By Mike Archer. One of the interesting aspects of Council’s discussion about the YMCA proposal after Fred Thiessen’s presentation on Monday was the way council and staff treated the YMCA.
Other than Councillors Braun and Gill, who wanted the Memorandum of Understanding torn up and the YMCA kept from promoting their version of the proposal to Abbotsford citizens before Council gets to make up its mind, the rest of council, and particularly Mayor Banman, were acting like sales people for the YMCA.
Not only has Parks & Rec Manager Mark Taylor been stick handling this particular proposal through channels since 2005 (and still basing his arguments for it on nearly decade old, out-of-date facts), he seemed for all intents and purposes to be representing the YMCA in his answers to Council.
The City has been micro managing this issue and manipulating public opinion in much the same way it manipulated and micro managed Plan A and the phony Abbotsford Water Shortage-Surplus. No one in the room last Monday could have left with any doubt that the mayor, the Parks & Rec Manager and most on Council already have their minds made up and are simply going through the motions at this stage.
The proposal itself doesn’t make any sense. Friessen’s presentation clearly showed that. Not only does the City not have the money to go ahead we owe our own DCC fund millions of dollars and the cost of subsidizing the Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) promise to just keep rising.
With no tangible evidence that another 25 metre pool is needed and no business case that can be made for taxpayers paying for a paid-membership-driven recreational facility, the people of the City are at a loss as to why Banman and Taylor are being such forceful salespeople for the YMCA.
One of the intriguing aspects of the whole discussion that was brought out on Monday was the need for a 200-bed care facility and 600 market housing units. Why are we building more market housing when we have several residential buildings that are not being built due to a glut in the market and the lack of proper infrastructure (water-sewer).
The mayor thought our population was 138,000, close to the 140,000 all our planning and expenditures have been based on but it turns out, as Councillor Braun revealed, our population has stalled at 133,000 – just 10,000 more than in 2005 when Taylor found no need for more pools.
Suddenly we have a shortage. Sound familiar.
If Mark Taylor wants make the argument that we have a shortage of pools, ice rinks and recreation programs maybe he can explain why we closed the Matsqui pool and put all of our money into a 7,000 seat hockey rink no one can use except for our money-losing AHL team.
The real estate market is collapsing and we are planning to add 600 housing units?
Presumably the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) which owns and intends to develop the property, wants to make it as easy to sell as possible and, having its own semi-private recreation facility like the YMCA is just the sort of thing developers would advise them to put into the project to make it sellable.
Could it be that all the fabricated statistics, anecdotal evidence and painfully warped logical inconsistencies being trotted out by Mark Taylor to make the case for the YMCA have nothing to do with a demonstrated need in the community but more to do with the FHA’s perceived need to sell their land?
The FHA owns the land and wants to develop it. Part of their plan – the one they are selling to developers and realtors, includes a paid-membership YMCA recreation facility. Nobody who has looked at Mark Taylor`s reports or listened to his droning presentations can find one solid argument for building a YMCA based on community demand or need.
No matter how many surveys he has taxpayers pay for, no matter how many studies he misquotes or anecdotal waiting lists he refers to – he cannot make a good argument for the taxpayers of Abbotsford sharing half the cost of building a YMCA and forgiving up to $800,000 in property taxes every year.
It makes no sense.
But when you add some BC Government money ($100 million from Rich Coleman) and pressure from the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC) a pattern begins to emerge.
What is the other issue on which the City and the FHA are engaged? Abbotsford’s illegal and unconstitutional ‘Harm Reduction Bylaw.’
The Politics Of Harm Reduction
Follow the series of events and tell me these don’t add up to something more than meets the eye:
- On May 7, 2012 the Mayor Banman indicated his support to consider a needle exchange in Abbotsford
- On May 28, 2012 Council had a meeting with FHA to hear about their Harm reduction Plan for Abbotsford
- On May 28, the Pivot Legal Society sends a letter to Mayor and Council advising them that 2005 Harm Reduction By-Law is not permitted under Federal and Provincial rules
- On June 12, 2012, the Banman’s says, in reference to drug addicts, we should just ‘Lock’em up’ and indicated to the FHA that unless a detox facility is opened in Abbotsford there would be no movement on the Harm Reduction Bylaw. He reaffirmed his position in July, 2012
- On Nov 14, 2012, the ASDAC indicates, it will advise Council to support FHA Harm Reduction timeline (ASDAC 44-2012)
Staff indicates the need for a public hearing, if Council is going to remove the Harm Reduction By-Law
- Harm Reduction Forums are set for January 21 and January 28, 2013
- On Monday Jauary 21 Mayor Banman, Mark Taylor and councillors MacGregor and Smith strongly object to councillor Braun’s motion to scrap the YMCA MOU
Add in the announcement that developer and land owner Karen Matty, who owns several properties on McCallum Rd, has joined the FHA Board and you have the very bad optics of all these seemingly separate issues being able to be discussed under one umbrella. Matty was also co-chair in 2012, with Councillor John Smith, of the Affordable Housing Fund Technical Advisory Committee.
Maybe the reason Banman, Taylor, McGregor and Smith are pushing back so strenuously against Braun’s and Gill’s attempts to stop the City from another massive investment of taxpayer funds in a private venture is because there are so many other issues wrapped up in this one, seemingly, inexplicable expenditure.Taxpayers have only one overriding concern in this discussion – the idea of giving away their money. They don’t trust this council or this administration to spend their money wisely and they are sick and tired of phony projections, out-of-date statics, manipulative reports and surveys etc being used to justify the enormous waste of their money they have witnessed by the same group of people over the last eight years in a seemingly endless list of failed projects and ideas.
For some reason, to which we haven’t been made privy, the Fraser Health Authority seems to be getting everything it wants and needs from this mayor and administration. Banman and most of council are supporting their move to rid Abbotsford of its illegal anti harm reduction bylaw and. more importantly to taxpayers, Banman, Taylor and most of Council are doing everything they can to make the FHA’s huge development on the old MSA hospital property work.
Why the FHA’s big development should get a boost from Abbotsford taxpayers to the tune of $17.5 Million at the outset and $800,000 a year in forgiven property taxes in perpetuity is a mystery we hope to unravel someday.
In the meantime, whatever behind-the-scenes machinations or negotiations may be going on; whatever maze of intertwining political issues, ambitions and plans are at play, the citizens of Abbotsford are very tired of being told to have faith and believe what they are being told, especially when those doing the telling have not been right once on this type of major expenditure of their friends` and neighbour’s money in the last eight years.
The fact that the Municipal Charter specifically prohibits politicians from risking taxpayers’ money on private ventures never bothered former mayor George Peary and it doesn’t seem to bother Bruce Banman either.
This is not the time to be giving away taxpayers’ money to make up for the poor performance of the Parks & Rec manager and it is certainly no time to be spending taxpayers`money creating make-believe real estate developments. We already own a money-losing hockey team, a money-losing museum, a money-losing golf course and a money-losing arena. We have a $1 Million dollar Friendship Garden and a paved trail through our pristine forest.
If the only development or economic growth we can get is subsidized growth it would be better to get rid of those who have proven their inability to understand or provide real economic growth and find someone who can.
At the very least we have to find someone who will stop throwing our money away.
Enough with the public projects and investments. You don’t know what you’re doing.
From your friends and neighbours whose money you are spending … ‘Please stop. We don’t want you to continue doing this sort of thing with our money.’
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Lily Kaetler for her inimitable research talents.