Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 2008

Hold the Front Page!

with 6 comments

The headline on yesterday’s Richmond News was “Oval land not sold to highest bidder” which I thought might make for an interesting read. Actually the headline might be more accurate if it read “Richmond Council made a sensible decision but wasn’t allowed to tell us.”

Having acquired a site on the bank of the Middle Arm for the Oval there was more space than needed, so the rest was sold off by tender. But Richmond Council did not reveal the details of the deal and an FOI was objected to by some of the bidders. The so called “highest bid” was from Concord Pacific but was based on a delayed payment schedule, a second mortgage (to be held by the City) and a break on development cost charges.  With remarkable foresight the Council decided to take a better deal with all the money up front.  The City was not allowed to release all the details in its response to the FOI request “due to the fact that the developers had objected”.

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt, who has pushed for more transparency at city hall, questions why it took so long to have information that is clearly in the public’s interest to be released.

“This is the public’s business, and it needs to be done in public as much as possible,” she said.

She said she fails to see how releasing the bids made in a public tender on public land could harm the developers and questions the provision of the FOIPPA that allows third party interests to supercede the public’s right to know about information that is clearly in the public interest.

Compared to the brouhaha over the athlete’s village in Vancouver, this story has much less drama. But it does underline the same point. This is our money they are playing with – and they are elected representatives who must be held accountable. Good deal or bad deal, we are entitled to know. And the current practices of doing things in camera, and waiting for an FOI request is not good enough. It is common practice in other places to have sealed bids opened in public and read out, so everyone knows what is on the table. Secrecy does not serve us well – but it is clear from recent events that developers would rather do deals behind closed doors. With the complexities we have seen here and in the village bailout, I begin to understand why they think that way. But there is non reason at all why public policy has to be distorted to benefit developers, and the FOIPPA obviously ought to be changed. Under the developer freindly aegis of the present provincial government, that is not going to happen.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2008 at 9:36 am

I have cut my hydro bill by 22%

with 10 comments

Today I got my Hydro bill. The regular monthly payment has been cut by $10. The previous amount was set by the consumption of the previous owner. I have not replaced any of the major electrical appliances and I heat the house and the hot water with gas.

So how have I done it?

First, all the light bulbs are now compact flourescents: I have only one tungsten filament bulb left and that is over the stairs where my step ladder does not reach. Second I have all my collections of energy users – the computer, stereo and tv on breaker bars. With one flip of the switch the whole lot powers down. Even battery chargers consume power when there is no battery in them.

If I turn my appliances off but don’t unplug them will they still use up some electricity?

No. And that applies even if the plug is switched on or if the socket has no on/off switch. The exceptions are appliances with a standby mode, which include most battery chargers. As a rule of thumb, if there is a light on, a clock ticking or the transformer feels warm, it is using electricity. And that can be a substantial proportion of the amount the appliances consumes when in use. A television set-top box, for example, uses around 18 watts while it is on and almost 17 watts on standby.

source: New Scientist

Third, I wash my clothes in cold water and run the dishwasher only when it is full. And I do not use my microwave to defrost things. I just leave them on the stove when it is off. The metal conducts heat from the house into the package – if it is on a styrofoam tray I turn it “face down”. All that means is thinking about taking something for supper out of the freezer mid afternoon rather than 2 minutes before I want to start cooking.

So I reckon my very modest outlay on bulbs and breakers will pay off in less than a year. $120 buys a lot of CFs!

As my efforts to renovate continue I anticipate replacing all the major appliances with modern Energy Star rated units. The fridge will be the one I will spend most on, as that is one of the greediest units. The new dishwasher will have the option to air dry – right now I just turn it off and leave the door open, but then I have to run a fan to get rid of the moisture.

I will let you know when they cut my hydro payments again.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Posted in energy

What do port activities contribute?

with 6 comments

The Port of Metro Vancouver has produced a press release on a report it commissioned from InterVistas to show how important it is. I thought one thing that might help is to try and put some of these claims into perspective. For example the number of jobs in the port.  My source of data is Metro Vancouver‘s Key Facts.

 "Port Metro Vancouver is one of the most visible contributors to the
economy of Metro Vancouver and accounts for 45,000 direct jobs in this region
alone, with 3,300 jobs in Delta, 5,600 jobs on the North Shore and more than
20,000 jobs in Vancouver,"

There were over 1.2 million jobs in the region in 2007. So the port is not that significant a source of employment, less than 4% of all jobs

So who are the big employers? Well you have to look at the sort of jobs – for example there are 233,800 jobs in the financial sector (Business, finance and administrative occupations) or 312,900 jobs in the sales and service sector. There are 54,700 teachers and professors, and 42,200 transport and realted equipment operators – some of whom will work for the port or port related businesses.

The Vancouver region does not have many very large employers, and even the Port itself does not employ lots of people: most of them work for a wide variety of companies active in the Port. The really big employers are governments 44,800, schools 46,00 and the really big employer healthcare 117,200.

Now I am not saying that the Port is not a significant feature in our landscape, and it is one of the main reasons that the city was established in the first place. Obviously geography plays a big part in all of this, and the natural deep water berths in the Burrard Inlet were for a long time a significant factor. But it is noticeable that our market does not value port operations very highly. The great competition for waterfront property has steadily pushed port operations out of the centre of the city and to the periphery. Just as it has in other major port cities. Very little commercial traffic now moves up the Thames and though the City of London, for example. In Vancouver, Coal Harbour is now ringed with expensive condo towers, not cranes and loading ramps. Port related activities such as logistics and distribution have also gone to cheaper land in the suburbs. Which is one of the reasons that so much truck traffic has been generated: activities which used to take place inside the Port now go to terminals in the suburbs. And all the processing and manufacturing that used to be around the port has gone elsewhere too. Only one oil refinery remains active, for instance. A lot of the lumber and related industry has closed too.

One of the things that planning is supposed to do is to assess these sorts of effects, since the market transactions in land do not reflect the “externalities” of these kind of location decisions. The problem here is that the region has no land use powers of any kind. The decisions that have lead to the dispersal of port activities were made without much consideration other than local impacts.  And, in general, the City of Vancouver has been more than happy to see the ugly, messy business of shipping moved away from its waterfront. It has also largely abandoned any strategy for keeping a supply of industrial land.  This process has not been such a boon to the places it has relocated to, as it has spread out – often on land “reclaimed” from wetlands and shoreline. The huge freightyards the CP railway has constructed out at Coquitlam is now a significant barrier to movement – and a massive bridge is being built at public expense to overcome that.

The impact of port relocation and expansion on the natural environment has been little short of catastrophic. But of course the Port does not value that. It does not show up in its accounting of GDP, jobs and “economic output”. Seals and sandpipers adding no value at all to anyone’s bottom line.

If you really want to look at the port it might be better to consider what the net value added of port activities might be. Especially for the traffic that could be routed through more efficient locations, such as Prince Rupert. For instance, we now ship out lots of raw logs. Many people wonder why it “made sense” to get rid of lots of forest products jobs in BC. We could make things out of timber here once upon a time, and the shipping of finished products is actually more efficient in weight losing industries. Pack flat furniture in containers is a lot cheaper to ship than raw logs simply because they take up less space. Of course up until now, the main reason has been cheap labour abroad and cheap oil to get it there – and back again. Now that China does not want our recycled plastics and cardboard, we are going to have to get a bit more creative. The 100 mile diet is just the start. We will have to consider very carefully the use that we put our scarce land to. Growing food certainly, but also making things as opposed to storing them and packing and unpacking boxes. Which is about all the does take place in our port.

Oh, there is one exception, which is curious. At Fraser Wharves, they do not just drive cars out of ships and onto trains. They also rip out the interiors, and replace things like seats and stereos, and stick on a badge to make it a “Special Edition”. In terms of its impact on price of the finished product it was, once, significant and highly profitable for the dealers. And of course that shows up in any kind of “value added” analysis. The price that is. Not whether or not this is a useful activity to society in general. Which reminds me: 32,000 jobs are in the arts, entertainment and recreation and I happen to value them a bit higher than fork lift truck driving in terms of their contribution to human happiness. Though I expect most of them make much less money than flt drivers.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Another reason for me to be pleased I drive a Yaris

with 12 comments

My Yaris when it was new

My Yaris when it was new

Recently my email has been filling with notifications from facebook that people are commenting there and not here. Sometimes this gets a bit confusing. For example, Bernadette Keenan was asking about what sort of car I drive (a Toyota Yaris 4 door sedan) but at the same time telling me her daughter’s view of that Hummer anti-ad I posted.

As my daughter would say “Gas guzzling freak”

Now at first I thought she might have been talking about my car and not my blog post. Wrong. But now I can defend my choice of a conventional car over a hybrid thanks to the New Scientist (hat tip to Gudrun Langolf)

What’s worse, the CO2 put out by a gas-fuelled car or the environmental effects of hybrid-car batteries?

According to the UK-based Environmental Transport Association (ETA), the most efficient conventionally powered cars are slightly less detrimental to the environment than hybrid models. However, it points out that the current crop of hybrids won’t evolve without customers willing to invest in what is still frontier technology.

So a Yaris – which was the most efficient conventionally powered subcompact car available in Canada when I bought it – is better for the environment than a Prius. The reason I did not buy a Prius was simply the price tag. At that time it was roughly twice the price of a Yaris and at gas prices ruling at that time would not have paid for itself in gas savings. I did not even consider the need to recycle the battery – or even how often I might need to replace it. People who home convert cars and trucks to all electric, using lead acid batteries, save no money since the batteries have to be replaced very two to three years. But they do save a lot of CO2 emissions. And lead acid batteries are easier to recycle than some of the newer types. (By the way I have a small collection of dead rechargable batteries: does anyone know where I can take them to get recycled?)

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2008 at 11:28 am

Posted in Transportation

Mother Nature Apologizes

with one comment

The following is an email from Tom Holz an ecological engineer in Washigton (state)

AN APOLOGY ON BEHALF OF MOTHER NATURE

Mother Nature wishes to convey a deep and heart-felt apology.   She is very sorry that her science is so unrelenting and thus so inconvenient for humans.  She has mandated that clearing of forests will cause damage to stream channels.  We have noted that clearing even as little as one-third of a watershed causes her to retaliate by destabilizing and eroding stream beds regardless of how grumpy that makes us.

She has ordained that even minute amounts of impervious area in a watershed will seriously harm aquatic life.  If only 5% of a watershed is paved and the pavement is connected to the stream, half of the health of the stream is lost regardless of our screams of how unfair it all is.

She requires that for her systems to continue to provide mankind with benefits, mankind cannot disturb them as much as is needed to maximize profits.  She understands that we believe that every watershed must be 100% developed and turned to the purposes of providing habitat for autos and plastic flamingos.  As reasonable as these aspirations are, She apologizes, but remains stubbornly attached to her constraints, unrealistic as they clearly are.

“Has the Woman not attended the stakeholders’ meetings?”, the stakeholders may shout.  “Has She no reverence whatever for developers’ profit margins?” the agencies in charge of stream protection lament. “Does She care not a whit for the educated opinion of the councils’ campaign contributors?” our elected officials cry.  “She makes it exceedingly difficult to continue to deny facts” bemoans the Hearings Examiner.  “My program for issuing DNSs for the orderly destruction of the environment is in total disarray” grouses the Environmental Officer.

Mother wishes us to know that she feels our pain.  However She wishes to point out that the rules were established well before we were born, and we were warned about them many times.  She points out that children are eventually supposed to grow up and stop rebelling against their parents’ rules.  And She reiterates her standing admonishment that if you continue to whine over things you cannot change, She will give you something truly worthy of whining about.

On behalf of Mother Nature,

Tom Holz

Hat tip to Pamela Zevit for passing that along

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2008 at 10:01 am

Posted in Environment

Canada back in court over Kyoto lawsuit

leave a comment »

Press Release from Friends of the Earth

Appeal of KPIA decision launched a week before next
climate change meetings

OTTAWA – Lawyers for Friends of the Earth Canada gave the Government of Canada notice yesterday that they will be appealing a recent Federal Court decision in Canada’s first ever climate change lawsuit. The much anticipated appeal comes one week before the world gathers in Poznan, Poland for the next round of international climate change negotiations.

The original lawsuit was launched in June by pro bono lawyers from Paliare Roland Barristers and Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) on behalf of Friends of the Earth Canada. They were seeking a declaration from the court that the government had failed to meet the legal requirements of the federal Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act (KPIA). These requirements include a Plan based on meeting Kyoto targets and drafting and enacting legally binding regulations to combat climate change.

“If the Federal Court’s decision was left unchallenged, Canada’s woeful inaction on the climate change crisis would be allowed to continue despite domestic law that clearly states the Government must act,” stated Ecojustice lawyer Hugh Wilkins. “We simply cannot stand by while the government picks and chooses which laws to enforce. All of our laws must be upheld – even the ones the government finds inconvenient.”

The Federal Court ruled that the legislation itself is not justiciable – meaning it is not an issue the Courts can resolve.  The appeal will seek to have the Federal Court decision set aside and ask the Court of Appeal to declare that the Minister of the Environment and the Governor in Council are violating the KPIA.

“We are looking to the Federal Court of Appeal to provide more guidance on the issue of justiciability,” said eminent Canadian lawyer Chris Paliare.  “The KPIA itself states that it is binding on the Government.  If the government is not accountable in the courts for its admitted non-compliance with this legislation, it could make the same claim for various other laws that it does not want to obey.  That makes this an important case, not just for the Kyoto Protocol, but also for democracy and the rule of law.”

“Friends of the Earth cannot let the Government of Canada defy its domestic law on climate change,” said Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada.  “If we cannot enforce the KPIA, it makes a mockery of the democratic process in the current session of Parliament and any private member’s bill that is considered.  How can we debate future commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when we fail to enforce the current law of the land on climate change?”

For a copy of the ruling please visit www.ecojustice.ca.

I must admit I am baffled by all of this. I have long argued with my colleagues in cases like this that what is needed is a simple common law writ called Mandamus.  The Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act requires that the Government of Canada has to do something effective about its climate change responsibilities. It hasn;t done that, and we all collectively are suffering – and will suffer – because of that. Indeed, in signing on to the Kyoto protocol the Government of Canada voluntarily accepted responsibilities that it has done nothing to fulfill. All Canadians have seen the reputation of their country degraded because of that inaction.

Governments do not get to pick and choose which laws they want to obey. If they do not like the previous government’s legislation they can repeal it. Or bits of it anyway. Reneging on international obligations is another matter altogether. But they cannot just behave as though these obligations do not exist, and the courts are the only way that we have to rectify the situation since we  keep on being forced to have a government most of us didn’t want, but got becuase of a broken electoral system.

Clearly the Federal Court is wrong. If this matter is not justiciable, then why do we bother with Acts and Parliament in the first place? What value does a decision made in both houses and signed into law by the Queen’s representative have when a PM can just simply pretend it doesn’t matter?

I also think that similar writs are needed when governments make a mockery of their own processes, which require consultation and scientific documentation of impacts and their mitigation but projects are allowed to proceed even though they cannot be said to have satisfied any of these requirements adequately. But that’s a case for another time.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 25, 2008 at 5:44 pm

New poll shows Liberals and NDP neck and neck

with 3 comments

Mustel have produced a new survey which shows that Liberal support continues to slide and the two main parties have around the same percentage of those decided.

mustel-nov-08-neck-and-neckMustel says that it is due to people in the interior and women shifting from the Liberals to the NDP. But what caught my eye is the five poercentage point drop in Green voting intention. Partly becuase the economy is now by far the major issue (of course) but possibly also in reaction to the absence of any Greens getting a seat in the recent federal election.

mustel-nov-08-appro

I have no theory at all as to how Campbell managed to increase his approval rating – but I do nitice that while his rating sbounce around, Carole James has been steadily improving hers.

Two happy trends in anotherwise rather gloomy prospect

Written by Stephen Rees

November 25, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Posted in politics