Brian Jackson Responds on Townhouses in GW

There has been a fast and furious exchange of emails in relation to Grandview Woodland which began with an article in the Vancouver Sun, complaints from Citizens of Grandview Woodlands and a reply from Brian Jackson, the General Manager, Planning and Development, for the City of Vancouver.

The Vancouver Sun article that started it all is below:

Then, both, Phillip Hill wrote to City Council and the Mayor, with his letter, which is attached. Brian Jackson 140822 Phillip Hill Letter.

OCOP participant, Linda Malek, also joined the discussion with her email Linda Malek Letter to Brian Jackson August 2014.

Which then resulted in the following reply from Brian Jackson Brian Jackson Reply August 2014 in which the closing line is:

“The City is starting fresh with a new expanded work program for the Community Plan and we fully expect there to be substantial changes to what had been proposed a year ago.”

Only time will tell if the City is truly listening to Citizens voices in GW.


OCOP Continues To Gather Support

As we come near the end of the Summer, OCOP is ramping up its activities with plans for Town Hall Meetings in September (Urban Planning Panel, September 10) and October (HYPER Gentrification Panel).

OCOP has also been meeting with people in the community to determine what they want to see in the community plan.

An Editorial Cartoon Courier August 8th 2014

The Editorial Cartoon above notes how the public sentiment is developing on the issue of land use plans that really listen to what the local community wants.

A recent email debate in the Tyee highlights the issue of spot zoning and what havoc it can play with community land use plans. Which can be found here (Note: Patrick Condon is a confirmed speaker at OCOP’s first Town Hall meeting on September 10, 2014, more details to follow):


Is Spot Zoning the Problem or the Solution?

[Editor’s note: On July 14, The Tyee published an opinion piece by University of British Columbia urban design professor Patrick Condon proposing that Vancouver’s way of “spot zoning” for new projects was playing havoc with the character of neighbourhoods and principles of democracy and transparency. Condon argued that Vancouver would do better to include citizens in a process leading to a one-time zoning of the entire city. His critique, which branded city hall’s project-by-project approval process a path to “soft corruption,” produced buzz for and against.

Many experienced voices argued that Vancouver’s approach — trading permission to build for public amenities and other city input — was key to the city’s success at evolving to accommodate changing pressures and needs. One of the most knowledgeable and experienced of those defenders of the current approach is former Vancouver NPA city councillor Gordon Price, now Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University.

We arranged an email exchange on the topic between Price and Condon and asked if we could look in. Here’s the result.]



So, I’m supposed to defend spot zoning, am I? Maybe I should start out with something more sympathetic, like duckling abuse.

Seriously, you’re asking me to defend ‘soft corruption,’ on the assumption that the motivation for rezoning, whether soft or hard, is to tap the millions in Community Amenity Charges, resulting in ever-bigger, and hence inappropriately scaled, development.

Stop me before I rezone again!

But let me suggest that there’s a need for spot rezonings and regulatory changes in a world where we won’t or can’t anticipate the future. Let me use an example that occurred when I was a council member in the 1980s.

There is at the southeast corner of Davie and Howe Street a rather bland residential high-rise, just under 20 stories.

It’s not distinguishable now, dwarfed by the high-rises on all the other corners — but it sure was back when it was built in 1988, approved as, yes, a reinterpretation of the zoning bylaw. The planner at the time, Ray Spaxman, wasn’t about to approve anything other than what had come before: office and commercial with a few floors of residential.

But Andrew Grant, president of the PCI Group, was convinced there was a market for rental accommodation in this unlikely neighbourhood of parking lots and auto-body shops: “Downtown at your doorstep for $395.” He spent a lot of time trying to convince staff and eventually council to let him take the risk.

Council in response changed the rules at a single meeting — as much to see if Andrew was right. Which he most certainly was. That building was the beginning of what we now know as Downtown South: the thousands of units, condos and rentals that successfully accommodated so much of the growth in the core in the 1990s — and took development pressure off the West End.

It is also, as you note, where we began to employ Development Cost Charges — another innovation that came with Downtown South once the blocks between Homer and Burrard were massively upzoned to accommodate residential high-rises, along with design guidelines and public-realm improvements. That avoided the need to negotiate separate amenity requirements with each developer.

But note the words “massively upzoned” — something that was only possible on low-density industrial land like Arbutus, Concord, Coal Harbour, Collingwood Village and all the other megaprojects where we accommodated growth without intruding into residential neighbourhoods.

Your call for a city-wide plan to avoid the need for spot rezonings, I can bet, will not result in those kinds of ‘massive upzonings.’ Like CityPlan, it will most likely result in a reiteration of the status quo, with some token recognition of change, but mainly a call for further amenities and more affordable housing, without any practical way of achieving of it — certainly not by changing the character of the community with new forms of development.

That’s fine for those of us who already have a piece of this precious place. But if in the future, we believe there’s a need to try out new forms of development, then it will likely be done initially through spot changes — just as we did with Andrew Grant.

And that’s a good reason to keep it in the tool kit.


Hey Gordon,

I am not asking you to defend soft corruption my friend! When you were on council we were in a different world and Vancouver was a different city. It took some bold moves in the 1980s to make Vancouver what it is! But that was then and this is now. What worked for downtown is not working for the rest of the city. You seem to say that council has to step in because city staff and citizens cannot be trusted to do the right thing. But I respectfully disagree. Every other city in the region seems to be able to involve citizens when they create or update their Official Community Plan. Why can’t Vancouver? Sure they occasionally allow variances from their OCP. But at least they have a plan! Surrey has a plan that anticipates very large increases in population. Why can’t we?


Why can’t Vancouver do what other cities in the region do?

Land, Patrick, land.

Vancouver doesn’t have any large greenfield sites. It’s relatively easy to allocate growth in places like Langley’s Willoughby or Brookswood, Coquitlam’s Heritage Mountain, or South Surrey and South Clayton. But Vancouver City doesn’t even have the brownfield sites of the recent past that we used for megaprojects in the 1980s and ’90s.

Our Official Development Plan is the Zoning and Development Bylaw, accompanied by the local plans and policies that set direction. But regardless of the legal framework, woe to the council that proposes ‘bold moves’ in existing neighbourhoods. (Hello, Grandview.) Even a single development proposal can create a crisis. (Hello, Mt. Pleasant.)

So you’re right: what worked for the downtown core in the past won’t work for the rest of the city. It won’t even work for downtown.

That’s why small interventions, like spot zoning, is the default mechanism of change.


Ah Gordon. Your examples are cherry picked. The City of North Vancouver, New Westminster, and Burnaby are similarly “built out” yet they have Official Community Plans. They even mostly follow them! The new 60 storey (yikes!) towers at Metrotown replaced low rise rental units, all in conformance with their OCP and area plan. No spot zone required. We can’t do that?

And I am surprised that you use our most notorious public process train wrecks to make your case: the Rize project and the Grandview Woodlands plan. The “bold” move at Grandview Woodlands came after a long deliberated low/mid-rise plan was trashed. Not bold enough it seems. Not enough high rises! Add ten! Table that plan tomorrow! Plenty bold. Some would say arrogant and counterproductive, especially since the changes did not add density, only height. This is planning mayhem, not courage.


I’ve never believed there’s any substantive difference between a ZDB* and an OCP** once the latter is translated into something as useful as the former. They are both expressions of what a city expects for the future based on the permissions of the past.

I suppose we could get into the weeds on the Grandview process (no argument, the city screwed it up). But the point is this: You will not get boldness, regardless of the process, if communities will only accept the most modest changes that, as a beginning assumption, will not change their character. If neighbourhoods have priority over city and region-wide plans, and can effectively veto their broad-based, long-term visions once implementation is required, why bother pursuing them in the first place?

* Zoning and Development Bylaw
** Official Community Plan


Yes this might get into the weeds, and that’s unfortunate; because this issue fuels the anger now rampant in our city. I happen to think that the Official Community Plan process used elsewhere is forward looking, while our Vancouver Zoning Bylaw and map only looks back. If it were forward looking we would not be changing the damned thing for every project that comes down the pike.

Gordon, with deep respect, you say we will never “get boldness, regardless of the process, if communities will only accept the most modest changes”. But our City of North Vancouver neighbours are advancing a draft OCP that anticipates projected 50 per cent increase in population in only 25 years! And it maps locations for all these new homes to boot.

Now that’s bold! That’s forward looking! That’s what city councils should do! Not spot zone.


I can understand your desire, Patrick, for an Official Community Plan for Vancouver, so long as it sincerely involves the people of Vancouver in a determination of their future and provides everyone, neighbourhoods and developers alike, with some certainty about what’s allowed.

I’d still maintain that it will not eliminate the need for spot rezonings. No plan can predict with sufficient certainty the forces that will shape our built environment, and there may well be times when changing circumstances or innovation justify an unanticipated intervention. All would agree, however, that spot rezonings should not be the customary mechanism of change.

But to avoid that, and still provide the latitude to accommodate the growth we can reasonably expect based on past experience, means planning for a scale of change that might well be a shock to those who rather like things as they are, or to those who acknowledge the need for change but not if it means change in the character of their community. Yet an Official Community Plan should, if it is a serious document, recognize that the city will be, in some profound ways, a different place as it accommodates those not yet here, and whose voices cannot yet be heard. It is a rare document that does so after emerging from a process of current stakeholders, and is sustained over time when the growth acceptable in theory becomes a white sign on a lot that threatens someone’s self-interest.

It is for that purpose — to accommodate forms of change not yet evident, to deal with growth not yet imaginable, to hear voices not yet present — that spot rezonings will and should remain an option.


Gordon, I know that you have stood up for the things you believe in many times, often withstanding harsh personal and political consequences. You well express how hard it is to plan a city for those who are not yet here, against the innate conservatism of those who are. You may think me naive; but based on my own experience I think you too readily assume folks won’t do the right thing when they get the chance. When you opened this debate you dismissed the CityPlan effort of the ’90s. This surprised me. When given the choice between no-growth, growth only downtown, unplanned growth everywhere, or growth in numerous neighbourhood village nodes, over 63 per cent of the 10,000 people involved opted for the later. I believe this spirit of inclusion still lives, if we could only find the right process to unleash it.

I, like you, am motivated by a love for this city and a fear for its future. I strongly believe that what worked within the small area of the downtown won’t work in the vastly larger city beyond. If we accommodate all our new growth through large spot-zoned projects we may get the housing numbers we want, but it will be in two cities. The one city will be formed of widely separated high-rise complexes, attached to the Skytrain, but cut off from everything else; an interior world of shopping centers capped with glass towers. In between these shopping centres will be another city, the leftover city of the streetcar era. An unaffordable and car dependent city — static and depopulated — with emptying schools, struggling shops and underused transit.

There are different paths. For example, the Kitsilano district has added very substantial density in a way that works with, not against, its innate structure. There are scores of neighbourhoods like it. We could easily double our population and find that our neighbourhoods looked better, worked better, and were more equitable as a result.

But it takes an effort to understand what this city should look like. That’s why I think our acceptance of spot zoning, and the CAC money it produces, is so indicative of our current affliction. Absent a coherent vision of the future, the more we depend on CAC taxes the further we drift from the city that is — the further we drift from the future city that could be. [Tyee]

Grandview’s Successful History of Activisim


The communities of Grandview and Strathcona both provide students for Grandview’s Britannia Secondary School and have a long history of successful student activism, citizen activism and political activism.

This independent spirit has persisted to the present and in Grandview there are now 19 housing co-ops, more than anywhere in British Columbia, as well as a woodworker co-op, a glass co-op and a car co-op.  The REACH community health centre was created in 1969, and the East End Food Co-op started in 1975 and is now Vancouver’s oldest food co-op. Commercial Drive’s CCEC Credit Union received its charter in 1975 while the Peoples Co-op Bookstore, founded in 1945, moved to Grandview in 1982. Commercial Drive in particular is also known for still having many small, locally based businesses and very few chain stores

When freeways were cutting swathes of destruction through North American neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s, local citizen activism blocked their advance through Strathcona and Grandview. As a result today Vancouver is famous for this unique lack of freeways, and people from all over happily remark on this unusual feature of the city.

The 1968 citizen uprising against the destruction of dozens of city blocks in Strathcona under the name of “urban renewal” lead to the formation of the first citizen committee allowed to have equal power with government in planning and decision-making. These activists were successful in stopping all such federally funded plans across Canada. Instead of funding to demolish homes, new funding was provided to help fix them up.

After their work in Strathcona many of these young local activists went on to have successful careers in politics. Mike Harcourt, later became a city councilor, the mayor of Vancouver, an MLA and then premier of British Columbia. SFU student and activist Shirley Chan later served as Harcourt’s executive assistant and chief of staff. Margaret Mitchell later became Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.

Some of the Britannia students that were involved in the movement to stop the destruction of homes in Stathcona and Grandview moved on to working on the creation of the successful Britannia Community Centre in 1976, the largest multiplex of its time in North America. One of the student activists, Enzo Guerrero later became the Executive Director of the Britannia Centre.

Activist Tom Durrie is known today for his recent work in saving the York Theatre on Commercial Drive. In 1967 Durrie, a teacher and an activist, became the head of the New School, a progressive new version of a high school on Commercial Drive at 15th Avenue. This was one of the first alternative schools in British Columbia and its example influenced new programs in the regular school system.

Durrie later was part of the Free University established in 1969 on Venables Street that provided free classes for 3,000 students. After the university closed in 1974, activists established the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (the CULTCH) in the same old church building on Venables at Victoria Drive.

In 1971 the Militant Mothers of Raymur blocked railway tracks to get an overpass built. Their children’s school was across the street but the children were forced to cross railway tracks to get there.

It was two graduates of Grandview’s Britannia High School, both MLAs for Vancouver East, that produced North America’s first socialist government in 1973. Bob Williams, a Britannia graduate in1950 and Dave Barrett, a Britannia graduate in 1948, formed the core of the new government, producing numerous popular legislative initiatives such as the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). As a city councilor in 1965 Britannia grad Bob Williams successfully fought the proposed freeway extension of the new Georgia Viaduct through Strathcona and Grandview.

The first president of the Grandview Ratepayers Association was Harry Rankin. He served from 1952 to 1956, and then became the president of the Grandview Community Centre Association. In 1966 he became a popular progressive Vancouver city councilor and served until 1993, usually topping the polls. During this period Libby Davies, one of the founders of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) was an activist city councilor, and today she is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.

In 1989 local activists successfully blocked the construction of a high-rise building at Broadway and Commercial Drive with the cooperation of local progressive city councilors Libby Davies and Harry Rankin.

Vancouver is divided into 21 local areas, but only Grandview has a citizens’ meeting every month as a local area council, the Grandview Woodland Area Council. Grandview even has its own community-based planning group, Our Community Our Plan, which meets every Tuesday at the Britannia Centre.


Bruce Macdonald    08 August 2014

East Van Fights Back – Read and Rant

Our Community Our Plan continues to push for increased and democratic citizen involvement in the Grandview Woodland planning process.

The media are listening but, the City Planning Department continues to ignore the real issues raised by OCOP.

In a recent article in the Vancouver Courier newspaper  the reporter referred to our Slice of Democracy contest and noted that while the Citizens Assembly continues on its way, OCOP continues to concerned about the process and is planning its own Town Hall meetings and other outreach projects.


Jak King was recently on Shaw TV and mentioned OCOP in his talk about community planning processes in Vancouver.  Jak has also written about  Bruce Macdonald as a one of Grandviews Living Treasures; we agree.


Finally, Garth Mullins prepared a popular podcast about what is going on in  Grandview Woodlands and gentrification and the planning process, and much more. Have a listen.


We will keep on speaking our truths to the powers that be. Perhaps, they will listen.

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…..

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:

“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:


Rachel Magnusson of the Citizens Assembly recently wrote an Opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun website. You can find it here:

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:


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.


City of Vancouver Planners, answers please!

OCOP has sent a letter to the City of Vancouver Planning department and to City Council asking that the Citizens Assembly process be put on hold until some basic questions regarding representation on the Citizens Assembly and land use/density questions can be answered. OCOP is seeking a meeting with  the City’s planning staff to make sense of a process that once again looks like it it will result in misunderstanding and confusion.  The full letter is below.


June 29, 2014

TO:  Mayor Robertson, Council Members, Planning Department Staff, Grandview Woodland Residents

Re:  Grandview Woodland Community Plan (GWCP)

Members of the planning department representing the Grandview Woodlands Community Planning process and representatives of the Citizen’s Assembly consultant team met with residents on June 9, 2014 at Britannia Centre to discuss next steps in the planning process including the Citizen’s Assembly (CA) Terms of Reference document.

Questions and answers focused two issues:

  1. The composition of the CA and
  2. The need for the neighbourhood to understand the Emerging Land Use Directions (ELUD) presented to the neighbourhood at an open house on June 2013.

Residents met to discuss the outcome of this session.  It was agreed that before continuing the planning process and the formation of the CA, an open and complete discussion of the ELUD with the planning department is required.

The community planning process ground to a halt last year when the ELUD was released.  There were no substantial discussions of density and land use during the community planning process and therefore, the release of the ELUD was understood by the majority of the neighbourhood as a betrayal:  why would the community not be consulted on this fundamental aspect of the plan?   Without any clear communication from the City, the community assumed the ELUD reflected either a gross lack of judgement or a will within the planning department to deliberately change the form and character of Grandview Woodlands.  The public outcry resulted in the request for an extension of the community planning process, many assuming to develop a Land Use plan that reflected the community’s values and vision for the future and that the recommendation by Council to form a Citizen’s Assembly to be the best method to achieve this.

Many residents agree that the formation of the CA 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 lack of democratic structure combined with the City’s discretionary power over the CA’s recommendations defeats the spirit of an Assembly of Citizens.

We request that planning staff, including the Director of Planning, Brian Jackson, meet with the residents to review the following issues regarding the CA:

1. How does the proposed recruitment process ensure a democratic representation?

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


We also request that planning staff, including the Director of Planning, Brian Jackson, meet with the residents to review the following issues regarding the ELUD:

1. What population growth targets were used to determine the density?

2. What planning principles determined the location and form of development?

These issues are fundamental to the community, considering a revised ELUD is the primary goal of the process using a democratic Citizen’s Assembly as the tool.  At the June 9, 2014 meeting, planning staff suggested that the planning principles and density/growth targets would be part of the “curriculum” for the CA.  Vancouverites believe that this fundamental criteria for determining the future of our communities should be general knowledge, shared in the most open and democratic methods possible  and is the reason for our request to meet with the Director of Planning and key planning staff.

As a show of good faith, we request the Planning Department suggest a date to meet before proceeding with any further work of the CA. We request a written response to the Contacts listed below by Tuesday July 15, 2014.

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 ( ). 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: ) 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.

OCOP! Supports Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods

OCOP! has released a Press Release supporting the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and its Principles and Goals document.

The Press Release of June 12, 2014 can be found on our site documents.

Text Below:

Grandview Woodland is a Community, Not a Commodity. Supports Principles for a Fair Planning Process

June 12, 2014 – East Vancouver, BC – “Our Community, Our Plan!” (OCOP!) Residents’ Group

The City government approach to consultation has become an ineffective, divisive and disrespectful way to consider important planning decisions that will adversely affect neighbourhoods across Vancouver for decades. OCOP! rejects this approach.

Together with the 21 Vancouver communities in the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (COVN), OCOP! is charting a different course – to restore and strengthen neighbourhood-based planning.

OCOP’s Zool Suleman said: “Our community is not a commodity. The Citizens Assembly proposed by the City is an expensive, anti-community solution that will create problems, not solve them. For MASS LBP, the consultants, Vancouver is an “outpost”. We need local, community based solutions.” See:

Local resident, Garth Mullins said “We are joining with other neighbourhoods across Vancouver to stand up to the City’s desire to put the wrecking ball to affordability, diversity and culture. These Goals & Principles are the foundation of an affordable and just approach to planning the coming decades; planning from below.”

Today, OCOP! Endorses a set of principles that will get us back on track.

No More Decisions Made Behind Closed Doors: No more decisions made without real community participation. Democratic input does not need expensive consultants being paid $150,000. We demand a transparent, accountable decision making process, where all information is shared openly and developed jointly from the start.

Vancouver as community, not commodity: The interests of communities and residents must come before private profits. Housing and developments should be consistent with established neighbourhood character and affordable, rather than meeting the needs of investors only.

For a livable, inclusive, and sustainable city: Starting at the community level, not in the corridors of power, planning can create a livable, affordable and sustainable city. These city-wide principles and goals can help inform planning for change and growth. Each neighbourhood has its own needs and character.

OCOP! and other neighbourhood groups will work to make these principles binding during the coming municipal election campaign. The full details of the Coalition’s Principles and Goals can be found at Come to the OCOP! table located between 1st Avenue and Graveley Street as part of Car Free Day on Commercial Drive.