A Planner Spills The Beans

For over a year and a half many of us have been aware, from leaks inside the Vancouver Planning Department, that the plethora of towers presented at Commercial & Broadway in the “Emerging Directions” document did not represent the views of the local planners.  Rather the towers were inserted into the Plan on the orders of higher management at the City.

It has been juicy gossip, but without a smoking gun.

But now, Scott Hein, Senior Urban Designer at the time of the GW Plan has gone public with devastating revelations concerning upper management interference in rubbishing a “best practices” plan and insisting on multiple towers.

We put together what we believed was a reasoned overall plan for GW towards increased residential and employment opportunity. We fully appreciated the development economics of the Safeway site at B+C that, given active revenue generating impacts on the pro forma, related phasing considerations, noise impacts and view opportunity up and down “the cut” and believed that two modest towers in the range of 20 to 25 storeys maximum located on the easterly half of the site could be considered to make the Safeway site developable and, more importantly, improve the challenging interface conditions (all four sides) of Safeway while pedestrianizing the Commercial Drive frontage by integrating those shallow depth properties into a larger development opportunity. We imagined a series of related, modestly scaled low and mid rise buildings in this scenerio.

 

Otherwise, we believed that the appropriate approach to intensifying an already relatively high density community, of what must be seen as “special urban fabric”, was in transitional mid to low rise form.

 

We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”.

 

We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day. We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood.

 

Our next plan yielded 20 towers which was advanced to the decision makers (I cannot confirm who saw this plan). We were then told to produce a third plan which cut the towers in half down to 10. We prepared this third plan, also under protest, which was taken out to the community. The public process imploded soon thereafter.

 

Our work in the city’s Urban Design Studio for over 10 years was always about best practice and integrity of process. We always believed that meaningful, honourable co-design processes could yield win-win if conducted properly. We were never given this opportunity in GW.

 

The story about the third plan ties in nicely with the information circulated earlier this month by an insider who approached Ned Jacobs.  That insider described a meeting in which Mayor Robertson suggested ameliorating some of the excess towers — but still keeping at least half of them.

People have questioned us time and time again about why we question the very process that this Plan is working under.  It is because it always subject to political interference.

As every municipal party — with the exception of Vision — agreed at a recent meeting, the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan needs to be halted right away and discussions started with active bodies in Grandview as to how we need to proceed.

Citizens’ Assembly: Public Round Table 11/26

Many thanks to a member who shared the following information:

The Citizens’ Assembly will be hosting a Public Roundtable that is open to everyone in the community. This is a formal opportunity to have good conversations with your neighbours about what they want to see in Grandview-Woodland. I encourage you to invite anyone you think might be interested. I’ve included an invitation below, which you can forward to your friends and neighbours.

Here are a few key pieces of info:

  • The Public Roundtable will be on Wednesday, November 26th at the Maritime Labour Centre, 1880 Triumph St
  • Doors will open at 6:45pm, and the meeting will finish by 9:00pm

Conversations will take place at tables. At least two Assembly members will sit at each table. The conversations will focus on:

1) Getting feedback on your draft set of values

2) A discussion of the issues community members would like the CA to address in our final report to City Council.

We encourage you to think of specific questions you’d like to ask members of the Assembly.  Facilitators will be at each table to take notes, but this is your opportunity to ask questions and listen to other community members.

Mark your calendars!.

Citizens’ Assembly: Questions & Answers

Last week, OCOP was sent a series of questions from the Citizens’ Assembly.  After a lively and collaborative discussion within the group, OCOP responded this morning as follows:

Q1: What does OCOP suggest as an alternative / transparent formula or process to define ‘affordable’ housing? How would that formula / process keep pace with cost of living, inflation, and be resistant to political tampering and continual redefinition by gentrifying neighbourhoods?

OCOP adheres to the CHMC definition of affordability that a maximum of 30% of income should be required for housing/shelter costs. This formula insulates the definition from inflation. We also suggest that this formula be included in the Vancouver Charter which would prevent governments, such as the current City Council majority, from abandoning the CHMC definition.

 Q2: OCOP was telling people at the CA [during a previous presentation] that there doesn’t need to be a new Grandview-Woodland plan…. Without one, how would Grandview-Woodland halt erosion of affordability in housing as limited housing gets produced for/rented by those with the highest incomes?

After participating in good faith, we have lost confidence in the City’s Grandview Woodland plan. The sudden appearance on the land use plan of multiple high-rise towers has made us suspicious of the entire process. We are concerned that it has become politicized and heavily influenced by the interests of big developers.

OCOP believes that the existing Grandview Plan, adopted in 1980 at a time when Grandview was failing as a neighbourhood, has produced the Grandview that we all love and cherish. OCOP believes this Plan, in essence, continues to work. We believe that future planning needs only to build on the successful Plan already in place.

At an all-candidates’ meeting on 15th October, every municipal party running in the present election – with the single exception of Vision — agreed that the proposed GW Plan should either be scrapped or paused for more consultation over the process. Further, at an all-candidates’ meeting in Grandview on 30th October all parties – including Vision – agreed that high-rise towers were inappropriate for Grandview Woodland. As Vision Councillor Andrea Reimer put it “we know they won’t fly in this neighbourhood.”

Finally, we want to recognize that the area of the GW Plan sited south of Broadway is already included in the KCC Community Vision Plan of 1998. We believe that area should be excluded from the GW Plan and be allowed to develop in line with the KCC Visions Plan, thus respecting the hard work already done by that community, and already approved by City Council.

 Q3: Does OCOP believe the population of Vancouver (and/or Grandview Woodlands) should be capped somehow, and internal migration restricted? If GW doesn’t absorb a reasonable share of the projected population increases in the next few decades, would GW not be contributing indirectly to urban sprawl?

OCOP does not believe in capping population or internal migration (even if such a bizarre suggestion could be implemented, which we doubt). This neighbourhood has always been welcoming to people from around the world.

OCOP is not concerned about more new residents. But we reject the imposition of increased density from above. We also oppose the displacement of existing residents, who won’t be able to afford the neighbourhood that would result from the GW Plan.

According to the City’s own figures, Grandview Woodland is already more densely populated than about 70% of Vancouver.

After more than two years of asking, the City has still not provided density or population projections either for the City generally or the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood. Such projections when given should include detailed analysis of how the numbers were computed, and explain how that density is to be distributed with some reasonable equity across the City. We encourage the CA to investigate this lack of data.

 Q4: OCOP / Jak King reports that at the CA meeting Oct 4, James Roy, senior policy analyst at BC Non-Profit Housing Association and Thom Armstrong, ED of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC, spoke “from the housing industry view”. What perspectives/topics should they have discussed that they didn’t? Who would OCOP nominate as better equipped (and likely willing) to discuss these issues and possible solutions with the assembly?

While OCOP believes it was interesting and important to hear the industry perspective, the CA has not yet heard from a non-industry-linked house owner, or renter, or local co-op member. OCOP encourages the CA to hear from more independent residents to get a neighbourhood perspective on these issues.

Q5: How do other cities create incentives for owners of aging rental apartment buildings to retrofit and renovate without displacing existing renters?

This is an important question, especially for the areas of Grandview that contain most of our rental housing. The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and OCOP are currently investigating what has worked in other jurisdictions. We encourage the CA to conduct their own reviews of other cities’ plans in this regard.

Q6:   OCOP has been very critical of the CA’s barriers to participation. How does OCOP itself surmount barriers to participation by marginalized groups…. for how many languages does it provide interpretation so that a wider range of people [beyond the usual activists who typically participate in multiple organizations and can afford to devote many hours per week] can participate in its meetings? Does it offer free food, subsidies for transportation, child care, elder care? How does it schedule its meetings so that a majority of people can attend?

OCOP has always made its meetings and discussions open to all residents of the neighbourhood. Our meetings are regularly scheduled for Tuesday evenings at a central and accessible community centre. Our group represents a cross-section of the neighbourhood: including indigenous people, people with disabilities, renters, homeowners, elders, youth and those with English as a second language.

OCOP is an unfunded volunteer organization without the resources available to government institutions and therefore we, like virtually every other such group, have no ability to supply services such as the questioner describes. However, we note that we formally requested a portion of the Community Plan budget so that such services and others could be provided, and our request was declined.

We also note that translation services are not currently being offered for CA sessions and we encourage CA members to continue to request that this be put in place for all future meetings.

 Q7: OCOP refers to better neighbourhood planning processes in http://coalitionvan.org/files/CVN-Principles-and-Goals-Apr7_2014.pdf…. Can OCOP cite any such processes that adequately included ethnically/culturally/socioeconomically diverse groups and marginalized citizens? How was that achieved in those cases? Have these produced legally binding plans?

OCOP confirms its adherence to the Principles & Goals for Collaborative Neighbourhood-based Planning in the City of Vancouver” document of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods. We note that the document calls for 100% household surveys or, to put it another way, we call for complete inclusivity in the process, quite unlike the current Plan exercise. The document is based largely on the City Plan process that directed planning in Vancouver until the early 2000s. A number of neighbourhood plans have been implemented through the City Plan and Community Visions process that was an extension of City Plan. We encourage the CA to specifically investigate the success of City Plan.

Society Act Changes

As previously posted, OCOP has supported a letter written to the Province regarding concerns about proposed changes to the BC Society Act.  The following story from News1130 discusses some of our concerns:

Local organizations fear they will be more vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits, if the province goes ahead with changes to the law governing non-profits. They believe the effort to make non-profits more accountable goes too far.  At issue is a proposed new clause in the Society Act that says any appropriate person can make an application to the courts on the grounds that the society is carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.

 

Jak King with the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods [and OCOP] believes organizations like his, which have opposed certain developments, could become the target of lawsuits launched by the affected developers. “It would become a real barrier for us to continue our protest against the development, because we are a neighbourhood organization with no resources and completely run by volunteers.”

 

King’s colleague on the coalition, Larry Benge, takes it one step further. “Maybe it threatens the future of that society, because it would go bankrupt trying to defend itself.”

 

The coalition says while transparency is important in a non-profit, over-regulation of small grassroots organizations can be very harmful. More than two dozen B.C. societies have expressed similar sentiments.  A letter penned by the West Coast Environmental Law says the legislation “invites harassment of societies by any deep-pocketed and litigious opponents.”

Stop BC Housing Privatizations

OCOP has signed on to a letter sent by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods to BC Minister Rich Coleman regarding the proposed privatization — and potential redevelopment — of BC Housing supportive housing projects in Vancouver.  The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Minister Coleman,

RE: Neighbourhood Engagement in Planning and Development

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods is a consortium of 25 Vancouver Residents’ Associations representing residents across the city. As a coalition, our purpose is to ensure that planning and development in our neighbourhoods happens within specific guidelines that focus on meaningful consultation, public engagement and collaborative planning.

We are writing to express serious concern with your proposed plan to offer significant public lands and housing throughout the City of Vancouver for sale and potential redevelopment without any prior discussion with impacted neighbourhoods. There is a tendering process currently underway for the first two such properties. Therefore our concerns are immediate and urgent.

It is our position that there is no need for haste in selling off BC Housing operated land. On the contrary, there are many reasons to undertake a thorough collaborative planning process with residents and the communities in question, with a focus on local preferences for land ownership and development. We believe that this must happen prior to any decision any one of BC Housing’s holdings.

We are alarmed by the speed of this drastic change in policy. While it is understandable that nonprofit housing societies would want to purchase rather than lease the lands on which they operate, it is unclear whether or how the public, or the neighbourhoods, or indeed residents of the housing will benefit from such a change in ownership.

Local input is critical to ensure that these properties continue to meet their goals. As such, any plans for use which will bind BC Housing’s ability to deliver services must, in our view, incorporate such input. The tender must be halted to ensure the future viability of these properties.

On behalf of the many Vancouver residents we represent we ask that you terminate the current tender, and suspend the policy to allow for a full and open public discussion of the merits and efficacy of undertaking such a change. As taxpayers and residents we share ownership of the properties in question which your government manages on our behalf. We wish to have sufficient time and information to allow for fulsome consultation and collaboration on the future of these public lands.

The Coalition’s Statement of Principles and Goals outlines more completely what collaborative planning entails. We attach a copy for your reference.

We need to keep these lands in public ownership or – even better — find some creative way to transform this into a resident-owned and managed situation.

Besides that, there was no consultation in this case with the residents or Ray-Cam which currently helps manage the properties. Residents of Grandview need to be particularly concerned because McLean Park will no doubt be the next target.  This needs to be stopped.

Scrap GW Plan Say Candidates!

Mayoral candidates KIrk LaPointe (NPA) and Meena Wong (COPE) have called for the scrapping of the current Grandview-Woodland Community Plan process.  They were joined in this call by Council candidates Adriane Carr (Greens), Glen Chernen (Cedar Party) and RJ Aquino (OneCity).

At an all-party election Town Hall meeting last night , put on by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and attended by an enthusiastic full-house crowd of almost 400 residents, the candidates were asked whether, if elected, they would replace the current process with one that followed the Coalition’s Principles & Goals.  All the candidates that were asked the question agreed.

The NPA’s Kirk LaPointe noted that the level of contention in the neighbourhood showed there was clearly something wrong with the current Plan, while OneCity’s J.J. Aquino agreed that using the Coalition’s Principles as a blueprint for a new process was the way to move forward.

Adriane Carr, leader of the Green Party reminded the audience there had been no consultation of any kind regarding the high-rise towers that were proposed for Grandview, and she agreed that the Citizens’ Assembly was set up to sideline the process.

The Cedar Party also agreed the present Plan need to be replaced by one matching the Principles. Glen Chernen noted he was sad for the people who have joined and put their hopes in the designed-to-fail Citizens’ Assembly.

Vision’s Andrea Reimer was not asked the question though, in the recent past, she has been a fervent supporter of the Plan as currently established.

For those of us who have fought against the details of the GW Plan process for so long, this was a night of confirmation and hope. Confirmation that we are not alone in our distress with the Plan; and hope that something better could be achieved.

Another Slap In The Face For Grandview

Since it began in 2012, the Grandview Woodland Community Plan has been been one community engagement disaster after another. And now we have yet another one.

As part of the training/indoctrination of the appoointed members of the Citizens’ Assembly, they are being offered heritage walking tours of each of the neighbourhood’s seven sub-areas. That is a great idea; Grandview is famous for its fine heritage architecture and for still being, as Bruce Macdonald has coined it, an Edwardian village.

Moreover, Grandview has the only long-established and extremely active Heritage Group in the entire City. It is an organization that was recognized by the City last year and won Vancouver’s Heritage Advocacy Award just last year. The commendation for the award noted that GHG has “a successful community-based education and awareness program.” 

The GHG has, as active members, three of the City’s finest and most recognized heritage tour guides — Michael Kluckner, Bruce Macdonald, and Maurice Guibord — who between them have conducted scores, perhaps hundreds, of popular educational tours; and all of them live in Grandview-Woodland. But did the Citizens’ Assembly staff choose any of these expert and appropriate local resources?  No they did’nt.  They went outside the neighbourhood to source these tours.

They completely ignored the Grandview Heritage Group (no contact or discussion was ever offered to them) and they completely ignored the local heritage tour experts.   They hired another expert to handle the tours; an expert that we all recognize as one of the City’s finest historians and tour guide. The skills of John Aitken are not in question in any way.  What is in question is the deliberate choice to ignore local resources and expertise.

After all the community engagement problems that have plagued the GW Plan, and just after the Assembly held a thoroughly unrepresentative housing forum followed by a less than adequate speed-dating event with local organizations, and as Assembly members begin to leave the troubled process, it would have been simple common sense for the City and its consultants to avoid yet another PR problem.  Especially as the Chair, Rachel Magnusson, wrote to me that “drawing on local talent and knowledge is certainly a good thing.”  Fine words not backed up by action.

I have been in correspondence with Ms. Magnusson in an attempt to change her mind on this particular issue, but she has refused, suggesting only that GHG could put on a superfluous eighth tour.  Do we really want to put the already-stretched Assembly members to what could only be a repeat of material already covered.

The company being paid $150,000 of our tax dollars to manage the Citizens’ Assembly was hired for their “expertise” in community engagement.  Frankly, if their expertise was that good they would have recognized the value (both political and educational) of using GHG/local resources to handle these tours.  They didn’t, and we can only assume this was a deliberate slap in the face to Grandview.

Society Act of BC: Protest Proposed Changes

OCOP, through its membership in the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, has joined its voice with a multitude of other organizations to protest proposed changes to the Society Act of BC.

The BC Society Act is the governing legislation for many of the non-profit and community organizations that do so much to maintain civility and honesty and transparency to our lives.  Under the proposed changes, corporations (developers, say, or pipelines or mining companies) would be given the right to sue such organizations in court, claiming they were not acting “in the public interest” (this latter term to be defined by the judge at trial).  The organizations, generally volunteers with little or no resources like OCOP, would be forced to expend all their time and energies on legal defence against these SLAPP suits.

The Coalition’s letter can be found here.

News & Backgrounders: October 12

These are a few of the articles that piqued our interest over the last few days.  Note that these are updated to the Resources Page.

Community Plan:

Vancouver Planning:

Lessons From:

Tools:

Voter Suppression In East Vancouver?

OCOP has been actively involved in the exposure of what Garth Mullins has called the creation of a “democracy desert” in East Vancouver.

The issue is the siting of the advance polling stations for the municipal election in November.  There are no polling stations in the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona, Grandview, Hastings Sunrise, and most of Mount Pleasant creating the desert.

Voting
Map from CityHallWatch

In larger terms, there are five polling stations west of Main Street, two to the east, and one, on Main Street, on the border between east and west. Moreover, the 4km radius circles around both of the stations east of Main include wide swathes of Burnaby.

More intimately, the map requires the least able in our city — the low-and-no-income folks, the mentally challenged, the seniors — get to be the ones who have to travel by bus or walk long distances to exercise their constitutional rights.  This is just a mess.

DTES Votes, an organization working to register voters in the DTES, held a press conference on Thursday morning.  Garth spoke for OCOP.  The meeting got good coverage in the Straight and the Courier.  Further coverage here. 

By the end of the week, most political leaders had written to the Electoral Officer suggesting more polls.  Hopefully she will come back to work on Tuesday and get on with closing these gaping democracy gaps,

OCOP’s 12 Point Program

As part of our attendance at the Citizens’ Assembly, we handed out written material.  The summary document is shown below, with links to other parts of the material.

———————

The Our Community, Our Plan (OCOP) group of Grandview-Woodland residents was formed last year in response to the disastrous first attempt at a Community Plan contained in the document known as “Emerging Directions”.

Many of the members of OCOP have been closely involved with the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan process since it began in 2012, and have been involved in prolonged discussions with the City and its planning department. OCOP is a member of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods formed by twenty-four community associations from across the City, created specifically to improve the planning and development process.

OCOP believes that the entire GW Plan process has been faulty since its inception and that the Community Assembly portion of this process is equally flawed. Our belief is that GW has become a wonderfully diverse and popular neighbourhood under the existing Community Plan, and the neighbourhood should be allowed to continue evolving at its own pace and as desired by residents.

That being said, here we are, and we hope to persuade you that there IS a better way.

This package includes:

  • The Twelve Points that represent important views expressed during OCOP’s deliberations (2 pages);
  • One-pager lead in to …
  • Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods Principles & Goals for a more respectful relationship between the City and the neighbourhoods (5 pages)
  • Flyer for Development debate on 15th October

We suggest that the All-Party debate on development and community engagement on 15th October will be a useful learning exercise for all CA members.

We urge you to stay in touch with OCOP through its website and please feel free to join us at our Tuesday evening meetings at Britannia.

The Citizens’ Assembly Starts Work

On Saturday 4th October, the Citizens’ Assembly portion of the Grandview Community Plan held the first of what might be just a few public sessions — a Panel on Housing Perspectives.  That same afternoon, in a closed session, a dozen groups were allowed to make 12-minute presentations (including Q&A) to a small number of Citizen Assembly members. OCOP was one of the groups.  Jak King reported on these meetings:

It was an interesting day, and further evidence, if more were needed, that this is someone’s experiment , we are the guinea pigs (with no safety net other than the election this November), and that its results could cost GW its future as an effective and livable community.

About 25-30 non-CA types attended the meeting, including mayoral candidate Bob Kasting. After being instructed by the CA Chair that we were not allowed to take photographs or video, the day began with the first public session: a 90-minute panel on Housing Perspectives.

I had written earlier about the skewed nature of the panel’s industry-based perspectives.  Apparently, after some similar complaints, the CA management at the last minute added panelists who could talk about co-op housing and low-income options.  However, the panel still had no-one who was a renter, an owner-occupier, or co-op member who was not attached to the housing industry.  Thus, the persepctives given were all from the housing industry view.

Speakers were: Abi Bond, director of housing for City of Vancouver; James Roy, senior policy analyst at BC Non-Profit Housing Association; James Evans, a local developer; Thom Armstrong, ED of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC; and Nick Sully, a principal with Shape Architecture.

Did we learn anything that was genuinely relevant to the GW Community Plan?  Perhaps, but most of the talks concerned much broader issues, including many that are outside municipal government.

  • Abi Bond talked in general terms about City policies toward “affordable” housing. She said — against all other evidence — that City policy considers 30% of income as the upper limit on “affordable” (Rental100 rents, far above this level, are the reality). She also said the City had $125 million set aside in 2015-2020 for “affordable” housing, though it was not clear whether this was for the City to actually build at that level.
  • Thom Armstrong and James Roy spoike in more generral terms about the difficulties being experienced in raising finance for low income housing of all kinds. Of particular concern is the Federal withdrawl from all housing programs, including those for co-ops.
  • Nick Sully gave a short illustrated talk on the housing pods hios company has created in Strathcona and elsewhere. This was to illustrate the alternative types of development that we might use here.
  • James Evans, developer of the Jeffs Resident development in GW, examined the difficulties under the current system of dealing with major renovation and retention of the heritage buildings that are such a feature of GW.

Because of timing problems, very few questions were asked of the panel, and all but one of those were limited to CA members.

When the session was over, I was able to speak with many in the audience, both CA members and others.  There seemed to be a sense of disappointment in the presentations, some even talking of a condescending tone.  It was also clear that the CA members were already swamped with the information streams coming at them.  It was about to get worse.

After a very decent lunch (unfortunately organized and pushing us even later than we were before) we moved on to the one and only time a number of local groups would have to present to the CA.  I had earlier described this process as speed-dating but in fact this was speed-dating, with multiple partners at the same time, in what might as well have been a tin shack in the middle of a rainstorm — the ambient noise level was high enough to make it very difficult to hear and talk.

The set-up had a dozen local associations, including GWAC and OCOP, on groups of chairs around the hall.  Every twelve minutes, a group of CA members, three to five at a time, arrived at the OCOP station, and one had a few minutes only to shout out, as quickly as possible, the points one wanted to get across.  That usually left about five minutes for questions and dialogue and, just as one got into a good rapport with a group, the Chair loudspeakered that the CA members had to move onto the next group. This happened four times. It was exhausting for us, and I have little idea how valuable it could have been for the CA members.

It was, I agree, a good opportunity to tell how much we disliked the process and what we might do to improve it; but even then we only got to talk with sixteen CA members.  For the rest, we have to hope they will actually read the materials that were emailed to each member.  And that leads me to some hope.

First, I have to say that I was astinished at how few of the CA members had any idea about the process that went on from the fall of 2012 and ended in September 2013.  They had interest, but no background in the struggle. That being said, I was glad to hear so many of them tell me they knew they were being fed a line from the City and they were determined to make up their own minds.  Hopefully, then, the OCOP materials will help them see through more of the charade, and to show that a more efficient process is available.

Another sign of hope is that 48 CA members, 25-30 other residents, and a dozen or more City folks were willing to give up a very pleasant fall Saturday to do their civic duty by participating in a process, flawed though it may be, that is vital to the future of the neighbourhood we all love and cherish.

The next meeting of the Assembly (members only) is not until the end of November.  The next public meeting?  Not sure.

OCOP! Press Release #1

The following press release was issued by OCOP! on 6th June:

OCOP! members are concerned that the City wants to build dozens of high-end condo towers across the East Vancouver neighbourhood they love.  This would displace low-income renters and pave over the community’s cultural and heritage values.

“This isn’t a NIMBY thing about view corridors,” said local resident Garth Mullins.  “This is about stopping gentrification and displacement.  Grandview-Woodland has always been welcoming to people from all parts of the world.  We want to make sure the community remains welcoming and affordable – not just another homogenous forest of upscale condo towers”.

The City now wants to discuss the future of the neighbourhood through a Citizens’ Assembly. The City recently published its draft Terms of Reference for the Citizens’ Assembly but OCOP! says, “go back to the drawing board”.

OCOP! remains suspicious that the City is just looking for a new way to get buy-in to their old condo tower Land Use Plan.  Local resident, Zool Suleman said, “I’m suspicious about the City of Vancouver spending $275,000 to educate us about our issues”.  At a recent meeting, Zool said to City planners, “We are the citizens, we are assembled, and with all due respect, all you need to do is listen”.

OCOP! applauds the City for seeing that deeper consultation was necessary in the form of the Citizens’ Assembly but this plan comes up short.  The Assembly should be:

1. Open:  According to the City, membership in the Citizens’ Assembly will be limited to 48 and drawn by lottery.  Yet, over the past year, many residents have been meeting, researching, participating in City workshops and speaking at City council meetings.  A
lottery system will exclude all this effort, and leave out many passionate voices.

2. Diverse:  The Citizens’ Assembly must also reflect the neighborhood, in all its diversity, paying special attention to traditionally marginalized peoples.  This requires an open door policy, along with active recruitment of folks who are often underrepresented on such bodies.

3. Accessible:  This is a low income community that speaks many languages.  To enable those not as comfortable in English, the Citizens’ Assembly should have interpretation and translation services.  Also, a small honorarium should be made available to enable participation from low-income residents.  People with disabilities also need representation.

4. Transparency:  In 2013, after a year of consultation with residents, the City suddenly proposed dozens of condo-towers across Grandview-Woodland (see Backgrounder).
Some were up to 36 stories tall.  OCOP! says, “No more surprises.” The members of the
Citizens’ Assembly should write the Report, not an appointee of the City.  Council should
deliberate upon it, in an open session, without interference from staff.  Residents want
real influence in planning the future of this neighbourhood.

5. Accountable:  OCOP! says, “open the books”.  The City plans to spend $275,000 on the
Citizens’ Assembly, the majority of which, will be spent on expensive consultants.  Every
penny of tax dollars spent on engagement with Grandview-Woodland should be made public.