New Bastion Street Bridge, E&N Trail, watershed woes

At the June 20th Nanaimo Council meeting there were two major presentations. The first one was from the Lantzville Mayor regarding the water agreement.  The second was from City staff on the proposed two kilometre trail downtown beside the E&N railroad tracks.

Other items on the agenda included $2 million repairs to the Bastion Street Bridge and a parking variance for Summerhill Place near the hospital.

Lantzville Water

The Mayor of Lantzville, Colin Haime, gave a presentation to Nanaimo Council requesting the following changes be made to the Nanaimo-Lantzville water agreement:

Section 6.6
change from ‘new development only’ to any households and existing

Section 14.1
a specific surcharge, rather than open ended

Section 6.2
an emergency water provision to include Snaw-naw-as

Mayor Haime also addressed concerns such as urban sprawl and the capacity of the watershed, adding that everyone is on water meters in Lantzville. He said user rates would be the same as Nanaimo, and the cost of the water treatment plant would be shared through connection fees.

Frosty welcome

Mayor Haime was given the cold shoulder by the Nanaimo Mayor and Council. This was in stark contrast to their effusive welcome to three visitors from Ghana who were given gifts on behalf of the City just moments before the Lantzville Mayor took the podium.

At the end of the Lantzville Mayor’s presentation the vote was called to accept the presentation. Councillor Kipp voted against receiving the presentation. Was this a first for Nanaimo Council?

There were no questions or comments and frowns all around. Councillor Yoachim was away. The CAO was not in attendance for Mayor Haime’s presentation, but was there for other parts of the meeting.

Kipp comes alive

The strange part happened at the end of the Council meeting when two delegations spoke about their concerns regarding the Lantzville water agreement. Oddly, there were comments from both Mayor McKay and Councillor Kipp, who prompted the speaker.

One delegation raised the question of our water security. What are we going to do about our watershed because we do not own it? He said the City would be in trouble if the watershed were to be purchased by outside interests.

The speaker also referred to a water report from 2013, what was being done about leaks in the pipes and Lantzville’s bulk water rate.

Bastion Street Bridge – repair or replace

Councillor Pratt originally brought forward a motion to have the Bastion Street Bridge repaired. The estimated cost of the repairs was $2 million. Council was going to vote to go ahead with the repairs but something happened.

Mayor McKay suggested why don’t they build a new bridge. He commented it would only cost about $5 million. He added that the current bridge was built in 1936.

Councillor Hong suggested that it would be better to fix the bridge because they had more urgent items to deal with such as some issues in the south end.

At question period a speaker asked did they know what happened in Victoria regarding the Johnson Street Bridge? The bridge was going to cost $60 million and now it is estimated to cost $150 million and it’s not finished yet. The speaker asked, can you really get a bridge built for $5 million?

In the end, Councillors voted to have staff do a report and find out how much it would cost to build a new Bastion Street Bridge. Councillor Pratt withdrew her motion to have the bridge repaired. She commented that she has been known to change her mind (as she shared a laugh with McKay).

E&N Trail – downtown

City staff presented a detailed plan for a 2km trail beside the E&N railway in the downtown area. This trail is budgeted to cost $7.2 million. The goal is to develop a 2km trail from downtown to 7th street by 2019.

The problem areas are between Franklyn & Pine; there is not much room on either side of the train tracks for a proper trail.  There are six at-grade railroad crossings which would cost $800,000 to $2 million.

The City doesn’t know what is happening with Southern Railway. Will there be a railway in the future? Council decided to hold off on the E&N trail project until it is known what is happening with the railway.

(The lack of progress on the railway issue caused Council to defer upgrades to the Northfield Road and the Island Highway because they don’t know if the railway is going to stay or go).

Hospital area parking – new building

A builder was at Council last week and was back again this week, appearing grim-faced stating he was not there to give a presentation but to answer their questions, if they had any.

Last week the City had turned down this builder because of concerns about the lack of parking for the new building at 1825 SummerHill Place off of Dufferin Crescent.

Staff originally recommended a parking ratio of 1.06 and requested that the developer add more parking. The City found that the first phase of the project (Summerhill I) increased on-street parking demand by 15 to 20 more cars.

The City suggested that the builder could reduce the parking from 161 spaces to 102 spaces. The builder came back with a new design and City staff recommended Council approve the revised plan, which they did.

Councillor Fuller raised the issue of Glen Oaks Drive and how builders keep coming to Council to fast-track their problems rather than going through City departments. Staff suggested that in this case it was different.

Nanaimo Council gallery drama over Glen Oaks Drive

At the Nanaimo Council meeting on Monday there was a delegation seeking approval for a development variance at 3795 Glen Oaks Drive. The agenda item was brought forward by Mayor McKay. Some members of the gallery objected to the presentation by the builder and his consultant. It was the builder’s second attempt at getting a development variance for this same property in a month. Normally, builders must follow a re-application process which takes 6 months.

The meeting was shut down after people in the gallery shouted out some objections and called a point of order. Mayor McKay said that security would be called to remove some members of the gallery. After the meeting was shut down it started up again and then Councillor Fuller asked if the Mayor could be removed. City staff read out some bylaws and that seemed to be the end of it.

Builder wants two driveways

Glen Oaks Drive in Linley Valley was built in 2012. The original subdivision developer designed Glen Oaks Drive with specific driveway locations for each parcel. This was because the City wanted to try and ensure there was enough on-street parking because the road is extra narrow and on a steep slope.

Glen Oaks Drive Nanaimo
Glen Oaks Drive Nanaimo

At 3795 Glen Oaks Drive, the builder has built two houses on one parcel. The problem is there is only one driveway. Now the builder wants two driveways.

The City has said no. How does the builder get around this problem? Does he contact the Mayor, to whom he contributed to his election campaign? Could the Mayor then see to it that the builder’s re-application is added to the Council agenda?

The builder and his consultant came up to speak to council. They were reminded by Councillor Fuller and Hong that there is an established re-application process and why don’t they follow it like everyone else?

Councillor Brennan commented that the two homes have already been built on the lot so why “punish” the builder; implying the discussion was moot. Councillor Pratt echoed Brennan’s opinion.

Then Councillor Fuller countered with the point that the builder has to go through the proper steps just like everyone else. Councillor Fuller added that if everyone did what the builder was doing, they would have people coming back to every Council meeting with special requests, and it would set a very poor precedent.

Councillor Thorpe said that he could not go along with the builder’s request.  It is interesting to note that in a previous presentation to council for another property variance, the consultant made a point of saying he was a friend of Thorpe’s.

Conflict of Interest

After the builder’s presentation, there were two speakers who spoke about concerns they had with conflict of interest and favouritism as the builder had contributed two percent to the Mayor’s election campaign. Mayor McKay commented that it wasn’t much money.

The vote was Mayor McKay, Councillor Pratt, Brennan in favour of the re-application and
Councillor Hong, Fuller, Thorpe, Kipp voted against. Councillor Yoachim was absent.

Lack of updated building plans and photos

The City of Nanaimo is very lax in updating their building plans and providing Council with updated photographs of building sites.

As an example, Council was shown a picture of a tree-filled lot. The site doesn’t look anything like this now. So why wouldn’t the City provide Council with current photos?

Also, builders in Nanaimo construct first and then get variance approvals later. The situation at Glen Oaks Drive is a good example of what goes on in the rest of the City of Nanaimo.

The planning department doesn’t update their maps with what was actually constructed. Isn’t this unsafe for the fire department? On the map it might say there is one house and there are two houses and two carriage houses.

The City of Nanaimo is very lax when it comes to tree removal as well. There is no protection for urban trees. When builders infill large lots, all the trees are removed from property line to property line; there is no requirement for a setback.

Trees = wealth

Has the builder planted trees elsewhere to make up for all the trees that have been removed? The City has no plans for a tree bank and there are few if any pocket parks for neighbourhoods. This leads to ghettoization of neighbourhoods.

Research published a few years ago shows a tight correlation between per capita income and forest cover.  The researchers found that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property. The well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees.

Mayor McKay frequently advocates for small-lot developments. Is this something we want—cookie-cutter houses on denuded lots? Without proper planning, Nanaimo will soon lose its appeal.

West Vancouver just had a major flood which could have been mitigated by protecting tree cover. When lots are bare of trees then storm sewers will get more runoff and floods occur.

Nanaimo Property Taxes, Housing Prices and Mega Projects

Did you get your tax notice yet? The average Nanaimo taxpayer has seen their taxes go up by about 12% to 18%.

Nanaimo Property Taxes

A resident wrote a letter to the local newspaper stating that their taxes have gone up by $439 or 18%. Why? The response from City Hall was that the increase was due to their provincial assessment which had gone up by $60,000. Why did their home assessment go up if they did no improvements or renovations? The assessment goes up because the homes on the street are sold for higher prices and or new homes are built with higher assessments.

Some people say this is great. Don’t you want your home to be worth more? Yes of course. But what happens when taxes go up 18% every year? How long can people afford these tax increases? For seniors and those on disability there is a tax deferral program for those who qualify. For everyone else, they will have to move elsewhere.

Vancouver Island housing prices

What is happening now in Nanaimo is a repeat of what happened in Vancouver and the North Shore in the 1990’s. There was an influx of money from Hong Kong and the locals couldn’t afford to stay in their homes due to the corresponding surge in property tax levies so they had to move to Squamish or Vancouver Island.

Foreign investors have no intention of living here because for them, there is no real economy here. There aren’t many jobs in Vancouver either –  Vancouver median incomes remain the lowest among Canadian cities. These Chinese investors make their wealth in China, not in BC. They will continue to pursue those interests and will avoid paying as much tax as possible in Canada.

To illustrate this point, a Point Grey mansion that was owned by Canaccord founder Peter Brown sold earlier this year for a record $31.1 million to a man who gave his occupation as a student. There are many others like this student who are claiming to have poverty level wages yet who reside in million dollar homes and aren’t paying a penny in income tax.

Vancouver – bulldozer bait

Vancouver has been named the second most unaffordable city in the world for four of the past five years.

Property prices rose by 40% last year alone by one estimate. Home prices are also artificially driven up by the desire by money launderers looking to park their assets. That is distorting the real estate market so local people can’t afford the houses anymore.

Between 2004 and 2015 more than 10,000 demolition permits were issued in the City of Vancouver alone. Last year, an average of three houses were being torn down per day. And these homes that became ‘bulldozer bait’ were in excellent condition.

This is not a bubble. It’s a disease that has spread to other areas of the province including the Sunshine Coast, and Oak Bay. This will continue until our government wakes up and does something. But what have they done? These real estate speculators are being enabled by our own Canadian government.

Are we any different from the U.K.?

Are Tibetans Racist?

There are people who pull out the racist card and claim that all this about the mainland Chinese investors is just xenophobia. If that’s the case why not apply that same mindset to Tibet. Remember all those bumper stickers that said Free Tibet? No one accused the Tibetans of being racist when they set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese bulldozing their villages. There are now more Chinese people in parts of Tibet than Tibetans.

The Chinese government has a campaign telling its citizens to avoid hiring or having relationships with white foreigners, because they might be spies. Has someone mentioned to Mayor Robertson that his Chinese girlfriend could be a spy?

Chinese Banks fuel real estate binge

It would seem that buying up BC is a priority for the Chinese government. China’s top banks had mortgages and loans for real estate worth $1.9 trillion USD at the end of 2015, up 11% over the year, up 26% from 7 years ago. The money being pumped into BC shows no sign of slowing down.

2012: The Agricultural Bank of China, a Chinese state-controlled commercial bank headquartered in Beijing, opened an office in Vancouver, its first in Canada and its fifth overseas.

2013: Bank of China (Canada), a wholly owned subsidiary of the government controlled Bank of China, opened its International Business Centre in Vancouver.

Nanaimo mega projects

It was reported in the News Bulletin that the Nanaimo Council is trying to decided what project is a priority — a football stadium, a paddling centre, or Port 1 waterfront development. Mayor McKay mentioned in the paper he would like Council to pick three to six projects and go to the community to get an idea of what people want.

There is nothing wrong with planning for projects. The problem is we are not in “normal” times. We are in the process of being run out of our homes. We cannot sustain tax increases of 15 to 20% a year and also bear the burden of more mega projects.

If the current crisis in the BC real estate market is not dealt with, what will happen to your average Joe Taxpayer? Another addition to the soon-to-be extinct list?

Conflict Resolution Program needed in Nanaimo Schools

“Hey, get out of my way. I got here first.”
“Well I’m here now, so get lost.”

Do you take conflicts like this seriously? Many violent incidents that occur in public spaces, schools, and at home start with similar confrontations.

The recent incident at John Barsby Secondary clearly indicates the need for a Conflict Resolution Program. Ironically, the school district administration just passed an inclusion policy which was intended to “create safe schools” for everyone.

A policy is a start, but the school district administration needs to have a conflict resolution program. The entire school environment needs to change from the top down.

Conflict Resolution Program (CRP)

A lot of students come from dysfunctional homes where verbal put-downs, fighting and abuse is the norm. Therefore, school is the only place where society has a chance to teach youth how to resolve conflicts without violence. Traditional discipline or punishment won’t work for students that come from these backgrounds.

Schools have an important role to play to break the cycle of violence. Conflict resolution must be included in the SD68 curriculum. Students of all ages must be taught:

  • how to communicate in a tense situation
  • have empathy
  • listen actively
  • recognize body language
  • understand different viewpoints

The entire school—all students, teachers, and administrators needs to be involved in a conflict resolution program. Parents need to be included too because children copy the behaviours acted out at home.

In such a program there is a focus on teaching communication skills and the use of words. The emphasis is on negotiation, rather than having a third party mediate. Often times a mediator comes up with a solution that neither party likes.

It is far better to teach students the skills they need to handle disagreements on their own and what to do if a conflict escalates. Another idea is for schools to establish peer groups to find solutions to conflicts by brainstorming options without passing judgment.

SD68 needs to start the process of ensuring all of our schools are safe, peaceful places of learning. As a start check out the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution.

Highlights: Nanaimo Core Services Review Report

At the Monday council meeting the Nanaimo Core Services Review Report by Western Management Consultants was presented by the City Manager who gave an overview of the report via an audio link.

The City of Nanaimo paid approximately $250,000 for the report. The purpose of the report was to give ideas on how to increase efficiencies and cost savings and to streamline the structure of the corporation.  Here are some highlights from the report:

Problems noted:

  • City lacks strong corporate structures, controls and measures
  • departments operate independently
  • lack of purchasing procedures
  • less than 50% of purchases have purchase orders
  • lack of planning for purchases contributes to a high use of open purchase orders
  • lack of clear direction from council to senior management to staff

Recommended cuts:

  • close Departure Bay Activity Centre
  • sell 89 Prideaux and relocate Public works offices when rebuilt
  • close Beban pool for 3 months in summer instead of 1 month
  • close the CPSO
  • eliminate culture and heritage group director position
  • eliminate four prisoner guard positions
  • eliminate vacant management position for bylaw services
  • end grants to DNBIA and replace with specific grants per project
  • reduce overhead of Bylaw department
  • stop paying $78,000 to VICC for security

Recommended additions:

  • hire consultant for parking planning
  • add marketing resources for recreation (a sponsorship position?)
  • renegotiate parking fees with hotels
  • update service plans for recreation services
  • automate replenish orders and increase usage of purchase cards
  • increase use of carpool fleet
  • monitor fuel use for fleets vehicles used by directors and CAO

The report suggests that $1.7million a year could be saved and there could be a one time savings of $255,000.

45% of the City’s expenses come from the following five service areas which were not included in the report:

  • RCMP
  • Fire Department
  • IT Department
  • Waterworks
  • Sewers

The report did look at NEDC, VICC and DNBIA.

NEDC (Nanaimo Economic Development Corp)

    • the City should continue to fund NEDC
    • have a five year plan of what they are doing

DNBIA (Downtown Nanaimo Business Assoc)

  • discontinue city grant of approximately $250,000
  • fund specific projects as chosen  (the report noted a lack of a working population in the downtown area and any change would have to be made through urban planning)

VICC (Vancouver Island Conference centre)

  •  attract a hotel with help of City funding
  • draft a new management contract with stronger performance incentives before the end of 2017

(the report notes that the VICC loses more money per square foot of space than all its competitors. The City spends on average $1.2 million a year not including loan payments.)

Other Recommendations made were:

  • partner with SD68, RDN and Snuneymuxw on youth projects
  • give Harewood Community Centre to another community group
  • consider not renewing the assistance given to the Island Corridor Rail Foundation because the RDN has decided not to
  • landlords getting tax exemptions should report changes of occupancy or face repayment
  • have a clear sponsorship policy
  • clarify fees charged for rentals and leasing for parks & recreation

The City 2016-25 capital plan has a total planned outlay of $391 million.  In 2015 the City completed 122 capital projects; outlay was $8.1 million.

City of Nanaimo has 62 managers and 527 staff.

City Manager to Staff Ratios:
1 communications manager 2 staff
1 community development manager 2 staff
1 building permits/inspector manager 16 staff
1 human resources manager 11 staff

Suggestions from Joe Taxpayer

  • get rid of NEDC – the taxpayers can’t see their accounting
  • combine all tourism, recreation, and communications marketing staff into one department
  • do we need consultants to write reports every time we turn around?
  • how much money could be saved by ending sole sourcing contracts?
  • why doesn’t the prison guard budget come out of the RCMP contract? For $20 million we should be getting more for our money.
  • do we need so many managers?
  • why not have the culture department work with the tourism people?
  • have a romance policy to avoid costly human resources when relationships sour and people claim harassment etc.
  • get an updated phone system so staff have direct lines
  • have everyone change their voice mail every day (so people know if they are in or not)
  • have a policy that all calls and emails from taxpayers (ie the customer) must be responded to within 24 hours

It was reported in the local Nanaimo Bulletin that the consultant recommended an integration team to implement recommendations based on this report. The CAO was quoted as saying that she plans to add more jobs. Are the jobs going to be outsourced? Is outsourcing going to save money? Is the City going to be hiring more consultants?

The Core Review report was thin (245 pages) and most of the information was not new. Considering the City has an annual budget of approximately $200 million, the savings found through this report missed the mark.

Nanaimo City Manager speech and Communication jobs

At Monday night’s Council meeting, the Nanaimo City Manager gave this speech:

“…it’s well known that certain councillors opposed my employment with the City even before Council made the decision to hire me. Councillor Brennan contacted the media [saying] that a group of them had a newsworthy story. She unilaterally decided to contact the media with confidential information in an open meeting via the Mayors report, to a social media Facebook administrator.

Council asked Brennan to apologise for leaking confidential information. Instead she chose to make legal demands to Mayor McKay, to suspend me from my position, and to launch an investigation into the interim hiring process.

Council asked for and received an opinion on the hiring process, [the lawyers] confirmed the hiring process was lawful.

Mayor McKay wrote to Brennan’s lawyer that the hiring process was lawful and that he had no grounds to suspend me at that time.

Subsequent to that Mayor McKay approached a different law firm and eventually made a complaint to Minister Fassbender about the interim hiring process and the Ministry contacted the City about these allegations. After the investigation and the review of the letter signed by 7 councillors, the Ministry advised that they would not intervene unless by a special motion by Council. The Ministry has held firm not to get involved unless mandated by council.

Mayor McKay also went to the ombudsperson with similar complaints but they haven’t initiated an investigation to my knowledge.

At the same time all of this was taking place I continued to carry out my duties as the interim City Manager and then council initiated the staffing competition for the permanent CAO.

Mayor McKay opposed the process and asked council to terminate it and investigate me and on various occasions accused me of being untrustworthy and particularly suggested that I lied about an investigation commenced by him and the former City Manager [Ted Swabey]. I was forced on each occasion to refute the allegations and did so completely.

When I was selected as the successful candidate in the search process, and after I was confirmed by a motion from council for the position, it was my expectation that the turmoil and attacks would cease. They did not.

Mayor McKay even went to Work Safe BC and even alleged that I didn’t create a safe work environment for staff. Work Safe BC conducted an investigation and decided to take no further action.

Councillor Brenan has added to the hostile work environment by openly challenging my decision-making in front of staff and most recently to the media. When asked to withdraw her demand to terminate me she has repeatedly refused.

I appreciate that council has made attempts both formally and informally to have both the Mayor and Councillor Brennan cease such conduct which is damaging to both the City and to me as well as impairing my ability to carry out my duties as CAO. Unfortunately, these steps by Council have not yielded any results. Nor has a cease and desist letter from my lawyer directed to the Mayor or legal advice from the City’s corporate lawyers about respectful workplace obligations of the employer.

It is my opinion that what they seek to create is an environment to make me resign as CAO and sue the City. I have no intentions of doing so.

Despite all of this, we have moved the City forward and I intend to continue as the CAO. We have made great progress on Council agenda. There is much work to be done on the core services review and I enjoy working with staff when I am actually given the opportunity to do so free from interference and harassment.

I am hoping that this public statement addresses the questions that will be raised from the release of in-camera motions and put some pressure on Councillor Brennan and Mayor McKay to treat me in a respectful and professional manner in the workplace and in the media as all employees deserve to be treated.

I personally extended an olive branch to the Mayor on Tuesday with the assistance of the Human Resources department with a plea that he set aside any concerns he has about me so that the Mayor and the CAO, two very important positions, can be seen to be working together by the public and by staff.

I know that I can do this I am asking the Mayor to make a statement that he will make this commitment too. It is time to set aside the past and move forward together and I look forward to the future of the City.”

Mayor McKay: “…that’s probably one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard.”

Expanding Communication Department

The Nanaimo City Manager has given a communications contract to the former Nanaimo Daily News editor, Mark MacDonald. The position was not put out to tender.

This is the same editor who stood behind publishing racist letters against First Nations.  Over 300 people protested in front of the newspaper office, including members of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, but MacDonald would still not apologize.

This is also the same editor who stood beside Ezra Levant, a spokesman for the far right, at the Freedom Burger event.

It is curious that the City Manager who publically claims to not see eye to eye with the Mayor, would unilaterally make the decision to hire MacDonald who published many articles in McKay’s favour and supported his bid to become Mayor of Nanaimo.

Is the City Manager and the Mayor colluding against Councillor Brennan?

In her speech, the City Manager accused Councillor Brennan of ‘questioning her decision-making’ to the media. Why not? A councillor should question any decisions made by the Nanaimo City Manager.

All job openings at the City of Nanaimo should be advertised, even if they are short-term contracts. By hiring someone who is a friend of a friend, this is not a transparent process.

It speaks volumes to learn that the City is expanding its Communications department during a time of restraint, when there is a core services review underway.  How is this new full-time position being funded and what will be the job description? Is this one of those public affairs positions to ‘monitor media’?