Pukehinau-Lambton citizens: do the vote thing!

From time to time there’s a byelection and it’s easy to get distracted and not vote. In Wellington, right now, that could well mean lots of regrets. Here’s a few tips to make it easy for those with a byelection to vote in!

The Talk Wellington Sniff Test is a good start.

An especially useful Step 0 is googling candidates (including with an “incognito” search) to see their civic history on urban issues.

Have they ever bothered to submit on stuff in previous years? How consistently have they supported good city change in the past – or have they been consistently silent, or even repeatedly opposed?

No candidate will be perfect. But the Sniff Test is great for broadly knowing when you can smell a rat, and informing your vote accordingly!

Smells… ratty

Super-readers of Talk Wellington may recognise the Sniff Test from the general election, where people used it for sussing candidates’ and parties’ general urban policy. So, specifically for the housing- and infrastructure-focussed byelection for a central Wellington councillor, here are a few particular tips…

If Candidate X says they’re going to “stop ratepayers being a [money tree / moneybag / funder]”

You need to look closer, with a really skeptical eye. Local government’s core funding is likely to stay as rates for some time yet, while funding for local infrastructure is borked, so no candidate – not even an entire council or even multiple councils united – can change that. If they give no further detail, you can smell a big dead rat. Councils, councillors and all of us who live anywhere in New Zealand are in varioualy unpleasant positions until the government reforms funding for things like water infrastructure. Sorry, outrage-fuelled candidates, but we know that’s just how it is even if you hope we don’t.

If Candidate says “stop spending on [vanity projects / nice-to-haves / cherries on the top]” …

…and then list things that (as a Talk Wellington reader) you’ll know well are in fact essential physical infrastructure, basic bread-and-butter of a self-respecting modern city, well… smells like Ratsville, folks.

Like: green infrastructure or places to sit down in the city centre, cycle lanes or bus lanes, public toilets, universal accessibilty … phew that’s the stench of dead rat. (See below: “prioritise fixing the pipes”)

[Note: If they list things like big signs, or overseas promotional campaigns, or new sports facilities or dog parks in remote areas with low population… that’s less rat-smelling. But you’d still want to look at their reasoning – have they really accounted for the opportunity costs, and the real benefits?]

If Candidate says “[insert recent housing reform] has gone too far”

Uh-oh! With this candidate we’re knee-deep in rats. This should be a vote-killer for anyone who wants Wellington to be a place that more real people can live close to good stuff, which is the key to its survival (let alone its thriving). No city should be electing NIMBYs to its council at present.

One of the most damaging is the closet NIMBY, who talks a good talk superficially but then votes for stuff that predatorily delays or weakens actual progress. All over the country you’ll find party-supported candidates from left and right, as well as “independents”, who are closet NIMBYs. Sadly, you’ll find many candidates also saying they’re climate-friendly while then opposing more residential density in good places. Uh-oh… embarrassing! Because, given NZ cities’ car-dominated emissions profile, driven by our low-density urban form, they’ve just said they’re opposed to what’s by far the best way for us urban dwellers to emit less climate-heating gas.

Here’s a helpful tip from Hank to spot one of these folks, and avoid voting for them:

In case anyone needs reminding: our housing crisis, climate crisis and public health crisis need leaders to be pointing our cities firmly in the roughly right direction, and then pushing hard with the detailed work on how to travel well in that direction. See the Spinoff’s excellent coverage of the Wellington District Plan developments for “nope, not the right direction”.

If Candidate X says “I’ll prioritise fixing the pipes over [nice-to-haves]”

Sorry, this doesn’t earn any points at all: everyone is about prioritising the pipes. Councils are cutting important stuff all over their Long Term Plans, already: it’s just lazy for a candidate to say they’ll be bringing a fresh injection of “hey let’s fix the pipes”. And, frankly, it’s insulting to us as voters.

Fundamentally, cities are complex and no serious leader with any civic character will propose diverting all funding for community groups, for public art and culture, for cycle or bus lanes, for trees, libraries, social services into “fixing pipes”, because Wellington would be boring, expensive and frustrating to move around, too hot, soulless, and lonely – in other words, you’d kill the city’s good points and nobody would want to live here.

But if you’re just really keen on this candidate and want to see their reasoning before scratching them from your “maybe” list, look for the numbers.

How many km of new pipes, new pump stations, new treatment plants etc etc will they get for the money that they propose diverting from those “nice to haves”?

Spoiler alert: It’s b^gger-all. You can suck money out of dozens of council areas but it won’t add up to anything meaningful for water. There’s a reason that water infrastructure is a mighty proportion of any council’s entire budget: even with our Wayne Brown sceptic hat on (and leaving aside traffic management costs) three waters stuff is really expensive [PDF]. So all you’d get, as a city, is none of those other good things (boring, stuck, lonely, soulless, too hot etc) and now would you get any meaningful improvement in pipes.

Mmmm, he’s fragrant

Fundamentally, councils are in an awful rock-and-a-hard-place, until the government puts through at least the balance-sheet aspects of a three-waters reform. So any candidate saying “pipes over nice-to-haves” without saying anything else is just… Nope. Nope.

However IF a candidate says “prioritise fixing the pipes” and then finishes the sentence with “…in the top-priority places for lots more people to live / close to things to do / close to public transport…” then that’s GOOD. Ten points.

If Candidate X says “I will get the pipes fixed!”

Either, ask them earnestly where they holster their magic wand or where they grow their magic money tree… or just save yourself time and write them off.

As noted, central governments, with all their powers, are grappling mightily with this thanks to 80+ years of malconfigured machinery-of-government for infrastructure, and vast underresourcing of said pipes. Any candidate who thinks this line will get them votes is just insulting you, the voters.

So, get sniffing those candidates – The Spinoff has covered the last candidates’ debate here.

Good luck and make sure EVERYONE living in Pukehinau-Lambton is voting – especially those who rent, who are usually badly under-represented in our local councillorship!

Image credits:

  • Voting banner: elections.nz
  • “Are y’all with the NIMBYs”? Reddit
  • Rat: rentokil

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