Ken Sim says he won’t sacrifice the ‘soul’ of Vancouver neighbourhoods for development

is article was sourced from the Toronto Star – retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/06/25/ken-sim-says-he-wont-sacrifice-the-soul-of-vancouver-neighbourhoods-for-development.html


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On a stroll through Chinatown with StarMetro, Sim recalled how the neighbourhood used to bustle with crowds of shoppers and the sounds of vendors hawking vegetables on the street in Cantonese. He says Chinatown and Vancouver’s other unique neighbourhoods — Commercial Drive, Main Street, Gastown, the Greek area on Broadway — are worth saving.

“I know there’s a group that wants to just develop this whole place,” he said. “We can do that, but then this place just looks like Dubai.”

On June 3, the 47-year-old entrepreneur pulled off a surprise win to become the Non-Partisan Association’s mayoral candidate. Sim was up against John Coupar, a current NPA park board commissioner who had the support of many of the NPA’s elected officials and former mayor Philip Owen, and Glen Chernen, a city hall watchdog who had spent months gathering his supporters.

Sim acknowledges that his supporters include Peter Armstrong, the former president of the NPA and the CEO of Rocky Mountaineer, and Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon who holds a large real estate portfolio in the city. But he denies he’s particularly close to the real estate industry, and says his wide circle of business associates and friends were the key to his win.

Sim is the founder of Nurse Next Door, a home care company with 5,000 employees across North America, and the part owner of Rosemary Rocksalt, a chain of bagel eateries.

Sim’s parents immigrated to Vancouver from Hong Kong in 1967, and during his NPA nomination speech he spoke about a working-class upbringing in which a meal at Hon’s Noodle House in Chinatown was a rare treat. He’s the father of four boys, aged nine to 16 (one reason to run for politics, he quips, is to get out of the house) and lives in Vancouver’s Arbutus Ridge neighbourhood.

“I just thought, I’m a guy from Vancouver and I really understand the city,” he says of his reason to run for mayor.

Sim added that he wasn’t hand-picked by one person or group within the NPA to run as mayor.

“I wish that was the case because we had a long slog for six weeks to try to win the nomination,” he said. “It was 18-hour days for six weeks straight.”

Sim is entering an unusual election season: Instead of two dominant parties facing off against each other (in recent years, that’s been the NPA and centre-left Vision Vancouver), there are a range of candidates and parties on both the right and left. Vision, which has held power for a decade, is running Ian Campbell for mayor, a hereditary chief from the Squamish Nation. But the harder-left Coalition of Progressive Electors is trying to stage a comeback, along with the Vancouver Greens, OneCity and two independent mayoral candidates who hope to get support from all the various left-wing parties.

While the fractured left gave the NPA a win in an October 2017 byelection, more contenders on the right side of the political spectrum have now appeared. Hector Bremner, an NPA city councillor who favours allowing denser development in single-family neighbourhoods, was rejected by the party as a mayoral candidate and may form his own political party. Wai Young, a former Conservative MP, announced her candidacy last week with a promise to wage war on bike lanes.

When it comes to the biggest issue of the election campaign — Vancouver’s housing problems — Sim says he’s still speaking with residents, other levels of government and the real estate industry and has yet to formulate a political platform on the issue. But, he says, meaningful community consultation will be a key part of his approach.

“A great example would be Commercial Drive,” he said. “There’s not a lot of appetite for mass density right on the Drive. But if you go five blocks up, the same residents are embracing it,” Sim said, referring to the Skytrain station at Broadway and Commercial.

On the city’s deadly opioid crisis, Sim said he recently went on a tour of the Downtown Eastside with the Vancouver Police Department, but as with the housing issue, “I want to have more a lot more consultation to really understand the issue before we make a determination as to what other solutions we can try,” he said. “It’s a very complex issue.”

Sim doesn’t know how he would have voted if he had been on council when a controversial condo project at 105 Keefer, in the heart of Chinatown, came up for approval. After a hard-fought campaign by activists who argued the 12-storey condo building was not the right fit for the neighbourhood, council voted to reject the proposal last June, contrary to a recommendation by city planning staff.

“The news that I get in the press is that Beedie tried to be accommodating, and then you talk to residents and they don’t feel they were consulted,” Sim said. “I think with any process, you really have to engage the residents.”

He added: “As much as they’re passionate about certain things, you have to realize things are going to change in Vancouver.”

If he becomes mayor, Sim said he would take a second look at Vancouver’s new empty homes tax, which the city estimates will bring in $30 million in revenue.

“At the end of the day, a lot of things get implemented because people have feelings around them,” Sim said. “There are a lot of things that affect housing prices.”

In general, Sim said, he doesn’t believe taxing housing more — such as the province’s increased tax on homes worth more than $3 million — helps create affordable housing. Instead, higher taxes trickle down to make housing more expensive for both owners and renters, he said.

He’d like to look at rezoning some areas for “smart density,” but shies away from the call to rezone all single family neighbourhoods that some in the election race have called for. Sim also wants to focus on improving development permit backlogs.

To improve his business operations, Sim said he regularly travels to other companies to observe how they do things, with the goal of taking the best ideas and applying them to his companies. And that’s the way he’d run the city: “The mayor of Langdale (on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast), if there’s a permit that has been outstanding for more than a couple of weeks, it hits his desk,” Sim said.

“We actually want to figure out what he’s doing. We have a couple of hundred cities to look at and take best practices from.”