Coming soon – Saving the neighbourhood
Soon – over the holidays in December 2017, I’m going to post articles and short pieces I’ve been writing for the past few years about my neighbourhood.
I was born and grew up not far from here, and my husband and I own a small hobby farm – more of a large garden – which includes the 1935 Jacobson house.
In the past I’ve written a series of Saving the Neighbourhood pieces, including:
Saving the neighbourhood: who throws garbage in paradise
Saving the neighbourhood: against the odds: small scale farming in Richmond
Saving the neighbourhood: Ray Galawan stops dumping on farmland
Steve Bridger doesn’t have enough fingers to count the number of times he’s had litter thrown on his award-winning garden in the last month.
Yesterday, as he tells it, a gleaming BMW stopped at the side of the road, a passenger opened a door and tossed out fast food wrappers.
“They didn’t see me pruning. When I hollered at them, they sped off in a spray of gravel, leaving me to clean up their mess,” he said.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, and visitors in vehicles admire and photograph Bridger’s peaceful plot, set on farmland on the winding, rural, Finn Road. The garden surrounds his 1912 cottage, spilling across the road alongside Woodward’s Slough in an agricultural area of Richmond, a city 20 miles south of Vancouver.
Adrienne Moore, a local painter, has set up her easel. “What is that divine fragrance?” she asks, walking past beds of asters, hollyhocks, lilies, gardenias, honeysuckle, roses, and sweet William. “Oh, it’s the lavender,” Moore decides.
Bridger maneuvers his rake around clusters of violet lupines, unearthing soda cup lids and a child’s sock, mumbling about how he raked this last week, then using a gloved hand, wages war on cigarette butts permeating periwinkle ground cover.
In the three decades he has tended his garden, he’s seen littering escalate. When he first bought the place and started creating the beds, he’d pick up beer bottles and cans on Sunday mornings. “That was about it,” he said.
Over the years, candy bar wrappers and chip bags appeared. When a suburban mall was built a mile away, swathes of cardboard coffee cups and fast food containers materialized.
As fees at the local landfill have risen, so has dumping.
“We’ve seen couches, tables, chairs, televisions, mattresses and drywall dumped,” said Graham Price, a neighbor, pointing to the Woodward Slough, a much-needed habitat for frogs, bats, river otters and herons. “Anything that can be thrown out of a car or unloaded from a truck ends up here.”
Bridger recently heard a car door slam on a quiet afternoon and looked out to see a woman hauling an old computer monitor and processor out of her trunk and dumping it in his flowerbed. He stormed outside and told the woman to take it away.
“She had the gall to tell me it was a gift,” he said. “I had to threaten to phone the police before she would drag it back to her car. I know she offloaded it down the road,” said Bridger.
Price says he’s seen drivers of expensive vehicles with children in baby seats throw garbage out of their windows.
“I’ve seen couples stop, get out and casually unload garbage bags with styrofoam beside the road and then accelerate away,” said Price.
The neighbors agree fines are the solution. “We need to take photos of license plates and email them to Richmond’s by-law enforcement department. Then the City has to issue tickets so that litterers don’t come back here and ruin paradise,” said Bridger.
Local farmers grow a range of crops, and, at this time of year, the easiest crop to sell is pumpkins. There are fields and fields of them.
Farmers go all out to attract residents from nearby subdivisions and from Vancouver, 20 minutes north, to farm stands.
It’s a pleasant place to live. In the early morning, we hear the gentle hum of tractors, and although the yellow leaves are falling fast, there are still a few bees buzzing as they pollinate autumn crops.
Industry would love to build on Bill McKinney’s long, straight rows of potatoes. They’d they’d love to build on Bob Wright’s zucchini patch and they’d love to build on Maria De Putter’s horse field.What’s standing in their way? The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
The ALR was created through legislation in 1973 to protect valuable farmland, about five per cent of British Columbia’s land base.
Although ALR land in Metro Vancouver is, for the most part, Class 1 and 2 with the highest capacity for growing food, it’s seen as a land bank for development. Developers are continually coming up with ways to have land removed and they’re often successful.
In the last 20 years, in the South Slough area of Richmond, we’ve seen the most fertile farmland in the province removed for 1960s style sprawling one and two-story shopping malls, factories, warehouses and office buildings.
Now industry claims Metro Vancouver faces a serious shortage of vacant industrial land.
A forecast and analysis released by the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAOIP) Vancouver chapter and a recent speech by Robin Silvester, CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, confirms the worst: within 11 years, Metro Vancouver will run out of industrial land.
“In our view, the (NAIOP) report identifies a critical need for additional industrial, jobs-producing lands in Metro Vancouver,” said Chris MacCauley, a NAIOP Vancouver board member and vice-president, Industrial Properties at CBRE Canada.
“We have been sounding the alarm on this very serious issue for over two years now,” said Silvester.
For Metro Vancouver, this means a loss of jobs and opportunities because large companies unable to find industrial land head for Calgary and Seattle, according to NAIOP.
Their solution is to remove more land from the ALR.
Given that agriculture is also an industry, is this necessary?
“There’s no question, we’re running out of undeveloped industrial land,” said Helmut Pastrick, Central 1 Credit Union chief economist. “But there are far better, more efficient options than using ALR Land.”
Drive or cycle around industrial parks such as Ironwood in the South Slough area, and you’ll see that about fifty per cent of the buildings are for sale or lease.
“This already developed industrial land could be used much more efficiently,” Pastrick said.
Michael Goldberg, retired dean of the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, agrees.
“Half a dozen years ago, Vancouver feared downtown condo development would lead to a shortage of office space,” said Goldberg.
“The City of Vancouver banned condos from the core in favour of office space and most importantly significantly raised allowable densities.”
The result was a major increase in supply.
“As industrial land prices continue to increase through diminishing supply and rising demand, at some point, we will have to move to multi-storey industrial buildings to offset the high land costs,” said Goldberg.
“Fortunately, most industrial zones already permit higher density so this transition should be far easier and smoother than has been the case for residential densification,” Goldberg said.
Space for industrial activities can be significantly increased through densification while leaving farmland for its highest and best use.
A quick look at what’s for lease and for sale in a small industrial area in Richmond.
Spring is in full swing south of Steveston Highway in Agricultural Land Reserve land.
This is one of Richmond’s oldest Transparent apple trees. David Dorrington, the area’s historian, thinks it dates back to the turn of the century.
The area’s blueberries are also blossoming.
Fields are disked, soon to be ploughed and then seeded.
Some hobby farmers with small plots of land, till the soil by hand.
Hunters are members of the local Rod and Gun Club. The Club wrote to the City about the problems hunters had getting permission from owners given that “many land owners in Richmond live overseas.” (See 4(ii))
Surprisingly members of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Committee moved and seconded “That staff examine the regulations surrounding hunting on farmland and the necessary requirements for licensed hunters to continue hunting and report back.”
Neighbours quickly passed around this information, and wrote letters about how easy it is to use Land Titles information to confirm that property owners are local.
“We’re here, not overseas,” became the rallying call.
Property owners wrote to the city about their property rights being violated by hunters.
“This is a property rights issue and owners of farmland should have the right to determine who is on their property,” said Helmut Pastrick, a hobby farmer, “If someone gets hurt of worse, we’re the ones who will be sued.”
Neighbours emailed Council members asking them to come and talk to local owners before making any decisions.
Councillor Derek Dang who grew up on farmland agreed with local residents and became an advocate.
At its June 2014 meeting, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Committee released its findings, noting “the overall principles and actions of the Firearms Regulation Bylaw 4183 are sound and should be maintained in their present form.”
Sounds of gunfire ceased, until last Sunday, when a recreational hunter was back.
Now we’re on the lookout and will be phoning City Bylaws and the RCMP to enforce the bylaw and charge the hunters under the section 39 of the Wildlife Act.
The Chong’s closed their farm stand on Steveston Highway last weekend.
Hoegler’s Richmond Country Farms is open selling limited produce local produce including local Brussels’ sprouts, apples, carrots and potatoes. They’ll close December 23.
H & M Farms at the corner of Steveston Highway and Gilbert Road opened their Christmas tree stand, celebrating 40 years of growing and selling Christmas trees. They also have ready-made wreaths from cedar boughs.
This afternoon it was quiet at their stand, with just two customers.
Art Knapp’s stand of Christmas tree sales was also quiet.
To attract customers away from the convenience of supermarket Christmas tree sales, the farmers go all out to make tree sales a holiday memory for families. Some tree stands on farms have beautiful heritage lights, statues of father Christmas, cocoa and soft carols playing.
During the next three weeks I hope Vancouver residents heading to Steveston for a riverside lunch or commuters heading home to nearby subdivisions stop and buy farm trees. Farming is such for a weekend hard work and farmers depend on local.
Last week while cycling, at the end of the Finn where it dead ends at No. 3 Road, I saw a male with a rifle. Beside him was a child.
I stopped to take a photo and they saw me, and the adult tried to hide the rifle at his side.
I asked what they were doing and they told me they were hunting ducks. “It’s legal on farmland,” they said.
I told them it is legal only if the hunter has the written permission of the property owner (see section 9), $1 million in liability insurance and stays 180 metres from roads and dykes according to the Regulating the Discharge of Firearms Bylaw.
They disagreed and said what they were doing was legal. I told them they were violating section 39 of the Wildlife Act. They disagreed.
I didn’t want to argue with someone with a weapon so I gave up. Cars were driving down No. 3 Road a stone’s throw away and there were joggers and cyclists. I decided to let someone else complain.
Two years along with our neighbours, we spent a lot of time complaining about illegal hunters to the RCMP and the City of Richmond Bylaws department.
All along Finn Road and No. 4 Road we were all repeatedly bothered by hunters who did not have permission to hunt.
Sometimes as many as four vehicles with three or four hunters apiece would park alongside Finn Road and Garden City Road (to the right hand side) and sneak onto large farms. Property managers confirmed that the owners did not allow hunting due to liability issues.
Neighbours also reported hunters seen along a rail line owned by CN Rail. CN police advised that hunters are not permitted on the rail line or the 50 foot right of way and to phone if we saw hunters.
Illegal hunters hiding in bushes hunting ducks flying overhead is dangerous.
Some tenant farmers have winter crops and are in the fields. There are also farmers travelling slowly on farm vehicles, cyclists, joggers, wheelchair athletes, hobby photographers and recreationalists out for a stroll.
The sound of gun fire all day long also disturbs bees, so important for crop pollination. Bees can be temperamental and colony collapse is increasing. Gun fire is all it takes for a hive to stop thriving.
Gun fire also disturbs bats – so important for insect control – and farm animals such as chickens, cows and horses. It’s hard to make a living farming, so farmers rent barn stalls to local subdivision residents who keep horses and ride them on the roads.
Next week – The City Listens.
Every year for the past decade, our neighbourhood floods in late February and early March.
Endless days of pounding rain, snow melt from further up the Fraser River, high tides and climate change are combining to raise water levels.
Lulu Island is on a floodplain where the Fraser River meets the Pacific Ocean, so we should expect flooding, but every year it seems to slightly worse.
Last year, parts of neighbouring fields were submerged and close to home our blueberry bushes that we grow in raised rows fortified with sawdust, had an inch or two of water. In an area where a long-gone barn once stood there at least six inches of water pooled in the depression.
One Saturday night during a downpour, we had to get our sump pump working and then head to the City of Richmond works yard and shovel sand in small burlap bags to put around the property.
As the water rose, I couldn’t help thinking about the southern Alberta Flood of 2013 – the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
To help protect us, the City of Richmond has built dikes around the 49-kilometer perimeter of Lulu Island.
It’s also dug 178 kilometers of ditches and canals, laid 622 kilometers of drainage pipes, and built 41 pump stations and countless storm sewers.
Yet, it’s not enough. Richmond now has a population of 210,000, a increase of close to 20,000 in just three years on our small island. There are 71,200 dwellings and many multi-story apartment buildings built of marshy soil supplemented with fill.
To help keep the water draining, the City also has dug 178 kilometers of ditches and canals, laid 622 kilometers of drainage pipes, and built 41 pump stations and countless storm sewers.
The dykes help to hold floods, and the drainage infrastructure helps with rainfall, but if there was an earthquake – and scientists predict we’re due for one – the ground would liquify and we’d all be under water.
The City is now part of the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy, a collaboration of 25 local governments in the Metro Vancouver region as well as the provincial government and the federal government.
The goal is to work together to:
- Better understand flood hazards.
- Identify flood vulnerabilities.
- Assess current flood infrastructure, management practices and policies.
So far, the group has determined “a major flood in the Lower Mainland is a threat to public health and safety, and could result in billions of dollars in damage to private and public property, loss of infrastructure and community services, disruption of business and trade, degradation of water quality and harmful environmental impacts.”
Could it get any more frightening?
In response, in July 2015, the BC Premier appointed a Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness to work with communities that could be impacted by floods to determine risk-mitigation measures.
I hope all of this will come in time. It’s raining outside tonight.