A bit of Oversimplification from the CBC

This post is in reference to the Sept 26 CBC article “Richmond’s dynamic council battle offsets dull mayoral campaign

This CBC article acknowledges the dynamism of the council race in #richmondbc, but does a poor job of describing what is at stake in this fight for “change” versus “establishment”. It divides the issues into “hot button” issues and more “traditional municipal issues”. Mansions on farmland, Chinese language signs are described as the hot button issues while “city services” are identified as” traditional municipal issues”. I wonder which category housing affordability would fall under?. The lack of affordability #richmondbc is what got me involved in this municipal election and I think that is a pretty “hot button” issue and claims about how #richmondbc got here and how we can resolve this crisis are pretty “divisive”.

The other comment worth examining in the article is the claim that councillor Bill McNulty’s is a “centrist”. He talks about the role of a municipal council. McNulty says, “When you get to council, you have to represent everyone in the community.”  He later goes on to say, we are the fastest growing communities in the lower mainland of people wanting to be here.  We have to represent those people coming in and respect them”

IF ONLY Councillor McNulty and many other “establishment” councillors had “represented everyone”, Richmond would be in a much better place and the “establishment” would not be facing a groundswell of opposition to its double speak and platitudes about leadership.

The problem is that divisive issues have been left to fester without the “establishment” having the will to create dialogue between different points of view.  When divisive issues are left to fester, what we get is a fractured community and that is what we have in #richmondbc.

In all humility, representing everyone is not an easy job. As a leader you have to find opportunities to create avenues where opposing sides can talk to each other and carve common ground. Leaders also need to create a fair and trustworthy system where important and unimportant people are equally heard and respected.

What I have seen as a resident is far from that.

What we have is a pretense of listening and fairness while almost always siding with status quo and established circuits of power.

This dynamic reminds me of an old colonial practice. Divide and rule: That in my opinion is the real creed in operation through the “establishment” voices.

I know everyone will not agree with me, infact councillor Loo thinks just the opposite.  :She believes, “People are generally happy. Life is good. Sewers and sidewalks are operating…..They’re getting what they want.”

Are you getting what you want?  Is that all that matters? Getting your way….

Can “Me first” or “You first” yield a fair system?  I think it is time to really start thinking about “Me to We” and “us” learning to understand and work with each other.

It is a hard road but one full of promise.


Leaders and followers

I feel that there is often a divide between thinking about leaders and followers and these are not really opposing categories.
I try to keep this  in mind as I think about leadership: Otherwise there is danger in thinking that leaders are special and followers are not which is totally not true as you may already know from lived experience.
 This is a poem I wrote in 2010, when a friend told me that when the geese migrate the lead bird keeps changing .  This allows the flock to be faster and more efficient in moving out of a cold and food less region to a warmer and more welcoming climate.
Perhaps a lesson for us humans here….

Snow geese


Silver ripples in the sky

on a sunny November day.


Do you know the lead bird trades places with the next?

Without rancor or rebellion:

Instinct and wisdom.


So they fly south with fewer rest stops

to reach a sanctuary where all can thrive,

away from a place where nothing but hunger grows.



If only we could learn

each is a leader and a follower

in turn.



8th November, 2010


The two-year journey to try to put the genie of the mega home back into the bottle

In Richmond, homes have been growing taller, wider and deeper but they still magically fit into the city’s stipulated FAR (Floor area ratio), which defines how much square footage a house can have with reference to the lot size.

In July of 2015, the city of Richmond organized a set of public meetings to gather input from residents and developers about problems related to massive single family homes.  Many residents complained about an absence of sunlight within homes and yards from the long shadows cast by massive homes and other problems such as a loss of privacy and drainage problems in the yard resulting from the new house being built on a higher grade.

The developers claimed that the neighbors’ complaints were based on a negative attitude towards immigrants, however I think that this conflict is a result of a disruptive architecture and weak or absent bylaw controls. My letter in the local newspaper sharing my thoughts about this destructive trend in building is linked here.

In September 2015, the Council reduced the overall height of single family homes from 35 feet to 29.5 feet but chose to ignore staff recommendation of how ceiling height contributes to FAR.  The staff had recommended that FAR be counted twice at 12.1 feet/3.7 m instead of 16 feet / 5 meters.

Despite complaints from many residents the council chose to allow 16-foot ceiling height to count as the same square footage as 8 foot ceilings.  This regulation allows single family homes within the city’s amended building bylaw to be built in a way that access to sunlight and privacy continue to be a huge problem for people living in houses that surround mega homes.

This regulation is at the heart of the most egregious result of new mega-builds to the neighbors: The loss of sunlight and privacy.

lego-homes with height-in feet

Please see this picture of a Lego model for 2-storey homes.  The model was built (by me) to explain to my family why really high ceilings and how they contribute to square footage in Richmond is really at the heart of the problem of mega homes.  The numbers on the face of the Lego blocks represent the ceiling height in feet.  The house in the centre with 8-foot ceiling heights are the majority of houses from the 70″s, 80’s and the 90’s

You may be surprised to know that in Richmond, the square footage of each of these houses is counted the same.  That is clearly an incentive to the seekers and builders of mega homes to build the biggest permitted structure within the bylaw and this incentive stayed intact even after the city (its staff, residents and council) had worked hard to mitigate the negative effect of mega homes for over two years.

City promises a second look: After the September 2015 decision on overall ceiling heights, the Richmond City Council also promised citizens – who had come back time and again to city hall asking for relief from massive homes – that it will look at setbacks (the space between homes) and backyards in the next round of measures for mitigating the effect of mega builds.

Two years later in June of 2017 the council threw a few more morsels of livability at residents of existing single family homes, but refused to make a change in how ceiling heights contribute to the FAR of the house.

The pandemic of demolishing and massifying single family homes: In early 2017 as demolitions and mega building reached a frenzied peak this destructive trend seemed like an unstoppable contagion moving from lot to lot.  The Land use contract homes were worse than city’s mega builds but they acted as red herrings since the city claimed that it had already done whatever it could do in case of LUC’s.  The story of LUC properties deserves a post of its own but even the mega houses built within the zoning guidelines left existing homes begging for respite.

Here is my request to Richmond council which was published in Richmond News in March 2017.

A new kind of dream home needs to be built in Richmond, a home that is more cognizant of its impact on the neighbors, community and the earth.

As I participated in this issue what I learnt was that many residents had suffered at the hand of the disruptive architecture of mega homes and many Richmond residents from different parts of this city cared about what kind of Richmond was being built.

Despite widespread public support and need for change in the building bylaw (8500) the council still refused to bring meaningful change that would allow older homes next to new homes to have access to sunlight and privacy.

The building culture in Richmond seems vitiated by the entitlement that you should be allowed to build whatever you want without care for impacts on neighbors, community and to the environment.

Bylaws in the city should be based on co-existence: The city still needs change regulations to allow the older homes to co-exist with the new and not force unlivability and displacement on its existing residents.

A lot has been blamed on the red hot real estate market and the market is overheated.  However, in Richmond the regulation around how ceiling heights contribute to square footage has fueled the trend of demolishing perfectly livable homes and converting them into monster homes. many of which stay empty.

According to a Vancouver Sun article about falling school enrollments Richmond has about 4000 empty homes published in September 2017.

Why are we demolishing and re-building if it is not even to house more people and making the city both unlivable and unaffordable in the process?

Temporary Modular Housing

TMH rally sign.jpg

I support the proposed Temporary modular housing project at 7300 Elmbridge way in Richmond, because I think it answers an urgent need of Richmond’s homeless.

It is ironical that Richmond has seen an 84% increase in homelessness since 2014 in the midst of a demolition and luxury building boom.

There is an urgent need in Richmond for supportive housing because the city shelter run by salvation army as well as the CHIMO community services are having to regularly turn people away because they are full.  Also, shelters only provide a temporary solution to the vulnerable people who may need more social and medical support to break out of the unrelenting trap of poverty and joblessness.

Besides access to medical help, counselling and re-skilling; the TMH project managed by Rain-city will provide breakfast, a hot meal and a facility for residents to do their laundry: I think these ordinary supports that most of us take for granted are critical to giving someone who may be may be struggling with trauma or addiction a chance to heal and feel hopeful and productive again.

The access to transit and other social services makes the Elmbridge way location a good choice.  The food bank, the hospital, CHIMO community services and pathways clubhouse are not too far away.   These are shared and valuable community assets and I hope that this access can break the isolation, silence and stigma that accompany homelessness.

As I go about my life in this city, I feel privileged to have a safe home and a caring community and I hope that Richmond’s council will give some of the most vulnerable Richmondites a second chance at re-building their life.

Building outside the bylaw: The ogre of Land Use Contracts (LUCs) in Richmond

In early 2014, I learned that the home that I lived in was on a land use lot.  This was news to me because even though my family had lived in this home for over a decade, the LUC designation had become  significant  only in about 2013 when a resident successfully argued with the city and won the right to build outside the bylaw (8500).

Once this loophole became public, many perfectly livable homes with LUC designation were bought, demolished and converted into monstrous three-storey single family homes that were not subject to the city’s  existing restrictions on maximum height, setback and square footage in the same way as other single family homes within the city’s zoning.

LUC homes created a nightmare for neighbors.

garry street LUC mega-house

The city’s staff and council worked hard in 2015 to set a process whereby the owners of land use contract properties were notified and given a chance to give their opinion about setting a process to put an end to the LUC loophole.  In the public meeting I spoke in favor of “early termination.”  I felt a sense of urgency because the home to the south of me was also an LUC had been sold and was set for demolition.

Here is my letter to the council