Slice of Democracy Contest

“History repeats, first as tragedy…..then as farce.”

We at OCOP are pleased to announce our  “Slice of Democracy” contest. With mere days to go before the Citizens Assembly closes its doors to those Citizens of Grandview Woodlands who want true, democratic participation in the planning process, we are having a contest for those who are most creative with their “lottery ballots”.

The Citizens Assembly mailed out over 20,000 English language only ballots to our neighbourhood. We hear that only about 400 people have sent in their ballots so far, so for the other 98%, what to do with you ballots? Why not use your creativity to re-use your ballots and post your pictures on Facebook at the OurCommunityOurPlan page or on Twitter, the hashtag is #OCOP and our Twitter name is @GWCommunityPlan

For the best entry, the winner will receive 48 slices of pizza (equal to 4 large pizzas). That’s right, at OCOP, every ballot counts, you can enter more than once and all entries will be considered. There are no limits to our process, unlike the “other guys”.

The Citizens of Grandview Woodland were already the subject of a community plan exercise that created much distrust (the tragedy of the Emerging Directions process), now there is the Citizens Assembly (possible farce?).

 

Ballot Compost Liners

Ballot Compost Liner

 

Ballot Slippers 2 Ballot Slippers

 

Ballot Slippers

Placemat Ballot

Ballot Place Mats

 

Have fun. We know that we plan to…..

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Problems with the Citizens Assembly

Problems with the Citizens Assembly

 

To myself and others the Citizens Assembly seems to be a tactic by the city to put off the messy business of dealing with strong opposition to the city’s plans for the Grandview-Woodland area until after the civic election.

 

Selecting 48 locals to represent citizen input appears to be a way to eliminate local activists from the equation. It seems likely the new group of 48 will be subjected to an educational process designed by the city to achieve its original goals. The outcome, namely the non-binding recommendations that the Citizens’ Assembly makes, will carry no more weight than what the city determines they will in the end. This process seems to resemble a commission of inquiry or a royal commission, and like them, it may generate a lot of positive media attention and in the end the new ideas generated could just get ignored.

 

The people involved in My Community My Plan have lots to contribute to the educational process for the Citizens Assembly.

 

Jak King recently suggested this list of speakers:

 

Patrick Condon – A UBC professor, with over 25 years’ experience in sustainable urban design as a professional city planner and as a teacher and researcher

 

Richard Wozny – As a development consultant for Site Economics, he has worked on over 1,000 major real estate developments and argues against high-rise residential towers

 

Louis Villegaz – An urban design expert and a director of the Residents’ Association of Mount Pleasant

 

Wendy Sarkissian, PhD  – A planner, consultant, educator, author, and facilitator with 40 years experience in planning, design and environmental studies

 

Elizabeth Murphy – Worked in the City of Vancouver Housing and Properties Department, for BC Housing as a Senior Projects Development Officer and as a consultant to the Ministry of Transportation and to the BC Buildings Corporation.

 

Jak King has also suggested “the retail area of Commercial Drive be expanded into the lanes on either side of the main street. This would increase the business area thus making available a broader selection of shops and services, it would allow owners of many businesses on the Drive to increase the density of their properties without altering the current Commercial Drive streetscape, and would bring even more diversity and interest to the Drive… this might provide a creative solution to densification desired by the BIA without damage to an important heritage street.”

 

I will add that encouraging business owners to develop the sides of the buildings that face on to the side streets that join Commercial Drive to the lanes behind can also contribute to the same idea. Many restaurants facing Commercial Drive have done this, such as Marcello and Belgian Fries, but until recently the Little Nest Restaurant successfully did it on the corner of the back lane and the side street. Everyone loved it.

 

Another suggestion that might serve to keep commercial rents a bit lower is to encourage the retention of older buildings. New buildings are expensive and demand high rents, while older buildings often have landlords who have paid off their mortgages and are sometimes less demanding. One way to preserve the older buildings on Commercial Drive is to celebrate them as heritage buildings. Commercial Drive has the best collection of Edwardian Commercial buildings surrounded by wonderful Edwardian houses in the whole city.

 

This makes Commercial Drive Vancouver’s best Edwardian village, and the city should provide incentives and support for this designation and the retention and restoration of its commercial heritage buildings.

 

Bruce Macdonald

We Like Commercial Drive the Way It is

We Like Commercial Drive the Way It Is

 

One thing that makes Commercial Drive an interesting and desirable place is the unique make up of the area. Consider the people in the census tract that forms the heart of Commercial Drive, the area between 1st Avenue and Venables, between Clark Drive and Nanaimo Street. The 2006 census showed this area to be almost 70% rented dwellings, compared to 35% of the dwellings in Greater Vancouver. The people living there tend to be younger, with almost twice as many in their late 20s (13%, compared to 7% in Greater Vancouver), living in one person households (47%, compared to 28% in Greater Vancouver) and almost 5 times as many of them are employed in the visual and performing arts, communications and the humanities (10%, compared to 2% in Greater Vancouver). These young, artistic people, many of them single and renters, help to create the uniqueness and the appeal of Commercial Drive.

 

Last summer a special meeting of the Grandview Woodland Local Area Council on the planning process in Grandview was attended by hundreds of people. The speaker that got the largest response from the audience was Garth Mullins. Garth passionately spoke about the destruction of the Grandview he loves through increasing land values, higher rents and the city’s plan to introduce significant new density:

 

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/ID/2396151576/

“For me I can see allowing no further density without there being social justice involved in that density. The city is undergoing a process of social cleansing right now. My generation, my cohort, is being moved out of this community now… People I know, people I loved for a long time are moving to other places, they can’t afford it… Right now you have gentrification going on… Someone like me I might have dreamed of getting married at Astorino’s and taking my kids…  to the Little Nest…  and maybe they can’t ever live here. Well, I don’t want that… We already have that social mix of poor and middle class…  of everybody the city aspires to elsewhere. We already have a sustainable community with a good balance of cultures and heritage… This is the model—don’t come here to fix it, export it to other places!

 

 [heavy applause]

 

Before I was born the city fathers said let’s not have giant flyways and freeways going through the city. They fought that. Every other big city in North America has them and hates them. In a few years people are going to realize packing themselves into giant glass and chrome towers in the sky is the same thing, and they’re going to hate them too. So don’t fall for the trend… We’ve seen the model, it does not work… the social housing never materializes,  so before any more density, let’s see social justice.”

 

One important observation that Jane Jacobs made was that communities that retain some of their older buildings assist in providing relatively inexpensive rents. New buildings and those using concrete construction are expensive to build and any new rentals are going to be expensive. This radically changes the neighbourhood, especially if less expensive older buildings with individual debt-free landlords are torn down and replaced by new buildings with large mortgages and professional landlords.

 

The plan currently proposed by the city, besides introducing more towers to the area, leaves untouched the area east of Commercial Drive that is zoned for duplexes. The new duplex units are going for about $700,000 for 1,200 square feet each, that’s $1.4 million for a 2, 400 square foot building on a normal lot.  But if an older house with 3 or 4 rental units is torn down to do this, the impact on the environment and the neighbourhood is significant. While the rents may double, the number of people housed on the site can be halved.

 

In the 1950s the city allowed owners in Grandview to convert their houses into 3, 4, 5, or even 6 legal suites called Multiple Conversions. Many of the older homes had basements and attics as well as two floors in between. Some houses were allowed to add 15 feet to the back of the house, enough room to expand the suites on each floor or add bachelor suites.  These Multiple Conversion houses provided a range of rental suites at a range of prices, from large 3-bedroom garden suites at the ground level, to 1 or 2 bedroom main floor and upstairs suites, to bachelor suites in the attic with a view. Allowing these homes a special heritage designation, with a heritage home building code would ensure relatively lower costs to create these new very ecologically green suites.

 

After two or three decades owners often have their mortgages paid off and are be less concerned about rent increases and high rents. In some cases tenants have been known to care for an aging owner in return for reduced rent, or for negotiating eventual ownership of the house.

 

These types of creative solutions to our local housing problems should be investigated and facilitated by the city. They can make an important contribution to retaining what makes Grandview such a desirable area, and to avoiding some of the things that might radically alter the neighbourhood we love to live in.

 

 

Bruce Macdonald

 

City of Vancouver Planning “Non” response to OCOP

When is an answer not an answer? Perhaps when it does not answer the very question posed.

OCOP wrote to the City of Vancouver, Planning department with four key questions:

1.0 How does the proposed recruitment process (for the Citizens Assembly) ensure a democratic participation?

2.0 What is necessary to ensure the CA’s final recommendations are incorporated, in their entirety, into the final Grandview-Woodland Neighbourhood Plan?

3.0 What population growth targets were used to determine the density?

4.0 What planning principles determined the location and form of development?

The answer OCOP received is attached. You decide. Were the questions answered?

Response Letter – Grandview Woodland Community Plan – 15-07-2014

Neither fair, nor effective – OCOP Responds to Citizens Assembly in Vancouver Sun

JUST POSTED Here is the Link: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/Opinion+Citizens+assembly+Neither+fair+effective/10008796/story.html

 

Rachel Magnusson of the Citizens Assembly recently wrote an Opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun website. You can find it here:  http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/Opinion+Creating+better+community+plan/9997705/story.html

Zool Suleman of OCOP has penned a response, which is below. The Vancouver Sun has advised that the response piece by OCOP will be posted on the Vancouver Sun website today. Keep your eyes open.

 

Opinion: Citizens Assembly – neither fair nor effective

In her Opinion “Creating a better community plan”, author Rachel Mangnusson extols the virtues of a Citizens Assembly (CA) which is in the process of recruiting participation by residents of Vancouver’s East Vancouver neighbourhood known as Grandview-Woodland (GW), anchored by Commercial Drive. Authorized by Vancouver City Council, this Assembly is in response to a community urban plan process that raised howls of protest last year when after months of supposed listening residents heard that multiple towers were to be raised in their neighbourhood, some as high as 32 stories.

With the Citizens Assembly, Vancouver City Council is once again embarked on a road which is heavy on process and light on listening.  The author and her fellow consultants, who are being paid $150,000 or more out of a total civic allotment of $275,000, are very enamoured by their own credentials. Potent terms such as “democracy”, “insight”, and “community” are rhetorically utilized to instil trust in the process. Trust, of course, is the main issue. Trust between the City’s planning department and the citizens of Grandview-Woodland is sorely lacking.

Our Community Our Plan (OCOP) a citizens group based in the neighbourhood, has tried repeatedly to advise the author, members of the planning department and City Council itself of the pitfalls in this process, but to no avail, so in this space let us try again.

Assembly participation is limited to English speakers only. This is shocking given that GW is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Vancouver where according to Statistics Canada thousands of households note Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog as the languages spoken in their households. 20,000 letters seeking participation from English speakers only, disenfranchises many. It is not a virtue to extol, it is a fact to be ashamed of.

Citizens who are low income/poor and those with jobs that do not permit taking the required 10 Saturdays off, need not apply. This limits the voices of students, new immigrants, seniors, the underemployed and many others.

The CA has established a process where forty-eight voices will self-select their desire to participate. A computer program in Toronto, the home base of the consultants, and some helping “expert” hands will try to massage issues of representation and who gets to speak for thousands. Not very democratic, I would suggest. OCOP has suggested that all citizens of the neighbourhood be given a chance to participate. Participation instils belonging, ensures transparency and creates legitimacy in the answers which result. Selection and expert voices that shape the opinions of the forty-eight voices will breed further distrust.

The final report of the CA is not binding on City Council and its findings are subject to already broadly articulated planning principles. The same principles which have resulted in huge towers amassed at transportation nodes where developers trade density for civic amenities. It is a complex set of trade-offs where livable neighbourhoods such as Grandview-Woodlands are sold off to the highest bidder. More light needs to be shone on these civic transactions, not less.

OCOP is built around five key principles. An open process.  A process which accommodates diversity of languages and cultures. A process which is accessible to people of all economic classes and abilities. A process which is transparent and one which is accountable. The CA in our view, meets none of these criteria. Open, diverse, accessible, transparent and accountable.

Plain talk for a plain process, not the verbal dance of veils that the CA proposes.

 

Zool Suleman is an immigration lawyer and OCOP member. He has been a Chair, Co-Chair and Member of the City of Vancouver “Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration”

Next Meeting Tuesday July 8, 7 PM Britannia Family Room and Minutes

The next meeting of OCOP will be on Tuesday July 8 at 7 PM in the Britannia Centre Family Room. Come and join in the discussion.

 

Minutes (these are in draft form)

1.o Meetings with City Councillors and other meetings

Zool reported again on his lunch meeting with Councillors Geoff Meggs and Andrea Reimer. Councillor Reimer has followed up with Zool to meet to discuss the Emerging Directions document. Zool will keep us informed on this process, if it moves forward. Councillor Meggs is aware of the possibility of a meeting with Councillor Reimer and has left the future direction of the meetings to her.

Garth and Zool have also been approach by Charles Campbell, who will be the report writer for the Citizen’s Assembly. There was some discussion about meeting with him and other similar types of meetings to pursue OCOP’s objectives. It was agreed that Garth and Zool can follow up with Charles Campbell and other similar meetings but with reporting back to the OCOP group.

2.0 Future Information Sessions

Tom Durrie and Zool are trying to arrange an inf0rmation session on the Citizens Assembly and OCOP with seniors in the Cantonese language.

 

3.0 Citizens Assembly Lottery Cards

There was a vigorous discussion about how to respond to the Lottery Cards sent out by the Citizens Assembly. In general there was agreement that the Citizens Assembly process needed to be discredited for not dealing with many of the foundational issues raised by OCOP and others. A committee was struck to deal with designing and distributing posters and information leaftlets in the neighbourhood. Further discussion was to be held at the next meeting on this topic.

4.0 Next Meeting

Tuesday July 8, 2014

Britannia Family Activities Room.

“Yes” to People, “No” to Metrotown in East Van!

On July 3, 2014, the Georgia Straight newspaper published a short story about OCOP in it’s Straight Talk section. For those who have not read it yet, the link is here:

http://www.straight.com/news/676076/grandview-woodland-citizens-assembly-process-draws-criticism

 

The full article is below:

A GRANDVIEW-WOODLAND GROUP is taking issue with the City of Vancouver’s process for a citizens’ assembly that will be established as part of a long-term community plan for the area.

According to the city, 48 members will be selected for the assembly via a random draw of various demographic groups from residents that sign up to participate.

The membership will be selected on August 6, and the assembly will hold 10 meetings between September 2014 and April 2015. The assembly will be “one of several tools” that will help create the community plan, according to a city press release.

Zool Suleman, a member of the “Our Community, Our Plan!” group, argued that the city is being “tone deaf”.

“I think it’s setting up a process that’s doomed for failure,” he said. “I think it’s spending way too much money for something that can be done much better and much more cheaply on a community level.”

The letter sent to city council and planners states that many residents agree that the formation of the citizens’ assembly “is not democratic”.

“The CA Terms of Reference grants the City discretionary power over which of the CA’s final recommendations (if any) will be integrated into the Grandview Woodland Community Plan,” the letter reads.

“The lack of democratic structure combined with the City’s discretionary power over the CA’s recommendations defeats the spirit of an Assembly of Citizens.”

Suleman said the residents’ group wants to see an open process for the assembly that includes any community members that want to participate.

“What we’re looking for is an inclusive process, a multilingual process, a process that includes low-income or no-wage earners, and a process that means that city council actually listened to the report,” he stated.

One of the key questions for the group, he said, is how many people the planning department estimates will move to East Vancouver over the next few decades. He added that the group is not opposed to density and people moving into the neighbourhood, but to “planning without any basis”.

“How many individuals or families do they think might be moving in the city and then might come to East Vancouver, and then how can we plan for those families in ways that don’t involve 32-storey towers?” he asked.

“What we don’t want is Metrotown at Commercial and Broadway. If we wanted Metrotown at Commercial and Broadway, we’d move to Metrotown.”

A spokesperson for the city could not be reached for comment by the Straight’s deadline.

Grandview-Woodland residents who are 16 or older can register as volunteers for the citizens’ assembly until July 31.

This is the first time a citizens’ assembly will be used at the municipal level in Vancouver.

City council voted to implement the tool last year after a draft Grandview-Woodland document proposing towers at the Commercial and Broadway intersection drew criticism from throughout the community.