Bah! to batty bully-boy bicycle backers

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 3, 2016

You may have heard – or bellowed yourself – something like: ‘‘By Jing, that moron Coun. Thimblehooper! I’ll never vote for that idiot again!’’

The Thimblehooper moment has come in West Vancouver.

Because only a council of Thimblehoopers could consider for one New York minute voting for a project contemptuously hostile to West Van interests as this:

Turning  over a chunk of Argyle Avenue to the cyclist lobby’s Spirit Trail.

In all earnestness, I think better of councillors Mary-Ann Booth, Bill Soprovich, Christine Cassidy, Craig Cameron, Nora Gambioli and Michael Lewis, and Mayor Michael Smith. I personally like every one. There have been dud councillors. Not in this lot.

Because it would be an act of certifiable insanity to surrender to the bully-boy bicycle lobbyists – who arrogantly jammed motor traffic to intimidate Vancouver into bowing to their demands – and their enablers among the busy-bee bureaucrats in WV town hall. A total loser.

Just for starters: Closing Argyle to motor traffic would strip away 104 parking spaces. From a downtown screaming for parking already! Bellevue Avenue businesses, for years spotted by struggles and closures, would especially be further hurt.

As for businesses on Ambleside’s one-block-over Marine Drive, which Mayor Smith for years has thrown a ton of political might and muscle into reviving – do you think losing those 104 parking stalls would help? And would the sweaty Lycra-and-spandex crowd patronize Chez Michel, Daichi Sushi, Carmelo’s, Blue Eyed Marys and other good restaurants, let alone pause to drop a dime on the street’s fine furnishing stores, women’s fashions, jewellers, florists, gift shops, and so forth?

Exercise? What a good thing. But exercise vendors Steve Nash, Trevor Linden and Ron Zalko don’t ask citizens to subsidize their businesses, especially by donating publicly funded thoroughfares to an interest group that pays zero for the surfaces they move on.

Even worse, the proposed Spirit Trail section imposed on WV’s gorgeous Seaview Walk – a paved surface, night lighting, and, most unbelievable of all, clear-cutting of Tantalus Park, tucked in near the traffic circle above Horseshoe Bay, were initially suggested – threatened an outrageous environmental wound.

Town hall ran a couple of meetings. The opponents were as defiantly rude as any I can recall. Their written responses could fill this space. One, close to my heart: “That the importance of off-leash (for dogs) is not listed under the key themes is a gross oversight.’’ No oversight, I’d have said: Dogs, leashed or unleashed, would get in the arrogant cyclists’ way.

But, to be fair, and a hopeful signal for the Argyle issue: This time town hall materially backed down. No paved surface, no lights, no clear-cutting, dogs still allowed off leash – a mixed benefit because a potential danger to man and beast, and still not a desirable sharing with cyclists.

Western Residents Association co-chair Chris Adshead, and all credit to his and similar sincere views and to WRA’s determination, acknowledges that the staff’s Seaview discussions “started off very poorly” but “we were later pleased by the way the district has consulted and listened,” and the work so far done “has not altered the rustic feel of the trail.”

Apart from the foregoing, there are more than enough questions about town hall’s waterfront vision.

Some West Vancouver Community Arts Council members are grieving over the proposed destruction of their charming Silk Purse building. Smith has mused that an all-new combined arts building, situated eastward, is an idea. One that I’d predict the artists, musicians and (presumably) concert attendees would resist.

Notionally, the arts may be a fit. In fact music through the walls while painting or teaching would be, put gently, a distraction.

Spirit Trail and waterfront change critics: Crowd in to council chambers at the crucial June 13 meeting. By the way, what ever happened to Coun. Thimblehooper?

• • •

And this just in: As Jeremy Shepherd reported Wednesday in these pages, North Van City council dumped – barely, 4-3 – the Mussatto Party’s insane fantasy of a $4.24-million bicycle tow lift (yearly maintenance, $133,000) for the sad exercise buffs who sweat pedalling up Keith Road. Applause for councillors Rod Clark, Holly Back, Don Bell and Pam Bookham. Scorn for Mayor-for-Life Darrell Mussatto and his unbreakable political machine.

• • •

Two North Shore theatrical home runs in a row: Theatre West Van’s second version of Fawlty Towers at the Kay Meek and North Shore Light Opera’s The Merry Widow at Presentation House – which drew a rave review from highly experienced opera critic and musician Hillary Clark – sold out. I tried love and money and couldn’t get tickets to either. I’m aiming for Mary, Mary at Hendry Hall, on stage till June 11.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

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

Quit messing with Argyle Avenue

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 25, 2013

With more than a touch of petulance – having lost a camel’s-nose-in-the-tent tie vote on experimental parking, pedestrian and bicycle lanes on Argyle just two weeks earlier – Mary-Ann Booth and Nora Gambioli failed again Monday to get West Van council on side with the scheme.

Fellow Coun. Craig Cameron was absent for the previous vote. Apparently the two councillors thought he’d support the $80,000-plus “temporary” lanes proposal for the 1300-block Argyle. Wrong. Their motion was beaten 5-2. As Constant Reader knows, this corner sees the Spirit Trail as not meant for serious bicycle commuters – praise them – but for the kind of consumer/faddist who fits the shrewd description of “cycling is the new golf.” Spandex-clad show-offs not satisfied with exercising but who want to be seen to be exercising.

Note: I erred in my Oct. 6 tantrum, confusing years of staff and council plans bearing long-winded titles with lobby groups. My apologies.

In 23 years at this hot dog stand I can’t recall more, or angrier, public reaction to a proposal than to the art-gallery-plus thingee smack on the John Lawson Park parking lot in the 1600-block Argyle.

For good example, here’s bright and gritty and funny New Democrat campaigner (West Vancouver-Capilano) Terry Platt, recovering from a serious operation.

“I certainly don’t see the logic behind tearing up a very pretty parking lot to build an arts centre, with a gift shop and a wine bar,” she writes. “I like the trees. I like to be able to drive with my picnic and my folding chairs and all that other stuff one needs when they picnic and park at a reasonable distance. What about the folks with physical challenges who, while being able to drive, still have difficulty getting around and still like to picnic? “We have enough arts centres, enough gift shops, enough high-end coffee shops. And enough tearing down of West Vancouver to put up something not West Vancouver. One day we will look at what we have and lament that ‘it’s just not what we used to have before.’ Pity.”

“I hear they’re holding a party in West Vancouver for David Baines’ retirement,” joked a retired refugee from Howe Street, referring to the disgusting number of scoundrels roosting on our loftier slopes who were exposed by the great Vancouver Sun columnist.

My informant recalled one crook who moaned he had been screwed – by another crook. He chuckled, recalling he’d told Crook No. 1: “Hubert, you screwed me too.”

(Name has been changed to protect the guilty.) I’d estimate that Baines flushed out more con artists than all the business writers in Canada put together, exposing the shabby end of capitalism that the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business and the Financial Post – to say nothing of the Wall Street Journal and other vaunted U.S. papers – elaborately ignore. Very honourable exception: The Post’s editor-at-large Diane Francis.

As a card-carrying capitalist, I look on Baines with admiration and the above-named publications and countless others with derision for their usually uncritical boosterism of our flawed economic system, unless crimes reach the depths of a Bernie Madoff and can’t be ignored. You’d think they had every selfinterest in helping keep the stables clean.

Baines will be deservedly honoured with the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award at the Jack Webster Awards Dinner next Wednesday at the Westin Bayshore.

Last column I referred to a little-known device called a tontine. Briefly, it’s for some asset or prize collected by the last surviving participant in the agreement. Richmond reader Yvonne Pearson writes that in 1984 five young married North Shore couples chipped in for a tontine with a twist: The couple still married in 2000 would win the tontine.

“We met every year for our tontine dinner and contributed to the pot,” she writes. “In 2000, we celebrated the end of the tontine by using its accumulated money for all of us to go on a fully paid three-day holiday at Harrison Hot Springs. We are all retired now, and still married to the same people.” Only one, her husband Mike, has since died. “We still refer to ourselves as ‘the Tontine Group’ and meet occasionally for lunches.”

Marriage counsellors, suggest this inducement.

When, a callow youth of 19, I first vomited my way to London – seasickness, you know – Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap has already been running for more than a year. Incredibly, it’s still running there 60 years later. It’s booked till Jan. 3, 2015. Could easily out-live me. Even you.

Theatre West Van is staging this still-thrilling thriller (preview next Friday) at the Kay Meek Theatre. The North Shore theatre season is already underway, with the North Vancouver Community Players’ spoofy musical Zombies from the Beyond at the cosiest of little theatres, The Theatre at Hendry Hall. We have charming theatre at low prices – and, at no extra cost, no bridges. Be there or be square, as they say.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Hurrah for common sense on West Vancouver council

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 11, 2013

All praise to some West Vancouver councillors for a good night’s work Monday – stiffing a fool plan for Argyle Avenue, and elsewhere listening to Eden Place residents.

Victories for good sense (a career specialty for Bill Soprovich, which explains his years of poll-topping) and neighbourhood sensitivity. And perhaps a harbinger, literally and figuratively down the Argyle road, for squashing the hugely unpopular art gallery on the John Lawson Park parking lot.

Throw in Mayor Michael Smith’s tonguelashing of TransLink, and the good councillors earned their keep.

On a tie vote – Smith, Soprovich and Michael Lewis (hurrah!) opposed, and Nora Gambioli, Mary-Ann Booth and Trish Panz (boo!) in favour – council turned down a wacky plan to divide Argyle “temporarily” into lanes for pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles and parallel (no longer angle) parking, which would lose crucially needed spaces, a disputed number running from 13 to 50.

Soprovich led the opposing charge, pointing out that with construction of the Grosvenor complex at 13th and Marine and other Ambleside edifices in coming years, parking space will be even more needed than now.

Argyle works splendidly as it is. It’s a classic example of a solution looking for a bureaucratic problem. And bureaucrats Raymond Fung, director of engineering and transportation, and John McMahon, manager of roads and utilities, were there to make the case for the plan, while conceding it required “compromises.”

The cost would be “only” $88,000 and simply kick the can further down the road – “a waste of money,” as lone public gallery opponent Paul Hundal said – until that glorious day, perhaps, for former Green Party candidate Coun. Gambioli or more radical types, when the automobile is wiped from the face of the earth and we live in a pure, 27-speed, Spandexclad, Birkenstock-shod, politically perfect Eden? “I’d be really embarrassed to vote against this plan,” Coun. Gambioli moaned, demanding that the names of the six supporting groups be reread – mouthfuls of grey eminences, mostly fronts for cyclists, whose radical wheelmen have become so detested that even the High Priest of the Environment, David Suzuki, recently slammed their excesses and law-breaking.

Speaking of Eden, council paid close attention to several Eden Place homeowners – alerted to the issue only the previous Friday – whose peace and property values would dive if the Milliken Development Corp.’s 110-bed Maison seniors assisted living residence (old folks’ home) is built on Taylor Way at Keith Road. They got sympathetic ears.

Council unanimously sent this one back for more study and neighbourhood consultation. They clearly want to weigh this one carefully.

* * *

Roy Peterson was the Beethoven of editorial cartoonists. A genius in the trade.

No exaggeration. Roy’s technique was virtuoso. He won a ton of honours including more National Newspapers Awards, seven, than any individual ever – this in the golden age of Canadian newspaper editorial cartoonists, the age of the Toronto Star’s bone-crushing Duncan Macpherson and wittily tootling Sid Barron, and Roy’s colleague and friend at the Vancouver Sun, the hugely funny and popular Len Norris (who, I suspect, wasn’t the competition-entering type). Their successor, Graham Harrop, a gem of innocent, creep-up-on-you originality, paid tribute to Roy in a cartoon last week.

Roy’s peers acknowledged him as world-class. In fact he topped a world salon of cartoonists in 1967. He won the respect – adulation isn’t too far off – of competitors, notably Province cartoonist Bob Krieger, who was among a group led by colourful West Vancouverite Jack Lee that backed Roy for an Order of British Columbia. That failed – ironic, since Roy already had an Order of Canada.

He was not only a selfless mentor but spurred demands for proper recognition and pay for his peers, illustrated by a splendid anecdote by Pete McMartin and John Mackie in a full-page Sun tribute last week.

He was a class act. His quiet manner and understated wit – he was amused by the shameless self-promotion of a profoundly-inferior eastern cartoonist – cloaked a steely core. Wife Margaret handled the business end of the enterprise. No team could be more devoted. Their children Laurie, Gillian, Lisa, Karen and Geoff were, in our other language, models of bien élevé, well-raised. Margaret’s death was devastating.

McMartin and Mackie have the clout to be truth-sayers, and they state Roy’s departure from the Sun in 2009, in a cost-cutting move – “no reason to sugar-coat this” – embittered him. It did.

Roy had earlier reversals.

A new editorial-page design painfully shrank the size of his cartoon, and the paper’s switch from oil-based to environmentally kinder water-based ink, weakened the depth, musculature and sinews of his drawing.

Roy died of a heart attack Sept. 30 at his West Vancouver home. Decades ago we arranged a tontine, a medieval term, in this case a miniature bottle of scotch sent back and forth on our birthdays, the survivor to drink it. I may not.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013