Condo King pitches increased transit to help offset density concerns

From Bob Rennie’s lips to Premier Christy Clark’s ear. Well, you would think. But you would be wrong.

There was Rennie, B.C’s “Condo King,” Clark’s chief political fundraiser, preaching to the choir at the Urban Development Institute luncheon last Thursday. Here’s the guy who probably more than anyone else has turned on the tap to deliver enormous sums of cash from the real estate industry into provincial Liberal party coffers.

One of his key messages to keep the development industry roaring ahead, and British Columbia’s economy leading the pack in Canada, was simple: public transit. We need more.

The jobs, the investment, the growth this region has seen — whether you like the changes to your neighbourhood, the soaring cost of real estate being driven up by buckets of foreign capital leading to the end of the dream for single-family houses in Vancouver except for the very wealthy — it will all grind down, if the province doesn’t get serious about funding public transit.

There in the front of the crowd, nibbling on his chicken and salad, was Clark’s minister responsible for regional transportation, Peter Fassbender. People initially thought, given that he was able, with the help of mediator Vince Ready, to clear up the province’s most recent battle with teachers that he could actually get things going with municipal mayors on regional transit.

So far, all we’ve got is a guy playing silly bugger.  He’s been negotiating through the media instead of sitting down with the region’s political leaders, calling them “crazy” and threatening that Ottawa will withdraw its promise of funding from transit if the mayors don’t move.

Rennie suggests the way to meet housing demands is by building in the burbs and putting in transit to serve that development.

But all we seem to be offered is the Massey Bridge, 10 lanes across the south arm of the Fraser at a cost of more than $4 billion and even more traffic congestion.

Even if the mayors buy Rennie’s notion that increased density will be required to meet the needs of a growing population, and a number do, there is still the roadblock created by the province.

Christy’s guy will not agree with the mayors on just how that transit will be funded. And, most pointedly, Fassbender continues to refuse to return the running of TransLink to the mayors — which would be a deal-breaker for most.

Instead, Fassbender et al insist that TransLink be run by an unelected board of folks handpicked by the province while the mayors take the heat for any tax increase they agree to in order to fund the system.

Then there is this issue. With increased density, as North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto points out, “the city becomes everyone’s backyard.”
That means the CACs (Community Amenity Contributions) being paid by developers should continue to be used to build amenities including parks, libraries and community centres that will make the various municipalities adding density more livable.

Now Fassbender wants those CACs to be used to fund transit.

One other point Rennie made, which flies in the face of Vancouver’s Greenest City strategy: People have to get over the notion, he says, that they can live near where they work.

He thinks Vancouver should simply give up providing enough affordable housing to meet the needs of those who find employment in this city.

And if you thought that somehow limiting foreign investment would  help with affordability, you won’t get any support from Rennie. At the most, he would entertain the idea of a “speculation tax,” which probably wouldn’t do much to slow the flow of that capital. There, he and Christy are actually in sync. The Liberals will do nothing to affect an economy that will reduce the value of your home — and retirement fund — because they are making a bundle along with many others in this overheated market.

Instead and again, for Rennie, public transit is the answer. Make commuting more efficient than what car-plugged highways have to offer by adding buses, and subways in sufficient numbers and condos and townhouses will follow, all the way up the Valley.

Failing that, he predicts the boom in development will fade. So, you think that would catch the attention of the premier. But so far she has not indicated that she is paying the slightest bit of attention.


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