5 Things you can do about the Citizens Assembly

It’s official, as of June 24, the City of Vancouver has mailed out envelopes to citizens of Grandview Woodlands to participate in the Citizens Assembly (CA). Tone deaf to citizen opposition, ignoring genuine concerns about inclusion and process, the City of Vancouver’s consultants, MassLBP (from Toronto) have decided that they know better than genuine citizens of Grandview Woodlands who live in the neighbourhood. So, what are the choices now for citizens who truly want to engage?

1.0 DO NOT RUSH –  you have until July 31 to respond, so there is no rush to respond right away.

2.0 READ, ASK QUESTIONS, TALK TO FELLOW CITIZENS – find out what is going on. The City of Vancouver (COV)  has posted documents on its site, and so have we on our site. Some of the questions OCOP has, are:

(1) why is participation limited to ONLY English-speaking people. Ours is a mulit-ethnic, global neighbourhood. So, why English only? Mass LBP, the consultants retained by the COV, noted that multilingual processes are hard to run. I guess they just don’t know how to do it or too much of the $275,000 budget is going to Mass LBP (about $150,000).

(2) why is participation favouring those with money and/or a well-paying job? Let me explain. To be on the Citizens Assembly you need to commit to attending 10 Saturday sessions PLUS public round table meetings (Section 8.0 Draft Terms of Reference (http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/terms-of-reference-grandview-woodland-citizens-assembly.pdf ). If you do not have a job, or are poor, or have a job with varied shifts, you cannot participate.

(3) why is the COV spending $150,000 on outside consultants? Is the City’s planning department not able to plan? If the budget is $275,000, why is $150,000 being spent on consultants when it could be spent on on direct communication with community groups, neighbourhood houses, business improvement associations,community centres such as Britannia and Trout Lake, seniors groups, First Nations groups, student groups and others representing low-income groups: the people who make up our comunity? Why is the expensive consultant route the best way to go, when there is much real, lived knowledge available from those who already live in the community?

(4) what will be the end result of this process? A report will be prepared and sent to City Council, who can refer it to the City’s planning department for comment and response and incorporation. I urge you to closely read section 6.0 of the Draft Terms of Reference: at no point is the Citizens Assembly report binding on City Council. Also, read carefully section 4.0 of the Terms of reference which states, in part, that the community plan from the Citizens Assembly “must be broadly consistent with the City of Vancouver planning principles as well as sound professional planning practices”. What?  Wasn’t it these same “planning principles” and “professional planning practices” which resulted in the Emerging Directions fiasco in the first place? So what has changed? In plain English, if I may paraphrase, “we will hire expensive consultants, they will “educate” you, you will tell  us what you think, we (City Council) will talk to our planning department, then we (City Council) will decide what to do”. So, how is that different from what City Council does any way, except for the use of expensive consultants, the rhetoric of consultation and of course, the fancy Citizens Assembly. Well, it must be democratic because “Citizens” are being “Assembled”. Do you really believe that?

So what exactly will be different this time from the Emerging Documents process which was the result of a long consultation process and then mysteriously, 22 to 36 story towers were permitted in portions of our neighbourhood. (see here: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/g-w-community-plan-june-2013-open-house-board-5-emerging-land-use-map.pdf ) Like the Emerging Directions process, there will be consultations, City Council will seek the City planning department’s input and then, who knows what will happen. Why will listening a second time make it any better if the process is not open and inclusive to start with?

(5) how does this process rebuild trust? Trust was lost in the Emerging Directions process. Trust needs to be rebuilt. How does this process rebuild trust? Do you trust some consultants to look after you best interests? Do  they even know what your best interests are as a citizen of the neighbourhood? Why does the COV think that we would trust outside consultants more than we trust our own City staff and representatives on Council? At the end of the day, the consultants will cash the cheque, pack up and leave, but it is the City Council which is accountable to us.  In case you think that Mass LBP has any roots in Vancouver, think again. Until recently, their website referred to Vancouver as an “outpost”, now the website has been changed (maybe because we pointed this out :) ? ) to “Mass West”. Yep, these are the people you “should” (?) trust to safeguard your interests.

3.0 DEFINE YOUR OWN ISSUES – City Council and Mass LBP want to define the issue as being one about democracy (hence a Citizens Assembly). We cannot talk with each other, they think (hence we need experts to help us talk). We cannot think for ourselves (hence, they will educate us with their “curriculum”).  They will say it is about NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard), even when our neighbourhood is one of the most inclusive  and diverse in the city and wants to continue to be just that. Actually, we think one of the main issues is TRUST. Another issue is INCLUSION. Another issue is TRANSPARENCY.  There are many more. What are your issues?

4.0 CONTACT CITY COUNCILLORS, and your MP- Libby DAVIES, and your MLA’s – Shane Simpson and Jenny Kwan. Talk to them, ask for answers. This is the neighbourhood they all  represent, so ask them what they think. What is going on? They can be reached by simply googling their names. If you really want to engage in a democratic process, talk to your representatives. Tell them how you feel.

5.0 JOIN US. Become engaged in the process. Join us for meetings. Tell us your views. Join us on Google Groups or send us your email and request to be put on the list. Volunteer your time and your skills. We need all the help we can get. They get paid and this is their full time job, we are volunteers.

This is just the start. Our neighbourhood has fought “city hall” before and, believe it or not, won. Expect more to come.

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