Saturday, November 28, 2009

Metro Vancouver Directors -automatic 25% pay hike

According the Bowen Island Undercurrent Metro Vancouver Directors are slated for a 25% pay rate from from $253 per meeting to $316 per meeting (rate is doubled for meetings that exceed four hours). The pay rates are automatically increased by a formula introduced several years ago to avoid directors having to vote directly on their own pay increases.

According to the Bowen Island Undercurrent Metro Vancouver's finance committee "recommended no change be made to pay rates [i.e., keep the automatic increase], except that the board's lone electoral area director – representing unincorporated areas like UBC and Barnston Island – be considered for a stipend increase."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Metro -UBC issue in the Georgia Straight

The Georgia Straight continues its coverage of the UBC/Metro Bylaw/Governance issue with a story in the Straight's real estate section. According to the Straight:

At the heart of the recent tensions between Metro Vancouver and UBC is a draft bylaw that lays out guidelines for development on campus.

The Metro Vancouver document spells out a range of permitted uses, maximum heights, and floor-space ratios in eight land-use zones within the campus, as well as a process for UBC to apply for uses not permitted by the bylaw.

The regional body’s move to regulate campus development has drawn a strong reaction from UBC president Stephen Toope, who described it in a November 14 e-mail to the university community as a threat to academic freedom. He argued that it will harm the university’s ability to begin projects quickly enough to satisfy outside funding sources.Metro Vancouver seeks UBC on-campus development bylaw | Vancouver, Canada | Straight.com

At the Joint UBC-GVRD Committee meeting last evening (live twitter report of meeting) it was very clear that metro is no longer satisfied with the status quo. According to Director Derrick Corrigan, it's time for Metro to make a decision. 'If we are left to govern, we will govern like a local area government,' Corrigan stated. He went on to say to the UBC Board of Governors at the meeting that "if you don't like what we have proposed then be your own government."

Faculty member Irving,UBC BoG rep, pushed hard on the point of whether or not Metro had unilaterally backed out of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Metro and UBC. Electoral Area 'A' rep Maria Harris seemed to be saying that yes, Metro had stepped away from the MOU, then that no they hadn't. At which point Director Corrigan interceded and said that Metro had not yet stepped away from the MOU. However, and in face of the ongoing problems with UBC over development concerns, Metro was no longer going to take the heat without have the measures in place to regulate the process. If there is no alternative presented that puts local government in place then Metro will step in to take up it's legal responsibility to act as the local area government for the UBC area.

It seems that the status quo is finally no longer an acceptable option to Metro and that this is becoming more apparent to UBC administration.

A source close to the top levels of UBC's administration commented to me after the meeting that it's obvious that the governance structure at UBC will have to change and that the province will need to be involved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

UBC Tow Tank (old news, but interesting)

Some of the things that appear to have been lost with the spread of development south of 16th at UBC. The UBC Tow Tank for testing vessel hull designs was dismantled to make way for development. Question is -was it reassembled anywhere else on campus?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UBC Residents to pay bigger tax bill this year?

As a result of an agreement between UBC and Metro Vancouver in the mid-1990s that paved the way for development at UBC, university town residents may well be seeing big jumps in the UBC Levy, the portion of 'property taxes' paid in the university neighbourhood areas.

The service levy, first applied to Hampton Place residents as a term of their lease, was designed to cover UBC's costs for providing a range of municipal-like services to residents living in the new housing developments on campus. As housing expanded from Hampton to fill in the parking lots in the mid-campus area (now known as Hawthorn Place) the service levy morphed and, by the date of the 2000 GVRD/UBC Memorandum of Understanding, the ubc service levy was being presented as the tax base upon which the proposed society (University Neighbourhoods Association - UNA) would manage municipal-like services for residents on behalf of UBC.

Leasehold residents in the University Town (UNA) area pay a rural provincial property tax (which includes school taxes, among other things) and the UBC Service levy. The total of these two 'taxes' are set to the Vancouver municipal tax rate (note, the UEL residents have a different deal and have consistently fought to keep their equivalent fee down). Here's where the problem starts to emerge. Vancouver has been retrogressively shifting the tax burden from business properties to residential properties (the trend established by the NPA has been continued by the erstwhile left-liberal Vision Vancouver council). Plus, Vancouver City has picked up a huge Olympic debt load. Taken together it is being suggested that Vancouver residents will end up facing a 4.1% tax increase this coming year (plus facing serious cutbacks to services).

To make matters worse, Metro Vancouver is itself predicting that home owners will face a 50% increase in their taxes (with service cuts) over the next five years.

The long and short of it is that University Town residents may be paying bigger tax bills this year and we have little opportunity to say anything about it. The decisions being made about property taxes are happening in jurisdictions like the City of Vancouver, who have no responsibility to our local concerns.

It's time that decisions that directly affect our community are made by our community directly; not by non-elected university administrators, or city councilors who will never have to face us in an election. It's time for an autonomous government that has the power to make local decisions that count.

A 'Tweet' report from the Electoral Area 'A' committee meeting

The following are my ‘live’ tweets from the November 20th, 2009 Electoral Area ‘A’ committee meeting of Metro Vancouver. I have only reposted the UBC-related items. My twitter account can be found under the name charlesmenzies. Also in the audience actively tweeting was Samantha Jung, Ubyssey news editor.

I’ve posted the comments in chronological order for ease of reading.
  • CRM: @ubyssey UBC isn't alone in opposing the anti-democratic actions of Metro. Check out http://utownnews.ca/ Though UBC motives are different.
  • CRM: UBC tells Metro Vancouver to back off | Straight.com: http://bit.ly/hLGFA
  • CRM: At the electoral area a committee meeting, planning bylaw and working group http://yfrog.com/4ih97j
  • CRM: When asked who the decision makers are, cmtte chair Harris says she doesn't know!
  • CRM: @ubyssey democratic deficit majour theme at electoral area a meeting
  • CRM: Blake F., UBC AMS Pres, takes the stage. http://yfrog.com/1ema5j
  • CRM: Blake says UBC planning flawed, ams in conflict with UBC
  • CRM: Blake says UBC Board of Govs not approachable. Alledges UBC engaged in intimidation.
  • CRM: Blake calls for majority student reps on working group
  • CRM: UBC refusal to participate called bullying by Blake
  • CRM: Blake says students worried their voice to be drowned out.
  • CRM: Mike Feely, UNA Chair, speaks to committee
  • CRM: Feely says local governance in UNA working well, metro shouldn't get involved.
  • CRM: UNA includes a student rep on Board
  • CRM: Feely, We actually have a form of governance that works
  • CRM: Feely, "my community is different than other westside communities". Affordable housing area. It's a model for the region.
  • CRM: UNA participation contingent on being the majority reps on community related working group
  • CRM: UNA any decisions be subject to majority vote of UNA residents
  • CRM: Feely says. OCP is working for local areas.
  • CRM: In response to questions from Andria Remier, it seems that UNA elections look a bit poorly monitored
  • CRM: Councilor Anton, asks if UNA structure really best? Is UNA open to discussion? Feely says currently system has potential to work. Hmmmm
  • CRM: Electoral Area A committee moves to table working group report on UBC bylaw to next meeting and seek further consultation.
  • CRM: UBC greenspace plan discussed, as metro moves forward to regulate UBC

UNA responds to Metro Vancouver

Three delegations from the UBC community spoke to the Electoral Area 'A' committee of Metro Vancouver on Friday, November 20th, 2009. In addition to myself, Blake Fredericks, president of the AMS and Mike Feeley, chair of the UNA spoke. Included below is a statement sent to the UNA membership from Mike Feeley following the meeting.
________________
Neighbours:

I would like to update you on a developing issue at Metro Vancouver that affects us.
You may have heard in news reports or elsewhere that Metro Vancouver has proposed establishing a Zoning Bylaw for the UBC Vancouver Campus, including the family housing areas in which we live and for which the UNA provides local governance. This draft bylaw and other information are available here:
You may also have heard that UBC has asked the Metro Vancouver Board to withdraw this proposal and has said it will not participate in the Working Group that Metro is establishing to consider the bylaw. In their objection, UBC distinguishes between the academic and family housing parts of campus, focusing their concern on zoning of academic lands. President Toope outlines UBC's positions in two statements available on UBC's web page:
The UNA Board has been following developments closely and has several concerns. Mainly, we seek to ensure that no outside group can impose zoning restrictions on UNA areas without our consent. Unfortunately, it appears that Metro Vancouver is proposing to do precisely this, as indicated by their proposed Working Group composition:
  • Metro Vancouver: 1 member from Regional Development and 1 member from Parks
  • UBC: 1 member from Campus Planning and 1 member from Properties Trust
  • UNA: 2 members
  • City of Vancouver: 1 member
  • BC Ministry of Transportation: 1 member
  • University Endowment Lands (UEL): 1 member
  • UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS - UBC Students): 1 member
  • Musqueam Band: 1 member
  • Pacific Spirit Part Society: 1 member
  • Wreck Beach Preservation Society: 1 member
The UNA Board has no a priori objection to zoning rules for the family housing areas. We believe that development controls are essential and, if fact, we believe we have them today through the MOU (an agreement between UBC and Metro Vancouver), the OCP (a Metro Vancouver Bylaw) and the various Neighbourhood Plans. And so, we are happy to participate in discussions with Metro Vancouver on this topic, but not as part of a committee where we are a minority. No municipality would permit zoning rules affecting its residents to be decided by anyone other than its electors. The Board feels strongly that this standard must also be applied to us. Exclusive of all these other groups, we are the ones who will live with the consequences of these decisions, including the social and economic costs (and benefits) that arise from them.
Therefore, the UNA Board today informed the Metro Vancouver Electoral Area A Committee, meeting at Metro offices in Burnaby, that the UNA will participate in the working group provided that two necessary preconditions are met:
  1. the composition of the working group must include a majority of UNA residents selected by the elected UNA Board;
  2. neither the working group nor any other committee of the GVRD will forward a report to the GVRD concerning the development of any bylaw affecting the residential areas without the support of a majority of the residents on the working committee.
Click here for the full text of our presentation to the committee.

In the coming days we will be working to develop a web page that gathers together relevant information, we will be meeting with Metro Vancouver to see how they can meet our preconditions, and we will be exploring ways that we can consult with you on this important topic and the other governance concerns attached to it.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts, questions and concerns with us by replying to this email or calling the UNA office 604-827-5158. You can also email me directly feeley@cs.ubc.ca or call me 778-889-4299.

We will keep you posted as this develops.

Sincerely,


Mike Feeley
UNA Chair
www.myuna.ca

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Open letter to Electoral Area A Committee

Dear Ms. Harris

RE: Proposed Metro Zoning Bylaws for UBC and Local Area Governance

I am writing to request that your committee take action on the following matters:
  1. Suspend the UBC Zoning Bylaw implementation process until the issue of local area governance for the UBC/UEL area has been resolved, and:
  2. Transform your proposed working group to discuss the zoning bylaw into a working group to achieve responsible local area democracy for the UBC/UEL areas.
As you are aware the system of governance for the area west of Blanca, including the UEL and the University Town areas, leaves much to be desired for many residents of this community. While there are erstwhile 'municipal-like' structures operating in this region, neither the UEL committee nor the UNA have real municipal powers. And then thousands of student residents have no access to any form of local governance. Both the UEL and the UNA operated with delegated authority and, despite the hard work and good intentions of their officials, are not in any meaningful sense forms of autonomous responsible democracy.

Neither is the Electoral Area A Committee of the GVRD a substitute for responsible government. The committee is comprised of one person elected by residents of Electoral Area A and two committee members who's primarily affiliation and democratic responsibility lies outside of the residential community.

The proposed zoning bylaw is actually a step away from real, effective, local governance. In that it will make it harder for our community to take local control over our community. While the UNA, for example, may be a flawed governance instrument, it is a local instrument of power and authority. And, in comparison to the Electoral Area A committee, the UNA provides a responsible and flexible form of local government. Rather than expending the time creating zoning bylaws and increasing the administrative infrastructure, why not focus your attention on addressing the democratic deficit?

This brings me to my second point.

The Electoral Area A committee has shown that, if you want, you can set up working groups to discuss matters of local importance. Let’s take this in a positive direction. Transform the working group on bureaucratically imposed zoning bylaws into a citizen’s assembly on local governance for the UBC/UEl area.

If you take this approach I would suggest that the working group structure be changed to better reflect the democratic concerns of our community, as opposed to the interest group politics of Metro Vancouver.

Seats on the transformed working group should be allocated in accord with residential population and institutional connections and legal responsibilities.

Seats for Year Round Residential Areas
  • UEL 2800 population 5
  • UNA 5000 population 8
  • Acadia Park/University Apt. 1500 population 3

Seats for Student Residence Associations
  • UBC associations 2
  • Affiliated Colleges 1
Institutional Seats
  • UBC 1
  • AMS 2
  • Metro 1
  • BC 1
  • Musqueam 1
Each specific organization or area would select their own representatives for the transformed working group.

Metro’s Electoral Area A committee has an opportunity to make a real an effective difference in the shape of local democratic practices. Let’s put the zoning bylaw on hold. If the Electoral Area A committee really is concerned about UBC being "landowner, developer, and approver for the campus lands" then do something that really will address the issue. Lets’ create an authentic democratic option.

Yours,

Charles Menzies
Resident, Hawthorn Place in the University Town

Monday, November 16, 2009

UBC Responds to Metro-Vancouver Incursion

UBC responded to metro Vancouver's proposed zoning by-law for the UBC area with a press release to the public and a letter to all staff, students, and faculty (see below).

According to UBC the problem with the zoning by-law is that it represents an attack on academic freedom. That may well be the case, though it is a bit of a stretch. More realistic threats to academic freedom on campus come dressed in a far more subtle veneer. But that's not the topic of this post.

UBC is right to be concerned over the imposition of a zoning bylaw on our community. However, the threat is not to academic freedom, but a further degradation of responsible democracy. At present there is no real nor effective local governance of the university town. All authority to govern resides in the hands of a Board of Governors, the majority of whom are government appointees. While it may well make sense to have such a body in charge of the university, it is not appropriate to have this same board act as the erstwhile government of and regional administrative of the affairs of the several thousands of people who make the University Town our home.

The democratic deficit exists irrespective of whether it is Metro Vancouver's appointed Electoral Area 'A' committee or UBC's majority appointed Board of Governors who make the decisions that shape and impact the lives of our residential community.

The University Neighbourhoods Association is a local level organization. However, it is not a democratic agency of governance; it administers at the pleasure of UBC's Board of Governors. As such, the capacity of the UNA to act independently in ways that disagree with UBC is severely and structurally limited.

It's a strange contradiction that while UBC celebrates it's place of mind and production of global citizens and highlights the university's role in creating a place of academic freedom that those thousands of us who live in the university town are denied the very basic civil liberties that responsible democratic government should offer us.

Isn't time that both UBC and Metro Vancouver got out of their board rooms, rolled up their sleeves, and set to work building a real democratic community rather than throwing barbs ate each other.


Email sent to UBC community Saturday, November 14, 2009
_______________________
To: All UBC Students, Faculty, and Staff

Earlier today, Metro Vancouver moved forward with a proposal that would restrict and regulate how we use our academic lands.

This is an attempt to intervene in the governance of UBC in a way that could be devastating to our academic freedom.

I cannot overemphasize how important it is that UBC continue to fully and responsibly govern its academic land use. The freedom to learn is fundamental to why universities exist, and that freedom must be underpinned by autonomy to decide what, where, and how to study. World-changing learning and research requires cutting edge facilities, and the infrastructure to attract leading thinkers.

As you well know, we are in an intensely competitive global environment, for talent and for funding. Our ability to respond quickly and nimbly is critical. To secure CFI (Canadian Foundation for Innovation) funding, and recent KIP (Knowledge Infrastructure Plan) funding, for example, we are required to begin projects promptly, not wade through multiple layers of municipal controls. In some cases we would have to seek permission through rezoning processes to proceed with academic projects, with no guarantee of approval.

As we witnessed with delays over the student housing project on Marine Drive (a diversion that cost students more than $20 million and reduced the proposed student housing by a third), Metro Vancouver interventions can be incredibly time consuming and expensive, without adding anything that improves the situation for students, faculty or staff at UBC.

By way of background, Metro Vancouver has certain responsibilities for delivering services to UBC and the UEL. For UBC, those responsibilities are spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding, which gives Metro Vancouver considerable control over the planning and development of family housing property while UBC retains control over the planning and development of academic and institutional lands.

Notwithstanding this agreement, Metro Vancouver has begun the process of pre-empting UBC's control over planning on its own academic lands. A heavy-handed set of additional land-use provisions would impose nine new zones on the greater UBC area, including seven zones on academic land. Metro also proposes a costly series of development permit restrictions, which would create a regulatory morass that would put a choke-hold on our future.

No other university in British Columbia faces this type of restriction. Others are permissively zoned into one 'institutional' category.

UBC is conscious of its responsibility to be a good neighbour - with those in the University Neighbourhoods and with communities in all of Metro Vancouver. We are also conscious that our robust development of academic infrastructure over the past two decades has created challenges, some of which we responded to more slowly than our community would have liked. Our consultation processes have not always been perfect.

We have listened to our communities and have improved our public consultation processes to meet or exceed standards anywhere in Canada. For example, we are nearing the conclusion of a four-year consultation process that has engaged thousands of people in developing a new Campus Plan, and which provides a twenty-year planning framework for our academic lands.

Our consultation and planning processes are among the best in British Columbia. We have become leaders, not just in academic excellence, but in sustainable design and development. The flexibility that Metro Vancouver is now trying to challenge has been essential to our ability to become a global sustainability leader.

UBC is, without question, one of the leading universities in the world. Our $1.8 billion direct annual economic impact pales in comparison to the overall $10 billion we annually generate in education and innovation. From fish to forestry, philosophy to law, to opera and beyond, every aspect of the B.C. economy and society is enriched by UBC's efforts and accomplishments. We cannot allow that role to be compromised. UBC's autonomy over its academic land is fundamental to the mission of the university.

We have issued a press release summarizing our concerns about this proposed process, and plan to do all we can to urge Metro Vancouver to withdraw this unprecedented and intrusive bylaw. I will keep you apprised of our efforts and progress. If you would like more information, or wish to support UBC's academic freedom, contact academic.freedom@ubc.ca.


Stephen J. Toope
President and Vice-Chancellor