Neighbourhood activist Ned Jacobs – Flickr photo: STV
An interesting email distributed by the self-appointed Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) group landed in our email box over the weekend. The author of this email was none other than Ned Jacobs, son of the late Jane Jacobs, a ubiquitous participant in re-zoning discussions around his native Main Street community and other parts of the city. He was responding to a news release from Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Caucus which indicated Vancouver was "back on track" under their leadership. Well, it doesn't appear as though Ned and his group agree with that statement.
Jacobs blasts the Mayor for his coziness to the development community as well as the overall lack of consultation taking place at 12th and Cambie. He also accuses Vision Councillor Raymond Louie, the Mayor's former leadership opponent, of being in a "conflict of interest" regarding his role as Chair of the PNE Board. You can count on Ned piping up when he's not happy, as he did here, and here.
While it is interesting to see a group who was foresquare behind Vision Vancouver during the 2008 election backing away in their support today, NSV undermine themselves with their lack of transparency. Who really are NSV? We know that unsuccessful NDP candidate Mel Lehan has been a part of the group. I suspect Joseph Jones, the most prominent agitator in the Norquay neighbourhood centres planning process, makes company with this group. There also seems to be folks attached to the Hastings Park Conservancy, and even unhappy folks in Arbutus and Dunbar in the mix.
Together they claim to be the voice of thousands of unhappy Vancouverites, but there's little evidence that they speak for more than a few. They do make a good point, nonetheless, that the Vision council and Park Board seem to be not very interested in public consultation. Jacob's letter below directs some compliments to their COPE allies, which is probably why Coun. Ellen Woodsworth proposed that council approves budgeting for a new "Office of Public Consultation" at tomorrow's meeting. Not surprisingly, it's the last item on the meeting agenda.
Here is a copy of the unedited email:
Subject: City Hall is NOT on Track
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver
June 4, 2010
Open letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver City Council:
A letter of May 18, 2010 from Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision
Vancouver to many members of our network stated: "City Hall is back on
track!" Regretfully, we must disagree. To the contrary, regarding the
planning and development of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods across the
city, we see this Vision Vancouver Council hurtling forward in the
same failed direction as the previous council.
Let's start with EcoDensity. Upon election in 2008, at an event
sponsored by Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV), Mayor
Robertson singled out the EcoDensity initiative for criticism, and
praised “the very, very intensive effort on behalf of all of you and
the neighbourhoods to counter that effectively and to reframe the
whole debate around what matters most.” Some Vision councillors saw a
possibility to convert EcoDensity from a “policy report” to a “report
for information.” This sounded like a solution, and we awaited an
action that never came.
Prior to the election, Mayor Robertson and Vision Vancouver responded
to a candidate questionnaire from NSV. The question “Do you support
CityPlan and related neighbourhood-based Community Visioning as the
primary basis for future planning in Vancouver neighbourhoods?” was
answered “Yes” – with the added comment, “We need to do a better job
of integrating other city reports with the CityPlan process.” We agree
– and converting EcoDensity to a report for information would have
accomplished that. Supported and worthwhile ideas or actions could
still be brought forward for consideration and implementation.
Instead, EcoDensity is being used to override CityPlan and our Vision
Directions and has been written into the Greenest City Initiative as
policy, which ignores your election commitment “to address outstanding
concerns related to the EcoDensity Initial Actions.”
Another broken promise is the about-face on a Vision Vancouver
election pledge to “oppose the transfer of density from the downtown
Heritage Density Bank onto landing sites outside of the currently
approved areas into communities across the city.” If allowed to stand,
this reversal of policy will result in financial benefits to
developers far beyond what is needed to protect heritage buildings, to
the detriment of obtaining public amenities and affordable housing.
Current provisions for heritage density transfer override the local
area plans and Community Visions that you promised would be the
primary basis for future planning in Vancouver.
The disregard of longstanding community-based plans for greening
Hastings Park and instead approving PNE expansion, which includes
construction of a large parking garage in the park (how "green” is
that?), betrays the trust of the residents of Hastings/Sunrise.
Furthermore, Councillor Louie’s role as chair of the PNE board puts
him in a conflict of interest position, which Vision Vancouver has
failed to acknowledge and address.
Abuses of public process that citizens objected to during the
previous council’s mandate have continued and have even worsened.
Reports are often rushed to council meetings with short or no notice –
even for councillors. Vision candidates agreed with the NSV
questionnaire that “there should be a larger role for scientific
polling and referenda in determining the level of public support for
major civic policy decisions.” These words have not been followed up
with actions. For example, resident surveys were discontinued in the
Norquay neighbourhood centre process because planners failed to obtain
a “desired” result in June 2007. Ignoring the excellent
community-developed plan for a village centre, the City grinds onward
toward an ongoing rezoning of Norquay, which will mean mass
displacements in a neighbourhood that is 32% low income. The community
working group has continued to scrutinize the planning department's
extremely problematic and ever-shifting proposals, but to little
The current Council passed the Principles for the Broadway/UBC
Transit Corridor with no public consultation whatsoever. Only after
much protest from the affected communities was any public input
allowed. The City continues to sit back and let TransLink take the
lead on public consultation on this huge corridor that will affect
many communities, even though TransLink has the conflicted role of
also using development to fund transit.
Following the election, huge incentives were created for Vision
Vancouver’s development industry “partners” to build a few expensive
rental units, allowing out-of-scale developments to override local
area plans and sacrifice the amenities needed to serve future
residents. The Short Term Incentives for Rentals (STIR) program would
negatively impact neighbourhoods across the city, and especially the
West End, where these projects will generate windfall profits while
failing to provide affordability. Not only does STIR set a bad
precedent, it is an unnecessary response to a short recession. When
citizens questioned the wisdom of an “economic stimulus” (your words)
for the development industry, and objected to the lack of public
involvement in creating a rental strategy, Councillor Meggs retorted:
“The election was the consultation—this is the delivery.” This does
not match at all with Vision’s election pledge to “increase
accountability, transparency, and access to City Hall with new
opportunities for engagement, and improved outreach and consultation.”
We don’t believe that Council feels comfortable with this development
industry “partnership”. However, all of Council, except Councillors
Woodsworth and Cadman, continue to accept numerous large donations
from the development industry. This practice creates public concerns
about Council's credibility on planning and development issues due to
potential conflicts of interest.
The last election demonstrated voter desire for a change from what
the previous council was doing – a change that has not come yet. We do
not see a Vision Vancouver train that is "back on track." Only through
actions that demonstrate a genuine change in direction will you
fulfill your election commitments to Vancouver's neighbourhoods.
On behalf of the Steering Committee
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver
- post by Mike