Thursday, April 19, 2012

The first of many signs

at least it's not a For Sale sign.

This sign reflects rejection of Coldstream Council's plan to rezone lands under their Agriculture Plan.
And you'll soon see more of them all over Coldstream.
Especially on properties affected by the before/after here: 

Whatever property rights acreage owners felt they had previously, those rights will be abrogated with the adoption of the new Zoning Bylaw Amendment 1597, 2011 and Official Community Plan Amendment 1584 concerning everything from buffering requirements adjacent to your lands with the two new zones Council is creating, which include the contentious Home Plate know, the requirement that you, as property owner, cannot plunk your new home smack in the center of land you paid has to be off to one side so that farming isn't cut-up.

Makes you wonder whose name is on the mortgage, doesn't it?

Council's penchant to encourage conventional versus hobby farming goes way beyond what residents of Coldstream want this Mayor and Council to do.  At least what Coldstream's acreage owners want.

So, are we seeing Coldstream's governance turned over to urbanites?
Perhaps it is, as only one councillor is a farmer--and then only a hobby farmer, as the majority of his income comes from off the property.  Even the appointed Ag Committee--with few exceptions--is made up of non-farmers.

Shame on you and your property if it's less than 4 ha in size:   "The 2006 Agricultural Census states that 9,466 of BC’s 19,844 farms reported less than $10,000 in gross farm receipts and that 5,335 were less than four hectares in size (Statistics Canada 2006)."  Full 18-page report here

"...researchers and policy-makers alike should question why so many people favour protection of agricultural land as a matter of principle," states the report, with nary a mention of Not-In-My-Backyard-ism.

"The growth in the number of hobby farms might be a positive development if the purpose of agricultural land protection is to slow development and retain open space and if hobby farming is not a first step towards the urbanization of agricultural land. If, on the other hand, the purpose of the ALR is to help support a viable farm economy, growth in hobby farming could be considered a step in the wrong direction as it could exert pressure on farmland values within the ALR, thereby making it difficult for conventional farmers to increase their land base and achieve economies of scale."

If you believe that sentence, I've got a nice 1973 Mazda for you.

Noteworthy is the report's statement:  "We observe that conventional farm parcels inside the ALR are worth $84,670 less per ha than conventional farm parcels outside the ALR, while the opposite is true for hobby farms – they are worth $87,800 more per ha if located in the ALR than outside it.  Outside the ALR, we find that hobby farms are worth $82,310 less per ha than conventional farms. Inside the ALR, however, hobby farms are worth more than conventional farm parcels by $90,160 per ha. It would appear from this that hobby farmers pay a premium for ALR land and, as a result, drive up prices inside the ALR. All prices are expressed in real 2005 Canadian dollars." 

So this Mayor and Council are going to make farmland sizes LARGER.
It'd never twig on this Mayor and Council that demand creates pricing...the demand for 30 hectare farms is much lower than 4 hectare parcels.  Just like 1 acre parcels are desirable...because so few exist and are on the market at any given time.  We won't even go into crop that's one thing government hasn't managed to control...yet.  Fortunately there isn't a marketing board for forage!

Hobby farmers pay a premium for ALR land?  And drive up prices inside the ALR? 
Wishful thinking on the part of councils.

Another excerpt, this one in the "Duh" category:  "Parcel size also seems to be an important factor. From the probit model, we see that as parcel size increases, the probability that the farm parcel is used for hobby purposes declines significantly regardless of location inside or outside the ALR."

Council obviously didn't read this part:  "...our study indicates that incentives created by farm assessment and taxation policies may raise farmland prices, making it more difficult for conventional farmers to expand their operations to achieve economies of scale."

Careful, report authors!  You'll soon have Coldstream's Mayor and Council work to reduce property tax incentives for farmland.

On page 14:  "Although we might not be able to put an exact number on hobby farm prices inside and outside the ALR, we can be confident that hobby farmers pay higher prices inside the ALR and lower prices outside the ALR compared to conventional farmers..."

Lots of that on Coldstream Council.
Not a hell of a lot to support it, though.

"Would I buy a 74 acre farm?" muses Kia, immediately replying "maybe if it were really cheap."

You won't have long to wait. 

Broderick Bails

Coldstream's top planning official, Craig Broderick, is joining the exit line heading out of Dodge.

The official blurb:  "returning to the private sector in two capacities:  one is working with Remax Commercial Solutions based out of the Vernon office focussing on commercial, multi-family, industrial, institutional, municipal, non-profit and resort real estate."  In addition, Craig will be working with his wife Kathy Broderick, "as she continues to focus on residential real estate throughout the Greater Vernon area."  Craig is also pursuing a planning and sustainability consulting practice, serving both the public and private sector.

Craig has a diverse background.  Prior to joining the City of Vernon in 1995, he worked in private planning consulting, mostly for large project clients (Molson Breweries, Beaver Lumber, Ottawa Senators, and large residential developers, to name a few).

My opinion: I think he's had enough of this Mayor and Council's spurious directions and instructions as their own form of socialism descends over Coldstream Municipality like an itchy and smelly blanket.  Craig Broderick has basically heard it all and seen it all, all their machinations which include ever-increasing hours behind closed doors.  Ringing in my ears is Councillor Besso's comment last year "Council has broad powers", appearing to underscore Council's ever more distasteful tactics with residents.  But when Council circles the wagons, Craig invariably is on the outside looking him an entirely new perspective that may even resemble residents' opinions.

Craig's last day is May 11, 2012...

"Any spare seats in the truck for the rest of us?" asks Kia.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Councillor Kiss meets with Water Consultants

A little background first on the ongoing Master Water Plan discussions concerning separation of agricultural water customers from domestic:

This from page 135 of 135 of (unadopted) minutes of Greater Vernon Advisory Committee Special Water Meeting dated March 22, 2012 at North Okanagan Regional District office:

Major raw water supplies are limited to Duteau Creek and Kalamalka Lake
Minor raw water supplies potentially from:
o City of Vernon – Reclaimed water
o B.X. Creek (existing licenses)
o Lavington supplies (King Edward Lake, Wells, Coldstream Creek)
o Future expansion of water supply for Okanagan Lake is feasible from a water licensing perspective
Capital plan should be updated regularly, at a minimum of every 3 years with a 20 year horizon
Capital works costs will increase for diminishing returns / benefits
Performing total system separation may not be economically feasible or cost efficient
Policy direction required regarding agricultural system separation, full separation or some type of hybrid model that is more cost efficient
Discussion ensued regarding an analysis of the recommended amount of separation that would provide the most benefit with the least cost. The consultant team was tasked with examining and reporting back on the most cost effective system.

It was noted: Councillor Kiss would meet with the consultants to provide them with his recommendations regarding the Master Water Plan Update and that the consultant team would analyze his recommendations and present a summary at the following meeting." (emphasis and underlining:  Ed)

and this from Coldstream Regular Council Minutes dated March 12, 2012:

"Greater Vernon Advisory Committee (Garlick/Kiss)
Councillor Kiss reported that at the recent meeting of the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee, the following items were discussed:

Water rates were adopted
Two committees were struck, one to investigate the financing of the water rates and one to consider the Master Water Plan
Special Meetings regarding the Master Water Plan had been scheduled for March 22 and April 12, 2012"

and this from Coldstream Regular Council Minutes dated March 26, 2012:

"Greater Vernon Advisory Committee (Garlick/Kiss)
Councillor Kiss reported that he, and his fellow Councillors Besso and Enns, had attended the Special Meeting of the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee which had been scheduled to discuss the water utility. A consortium of Consultants had been assembled to provide statistical and historical information and discussed separation of agricultural water from domestic water. Councillor Kiss provided Council with an overview of the discussion he had had with one of the Consultants after the meeting and shared with Council his conclusions based on that conversation. Council requested that Councillor Kiss provide the information to each of them via email. (emphasis and underlining: Ed.)

Councillor Kiss indicated that the next Special Meeting was scheduled for April 19, 2012.
Moved by Kiss, seconded by Dirk,
THAT staff be directed to include “Water” as an item for discussion at the next meeting of the Committee of the Whole."

via EMAIL????  Huh?
Does anybody see Councillor Kiss' opinions on water anywhere in the minutes?
What are Councillor Kiss' recommendations?
What are his conclusions?
What did he say to the consultant(s)?

It'll obviously affect water users in Coldstream.
But Councillor Kiss is keeping his opinions on water and recommendations to consultants under his hat.
Looks like it'll stay there too; he's been asked by Coldstream Council to communicate with council via email.

Coldstream Council has a short memory. 
Definition of transparency: as it relates to government.

"I think he needs a new hat," offers Kia.

All the while the public is still waiting for the release of the Water Survey public comments, which were promised two month ago.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Up, Up and Away Coldstream's beautiful property tax balloon.

Three months ago, it was 6.31 per cent.
Now it's 6.59.
Vernon's increase is roughly one-third of ours, to their credit.

A point-two-eight increase over the previously planned increase isn't much, you say?
Mayor Jim Garlick agrees, saying "It's not going to be a considerable amount," (quoted) in the Morning Star on January 27th of this year.

No, it's not a considerable amount.
It's downright outrageous, especially during the economic downturn.

Quoting climbing costs, the Morning Star story today affirmed the municipal tax amount is $975 for the average home in Coldstream valued at $447,000.  Odd way to state it. 

No strangers to climbing costs, Coldstream households are additionally facing a 7% Hydro increase and a 17% water increase.

Not surprisingly, Coldstream Council seems to now need a legal fee contingency, presumably to fight the people who are challenging them (the line grows longer each week due to their over-governance and under-service).

Reduced revenues are also stated (since the closure of Consumers Glass, there should be a "Duh" category, not to mention the fact that a Kidston Road resident refused to fund Council's pet project--the bike path -- which Council erroneously called 'infrastructure').

Also included are increased transit costs (making up for low ridership--perhaps people are all riding bikes?--on all but the Okanagan College runs), additional net operating costs (government employees' contracts expire soon, and no provisions are in place to fund employees' defined benefit pension plan), machinery and equipment reserve fund (how did previous administrations get along without it?), transferring funds to a drainage reserve (even a transfer costs money???, this is often called borrowing from Peter to pay Paul), and "dollars for the pavement management program".    Coldstream could save a fortune on pavement management if--during spring thaw--reduced legal axle load signs were placed on roads (as years-ago  administrations did).

There's also a scapegoat in the new RCMP contract, which municipalities all over BC weren't aware of (nor apparently was Minister Shirley Bond).

We mustn't forget there is interest for the mechanic shop borrowing of funds, plus the actual stated hike of 1.34 per cent (of the 6.59 per cent overall).  Strange that the interest from borrowing wouldn't be included as part of the cost of borrowing.  But that would make the 1.34 per cent climb to an unpalatable level.

Creative accounting.
Even the former Arthur Anderson company liked that name.

"Climbing costs are unpalatable," offers Kia, adding "I keep a level eye on my kibble budget."

You're also not a Fat Cat at the public trough.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Coldstream Council Remains Leery of Public Dissent

During NEW BUSINESS at Coldstream Council's meeting March 26th, the following amendment was made, as referred to in "unadopted minutes":

"template for Council meetings be amended to read as follows:

3.a. This time is to afford members of the public the opportunity to provide additional information on issues directly related to an item on the agenda dated [DATE]. If members of the public want to ask questions on any issue, they must provide written questions that will be replied to in writing (emphasis Ed.). Any other requests or comments should be directed through a delegation request.

No. REG2012-132 CARRIED"
The recommendation was moved by Councillor Dirk, and seconded by Councillor Cochrane.

Residents had, since last year, stated their on-going frustration and disappointment with Coldstream Council at being charged for off-site servicing for "developments having an impact on infrastructure" based on the contentious Subdivision and Development Servicing Bylaw No. 1535, 2008. 

Finally, residents on the 15 stated streets will receive notice, based on the motion made by Councillor McClean, seconded by Councillor Dirk that:

"the owners of the properties identified in Schedule 12 of the Bylaw No. 1608 2012, receive written notice of their area's specific drainage deficiencies; and that there be a follow-up process established that ensures meetings are scheduled to provide staff and Council an opportunity to further explain and answer the residents' questions regarding the District's concerns and the intervention needed to correct the identified deficiencies.
No. REG2012-128 CARRIED"

"and that staff be directed to draft a policy that would provide direction to staff as to the interpretation and application of Bylaw 1608, 2012 when considering issuance of a building permit.
No. REG.2012-129 CARRIED"

Council may expect these changes to reduce the dissention expressed by residents. 

Proof will be in the pudding after residents--many of whom are still learning that this is occurring in the community--receive their notification letters.

The only change could be that Council merely sees 45+ new faces at their meetings.

"I love new faces," suggests Kia.

But Council won't, as they'll hear the same thing they've heard since last year. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Standard Building Permit Coldstream

March 27th, 2012 was a banner day for Judy and Dave Paterson.

Their Kidston Road building permit was approved, with no off-site works or services triggered.

After 316 days, they have it! 

Happy day?

"The blush is definitely off the rose," offers Judy.

"They probably had a bottle of wine ready for the one year anniversary on May 19th," offers Kia.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Coldstream Farmers' Concerns of 2011 Ignored in 2012

Roxanne Ronan's overview of the shortcomings of Coldstream's new Agriculture Plan:

"I have read the Agricultural Plan and proposed Zoning Bylaw Amendment No. 1597, 2011 in great detail.  I stand unabashedly opposed to almost every aspect of this plan.  I find the information provided to Coldstream residents by the Coldstream Ratepayers Association to be a grossly oversimplified explanation of what is a very complex topic.  It is unfortunate that this association has the ability to draw the inference that somehow you are not pro agriculture if you are against this OCP.  I am frustrated that there appears to be no forum for a rational debate on the long term implications of Zoning Bylaw Amendment No. 1597, 2011, or the fact that this Agricultural Plan flies in the face of current world environmental guidelines for the preservation of sustainable agriculture.

My views on the New Rural Ten (RU.10) Zone are as follows:
a)  In Coldstream it appears that the larger the farm parcel the more likely it is that the parcel is in forage crop (if it is farmed at all).  From a water conservation point of view, forage crop is among the most water intensive crops farmed in the Okanagan.  Irrigation of forage crops results in a large percentage of water loss due to evaporation, wind drift, leaks in pipe, and improper rotation of irrigation equipment.  Forage crops are extremely reliant on chemical fertilizers and are extremely labour intensive to farm organically.
b)  Drip irrigation systems are ideally suited to the Okanagan climate and function optimally on parcel sizes of one to 5 acres.  Limiting the creation of smaller parcels,  which will grow less water intensive crops,  will result inevitably in the restriction of agricultural water to all users or the cost of that water to increase to the point where crops cannot be profitable.  If the climate keeps getting drier and the population base keeps increasing you simply cannot keep irrigating forage crops using conventional irrigation methods – we will run out of water.

The David Suzuki Foundation has promoted research by Chappell and Lavalle which showed that “ small farms using alternative agricultural techniques may be two to four times more energy efficient than large conventional farms." Perhaps most interesting is that they also found studies demonstrating "that small farms almost always produce higher output levels per unit area than larger farms." Volumes of research clearly show that small-scale farming, especially using "organic" methods, is much better in terms of environmental and biodiversity impact.”  I take exception to the idea that somehow small plot farming degrades sustainability.  Sustainable agriculture rests only on a willingness to cultivate.  Large lot size has no influence on this – or can be a detriment as it is much harder to farm organically.  Even when farmed non-organically, large parcels present problems in terms of finding labour.  Owner / operators can often farm small parcels themselves.  It is almost impossible to find local labour willing to work agricultural jobs for minimum wage, leading to the importing of migrant farm workers and all of the attendant social problems that entails.

I read the Western Producer whenever I can.  The National Farmers Union of Ontario has this to say about the rising price of farmland – “
A global land-grab is underway, one in which farmland in an
increasing number of countries is rapidly passing out of the hands of local farmers and into the hands of distant elites... In coming decades, if Canadian (and global) farmland is allocated on the basis of “ability to pay,” it will
not be allocated to local farm families.”  Increasing the parcel size of ALR land puts the price of that land far above what the average Canadian can pay.  Hence my reference in my email – “This OCP makes it harder for the smaller farmer to find ALR to farm.  It does not protect farm land – just the opposite.  It just provides the wealthy a chance for estate homes.”.  Coldstream should strive to be “Rural Living at its Best” for all – not just the 1% that will soon be the only ones able to afford to live here.
In response to the new Rural Thirty (RU.30) Zone – I believe that sustainable agriculture is only achievable if the more productive farmland pieces are left for agricultural use, and human habitation is on the rocky sloped areas of the valley unsuitable for farming.  From China Today March 30, 2012 -  “In order to protect both local economic development and the country's shrinking farmland, Yunnan moved industrial construction and fast urbanization to the barren mountains, then governor and now the newly elected Party chief of Yunnan province, Qin Guangrong said. "It is the trend that construction for economic development is being moved to the hills while good arable land is being preserved to be used by the next generations,"  Seriously – how bad is it that China has a better grasp of environmental policy than we do?
I have read Maria Besso’s email of March 29, 2012.  While I have no doubt that this lady is passionate about this OCP, the reality is that she appears to have not done much research on small plot agriculture.  It is also clear that she does not live next to a large scale agricultural operation.  I live on Buchanan Road – next to the large orchard and down from the gravel pit.  I should invite her for coffee sometime during cherry season when the cannons are going off every seven seconds.  Maybe if we’re lucky, a good breeze will be blowing and she can see what the Dustbowl Years really looked like. Logically, her arguments fail in the following ways:
a)  Market forces determine the optimal utilization of all economic resources.  If 77.6% of all ALR land in Coldstream is four hectares or less, this is because the residents of Coldstream have determined that these are the parcels they wish to purchase and this is the way they want to live.  The ALC obviously concurred, as otherwise many of these parcels would not exist.  The 184 owners of parcels in excess of four hectares should not have to bear the economic burden of providing pastoral views, while the majority of landowners sit on their already subdivided lots. 
b) If, as Ms. Besso states, the ALC for all practical purposes does not approve any subdivision, then Bylaw Amendment 1597, 2011 is a superfluous piece of unneeded legislation.  The ALC is funded by taxpayer dollars.  It appears to be doing the job for which it was created.  Why does this council believe it requires an additional layer of bureaucracy to enforce a provincially mandated policy which is seemingly already adequately enforced ?
c)  Ms. Besso never once explains the advantages of ten hectare parcels over two hectare parcels from an agricultural point of view.  This appears to be the heart of the matter.  Without this information, the whole exercise is moot. 
There are so many innovative ways to approach this problem.  I know you are on council – have your colleagues review some of the planning decisions from Monterey County or South Livermore Valley California for example.  In South Livermore valley for every acre and housing unit developed within a specific urban area, one acre of farm or ranch land in a designated rural area must be preserved under conservation easements and be planted in wine grapes, both at developer expense.  That’s pretty amazing.  If you are going to go totalitarian – try that.  This OCP will affect residents of Coldstream for years to come.  I would appreciate some intelligent debate prior to the third reading – we are a democracy after all.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of why I responded to the Coldstream Ratepayers Association mail out.
Roxanne Ronan"

"Are we a democracy?" asks Kia, or is that past tense?"
If you're a Coldstream acreage owner, you may doubt that we are a democracy.
Details on Coldstream Council's changes to the 2009 Agricultural Plan are here:
Thank you for your thoughtful letter, Roxanne!