There’s a new kid on the development block

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 5, 2014

If you loved the Weegies, as I tenderly call the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government, you may adore the West Vancouver Housing Association.

The WVHA is a new kid on the development block. Literally. It has a storefront in Dundarave. Two well-placed, mystified West Van town hall personages agreed with the undersigned that, as of last week, they’d never seen it open. Nor did it have a website. Or any Googleable reference.

Agent Tj3s8 – a development skeptic, so take the opinion with a large grain of NaCl – says the WVHA consists of “the worst” real estate heavies, the most powerful developers and salespeople. Meaning the best, biggest, most successful, by positive interpretation.

And why is the WVHA springing into life now?

Because next month West Van council begins serious debate on an updated official community plan, which will take many months to pass.

In that time gap, so goes the cynical view of Agent Tj3s8, the real estate business will put foot to the floor to rush town hall development approvals before a possibly more stringent OCP is passed.

Pretty much like the self-interest of all of us when our dollar is at stake.

Fittingly next up, gloomy retail news: Baracos + Brand is closing – a quality men’s store that would have attracted well-heeled residents of Grosvenor Ambleside, steps down Bellevue, had it held on for a few years.

Christine Baracos and late West Van councillor John Clark co-owned the store under the smartly named The Mensroom. Its successor’s closure supports Mayor Michael Smith’s case that many Ambleside businesses are suffering near-death experiences, and Grosvenor is a major step toward rejuvenation.

So Smith (and Grosvenor) must welcome the reborn Shell station across Marine Drive, long an inglorious mudhole entrance to Ambleside that hardly enhances sales of condos – which, Agent p49scR, a new agent whose accuracy is untested and is only on the apprentice list, declares are projected to start at $1.6 million and, for the two penthouse-type terrace homes, will be north of $15 million each.

Michael Ward, senior vice-president and general manager of Grosvenor Americas, responds: “Price lists are not something we distribute, but rather we provide those that are interested in purchasing specific residential units with the individual pricing for that unit.” Grosvenor Ambleside’s presentation centre will be completed in February, Ward adds.

As Constant Reader knows, my only journalistic fault is an abiding kindness.

So I’ve been musing about my words, last time at bat, about Coun. Craig Cameron’s pain that council duties were costing him – he has to take time off from what we might call real work. He’s right.

Most present councillors are either retired or aren’t principal or sole breadwinners.

Exceptions are Cameron, a government lawyer who has lost income due to council demands, and newcomer Christine Cassidy, a financial adviser, who may find herself in the same financial boat – a metaphorical leaky 12-foot rowboat. Councillors are paid about $30,000 a year for running a municipality where top staff get up to seven or eight times as much.

So vote-topping Cameron isn’t whining. He’s just more open than others about the sacrificial realities of council service in 2014.

I allow myself one sports comment per year. This is it: My deep distrust of contact sports – football and, yes, hockey, about which I have a puckish sense of humour – deepened last weekend.

Hamilton, my home town (only 51 years away from it, seems like 52), crushed favoured Calgary with a touchdown in the last 35 seconds of the Grey Cup game … but for an interference call that wiped out Brandon Banks’ classic 90-yard run to the end zone. And left Calgary’s 20-16 lead intact. From my seat in Section 444, the referee instantly resembled the man who ain’t got rhythm, nobody’s with him, he’s the loneliest man in town (that’s Irving Berlin, kiddies).

Vancouver Sun sports writers mocked the illegal block call. Iain MacIntyre doubted that Taylor Reed’s infraction influenced Banks’ spectacular run: “By CFL standards, deciding the Grey Cup on largely innocuous contact was absolutely predictable.” Cam Cole: “That’s not to say there wasn’t a foul on the play. The problem is that there’s a foul, or two, or five, on pretty much every play in football.”

(Canada’s real gridiron drama was Saturday, when my school, Hamilton’s McMaster, bowed 20-19 to University of Montreal Carabins on a dying-seconds blocked field goal. Two hometown losses in a weekend!) Back to the point: In hockey, as in football, the line between fair and foul is often so subjective, so arbitrary – penalties commonly aren’t called in overtime, f’r instance – that refs have huge power to determine winners and losers.

Which is why baseball is my game. The umpires – suitably black-clad – are clearly God clones. Never wrong. Sort of like old newspaper columnists.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Will they, won’t they run again?

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 6, 2013

But enough of my opinions. For now. Municipal elections are less than a year away. Read on.

I asked West Vancouver councillors two questions: “1. At this point do you intend to run for re-election next November? 2. Are you considering running for mayor?” I thought they were pretty good sports to answer. Let them speak.

Bill Soprovich: “I plan to run for re-election to council.” Short and sweet from West Van’s senior and perennially popular councillor.

Trish Panz: “Apologies for my delayed response, out of the country dealing with a family situation. My easy answer to your easy question is, my focus is working hard on council’s five priorities for this term, and I have not made a formal decision at this time.”

Nora Gambioli: “1. I love this 95 per cent of the time – who else can say that about their job? Thus, unless some major tragedy or upheaval were to befall me in the upcoming year, my intentions would be to run again, as a councillor, yes.

“2. Absolutely not. Mayors are paid three times what councillors are paid for a reason; it’s three times the work! “I have two young kids, another job, an unwell 85-year-old father and a big garden. Councillor is just perfect for me. .. for now. .. (ha, ha!).”

Craig Cameron: When I solicited councillors’ feelings about their first year on this council, Coun. Cameron barely missed the deadline. Also his candour is admirable and his points informative. I hate to cut the following too:

“The short answers to your questions are yes and no. I am very much enjoying my work on council and feel I have more to accomplish.

“Regarding the position of mayor, the truth is that I simply could not afford it. By my rough calculations, taking such a pause in my career would leave me more than $200,000 in the hole for a three-year term (not counting the cost of my pension being reduced about $9,000 per year from age 60 on – another $200,000 if I live to age 80). Keep in mind I am a lawyer in the civil service and am paid far less than my private bar contemporaries (for whom the loss would be higher).

“At present, only those who are independently wealthy or supported by someone else could afford to take the job. … I don’t point it out to complain (as I am content with my lot in life and the privilege of being on council) but instead to offer a real-life rejoinder to those who question the earnings of civic officials.. .. I wouldn’t want to be the first sitting mayor to go bankrupt! “Nor, in all seriousness, would I want to force hard financial choices on my family so I could be mayor (and, for the record, our lifestyle is modest and does not include luxury cars, private schools or exclusive clubs).”

Mary-Ann Booth: “While it is still early days, at this point I’m very much enjoying the job and am likely to run again.”

Mayor Mike Smith: “There are things I would still like to see get done in the district and some projects that I would like to see through to completion. I am getting a lot of encouragement to run for a second term but I will make a final decision in the spring.”

Michael Lewis: “1. Yes. 2. Too early to say.”

With her sharp analytical mind, Constant Reader will jump on the last three statements.

Got it? Booth doesn’t answer the mayoralty question. I rate her council’s most politically ambitious member. She wants the mayor’s office.

I believe she’s weighing whether the voters – who overlooked her husband’s employment with a law firm serving the Grosvenors and their now-approved development for Marine Drive and 13th – have moved on from doubts about the propriety of the family connection, and don’t care that she had to recuse herself repeatedly from voting on the Grosvenor issue. That stilled a council voice on a top local issue. Not good.

My take is that Smith has an even hand on the tiller, gets establishment backing, is respected even by critics, and has re-election in the bag. If he runs. He’s financially triple-A, loves his Hawaii home that he visits on each side of the holiday Mondays when council doesn’t meet, and may feel he’s done his one-term mayoral bit.

Reader, look closely at the website video clips or when Shaw broadcasts West Van council meetings. Unless my drawing attention to them makes them change their ways: Check the councillor(s) who don’t speak to other councillors – but directly to the television camera. Starting their election campaigns early, hmmm? Most intriguing response? Lewis’s. Employing my unmatched gift of prophecy, I predict: If Smith retires, look for a Lewis-Booth faceoff for mayor next November. If.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

What they learned in a year on the job

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 18, 2013

In time, as the Gershwins mused, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, but love for West Vancouver is here to stay.

As proven by the following. I asked West Van’s three rookie councillors and first-term mayor to write essays on their first 12 months at town hall, no looking up the answers. Bright students. Some droll wit. Slightly condensed for space reasons: Nora Gambioli:

“Municipal government operations and issues are incredibly complex and interesting. The substantive work of council is more about being a ‘judge’ than I had anticipated; weighing the interests of those directly affected, precedent, and the other 44,000 residents who did not have a chance to attend a meeting, speak or write to council, or who are not yet old enough to do so, requires careful reasoning and difficult choices.

“As an educator at heart, I am constantly striving to communicate in practical ways that will encourage as many residents as possible to understand and become involved in local issues.

“Election campaigns are the most lengthy, demanding and expensive kinds of job interviews!

“As a member of the ‘sandwich generation’ (job, young kids, elderly parent) I’m now forced to be an even more highly efficient multi-tasker.

“Speaking of sandwiches, ate them for dinner every weeknight for almost three straight weeks in November (thanks to evening meetings) . . . husband not amused!

“So far, I love this work.”

Mary-Ann Booth:

“I have met dozens of smart and thoughtful residents who care deeply about this community. This has been very much a learning year for me, for while I had some understanding of our diversity through service as a school trustee, it has been deepened vis-a-vis seniors, First Nations, new Canadians, and those who struggle financially.

“It is often assumed that councillors receive a great deal of negative correspondence, but I have found the opposite to be true: most of the feedback I get is respectful, constructive, and even at times inspiring.

“I’m particularly pleased with the progress on new initiatives to support and engage our youth, including a revitalized youth centre. . . . We are off to a great start this new year as we open two new wonderful additions to our community – the new Teen Centre at our much-loved library, and the just-completed salmon rearing pond in Memorial Park, both of which only came about through unique collaboration between the municipality and its dedicated, engaged citizenry.”

Mayor Michael Smith:

“A priority during the past year has been to improve both the look and the vitality of Ambleside. The village atmosphere needs to be retained, but parts of Ambleside need to be refreshed. This spring we are making plans to take this to the public for its feedback.

“While we have had no property tax rate increase for the second year, I am somewhat disappointed by the pace of our review of the programs and services we offer. To help accomplish this, I have scheduled monthly public council meetings in 2013 that will deal only with financial issues and economic challenges.”

On political service: “You have to manage time effectively. I believe it is important that we ensure that citizens with careers can serve on council and offer their talents to the community.

“In summary, I have enjoyed the past year and look forward to the future.”

Personable Craig Cameron was first to express enthusiasm, but his reflective essay just missed my deadline. Wait for it.

. . .

Speaking of essays, I crashed the Fresh St. Market opening-eve party in my university student garb and used the power of the press to avoid getting tossed out. Invitees included suppliers, consultants and the distinguished.

“That’s a supermarket!” marvelled one, examining the lush seafood counter. “I want them!” a woman greedily hissed, staring at some sexy crab cakes. The high-end counters dramatically seduced the eye, all right. In contrast the prosaic canned goods aisles seemed narrow and shy.

Summed up, the “village” Mayor Smith referred to above looks as if it’ll be crushed out of existence between the glossy new store and the development Grosvenor seeks on the police station site.

But – hold on. There’s competition for the humble (and sharp) shopper’s dollar: Example, a couple of “ethnic” markets in the 1400-block of Marine Drive sell produce often sharply below typical supermarket prices.

. . .

Delightful: Minister of State for Seniors and West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan, a coltish 70something, honouring ageless 95-year-old music man Dal Richards with the title Hepcat Laureate. Cool! Dig it! . . .

Sign of the hockey times: In a WV shop selling $200-plus pullovers branded with Canuck players’ names: “LUONGO 50%.”

. . .

I’m giving up lists. How could I have recently omitted from Vancouver Sun North Shore notables the amazing Malcolm Parry, whose narrative skills and encyclopaedic people recognition have raised the traditional “names” column to the reportorial pantheon?

© Trevor Lautens, 2013