While Gregor Robertson watched from the mayors chair last Thursday, city council approved the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, a 162-page manifesto crafted by Robertsons new green bureaucracy. The vote was nearly unanimous. Robertsons Vision/COPE council majority rubber-stamped the plan, which will be phased in over the next few years. Only opposition NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton voted no. Following the vote, council quickly approved the plans first priority action item, which requires water meters on all new homes. Annual cost to the taxpayer: about $500,000.
Predictably, the media barely noticed. But last Thursdays vote represents a fulcrum in Vancouver history, perhaps the most important political moment since incorporation in 1886. If followed, the plan will transform the city and help Robertson realize his wild green dreams. Environmentalism will trump all other city priorities. Its why he ran for mayor, everything else was incidental. In many ways, the plan mirrors Robertsons mayoralty. Enthusiastic but naive. Ambitious but myopic. Its elitist to the core. Only a man of Robertsons privileged background and political good fortune could present this plan with a straight face.
For example. The plan includes a myriad of recommendationsfrom a Green Enterprise Zone in the Downtown Eastside and False Creek to a technology centre with a food processing enterprise incubatoryet provides no cost analysis. It warns only of significant financial investments because becoming the Greenest City also represents changes in how we do our business and can add costs. It targets developers, homebuilders and construction companies, prescribing stringent environmental standards and higher permit fees for less energy efficient projects. Its a regulation blitzkrieg that will discourage development and investment, inflate construction costs and increase housing and rental prices. If you thought it was expensive to live in Vancouver in 2011, wait until the plan kicks in.
Despite the plans heavy regulation of business and expansion of bureaucracy, its primary target is ordinary people. You and me. The obstinate obstacles to Robertsons vision. In this sense, the plan is remarkably candid. Rather than reduce the cost of living for Vancouverites, it will make life more expensive. Green policy must affect peoples finances in positive and negative ways. Only then, will we develop an environmental conscience.
For example. According to the plan, Energy is too cheap Homeowners, tenants and business owners are not responding to price signals to motivate them to conserve energy. The solution? City hall must lobby/advocate for policy and regulatory change to increase energy prices (a.k.a. your home heating bill, prices at the pump) and lobby the province to create costly pay-as-you-drive insurance premiums and road and/or congestion pricing. Hello, toll booths.
Aware of the potential for revolt, the plan is one part policy, one part public relations. City officials must reach out to new immigrants, faith communities and folks of different classes/incomes. Tailor a green message for the Chinese community because the way the green movement is being marketed with romanticism of going back to nature, may not resonate with cultures that have worked to distance themselves from nature.
While people are bad, cars are worse. In areas well-served by transit the plan requires parking and housing costs to be unbundled in apartments and condos and will consider eliminating off-street parking requirements. Translation: higher home parking fees, less parking almost everywhere. The plan will also design parking spaces so that spaces can be converted to other uses in the future (e.g. bicycle parking, storage). When faced with a parking shortage, downtown businesses can share logistics, shipping and receiving facilities, and parking allocations.
Phew. While the plan sounds unbelievable, too much for any city to take, consider this. If Robertson wins reelection in November and retains his council majority, hell have at least three more years to institute the plan. During his first term in office, hes demonstrated a disdain for public consultation (see the f**king hacks incident) and a willingness to ram through controversial green projects (see three temporary bike lanes). Yes, Robertsons on a mission. The plan is real and coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.
To see the 162-page plan, visit vancouver.ca (Council Meetings/Previous Meetings/July 14).