Are actions of Vancouver City Hall's bureaucracy crushing the hopes of revival in the Downtown Eastside? Business people say yes.
Recently the Vancouver Sun wrote about the City's policy of requiring a criminal background check for any new business located in the Downtown Eastside. Police checks have been in place since 1993. In the Sun piece, East Hastings cheese shop owner Allison Spurrell states she is "shocked" that these kinds of strict rules are applied only in that neighbourhood.
The criminal record check will likely take between four and six weeks to go through, pushing back the opening date.
“I’m pretty offended, considering I live in the area,” Spurrell said. “A cheese shop, seriously? If I was going to put in a grow op or a crackhouse, do you think I’d spend $2.5 million in renovations on a building I’d just purchased?”
In the sixteen years since this policy has been put in place, the Downtown Eastside has become steadily worse. The criminal record checks are arguably one of the reasons why.
Spurrell comments, "It's not like there are only scumbags in Strathcona." Indeed she has a point. Literally dozens of barren street level restaurants and shops line Kingsway and other thoroughfares in Vancouver. It's believed that many of them are set up as drug money laundering operations, with the City and Revenue Canada barely taking notice. It's possible the strictness of the rules in the DTES have made it easier for the bad guys in other parts of town.
The Sun reporter couldn't get a quote from anyone from the Strathcona Business Improvement Association. If what we've learned at CityCaucus.com is true, then it is likely that the BIA reps, or any other DTES business people are terrified of crossing the City's bureaucracy.
"It's much, much worse than what the Sun reported," stated a businessperson familiar with the DTES over the last 10 years who would only speak on conditions of anonymity. "The City has effectively stifled any chance for a young, new entrepreneur from even considering the Downtown Eastside as a place to set up a business. The record checks are just one of many tools that the City uses to hinder businesses it doesn't like from getting underway."
"[Chief Licensing Inspector] Barb Windsor is quoted that no one has ever opposed the criminal record checks, which is absolutely ludicrous. It's just not true. No business takes a six to eight week delay in opening their business lightly. It would be more accurate that no one speaks up because they are scared of getting screwed by the City."
"The fact is that the City cannot legally prevent you from opening a store, but that is what they are doing. If you're a young person who wants to start a business, and Hastings Street is the only place you can afford the rent, you're completely at the mercy of the bureaucrats. The shop you want to lease might have been built 60 years ago, but if the City doesn't like what you're doing they'll crush you with building inspections. It's not possible that you can afford to bring a store built in 1939 up to 2009 building codes. Never. Very few entrepreneurs have $2.5 million to invest like the cheese shop folks, it's usually much less. Once the City doesn't like you, you just have to walk away."
Geoff "Mayor" Meggs weighs in by stating that he supports the City's policy, “This has been a preventive measure and it’s been very successful.” Maybe Mayor Meggs is right, if by "success" you mean most of your storefronts sitting empty on those streets of despair.
Our businessperson contact, who has many years working in both private business and with non-profits, says it's as though the City's license inspectors are self-appointed business cops. "It's like having a police cruiser on your tail all day long. Eventually you forget to turn on your blinker, and they pull you over. That's what it feels like for business people down here when it comes to dealing with the City's permits department."
"Maybe some of the people who wanted to open businesses here in the past were sleezeballs. But I bet the vast majority of them weren't. The arbitrary rules are stifling growth and positive change down here. The City is partly responsible for the decay and dilapidated state of this commercial district. I shouldn't have a bureaucrat telling me what kind of business I can open here. It should be my customers that tell me by not shopping at my store."
What about the criminals? Shouldn't we be making their lives more difficult? "If I break the law, then I should pay the consequences. It's as simple as that. These checks have not prevented the DTES from becoming a drug-infested sh*thole. It has prevented good people, sober people, from helping this place."