Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Putting all your eggs in one bracket: Vancouver Courier July 2, 2014



By obtaining Farm Tax Status, the owner of this Southlands estate can save tens of thousands of dollars in taxes each year. Photo Michael Geller.

July 3 is the deadline by which most Vancouver residents must pay their property taxes. I say most since many residents, me included, have chosen to participate in the provincial government’s low interest Property Tax Deferment Program. If you are aged 55 or over, or living in a household with children, you, too, may be eligible and should investigate the program.

However, this column is not about people who defer their property taxes. It is about people who avoid paying taxes. But before proceeding, as my accountant often tells me, avoiding taxes is legal; evading taxes is not.

One creative way to avoid property taxes is to convince the B.C. Assessment Authority to reclassify a property from “residential” or “business” to “recreational and non-profit” or “farm” categories.
Although the assessed value may not change, the tax rates for both recreational and non-profit and farm classified properties are significantly lower. Properties with a farm classification also receive a 50 per cent reduction in school taxes.

In my Southlands neighbourhood where most of the properties are in the Agricultural Land Reserve, it is no secret that many properties have sought and obtained farm tax status and consequently pay less in property taxes than some smaller, less valuable properties outside the neighbourhood.

When these properties are actively engaged in agricultural activities, such as a garden nursery, the farm classification may be warranted. However, some grand estates of between two and 10 acres have been classified as farms because they generate $2,500 a year in income from incidental agricultural activities. This can be achieved with a few dozen chickens in a corner of the estate.Given the tens of thousands of dollars in tax savings that must be borne by other taxpayers, these are very expensive eggs.

Not all Southlands estate owners have sought farm classification. Many are proud of the fact that while they could easily qualify, they pay their fair share of taxes based on their residential classification.
It is not just Southlands property owners who are playing this game. Earlier this year, Scott Bowden of Colliers, a recognized expert in the field of property taxation, presented a report to the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors.

He noted tax-avoiding landowners are offering free pasture to cows and renting llamas in a bid to achieve farm status. In some instances, the property owners reduced their taxes by up to 90 per cent and more.
Ironically there are some farmers who will not be able to achieve farm status, namely commercial medical marijuana growers. Recently the provincial government created a new business classification for these facilities given the potential loss in taxes.

To appreciate the tax ramifications, if a $2.1-million, 25,000-square-foot warehouse on a one-acre industrial property in Richmond was allowed to get farm tax status for growing marijuana, it would pay just $395 in annual taxes — 99 per cent less than the $33,100 a comparable business would pay.

While commercial marijuana growers will not get a tax break, owners of vacant sites such as the corner of Davie and Burrard will continue to obtain significant tax savings by allowing their properties to be used for agricultural purposes, namely community gardens.That is because under our property tax system, the province has agreed to reclassify these properties from “business” to “recreational and non-profit” as long as they are used for growing vegetables and similar purposes.

Since the tax savings for the owner can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, property owners are eager to allow their land to be used as a temporary park or community garden. I would add the reason their taxes are so high is that vacant land zoned for commercial uses is often unfairly taxed.

Since I and other taxpayers must make up the loss in taxes, I am not so enthusiastic about community gardens as an interim use in order to change the tax classification. I would prefer revisions to our property tax system to address its many inequities. Until that happens, community gardeners will continue to grow some very expensive tomatoes at the corner of Davie and Burrard.

twitter.com/michaelgeller

© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-putting-all-your-eggs-into-one-bracket-1.1187698#sthash.m49nRwjA.dpuf

Vancouver needs to clean up its act: Vancouver Courier June 25, 2014

As a child, I was amused whenever my visiting American relatives would comment on how clean Canada was. Really, I thought, who cares?
Now, more than 50 years later, I find myself caring a great deal.

Whenever travelling, I compare the cleanliness of other cities with Vancouver. Perhaps it is my upbringing and memories of a mother scrubbing the sidewalk outside our Lancashire rowhouse, but I am happier in a clean environment.

In the past, I was generally proud of how our city was maintained. However, in recent years, I have noticed a general decline. Weeds are growing in street medians and sidewalks. Boulevards and parks appear overgrown, and more cigarette butts, chewing gum and garbage are strewn about.
There is also an increase in the number of unkempt properties, presumably slated for redevelopment or unoccupied, which become scars on otherwise beautiful, well-maintained streetscapes.
On a recent visit to C Restaurant at the foot of Howe Street, I was disgusted by the neglect of a once-prized waterfront walkway. Weeds were growing through pavers, under benches and around tree grates. When I mentioned this to a nearby resident, he threw up his hands in despair. Local businesses and condominium owners were tired of complaining to the park board. He reminded me the city cleaned up the area after I posted a photo on Twitter and a radio station picked up the story of the neglected seawalk.

So last week I posted another photo of the weeds on Twitter.
I soon discovered I was not alone in my concerns. Other tweeters were disgusted with the deterioration in city and park board maintenance and shared their photos. One Twitter follower suggested the weeds were the result of the herbicide ban. Others quickly responded weeds could be controlled with steam, hot water and vinegar.

Some people told me not to be so uptight about weeds and overgrown boulevards. They should be viewed as sustainable alternatives to manicured lawns. This was all part the mayor’s goal of becoming the greenest city in the world.

While I support sustainable landscapes, it’s time for a public discussion on public maintenance and how best to keep our city clean.

I would like to see more waste receptacles around the city, especially in the Downtown Eastside.
To reduce collection costs, we should invest in solar powered “big belly” compacting garbage cans like those found in Chicago.

Public and private companies should install more “cigarette posts” and ashtrays, especially outside transit stations, office buildings and venues where smokers gather.

While I don’t support a Singapore-like ban on chewing gum, given its unsightliness and cost of removal, we might take a lesson from Croydon England’s “Chew this Over” program.

There the Business Improvement District hands out pocket-sized packets for discarded gum and people who throw gum on the ground may face fines. The city has also organized an awareness campaign to deter people from dropping their gum on the streets.

England has also instituted a “Love Where You Live” program, a multi-sector anti-litter campaign, led by Keep Britain Tidy and funded by companies including Wrigley. It brings together government, voluntary organizations, schools and communities with the aim of encouraging action over the coming years to change littering behaviour and significantly reduce the amount of litter by 2020.

In Dublin, residents are being shamed into keeping the city clean. Large posters on buses and transit shelters proclaim: “If you behave like a piece of filth, that’s how the world sees you. Litter is disgusting. So are those responsible.”

To keep Vancouver beautiful, we need our own awareness campaign to change behaviour. Developers and builders should know they are expected to properly maintain properties held for redevelopment. Absentee owners should be told to arrange for gardening services.

More neighbourhoods, like the Southlands Ratepayers Association, should undertake local area cleanup programs. People should be shamed for tossing cigarette butts and chewing gum on the streets and forgetting to clean up after their dogs.

Finally, the park board should be told to clean up its act since it is possible to be both sustainable and tidy.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com 
© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-vancouver-needs-to-clean-up-its-act-1.1156167#sthash.S8D2Kf84.dpuf

Opinion: Vancouver needs to clean up its act

Michael Geller / Columnist
June 24, 2014 01:32 PM
Weeds gather on what was once a prized portion of Vancouver's waterfront walkway system. Photo Michael Geller
NOTE: Michael Geller will talk about the concerns outlined in this column on CBC radio's On the Coast with Stephen Quinn at 4:50 p.m. today (June 25). Listen in.
As a child, I was amused whenever my visiting American relatives would comment on how clean Canada was. Really, I thought, who cares?
Now, more than 50 years later, I find myself caring a great deal.
Whenever travelling, I compare the cleanliness of other cities with Vancouver. Perhaps it is my upbringing and memories of a mother scrubbing the sidewalk outside our Lancashire rowhouse, but I am happier in a clean environment.
In the past, I was generally proud of how our city was maintained. However, in recent years, I have noticed a general decline. Weeds are growing in street medians and sidewalks. Boulevards and parks appear overgrown, and more cigarette butts, chewing gum and garbage are strewn about.
There is also an increase in the number of unkempt properties, presumably slated for redevelopment or unoccupied, which become scars on otherwise beautiful, well-maintained streetscapes.
On a recent visit to C Restaurant at the foot of Howe Street, I was disgusted by the neglect of a once-prized waterfront walkway. Weeds were growing through pavers, under benches and around tree grates.
When I mentioned this to a nearby resident, he threw up his hands in despair. Local businesses and condominium owners were tired of complaining to the park board. He reminded me the city cleaned up the area after I posted a photo on Twitter and a radio station picked up the story of the neglected seawalk.
So last week I posted another photo of the weeds on Twitter.
I soon discovered I was not alone in my concerns. Other tweeters were disgusted with the deterioration in city and park board maintenance and shared their photos.
One Twitter follower suggested the weeds were the result of the herbicide ban. Others quickly responded weeds could be controlled with steam, hot water and vinegar.
Some people told me not to be so uptight about weeds and overgrown boulevards. They should be viewed as sustainable alternatives to manicured lawns. This was all part the mayor’s goal of becoming the greenest city in the world.
While I support sustainable landscapes, it’s time for a public discussion on public maintenance and how best to keep our city clean.
I would like to see more waste receptacles around the city, especially in the Downtown Eastside.
To reduce collection costs, we should invest in solar powered “big belly” compacting garbage cans like those found in Chicago.
Public and private companies should install more “cigarette posts” and ashtrays, especially outside transit stations, office buildings and venues where smokers gather.
While I don’t support a Singapore-like ban on chewing gum, given its unsightliness and cost of removal, we might take a lesson from Croydon England’s “Chew this Over” program.
There the Business Improvement District hands out pocket-sized packets for discarded gum and people who throw gum on the ground may face fines. The city has also organized an awareness campaign to deter people from dropping their gum on the streets.
England has also instituted a “Love Where You Live” program, a multi-sector anti-litter campaign, led by Keep Britain Tidy and funded by companies including Wrigley.
It brings together government, voluntary organizations, schools and communities with the aim of encouraging action over the coming years to change littering behaviour and significantly reduce the amount of litter by 2020.
In Dublin, residents are being shamed into keeping the city clean. Large posters on buses and transit shelters proclaim: “If you behave like a piece of filth, that’s how the world sees you. Litter is disgusting. So are those responsible.”
To keep Vancouver beautiful, we need our own awareness campaign to change behaviour. Developers and builders should know they are expected to properly maintain properties held for redevelopment. Absentee owners should be told to arrange for gardening services.
More neighbourhoods, like the Southlands Ratepayers Association, should undertake local area cleanup programs. People should be shamed for tossing cigarette butts and chewing gum on the streets and forgetting to clean up after their dogs.
Finally, the park board should be told to clean up its act since it is possible to be both sustainable and tidy.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
twitter.com/michaelgeller
© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-vancouver-needs-to-clean-up-its-act-1.1156167#sthash.S8D2Kf84.dpuf

A weekend on Galiano Island and the Galiano Inn



Many years ago, when many of our friends were buying vacation properties on the Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast, Sally and I decided that perhaps we should do the same. We initially considered Saltspring Island since it had a good range of facilities and we had vacationed there in the past. But once we discovered the limited ferry service from Vancouver, we considered other choices. In the end, we decided that Galiano Island might be the best choice since it was beautiful and close by. It also had a golf course.

However, after looking at a few properties, and remembering that we already lived on an island with golf courses nearby, we decided to drop the idea. Over the subsequent years we haven’t regretted our decision since we have travelled much more than friends who did buy second and third homes.
However, when a friend invited us to spend the weekend at her Galiano waterfront cottage we were happy to accept. Since we were planning to golf and take a few things over, we decided to book a space for our car, rather than walk-on. I was surprised by the cost increase that had occurred over recent years and therefore not surprised that there was a lot of unused capacity on the ferry.
This prompted me to again wonder why BC Ferries doesn’t take a lead from the airlines and offer more variable pricing depending on the time of day and day of the week. It was sad to see the ferries not full, except at critical times when they are too full, with many sailing waits. With better rates, at off-peak times I am sure a lot more people would travel to the islands.
We had a wonderful weekend, checking out the Saturday market and nearby flea market where you could buy a complete wardrobe for about $15. I discovered that there are still a lot of hippies in British Columbia. They have just moved from Kitsilano to Galiano.
One very nice discovery was the Galiano Inn, http://www.galianoinn.com/ a wonderful resort property just steps from the ferry terminal. It is a beautiful facility, with a fine restaurant and spa. In the lobby is a wonderful artwork that was commissioned for 2010. While at first it seems like a large painting, in fact it is a collage or 'quilt' made up of individual pieces created by different artists from across British Columbia.

The rooms and suites were very thoughtfully designed, with some featuring hot tubs and fireplaces built into terraces and balconies. The unit I visited also had a full kitchen and would have been a perfect place to stay for a week or so
The grounds and gardens are quite beautiful and overlook a dock which accommodates visiting boaters.I was pleasantly surprised to learn that those who arrive by boat or without cars can use Smart cars and bikes that the resort makes available to guests.

If you haven’t been to Galiano for a while, I would highly recommend a visit. Check out the Saturday market and lovely waterfront parks, and if you don't have a good friend on the island, stay at the Galiano Inn. It is open all year.



A city of renters needs more rental housing: Vancouver Courier June 18, 2014




In the 1980's, despite neighbourhood objections, an additional high-rise apartment was built at Langara Gardens. Consideration should be given to infill apartments on other older rental housing sites in future. Photo Michael Geller 
 
Do you own or rent your home?

Across Canada and Metro Vancouver, approximately two thirds of the population owns a home. However, in the City of Vancouver, the majority of residents are renters. In the West End the percentage is greater than 80 per cent and in the Downtown Eastside almost 90 per cent rent.

In Dunbar, Kerrisdale and other predominantly single-family neighbourhoods, the percentage of renters is significantly lower. However, recent zoning changes encouraging laneway housing and basement suites will result in increases in the number of renters over time.

Furthermore, new condominium apartment and townhouse developments will likely increase the number of renters since historically about 35 to 40 per cent of new condominiums are purchased by investors and rented out.

I spent the past few weeks thinking about Vancouver’s rental market in preparation for a recent talk to the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations. The CFAA includes representatives of Canada’s large and small landlords, as well as related companies serving the rental housing industry.

I was asked to address why we stopped building rental housing in Vancouver and present ideas on how to increase new supply in the absence of senior government subsidies.

When the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (now the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation or CMHC) was created in 1946, many of its activities were directed towards helping returning veterans purchase a house. However, through CMHC, the federal government introduced various programs to encourage private builders, developers and financial institutions to create new rental housing.

Over the subsequent four decades, there was an alphabet soup of programs including MURBs (Multiple Unit Residential Buildings) which resulted in a considerable supply of new rental housing.
At the same time, the federal and provincial governments were building public housing and funding non-profit rental and cooperative housing. Many of these non-profit sponsors are about to lose their subsidies, but that is another story for another day.

Unfortunately, developers, non-profits and investors eventually became addicted to these government programs and, when they ended, so did much of the rental housing supply. Today we have Vancouver and other municipalities trying to encourage new rental supply by offering various incentives such as density bonuses, parking reductions, reduced municipal fees and fast-tracking of applications.

When compared with other municipalities, especially West Vancouver where not one new purpose-built rental building has been constructed in over 40 years, Vancouver is succeeding in its efforts to increase supply.

However, more needs to be done since many potential first-time buyers and last-time buyers are now considering renting, rather than owning for various reasons.

Whereas the Canadian dream has been to own a home and a car, this is no longer always the case. Increasingly, younger generations are willing to share a car, rather than buy their own.

Similarly, while many still dream of owning a house, others prefer to rent an apartment in an expensive urban location rather than get in a car and drive until they can find a house they can afford to buy.

One might say they are willing to become more like the Germans, for whom renting is the norm. In Germany 80 per cent of Hamburg residents rent, while in Berlin an astounding 90 per cent are renters.

It is not just the Millennials. Increasingly, empty nesters and seniors who have owned homes for decades are thinking about renting, rather than buying another home for various reasons.

There is a growing perception that house prices cannot continue to rise as they have in the past, and could drop. Also, the recent provincial requirement that strata corporations undertake inspections and prepare a depreciation report is revealing that many condominium projects will require expensive repairs and higher strata fees in the future.

Furthermore, given Vancouver’s very high real estate prices, it is possible to rent a property for significantly less than it would cost to own the same property when taking into account the value of money, taxes, condominium fees, etc.

Despite the financial benefits of renting, there is no doubt that many of us will continue to want to own a home for emotional reasons. However, we too should encourage the development of new rental housing construction since who knows — one day we may be the beneficiaries of this new housing.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
twitter.com/michaelgeller

© Vancouver Courier



Monday, July 7, 2014

Fishing at Kyuquot

Everyone who visits our house on Deering Island is intrigued by all the fish on the kitchen walls. While I like fish, I’ve never been that keen on fishing, perhaps as the result of a fishing experience as a young boy outside of Toronto. As soon as I caught my first fish, I dropped the rod and tackle in the water. It was many years before I went fishing again.
As a result, when my friend Gary asked if I wanted to join him and two friends on their annual fishing trip I hesitated at first. But I was tempted by the prospect of a year’s supply of smoked salmon and the company of some interesting guys. So last month I set off early one Thursday morning for Kyuquot near the north-west tip of Vancouver Island.
Following a ferry ride to Nanaimo, our first stop was to fill up 4 large coolers with ice to keep our catch fresh before taking it to the processors. We bought a lot of ice since we were planning on catching a lot of fish….salmon, halibut, and ling cod.
 
At Fair Harbour we met Tyler, our guide and loaded his boat for the short trip to our home base. We then set off for an afternoon’s fishing, but the salmon weren’t biting and only Gary was successful.
The first night’s dinner was very rare lamb chops, prepared by Chris, a cardiologist who had started these fishing trips many years ago. He’s obviously not put off by the sight of blood.
That evening, I looked across at the native village and wondered just how different life was for the families who lived there.
Over the next three days we set off at dawn and caught a good number of halibut and ling cod. The halibut were a nice size to eat, but nothing to show off….the ling cod were large and ugly….very ugly.
Unfortunately, the salmon where much more elusive, and while we caught a few, I was told it was far less than in previous years.
We also brought up some very colourful fish, most of which were released back into the water.
After each day’s fishing, Tyler would filet the catch, following which Gary and Chris would perform autopsies on the carcasses to select the best bits to make their annual fish stock. 
While they were doing that, Craig and I relaxed on the dock and explored the territory. At the local cafe we met the owner who first come to Kyuquot many years ago with his father, a marine biologist. He told us he returned each summer to operate the cafĂ© and nearby motel. In a previous life he had been a distributor of glass beads and now spends the rest of the year as a Kosher caterer in Seattle. (You can’t make this stuff up!)
One evening we received visitors from the nearby reserve who brought various smoked fish for us to try. While Craig and I wanted to visit the reserve, and were invited to do so, we never made it over.
It is often said what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. The same might be said for male conversation on a fishing boat. What I can say is that it was the highlight of the trip for me.
So if you are looking for an interesting adventure, I recommend a few days fishing in Kyuquot. Stay at the motel and eat the pie at the nearby cafe.  Ask for Tyler to take you out in his boat. He’s an excellent guide.
And try to figure out why an American who runs a Kosher catering operation in Seattle is spending his summers running a tiny cafe in beautiful but extremely remote part of British Columbia.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vancouver Courier Column June 11, 2014 Seniors Housing

Opinion: Seniors housing needs a range of choices
Michael Geller / Vancouver Courier
June 10, 2014 03:12 PM
The Louis Brier Home and Hospital is an example of a larger seniors' facility in Vancouver that provides excellent care for the elderly. Photo Michael Geller
 

Recently, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation organized its annual visit to heritage properties potentially threatened by future redevelopment.

Of the 11 stops on this year’s tour, by far the most popular was Casa Mia, the magnificent Spanish-style mansion at 1920 Southwest Marine Drive.

As previously reported, this property, with its large ballroom featuring a sprung dance floor, is considered one of Vancouver’s best known heritage houses.

It is the subject of a controversial rezoning application by the Care Group which, if approved, would designate it a heritage structure in return for approval to convert it into a seniors care facility, along with a sizeable addition.

In a recent column, I called this proposal “questionable.” I question the appropriateness of this location for the proposed scale of development, as well as the size and design of the proposed addition.

However, this column is not about the application per se. Instead I would like to address the statement on Casa Mia issued by the Vancouver Seniors Advisory Committee, a city council-appointed committee with a mandate to advise the mayor and council on issues affecting older adults in Vancouver.

The committee opposes this development. Let me quote from their report: “As has been raised in our submissions concerning the Pearson Dogwood Redevelopment, we believe that the Green House Project Model of housing is superior to institutional housing for seniors and people with disabilities. We are opposed to the development of any new institutions, which by their very size and nature tend to ‘warehouse’ people.”

The typical green house project provides accommodation for 10-12 residents. It is designed to blend in with surrounding houses and neighbourhood.

Each resident has a private room and bathroom and shares a living room, dining room and kitchen where staff and residents can eat together and socialize. There are no fixed or strict schedules for eating or bathing.

Meals are prepared on site, rather than pre-cooked. Staff include “total care workers” who are trained to manage a range of daily activities such as cooking, housekeeping, and care. There is a clinical support team that provides individualized care for each elder.

I am certain many seniors and their families find the green house project model very appealing and would like to see this type of accommodation built in neighbourhoods around Vancouver. I agree and think it is important that zoning bylaws allow them to be built.

However, I worry that a council-appointed committee for seniors appears to be decreeing that this should be the only model for all new care facilities to be developed in Vancouver, since its membership believes larger facilities inevitably become institutions that warehouse the elderly.

This has not been my experience.

For 10 years I worked for CMHC during which time I co-authored the 1970s publications Housing the Elderly and Housing the Handicapped. I was subsequently involved with the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and the planning and development of dozens of assisted living and care facilities around Metro Vancouver.

While I have met many seniors who hope to remain in their house “until they carry me out in a box,” they know that at some point it may be necessary to move into a form of supportive housing.

This might be congregate housing, which provides a self-contained rental or ownership suite in a building offering shared dining and recreational facilities, or assisted living or care facilities. Just as we want a range of housing choices in the years leading up to becoming a senior citizen, we deserve to have a broad range of choices when we get older, including small facilities like the green house project, and large new facilities offering a broader array of amenities.

Some may be government-funded while others are totally private pay. They would be developed by ethnic, religious or community based organizations such as the Lions Club or Rotary, or purely commercial enterprises like those developed by members of the B.C. Care Providers Association.

While none of us wants to be warehoused when we are older, we might want to live in a converted Casa Mia, especially if we can party late into the night on its sprung dance floor.

mgeller@sfu.ca
twitter.com/michaelgeller

© Vancouver Courier

- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-seniors-housing-needs-a-range-of-choices-1.1124271#sthash.Fr0T4MrA.dpuf

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Vancouver Courier Column June 4, 2014 French Lessons

B.C. could benefit from some French lessons
Michael Geller / Columnist
June 4, 2014 11:04 AM
In France, each candidate is allocated an equal amount of space to affix political campaign posters. Photo Michael Geller
In France, where it is common to enjoy a few glasses of wine each day, it is mandatory to carry a single-use breathalyser in every car. Photo Michael Geller
The French parking disc is a clever way to manage time restricted free parking. Photo Michael Geller
 

After spending nine months going around the world in 2007, I concluded there are two types of travel. You can go to unusual places and seek out the familiar. Or you can go to familiar places and seek out the unusual.

On a recent trip to France, a country which in many respects is similar to Canada, I was impressed by some of the unusual things I found.

One example is political campaign signage. In Vancouver and across British Columbia, most politicians raise as much money as possible to purchase and install as many campaign signs as possible.

In some municipalities, signs can be installed on both public and private property. Thankfully, in Vancouver, they are restricted to private property.

However, despite our claim to be a sustainable city, a small fortune is spent on manufacturing and installing plastic signs with little if any reuse potential. Not so in France.

Throughout France, campaign posters are restricted to designated areas identified by local authorities. For the three-month period leading up to an election, each candidate is allocated a similar amount of space and prohibited to affix signs or posters anywhere else.

I might add that paid radio and television commercials and other forms of media advertising are also prohibited during the same period.

The result is less visual blight, less pressure on candidates to raise money from donors and a more equitable approach to evaluating candidates.

I was disappointed campaign finance reform was not approved in B.C. for this fall’s municipal elections. Hopefully new regulations will be in place prior to the next elections, and we should learn from the French practises.

The French can also teach us when it comes to driving and parking. A Vancouverite now living in Aix-en-Provence told me driving is serious business in her adopted country. For one thing, you do not eat and drive.

While the French are often aggressive drivers, they generally demonstrate a greater respect for the rules of the road.

They do not pass on the inside and they signal when they turn. They understand the concept of giving way at intersections and roundabouts, which are common throughout the country.

When in congested traffic, drivers know not to try and pass through a controlled intersection if they are not certain of being able to clear the intersection before the light switches to red.

Compare that to how things are in downtown Vancouver.

To encourage motorists to respect the law, speed radar and red-light cameras are common. They are often accompanied by illuminated signs letting offending motorists know how many demerit points they were just penalized.

The French, like other Europeans, manage time-restricted free parking by requiring a parking disc or clock disc to be displayed on a car dashboard showing the time when the vehicle was parked. Parking officers can inspect the disc to determine if a car has been parked too long.

As Vancouver’s supply of free parking becomes increasingly limited, I foresee potential for a similar approach here. It would certainly be better than the alternative — paid parking.

I would also like British Columbia to consider another French law that requires motorists to carry a single-use, self-test breathalyzer in their cars.

While these units are not perfect, they can help detect when a motorist should not be driving. I purchased a portable breathalyzer many years ago in the United States and it has helped me on numerous occasions.

France, like other European countries, has developed a comprehensive system of toll roads. I often used them and the cost generally seemed fair. While the payment infrastructure is no doubt expensive, monies collected help fund road and transit improvements.

While we can learn much from the French, they can certainly learn from us, too. One of their most urgent challenges is how to manage graffiti, especially in urban centres. It is heartbreaking to see the amount of graffiti in French cities (and most other cities around the world). By comparison, Vancouver has done an excellent job.

As Courier readers travel outside of Vancouver this summer, I would encourage you to look out for ideas to make Vancouver an even better place to live. I will happily include the best ideas in future columns.

mgeller@sfu.ca
twitter.com/michaelgeller

© Vancouver Courier