No mystery to Sullivan’s defeat: it was Vision’s work

Sam Sullivan supporters and media commentators, shocked and amazed by Peter Ladner’s narrow victory June 15, seem unable to draw one obvious conclusion: Sullivan’s dismal approval ratings were driven by the hard work done by Vision Vancouver’s councillors in opposition.

George Chow, Heather Deal, Raymond Louie and Tim Stevenson held the NPA’s feet to the fire for two and a half years, offering positive solutions to the city’s problems and highlighting the NPA’s failures. Peter Ladner marched in lockstep with the mayor every step of the way.

During the firing of public advisory bodies, the gutting of affordable housing in Southeast False Creek, the growing housing crisis, the disastrous mismanagement of the civic labour negotiations and the seamy Dobell scandal, Sullivan led aggressively and Ladner followed. It was the Vision councillors, defeated in countless 6-5 votes, who challenged Sullivan’s direction. (Councillor David Cadman normally votes with Vision.)
Sullivan was never popular among the NPA’s ruling circles. During 10 lacklustre years on council, he never won an important appointment or handled a major file. He proved unable to work collaboratively with Ladner in opposition in 2002. His turning point came when he made himself the effective leader of the NPA by leading the No forces against wards. With that victory under his belt he shouldered aside Christy Clark’s challenge to win the nomination.

But Sullivan’s election victory was tainted by allegations of dirty tricks — notably the “James Green” affair — and his relentless negative campaigning. He did not offer a progressive vision for the city and the NPA membership did not unite around him. NPA stalwarts like Lynn Kennedy were indignant at his shameless ability to take credit for their work on council. Sullivan ignored the NPA membership. His private fundraising, which will now never be disclosed, funded his own war chest, not the NPA’s. Sullivan’s decision to take a personal patent on the term “ecodensity” proved to any who cared that his focus was himself, not the city.

The massive increase in Vision Vancouver memberships since January – now more than 13,000 according to executive members last week — is proof that Vancouver voters know which party has the values, vision and energy to take the city forward. It’s not that voters “just don’t like him,” as one of Sullivan’s senior aides told Globe columnist Gary Mason. It’s that his policies, all supported by Ladner, were bad for the city. That’s what voters want to change.”

It was a testament to the rot at the heart of the NPA that Sullivan’s aide, whose role requires total personal loyalty, offered Mason this crushing and ill-considered comment as epitaph: “Think about what people think of when they think of a leader. You think of someone who will stand strong in the face of adversity. Someone who shows spine when faced with a challenge. Well, Sam’s not that person.”

Low-cost housing emerging as critical election issue

The issue of affordable market housing, or low-cost housing — largely ignored in the 2005 campaign — will undoubtedly be a key issue in the upcoming civic election. The housing crunch is putting the problem front and centre, along with the solutions at hand.

The May 12 Province had this shock headline: “How he got his Whistler condo for $172,000.”

Inside, we learn that the People’s Republic of Whistler took the plunge to protect housing stock for its core employees – police, teachers, nurses, café operators and many more – over a decade ago. Since 1997, the resort municipality’s Whistler Housing Authority, has created affordable housing for 4,500 people, making up about 75 percent of the community workforce.

When Jim Green was Vision Vancouver’s candidate for mayor, a key announcement on affordable housing made few waves. Green pledged, according to the Vision platform, to improve affordable housing: “Vision Vancouver has worked hard to make rental housing more affordable through the legalization of secondary suites across the city. To continue this work, we will provide incentives to build infill housing, reduce red tape, and streamline new small-scale housing developments.”

Green’s campaign commitments, no longer available on the Vision website, included a comprehensive program to generate low-cost market housing in addition to adding to social housing stock.

But one of the first acts of Sam Sullivan’s NPA council was to gut the commitment to affordable housing in the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village on the grounds it was too costly. As Vision councillors later demonstrated, the NPA gave up on housing for working and middle class families and a major profit on the project as well. The EcoDensity fiasco has provided a second act of the NPA housing farce, outraging the community leaders whose support we need to make real gains.

As Vision’s mayoralty candidates tune up their housing policies, the issue is heading to centre stage. David Eby recounts his discussions with Vision mayoral candidate Al De Genova here. Should the city use the city’s Property Endowment Fund to assist in its efforts? Al says no, Gregor Robertson thinks it might be a plan. Raymond Louie, who spearheaded the work on Southeast False Creek has spoken out on the need for affordable housing, but not the role of the fund.

But why rule any strategy in or out at this point? The experience of Whistler indicates there are solutions at hand, and many cities in Europe have gone even further than Whistler.

full range of tested and viable policy options.Those interested in just how far we could go should check out this new Affordable Housing Toolkit from SmartGrowth BC for a list of tested and viable policy options.

The only thing standing between Vancouver and affordable housing is political will. And we know that won’t come from the NPA.

Standing room only for music, art, politics at grace-gallery

Dave Taylor (left) at grace-gallery May 13.Geoff and friends at grace-galleryMore than 60 turned out May 13 to enjoy music, art, good food and politics May 13 at Vancouver’s grace-gallery. The Envision Vancouver event, organized for Geoff’s campaign by Brenton Walters, featured outstanding music by Dave Taylor and Melisa Devost. The turnout was more evidence, if it’s needed, of the growing engagement in civic politics, and Vision Vancouver, right across the city. Thanks to all who came out, including mayoral candidate for nomination Al De Genova and park board hopefuls Melissa De Genova and Sarah Blyth. Grace-gallery is the artists’ display area for a building that formerly housed an artist’s metal shop but now includes the gallery, a bar and artists’ studios — 1898 Main St. at 3rd.

Ecodensity: save the best, junk the rest

  • Geoff’s letter on Ecodensity published in the Georgia Straight April 17, 2008.

Editor, The Georgia Straight:
Sam Sullivan’s Ecodensity Charter (patent pending) has sparked an uproar in communities that were comfortable with their community plans and committed to sustainability. They are indignant that the city seems to be trying to impose some massive density increase on them without consultation.
Vancouver desperately needs policies to make housing available to average working families. In the current market a family needs annual income of $147,000 to own a relatively modest home.
If anything, Ecodensity has set back changes in city policy that would make a positive difference.
Vancouver was well on the way to a sensible approach to increase the stock of affordable, sustainable housing until Sullivan’s NPA came along.
Sullivan voted against the Woodward’s project, a model of sustainable development, with a mix of affordable, social and market housing, as well as public space, commercial space and cultural amenities. Developer Bob Rennie now touts it as the way forward. (Woodwards is an example of reciprocal zoning, in which developers can achieve extra density in return for amenities like affordable or social housing.)
The South East False Creek plan, including the Olympic village, set an ambitious goal for mid-range market housing, but Sullivan’s NPA ripped out that provision as one its first acts in office. Now Ecodensity has neighbourhoods in turmoil.
Until communities feel their needs are understood and respected, Vancouver will be unable to move forward. The Mayor wants to make change, he would do well to shelve his current scheme and ask neighbourhoods to help chart a new direction.

Geoff Meggs

  • Geoff’s April 12 Ecodensity letter to the Vancouver Sun, not published.

Editor, The Sun:

The Sun is absolutely right that “smart policies will be needed to ensure Metro Vancouver remains a place where people can live” given the staggering disconnect between the average price of a Vancouver home and the earnings of average Vancouver families. (Growing population needs creative, affordable housing solutions – April 12) A family needs annual income of $147,000 to buy the average home, but more than half of Vancouver’s families earn only $60,000 or less.
But the current NPA council reduced the affordable housing component of the Southeast False Creek project as one of its first acts in office. The new Ecodensity charter — which has sparked a uproar in Vancouver communities — makes passing reference to affordability, but only vague commitments to how it could be achieved. This is not a smart way to proceed.
Private sector developers can help solve the problem of lower cost market housing, but they need clear policies from the city; swift and transparent approval processes; access to “reciprocal development” that links increased density to provision of affordable housing; and political leadership prepared to focus on the needs of communities, not patenting the latest buzzwords. None of those factors are present at the moment.

Geoff Meggs