Van’s unhappy rules of engagement

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 1, 2013

So, West Vancouverites, are you happy with the iron rule of the Garbage Gestapo and Trash Marxists?

You may have quickly detected I’m not. You got that right.

Garbage in West Van will be collected only every two weeks starting April 22. On collection day it must be placed at the curb in the narrow window between 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Not before 5. Not after 7:30. Or the heavy hand of the bylaw bullies will strike you down.

The worker who comes home after midnight must set his/her alarm to groggily tramp down the driveway, in moist darkness six months a year, bearing gifts to appease the Trash Gods. Or, since few people in the Best Part of the Best Place in the World actually work in any sense recognizable to the toiling masses, he/she struggles home after a hard night of partying or attending opera to do likewise – maybe choosing to put the trash in the BMW and back it down the driveway, rather than hoist the obligatory four (!) separate categories of waste manually.

Imagine the frail older West Vancouverite, perhaps taking medicine that encourages deep sleep, being nudged awake by Rick Cluff’s or Philip Till’s gentle radio voice at such an uncivilized time. Add rain or snow and there’s a threat to life and limb.

And don’t expect mercy from the bylaw bullies. This is the department that didn’t haul back its hyper-zealous officious officer who several summers ago made lightning strikes on about 500 astonished dog-walkers. Some old people wept at the meetings then-Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones called to soothe them. The ticket-writer’s boss backed him up unreservedly, and her boss coincidentally retired. She later moved on to lucky Surrey. (The officer’s contract ran out – whereupon he quietly got a less visible job elsewhere in the town hall empire.)

Has much changed? Ken Prescott related in a letter to the editor Jan. 15 that he parked in the library’s two-hour lot for 20 minutes, then returned later to drop off another item, parking 15 minutes. Fined! Yes, $35 for parking twice in the same day in the sacred library lot! That’s an offence! Who knew? I doubt that even super-informed council-watchers Carolanne Reynolds and George Pajari were aware of this grotesque bylaw.

Stalin’s apparatchiks couldn’t have dreamt up a more oppressive regimen of trash rules than those laid out in a glossy brochure by the environmental ideologues and their bureaucratic henchmen at town hall. A taste:

“Limits per home, per collection day: Two 77 L garbage cans or bags. Max weight: 20 kg (45 lb.) per can or bag OR Two 121 L cans containing one 77 L bag each. Max weight: 20 kg (45 lb.) each OR One 121 L can with no more than two 77 L bags. Max weight: 40 kg (90 lb.). . . .

“The use of bungee cords/ straps, rope or string to tie lids is prohibited and will result in your garbage or Green Can not being collected. Place Blue and Yellow Bags next to your Blue Box (not inside). . . . Cut cardboard down to fit inside the Yellow Bag or neatly tie in bundles measuring no larger than 60 cm x 60 cm x 15 cm high (2′ x 2′ x 6″ high.). Tie securely with biodegradable string. No wire or plastic strapping.” I’m taking university courses easier than remembering this stuff.

In the 1960s, Lonnie Donegan famously warbled “My Old Man’s a Dustman” – British-speak for garbageman. Now everybody’s old man is a dustman. Give Dad industrial scales and measuring tape for Christmas.

As for the every-two-weeks collection: Pray for a cold summer – for the bears’ sake too.

. . .

Speaking of George Pajari: Former councillor Shannon Walker asked WV council to waive a community amenity contribution (CAC) of $750,000-plus for a redevelopment of the family’s Walker Building on Bellevue Avenue, its floor area ratio (FAR) planned to expand from 1.44 to 2.16. Town hall staff backed her.

In a footnote-loaded presentation, Pajari alleged “questionable and misleading information” in the application. Coun. Craig Cameron picked up on Pajari’s claim that staff had misled councillors. Council was convinced by Pajari’s detailed objections and agreed that the CAC should apply – an implied sharp rebuke to the bureaucrats, and, I’d say, raising a serious question of confidence.

. . .

A big loss to Park Royal Shopping Centre: One of its liveliest businesses and a bright spot in the south mall, The British Newsagent, left for lower-rent premises at 3195 Edgemont Boulevard in North Vancouver, where it was scheduled to reopen today. It offered British foods, sweets, tea, soccer team mementoes and such, had a brisk sale of lottery tickets, and its huge racks displayed far and away the biggest range of magazines in West Vancouver. It leaves an amenity hole not easily filled.

. . .

One of journalism’s joys is interviewing smart, intriguing people like Jordan Sturdy and Robin Smith, seeking the Liberal nomination (Feb. 15-16) in retiring Joan McIntyre’s West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding. Profiles planned. Rumoured aspirant: Geoffrey Cowper, author of a major law reform report and tipped as a future attorney-general. Abodes? Pemberton, North Vancouver (“just over Mosquito Creek”, the riding border) and Bowen Island respectively – none, note, in West Van.

Buzz about former TV anchor Pamela Martin and past WV mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has faded.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Pajari suggests mews hearing compromised

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 19, 2011

Was West Van council’s Esquimalt Avenue/ Hollyburn Mews densification decision tainted?

Note well: This is not one of those sly journalistic questions inviting readers to guess this is a quiz, and the “correct” answer must be yes – or why would the scribe ask it?

Nor is there any implied reflection on developer Michael Geller’s integrity. Geller, a 63-year-old architect and developer with strong credentials, was genially open about his plan to densify three Esquimalt Avenue lots, requiring an amendment to the official community plan.

The issue is whether some council members may have – perhaps unwittingly – violated the law that prohibits councillors from receiving any information about a matter subject to a public hearing after the hearing has been closed. Such impropriety or innocent carelessness once caused a court to quash two West Vancouver bylaws.

George Pajari, who has meticulously documented challenges to some municipal activities, last month wrote mayor and council that “there is reason to believe” the Esquimalt public hearing may have been “irreparably compromised by the actions of some councillors.”

The complication is that these occurred in the adjournment between the first and second sessions of the Esquimalt hearing.

Pajari concedes there apparently is no case law on that situation. But he believes his call to Don Sutherland of B.C.’s Office of the Inspector of Municipalities established that such between-session hearings would be “highly irregular.”

Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones – who cast the tie-breaking vote favouring Geller’s project – compared in-camera and public council records and said: “I want to assure the public that the public input and the public debate corresponds entirely with our policy and our standards. Both Coun. (Trish) Panz and Coun. (Shannon) Walker made comments referring to their own work in understanding public opinion prior to the close of the public hearing, which is exactly what the public expects of us all.”

Pajari’s version in his letter: “. . . one councillor stated she had met privately with residents to discuss the development” – evidently between the adjournment and the second session.

“Another councillor said she had discounted the value of the letters opposing the development based on discussions during ‘lunch with a client’ who had signed one of the form letters.”

My question: Do such contacts constitute “understanding public opinion”?

Chief administrative officer Grant McRadu – note, not the elected officials – answered Pajari: “With respect to your email . . . Mayor Goldsmith-Jones and Bob Sokol, director of planning, lands and permits spoke relative to and provided information regarding the process, and relative to concerns set out in the subject email.” Clear?

Panz and Walker, who both voted for the project, are first-term councillors, and veteran councillors will tell you it takes six months just to find the washrooms, as the saying goes. But if Pajari is correct, innocent error may be no excuse. He’s pursuing the issue.

. . .

My AmblesideNO! campaign continues.

Its ultimate target is the fascinating disconnect in many minds between new taxpayerbacked projects and the public debt that is destroying Europeans, Americans, and inevitably Canadians, even Tiddlycovers.

Latest: The proposed 28,000-square-foot arts bunker – I call it the Artsy Bunker – squat on Ambleside Beach, centrepiece of an “arts precinct.” The suggestion that no public money may be needed is hogwash. And there are four existing Ambleside public arts venues a kilometre apart.

Just say no.

. . .

The bullied have become bullies.

The public pressure by the bullying wing of the gay, lesbian etc. movement on politicians to attend the various Pride parades – eagerly abetted by the media – is reprehensible in the extreme.

The clear implication is that those who don’t submit are closet “homophobes,” i.e. anyone who isn’t 276 per cent behind the cause, and as such fair game to be “outed.”

The rights-demanders show zip respect for the right of politicians, including those who might support those rights generally, not to attend for whatever reason, and who feel intimidated into attendance – knowing that the usual suspects in the media, the academy, civil liberties groups and other sunny-day champions of rights they approve of, won’t back them.

This irony couldn’t be greater: In her previous life, short months ago, Christie Clark was super-keen about CKNW’s wear-pink day, a campaign largely against the schoolyard bullies of gays and lesbians. But as premier, Clark and none of her Liberal MLAs showed at the Vancouver Pride parade.

Maybe Clark began subscribing to Maclean’s. The magazine’s Web Poll – hardly scientific, to be sure – asked: “Is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford right to skip the city’s gay pride parade?” Said 56.4 per cent: “Yes, he should be free to do as he chooses.” Said 27.1 per cent: “No, it’s his duty as

mayor to attend major events.”

Let’s agree that the remaining 16.5 per cent responded frivolously: “Ugh, I couldn’t care less what happens in Toronto.”

The bullies, as wiser heads in the gay etc. groups must know, are cruising for a backlash by the non-elites.

. . .


© Trevor Lautens, 2011

A gentleman jousts for his reputation

Appeared in North Shore News – January 21, 2011

If revenge is best eaten cold, George Pajari set up an Ice Age table for his critics — and served crow.

With gentlemanly dignity and the skilled pace and timing of a consummate actor, Pajari blew away West Vancouver Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones and West Van library board chairwoman Marcia Bergen who imprudently accused him publicly of having his facts wrong about library expenditures during the heated municipal budget debate.

Goldsmith-Jones issued a terse apology later in the Jan. 10 council meeting.

Hit the pause button. I said gentlemanly, and I said dignity. Pajari — the man with more luxuriant moustaches than Hercule Poirot, and maybe as skilled in ferreting out the facts as Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective — later graciously defended the mayor. More generously, in the undersigned’s opinion, than the heavy-handedness behind her smile deserved.

“She obviously turned to her staff to get information” — about Pajari’s indictment of a library expenditure of $40,000 in custom furniture to match the building’s carpets. The mayor denied it. Said no one on the library staff or board had any idea about it. Staff misinformed her, Pajari suggested in an interview.

But Goldsmith-Jones then waded deeper into the morass when she accused the North Shore News of reporting Pajari’s words without checking the facts.

Oh, oh. What emerged was not only that the mayor, board chairwoman and long-time library staff had erred in denying that the expenditure had taken place — the board had proudly run a photograph of the said furniture in its 2005 annual report.

So not just factual error. Mass amnesia too. (And evidence that few pay attention to annual reports even in their own bailiwick?)

Oh yes — and the mayor, then a councillor, had been council’s representative on the library board sometime in that period.

Pajari unrolled his meticulous case — which drew frequent chuckles and decibel-raising applause when he finished — politely starting with: “At the previous council meeting my credibility was called into question by council and a member of the gallery, so I beg your indulgence if my response takes slightly more than (the obligatory though sometimes transgressed) three minutes.”

The mayor interrupted that they’d try to stick to three minutes.

Pajari then seemed to confess that Bergen had been right: “(My) claim that the library board spent $40,000 on custom furniture with inlaid veneer carved to match the pattern on the carpet is erroneous. She is right. I was wrong.

Pause. “It wasn’t $40,000, it was $43,561.03.” Laughter from the cheap seats.

Another Pajari “error” — which this paper chose for its headline: “And it wasn’t custom furniture with carved inlaid veneer, it was custom furniture with engraved veneer” — his voice indicating the emphasis. More applause from the audience.

Then Pajari brought out the torpedoes: “You (the mayor) excoriated the North Shore News for a lack of fact-checking. You want facts?”

Dramatically, no actor could do better, Pajari rapidly brandished sheet after sheet of paper: “These are the minutes of the board meeting that approved the expenditure. Here is the financial report from the district (of West Vancouver) detailing the expenditure. Here’s a photo of the furniture I sent to the manufacturer. And here is their email confirming they made it, and it was custom.

“And to the claim that even people who worked at the library for 30 years had no information on any custom furniture? The library was so proud of the furniture, they put a photo of it in their annual report.”

But there was another zinger: “And this was around the time you, your worship–”

Audience laughter obscured his words, and Mayor Goldsmith-Jones said: “Pardon me?”

Pajari: “And that was around the time, you were the council representative to the library board, your worship.”

Goldsmith-Jones: “So I wasn’t the mayor, that’s for one thing, and one member of council is still on that same (board), so I think that–”

Unruffled, clock ticking, Pajari’s turn to interrupt: “Could I finish, your worship?”

Goldsmith-Jones: “Well, I’m counting my seconds that I’m using up, so you won’t have to hurry, but I think that council believed you were referring to this last year. Carry on.”

Pajari drily noted that last month he cited not only the questionable spending of $40,000 on furniture — inlaid, engraved, whatever — but also roughly $1 million that he alleged was spent on “a wasteful and untendered contract,” and he also alleged a lack of transparency surrounding the $20 million endowment fund. He marvelled that “not a peep” had surfaced about the last two, much more serious items.

But Pajari wasn’t finished. “It was also interesting to hear you, your worship, mention how well we’re served by the library foundation. You really want to bring up the library foundation? Were you aware that their financials filed last year showed that they raised $127,000 but spent $134,000 on overhead?

“That’s right, if the Canada Revenue Agency’s figures are correct, the West Vancouver Library Foundation spent $7,000 more on overhead than they raised . . . in 2009,” and “of the $134,000, not one penny went to the library. . . . All that money you helped raise for the library at the croquet tournament that year? Eaten up in expenses.”

Disclosure: I donated to the foundation for some years. No more. I stopped when I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer about why some names of people I’d honoured in my small way had been dropped from its in-memoriam panel — examples, Sun reporter Moira Farrow and receptionist Verna Hopkins — and hasn’t been updated to include two others, fine citizen Fred Moonen (d. 2009) and columnist Jim Kearney (d. 2008).

Disparate citizens have been demanding a zero per cent increase in the municipality’s operating budget, claiming chronic waste, mismanagement, financial carelessness at town hall. They believe services could be maintained or even improved if budgets were restrained. (Glimmer of hope? Newish finance director Nina Leemhuis is drawing praise.)

For years the unassuming Pajari and spouse Carolanne Reynolds have devoted long hours doing invaluable work for taxpayers, attending tedious meetings, observing the West Vancouver Police Board, diligently reporting. They deserve some municipal recognition, Freedom of the City, or some such.

Think they’ll get it anytime soon?

? ? ?

Regrets trouble my sleep, and a fresh one is that the above item stepped on my intention today of summarizing West Vancouver-Capilano Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan’s discussion paper Childhood Poverty in West Vancouver: Fact or Fiction? I won’t spoil the plot by revealing the answer.

Economist Sultan’s wit shines through his “acknowledgements and disclaimer.” The year-long project, he writes, “was essentially funded by myself. I did not receive funds from any arm of the government. . . . I typed it myself with my own two fingers.”

As for crude party politics, when we brushed past in a restaurant recently Sultan admitted to “98 per cent certainty” about which Liberal leadership candidate he will support. By the time you read this he may have bridged the two-per-cent gap. Pure guess: George Abbott.

? ? ?

It’s never too early in the year for a They-Walk-the-Earth nomination. Mine goes to the phone-in moron who said the Canadian junior team’s loss to the Russians — we’re talking kids 19 and younger — made him ashamed to be a Canadian. Let’s chip in to send him abroad.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011