Archive for October, 2006

arguing for clean air

October 30, 2006

These are the points I’m hoping I will get across clearly at tomorrow’s City Council meeting.

There are three main arguments people seem to make when resisting smoking bans:
• I have the right to do whatever I want with my body;
• it’s a legal product in Canada so the city has no business telling me I can’t smoke it; and
• if people can’t smoke on White Rock patios, they’ll just go to Surrey, which will put White Rock restaurants at a competitive disadvantage.

rights of one person should not diminish another’s
Scientific research suggests that 90% of people who smoke are addicted to nicotine. Considering that trace amount of second hand smoke has immediate health impacts on asthmatics, children, and people with heart disease, the freedoms of those people and their right to health should take precedence over appeasing a drug addiction.

legal purchase and possession does not impart unfettered legal use
Just because tobacco is legal to purchase and possess does not mean you should be able to use it in any and all places. Legal purchase does not give a right to smoke in public. It does not override others’ right to clean air.

marketing clean air should be a competitive advantage
I keep hearing that if White Rock bans smoking on patios, restaurants will lose business to Surrey patios, which will still allow smoking. My question is, which patios in Surrey would get an advantage? There are very few patios in Surrey. The only ones I can think of that are ever used are Sawbuck’s (which is essentially a smoke pit) and the two places in Crescent Beach.

I think White Rock patios are successful because of their views and location. That is their competitive advantage. Are nicotine addicts really the market that White Rock wants to cater to as a city that has a stated goal of becoming a city of health excellence? Being smoke-free should be seen as a competitive advantage, as supported by market research. Statistically valid phone polls prove that a small percentage of people will go out to restaurants less often if they can’t smoke, but more people will go out more often if they know they won’t have to breathe smoke. That means it is more likely that a ban on patio smoking would actually be good for business.

purpose of it all
The point of a patio smoking ban in White Rock should be to protect the health of the people who work in restaurants (many of whom are youth) and people who are especially sensitive to tobacco smoke – children, asthmatics, and people with heart problems. Let’s make their health a priority.

the Standard

October 29, 2006

I will be a panelist on channel 10 Omni’s The Standard this week. Topics are the Afghan war, same-sex marriage, and MacKay & Stronach. These are the points I’m hoping to get across clearly.

Afghan war
The only morality we have any business promoting in other countries is basic human rights. And we should first and foremost be modeling those tenets. Our only role should be to support the people of their country defend their human rights. It’s hard to see how aggressive armed combat fits into those principles. Does Canada have the appetite to be an aggressor? At what point does our presence do more harm than good?

Same-sex marriage
What we see here is a conflict between our principles of personal freedoms as defined in the Charter of Rights and our cultural heritage that defines a family as a man, woman and children. But that definition has been long obsolete. As long as you aren’t harming anyone and it involves consenting adults, I have no business telling you what you can or can’t do with your penis.

The challenge is that our definition of family has such deep roots in our cultural identity that this conflict with our (relatively) new principles is threatening to our fundamental beliefs about our life’s purpose. What we are witnessing is an awkward evolution of our culture. We have fought for and embraced principles that value personal freedom, now we are trying to figure out how they fit in our values. We are wrestling with our own identity.

Peter McKay & Belinda Stronach
This has nothing to do with Stronach and McKay, it’s an illustration of why our elected representatives are seen as ineffective at resolving issues on our behalf. This type of behaviour is part of what feeds citizens’ distrust and cynicism of politicians. I think we should expect a much higher degree of respect and decorum in how MPs treat each other. They should be role models for children. If they are, in fact, representatives of our society, then we have some soul searching to do of our own. Should name-calling, assumptions, personal attacks and judgments be tolerated? Is this how we solve problems in our communities? Is this how we should treat each other?

The way this controversy unfolded also highlights another problem in public life – being physically attractive is an advantage for getting elected, but a disadvantage in public life. If Stronach were ugly and unfriendly, would anyone care who she is dating? And is the preoccupation with her sex-life distracting people from the issues that actually impact on our lives?


October 28, 2006

On the Opinions page of today’s Peace Arch News, It is truly sad to read the petulance of a few veterans on the issue of pay parking.

This is exactly the reason governments are reluctant to give a special benefit. If you do it once, it seems people get a sense of entitlement.

Instead of being thankful that they got over a year of complimentary car storage, some veterans are indignant that the Year of the Veteran has passed and the rules will soon revert to normal.

Squabbling over fees for car storage diminishes the sanctity of the valiant efforts made in defence of democracy and human rights.

It is dishonorable of veterans to claim that the risks they took on our behalf entitles them to park their car for free.


October 25, 2006

Building height is not the linchpin of White Rock’s Official Community Plan.

To suggest, as many have over the past couple years, that the entire OCP is now null and void because council has allowed increased building height in a select area, is to admit that they don’t know what an OCP is and the purpose it serves. It also demonstrates an inflexibility and closed-mindedness that is most unfortunate. I’m not suggesting that everyone should accept the taller buildings. I’m not suggesting that everyone should be happy with them because I said so. I’m just disappointed when people write letters to the editor worrying of one thing (impact of building height on the character of the city) yet complain about something else (claiming that the OCP is now invalid). Such melodrama actually distracts from their concerns.

The shrapnel from those claims might do more harm than intended. It would be counter-productive to declare the OCP nullified. Building heights in the Town Centre are only one small piece of a very comprehensive document. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

UBCM – Housing panel

October 23, 2006

These are some notes I took today during presentations on different housing strategies in BC at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference in Victoria.

Judy Villeneuve, City of Surrey Councillor
Surrey established a charity foundation to manage and distribute funds collected from developers for affordable housing.

There is funding available from BC Housing for measuring the community’s housing needs and determining options for addressing those needs.

Felice Mazzoni, Ucluelet Planner
In Ucluelet, they’ve incorporated LEED and affordable housing design guidelines into their OCP.

They require that 15-20% of units in a development be affordable, as defined by CMHC. It is achieved through the Development Permit process, not rezoning.

They require an appropriate quantity of staff housing to accompany commercial developments. The occupancy permit is held until the staff housing is ready for occupancy.

Crown land might be used if the city has no land of its own.

The developer doesn’t necessarily have to own the land. They could be allowed to build affordable housing on crown land or donated land as part of their density bonus.

He recommends lowering the base density allowable and then allow bonusing. “Don’t give away your density for free.”

Agreements are set in place that allow locals an opportunity to purchase SFD and condos at a discount before they are available on the open market.

Recommended to take cash. Cash provides options.

“You are the leaders of your communities, so be bold with your policies.”

Housing Management Plan drafted by non-profit with assistance from the City. It specifies targets for sizes and types of housing. The City partners with non-profit societies to manage the housing.

Challenge is how to measure/count private rentals.

Until recently, 25% of the project cost was land. It is now 50%

Lowering parking standards greatly reduces construction costs.

If public land is available, a long-term lease might be an alternate option to selling.


October 22, 2006

a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration; self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects. – Apple dictionary

This is exactly what I am trying to not be. I’ve seen it happen to other people who have been elected. It would be easy to do. Elected people are privy to a lot of privileged information. We are expected to learn about the issues we deal with. We are provided packages of background material, workshops, and expert advice. We talk with people outside our normal social circle. All this extra input can change an elected person’s perspective. It can also make us feel as though we have a perspective that is more knowledgeable or more enlightened or more important than the common Joe. It becomes a self-perpetuating trap – the more we buy into the pomp and privilege of the responsibility, the more isolated we become.

From observing others over the years in the same role that I am in now, I know it is important to not define myself with my title. It is also very important to understand the difference between colleagues, associates, and friends. But most important is to always remember that it would be highly unusual to be the smartest person in the room, and likely always possible that my assumptions could be proven wrong. I’m hoping that remembering this will inoculate me from two debilitating political diseases: distended ego and narcissism.

outsider’s perspective

October 19, 2006

I stumbled across this blog last night: Talking about Vancouver

Naomi is a singer working in food service. She’s from Edmonton and came to White Rock earlier this month. It was her first time seeing the ocean. Her account of the trip is well-detailed. She talks about the traffic, food, weather, and homeless.

I enjoyed reading the unfiltered impressions and unbridled opinions of the area from someone visiting for the first time.

Naomi, I’m glad you had such a great time.

smoked economics

The fear of losing customers is so blinding for some business interests in White Rock that they seem to have lost focus on reality.

I completely understand the instinct to protect our ability to earn a living, and to defend someone else’s livelihood. What I don’t understand is how it has created fear to the point that rational thought is lost.

Over 85% of people in this area do not smoke. Statistically valid polls have concluded that this vast majority of people would visit restaurants and bars as often or more often if they were completely smoke-free. Only 4% said they would go less often. This is supported by the well-documented experience of cities all across North America. There is no evidence of negative impact from smoke-free regulations. In fact, the studies show that many places experienced an increase in business as the number of people who ate out more often outweighed the number who ate out less often.

It seems strange to me that local business advocates would cling so tightly to the status quo. Given such an overwhelming body of market research that says smoke-free bylaws are beneficial to business, neutral at worst, why are we hearing such a counter-productive stance from local restaurants?

Tobacco use is bad for our economy, locally, regionally, provincially, nationally. Is our society so addicted to short-term cash that we can’t see the long-term costs of health care and productivity losses? And in the case of our local businesses, are they so blinded by the sales generated from a small minority of smokers that they can’t see the potential of increased sales from the huge majority of non-smokers, many of whom avoid places with tobacco smoke?

When are we going to snap out of our denial of the fact that tobacco smoke is highly toxic? Despite science placing tobacco smoke beside asbestos and benzene as being poisonous even at barely detectable levels, we seem to cling to the illogical argument that tobacco is a legal product so therefore everyone should tolerate it.

I realize that a business doesn’t want to offend any potential customer so they don’t want to make their smoking customers feel unwelcome. But what they seem to be missing is that a larger number of people are offended by tobacco smoke, and that smoke makes them feel unwelcome.

Going smoke-free will be good for our economy. While I empathize with the passionate fears of those concerned about their livelihoods, all the local facts and the experience of other cities say that there is no reason to be afraid of smoke-free bylaws. In fact, the evidence suggests that economic boosters should embrace clean-air legislation.

culture’s proxy

October 15, 2006

What is “economic development”?

Wikipedia says “economic development is a sustainable increase in living standards that implies increased per capita income, better education and health as well as environmental protection.”

In White Rock’s experience, many if not most projects touted as being in the interests of economic development have actually been cultural, social, or environmental initiatives. So, I wonder why so much time, attention and resources over the past year has been devoted to creating an “economic development strategy”? Admittedly I am not an economist, but it seems to me that this is a very inefficient delivery method.

Isn’t much of economic dogma about seeking greater efficiencies? Wouldn’t those resources be more efficiently invested if applied directly to cultural, social and environmental policy development and projects?

Why are the heritage inventory, communications strategy, and tree protection bylaw taking a back seat to 2010 day-dreaming and economic development strategizing? These are things that we know are key to our community’s identity and economic success. And we’ve seen those same policies be very successful in supporting the economies of cities all around BC. So it seems ironic to me that what is now standing in the way of those initiatives is the diversion of resources into developing an economic development strategy. Yet, over the past year, the resources dedicated to talking about how the city needs an economic development strategy could have been used to actually implement initiatives we already know would be good for our local economy. It appears to be terribly inefficient wasting all that time and money on talking about the things that should have been done instead of doing the things we know should be done.

I hear from conservative capitalists that all that warm fuzzy stuff gets in the way of making cold hard cash – and that’s what’s most important. And yet, economic development strategy in White Rock usually ends up talking about beautification projects (cultural), housing development (social), and parks improvements (environmental).

I’m tired of the opinion that funds invested in cultural infrastructure, social services, or the environment is lost money. The things we most pride ourselves on in this community as being important to our economic well-being is our artsy atmosphere (culture), hospital (social), and waterfront park (environment). I say our best economic development strategy would be to not let all the talk about branding, increasing development, and the Olympics stop us from celebrating our culture, building stronger neighbourhoods, and improving our environment. Isn’t that the purpose of economic development anyway?

Besides, branding is a cultural exercise and expression, development is for social advancement and improvement, and hosting the Olympics is about showing off our cultural heritage and environmental stewardship.

In this respect, I agree with many economists, it looks like the best thing the City could do for the economy in White Rock right now is to stay out of the way. Instead, invest all that time, energy, and money in cultural infrastructure, social services, and environmental improvements.

smouldering cause

October 12, 2006

It looks like I probably won’t get where I wanted on tobacco control in White Rock. But it is looking more likely that we will be making some incremental progress… so that’s a good thing.

Yesterday, the Social Committee recommended to City Council that smoking be not permitted at the entrances to public facilities and on patios of bars and restaurants. I was hoping to have parks also be smoke-free, and wanted to have tobacco products hidden from view of minors in corner stores and pharmacies. But one member of the committee noted that society needs time to adapt and making incremental change is progress – better than where we are now. They were concerned about going further than the community is ready for and then having problems with compliance.

They stated that it is the committee’s vision that White Rock become a smoke-free city and that their recommendation should be seen as another step towards that goal. Hopefully council will share that goal and that intention.