Saturday, October 20, 2007

Vecchiato's Voice - Oct 20, 2007 - And So It Goes

So, here's the story. An old Jewish man goes to the Wailing Wall every day to pray. Finally someone asks him, Why do you come here every day? The old man replies, I come to pray for peace in the Middle East. Do you get an answer? The old man shook his head glumly. No, it's like talking to a f***ng wall.

And so it goes.

I can tell you that my non-communicative stack of bricks is purported representational government. Although I may not have voted for each one, they still represent me, or so I assume. That's democracy, isn't it?
Recently, I was observer to a series of events that posed as metaphorical wall. The issue was around the new Willoughby Park spanning from 202A to 200th Street. As Jeffries Brook, Denim, Jericho Ridge and other new developments filled in the once sheltered meadows and forests, I felt hopeful knowing that at least Township would come through with a park. I watched a delegation about saving trees on the property. Not stick ones in the middle of a soggy field, but the rich hedgerows and second growth forest that are home to deer, fox, myriad birds including owls, burrowing rabbits, voles, shrews, and coyotes that hunt.

As events unraveled, it seemed as if my idea of a park was far different than those who actually plan them. Both models—mine and theirs--serve a purpose in the community, and because there was so much perimeter foliage, several of us thought that surely a tree survey as mandated by the Tree By-law in the Subdivision and Zoning legislation would come galloping to the rescue. Its shining armor would be accompanied by my local government's desire for sustainability, to utilize the research of an in-depth Wildlife Habitat Strategy, by civil servants with the ability to envision the blend of homes and nature.

The vision of rescue was presented to council after finding a fine print clause in the township’s own bylaw that exempted it from any tree survey, thus avoiding identifying and saving significant trees. One councilor made a motion to have the by-law reviewed. If the Township doesn't mandate public input or surveys, then they can cut whatever they want. No one seconded it. Looking at the stone-faced panel was an omen of things to come. It was like talking to that same damn wall.

Someone sought a legal opinion on the by-law, and a respectable attorney thought there was merit. But without the legal aspect, I had hoped that our municipal government would want to set examples of good stewardship, address climate change, realize the inherent value of trees and nature. It seems that stewardship is important if it's in the right place. If it's not, then what ever grows or lives there is just out of luck.

The governing body, the council, could have said, Let's look at this thing, at this parcel, at the big picture as we grow. What precedent do we want to set? Is there perhaps a valid point here? Should we set an example for the development community? Weren't we, in fact, putting brochures on Saving Native Trees into development application packages for a number of years?

But they remained recalcitrant, unwilling to budge, and continued business as usual. The same business we've seen throughout North America. Their stubborn streak seemed to challenge, Try and make us change.

And so more acres are gobbled up by John Deere and Volvo machinery (Didn't know Volvo made construction equipment. I thought it was just a car for white liberals living in New England.) More wildlife is displaced, more habitat consumed by our perceived needs.

The saddest part of the issue is that when citizens address issues that are contrary to the municipality's mandate, the taxpayers get no answers. In the 10 years I have lived here, I have written letters, made delegations, and talked to councilors. They might be nice enough people on an individual basis, but as a collective mindset, they do not pursue dialogue with the very people who pay their salaries and fund their pet projects. It's that wall again.

And so it goes.

We have had so much potential to do things differently. In the BC Municipalities Act, each government is allowed to set bonus density, to establish its own tree protection, to mandate clustering instead of grid-pattern boxes. And they do none of these because repeating patterns created over the past 40 years are easier than thinking outside the subdivision box.

With regard to a legal opinion, I have to commend Zvonko Bezjak for feeling it was worthwhile to challenge our own government, to make it accountable. I also know that in the big picture, it wasn't about his land, his trees, his habitat, although even he may have felt it was. But it wasn't. It was for Karen on 72nd Avenue, Steven on 80th, and the Park family on 208th.

In the end, township lawyers bullied their way into dropping the matter. And they think they won. But it wasn't winning. It was protecting their own inability to embrace change. They are going to do it their way, even if 400 of us stood up and said we don't like what we see.

On an ironic note, the township made a benevolent gesture and had seedlings dug up so that the former tenant and owner could have them. Unfortunately, they weren't clear on the concept. The trees were supposed to be for us, not for one person.

And so it goes.

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