Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Five wishes for the Vancouver State of the City address

It’s the last in a long line of “state” speeches this year, where chief executives across the nation, from the U.S. President on down, tout their accomplishments, praise their allies and lately, warn about continued tough times ahead.

However, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, in his first State of the City address, would be wise to deviate off the rehearsed “state” script and present a clear and cogent agenda to address the city’s problems.

Here’s a list of five points we’d like to see made in Leavitt’s speech tomorrow at the Vancouver Hilton:

1. Coming from a place of “yes” on the CRC. After years of planning, environmental review and feedback from all spheres of regional, state and national influence, it’s time for the $2.6 billion replacement bridge project to move forward without further delay. We’re not asking the Mayor and City Council to let Governors Kulongoski and Gregoire or state DOTs steamroll over the interests of Clark County commuters. But what businesses reliant on freight coming across both sides of the bridge really need is an unfailing commitment by local leaders to make this overdue project, at long last, a reality.

2. No on city B&O revival. When east Vancouver was annexed by the city more than a decade ago, one of the promises made to the business community was that the city’s Business and Occupation tax would be gradually reduced to zero. Now that the B&O tax has been eliminated, Leavitt should reassure small business owners in east Vancouver and throughout the city that talk of reviving the levy will remain just that – talk.

3. Specifics on proposed city Business Advisory Council. As of my last conversation with Vancouver’s newly-sworn Mayor, the list of members of an advisory body on city business issues had not been finalized, nor had an agenda been set. On this particular campaign promise, we’d like some specifics in tomorrow’s speech.

4. Moving from a “storming” to “performing” City Council. We realize there is a dynamic shared by many long-standing organizations struggling to absorb new members. In the case of the Vancouver City Council, it was the addition of Council members Jack Burkman and Bart Hansen and the elevation of Leavitt to a mayoralty long held by Royce Pollard. In the words of VBJ Publisher John McDonagh, an organization in these circumstances can be expected to go through a period of “forming,” “storming,” “norm-ing” and “performing.” Considering the many challenges confronting the city, the council needs to put this organizational process on fast-forward.

5. Streamlining city permitting process for new businesses. We’d like to think that in this tough economic climate, the city of Vancouver would be doing everything it could to make the process of opening new businesses a fairly painless one. But if the experience of at least one company, Je T’aime Bakery in Uptown Village, is any indication, the city’s permitting process has been anything but painless. In our Retail Spotlight section in VBJ’s forthcoming March 5 edition, Je T’aime co-owner (and vocal Leavitt supporter) Claire Ghormley describes a frustrating experience that still prevents her business from expanding its list of commercial clients. The city needs to follow the county’s lead and begin a process of streamlining the permitting process so that it encourages, not limits, business growth.