Vancouver's Board of Variance can have a huge influence on the city's developments
City Hall watchers will be interested to learn that two members of Vancouver's Board of Variance appointed by the COPE council under Mayor Larry Campbell, then subsequently fired by the NPA council in 2006, have been re-appointed by the Vision Vancouver Council this week.
Both Ray Tomlin and Tony Tang were sitting members of Vancouver's Board of Variance when, after a decision by the NPA City Council, the entire five-member board were fired. The decision triggered howls of protest, mainly from the city's political left but also others who feel that the City wields a heavy-hand that favours developers over citizens.
"It might be seen by some members of the community of righting a wrong," says Tomlin, a long time friend and political supporter of former City Councillor Tim Louis among others. "It's good to be back and have the opportunity again to give back to the city."
Back in 2006, then City Councillor Peter Ladner defended his council's decision.
"The board has been unwilling to cooperate with the city in trying to control those costs, and there are other costs too, staff costs," he said. "And the board is not willing to acknowledge that it has an obligation to rein in those costs and to adhere to city policies on working within its budget."
Then opposition Councillor Raymond Louie disputed the NPA's decision, saying the independence of the board of variance should be preserved.
"We should try our best to maintain that level of separation between ourselves and that body, which is meant to be the safeguard for decisions made by the city," he said.
A new board was appointed by Sullivan's council that included former City Councillor Marguerite Ford, and has kept a relatively low profile during their three-year term. According to Ladner, other than the appointments themselves, they had no reason to interfere with the board's work.
Those who were removed from the board took their dispute with the city to court, appealed the judge's decision and lost their appeal. The ruling stated:
The chambers judge correctly concluded that, in the context of the statutory framework within which City Council functioned, the Council breached no principles of procedural fairness and acted in good faith in rescinding the appointments of the members of the Board. The Board was not an independent tribunal with security of tenure. It carried out a limited role in deciding specific disputes relating to some planning and development matters in the context of Council's plenary powers over that process. Council had the explicit power to rescind appointments at any time without reasonable cause.
The Board of Variance recently came into the news again when a request to change the board's by-laws (the report describes them as "out of date") was put to Council. Tomlin, as well as lawyer Jonathon Baker both spoke to their concerns about the rule changes. As a result of the number of speakers opposed to the changes, Council referred the matter back to staff for a decision in October.
The committee formed by Council for choosing the new board is believed to have the participation of Councillors Ellen Woodsworth, Kerry Jang and George Chow. Tomlin says he thinks Council have chosen well in their five new appointments, all of whom have three year terms. "It's a diverse group both in terms of its cultural make-up and how representative of Vancouver's communities. I'm really looking forward to getting back to work."
As a measure of "continuity" Tomlin has been appointed as the board's interim acting chair.