Category: local

Who is Local?

“Ahmadi is still months away from getting permanent resident status, putting him in the unlucky group of middle-class British Columbians who have found themselves targeted by a tax purportedly imposed to crack down on rich real estate speculators from overseas”

I’ve never been this hopeless

I would not call Hamed Ahmadi unlucky, he’s a victim of the all too common policy apparatus that confuses residency with visa status. The BC non-resident tax of 15% on properties is supposed to target “foreign” (read Chinese) investors buying in Vancouver with no intentions of living there. I presume there are multiple other ways to determine residency and “localness” for the purpose of determining who lives here and who does not. The BC government, in its haste to demonstrate it was doing something, took the easy route and used visa status as a proxy.

Hamed lives and works in BC, which meets my definition of local. While a speculation tax on non-residents is a reasonable approach, using visa status to determine residency, and providing no sensible exceptions for locals with alternative paper work is lazy and thoughtless policy making, so is not providing exceptions for people with home buying applications already in process. It’s almost as if someone looked at the polls and press and wrote the law in a day.

In many ways, this is personal for me because I lived in the US for 10+ years under various non-permanent visas that left me vulnerable to these poorly designed, thoughtless policy measures. I lived in the same town for 10 years, was very much a local by the time I’d left, with a stable set of friends, family, work, places I shopped in, hiked to, causes I supported, volunteer work I did, and more. So, Hamed’s story could have been mine, and in some smaller ways, was mine for other parts of my life.

“CTV News spoke with BC Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Wilkinson on Wednesday and asked several times for comment on Ahmadi’s situation. Wilkinson responded by repeating a piece of blanket advice for the people impacted. “Those who find themselves affected by the tax should seek legal advice because individual circumstances vary,” Wilkinson said.

This is typical of policy makers who are so removed from the day to day lives of the people whose behaviour they seek to regulate. The casual assumption that regular people can afford professionals who bill at multiple hundreds of dollars an hour speaks more about the types of people these ministers hang out with than anything else. But this sounds familiar too, I needed to consult lawyers multiple times to help me with immigration paper work.

As someone with a high level of institutional trust, and who thinks governments can affect our lives for the better with sound and thoughtful policy interventions, these types of hasty policy making are deeply disappointing. There are multiple other policy measures to make housing more affordable. The CCPA just released a comprehensive document of policies, focusing on the actual problem, the lack of affordable housing. Investment in affordable housing with a focus on cohousing and social housing, and zoning changes that reduce the protections afforded to affluent property owners would go a long way.

Originally posted on Interrobang 04-August-2016

A Bus Corridor for Douglas Street?

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission has set a one-year deadline to have rush-hour, bus-only lanes up and down Douglas Street.

B.C. Transit’s long-range plans call for a $1-billion Light Rapid Transit line between downtown Victoria and Langford in the West Shore. Fortin said bus-only corridors might help forestall the need for that work.

“If it solves our problem by putting some paint on the ground in this dedicated lane, then perfect,” Fortin said. “If it delays our need to invest in Light Rapid Transit for another 10 or 15 years, that’s good, too.”

Interesting and promising. Let’s hope the provincial government in its election year avoidance of all things important can come through with the right of ways required. Also interesting that Dean Fortin explicitly mentions that the success of these bus lanes, a Bus Rapid Transit Lite, could postpone, or even forestall the Light Rail Transit plans. Given the  reluctance of North American governments to invest in any infrastructure other than defence (or roofs for football stadiums), finding $1.1B for LRT in addition to building a sewage treatment plant was going to be difficult.

Let’s see how this develops.

PS: I am tired of posting stuff to facebook where I can’t find it 6 months later. So, quick hits to the blog it is for the foreseeable future (1 day-6 months).


Oak Bay goes electric

Oak Bay has found the vehicles that fit its green policy and low speed limits — electric cars that top out at a maximum speed of 50 km/h.The municipality is drafting a bylaw that would allow electric cars on its public streets, making it possibly the first municipality in B.C. to take advantage of new provincial legislation that expands where the innovative vehicles can be driven.”I don’t think we’ll see any speed differences in Oak Bay just because we have slower-moving vehicles like electric cars,” Coun. Nils Jensen said yesterday of the impact on traffic movement in the notoriously slower-moving community.

Oak Bay nears electric-car nirvana

 gv.gifFor those not in the know, Oak Bay is a municipality that is part of the Greater Victoria area. We have 11 separate municipalities, which makes for some serious inefficiencies and redundancy in administration, but does tend to preserve local character. Oak Bay, in my humble opinion, is insufferably British and proper, very wealthy and quite beautiful. And yes, it is a slow moving town, perfect for 50 kmph vehicles.

But Oak Bay is not an island, it is flanked by Victoria and Saanich, and the boundaries are not always clearly demarcated. What’s going to happen when someone randomly wanders into Saanich?

Except for the stretch of 17 going up to Sidney and the stretch of 1 going West and North out of the area, 50kmph ought to cover most of the area. I suspect Victoria will follow suit soon.

Victoria, not so quiet after all

One man is dead and two others are in hospital after a shooting near a popular downtown Victoria nightclub early yesterday.Officers were called to the scene around 2:50 a.m. after a report of shots fired outside 751 View St., between Douglas and Blanshard streets.Yesterday morning, forensic investigators inspected the body as it lay covered by a white tarp on the edge of the sidewalk in front of the exit to the View Street city parkade, about two buildings down from the Red Jacket nightclub.

One dead, two in hospital after shooting outside bar

Duke Energy and Cliffside

NC Warn produces a good cheatsheet on Duke Energy‘s deceptions about the Cliffside coal fired power plant.

For more than a year, Duke Energy has tried to sell the idea that building a large coal-fired power plant near Charlotte would somehow be “good for the environment.” Following the January 29th state approval for construction to begin, the deception increased. By masking the new unit’s pollution behind upgrades already required by state law at an existing Cliffside furnace – and the retirement of four very small units that sit idle most of the time – Duke has misled the public, media and elected leaders into thinking that building a new unit will reduce a range of harmful emissions.


To summarize, CO2 emissions are set to increase significantly (factor of 12) if this plant is approved. So, in my book, this is a loser project that does not deserve even consideration. The facts are simple. This country is less than two years away from putting a price on carbon through some kind of carbon cap-trade scheme. All three major candidates for president support some kind of scheme, though McCain does not seem to know if the legislation he supports has an emissions cap or not (typical of him, he does not have any policy expertise or attention to detail whatsoever). So, the ground rules on what constitutes a cost effective option and what represents a major money making boondoggle are going to change very soon. Our state officials, thanks to the miracle of the internets, have all the knowledge to make a decision based on a reality that is coming soon. So, their reluctance to consider CO2 is puzzlingly short sighted. Duke Energy has some vague promises to sequester the carbon. But the fact of the matter is that the technology does not exist, and there’s no guarantee that it will exist any time soon in any cost effective fashion.

Even if you’re a big believer in the technology advances that will no doubt occur into the future, you have to admit that carbon emissions cannot be free any more. So, unless the federal government puts a price on the carbon, you cannot objectively support a project that will give these emissions away for free. Don’t tell me that Duke Energy will have to pay for the carbon it emits from Cliffside. It may have to, but it will pas all costs along to consumers and win anyway. So the tax payers of North Carolina are stuck with an expensive, dinosaur technology power generating option that is incredibly polluting for years to come. All because the state officials did not have the foresight to wait a year or two.

You can make the same argument for mercury. The current EPA “plan” for mercury is in tatters as it violates the clean air act. A change in administration (no McCain this time, only Clinton or Obama) is no doubt going to cause a tightening of mercury rules, a long overdue prospect. Why would the state approve a plan that would result in an increase in mercury emissions knowing fully well that federal regulation in this matter is unsettled? What ever happened to the conservative wait and watch approach?

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Tom Philpott Speaks at UNC

Tom Phipott is the co-founder and co-director of Maverick Farms, an educational non-profit farm dedicated to promoting family farming as a community resource and reconnecting local food networks”. He also blogs at the grist about food issues. Check him out at UNC tomorrow.

Writing for Public(s):
For whom do we write? why?
How can we write our research in more relevant and resonant ways?

WEDS Feb 13,
4:30-6:30pm, Alumni 313

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Chapel Hill Downtown Property Shenanigans

As barriers go, it’s unimpressive, a line of railroad timbers cutting across a parking lot off West Franklin Street. But, symbolically, it’s a miniature Mason-Dixon line.On one side is gray-haired Southern land baron P.H. Craig. On the other, Long Island Yankee Spencer Young III.

Young, 51, owns The Courtyard of Chapel Hill, home to the popular Mexican popsicle shop Locopops and restaurants Penang and Bonne Soiree, 3Cups coffee, wine and tea shop and Sandwhich sandwich shop.

Craig, 70, owns most of the parking lot that serves the Courtyard. About six months ago, Craig blocked off his section with railroad ties and gravel piles. The Courtyard’s parking dropped from 79 spaces to 23.

The move, which Young calls “Machiavellian,” has hobbled his tenants, bothered customers and dragged public officials into private matter. | Chapel Hill parking lot now no man s land

It’s always interesting and frustrating to me when the property rights of one man triumph over the obvious welfare of the town. The Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London did uphold the principle that privately owned property could be forcibly sold to another private entity if it was part of a “comprehensive redevelopment plan”. Clearly, the town of Chapel Hill is going to do no such thing. Not that a giant open parking lot occupying valuable real estate space is any better, but Chapel Hill downtown seems to be owned by well heeled landed gentry always holding out for more money. If they asked me, I would try to get more people to live there, I would get the university a bigger foothold downtown, as my planner friend always says, instead of building a giant outpost campus. There’s little to do downtown other than eat, drink, or buy UNC paraphernalia. But who knows, city planning ain’t my area of expertise. But I have lived downtown for the past 5 years and all I ever did in downtown Chapel Hill was drink (lots), eat (occasionally), fix my bike (a couple of times) and buy a T-Shirt (once). So something is not right.

Meanwhile, the reporter tries very hard to re-enact the American civil war, only in the South!

Maybe there’s a difference between the way the people from the New York area do business and the way people from the South do business,” Page said. “Once they got sort of ticked off at each other … they just haven’t talked anymore.

Right, a brawl involving valuable real estate space and business that boils down to cultural differences, not money, sell me something else brother!

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James Hansen, the Cliffside power plant and global warming

James Hansen gave an interesting talk on the physics of climate change, the magnitude of current anthropogenic emissions versus historical CO2 regimes, and the need for immediate action at the NCWarn forum on the Cliffside power plant issue.

In a CBS 60 Minutes profile in March 2006, Hansen said, “The speed of the natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes humans are making to the atmosphere and the surface.” Carolinas Clean Air and NC WARN are part of a statewide effort by public interest groups to block the new Cliffside plant and help the state reduce greenhouse gases by aggressively ramping up energy efficiency, cogeneration and renewables. That effort has already stopped one of two plants Duke sought to build at Cliffside – by proving it wasn’t needed. The second unit has suffered multiple delays and cost overruns and is the subject of ongoing legal battles over air pollution and water permits.


Some background: Duke Energy, the North Carolina utility wants to spend a heap of public money building a new coal fired power plant in Cliffside, NC. The problem? They will not sequester or otherwise capture the massive CO2 emissions out of the plant, which is inexcusable given what we know about climate change now.

Following an excellent talk by Mike Nicklas of Innovative Design, a Raleigh based green architectural firm which focused on reducing demand by increasing efficiency, James Hansen’s talk was an excellent primer on climate change, its history, its easy and basic correlation with atmospheric CO2 concentrations, our current state of affairs, and what we need to do in the next 10 years.

Their presentations can be found here (Nicklas), and here (Hansen). Go see it. Hansen talked a lot about the interaction of scientists, policy makers and the media in framing the “debate” and contrasted the quick march to consensus on the ozone hole with the the sometimes deliberate fact muddying of the climate debate.