$14-billion TransLink plan a "bureaucratic boondoggle"

The Straight

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In mid January, Premier Gordon Campbell announced a $14-billion shopping list for new transit infrastructure, new Skytrain routes, rapid bus lines, clean buses—mostly for the newly rechristened and muscular real-world working region of “Metro Vancouver”. No more old, plain-Jane “Greater Vancouver Regional District”—so look out Fraser Valley!

Within seconds the city’s number one news-talk radio voice CKNW was on fire, asking the province to “show us the money”.

The question was obvious. Bill Good asked it all morning, then Christy Clark asked it all afternoon, and so did their callers. While there were no answers, one thing was clear. The province was on notice: it may have announced a planners’ dream—now make damn sure that dream doesn’t become a taxpayers’ nightmare.

For the next few weeks, the silence was deafening. Then in mid March, the news broke, emblazoned in inch-and-a-half high type across the front page of the Vancouver Sun that… TransLink had a plan. The old joke comes to mind: “Stop the presses, hold the back page!”

TransLink was going into real estate. Bloggers would say OMG! The public body announced it was going to buy up huge quantities of land surrounding all the new SkyTrain stations—secretly, no less—and at bargain-basement prices before the private sector would get wind of their plans. TransLink had just reinvented land speculation.

TransLink may make plans, and good on them, but the private sector is neither so ignorant nor so dull as not to know where the stations are going—years in advance (read: already). There is no nine-o’clock gun to be fired to signify the start of speculation on land and development potentials surrounding possible stations in Metro Vancouver.

Once bought, TransLink then suggests it would develop the land and, while their words were less incendiary, flip it, and use the profits to fund transit projects.

If nothing else is asked, one must wonder just how much residential and commercial land the public is prepared to see held by an unelected (read: state-run entity) and one that is not answerable to anyone as yet identified. It all augers for top-down plans, imposed without neighborhood-participation processes that the public is used to and expects. There is no more than polite reference made to the elected mayors and councillors in the scheme.

A week following the TransLink announcement, I appeared on the Christy Clark Show to talk about it, and I must repeat the wisdom voiced by a caller named Helen. Helen asked if TransLink had any track record regarding the purchase, development, and sale of residential or commercial land.

It was a good question and two words come to mind: bureaucratic boondoggle. What do you think?

Alan Herbert is a former Vancouver city councillor and former chairman for the Vancouver City Planning Commission.

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