Vancouver’s 6-year Director of Planning has been fired by city council. In lieu of a normal transition process, the city has fired Toderian without an immediate replacement. While it is not clear why Toderian was fired, the abrupt decision came after a period of heightened tension with prominent developers, including disagreements with Holborn Group at Little Mountain and Wall Financial Corp at Shannon Mews.
At a press conference today the Mayor stated that Toderian’s dismissal was prompted by the need for “new leadership to deal with new challenges facing the city, especially around housing affordability and economic development.” Rather than focusing on Toderian’s conflicts with developers, Robertson and the city stated that a new planning director should be capable of “balancing competing demands” between affordability on the one hand and market development on the other.
City hall insiders, however, were less vague than Roberston. Bob Ransford emphasized that Toderian “had a hard time with the necessary political skills needed to keep developers on your side.” Michael Geller also acknowledged that Toderian was “unpopular with many developers.” Mike Klassen was even more direct: “Let’s be clear about why Brent is leaving the City of Vancouver now. First, the development community by in large didn’t support him.” This analysis by Vancouver’s three “in-house” right-wing commentators was echoed by a fourth right-wing perspective, from Jeff Lee.
Lee pointed to the development community’s ongoing refusal to pay normal development taxes. According to Lee, Toderian was fired because he was “responsible for enforcing a controversial ‘community amenity contribution’ (CAC) program.” Far from being controversial, the CAC program is a simple tax placed on private developers in exchange for community amenities like daycare, recreation centers and artist studios. While Lee would give the impression that CAC’s are onerous and dig into “the bulk of profits,” the small CACs have virtually no impact on the developers’15 – 20% minimum profit rate.
For the past few years, Toderian and the planning department have also been butting heads with development corporations over the normal taxation on market development with respect to the land zoning process. In Vancouver, land-value is tied to the amount of development allowed on a site, which city planners term the Floor Space Ratio (FSR). When the FSR is increased, it most frequently means that the allowable building height has been increased, therefore the process is called “upzoning” or “land lift.” Upzoning automatically increases the value of the land commodity, but as with most things at city hall, the developer is not required to pay the full value of its commodity: on average, developers are required to pay 75 – 80% of the upzoned value. Sometimes this amounts to millions of dollars of free money if the land has been purchase prior to rezoning.
In a report to the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) members this weekend, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representative Bill Pegler delivered a strong statement of support for Vancouver’s newly-elected city council. Despite COPE losing all of its council and parks board seats, and all but one school board seat, CUPE has declared the November elections a victory. “For CUPE, the 2011 elections were a success,” Pegler said to a crowd of 100 COPE members gathered at the Hastings Community Centre to debrief the 2011 Vancouver civic election. “The overall goals of CUPE have been met.”
Because COPE accepts few corporate donations, the party relies on unions for the vast majority of its funding. In the 2008 civic election, 80% of COPE’s $350,000 in campaign contributions came from unions, including a full 50% from CUPE locals alone. At the other side of the equation, Vision has identified CUPE as an important piece of the puzzle for electoral success in Vancouver, both in terms of financial donations (CUPE donates more to Vision than to COPE), and in terms of Vision’s ability to secure control over the COPE Executive via its financial donors.
Pegler’s comments send a strong signal to Vision that they should continue the electoral alliance with COPE to keep “the party of renters” in the position of being alive but without seats on council. The comments also signaled to COPE that in order to survive within their current funding structure, COPE volunteers must continue working to elect representatives of CUPE’s preferred party.
While CUPE donates heavily to Vision Vancouver, the majority of Vision’s funding comes from developers. This is due to the fact that city council’s biggest job is to regulate land use — and therefore property values and rents. Under Vision, the city will remain steadfastly right-wing on these core issues, with the result that Vancouverites — including CUPE members — will spend more and more of their incomes on sky-rocketing rents and land values. By considering Vision’s victory a success, CUPE is making the choice to neglect the key issues of affordability, housing security, and public transportation.
This week the City released its three-year plan for addressing housing affordability in Vancouver. The plan has been received with wide appeal as an ambitious attempt to solve street homeless in Vancouver by 2015. In fact, the plan calls for drastic reductions in the city’s own housing goals, while introducing major reporting fabrications that give the appearance of a new direction for housing.
The three-year action plan announces 3,650 new units of non-market housing. Immediately, observers will recognize that almost half of these 3,650 new units are not new at all: they are part of the 14 sites, which were promised for completion by 2010 at the latest, not 2014. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for these sites was signed in 2007 and construction was supposed to start in 2008. The units were part of the 3,200 units promised by all three levels of government under the Inner City Inclusivity agreement (ICI) as a condition of hosting the Olympic Games. Zero of these units were built by time of the Olympics.
Once the 14 sites are subtracted from the 3-year total, the City is committed to building only 1,950 new housing units. However, a further significant portion of these 1,950 units are also falsely included. 319 of them are not planned for actual construction, since, as the report says, they “currently have no identified funding source.” In addition to this, 276 further units cannot be genuinely counted since they are drawn from the Little Mountain housing development. Little Mountain does not represent new units for the housing stock, since the 224 units of public housing at Little Mountain, built in 1954, were destroyed and all residents were promised to be re-housed by 2010. Since that illegal demolition, residents have been told that only half of them will be re-housed by 2014 at the earliest.