Thursday, November 7, 2019

UNA Elections Reveal Flaw in System

The are many strange things about the UNA at UBC. Last night's election of resident directors reveals the sad reality that this particular first-past-the-post system doesn't reward the top vote getters, but rather a failed candidate can win a seat simply due to where in the UNA they live.

Keep in mind this is an at large system - there are no wards or constituencies. But there is a rule in the bylaws that limits the number of directors from any one residential neighbourhood to three.

In this election there were three candidates running who reside in Hawthorn Place. There is already one director previously elected from Hawthorn Place. This meant that right from the start only two of the three Hawthorn Place candidates could possibly be elected this time around.

If we were operating on a ward system this would be okay. But we are not - it's an at large system. Just the same what has happened is that a failed candidate now sits as  Director on the UNA Board. Add this to the practice of appointing directors when an elected director resigns plus the long standing practice of unelected appointed student and university directors it should be clear that what UBC considers democracy is seriously flawed.

Friday, July 19, 2019

When is news a soft political ad?

When is news a soft political add? Sometimes it feels pretty obvious. Universities and other large corporations often pay to get news like stories into major newspapers - entire departments of communications or 'university affairs' exist to write copy, network journalists, and get good news stories out there.  Political parties are working get their stories out there as well. Staging events and press opportunities has long been the practice of politicians.  Among this category of event is the community award.

Politicians aren't alone in creating awards. It's nice to piggyback on the notoriety of community feel-good events. Giving out awards to political supporters and people seen to have community networks of note has been a longstanding approach to soft campaigning. It's not so distasteful as using the position of government to hand out money to industry and community groups in the lead up to an election (that's typically reserved for ministers of the crown).  It is, thought, a form of gaming the system just the same. Its a minor attempt to curry favour building and maintaining political support

The most recent Campus Resident carries a soft ad story that features the local Member of Parliament (MP) recognizing community members with an award. This erstwhile news story is more appropriately considered a combination political endorsement of the MP by the awardees and a free campaign add for the MP.

It's the MP's prerogative to bestow acknowledgement and honours as she sees fit. Acknowledging constituents with the partisanship of her office is a longstanding practice. The issue is whether these partisan events should be covered in a community newspaper as news or whether they really should be paid for as a political ad by the MP.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ant Season - environmentally friendly ways to encourage them to leave

Every year the cries goes out - "Ants! They're everywhere." My partner and I have been noticing them swarming out of their underground homes on our morning walks.  Over by the Music Building we even saw a sign on the ground asking people to respect the ants and let them carry on. Gardners often battle aphids - those plant sucking insects the ants like to farm in our gardens.  But it is the home kitchen defenders that take greatest umbrage with the invading ants.

Most ants - especially the tiny 'sugar' ants just aren't a problem - they merely a nuisance. Just the same a lot of people can't stand them.  There are some very simple things that we can do to hold them back and prevent them from taking over our kitchens.  The first thing is to appreciate that this is just a seasonal event. They won't camp out all year. However, if you just leave them alone and make no changes in your behaviour you might share you home with them until late next fall.  So here are some tips.

Controlling ants is essentially about keeping them out of your house. Ants are most likely to start trying to get into our homes when the weather starts to dry up a bit. They are looking for water.  But they are also explorers par excellence and if you see a few lone scouts scoping out your kitchen counters it's time to clean up and take a proactive approach.

One of the most efficient and least expensive methods of ant control is to take a teaspoon of liquid dish soap into a spray bottle and spray the offending critters. It is far safer then poisonous pesticides that, despite any labels to the contrary, are not very good for family and pets. But this is only the first part of the offensive.  You have to find where the ants are coming into your home and to aggressively engage counter measures.

Once you locate where the ants appear to be enter your home you need to place an environmentally safe barrier in place.  This is as simple as putting a solid application of lemon juice and/or dish soap across the entry point.  It may take a few days - but be persistent, clean the floor around the entry and the complete track the ants are taking (they navigate using chemical traces they leave for other ants). Cleaning persistently is one of the best approaches to ant control.

In the kitchen it is important that all surfaces are clean. Any sugar or honey should be stored in air tight containers. For the period of the ant attack don't leave any dirty dishes or leftovers out on your countertops. Clean  surfaces ants are moving over with a weak solution of white vinegar. 

With a bit of persistence, patience, and hard work you'll be able to reclaim your kitchen from the ants!

Monday, February 4, 2019

21st Century Housing Includes Short Term Rentals

Online rental, marketing, and social-interaction platforms are transforming the way many of us live.  Our regulatory systems, however, are locked within an outdate vision of the world more comfortable in the 1950s than in 2019. We need to bring our planning and zoning frameworks into the 21st century. We can see this quite clearly in the discussions around online home and room renting platforms where worry and anxiety underlies much of the discussion and regulations tend to burdensome or none existent.   

Many people express worry about security that can be summarized as follows: “Short-term rentals can present challenges in terms of noise, security, property damage and theft, and littering.”  There is no evidence, for example, of this happening at UBC.  It is easy to find news articles about offending short-term rental operators - in North Vancouver, in Yaletown, everywhere but UBC. Even when stories can be found they are rare events. The worries about safety and disruption aren’t accurate in general, and are definitely incorrect in terms of the UBC area.

Who are the guests who frequent short term rentals at UBC? UBC is quite some commute from the busy urban core and the heart of tourist attractions.  If a person wants a short term rental at UBC they typically have a UBC-related reason. From what I have learned most guests are people such as a faculty member coming to teach a short-term course, scholars attending conferences, medical practitioners completing upgrade courses or writing exams, parents and grandparents visiting family attending UBC or visiting UBC to see if this is the right place for their child to enrol.   From all the evidence that I can see there is no problem at UBC with short term rentals - yet, there remains a general worry about disruption by strangers.  Short term rental guests are normal people like you and me.  How are these people really any more of a disturbance or a threat to community wellbeing then we ourselves already are?

There is more noise from neighbourhood children (which I enjoy), the sports teams cutting through the UNA public realm to UBC’s Thunderbird Precinct (arguably one of the great things about campus) and the UBC marching band trundling down main mall then there ever could be from a short term rental guest.  Our neighbours at Totem Park can be boisterous and occasionally the young men in Fraternity Village turn up their speakers too loud. All of the sporting events and concerts and student dormitory events produce far more traffic from ‘unknown’ people than any of the couple dozen short term rentals on campus could ever do.  Misuse of UNA visitor parking passes creates more parking issues than any guest might. Many of us live in multi-unit housing complexes where it is very unlikely we actually know (or even recognizes) all of own immediate neighbours.  Yet the persistent fear of short term rental guests as strangers persists.

We live in a complex dense urban environment that is filled with all kinds of 'disturbances.'  The net effect of a short term rental is negligible in real material terms.  The more fundamental problem is the way contemporary planning places increased density ahead of all other concerns: that's the real problem we all face and the source of much of the anxiety people express. But this is a societal, not a local problem. Fixating on one small attribute won’t solve the fundamental problem of overcrowding in urban communities.

There does need to be a place for short term rentals on campus. Right now they exist in a grey zone – not explicitly banned, not clearly supported. It’s time for UBC to step into the 21st century and create the regulatory framework to ensure short term rentals have the place they should in our cosmopolitan urban community.  Part of what contributes to a vibrant community is the mix of people. UBC constantly talks about the benefits of diversity – that diversity should include diversity of housing options that clearly include short term shared rentals.