Mayor Robertson, this is what real consultation looks like. It's time you hold a town hall with the residents concerned about the impact of your HEAT shelters.
He's been pre-occupied with backyard chickens, closing a lane on Burrard Bridge and most recently planting geraniums and marigolds in his new garden at City Hall. Clearly Mayor Gregor Robertson has some spare time on his hands, so why is he still refusing to listen to the citizens of Vancouver concerned over the impact of his new HEAT shelters?
It would appear he's so afraid of a public backlash that his staff snuck him out of City Hall at around midnight to visit the HEAT shelter which opened last December near Beach and Howe Street. According to media reports, the Mayor visited the no-barrier shelter and didn't bother to even let anyone in the neighbourhood know he was coming. He also refused to respond to media queries regarding his visit. His staff said advised the media (yet again) that he was "simply too busy" to do interviews on the subject.
Here is what Lynn Sheffield, an outraged local resident told CKNW radio yesterday:
He snuck in and he snuck right out again. And he has never spoken to this community once.
The Mayor’s office have now confirmed they completely bungled the management of these HEAT shelters. But acknowledging your mistakes is only the first step. Now is the time for Robertson and Co. to stop reading the daily news clippings about President Barack and Michelle Obama, and get down to business listening to local citizens.
Despite his apparent midnight visit to his Feel the HEAT shelter to observe how the patrons are coping, the Mayor has been invisible to local residents concerned about frequent acts of public sex, urination and drug use taking place in their once peaceful neighbourhood.
If you recall, it took a grassroots organization known as the Concerned Citizens for False Creek North to organize their own town hall meeting and petition to help raise awareness regarding their concerns. The City was nowhere to be found.
In fact, in the early stages of this PR and neighbourhood disaster, Mayor Robertson and his Vision colleagues actually denied there was a problem. As someone said to me last week, it was a "suck it up buttercup" attitude. It was only after 300 angry residents expressed outrage did Vision even mildly reverse their position and acknowledge citizens might have a reason or two to be concerned.
The only person from the Vision caucus who bothered to show up to the town hall meeting was Councillor Kerry Jang, one of the weakest members of Robertson’s team. Robertson assigned him to manage this project for him. But that doesn't explain why the Mayor didn’t show up to that event?
The next step for the Mayor , who is sorely lacking leadership skills on this one, is to immediately call a town hall meeting and listen to citizen concerns. This is particularly important when there are so many rumours flying around regarding additional “mega size” no-barrier shelters he’s planning for other neighbourhoods in the downtown and beyond.
If the Mayor believes he messed up with process, piling on more bad process won’t help the situation. He should have the intestinal fortitude to get off his bike for a few minutes and listen to the concerns of local residents.
At the end of the day, I don’t believe the residents living near Beach and Howe will sway Robertson. He will likely ram a few more of his HEAT shelters into several other neighbourhoods without consultation. However, at least if he holds a town hall he can demonstrate to local residents their concerns have been heard - although they may not be acted upon. Simply hiding from the problem and not speaking to the media is not going to help.
The Mayor’s need for for a nice photo-op and feel good news release right after the election regarding his HEAT shelters is clearly landing him in a lot of hot water. I’ve even heard he regrets the decision to brand the no-barrier shelters as HEAT. Especially after all the HEAT he’s taken over his mishandling of this file.
His “act now, consult later” style is beginning to wear thin with an engaged citizenry that simply won’t tolerate it. No matter how morally superior he thinks he is, he still has to listen to citizen concerns and help mitigate the impacts the HEAT shelters are placing on neighbourhoods. More police patrols are simply not going to cut it. If more police were the answer, we’d have solved the problems of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside a decade ago.
As an aside, I need to ask where NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton is in all of this? Sure she attended the town hall forum, but shouldn’t she be providing a voice for the many concerned citizens who are not being listened to or consulted by this Mayor? Why is she not organizing a town hall meeting instead of organizing a heritage garden party this evening with Mayor Robertson as special guest?
If Mayor Robertson refuses to announce his own town hall forum, I’d encourage the good citizens of Vnacouver to organize one of their own. If he refuses to show up, I’d leave a blank cardboard cut out in the place assigned for Vancouver’s new invisible mayor. What do you think? Have your say on our online poll.