Archive for the ‘Metro Vancouver’ Category

Trevena deals with 10-lane Christy Bridge

December 17, 2018

A 10-lane bridge won’t happen. Also important:

  • The safety of the existing tunnel will be improved.
  • The Ministry will work with Metro Vancouver and its municipalities to choose solutions that fit with regional plans and concerns.

Minister Claire Trevena’s Dec. 17 announcement features seven key findings by project reviewer Stan Cowdell, P Eng (see Appendix at end). They are promising, but here are three reservations:

  • With a tunnel-replacement bridge, it might be challenging to stop the Fraser ship channel being dredged two meters deeper, with severe ecological harm to the Fraser River Estuary.
  • An eight-lane crossing could be fine with a configuration that uses the outer lane in each direction for mainly local traffic, as in one City of Richmond proposal. In contrast, using counterflow to enable five lanes in one direction would likely lead to congestion.
  • A welcome eighth key feature would be a prompt influx of Rapid Buses and an ongoing emphasis on transit to transport people conveniently and comfortably.

You can download the entire Cowdell report, Independent Technical Review of the George Massey Crossing, Final Report, Westmar Advisors, Inc., September 2018 (approx. 300 pages). You can also read a one-page overview in point form.

Many Fraser Voices supporters and like-minded citizens have put informed effort into the George Massey Crossing project. Each person’s efforts have been crucial, much like in election success.

Fraser Voices has also been pleased to interact with Victor Wei, Transportation Director, City of Richmond, on this issue. This Fraser Voices Association report re the Massey Crossing was prepared for that purpose in 2017 and updated for the provincial government in 2018.

Massey Crossing Section of this blog

The Massey Crossing Section of this blog includes 28 articles about the saga over the past six years, starting in 2012.

APPENDIX from Dec 17 Massey Crossing press release:

The Province’s next steps reflect the extensive independent technical review undertaken by Stan Cowdell that found:

  • the 10-lane bridge project did not fully address a number of key considerations, such as community alignment, liveability and cost, which likely resulted in stakeholder concerns;
  • a smaller six-to-eight-lane bridge would accommodate the majority of traffic predicted by 2045;
  • an immersed tube tunnel crossing of up to eight lanes is likely feasible for a new crossing and could be less expensive with fewer negative impacts;
  • retrofitting the existing tunnel to use in tandem with a new crossing may be possible;
  • the existing shoulder bus lanes work well and could be expanded as necessary;
  • highway improvements are equally important to reducing congestion; and
  • a realignment could further reduce the project’s scale, complexity and cost.

How the Massey Project comparison of options was rigged

March 13, 2017

In the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, the supposed comparison of five scenarios (supposed options) was used to eliminate almost all views other than the anointed one, Scenario 2, “Replace Existing Tunnel with New Bridge.” That was done in several overlapping ways, and this column shows how just one of them discredits the process for anyone who can take the time to follow what happened.

When the project provided five scenarios, they were presumably ways to proceed that were worth considering. The scenario that appeared to receive the most public support was the obvious one. (In the map illustration below, the concept includes an added “Green Tube,” so-named because it is an environmentally friendly method.)

It had been the expected way to expand the tunnel ever since 1955, when the engineering consultants recommended it in the Fraser River Highway Crossing at Deas Island report. That obvious method was to add a tunnel tube in the tunnel corridor to expand the tunnel by at least two lanes. (See page 13 in this excerpt from the 1955 Crippen Wright Engineering Ltd. report.)

The project included that long-intended step in Scenario 4, “Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing along Highway 99 Corridor” (Phase 2 Discussion Guide, p. 2.)

The new tube would apparently comprise two transit/HOV lanes and a multi-use path, in keeping with the Garden City Conservation Society’s proposal based on practical and conservation values.

However, the project then changed the scenario when evaluating and comparing it. In the 2014 MMK report (page 3), we see this:

Retroactively, the scenario had been changed to require the same capacity—ten lanes, etc.—as the project’s preferred one, the bridge. As you can see when you look back and forth, the new wording was thoroughly inconsistent with the scenario stated in the Phase 2 Guide.

A crucial objection to the proposed bridge expressed by Metro Vancouver and many others was that lower capacity would be better, e.g., from standpoints of regional growth and the environment. However, the change that got slipped into the MMK docuement, which got applied to all the scenarios, had the effect of eliminating such ideas from consideration. In one fell swoop, much—perhaps most—of the consultation input to the project was annihilated.

Furthermore, the MMK report made almost no other use of the project’s supposed consultation. There’s a segment that evaluates the scenarios on the basis of  community and regional planning (pp. 25–27), but the bridge option somehow comes out looking good despite the strong opposition of Richmond and Metro Vancouver. (Note: The only other consultation included is with first responders, p. 25.)

This problem appeared again in the project’s application to the BC Environmental Assessment Office which based the related part on “Evaluation of Crossing Scenarios (MMK 2014).” This means that, once again, the project made the excessive size of the bridge a requirement for the other options. That practically precluded the EAO from responding to the environmental harm of the excesses.

The project made the EAO assessment a farce, a huge waste of the taxpayers’ money. This example of supposedly comparing scenarios to choose the best one shows that the project also wasted an incredible amount of good-faith input from Metro Vancouver, local and First Nations governments, and many groups and individuals.

Non-clueless views on the Vanity Bridge

February 22, 2017

Looking to catch a few Massey Issue views, I simply googled Massey bridge. I caught a News 1130 story, “Critic pushes to toll Massey Tunnel, instead of building new span.” Illuminating!

Nathan Pachal, Councillor, City of LangleyTo critic Nathan Pachal’s tolling idea, I’d add the wrinkle of a congestion-scaled toll on trucks—scaling from high tolls at hours when traffic in a direction is jammed to low or nil at light-traffic times. If the Roberts Bank port facilities get opened for trucks to load and unload 24/7, that may be the only toll that’s needed.

Nathan Pachal, who writes the South Fraser blog, is a Councillor of the City of Langley.

I in turn got hooked via News 1130’s Related Stories, taking this bait, “Expert says Massey replacement will cause more problems than it will solve.” Enlightening!

Simon Fraser University Professor Anthony Perl


Expert Anthony Perl foresees the effect if the bridge gets built:

“It’s going to create more challenges for our region in trying to build the sustainable, compact growth area that people will actually benefit from. That’s a lot harder to fix once we’ve already gone down that path.”

That supports the approach to growth of Metro Vancouver’s planners and mayors. It also agrees with the planners and council of Richmond, which has a lot at stake.

Anthony Perl, PhD, is Professor of Urban Studies and Political Science at SFU.


Susan Jones, Boundary Bay Conservation CommitteeUpdate, Feb. 22, 2017:
Susan Jones of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee is a thorough researcher of the Massey issue. Have a look at her new analyis: “The over-sized, over-priced bridge does NOT have public support.”

The best indicator of public opinion is the submissions to the BC Environmental Assessment review. Almost all the 446 written submissions showed either support or opposition for the bridge plan. While 96% were opposed, only 4% supported the plan.

Metro Vancouver mayors were opposed too— 21 out of 22.


Mike HarcourtWhen Mike Harcourt shared his views in the Vancouver Sun and Delta Optimist, his conclusion was evident from the title “Former premier says bridge is a bad idea.” He elaborated by comparing the kinds of approaches Metro Vancouver has proposed with the one being imposed. He wrote:

These ad hoc, unilateral, provincially imposed transportation projects such as the bridge proposed to replace the tunnel are a bad way to address these challenges, a bad way to govern.

Yet, in “Bridge is best option,” transport minister Todd Stone responded:

This is simply not borne out . . . by the opinions of the thousands of consultation participants that took the time to share their views over a period of more than four years.

Any smidgeon of truth to that claim? See the facts from Susan Jones.


Bourque III, environmentalists in earnest

February 17, 2016

Sandra Bourque and Otto Langer and viewscape

This is third of three Sandra Bourque answers to questions prompted by Sandra’s help with the “Child of the Fraser River and the sea” article on this blog. On request, Sandra Bourque and her husband Otto Langer also dug up some photos for illustration.

Jim, you asked me to fill out a comment in my message about Otto, “We won the day [to protect Shady Island], and the environmental partnership of Otto and me began in earnest.” Here goes!

Collectively in the same manner, we worked on issues such as these:

  • Getting primary sewage treatment for Annacis and pushing for secondary or better sewage treatment
  • Protecting Sturgeon’s Bank from fill and development on what was then private land outside the dyke and eventually gaining protection for it in legislation
  • Stopping a development on Robert’s Bank
  • Recycling
  • Pre-treatment for industrial effluents
  • Containment and treatment of effluent from Richmond landfill (first citizen charges laid by Wil Paulik under Otto’s guidance)
  • Stopping a housing development in Ladner Marsh
  • With Fraser Coalition members from the GVRD, stopping wholesale dumping of concrete and other wastes along dykes and ditches.

These things that Otto and I worked on together and with others in the community were quite separate from all the things Otto did to protect the river and it’s marshes in his employment with Fisheries. Some examples of the latter in Richmond:

  • Pioneer bench compensation marshes along dykes on the Middle Arm near No. 2 Rd  and behind River Rock Casino, in the North Arm on Mitchell Island, on Annacis Island, and in the three marsh areas at Garry Point
  • Conversion of the Angus Lands dump along the North Arm into a park and valuable wetland
  • Protection of sloughs draining into the river, stopping wholesale treatment of ditches with toxic pesticides in the 1970s, and the spraying of sterilants at the airport
  • Constant work to have city councils and crews recognize the necessity of maintaining the 10 % of what is left of the once vast wetlands that supported the river’s wildlife and fisheries

Otto was instrumental in creating awareness by mapping all the lost streams of Vancouver and by creating a green, yellow, red mapping of Lower Mainland shorelines to simplify for citizens, staff and developers what was untouchable, what wasn’t and under what circumstances development could occur.

Finally I would be remiss in not mentioning the GVRD’s role in seeking to understand what was worthwhile in our area and promote it. In the early 1970s, they hosted a large public consultation process called The Livable Region. Otto and I attended, him as a rep of Fisheries, me as a rep for the West End Community Council and when we moved to Richmond for RAPA. This was a breeding ground for evolving lower Mainland environmentalism. Over two years, several committees considered different aspects of livability. Ours was the Environmental Review and Policy Committee composed of everything from professionals—biologists, engineers, psychologists—to interested citizens from around the Lower Mainland. It formed for many of us a statement of principles upon which to base our future actions as citizens.  And it was the start of a network of connections we would work with for the future. We still have several copies buried in our garage!

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.


Getting past the clutter to get to YES

March 19, 2015

The mayors’ clear referendum question at left and the ministry’s plebiscite question at right

Voting well in the Metro Vancouver plebiscite takes clear thinking. The two versions of the ballot illustrate one of the obstacles to that.


Yes-EnvironmentEven for the Garden City Conservation board, there was an emotional pull toward NO when we sat down to analyze the plebiscite. After we cleared the clutter, our unanimous decision was YES.

For a healthy environment, YES is clearly best. It’s hard to quantify how good it will be, but it is certainly better than NO or No Response.

The reality is that the Mayors Council put forward a solid plan for transportation and transit. Some people argue for stopping population growth instead of improving the system, but the task was to prepare for projected growth. Therefore the mayors planned how to help a larger population and their goods to get around Metro Vancouver.

With its transit emphasis, the plan has the potential to combat air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and loss of vegetation to pavement. In contrast, we couldn’t think of any environmental advantage to a NO vote.

Fortunately, almost all the Metro mayors have come down firmly on the side of environmental value, so it also seems likely that the direct benefit will have a bonus benefit—motivating the mayors to take the value further.

Yes-2To see this clearly, we’ll need to get past clutter like this:

  • The Ministry of Transportation fouling of the Mayors’ plan
  • The scuttling of the Massey Tunnel for the “Port Metro Bridge”
  • The Translink red herring

Let’s take those obstacles one at a time.


Ministry of Transportation fouling

The YES side started slowly because the ministry fouled the mayors’ plan. The ministry weakened the promised referendum to a plebiscite, and it turned the mayors’ clear sales tax change (blue image at top) into an oddly named new tax, the “Congestion Improvement Tax” (black image). The ministry then backtracked to make the tax sound similar to the mayors’ proposal after all, but the ministry still left the problem on the ballot.

In the critical early weeks of the referendum/plebiscite discussion, the weakening of the plan and quasi-backtracking of the ministry shrouded the YES option in confusion. If the ministry intended to work with the mayors, it was self-defeating.

Meanwhile, the NO side gleefully fired salvos of negative sound bites into the disarray. Carnage may be a better word than clutter for that, but either way it’s hard to clean up.

Despite being let down so badly, the mayors have made a solid effort. For instance, Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie did an excellent job in a town hall meeting via teleconference yesterday evening. The mayors have earned a fair hearing on the basis of their thorough ten-year plan, with the ministry’s fumbling and other clutter cleared away.


Scuttling of tunnel for “Port Metro Bridge”

Unfortunately the mayors had to acknowledge the province’s intended “Port Metro Bridge” in their plan (even though it is not at all their decision and would not be funded by the plan). As you may recall, we have shown that a simpler Massey solution would be far better for the environment. With five lanes into Richmond instead of the current two (on average), the bridge would be either an underused waste or a fully used one that chokes Richmond with an influx of vehicles from the south (i.e., aggravates congestion).

One might vote NO because of the Port Metro Bridge factor and a range of environmental problems that would come with it (too much to go into here), but it makes far more sense to address that factor separately. The bridge is not yet a “done deal,” but voting YES at least reduces the big-picture harm that the bridge would bring on.


The Translink red herring mayors' plan for regional transportation investments

In the mayors’ basic plan, the four-page Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver, the mayors didn’t even mention Translink at all. That was fitting because it kept the focus on the current issue, not a related one the mayors happen to be addressing anyway.

Since the NO spokesman just proposes to require a different funding source for the Translink function, not eliminate it, even he must know that the anti-Translink campaign has been a red herring. It’s a distraction from the question of whether Metro citizens want better ways to get around or not.

It is, of course, also important that the Metro mayors continue to take action to improve Translink. The word is continue because they’ve repeatedly asked the minister of transportation to reform Translink—and received no cooperation. That happened again this week when the minister closed the Translink-reform door in the mayors’ face once again, as the Globe and Mail reported.

While the plebiscite question is not about Translink, the NO strategist has managed to make it the issue in the public mind. The effect is that undecided voters now need to hear about Translink reform. Fortunately, it happens that YES offers the best chance of bringing Translink into line. Jim Pattison

That’s because one of our most accomplished business leaders, Jimmy Pattison, will lead the public accountability panel. It will set expectations each year, it will audit the results, and it will not suffer fools gladly.

In fairness to Translink, the NOs may have over-vilified it. In fairness to the mayors, the ministry that has hogged control of Translink has let them down. In fairness to us, a YES result would bring in the leader best able to adress the problem.

With his mastery of accountability, Jimmy Pattison became a self-made multi-billionaire.
He can bring accountability to Translink too. In short, whether we prefer to vote YES for the mayors’ 10-year plan or vote YES for Translink accountability, YES votes are best for a better future.


Does winning matter? 

Even a YES majority would not guarantee that the provincial government would respect the result of the referendum, especially since the ministry weakened it to a plebiscite, which is more like an opinion poll. It all depends on how impressed the Ministry of Transport chooses to be, and an increased number of YES votes can only help, since politicians do sometimes listen.

Yes-1In the reality of the situation, each YES vote gives more credibility to the Metro mayors. It strengthens the hand of the only people who have come up with a thorough plan to meet needs that must be met if we want to keep getting around.

A YES majority is best for a livable region and for the environment, but in any case every YES vote is a small but important win.


The Garden City Conservation Society is a member of the Coalition for Better Transit and Transportation.

If you have received a ballot, you can help the environment by choosing Yes and mailing it now. If you need a ballot, until May 15 you can start by registering and receiving a voting package. Click here to register or phone 1-800-661-8683.

Update: We have added a brief further article on this topic, “Finding the way to vote in transit plebiscite.”

Reflection 3: Respect vs exploitation

March 3, 2011

This is the third in a series of posts with a springboard: a key meeting about fixing the illegal designation of the Garden City Lands and neighbouring DND Lands in the Regional Growth Strategy, the Metro Vancouver bylaw that will be basic to the region’s government until 2040. This reflection starts with a recent photo of the Garden City Lands, a visual comment from a Friend of Garden City who attended that meeting.

The photo expresses a simple scene with a feeling there’s more to it. The grassy view is from a northwest area of clay fill. As one moves southeast, the bog ecology emerges. Everything was mowed last fall, and the green is just coming back. In a few months, the vegetation here will be tall and thick, slow to wend through. Soon there’ll be a new generation of wildlife, even coyote pups whose parents have migrated west for the season from the bog forest of the DND Lands, the far horizon in this scene.

When one walks on the Garden City Lands and listens to them, especially with a guide like conservation biologist Michael Wolfe, one finds a new world in a city centre. We wrote about this last September in “Eco-tour hope, foreboding, joy” and “Toward restoring the Garden City Lands.”

The current Garden City Lands Coalition brochure is all about respect that flows from gratefulness for what we have in the lands. In its online form, “Gratefulness,” the brochure concisely describes 15 kinds of respect related to the lands. That way of thinking enhances our desire to share our natural jewel well forever, which is a far cry from the desire to exploit it that recedes but never goes away.

Listening respectfully includes listening to the Agricultural Land Commission. When the Garden City Lands and other ALR properties in Richmond and the Township of Langley were illegally designated as General Urban or Industrial in the new Metro Vancouver bylaw, the commission was respectful, not heavy-handed, with Metro and the two municipalities. A recent post introduces the commission’s letters and the legal analysis by lawyer Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law. Unfortunately, the commission’s diplomacy was treated as weakness. The City of Richmond has moved in the right direction lately but is still not acting with due respect.

Our respect includes recognizing how the Garden City Lands can be central to local food security. The Sustainable Food Systems Park proposal is altruistic in much of its intent but could end up rescuing us all from food shortage. The same could be said of the Urban Agriculture Education vision from Dr. Kent Mullinix and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Our respect for the lands can easily be from cultural and philosophical perspectives, as exemplified by Howard Jampolsky’s “Earth Awareness.” His Jewish perspective provides an inspiring model, not an obstacle, for appreciating the Garden City Lands as both a natural park and a symbol.

I think there’s a business case to be written that would show why the Garden City Lands deserve respect from a business perspective, incuding (but not limited to) agritourism and ecotourism. But that’s for another post.

Actually there’s a lot more to be said and seen and especially listened to. Let’s help our politicians and community and each other to listen better to what the Garden City Lands are telling us about themselves.

Reflection 2: Agricultural vs Conservation

March 2, 2011

Supposedly, Richmond council decided the other day to change the illegal General Urban (residential) designation of the Garden City Lands in the new Metro bylaw to Conservation & Recreation.

Would Agricultural be a better designation for the Lands in the Metro bylaw? (Since the change has not actually been made, the question remains relevant.) I am one of the many people who see Agricultural as preferable. Why?

  1. KISS. For me, that common acronym means this:
    Keep it Simple. Succeed!
    With the Agricultural designation, the Garden City Lands (and DND Lands) would be zoned:
    Agricultural at the Province of BC level (ALR)
    Agricultural at the Metro Vancouver level
    Agricultural at the City of Richmond level
    It’s easier to do things simply.
  2. Provincial regulations about agricultural land are essentially higher than Metro and city ones, and in any case Metro just has very brief vision statements for the Agricultural designation (and for the Conservation & Recreation one). The consistent zoning as Agricultural will limit any confusion about what is or is not appropriate. With a Conservation & Recreation designation, the provincial agricultural law (the ALC Act) still applies, but local politicians and staff and the public would inevitably get confused. (I’ve recently seen firsthand how effectively city staff can confuse councillors about similarities and differences in land use names.) Since the ALC Act provides for conservation and open land parks (in the ALR Use Regulation), it is an ideal framework, and in any case it is required to be used for ALR lands, including the Garden City Lands.
  3. The people of Richmond do not want the city to unfairly enrich itself at the expense of the Musqueam Indian Band, and that’s doubly important when the Band is suing us for unjust enrichment. The Garden City Lands were simply Agricultural at the provincial and city levels when the Musqueam held a beneficial interest, and adding a Conservation & Recreation label at the Metro level now could give the impression that the City is trying to add a new set of uses that it didn’t make available to the Musqueam. Even though the ALC Act would continue to regulate the uses of the lands, people (including Musqueam people) could easily get the wrong impression that a whole lot of additional recreational uses somehow come into play under “Recreation” and perhaps even under “Conservation.”

A popular citizens’ vision of the lands has been as “Richmond’s Stanley Park,” and that’s the expression that the Garden City Lands Coalition has used for the Lands for years. Because we are familiar with the ALC Act and the accompanying ALR Use Regulation, we know that a “Richmond’s Stanley Park” can be well achieved under Agricultural designations. So let’s just keep it simple and succeed.

Will the opportunity to change come up? Probably. We are under no illusions that Pave Garden City people won’t try to keep the General Urban designation, which would be a change from the agreed-upon Conservation & Recreation. If the land use designation comes into play again, we might as well be ready to show why the obvious choice, Agricultural, is also the best.

Reflection: A good/flawed fix-it meeting

March 1, 2011

The  “General Urban bites the dust . . .” post  (below this one), is an overview of a council that semi-fixed a problem affecting the Garden City Lands, the new Metro bylaw, and the ALR. Over the next few days, I’ll reflect further and share different insights, starting with this post.

The closest that Richmond citizens get to the real decision-making at city hall is when council meets as a committee. On Monday, some far-reaching decisions broadcast into living rooms from a 7 p.m. council meeting had been made at a general purposes committee meeting at 5 p.m.

At the committee meeting, every council member did some things well as council finally fixed wrong “land use designations” in the new Metro Vancouver bylaw. Large areas of Richmond had been designated as “General Urban” (residential) even though they should never be residential.

Much of that area, including the Garden City Lands, is in the ALR. Besides being senseless, the problem violated the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

The weakest aspect of decisions that were largely good was a delay in fixing the illegal designations until after the bylaw is in place. That could be four months from now. The two Metro directors on council said it will be easy then, whereas the changes need support from all 24 of Metro’s local governments now. 

Council was told that all the Metro directors will support it later, when it just needs a board vote. In that case, one would think that all Metro governments would support it now. And how could anyone object to making the bylaw fully legal?

Along with an improvement, we still have uncertainty, continued (though softened) evasion of the ALC Act, and blurred intent that can only harm us in the Musqueam lawsuit against us.

After attending many council committee meetings, I’ve come to appreciate how Coun. Sue Halsey-Brandt raises the level of decency. On Monday she stood out for principle, foresight, and due caution. On a good but flawed evening, our music-teacher councillor was the one with perfect pitch.

“General Urban” bites the dust for Garden City Lands, DND Lands, and Terra Nova

February 28, 2011

At a Richmond Council meeting (as General Purposes Committee) on Monday, Feb. 28, responding to a problematic staff report, council decided to change the designation of the Garden City Lands, Department of National Defence Lands, and Terra Nova parks (Terra Nova Natural Area and Terra Nova Rural Park) from General Urban (residential) to Conservation & Recreation in the new Regional Growth Strategy, a Metro bylaw.

Oddly, they decided to leave the designations unchanged until after the bylaw is adopted and then change them. That happened despite the best efforts of Coun. Sue Halsey-Brandt. As it is, there is:

  • Ongoing uncertainty, since the change will almost inevitably be drawn out over a long period, if it happens at all
  • A level of continuing disrespect toward the Agricultural Land Commission, even though it has been softened and can now be more easily rationalized
  • A mixed-signals message that does not help the City in the Musqueam Indian Band lawsuit against it

Note: Making changes before approval of the Metro bylaw would have had drawbacks too, but I think they were exaggerated. Although over twenty Metro governments would have had to agree to them, it seems likely that all would agree without question to the uncontroversial changes. The meeting was told how easily all the Metro directors would agree later (after the bylaw is implemented), and in that case their councils would agree even more easily now, when they are anxious to get the bylaw approved. Are we really expected to believe that any municipal council would object to correcting land use designations that are (a) blatantly inappropriate, (b) contrary to the bylaw’s goals, and (c) illegal?

While the promised change from General Urban (residential) was a win, the Garden City Lands Coalition leadership would have been happier with a Metro designation of Agricultural for the Garden City Lands for at least two reasons:

  • “Agricultural” better reflects the intentions from a Musqueam lawsuit standpoint. The provincial and municipal zoning are already Agricultural, and the Agricultural zoning at the Metro level would have made it clearer for a judge or arbitrator that the City of Richmond did not unjustly enrich itself in its dealing with the Musqueam Indian Band, which formerly had a 50% beneficial interest in the lands.
  • Since “Agricultural” would need to include a range of ALR uses, it is certainly a broad category that includes conservation, although the “Agricultural” and “Conservation & Recreation” categories are extremely vague in the new Metro bylaw. (Note: There was no need to change the old bylaw’s Green Zone, which included both new designations, other than to destroy the strong Green Zone brand that accomplished the goals too well.)

Letter writing to council and effective presentations (and support) at council meetings last week and this week certainly had a significant effect. Kudos to the Friends of Garden City—the far-reaching community of people who are committed to keeping the Garden City Lands in the ALR for agricultural, ecological, and open-land park uses for community wellness.

Thank you to Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law for all his help, especially his legal opinion to the Garden City Lands Coalition Society

We appear to have won a small victory over a senseless obstacle. Although we are not ecstatic, we are happy because our small victories keep adding up—slowly but surely.

Note: Later, in the regular council meeting, council voted to approve the Metro bylaw.

Retaining “existing designation” from old Metro bylaw?

February 24, 2011

This is a follow-up to the “False Metro logic re illegal General Urban designation of the Garden City Lands” post.

The background is that a Metro planner posted a Metro Vancouver letter, in response to lawyer Andrew Gage’s initial legal opinion, on the Environmental Law Alerts blog. The Metro letter claims that Richmond was just maintaining an existing designation (from the old Livable Regional Strategic Plan) when designating the Garden City Lands and the Department of National Defense Lands (DND Lands) to the east of it as “General Urban.”


Executive summary: In the new Metro bylaw, the current (illegal) designation of the Garden City Lands and DND Lands is “General Urban.” The term General Urban means residential, including supporting uses. In the old Metro bylaw there are:

  • Zero times (none whatsoever) when the term General Urban is used
  • Many times where the word urban is used—with a range of meanings—including several times in “urban region” or “urban area,” expressions that mean the whole Metro region/area, including the Green Zone
  • One time where the word residential is used to mean residential, including supporting uses (page 9, where “residential” is distinguished from “commercial,” “industrial,” and “vacant land” within “urban uses,” which in turn is distinguished from “Green Zone and other non-urban uses”)
  • Zero times where the word urban is used to mean residential and supporting uses (or anything close to that)
  • Consequently zero times where the old Metro bylaw uses the word urban—or any other word or expression except residential—to mean General Urban, as used and defined in the new bylaw

Without a shadow of a doubt, the descriptive word urban in the old bylaw is not equivalent to General Urban in the new bylaw. To claim that it does, one does not know what one is talking about and/or is misleading the audience.


The  Agricultural Land Commission and Andrew Gage’s final legal analysis, “Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and ALR Lands,” show that the General Urban designation is illegal, so the statement is irrelevant. The excuse that one is breaking the law because one is just doing what one has done before is obviously ludicrous. Just imagine trying it with a judge.

However, we discovered at a Richmond council meeting this week that some at Richmond’s City Hall are still clinging to the excuse like a piece of styrofoam after the lifeboat has sunk. I will therefore explain more fully why the statement that the new bylaw is just maintaining an existing designation is absolutely false (in addition to being irrelevant).

In the old Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP), which is the old bylaw that precedes the Regional Growth Strategy, the whole of the GVRD/Metro is called an urban region or urban area in several places. Within the urban area, there is only one zone or designationIt is called the Green Zone. Anything besides that is just urban area that is not Green Zone. Sometimes it is called “urban” to distinguish it from “Green Zone,” but “urban” is still just a fuzzy descriptive word. It is not a term, and it is certainly not what the new bylaw calls a “land use designation.”

Actually, since the new bylaw has passed third reading, it appears that the LRSP and the Green Zone are essentially dead, so I will start talking about each of them in the past tense (was, not is).

The Livable Region Strategic Plan indicated that two-thirds of the urban region was Green Zone. That meant that one-third was not. Certainly, that one-third of the urban region was all urban in a fuzzy sense. Just as certainly, that one-third of the urban region was not all what is now called General Urban.

What is “General Urban”? The new bylaw defines it like this:

General Urban areas are intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres, and are supported by shopping, services, institutions, recreational facilities and parks. (page 9)

If we focus appropriately on the central intent, rather than the peripheral support, “General Urban” means “Residential.” In the old bylaw (LRSP), “Residential” was very clearly only one of the uses in the one-third of the urban region that was not Green Zone. That one-third that was not Green Zone certainly included “Industrial” and “Commerical” uses and a large amount of “Vacant land,” as well as uncategorized uses. We know that because the LRSP says so on page 9.

(An aside here: If you are following along in the PDF of the old LRSP, be aware that one needs to add 2 to the page number to get the location in the PDF. Sorry for the interruption.)

On page 9 of the old bylaw, the LRSP, we see this analysis of the urban region (the Metro area):

Green Zone and other non-urban uses: 72%*

Urban uses (residential, commercial and industrial): 20%

Vacant urban land: 8%

*Note: Since we know from page 20 that the Green Zone was two-thirds of the urban region (the Metro area), or roughly 67%, so we can deduce that the “other non-urban uses” are 5%.

A key point is that the “residential,” which is briefly mentioned in the old bylaw, is roughly equivalent to “General Urban” in the new bylaw, and it most certainly is not all the urban region other than Green Zone. Even apart from commercial and industrial land, there was still 13% of the urban region (the Metro area) that was not Green Zone and not residential/General Urban. Since there was lots of commercial and industrial uses, the amount of the urban region (Metro area) that was neither Green Zone nor residential was much higher than 13%.


To recap:

  • “Residential” in the old bylaw = “General Urban” in the new bylaw.
  • In the old bylaw, roughly half of the 33% of the Metro area that was not Green Zone was residential, which means that roughly half was not residential or (to use the new term “General Urban”).
  • The Garden City Lands were most certainly not residential, since they had no buildings and no population and the Agricultural Land Commission ruled twice in the past five years that they cannot be used for residential and then informed Metro that they cannot be designated as residential (“General Urban”).
  • “General Urban” (residential) is what the Garden City Lands most certainly were not.
  • “General Urban” (a term in the new bylaw) and “urban” (a fuzzy descriptive word in the old bylaw) sound alike because they both have the word “urban,” but the pretence that they are therefore the same designation will never stand up to examination by any intelligent person who compares the source documents, the two bylaws, and it will never stand up in court.


The above is the main points. The rest is just more evidence.

  • When I found a map showing the Garden City Lands in an urban color, I soon noticed that the whole City of Vancouver was not in that colour. The urban grey, a neutral color, allowed the growth concentration color, the Green Zone color, etc., to stand out. The neutral urban grey color is simply the default because the Metro Region is urban in a general sense. The grey color for Richmond obviously includes commercial, industrial, and vacant areas, not just residential (or “General Urban”) areas. (That’s on numbered page 32, which is PDF page 34.)
  • I also found a Green Zone map that showed the Green Zone in green and striped green. Most of the rest of the map was urban in the sense of being the rest of the GVRD/Metro region, but that did not equate to being General Urban—”intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres,” with other supporting uses. (That’s on numbered page 28, which is PDF page 20.)
  • When I did a search for “urban” in the PDF of the LRSP, I could find no instance where it was capitalized to indicate a formal name. (It was occasionally capitalized for usage reasons that are not relevant, such as for the first word in a sentence.)
  • Furthermore, we know from Harold Steves, who has been on Richmond council forever (give or take a few years), that there was no council decision to not put the Garden City Lands (or the Department of National Defence Lands to the east) in the Green Zone. The non-event simply non-happened at a time when even a conservation-minded people like Coun. Steves didn’t notice what wasn’t happening. That’s not surprising, since it’s hard to notice everything that actually is happening, let alone notice everything that’s not happening too.
  • In units of area, the 13% that the LRSP called “vacant land” or did not categorize was 374 square kilometres. To put that in perspective, it was almost three times the total area of Richmond. Fifteen years after the LRSP came in, the new Regional Growth Strategy does tries harder to categorize everything, although it does still have a miscellaneous category of special study areas (including land that was previously in the Green Zone as it happens.  The appropriate category for the Garden City Lands, as the Agricultural Land Commission has very clearly stated, is certainly not General Urban.

Incidentally, it would be inappropriate to call the Garden City Lands a special study area in the new bylaw, since the Agricultural Land Commission made clear when rejecting ALR-exclusion applications in 2006 and 2009 that the property belongs in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

How to emerge from a Metro mess

February 23, 2011

 “Harold Steves says urban land designation
for Garden City lands is ‘illegal’

So says the title of an online Richmond Review article. Coun. Steves is in good company with Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission. In a letter to Metro Vancouver, Mr. Bullock was clear that all “General Urban” designations of ALR land in Metro’s Regional Growth Strategy bylaw must be corrected.

“General Urban” means “intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres,” which makes no sense for ALR land. There are other violations in Richmond and Aldergrove, but the Garden City lands one is more offensive because the commission ruled as recently as 2006 and 2009 that the lands belong in the ALR.

Also, although we always aim to be fair with the Musqueam Indian Band, why help its claim for “compensation for unjust enrichment” from the City of Richmond? The city never contravened the law to increase the Garden City lands’ value when the band was a beneficial owner that would have been enriched by it, so it appears to be unjust enrichment in every sense if the city now flouts the law to enrich itself, the new owner.

Unless the city promptly insists that Metro must change the “General Urban” designation to “Agricultural,” we might as well hand the band half a billion dollars or whatever. (Just one of the band’s innumerable claims against us works out to over $400 million.)

When the bylaw with the “General Urban” flaws came up for a Metro Vancouver board vote, one of Richmond’s two Metro directors actually voted for it. Fortunately, the other, Director Harold Steves, spoke against it and voted against it.

One of the oddest aspects is that the city could not seriously expect to enrich itself by defying the Agricultural Land Commission. It is a tribunal, which is like a court. It would not reward contempt of its authority. In any case, a recent legal opinion to the Garden City Lands Coalition Society explains how the grounds on which Metro justified the illegal designations are absurd.

So we’re facing the prospect of the city giving the impression it’s unjustly enriching itself even though the perpetrators must know that their tactics would not enrich it and that the false impression of the city’s own making might lead to a ruinous payout.

Soon—perhaps as soon as Monday, Feb. 28—council will vote on approving the Metro bylaw. They can specify ways they want Metro to amend it. Coun. Harold Steves will know what’s best. We need a council majority to support our Metro director who stood up for us in a dark hour.

No vote | Big obfuscation | Small win

February 21, 2011

The title of this blog post is the executive summary of the Richmond council meeting of Feb. 21, 2011, that city staff wanted to approve the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy bylaw. (A detail: Council met as a committee, but that’s where the main decision would be made.)

No vote is good. It means that the mayor gauged which way the winds were blowing and knew the resolution would be defeated.

City staff spoke first, and the usual obfuscation came out:

  • Supposedly the Garden City Lands and Department of National Defence Lands (DND Lands) to the east, both in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) should be General Urban because they were urban in the old bylaw and not in the Green Zone, so their designation supposedly hasn’t changed. However, there was no Urban or General Urban in the old bylaw, and there is no Green Zone in the new bylaw. An untrue statement is a lie no matter how many times it is repeated. This was addressed earlier here. More basically, the assertion would be irrelevant even if it were true.
  • Supposedly the letters from the Agricultural Land Commission directing Metro Vancouver to correct the Urban designations of ALR land are “opinions” (or so a councillor was told). No, the ALC is a tribunal. It is like a court except that it has more specific expertise and acts more informally and preventively. When it states how the ALC must be applied, it is expressing more than an opinion. The tribunal’s respectfulness to Metro has been disrespected as weakness. The city is acting like a kid trying to take too much advantage of a parent’s love by pushing too far.
  • The mayor asked staff about what the Agricultural Land Commission could do to enforce its directions. They told each other, with barely suppressed delight, that it would have to take action against Metro, not the city. (And that seems true.) So, the City tells Metro to include the illegal designations in the bylaw, and the city then hides behind Metro as it “takes the rap.” Aren’t we just bursting with pride at Richmond’s leadership?
  • Then and later, there was mention of another legal opinion to the city about the Garden City Lands, apparently about whether it was okay to keep the existing designation (from the previous bylaw) as urban or general urban. Supposedly the opinion was supportive. However, the opinion was based on false premises, since neither an Urban (or General Urban) designation nor an Agricultural designation existed in the previous bylaw, as mentioned earlier. The old GIGO rule applies: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Richmond is good at allowing citizens to speak to council. Ten spoke on this issue, all opposed to approving the bylaw unless it is amended, as follows:

  • Nine brought a variety of perspectives to the obvious flaw of the Garden City Lands being designated General Urban instead of Agricultural, which would befit its confirmed status as Agricultural Land Reserve land.
  • Most of them included the Department of National Defence Lands (DND Lands) to the east in their concerns about General Urban designation of ALR land.
  • One or two also mentioned that the Terra Nova parks should not be General Urban. (True.)
  • One who wanted an area of small ALR properties to be General Urban pointed out the double standard. If I infer correctly, the point is that there are a lot of such properties on and near No. 4 Road that are already a residential neighborhood (i.e., General Urban) but designated Agricultural because it is convenient for the city government. In contrast, an ALR area that is one mile by half a mile is designated General Urban. The difference is that it is government owned, while the small No. 4 Road properties are citizen owned.

In the council members’ discussion afterward, Coun. Harold Steves labored valiantly and well, most of the councillors seemed to take seriously the need to change inappropriate land use designations.

Unfortunately the mayor showed that he still doesn’t “get it.” He will now try to get majority support for an approach with no upside and huge downside before the bylaw has to come to a vote. So the victory is small, but we won’t be choosy about wins.

Back to the future nightmare

February 21, 2011

On the basis of previous blog posts and people’s knowledge from other sources, I’m being asked whether the City of Richmond representatives who allowed the Garden City Lands and DND Lands in Richmond to be designated General Urban in the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy bylaw are (a) not up to the demands of their jobs or (b) engaging in elaborate schemes or (c) all of the above.

Certainly, the inconsistency with the Agricultural Land Commission Act of a land use designation for “residential neighbourhoods and centres” pn ALR land was not a subtle little mistake to begin with. Furthermore, the commision had twice refused applications to exclude the land from the ALR in the past few years. The stubborn non-response from Metro, which was taking advice from the City, in continuing the illegal designation when the commission clearly and repeatedly indicated the necessity to change it makes no sense at all. So why has the City kept steaming ahead on a path to the edge of a cliff?

I have no way of knowing. However, I will share one theory from a Richmond City Hall insider. Her/his theory is that the small number of members of council and staff who keep pushing the illegal “General Urban” land designation of the Garden City Lands are trying to force a return to an earlier stage when the Garden City Lands situation was in a much bigger mess than now (big as the current mess is). That stage was when the City of Richmond was still hogtied by the  “Agreement of Purchase and Sale” development agreement.  As the theory goes, the City will soon have messed up badly enough to have to agree to a compromise with the party that is suing the City. That seemed far-fetched when I heard it a couple of months ago, but it is becoming credible.

I have tried to find a better explanation for seemingly irrational behavior, and there really has been none.

Hardly anyone wants big buildings on the Garden City Lands. I think that most people are happy with a green future of agricultural, ecological, and open-land park uses for community wellness. But we keep heading inexorablyback to the nightmare that hardly anyone wants.

Momentous council meeting, Mon, Feb 21, 4 pm

February 20, 2011

One of the most far-reaching votes ever for Richmond’s city council will take place at the General Purposes meeting on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011, in the Anderson Room, Richmond City Hall, at 4 p.m. Some details:

  • Early in the meeting, members of the public will have the opportunity to address the topic for up to 5 minutes. If you will be speaking, be aware that Richmond council’s policy re listening to the public is one of the best in Metro Vancouver. Most speakers show appreciation for the opportunity by being well informed and prepared.
  • City Hall is on No. 3 Road at Granville. There is generally some parking available, but come in good time.

The agenda states this staff recommendation:

That the proposed Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) Bylaw 1136, 2010, entitled, “Metro Vancouver 2040, Shaping Our Future”, be accepted.

The problem with that recommendation is that Richmond would lose its integrity and (very possibly) hundreds of millions of dollars by following it—and gain absolutely nothing.

A key part of the problem is that the bylaw shows the Garden City Lands as being used for illegal land use, contravening the Agricultural Land Commission Act. Since it is essentially impossible for the City to get away with that, even under the guise of a Metro bylaw, the City can only lose if council votes in a way that implies it is trying to get away with it. Unfortunately, the loss of integrity (priceless) would likely be accompanied by the loss of a great deal of the taxpayers’ money.


The above is the short version. To learn more, two good options would be (a) to keep reading below or (b) to go to the very significant legal opinion that should show the council members that they have been misled.


You decided to read on! Great!

The key shortcoming in the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw is that a 112 hectare area of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is designated as “General Urban” instead of “Agricultural.” That area consists of the Garden City Lands and the Department of National Defence Lands (DND Lands) to the east. According to the bylaw:

General Urban areas are intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres, and are supported by shopping, services, institutions, recreational facilities and parks.

Perhaps needless to say, “residential neighbourhoods and centres” are not a permitted use in the ALR. In an October 2010 letter from the executive director and a November follow-up from the chair, the Agricultural Land Commission has been clear and firm that those parts of the bylaw are contrary to the Agricultural Land Commission Act and will be of no force and effect. Since the problem “General Urban” designations are illegal, they are much worse than useless.

The staff report shows no possible advantage to the illegal action that the report recommends. Presumably the bright idea was that breaking the law would make the city more autonomous, but instead it would just make it unsuccessfully unprincipled. Being unprincipled is really bad, but being a failure at being unprincipled is really pathetic.

Worst of all, voting according to the inane staff recommendation would put the city in a terrible position in the lawsuit brought against it by the Musqueam Indian Band. As far as I know, the city always acted with goodwill and good faith with the band in the Garden City Lands agreements. The staff report is asking council to throw that all away by appearing to try to unjustly enrich the city—which is what the lawsuit claims the city is trying to do.

Fortunately, when the Metro Vancouver Board voted on the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw on January 14, one of the two directors representing Richmond was Coun. Harold Steves, and he voted against it. Unfortunately, the other was Mayor Malcolm Brodie. If the council majority votes with Coun. Steves and against the bylaw, our future will look very much brighter.

Most basically, this is a matter of following the law with integrity or not. However, on a financial level, it is a matter of taking a huge risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in a lawsuit settlement or not. When there is nothing whatever to gain and integrity and a fortune to lose, why would anyone gamble?



  • If Richmond votes to not accept the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw, it will not be rejecting the whole bylaw. When not approving, it will actually just specify the parts that it wants changed. The odd effect is that voting not to approve, under the legislation, amounts to being a vote to approve subject to specified conditions. There will be no difficulty in getting the errant parts of the bylaw changed, since there can be no objection to a municipality insisting on following the law of British Columbia.
  • Significantly, the staff report does not include the letters from the Agricultural Land Commission that would help council members to make the best decision in an informed way. The report also does not include the best available legal opinion on the issue. It is “Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and ALR Lands,” and it is from Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law to the Garden City Lands Coalition Society, and the Metro Vancouver lawyer received it in plenty of time to distribute it. (See the posts right below this one for details.)
  • For more insights, please see additional Metro Regional Growth Strategy posts by scrolling down further or going to the Metro Vancouver Archive.

Legal analysis of Metro bylaw illegality re ALR

February 19, 2011

If you care about our future, read lawyer Andrew Gage’s legal analysis titled “Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and ALR Lands.” Ironically, the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw is titled Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future. When you read the Gage analysis, you’ll become more aware of how Metro might be misshaping our future by placing itself above the law.

Lawyer Andrew Gage explains that Metro Vancouver first received a warning letter from the executive director of the Agricultural Land Commission, Brian Underhill, about violations of Section 46 of the ALC Act, but Metro ignored it. Then, well before the Metro board vote of January 14, 2011, commission chair Richard Bullock notified Metro to correct the illegality.

When Metro directors voted, the illegal parts were still in the bylaw—and the directors had been poorly informed. Andrew Gage states:

When the Metro Vancouver Board considered the RGS, staff summarized Mr. Bullock’s letters as part of the public submissions as relating to “mapping inconsistencies” – clearly an inadequate description of the serious legal concerns raised in that letter.

Metro Vancouver had tried a disclaimer, section 6.1.12:

In accordance with the Agricultural Land Commission Act, in the event that there is an inconsistency between the regional land use designations or policies set out in the Regional Growth Strategy and the requirements of the Agricultural Land Commission Act or regulations and orders made pursuant thereto, the Agricultural Land Commission requirements will prevail.

Since both Mr. Underhill and Mr. Bullock implicitly rejected it, it was obviously not a good excuse. However, Metro kept on repeating the excuse anyway. Andrew Gage provides patient details, but I like his final observation best:

We also note that the idea that a general acknowledgment of the existence of a legal requirement (and section 6.11.2 essentially just repeats the legal effect of section 46 of the Act) can give a person the ability to violate it at the specific level is a curious one. If correct it would mean that Metro Vancouver could designate all ALR lands for future industrial development, relying on section 6.11.2 to rectify the clear illegality. The concept is analogous to a person prefacing threats to another person with the words: “I know that it’s illegal to threaten you, so please disregard everything I’m about to say.” These results are clearly absurd.

When you read Andrew Gage’s legal opinion, I think you’ll agree that the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw blatantly violates the Agricultural Land Commission Act. It will be shameful if the bylaw somehow comes into effect without being thoroughly brought into compliance with the law of British Columbia.

When shaping our future, we can do better.


Andrew Gage is the acting executive director of West Coast Environmental Law. His legal opinion re “Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and ALR Lands” was provided to the Garden City Lands Coalition Society, based in Richmond, B.C., but with Friends of Garden City throughout Metro Vancouver and beyond.

Thank you, Andrew Gage and WCEL!

Metro keeps voters in dark re ALC Act violations

February 18, 2011

On February 9, 2011, lawyer Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law provided the definitive legal opinion on “Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and ALR Lands” to the Garden City Lands Coalition Society. At our request, he simultaneously provided it to Ms. Jessica Beverley, In-house Counsel to Metro Vancouver. Seven work days have passed since then.

I have done a search of the Metro Vancouver site and the Web, and the legal opinion never seems to have been released by the Metro administration to help the municipalities to make informed choices when voting on whether or not to approve the new Regional Growth Strategy bylaw.

This is a plan that is meant to guide Metro Vancouver until 2040. One would have expected every effort to be made to ensure that each municipality is enabled to make the best possible choice, not steered in the dark toward a predetermined choice.

In particular, surely it should have been brought to the attention of the Regional Planning Committee at its meeting today, Friday, February 18, 2011. It is nowhere in the agenda.

This is just one piece of strong evidence, but it confirms the trend discussed on this blog and in the initial legal opinion from Andrew Gage and the new one: at least on the issue of illegal designation of ALR lands in the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw, the Metro Vancouver directors and municipalities are largely being kept in the dark.

False Metro logic re illegal General Urban designation of the Garden City Lands

February 1, 2011

This post builds on earlier ones about the illegal designation of the Garden City Lands in the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy, including “No excuse.

Christina DeMarco of the Metro Vancouver staff sent West Coast Environmental Law a lengthy Metro letter that appears after WCEL lawyer Andrew Gage’s legal opinion about the illegal designation of large ALR properties, including Richmond’s Garden City Lands, as “General Urban.” By definition, General Urban areas are “intended for residential neighbourhoods and urban centres.”

I am impressed with the dedicated staff who worked on the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy, but the case that Ms. DeMarco has to try to make can only be weak. Her Metro letter is very lengthy. However, the key question, which it cannot adequately answer, is simply why the Garden City Lands should or should not be designated as General Urban in the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw. That “General Urban” designation is what is evidently illegal, so that is what needs to be examined.

Here is the most relevant part of the Metro letter:

The Garden City Lands are designated “Public and Open Space Use” in Richmond’s Official Community Plan and have been designated as such since the 1990s. Richmond provided to us the attached letter from the Agricultural Land Commission in which the Commission consents to Richmond’s designation of the Garden City Lands as “Public and Open Space Use”.

The regional “General Urban” designation can contain a number of municipal designations, including “Public and Open Space Use” as it is reasonable to consider parks within a general urban context.

The Metro letter doesn’t identify which letter from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) was meant to be attached. A reader might mistakenly think that the mysteriously missing letter proves something, so I looked for it. The ALC letter that best fits the description, dated 07 July 2008, is available on the City of Richmond website. It does not even come close to justifying the much-later “General Urban” designation of the Garden City Lands.

The ALC letter of July 2008 is from Erik Karlsen, the ALC chair at that time. It responds to near-final amendments to Richmond’s City Centre Area Plan. Since the City had applied to exclude the Garden City Lands from the ALR for high-density development, the commission’s main objective at the time would simply be to ensure that the area plan still does not imply approval of the ALR-exclusion application. (Since the commission was in the process of considering the application, it would obviously have been highly inappropriate for the applicant to presume an approval outcome.)

The ALC letter of July 2008 reiterates that the Garden City Lands can be designated as Public and Open Space use in the area plan. Since the Richmond zoning of the Garden City Lands was (and is) Agricultural, that makes sense to everyone. In particular, the Garden City Lands Coalition Society leaders, who are alert to “Pave Garden City” tactics, did not see any problem with it and still have no idea why it would be a problem. On the contrary, Public and Open Space that is city-zoned Agricultural—in addition to being in the ALR—fits well with the people’s visions for the Lands.

The Metro Regional Growth Strategy states (on page 9) that “General Urban areas are intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres, and are supported by shopping, services, institutions, recreational facilities and parks.” Basically, the Garden City Lands are essentially like the typical residential neighbourhoods in Richmond, which are a half-mile in each direction. That is because the surveyors of about 140 years ago created a grid of square quarter-sections (160 acres minus bordering roadways), and a quarter-section often became a neighborhood. In a General Urban future, the Garden City Lands neighbourhood would have some of the listed supporting uses, including a park, like other Richmond neighbourhoods. At least in Richmond, that is what the label “General Urban” generally means.

When the 1100-word Metro letter is reduced to its basic argument, it goes something like this:

  1. Public and Open Space that is zoned Agricultural and in the ALR may include parks.
  2. An area that is designated “General Urban” (“intended for residential neighbourhoods and urban centres”) may include parks.
  3. Therefore “General Urban” is the proper designation for Public and Open Space that is zoned Agricultural and in the ALR.

That has the surface appearance of basic deductive reasoning, but it is NOT logical when one thinks about it.


Note: A later post will address another faulty comment in the Metro letter.

Metro stonewalling Agricultural Land Commission

January 14, 2011

Metro Vancouver is stonewalling the Agricultural Land Commission.

I’m more sure of that after studying a chart in the January 14 agenda package that was sent to Metro Vancouver directors before today’s board meeting. The chart consists of summarized comments to the Regional Growth Strategy public hearing plus a Metro response to each comment.

From the response to a public hearing comment from Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, and a related one from the Garden City Lands Coalition Society, I can also see why few of the Metro directors would realize the extent of the problem even if they studied their 262-page package closely.

In recognizing that, I’m not excusing any of them for leaving Director Harold Steves as the single member of their group who stood up for the law of the Province of British Columbia. (Mr. Steves has been herding cattle all his life. Surely he shouldn’t have to learn to herd sheep.)

The ALC chair’s letter to the public hearing was a follow-up to a previous ALC letter in which the ALC’s executive director had clearly and explicitly pointed out the illegality—under Section 46 of the Agricultural Land Commission Act—of clearly specified content in the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw.

In this post, I will quote:

  • The Metro response to the commission and to our coalition society (identical wording, like a form letter)
  • The most relevant bits of Section 49 of the ALC Act
  • Metro’s summary of an ALC comment
  • Metro’s excerpt from our society’s main comment

I think you will quickly find it evident that Metro Vancouver, as the local government preparing the bylaw, should have ensured consistency with the ALC Act on its own initiative, especially since our coalition society had clearly informed Metro about the Richmond problems at an earlier draft stage. From a non-lawyer’s common-sense standpoint, it appears that Metro was obligated to correct the inconsistencies of the bylaw with the ALC Act after the first letter from the commission.

Instead, Metro seems to have ignored the commission’s first letter and then brushed off the second one as though the provincial tribunal is an annoying flea. Another analogy would be a kid who stays watching TV at his bedtime, says “Yes, Mom” when reminded it’s past the time to go to bed, and keeps hoping to be left alone—until Mom finally turns off the TV herself, reluctantly expresses her disappointment and perhaps a punishment, and shepherds him to his room.

It’s no secret that Metro is being bullied by some powerful municipal forces, but surely the Metro staff can do better than than they have. The Metro directors need to take responsiblity too.

Metro response to ALC and our society (identical to both):

RGS regional land use designations and Special Study Areas have been shown in the draft RGS through Metro Vancouver working directly with member municipalities. The RGS recognizes that in the case of an inconsistency between the RGS and the ALC, the ALC legislation prevails.

Excerpts from Agricultural Land Commission Act, Section 46:

(2) A local government in respect of its bylaws . . . must ensure consistency with this Act, the regulations and the orders of the commission.

(4) A local government bylaw . . . that is inconsistent with this Act, the regulations or an order of the commission has, to the extent of the inconstancy, no force or effect.

Metro summary of Agricultural Land Commission comment (provided here as context):

Mapping inconsistencies – In the City of Richmond, two parcels of ALR land totaling 112 hectares have been designated for General Urban development within the Urban Containment Boundary. Neither the ALC regulations nor any order of the Commission provides for general urban development of either parcel.

Metro excerpt from Garden City Lands Coalition Society comment (provided here as context):

We continue to urge that ALR land within Metro Vancouver be designated Agricultural, not General Urban. The Regional Growth Strategy still shows the Garden City Lands and DND Lands within the urban containment boundary and designated General Urban, which means “intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres. . .”. That area has always been in the ALR. Furthermore, the Agricultural Land Commission confirmed in 2006 and 2009 that the Garden City Lands belong in the ALR. In effect, the City appears to have directed Metro to test the resolve of the Agricultural Land Commission to enforce the ALC Act. We ask Metro to take whatever measures may be needed to bring its bylaw in line with the Act prior to the third reading.

Metro Vancouver pushed into fight with ALC

January 12, 2011

Update, January 14, 2010. The Metro Vancouver directors passed the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw. To deal with the parts that are inconsistent with the Agricultural Commission Act, ALC chair Richard Bullock will need to be as principled, capable, and determined as he appears to be, and he will need provincial government support. It is a huge challenge, but the long-term benefit for British Columbia will be immense when he succeeds.

 Before the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy goes to a bylaw vote, a mess needs to be cleaned up first. It’s about Metro zoning, which Metro calls “land use designation.”

On October 20, 2010, the Agricultural Land Commission informed Metro Vancouver that the Regional Growth Strategy is not consistent with B.C.’s Agricultural Land Commission Act. The problem is that the Urban Containment Boundary in the document includes the ALR Garden City Lands and ALR Department of National Defence Lands (DND Lands) in Richmond along with other ALR land in the Township of Langley.

The Richmond area is a mile long and half a mile wide. Even though it is ALR land, the Regional Growth Strategy designates it “General Urban.” That means residential neighborhoods and urban centres.

In the  October 20 letter to Metro Vancouver, executive director Brian Underhill makes clear that the Regional Growth Strategy, if passed, will be of no force or effect where it is inconsistent with the ALC Act. The letter refers to Section 46, where the precedence of the act is clear. ALC chair Richard Bullock reiterated the message in a November 23 letter to Metro.

Metro Vancouver’s maps reflect the land designations provided by the member municipalities. It is not the Metro planning staff who want those large areas of Agricultural Land Reserve to be shown with incompatible uses.

The problems have not been corrected in the bylaw version of the Regional Growth Strategy. Two municipalities have put Metro Vancouver staff in the unfair position of having to advise the Metro board to legislate in a way that flouts the provincial act.

The conduct makes a farce out of Regional Growth Strategy 2.3, “Protect the supply of agricultural land and promote agricultural viability with an emphasis on food production.”  A provincial tribunal is being treated in an unseemly way. The law is being defied.

There must be responsible people on the Metro staff and board who can clean up this mess. The Regional Growth Strategy should not go to the bylaw vote until it has been brought into compliance with the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

Johnny Carline—Metro CAO “gets” what’s happening

January 23, 2010

Johnny Carline, Metro Vancouver’s chief administrative officer, shared significant insights at the Metro Vancouver 2040 Regional Growth Strategy public meeting at Richmond Culture Centre on January 21, 2010:

  • “If there is one issue that has taken off in the past few years it is the issue of food security.” In response, Metro has added a regional food strategy.
  • Another important  issue “not around when we did our planning in the 1990s” is “reducing greenhouse gases and protection from climate change.”
  • It is fundamental to “establish an urban containment boundary” and to “structure in a way that is both economically and environmentally efficient.”
  • We must not “allow agricultural land to be an escape valve for housing and industry.”
  • By far the majority of people support protection and viability of agricultural land.
  • The public wants more conservation, and Metro has expanded its strategies to reflect that.
  • Affordable housing requires major injections from federal and provincial governments, supported by municipal governments.
  • Eighty percent of respondents in an unbiased survey wanted a higher level of regional authority.
  • Metro was never informed about Richmond council’s decision of Feb. 11, 2009. (City staff were supposed to inform Metro Regional Growth Strategy staff that the designation of certain ALR lands—the Garden City Lands and the Department of National Defence Lands—was under study.)
  • Re a question about designating the Garden City Lands as “Agricultural” on Metro maps: “If the Land Commission’s decision is firm, that would appear to be the designation that should apply.”

Perhaps needless to say, Johnny Carline’s talk and answers were cause for optimism.