By Mike Archer. Now that the Abbotsford Heat have agreed to leave thanks to Bruce Banman’s generosity with $5.5 million of his friends’ and neighbours’ money, our more shallow politicians think we’ve finally rid ourselves of a major problem.
True as far as it goes. But all of the problems John Smith and Bruce Beck were trying to solve by spending half a billion dollars on a hockey arena and a professional hockey franchise have not disappeared. We just have half a billion less with which to solve them.
We will go on paying for the costs of Plan A for another 20 years and all the money we took out of our infrastructure reserves to pay bills is still not there to be used for solving the problem no one wanted to admit to but is at the crux of the entire economic development fiasco – our water
and sewer pipes can’t handle any more development.
A Constant, Consistent And Predictable Record Of Failure And Refusal To Listen To Their Friends And Neighbours.
Successive councils have ignored doing anything meaningful about that disastrous situation in favour of building gigantic projects which, by some weird economic development voodoo magic, were supposed to make people flock to Abbotsford and fill the City’s coffers so that, eventually we could get around to fixing our moribund water and sewer system.
Now we’ve got the same leaky useless system and hundreds of millions of dollars less to put towards the problem than when John and Bruce – the banker and the investment dealer – started solving our problems for us.
Standing right in the middle of the road keeping anything from moving forward on the economic development front is the Chamber of Commerce and its influence over public policy in Abbotsford.
Prodded by the Chamber, Abbotsford Council’s view of Abbotsford, for a considerable length of time, has neither been accurate nor realistic. Council seems to look at Abbotsford and see a fast-growing metropolis with no end in sight to the inevitable growth, and their decisions are based on this never-ending source of taxes and levies.
Reality Check: Abbotsford is a small, ultra-conservative city with strong agricultural roots that is primarily made up of mid-to low income seniors, families and individuals. The current ranking of fifth largest in BC doesn’t make Abbotsford big, nor does it make it cosmopolitan. Yes, there are wealthy farmers and business people, but they are by far the minority – and a good number of them travel extensively and have always had homes, condos or cottages elsewhere . . . where they also spend their money. The same is true for well-to-do retirees. Which leaves the City with primarily mid-to low-income families as the primary base for planning purposes.
That is certainly not the impression our City, Chamber of Commerce, ADBA or old media give of the community. Even the City’s job notices for the Parks and Rec Department lie. Here’s how they describe Abbotsford:
Abbotsford offers a thriving urban centre with all the amenities of big city living at a fraction of the cost. As an employer, Abbotsford is not your typical municipality. We value progress, customer service, integrity and our unique ability to provide diverse innovative services.
This is the department which used chicken feces to move homeless people around as a progressive piece of social policy less than a year ago. This is the ‘progressive’ city which turned down a low barrier housing project with over $15 million worth of funding because some downtown merchants were afraid that the homeless men and women, who already live downtown, might hurt their businesses if we were to help the poor bastards get their lives back.
Like everything else at the City of Abbotsford homelessness and economic development are both considered political issues that can be solved by putting the right PR spin on them. With a pliant media telling citizens whatever the City has wanted them to be told, no wonder our city fathers fooled themselves into believing that difficult community issues simply needed the right spin to make them go away.
We Need Competent Men And Women To Run Our City. It Would Make Such A Difference If They Knew What They Were Doing.
And so; every time someone makes an intelligent argument about the ludicrously high cost of municipal government in Abbotsford due high taxes, high water rates, high fees and services, high debt – both external and internal – men like Dave Loewen, who don’t know what they are talking about, will nitpick away with illogical arguments ignoring the point – it costs too much to live in Abbotsford for the amenities and the services provided.
When confronted about the sad economic shape his City is in Mayor Bruce Banman makes wild statements like “The City is not bankrupt” to the Chamber of Commerce and comes up with a puerile and simplistic Task Force Report which includes a mindnumbingly dangerous plan to take the economic development function behind closed doors where citizens won’t even have the limited access to information we currently enjoy.
The problem is that, like all of the other spin and BS coming out of Abbotsford City Hall over the last decade, the stuff emanating from the economic development department has been being nothing more than sales pitch designed to create economic growth out of nothing.
Marketing Sleight Of Hand Doesn’t Make For Good Development Policy
While they were busy approaching economic development planning as though it were a PR issue, the city ignored a number of warning signs that should have stopped them in their tracks. The inadequate water and sewer system, for example, should probably have been a higher priority than an arena. Rather than covering up their problems, the “Build it and they will come” strategy of Smith and Beck ended up compounding the issues facing the city.
Turns out, for instance, that illegally spending loads of money subsidizing a rich private hockey franchise doesn’t keep people from noticing their unjustifiably high water rates, tax rates, and fees. Worse, it locks these fees in for the foreseeable future, a future these high fees were meant to make brighter by funding development, rather than Calgary Flames prospects.
Now, in a city which apparently lacks enough people with disposable income to support both a Cactus Club and an Earl’s, the city is operating under the same “Build it and they will come” philosophy that they have been since Plan A was pushed through. A huge façade of a shopping mall gets plunked down near the highway off Mt. Lehman to create the impression of bustling activity on your way through town.
Planning Is A Meaningless, Throw-Away Word In Abbotsford Used To Describe A Decrepit, Unwieldy And Terribly Inefficient Cronyism Which No Longer Even Serves Those With The Inside Track.
In the panic, Abbotsford’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which was viewed as an obstacle-laden document, was set aside and we set off down the road of endless and constant re-zoning. Fast-forward to today and we still have the hangover from that oversight and still have Council meetings which are dominated by rezoning proposals.
When the “Build it and they will come” approach produced less than expected results, Abbotsford adopted a bad habit of over-selling the city and the business/investment opportunities it had to offer.
Council, under the leadership of former Economic Development Manager Jay Teichroeb with the full support of his protector – John Smith – also made bad deals to get businesses such as Wal-Mart, a hockey team, the AESC, and HighStreet Mall to come to town creating the impression of economic growth.
None of it was real.
They didn’t have to give away the farm to make these deals, but they did. They were novice negotiators using desperate measures to keep their stats up, even though they were only building a house of cards.
New Business Discovers They’ve Invested And Set Up Shop In A City They Don’t Recognize From The Brochures.
Here’s the problem that emerges when you use a ‘Build it and they will come” philosophy and nobody comes. Big name retailers, grocery stores and other businesses, lured by low taxes or dubious sales pitches, don’t last. They pack up and move somewhere filled with the middle and upper middle class population Abbotsford doesn’t seem to be able to attract.
How many companies find they may have been the victims of an overly anxious sales job by a city describing itself in a manner which bears no resemblance to reality?
The fact we are a low-income, minimum wage town with stagnant growth, plummeting building permits and housing starts, as well as the highest unemployment in Western Canada ought to be factored into the sales projections of companies which move to Abbotsford. If you expect a high income, upper middle class, fast-growing, city it must come as an awful surprise if you discover the truth.
Rather than be honest about the situation our city faced, three successive councils have created a fantasy world where, if you throw enough of the citizens’ money around, it will all work out in the end.
Well, it hasn’t. And unless the people of this community step up and demand a full scale changing of the old, wealthy, incompetent guard which has been treating taxpayers’ money like their own and ruining the present and the future of this city, we will continue to slide deeper and deeper into the mess they have created for us and the longer it will take to get out of it.
Wholesale Change Is What Is Needed
Wholesale change of the people who sit at the council table; the people who sit on our committee structure; and, perhaps most importantly, the people who have had so much undue and unwarranted access and influence on public policy without ever having been elected to do so is what is needed if this city is ever going to be fixed.
Last election we thought we just needed to change the mayor and everything would get better.
It got worse.
This time we must thank all of the professional politicians who have paid themselves very well for doing a dismal job and tell them to get out of the way so that new blood can stop the hemorrhaging and deal with our problems head on.
- Stop paying Global Spectrum to fail at their job (and don’t give them an exit bonus like Bruce did to the Flames)
- Stop subsidizing the other Plan A failure – The Reach
- Close the White Elephant on King Road and put it on the market to recoup a fraction of the costs and collect taxes from the new owner
- Repay the money we borrowed from ourselves to build all of John Smith’s and Bruce Beck’s vanity projects and start investing in rebuilding our infrastructure
- Stop listening to a small number of small business people who are interested primarily in protecting their turf and talk to some of the dozens of businesses which have moved here and left when sales turned out to be a fraction of what they expected.
- Stop giving away tax free status just to get companies to move here and fail.
- Focus on real economic growth rather than more low-wage service and warehouse growth.
- Rewrite and abide by the OCP.
- Be honest with Abbotsford citizens and the rest of the world about what this City has to offer.
- Put an end to the heartless, mean, shameful and costly war on the homeless. Admit it hasn’t worked and call off the dogs in the public works department and at the APD. We will never experience real economic growth as long as we behave like an 18th century city.