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Ron Bolin: May 7, 2012

On Friday I was notified that my Daily News column for May 18 will be my last.  It seems that they will be making some changes to their op-ed and that I am to be one of them.  The job lasted a half a year and we will part, as we started, on good terms.  I have never, well maybe once, had cause for complaint about the treatment of the material submitted, and that was on some minor points of form in which it seems that I deviated from the DN standard practice and not on content.  It has been an enjoyable adventure and I have been invited to submit guest editorials in the future at my leisure.  In the meantime I will miss the comments which appeared in the on-line version of the paper, especially those which either expanded on the thoughts I was trying to convey or poured vitriol on me or my ideas.  Either way, the commenters were engaged.  Of course I will also miss the munificent remuneration.  ;-)  But I will have more time to devote to this blog which has seen scant effort from me lately.

In my penultimate column on May 4, I discussed an occurrence in my dealings with City Hall which, left uninvestigated or uncontested, would have led to a loss in the amenity value of my property and that of my neighbours for no offsetting compensation.  In Nanaimo where single lot subdivisions and development variances are common, it is possible for a citizen to lose the value of their property without even being aware that their pockets are being picked.  See:

The comments received on the column reflected on Staff and their role in dealing with the Public.  I must point out that I did not mean to imply that Staff was duplicitous: only that they did not take adequate care in taking positions which should have been checked for legality before, rather than after , the fact.  To the best of my knowledge Staff has never lied to me, though they often fail to divulge all the truth –and without prompting this is probably wise: are citizens not expected to play some part in their own interest?

In another point Frank Murphy notes that:

“…there are two competing principles here: City Hall infringing on the rights of others by high-handed even nefarious means; and the grandfathered right of “amenity value” of one property owner over another by simply having been there first. You are absolutely right to keep a very close eye on the machinations of City Hall. But my enjoyment of a view should not infringe on the right of someone to build on their lot in front of mine. I and my neighbours impacted have every right of course to purchase the property to preserve the view.”

He is quite correct.  Without this conflict, change would never happen.  But how to tell whether the change is for the better?  Two points in the case under discussion:

  1. There was no opportunity to purchase the lot to preserve the view.  There was no lot.  In point of face the rules of the day said that there was to be no lot.
  2. In most cases the measure of the benefit of change is whether that change advantages the many to the detriment of the few.  This was not such a case.  On the contrary, this case advantaged one to the detriment of many.

In this latter regard this City seems to be especially prone to isolated changes in zoning or development regulations which act, in effect, as block busting tools in a neighbourhood.  If change in a neighbourhood is desired, it should be confronted directly and the change should be made over the area of the neighbourhood rather than in a single lot.  This makes for meaningful neighbourhood discussion of the change and spreads the benefits which are presented by the change to all rather than to just a single property owner/developer.

The idea raised in the comments about a “non-profit group that would monitor the actions of city staff on behalf of its citizens.” Is a good one.  But we already have a non-profit group which can monitor the actions of city staff on behalf of its citizens.  It is called the public and it has the tools to keep itself informed (Council meetings in person, on tv or on line) and the tools to reflect its opinions via attendance, telephone, post, email, letters to the editor or discussion on any number of web sites or blogs.  It may be that what is needed is a strategy for how these efforts can be coordinated into a powerful voice.  Any ideas?