Archive for the ‘Digging Deep’ Category

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.

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.


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.


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.

“Massey bridge” screams for independent review

September 20, 2016

For me, George Massey Tunnel replacement problems such as defiled estuary, misused billions and traffic constipation multiply and merge like a nightmare interchange.

We can thank Richmond staff and council—and Metro Vancouver too—for addressing the mega-problem. We can thank the Massey Project and MLA John Yap for illustrating it.

Model of Steveston Interchange if a bridge replaces the tunnel between Richmond and Delta. Photo courtesy of Richmond Councillor Carol Day.

Above, a photo of a Massey Project 3-D model looks south where Steveston Highway meets Highway 99 in 2022, a few billion dollars from now.

Years ago, ahead of its time, the province came up with a much simpler Steveston Interchange redesign than that. I liked it and featured it in an April 2013 “Digging Deep” column. It would have quickly paid off in traffic safety and commuter time saved.

john-yapThat brings us to the Yap precept in a recent Richmond News column: “To do less than replace the tunnel would shamefully and irresponsibly risk the safety of daily commuters.”

Mr. Yap unwittingly implies that Premier Christy Clark is shameful and irresponsible.

How’s that? As late as November 2012, Mr. Yap applauded the premier’s announcement of “the start of work to twin or increase the capacity of the George Massey Tunnel.” (That’s from a John Yap “Constituency Report,” a Shaw TV service to let MLAs showcase themselves.) His comments conveyed that Ms. Clark was not set on removing the tunnel.

Strangely, he didn’t call her irresponsible for that. Later, he stayed silent when the Massey Project’s “Exploring the Options” phase offered four options that are “shameful” by his suspect standards. (All four require seismic upgrades, which he calls “not possible without the risk of damaging the tunnel.”)

Three years ago, the premier announced her choice. To no one’s surprise, it was the fifth option, a big bridge. A few months ago, she began listing safety above congestion as the top reason for the choice, with lots of hype and not much substance.

Looking back, I keep wondering why Mr. Yap didn’t act years earlier to spare us from “irresponsible” thoughts about keeping the tunnel. He was already an MLA when a 2007 report supposedly indicated “serious concerns the tunnel could shift during the required in-stream excavation and stone columns installation” to enhance the tunnel.

Why “supposedly”? When I checked the 2007 report, it said “low risk of accidental damage” (low, not serious) and offered ways to manage it. I mentioned that weeks ago in a column that debunked the safety-scare tactics. As I said then, “we need an independent, wide-reaching and fast-acting analysis of the safety aspect of the Massey options.”

And the project continues to need a federal environmental assessment by a review panel. It’s vital for conserving our vibrant Fraser estuary. I mention it now because we’re being distracted from seeking it.

To end on the bright side, let’s be glad our Richmond and Metro leaders are acting with real vision.


Update, Sept. 21, 2016: Mr. Yap’s guest column has already drawn a scathing response from a Richmond citizen, Amy Brooks. InBC Liberals’ bridge trumps our children” in today’s Richmond News, she writes, in part:

My question is, wouldn’t seismically upgrading schools in the Lower Mainland also provide construction jobs, as well as making where children spend a quarter of their day actually safe?

GCL in the top echelon of world parks?

June 3, 2016

This article is a filled-out version of a Digging Deep column in the Richmond News, and it includes some time-saving links. It is further filled out by several related articles you can reach on this blog. 


The City of Richmond project to enhance the Garden City Lands is gaining momentum, so it’s time for a shared challenge. Let’s bring the Lands, our central park, to the top echelon of the world’s parks.

The community has always wanted to help steward the Lands with ALR values for agriculture, ecological conservation and open-land park recreation for community wellness. The land has stayed ready too, although the central dike-trail that’s been started is well-positioned in the north half and poorly positioned in the south half.

In this window of opportunity, what will it take to salvage success?

  1. Focus on the goal of an ALR central park that celebrates the ALR.
  2. Ensure full benefit from the Garden City Conservation Society, with its insight and commitment. It exists to help like this.
  3. Ensure accessibility. Design the infrastructure—such as dike-road trails—for wheelchairs, mobility walkers and strollers.
  4. Ensure ample capacity. That means, for example, wide-enough trails for the highest anticipated use, looking far ahead. It might also mean a long and narrow parking area on the Lands beside No. 4 Road.
  5. Be radically inclusive. Take the perspectives of people living with poverty, social anxiety, security concerns when near woods, need for nearby washrooms, etc. (Helpful action will tend to benefit all users.)
  6. Encourage all sorts of agriculture. For example, permaculturists might love to use hügelkultur to make a hard-to-irrigate part bounteous. Also, foresee how much land will be needed for community gardens in the future (ten hectares?), and ensure that interim uses will improve the soil.
  7. Use dike-road trails around the restorable sphagnum bog on the east side to enable bog-specific steps. Save the southwest fen, a distinct and thriving ecosystem with native pollinators. Also consider a bird-oriented feature like the Terra Nova Natural Area.
  8. Act promptly toward a range of bog restoration methods, including those of Canadian peat moss associations and the Camosun Bog Restoration Group.
  9. On the north edge, re-establish a mixed urban forest by transplanting trees that would be lost with demolitions. Also honour the perseverance of the Lands’ pioneer trees—the truncated shore pines and crabapple trees.
  10. Protect the green viewscapes and salvage the lost ones. (A viewscape takes in everything from a viewing point all the way to distant features such as mountains.) As it is now, people get angry when they look north across Alderbridge at the destruction by construction.
  11. Make the Lands an exemplary hub in Richmond’s Ecological Network Management Strategy, an outstanding plan to put into action.
  12. Live up to our role as a model for the world. (IESCO, a UN affiliate, selected us as an International Eco-Safety Demonstrative City in 2010.)

Readers, this will be the heart of my feedback at Let’s Talk Richmond. Download the current Garden City Lands PDF there and see pages 4 and 11. Maybe google my “Natural resources versus waste” blog for insights. Beat the feedback deadline, June 12.

The Port Metro Bridge is a dubious gift

January 27, 2016

Richmond Council has resolved that it “prefers a new or improved tunnel rather than a new bridge.” That would give priority to Richmond needs in the misnamed “George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project.” (Most of its scenarios wouldn’t replace the tunnel.)

Garden City Conservation agrees with council. After thorough research, we’ve proposed action that features an added two-lane tunnel tube on the upstream side within the tunnel corridor.

At first the new tube would take traffic from the existing tunnel to enable efficient renovation. Later, the tube would enable better transit, possibly as light rail. The most likely use for the tube would be two new northbound lanes so that the six-lane tunnel could have a bus/HOV lane in each direction.

At least the project seems ready to finally improve the Highway 99 interchanges. But it ignores the remaining part of an earthquake-readiness project that’s been unfinished since 2007. At that time, the first of two planned stages—strengthening joints between tunnel segments—was completed.

The second stage, at a similar cost, was planned to increase stability, limiting the risk of earthquake liquefaction. However, the project leader tells me the process is itself too risky. That’s odd, since it was included in the project’s three tunnel/bridge “scenarios” that retained the existing tunnel.

The reality is one way or the other. One way, the sand and silt supporting the tunnel in the riverbed can in fact be stabilized so that it’s safer in an earthquake than pretty much any structure in the area.

The other way, the public was consulted on five options when three of them had been ruled out, leaving only the bridge and an unfeasible replacement-tunnel scenario. In that case, the bridge had been chosen from the start.

To clear up the confusion, the project should fund independent expert studies about the level of earthquake safety after all steps to improve it.

Dredge ElephantThis brings us to an elephant in the room. Bridge promoters swear that Jumbo isn’t there, but he smells a lot like Port Metro. It has trumpeted for years about a deeper channel for larger ships after the tunnel is removed.

“As a federal body here at Port Metro Vancouver, we have supremacy,” said its president recently. The supreme leader will soon be dredging if the bridge is built. It could be aptly called the Port Metro Bridge.

The deeper ship channel would lead to heavier waves, more erosion and a bigger flood threat. The salt wedge, ocean water, would flow further up the channel. Irrigation water that Richmond farms obtain from the river (via pumping stations and the ditch system) would become too salty.

On the bright side, if we’re stuck with the bridge, we’ll get a lovely westbound off-ramp to Steveston Highway, zipping us from the bridge to the No. 5 Road stoplight car-jam. For only $3.5 billion.

Or some of those billions could go to better transit.


This article also appears as a “Digging Deep” column in the Richmond News of January 27, 2016.


Trails as Garden City Lands infrastructure

April 4, 2014

Trails as Garden City Lands infrastructure

Tuesday was the parks meeting for Richmond council for March. The Garden City Lands inched ahead, a welcome turn of events.

For things to speed up, farm roads on the lands are key. They could be called something else, but “farm road” is apt, and our central park is an ALR farm. If it weren’t, it couldn’t have come to be a park. As you may recall, it was to be a construction zone until the people and the Agricultural Land Commission said “No!”

The main farm road for now is the perimeter trail. It will be a low dyke too. The roles of service road, public trail and water dyke are all key in their own ways.

People always want me to describe how things will be. This time I’ll answer, but it’s just an informed guess. (It’s up to city planners to plan.)

Look at the satellite view of the Garden City Lands, which are wet. The darker parts are the wetter ones, the lower ones. In the northwest corner at top left, there’s a wide berm. It’s the highest and driest part of the lands because the commission once let 50,000 cubic metres of clean clay fill be placed there.

The line drawn all around, near the edge of the image, gives a sense of the perimeter trail. It’s a farm road-dyke-trail that we can see as we look into the future. It consists of clean clay fill, like the northwest berm that in effect is part of it.

The durable surface is typically five metres wide. Some parts are wider to allow service vehicles to turn around and people to sit and chat and learn from interpretive signs.

We (in the future) use the trail to get around on foot or maybe by mobility scooter or bike. It’s pleasant to be a bit away from the arterial roads that surround the lands.

Outside the trail on the north edge, there’s a ribbon of woods. It can’t restore the senseless loss of natural viewscape across Alderbridge Way, but it lessens the scar.

On the east edge beyond the trail, there’s a gravel parking lot. It’s inside the No. 4 Road fence and above the water-system conduits. Better there than elsewhere.

As a dyke, the perimeter trail enables water management. That’s vital for every use of the park. The older ditch along Westminster Highway and stormwater drains along Garden City Road are outside the dyke to take the road runoff. They’re also useful when water is let out from the lands to drain a section.

The north-south line curving through the satellite image represents a similar farm road-dyke-trail. There will be others, but that one is crucial for another legacy, the sphagnum moss bog. Looking east from the new trail, we see an ecosystem that is abused and fragile but still restorable.

The trails around the sphagnum bog on the east side of the lands keep precipitation in, enabling a high water table, an essential for recovery. They also keep out water with unwelcome nutrients and the alkalinity that’s better for agriculture. Sphagnum likes acidic water, which it helps create in a natural way.

Sphagnum moss, a marvel of nature, is the keystone species of the bog ecosystem, which once took in a large area of Lulu Island. Progress has meant decline until there’s just the one bit left (except on off-limits federal land). The farm road-dyke-trails may save the legacy.

Long ago, sphagnum moss formed the land, and the native bog plants still depend on it. It deserves a better life and its own column. For now, it’s got its own cartoon.


This article appeared on March 28, 2014 as a column in my Digging Deep series in the Richmond Review. It was titled “The multi-gift trails of our central park.”

Reviving the spirit of Kidd’s “Lulu Island”

February 17, 2014

Thomas Kidd of Richmond, 1846-1930“Child of the Fraser River and the sea,” says Thomas Kidd with loving respect for Lulu Island.

It was 140 years ago, February 1874, when Kidd first came and saw this child of nature. After a decade of roaming from Ireland’s County Down, where he grew up, to New Zealand to California, he settled here in the future Richmond.

With his older buddy Walter Lee, Thomas Kidd was a community builder from the start. Later, he was a school trustee, councillor and mayor and the first Richmond MLA. He did it all with a farmer’s sense and a poet’s vision, which meld in the ode to Lulu Island.

Why heed him at this time? This Sunday is—or should be—Kidd Day.

Thomas Kidd was born 168 years ago on February 23. With 168 hours in a week, we could even extend Kidd Day to Kidd Week (a festive hour per year).

At this time last year, my Kidd Day article was an “open letter to Thomas Kidd” with his lyrical “The Harvest’s Done.” That empathic poem rejoices with the farm animals. Kidd did things well and shared the joy that brought.

This year let’s enjoy “Lulu Island,” ours from Thomas Kidd. As true odes often do, it speaks to its subject in words of praise.

(Note: If you click on  “Lulu Island,” it will open in a new window or at least a new tab. That may make it easier to go back and forth between the poem and this article.)

The first stanza leads up to a big choice made simple, the decision to make Lulu Island home. Except for place names, each word in it is just one syllable, a single sound unit. It’s like 1, 2, 3: look, care, act.

pink roses, probably like the roses Thomas Kidd wrote aboutThe two middle stanzas are clusters of fond thoughts, like pausing to take in the wild roses. The memories are idyllic feelings, not verbal ideas.

The last stanza cherishes the natural wonders and invokes protection. The mountains that surround are inspiring scenery, a jewelry setting of great value and the powerful kind of guardian that Lulu Island deserves.

Odes used to be sung and danced, but it’s fine to just speak this one with feeling. Before we go on, can you take two minutes to do that twice? Reading aloud, feel “Lulu Island,” first as Thomas Kidd did a century ago and then as you do now.

You feel the images but also the rhythm and rhyme and perhaps the whole form. Thomas Kidd was adept in the craft of poetry, and you’ll feel more as you notice more. To help you progress quickly, I’ve prepared a guide, “Experiencing Thomas Kidd’s ‘Lulu Island’.”

This article is for all levels, and one can even treat it as an intro to poetry analysis.

Ray Galawan at Finn Road, Richmond, BCThomas Kidd passed on at 84 in 1930. It’s 84 years later now, and his great-grandson, Ray Galawan, carries on in his footsteps. Ray and FarmWatch are at Day 400 in the vigil on Finn Road to stop the dumping on ALR farmland.

This past year, despite our citizens’ informed and tireless action, Richmond’s powers-that-be kept squandering our natural legacy. More than ever, we need the values that Thomas Kidd lived and phrased so well, the spirit of “Lulu Island.”

Earth awareness, identity, and the lands

April 3, 2010

This month, along with religious events like Passover and Easter, we celebrate Earth Awareness once again, including the Earth Day Festival at Terra Nova Rural Park on April 24. A year ago, Richmond’s Howard Jampolsky reflected about his journey to earth awareness. His reflections are timely and worth revisiting.

Naturally, that inner journey took place in the terrain of Howard’s identity. He is a family person, business person, and much more. I encourage you to read his whole column, “16. Earth Awareness” on this blog, but here’s the philosophical framework.

Howard begins,

What has sharpened my Earth awareness is the Garden City Lands, a Richmond issue with wide impact.

He continues:

As I reflect about the issue, I recall how my views about it have evolved, and I realize how relevant it has become to me as a politically active citizen with a Jewish religious and cultural identity. Whatever your political, cultural, and religious identity, perhaps my account will nudge you to think about the issue’s relevance to you.

After a helpful review of the issue, he comes back to this:

Naturally, I perceive all this through a Jewish prism. The “Save Garden City” movement that I have come to appreciate and embrace is respectful of the community, its individual human beings, and its partners in charting the future of invaluable land. That is in keeping with our core values.

As in Israel, which produces most of the food for so many residents in so little space, the role of local food has come to the fore with the Garden City Lands issue. Our province, I learned, was once largely self-sustaining but now produces less than half what its people eat. Meanwhile, our reliance on imported food is threatened by an enemy across the border, the worsening California water shortage.

Much “Save Garden City” support comes from beyond Richmond, and one reason is that the decision about removing the property from the ALR was seen as pivotal. If power could dictate the loss of fertile farmland, the precedent could be fatal for the ALR. Coming back to the importance of passing on value, m’Dor, I suggest that ALR land, food-producing land, is vital to bequeath to British Columbia’s future generations.

My final point is related to the complexity of the Garden City Lands issue. It was hard to grasp, especially when a well-funded campaign was confusing the issue. Similarly, an issue like global climate change is hard to grasp. I have learned that we sometimes need to go the extra mile to be aware.

To read the whole column in this window, click on “16. Earth Awareness” in this blog’s menu. To read it in a new window, click here. Happy journeys!

Documenting what the couple questions

March 18, 2010

This post is related to “H-B couple’s gift to Musqueam and CLC” on this blog and, under another title, in the Richmond Review.

In a letter in the March 18 Review, Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt writes that at no time did she or her husband, Coun. Greg Halsey-Brandt, ever say that Richmond’s offer to buy the Garden City lands should be based on the value of the Walmart property across Alderbridge Road. The “no time” in question is the late afternoon of Dec. 8, 2008, after the Halsey-Brandts’ side lost a council vote 6-3, setting the Garden City Lands on course to be saved from high-density development.

That tells me that they don’t remember. I do, but that just leads to conjecture about whether my remembering is more reliable than their not remembering. To resolve that, I will refer to the relevant documentation.

I published the “Fair market value” post on this blog at 12:46 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2008. In all likelihood I would still have had meeting notes when writing two nights after the event, and in any case the event would still have been very clear in my mind. The post, which tries to express a strong bargaining position for the City, recognizes near the end that there may be good reason for the Musqueam to receive further compensation, presumably from the federal government. That leads into this paragraph:

In any case, what we do not need is councillors publicly suggesting an inflated price, as happened with a couple of councillors at the Dec. 8 meeting that brought an end to the plans for high-density development of the Lands. That pair of councillors suggested offering the price of Alexandra-area land across Alderbridge Way to the north. Because of rezoning, the per-acre value of that land would be something like $3 million an acre, and it makes absolutely no sense to offer that amount for ALR land.

You will notice that I did not name the couple, but it was definitely the Halsey-Brandt couple. Naming them had little value for the purpose of the article, and I would certainly have wanted to spare them any embarrassment.

Dreaming big with Arzeena Hamir

March 14, 2010

Richmond Food Security Society coordinator Arzeena Hamir has an excellent new column about the new era for the Garden City Lands on the Richmond Review website. The column is titled “Dream big for the Garden City lands.” I can’t write anything more informative and entertaining than that, so I just encourage you to read it.

Also visit Arzeena’s Green Events page on this blog. (It’s in the menu on the left.) Notice especially the free film on Wednesday, March 17.

Unfortunate staff report series

November 29, 2008

This post provided the foundation for the four-part “Unfortunate staff report” series of posts. I have now added a new page in the Digging Deep series, “14. Plot Thickens,” to serve the purpose better.

I encourage you to read how the plot thickens. It includes a recap of the Garden City Lands story and builds into representative examples of the outrageous advice that Richmond council is being pressured to implement at this time, December 2008.

Unfortunate staff report – response 4

November 26, 2008

This post is the fourth in a series of responses to a November 2008 Richmond staff report on the Garden City Lands. If you are new to the topic, you may wish to begin by scrolling down to earlier posts in the series for background information.

Most of the staff report is devoted to “measures the City is prepared to undertake in Richmond to further benefit agriculture in the remainder of the Agricultural Land Reserve” (p. 1) in support of the Garden City Lands ALR-exclusion application. Because the application has “very little chance of approval” (p. 2), the project manager (Randy Fasan of Canada Lands Company CLC) and City staff under his direction have apparently given up on their other flimsy arguments for ALR-exclusion and put their eggs in one basket, supposed benefit to agriculture in the ALR in Richmond.

The Garden City Lands speculators, Musqueam-CLC, would pocket hundreds of millions of dollars from City rezoning enabled by ALR exclusion of the lands. The proposal is presumably intended to compensate the ALR for the loss of the 136 acres of prime farmland. However, what is being offered in the new proposal is a pittance, with almost nothing coming from the Musqueam-CLC if one examines closely. In ancy case, the compensation for lost ALR land is not something appropriate like putting equivalent land into the ALR.

I also suspect that there is little or no substance to even the pittance that is being offered. Certainly we found that to be the case when investigating the net benefit to agriculture in what was proposed in the April 2008 application. The “agricultural endowment fund” turned out to be an unfunded vague idea. It was essentially a hoax, as explained in Save Garden City, pages 35–41. Furthermore, it was far more likely to hinder agriculture than to help it.

Try looking over the proposals in the staff report to see what you think. In the first set of proposals, I see some proposals that look good enough but that have no natural link to the Garden City Lands. Here are my reactions:

·        It may be useful to help the ALC with enforcement of the ALR regulation, although I would think that enforcement is better done by Agricultural Land Commission staff, perhaps with City staff serving as extra eyes and ears. Mixing city bylaws with the ALR regulation sounds like a tangled way to squander staff time. Furthermore, in principle, I doubt that Richmond taxpayers want the city-level government to be unnecessarily taking on provincial-level expenses.

·        Coordinating placement of clean fill to ALR sites sounds fine, even though it is inconsistent with the claim in the application’s Appendix 1 that the clean fill on part of the Garden City Lands hinders the lands’ suitability for agriculture.

·        Increased soil production by the City on a cost recovery basis seems like common sense if (and it’s a big IF) that kind of entrepreneurial undertaking can’t be handled by the private sector. However, encouraging local soil production is the sort of thing that the citizens would expect their city to be doing to improve agricultural capability because it’s the right thing to do. It shouldn’t be done so that the good thing can be rewarded with a get-out-of-jail-free card to use after destroying the prime farmland that the citizens value so much.

It is possible that some of the above steps should be undertaken, but that should happen only if they are found, through a rigorous analysis of costs and benefits, to be worthwhile in their own right. Whatever the results of the cost-benefit analysis, it is hard to envision how they could become a justification for paving ALR land.

The second set of proposals is related to improved drainage and irrigation in East Richmond. That has been overdue for decades. It has been in Section 2.1, Agriculture, in the Official Community Plan for almost ten years and in the Agricultural Viability Strategy for over five years. Now that a program is finally being implemented, the staff report is implicitly threatening to stop the program unless the Garden City Lands are removed from the ALR. That is incredibly disgusting.

The next two sets of proposals look to me like numerous ways to meddle with the private property rights of owners of small properties in the ALR. It all reads like a script for a regulatory romp in bureaucratic paradise, which would simultaneously be the small ALR property owners’ nightmare. If any of the proposals are useful, they should be retained after careful study and consultation. However, they are most certainly not something to be rushed into. 

In particular, the proposed replotting that isn’t really replotting (p. 6) smells fishy. The theory of the scheme is that it will result in owners voluntarily letting their property be manipulated in ways that would be legally impossible with a straightforward replotting program. That might happen in a few ways, but common sense says that most people won’t voluntarily give up rights that protect the value of their assets. The proposal smells to me like jeopardizing our citizens’ property rights to appease the Agricultural Land Commission (if it would accept such a thing).

As it happens, many of the leaders in the struggle to save the Garden City Lands have the revival of small farming in Richmond as one of their goals. It can be best accomplished if the lands are not lost.

Next, the unfortunate staff report lists urban agriculture proposals. Again thanks largely to a lot of the people who are working to save the Garden City Lands, they are already in progress. Urban agriculture progress in Richmond can continue to be accomplished far better if the lands are saved than if they are paved.

The final proposal is for a Garden City Lands MOU to bridge between a conditional approval from the commission and a final approval when all the conditions have been satisfied. Given the mess that the City has got into with the existing Garden City Lands MOU, do we really need another MOU? That makes as much sense as doing everything possible to get a property out of the ALR, thereby increasing the value by hundreds of millions of dollars, and then trying to buy it to put it back in the ALR. Not surprisingly, the two suggestions came from the same source: City staff engaged in the CLC project to get the Garden City Lands out of the ALR.

Unfortunate staff report – response 3

November 25, 2008


This post is the third in a series of responses to the staff report that Richmond’s mayor sprang on Richmond Council the evening before the Nov. 15 council elections. With that timing, any public outrage about it would be too late to affect the elections. However, even if the elections resulted in a new council more committed to saving the Garden City Lands, the old (2005-2008) council would be in office long enough to vote on the “Pave Garden City” recommendations. Furthermore, since council would be voting the following Monday (Nov. 17), the councillors would have almost no time to consider the implications of what they were voting on.

Councillors torpedoed that scheme, but the staff report still needs to be analyzed and voted on. In this post, I will analyze the “Potential Strategy” (staff report page 10), keeping in mind that Canada Lands Company CLC’s Randy Fasan is likely to have worked with City staff on the strategy in his role as project manager for the application to exclude the Garden City Lands from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).


“Potential Strategy” response

In the “Potential Strategy” in the staff report, the recommendation to Richmond Council suggests that the City of Richmond should first get the lands out of the ALR, thereby securing ownership to half the site, and then try to acquire more of the land, which would be the remainder if the wishes of several council members and the community are met. Then, according to the “Potential Strategy,” the City could ask the Agricultural Land Commission to allow the land to be put back into the ALR.

For a start, I should point out that in reality the City would secure absolutely nothing by getting the lands out of the ALR. According to the purchase agreement, the City would have to meet various zoning, subdivision, and official community plan requirements over the next four years or so to the satisfaction of CLC-Musqueam before perhaps securing something. Furthermore, by that time it would be evident that the trade and exhibition centre will not be built, and that will result in the City’s portion going down from 68 acres (half) to 57.8 acres, with the CLC-Musqueam’s portion going up to 78.2 acres. (The “TEC Lands” would be split between the City and CLC-Musqueam.)

In any case, the “Potential Strategy” of getting the Lands out of the ALR before trying to buy it for ALR purposes means multiplying the land value from the purchase price of $70,000 an acre to at least $4 million an acre, the City’s purchase price.  That would be great for CLC-Musqueam as land speculators, since they would get $312.8 million, almost all of it windfall profit. The City would have to borrow the purchase price. Assuming an average of 7 per cent interest, Richmond taxpayers  would have to come up with about $25 million a year to pay off the loan in 30 years. For a total of about $750 million, they would get to put land back in the ALR, where they wanted it in the first place.

I suggest an alternative “potential strategy”: leave the Lands in the ALR.

Unfortunate staff report—response 2

November 24, 2008

This is the second post in response to an unfortunate City of Richmond “staff report” dated Nov. 12, 2008, that will be the subject of future City of Richmond council meetings. (Response 1 in a series of at least four responses appears a couple of posts further down on this page.)

Note: While the report to guide Richmond council is officially from staff, it is part of a project centred on the application to exclude the Garden City Lands from B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve. Richmond is the figurehead applicant on behalf of Canada Lands Company CLC Ltd., and Randy Fasan of CLC is the project manager. Therefore I consider that CLC is involved in the report along with City staff.

City’s jurisdiction in jeopardy?

In this response, I will examine one staff report statement, which elaborates on an earlier one that the City’s “regulatory jurisdiction is in jeopardy” (p. 2).

The City has regulatory control over the land use and will be able to levy property tax. Should the Musqueam gain ownership of the lands through means other than the MOU, it may be challenging to achieve municipal regulations and processes. (p. 3)

For the sake of analysis, we’ll assume that the Musqueam Indian Band may somehow gain ownership of all of the Garden City Lands. How could that occur?

First, it could occur through a land claim or the treaty process. However, at the Garden City Lands Public Hearings in March 2008, lawyer Keith Clarke advised the City that “the aboriginal issues are actually a bit of a red herring” (Day 1 transcript, p. 137). He went on to advise, “don’t try to consider this proposal through some fuzzy lens of aboriginal title” (p. 140).

Second, it could occur through purchase. However, Keith Clarke pointed out that an aboriginal group can’t just declare land to be a reserve. Since the federal government wouldn’t have any reason to create a reserve on the Garden City Lands, that isn’t going to happen. If the Band simply owned the land through purchase, it would be subject to “municipal regulations and processes.”

Furthermore, the Musqueam appear right now to only have a beneficial interest in the lands for the purposes of a joint venture agreement with CLC to develop the Lands. The agreement has been kept hidden, but one would expect it to come to an end if the Lands cannot be developed.

In theory, CLC could still sell the property to the Musqueam. However, it would be subject to ALR regulations and City regulations, including the current A1 (Agricultural) zoning.

Furthermore, CLC’s action would be contrary to the spirit of the MOU. Treating the City so badly would get it blacklisted by pretty much every government at any level anywhere in the country.

Unfortunate staff report – response 1

November 22, 2008

Previous posts in this blog (available below) mention the unsavoury events leading up to Nov. 17, 2008, when Richmond councillors including Cynthia Chen and Derek Dang thwarted an attempt to slip through a resolution giving new life to the City of Richmond’s almost-terminated Garden City Lands purchase agreement. The attempt was not stamped out, but it was postponed until the new council takes office so that the right people will make the decision and all council members will have time to review the complex issue. The following is roughly what I would have said if the turn of events had not eliminated the opportunity for delegations from the public to speak. 

Notes: (1) For an in-depth understanding of the speaking notes, you will need to refer to this unfortunate staff report, this basic agreement known as “the MOU,” and the purchase agreement; however, you can get the gist of things without them. (2) This post is called “Unfortunate staff report – response 1” because there will be further posts responding to the unfortunate report.

I wish to speak in favour of the key principle expressed in the staff report on the Garden City Lands.

On page 2, the report states that the City should cooperate “to honour the spirit and intent of the MOU.”  Furthermore, the City, Canada Lands Company CLC, and the Musqueam Indian Band are putting that principle into practice.

Let’s go back a bit as a quick review. That came about because the Agricultural Land Commission told City staff that the application has “very little chance of approval.” Major revisions to give it a chance were not politically feasible until now.  So, since the Commission panel won’t meet again in 2008, the ALR Release Condition deadline cannot be met. As a result, the Richmond-CLC/Musqueam Purchase Agreement will be null and void after December 31, 2008.

However, the MOU should continue to apply. It was therefore appropriate for parties to the MOU to renegotiate within the spirit and intent of the MOU. And they are applying the relevant sections of the MOU.

The most relevant section is section 1(22). It is a contingency provision that lists three conditions that the City will not be able to meet after the purchase agreement dies. The section says that “Musqueam, CLC and the City will meet to discuss the renegotiation of any understandings, arrangements, or agreements between them with respect to the Garden City Property in order to give effect to the spirit of this MOU, to the extent possible, in the changed circumstances.”

The parties have begun implementing that section of the MOU. I commend the City, along with CLC and the Musqueam, for doing the right thing to that extent. (And establishing a key precedent.)

If need be, the step after renegotiation is to go to arbitration with Bob Plecas. The last resort is for the four Parties to cooperate in making whatever arrangements are necessary to restore each of them to the position it was in prior to entering into the MOU. (And I remind you that the federal government was in the position of direct ownership of the Lands.) I support all of that process that the City, Musqueam, and CLC have set in motion.

I want to be clear here that my support is for the key principle and basic process, and I hope that council will vote against the staff recommendation.

I know from a legal opinion to the Garden City Lands Coalition that the agreements do not fetter the council members’ legislative discretion in their votes on the application. The City has acted with immense goodwill towards its partners, and the City will still be acting in good faith if council uses its legislative discretion to reject the staff recommendation.

More renegotiation will be needed. This time, I hope that City council will determine the City’s position. I propose that the City make an offer to CLC to acquire the Lands under the rights of first offer and refusal on pages 4 to 7 of Schedule C of the purchase agreement, which is still valid until the end of December.  No doubt, CLC will act according to its mandate and reciprocate the City’s immense goodwill — and accept (in consultation with the Musqueam).

The appropriate amount is obvious. It is the fair market value. Under the MOU, the interest of the federal Crown is “to obtain fair market value for the Garden City Property.” That fair market value is stated as 9.54 million dollars.

CLC will simultaneously be meeting both the financial and community value parts of its mandate. No doubt CLC will ensure that the Musqueam are treated fairly too.

It will be a fair result in good faith and goodwill for all parties to the MOU: the federal government, CLC, the Musqueam, and the City of Richmond.

“Consolidated area” questions

November 21, 2008

This post addresses readers’ emailed questions prompted by yesterday’s “Contiguous, continuous, consolidated claptrap” post analyzing a letter from Randy Fasan (offering a “consolidated area” of 40 acres) that was received by senior city staff before an important Richmond council committee meeting related to the Garden City Lands. The Richmond Review has published a brief version, and my full post appears right below this one.

Question: The eleventh-hour attempt to solicit a City Council vote with these crumbs reeks of desperation. Which player(s) would be so desperate?

Answer: I’d better not name suspects, but I agree with you:

(a)   The letter was literally “eleventh-hour,” since it seems to have arrived within an hour of the meeting even though it addresses a concern that has been prominent for the past year.

(b)   It must have been meant to solicit the vote(s) of one or more councillors, which suggests that someone with a lot of power was afraid that Council was going to vote against the attempt to revive the application to exclude the Garden City Lands from the ALR.

(c)    It reeks.

Question: The only signature is that of Randy Fasan under “CANADA LANDS COMPANY CLC LIMITED” in capitals. I see no signature from an authorized Musqueam representative. Why would it not be from the Musqueam too?

Answer: Assuming that Randy Fasan of CLC was acting within his authority, he must have the authority to represent the Musqueam too. He is also the project manager for the ALR-exclusion application that was submitted in the name of the City, and I have a memo from him that shows orchestration of City staff to influence council members. There is also some evidence of influencing the federal government, the fourth party to the Garden City Lands MOU. I’m not very concerned for the Musqueam, since they have strong leadership. My concern is for our city, since too much control has been relinquished, with council hanging onto a vestige of it by the fingernails of three councillors, especially the 71-year-old fingernails of Harold Steves.

Question: A local newspaper called the letter an “agreement.” How binding do you think it would be?

Answer: Not binding. However, the letter doesn’t amount to anything anyway.

“Smart Growth” vs. urban sprawl

August 7, 2008

In the application to get the Garden City Lands excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve, the City of Richmond is still trumpeting its Smart Growth in the City Centre. However, the City is still proposing to develop the Garden City Lands as part of the City Centre growth. They continue to ignore the letter from Cheeying Ho, Executive Director of Smart Growth B.C., who felt compelled to correct the City’s blatantly false claim that the Garden City Lands are “Smart Growth.” Ms. Ho wrote:

While our organization generally refrains from commenting on specific land use plans or project proposals, we feel compelled to address the City of Richmond’s recent use of the term “smart growth” in recent communications documents. . . .

However, one of the key smart growth principles absent from the above statement is to “Protect and Enhance Agricultural Lands” including land within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). This principle is included in the definition used by dozens of smart growth organizations and advocates from across North America. Furthermore, for a project or proposal to be considered “smart growth” it must incorporate not only some, but all of the principles. . . .

We are therefore writing to request that the term ‘smart growth’ be removed from the Garden City Lands public consultation process and that all principles of smart growth (including farmland protection) be used when defining the term in the future.

The protection and enhancement of ALR land is at the heart of every sustainable community. Food-producing lands, whether they are currently being farmed or not, will continue to be an extremely valuable asset. As fuel and transportation costs rise, producing food in close proximity to current and future populations will be a food security issue for all citizens.

If one reads the City’s application and the staff report analyzing the City Centre Community Plan, as approved by every member of Richmond Council on July 21, 2008, it becomes clear that the Garden City Lands are not even needed to meet the eventual 120,000 population target for the City Centre—and not needed to supply parkland in the near future, though parkland will be needed in the future beyond 2031. Building on farmland in those circumstances is not only NOT Smart Growth; it is also a clear example of urban sprawl.

Learning from Charlottetown Success

May 9, 2008

Save-Garden-City supporters and similar groups everywhere can learn from the success of a grassroots group in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. It merits a blog page, “Enabling Canada Lands’ Green Values.”

After reading that page (or beforehand, if you prefer), you may wish to do some follow-up listening and reading. Here are some links:

The Upton Farm story may go on for years, but it would be hard to stop the positive cycle of success in protecting farmland and ensuring that Canada Lands Company takes very serously its commitment to the environment and the local community. Richmond, B.C., and the Garden City Lands deserve the same kind of success.

The 14,650 Coincidence

April 24, 2008

Note: This post is related to the Digging Deep page titled “Our Stanley Park.” If you haven’t read it yet, you may wish to read it first.

A reader recently clued me in that the population of the proposed development on the Garden City Lands development can be estimated with much simpler calculations than we’ve previously used in this blog. The idea was to use Richmond city staff’s own estimates of the total floor area, as provided on page 10 of the Dec. 13, 2007, staff report to council.

Assuming that development would occur on only 50% of the land, staff calculated the total floor area as a maximum of 6,294,800 square feet. The actual total would be very close to that figure because:

  • Developers build to the maximum allowed.
  • In this case, the master plan developers would plan and approve the rezoning. (Naturally the city would approve the rezoning too, but the developers are in the stronger position to impose their wishes.)

That figure does not include parking and balconies. In effect, it also doesn’t include common areas in the buildings either, since Richmond’s zoning typically allows a sort of bonus of about 10% extra floor area for “public amenities” such as hallways. To estimate the population, we therefore only need to (a) divide the total floor area by the floor area of an average unit and (b) then multiply by the number of people in an average household.

Let’s be generous and consider that the average unit would be 1200 square feet. For the number of units, the calculation is simply 6,294,800 sq. ft. ÷ 1200 sq. ft./unit = 5,245 units. For the average household, we can simply use the Richmond average in the 2006 census, 2.8 people. Assuming one household per unit, the calculation is this: 5,245 households × 2.8 people/household = 14,686 people.

The total floor area might be slightly lower, but the average size of a unit would likely be lower too, so we’ve come up with a pretty realistic figure for the population. The funny thing about it is how well it supports what Richmond citizens have been saying all along about the amount of parkland the Garden City Lands agreements would make available: just enough to provide green space for the development.

Bear in mind that there the city has a standard of 3.25 acres of park within the City Centre for each thousand people living within the City Centre. The maximum number of acres of available parkland in the development, if it goes ahead, is 47.6 acres. To find out how many residents that would support, we can use another simple calculation: 47.6 acres ÷ 3.25 acres/1,000 residents = 14,646 residents.

Bringing those figures together, the developed Garden City Lands would have a population of 14,686 and enough City Centre park for 14,646 residents. Rounding those numbers slightly, we can say that the development would be accompanied by just enough park to meet the City Centre park requirement for its own population of 14,650.

Of course, Richmond’s park requirements are more complex. In a slightly confusing but useful way, the City Centre standard only supplements the main standard (and does not replace it). If the Garden City Lands development goes ahead, then somewhere in Richmond a lot more park will have to be found to meet that main city-wide park requirement, which is 7.66 acres per thousand people. But that’s another story. You can read about it on the new Digging Deep page, “Our Stanley Park.”

Analysis of “The Development”

March 9, 2008

In this blog, there’s a page that looks ahead to the proposed mega-density development of Richmond’s Garden City lands. In the blog menu, it appears as “3. The Development.” This post addresses the need to fill out the picture with some of the thinking behind the projected figures about population, cars, schools, etc., if the development goes ahead.

In this post, clarifying notes are indented like this so that you can easily see what to skip if you don’t require the extra level of detail.

Like many of the posts in this blog, this post assumes that the reader has background knowledge of the Garden City lands issue, Richmond, B.C. One way to fill out one’s background knowledge about the issue is by reading the pages of this blog, as listed in the side menu. The posts often add detail to points that are concisely made on the pages, which are mainly columns that have appeared in the Digging Deep series in the Richmond Review.

The projections in “The Development” and this post are based on reliable sources such as expert advice, censuses, and school board reports. Further expert advice will be sought, and the projections will be modified if need be. Also, knowledgeable input is welcome in the blog comments and is being heeded. (Note: The comments are deleted after the advice has been incorporated.)

Development projections for Garden City lands

The following projections assume that Tourism Richmond’s proposed trade and exhibition centre (TEC) project will not go ahead on the Garden City lands (GCL).

Richmond Council unanimously accepted three “Richmond uses” for the Garden City Lands on December 17, 2007. They did not include the Trade and Exhibition Centre (TEC) that is a possibility under the Garden City Lands agreements. Tourism Richmond terms the project the Asia Pacific Trade and Showcase Centre, and this writer happens to think it could be great for Richmond, though not in the Garden City Lands location. Nevertheless, it is underfunded at a time when senior governments are wary of convention centre projects, and the Garden City lands are clearly the wrong location. In the unlikely event that the TEC is built, there will be about 10 fewer acres for construction and 10 fewer acres for possible parkland.

 Projected area and floor area of GCL development

If the development goes ahead, the main developer will be Canada Lands Company CLC Limited in partnership with the Musqueam Indian Band.

CLC-Musqueam acreage: 68 acres + 10.2 acres from TEC = 78.2 acres of total area

Background: If the trade and exhibition centre will not be built on the Garden City lands, the agreements between Garden City lands parties provide for CLC-Musqueam developers to receive half the TEC lands. Since the TEC lands would have been 30% of the public lands, which are commonly called the city lands, the effect is 10.2 acre reduction in city land and a 10.2 increase in CLC-Musqueam development land.

Minus up to 5% neighbourhood park dedication = 74.3 acres

A 5% neighbourhood park dedication is a Richmond development standard, and it is confirmed in the agreements.

Minus approx 12% for roadways, etc. = 65.4 acres

The 12% is a generous estimate since the city lands would include a disproportionate share of the roadways because of being scattered throughout the development. This is probably the only estimate in these projections that isn’t conservative, and it isn’t a major factor.

65.4 acres x 43,560 sq. ft./acre = 2,848,224 sq. ft = construction area

This construction area is the total of the areas of all the parcels of land where construction of mult-unit residential buildings will occur if the Garden City lands megadensity development goes ahead.

FAR of 2.0-2.5 + 0.25 amenities allowance = 2.5 (official FAR + 10% for amenities)

FAR, as explained by Carefree Cities, is a standard measure of construction density. It does not enclosed parking, balconies, service areas, etc. Those features add significantly to the amount of construction.

FAR+ (with the plus sign) is not a technical term. However, Richmond high-density includes additional allowances for amenities that total 0.2 FAR (floor area ration) that do add to the actual floor area ration of the construction but that do not count in the official FAR, which, in the case of Richmond’s High-Density Residential zoning, R4, cannot be higher than 2.0. In these projections, In this post, FAR+ includes the official FAR plus the amenities allowance. In C7, which is a possible zoning for parts of the development, there is a basic FAR of 3.0 and an amenities allowance of 0.3. In both cases, the amenities allowance is 10%, so these calculations have added that 10% of official maximum FAR of 2.5. Very conservatively assuming that the average official FAR will be only 2.25, the total will be 2.5 (2.25 + 0.25 amenities allowance).

Total floor area of the development  = 2,848,224 sq, ft, x 2.5 = 7,122,060 sq. ft.

 Residential units constructed in GCL development

For these calculations, it is assumed that the average unit plus its share of the enclosed common area that is included in FAR (with allowances included for this purpose) is approx. 1,425 sq. ft. The size of the average unit itself might then be something like 1,250 sq. ft.

Available statistics indicate that the average size of a Canadian home is between the two figures stated above. However, that average includes detached homes, whereas the proposed Garden City lands mega-density development does not.

The figures for average unit size and common area are thus intended to err on the high side if anything. An effect is the number of residential units calculated next is unlikely to be too high. That is in keeping with the intent to make conservative estimates.

Number of residential units = 7,122,060 sq. ft. ÷ approx. 1,425 sq. ft. = 5,000 units

Population and parkland

According to the 2006 Canada Census, the average household in Richmond has 2.8 residents. For 5,000 units, the conservative estimate of population is 14,000.

However, remember that that is the bottom of the range, a conservative estimate in every way. The upper part of the reasonable range would be over 20% higher, or about 17,000.  This means that the projected population range is 14,000-17,000.

For example, since developers typically want to build to the maximum in this sort of situation, the actual floor area could be considerably higher. Also, since people are likely to make do with smaller homes as the price per square foot rises, the average size of the units could easilty be 10-20% smaller than in the projections.

For some purposes such as the provision of parkland, which cannot be easily increased if the population turns out to be higher than expected, it would be prudent to plan on the basis of the higher end of the range. In the case of parkland, with a requirement of 3.25 acres within the City Centre per thousand people in the City Centre, it would be appropriate to set aside 55.25 acres of parkland in the City Centre for the Garden City Lands population of the development goes ahead.

Reminder: These projections are based on the assumption that the trade and exhibition centre (TEC) will not be built. In the unlikely event of it going ahead, there would be less development land and less parkland. The two adjustments pretty much cancel each other out. In round figures, the population would be 12,000 to 14,500. The prudent amount of parkland to set aside would be at least 47 acres (14.5 x 3.25 = 47.125) out of the 47.6 acres available. In other words, essentially the entire amount of parkland would be needed for the new Garden City Lands population.

It is important to note that the new population of the Garden City Lands would be creating an overall parkland deficit for Richmond. The reason is that the standard for parkland for Richmond residents is 7.66 acres per thousand. That standard is the same for City Centre residents as for residents of any other part of Richmond. The City Centre difference is that 3.25 acres per thousand (out of the required 7.66 acres) must be within the City Centre, with the rest being anywhere in Richmond. Even if we use a low-end estimate for the Garden City Lands of 12,000 new residents, the parkland required for that population is 92 acres. In the example we have been using, that would involve buying over 44 acres (92 – 47.6) somewhere else in Richmond. Since the recent cost for purchasing parkland in developed areas has been $2.5 million per acre, it would cost the taxpayers of Richmond $110 million to remedy the parkland deficit caused by the Garden City Lands.

Vehicles added to Richmond roads by GCL development

At the current Richmond average: 5,000 x 1.74/household = 8,700 vehicles

Reduced estimate because of Canada Line, etc.: 5,000 x 1.4/household = 7,000 vehicles

A number of factors affect likelihood of the reduced figure, 7,000 additional vehicles on the Richmond roads. Partly because of the Garden City lands development, the extreme congestion of Richmond roads in a few years would make GCL residents more likely to use the Canada Line if they need to travel in its direction. On the other hand, some sort of shuttle service for the city centre and the Garden City lands would have to be added to the plans, because the walking distance to a Canada line station would be too great for many people. Furthermore, there will be a great deal of car use to take children to school if no schools are built on the Garden City lands.

These figures are all conservative. It is entirely possible that the number of vehicles would be over 10,000, especially if the population is at the high end of the likely range.

Schools for Garden City lands development?

GCL elementary students, at recent average/household = 1,000 students likely

GCL secondary students, at recent average/household = 880 students. After downward adjustment (forecast on the basis of elementary enrolment) = 625 students more likely

Minimum number of new schools required for GCL = 2 large elementary

The average Richmond elementary school has roughly 325 students, and 1,000 students would fill three such schools. The conservative estimate of only two large schools is a downward adjustment because of three factors: a possible further downward trend in students per household, a possible minor decrease in number of households in the GCL development, and the school board’s possible choice of very large schools instead of average-size ones. However, if the development goes ahead, there could be very different effects from other factors:  the GCL demographics could easily include a higher-than-average proportion of young families; there could actually be more than 5,000 households because compact homes (with smaller average floor area) will become a necessity; and the school board could want to avoid very large schools for educational reasons.

A detail: Probably some students would go to French immersion, perhaps at Anderson Elementary, which is not far from the Garden City Lands. That would reduce the number of students attending elementary school on the Garden City Lands. However, even if the number of elementary students is reduced to 800 in one way or another, there would still be a need for two large elemenatary schools.

A final detail: Maximum number of schools required for GCL = 3 elementary + 1 secondary.

Your input

Every effort has been made to ensure that the projections in this post express the truth insofar as it can be gleaned at this time. In addition, feel free to use the comment feature to provide your constructive advice. It will be heeded.


Hopeless? Or one last chance?

December 17, 2007

Opinions elicited by Richmond staff from a City-hired lawyer and by Canada Lands from a federal Treasury Board bureaucrat illustrate how the Garden City lands issue is in a mega-mess.

Disappearing contingency rights

If you have time to download 2 MB of PDF file, have a look at the agenda for the Sept. 17, 2007, 4 p.m. special meeting of Richmond Council. The 43 pages are too much to analyze here, so let’s focus on page 5, part of the lawyer’s opinion, which seems to have been provided to be helpful when an outside opinion would have taken too long. It alludes to Section 4.6(c) in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale:

Nothing contained in this Agreement will invalidate the provisions of Sections 1(22), 1(23) or 2(1) of the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding, the initial Garden City lands agreement], which will continue to be binding upon the parties to the MOU, including the parties to this Agreement.

Those sections in the MOU, under the headings “Contingencies” and “Dispute Resolution,” are obviously designed to resolve anything that goes wrong with core aspects of the agreement. Get a quick sense of the entirety of 1(22) first. (Note: In this blog, square brackets [like these] are used around words that are added to quotations for clarity.)

In the event that the City does not:
a) recommend that the Joint Venture Lands [Musqueam-CLC lands] be removed from the ALR;
b) approve a rezoning for the Joint Venture Lands that is consistent with this MOU;
c) approve FAR that is greater than 2.0 on the Development Lands; or
d) approve an OCP amendment that will apply to the Joint Venture Lands that is consistent with the understandings set out in this MOU;

Musqueam CLC and the City will meet to discuss the renegotiations of the understandings, arrangements or agreements between them with respect to the Garden City Property in order to give effect to the spirit of this MOU, to the extent possible, in the changed circumstances. If Musqueam and CLC are not satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations, Musqueam and CLC will have the option of terminating this MOU and, as appropriate, the JVA [joint venture]. However, before any of the understandings in this MOU are terminated, the Parties will utilize the dispute resolution process described below. If any misunderstandings in this MOU are terminated, all costs incurred to that stage of the process will be equitably shared by the Parties where applicable, and in accordance with Attachment 1, and the Parties will cooperate in making whatever arrangements are necessary to restore each Party to the position it was in prior to entering into this MOU.

That seems clear enough. However, this is what the lawyer writes on page 5:

In our view, the obligation to renegotiate under these Sections [1(22) and the similar 1(23)] only arises when the City has refused to act in rezoning, increasing the FAR or approving the OCP.

Where the PSA [the lawyer’s new term for the agreements] is terminated as a result of the failure to have the Lands removed from the ALR because of the actions of the ALC, Sections 1(22) and 1(23) are not relevant and the MOU is expired.

Well, maybe the words “does not” in “In the event the City does not” mean “refuses to” in some dialect of Legalese, but “does not” certainly does not mean that in English. (It doesn’t even refuse to mean that.) In fact, the English words “does” and “does not” tend to be remarkably free of connotations.

On the basis of the Legalese-dialect meaning of MOU 1(22), it seems that the City has to refuse to follow the MOU agreement in order to retain its rights under the agreement. However, refusing to co-operate in the spirit of the agreement would be acting in bad faith. Predictably, the City would lose its rights for acting in bad faith, and there are even provisions in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale that are fairly explicit about that. Whatever the City does or doesn’t do, it loses its rights. Or so it seems so far.

(An aside: Did the City really sign an agreement that ensured that its apparent rights in this crucial matter would actually not exist. And, if so, what were people thinking of?)

Or maybe not disappearing?

People who are merely expert in English, rather than in dialects of Legalese, would think something like this:

If the lands are not removed from the ALR, the City will have no reason to proceed with rezoning, a FAR increase, and an OCP amendment and will therefore not proceed. In that event, Contingency 1(22) will apply, and the City will meet with the Musqueam and CLC to see if they can together find a way to still give effect to the spirit of the MOU despite the major change in circumstances. Ultimately, if any of the understandings or all of them (the whole agreement) are terminated, the four original parties (including the federal government) go back to their pre-MOU positions.

Actually, the lawyer may see that too. The lawyer’s opinion goes on like this:

We do not, at this point, have an opinion on how a court would decide this issue if there was ever a challenge of this interpretation.

The MOU is drafted in such a way that there are different positions possible.

So the bottom line is that it’s anybody’s guess.

Disappearing right of first refusal 

Before leaving the lawyer’s opinion, we might also look at the end of page 3 and top of page 4:

If it is determined that the lands will not be removed from the ALR, it is entirely possible that at that time CLC could sell the lands to MIB [Musqueam Indian Band]. . . .

That’s odd. The City has a seemingly clear right of first refusal if Canada Lands decides to sell any part of the land during the course of the agreements. It is stated in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale, Terms of Instrument – Part 2, it’s in Section 1.2, Right of First Refusal:

(a)   If, at any time from time to time after the Effective Date [Dec. 15, 2005] and prior to the Discharge Date [the end of the agreements], CLC proposes to sell or convey any interest in any portion of the Lands (an “Offered Interest”), CLC shall, prior to offering or agreeing to sell an Offered Interest to any other party, provide to the City written notice (an “Offering Notice”) of CLC’s intention to sell the Offered interest. [Section 1.2 goes on to explain the details, which appear to describe a strong right of first refusal.]

It’s important to be aware that the “Discharge Date” definition in the document indicates that discharge can be hastened by “breaches” or “failure” by the City. However, if things get held up by an ALC decision, that doesn’t seem to result in an immediate discharge, so one would expect there to be a period between the ALC decision and the deadline for ALR-removal in which Canada Lands could offer the land for sale and the City could exercise its right of first refusal. Is that right meaningless too? It’s hard to know, since it’s not addressed in the lawyer’s opinion.

(An aside: If the right of first refusal is meaningless, again one has to wonder who was looking out for the rights of the City and its people when the Agreement of Purchase and Sale was entered into.) 

Disappearing federal responsibility?

Finally, right after the lawyer’s opinion, at the bottom of page 5 of the PDF, there is this note:

In addition, recent information in the form of a letter from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat clarifying its policy position regarding the future of the Garden City Lands site has been attached (Attachment 3). The Secretariat noted that, if the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) exclusion is unsuccessful “the lands are owned by Canada Lands Company (CLC), not the Federal Government, so it will be up to the CLC to develop appropriate management and/or disposal strategies. There is no automatic reversion of these lands to the Federal Government.”

However, it is evident from the bureaucrat’s letter that it was written after a discussion with  Canada Lands, which would naturally want to be able to retain ownership of the lands so as to make money from them. There is no indication whatsoever of any discussion of the federal government’s obligation under the MOU. One would infer that the bureaucrat was unaware of that obligation. Although there is not exactly an “automatic reversion” under the MOU, there is (in the English interpretation) a requirement for the federal government, along with the other three parties, to “cooperate in making whatever arrangements are necessary to restore each Party to the position it was in prior to entering into this MOU.”

(Again, who’s watching out for the rights of the City and people of Richmond?)

Other aspects

The following are just three of the many other points that could be addressed: 

  • The resolution to use the Garden City lands to enhance and showcase community wellness, healthy lifestyles, and urban agriculture is commendable.
  • Major misconceptions are still being promoted. The most obvious example is that the City is still acting as though it would get half the Garden City lands, whereas in fact it would split 30% of its 50% with the venture partners. The effect would be that the Venture Partners would get 57.5%, with the City getting 42.5%.
  • Another major point that continues to be ignored is new schools. At least two elementary schools would be needed on the Garden City lands, and that could  increase to three elementary and one secondary if the recent school enrolment decline is only temporary. Either the school board would have to buy land from the venture partners at mega-density-residential prices or the City would need to provide it from its 42.5% of the lands.

Any way out of the quicksand?


  • In view of the mega-mess, there are actually some benefits for the City if Canada Lands extends the deadline for the ALR-removal Condition Precedent.
  • We need someone with the skills of an ombudsman to take a month or so to clear up the mess, salvaging whatever rights can be salvaged for the City.
  • It is important to know the salvage results before the City gives further consideration to giving up its bargaining chip, its crucial role in the proposed application to the Agricultural Land Commission (if the deadline for ALR-removal gets extended).
  • If the development agreements go ahead, the good effects of salvaging whatever can be salvaged will also be very helpful for all future councils and residents of Richmond.
  • While the Garden City lands should be kept in the ALR, that must be accompanied by the City raising its performance to the level of Canada Lands and the Musqueam.

The risk of lost opportunity

December 15, 2007

Choosing the best path

First, a few background points: 

  • It may be unconscionable to remove the Garden City lands from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
  • There is a community need to free Richmond from the mega-density and traffic congestion that would flow from the develoment plan.
  • Helping a bad agreement drag on would have a 100% chance of a bad outcome – a loss in Richmond livability.
  • In view of the context, an early end to the bad agreement is not risky in itself.
  • There is, however, a risk of lost opportunity if the City does not choose the best path.
  • Since the Garden City lands Agreement for Purchase and Sale has been kept from the citizens of Richmond, it is hard for them to determine even the general route that the best path would follow.

This post is an attempt to increase knowledge of the general route, with a focus on the biggest expressed concern, which is that Canada Lands will sell the whole property to the Musqueam Indian Band.


The City’s right of first refusal

During the life of the Garden City lands agreements, if all parties act in good faith, Canada Lands could only sell the lands to the Musqueam after offering them to the City. The reason is in Section 1.2, “Right of First Refusal,” in “Terms of Instrument – Part 2” (page 6) in Schedule C of the Agreement of Purchase and Sale:

(a) If at any time after the Effective Date [December 15, 2005] and prior to the Discharge Date, [Canada Lands] CLC proposes to sell or convey any interest in any portion of the Lands (an “Offered Interest”), CLC shall, prior to offering or agreeing to sell any offered interest to any other party, provide to the City written notice (an “Offering Notice”) of CLC’s intention to sell the Offered Interest;

Additional clauses in the list fill that out, with the effect that the City has a clear right of first refusal, not just a right of first offer. In this particular part of the agreement, the City is actually in a good position, although the City will still have to act wisely to capitalize on it. The Musqueam might be able to get a court injunction to stop the transfer to the City, but (contrary to what is sometimes stated) that injunction would not result in the Musqueam obtaining the property. It should lead to the property being returned to the federal government, with Canada Lands getting its $5 million payment back. It’s even possible that the Musqueam would not be able to get that sort of injunction (interlocutory injunction) in this case, since the Musqueam signed the agreement that gives the City the right of first refusal.

Toward negotiation and restoration to original positions

The quotation about first refusal refers to the Discharge Date for the purchase agreement. The Discharge Date conditions in Section 1.2 of Schedule C mainly make it easy for Canada Lands and the Musqueam to end the agreement, putting them in a position of control over the City, which will be in a mess if the agreement gets terminated when the development is largely complete. (Technically, Canada Lands would not even need to sell the supposed City lands to the City, and at minimum that would put the City in a very weak negotiating position.) However, the one condition that will fit the situation if the lands are not removed from the ALR appears promising. That condition, in Clause 1.1(a)(a) on page 5, is that

alternative terms and conditions as to the ownership, development or use of the lands are negotiated or mediated through the alternative dispute resolution processes contemplated in the MOU [the Memorandum of Understanding, the intitial Garden City lands agreement that includes the federal government through what was called the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, now Fisheries and Oceans Canada].

The MOU sections that are relevant for that purpose are 1(22) and 1(23), since it is impossible for the City to meet the conditions in those sections if the property remains in the ALR. Section 1(22) states the following:

Musqueam, CLC and the City will meet to discuss the renegotiation of any understandings, arrangements or agreeements between them with respect to the Garden City Property in order to give effect to the spirit of this MOU, to the extent possible, in the changed circumstances. If Musqueam and CLC are not satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations, Musqueam and the CLC will have the option of terminating this MOU and, as appropriate the JVA [a limited partnership of the Musqueam and CLC, Canada Lands]. However, before any of the understandings in this MOU may be terminated, the Parties will utilize the dispute resolution described below. If any understandings in this MOU are terminated, all costs incurred to that stage of the process will be equitably shared by the Parties where applicable, and in accordance with Attachment 1, and the Parties will cooperate in making whatever arrangements are necessary to restore each Party to the position that it was in prior to entering this MOU. [Emphasis added.]

As usual in the one-sided Garden City lands deal, that section gives most of the rights to Canada Lands and the Musqueam, but it turns out all right in the end. If neither the Musqueam nor Canada Lands acts to terminate the MOU, the Garden City lands will remain as green space. However, acting in good faith, Canada Lands would most likely terminate the MOU. The parties would be restored to their original positions, with the federal government owning the property. The Musqueam could still block any transfer of the property to the City of Richmond, but that would only result in the Garden City lands remaining the property of the federal government, which will be a good result if our politicians work well together.


Battling through complexity to a win for Richmond

In the “Digging Deep” columns, the explanation in this post is typically encapsulated in a few words. This more complete explanation is better for some purposes, but it was impossible to provide it in a column of limited length.

Two conclusions:

  • It is important for some citizens and all members of Richmond Council to put a fair amount of effort into studying the two Garden City lands agreements (MOU and purchase agreement).
  • It is equally important that the City obtain the services of lawyers who not only understand the situation but also can equal the skill of the other parties’ excellent lawyers.