and from Fraser Surrey Docks express proposals to dredge deeper. With the tunnel gone, they would increase the channel depth by at least two metres to suit larger vessels, some over 80,000 tonnes.

One could say that doesn’t entirely conflict with “no plans to dredge,” since intents to dredge may not be “plans” in every sense. Still, the mantra is misleading.

In 2015 the port authority agreed to Fraser Surrey Docks revising its plans for its thermal coal shipping terminal so it could load large ships (at least Panamax). Since they could only reach the terminal after tunnel removal and deeper dredging, it is obvious that both the port and FSD were planning on the dredging.

Later, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) report on the Massey project (pages 122) has revealed that the public and Musqueam Indian Band, among others, expressed concerns to the EAO about “a larger plan to dredge the South Arm Fraser River to deepen the channel and accommodate larger vessels,” with “industrialization of the Fraser River.”

But the transport ministry claimed, in response to the EAO, to be “unaware of any plans to dredge the river deeper” (EAO report, page 123). And the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) “confirmed that VFPA currently has no plans to dredge the Fraser River to create a wider or deeper navigation channel” (EAO page 123).

Since the BC Environmental Assessment Office is toothless in this situation, it had to go along with the ministry’s plea it didn’t know anything and the port’s plea it wasn’t planning anything.

“Plan” or not, the documented proposal is to dredge deeper (and wider) in five annual stages. FSD has proposed to simply dredge a little deeper while doing the annual maintenance of the shipping channel. If the project stays on schedule, with tunnel removal in 2022, that step would enable the channel to be used at the new depth of at least 13.5 metres.

In a further twist, the BC EAO report adds, “VFPA also noted that projects proposing new dredging to accommodate vessels that are larger than what the existing channel was designed to accommodate . . . would be subject to review under VFPA’s Project and Environmental Review process” (EAO page 123).

Translation: “Dredging for larger ships will actually occur after all, and the VFPA (alias Port of Vancouver) will handle the environmental protection.” So the fox gets exclusive rights to guard the henhouse.

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Notes: See “Tunnel removal to deep-dredge the Fraser” for more documentation of the planning for deep dredging of the Fraser River ship channel. See Let the Fraser Live! for an exposé of how the situation came to this. See “Transport minister’s myth-busting mission” for an alternative perspective (different from this blog’s).

Update, September 26, 2017: On the very day of the televised leaders debate for the 2017 BC Election, Premier Christy Clark has suddenly found a reason to ask Prime Minister Trudeau to ban thermal coal exports from BC ports. It aims at the thermal coal from the U.S., and it would especially affect the Fraser Surrey Docks situation. Here’s the Clark-to-Trudeau letter.