WV council shuts out WV people 5-0

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 17, 2016

West Vancouver councillors unanimously approved a waterfront plan Monday that had more holes in it than the Titanic.

Final score: Politicians and Financially Bulletproof Bureaucrats 5, Lesser Mortals and Present Businesses 0.

Schizophrenically, the five –  Coun. Michael Lewis absent –  rhapsodized over green space. And supported a new community arts building smack on said green space.

Supported, cross their hearts, West Van heritage. And issued death warrants for the Silk Purse, approaching century status, the Music Box, and the John Lawson arts building, dates of execution TBA after the new arts centre is built.

Supported protecting precious waterfront. And waxed enthusiastic –  specifically Coun. Mary-Ann Booth, but Mayor Michael Smith is also a big advocate –  for sipping wine in a waterfront bistro.

Supported, over strong opposition, removal of the Ambleside motorized boat ramp. And murmured empty words of sympathy for the ramp users.

Supported expelling evil motor vehicles and parking stalls from Argyle. And fell silent about access to beach and facilities for the disabled and frail. Bellevue Avenue businesses crying to keep overflow parking on Argyle? Stiffed. Mercilessly.

Supported –  the key blunder – extension of the trendy Spirit Trail imposed on narrow Argyle (and linked, nobody asked, to where westward?). Clearly to become overpoweringly dominated by a two-way cycle speedway separated by some manner of barrier from herded pedestrians. And councillors went on about inclusive use of waterfront by all “stakeholders.” The stake is through the heart of West Vancouver.

Absent from the pitches of town hall staffers Raymond Fung and brainy bafflegabber Jim Bailey was any tangible substance behind the colourful charts, word-filled balloons, the usual governmental hype.

Size, site, building timeline, above all costs of the dream and of levelling present buildings? Just trust us. Win-win solution. “It’s incremental, not irreversible,” Coun. Craig Cameron intoned. Humbug. Council gave the busy bureaucrats carte blanche.

Only Coun. Bill Soprovich questioned some whacky estimate of $1 million. Which wouldn’t pay for zip. Explanation: More bafflegab. And even Sop, council’s perennial hard-eyed skeptic, joined Booth, Cameron, and –  disappointingly –  Couns. Nora Gambioli and Christine Cassidy in supporting the wordy motion.

I repeat earlier questions:

What benefit to Ambleside’s existing businesses (Mayor Smith’s long-stated priority)? Not for nearby restaurants competing with the proposed bistro, one of which publicly aired its tax plight a few years ago.

How will people afoot –  families with toddlers and buggies, the frail, picnickers bearing stuff, etc. –  cross the wall of speeding cyclists? (Fung displayed a “map” with a couple of impressive black arrows intersecting the trail. That’s it, folks – jump on that arrow.) And the Harmony Arts Festival, the evil fossil-fuel burners essential to erect and service the booths? Silence.

But there was one magical moment. A 10-year-old boy, Antoine, clearly and with presence beyond his age, spoke up for youth concerts at the Music Box: “We always have a sold-out show … (There is) a special atmosphere of music, art, and view.” He urged renovation of the existing structures and a courtyard to connect the Music Box and Silk Purse. He ended: “It will be cheaper.” Torrent of applause, biggest of the evening.

Antoine spoke more sense than the whole damned council and staff.

If I’m unpardonably harsh, no pardon, thanks: This issue moves me to my West Van guts.

• • •

Before it closes June 26, spend an hour with Nanitch: Early photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann collection, a compelling exhibit at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery. Newcomers especially will benefit from observing how crude life was in this young province. Oldcomers can use the reminder. Entry by donation. Drop five bucks.

B.C. as a white colony and photography are close to the same age (it’s astounding how sharp images had become by the mid-19th century). Both photographer and subjects took the occasion very solemnly. Just examine the faces. I found one faint smile, and that in an early 20th-century photo.

Gratitude for this excellent show for Uno Langmann, owner of a top South Granville antique store – full disclosure, decades ago he put me together from my only bicycle accident (doored by a nice Triumph TR in Shaughnessy) and drove me home. If I was too shaken to express thanks, here they are now, with accrued interest.

• • •

Horseshoe Bay is West Van’s jauntiest village –  this month eclectically staging a Taste of H.B., a beer tasting, a community picnic, and, on June 26, an art crawl. Tomorrow, Saturday, starting with a pancake breakfast at 9 a.m.: Anniversary celebrations for Sewell’s boating operations (85 years), Troll’s restaurant (70), native art store Spirit Gallery (25), and antique store Lalli Loves It! (5) –  Lalli being the nickname of Laura Blodgett, one of the most charming exports the U.S. has ever made to our country.

© 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

No opinion on LNG, says non-stick Pam

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 11, 2016

You’d think the local member of Parliament would have an opinion on the Woodfibre LNG project, wouldn’t you? Or am I being naïve again?

I’ve sent several unsuccessful emails to Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, our woman in Ottawa as MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, inviting that opinion. Surely she has one? Any doubt of the issue’s importance?

So what’s our Liberal MP’s stand – on arguably the most important current issue in this awkwardly sprawling and diverse riding wrapped around Howe Sound?

Not that she’s lacked opportunity. Goldsmith-Jones recently chaired three open houses on the matter in Howe Sound communities, one in West Vancouver – boisterously anti-Woodfibre.

She told a meeting last week in Gibsons: “Our government is moving quickly to deliver on our promise to overhaul the federal environmental assessment review process and to restore public trust. … The process will have greater transparency.”

Moving “quickly” – as governments uncannily always do. “Promise” – yes, look for the bank where you can take a promise of Justin Trudeau’s election campaign.

“Transparency” – no word deserves more banishment form the Dictionary of Political Platitudes.

An audience member in Gibsons came fairly close to pinning down Goldsmith-Jones. He asked if she’d heard from anyone favouring Woodfibre LNG. Jacob Roberts in the Coast Reporter quoted her: “There are definitely people in favour. That’s why this is so difficult. To be honest – and depending on where you go – it’s 50/50.”

“The audience,” reporter Roberts drily wrote, “interrupted Goldsmith-Jones with their unanimous disagreement of her numbers.”

Eoin Finn, with deep science and business expertise and exhaustive files on the issue, told me: “Pam’s statement – that community reaction was 50/50 for and against – beggars belief, and is at odds with the 9,000 signatories to the (Save) Howe Sound Declaration, and the public comments on the B.C. Environment Assessment Office process,” which showed more than 90 per cent opposition.

To be fair: Don’t expect candour. Under the party system the prime minister’s henchmen, and those for all party leaders, tell MPs when to breathe in and breathe out. A maverick is whipped and stripped – of perks such as sunny-climate conferences in January – and sentenced to the Siberian backbench. Thus the adage that MPs aren’t sent to Ottawa to represent their constituents’ views; Ottawa sends MPs to their constituents to represent Ottawa’s views.

So can you find it in your heart to sympathize with poor Pam, the most ambitious political animal in West Vancouver of her time, maybe all time? And not to flatter the environment’s more pompous guardians: B.C. has to toil to live, and that means dirty hands and dirty work that upper middle-class urban elites have only heard about.

Add this: Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy, whose West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding also includes the proposed site, supports the facility, partly for its tax benefits. He strongly slams a news story that took on a life of its own – that Woodfibre LNG “hosted” a fundraising dinner for him during the 2013 election campaign. It simply bought a table, he said, like other companies and 200-odd individuals, a tradition for the riding incumbent for 25 years.

The biggest barriers to the project may be that natural gas prices are scraping bottom, with inventories swollen since the U.S. vastly grew its fracking production.

• • •

Michael Smith entered the mayor’s office fighting for thrift. Has he wearily surrendered to the bureaucratic spend brigade?

West Vancouver’s 6.87 per cent property tax rise is easily Metro’s highest, and more than five times the Metro average, the Sun reported. That includes a 5.25 per cent levy – finance director Isabel Gordon wanted 10.5 per cent! – to maintain and repair WV’s $1-billion public assets. The $245 tax increase on a $2.5-million West Van home is stratospherically above all others (second highest is Port Moody’s, $97, with North Vancouver city and district not reported as of a week ago).

Hawk-eyed tax-watcher David Marley quotes the notorious figure that 80 per cent of WV’s operating budget goes to staff salaries and benefits. “Where do we find these people?” asks Marley, with commendable grumpiness. “Clearly, they live in an alternate universe from those of us who have to pay the bills.”

• • •

David Johnston is every inch the representative of the Queen. The Governor General charmed a business-attire crowd on his official visit last week that included a keynote speech to the Sea to Sky Community Foundations at the Kay Meek, where he was easily the most unstuffily relaxed person in the theatre. One of those born aristocrats with the uncondescending common touch.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Mankind sure is a sentimental beast

Appeared in the North Shore News – July 17, 2015

What moves you, heart and soul?

Is it, among recent top news stories, Greece? Drought? Fiery forests? Senate sleaze? The long-running drama Health Researcher Follies? Bus Stop, starring TransLink? Stock market tremors? Cracked China? Interest rates? Pan Am Games, Canadians modestly accepting that they’re No. 1?

No, none of the above.

By far the most gripping story — this is the democratic, straight-from-the-heart voice of the people talkin’, 152,000 people signing a petition as of last weekend supporting a conservation officer who refused to follow orders — concerns two orphaned bear cubs. Their momma was shot, guilty of raiding freezers for food.

Mankind is a sentimental beast. A paradox, as they say. God’s riddle, as Alexander Pope said. Meat-eaters, leather-shod, we put in our day at the salt mines and return to watch TV that adores ending newscasts with a touching, heartstring-plucking, often funny animal story. Bony horses rescued from frozen wastelands.

Misguided cows hoisted from sloughs. Whales coaxed back to safe waters. Heavily bandaged men urging no retribution, it wasn’t the animal’s fault that they wandered into their habitat. Dogs that take the bus themselves and get the best seat. Cats trained to teach Aristotelian philosophy.

Think what you will of Conrad Black, you would think differently reading his compassionate story of his expensive rescue on his property of someone’s kitten from under earth’s crust.

Can we talk? A few years ago a rat entered our abode through a pipe hole. I silently prayed he was a bachelor or widower. When I suggested live-trapping and release, the pest control guy took me for a dangerous madman. You kidding me? For a rat?

A conventional trap was set. One evening I heard the triumphant thunk of the sprung trap. And then something else. A long, agonizing death cry — who would believe that a wail like a baby’s could come from a rat’s throat? I hear it yet, I hear it yet.

The two cubs in the current news story were not destroyed by conservation officer Bryce Casavant as ordered by his rules-reading superiors — imagine, a conservation officer who actually conserved.

Most don’t, most of the time. Larry Pynn, the Vancouver Sun’s excellent outdoors writer, dug up the accusing numbers: In the past four years 352 cougars, 1,872 black bears and 75 grizzlies were killed in B.C. — the relocation numbers being six, 126 and 24 respectively. A scathing indictment: Retired Idaho biologist John Beecham said no jurisdiction he knows of “takes such a cavalier attitude about killing conflict bears as B.C.”

Casavant transported the cubs to a vet’s. Named Jordan and Athena, they’re now at the North Island Wildlife Recovery refuge. Casavant was uncompassionately suspended without pay.

At this writing the 152,000 online petitioners demand his reinstatement. The story, in newsroom jargon, has legs, and at this reading may be overtaken by events, since Environment Minister Mary Polak is under much pressure (I’d bet her private view doesn’t match her official one).

Lighthouse Park and other West Vancouver nature areas are currently festooned with bear-warning signs. A few years ago a beautifully fit woman who walked Cypress municipal park twice a day told me she’d seen 19 bears that year, likely the same few bears again and again.

Having myself walked the Cypress trail occasionally for 30 years, I developed my own patented bear-warning device. I whistle the nursery song “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” Not once have I been approached by a bear, and if you heard the quality of my whistling you wouldn’t be surprised. Human beings also give me a wide berth.

• • •

Subtleness is not West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith’s strong suit. He flatly opposed the Yes side in the TransLink plebiscite, joined by two other of Metro’s 21 mayors, who clearly had nobody on their side except the voters. Each of the three North Shore municipalities turned down the $7.5-billion plan by about the same margin, 55 per cent.

The inquest into the plebiscite failure has many far-seeing Yes-side oracles boldly predicting the past. They knew all along that the plan was too complex, that plebiscites rarely pass, that asking voters if they’d like to pay more taxes is as predictably answered as asking General Motors if it approves of cars.

By far the costliest project in the plebiscite package was a subway along Broadway to UBC. Constant Reader knows my shy generic opinion of such proposals, but to repeat: Preposterous. On Vancouver’s best days — free of rain, fog and forest fire smoke — there’s a sensational view of mountains and water. And you want to shoot transit riders through a hole in the ground?

Apart from that, West Broadway is in generally excellent business health, such as West Van’s Marine Drive can only dream of. Don’t mess with it.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Politicians face off on transit vote

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 13, 2015

The transportation referendum — hold on, we interrupt this rant for a breaking rant from our opinion room: Stephen Harper will win this year’s federal election. We now return you to regular ranting . . .

You read it here first. The Conservatives have taken two decisive steps — turning up the investigative heat on the gauche wannabe domestic terrorist and the imported real article, and the so-called tough-on-crime legislation.

Those initiatives will win the hearts of Main Street Canada — leaving, stranded up a political Suburb Street without a trolley, Trudeau the Younger with an expired transfer of me-too-but-we’ll-change-this-when-we’re government, and Tom (Eyes) Mulcair with a pompous harrumph, at curbside. Watch getting splashed by the Tory campaign bus speeding past, guys.

We interrupt this interruption to despise Justin Trudeau’s just-in racial demagoguery, accusing Harper of fomenting hatred against Muslims. Can anyone doubt the intent of a few Canadian-born converts to Islam to kill and to spread terror? Who’s playing the polarizing race card?

• • •

Now, the original top item for this piece.

Two representative West Vancouver views of the mail-in transportation plebiscite, running from next Monday till May 29:

Mayor Michael Smith, one of three Metro mayors voting no: “TransLink is being treated like a political football being kicked back and forth between the Metro mayors and the province. . . . I would suggest that decisions should be made locally. . . .

“How can anyone argue that by defeating the yes vote the consequences would be worse? In the past three years the mayors have had to deal with three ministers of transportation . . . and still have no control over how the new money raised will be spent, as TransLink management does not report to the mayors’ council. . . . It is poor public policy and unrealistic to expect citizens to understand a complex issue such as transit funding.

“I believe that we do not have the right to ask taxpayers to pay higher taxes with no guarantee that the money will be well spent. If the vote on the referendum is no, then finally the province and local mayors will have to sit down and make changes to the governance of transit.”

Poll-topping Coun. Craig Cameron: “I am a yes. If there is a no vote, I believe we won’t get any meaningful transit upgrades for 5-10 years. The province will (wrongly) take it as a signal that Lower Mainland residents don’t want to pay for transit improvements. . . . The province will then take the money set aside for transit and apply it to other objectives. No significant changes will be made to TransLink’s governance structure and TransLink will not become any more efficient than it would have otherwise.

“In short, the worst of all worlds — no benefits and all of the same negatives.

“Moreover, if the province decides to proceed with all or part of the (necessary) improvements, we will pay for them through property tax and fare increases. . . . And from a West Vancouver residents’ perspective, the property tax increases will far outstrip the cost of the (0.5 per cent rise in) sales tax.”

Cameron doesn’t disagree with Smith’s points. But he’s a pragmatist. With a grin: “If a meal is put in front of you, eat it.”

• • •

My shy observations:

In a crude waltz of mutual back-scratching, Gregor Robertson, Greg Moore and Linda Hepner, mayors respectively if not respectably of Vancouver, Port Coquitlam and Surrey, connived to unseat North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton as head of the Metro mayors’ council. Which self-poisoned the yes well from the start.

Then there’s the yes team, the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition. It includes the Vancouver Board of Trade, B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Vancouver, Unifor (union) Local 111, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, the David Suzuki Foundation, Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, and others.

A key goal of this exercise is getting people out of their cars and on public transit. But Constant Reader will have noted the common thread linking these leaders and many of their members. They don’t take public transit themselves. They want other people to take it.

Less traffic would speed their way from Metro’s tonier homes, including on West Vancouver’s leafy slopes, to their important roles. Not to be unkind to the successful elites, bless them.

But many have designated company parking stalls. Others have business write-offs as they move to serious lunches and meetings. They don’t pay for their driving and parking. Taxpayers ultimately do. Thanks, I’m marginally one of the privileged.

Out of space. See next column. But here’s a teaser: Not one word of the heavy thinkers I’ve read has even mentioned the A-B-C of any merchandiser: The customers. And how to attract — not bully, demean, treat like stacked cordwood or store-window dummies — these and prospective transit riders. What an original idea, eh, yes side?

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

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

Behind council’s sober second thoughts

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 15, 2014

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow was bloodier, but West Van council’s U-turn on its slamming of proposed liquefied natural gas tankers on Howe Sound was quicker.

Councillors at the Aug. 4 meeting volubly backed off their unanimous decision two weeks earlier when they had asked Ottawa to ban Asian-bound tankers from waters uncomfortably close to the western shores of West Vancouver.

I pause. Let’s be fair. This is what politicians should do more often, right? – have sober second thoughts, admitting mistakes first time around.

By this measure, Mayor Michael Smith deserves praise for the frankness that slick politicians avoid when they give a 3,000-word, non-answer to an unwanted interview question.

At the second-thoughts council meeting Aug. 4, Smith commendably took full responsibility for the July 21 decision.

“All blame lies at the feet of the chairman of the meeting,” Smith was quoted by News reporter Jeremy Shepherd. “My legendary impatience sometimes gets the better of me after over an hour of going around in circles on a debate. You get desperate to call a question, any question.” (If you can recall any time that former mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones publicly admitted to her blunders, jog my memory.)

On that point – what the hell did we agree to? – Coun. Craig Cameron was equally candid: “I didn’t know what we voted for.” His only vote he’s been embarrassed about in three years on council, he confessed.

Returning now to my usual sunny cynicism: Why council’s hasty retreat?

Wild guess: Largely because John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country – the LNG tankers would sail through the population heart of his riding – wacked council’s motion, the way it was passed, and its timing. Otherwise he’s OK with it, one might drily say.

Strange. Does Weston carry such clout? Another wild guess: Yes, if he’s the messenger boy for the big guy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and by proxy for an equally agitated Premier Christy Clark. (As indispensable Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer recently noted, Clark vowed in 2011 that the first LNG export venture would be “operational by 2015.” Not.)

If my take is correct, Harper, Clark and the oil and gas industry don’t need the distraction of yet another protest.

The Howe Sound LNG plant, a subsidiary of Pacific Oil and Gas, owned by a Singapore billionaire, would be small potatoes compared with the proposed Northern Noway Gateway project. But it’s our small potatoes. The issue hits close to home.

So was council’s first decision correct? Or its second? Or will it be its third, next month? Coun. Michael Lewis expects more information will uphold council’s original decision opposing the project.

Predictably, industry leaders say LNG is safe. Predictably, opponents, including chemistry doctorate Eoin Finn, cite the worst case: An LNG tank explosion destroyed a square mile of Cleveland and killed 130 in 1944.

Extraction industries are locally popular, generating prosperity and jobs. Unless something goes hugely wrong. Hello, Mount Polley.

Agent 7p2sd4g angrily writes: “Just as dear old Dal Richards was about to sign off on his delightful Harmony Arts concert at John Lawson Park (Aug. 7), who should enter, accompanied by 100 or so (mostly) female followers, right at the foot of the stage, but Justin Trudeau. Absolutely tasteless, and downright rude. Poor Dal looked shell-shocked.”

Or was Dal willingly cooperating? We may never know.

Also speculative: Lisa King’s front-page photo in the Aug. 7 News was a great shot – worthy of an award-winner – of Justin Trudeau dancing in a steamy, almost orgasmic clinch with Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, John Weston’s Liberal opponent in next May’s federal election. But was it winning politics? My guess is that it turned off as many voters as it turned on.

Agent C8tt0j4 reports “turmoil” at CKNW. Right, vertigo must be swirling in management/ownership heads – dropping its best and most loyally listened-to segment, Cutting Edge of the Ledge, with top Victoria-watchers Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey, hosted by Bill Good. The Three Wise Men, I called them.

Except for sharp Mike Smyth, NW is wildly shuffling the deck, conscripting mostly affiliate Global TV staffers as temp fill-ins replacing

Good and Philip Till – it’s radio’s new Amateur Hour. Complete disclosure: I hold parent company Corus Entertainment stock. I sell my shares, you guys could be done like dinner!

Closing in Ambleside: Familiar, colourful and long-established Amadeo, and Redfish Kids Clothing, consolidating its business at its Hornby Street store after only two years in West Van.

One of my most respected Agents, Y8c5scu, conjectures what town hall will never admit about the delay in a joint police-fire department building: The police and firefighters don’t like each other (not a unique wariness). The plan for a “combined safety building” in fact showed two separate edifices joined only by an atrium.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Gateway to a revitalized Ambleside in West Vancouver

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Christy Clark will win – you read it here first

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 10, 2013

MULTIPLE sparkling, titillating items battling for top spot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2013