FOI says Vision "activism" didn't extend to property fund

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Vision's "activist" government didn't convene a single meeting of the Property Endowment Fund Board in 2009

When Mayor Gregor Robertson's new Vision government took control of Vancouver City Hall in 2008, there were expectations they would be a very activist government. People voted them in thinking they would completely overhaul the way civic government does business. With the exception of firing senior staff (while highly encouraging many other to take early retirement), it would appear this government has not lived up to those lofty expectations.

Sure they've introduced backyard chicken motions and long range green schemes, but has Vision fundamentally changed the way civic government operates in Vancouver? I would say not. Many people I speak to (some of whom were Vision supporters) argue things have dramatically changed, but for the worse.

When it comes to consulting the public, it's clear this government doesn't have an appetite for anything but window dressing. Have they taken the opportunity to encourage Vancouverites to get into the spirit of the Olympic Games? Not a bit. It's been revealed that many of them actually voted against Vancouver hosting the Games in the first place.

And with City Hall all but shutting down for the next four months or so, it will be hard to get this "activist" government kicked into gear until at least this summer. Then we'll be shifting into pre-election mode during the fall. At that point Vision heads into the last twelve months of their term. This is hardly a time when they are expected to ramp up their activism.

One area this so-called activist council declared they would change is the management of Vancouver's $1 billion dollar Property Endowment Fund (PEF). This is the fund that was used to secure the financing to develop the 2010 Athlete's Village in Southeast False Creek. There were expectations by some that this council (unlike the previous NPA council) would become more proactive in its management. After all, if the Mayor felt the need to appoint a politician to oversee the operation of the PNE Board, surely he must be monitoring what is going on with the PEF's Board of Directors. Well, it would appear not.

We placed a Freedom on Information request in to the City of Vancouver asking for them to provide us with the minutes of the Property Endowment Fund since Vision took power. To our surprise, the City Clerk responded:

I have been advised by staff that no Property Endowment Fund Board meetings were held from January 2009 to December 2009.

Say that again? An activist council has a Board of Directors for a billion dollar property portfolio, yet there were no meetings held last year? With everything that's happened with the PEF over the last 12 months, you would assume there was at least one meeting or two during that period to discuss future direction of this resource. Are we to assume that the Mayor let the City Manager and her inner-circle manage the PEF without any political oversight?

It is rather telling that the Mayor felt he needed to appoint a caucus member to manage the Hellavator and the Log Splash ride at the PNE, but didn't raise a finger when it came to the PEF.

With each passing week it's becoming more obvious that this Mayor is out of touch with key files within City operations. Is Robertson an activist mayor? To many he seems more like a spokesmodel.

2 Comments

Good point.

I would encourage this Council to convene a PEF directors' meeting prior to any final decision on the Olympic Village housing. I suggest this since I am advised the PEF has been the source of funding for many of the city components of the project, and depending on the decisions made, the PEF could be significantly impacted. In other words, it could lose a lot of money.

I would also recommend that the PEF directors follow up on allegations made by Robert Renger, a former resident of South Shore False Creek. Renger has been a thorn in the side of many city employees over their handling of the lease renewals in the City owned False Creek development.

However, he is an exceptionally clever person, and one of his concerns has been the over-stating of value of the fund by the NPA and others. The root of his concerns is the true value of many of the land leases between the city and various non-profit groups. His contention, (and for a number of reasons, I feel his claims could have some validity)is that the leases are not worth today, what most people have been led to believe they are worth.

This is due to both accounting practices, along with some practical considerations as to what might happen during the term and at the termination of such leases.

Although none of us want to be told that we have less money than we thought we have, I would recommend that city staff and Council follow up on Renger's concerns. If he's right, and I think he is, to some degree, the fund is worth considerably less than what we think it's worth.

I keep hoping that at some point City Council will decide that it wants to know what the value of the PEF really is.

It seems clear to me that the value of the PEF has been systematically overstated for many years, by the way in which overvalued leased lands are included as PEF assets — including lands (and leasehold condominium units on them) that the City has leased out for long prepaid terms. There are details and examples in the following documents which I wrote several years ago:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/11459745/PEF-Leased-Over-Valuation
http://www.scribd.com/doc/11459746/to-MAFF-re-PEF-2000may15-


On November 11, 2008, after hearing Ken Bayne, Vancouver’s General Manager of Business Planning and Services, on the radio saying “Vancouver’s Property Endowment Fund is still worth two or two and a half billion dollars in real estate”, I sent him an email to ask the following question:

“Can you tell me how much of the Fund’s $2.5 billion in land assets is land for which the City has sold prepaid leases, and whether or not you think that land’s value as a City asset has been overstated?”

Over one year later, he still hasn’t answered or even acknowledged my email, nor has there been any response to the follow-up I sent to the City Manager and Mayor and Council on January 18, 2009.

Here are links to a couple of articles about this in The Straight:
http://www.straight.com/article-198336/city-ignores-watchdogs-request-property-endowment-fund-accounting
http://www.straight.com/article-169643/property-endowment-fund-watchdog-challenges-ladner-and-robertson

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