Time to rally on ludicrous waterfront plan

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 20, 2016

It’s the classic solution looking for a problem.

There is nothing wrong with Ambleside beach that West Vancouver town hall can’t screw up, permanently, irrevocably – starting with the core surrender of delightful Argyle Avenue to the Spirit Trail bicycle lobby and its enablers.

To appease the politically correct bikers and hikers, West Van bureaucrats plot destruction of the Silk Purse, Music Box and Lawson arts buildings – claiming they’re threatened by (rare) high tides, ludicrous in the case of the Lawson – and insanely prohibiting motorized traffic and precious parking on Argyle Avenue.

Don’t fold to the pressures, council. Defend present uses and users: Families bound for the great children’s playground. Gentle strollers. Dog walkers. Fragile oldsters. Dreamers. Boaters preparing for the sweatiest relaxation on earth. Meandering couples looking into each others’ eyes, not keeping to the bureaucrats’ designated side of the “shared” path. And slo-mo bicycle riders too, not the grim-jawed, lycra-and-spandex show-offs speeding on three-grand-and-up machines with 192 gears.

Bottom line: As it now stands, Argyle Avenue unites. The proposed Argyle Avenue divides.

Literally. The Berlin Wall gone, the Bicycle and Birkenstock Wall through the heart of the beach would impede safe, easy crossing north and south by persons bound for the playground, beach, picnic area, public washrooms – at the mercy of those cyclists famous for meticulously respecting pedestrian crosswalks and red lights, hahaha.

Exaggeration? I asked all councillors: How will families with a couple of toddlers and/or strollers plus burdens of bags, picnic hampers, whatever, safely cross? Park artists humping their easels and wares?

And has the future of the Harmony Arts Festival on Argyle been discussed?

Coun. Christine Cassidy replied: “Excellent question and thus far one that has not been addressed in any verbal or written report on this subject. I suspect that we’ll see signage giving specific instructions on how to proceed with regard and respect for the safety of all users. However, I will ask specifically for an answer.”

Read that again. The enablers haven’t even discussed the question. Premise: They haven’t got an answer. They just have a rosy PR “vision.”

The “11 guiding principles” of the Ambleside Waterfront Concept Plan are equally silent about parking – not a scintilla of relief for the major objective of “revitalizing” Marine Drive. On the contrary, ripping out parking spaces on Argyle’s 1300-1500 blocks would hurt Ambleside’s struggling businesses. Duh!

Note well: In an informal chat over soda water, Mayor Michael Smith denied any notion, mine included, that this is a done deal. Just proposals moving through process.

The next big date is June 13, when this stew of fixing a non-existent problem goes to council “for consideration”. Time to rally the “Negative Nellies.”

• • •

The reference above to a drink with Mayor Smith wasn’t facetious. He really was sipping soda water when we talked. Under the news radar, Smith was quite seriously ill for months.

“I don’t want to make a big thing out of my recent troubles,” he summed up in an email. “As you know, a low profile suits me. The brief facts are that I went into hospital on Jan. 14 for a short one-hour procedure and got a serious infection from it.”

Smith was hospitalized three times, “as the infection kept re-occurring,” puzzling the docs (note well: this wasn’t at our own Lions Gate Hospital).

After two months on antibiotics he feels fine “and am 30 pounds lighter and back working out five times per week with a personal trainer.’’ Also ready for a first real drink.

Dr. Lautens diagnoses the illness as a clear case of all too common but rarely admitted iatrogenesis. Look it up. Hint: Re-read previous item.

• • •

Agent 000, new and thus to be treated warily, alleges that a West Van town hall staffer resigned almost a year ago but is still being paid.

He suspects, no proof, two other departed staffers received similar (taxpayer) generosity.

Town hall’s response: “The district follows best practices in human resources, and we do not share personnel information regarding any employee.” Fair. And why the public never, ever knows.

• • •

Earls restaurant chain scrapped its beef-sourcing policy change after my last column’s deadline. And I misread the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce finalist list for Business Person of the Year: That’s Peter King of Bowen Island Community Transit Ltd. My apologies.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Atop the Christmas list for West Vancouver’s ailing retail sector: some business prosperity

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – December 22, 2014

West Vancouver, the wealthy widow of Metro, might well ask Santa for Christmas: please, how about some nice fresh prosperity for our businesses? Especially for the main business stem, Marine Drive, Ambleside. A former councillor once drily counted something like 13 beauty salons by any name on the Marine Drive strip. Not huge retail magnets and tax-generators.

The “wealthy widow” analogy is defensible. I used to guess that the elderly women squeezing coins from their change purses at Safeway on 17th Street were widows, left pensions – ample 25 years earlier – by their husbands. Inflation was easing them into genteel poverty. Businessman and former councillor Victor Durman, not given to excreting sympathy, heard wailing by widows living skinny – sitting on $2 million properties. Land-rich, cashflow-poor.

That well-worn Safeway is gone, replaced by landlord H.Y. Louie’s own smartly framed (and pricier) Fresh St. Market, its customers visibly generations younger than Safeway’s. Just what Michael Smith, twice-acclaimed West Van mayor, wants – only more, please, Santa.

Retired oil company executive Smith (who gives his $9,000-a-year mayoral salary raise to the West Vancouver Foundation) is an outwardly reserved, even shy man. But demons writhe inside. Business, he says bluntly, is dying along Marine Drive.

“Our commercial area is not doing well,” he said grimly at an election meeting last month. “If we don’t do something we’ll just have a rundown area we drive through on the way to Park Royal [Shopping Centre].”

Ah, Park Royal, West Van’s explosively growing retail gorilla. Its personable vice-president and general manager, Rick Amantea,seems sincere when he says a business-healthy Marine Drive is in Park Royal’s interest. The owning Lalji family may not have heard. Park Royal’s ambition is to be not merely a North Shore but a regional shopping centre, competitive with Oakridge and Burnaby’s Metrotown. Its glossy shops proliferate, its roadways are an off-putting maze with non-stop construction, but its vast free parking is a killer for Ambleside, where scarce parking is also free – but much of it grabbed early in the day by store employees from the suburbs.

The mayor’s centrepiece for Marine Drive revival is Grosvenor Ambleside, a 95-condo and retail gem-to-be on the police station’s waterfront site at 13th and Marine. Smith felt West Van got an excellent deal – $62 million for the site and $1 million a year in future taxes – but the sale to London-based Grosvenor was almost scuppered. Some furious citizens railed about its bylaw-bending, view-blocking heft. Council’s 2-2 deadlock (Coun. Mary-Ann Booth abstaining because her lawyer husband had a Grosvenor connection, now lifted) was broken only through pressure on populist Coun. Bill Soprovich.

Last month’s election could be seen as a chastening referendum on Grosvenor: council’s two naysayers, Craig Cameron (who simply held out for a smaller development) and Nora Gambioli, finished one-two, while longtime poll-topper Soprovich fell to fourth. The big upset was financial adviser and Grosvenor development critic Christine Cassidy’s whipping of several prospective Smith allies. As a potential tie-breaker she’ll be under close watch.

Town hall is by far Metro’s biggest municipal per capita spender, the Fraser Institute found – $2,118 per person in 2012, far above the $1,384 regional average, and more than twice bottom-rung Surrey’s $951. West Van is an oddity. First impression, it doesn’t look that rich. The money is behind opulent private doors up the slopes. But Smith asserts its aging residents would gladly move to condos nearer businesses and recreation – if they were built. Old-timers feel Marine Drive’s modest, human-scale businesses are part of the charm. And trees, views, foreign speculators – let’s not go there.

Next month council begins updating its official community plan – possibly spurred by a jarring 17,500-square-foot home approved for a once-serene neighbourhood – and a new lobby group is inviting developers, builders and realtors to join, its suspected goal to head off as much regulatory stricture as possible. The wealthy widow has panting suitors.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Gateway to a revitalized Ambleside in West Vancouver

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 6, 2014

So what would you prefer for the renamed West Vancouver? Grosvenorville? Or Grosvenor City, which sounds classier? Aw, not serious. Just imagining the Londonbased company as the pioneer – surpassing old John Lawson – of the new, new West Vancouver, through its glittering, block-long project on the south side of 1300-block Marine Drive, gateway to a projected greatly revitalized Ambleside.

That said: What about the north side? Well, the present “gateway” is a big swath of dirt, an excavation straight across from Grosvenor’s up-market project. Shell owns it. A seasoned businessman, my Agent 6Voar42C, believes Shell has no intention of selling this once-and-maybe future corner service station site.

The rest of the block consists of time-worn but well-kept 1950s-era shops. Hardly a million-dollarplus view for respected Grosvenor’s milliondollar-plus condo buyers. A problemo, no? Grosvenor has been contacting north-side owners – but stop right here if you leap to the conclusion that the venerable English company aims to expand its 13th and Marine beachhead.

I didn’t leap to the conclusion, but I leaped to the possibility. In fact if I were advising Grosvenor (for a substantial consultancy fee) I’d urge: Buy out the seven north-side landlords and build a boutique hotel to complement your southside condos, adding more fancy-pants shops.

Of course as a citizen I’d urge no such thing. The north-side businesses are a varied lot, including good restaurant Chez Michel, chic Caliente Fashions, Malkin cleaners (since 1923!), a popular veterinary hospital, Hands On Alterations, etc. Some just won’t sit well under Grosvenor’s shadow.

So I’m afraid my questions to unbelievably wealthy Grosvenor about any interest in the northside block bordered on the brusque. (What does “unbelievably wealthy” mean? This: Grosvenor is a self-described London-based “privatelyowned property group with 17 offices in 11 countries around the world,” founded in 1677. London has the priciest real estate in the world. How pricey? Bloomberg Businessweek reports that real-estate firm Savills estimates that London’s 10 richest boroughs are “worth nine per cent more than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.” Read that again. And the Grosvenor family owns huge chunks of the richest of the rich – central London.) Grosvenor replied, coolly I’d call it: “We are contacting property owners on the north side of Marine Drive to inform them of construction plans and to meet the District of West Vancouver’s expectation that construction be carried out in an efficient manner to limit disruption.

“This communication to property owners is a standard practice and part of Grosvenor’s ongoing commitment to every community. Any other insinuation you make in this regard is factually inaccurate.”

Old-world courtesy or not, if I were a landlord such a call would remind me: Years of noise. Dust. Cranes. Lumbering trucks. Parking nightmare. Haveto lower rents, hard to keep or get new tenants. A diminishing asset. Better sell now.

Jane Edgar, wittily calling herself La Presidente of Caliente, is forthright about block tenants: “We are community. We support each other. … We aren’t just losing view, we’re losing sky.” At the gentle Christian Science reading room, one of only two in Metro, the very nice operators praised landlord Al Veljacic – who also owns Malkin, Yasmin, and Takeoff Now Travel – for his reasonable rents. Veljacic says: “I haven’t talked to anybody who’s happy about this. … I don’t want to see a corridor of buildings like the West End.”

OK, it’s business. And the world, even West Van, changes. I get Mayor Michael Smith’s blunt take that the north block “needs redevelopment. … It has taken a very long time to get someone to make a major investment in Ambleside. If you ask the merchants, this is very much needed, as business is really struggling. We need to tie the commercial area to the waterfront, as this will attract visitors.”

Smith, a hardheaded businessman in a previous life, also candidly welcomes more tax revenue from the block. Smith and council negotiated an impressive $11 million in community assets from Grosvenor.

Growth arguably benefits all. Sound theory, but it may not mollify some actual people, like north-side 1300-block landlords and tenants and view-losing residents – forgotten in the euphoria.

Meanwhile, Addition Elle, clothing for sizable ladies, last week left for Burnaby, leaving Park Royal Shopping Centre where the relentless pursuit of Platinum Card clientele marches on.

No closure for the bustling 7-Eleven at 14th and Marine: A three-year lease well below the rumoured nearly 300 per cent rent rise that nearly chased it away. A landlord may have read the story about killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

No space to detail the fun Taste of Ambleside supported by 70 businesses, sprigs of orange flowers from Da Vinci’s home shop in many hands, heavenly bites from Daikichi Sushi, Thai Pudong, Carmello’s, Blue Eyed Marys, Starbucks … too many to sample.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Fresh thinking needed in West Vancouver’s Ambleside

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 31, 2014

Are Ambleside and other West Vancouver merchants doing enough to fight back at Park Royal, the behemoth on their doorstep? Pay attention to the idea of Leslie Plommer, who is both an insider and outsider: Born in West Vancouver and still closely in touch, she began as a summer reporter for The Vancouver Sun, moved to The Globe and Mail, London Times, and then for many years was an editor with London’s left-wing Guardian.

In a Christmas letter, Leslie wrote: “One of the many images that flash before my eyes at this time of year, as I pound the pavements of (London’s) West End trying to find presents for people who have everything, is the ridiculous saga of trying to buy a single, simple item in the Dundarave-Ambleside shopping area: A Christmas gift voucher.”

On a stopover in 2011 she worked her way through West Van seeking a gift voucher for her dying dad, prominent lawyer Robert Plommer, “who by that time was enduring nursing home cooking and (as a long-time lover, and cook, of Japanese food) was pining for a reliable source of prawn tempura. But not a single sushi place had gift vouchers! “Only when I finally reached tiny, immaculate Yanaki Sushi in the 1400-block of Marine Drive did I find staff with the business instincts to find a solution, instead of just saying ‘We don’t do that.’ Yanaki had no vouchers either, but what they could do was give me a payment receipt that would act as a voucher.

“I found this little episode both sad and annoying, given the perennial lament from Ambleside businesses who supposedly love the old shopping areas, and those who supposedly want to preserve their low-rise character, yet do much of their spending at the likes of Park Royal, or online,” Leslie wrote. “Why don’t they get together on a Shop Ambleside card — and load yourself with however much credit you want, and send to friends and family as gifts, or use yourself, maybe with special offers?”

Well, merchants, what d’you say? Any fresh thinking? I see no evidence that our businesses make any collective attempt to imprint on citizens that these are their shopping areas.

***

Word-people praising their editors are naturally suspect. They are assumed to be sucking up to those who have their sad little lives in the powerful palm of their hands. Freed from such ugly suspicions, I can now state emphatically that Martin Millerchip, who retired as editor of this paper Dec. 31, was in the very top tier of my superiors in the 60 years, five months (but who’s counting) of paid journalistic fun and games.

We had our disputes, but Martin handled my abject bitching and whining as the tolerated eccentricities of geniuses (you are urged to laugh hysterically). I can now go to supper with him without guilt.

***

Put not your trust in princes (Psalm 146:3, if you care to know). Or modern counterparts. By a 5-2 vote West Van council welched on a promise to restore three tennis courts, temporarily converted to a parking lot while the Westerleigh Retirement Residence was built. Temporary, as often happens, hardens into maybe forever.

Owners of abutting Stonethro suites at 2115-2133 Gordon Ave. are livid about their diminished view and property values. Mayor Mike Smith verbally shrugged: “We have to make decisions based on the facts at the time. The facts now have changed.”

Unimpressed, Stonethro strata council secretary Paul Stott wrote me: “The champions of council were Mary-Ann Booth and Nora Gambioli; with ‘$-signs in their minds’ were the mayor and Michael Lewis.” As Jeremy Shepherd reported in the Jan. 17 News, Booth explained her nay vote: “In an election year, this may come across as self-serving.” A most significant remark, since, as Constant Reader will recall, I’ve predicted a Lewis-Booth mayoral battle in November if Smith retires.

***

If there is such a thing as good death, Tim Jones had it. He died in the mountains where he participated in 1,400 or more rescues and saved an incalculable number of lives. Not for him the ravages of advancing age when he could only watch others doing what he no longer could selflessly do.

If there is such a thing as never once neglecting his family, Tim Jones — routinely called away from his immediate kin to save lost skiers and hikers on our mountains — never neglected his larger family, which is all mankind.

If there is such a thing as a perfect day for a rescue attempt, it was last Saturday, when, under brilliant sun, even the wind hushed in what seemed like nature’s respect, and in an age when film and TV actors are handed scripts as pretend heroes, Tim Jones was the rare, genuine article.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

West Vancouver arts edifice is monumental mistake

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 27, 2013

It may seem whimsical to urge saving a parking lot and to politely advise an arts centre lobby to look for a site elsewhere. Or get lost.

If it’s whimsy, it’s serious whimsy.

This is a special parking lot on invaluable land. The aggressive arts council is proposing the arts centre, expanded to include architectural and design aspects, for the entire 1600-block Bellevue, on the leafy, airy parking lot needed by moms, dads and children using the John Lawson Park picnic and play area – just as the playground is being rightly expanded and Ambleside is already screaming with vehicle crawl and parking torture.

The proposal is for the arts edifice – including a gift shop and wine bar, now that’s really needed if, as I suspect, the centre is more dedicated to chatting about art than creating it – to sit on a two-level parkade. People hate parkades. This one obviously would need to be built above the water table, high waves having flooded nearby land just months ago. It would block physical access to the beach and water views to the eye.

The childless and picnic-intolerant should sit up and take notice that the estimated cost for the 26,000-square-foot centre is $28 million, paid for with “donations.” As if West Vancouverites would throw in a fraction of that. A fair guess is that anyone tossing in $1 million would get his or her name immortalized over the entrance.

Nope, grants will be sought from deeply indebted federal and provincial governments. But operating costs – high, especially to meet stringent Class A art gallery standards, which include careful temperature control – would be borne by West Vancouver taxpayers. You okay with that?

Business-savvy councilwatcher Garrett Polman notes that council approved an arts facility for the site, contingent on funding and a business plan, in May 2012. His recollection is that the proposal included 20-odd offices – shades of the mysterious second floor in our swanky community centre – and that “only about a quarter of the square footage would be available for public display space.

“I checked some of the large New York museums such as the MoMA and the Met,” Polman writes, “and they (thankfully) devote over 50 per cent of their space to display art. Being an avid museum-goer – to well over 500 museums worldwide – it made me wonder for whom this facility is to be built.”

As for funding, Polman says: “The arts community has been pushing for this facility since the early 1960s but as of 2012 had not collected as much as a dime.”

Allow me to be uncharacteristically unkind. (You may laugh if you wish.) This is Monumentism in full flower. Its backers predictably include a small knot of art aficionados and artists – some not deigning to display their upmarket wares in the existing four modest art venues on Argyle – hot boosters of Ambleside revitalization, better achieved by lower business taxes and cutting town hall fat, and the cementpourers, happy to build anything anywhere.

Let’s talk taste. The earlier assault was on the Ferry Building site at 13th and Argyle. The lobby first proposed to move the Ferry and build on the site. Then they pitched a separate gallery, near enough to shatter the balance and grace of the total site – and also a beach view-blocker. Come on! Did none of these artsy people see that the Ferry needs “empty” space – alone-ness, in a sea of grass on gently rolling land, to set it off? These people are esthetically cool? The 1912 Ferry Building isn’t the Parthenon, but, dammit, it’s our own and part of our history.

The public embraced the proposals like the bubonic plague. They “did not support the foot of 14th Street as a location chosen for the arts centre,” the bureaucrats noted with understatement, and the West Vancouver Historical Society also “objected to large scale arts facilities on Argyle.”

In May this year, Brent Leigh, West Vancouver’s deputy chief administrative officer, submitted a report to council updating the 2011-12 plans – incredibly, ridiculously, without one word about the 1600-block site’s present use. On May 28, on a motion by Coun. Craig Cameron seconded by Coun. Michael Lewis, council again approved the project in principle, with conditions.

One being: “A comprehensive process of public consultation on, among other things, the location, size and functional program of a new Arts Centre.”

An invitation for West Vancouverites to speak up, again, clearly, when the issue returns to council next month.

Sad note. Funeral services were held today for popular Const. Louis Beglaw, who died on duty Sept. 16. He joined the West Vancouver Police Department in 2003 and since 2007 had patrolled with police dog Capone.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Clark’s happy illusion trumps dour truths

Appeared in the North Shore News – July 19, 2013

MY spectacular streak of correctly predicting B.C. election results having been snapped at one, what excuses do I have? First, I overlooked that Premier Christy Clark was running not in Metro Vancouver under cynical media eyes, but to get a legislature seat in a bleak desert where wine-sodden voters snooze poolside under the brain-cooking sun. Not a milieu that lends itself to rigorous thought.

Aw, just checking the fine residents of Westside-Kelowna for their sense of humour.

Not kidding so much: Factor in the appeal to Okanagan vanity – the opportunity to boast yet a third premier in B.C. history – and, proof that their heads are stuffed with smarts after all, their shrewd grasp that a legislator who also happens to be the all-powerful premier can bestow goodies on the local populace. Promise me a bridge and I’ll follow you anywhere.

And now, not joking at all: Even a zealous supporter of Ralph Sultan privately murmured that if the West Vancouver-Capilano MLA had sacrificially bowed to let Clark run in his equally bank-safe Liberal riding conveniently near her actual Vancouver residence, her constituents – and the whole North Shore – might have received tangible evidence of her gratitude.

Such as: Revived pressure for a third crossing (some distant day)? Political muscle to improve the beloved Blue Bus service that TransLink short-changes with arrogant indifference? Maybe a quiet word to municipal councils to co-operate more in costcutting, especially concerning policing and firehalls? That said, there’s no discounting Clark’s huge Westside-Kelowna victory: 62 per cent of votes cast. But how could I have overlooked the chief factor that I wove into my prediction of a Liberal win in May? Which is: Clark’s beaming, bubbly optimism.

I don’t expect Clark will really balance the budget and vanquish B.C. debt, or put well-paying jobs in every household. Adrian Dix is much brainier. So are top members of her caucus (and they resentfully know it). But a Viennese saying quoted long ago by journalist Robert Fulford comes to mind: An illusion that makes you happy is better than a truth that makes you sad. Optimism may be an illusion, but it’s a better political sell than dry policy.

Big differences of style and substance aside, another Kelowna premier, mocked by

the Opposition, media and sub-intellectuals as a blowhard and buffoon, had a similar gift for reaching out to hopeful hearts, not analytical minds. W.A.C. Bennett, of course.

Park Royal Shopping Centre will make a major announcement in three or four weeks – more reshaping of the mall that is alienating some customers with its seemingly nonstop construction, dust and confusing access and internal roadways.

The west end of the “old” south mall will be transformed by 2016, starting early next year. A predictably (I stand foursquare behind this prediction) glittering new store, possibly with a fashion theme, on the elderly Extra Foods site will anchor the area.

Wait for it, wait for it, a public announcement will be made probably in three or four weeks. Negotiations are still under way, Park Royal vice-president Rick Amantea told me, and there are “some competitive reasons why we have to keep things closer to our vest.”

All tenants west of the small salad bar will be gone, offered space elsewhere in the centre. Some have chosen not to relocate. A big hole was left by the abrupt closure on June 30 of Peter Black & Sons, the butcher, a 30-year tenant. Nearby, the lively British Newsagent departed in February for Edgemont Village, leaving a boarded-up dead spot.

One tenant’s employee said it’s rumoured that Extra Foods – last refuge of the $1 crunchy French loaf, a staple of the undersigned’s diet – will move to new space in the north mall.

Loblaws-owned Extra Foods has its loyal customers and its share of attractive specials, and especially President’s Choice brands (like its yummy giant chocolate bar). But there’s little disputing that it’s your grandmother’s grocery store in terms of the clever display and customer-wooing that Marine Drive’s Fresh St.

Market recently brought to the North Shore’s highly competitive grocery scene.

Amantea, a well-respected, up-front gent, acknowledges that some customers are put off by Park Royal’s relentless growth. “We know that the level of work we’ve done here causes inconvenience but in three years we’ll have the best retail environment we can create. To not do it is not an option.”

Amantea expresses strong support for nearby Ambleside Village’s rejuvenation, which he sees benefitting area business generally and therefore good for all, including Park Royal. “We’re competing to get great retailers, so our competition is with the Oakridges, Pacific Centres and Metrotowns of the world.”

The only thing faintly competing in stupidity with the well-funded drive to legalize marijuana is the proposal for allowing strong drink on beaches and streets.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Christy Clark will win – you read it here first

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 10, 2013

MULTIPLE sparkling, titillating items battling for top spot:

Gordon Wilson is a fascinating British Columbia study, a shrewd maverick whose feet stepped into a cow-pie or two – most visibly a marital one – but whose head arguably contains the sharpest political smarts of any practitioner hereabouts of our times.

So when Wilson announced 10 days before an election, “It’s been 20 years since I called myself a Liberal, but it’s time to come home” – listen very carefully, and read the amazing shrinking numbers for New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix, all but anointed premier by the punditry long months ago.

On Bill Good’s CKNW show, a few days before his return to the Liberal fold, Wilson sliced Dix fine on meaty points that Premier Christy Clark’s handlers have failed to exploit.

Notably, the “backdated memo” meant to protect Dix’s then-boss and premier, Glen Clark. Wrong, Wilson asserts. He defined it as a fraudulently altered official document, which sounds much more Criminal Code-ish. Dix, who long ago openly acknowledged his mistake, recently undermined his apology by the defence that he was “only 35” at the time. A beardless youth? (I’m too kind to describe Dix’s switch on the Kinder Morgan proposal between April 11 and 23 as “Guaranteed principles: Best Before Date 11 days.”)

Wilson also noted that the Liberal deficit budgets that bubbled under devout black-ink worshipper Gordon Campbell simply mirrored similar global humiliations during the 2008’10 depression.

Maybe Liberal strategists decided that pointing this out would sound like whining, vulnerable to jeering from the cheap seats – especially if elections are no time to debate the economy, as another Campbell, the brainy Kim, declared in her disastrous 1993 federal campaign and was mocked for. (No wonder politicians speak in stale, cautious platitudes. Ralph Sultan stated that single motherhood partly explained poverty. True! But the mad leftist correct-speak police jumped on this statistical and obvious fact.)

Wilson retired from politics but remains a favourite media go-to analyst. He can only help the bouncy Christy Clark, who – as I’ve repeatedly predicted – will astonish multitudes by winning the election. If I’m wrong: It’ll be far, far closer than the wise imagined just two or three weeks ago.

“We all knew the race would tighten up,” one of the sages is declaring as I write this. Yeah, right.

. . .

I made an executive decision not to assess or recommend North Shore candidates in this election. I attended all-candidates meetings for West Vancouver-Capilano and Sea to Sky ridings, but decided to comment only if I perceived any real duds or terminal blunders. There weren’t. This paper’s reporters commendably covered the meetings.

. . .

They can’t win, so treading where others fear to tread is easier for Jane Sterk of the Greens and Conservative John Cummins. Both have conducted themselves well.

Especially, strong praise here for Cummins’s condemnation of a threat by the Wet’suwet’en First Nation to shut down a mine in northwestern B.C. by using road blockades or by knocking down hydro lines.

Cummins urged Clark and Dix to show leadership by joining him in his condemnation. Fat chance. . . .

Amazing timing, one among many: Liberal Mary Polak’s homosexual campaign manager, Todd Hauptman, suddenly discovers a “hateful attitude” toward gays by Langley citizens and quits a week before the election, inflicting maximum damage on a hurt and mystified friend.

. . .

The stupidest election nonissue to date is Christy Clark’s stop-and-go drive through a red light one morning around 5: 15 a.m. – egged on by her son and dutifully recorded by (excellent) Vancouver Sun reporter Jonathan Fowlie. Any West Vancouverite driving to the ferry at that time of morning, who sits and seethes at red lights on the deserted streets, will empathize. Or do likewise. I have, once or twice, and I’m the squarest rule-follower in the Western world. . . .

Mayor Michael Smith was displeased, and he isn’t known for hiding his displeasure, by my April 26 piece slamming the proposed commercialization of the Ambleside waterfront strip between 13th and 18th.

“Unfortunately the staff report on this was somewhat misleading and as such was rejected by all of council,” Smith wrote me. Fallout possible?

. . .

Former mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones was spotted a while ago wearing a hard hat at Park Royal – working as a consultant.

When contacted, Park Royal executive Rick Amantea said her firm, PGJ Consulting Inc., was hired for six or seven months “to help us look at and create a new neighbourhood vision . . . identifying community needs, providing input on the design of our future public grounds and social amenities and sustainability, all sorts of things.” The contract ended about three months ago.

First as councillor and then two-term mayor, retiring undefeated in December 2011, Goldsmith-Jones obviously took part in decisions affecting Park Royal interests.

You all right with that? My take: No problem on the face of it. She has marketable skills and experience and, presumably, bills like the rest of us. But some might invoke the “Caesar’s wife” argument. Apparently anticipating any raised eyebrows, Amantea noted that Park Royal “wasn’t her only client. Her firm represents interests across Metro Vancouver.” Also, “Pam and I are friends, as we’ve known each other for 15 years.”

. . .

Chuck, not George, Walker was the gent who proposed a marina in the Ambleside Park area some years ago. I erred in my ramblings here two weeks ago.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Poverty is not the mother of terrorism

Appeared in the North Shore News – April 26, 2013

SO I sat down, sucked a thumb, and wrote an ingenious screed that could have been titled The Hinge of Western Democracy: British Columbia’s Provincial Election…

Which I’ve scrapped. Important though our election is to us, it shrinks to a local play on a small stage in light of the events of the last couple of weeks.

If you’ve been a long way out of town, they are: First, the let’s-blow-up-something-big amateur terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon by two young Muslims apparently acting on their own but driven by hatred’s borderless handbook.

Second, the stymied plan by harder-nosed suspects with al-Qaida connections to derail the VIA Rail-Amtrak passenger train between Toronto and New York City, which likely would have murdered more people than the Boston bombs.

It was not a good week for critics of the RCMP, the FBI, the close embrace of the U.S. and Canada when the going gets tough, and the surveillance cameras and airport security checks that are the gloomily necessary price for protecting our lives and freedom in a dangerous age.

It was also not a good week for the fresh, youngish leader of the federal Liberal party (how did he get to be 41 so fast?).

Asked about the Boston murders, Justin Trudeau gave the off-the-shelf response of armchair academics and their lesser, usually leftish acolytes: You’d have to look at the “root causes,” an intellectual odyssey that makes for interesting seminars and dispassionate histories of events like the French, Russian and other revolutions long after the human flesh ingredient of them has been torn apart and the blood washed away.

For my part, I abandoned the grade-school sympathetic take on the French variety years later, partly upon learning that after Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine a doubtlessly poor “root-cause” workman rolled her head between his legs and ate lunch. Further muddying the good-guys-bad guys theory, the kindly revolutionaries handed over the young lad in line to be Louis XVII to the mercies of a terrifying monster who would have been a model for today’s child killers.

The crazed belief, motivating all terrorists, is that if you can just murder certain individuals or classes of people and bully the rest, you will release the poor from the chains of “root causes” and enthrone them in the seats of power. This is one of those delusions that the great George Orwell had in mind when he scorned some idea with the phrase “you’d have to be an intellectual to believe that: no ordinary person would be so stupid.”

The poor very rarely foment revolution. Genuinely poor people don’t lead it. The suspects in the Boston and VIA Rail cases evidently didn’t come from the ranks of the abject poor. They’re privileged, living in the West, able to travel, one a Tunisian doctoral student in Canada on a student visa and reportedly credited with academic publications.

As for the good news, apart from the news that would have been much, much bigger without the sharp work of the oft-criticized police, it’s heartening that important information about the VIA Rail plans came from within the Muslim community itself. No one knows the value of freedom and the rule of law – flawed and disputed as they are in grumbling Canada – better than the immigrants from many countries where those qualities are conspicuous by their absence.

. . .

Get angry, West Vancouverites, if you want to preserve the Ambleside Beach strip from 13th to 18th as a park.

What devious council and busy town hall bureaucrats want for the strip is nothing more than crude commercial exploitation. And, as flagged by Rob Morris in his April 21 letter to the editor, not just the thin edge of a wedge – a fat edge, with more certain to come. Californication.

Restaurant. Bar. Equipment rental (cabanas, beach chairs, swimsuits?) and food concessions. Child care centre. Arts facilities. And “a ferry dock and terminal” (shades of the shot-down scheme for a marina proposed years ago by George Walker). Some “preservation” of the beach.

. . .

B.C.’s almost pietistic Conservative party isn’t immune from the erring-candidate disease. Jeff Sprague resigned from the race in Liberal Naomi Yamamoto’s North Vancouver-Lonsdale riding after what the party called “an unfortunate personal incident,” at this writing unidentified but, according to News 1130, involving an alleged drinking-driving incident.

. . .

Reader Judith Berg drew my attention to the all-party standing ovation Joan McIntyre, retiring Liberal MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, received in the last sitting of the legislature. I note it here for my sins, having chided McIntyre for lacking the visceral political gene that more combative types have – and, many would say, a good thing too.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

A grandiose West Van plan – with no parking

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 26, 2012

IF West Vancouver council buys the Grosvenor-driven “revitalization” of Ambleside, expect more public hostility.

Council will. The fix is in. No shrewd mammoth developer like Grosvenor wades into small ponds like West Vancouver without first calculating its exact depth – and which small-town politicians and bureaucrats will help lace up their boots to cross it. (If previous mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones comes to mind, OK.)

By the time the mere public learns of it – in another case, think of council’s closed-meeting approval of the Pattison “bus shelters” – it’s a done deal. Grosvenor’s uninformative information storefront on Marine Drive was a joke without a punch line, smiling young women without facts, PR without substance. That passes for “public consultation.”

Town hall cunningly wrapped up its war of upmarket condo-dwellers and high-end shoppers against Ambleside’s more modest and especially older citizens in a big pink bow of multiple projects. Bafflement by bulk.

Anchored by Grosvenor’s already strongly denounced, guidelines-jumping seven- and eight-storey towers at West Van’s 13th Street “gateway,” those projects council unveiled last week will cumulatively drive out human-scale Ambleside. (The north side of the block will be next – it won’t do for the nouveau riche on the eighth floor.)

Let me be kind, a momentary lapse, I promise: West Van has unusual problems, daunting for any council. One, God in her wisdom created little actual WV soil, a thin strip between seaside and mountainside. Obviously she favours ox-stunning real estate prices. Two, for 80-odd years it’s had one overarching – but, to be fair, careful and conscientious – super-developer, British Properties. Bigger than council, arguably.

The third huge factor is Park Royal Shopping Centre. You can almost hear the whoosh as ever-expanding Park Royal sucks business activity from Ambleside’s Marine Drive and beyond. With its almost limitless parking, the centre has relentlessly waved in traffic from an Ambleside where finding street parking has become hard labour.

Above all, more parking is ignored in the multiple-faceted plan, the one thing that could really goose Ambleside (and Dundarave) retailing. But it fashionably peddles more bicycle trailways for recreational cycling.

A few other considerations:

Converting “newly-acquired properties at 1468 and 1472 Argyle Avenue into ocean-front restaurants.” Putting aside that West Vancouver has no ocean – to find it, turn west, sail for 90 minutes, and cross a large island – will Carmelo’s, Chez Michel and other excellent restaurants warmly welcome nearby competitors leasing waterfront from town hall?

Keep the very few, colourful Argyle houses as houses. They add variety to the beach and after-dark safety.

Food carts/trucks: See above re competition. Anyway, Feastro the Rolling Bistro and the like may fit downtown Vancouver’s demographics. But in West Van? Your great-aunt munching shrimp burgers or halibut tacos on the street? Yeah, right.

“A business case for a new Arts Centre on the 1600-block of Bellevue.” Why? The Ferry Building, Silk Purse, library, and many private galleries aren’t enough?

“Upgrades to the Silk Purse Gallery to create a more usable outdoor space.” That’s puzzling. As well as small art shows, the Silk Purse – in decline since well-connected Cheryl Karchut’s leadership, and Victoria’s cuts to the arts – holds music concerts. Upgrades? Usable outdoor space? Explain.

“More closures of Argyle Avenue to vehicle traffic for other opportunities.” Meaning? This is West Van’s popular promenade, also offering scarce parking space for the area, especially for the frail attending the Silk Purse, the Ferry Building, the Harmony Arts Festival. Vehicles and strolling families coexist comfortably. It’s a solution for which the town hall’s meddling mandarins seek a problem. Leave it alone, council.

“The Streetscape Project, which aims to improve sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, street furniture, bike connections and other open space elements in Ambleside Village.” Translation: Gimmicks to lure unwary tourists beyond Park Royal to a North Carmel-by-the-Sea. Someone even suggested cobbled roadways. Warning: Never trust anyone who uses the word “streetscape.”

Make your own list.

. . .

WV council unanimously passed third reading of leaky Westshore Place’s rezoning application. Town hall acknowledged Westshore sought to resolve “life safety and building envelope issues resulting from unauthorized balcony enclosures . . . weather walls . . . were removed most often without building permits.” Like, illegally. Council-watcher George Pajari was in full flight:

“Unbelievably . . . you’re recommending no penalty for the bylaw infractions (or) the building code violations, and, oh, by the way, we’ll give you increased property value to the tune of $30,000-$50,000 per unit . . . with no community benefit.” Yes, for problems “caused by the strata owners themselves.” Great example for others.

Westshore’s advocate: Former mayor Mark Sager. Smart lawyer, Mr. Sager.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

In changing times, a sad song for Safeway

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 22, 2012

TO coin a phrase, it will be the end of an era. And upsetting for many – especially older – West Vancouverites.

It’s the closure, July 1, of the Ambleside Safeway.

It will hit home, which is where we all live, for older people who walk to the supermarket from nearby condos and suites, and who physically (and financially) can’t easily shop elsewhere.

They, and the supermarket, are part of West Van’s characters and character.

It’s an unusual situation: Grocer tenant, grocer landlord. Safeway is the tenant on the 1.4-acre site – and it isn’t leaving happily. Landlord H.Y. Louie Co., B.C.’s third-biggest private company with 2011 revenue of $4.5 billion, didn’t renew the lease and plans to renovate the store.

H.Y. Louie supplies groceries for Marketplace IGA stores, which are independently owned. A company vice-president said he had no information about the duration or cost of the renovation, or the new tenant – though there’s little doubt it will be a Marketplace IGA.

These stores, like the one in Dundarave, I’d rate as a cut above Safeway stores in terms of a wider product range, some fancier goods and generally prices to match. Appealing stores – no criticism of them here – but if the new tenant is a Marketplace IGA, Ambleside’s little old ladies and men will likely pay a tad more for their foodstuffs.

The renovation time frame worries Coun. Bill Soprovich: “My concern is that closure for a long time” – like six or eight months – “would have a devastating effect on the area.” Park Royal Shopping Centre attracts customers from North Vancouver and Vancouver’s West End; the Ambleside Safeway is West Van’s own.

H.Y. Louie’s original plan for the site included a below-ground supermarket, retail and office space, and a residential tower. Announced early in 2011, it drew furious popular opposition.

The eye of the storm was the tower. The company pitched two options: a) 15-storeys; b) 10-storeys. Some protesters loathed both. The Official Community Plan allows four.

Town hall staff recommended against the development, and the company never made an official application for it. Considering the continuing tepid economy and general decline in real estate sales and prices, it may have lucked out.

. . .

In this celebratory year, it isn’t just the Queen and the Stratford Festival that are marking a 60th anniversary: So is the North Shore Community Players – though, says publicist Anne Marsh, “it was a going concern for several years prior to that.”

Taking part in tomorrow’s festivities, at the charming Theatre at Hendry Hall, will be North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton and senior editor of the North Shore News Martin Millerchip, an early member, actor and director – and incidentally my boss. Now will you get your foot off my neck and my play script, Martin?

. . .

Let us concede that responding to mail – especially, these days, email – is a formidable task for members of Parliament.

Well, so it is for almost everyone else, and few get the money or perks of MPs.

Letters in the News from North Vancouverites Alison Andresen and Ming Berka scorched Andrew Saxton, Conservative MP for North Vancouver, for not replying to their letters. Others have chimed in.

Saxton is a smart guy, holds a couple of parliamentary secretaryships, and has a lot on his plate. But the only thing worse than an MP’s boilerplate form letter to a constituent is the nonletter. Saxton apologized and promised a better system, but the damage is done.

I’ve had a similar problem with John Weston, same party, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

Wrote; computer-generated reply; wrote again; all same; gave up. Oddly, he was easy to reach when a candidate.

U.S. presidents are restricted to two terms. That might be a good benchmark for MPs. Or maybe at that point they should face challenges at the party constituency level.

. . .

CKNW’s Philip Till is a brilliant, world-class radio essayist. The station shrewdly has begun using his superb language and polemical skills in commentaries on his show. Of course, that’s easy to say – when you agree with his opinions.

Naturally, as a trained professional writer – and in past life detached and objective editor – of opinion, I’m just as annoyed as Joe Doaks by an opinion I disagree with.

And so we come to Till’s views last week on the death of the beached young humpback whale at White Rock.

Till mocked, sneered and jeered at the many people who were moved, spoke with catches in their throat, left flowers on the whale, which apparently slowly died due to coils of fishing lines in its mouth. Some touched the body, I suspect out of reverence and sorrow, not just curiosity.

Till derided them as hypocrites.

I was fascinated that CKNW fudged his talk’s subject matter on its website: “Philip shares his editorial on why he’s insensitive.”

© Trevor Lautens, 2012