September 2011 edition

Poppycock at City Hall

Election season is upon Victoria, and for city taxpayers there is a serious issue of soaring property taxes, bloated City staff, and the veracity of council itself.

In a letter to ratepayers this year, Dean Fortin wrote: “For 2011, City Council approved an overall property tax increase of 3.96 percent.”

This is utter poppycock, and Fortin is treating voters as nitwits. Even the Times Colonist had to admit it was a minimum seven percent hike, but the reality is even more, for property assessments have risen and that means more taxes.

Let’s take the City’s own figures: According to the fact sheet, the general tax rate is up eight percent. That translates to 16.15 percent on a house with an average assessment increase. 

Carry on down the list for this typical house: Total taxes up 10.82 percent, water rate up seven percent, sewer rate up nine percent, CRD sewer charge up 66 percent, police up 8.8 percent, schools up 2.5 percent and (shockingly) CRD levy down 15.8 per cent.

That works out to a tax hike of 7.43 percent on a typical house.

There is a pattern here since this gang took over in 2008. Taxes on the same house have gone up 21 percent in total, but for municipal purposes the tax has gone up 28.8 percent.

This is where the overpaid council and bloated staff come in. In 2008, the cost of general government was 17.55 percent of the budget. This year it is 25 percent. The operating budget for 2008 was $173.7 million. This year it is $194.2 million.

Fortin has some ’splaining to do.

Of course these are paltry figures compared to the 50 percent pay-raise this council voted themselves the first day they took office. If we are to believe the councillors, this was jolly good because it is transparent and they do not get tax-free benefits. Thus said John Luton, who just pocketed $10,642 in expenses on top of his 2010 salary. Or failed federal politician Lynn Hunter, who said she had no idea what the salary was when running for office. If true, it shows how unprepared and inept she is for the job. Who would not check out the pay?

Which bodes ill for the future if this bunch is returned. The first thing will be more pay hikes and higher taxes. The taxes are needed to pay the burgeoning staff. In 2010, their chief spin doctor got a raise to a salary [$143,273] paying more than the mayor of Vancouver got. Her $13-an-hour hike [over her 2009 salary] exceeds the minimum wage. Is not the task of explaining the whys and wherefores of council decisions part of the mayor and councillor’s job description?

What compounds the problem is this council’s lack of vision. They were almost apoplectic about the condition of the Johnson Street Bridge, warning that it would fall into the sea taking all down with it if not replaced within two years. Oh, now this death-trap is good to go until 2015. Likewise, it had to be completed by March 31, 2011 to get federal funding. No work to-date as the bridge gives Victoria the finger.

Aside from the $100-million bridge that council tried to ram through with no consultation, and record tax increases, what have these ditherers accomplished?

Council twiddled its thumbs while the Provincial Capital Commission tried to take a BC Day event away from the founder; it shuffled around as the Harbour Authority allowed cruise ships to pollute taxpayers in James Bay; it kind of, nearly, maybe suggested a super marina in Victoria Harbour might not be a great thing; it hemmed and hawed on a super harbour airport; it jumped on the billion-dollar LRT program while abandoning a viable transit corridor into the city on the E&N line.

But what have they done? They built a urinal for drunken adults who do not know how to use a potty in a bar; they spent untold thousands on designing a bicycle rack in the shape of a V so those drunks would know where they are (come on, people—it’s a bike rack); they planted radishes in the hanging baskets; they stalled on any decision on development in Chinatown until after the election; they handed out lollipops to drunks.

On important issues, nada. The City discovered it has a gift of 52,000 square feet of land from the realignment of the Blue Bridge. They have been talking about eliminating the S-curve from Day 1, but never conceived of what an S looked like. The Victoria News of July 27 quotes engineer Mike Lai as saying: “This was something that has not had any type of discussion that I can recall at the table.”

Where was council? Probably in one of their many secret meetings. In violation of the Community Charter, this council holds many in-camera meetings. Whether it is discussing the curling rink (a public property on public land) or who will benefit and by how much from a land deal, one can only speculate. What is the cost of sewage treatment? Why weekly garbage pickup? Do not bother council with issues.

Taking a page from the big boys of politics, this council has now created a political class in the city. Not for them details of potholes, broken sidewalks or street lamps. They are important people, and when re-elected in November will show how important by putting more wages into their pockets, increasing staff, cutting services, and telling taxpayers to put up or shut up.

Patrick Murphy

 

No light summer reading in Focus

Only occasionally do I read any of the extended articles in your publication, and even less frequently ( i.e. never) compose letters to any editor, but I’m compelled to acknowledge the outstanding work in the July/August issue by Rob Wipond (“Kathleen’s Demise: A Cautionary Tale”), Amy Reiswig ( “Tunnelling Through the Wall of Hate”), and by no means least, the singularly gutsy stand of Gene Miller’s “Counting Wrong.” 

At the time of year when one might expect a lightweight, summer’s breeze, easy-listening Muzak issue, we were treated to a lesson in journalism as food for thought. Bravo to all, and apologies to those contributors not mentioned.

Chris Bobiak

 

Re: Elizabeth May’s Roadmap Out of the Mess, July/August 2011

I hope I am not the only one to have noticed that Elizabeth May failed to respond adequately to Monbiot’s concerns. It is indeed necessary that we make conservation a priority, but May, being a pale green and anxious to see more Greens elected, does not take seriously Monbiot’s argument that more growth will trump our efforts to do better around conservation. To adequately address the ecological crisis, we must not only conserve but move toward zero growth, which will upset all those folks in the Conservative party that May is so anxious to reach out to.

John R. Bell

 

Re: Counting Wrong, July/August 2011

As Gene Miller rightly points out, transportation systems are often based on outdated models—in our case the almost sacrosanct belief that everyone and everything must come to Downtown Victoria and the hell with the resulting problems. We’ll just spend $950,000,000 trying to fix them with LRT.

But there could be other possibilities. For instance, what if Langford decided to develop its own basic self-sufficient commercial, work, and cultural facilities. Yes, at home and no more daily commute to “get where they’re already at,” and without spending any of that billion. 

It may be time for Downtown Victoria to rethink its role adapting to inevitable changes. Conversion of excess office space to condos for all those new resident shoppers is one strategy.

Roger W. Smeeth

 

I am the transport planner and policy analyst quoted in Gene Miller’s article. I believe that Miller misrepresents key issues in ways that undervalue rail transit benefits.

Yes, light rail transit (LRT) capital costs would be somewhat higher than for bus rapid transit (BRT) or high occupancy vehicle (HOV) solutions, but not nearly as much as critics claim. Expanding urban highway capacity is expensive due to the need to redesign intersections and expand bridges and overpasses. Adding one lane in each direction to the Island Highway between Victoria and Colwood costs about a third of a billion dollars a decade ago, and cost would be even higher now due to inflation. BRT also requires vehicles, stations, and station-area access improvements (better sidewalks, bicycle facilities, road access and parking facilities), just like LRT. Offsetting the higher capital costs of LRT are future savings in labour and fuel.

Rail transit tends to attract more discretionary riders—travellers who would otherwise drive—than BRT or HOV, and so can provide far greater benefits to users and society. Miller cites a 2001 US federal government report which claims that if bus systems were as comfortable, fast and reliable as rail they could attract comparable ridership. But plenty of research indicates otherwise, and efforts to make bus service as attractive as rail reduce the cost difference (see www.vtpi.org/bus_rail.pdf).

Miller ignores transit-oriented development benefits. Rail transit stops and stations can provide a catalyst for more compact, multi-modal land use development. People who live and work in such areas tend to drive less, own fewer vehicles, and rely more on walking, cycling and public transit than they would otherwise. My research, published in major professional journals, indicates that urban regions with high quality rail transit systems have far better transport system performance than more automobile-dependent regions, including significantly less per capita congestion delays, traffic fatality rates, household transportation expenditures, fuel consumption and pollution emissions, plus more cost-effective public transit services. This results not just from automobile trips shifted to rail transit, but from transit-oriented development impacts (see www.vtpi.org/railben.pdf).

High quality public transit can provide significant savings and benefits to consumers and businesses. Residents of urban regions with high quality rail transit systems typically spend about $500 less annually per capita ($1,250 less per household) on transportation (vehicles, fuel and public transit fares) than they would if located in more automobile-dependent communities. Businesses save substantially from reduced parking costs. Higher quality transit service does require an additional $100-200 annual tax subsidy per capita, but provides a very positive financial return on investment, plus other benefits including congestion reductions, lower traffic fatalities, improved mobility for non-drivers, energy conservation and emission reductions.

Miller makes several analytic errors intended to exaggerate LRT system costs. For example, he estimates the cost per peak-period automobile trip removed for just the first year. This is silly. An LRT system is a durable asset, lasting decades and having even longer-term impacts on transport and land use patterns. The neighbourhood centres we love so much—Oak Bay Village, Cook Street Village, Fernwood Village and downtown Esquimalt—all began as streetcar stops. A new LRT system can provide a similar legacy of walkable urban villages in Uptown, Colwood, View Royal and Langford.

Miller also claims that because current development patterns are dispersed, public transit should be “adaptive, responsive and convenient.” This misses the point: rail transit that helps stimulate transit-oriented development is the antidote to decades of automobile-oriented sprawl. It is the game changer needed to prepare for future demands.

Todd Litman

 

I think most supporters of this $1-billion boondoggle are totally missing the major objection. That is that the LRT will only run between Victoria and WestShore and yet all CRD taxpayers will have their transit fees doubled, and that is just for the construction. We will then all pay more each year to subsidize the operating losses. I live in Sidney so I will have a major increase in taxes for absolutely no benefit. In fact it will have a negative impact, since I will no longer be able to use transit to go direct to downtown but will have to get off the bus and wait for an LRT at the Uptown Terminal. Ditto coming home.

Also, has the City of Victoria really thought through the impact on its downtown retail businesses? As Ottawa discovered with Transpo, transit passengers spend about 50 percent less on retail than car passengers, so Victoria retailers can expect a 50 percent loss in sales and WestShore will pick up their lost sales. Who is in charge of this loony bin?

Richard Talbot

 

Perhaps we could set new goals for transportation planners. Their jobs would be to reduce automobile travel time when taken over all forms of transportation. If average travel times go up, their pay goes down. If times go up enough, they look for employment elsewhere.

The planners who put the interchange at the airport rather than at McKenzie would all be fired. The planners who refuse to make Douglas one way into town and Blanshard one way out of town will all be fired. The planners who designed the changes to the Old Island Highway—out the door.

The planner who synchronizes the lights on the Pat Bay highway so traffic in rush hour moves all the way at the speed limit without hitting a light gets a huge bonus.

Time to change the goals from “do anything to make public transit the only choice” to “make the existing system as efficient as possible.”

Brent Beach

 

 

Re: Crisis behind closed doors, June 2011

Thank you so much for Rob Wipond’s excellent article on antipsychotic drugs in long term care in June. As a nurse who works in several nursing homes, I wholeheartedly agree with his comments about the serious problems that exist today.  Physical and chemical restraints are used routinely in long term care and in hospitals. Staff do not have the time to use alternative approaches to dementia behaviors. 

Quality of life for residents in care has deteriorated over the past decade because of reductions to numbers of care staff and team members such as music therapists, chaplains and social workers.   Additional problems are caused because health authorities expect facilities to care for persons with special needs.  For example, young, brain injured people and 50 year olds with multiple sclerosis should not be living in nursing homes.

What are the answers?  We must eliminate use of physical and chemical restraints on frail elderly people.  We need more care facilities that are designed to allow people to enjoy some quality of life.  Staffing levels must improve and continuity of staffing must become a goal again.  An elderly person in the community should not have a different support worker in his or her home every day of the week.  We should have more Nurse Practitioners with specialized education in care of the elderly.   

Please do not stop investigating and writing. Your work will improve the quality of many lives.

Name withheld by request

 

 

Re: Kathleen’s demise: A cautionary tale, July/August 2011

Congratulations to Rob Wipond for his really excellent, though terrifying, articles in your June and July/August editions. Growing old without anyone to advocate for you is indeed a frightening prospect.

Briony Penn’s wonderful articles almost always frighten me also, but I wait for them every month and have learned a great deal from them.

Jane Telford

 

Correction

In the July/August story “Kathleen’s Demise: A Cautionary Tale” Fiona Hunter was incorrectly named as Broadmead Lodge’s Director of Care. Fiona Sudbury is Broadmead Lodge’s Director of Care. Fiona Hunter is a lawyer from the law firm Horne Coupar who, along with Heather Fisher, represented Ralph Palamarek from 2007 to 2009.