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.
Klassen said that type of city staff position is indicative of a "growing bureaucracy."
"All the discussion around jobs in this thing would appear to be more government bureaucracy," he said.
"Creating a bureaucracy is a bit like creating more freeways. You just put more cars on it. It ends up taking more and more resources to feed the need for more bureaucracy," Klassen said.
Goal number one in the Greenest City Action Plan is to "secure Vancouver's reputation as a mecca of green enterprise," something that involves a doubling in the number of green jobs in the city by 2020 compared to 2010.
But Coun. Cadman said the majority of the more than 10,000 green positions expected to be created by this plan will be private sector jobs.
He said he doesn't expect many new city staff positions to be added in the process.
"We may find that some additional jobs are necessary as we move along, but I think this is not a program where we are looking at expanding city staff, it's in fact a program that I think is making what we do more efficient," he said.
"If nothing else, from merely the energy savings alone we are going to be able to pay for these positions," he said.
According to city documents, energy retrofits of civic buildings already underway will save almost one million dollars per year in energy costs.
Robert Safrata, CEO of Novex Couriers, agrees there will be cost savings.
Safrata is part of the Greenest City Action Team that developed the plan and his courier company is the "first local courier company in Canada to proactively take steps to reduce its impact on the environment," according to their website.
"I certainly would encourage you that you’re going to find savings, short-term and long-term," Safrata said, addressing council. "That's what we've always found. I promise, savings are going to be what you find," he said.
Safrata said even their efforts to "green" the workplace paid off financially.
"The main benefit is an average of five to 15 per cent increase in productivity of our work staff. That’s because they’re healthier. The air is cleaner. There’s natural light. That equals $39 a square foot in most offices, so as a business person I want to throw that kind of information out there," Safrata said.
"Greening your operations is great for many things in a city and a company."
But the NPA doesn't see the economic benefit so clearly.
In an NPA press release, Coun. Anton said she sees "whole new layers of city bureaucracy, more wacky green projects, and more taxpayer-funded consultants."
Coun. Anton echoes Klassens statements, and one made by Daniel Fontaine, former chief of staff for Sam Sullivan. On the NPA-friendly CityCaucus.org -- a political blog Fontaine co-authors with Klassen -- Fontaine wrote, "Mayor Gregor and his Chicago native Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston are about to embark on a hiring frenzy that we haven't seen in years."
Coun. Cadman took issue with Fontaine's remarks in an interview Wednesday.
"I find it a little bit rich for Daniel Fontaine to be making comments, because Daniel Fontaine was the guy that brought in eight per cent tax increases year over year,” said Cadman.
"These guys are great critics but if you look and see what in fact they did when they were in power, they grew the bureaucracy, they increased the taxes," Cadman said.
Fontaine did not respond to requests for comment on Cadman's remarks, saying he would only do so if the Vancouver Observer divulged private financial information in an interview.
Other councillors were equally disgusted with NPA statements. Coun. Jang said he doesn't see anything "goofy or wacky" in the plan, referring to the NPA press release. He said such statements "belittle" the process.
"It belittles the goals of this city. It belittles the goals of all of us here and our staff and everybody's hard work on this. You cannot belittle that way."
Coun. Meggs agreed, saying he was disappointed to see those statements made by the NPA.
All city councillors except Coun. Anton expressed their support for the plan and voted to adopt it.