Marijuana ‘mare’s nest’ deserves mention

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 6, 2016

Hey, let’s have some benefit to show for West Van’s fat 6.87 per cent property tax rise.

First, restore the trash cans – why were they removed? – at each littered end of the 5400-block Marine Drive. Sure, that’s my block, and why not exploit my dandy print pulpit for selfish interests now and then?

Second, bring back the portable toilet during baseball season at Cypress Park and other such sites. I’ve sometimes been obliged to take a whiz in toilet-scarce West Van woods, inviting charges of exposing myself. Which would be embarrassing, considering my dignified age and status, harrumph.

• • •

The North Shore Zone Festival of Plays at Presentation House Theatre is an annual week-long treat that deserves higher recognition – and attendance: Affordable, and no bridges to cross. The intimacy and yakking of the festival crowd come at no extra cost.

It’s not too late. Tonight’s play is Art, tomorrow’s a stage reading by West Van secondary school students of Crushed, and announcement of awards.

Weird: West Van Theatre just closed a second edition of Fawlty Towers, a sold-out smash – but for years hasn’t taken part in the festival. Why? Fear of winning. Can’t afford to go to the provincial competition (this year in Chilliwack, Jill-of-all-theatre-trades Anne Marsh reports). There’s a film/play comedy script lurking in there.

• • •

Mayor Michael Smith is delighted that the Grosvenor development will include an Earls restaurant – which will grant a reprieve to the mellow Hollyburn Sailing Club. Not his original vision, but the pieces fell neatly into place.

“Earls is a positive step for Ambleside and makes a development at the sailing club less of a priority,” Smith notes. “I would expect the facility to remain as it is for some time. Earls will bring a lot of people into Ambleside … a key part of our plan to develop a restaurant offering.”

Any jubilation was stepped on by the coincident protest over the Earls chain switch from Alberta beef suppliers to U.S. sources with greener practices – cleaving the Canada-first left from the environmentalist left.

• • •

A touch of irony: While Park Royal Shopping Centre was making ill-considered moves in the Big Chess Match that became nation-wide news of an unwelcome kind, the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce anointed the centre’s longtime executive Rick Amantea as its Business Person of the Year.

Amantea – who was not, repeat not, the exec who ordered the chess players to move out – is publicly sensitive to Ambleside business concerns, personable, and always accessible to the undersigned. A worthy choice by his chamber peers.

• • •

All praise for Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang – in real life, note, a UBC psychology professor who teaches and does research on the causes of mental illnesses – and rare kudos from this observer for Vancouver authorities too for not backing down from the city’s closure notices to aberrant marijuana shops.

Of course the protesters defy the law. It’s what they do.

Hardened law-breakers. As the marijuana business wafts upward from small-fry shops past ex-police chiefs and old pols who have seen the light, like Kash Heed and Mike Harcourt, toward greedily waiting “respectable” corporate oligarchs and stuffy banks offering marijuana business loans, what a farce that what the media call “activists” are plain and simple business operators and promoters. Is the president of Ford an activist for car ownership, or just selling cars?

Predictably, pot legalization is in a confused legal and health snarl.

The claim that the “war on drugs” was a failure that wasted police resources is as hollow as the drug-pushing mind: The cops will have plenty of employment patrolling under-age kids, stopping stoned drivers, and chasing a continuing, I’d predict expanding, illegal market.

On that point: A long-time regular but light pot smoker told me he opposes legalization – because prices will explode under state regulation and government employees’ union wages. Bizarrely, the stuff he buys illegally costs about the same as legal but maxi-taxed pipe tobacco – 50 grams of which, about two ounces, cost an astonishing $55, nearly $500 a pound, at Victoria’s elegant 1892-founded Morris Tobacconists.

Where is legalization-pusher Vancouver Sun columnist Ian Mulgrew, now that we really need him to defend the mare’s nest of consequences of the normalization of marijuana as just another consumer commodity?

Maybe he feels outflanked by his and my former colleague Pete McMartin, who recently urged legalization of all drugs. All? Including the currently in-the-news killer ones?

To resurrect the once-trendy question: What have you been smoking, Pete?

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Sailing club lease deserves a closer look

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 11, 2015

Long experience persuades me that the difference between rumours and official statements is that the former are usually more accurate than the latter.

Case in point: The thick fog around nautically jaunty Hollyburn Sailing Club.

It’s due south of West Vancouver’s supposed gateway to a grand civic future, the Grosvenor development. And were the club’s quarters, um, quite up to snuff, you know, for purchasers of Grosvenor condos? — prices estimated by Coun. Craig Cameron ranging from $2 million to $5 million, and that was in 2013, ancient times in local real estate history. (To be fair, Grosvenor claims not to oppose the club’s locale.)

So as the five-year lease expiry date of Dec. 31 approached, negotiations between town hall and the sailors became a matter of speculation.

Mayor Michael Smith declared in January that town hall and the club had signed a new five-year lease. End of story? Not. Ray Richards, Christine Ballantine, Scenerey Slater and others had doubts.

Christine Ballantine raised a petition signed by more than 800 to preserve the club and clarify the lease terms.

Quite unnecessary, she was assured by a town hall staffer as recently as 10 days ago: “I have no idea where people get their information from and wish they would take time to check with the district before creating fear and angst in the community; the Hollyburn Sailing Club is a vital piece of Ambleside and I can assure you it is not being closed.”

The only way to dispel (or confirm) the uneasy rumours was by reading the lease. Thanks to Mayor Smith’s aide, Sabia Curran, I have.

Which turned up some highly pertinent words. A section of the previous lease is deleted and replaced by Section 2 (ii): “The District, in its sole discretion, reserves the right to terminate this lease at any time during the term upon a minimum of 12 months written notice, which notice may be given at any time (and shall not be restricted to an anniversary of the commencement date).”

Couldn’t be plainer. The lease hugely favours the landlord — who could say, with a straight face, “We have negotiated a five-year lease” (true), without adding “which we can terminate unilaterally” (unspoken truth). Which revealed more, the rumour or the official line?

• • •

A quiet departure: Bob Sokol, West Vancouver director of planning, land development and permits. He was at the sharp end defending some hackles-raising building permits in recent years — the 17,500-square-foot edifice on Kensington Crescent may be dwarfed by an alleged 25,000-square-footer on Mathers.

Town hall director of communications Jeff McDonald dispelled any speculation: “Bob is from the U.S. After eight years in Canada, his wife wished to return there and received an offer of a dream job, so they made the decision to make the move back home.” At this writing his successor hasn’t been identified.

• • •

Couns. Bill Soprovich and Michael Lewis attended a recent free-wheeling informal-ish meeting where Sop, as he’s fondly called, drew attention to council’s defeat of a proposed 15-storey condo at Bellevue and 23rd. Good call, to this observer’s passing eye. Reasons: Design too small at the base, insufficient parking. All for it: Mayor Smith and Coun. Mary-Ann Booth.

• • •

I had fond but doomed hopes of interviewing all federal election candidates in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky riding. But space and time limitations would have confounded Stephen Hawking.

So, incumbent Conservative John Weston and Liberal former West Vancouver mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones being well known to our readers, today a quick snapshot of Green party candidate Ken Melamed — who, importantly, lives in the 55 per cent of the riding outside of West Vancouver. (You can check all riding candidates at two meetings on Sept. 23: 1 p.m. at Kay Meek Centre for high school students and at 7 p.m., centring on marine issues, at West Vancouver Yacht Club for members.)

Melamed was born in Philadelphia of parents “from the pogroms of Europe” and grew up, fluently bilingual, in Montreal. His father began as an antique dealer. Both father and mother — who returned to school after her education was interrupted to bring up a family (she got a PhD from famed uber-liberal Antioch College) — became college teachers, one of Canada’s spectacular and too little recognized immigrant success stories.

Ken Melamed went as far as Quebec’s CEGEP, roughly equivalent to first-year university. He liked — still likes — building, working with his hands.

He served five terms on Whistler council, two as mayor.

He left the New Democrats on an issue of principle and joined the Greens. On the riding’s most contentious issue, the Squamish LNG plant, he says: “I go with the residents.”

Putting politics aside, he’s one of those extraordinary ordinary people, quietly impressive, short of stature, modest of manner, thankfully lacking the hearty, beaming salesmanship and predatory mien of too many politicians. Worth a look.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

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

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

Weegies’ waning influence shows at polls

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 21, 2014

The victors’ last drop of Spanish champagne has been drunk, the losers are taking justified consoling pride in their sacrifice to the democratic process.

Moving on, what are the top 10 problems facing West Vancouver’s barely changed council?

1. Parking. 2. Ambleside rejuvenation. 3. Parking. 4. Stimulating business. 5. Parking. 6. Competing with Park Royal. 7. Parking. 8. Restraining Metro-topping town hall – mostly staff – costs. 9. Parking. 10. Neighbourhood consultation and protection. And, if there were a No. 11, how about parking?

Pointedly, the two naysayers against the 1300-block Grosvenor project, incumbent councillors Craig Cameron and Nora Gambioli, topped the polls – finishing one-two, the only candidates above the 5,000-vote mark.

The victory party leftovers were hardly stale before Cameron revealed he had polled all councillors and “can confirm none of us will participate in the (West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government) process next election, unless the process radically changes.” So, it would seem the Weegies are finally dead, at least in their current form. Yes, the long-powerful Weegies, as I fondly call them, were mauled in last Saturday’s election. Four of their six council choices tanked.

Cameron and Gambioli speedily vault to the list of future mayoral candidates, levitating to contender status with Couns. Michael Lewis and establishment-backed Mary-Ann Booth.

Cameron and Gambioli aren’t your usual evasive politicos. Darkly handsome Cameron is something of a soul-barer. Like confessing that council duties are more demanding and incomeshaving than he expected. Which could be interpreted as a whine about something politicians quickly discover but won’t admit – inviting the retort: Like, so why did you run for office?

Gambioli spoke up about the real estate industry’s secretive pressure on council to lay off trying to limit house size and, by implication, other restraints on their deflowering our beautiful town. She also told CBC’s Rick Cluff that there were only 21 people, 16 of them directors, at the WVCGG selection meeting – a handful of Weegies wielding ridiculous influence, the norm since 1972. But not this time.

Another eyebrow-raiser: Booth, dropped from the Weegie slate and shaken – I believe truly hurt – by the rejection, finished third. Was she helped by her surprise 11th-hour announcement that her lawyer husband would no longer work for Grosvenor, a connection that forced her to abstain from the Grosvenor debate? Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson made a last-minute confession too. Did both pick up the humility vote, touching hearts of a forgiving electorate?

Lewis took fifth spot, reflecting the still-potent power of the Weegies to punish candidates who refuse to kiss the Weegie ring, foot, hand, or other parts of the anatomy. He’s the revolutionary who defied the Weegies in 2008, and has won twice since. So he was the pioneer worrisome wedge in the Weegies, if you can say that without laughing.

At all-candidates meetings the Weegie name drew snickers. Getting its approval has all but guaranteed a sumptuous victory party. This time Weegie backing more likely was a predictor of Kraft dinner. Only Bill Soprovich, who has a lock on eternal re-election but slipped to fourth in the 15-candidate field, and Cameron, a bit of a puzzling Weegie choice considering his dissident Grosvenor vote, were winners among its six recommendations.

The Weegie nod may actually have been fatal to Jim Finkbeiner, nice (and improving during the campaign) Joanna Baxter, Michael Evison and Peter Lambur, the latter a potential asset to council but still lacking political chops – he ran unsuccessfully 18 years ago.

Lewis was the only candidate in my hearing – unless I was on a washroom break – who offered a concrete plan above the usual campaign pledges of accessibility, openness, inclusiveness, honesty and a promise to send cards on Mother’s Day.

He outlined his “10 and 10” plan to rein in town hall costs. He noted that from 2004 to 2013 WV’s population rose less than one per cent but its operating costs 46.9 per cent, of which 80.11 per cent are staff salaries. (CKNW business guru Michael Campbell believes bureaucrat pensions are an economic time bomb.)

The intriguing council newcomer is Christine Cassidy. At the C of C-sponsored meeting she made by far the best pitch – clear, forthright and without notes. Candidates who stand and read their spiel seem dead to how off-putting it is.

Cassidy has a knot of dedicated backers with almost religious zeal. “I sought and was offered no endorsements,” she declares. “I paid for my own campaign with the exception of four nominal contributions.” When she pledges action “in the best interests of all citizens,” even a hardened cynic hopes there’s no awakening to how utterly impossible that is.

Don’t underestimate how tough this campaign was – and the next four years too? – for the ostensible bystander, twice-acclaimed Mayor Michael Smith. No wonder he’s taken a holiday. Just look again at those 10 problems he and his council face.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Defiance of Weegie’s blessing brings hope

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 7, 2014

Where to start? How about in November 2018 – when, let us pray, some tough opposition group coalesces to take on Weegie?

Ah, Weegie’s just my private name for the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government, run by a tiny core of self-proclaimed civic do-gooders, heavy on implementers of the development industry. It’s a one-party town, a kinder version of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR, minus the gulag and the show trials. Website is a joke – its email address doesn’t work, and no phone number.

Glaring omission from its slate (endorsed council candidates pay $900 for the precious Weegie nod): Coun. Mary-Ann Booth. Why? Smart lady. Very West Vancouver. Ambitious.

Likely future mayoral candidate. But she had to recuse herself from the Grosvenor debates and votes, her husband being a lawyer for a firm hired by Grosvenor – otherwise, wild guess, she’d have backed it. So Mayor Michael Smith had to sweat to get the precious tie-breaking approval vote. Make no mistake: Now twice acclaimed, Smith’s vision implicitly endorsed, this is his town. (Credit where due: His council kept tax rises under one per cent.)

How about Agent Y3nPg6’s claim that three prominent political hitpersons are gunning for Couns. Nora Gambioli and Craig Cameron?

Their supposed sin: They voted against the Grosvenor development, thus proof they’re anti-development. Weegie-endorsed Cameron seethes: Says he’s no such thing, just sought a smaller project. Had the jam to admit changing his mind about the ridiculous Ferry Building extension.

As for Gambioli, she let the feline out of the Gucci when she said WV council battles behind closed doors because “Realtors, land investors and developers have sent us many emails voicing their rather livid concerns about these plans to debate reductions to new home volumes.” Surprised? Cue George Bernard Shaw (see his Saint Joan at the Stanley): The best-kept secrets are the ones everybody guesses.

It all fits: With Booth, now a Kremlinesque Weegie non-person, and Gambioli hopefully exiled, the Weegies have sent into the lineup pinch-hitters Peter Lambur, Joanna Baxter and Jim Finkbeiner. Impressive careers. Zero political experience. No accident, says my theory. The Weegies want, possibly sought out, reliable neophytes. They’ll be beholden.

Hey, no dirty works. Conventional politics. Just like in Ottawa or Victoria. Team player, or out. Smith needs a council majority.

Otherwise, why Baxter, nice woman, shaky speaker, and why Finkbeiner, who recites his c.v., empty of content concerning WV politics?

Story making rounds about Finkbeiner: Early on, he asked where town hall is. Whaaattt? His explanation: “No, I was just kidding a couple of people. We have good friends who live right around the corner of the municipal hall.” His brochure boasts two pages of nationwide accomplishments – and no contact info. (Hastily reprinted, now added.)

Intermission, light relief: Clear winner of Most Unlikely Former Oakalla Prison Guard – svelte, stylish and smart council candidate Christine Cassidy. Yes, briefly, after graduation. Today a stockbroker, and passionate fund-raiser. A voice for slopitch development.

Coun. Michael Lewis’s campaign launch featured big backers, including Smith, former mayors Ron Wood and Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (who I believe don’t exchange Christmas cards), and former B.C. attorney general and councillor Russ Fraser.

However different politically, Lewis (again) disdained Weegie endorsement. Also Terry Platt, an actual working person and New Democrat and thus hardly a fit councillor for West Vancouver anyway.

Lewis is a strong future mayoral candidate – and his quietly successful repeat defiance of Weegie’s blessing brings hope before 2018 of a fresh political alignment challenging this stuffy little clique. Otherwise Lewis is no rebel, certainly not anti-development, a rubbery term. Platt (thrice, not twice as I recently reported, an unsuccessful provincial candidate against ageless Ralph Sultan) is a platform favourite.

Coun. Bill Soprovich – West Van’s all-time election champ, perhaps? – is a populist who personally trots around to listen to any aggrieved citizen, but Sop, as he’s fondly known, can’t be categorized as anti-development. Nothing is so black and white. Newcomers, oldcomers, we all live in developments. Hold the hypocrisy.

Personal regret: In the 2011 elections I blandly declared that Carolanne Reynolds, tireless chronicler of council meetings and defender of heritage, was more valuable outside council than in. Bad me. That shouldn’t disqualify her. Few know more of our town.

At this writing no council candidate proposes any means of stopping neighbour-insensitive bloated houses like Dong Biao Huang’s and Catherine Zhao’s on Kensington Crescent.

Does your reps’ wealth interest you? Fascinating public information: Return-match candidate Michael Evison holds stock in 38 companies; Finkbeiner in 29 (he evidently likes Supreme Pharma, 100,000 shares); Cassidy in 65, including 521.636 in Fidelity Northstar Fund and 812.056 in Manulife US Large Cap. Well, sure, she’s a stockbroker – the Oakalla prison guard gig rather far behind her.

And then some candidates declare no investments at all. Why do I cynically suspect that the spouse evasively holds the shares?

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Wheels of progress roll over us all

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 24, 2014

You can’t stop progress.

Oh, you’ve heard that? Very disappointing. I thought I’d had a brilliantly original thought for a change.

What’s seldom mentioned in stories in the media, and doubtless even less in the developers’ boardrooms and in-camera council meetings, is just exactly what and whom the wheels of progress roll over on the way to a bigger and supposedly better future.

Giuseppe the Roman Tailor has been in business in a tiny West Van store at 1348 Marine Drive for an astonishing 44 years. There’s no front counter. Giuseppe works alone over his sewing machine in back. Customers – and they include some smartset people – come in and move closer, past rolls of cloth and a rack of ready-made clothes, to shout over the machine’s hum if they want Giuseppe to hear them. He tells them to wait a minute.

Giuseppe still has a rich Italian accent. He is short on banter. He listens and responds with a few words. Some customers want made-to-measure suits. Others only alterations. He takes measurements with the air of long-honed familiarity. When Eaton’s was in business in Park Royal you might be quietly advised in the men’s wear department to go to Giuseppe for alterations. Faster.

Next door, at 1348A, is Mr. Rea’s Cleaners (“serving North Shore since 1978” says the business card). You are greeted by Mr. Hera. So I’ve known him for many years. He writes his first name on the card for my edification, Rakhshandeh.

Like Giuseppe, he too has an accent, Iranian. He is a hearty man with a big, welcoming voice. In the back of the shop is a space, seemingly barely shoulderswide, where alterations are made right on site.

Recently Mr. Hera told me of a sadness in his life. His son, a rock musician who performed under the name Rasul, real name Ali, died at age 32 four years ago.

Mr. Rea’s had to move out of its long-time 16th Avenue store a couple of years ago to make way for Fresh St. Market. Now it will have to move again. If it continues.

Like Giuseppe and all the other 1300-block’s south-side businesses, Mr. Hera was given notice a few months ago to vacate at the end of this month. Among others, after 35 years Yoko’s Haute Couture and Spa is moving close to the Pinnacle Hotel in North Vancouver. Rainbow Nails, a “newcomer” of 11 years, has moved to Hollyburn Plaza. Station Post is closing, its quaint furnishings stored until a new site can be found, so I was told.

I recently met Giuseppe on Marine Drive, one of those surprises you have when you see people out of their normal habitat. He was looking for a new location.

A couple of weeks later he told me he couldn’t find a place. “Too expensive.” Giuseppe is 70.

Mr. Hera is 72. Maybe he could get a job elsewhere in the business, I suggested. Mr. Hera roared with laughter. “I never worked for anyone!” He has always run his own businesses.

Mr. Hera and Giuseppe are being ousted to make way for Grosvenor America’s development, which will occupy the whole south-side 1300-block. Of course glossier, up-market shoppes (fancier spelling) for Grosvenor’s tonier clientele will replace them. When Giuseppe and Mr. Hera and their tiny businesses are gone, West Vancouver will suffer a distinct loss of character – and of characters, in the kind meaning, to describe Giuseppe and Mr. Hera.

Fair enough. That’s progress, right? The bigger/newer shall absorb the smaller/older, and in turn will be absorbed by the bigger still.

I doubt if the Duke of Westminster, who owns the choicest chunks of central London, and his family, the Grosvenors, have ever heard of Mr. Hera and of Giuseppe. Or maybe not even of West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

***

She’s more irresistible than Cleopatra – who, to be fair, is dead. But then again, so is Agatha Christie. Doesn’t stop her.

Last season Theatre West Van triumphantly staged Christie’s The Mousetrap, which opened in London 62 years ago next month. Still playing. Longest run on record, by far. If it ever closes, predicts newly enrolled Agent 6B22sn74, who took part in WV’s Mousetrap, London theatre will collapse.

This season it’s Christie’s Murder on the Nile, performed at the Kay Meek various nights from Nov. 1 to 15 (check the ad), with two matinees. Be there and be square, and join the worldwide millions of mainstream Christie fans, her appeal over generations almost uncanny.

At this writing the terrible events on Parliament Hill are still in flux, and any comment would be overtaken by events.

But hold on to this: The “peace, order and good government” in Canada’s constitution seem modest words, but they are precious attainments in a world of chaos, hatred and want.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Redevelopment to set sailing club adrift?

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 12, 2014

The Hollyburn Sailing Club: More Grosvenorization of West Vancouver? Fairness, my worst fault, makes me reflective.

Agent Y6xE9j reports that the club may be sailing away into the sunset – next year put on a month-to-month lease, almost always the precursor to redevelopment. Club commodore Roy Morford’s response:

“No gossip or rumours, just the facts. Last year we celebrated our 50th anniversary. … The club’s first premises consisted of an old garden shed located at Dundarave Beach. … Change being the only constant, I fully expect more changes, particularly with West Vancouver’s plans for Ambleside.

“Regardless of our location, our lease or other factors, I am confident we shall continue to be a fixture on the West Vancouver waterfront for many years to come. Indeed, our mayor has said so on more than one occasion.”

Notice – nowhere does Morford, a witty chap, deny the rumour.

Now this admirably crisp reaction from Michael Ward, senior vice-president and general manager of Grosvenor Americas:

“Grosvenor continues to support the Hollyburn Sailing Club in its current location but respects the opinion of the district and the community should they think otherwise.”

So Grosvenor supports the club’s location. Could it be that town hall is busting an intestinal tract to anticipate whims that Grosvenor doesn’t have, or does it have its own dream of commercialization of Ambleside Beach?

Ward also explains the conflict between the dates for West Van’s Ambleside police station to vacate and the glossy Grosvenor project to begin: “Grosvenor Ambleside will be built in two phases. Construction of the first phase (westerly side of the block) is expected to begin at the end of 2014 or early 2015. Construction of the second phase. .. where the police station is currently located will commence only after the district has constructed the new Public Safety Building and has relocated the police to this location.”

Then why this? All four small businesses cheek-by-jowl with the station – near the block’s east end – have been given notice to vacate at the end of next month. Long before the police depart, sod-turning on the new building not even close. Maybe the modest businesses don’t fit nicely with the Grosvenor showroom being built beside them?

West Van council heard the pitch for the proposed Woodfibre natural gas operation Monday. As Agent 6Tcu03 implies, the current environmental assessment and opposition by the Squamish band may kill it without painful political decisions.

John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky, politely writes about a recent item here: “You are wrong in surmising the prime minister or his office had anything to do with my opinion concerning West Van council’s motion on the proposed (Howe Sound liquefied natural gas) plant. The opinion is my own.”

I gladly stand corrected, but gently ask: Would an MP, of any party, knowingly do something the party leader wouldn’t like?

Meanwhile Weston is aggressively campaigning for re-election in November next year – not May, as recently stated here, though some Liberals expect or perhaps want the federal vote earlier.

Figures quoted here about the Howe Sound LNG project have been vigorously challenged. The opponents’ claim: “If approved, Woodfibre LNG says it will discharge 17,000 tonnes … of chlorinated, desalinated water, 10 degrees hotter than at intake, into Howe Sound every hour of every day for the next 25-plus years. The effect of this on the marine food chain in the Sound. .. could be devastating.”

Responding, Fred Bowyer, West Vancouver retired engineer grad who declares neither professional nor financial interest in the project (and his origins at “the other end of the social scale” from the admiral whose name adorns Bowyer Island), writes:

“Woodfibre LNG will discharge what amounts to tepid tap water (chlorinated/desalinated) into Howe Sound. Natural drainage flow into the Sound averages about 1,656,000 cubic metres of water per hour. 17,000 tonnes/hour from the plant equals … one per cent of the average fresh water drainage into the Sound.

“The Sound, east of Gambier and Bowen Islands, has an area of about 175 square kilometres and a depth of about 200 metres. That’s 35 cubic kms or 35 billion cubic metres of water. A year of LNG discharge is 149 million cubic metres, or 0.4 per cent of that.

“Oh, did I mention the twice/day water changes due to tidal flows? ‘The effect of this on the marine food chain. .. could be devastating.’ Or not.”

And Victor Morgan writes: “17,000 tonnes per hour? Surely you jest. That works out to approximately 1,000 gallons every second. I wouldn’t think so … the rest of that article certainly makes one think. But those figures?” Search me. I’m just the messenger. Can’t figure out my hydro bill.

How would Christy Clark, CKNW talk show host, be judging the teachers’ strike handling by Christy Clark, premier?

West Vancouver’s Elizabeth Smily, an outstanding painter with international exposure, died Sunday, aged 96. She deserves more space than this hasty late addition allows. Funeral Monday at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, West Vancouver.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Grosvenor, town hall not on same clock

Appeared in the North Shore News – July 18, 2014

Dr. Lautens believes he recognizes the symptoms in the unfortunate marital breakup of a certain mayor across the water from the North Shore.

Dr. Lautens, B.A.,

D.K.F.A.A.A., the last three letters standing for All About Anything, diagnoses the underlying malady as what the French call la crise de cinquante – the crisis on reaching, or just north or south of, age 50. (It is adjustable to la crise de quarante, commencing around 40.)

The patient under scrutiny enters his 50th year in September – a classic case.

Cutting through the medical/technical jargon, which I’d gladly explain if space allowed and readers could follow it, the afflicted typically has a successful career, an agreeable spouse, satisfactorily raised grown children, and some prosperity. And – often abruptly, like a tropical disease – is struck by the haunting self-question: “Is that all there is?” Yes, he – more often he than she, though neither sex is immune – suddenly hungers for a new life. In the painfully fashionable phrase, has an intense urge to reinvent himself. Gamble all he has for an entirely new him. And often for a desirable new her.

Some time ago a woman I’ve met occasionally for 20-odd years fascinated me, only scientifically of course, though stunningly beautiful, when she confided that her marriage was over. I delicately coaxed out her age. Fifty. La crise. I had suspected it.

The above, I fear, sounds facetious. But there is underlying sorrow of deepest nature, poignancy for the restlessness of the spirit and of the flesh. I may be a mere D.K.F.A.A.A. – but after decades of study, I know something of the human heart. And it is a terrible knowledge, for I too have been touched.

Well, which is it, then? Who’s to be believed? One, the other, neither, or even both?

West Vancouver town hall and Grosvenor are strangely at odds on when the police will leave their turf at 13th and Marine Drive, and when the monster global developer moves in and starts building its project of decidedly mixed popularity.

As stitched together in this space last month, using a process of ratiocination stolen from Sherlock Holmes, it would seem that the WV police could be grilling suspects on the site while Grosvenor simultaneously holds open houses for prospective buyers of its costly condos.

Problem, no?

Town hall, as Stefania Seccia reported in these pages, claims the present tenants, the cops, have until Dec. 31, 2017 to remove their rubber truncheons, shock devices and other instruments of torture (joke!). But when I asked Patti Glass, marketing director for Grosvenor Americas, about its schedule, she stated: “Construction is expected to begin late 2014 or early 2015.”

Seriously sooner than on town hall’s schedule. So I checked again. Glass confirmed: “The dates I gave you regarding Phase 1 are correct – we are targeting end of year construction commencement.” I noted a construction fence has already gone up on the west side of the block. Glass explained: “The activity currently on site (former Handi restaurant) … is to make way for the presentation centre.”

The sure thing is that replacement of the cop shop, to be joined at the hip with a new firehall, is stuck at the design level, eight months to a year behind schedule, and chief administrative officer Nina Leemhuis conceded – as divulged here – that using WV’s recently acquired Vancouver Coastal Health buildings is a temporary option. Disputed: Whether to include holding cells, or share North Vancouver’s RCMP cells.

WV Mayor Mike Smith and Leemhuis are soothing: No fear, plenty of time to make design changes in the $36-million project. A good start would be if town hall and Grosvenor co-ordinated their clocks.

A West Van widow donates $8 million (1998 dollars) for a theatre. Grosvenor buys the name “Grosvenor Mainstage at the Kay Meek Centre” – 10 years of self-serving publicity for a measly $1 million. The grovelling locals tug their forelocks in gratitude. I vomit.

CKNW departures:

Outstanding broadcasters Philip Till, superb in his too-rare commentaries, and Bill Good are retiring at month’s end. Veteran Terry Bell, the best and clearest radio news writer/reader of my experience, has gone. All same with sports reporter Stu Walters, as biz-watcher Greg Douglas (Dr. Sport), my only sports pages must-read, notes in the Sun.

First the good news: West Vancouver lawyer Dave Thomas has been appointed chairman of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Now the bad news: He’ll have to live in Ottawa.

The tribunal adjudicates human rights complaints that the Canadian Human Rights Commission hasn’t been able to resolve. Thomas’ seven-year appointment starts Sept. 2. His Vancouver practice centres on corporate immigration.

In 2006, Thomas sought the federal Conservative nomination for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country (formerly West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast), won by present MP John Weston. I await with kindly interest how a white male heterosexual, father of three, fits into the human rights culture.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

West Vancouver cop shop in need of temporary digs?

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 20, 2014

You read it here fast: West Vancouver police may be pushed out and forced into temporary quarters in the Vancouver Coastal Health buildings on Gordon at 22nd Street — to accommodate Grosvenor, impatient to get on with its gateway development on the cop shop site.

My Agent Yc5uLW reports that the Coastal Health locale for a temporary station — which could raise hackles in the mixed neighbourhood – is among the possibilities under, I imagine, fairly frantic consideration.

The police station may have to move — somewhere — within as little as six months. Not even plans for a new one are settled.

The tip-off that time is short, and Grosvenor chomping at the bit to get cracking on its 1300-block development, came when I asked Patti Glass, spokeswoman for the global-wide developer, for its timeline. Reply: “Construction is expected to begin late 2014 or early 2015.”

Odd. Notice there’s already a building on the site? The police station. It can be razed and a start made on Grosvenor’s 88-condo, 30-odd stores by late this year? The plot thickens: In March the municipality bought Coastal Health’s 0.7 hectare Gordon Avenue property for $16.07 million, Mayor Michael Smith explaining: “It is extremely difficult to acquire such a large property in this area. This site adds substantially to our options for the future, including the potential to expand the civic site.”

Coincidence? Or, with the Grosvenor deal consummated and the clock loudly ticking, did the mayor look to the very near future – the imminent need for a temporary station for West Van’s 85-odd police and staff? (“Temporary” meaning several years.) More tips that the future could be approaching fast: Vancouver Coastal Health’s lease is for only six months, extendable for another six months. Interesting. It would expire next March for the two-building property, currently used for an adult day care program and for Stepping Stones, a facility for people with mental and drug problems.

Yes, the above evidence is speculative, circumstantial. But Sherlock Holmes (or even TV’s dull Frost) could make a case for it, and it’s backed up by Agent Yc5uLW, who, though a new recruit, seems a reliable source. Of course, he could be a double agent.

• • •

Defending the 1913 Ferry Building and its grassy waterfront site from being screwed up has attracted a brave band – John Seddon and West Vancouver Historical Society delegates to council Ann Brousson, Pam Dalik, Jim Carter, Rod Day and Rob Morris in 2011 when it was under pressure from arts imperialists who get town hall’s ear by pitching an arts edifice as a development/revitalization/touristy project ($-signs for the philistines), and currently Nora Gibson, an art consultant for 26 years, and Seddon. Their petition to leave the building untouched as a small community art gallery has drawn about 850 signatures (saveamblesidelandingpark.org).

After some toil, I conclude: It’s all for naught. It’s a done deal.

The questionnaire on Community Day at the Ferry Building was a prime, if petty, example of the common charade of “community consultation.” It offered five options, all involving additions to the heritage building. Most egregious: “Single storey addition south of a relocated and rotated Ferry Building.” Notably absent from the list: “None of the above! Leave it alone!” Astonishing, then, that 22 of the 102 votes cast were for “No,” which wasn’t even on the ballot, according to figures provided by deputy chief administrative officer Brent Leigh.

And what would any addition, almost quadrupling the gallery’s present 750 square feet, contain? Washrooms (there are others a short walk east and west). And — wait for it — a gift shop! And — wait no more — a coffee and wine bar! Rembrandt, El Greco, Carr and (my personal enthusiasm) Thomas Eakins would be thrilled by this homage to art.

Put plainly: Siting, space and balance are all. The present building has them. You don’t stick a McDonald’s onto the Parliament Buildings. You don’t erect a 60-storey tower overlooking the Arc de Triomphe. Vancouverites, of all people, furious with foreign zillionaires levelling gracious older homes and erecting built-to-the-max monstrosities, should need no such lesson.

My take is that any addition — its sincere advocates include Coun. Craig Cameron and well-respected curator Ruth Payne (“a win-win”) — would be like affixing a salmon to a rhinoceros. Esthetically grotesque, ruinous to heritage status.

An email informational from Coun. Nora Gambioli candidly drops any further consultative pretense: “The Ferry Building will be expanding.” I suggest that the “rotated” building, facing the “revitalizing” Grosvenor complex that it’s meant to worship, be reverently lowered onto its architectural knees.

Reminder: Municipal elections in November.

• • •

Cougar Country: A pupil walking to West Van’s Gleneagles elementary saw a cougar in broad daylight, 8 a.m. June 5, on the Gleneagles golf course, later seen on the school grounds.

A few days later it was spotted at distant Whytecliffe Park. Wild, wild west.

• • •

A little song, a little dance, lacking only a little seltzer down the pants. Spamalot is, as Internet language has it, an LOL hit. It’s on at the Stanley until June 29. See!

• • •

If you missed the North Vancouver Community Players production of God of Carnage, winner of last month’s Theatre B.C. North Shore Festival of Plays, it will be reprised June 26-28 at the Theatre at Hendry Hall before moving on to the provincial drama festival in Kamloops next month.

• • •

Tiddlycove’s Joy Market, operated for 20 years by a nice North Vancouver couple, Korean immigrants So Hee Han (she’s the Joy of the name) and her husband, Gun Chul Han, is closing at the end of the month. Apparently the space will be absorbed, leaving no convenience store between Cypress mall and Horseshoe Bay. Another West Vancouver loss.

• • •

A couple of young women returned to their crossover vehicle with Alberta licence plates in Lighthouse Park last Friday to find the cargo window smashed and personal belongings and a camera stolen. What a fine memory of B.C.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014