Article by Carlito Pablo on April 24th, 2019 at 3:06 PM in the Georgia Straight

Want to build walkable communities in Vancouver?

Then stop taxing independent businesses to death.

This was the message delivered by former local cinema operator Leonard Schein to city council Wednesday (April 24).

Council was hearing from speakers about the city’s “Big Moves” to address what the city describes as a “climate emergency” brought on by global warming.

One of the big steps is to have 90 percent of residents being able to walk or roll to their daily needs by 2030, which is a little over a decade from now.

But where can people walk to if independent businesses are dying?

“We’re currently losing our local neighbourhood businesses throughout the city,” Schein told council in his remarks.

According to Schein, local shops and stores are important in building vibrant communities, where people can find many of the needs.

Schein is the former owner of the Fifth Avenue Cinemas, Park Theatre, and Ridge Theatre. He also founded the Vancouver International Film Festival.

“The overwhelming majority of my workers did not need a car to get to work,” Schein said.

Schein said that the disappearance of many independent businesses can be traced to one thing.

“This problem is caused chiefly by Vancouver city tax policy,” he said.

According to Schein, businesses pay 4.8 times the property tax borne by homeowners.

In 2018, homeowners paid $2.4 in residential taxes per $1,000 value of their property.

For businesses, it was $10.8 per $1,000 of their property value.

“Over the past 30 years, city councils decided to subsidize residential property taxes by businesses as there are more residential voters than commercial voters,” Schein said.

Schein said that this happened whether it was the Non-Partisan Association or Vision Vancouver that was the governing party in the city.

“Now we have an independent mayor, and no one party dominates city council,” Schein said, referring to Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

Stewart did not ask questions of Schein after his remarks.

“This is a first chance to correct these unsustainable property taxes on independent businesses,” Schein said.

NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung asked Schein if tax policy has a role in building walkable communities, and the former cinema owner answered in the affirmative.

Kirby-Yung also told Schein that council will discuss a staff report Monday (April 29), which deals with tax distribution.

“You could come back,” Kirby-Yung said, inviting Schein to speak again to council next week.

The staff report mentioned by Kirby-Yung was in response to council’s direction to explore a shift of two percent of property taxes from commercial to non-commercial in order to support small businesses.

Staff do not support a two percent tax shift “at this time”.

The report explained in part that such a shift “property tax for all commercial properties without considering whether or not they need any tax relief”.