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”

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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.

 

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.

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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 (http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/terms-of-reference-grandview-woodland-citizens-assembly.pdf ). If you do not have a job, or are poor, or have a job with varied shifts, you cannot participate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: http://www.masslbp.com/contact.php

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 http://coalitionvan.org/principles-and-goals/ Come to the OCOP! table located between 1st Avenue and Graveley Street as part of Car Free Day on Commercial Drive.

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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.