Time to reform Richmond council?

When we choose a new Richmond council on November 15, I hope we’ll use this criterion: likelihood to accomplish needed reform.

Thanks to the Garden City lands, people see that there’s much to fix.  One slate is even campaigning to fix what its own incumbents damaged when they voted again and again for getting those 136 acres of green space in the city centre out of the ALR.

The Garden City lands issue has huge implications for the future of Richmond, so I’ll use it to illustrate the need for reform. Here are four of the current dysfunctions and an example of each:

1.   Uncontrolled growth: Council paved the way for high-density development on fertile agricultural land and called it “Smart Growth.” It would add 15,000 people beyond the 120,000 limit in the City Centre Area Plan. Smart Growth B.C. sent council a scathing response.

2.   Squandered taxes: In the not-so-likely event that the Agricultural Land Commission approves the ALR-exclusion application, development of the Garden City lands would cause a large shortfall of green space. Planning committee chair Harold Steves estimates the remedial cost at $100 million.

3.   Fox in charge of the chicken house: A land speculator was made team leader for the City of Richmond’s ALR-exclusion application, and (as a Dec. 6, 2007, email shows) directed senior city staff how to “add to the ongoing illumination of some on City Council.”

4.   Sham hearings: Many informed citizens gave of their time and talents to show council why the Garden City lands should be saved. That began at a series of council meetings and continued for twenty hours at the public hearings in March 2008. Council’s speculator-driven majority shrugged it all off and simply ended with the same decision they started with.

How will a reformed council act? It will listen more, squander less, and control growth and land speculators. In businesslike steps, it will clean up the mess.

To achieve success, reform councillors will analyze the Garden City lands agreements, map paths to success, get top-notch legal advice, and proceed with diligent patience.

Unlike some incumbents, reform councillors will not whine about how they might fail. Instead, they will make Richmond as strong as the Garden City lands agreement partners who treat us like a weakling.

That means promptly and firmly putting Canada Lands Company in its place, much as Charlottetown has done to save its Garden City lands, which are called Upton Farm.

Making Richmond strong does not mean pretending the lands are unsuitable for agriculture. And it does not mean fear-mongering about what the Musqueam Band will do via a land claim, which city-hired lawyer Keith Clarke called “a red herring.”

Three current council members could lead the reform. Harold Steves is a hard-working, clear-thinking populist. To save the Garden City lands, he held the fort alone until Linda Barnes and Sue Halsey-Brandt delved into food security in 2007 and joined him. None of the other incumbents belong on a reform team.

Ken Johnston, with his business mind and environmental heart, would make a great reform mayor. Since he isn’t in that race, I hope he can lead from a councillor seat.

I, with my Garden City lands emphasis, also see council reform potential in Michael Wolfe, Richard Lee, Howard Jampolsky, and David Reay.

Some alternative possibilities are Anna Bloomfield, Pat Young, Ralf Hallum, Linda Burchill, and Neil Smith.

Change is in the air. In Richmond, a reformed council would be a great change.

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