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

Will they, won’t they run again?

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 6, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Quit messing with Argyle Avenue

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage counsellors, suggest this inducement.

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

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Hurrah for common sense on West Vancouver council

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 11, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy had earlier reversals.

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

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

What they learned in a year on the job

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So far, I love this work.”

Mary-Ann Booth:

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

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

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

Mayor Michael Smith:

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

. . .

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

At least ask the renegotiation question

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 2, 2012

AWRIGHT, youse cub reporters, line up, shut up, listen up, and learn good from an old bastard. Er, old master.

The lesson today is: At times in your trade – don’t let me hear you call it a “profession” – you will ask questions to persons in authority that you can take to the bank they won’t answer.

Which is why you ask the questions. You are putting on record silence. Which speaks.

OK, there’s a faint hope clause even in journalism. You could be wrong. They could fool you and reply. If they do (and if you don’t need a translation into English), there’s your story. If they don’t, there’s your story too. Can’t lose.

I clearly recall such a personal occasion. In fact it was last week. And, belatedly, I did get a response Monday, which blew my theory that is accurate 99 per cent of the time.

I emailed West Vancouver’s mayor and councillors three questions: “Are you satisfied with the WV bus shelters? Are you satisfied with the (in-camera) process that debated and approved them? If you are uneasy about that process – three of you were not party to it, and two have already expressed some misgivings – would you consider trying to renegotiate the contract with Pattison Outdoors?”

I’d heard a rumble that council might reply. Time passed. My theory looked 100 per cent accurate. Then Mayor Mike Smith emailed me:

“Council has asked that we respond to your request as a group. I have looked into this issue and offer the following:

“Council had previously challenged staff to find revenue opportunities to help offset the need for tax increases. In early 2011, staff were authorized to negotiate with Pattison Outdoor Advertising in regard to a possible opportunity.

“An agreement between the district and Pattison was reached and announced at a June 6, 2011 open council meeting.”

This I had been tipped to: “A manufacturing defect in the shelters which caused leaking was identified and has now been fixed. Adjustments to some shelters are being made to better accommodate the pedestrian environment.

“The overall revenue to West Van over the 20-year term will be between $1.1 and $2.3 million depending on ad revenue.”

(Interjection: Let’s say West Van’s share of Pattison Outdoors’ revenue is $2 million. That’s $100,000 a year for a town whose 2011 operating and capital budget totalled $93,820,375. Wow. If council was swayed by that . . . well, another lesson for you rookie reporters: If you’re gonna sell yourself – at least go big.)

Mayor Smith continues: “The district would have had capital expenditures of approximately $700,000 if we had paid for the shelters.

“I do not think there is any appetite on council to attempt to buy our way out of this contract. I have observed in driving through West Van that they are being well used by our citizens, especially when it is raining.”

Some valuable facts, from a mayor who has already set the standard for blunt openness. But it says here that the process – the in-camera meetings, the announcement of a done deal to citizens who didn’t know any deal was contemplated – fatally wounded the deal.

What’s to be done? If councillors had the moxie to publicly acknowledge that the Pam Goldsmith-Jones council made an honest mistake, mesmerized by pretty pictures, and urge Pattison Outdoors to consider the citizens’ widely held dislike of the bus “shelters”- they’d be making a statement, putting it out there, and the onus would be on the company to respond: Back up. Or ignore. Which (see above) speaks.

My sense is that Jimmy Pattison is a popular, even beloved citizen. What’s the price tag on that, Jimmy?

I’ve received one response applauding the shelters. Of the many opposed, I treasure this: “The one that bugs me once a week is at Marine and 15th outside the Esso station, where I fill up. That was always a nasty right-hand turn onto Marine Drive, but the hoarding has now made it difficult to see oncoming traffic until half the car is out in the curb-side lane.

“I hope that if someone demolishes one of these eyesores they are taken to court and successfully plead that far from committing vandalism, they have committed beautification.”

. . .

The AmblesideNow redevelopment awaits West Van council’s initial green light Monday – as ceremonial as the Queen’s signature on legislation.

Grosvenor’s current vision: Two eight-storey commercial/residential edifices on the police station site, joined by a public access atrium connecting Marine Drive and Bellevue.

Can’t improve on Scenery Slater’s Feb. 24 letter to the News editor, in part: Council seems “bound and determined to take the ‘village’ and turn it into yet another Metrotown or Coal Harbour.”

. . .

Is this the only country in the world where, watching women’s curling and specifically Manitoba vs.

Quebec, a husband turns to his wife and says: “What’s the best outcome for national unity?”

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

No shelter from the storm or the message

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 20, 2012

GOD and the devil know that any town council should be forgiven for a slip or two, when noble judges trump lesser judges and bulging-brained scientists can’t decide whether simple salt and aspirin are good or bad for you, or both.

So my guess and gut tell me that if West Vancouver council could revisit any decision made in 2011 – by a previous council, four members of which were re-elected in November – it would be the one agreeing to Pattison Outdoor’s “bus shelters.”

The quotation marks above are meant to be a wink and a raised eyebrow, a simultaneous challenge requiring practice in a mirror.

It says here that the “shelters” are just this side of bogus – a travesty on the good name of bus shelters. They were sold to council as bus shelters. Ha. The real vehicle involved is not the bus, but the vehicle of advertising.

The latest move has former mayor and backroom politico Mark Sager riding like cavalry to the side of West Vancouver’s very own world-class multi-billionaire Jimmy Pattison – if Pattison needs help in mustering community support.

Unless a new arrival from Mars, you know these are powerful and widely respected citizens. Sager was a political whiz kid who shot to the top fast and left early. A lawyer whose specialties include real estate development, his nod carries a lot of weight in municipal politics, and his West Van roots are deep. Dine upstairs at the fine Dundarave Fish Market and you’re in his former bedroom, when the building was Sager’s Maple Shop. Also, his father Henry drove an MGA, a special distinction.

Pattison is of course a legend, an East Vancouver guy who started as a car salesman and built an international business empire – whose philanthropy includes his vital role as a dollar-a-year helmsman for Vancouver’s sensational Expo 86.

No question, these are top citizens. But I doubt if they spend much time waiting in bus shelters.

These new edifices are impostors – designed as mini-billboards (in a town that prohibits the full-sized kind) with a laughably incidental afterthought of a shelter that does absurdly little sheltering.

I say “laughably,” but it’s no laughing matter for those so naïve as to expect to seek shelter in one of these devices when the Pacific winter rain doth fall and the nasty Pacific wind doth blow.

Briefly, they’re too tall and too shallow – designed that way to accommodate the billboards, not the bus patrons. Thus the (few) seats get wet in all but a mist. On dry days many are still an irritation: The billboard on the approaching traffic side obscures the approach of the bus, so those waiting are obliged to vault back and forth like chipmunks to check.

And then there are the annoyances for pedestrians and wheelchair users. Some shelters hog too much of the sidewalk for comfort. For a real bus shelter, I nominate the “old-fashioned” one at Marine Drive and Kew Cliff Road. It’s wood, it’s low, it’s deep, it’s dry, it’s in keeping with West Van’s character. And no ads.

Marie E. LeBlanc, writer of a recent letter to the North Shore News, is hardly the first citizen to scorn the new shelters. But the fact that complaints haven’t stopped since last May’s closed-door decision to accept the Pattison deal – apparently there were competitors – suggests that the shelters have few foulweather friends.

Did West Vancouver councillors have the opportunity or take time to examine what they bought into? Director of engineering and transportation Raymond Fung said they were “custom designed for the municipality,” a nice irony.)

But it seems Pattison Outdoors made an offer council wouldn’t refuse. The bait was a 20-year contract to build and maintain 30 shelters along Marine Drive – for free! Cash-hungry town hall would even get an undisclosed percentage of the advertising revenue, totalling $2 million. Such a deal.

Public reaction has made some councillors think twice. In a November interview Mike Smith, now West Van’s plain-talking mayor, was unusually equivocal in choosing his words about the billboard decision. Coun. Michael Lewis candidly says: “With 20-20 hindsight . . . I’d have asked for some public discussion.” Of which there was zilch. It was a done deal when the citizenry learned of it.

Now Sager, with his characteristic upbeat springiness, has surged forward to raise cash for a campaign called Curbside: Bringing Art to the Streets. It would buy shelter advertising space for the Harmony Arts Festival, and perhaps year-round displays of art.

It may not have figured in Sager’s motive, but his proposal legitimizes the shelters that many West Vancouverites don’t like, good cause or not. To coin a phrase, no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

Unless I’m all wet, Jimmy Pattison should graciously pull the ineffectual shelters, and he won’t miss a meal from the lost revenue.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

Picking over the election’s entrails

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 25, 2011

Is West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government (WVCGG) a monster that eats a whole town’s political culture every three years, then burps, digests and snores for the next three?

Or just nice neighbours, exchanging apple pie recipes over the back fence?

Fascinating issue, you’ll agree. But first, applause for the 50 per cent of fresh new faces on West Van council: Mary-Ann Booth (lawyer), Craig Cameron (lawyer) and Nora Gambioli (lawyer).

Amazing how so many lawyers are devoted to selfless public service.

They will join incumbents Bill Soprovich, who came last in his first council bid and has topped the polls six times since, Trish Panz and Michael Lewis around the town hall power table next month – December, Christmas month.

But there’s a new hardeyed Santa in charge, no lawyer but a none-too-jolly private businessman, and he is not in a giving mood in this ho, ho horrible time for many financially pressed West Vancouver citizens and even anxious wealthier ones.

Disillusioning though it will be to some readers, the gifts to run town hall, where salaries gobble up 80 per cent of the budget, come from the taxpayer. They aren’t cobbled in Santa’s workshop by elves.

The elves have retired – on handsome pensions, of course.

Mayor-elect Mike Smith has made it clear: If Metrowide union contracts impose a four-per-cent salary rise, the budget will have to be cut four per cent. Period. Last year’s determined squeeze on the budget that fell just short of its zero-rise target will be resurrected.

Don’t think the grandiose projects of the Pam Goldsmith-Jones era, like Grosvenor’s boosterishly dubbed AmblesideNOW!, will be invulnerable. Or the swollen sums paid to lawyers, typified early by the half-million squandered by the mayor-chaired police board to fire honourable cop Scott Armstrong and replace him with the vainglorious scoundrel Kash Heed.

The last two councils were evenly split several times on development-related issues, often with Couns. Lewis – former member of the budget-policing Interested Taxpayers Action Committee – Soprovich and Smith on the nay side. Coun. Shannon Walker, businesswoman and daughter of the glossy Walker Building’s Chuck Walker, who retired to raise her children, proved no fool with the public’s money either.

(Longish footnote: I asked Shannon’s take on the election. In part: “I am very encouraged by the make-up of the new council. . . . Actually makes me a bit sad I won’t be part of it because I think it looks like an energetic and intellectual group of leaders that will push the boundaries a bit. I think it is unfortunate that Coun. (Michael) Evison was not re-elected as he was always a very diligent, wellprepared and enthusiastic member of our team and I really enjoyed working with him.” She and Smith are also mutual admirers. She asks who I think might run for mayor in 2014. Answer: Herself. Have I ever been wrong?)

And now? Let’s see if council’s chemistry changes with the three newcomers (none of whom, Constant Reader unkindly notes, got the nod from the undersigned).

Gambioli didn’t mention that she had been a Green party candidate in the 2002 provincial election. Still Green? West Vancouverites quirkily are kneejerk naturelovers but not political environmentalists, a large distinction.

Cameron, affronted by the suspicion in this space that he was too sleek, too trite in speeches, too “downtown,” cordially suggested a get-toknow-you informal interview over coffee, an hour-plus.

Charming. A justice ministry lawyer, granted one (unpaid) day off weekly for council work. “I’d be better off if I lost,” he laughed. Father of three youngsters. Boyishly belies his 42 years (youngest kid on the council block), and almost embarrassingly open – I feared that if I asked him about his sex life, he’d tell me. I gave notice I’d be on the lookout for his alleged sleekness, downtown-ness etc., so he’s been alerted to look quietly rich and dress in stained dog-walking clothes like all genuine West Vancouverites.

Mary-Ann Booth isn’t so amusing. In my view she shouldn’t even have thought of running for council: Her husband is a lawyer for a firm that does business with Grosvenor – a connection only drawn from her at an allcandidates meeting, and which subsequently she smoothly passed over.

Of course Booth will abstain from debate and voting on Grosvenor-related matters. That abstention in a small six-member council could be decisive. But also, what of other developments that conceivably might compete with Grosvenor’s? All aspiring and even practising politicians should consult Plutarch’s narrative that established the “Caesar’s wife” example.

. . .

Oops, no space to hash over WVCGG’s influence, except to say that it can’t be blamed for having no competitors in this small town. It should have. The real knock on the WVCGG is its up-front fee of $900 from council candidates (refunded if they don’t make the cut) before it even considers their pitch.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

A gentleman jousts for his reputation

Appeared in North Shore News – January 21, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think they’ll get it anytime soon?

? ? ?

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

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

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

? ? ?

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

© Trevor Lautens, 2011