Vision locks in green goals, NPA still critical

"We now have a Greenest City Action Plan," said Coun. Andrea Reimer, hardly containing her excitement, following hours of speakers and questions at city hall Thursday.

And with a cheer of approval and a long, hearty applause, Gregor Robertson's plan to make Vancouver the "greenest city in the world" moves forward.

City Hall in Vancouver, where councillors voted Thursday in favour of adopting the Greenest City Action Plan.

Vancouver city councillors voted in favour of the Greenest City Action Plan, following an outpouring of public support, and despite persistent objection from lone-NPA councillor and mayoral-hopeful Suzanne Anton.

"It's great to have the words and intentions very clear, but it's even more important to get to the actions stage and get solution on the ground that make it possible for the city to get in this race to the top," said Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The 162-page plan, the product of almost three years of work, includes 10 "greenest city" goals, including measures in the areas of green economy and jobs, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, clean air and drinking water, local food and reduction of solid waste -- all in the name of earning the "world's greenest city" title.

Each goal includes "highest priority short term actions," items that will see work done within the next three years. 

The "three year plan" includes work on more than 40 short term initiatives such as building four new renewable energy systems, sorting out a Broadway corridor rapid transit plan and launching a public bicycle sharing program.

Coun. Anton and others in the Non-Partisan Party Association said Vancouverites deserve to know how much these measures will cost the city before the plan can be approved, and that a decision like this should be taken to the public.

Former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt, who was among 29 speakers who addressed council Thursday, responded to Coun. Anton's assertion. He said he thinks it's "a nutty idea."

"It's called leadership," he said. "If you want to have an action plan like this or a new public policy, you run in elections, and you win or you lose. You're either for or against it, and you take your lumps or your kudos at election time."

Asked by Coun. Heather Deal if he thought the plan would work, Harcourt simply responded, "yes."

In an interview Wednesday the NPA's Mike Klassen, who is running for council in November's civic election, said he'd like to see what the whole plan is going to cost.

"If you're going to go out there and spend hundreds of thousands if not millions or tens of millions of dollars trying to retool the public service of Vancouver around some fanciful green dream, then you're going to have to go out there and try to explain to voters why they don't want to let them know what the cost of it is," Klassen said.

But city councillors involved in creating the plan say each item will have to approved by council before work can commence.

"All of the things within the three year plan will be fully costed and brought into the budget that will be brought forward in 2012," said city councillor David Cadman in an interview.

True to Coun. Cadman's word, city staff presented the first "highest priority action item," a water conservation measure, to council Thursday, complete with staffing requirements and annual costs. 

As if the passing of the Greenest City Action Plan was a foregone conclusion -- and it was, considering the outpouring of support for the proposal at the previous city council meeting -- the Clean Water Work Program also got the green light.

That plan requires water meters on all new single-family homes and duplexes. The city expects it will save 26.5 billion litres of water per year at an additional annual cost of about $500,000.

It's a significant addition to the $150,000 the city currently spends on water conservation, but still a modest expenditure relative to some other cities. Seattle, for example, spends $3.5 million per year, according to the staff report. 

The $705,700 Vancouver will now spend on water saving measures, or $1.05 per person, is still less than half of what Seattle spends per capita.

A new city staff position -- a water conservation policy analyst paid about $85,000 per year -- is included in the total expenditure. 

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